Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is an HBO documentary detailing the footing of abortion access in Missouri, a state where restrictive laws render it one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain an abortion. Women often have to drive hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider, and within the state are subject to a 72 hour wait period even if the baby is afflicted with a condition not compatible with life.

This is a good documentary, highly watchable, and it makes an effort to allow both sides to speak to the camera. Clinic security guard “Chi Chi” is a character unto herself, snidely telling off protesters- “I wish I could abort HIM!”- she quips of one, and castigating women who churn out babies for welfare (her words, not mine).

We are introduced to soldiers on both sides of the line: clinic escorts who usher shell shocked patients to and from vehicles, pro-life activists who make a veritable career from organizing pro-life events and protesting at clinics. At one pro-life dinner a teary eyed Susan Jaramillo takes the stage like a quasi rock star, telling her tale of abortion woe and destruction. Her books are for sale on a nearby table.

In the documentary numerous women describe their decision to seek out an abortion. Most cite financial distress, a few cite abusive husbands/ boyfriends, one woman sought an abortion when she learned the father of her child was married. A few women terminate pregnancies after the baby is diagnosed with severe anomalies.

I had a lot of sympathy for all people featured, yes, even the obnoxious preachers raining hell fire on bewildered patients stumbling into the clinic. I can see why people hate them, but having known militant pro-lifers myself, I understand where they’re coming from. They truly believe they are fighting the most heinous form of murder known to humanity.

My own views on abortion are not so clear cut. I’m unsure if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. I’ll tell you my views and maybe you can let me know what I am.

I absolutely believe the unborn baby is a nascent form of human life. How anyone could pretend otherwise, even atheists, I cannot understand. As my friend the atheist once said: Everyone who is for abortion was born. Not complicated right?

I also believe, that as a nascent form of life, the unborn baby is precious and deserving of protection.

However: I also believe forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is tantamount to rape. Pregnancy and childbirth involve the penetration of the mother’s body, both of her uterus and vagina, sometimes other parts- even if the baby is going “out” the body is still being penetrated, sometimes horrifically (yes I know the “horrific” part firsthand). Penetration without consent is rape.

So on the one hand you have the taking of a human life- murder- and on the other hand you have rape. Forgive me if I can’t decide which is worse!

I have one other thought on abortion, and this is something pro-lifers refuse to acknowledge: women will always have abortions. It doesn’t matter how many laws you lay down. Women will seek and obtain abortions even where it is illegal.

Therefore, if you are faced with an inevitable abortion, and you can either lose one life (the baby’s) or two lives (the baby’s and the mom’s), you are ethically obligated to protect the one life you can reach- the mother’s! Why pro-lifers refuse to see this is beyond me. If they successfully outlaw abortion there will be MORE loss of human life at the hands of shoddy purveyors of abortion, not less!

While Abortion: Stories Women Tell attempts to be even handed, it comes out slanted for the pro-choice side. I’m not sure if this is because the pro-lifers featured are so obnoxious, although one pro-choice SJW type gives a pestiferous rant toward the end of the film, or if it was deliberate. Either way this is one of the better abortion documentaries I’ve seen, and I recommend it to anyone with ninety minutes to spare. It is available on HBO GO as of this posting.

We Should Have Stayed in That Cave

[[very mild spoilers season 1 and season 4]]

After much procrastination I finally am watching Game of Thrones. I tried watching the first episode way back when. I thought it was stupid and boring. Too many plot lines, too many characters, the costumes silly. I couldn’t keep anyone straight. So many dark haired men in leather armor! So many women in bad wigs and sumptuous gowns! Borrring.

Then my husband announced we have a temporarily free subscription to HBO, and with it HBO GO via roku. HBO! They have a lot of good documentaries! And indeed I watched a few, including one about a veterans’ suicide prevention helpline. Did you know a US military veteran or active serviceman kills himself at the rate of roughly one man per hour, every day? That’s more fatalities than the recent wars put together. Anyway it was very well done, very sad, but too short. I hate short documentaries. They always make me feel cheated.

But there is no dearth of Game of Thrones. Since I never watched it before I theoretically had six seasons to plow through. It was so stupid last time you watched it (I said to myself)! But maybe you would like it this time around (I also said to myself). After much inner deliberation I pressed PLAY.

I still thought that first episode was stupid, however, Tyrion (the amazing Peter Dinklage) snagged me in his dialogue with Jon Snow. All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes. Such nuance, gravitas and wry humor in one man! Peter Dinklage, as they say in The Station Agent, is THE MAN! So I kept watching.

I still thought it was silly, perverted, way too violent. Could you please spare me yet another chopped off head? SO much sex. Gay sex, hooker sex, sadist sex, incest sex, underaged sex, interracial sex, rape after rape. I’m no feminist but I shudder to think how women would fare if George RR Martin ruled the world.

Yet… somewhere mid season one I was hooked. It wasn’t just about Dinklage anymore. I was asking my son (a rabid GOT fan) questions. How did Tyrion meet Ser Bronn? Why exactly did Daenyrus kill the black guy? I was in tears over the kidnapped baby dragons, and further along wept as Jon Snow cradled a dying Ygritte in his arms. We should have stayed in that cave Jon Snow

So would I recommend this series to my gentle readers? Uh, not sure. It ain’t exactly family programming, though apparently every family on the planet has watched it. It is a brilliant story, or rather a series of brilliant stories within other brilliant stories, the characters are beautifully villainous and multifaceted, but somehow I’m left with the same feeling as having eaten a sicky sweet, overly rich slice of cake when the credits roll. Gird yer stomachs men, and forward march!

Big Love

[spoiler free]

Some years ago my husband, who was spending a lot of time in hotels for business, told me about the series Big Love. We didn’t subscribe to HBO at home but he was free to enjoy an array of cable shows. I didn’t exactly feel deprived though, because a dramedy about polygamy sounded, well, stupid.

But when I noticed the series on amazon prime recently I decided to give it a try. I was quickly surprised by the brainy, dark humor and addictive intrigue that develops both in plot and characterization. In that respect it reminds me of AMC’s wonderful Breaking Bad. In fact the two shows share an actor- Aaron Paul, who in Breaking Bad plays the dopey Jesse Pinkman, and in Big Love plays ex-Mormon Scott Quittman.

This is a weird show. I’m up to season 4 and I still can’t figure out if the central message is anti-polygamy or pro-polygamy; moreover I can’t figure out if it’s even pro-christian or anti-christian. Most of the characters are deeply conflicted on some level and their motivations remain ambiguous. And while I’m sure some marriages, either monogamous or polygamous, can keep the pace, the constant passionate sex between Bill and his three wives seems implausible. On a similar note, why are Bill’s wives so beautiful and well dressed, while the other polygamists we encounter have frumpy, badly dressed wives?

For a large household with small children the three wives and Bill manage to find inordinate private time to have deep, lengthy conversations. There is occasional mention of “Ben and Sarah” (the two teenagers in the household) watching the kids, but these are magical hollywood teenagers. Having a wide age range of children myself, procuring even ten minutes of attention from one of the teens to watch the little ones is like squeezing blood from a turnip, and is usually accompanied by shouted complaints from the next room. However, the show does occasionally manage an accurate portrait of the struggles of running a huge household. Our family size here matches the Henrickson’s season 1 head count, though there’s just one of me, another facet that piqued my interest: you don’t often see huge families on television these days, unless it’s reality TV.

The Henrickson homes are immaculately clean though we never see anyone cleaning. Occasionally the wives carry laundry baskets or lackadaisically wipe an already clean surface with a rag. In one episode Margie works through emotional issues by vacuuming a lot. But otherwise the Henrickson clan is somehow impervious to mess and clutter.

There’s a lot of product placement in this series, which surprises me because I thought polygamy was generally frowned upon. The Henrickson wives spend a great deal of time grocery shopping, unpacking groceries, and there are ongoing references to how wonderful orange juice is (while pouring Minute Maid). Many of the food products “advertised” by the series are junk, yet the Henricksons remain slim and fit. Barb and Bill look heavier in Season 3, but appear to have lost it all by season 4.

A guess the million dollar question for any woman watching this series is, could I live in an polygamous arrangement? I can only tell you that around kid #5 I was just so exhausted all the time that another pair of motherly hands would have been a boon, though the long term psychological price of sharing one’s only sexual partner probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Strangely Big Love was created by two gay men, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. More than once corollaries are made between homosexuality and polygamy, including a hilarious scene where “prophet” Roman Grant lectures a group of reporters.

big_love
lots of kids, polygamy style

While Big Love isn’t nearly as good as Breaking Bad, it does have its moments of comedic brilliance and emotional poignancy, and for that is well worth watching if you’re in the mood to binge watch an entire series.

HBO: The Weight of the Nation

The Weight of the Nation is a 4-part 2012 documentary, free to watch on HBO and youtube, detailing the health and policy implications of skyrocketing obesity in American adults and children. Part 1 looks in graphic detail at the health consequences of obesity, complete with an examination of post-mortem hearts from normal and overweight individuals, and close-ups of diabetic foot lesions. Part 2 looks at weight loss methods and profiles weight loss success stories. Part 3 looks at the obesity crisis in children, and Part 4 examines the general psychological and physiological triggers for overeating: our hunter gatherer stomachs have not caught up with the first world environment of food excess, and we sit around staring at screens while our ancient ancestors were scrambling up trees and fleeing from wolves. This last segment also pushes fruits and vegetables as a weight loss boon (even though neither makes you lose weight) going so far as to suggest corn and soy stop being subsidized “so broccoli can be on an even playing field.” One farmer “guarantees” people will buy broccoli by the boatload if it were cheaper (for the record, broccoli is already cheap- I can buy a a huge bag of florets for $5 at Costco, frozen florets are even cheaper).

While interesting to watch, this is a “just okay” documentary. Often the most engrossing parts of the films are the quirky obesity experts who deliberate the issue. It’s also very long- it took me days to get through all four parts- and different experts in different sections contradict one another. For example, in Part 1 we’re told that a calorie is a calorie, but in part 3, childhood obesity is blamed on “unhealthy food” including the ever-evil corn and soy (predictably we see a “teaching breakfast” where junk food saturated children are exposed to fruits and vegetables). In part 2 we are told that exercise is ineffective for weight loss, yet in Part 3 the lack of a federal gym requirement is faulted for children’s expanding waistlines. There are also a few assertions I’m not sure are true, or at least have not been definitively proven. One claim is that two people of identical weight and height will have different caloric maintenance levels if one person started out at a heavier weight. This doesn’t make sense to me and I’d like to know how the studies concluding this were conducted, because self-reporting of food intake is notoriously inaccurate, particularly in people who have a tendency to overeat. In fact there’s a TV series based on this phenomena, the BBC Secret Eaters (which is available on youtube if you’re interested).

The Weight of the Nation delves into one facet of obesity I’d never considered: there is a lot of profit made off the obese, and not much financial incentive to solve obesity. The care for obesity related diabetes alone reaps billions for the healthcare industry; the diet industry rakes in billions, and the food industry would lose billions if people ate less. That’s a lot of billions resting on the status quo! So while we may give lip service to solving the crisis, who, beyond the individual, would actually benefit from doing so?

Even more sobering, many of the obesity experts and policy makers featured in the film are overweight themselves. For example, the eminently intelligent and thoughtful Kelly Brownell appears to be morbidly obese. You have to ask yourself: if the best educated and most aware of the risks can’t manage to stay within a normal weight range, what hope is there for the rest of us? This dovetails with my theory that your average person simply cannot not be overweight in an environment of food excess. We’re biologically programmed to eat, eat some more, and maybe more on top of that!

By the conventional wisdom presented in this documentary, my own children should be overweight. Except for the occasional bite of lettuce they don’t eat vegetables (yes, I’ve tried, a lot!); only a few like fruit. They eat much maligned kid foods like chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, potato chips, and fruit juice. They’re not athletic in the least and spend too much time on video games and TV. But not only are they not overweight, they’re slightly underweight or on the low end of normal. Even my oldest daughter, who gained weight when she started corticosteroids, is on the low end of normal BMI.

I have no food rules and never limit how much of what they can take. They don’t even have to eat meals if they don’t feel like it, or can opt for something different from what I’ve cooked. The only real rule is “no wasting.” There are a few foods I never buy- like soda or heavily processed foods- but there is plenty of junk and borderline junk in the house. And after packing healthy lunches for much of last school year only to have it returned home uneaten and the kids starving, I gave up and began packing foods that fly in the face of new USDA school lunch guidelines.

One thing I’ve noticed with my children is that, for whatever reason, they are amazingly good at self regulating food intake. For instance they love the huge, decadent muffins from Costco but will only eat a fourth at a time.

costco muffins
two fourths to go

I normally don’t buy candy but we have a box of Hershey bars in the house. After a month, and between 7 children, it’s only half gone. When I do try to get them to sit down for dinner they take a few bites, announce they’re full and leap up from the table. This is maddening when I have fantasies of a pleasant sit down meal with my kids, but I guess it’s good for their health and future weight. As for why they are like this, I wish I knew; then I could share my secret with all the parents out there. Perhaps they are genetically predisposed to have small appetites because as much as I love food, I can only eat a little bit at a time unless I make a conscious effort to stuff myself. Maybe my complete lack of food rules allows them to be “in touch” with their true hunger signals. But I really don’t know.

As far as the documentary, if you have five hours to spare I definitely recommend it though it’s not the best food documentary I’ve seen. It does come with some fascinating scenes (like when cardiologists illustrate heart disease with actual human hearts) and people, both those struggling with their weight and the clinicians trying to help them.

Which Way Home

Most people by this point are aware of the growing trend of underaged immigrants attempting to enter the US illegally. While the press has made a big deal about the young age of these children, and indeed, some are very young, the truth is that the majority are likely teenagers, and probably teenage boys. This follows a long and steadily growing phenomenon of adolescent and teenage boys from the region “going north,” which in central america and mexico has the same connotation as what “going to california” meant a few generations ago. Despite press reports that they are fleeing gang violence (which we have plenty of here in the good ole USA- in our major cities the majority of crime is gang related), many of these teens are runaways with all the motivations and psychological baggage homegrown runaways carry. In leaked reports about conditions in the detainment centers, psychologists noted many of the would-be migrants had severe mental health problems, including suicidal ideation, that were going untreated.

There is an excellent documentary about exactly this trend called Which Way Home. It’s a few years old so was filmed at the start of this wave of younger immigrants trying to make their way to the US. The travelers are typically male and in the 12-19 range. They ride as stowaways on top of freight trains that snake their way through the mexican countryside- in fact, an unintended bonus to this docu is that we get to glimpse astonishing vistas of rural areas south of the border, as the camera “rides the train” with the boys on their journey. The train is so dangerous that it is nicknamed La Bestia (the beast) by its stowaway riders.

whichwayhome

Most of the boys are running away from bad situations at home, usually involving stepparents or an unwillingness to follow their parents’authority. They view the trip north with excitement and enthusiasm, convinced that wealth and happiness await them on the other side of the border. Some believe they will be promptly adopted by kind and wealthy american families.

There is a particularly heartbreaking scene where a brother and sister, I think they are about 8 and 9, are determined to make their way north. The girl explains to the camera that God and the blood of Christ will protect them on her journey; they are later never heard from again. Unlike the teenage boys featured in Which Way Home, this sibling duo seemed very sweet and well intentioned, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hansel and Gretel.

One aspect I’ve noted concerning the recent waves of immigrants is a bipartisan opposition to them, not necessarily among politicians, but from normal people. Even in sympathetic articles on progressive bastions like the NYtimes, the comment sections contain countless statements universally opposed to accepting these children and any more that follow. Even self -identified liberals state bluntly that, particularly in our current economic climate, we lack the resources to properly care for so many children and young adults, and that responsibility for them resides squarely with their families and countries of origin. However, by most estimates, at least 70% will manage to remain either legally or illegally. Ironically, those who do manage to stay will probably find themselves living in areas rife with gang and drug violence, which supposedly is what they are fleeing in the first place.

Which Way Home is an excellent documentary and worth watching no matter what your stance on illegal immigration. It’s still available on netflix streaming as of this posting.