Friday, June 7, 2019

Ending Abortion for Real

I have a simple 3-step proposal that would virtually end abortion in the U.S. Keep reading:

Step 1: Make all forms of contraception and related medical services free and easily available to everyone over the age of 12. 

Step 2: Make it a crime to have penis-vagina contact without at least two methods of contraception OR a written statement from both parties documenting a mutual desire to conceive a child, dated and witnessed BEFORE the sex. 

Step 2b (optional addition): Require by law that every single act of penis-vagina contact be preceded by a signed written statement from each partner, handed to the other partner: 
“I hereby consent to penis-vagina contact with [partner] on [date] and; It [is / is not] my intention to conceive a child (circle one).”
Having intercourse without the signatures of both parties would be a crime even if no child is conceived and both parties consented verbally to the intercourse. The law would require the written statements themselves, regardless of the outcomes of the sex.

Step 3: Allow free and unfettered access to abortion, but define it as murder under the law and hold the baby’s father solely responsible for all criminal charges. If the mother chooses abortion, the father goes to jail for, say, nine months. Or nine years, whatever. No additional consequences for mothers (beyond the emotional and physical trauma of the abortion), and no consequences for abortionists. [The doctor is not responsible for the unplanned pregnancy!]

Step 1 would put Planned Parenthood out of business because the government would essentially take over and expand their mission. Steps 2a and 2b would outlaw unplanned pregnancy, and hugely reduce the demand for abortions. Step 2b would have the happy side effect of eliminating sexual assault with penetration, or at least make it very easy to prosecute. Step 3 gives Pro-Lifers their long-sought murder definition, but puts the responsibility where it belongs: on those who care more about 'raincoats in the shower' than the lives of unborn babies. 

Now, before you rip me a new one in the comments, I know that there are many issues with this proposal. I also know that many of you are happy with Roe v. Wade just as it is. The point is not to adopt my proposal; the point is that we keep asking the wrong questions. 

The legality of abortion is all about effects when the debate should be about causes. It’s like arguing about whether starving children should be buried or cremated, instead of debating how to NOT HAVE starving children! 

This proposal is my attempt at answering these: “Why are there still unwanted pregnancies in the year 2019?” and “How can we prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place?” 

Look, we are facing the very real possibility of losing Roe v. Wade, and the inevitable government intrusion into our most private lives that would follow. Against that backdrop, the intrusive laws in my proposal look a lot less draconian, don’t you think? Put your thoughts in the comments. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Three Poems

I am trying to improve my poetry skills. If you take time to read these, please please please comment with feedback. Which of the three speaks to you most? Which least? Are they any good, really? Let me know...

Transition JD Stillwater, 2019 

Our fathers’ science 
reduces my selfhood to widgets
a model, a machine, 
idly ticking clockwork,

Our fathers’ religion
renders my body a shadow
a slut-shamed sleaze
a clay model, a precursor,

Our daughters’ science 
consecrates wholeness
First Light made mortal meat,
cosmic wind incarnate, 

Our daughters’ religion
marries meat and mind,
a sweaty pungent monument
a galaxy, a destination, 

a symphony. 

Cloudy With a Chance of Hell JD Stillwater, 2019

I just want to watch movies. 
Or browse YouTube. 

Something wrong with that?

I don’t want to walk to work, 
or ride my bike with a daypack. 

Gas is cheap now!

I want to lie on the floor, and relax
with a cuddly friend, maybe. 

I want a handbag with sequins that flip.

I want to be safe. 

I could use a new phone, one with 
a bigger screen and more colors.

Plan ahead? Why?
fares are cheap now  

Did you see that new thing? I
ordered one; it’ll be here tomorrow. 

I just want to be warm.

Why bother hanging them?
this new dryer is high-efficiency.

I don’t want to be good; I need
to de-stress and be fully present. 

I tried to be good once, to recycle, to 
do my part, to “save the world.”

Besides, nothing I do will make
any difference whatsoever. 

I want to fiddle while Rome burns, 

and picnic on the railroad tracks. 

This Body JD Stillwater, 2019

This body–
sweaty, stinky, earthy
bones, blood, breath
flabby, wrinkled, furtive
–is no mere shadow.

This body–
that shits and sings and
breathes and heaves and
mumbles and fumbles and
obsesses and professes and
over-eats and over-thinks and
flares and cares and shares and fails
–is no glove for a ghost. 

This body–
of clay and water
smoke and sunlight
salt and germs and meat
–is no fine-tuned apparatus. 

This body–
of sticky hairy 
lusty rusty bloody
slimy grimy snotty
oozing squirting farting
fecund fungus jungle 
pond scum arising to carnal flesh
–is no fallen depravity.

This body–
racing full-tilt after the 
flying football the 
almighty dollar the
gorgeous glamorous girl the
chance at glory or 
at least notoriety or
some whispered remembrance 
–is no clicking whirring clockwork. 

This body–
fertile no longer
but once, wonderfully
(cosmically, even)
still so vibrantly alive 
even as I walk
through the valley of the shadow of 
–is all I truly know. 

This body–
its own magic recipe
blueprint for itself
 like a seed
 like a spore
gathered ingredients
constructed from 
scrapings, pilferings
e unum pluribus
e pluribus unum
–is magic

This body–
the one you pronounce
so confidently 
to be mere
shadow on a cave wall, mere
predictable machine, mere
clothing for a ghost, mere
precursor to heavenly bliss
or eternal torment below,
–this body is real.

This body is mine. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What Folly!

Thinking about my own mortality, trying to apply a deep-time perspective. Should I buy a headstone? A vision came of some fool scurrying to mark the beach at each wave’s furthest reach. That ridiculous image sparked this short poem. 

What hubris is this wave traveling proud, sure to have glory on the sand!
What love abides adeep, enraptured of shimmering countenance above!
What folly, to erect the marble monument marking ripple’s furthest edge! 
How sacred the compassionate longing of ocean for these brief mortals!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Guns, Tyranny, and Thinking Deeper

Well, now it’s out in the open. John Davidson, writing in The Federalist, asserts that the Second Amendment is not really about self defense or hunting. “The right to bear arms stems from the right of revolution.” Davidson and many others want to have recourse if and when tyranny rears its ugly head in America. 

I’ve heard hints of this before, as recently as last week. I responded with typical liberal talking-points, like “How is your little AR-15 supposed to protect your neighborhood against the full force and might of the U.S. Marines for God’s sake, against helicopter gunships, missiles, drones, and tanks?!” A fair question, but a rhetorical one, and one that I now think misses the point. The simple truth is that an armed population is much harder to control and subdue than an unarmed one. I think gun-control advocates often miss this. I did.

I also missed the historic truth that gun-control laws, especially the issuance of permits, has always been an avenue for discrimination against people of color. On the other hand, I also don’t think gun-rights advocates have actually thought through the implications of this “guns are for defending against tyranny” argument. 

Here are two such implications:

(1) Defining tyranny objectively is impossible. To the African-American community of the 1930’s, the American government was about as tyrannical as one can imagine. Is anyone arguing that Black people back then had a Second Amendment right to take up arms against the U.S. Government? If not, why not? What kinds of arms would they have needed, and how many, to prevail in that fight? 

As I watch the Trump administration blatantly violate the constitution’s emoluments clause, slander federal law enforcement agencies, undercut states’ rights, tromp on Americans’ private property rights along international pipeline routes, and sound increasingly like an authoritarian regime, I smell the approach of tyranny. At what point does the Second Amendment give me the right to take up arms in defense of basic American values of equality, liberty, property, and local control? Specifically, how does one determine that tyranny has arrived? What triggers a constitutionally legitimate revolution? Is there such a thing?

(2) When tyranny has indisputably arrived, the fascist dictator will not come to personally shoot dissidents. He will send law enforcement officers, our neighbors and friends in blue, to do that work. Using firearms to “defend against tyranny” means shooting at police officers. Sure, some officers may join the resistance, but the history of fascism makes it clear that law-enforcement officers will NOT KNOW who the good guys and bad guys are. They will do as ordered because it is their job to enforce the law of the land, however unjust or oppressive. And if they refuse, they and their families will suffer. 
If the tyrannical regime is concerned enough about local armed resistance, the regime will send in U.S. military troops instead of police. In that case, our patriotic gun-owning resisters will be shooting at neighbors and friends in camouflage fatigues with the American flag on their shoulders. Again, history is informative: the resistance will be crushed in short order. Taking up arms against tyranny equates to shooting at police officers and American troops in a short and pathetic suicide mission. 

What a quandary! Deterring oppression requires an armed populace, but actual armed resistance is ineffectual and morally indefensible. As is often the case, the solution is to quit thinking in either/or terms and try on some both/and approaches. Here are two possibilities, each with drawbacks and needing more thought, but a start:

1- States or counties could form "militias" (not standing armies, just part-time reserves), train and arm them, and issue military-style weapons (even automatic ones) to select individuals who have been properly trained and vetted. “Proper training” and vetting could be defined by third-party national organizations, similar to how Red Cross and American Heart define certification for CPR, and could include safe storage, a vow to never use them except in war, etc. At the same time, such military-grade weapons would be banned for personal use. The militias would be under the exclusive control of local government. 

2- A private third-party organization could be responsible for keeping a database in which all firearms (all types) would be registered by serial number. That organization could even be a cooperative whose voting members are gun owners themselves, the vast majority of whom are responsible law-abiding adults. In normal times, law enforcement would have access to specific records in the database with a warrant or other documentation of lawful purpose, but the cooperative would have the exclusive right to limit or cut off government access at any time, or to create policies limiting access to certain purposes or documentation. Guns not in the database would be “illegal” and possessors of them would be subject to prosecution and confiscation. 

I don’t pretend to have ready answers to the question of how to address gun violence in America, and I don’t believe there are any easy answers, especially when we consider the impacts of systemic racism on people of color when any new laws are implemented. However, I am certain that the status quo is immoral and politically unsustainable, and I doubt very much that either/or thinking will move us forward. Both “sides” have legitimate concerns. We need new ideas that can slide between the sound bites and talking points to forge both/and resolutions. 

I'd love to hear your thoughtful ideas in the comments. As always, argue to learn rather than to win

Saturday, September 30, 2017


This essay about my experience of the eclipse is posted on the Seven Candles Facebook page, but I wanted folks here to have easy access to it, too. Read it here:

(Includes some great photos)


[Just 'cause there's an awful lot of space left on this page, here's my favorite public-domain photo of the eclipse. Notice the photo-bombing ISS, trying to hide among the sunspots. Zoom in.]

OK, that was fun, but really, please go read my thoughts about the eclipse, here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Little Things

This post is part of Blog March 2017, begun by the great Robin RenĂ©e, and is a movement for Freedom of Expression, Knowledge, and Information. Each day throughout the month of May, a new voice towards a better tomorrow. Yesterday's blog marcher was Bob Bruhin at LOVE in the Afternoon on May 28. Tomorrow's will be Anthony Lioi at Planetary on May 30. I can't vouch for what other marchers post; I'm endorsing free expression, not other bloggers' perspectives. 


I remember the moment. I don’t remember the date, or the time, but I remember the moment itself quite clearly. I came out of my Plant Biology class into the hallway of the Ag Education building, thinking to myself “What am I doing here?...” I walked slowly down the hallway, feeling to my bones the cold gray light coming through the windows from a typical fall afternoon in Ithaca. I stopped at a drinking fountain, and when I looked up from my drink, there it was.

Just a simple sheet of white paper, with large plain black text: The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. In smaller letters it told how 5,000 people were going to walk from Los Angeles to Washington DC. I stared. Then I turned and continued to amble down the hall, but the idea grew. I could do this.

That was over thirty years ago. In the years since, I walked across this continent and joined a political folk-music band along the way, which led me to a combination peace walk and concert tour in the Soviet Union, which some Russian historians cite as playing a minor role in the collapse of the Soviet Union. I met Ann and my stepson Christopher, who is himself now thirty. The band took us to California, where I learned how to build houses, Ann became a nurse, and we conceived Robin. Our time in LA made us crave green stuff, which led us to rural Ohio, and so on, one thing leading to another, then another, and another, but never in a predictable straight line. Each event reverberated forward in a spreading fashion, like a massive avalanche started by a single snowball. The astounding truth is that a single 8½ x 11 sheet of paper stuck to a bulletin board in 1985 is responsible for just about everything that is true in my life today, including the very existence of my daughter and her good work as a nurse and minister.

Can we even begin to measure the long-term impact of that flyer on the children I work with at The Circle School, or on the students I taught in Ohio, or all the people my children will ever meet or touch? How about the people their children will meet, users of my son's elegant code, listeners of his music, or my daughter's parishioners, or the people whose lives she saved in the ER, and so on?

Many years after that Fall afternoon, I went back to school to study Physics, and become excited by a  field of study called Chaos. Chaos Theory describes how later states of any complex system depend entirely on the exact arrangement at earlier times, and how even the tiniest, imperceptibly small change in those earlier conditions can ultimately make the whole system completely different. A butterfly flaps its wings in New York, and a typhoon hits Japan two months later. That’s why we still can’t predict the weather—every time you breathe, you change the state of the atmosphere just enough to totally rearrange the weather a month or two from now, because each air molecule bumps into the ones around it, causing them to move, which causes others to move, and so on. The atmosphere is thermodynamically connected to everything on earth. A butterfly, a cough, or the words “Good morning!” affect entire weather systems down the road. Little things change everything.

Air molecules affect each other by colliding, but there are other ways to be chaotically connected, like the force of gravity. Recent analysis of orbits suggests that moving a pencil from one side of your desk to another is enough change in the gravitational field to shift Jupiter halfway around its orbit a billion years from now. Your body is about ten thousand times the mass of a pencil, so everything you do affects everything else, and over long time scales, those effects really matter. [Get it? “matter”?! I am such a nerd]

I recently read John Michael Greer’s book “Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead” and it’s bouncing around in my head. I recommend it. Greer makes a compelling and provocative case that we are a civilization in slow but now-unavoidable decline. Recent politics since the book came out bear witness to his urgings. And yet. I’ve heard it said that “prediction is difficult, especially if it involves the future” [haha; little joke there–not mine]. Our global civilization is an extremely (obscenely?) complex system, subject to the butterfly effect even as it is subject to the hard limits of the planet’s finite resources.

Human history is chaotic, too, but YOU are one of the initial conditions: leaving home two seconds earlier in the morning puts you in the 12-car pileup, or not; lets you meet your future spouse, or not; lands you your dream job, or not.  And each of those has consequences, and so on. Chaos theory can’t tell us the long-term results of our choices, but it does tell us that every choice is hugely significant. The future of everything is completely different because you are here doing this instead of there doing that.

A friend of mine heard me speak about this, and said, sarcastically: “Thanks JD. Now I can't even get out of bed in the morning!" Well, the first thing to get clear is that the butterfly is not responsible for the typhoon! The person who put up the peace march poster is not responsible for me marrying Ann! You are not responsible for what happens down the line when you could not possibly have foreseen the long-term chaotic results of your actions.

Secondly, I mentioned that orbit stuff not so you’ll worry about causing planetary collisions a billion years from now, but to emphasize our connection with everything, mediated by gravity, history, and the cumulative effect of small changes. We are part of a web of existence that extends to the edge of the known universe and to all time past and future.

So what are we to make of this incredible power we have, if everything we do could just as easily cause WWIII as end poverty? Well, if we go through our lives with our heads down, acting by habit or instinct, then the future will be what it will be, que sera sera. 

But in every moment there is an opportunity to bias the future to the good. The simple, little moments when we could make eye contact and smile at the cashier, make a silly face at a child on the street, or breathe deeply in bumper-to-bumper traffic rather than honking the horn. Miss the opportunity, and you're still incredibly powerful, but you're just one of millions of chips that will fall as they may. Seizing those opportunities starts with awareness: Who am I being right now? What positive, connective action do I have the courage to take right now?

The long-term effects of noticing and taking advantage of these moments is unknown, but cannot possibly be more bad than good, on the whole! It’s not an obligation, it’s a game, completely optional to play or not. But I’ve noticed that when I remember to watch for them, taking these little opportunities enriches my life, and that enrichment snowballs forward, too.

Chaos theory, when combined with mindful attention to snowball-sized opportunities to care and connect, gives us the godlike power to start an avalanche of goodness. Every moment in a lifetime is such an opportunity.

I like to think about the person who stuck that paper above the drinking fountain. Was she in a hurry, after a long day? Did he agonize about whether the drinking fountain was a high-enough-traffic area to be worth it? Had a friend mailed her the thing, and she stuck it to the nearest place just to keep her word? Maybe he was paid to put it there! One thing I’m sure of; that person could not possibly have known how much their simple act would change my world, and, through time, the entire world.  It’s the little things we do that change history. The little things. We have no idea.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Fertilizer Warehouse

This is a story about an afternoon in 1986, and how a hailstorm and a microphone changed my views on conflict and peacemaking. I was walking from Los Angeles to Washington DC on the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. 500 earnest peace-niks left California, crossed the desert and the rocky mountains, and onto the Great Plains. By the time we strolled down into the eastern Colorado summer we were deeply divided. Yeah, I know: the peace march was deeply divided. Go figure. 

The problem was that some of us wanted to leave camp when we darn well pleased each morning, walking in the cool early hours, or waiting until the coffee shops were open, or the sun was up, or just wanting to avoid spending another six hours in earshot of the non-stop drumming from the Buddhist contingent. We were peace pilgrims on a 4000-mile meditation; why should we subject ourselves to regimentation? What’s the problem with letting people walk how they wanna walk? 

Others thought that our impact as a political movement was diluted when we were all strung out, only ten or twelve of us per mile, enough to raise a question in passing drivers, but not enough to answer it. Why bother walking all that way if we’re not going to make a major statement? We should walk in a coordinated group!

Frustration became anger, which bred factions. On one side, the “let people walk when the want to” faction, and on the other, the “we have to walk as a group” faction. People left the march over it. Couples broke up over it; aging civil rights veterans were pitted against young gay rights activists. It was bad. You can guess which side the Anarchists were on. 

On that fateful June afternoon, a storm rolled in as we were trying to set up our tents in a muddy field. Strong winds gave way to hard rain, then large hail. We sprinted for the only building nearby: a fertilizer warehouse. If you’ve never been in a fertilizer warehouse, picture a corrugated metal building with a concrete floor, big rolling doors at the end like an airplane hangar, and stalls around the walls filled with, you guessed it, two dozen different kinds of manure, in big piles suitable for a front-loader. 

We were stuck in there until the storm let up, so someone set up a microphone and a speaker, and, over the roar of hail on the metal roof, invited us to just talk, two minutes each, about the issue of how we should walk each day. With nothing else to do, not even a safe place to sit down, we listened. We talked and we listened. Some got in line several times; some didn’t speak at all, but everyone had a chance to share their thoughts. At first, the tone was angry, then exasperated, then thoughtful, then a bit sheepish, and finally conciliatory, ending with peals of laughter and jokes about our surroundings that aren’t appropriate to repeat here. 
It wasn’t a debate, or an argument, or a courtroom scene; there was no motion on the floor, nothing to decide, just a bunch of people in an uncomfortable situation, sharing their thoughts one at a time. And listening. (Smelling, tasting, and touching weren’t really options.)

After a couple hours of listening and talking, one at a time, both the storm and our divisions had completely passed. We knew exactly what we would do: we would walk in a tight group through cities and towns, and strung out in the rural countryside: City Mode and Country Mode. It was an obvious resolution, but one that we couldn’t see from our self-righteous factions. There was no big vote, no straw poll, no formal consensus sought or gained, no talk of enforcement, we just knew. It was obvious. It was peacemaking. It was magic. 

In today’s fractured world, with its hot wars and religious strife and dysfunctional politics, “listening” as a way forward just seems too simple, too quaint, too naive to even mention. Maybe we need the global equivalent of a hailstorm and a manure warehouse, but I don’t think so. I think the magic of making peace really is as simple as taking the time to listen. Listen, speak, listen some more. 

Who do you need to listen to?