Christian A. Young's Dimlight Archive

Writing Through Paralysis

bearAnxiety is a Thing for me.

When I say it's a Thing, I mean to say that it's a significant obstacle to my ability to function. When the volume is high, I kind of explode into a bundle of coping mechanisms, most of which are essentially different flavors of procrastination. If I need to do a task that tenses me up past a certain threshold, I'll do almost any other task instead. This isn't always a bad thing -- I benefit from having an up-to-date to-do list and a clean desk, and would rather be doing something than nothing -- but the problem with running away is that sometimes you end up cornered against a fence.

Those are the times my brain likes to go limp and play dead.

"Task paralysis" isn't quite the right term, though the experience of competing tasks does contribute to the "man, it's so loud in here" effect. It's more like a certain volume kicks my process into a state of full-on tonic immobility, which may or may not be bracketed by distracting numbing/soothing behaviors like rearranging stuff, social networking, tasks I can pretend are useful and important, etc.

Watching myself do this is kind of like watching a mouse trying to scramble its way out of a fishbowl, except that the mouse doesn't exist; it's the fishbowl trying to get out of the fishbowl.

Knowing this happens isn't the same as being able to fix it. Recognize it, yes. Try to hit the reset button, yes. Many days, I keep the volume to a healthy, dull roar and just take a little break now and again to stay oriented. Some days, the best I can do is try to control the damage by channeling things so that I come as close to hitting a target as I can. Other days, I'm hitting the reset button every fifteen minutes because everything -- including things that should help, like lists -- makes things worse.

The best fix I've found for this is probably the least appealing: keep going. It's not the advice I want at my nadir, because when I'm down there all I want is for things to work instead of overwhelming me so much I lose the ability to focus, but it's the only thing I've ever found to work. It might not work the same day -- in fact, it sometimes takes me a few to get back on the horse if things are especially tense in other areas of my life -- but sooner or later the rhythm of things begins to assert itself again. As for motivation, I'm possibly lucky in that I appear to be someone who believes that not trying is at least as bad as failing, only without the potential for success.

(And yes, I can think of scenarios in which a good choice results in something even more catastrophic, but I'm able to do that in almost every single arena of my life because my brain is unpleasant like that. I'm also smart enough to decide to draw a thick line between being kind of neurotic and pessimistic and being profoundly self-destructive. So.)

This week has been interesting. This morning was a multi-reset day. I'm not sure about the rest of my week. I'm hoping the weekend will be kind. Really, as long as I can keep myself from wedging myself under the furniture, I'll call it a win.

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Friday Linkdump is in California. And you aren’t. Unless you’re also here in California.

chainI'm traveling at the moment -- or rather I have traveled, and will be here in LA for a couple of days both working (yay, writing and editing!) and playing (yay, Gallifrey One!) until early next week, when I will travel some more -- but my laptop is here. And the Internet is here.

The Internet is always here.

Amusingly, I'm also traveling phoneless. This has been a source of amusement (and logistical trouble) for my friends and I, because while I'm happily doing what I'm doing right now with a technology that didn't exist before I did, the rest of what I'm doing is looking a little bit early 20th Century in terms of interpersonal communications. Given that I've been going without a mobile phone for several months now, some of this is easy for me. On the other hand, conventions are a space in which being able to text the person you're trying to find is Very Helpful Indeed.

It is what it is, and I like interesting experiences. So there's that.

Yesterday was Adventures in Los Angeles With Friends Day, which mainly involved a phenomenal brunch at Basix in West Hollywood, buying macarons and dog toys in Beverly Hills (less expensive than it sounds because I'm clever), and exploring Our Lady of the Angels before hitting Trader Joe's (for groceries) and In-N-Out (for delicious burger goodness and an ill-considered but still delicious milkshake).

So yes. It's been a good trip so far. Yes.

And now, links.

- Old Mexico lives on
Fascinating map from The Economist that demonstrates just how ridiculous the way we construct the concept of "American" as being primarily ethnic Western European is, and the persistence of boundaries even after they've been redrawn.

- Here's the first recorded instance of the F-word in English
Remember, kids: words survive in language because they are useful.

- Florida Ordinance Makes It Illegal For Homeless To Use Blankets
Fuck you, Pensacola.

- "A reason to hang him": how mass surveillance, secret courts, confirmation bias and the FBI can ruin your life
Short version: this is why the Fourth Amendment matters, and why the argument that if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to be afraid of is wrong.

- 1,000 Bodies Found On University Of Mississippi Land Thought To Be From Old 'Lunatic Asylum'
I confess, I get angry and cynical about stories like this, mostly because of the intersection between our uncomfortable histories in America with regard to the lives and rights of others, the fact that those bad, old ways never quite died out, and my strong distrust in the myth of progress. I want more for someone with the means to come advocate for the dead.

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Linkdumps are frequently secretly fond of each other.

chainFor a week in which I essentially had two weekends -- this week's storm shut things down pretty comprehensively around here for Tuesday and Wednesday -- I feel surprisingly overwhelmed and ready for another weekend.

Like, seriously? How does this happen?

Part of it involves a project is rolling into a more active phase at the same time as some social obligations ramp up. I'm frantically trying to prepare for Gallifrey One, the beginning of the month is the busiest time for my local Grove, and so on. Lots of things going on more or less all at once can be really energizing for me, but the flip side of that is that I wind up really excited and then wonder how to cram all of it into the time allotted.

Given that I didn't feel this way before I went back to my 4 AM wake time, this all suggests that putting myself back on farmer's hours is Super EffectiveTM. The tingle means it's working.

Given that I've been focusing more intensively of late on eating whole foods, I should not be in love with the idea of Soylent. But I am. Not because I look at this and think, "Oh hey, convenient complete nutrition!" but because I look at it and think, "OMG SPACE FOOD SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY."

Share this with all the schools, please
"We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all." People, my heart grew three sizes. Go read this and then go hug a teacher.

Ghosts of Murdered Kings
Look, if I can't link to documentaries about bog bodies, what is the Internet actually for? Gods bless you, PBS.

Compassion, Transformation, and the Power of Community
The Wild Hunt is a site that focuses on Pagan topics, news items, etc. Of late, however, it also seems increasingly focused on how ordinary activism works as enacted by members of that community. Alley Valkyrie's piece about working with the Whoville settlement in Oregon is an incredibly solid look at what works with homlessness and what doesn't in terms of helping to build stability and wellness for those on the fringes, including reducing the amount of time they spend bouncing around in the legal system.

How to: Make a DIY Modern Concrete Fire Pit from Scratch
I see this and think two things. First, that I am not allowed to have this knowledge. Second, that I will never need to buy an outdoor flower pot again.

1980s New Wave Major Arcana
Look, I know I just had a birthday, and that I don't read a lot of tarot these days, but...well, I suspect I know what I'll be spending some money on when I have properly disposable income again this spring.

Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia
"Elena Kostyuchenko knew she would be beaten. It was how hard she went down that surprised her. Not immediately. When the fist connected with her skull, she fell, yes, but then she stood again and raised her rainbow flag. The crowd was silent. Their mouths were open as if screaming, but there was no sound. Her hearing was gone. Then the police grabbed her, and Elena's first gay-pride parade was over."

Too Insane To Ignore: Marjane Satrapi On Her Fascinating Sundance Horror-Comedy 'The Voices'
I have never wanted to see something with Ryan Reynolds in it so badly in my life. This is a very strange feeling indeed.

Living Without Lights (or water, or electricity…)
This was interesting to me for several reasons. While the post itself is mostly just instructive, I found myself thinking about the strange trend of my generation toward extremes of more and less, and how only a portion of us actually choose less, and how uncomfortable the implications of the whole thing are. Like, yes, I am "interested in simplicity" and I sometimes daydream about living in a tiny house. I am also able to say these things because of my privilege as an employed, able-bodied, male-passing, white person with friends kind enough to make him part of their household, not someone experiencing genuine privation in the dead of winter. To some extent we may need to recognize the simplicity movement among people from traditionally privileged groups as possibly being both a symbol and a symptom of increasing inequity.

Meet Terri Conley: The Psychologist With an Alternative Theory of Hookup Culture
"In a series of papers published in 2011 and 2012, Conley’s lab put forth an alternative explanation: Women were passing on sexual advances out of fear of being judged as promiscuous and doubt that a one-night stand with a new partner would be pleasurable. When her researchers controlled for these factors, the casual-sex gender difference evaporated." Fascinating stuff. Her lab is currently researching consensual non-monogamy.

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What I read in January

BooksWhen I posted about my resolution to read (almost) only women in 2014, a handful of folks asked me to share what I read. While I do maintain a Goodreads page, it occurs to me that blogging my progress is probably a lot more interesting and flexible for everyone.

So. Here goes.

This month, I finished three books that I began reading prior to the new year: a general book on fitness, Frank Herbert's Dune, and Tiffany M. Gill's Beauty Shop Politics. Of the three, Gill's book is the only one that would meet the criteria of my challenge, and is also the one that I'd recommend most highly.

The history of beauty culture in the American African American community is not something much discussed, and in particular I don't think I really understood the centrality of it in terms of bolstering the Civil Rights movement and empowering women of color. I can't say as a white guy that I have a bone-deep understanding after reading a book, but this adds context I didn't have before.

Other books I finished in January:

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
This is actually a re-read for me, and enjoyable because while I know the story well, I'd forgotten the particular shape of the original text. I'd also forgotten how much it references the works of others in her personal circle, so those parts of me that delight in minutae got a nice workout.

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I was aware of the upcoming film for Divergent, and I'd started seeing copies of it floating around in public, so I figured I'd give it a go. I ended up binge reading the whole series. It hits me right in the sci-fi dystopia buttons, and the story is one in which there's a lot of opportunities to think about identity, justice, conformity, courage, bias, etc. The diversity level in the text is middling -- lots of PoC, very limited LGBTQ, good gender variety -- and I kind of want to start watching IMDB to see how badly Hollywood sucks out the good stuff and replaces it with crap. Also, like any trilogy there's a necessary shift in the third book, but I'm still trying to decide how I feel about some of those changes, and if there was a better way to tell that part of the story.

Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova
I realized around the late middle of January that I'd enjoy engaging in book club-style behavior with my Pagan studies without going to the trouble of actually starting a book club. Krasskova's book is the one I chose for January. You can find my write-up here.

That puts my counts for 2014:

- 8 books finished
- 5 read in their entirety
- 2:6 ratio of men to women

For February, I'm already working on a good blend of fiction and non-fiction, including another well-loved re-read, and a possible exception to my resolution (under the "required for a project/study" provision). So, uh, stay tuned if you're into that sort of thing.

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Friday Linkdump is back at the wheel, finally.

chainSo I basically lost two days this week to delirious stimming thanks to some kind of fever-and-wooziness bug.

I enjoy these experiences, even if they're physically miserable. Temporary discomfort is like formal poetry; the constraints make it interesting and force us to approach challenges in novel ways. The level of challenge and contrast between the ordinary and constrained way are part of that. It's like a roller coaster, though I'm not entirely sure if it's more like being one than riding one.

Plus, I lose a lot of my filters -- both for input and output -- when I'm feverish. It's nice to have inexplicable laughing-at-groceries experiences. I feel "fresher" mentally after a couple of days of atypical connections. Sometimes my brain just needs to play without anyone at the helm, I guess.

And now, links.

10 Years Ago, Opportunity Rover Began a 90-Day Mission That Never Ended
Ten years ago, two rovers -- Spirit and Opportunity -- started exploring Mars. They were supposed to last three months. Spirit gave up the ghost in 2011 after spending a few months doing stationary experiments after getting stuck, but Opportunity is still kicking well past it's expiration date. If your heart is not filled with pride and love for these bravest of toasters, I am not sure you are capable of either.

One map sums up the damage caused by the anti-vaccination movement
Here's the thing: even if one believes that vaccines may contain toxic compounds -- a thing that can no doubt be improved -- using them is demonstrably better overall for populations of humans than not using them. And, given that Wakefield's findings have been pretty much debunked at this point, the anti-vacc argument is increasingly weak sauce in the face of the obvious benefits of maintaining herd immunity.

Satanists Blamed For Theft of Pope's Blood
Because, you know, nobody else might really want a memento of Pope John Paul II because human beings love tangible things and tend to collect and like to touch. Nobody could possibly think that stealing a reliquary for sale on the black market might make them a significant amount of money. There's no possible way that anybody, ever, might think to steal something rare and valuable and religiously significant. Except, you know, Satanists. Scary, scary Satanists.

Women Destroy Science Fiction All Genres!
There is a reason this Kickstarter project is nailing its stretch goals, and that reason is that it is awesome. Sweet gods, I need to win the lottery.

The Myth of the Fag Hag and Dirty Secrets of the Gay Male Subculture
One of the many reasons monosexual cisfolk can be difficult to deal with: misogyny in the gay male community. Which, incidentally, tends to drive a lot of transphobia as well.

Green burials reflect a shift to care for the body and soul
I love that green burial is starting to get a toehold in the monotheisms in a visible way. It's actually in my top three preferences in terms of future disposition of my remains -- if I can find a place that will let me include some grave goods, it could beat out alkaline hydrolysis as my #1 and cremation as my #2 -- though I still have a lingering discomfort with the concept of future anthropologists misgendering me. So.

If You Want To Fit In At This Public School Just Become Christian
This kind of thing, incidentally, is why secular public schools are important. By that I don't mean that individuals can't express their faith and that religious topics can't be taught or discussed in history, literature, or cultural studies. They should. What I mean is that students must be allowed to participate and feel safe regardless of their faith, and that educators have a responsibility in their role not to infringe on student's rights to do that. If the teachers in my rural hometown during the 1990s were able to do that for the most part, this school should be able to figure it out. Then again, looking at this map, Louisiana is also in a state that allows public schools to teach creationism. So.

- CHVRCHES covered "Bela Lugosi's Dead"
And I don't hate it. Mostly because I don't expect it to be Bauhaus, and because it does something new with the original instead of trying to imitate it. Your mileage may vary.

- What Kind of Meat is Human Meat?
The answer may surprise you. And possibly make you uncomfortable about veal if you weren't already.

- Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars
The Internet can be a fantastic tool for minorities and others dealing with inequity. On the other hand, we also seem to have a nasty habit of eating our own. This is going to take some work.

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Being there would not have helped.

Roommate J and I are both home sick today. To give you an idea of how this is going, I offer an extract.

Me: *in kitchen, bursts out laughing*

J: "Huh?"

Me: "Nothing. I'm just...laughing. At groceries."

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Friday Linkdump is running late. (And kind of ready for bed.)

chainToday has been interesting. Lots of writing, but the sort that takes a significant amount of revision as I go.

Which means all kinds of things didn't happen today. Or maybe that a lot of the thing I wanted to get done most got done, just in a slower way than was entirely convenient, and that my weekend now has meaning.

Oh, and I just finished binge reading the second and third books of the Divergent series. I need some kind of recovery program now. Or a new heart. And some tissues. And more books to read.

So. Links.

Why Getting A Job Doesn't Mean Getting Out Of Poverty
Income inequality and crappy jobs: why the recession feels like it's still happening for almost everyone.

Dad gets OfficeMax mail addressed 'Daughter Killed in Car Crash'
Third-party mailing lists: kind of evil.

Utah is ending homelessness by giving people homes
I'll be interested to see how this program develops. I mean, if solving the problem is cheaper than the problem...

Meryl Streep, National Treasure
Not actually the title of the video. Basically, Ellen gives Streep random readings, each to be read in a different character. Pure Internet candy.

Father photographs his 5-year old daughter in the clothing and settings of Renaissance Dutch, Flemish, and Italian masters
Exactly what it says, and just as awesome as you think.

World's first comet chaser wakes up suddenly from 31-month hibernation
Nerd happiness. Yes.

Non-alarmist commentary on the body mod ban
So the whole "OMG ARKANSAS BODY MOD BAN" thing goes around from time to time, but nobody seems to get past the point of freaking out. So here. Have some useful info from someone on the ground, who worked with legislators to make sure folks were well-informed.

Singer Gets a Major Photoshop Makeover in Music Video
Again, does what it says on the tin, but in a language I don't speak.


Friday Linkdump is actually kind of morbid as a hobby.

body with herbsWednesday night, one of my roommates and I were at a social function and she asked me whether I prefer Harold and Maude or Tenacious D.

I was confused, given that one is a really excellent film, and one of them is an amusing musical act, but then she clarified that she'd specifically wanted to know about Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, and not necessarily Tenacious D in general.

You guys. Let me tell you about how I love Harold and Maude. Harold's obsession with acting out the idea of death, his ingenuity in the execution, how it changes when he experiences Maude's relationship with life and mortality, the way the story shows characters dealing with the reality of death and how that stands in contrast to the way we symbolize it, how the whole thing is informed by the concept of how a Good Death is a desirable thing, the mentoring/maturity storyline, how it destigmatizes suicide in a beautiful and sensitive way...

It is a hell of a film. Pick of Destiny is a laugh, but it's not even in the ballpark.

And really, of course I'd feel this way. Ghostbusters is the film that stuck with me more than any other, with Beetlejuice coming a close second. I worry may have come close to wearing out the copy of The Making of Thriller we used to rent from the Curtis Mathes shop when I was a kid. I have always loved monsters and dead things and death. The aptitude tests my high school guidance counselor gave me actually suggested I consider being a funeral director (among other things, including being a writer).

Cemeteries are my happy place. I think a lot about the implications of my own future possible deaths, the logistical nuts and bolts (both for myself and loved ones), and the disposition of my remains. I have a lock of my grandmother's hair from when she died. I keep meaning to build myself a nice coffin/bookcase.

Death is such a big part of who I am that I don't really notice until I notice it's not like this for other people, or until someone asks something death-related and then I get really, really excited.

So, uh, yeah.

And now, links:

In Which We Can Only Imagine The Decay
Sarah Wambold writes about embalming, and our weird relationship with it, and embracing death as it is.

Finally, Some Decent Leather Battle Armor For Cats
Because why not? I mean, how else are they going to be able to compete with well-armed guinea pigs?

The Aesthetics of Reading
Typography affects mood. While I'd venture that most graphic designers have known this for ages, it's nice to see it in study format.

Success with Style: Using Writing Style to Predict the Success of Novels
Relatedly, researchers think they've found some common traits shared by bestsellers. Still deciding what I think about this.

London Underground in the 1970s/80s
Some of these are really fantastic, and I got a good hit of nostalgia for the aesthetics of my early years (though the London Underground almost couldn't be more different from where I grew up). Possibly even more interesting: color film of London from 1926.

How to Save Local Bookstores in Two Easy Steps
I'm not sure I agree that Espresso and e-book shopping are the only fixes for the brick-and-mortar model, but the combo in a local shop context is intriguing.

'Mein Kampf' Was A 2013 eBook Bestseller
Speaking of e-books, Mein Kampf is apparently selling best in that format, possibly because of social stigma. It's an uncomfortable topic.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story
Adichie grew up in Nigeria, but had little early exposure to stories about people like her. The effect of that "single story" -- i.e. the experience of white Europeans -- was that she didn't realize that people like her, in places like her home, could exist in books. She cautions us about simple, limited narratives, and narratives that don't accurately describe the world as it is.

Hint: privilege != everything being easy. Hint #2: Intersectionality is a Thing.


Friday Linkdump can’t decide who to vote for in the current mayoral race.

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about Cecil Gershwin Palmer.

If you've got no idea who I'm talking about, stop what you are doing and go discover Welcome to Night Vale. Aside from what it is on its own (i.e. podcast theatre/storytelling in the format of community radio from a brilliantly bizarre desert town), it's also a thing with a significant and creative following composed of people who like to make art, and cosplay, and write stories.

Which, you know, without visual cues means that the community decides what things might/could/should look like.

Given that WTNV is entirely audio, and given the nature of the show -- a literal five-headed dragon is running against The Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home in the mayoral race! -- Cecil could look like anyone and/or anything.

He could look like Chiwetel Ejiofor. He could look like Jim Morrisson. He could look like a pastrami sandwich (though this is unlikely given the policies in Night Vale regarding wheat and wheat byproducts).

The way fandom visualizes Cecil (the voice of Night Vale) fascinates me. I initially came to the show because I kept seeing dream casting on Tumblr suggesting Richard Ayoade in his role, and had misunderstood that to mean he was actually involved in the podcast. I later became aware of what's become one of the most common Cecils -- white, blond with-or-without dark roots, lots of squiggly purple tattoos, into sweater vests, may or may not have a third eye -- as well as what Cecil Baldwin (the voice actor who plays him) looks like.

I like the uncertainty. I like the different possible Cecils. I like that there's a Cecil I can be for Halloween (white Cecil with the tattoos) while having a very different headcanon (my Cecil has always been multi-ethnic, dark-skinned, tattooed, and a snappy dresser in an punk-ish sort of way). The openness and variety is really satisfying to me because anyone can play.

(Well, everyone but Steve Carlsberg. That guy's a jerk.)

Of course, that may be the reason I resist getting too deeply into the WTNV fandom. Because as much as I want to believe that everyone on that particular train thinks as I do -- that an abundance of Cecils is much to be desired -- I keep seeing hints that this is not the case often enough. Or that white Cecil is just "Cecil" while Cecils of color are perceived as special variant Cecils. Which is annoying but not surprising, given how race works in our culture.

So yeah. I'm chewing on this a lot.

And now, links:

- This is Anxiety
As someone who struggles mightily with anxiety at times, I was excited to see that this exists. It's not just a matter of calming down and being rational. It's a matter of body/mind doing things that make even a rational person crumble in bizarre ways.

- Shovel Your Fucking Walk
Not that we have done this at my house yet, but given that the city can't seem to be bothered to deal with our street, I've kind of chosen Skyrim over shovels.

- The BBC's Social Media Problem With Sherlock
Given how spoiled I've been with Doctor Who (in the "given many things" sense, not the "early information" sense), I'd actually forgotten that the UK is getting Sherlock before us until the .gifs hit Tumblr.

- Trans Housing Network
Kind of like "need a penny, take a penny" but with couches and people whose gender identities tend to make us homeless and stigmatized.

- Sneak-Peek: Top 5 Sky Events of 2014
Look up a few times this year, yeah?

- Why Some Parents Are Refusing HPV Vaccine For Their Children
A really solid look at why some of the common reasons parents resist having their kids immunized against HPV, some rebuttals, and a fantastic visualization of the data.

- Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism
The evolution of call-out culture in online environments is increasingly broken if the people it's supposed to help are the ones being hurt. Just putting that out there.

- Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet
This is a long read, but it's a powerful one about the extent of the hostility about half the wired population experiences daily, and the lack of seriousness with which it's treated by our current culture.


Friday Linkdump Returns From Long Holiday

It's been a while since I did these on a regular basis, but I'm kind of thinking I'd like to bring them back. Sharing things tends to lead to discussing them, and I seem to enjoy that sort of thing. So.

The Year We Broke the Internet
The nice thing about the Internet is that anyone can have a say, and that information moves very fast. The problem with the Internet is that everyone can have a say, and that information moves very fast. And, as it happens, these things have consequences not just for the masses, but for journalism as well.

Thoughts After Writing My First Official Fanfiction Story
In December, Jim Hines wrote Crimson Frost and posted it in installments. Here's his post-fic wrap-up, where he discusses his experience of writing it, shares some thoughts about how fanfic fits into the experience of writing, and where you can find links to the story.

Overturning the Myth of Valley Girl Speak
It turns out that uptalk is something everyone uses, that it doesn't reflect a lack of education or ability, and that attitudes about it are more or less rubbish. So.

Scientists: Dogs poop aligned to Earth's magnetic field
Yes, this has already begun to figure into post-walk discussions about the dogs.

ACLU Sues, Claiming Catholic Hospitals Put Women At Risk
Three years ago, Tamisha Means rushed to the hospital because her water broke only four and a half months into her pregnancy. When she arrived, she was told to go home and hold out for nine more days. Two days later she returned, bleeding, in pain, feverish, and desperate for help, but the hospital told her that they could not assist her. Only when she began to deliver the child -- while they were in the process of discharging her -- did they assist. The reason? The hospital's religious stance on therapeutic abortion. The ACLU is helping Means sue the bishops, the source of the rules that put her and other women at risk.

Have a good weekend, all.