The moral ambiguity of abortion

In recent weeks, issues concerning reproductive rights and family planning have once again been thrust to the forefront of the so-called “culture wars” here in the United States.  One aspect of this has been a renewed  effort in several states to curb, if not eliminate altogether, a woman’s access to an abortion.  All of this has caused me to engage in my own personal reflections, re-examining how I feel about the volatile issues surrounding abortions.

I think perhaps many of those fighting in the Pro-Life Movement make a serious mistake, in that they often assume that women casually choose to undergo abortions, giving it as much consideration as, say, choosing to dye their hair a different color or buying a new dress.  Without making any sort of sweeping generalization, from what I have heard & read, and from women I have talked to, the majority of those who terminated a pregnancy did not do so casually.  There was a certain amount of emotional uncertainty and pain involved in choosing that course of action.  (Of course, there are exceptions, and I have also met a few women who apparently just shrugged it off.)

My point is that many of those who are Pro-Choice, who support a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy, do recognize that it is a serious choice with a potentially great deal of physical and mental fallout involved.

How do I personally feel about abortion?  That’s a tricky question.  To be completely honest, the idea makes me uncomfortable.  At times very uncomfortable.  Cutting right to the chase, a fetus is an organic, living object.  Does it qualify as a human being?  I honestly do not know.  But the thought of killing something that is definitively alive, that has the potential to grow into a human being, very much unsettles me.  And at times I do wonder if abortion really is a morally palatable decision.

I especially feel that way regarding late-term or partial-birth abortions.  My main reason for opposing a ban on them is that I fear it would lead to a legislative slippery slope that could see the outlawing of other forms of abortion.

So why am I Pro-Choice at all?  Because, simply put, I feel abortion can be the lesser of two evils.

I see it as terribly unjust to force a woman to endure an unwanted pregnancy, especially one caused by rape or incest, or one where prenatal tests reveal that the unborn child is afflicted with some sort of physical or mental disorder.  I also feel it is wrong to force a woman to have a child when she is financially and/or emotionally unable to provide for that child.  Our world already has millions of unwanted children living in poverty, barely surviving from one day to the next, leading terrible lives we cannot conceive of.  Should even more future children be forced into such dire circumstances?

Additionally, many foes of abortion are also simultaneously opposed to any other family planning services, such as teaching sex education in schools and enabling women easy access to contraception.  There is a solidly puritanical streak to this segment of the Pro-Life movement, believing that sex should only take place in a marriage, and solely for the purposes of procreation.  I respect these people’s rights to their religious beliefs; what I am offended by is their efforts to impose them upon the rest of American society.  Besides, their objections to sex education and birth control are simply unrealistic in the 21st Century.  They are actually more likely to lead to further unwanted pregnancies and, in turn, increased numbers of abortions.

But my primary reason for supporting access to abortion is that I am revolted by the fact that many self-proclaimed Pro-Life figures and groups simply do not give a damn about a child once it is actually born.  I’m reminded of that old joke, namely “Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.”  So many of the politicians who decry abortion the loudest are the ones cutting social services, blocking access to health care, and eliminating funding to education.  The message appears to be, “Once you’re out of the womb, kiddo, you’re on your own for the rest of your life. Good luck, you’ll need it!”

As much as abortion unsettles me, I am even more uncomfortable with the idea of the government telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her body, with forcing her to give birth to an unwanted child, something that will literally change her entire life.

And I am also Pro-Choice because, at the end of the day, I am a man, not a woman.  I will never be able to conceive a child or give birth.  I will never be able to truly understand how a pregnant woman feels.  And for that reason, despite my very strong misgivings concerning abortion, I feel I cannot tell a woman what to do in that situation.

A marvelous G.I. Joe reunion at IDW

I’ve been enjoying the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series that IDW has been publishing for the past couple of years.  The main drawing point has, of course, been the return of writer Larry Hama to the characters he made such a phenomenon in the 1980s.

(I previously did a review of the first two IDW trade paperback collections on Yahoo Contributor Network, but that’s no longer online.  One of these days I should re-post it on this blog.)

GI Joe Annual 2012 cover

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero has continued to be enjoyable.  The recently-released 2012 annual was definitely a highlight.  Hama took a break from the monthly storylines to present a stand-alone tale focusing on a rogue Cobra Crimson Guard unit attempting to carry out a terrorist plot, with both the Joe team and Zartan’s outlaw Dreadnoks racing to thwart them.  The writing may not have been nearly as strong as Hama’s work on the monthly book, but it contained an abundance of his trademark dry wit & deadpan humor.

(I don’t think Hama likes the term “deadpan humor” but I’m not quite sure how else to describe it.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it works very well.)

The main selling point for me was the line-up of artists.  Ron Frenz, Ron Wagner, and Herb Trimpe shared penciling duties, with Sal Buscema inking the entire story.  In service of the multiple artists, Hama cleverly structured his storytelling to shift focus between the three groups.  The Guardsmen pages were penciled by Frenz, the Cobra and Dreadnoks pages by Wagner, and the G.I. Joe pages by Trimpe.  Buscema’s inking gave the overall book a certain uniform feel, so that the transitions back and forth between the trio of pencilers were not jarring.

GI Joe Annual 2012 pg 18

The annual was something of a mini-Marvel Comics reunion, both in terms of the G.I. Joe title and in a broader sense.  Each of the four artists produced a large body of work at Marvel in the past.  In regards to G.I. Joe, Trimpe was the book’s original artist in the early 1980s.  Even though he has drawn numerous covers for the IDW series, this annual features his first interior work for the revival.  Wagner also worked on G.I. Joe, penciling the book in the late 1980s.

Additionally, both Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema had momentous, nearly-uninterrupted runs penciling Marvel’s Incredible Hulk series.   Trimpe was the artist on the Hulk from 1968 to 1975, while Buscema drew the Hulk between 1976 and 1985.  So you have two men who are almost universally regarded as the definitive illustrators of one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters.  And, as far as I am aware, they have only worked together on a handful of occasions in the past (I believe Trimpe was inked by Buscema on a few issues of Incredible Hulk way back in 1971).  So, for a long-time Marvel fan such as myself, it was a thrill to see the two collaborating on this annual.

GI Joe Annual 2012 pg 19

Of course, I would be even happier to see Trimpe & Buscema together again on a Hulk story.  I don’t know if Marvel would even be interested in such a project.  But occasionally they do publish a “retro” special or flashback sequence, so it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility.   Until that happens, this G.I. Joe annual serves as a nice reunion between the two comic book legends.

In any case, considering the very unfortunate tendency of Marvel (as well as DC) to offer less and less work to older artists such as Trimpe and Buscema, or even to such talents as Frenz or Wagner, who both had regular monthly gigs as recently as the 1990s, I certainly appreciate them being given the opportunity to produce new work.  For that reason alone, the 2012 G.I. Joe annual is well worth picking up.

Liberty versus Security

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide, you shouldn’t even be here
You’ve had your chance, now we’ve got the mandate
If you’ve changed your mind, I’m afraid it’s too late
We’re concerned you’re a threat
You’re not integral to the project

Pet Shop Boys, “Integral”

In the last decade, as the “War on Terror” has been raged, first by the Bush and then the Obama administrations, the question of the balance between liberty and security has been a fierce one.  This is not a new debate, though.  The questions and controversies surrounding increased governmental powers and limitations on civil rights date back to the early years of our nation.

In 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed into law as a reaction to the French Revolution’s bloody Reign of Terror.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus.  Although Lincoln is regarded as one of the greatest of the U.S. Presidents, this is an action that a century and a half later is still hotly debated among historians.  And during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast within internment camps.

So the continuing reactionary policies of certain politicians in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, although disheartening, are anything but unprecedented.  On December 31, 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act.  One provision of the law is that it affirmed the ability of the federal government to indefinitely imprison without trial any individuals, including American citizens.  Many have regarded this as just the latest trampling of the Bill of Rights by an increasingly unchecked government.  Myself, I was very disappointed that Obama signed this into law.  Disappointed, but not surprised.  It is an election year, after all, and he obviously did not want to appear weak on national security.  Whatever else he is, Obama is a shrewd individual who wants to gain a second term as President.  He is certainly not the first politician to forsake his stated principles in order to court votes.

More recently, here in New York City, it has been revealed that the NY Police Department has been conducting extensive surveillance of Muslim-American businesses and students, even going so far as to follow them out-of-state.  There are concerns that the NYPD is not acting on any legitimate leads or suspicions, but rather engaging in racial profiling.  The Associated Press’s revelation of these actions has resulted in criticism not just from the Muslim community, but from officials in New Jersey and Washington DC.  The FBI seems to be regarding the NYPD’s lone wolf tactics as having both damaged several of their own investigations, as well as harming relations between the government and the Muslim community.  Unsurprisingly, despite all of the criticism, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have imperiously refused to back down, retorting that their actions were both legal and necessary to save lives from possible terrorist threats.

It appears that it is within our nature to all-to-quickly give in to fear, to be ready to forsake our liberty for a comforting feeling of security.  We should do well to remember the words often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, namely that those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.

Please keep in mind that I am not claiming that legitimate threats to our security do not exist.  They do, and we need to safeguard against them.  But in the process, it is crucial that we do not destroy the very freedoms we are fighting to safeguard.  There must ever be a balance between liberty and security.  Too much of one extreme or the other can lead to devastating consequences.

Philip Madoc: 1934 – 2012

I just learned that Welsh actor Philip Madoc passed away today, March 5, at the age of 77.  Madoc was a prolific actor who appeared on numerous British television series.  Here in the States, he is probably best known for his long association with the sci-fi series Doctor Who.  Madoc had roles in four different Doctor Who television serials. Two of those, The War Games and The Brain of Morbius, saw Madoc in very memorable turns as villains, respectively as the sinister fascist War Lord and the fanatical mad scientist Mehendri Solon. Madoc’s first Who-related role was actually in the 1966 movie adaptation Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD.  In recent years, he lent his vocal talents to two of the Doctor Who audio plays produced by Big Finish, Master and Return of the Krotons, as well as a couple of the Faction Paradox audio dramas that spun out of the 1990s Doctor Who novels.

Image

I was always impressed by Madoc’s acting.  He had the most wonderfully rich voice, low and deep, almost whispering, which brought such dramatic gravitas to the roles he played.  This made him much in demand to play villains, as well as for work in radio and voiceovers.  I really had hoped that he might be asked by the producers of the revived Doctor Who series to make an appearance.  It would have been marvelous to see him opposite David Tennant or Matt Smith.  But, alas, that was not to be.

Madoc leaves behind an extensive body of work in television, film, theater, and radio, a rich legacy indeed.

Politics, Star Wars, and the Death of Civility

“There is no civility, only politics. The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates.  There is no interest in the common good.”

The above quote is from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, spoken by Senator Palpatine.  True, it was eventually revealed that Palpatine was Darth Sidious, a Sith lord who was using & manipulating the political corruption of his colleagues to engineer the behind-the-scenes fall of the Republic, replacing it with the tyrannical Galactic Empire.  That said, of late I have nevertheless often been recalling Palpatine’s words in regards to the political atmosphere in the United States of the 21st Century.

Darth Sidious

Ever since the highly contested 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the political atmosphere in the United States has become increasingly polarized.  This has become even more pronounced since the election of Barak Obama in 2008, with numerous ultra right-wing groups having sprung up to vilify the President, claiming he is not really a natural born US citizen, that he is a Communist, that he’s secretly some kind of stealth Muslim intent on undermining our national security & religious freedoms.

I am certainly not claiming that all of the blame for our current political woes lies solely with the Republicans.  There were plenty of Democrats who during the Bush years were complacent at best, complicit at worst, in bowing down to the post-9/11 fears and paranoia to give that administration a blank check to invade Iraq and trample on civil liberties.  There is plenty of self-interest and corruption in Washington to go around, and it is not exclusive to either party.

That said, it appears that the most virulently hateful and ignorant rhetoric of recent years has come from individuals or groups identifying themselves either with the Republicans or the Tea Party.  When you have prominent public figures spreading the aforementioned innuendo about Obama or, worse yet, praying for his death, you have to realize that the political atmosphere in this country has truly become toxic.

Especially coming to mind are Rush Limbaugh’s comments over the past week.  Limbaugh, weighed in on the recent contentious debate over whether or not religious-affiliated institutions should be mandated to provide contraceptives under their insurance plans.  Specifically, he took aim at Sandra Fluke, a third year student at Georgetown Law School, which is a Jesuit-run school.  Fluke testified before a House Democrat panel defending the HHS Contraceptive Mandate.

In response to Fluke’s statements before the House of Representative panel, Limbaugh took to the air, ranting “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.”

So this is what passes for political discourse in present-day America.  And it is, sadly, a typical example.  To say “there is no civility” would be a massive understatement.  Obviously Limbaugh is entitled to his opinions concerning the HHS Contraceptive Mandate.  But there is no need for him to engage in such base vulgarity and character assassination.

A few days ago, I briefly posted about Limbaugh’s tirade on Facebook.  Someone I am friends with on that site who is of a more Conservative persuasion than me took issue.  He argued that I would have no problem if a Liberal took similar potshots at a Republican.  My response was this: I’m angry at anyone on the “left” or the “right” who resorts to such denigrating tactics. No one deserves that sort of treatment.

For example, I virulently disagree with Conservative commentator Anne Coulter.  But I would never go on the radio and refer to her as “a slut” or “a prostitute.”  Similarly, I despise so much of what Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have been arguing on the Reprublican primary campaign trail.  But I would certainly not call for any of them to be killed.

Looking at that aforementioned toxic political atmosphere, I cannot help but acknowledge that it is only going to get worse.  Once the Republican party finally settles on a Presidential candidate, expect that individual to go on the attack like a rabid dog trying to get at Obama’s throat.  And, if every action truly has an equal and opposite reaction, the response from Democrats and those on the far-Left could be just as savage.

It’s going to be a looooong road to Election Day, folks!

In My Not So Humble Opinion: An Introduction

About twelve years after the fact, I’ve decided to finally join the 21st Century and set up a blog. Before now, I’ve been sticking to message boards, Facebook, MySpace, and various other means to post my opinions online. I really did not want to establish a permanent blog because, let’s face it, there are a lot of them out there that really have nothing but nonsense on them. So I will definitely be striving to avoid falling into that area, and actually write material of substance & relevance.

Additionally, for the past few years I had been posting reviews of comic books and sci-fi shows such as Doctor Who on the Yahoo Contributor Network. You can view them via this link:

http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/638971/benjamin_herman.html

My latest review is of the excellent six issue miniseries The Grim Ghost, published by Atlas Comics, which was written by Tony Isabella, with artwork from Kelley Jones & Eric Layton. I highly recommend it.

Grim Ghost #1

In any case, for those who care, I shall be back in the near future with future thoughts on a variety of subjects. Thanks for taking a look. I’ll see you later.