Rights of Man title page
Rights of Man title page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine, I came across an astounding statistic: only 8% of Americans believe that a child is better off if his or her father stays at home while the mother works. 51% of Americans are said to think a mother at home improves the lives of children. As a “stay-at-home dad”, I find this poor opinion of my fatherly prowess to be a shocking statement of American prejudice. It suggests that a large majority of Americans feel that women are better parents than men. It also implies that a man’s place is not at home. And yet in 2010, according to the U.S. Census, 20% of fathers were “the primary caregivers” of children under 5, which means that some stay-at-home dads likely believe their wives or girlfriends really ought to be the primary givers of care to children. Clearly it’s time for men to fight for the right to stay home, raise kids and feel good about it in the face of great pressure to go out and “be a man.”

The rights of men (not to be confused with The Rights of Man) have gotten a lot of interest lately, namely from men who feel slighted by the rights of women. There is something called the “men’s rights movement” which, as far as I can tell, exists to promote the right of men to be obnoxious, insulting and cruel to women who want only to assert their democratic rights. I have no sympathy with this men’s movement, for I see nothing wrong with helping to secure the true independence of women. And some men have never really given up the right to treat women poorly, anyway, so the “men’s rights movement” seems like just another exclusive club for men. I don’t want to demean or exclude women; in fact, I want to join them, to have the same right to stay home and be respected for it.

I realize that not all feminists may respect the women who choose to stay home with kids rather than work at “a job” or “pursue a career.” If 51% think it’s good for children to have a woman stay home to care for them, that still leaves a lot of other Americans who don’t think either parent hanging around has much of an effect on a child’s well-being. But women with well-paid significant others at least are seen as having a respectable choice–work or stay home–and no doubt many women agonize over making the decision. Of course, single parents of either gender generally have no choice but to work away from home.

A man, however, is apparently expected by the nation to be a person who goes forth by car or train or bike every morning to do battle with broken things or numbers or freshmen or criminals or, if he is a “Tea Party” Republican representative, he puts on a suit of impregnable denial to ward off logic and reason, which probably works better outside his own home. This male-as-commuter ideal may be partly why male farmers are in decline and lack general prestige; sure, they leave the house, but they don’t go very far and their work involves a lot of caregiving and getting dirty, much like being a stay-at-home dad.

So it is time for us professional fathers to band together, however half-heartedly, to assert our minority rights and defend our manhood. Almost the entire nation thinks we are wasting our time; we live in a nation where manhood is assumed to be the opposite of womanhood and housework (cleaning) and child rearing is still mostly women’s work. While the stress of breaking old gender roles is not something we victims of anti-father sentiment are willing (being men) to admit, help is available if we need it. And the loneliness of our noble cause, the failure of our wives or partners and working male friends to fully appreciate our marginalization, has forced some fathers to create their own patriarchal union, a National At-Home Dad Network sponsored by Huggies and other sympathetic corporate brands.

The point is we home-bound fathers, we farmers of children and dirty sheets, are beginning to find our voices: it is our unalienable right as American men not to put up with this discrimination. Besides, we are also fighting, indirectly, for the women who want to work at home as mothers. Yes, we stand proudly with our fellow stay-at-home moms and hope they will soon proudly stand with us.

 

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Associated Press report that those interested in doing some hunting at the Fort McCoy Army training base near Lacrosse, WI are being told to beware of  “live artillery and mortar rounds” (unexploded explosives) that might be present in the woods.

English: Sign near Interstate 90 outside the m...
English: Sign near Interstate 90 outside the main gate to United States Army Fort McCoy in Monroe County, Wisconsin. (Photo credit: Jonathunder Creative Commons-some rights reserved via Wikipedia. Click photo for copyright information.)

More than 45,000 acres of Fort McCoy are used for Army training purposes, and the fort also opens its lands to hunting, fishing, trapping and the gathering of firewood. Data is collected “to monitor wildlife populations and wildlife health,” says the Fort McCoy website. One can imagine, however, that the firing of live artillery and mortar rounds onto that land may not be the best thing for the health of the wildlife, unless the deer population there is really out of control. Nor may it be the best place to go hunting and fishing after the shooting is done.

It seems that once the practice sessions of war are over at Fort McCoy, at least some of the still-dangerous bombs remain in the ground and can be brought again to the surface through natural processes or by being uncovered by man-made disturbances. Troops, we are told, “often” use such live ammunition during training exercises. The fort’s safety manager issued the warning and explained what to do if you should find some lost artillery shells– essentially, retreat.

But what if the bomb is not easily seen or lies just below the surface? Should the Army be using any live ammunition on lands open to the public? Shouldn’t all such explosives be accounted for and removed before public access is allowed?

At least the hunters, fishermen, trappers and gatherers of firewood will be comforted to know that concealed-carrying of firearms is “strictly prohibited” at Fort McCoy.

I’ll start with a few lines from a poem by Wendell Berry, one of the nation’s best authors (recently interviewed by Bill Moyers), a writer who is also a draft-horse using farmer in Kentucky. The lines are the first stanza of an untitled poem from Berry’s recent book, Leavings:

If we have become a people incapable

of thought, then the brute-thought

of mere power and mere greed

will think for us.

We don’t have to go far to find examples of the sort of “brute-thought” or thoughtlessness Berry warns us of.

Local “talk radio” makes a profit peddling such thoughtlessness, a brand of political analysis we could call anti-public intellectualism or, more accurately, public anti-intellectualism. And we now have a website, “Right Wisconsin”,    which is said to be “powered by Charlie Sykes” but was created and funded by the Journal Broadcast Group, part of the mainstream media corporation, Journal Communications, which also owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The website claims that Sykes offers “intelligent commentary and analysis.” But up on the site today are two photographs of the Democratic candidate for governor, Mary Burke, and some sexist analysis about an extreme makeover.  No judge of intelligence, it seems.

The Journal Sentinel is the Milwaukee area’s only major daily newspaper, and as such it likely feels the need to provide space for columnists and op-ed writers who cater to the generally conservative and well-off suburban readers. The Journal Sentinel is, of course, not alone in this seeking of “balance” and “fairness;” most mainstream media organizations– print or digital– do not want the “liberal media” label, even though most professional journalists tend to be rather rational and sympathetic due to the higher education (“critical thinking skills”) journalists receive. Yet, it’s been a long time since the executives of most mainstream media have been a really liberal or progressive bunch of people.

The business of journalism has lately trumped the intelligence of journalism. Fox News is the epitome of this conservative trend, so much so that it is a full-time job for one media watchdog to debunk the constant stream of propaganda. The Journal Sentinel is no Fox News, nor is it merely a conservative mouthpiece, despite endorsing Gov. Walker twice. Its editorials are often intelligent and thoughtful denouncements of power and greed. And yet the newspaper seems determined to promote the sort of “tea party” thoughtlessness in the interest of . . . well, what exactly?

Take, for instance, two pieces that appeared in last Sunday’s JS Crossroads section.

In his column, newly hired JS columnist Christian Schneider tries to justify what some Republicans in the House of Representatives are doing (demanding a delay to improved health care under the ACA by refusing to fund the government) by looking at past shutdowns (not really applicable) and reminding readers of what Wisconsin Democrats in the State Legislature did (go to Illinois to protest a rather heavy-handed, anti-state public employee bill, a bill that had not yet passed. No one lost necessary services when the Democrats fled.) Schneider also accuses Senate Democrats of “demagoguery” for refusing to fund (the NIH) what Republicans have cut funding for in the past and denied access to (along with everything else) by shutting down the government in the first place. Such “logic” is worthy of a conservative “blogger”, but we should expect more from a newspaper columnist.

Bernie Ziebart writes about how “addicted” we have become to government programs by beginning with a mythical America, a  “land of opportunity” for all where we all were “free to fail.” Perhaps some white, Protestant males did indeed discover a land of opportunity, but America was also a land of power and greed right from the beginning, as Native Americans, African slaves, indentured servants, Catholics, Jews, women and some children certainly suffered here for quite some time, either through plain starvation, poverty, plantation slavery and disease or through the “brute-thought” of our industrial system, racial and religious prejudice, patriarchal injustice and labor exploitation. This is simply history. The role of government in the United States has been, at its best, to recognize injustice and legislate against it. Ziebart’s “rugged individualism” was best espoused by Jeffersonian agrarianism, but Jefferson was not naïve enough to think that a democratic government should have no regulating role. And it was Jefferson who advocated for a limited public school system, not to hook Americans on government but to provide for, at no cost, a thinking and thoughtful populace, at least for young white males. Even Jefferson’s idea of democracy was not broad enough.

Thomas Jefferson did not believe it was possible to be both ignorant and free, and the rise of “tea party” conservatism, despite all its talk of freedom, is a symptom of a growing ignorance that is degrading our system of government, as well as our system of education and American journalism. So it’s time for our democratic institutions to raise their standards of thought and truth, go back to school, and put the stuff and nonsense in its place. Democracy does not mean we must accept and give credence to stupidity and greed; it means we should speak out clearly against unchecked power and greed, expect our various governments to speak and act in kind, while treating all Americans (and everyone else) humanely.

English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin
English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked what the federal government should do to resolve the current government shutdown, Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker suggested that the feds should act more like Wisconsin and other states:

“I think not just in Wisconsin but in states across the country there’s a lot of  governors and lawmakers in both parties who wish the folks in Washington in both  parties would act more like the states and less like our nation’s capital.”

But Wisconsin, along with 25 other states, has chosen not to take federal funds to expand Medicaid. And as the NY Times reports, this has created a coverage gap that even with the implementation of the ACA will leave some 8 million Americans without any access to health care coverage. Despite Gov. Walker’s bipartisan spin, it is, of course, a group of Republicans in the House of Representatives, along with House Speaker John Boehner, who are seeking to undo or delay implementation of a law that would at least make our health care system a bit more humane and more affordable.  Wisconsin is now governed by a totally Republican regime which makes cooperation and the passing of bills quite easy.

Ironically, the “tea party” faction in the House is actually attempting to follow Wisconsin’s lead, acting as if it were in control in order to save the nation, they claim, from what was originally a conservative health care plan.  That the ACA is already law and is already up and running seems not to concern them.

Gov. Walker, remember, is the fellow who deleted Milwaukee’s voter-approved paid-sick-leave ordinance by creating a “state preemption” law in 2011, a law that became, according to PR Watch, the ALEC-approved blueprint for similar state laws blocking local governments from awarding paid sick leave. The idea of paying some of our lowest paid people to stay home when they are ill or care for sick children was just too generous a notion for certain lobbyists and politicians to stomach. The proposed federal Healthy Families Act, which would provide for up to seven days of paid sick leave for all employed Americans has not as yet passed, but at least some in Congress prefer not to use Wisconsin as a model of humane governance.

We can compare the undoing of heath care (and other liberal notions) of Gov. Walker and the Republican Legislature to what the Progressive Gov. Francis McGovern accomplished, along with the state Legislature, in Wisconsin back in 1911. As the Wisconsin Historical Society succinctly puts it:

“The 1911 legislature created a model workers’ compensation law to protect people injured on the job. It passed laws to regulate factory safety, encouraged the formation of cooperatives, established a state income tax, formed a state life insurance fund, limited working hours for women and children, and passed forest and waterpower conservation acts.”

Wisconsin’s Progressive Era was clearly a moment of protecting the health and welfare of both people and nature. A hundred years later we now find ourselves governed by an anti-democratic, ultra-capitalistic, every man (but especially every woman and child) for himself ideology. Do we now have a healthier, happier state? If we look closely at our inner-city and rural communities, their general decline and pockets of real poverty, I think we can see that Wisconsin could use a lot more government investment in the places that need it most. And what is Wisconsin leading the nation towards? An austerity that protects the wealthy and the fortunate while reducing services and programs for everyone else, a state that invests in open-pit mining while doing all it can to limit clean energy and conservation. So while we are all doing the best we can to heal ourselves and our communities, we ought not to neglect how our current state government is working to undermine the public and the public trust.

Wendell Berry speaking in Frankfort, Indiana
Wendell Berry speaking in Frankfort, Indiana (Photo credit: David Marshall. CC, some rights reserved via Wikipedia. Click photo for copyright information.)

As Wisconsin prepares for the possibility of witnessing the desecration of the Penokee Hills and Bad River watershed, thanks to a proposed iron ore open-pit mine of vast proportions, the first post of this new domain is a link to the recent  interview Bill Moyers conducted with the poet, writer and farmer Wendell Berry.

Berry has been a long-time opponent of just the sort of “mountain-top removal” mining the North Woods can expect if the mine is built. The difference is that the ore-bearing mountains of Wisconsin, unlike the coal-seam mountains of Kentucky’s Appalachian Range, will become huge anti-mountains, deep craters that will turn the earth into the moon and pollute the water.

Full Show: Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet.