Moving

For some time, I’ve been maintaing three journal sites. AOL has announced that it is shutting down all journals and I’ve decided to consolidate everything into one site. I hope that you will join me there. Thanks to everyone who read my ramblings here. The address where you may find me from now on is
http://theexaminedlife-sheria.blogspot.com/.

Missing Mama

Today at work, I had a fleeting thought that I would call my mother when I got home. Almost as quickly as the thought came, it was shoved away by the echo in my head that screamed, “your mother is dead.” I can’t quite wrap my conscious mind around this reality, or maybe I just don’t want to do so. Her death last week was sudden. I tell myself that if only there had been time to prepare for her death, a lingering illness, a bedside vigil, that it wouldn’t hurt so badly, but I know that I am grasping at straws. There is no preparing for the death of your mother, no matter how death comes for her, it will rip you asunder.

I am adrift, going through the motions of living but disconnected from the process of living. I am surprised at the numbness, the vacuum that hovers inside me where my heart should be. Sometimes, I don’t think that my heart is even beating. No matter how much noise is in the room, I feel nothing but silence. Last night I turned the television up really loud; it made my head ache, but it didn’t fill the silence.

I thank each of you who stopped by to leave me kind words. They are greatly appreciated. I have heard that time heals all wounds, but no one ever tells you how much time. So I’ll wait.

Today, I hid in the bathroom at my office for a while. Everyone is kind, but they look at me as if they fear that I will start shrieking and wailing at any moment. I suppose that I have the look of the wounded about me. As I sat on the porcelain altar in the office john, I heard myself whispering, “How do I go on?” I eventually grew tired of the bathroom, there really isn’t much to do in there. I came back to my desk and started to write. Writing always soothes me. Here’s what I wrote today. My boss thought that I was really working. Maybe I’ll really work tomorrow.

Learning to Breathe Again

This is how people go on…

driving down the highway
singing back up for Aretha,
chain, chain, chain,
chain of fools

This is how people go on…

staring out the office window
finding patterns in clouds,
white cotton remnants
floating in the waning summer wind

This is how people go on,
when emptiness becomes a constant companion,
holding you in a tight embrace,
inhaling your breath
until suffocation and silence fill the room.

This is how people go on…

looking for that road to anywhere
dreaming of the crossroads
where she still stands
waiting to embrace you and dry your tears

This is how I go on,
one breath at a time.

–Sheria Reid
copyright 9/21/08

The Answers Are Blowing in the Wind

There are a lot of substantive issues that should be on the minds of the voting age public in the U.S., but if you check out the varied media headlines, you wouldn’t know it. A short list of substantive issues includes the recent rise in unemployment, the projected $500 billion federal budget deficit, the war in Iraq, (costly in human lives and dollars), the 47 million Americans without health insurance, the oil price bingo game that we are all forced to play, and the ever growing national debt ($9.5 trillion and increasing by the minute). However, to my dismay, I find myself choosing to ignore all of those substantive topics to address some of the decoy topics that clutter up the media.

First up is Sarah Palin and the Heart song, Barracuda. It seems that one of Gov. Palin’s nicknames as a high school basketball player as “Barracuda,” and in honor of Palin’s nickname, the Heart song was played on Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, the front-women for the band Heart, didn’t appreciate the appropriation of their song for use as Palin’s theme song and have sent a “cease and desist letter” to the McCain and Palin camp.

I admit that I am a fan of the Wilson sister’s band, Heart, and I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. However, while the Wilson sister’s are within their rights to ask that the Palin campaign cease and desist from use of the song as her theme song, the Palin camp hasn’t violated any copyright laws. Copyright is a tricky thing and it’s not my area of legal expertise, but the one thing that law school stresses is that when you don’t know the answer, do some legal research until you find it. Of course, you may wonder why I would care about this matter at all. I became intrigued because of another article that criticized the Obama camp for appropriating a Brooks and Dunn song, Only in America, to use as Sen. Obama’s exit music at the close of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). As I am a country music fan and a fan of Brooks and Dunn, I thought that it was a brilliant choice based on the song’s chorus:

Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America

There was one little glitch, Brooks and Dunn played the song at G. W. Bush’s inauguration in 2000; Dick Cheney used it as his exit song at the 2004 RNC; and G. W. Bush used it frequently during his last campaign for office. I didn’t have a problem with Obama re-purposing the song for his campaign; however, not everyone felt that magnanimous. Both of the performers, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn declare themselves to be Republicans, although one of the song’s co-writers, Don Cook, identifies himself as a Democrat.

Given that I find hypocrisy abhorrent, I had to ask myself, how could I side with Heart in their opposition to Palin’s use of their song unless I was going to also condemn Obama for siphoning off Brooks and Dunn’s song for his campaign purposes? As I was reading other blogs dealing with these song appropriation issues, I kept encountering a basic misunderstanding regarding copyright law and use provisions. I realized that if I did a pure legal analysis, that I had a basis for why both Palin and Obama had a legal right to use the songs as they wished.

The intent of singers and songwriters is to have their works heard. To support that intent, and preserve their rights a artists, their works are licensed to be heard in a variety of markets. We are all familiar with radio, but venues like concert and sporting arenas may also obtain a license to play a song. That music that you hear in the elevator is licensed. The way that this typically works is that the songwriters and performing artists contract with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) to distribute their music. Any entity that is licensed with ASCAP can play a song distributed by ASCAP without getting the artist’s explicit permission. So neither the Palin folks, nor the Obama camp had to ask the Wilson sisters or Brooks and Dunn for permission to use the music as long as they had secured the appropriate licensing from ASCAP.

However, nothing in the law is ever simple; if it were, lawyers would be out of work! The ASCAP license only allows a song to be performed; if you want to use the song in a political ad or a promotional video, you have to obtain a license from a publisher known as a “synchronization license.” Singer Jackson Browne’s lawsuit against the McCain campaign for using his song Running on Empty in an ad is based on a violation of the sync license law. There is a backdoor to a possible lawsuit even if the user has a license from ASCAP. If for instance, Palin used Heart’s song to the extent that it becomes identified with Palin, then the Wilson sister’s could sue under a claim of a violation of their “right to publicity,” which allows you to protect your identity or image from being used for marketing purposes. However, the “right to publicity” laws vary from state to state and generally apply to commercial uses of an image, not political ads.

So the bottom line of this non-issue is that unless the Obama and Palin camps have totally lost their minds up in here and neglected to secure the appropriate ASCAP licensing, they can play whatever song that they like and the rest of us need to adopt as our theme song, Blowing in the Wind, a song about issues of substance. Written by Bob Dylan and first released in 1963, the song has been recorded by numerous artists, including Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, Sam Cooke, and my personal favorite, a cover by Stevie Wonder in 1966. The video is the Stevie Wonder cover.

Blowin’ In The Wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, n how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before its washed to the sea?
Yes, n how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

(My next nonsense issue to be addressed in an upcoming entry: the woman who called in to the Michael Baisden Radio Show to announce that she couldn’t vote for Barack Obama because he supported killing babies. Please Lord, deliver me from fools.)

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, and So Do Teens

I’ve been reading other blogs and news stories centering on the revelation that vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. As I previously stated, I have nothing but sympathy for Palin’s daughter who certainly didn’t ask to be shoved into this spotlight.

However, I confess that I don’t have much sympathy for Gov. Palin. I find her to be hypocritical, and contradictory in her beliefs. She has chosen to become a public figure; her daughter is off limits, but Palin is fair game. She chose to be in the spotlight.

Gov. Palin touts herself as pro-life, as if the other position is pro-death. I’ve never heard anyone speak in support of abortion, but I have heard and I have made the argument that it is a personal decision to choose what to do with one’s own body. I don’t see this as a simple decision and I worry about the consequences of the choices that women make, but I cannot accept that the larger society has the right to force a woman to take a pregnancy to term. I don’t expect that everyone will agree and I respect your right to hold a different point of view. That’s your choice, but you don’t get to make the choice for others. That’s the big difference between the pro-life position and the pro-choice position. The pro-life view makes the decision for everyone; the pro-choice decision says it is a private matter and an individual decision. Advocates for pro-choice have never told anyone that she must have an abortion; but advocates for pro-life want to have the right to tell every woman what she must do with her body, should she become pregnant.

My digression into a discussion about choice, doesn’t mean that I would advocate that Palin’s daughter have an abortion. I don’t believe in abortion; I believe in choice. She gets to choose whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term. (At least, I’d like to believe that she gets to make her own choice.)

However, my rant today isn’t really about Palin’s hypocrisy. I am more interested in the larger issue of a society that as a whole chooses to behave like the ostrich when it comes to deal with adolescents and sex.Sticking your head in the sand only results in getting sand up your nose.

From what I’ve gathered from the available information on Palin, she supports the teaching of abstinence only in the schools. I’m all for discouraging adolescents from engaging in sexual activity, but I don’t think that simply telling them “don’t do it” is an effective or responsible approach.

In my home state, for several years schools were only allowed to teach abstinence only in public school sex education classes. After concerns about the increased teenage pregnancy rate and the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, the law was modified to allow school systems to present the question to the parents–to teach a full sex ed course, including birth control and how to prevent STDs, or to continue to teach abstinence only. Regrettably, most parents gave a clear message to their school systems that they wanted to continue with teaching abstinence only. I say regrettably, because the result is that a great many adolescents are sexually active and sexually ignorant. Teaching abstinence doesn’t guarantee that they won’t engage in sexual activity, but it does guarantee that should they engage in sexual activity, they won’t have a clue as to how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

Think back to your own teenage years, did you choose to engage in or not engage in sexual activity based on whether or not you were exposed to a comprehensive sex ed curriculum? There is no statistical support to show that that teaching abstinence only causes teenagers to choose not to have sex, nor any evidence that teaching a fully realized sex ed curriculum causes teens to run out and become sexually active. However, not teaching teens about the consequences of unprotected sex does correlate with high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

I have intentionally used the term sexual activity, because many adolescents consider that anything short of vaginal intercourse is not really sex. Not really surprising as we have some well-known adults who have expressed similar beliefs.

When I taught high school, after a year with a record number of teen pregnancies, one of my colleagues and I had an informal rap session with some of the teen mothers. I still recall with dismay the misinformation that I heard from those young girls. Beliefs such as standing up after sex could prevent pregnancy, and douching with coca-cola was an effective method of contraception. There was also one young lady who shared that she was on the pill but got pregnant nonetheless. Upon further questionning, she explained that she took her birth control pill every time she had sex. She missed the directions about taking it daily.

However, I was totally unprepared for the widely shared belief that oral sex wasn’t really sex, and was regarded as safe, because it couldn’t result in pregnancy. A report on teenage sexual activity released a couple of years ago reported that anal sex had risen in popularity with teens because it also didn’t result in pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) didn’t appear to factor into the equation for the teens. Engaging in sexual activity isn’t rocket science and adolescents are definitely not scientists.

There is substantive research to support that effective parenting is the factor that has the most relevance in influencing the age at which an adolescent engages in his or her first sexual experience (once the barn door is opened, it is rarely closed tight again). That’s where family values play a role. Not the kind of family values that conservative websites spout on about, but family values centered in honest dialogue among parents and children about distinguishing love from sex, about dealing with those desires and feelings that are a natural part of growing up, and about making choices that are in your best interest.

The video is from the 1968 movie of Romeo and Juliet, teenagers who risked all for the passion of young love. The song is What Is a Youth?, similar in melody to the theme song of the film, A Time for Us.

An American Family

I just read today’s headline about Palin’s 17-year-old daughter being 5 months pregnant. I feel for the daughter; it must be awful to be in this kind of spotlight. However, I do wonder how concerned Palin is with protecting her family. She had to have know that in accepting the nomination, a big spotlight was going to be shone on her family. There was no way that her daughter’s pregnancy was going to remain private. Already, the conservative right is blaming the media, the Obama campaign, and anyone who dares express an opinion for exposing this young woman to such public scrutiny. Funny, but no one is blaming Big Mama Palin who put her political ambitions before the needs of her daughter.

I can’t help but see a certain irony in today’s headlines about Palin’s pregnant daughter. Her party has appropriated the term “family values” as being exclusively theirs. Her party affirms that it is pro-life, but rarely supports any increases in public benefits, even though most of the recipients of those benefits are single mothers and the benefits help them feed, clothe, house, and provide access to medical care for their children. I have problems with policy that is more concerned with the unborn than it is with the children already among us.

I read that Palin’s daughter will be marrying the father of her child. I can only hope that this is what she really desires. After all, her mother is going after her heart’s desire. She accepted the vice presidential nomination, thrusting not only herself but her entire family into the national and international spotlight. From my vague recollections of what it was like to be 17, I wonder if her daughter really wanted to have her moment in the spotlight. I wonder if Palin’s devotion to family values made her pause for a moment and think about her daughter’s feelings about having her life become open to inspection and criticism. I wonder if it ever crossed her mind, when John McCain asked, to say no.

Sen. McCain and the Politics of Misdirection

Sen. John McCain has run his entire campaign against Sen. Barack Obama based on the oft stated belief that Obama lacks the experience to lead this country. The McCain campaign has repeatedly discounted Obama’s demonstrated knowledge of domestic and foreign policy and characterized the Harvard Law School graduate as a political neophyte.

Just three weeks ago on Face The Nation, Republican strategist Karl Rove opined that he expected the then presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama to choose a running mate based on political expediency, not the person’s readiness for the job.

“I think he’s going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice,” Rove said. “He’s going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he’s going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He’s not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president.”

Rove then proceeded to single out Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who was also a guest on Face The Nation as an example of such a disastrous and ill-thought out selection for a vice presidential running mate, saying of and to Gov. Kaine (the man was sitting right there), “With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he’s been a governor for three years, he’s been able but undistinguished. I don’t think people could really name a big, important thing that he’s done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America.”

Funny, but I do believe that I could substitute Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin for Kaine and not have to change another word in Rove’s statement. Oops! I’m wrong, Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, population in 2007, according to the U.S. census–9,780. (The 105th largest city of which Kaine was once mayor is Richmond,VA., population of 200,123 in 2007, according to the U.S. census.) I’m not certain as to where Wasilla ranks in population among U.S. cities but somehow I think that it is substantially less than 105th.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having experience as mayor of a tiny town and only 20 months as governor of a state not known for being densely populated means that one is not qualified for the office of vice president. Nor am I flat out stating that Palin’s anti-choice, pro-NRA, positions don’t exactly make her the poster woman for the women’s movement. Nor am I questioning the wisdom of selecting a running mate with whom McCain’s own camp confirms he had only met once before selecting her to be on his ticket; a running mate who could feasibly find herself in the position of having to actually step into the oval office, given the age and prior health issues that have beset Sen. McCain. I’m just fascinated with the difference in attitude that the Republican party has towards its own choices and the choices of the Democratic party.

That’s what led me to ponder why McCain selected Gov. Palin as his running mate. While I was busy pondering, headlines in newspapers and talking heads on my television explained it to me in terms that even a four year old could understand. The basic message appears to be that in selecting Gov. Palin, the McCain campaign has strengthened its position with women voters. All of the Hillary Clinton supporters, who were only voting for Hillary because she was a woman, will tumble for John McCain, and give up the vote.

With apologies to village idiots everywhere, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, is a class-A idiot if he really thinks that people supported Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. They supported Senator Clinton because she is intelligent, capable, and has leadership qualities; the same reasons that Obama’s supporters support him. What an insult to every person who supported Hillary to assume that they will fall over themselves to jump on the McCain bandwagon just because he has a female running mate.

I have no more patience with those who continue to assert that Obama supporters do so because he has a black father or that Hillary’s followers supported her because she was a woman. Get over yourselves and stop clinging to the belief that the only possible explanation for Obama’s or Hillary Clinton’s successes in this presidential campaign is because all black people support Obama and white women (feminists to boot!) support Hillary Clinton. Guess what, old white men are not the only, nor the best choice for leading everything. It’s a new world in the United States of America, and it’s about damn time.

Other countries have been able to broaden their horizons to encompass leadership that isn’t dependent on having a penis–India, Pakistan, Great Britain, and Israel are just a few modern governments that come to mind. As for race, it should be the shame of this country, founded on the proposition that, “all men are created equal,” that it has only seen fit to allow white males to ascend to the leadership of the allegedly most powerful nation in the free world.

Palin is a woman, and I certainly don’t disparage her for her gender, but neither am I going to do cartwheels over her selection. (Btw, I proudly identify myself as a feminist.) I’m choosing to have faith in the ability of the majority of women to think rationally and I am refusing to succumb to any concern that the rest of my gender is going to fall down and worship at the altar of McCain simply because he has Palin at his side.

If you must vote for McCain, let it be because you don’t believe that addressing the needs of the 47 million uninsured Americans is a priority, let it be because you believe that the wealthiest one percent of the population are entitled to even more tax breaks, let it be because you support an energy strategy that involves off shore drilling as a solution to the energy crisis, or because you agree with his position of staying in Iraq indefinitely, but for heaven’s sake, don’t fall for his Houdini-style misdirection act of selecting a woman as a running mate.

One of my favorite actresses is Bette Davis. I love Kim Carnes 1980s hit, Bette Davis Eyes. I know that Bette would never fall for some obvious manipulative ploy.

Obama Is the Nominee, And I like It!

“No way, no how, no McCain.”–Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

I’ve been on that “working my ass off” hamster wheel again, but at 6:50 pm, I was given reason to pause. The phone rang and my long time friend, BT, aka boy toy, was on the line. Having just walked into the house, I was a little less than focused, and had to ask him to repeat his enthused statement.

“The black guy is officially the nominee!”

BT has known me for a long time, so he knew that he had to give me a few seconds for his words to sink in fully. There is a wonderful harmony in BT being the first person to inform me that Barack Obama was the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party by acclamation. I first met BT when he was a senior in my high school English class. He returned to work at the same high school upon his graduation from college, and we became good friends. He played a substantial role in encouraging me to have the guts to quit my teaching job and go to law school. He also happens to be white. I think that our friendship is the perfect reflection of the potential that this country has to move beyond the barriers of separatism based on race.

I didn’t talk with him very long. My call waiting beeped and knowing that it was my sister, I bid BT goodbye and switched to my sister’s call. I think that I screamed in her ear but I don’t know exactly what I said. We both admitted to crying tears of joy tinged with a hint of sorrow. Sorrow for all of the black men and women who are no longer with us, who never dreamed that this day would come. Sorrow for all of our ancestors who resolutely held on to their dignity in a society that intentionally and systematically sought to strip it from them. Sorrow for a childhood of “no coloreds allowed” and “white only.”

But it is a sweet sorrow, a gentle sorrow, soothed by time and comforted by hope. I have an audacious hope that America is standing on the edge of a new era, an era in which no child’s dreams will ever be deferred because of the color of his or her skin.

I know that there are those of you who continue to say that you are afraid of Barack Obama; perhaps you should be. You should also be afraid of me. I believe that all people are created equal. I believe that peace can only be achieved if we’re willing to sit down with our enemies and find mutual ground. I believe that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all of us have the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and health care. I believe that our public education system must be overhauled and shaped into a haven that brings out the best in every child. I believe that the purpose of government is to secure certain unalienable rights, and that among these rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All of these things are among the reasons that I support Barack Obama. Clearly, me and Barack are very dangerous people.

Who knows what will happen when he becomes president? We might actually develop a doable strategy for bringing home our young men and women from Iraq. The wealthiest one percent of Americans may have to pay their fair share of taxes. Even the poorest among us may have full access to quality health care. Pretty scary stuff, but if this doesn’t leave you quaking in your shoes, let me share something really scary. Perhaps under the Obama administration, John McCain may actually have to live in one house like the rest of us!

I’m 53 years old, black, female, and southern. I grew up under Jim Crow laws. I witnessed the steady growth and eventual blossoming of the civil rights movement that killed and buried Jim Crow. At times I’ve been high on hope, and at other times, drunk on despair as to the status of race relations in these United States. I know too much about hate to believe that Senator’s Obama’s nomination will instantaneously heal all the wounds of racism that have ripped apart this country for generations, but my joy overflows that today, at 6:48 pm eastern standard time, a giant step was made in the right direction towards becoming the America to which we aspire.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,The Declaration of Independence, 1776

Love Train by the O’Jays was played at the DNC following Senator Barack Obama’s nomination for president by acclamation. I found this video on reliable YouTube.