Sunday, March 4, 2012

Distorting the Constitution: Why the Right is Wrong on Contraception

Recently, contraception has gotten a great deal of media attention.  It’s been talked about by all of the Presidential candidates as well as by religious leaders, regular GOP politicians, and political pundits.  Specifically, they’ve been using it every time they attack PPACA and President Obama for requiring religious organizations (not churches directly, but places like religious schools, charities, and hospitals) to provide contraceptive coverage in their health insurance.  Those opposed to the contraceptive coverage mandate are missing three main points in their argument.  In response, those in favor have just presented the entire argument as being about women’s rights.  So, thus far, the discussion has sounded a lot like a pair of third graders arguing over something.  “I’m right”, “No, I’m right”, “Nuh uh!”, “Uh huh!”, “My dad can beat up your dad!”  It’s completely sickening.  Instead of allowing the argument to continue in such a juvenile way, I want to talk about those three main points that the opponents are missing.  I want to turn the argument to why the opponents are wrong.
Framing the argument.
The first major mistake that has been made in the argument against the coverage mandate is that opponents have incorrectly presented what the mandate actually covers too narrowly.  The mandate to provide “birth control” or “contraceptive” coverage is not just about controlling birth or preventing pregnancy as the opponents frame it to be.  The “birth control” pill contains the active ingredients estrogen and progestin in varying quantities.  There are some variants that contain other active ingredients or none of either estrogen or progestin, but the vast majority of pills are a combination of these ingredients.  These chemicals are prescribed for a number of medically legitimate reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with pregnancy prevention, chief amongst these reasons are to help modulate irregular menstrual cycles, treatment of endometriosis, and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.  Deliberately focusing the argument only on the pregnancy prevention use of the pills is misleading and unethical.
The First Amendment argument.
Whenever this topic comes up, opponents immediately start talking about how mandating coverage of birth control or contraceptive pills (I’m just calling them “the pills” from here out to eliminate the confusion that they’re only used for preventing pregnancy) is a violation of their First Amendment rights and their religious liberty because it forces them to provide coverage for something that they’re morally opposed to.  For the sake of discussion, I’m going to split the First Amendment argument and the religious liberty argument into two parts.
When somebody brings up the First Amendment rights argument, they’ve just told you that they have either never read the Constitution, or they don’t understand what the text of the First Amendment talks about.  Let’s take a look at the actual text:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
For our discussion, I’m going to ignore everything beyond the first semicolon.  I think that it’s pretty safe to say that the freedoms of speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government aren’t in question here.
The original text of the Constitution carries no emphasis.  There’s no bolding, italicizing, or underlining to guide us in determining where the emphasis is supposed to be.  So, let me add some emphasis.
1.) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
 2.) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
3.) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
4.) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
There’s a few other ways that you could place emphasis, but I think that bolding “no” or “law” or “free” would not provide any additional information. 
Collectively, there’re a few things that can be taken from this.  From example one, we know that the government is prohibited from passing a law granting any type of preference to religion.   In example two, we learn that the government is prohibited from passing any law which establishes a state religion, and also prohibited from grating preference to religious organizations (looking at both definitions of establishment).  Example three reaffirms the second part of example two and shows that the government can pass a law which grants preference to non-religious establishments.  Finally, example four shows that the government may not prohibit the practicing of religion, but can limit the practicing of religion.  This is very critical as it is the provision which means that you cannot use “my religion required me to kill them” as a legal defense.
What we learn from actual analysis of the text of the First Amendment is that if the government were to allow an exemption from contraceptive coverage for religious institutions, it would be in violation of the First Amendment.  Refusal to provide such an exemption is hardly the trampling of the rights of the religious that they make it out to be. 
“But what about Citizens United?” somebody might argue.  “The Supreme Court ruled that corporations are entitled to the same rights as individuals.”  Well, they’d be right.  But they’re still missing a key factor.  As my mother would always say “your right to throw a punch ends where somebody else’s face begins.”  This is a great way of explaining one simple point: the rights of one citizen do not allow them to infringe on the rights of another citizen.  This logic extends to corporations and companies as well.  No company has the right to force an employee to follow a specific belief system.  They cannot legally control the thoughts or beliefs of an employee.  While the institution may find birth control usage of the pills to be morally abhorrent, their employees may not.  In fact, the other followers of that belief system may not.  This is shown in that 98% of Catholic women who have had sex use birth control (2006-2008 data from the Guttmacher Institute).  
The Religious Liberty Misunderstanding
I get rather miffed every time that I hear a politician or member of the religious right throw out the phrase “religious liberty” when arguing that employers have some sort of right to abridge the rights of employees.  Religious liberty is a very simple concept that has been distorted by the religious right over the years to mean whatever they want it to mean.  Unfortunately, any intelligent human being can see through it.  Religious liberty is one of the cornerstones of this country.  One of the major reasons that Europeans came to this land in the first place is to have a place where they could practice their religion as they liked.  Religious liberty is just that.  Religious liberty means that I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe and we cannot force one another to practice each other’s religion.  Religious liberty means nothing more than what the Constitution states.  It’s the ability for an individual to believe what they like (or not) and practice how they like (or not) without the interference of others. 
When it comes to the religious liberty of corporations and companies, it gets tricky, but comes back to a very basic principle.  The rights of an employee are equal to the rights of the employer.  Employees are not slaves and cannot be forced in any way to abide by the religious preferences of their employer.  Now this isn’t to say that employers don’t have religious liberty, they do.  An employer has every right to close their shop on Sunday so that they can attend church.  They can close it on Saturday so that they can attend temple.  They can close it early every time that the Red Wings have a home game if they like.  They cannot close it on Sundays and require their employees to attend church with them as a condition of employment.   The employer can choose to not use contraceptives themselves, but they cannot restrict an employee’s access to coverage. 
In all, when it comes to mandated coverage of pills that are most commonly used for birth control, the religious right isn’t. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Basic Principles for a Successful Relationship: Part 5

Almost two months ago, I promised a five part series about some very basic principles that anybody can use to increase the likelihood of success in any relationship.  Since I started this series, I learned a very important lesson.  When you come up with an idea for a multi-part series, write them all before posting any of them.

Since I last posted, I've been busy.  When I haven't been busy, I haven't had the energy to write this post.  But, mostly, I think that this post took so long because the last basic principle that I have to share with you is so simple to understand, yet very difficult to implement.  I can't give you a shortcut, a trick, or anything to make this principle easier.  All that I can do is state it and explain it.  There's not very much of a post in that.  However, after much deliberation, I decided to just go ahead and do it.  So, if you have a question, want more detail, or doubt this, feel free to comment on this post.  Here it goes, very basic principle number five that most dating and relationship advisers will charge you obscene amounts of money for:

In the end, there is very little that can be done to change the course of a relationship.

In the past, I've had people challenge me on this principle and say that it's simply "fate".  I don't like the idea of fate.  Fate means that you and I have no input in the system, which isn't true.  If everything was left to fate, than there's no point in trying to improve your dating and relationship skills, because it's all going to happen no matter what you do.

To me, this principle can be restated as "In the end, you are but one part of the relationship".  If you're jealous of another guy spending time alone with your girlfriend, don't be.  If she cheats on you with another guy, chances are that the relationship wasn't going to work out anyway.  Chances are, that she would probably have cheated on you anyway.  Really, that guy did you a favor by letting you know that the relationship wouldn't work out.

I've previously mentioned this bad break up that I had in college.  After years to digest and look back at it, it was doomed from the start.  We simply weren't right for one another in the long term and no amount of hoping, trying, changing my being, etc. would change that.  This is what the last principle is about.  It's about accepting that some things are out of your control and that worrying about them is not only counter productive, but it's destructive. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Basic Principles for a Successful Relationship: Part 4

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to always go straight from one relationship into another?  I'm certain that there's a good chance you know somebody who does it.  Perhaps you are that type of person.  Serial monogamy is a problem.  Really, I consider somebody who's serially monogamous to be just as troubling as somebody who avoids relationships like the plague.  Both of these conditions are just opposite sides of the same coin.

Most people who are serially monogamous eventually end up in one (or several) relationships that aren't necessarily the best for them.  Yet, they stay in the relationship and jump into another immediately after the relationship ends.  I can't say that I'm an expert in serial monogamy, but I've talked to a half dozen or so people who are about it.  Every single one of them has one thing in common, they're afraid to be single.  Some of them had parents who left them when they were young and have abandonment issues, while others were late bloomers and don't want to fall into that dreaded single slump again.

I think that there's something that serial monogamists don't understand.  I'll give you one guess what I'm about to say here.  Yep, that thing is the next secret to a successful relationship that I'm going to reveal, for free.  See, I'm not the most original writer, but at least I'm consistent.

It is better to be single than to be in a bad relationship

Every relationship has a purpose.  In social situations, that purpose may be as simple as to provide one another with a good time.  In work situations, it could be that you need to maintain a relationship with somebody in power so that they'll be willing to bend rules for you.  In romantic relationships, there could be any number of complex purposes.  When your relationship fails to meet your needs, I define it as a bad relationship.  

Here's where we need to step back and look at things logically.  If you were friends with somebody and found that, over time, you no longer enjoyed spending time with that friend, what would you do?  Would you still spend lots of time with them, or would you cut back your time with them and hang out with people you do enjoy?  Why is a romantic relationship any different?  If I'm dating somebody because I enjoy spending time with them, I feel like I'm a better person when I'm with them, and I find them unbelievably sexy, why would I continue to date them when I realized that the relationship no longer fit my needs?  Sure, there's the avoidance of breaking somebody's heart, but look at things from their side.  Would you rather have somebody tell you after 3 months of dating that the relationship isn't going work out, or have them tell you after 3 years of dating and find out that they've felt this way since 3 months in?  Many things, while painful, are best to get over with quickly.  Ending relationships is one of those things.  Why is it so important to end a relationship immediately when you know it won't work out?  The moment that you realize a relationship will not work out and you do not break it off,  you are lying to the other person.  When you lie to your significant other because you're too scared to break it off with them, you're a coward.  I don't care if that's a tough pill to swallow.  Just cowboy up, end the relationship with some dignity and move on with your life.

I'm kind of harsh when it comes to breaking relationships off in a timely manner.  Let me tell you from personal experience how much useless pain and heartbreak you're putting both yourself and the other person through by not breaking it off.  Remember last time when I told you about an ex who tried to change me?  I didn't want to believe that it wasn't going to work out.  I clung on for everything that I could.  I lied to myself that everything was fine.  I ignored the big red flags that clearly told me "abandon ship".  In the end, I regretted it.  It took me a couple of years to get over that breakup, because I was weak and I did it to myself.  Learn from my mistakes.  Please, for the love of whatever deity you do or do not find holy, don't make that mistake for yourself.

Don't be afraid to be single for a while.  It's not a bad thing.  In fact, many people benefit greatly from extended periods of singledom.  In the two years that it took me to get over that breakup, I really got to know who I truly was, what values I held dear, and grew up.  It's during these two years alone that I realized that I didn't need to be in a relationship to be worthwhile, that my worth and value was assigned by me, not by society.  I know that it sounds a little wu-wu and cliche, but it's not until you know yourself and love yourself that you can be ready to be in a relationship.

The next time that I post, I'll be wrapping up this series.  I suppose that I could say that I've saved the best for last, but that isn't really the case.  I've organized these principles in a very specific order.  Now that we've discussed all of the personal and external principles for a successful relationship, I'm going to throw a wrench in it a good way.  Come back next time, you won't regret it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Basic Principles for a Successful Relationship: Part 3

In the media, the ends of relationships are generally portrayed in a very limited number of ways.  Usually, it's either as the dumpee was wronged in some horrible way by the dumper and it's tragic or the dumpee was horrible to the dumper who finally got tired of their shit and it's tragic.  How somebody wising up and getting out is tragic is beyond me, but that's still how it's portrayed.

How the friends of the person for whom this is tragic react are even more limited.  Women will always say "he's a bastard, you're better off without him, lets go drinking and find you another guy" and men will always say "fuck that bitch, let's go get you drunk and laid".  There's a major problem with this reaction: it assumes that the other person is always at fault.

So far, in this series, I've discussed mental adjustments that we can make to greatly improve our chances of a successful relationship.  Today, I'm going to share another secret of every well known relationship "guru", for free.  This may be hard to accept and I may come off as quite a jerk for saying it, but this is nonetheless, the truth.

The single unifying element in all of your unsuccessful relationships is you.

It's only reasonable to sit down and look back at our prior relationships and see where we went wrong.  Everybody does it at some point in their life.  What you'll likely find is a string of similar ends.  No matter what trend you find in these ends, let me assure you, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  Sure, you may have had a string of cheating boyfriends.  However, it was you who chose them. 

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that you suck at relationships.  If I were saying that, I'd be saying that we all suck at relationships.  Really, that's kind of true, but not the point here.  Remember earlier how I said that it was important to gain control over our emotions in order to look at things in a way that will allow us to glean more productive information from them?  This is exactly the type of application that I'm talking about.  

Look back for a while at your unsuccessful relationships.  What do you see as a common element?  Of course,  you see you, but beyond that, what do you find?  I'll give you an example.  In one of my previous relationships, my significant other tried to change who I am at the core.  They tried to get me to buy into their personal belief system where I didn't, and I went along.  The relationship ended badly.  Of course I blamed her for a while.  Then, after getting control of my emotions, I looked back at why the relationship failed, and I came to this: I allowed myself to go along when they tried to change who I was.  You can do a very similar analysis of your prior relationships.

Say, for example, that you have a string of relationships that end because you're focusing on your career and they are demanding that you put them first.  It's not their fault for demanding too much time of you, they're just being who they are.  The problem here is that you keep selecting the type of person who wants too much time of you instead of one who is also focusing on their career.

Ultimately, we have nobody to blame for our unsuccessful relationships other than ourselves.  What we can do, though, is turn that lack of success into a learning situation and applying those lessons to the future, we can find issues ahead of time.  We can avoid getting into a situation where our previous lack of success follows us.   We can see that, clearly, our "type" isn't working for us and try new things, meet new people, and get to know people who we would normally overlook.  It is in these situations where we're most likely to find love.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Basic Principles for a Successful Relationship: Part 2

I haven't had a whole lot of posts recently.  If you want to know why, check this out:

 This is a single of BFL/silk that I just finished up spinning.  Yep, I have a new hobby.  I've picked up spinning my own yarn, adding yet another item to add to my list of post apocalyptic survival skills.  But, I digress.

The human body is a pretty fascinating thing.  Your circulatory system stretches over 60,000 miles, long enough to wrap around the Earth twice.  Your nervous system is capable of sending information at over 100 m/s, faster than the Peregrine Falcon in a dive, the fastest animal on earth.  The human skeletal system is so diverse that it ranges from the 2.8mm long bones in your ear to the femur which is approximately 25% of your height.  I think that the most interesting part of the human body, through, is the brain.  

The brain is a very powerful organ.  It contains over 100,000 miles of blood vessels, 100 billion neurons, and has a surface area about the size of two standard sheets of newspaper.  However, for being the powerful organ that it is, the brain is really little more than an incredibly powerful biological computer.  Just like any other computer, your brain can be programmed and reprogrammed.  Taking advantage of this ability to program our own brains is the second basic principle for building and maintaining successful relationships.

Basic Principle: Your Brain is a Computer, Reprogram it.

I want to do a very simple experiment.  Close your eyes.  For about a minute.  I want you to focus very intently on the color red.  Think of apples, matadors, sports cars, sports teams, anything that you can think of that's red.  After a minute or so, open your eyes and point to the first thing that you see which is blue.  Next, repeat the experiment, only focus on the color blue and point to blue.  What you should notice (and this experiment works much better when led by somebody else in person) is that when you focus on red, finding blue is much more difficult than when focusing on blue.  This happens because, on a very basic level, you've reprogrammed your brain temporarily.  There are ways that you can permanently reprogram your way in a very powerfully positive way.  Take your very basic beliefs for example.

The easiest way for me to explain beliefs is with an analogy.  I want you to picture that you're in the rain, wearing a raincoat.  Let's say that you're wearing a yellow slicker.  The color doesn't really matter here, so pick any that you like.  Thoughts are like raindrops.  They come to you in droves.  We have thousand of conscious and unconscious thoughts every minute.  Most of them are very fleeting.  They fall down and bounce off of your mental slicker, just like most rain bounces off of your rain slicker.  However, sometimes, drops stick to you.  These drops attract other, similar, drops that have stuck to you.  They grow, and grow, until they slide down to the bottom of your slicker and collect at the bottom.  Those large drops at the bottom are your beliefs.  They start out as simple thoughts, but given enough time and some friends, and they become the very core of your being.

See, the brain is a proving mechanism.  When you believe something, your brain goes out into the world and collects evidence to support this belief.  It will ignore anything that doesn't help to prove your belief to be true.  This can have an incredibly powerful effect, both to the positive and negative.  If you're somebody who has trouble meeting women, you might ask yourself "why am I so unattractive to women?" and your brain will go out and answer the question.  It will tell you, "you're overweight, stupid, pimple faced, your teeth are crooked, you're cross-eyed, have a crappy haircut, and you can't dress yourself, why do you think women don't like you?"  This doesn't even have to happen consciously.  Once you have that very start of a negative mindset, your brain will take off and collect more evidence on its own.  The entire situation then snowballs, kind of like the Prince collecting cats, ferris wheels, oil tankers, and what-have-you in Katamari Damacy.

What we can do, and what we need to do, is to exploit this aspect of our brain.  This is where the idea of affirmations come from.  Everybody knows the Stuart Smalley catchphrase of "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me".  It's a joke.  Many people tell you to look yourself in the mirror and say positive things that reflect who you want to be.  They'll say that if you want to be attractive to women, you just say "I'm attractive to women."  Eventually, according to these people, women will flock to you.  This is where the entire concept of The Secret comes from.  The Law of Attraction is a good idea, but it's somewhat misguided.  Let me tell you about a better way.

Since your brain is a computer, it also functions just like a search engine.  Remember earlier when I gave the example of you asking yourself why you're not attractive to women?  This is a perfect example.  The brain is great at answering questions for you.  Telling yourself that women love you is one thing, but it doesn't mean diddly squat unless you actually believe it.  So while you may simply look in the mirror and say "women like me", your brain is still saying "yeah right, fatty."  What's much better is to short circuit that system and to directly ask yourself a question that points you in the right direction.  Try "Why do women love me?" or " What is it that makes me so charming?"  It may sound kind of arrogant, but try it and see what happens.  Your brain will go out into the world and look for reasons why these things are true.  Soon enough, you'll have a big drop of water at the bottom of your slicker telling you that women love you.  This can easily be expanded into any relationship situation.

The other way that we can use the giant computer in our heads to help build and maintain a successful relationship is to deliberately set up a powerfully positive mindset that lets us immediately turn any negative situation into a positive one.  I don't just mean any mindset, but a very specific one.  Here's the biggest secret of all of the biggest companies that teach relationship management, for free.  There's no such thing as failure.  Let me repeat that and display it in a way that stresses the importance.

There is no such thing as failure!

It is impossible for me to fail at anything that I do.  Why?  Because nobody is an expert when they start something.  In fact, there's no such thing as an expert.  We all learn, continually.  When we learn from an unsuccessful attempt to do something, whether that be spin a particular type of yarn or meet a model at a a nightclub, we can analyze where we went wrong and make adjustments for the next time.  In effect, this turns your "failure" into a learning experience and when we apply what we learn, we come that much closer to a full success.  What's nice about this view is that it ties right back to our first basic principle, controlling our emotions. 

While we can, with some effort, control our emotions, it generally only happens after the fact.  This process can be sped up quite a bit by immediately looking at what can be learned from being unsuccessful.  

In the next portion of this series, I'll discuss responsibility, and what role others play in whether or not your relationships are successful.