Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who Will Own Your Body?

Is there any woman out there who really wants her body to become property of the state? For women, that is the most critical question of the approaching election. If you want to control your body, the choice is a no-brainer. Voting for a candidate who opposes reproductive choice is a vote to hand over your body to the state as if it were a piece of real estate instead of the unique bundle of pulsating cells, strands of DNA, thoughts, feelings, and desires that make up you.

Think about it. Really think. The antiabortion position deprives women of their most intimate right – control of their own reproductive biology. If men got pregnant, abortion wouldn’t be an issue. How many politicians would be discussing how to deprive men of controlling their reproduction? Can you imagine a Congressional hearing about male sexuality, condoms or Viagra? ”If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” said an anonymous New York female taxi driver, quoted years ago by author Gloria Steinem.

Anti-choice rhetoric about “murder” is a smokescreen for a far more devious goal -- control of women – a medieval position in line with that of the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups headed by men.

Not surprisingly, most of the antiabortion groups in the United States are headed by men: James Dobson, Douglas Johnson, Pat Robertson, Randall Terry, Richard Viguerie, and Jack Willke, just to name a few. Like male insects that seal female insects’ sperm storage chambers with a kind of genital glue, men who oppose abortion make up a sperm protection society that seeks to force pregnancy and birth on a woman whether she wants it or not. Some years ago, I wrote about the similarity between male insects and men who oppose abortion in my book, Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates. In that book, originally published in 1992 and recently reprinted in a new edition by, I wrote: “The so-called right-to-life movement may be perceived as a highly organized effort to legislate away women’s right to choose whether to reproduce.”

Although we are living in the 21st century, those who oppose reproductive choice – and yes, birth control, too – are trying to foist medieval notions on women and men. At various times in history, dispensing birth-control information has been considered subversion or an act of the devil. During the later Middle Ages, midwives were often persecuted as witches for assisting women with birth control and abortion. Sadly this persecutorial attitude rears its ugly head in the self-righteous political posturing of politicians like Presidential candidate John McCain and a number of local candidates running for Congressional seats in various states. While trying to woo Christian fundamentalists, these candidates are taking a vicious anti-woman position. McCain, for example, voted against requiring insurance companies to cover prescription birth control. What century is this man living in? True, he’s 71 years old, but there are lots of men his age and older who are in step with our time. McCain’s attitude would have been more appropriate a century ago. Keep in mind that many fundamentalists are trying to equate contraception with abortion. McCain has voted anti-choice 123 out of 128 times. And he voted against allocating money to preventative health services that would have reduced unintended teen pregnancies. McCain supports overturning Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that liberated women from enslavement to the dark ages of reproductive tyranny. McCain, like George W. Bush, would take women backwards to a world pre-contraception, a world in which men and women had no options for limiting family size. Before contraception, men and most especially women lived at the mercy of their gonads.

Throughout history, various male leaders have enacted laws to dominate and restrict women by controlling reproduction. Whether among mice or men, once a male copulates, he no longer controls his sperm; he cannot force a female to use them to fertilize her eggs. Because of this biological fact, males throughout the animal kingdom, including men, will do virtually anything to control female choice and ensure confidence of paternity. Men in the antiabortion movement seem involved in trying to ensure a kind of group confidence of paternity. Sadly, many women support these efforts that only contribute to diminishing their individual freedom and basic human rights. But in the United States of America in this year 2008, there is no need for any woman to vote away personal autonomy over her body. Women have the voting power to swing this election away from a leader mired in the past toward a leader ready to move forward into a more enlightened future.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Our Endangered Democracy

The Republicans are at it again -- "purging" new registrations from voter rolls in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, and Nevada. Guess who's being purged. You're right if you guessed blacks and Hispanics. "They" shouldn't be participating in our democracy! Just as Alberto Conzales's Justice Department illegally weeded out any applicant that didn't embrace Bush's right-wing Republican posture, so Republicans now want to prevent Democrats--especially minority Democrats--from participating in this year's Presidential election. The rot in Bush's Justice Department is hitting the fan this week with the testimony of flunky Monica Goodling before the House Judiciary Committee. Unless there is massive protest and Congressional action, we'll have a repeat of Florida and the stolen 2000 Presidential election. That can't happen. Anybody who cares about the future of our country must take action to prevent what will amount to the destruction of our election process and the ultimate destruction of democracy in the United States. Fact is, democracy's just too risky. The people might actually kick the lobbyists out of government. The people just might win for a change. Bush/Cheney and an all too compliant Congress have set us on the road of becoming a big banana republic, lawless, fascist, a pathetic vestige of what we could be. Author Jane Mayer has just published a book called The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. In her essay, "The Battle for a Country's Soul," published in the August 14, 2008, issue of The New York Review of Books, she writes: "Seven years after al-Qaeda's attack on America, as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country's soul."

But the Bush/Cheney era will not slip into history if John McCain wins the White House. McCain is making himself into a Bush clone. His flip-flopping positions and ignorance of basic geographical and political facts will push us into an ever darker age of deception and fear manipulation, continuing the Bush/Cheney dismemberment of our Constitution and keeping us bound to the only foreign policy he and Bush/Cheney seem capable of -- war. Forever.

Greg Palast, a fine investigative journalist, reports the underhanded attempts by Republicans to subvert our electoral process in an essay titled "Obama Doesn't Sweat, He Should." For more information see

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Great Review

Bill Ruehlmann, a fine journalist, has a great article about me and my most recent book (PLEASE DON'T WAKE THE ANIMALS) in today's Virginian-Pilot. Here are some highlights: "It's full of surprises. . . . Batten captures her audience with documentary material that surpasses by far the unpredictability of fantasy. . . . This scientific wordsmith makes kids of us all. She resurrects our sense of wonder. . . . That's art."

Read Bill's full review.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In Mourning for the Fourth Amendment

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and, particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
1791 - 2008

Today I am in mourning for the Fourth Amendment. Yesterday -- mark the date – July 9, 2008, the United States Senate, by a vote of 69-28, killed the Fourth Amendment. It had been part of the Constitution since 1791. It embodied one of our most precious civil rights – protection “against unreasonable searches and seizures.” But hey, it’s only the Constitution. Remember that precious document? If you’ve never read it, do so. Now. So you’ll know what a great foundation our nation once had. Not that we ever fulfilled its promise. But it was there. Unique in the history of governments. No more. Again, a spineless Congress played enabler to George Bush and Dick Cheney’s power addiction. By approving the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act, the Senate has once again supported the President’s assault on the Constitution and the civil rights of the American people.

Despite vigorous attempts by Senators Christopher Dodd, Russ Feingold, and others, the 69 enabling Senators caved in to Bush’s ongoing fear manipulation, which he and Cheney have used successfully since 9/11 to terrorize politicians into supporting their lawless policies. Yet, there is no greater terror in a democracy than eviscerating the very rights that have defined us and protected us as a freedom-loving people governed by the rule of law. With every assault on our laws and liberties, Bush/Cheney and their enablers make us less secure and less free because they are destroying our nation’s soul.

By approving the FISA Amendments Act, the Congressional enablers have granted immunity to both the President and his accomplice telecommunication companies. They have condoned brazen lawlessness.

By ordering illegal wiretapping of Americans, “the President committed a felony, not just once but at least thirty times,” said Jonathan Turley, Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University. Interviewed on Keith Olberman’s show, COUNTDOWN, last night, July 9, 2008, Professor Turley said, “That’s a very inconvenient fact right now in Washington.”

But who pays attention to facts in the Bush/Cheney administration? These two and their Congressional camp followers have never felt bound by facts or science or evidence. Why should they be stopped by mere facts? This is an administration that runs on fear, propaganda, lies, and fantasies. An inconvenient truth? Just censor it, ban it, distort it, ignore it.

“This is a sad moment, a black mark on the Congress. This is one of the greatest assaults on the Constitution in the history of our country,” Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin told interviewer Rachel Maddow on COUNTDOWN July 9, 2008.

The FISA Amendments Act gives the telecom industries uncontrolled license to eavesdrop, without obtaining warrants on even the most casual e-mail and phone calls of Americans.

Yesterday’s action by the Senate furthers the executive power grab by Bush/Cheney. Throughout this administration, the agenda has been to remove the checks and balances so carefully crafted in the Constitution. Continually enabled by a spineless Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – Bush and Cheney have systematically placed the executive branch beyond the law and established themselves as a lawless administration.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

This Is the First Day of My Blog

Welcome to my blog. I'm new to blogging, so this will be an ongoing experiment in freespeak and freewrite. I'll talk about my books, comment on writing, and express my concerns about anything and everything. Words are precious to me. Putting thoughts into words is my passion and my profession.

Be forewarned. A lot of my comments will be political. I believe that the 2008 Presidential election is the most important, the most critical in our history. The Bush/Cheney administration has severely damaged our beloved country. The choice we make in the coming election will determine whether the damage continues or whether repair and reclaiming our democratic ideals can begin. During the past eight years, Bush/Cheney abandoned our precious Constitution, shredded our Bill of Rights, turned away from international law, and began a path toward a fascist police state. They launched a war based on lies, they ignored laws they didn't like, they raided the U.S. Treasury on behalf of their greed-driven corporate supporters, they illegally spied on Americans, they condoned torture, they governed by fear manipulation, and they turned their backs on hard-working, middle-class Americans and the poor. They should be tried for war crimes. At the very least, they should be impeached.

Following is the essay I wrote recently for my website:

Making A Killing

It’s all about money. Forget about the freedom-and-democracy rhetoric. That’s for chumps. War is the biggest money-maker on the planet. With every bomb dropped, every rocket launched, every gun shot, the weapons manufacturers ring up profits. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Only the dead have nothing to gain.

So it has come to this. After some three million years of primate evolution, humans are still turning on each other with a ferocity seen only among chimpanzees. Homo sapiens, the species with the most complex brain, seems beset with madness. Visitors from another planet would be justified in thinking they had discovered a vast insane asylum.

Sadly, the fact is that the most deadly violence is committed by men. Numerous studies show that men are more likely to kill other people than are women, and they are most likely to do so in organized groups. The question has been raised whether humans have a violent brain. The answer is No, according to many anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists. Indeed, studies show that humans can live in cooperative groups much better than they can live in violent groups. Criminologist Manuel Eisner of Cambridge University says his study of history indicates that homicides have actually been declining since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. During that time, says Eisner, there were an average of 32 murders per 100,000 people per year. The homicide rate declined every century thereafter, finally reaching 1.4 per 100,000 people in the twentieth century (Eisner 2001). Deaths from warfare have also declined. “If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million,” says Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (Pinker 2007, Jones 2008). However, before humans congratulate themselves on a decline in violence, it’s necessary to take into account weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons can instantly vaporize entire regions and the millions that inhabit them. Nuclear wastes tick out their half-lives over thousands of years, bestowing a toxic legacy on soil and water for future generations. It is not enough that violence has declined. In today’s world, warfare should be obsolete.

The political leaders who still pursue warfare as foreign policy, seem specimens of arrested development, their intelligence lagging so far behind the times that they might as well be ice men, thawed from a glacial past to confront a world for which they are unprepared. In their mindsets and actions, they are maladapted to the high-tech age. Seemingly bereft of reason and negotiating skills, they pursue inappropriate policies, making war instead of peace. It’s as if their brain cells never developed beyond the Stone Age, the early stage of human evolution that spans several hundred thousand years.

During the Upper Stone Age, some 40,000 years ago, anatomically modern people known as Cro-Magnons appeared. At that time, the total human population of the planet was probably less than one million. (Today it’s 6.5 billion.) Throughout the Stone Age, which comprises most of human evolutionary history, people lived in small groups of hunters and gatherers. They faced their enemies with clubs or spears. Battle was up close and personal. The reach of a weapon was arm’s length or the distance a rock could be thrown or a spear hurled. Then men fought to protect their women and children or their territories from bands of hostile males. Today, there are still bands of hostile males -- armies of them -- fighting each other, all out to kill, maim, and pillage, as if life were not short enough. Even warfare is not enough to satisfy their thirst for blood. Using their bodies as weapons, men rape and terrorize girls and women, treating females as reusable spoils of war. More recently, some young men turn their bodies into incendiary devices, killing themselves and anybody else in their suicidal path.

Modern warfare broadcasts its madness – grown men acting like bad little boys throwing tantrums with the most lethal weapons ever invented. Men getting their rocks off with each target incinerated, each bagged and tagged body, each woman raped, each child eviscerated.
Total madness! All waged by big men who have never grown up.

Bad boys, drunk on power, seem to be in charge of many countries, large and small. Even in the most sophisticated country on the planet – the United States – a bare majority of voters elected a bad little rich boy to the Presidency. Some folks said he was the kind of guy they’d like to have a beer with. Better they had left him in the bar. The arrogant folly of George W. Bush’s reign – yes, it has been an imperial Presidency – is the greatest disaster in U.S. history. His soon-to-be legacy is a list of horrors: a pre-emptive war in Iraq based on lies, suspension of habeas corpus, condoning torture, illegal spying on American citizens, a wrecked economy, tax policies that benefit the one percent of wealthiest Americans, and “signings” that place him beyond any law he doesn’t like.

For Bush and his compliant cadre of Republican faithful, war is money in their pockets. No matter that war kills other people’s children; no matter that war mongering in our high-tech age is suicidal, genocidal, and ecocidal. In the ultimate gesture of denial, this President doesn’t attend soldiers’ funerals. And, hey, so much destruction can be launched by remote control, just like a video game!

Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad, Congo, Darfur, Israel, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan – all places of turmoil where innocents struggle against the violence imposed by bully leaders flaunting their pitiful machismo like the sandbox boys fighting with toy weapons. But these weapons are not toys.

In contrast are the artists, scientists, doctors, and inventors who compose symphonies, write novels, rocket astronauts into space, send instruments to explore the far corners of the universe, map the human genome, and analyze the DNA of cancer cells. One segment of humanity working to improve life and bring beauty to the world; the other vested in violence and death.

Given the vast destructive power of nuclear weapons, there can be no winners in modern warfare. So why do so many men glory in death and destruction?

I believe we can find some answers in evolutionary biology. Male-male combat occurs among many species of animals as part of the male reproductive strategy. Males fight to establish status and dominance. Males fight to obtain resources to impress potential mates. The genetic stakes are high. If a female doesn’t choose a male as her mate, he is a genetic zero. He will produce no offspring. Countries that foster war and base their entire economies on weapons manufacture have, in effect, nationalized male-male competition for resources but these resources are no longer connected with reproduction. Warfare could thus be viewed as male mating strategy run amok. Controlling the resource – in the case of Iraq, oil – is the goal. However, it is interesting that the young men who detonate themselves seem seduced by a fantasy of postmortem mating with virgins in Paradise.

In this election year, Americans face a clear choice between the warmongers and the peacemakers. Indeed, the Republican candidate, John McCain, has said staying in Iraq for one hundred years would “be fine” with him. Only those who lack vision, reason, and common sense would condemn this nation – and the planet – to eternal war. So much more is humanly possible.


Eisner, M. 2001. British Journal of Criminology .41:618-638.

Jones, Dan. 2008. Killer Instincts. Nature . 451:512-515.

Pinker, S. 2007. The New Republic . 236:18-21.