Banter M Issue 43

In this issue of Banter M:

Until You and Your Shitty Shoulder Both Die - Chez Pazienza describes the brutal reality of age after a trip to the doctor for his shoulder, which simply stopped working. Age really isn't just a number -- it is a real pain in the ass (or whichever body part decides to stop functioning).

Your Traumatized Republican Uncle - Ben Cohen looks behind the crazy exterior of your Republican uncle to find out what motivates his hatred and fear of others.

When Does Life Really Begin? - Bob Cesca asks the hard question: when does life really begin, and why to Republicans insist on skewing the scientific facts to fit their deeply sexist world view?

We Can't Have It All and That's How It Should Be - Jamie Frevele dispels the myth that you can have it all in life after giving up several things she enjoys for a new opportunity. After all, if everything always went according to plan and you had it all, how would you ever become an adult? 


Your Traumatized Republican Uncle 

by Ben Cohen

Recently, I had a heated argument with an extended family member about the American presidential elections. For the sake of this article, we'll call him David.

David believes Hillary Clinton is the spawn of Satan -- a power hungry bitch who probably murdered Vince Foster and is as corrupt a politician as they come. From Benghazi to the email scandal, Clinton would be the worst thing to happen to America ever. David also believes that while Bernie Sanders may be a decent person, he would be a terrible President because he wants to "soak the rich" and take away America's major engine for economic growth -- unfettered, free market capitalism. David thinks that Donald Trump is a corrupt megalomaniac, and believes Marco Rubio was the best choice in the Republican field. 

In short, David is your prototypical angry, white, Republican who mostly formulates his opinions based on the incessant screeching on Fox News. While not completely unthinking, his worldview has been created by a supposed news network that focuses its journalistic efforts on attacking the poor and vulnerable, blaming them for the country's woes while providing cover for the powerful. 

During the argument, I could feel my temper rising, and I had to resist the urge to start shouting (as he was). Anger rarely defeats anger, so I did my best to calmly debunk the ludicrous nonsense coming out of his mouth: No, Hillary Clinton did not murder Vince Foster. No, taxing the rich would not destroy the American economy, and no, the Community Reinvestment Act did not bring down Wall St and global financial markets in 2008. 

David is not a stupid man, and some of the arguments I made appeared to resonate -- like a flicker of a light bulb going off in his head as the math actually added up for the first time (if America is not a socialist country, why has has it always bailed out, funded, and protected its major industries?). But the years of conditioning were ultimately too much, and David would give way to anger and fear instead of trying to gain a more mature understanding of human nature and the country's problems. Of course rich white people were not to blame -- they built America and have victimized ever since! Lazy blacks, thieving migrants and do-good liberals have destroyed the country, and if only they would quit bitching and moaning, America could be restored to its mythical greatness that existed sometime in the 1950's. 

The argument ended after a particularly nasty rant about liberals destroying work ethic in America, and I left feeling angry and somewhat traumatized by the unadulterated hate and anger he projected throughout the conversation. 

After a few hours, the anger and emotional shock subsided, turning into empathy as I tried to understand why he had gotten to a place where hatred of other governed much of his waking life. It dawned on me that he was a victim of America's massively dysfunctional society and economic system too -- a classic example of a traumatized person projecting their own fears and insecurities onto the world around them. 

I don't know a huge amount about David's childhood or upbringing other than it was economically challenging and filled with anxiety over crime, but it is evident that his coping mechanisms for life were not built around empathy or understanding -- key skills required to build a decent society that is not constantly at war with itself. Economic disenfranchisement and inequality is a defining characteristic of American society, byproducts of the Randian economic system that believes greed to be the greatest force for good in the world.  Those unable to survive this brutal system are labeled lazy and inadequate, while those who succeed begin to believe the opposite about themselves. 

David, it seems to me, is somewhere in the middle -- wealthy enough to not consider himself a failure, but not wealthy enough to consider himself a success. This is Fox News's key demographic -- a vulnerable sector of the population that has seen their earnings flatline while the cost of living spirals upwards. Not equipped with enough of an education to fully understand why these trends have grown more extreme over the past few decades, people like David latch onto convenient arguments that don't require any emotional maturity or much actual thought. 

After years and years of listening to blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh -- men who make millions and millions of dollars promoting their warped view of the world to the struggling middle classes -- people like David cannot extricate themselves from the circular thinking that can only exist if they block out all inconvenient arguments. The logic works if it is fear based, that an 'other' is responsible for your own shortcomings and the country's, and that people like you are victims of a system designed to reward failures. 

Sadly, I fear there is no way to reach people like David. Because once their arguments have been exposed for what they really are -- childish fantasies built on a foundation of intellectual sand -- there is nothing left other than hatred and fear. And hatred and fear cannot be rationed with no matter how self evident the arguments may be. 

In future, I will likely try to avoid debating David. Mostly because I do actually like him and think there is a good person behind his hate filled exterior, but also because engaging him directly is almost entirely pointless. The generation of angry white men created, fueled and held captive by Fox News is a dying breed desperately clinging on to a fictional value system that never existed. While they must be engaged with in order to defeat them, they should not be the aim of an alternative message of hope and understanding. That is for the next generation of potential Fox News viewers and Republican voters -- those young enough to change their minds and move away from the fear and anger of their traumatized predecessors. 

Next: We Can't Have It All and That's How It Should Be - by Jamie Frevele


We Can't Have It All and That's How It Should Be

by Jamie Frevele

I had the great opportunity to do something that everyone living in the modern era looks forward to doing: announcing a new job on Facebook. After months of having to keep things on the down-low, waiting for official word that the show I was working on was going to be picked up, I finally got to tell people that I was working for National Geographic. This was a major, major victory for my career, which was a huge weight off my shoulders after struggling for so many years to just get a job. In the midst of all of this, I moved from a bad living situation to a vastly improved one, quit drinking (for the most part), and fell right the hell out of my extremely beloved kickboxing practice. I also was at a total loss on the relationship front, but that has never been good, so I don't have to factor it in. My poor dog also had to undergo heartworm treatment, so I had some serious mommy-guilt stacked on top of all of this. She's fine now, but is it too much to ask that when some things are going well that all things can just go well?

Yes. Things should not always go according to plan. If everything in your life is going well, I actually think it will spoil you and you'll never learn how to adapt to things. Something has to suck because as an adult, you need to learn how to deal with things while other things are going on. And that should make sense to everyone because can you imagine a completely stagnant life? Even if that stagnancy is pleasant? You wouldn't even notice what's good anymore, then you become obsessed with scaling another mountain while things are actually just fine.

This is what I think is wrong with Donald Trump as a person. It's not that he's a racist, sexist narcissist, even though he clearly is. It's that things have always been easy for him. Things have always gone his way, so he gets bored shitless and tries the next big thing (like running for President). This is not a man who has struggled. Ever. Not with money, not with work, not with women, not with anything. Trump has had opportunities handed to him since childhood, so he has really never had to be patient or compromise. Instead, his struggles are imagined. The mere act of someone saying "no" to him is his struggle, and now that he's in the spotlight of a national campaign, lots and lots of people are saying "no" to him.

If he isn't a prime example for why we should stop the "special snowflake child" movement, I don't know what is.

There's one good argument to have kids: to create people who knows how to handle life when things don't bend to their will. And no, not everyone has to have one, but anyone who is on the fence might want to consider that an item on the "pro-kids" list. Just think -- so many people will be having hyper-sensitive, spoiled brats who can't handle shit that it's up to us, the withering childbearing masses, to cancel them out with much more powerful, adaptable, and open-hearted people.

Speaking of powerful, adaptable people, let's consider someone in the political arena who has actually worked to earn an achievement or two: Elizabeth Warren. Here is a woman who came from a working-class family who found themselves in a tight spot after Warren's father had a heart attack. The future senator started working at age 13, waiting tables. No "small loan of a million dollars" for this child. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she taught children with disabilities while getting her bachelor's degree. Then, in between having her two kids, she went to law school. Eventually, she specialized in consumer protection and bankruptcy law -- you know, to protect the kinds of people Trump has spent a lifetime ruining. Elizabeth Warren's career has had almost nothing to do with rich people except for fighting against them. And speaking as a woman, you can also bet that she's heard the word "no" many, many times throughout her career.  And now, people are clamoring for her to run for president because most people in this country can relate to being told "no" a lot. And, ironically, she's saying "no." Maybe she's satisfied with where she is, and rather than pursuing power, she's saying, "No thanks, I'm good."

That's a good place to be. Not everything is perfect, but I'm good right now. I don't need more of anything. My body and vagina might be unused and neglected, but my brain, soul, and heart are truly fulfilled. Sometimes I can't have nice things. And that's okay.

Next: When Does Life Really Begin? - by Bob Cesca

When Does Life Really Begin?

by Bob Cesca

Donald Trump thinks women who have illegal abortions, whether following the overturning of Roe v Wade or in any number of states, such as Indiana, where abortion is outlawed after 20 weeks, should be penalized for murder. If fertilized ovum are persons, according to Rand Paul, shouldn't the destruction of these persons be defined as murder? Of course. But the anti-choice GOP has refused to admit -- that is until Trump blurted it out. The story raises the serious issue of when human life begins.

During the final days of the 2012 Republican primaries, Mitt Romney's son Tagg announced the birth of David Mitt and William Ryder -- twin sons conceived with Tagg's wife, Jennifer. The Romney grandchildren were born healthy and without complications. Mostly. The complications came during the attempted conception of the children.

It turns out that Tagg and Jennifer conceived their twins via IVF, or in vitro fertilization. The embryos were fertilized by doctors and implanted in the uterus of a surrogate who carried the twins to term.

The famously pro-life former presidential candidate was, of course, a proud grandfather, even though the process used by his son and daughter-in-law likely resulted in the destruction of embryos. In other words, many of the Romney embryos were aborted, either spontaneously or by medical researchers or by simply discarding the unused embryos as biohazard waste.

How did Mitt Romney feel about the destruction of embryos used for IVF? The Republican presidential nominee said at the time:

"I believe that when a couple gets together and decides that they want to bring a child into the Earth, and they go to a fertility clinic to do so, and if they're going to be through that process a leftover embryo or two, that they should be able to decide whether to preserve that embryo for future use or to destroy it; to have it put up for adoption or potentially to be used for research and experimentation, hopefully leading to the cure of disease."

Deciding. As in choosing? As in making a choice? Sounds like it.

If life begins at conception and therefore must be protected at all stages of fetal development, as many Republicans believe, then aren't IVF clinics and the couples who pay for IVF services, including the Romneys, responsible for individually murdering countless human beings? It depends on what your definition of "life" and "murder" happens to be. Anti-choice Republicans, including libertarian Rand Paul and GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich agree that life begins at conception and destroying that life ought to be against the law -- with a few exceptions for rape and so forth.

Before we continue, let's establish a definition of "life." Every cell is life. The cells that form your skin, hair and organs are alive. Life is literally everywhere around us. The abortion debate, however, circulates around what is considered a human being, or a human life, and specifically when the process of human life begins. We know when it ends, but when it officially begins remains ambiguous.  

Generally speaking, the human life cycle begins at conception. This is undisputed since every human being ever to have existed was once a morula, then a blastula, then an embryo, and so on. But does this alleged human being possess all of the requirements for life at this point? The answer continues to be debatable, given the reality that until roughly six months into a pregnancy and the onset of tenuous viability (if the prematurely born fetus is really lucky), the fetus is incapable of surviving outside of an amniotic sac inside a human uterus. Throughout the majority of fetal growth, internal organs and perception of self are still completely underdeveloped, compared to a birthed human. Indeed, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, a fetus can't even feel pain until the sixth month (or the beginning of the third trimester).

Regardless of what happens at each stage, the life cycle undeniably begins at conception for all vertebrates, including humans. But this human life is still attached to and growing inside a fully sentient human woman whose civil rights ought to include purview over her internal organs, rather than ceding control to the government. Or, in the case of the Romneys, two "human lives" were attached to a human woman, while others were frozen. It's a distinction that's more or less irrelevant to the anti-choice crowd. Life still begins at conception they say. Why, then, do they not seem to care too much about the discarded "lives" at IVF clinics? We'll answer this question presently and it involves icky-icky sex. Ewwww.

According to one study, as many as 95 percent of all IVF embryos are discarded, either in the trash or donated for medical research where they're destroyed anyway. Another study showed that 20 percent of couples who undergo IVF treatments preserve their frozen embryos indefinitely. Statistically speaking, if half of all voting age Americans are Republicans, you do the math. How many anti-choice Republicans undergoing IVF treatments have murdered their embryos? That's a lot of hypocrisy, yes?

When it was revealed last Summer that Planned Parenthood donated fetal tissue to medical researchers working on cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, anti-choice zealots refused to acknowledge the differences between using fetal tissue for research or simply throwing away aborted fetuses. These aforementioned zealots seemed to imply that it'd be more appropriate to throw away aborted fetuses than to use the tissues for curing terrible diseases. The latter was evil, worthy of defunding the clinics. They only focused on the abortion part of the story -- along with, of course, fabricated allegations about killing birthed fetuses and illegally harvesting organs.

What's the difference between IVF clinics and Planned Parenthood's ill-fated fetal tissue donation program? The answer in the eyes of anti-choice misogynists can be defined like so: it's the sluts who are the murders. It should be obvious by this disparity that anti-choice activists are almost exclusively focused on restricting how apparent sluts who fuck too many men, and -- WHOOPS! -- get pregnant, are murdering babies. Sluts are baby killers, but wholesome Mormon couples like Tagg and Jennifer Romney are merely trying to bring lives into the world, so the 95 percent of embryos they helped to Murder are irrelevant.

Mitt Romney even outlined the distinction in his 2012 interview: "If you're creating new life, simply to destroy it, you've gone across a bright red ethical boundary, and we shouldn't go there."

Not only does Romney think that baby killers got pregnant just to kill the fetus anyway -- which is an insane perspective -- but he also thinks that life and death is measured by the intentions of the parents. Put another way, if you intend to give birth and, again, WHOOPS! -- you murder an entire litter of human beings -- it's okay according to Romney. But if you're just in it for the slutty sex, then you're an unforgivable murderer. (Never mind the assumption that all abortions are performed for nefarious purposes rather than for legitimate reasons.)

So, now we're off on an entirely new When Does Life Begin? tangent. If the intention of the parents is factored into the equation, let's play devil's advocate here. What if a completely fertile couple -- an ovulating woman and a sperm-heavy man -- decide to have sex one night. Given these factors, intercourse would likely result in fertilization. But at the last minute, the man decides to wear a condom, or they both decide not to have sex. The creation of a new human life was thwarted at the last minute. The woman's ovum is ejected with her next period, and the man's sperm die in his testicles or while squirming aimlessly in the wet spot on the bed sheets. Life thwarted. If intention is a factor, isn't this couple deciding to preemptively abort their would-be child?

This is the "every sperm is sacred" theory. Sperm and ovum, they say, are potential lives, given certain biological circumstances. According to some religions, including Catholicism, using condoms, or having sex for pleasure, and even masturbation is a form of murder and therefore a sin. (For what it's worth, these three rules were the main factors in my departure from the Catholic Church nearly 30 years ago.) It's also the basis for anti-contraception activists who not only believe that birth control leads to gratuitous sex, but that it also stymies potential life. So, yes, in a way, it's about intention as much as it is about abortion. 

Cutting to the chase, if we follow the anti-choice reasoning to its fullest extent, an idea can kill a person, and life begins long before conception. Further descending into this rabbit hole, single people are murderers. People who don't like to have sex are also murderers. People who have vasectomies or tubal ligations or hysterectomies are murderers.  People who simply decide never to conceive are murderers.

For all these reasons, the process of birth continues to be the most logical threshold for when sentient life begins. Once a viable fetus is detached from the mother's body, that life is an individual with accompanying rights. Until then, the person to whom that fetus is attached should have domain over her body and the right to decide whether that clump of cells (more often than not) should continue on to birth, just as Tagg and Jennifer Romney were allowed to decide the fate of their embryos in cold storage.

Next: Until You and Your Shitty Shoulder Both Die - by Chez Pazienza

Until You and Your Shitty Shoulder Both Die

by Chez Pazienza

One of my favorite Louie CK bits involves him lamenting getting old and how it's changed the way he's treated by his doctor, namely that after a certain age the doctor just stops trying to fix certain problems in favor of chalking it up to age. In the bit, Louie goes to see his doctor about some pain he's been having in his ankle, only to find out that the problem is nothing more than normal wear-and-tear that's the result of being in his mid-40s. When he asks what can be done to treat the issue, the doctor tells him, well, nothing. He says that his ankle is "just shitty now" and worn-out and he has to live with it. He can stretch and take Aleve, but there's not much else that can be done. When told this, Louie asks the doctor, "How long will that take to fix it?" to which the doctor replies, "No, you just do that now. That's just a new thing you do until you and your shitty ankle both die." 

It's been nice being able to say that I never had that kind of experience. Sure, from the moment I get up in the morning until the moment I go to sleep, I feel every single year of my 46 on this planet. Despite beginning a series of HGH and testosterone shots recently -- part of the ongoing aftermath of a tumor I had removed from my head a decade ago -- I'm still very aware of my age because my body is constantly reminding me in tiny ways. I can't just bound out of bed in the morning with the kind of energy I once had. It takes me much longer to recharge after a difficult workout. If I read off of my iPhone for too long, my eyes won't be able to focus properly for hours. The HGH and T-shots really are the fountain of youth in many ways, but that age-ain't-nothin'-but-a-number shit is just that -- shit. I still look pretty decent for my age, but it never escapes me that I'm not a kid anymore.

Still, it hadn't really hit me that I'm going to begin facing a lot of new difficulties I never had to before. I tried to put it out of my head that time causes permanent damage to the human body and at some point I would begin seeing that for myself. I was able to for a good portion of my 40s -- but that was always going to change one day. One day I was going to hit the wall and be forced to confront the fact that there are things I just can't do anymore. Or, when I do them, I'm gonna pay a hefty price.

Last week, I woke up one morning to find that I had weakness in my right arm. I couldn't explain it and had never experienced anything like it before. No pain, nothing to panic over, just -- weakness. Something was obviously wrong. Like most denizens of the internet age, I of course responded to this strange situation by opening up my laptop and Googling my symptoms -- and like most panicky 40-something men, I read the worst possible scenario first and assumed that was what was probably wrong with me. "I have Lou Gehrig's disease," I said out loud to my cat, who was perched next to me on the arm of my couch. Needless to say, the cat didn't much care. If she did understand I figure she just consoled herself with the knowledge that my fiancée would still be around to feed her. She has priorities. As for me, in the end I just chalked my weak arm up to having maybe slept on it wrong the night before. Whatever the issue was, I didn't remember trauma being a factor in it.

The weakness continued for a couple of days and became much more apparent when I hit SoulCycle and tried to push my way through the free-weight portion of my workout. Put simply, I had a hell of a time trying to get even small five-pound weights over my head. I was ready to make an appointment with my doctor when things went from concerning to genuinely worrisome, that's because my arm started hurting -- badly. The pain seemed to be coming from just below my right shoulder blade and shot outward like lightning through my entire arm. It wasn't constant; only when I moved my arm in certain ways. But the pain was excruciating and undeniable. By the time that began I had taken my 7-year-old daughter for her spring break and wasn't really in a position to potentially spend hours as a walk-in at my doctor's office, followed almost certainly by a trip to the hospital for x-rays and so on. So for a few days, I lived with it. I had a couple of painkillers left over from a while back so I snacked on those, which took the edge off, iced my shoulder and generally tried to avoid using it. But I was more than a little scared.

So yesterday, with my kid back in Laguna Beach, I went to the doctor. I explained to him what was wrong, how it had started with weakness and then became pain and now was topped off with a certain amount of immobility -- I literally couldn't lift my arm higher than my shoulder without pressure stopping it fully -- and he ran me through a couple of paces. It turned out that whatever it was that was wrong, it was visible to the naked eye. I hadn't thought to actually turn around and watch the movement of my arm, shoulder and back in the mirror as I tried to lift my arm but when I saw the doctor's eyes widen I knew something looked very, very bad. "Wow, look at that," he said. "Your shoulder blade pushes out from your back when you try to raise your arm." He called in another doctor for a consult and told me that whatever was happening to me it was the kind of thing you learn about in med school but which doctors working in practices tend not to actually see. "You could have a dislocation," he said, adding with noticeable confusion, "are you sure there was no trauma? You didn't hit it or twist it or something?" My only response: "Not that I know of."

With that, I was off to the hospital, armed with a prescription for an x-ray or CT scan. I was processed quickly and shown to the imaging waiting room. During that time, an orthopedist with a trail of residents following behind him came in and took a look at me, reacting with the same confusion as my own doctor. "I haven't seen anything like that that didn't come from trauma," he said. "Great, so it's going to have to be amputated, right?" He smiled and said it could either be a dislocation or maybe just a very severe nerve compression that was actually pushing my scapula outward when I tried to move my arm. After a couple of hours of waiting, because the only "emergency" that gets you treated immediately in an emergency room is the kind that's accompanied by profuse bleeding from holes in your body you weren't born with, I got my scan. It took another half-hour before an entirely new doctor approached me with my results. They were, to put it mildly, anti-climactic. And that's what was so depressing about this whole thing.

"You're getting old," he said, pityingly. The issue with my shoulder -- what caused me so much pain and what had reduced me to moving like an invalid -- was simply "wear-and-tear." "There are a whole lot of little nerve irritations and compressions going on under that shoulder blade that are the result of the area around them just breaking down," he explained, reading from my test results. "We're going to give you painkillers and an anti-inflammatory regimen and that should do it for you." So, nothing was really wrong. Nothing specific anyway. What was wrong was me. The fact that I'm just getting old and my shoulder is -- well -- shitty. I shuffled out of the hospital with my prescription print-outs in my hand and my head down, suddenly feeling like the weight of the universe was pressing down on me. I'm getting old. I can pretend I'm not. I can dress in all the skinny Diesel jeans, John Varvatos hoodies and Converse sneakers I want. I can be happy I have an even better waistline than I did when I was in high school and that size-small t-shirts still fit me. But in the end -- I'm still getting old.

When I began writing online ten years ago, in addition to tackling politics, the media and pop culture, I wrote a lot about myself. My past. My exploits. Drugs, sex, atrocious behavior, fun -- at that point, an adult lifetime spent being an overgrown kid. Now? Here I am, writing about the ways my body is slowly breaking down whether I want it to or not. I'm Holden Caulfield if he had been written by Updike and were three books into a four book series. Maybe a better literary analogy would be that I'm finally truly becoming J. Alfred Prufrock, measuring his life out in coffee spoons. This isn't to say I'm ready for the grave, but suddenly here it is: proof that as young as I may try to think, my body is thinking something else: "Fuck you." It's all downhill from here. It is all downhill from here.