Monday, September 22, 2008

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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

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.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

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.

Monday, September 1, 2008

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.