"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, March 31, 2007

I Think They Did This In Germany, Once

And the Soviet Union, and Communist China, and a few other places that didn't have much use for democracy. Here's Chris Kelly's post on The John Doe Club, as touted by Michelle Malkin.

Stirring words. It's like Pat Benatar wrote Braveheart. And it can obviously leave us with only one question: Is there something stronger than Ritalin?

Does Michelle Malkin believe the things she writes? Is she five? Is she living in a parallel universe where Afghanistan is occupying us? Can you sit down and type, "I will not submit to your will," to a hypothetical Arab teenager and not feel a little ... silly?

And that's where the cognitive dissonance of racism kicks in. If you're an Arab man, she can't believe you're not a jihadist. And since she's an Asian woman, we're surprised that she's such an idiot.


The irony here, of course, is that America's foremost anti-brown-people ideologue is Michelle Malkin. Let's face it, her ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower. I know something about internalized self-hate. I'm also smart enough to recognize it and do something about it. In myself, at least.

Yeah, I read the pledge. I won't link to Malkin because I don't link to hate sites. I strikes me that if she is one of the most important voices for conservatism, it's no wonder that conservatism is in such bad odor right now.

Politics.Wikia

I'm trying out Politics.Wikia and will be crossposting some of my commentaries there. It looks about as nonpartisan as you can get, since commentators are all over the continuum. As soon as I can figure out how to do it, I'm going to mark my politics as "Other."

Of course.

Conspiracy Theories

I tend to look at them with no small degree of scepticism -- and then I find reports like this.

I'm reminded of David Kuo's story of the evangelical Christian judge for grant applications under the President's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives who routinely gave applications from non-Christian organizations a zero rating. Without reading past the part that identified them.

Lots of housecleaning to do in 2009.

On the Political

"Politics," most broadly defined, can be said to affect almost any interaction between people (or others -- Jane Goodall documented a form of politics that seems to fit this definition among chimpanzees). In our government, however, we try to keep "politics" of a certain stripe -- which is to say, partisanship -- to a minimum in the hope of effective governance. And then you hear things like the comments in this post coming from a government official.

In this case, while the US Attorneys are "political" appointees, one hopes that their tenure is marked by a non-partisan approach to their job. One also hopes that, if they are doing their jobs, they will be left alone except to have all the support they need from the powers that be.

The idea that the US Attorney purge is one arm of the administration's strategy for controlling the 2008 elections is now becoming current on the internet. I wish I could say I was surprised.

Update:

Relevant to that last comment, Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake makes this point:

Frankly, it is no wonder that Kyle Sampson did not recognize a distinction between politicization and performance assessments, because the Bush Administration makes no distinction other than "helpful to our agenda or not." And their agenda, as driven by Rove's insatiable appetite for collecting power chits is as follows: win at any cost. That the cost is the taint of our democracy and the undermining of the rule of law is apparently of no consequence, and that is profoundly disturbing — and an argument for more and more Congressional oversight, if I ever saw one.

It's wrong no matter who's doing it. This is just a lesson in what happens when one party controls the entire government. Fortunately, most people in this country have some idea of what the country really is about, which gives us a chance to scuttle the ones that don't.

(Crossposted at Politics.Wikia.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Marriage And Other Answers

More from Dale Carpenter on David Blankenhorn's attempt to take down SSM:

I simply maintain that the existence of this cluster in some people is not very important in the public policy argument about SSM. By itself, it tells us nothing about what the likely or necessary effects of SSM will be. It would similarly not be very useful in the debate over SSM to note the existence of other correlations more friendly to the case for SSM, like the fact that countries recognizing SSM tend to be wealthier, more educated, more democratic, healthier, have lower infant mortality rates, longer life expectancy, and are more devoted to women’s equality, than countries that refuse to recognize gay relationships.

It's a very interesting post that touches on something that has been a subliminal discomfort to me, particularly in light of Andrew Sullivan's occasional trumpeting about the "death of gay culture" over the past year or so. I like gay culture. I'm an admitted anti-assimilationist. And I think Sullivan and Carpenter have missed one point, and it's a subtextual one.

The political necessity of being "just like you" hasn't really changed gay culture at all. It's merely changed the wider perception of it: gay couples now have kids, live in the suburbs, worry about making mortgage payments, and the whole ball of wax. Except. . . . They don't, necessarily. It's the "necessarily" part that's important. It's a little bit of extending a media image to a real population -- well, OK, it's a lot of that. We're also seeing an aspect of "either/or" thinking, dichotomies instead of continua, black-and-white views of a universe that is composed of shades of gray. Big mistake, I think. Needless to say, this either/or image is a response to the either/or perceptions of the intended audience. It's still wrong. We should be introducing to the audience the idea that there are always more than two answers.

"Bad For The Democrats"

I take my swipes at the MSM, but don't really dwell on the Beltway pundits. It's now at the point where it's hard to tell the difference. This, from Ana Marie Cox at Swampland at Time, via Andrew Sullivan:

So, I gather you all (Glenn Greenwald, most notably) picked up on something Time ME Rick Stengel said on The Chris Matthew Show Sunday about the possibility that Congress may pull Rove and Miers in to testify about the USA scandal: "I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove because it is so bad for them."

It's a sentiment that's even harder to parse that the usual chat show banter. He's uninterested because going after Karl is bad for the Democrats? Two problems: Since when did the Democrats doing something bad for themselves prove to be uninteresting? A second, bigger problem: Why is going after Karl bad for Democrats? The panel on Sunday seemed to be taking the line that going after Karl would somehow make the Ds look petty and vengeful; I tend to think it makes them look like they are doing what they were elected to do*: provide oversight of a "comically [and at times criminally] mendacious" administration.


Stengel replies:

As a citizen, I think it's unfortunate and perhaps short-sighted for Democrats to be perceived as focusing on the past rather than the future. If people see the Democrats as obsessively concerned with settling scores, that's not good for the Democrats or the country.

Here, in one brief quote, is the distillation of all the arrogance and smugness that we outside the Beltway have been assailing in recent years. First, "as a citizen," Stengel hasn't been paying attention. Support for these investigations is overwhelming (outside Washington, at least), and corruption and the war were the two big reasons that the Democrats won control of Congress (as well as any number of state legislatures).

If the Democrats are going to be "perceived as focusing on the past," it's because people like Stengel are shaping the perceptions. If this is what the major news outlets are coming up with, it's no wonder you can't believe anything you read.

Sullivan agrees. And Atrios has neat little chart.

"Pure Evil"

An interesting comment from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers on the concept of "pure evil." I agree -- it's something that you find in Saturday morning cartoon shows, but by the age of eleven or so, you should have outgrown it.

Amazingly enough (or perhaps not), it also contains some sensible foreign-policy options -- like the things we were doing before 9/11 and "Mission Accomplished."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

About the Nudes

Treasure this. I don't talk about my work very much.

Yes, another gallery of male nudes at a/k/a/Hunter. It's getting to the stage where you can now see some development of themes and images over time. The nudes, much more than the landscapes and the more formal works, represent a series of confrontations for me, with my attitudes, my hesitancies, my opposed tendencies to rebellion and being "the best little boy in the world."

You can also start to see some of my formal concerns operating: the "classicist" versus the off-the-cuff street photographer, the abstract formalism versus the happy accidents, the high-mindedness versus the near-pornography of some of the more recent images (the interface between the erotic and the pornographic has started to fascinate me). Going back through this imagery has been a real trip, and I think, after a hiatus of several years, I'm ready to start investigating some of these things agan.

It's been fun.*


* Except for the actual mechanics of getting the galleries online. Between them, Internet Explorer and Trellix Sitebuilder (which does not support Firefox) are a heady dose of virtual hell.

Andrew-Come-Lately

Suddenly Andrew Sullivan is an environmentalist. (Actually, I don't know that to be true, but I'm one of his regular readers and I don't recall him making a big issue of the environment, aside from global warming.) The theme of "America the Beautiful" is one that goes back far in our history, probably to the very beginning. And environmental responsibility is another. My grandfather worked a dirt farm in Appalachia, fertilized with the products of the stable and barn. That was just the way you did it. The paintings of the great nineteenth century American landscapists are full of this kind of reverence (and are highly idealized -- they were also selling the West). Think about the novels of Jack London set in the Yukon and Alaska, or for that matter the works of James Fenimore Cooper (which actually make me cringe because of their unabashed racism, but still). And yet we've become the most environmentally destructive society ever. (Please note that there are farms in Europe that have been productive for centuries, because they follow sensible farming practices. We came up with the Dust Bowl, and now we export the same techniques to tropical forests.)

I find his comments about environmentalism becoming a religion fairly humorous. It's another blind spot: the idea that anything that someone feels passionately about (especially someone whose politics you disagree with) is a "religion" is faintly naive, although it actually smacks of being a tactic. (Vide the creationist position on evolution, although I believe they've largely given up on that one -- at least in court.) In point of fact, there are religions (like mine) in which the world is revered and that recognize the indivisibility of the world and the creatures in it. The Big Three Monotheisms are the ones who divorced nature from spirituality -- if I've heard it right, the Fall involved not only Man but Nature as well; the difference is that Man is redeemable, while Nature is not. It's kind of hard to reconcile that with any sort of environmentalism, although I see that some denominations are beginning to take the position that Sullivan mentions. Some of us have always believed that we are stewards of ther earth, not its lords.

It's sort of a pity that it took HDTV for Sullivan to figure it out. He really needs to get out and get dirty more.

Out of the Mouths of Demagogues

More Christianist Newspeak, this time from the horse's mouth:

"We use that word — Christian — to refer to people who are evangelical Christians," Schneeberger added. "Dr. Dobson wasn't expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to 'read the tea leaves' about such a possibility."

So now the word "Christian" only refers to those who have Dobson's permission to call themselves that. I would guess that leaves about 80% of those in this country who profess Christianity out in the cold. Must be nice to make words mean whatever you want by fiat. (Hereinafter known as the "Caterpillar Syndrome," for all you Alice in Wonderland fans.) And James Dobson "reading tea leaves." Isn't that witchcraft?

Here's Dobson on Romney:

"I still think that might be an impediment for him," Dobson said. "There are conservative Christians who will not vote for him because of his Mormon faith. I'm not saying that's the correct view or my view.

He's not saying it's not either. Have you noticed that about him? (Aside: a friend from my auction house days once said that retail jewelers are about on a par with rug dealers, which is two steps below used-car salesmen. Jus' sayin')

Andrew Sullivan refers to the "encouraging contempt" in these comments. Yeah, there's a minor dose of opposition to Dobson and what he stands for, but what's really an eye-opener for me (and I guess I should read more comments on some of these conservative posts, but they start to sound like a broken record) is the level of blind acceptance -- one commenter called Dobson "a man of integrity." How you can say that about someone who habitually misrepresents facts, when he's not actually making them up, is beyond me. Some of the commenters have it right: Dobson's not a "religious leader," he's a politician hiding behind a Bible. This post seems to me to be much more on point. This comment, I thought, was choice:

Maybe knowledge from my childhood eludes me, but didn’t Jesus take issue with the Pharisees (and others) who prayed out loud in public and committed other “public displays of faith” (PDF, just as annoying as PDA). It is possible that I have been at my desk too long today but wouldn’t someone who talks openly about their faith in a public position (at least in the manner that Dobson seems to be hinting at) be behaving in the same manner?

Says something about the political arm of evanglical Christianity.

Digby has a post that touches on the basis of this whole phenomenon, in terms of the magical thinking that seems to the basis for supporting people like Dobson and other extremists (and, in case you were wondering, I do consider Dobson an extremist). I have to say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised to to read the very direct and unequivocal answers to the evolution question by Jonah Goldberg's and Charles Krauthammer. (As opposed to the waffling by the other pundits questioned.)

Politics Trumps Everything?

This story, coming from World Net Daily, is appalling. In fact, it's mostly interesting at this point because of this report appearing where it does: one of the most knee-jerk of "conservative" publications.

"The U.S. attorney's office in Texas actually prepared indictments in this case," Angle told WND. "But when the word came from Washington, that's when Baumann wrote his letter declining prosecution. Sutton's office dropped the matter on the desk of the local district attorney, but nobody from Sutton's office said 'if you can�t go on this case, we'll help you out.'"

WND asked Angle to explain how politics drove the decisions not to prosecute.

"If you read the letters from Sutton's office or from DOJ, it's really amazing what abuse they describe and then downplay as not being serious," Angle explained. "They describe systematic and widespread abuse of juveniles who were held in these facilities by the people who were administering these facilities, and they acknowledge this fully, yet they determine that the evidence is not sufficient to warrant federal prosecution."

Angle explained to WND that he found both letters shocking.

"The letters justify not pursuing these cases because, number one, there is no evidence that any of these juveniles felt physical pain while they were being assaulted, and the letters use the word 'assaulted,'" he said. "And then also, they rejected prosecution because none of these juveniles stated in the investigations that they resisted and objected, which of course the facts of the report show to be the case. This case developed right in the middle of Governor Perry's 2006 re-election campaign. While Texas is a Republican state, and the Republicans expected to win, still at that time, Governor Perry was facing an election challenge from Carole Strayhorn, a third party candidate who was also a former Republican comptroller in Texas."

He continued: "I would speculate that the political powers in Texas and Washington in the Republican Party were not interested in this sex scandal coming to light. Sutton and Gonzales let their political responsibilities outstrip their legal responsibilities, and as a result you had children who were in danger of sexual abuse and were left in that danger."


It's the kind of thing you read and say "They're making it up." Unfortunately, it seems to fit everything I've read about this situation elsewhere. I suspect, however, that there's a strong element of federal versus state law. The federal age of consent is not going to apply to youth offenders incarcerated in Texas, but the whole "hands off" attitude, and the terms in which it is couched, is pretty amazing.

I don't know about the "political" aspect of this, although that kind of scandal wouldn't have helped Perry at all. I'm not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV) so, while the content of Baumann's letter makes some sense, I still don't quite buy it. Something important is missing there.

The most clear-cut offense, of course, is probably going to be "age of consent." That's a state matter. (Funny the times state's rights comes into play, isn't it?) We're talking statutory rape, on some of these incidents, at least. I'm reminded, though, of the times that the feds were right in the thick of investigations of this kind of corruption.

But then, priorities change.

I guess the wolves are circling.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Head

is not into logic or parsing or any sort of formal argument today. I'm going to the zoo. Maybe commune with the monkeys, or something. Look at the orchids at the conservatory. It's rainy and mild -- a good day for it, minus rugrats.

In the meantime, you deserve another picture, so here it is.


Marriage

Sort of an interesting back-and-fort on the subject of same-sex marriage. Dale Carpenter dismantles a rather lame argument by David Blankenhorn against SSM. My reaction is that Blankenhorn is playing word games and not looking at some basic issues. As Carpenter points out, Blankenhorn starts with the assumption that favoring same-sex marriage equates to disfavoring marriage (I know, it's a stretch, but it's not my argument). His attitude is implicit in the title of his essay, "Defining Marriage Down (is no way to save it)." That, to me, is a dead give-away that he is still, suprise!, against.

Carpenter deals quite effectively with the formal flaws in Blankenhorn's argument -- while ostensibly rejecting Stanley Kurtz' habit of equating correlation and causation, he falls into the same trap, moving between the two with nary a hitch. Carpenter also alludes to my major objection:

A person who's generally anti-marriage could believe, quite mistakenly, that SSM too is anti-marriage. Instead of deinstitutionalizing marriage, SSM could be a small part of reinstitutionalizing it, despite the marriage opponent's most fervent hopes. Nothing in a series of correlations in survey data answers that question either way.

That, to me, is one of the key issues. Leery as I am of intuitive solutions (in formal arguments, at least), it seems somewhat bizarre to me to take the position that denying marriage to people who want to participate somehow strengthens the institution. That, to me, has been the major flaw in the anti-SSM arguments all along: all the "save marriage" initiatives have done absolutely nothing to address the real problems that beset marriage as an institution in this country today. Hence, I have no compunction in calling them smoke-screens for an anti-gay agenda. (Here's a correlation for Blankenhorn: I wouldn't be a bit surprised to discover that those who oppose same-sex marriage are more likely to oppose equal civil rights protections for gays and to favor criminalizing homosexual behavior.)

Blankenhorn appears to start from the idea that any alteration to the institution of marriage as it now stands must necessarily weaken it. This is by no means self-evident and itself requires examination. I think the mere fact that marriage has been redefined continually during its existence should be enough to lay that whole idea to rest.

Carpenter has promised a further post on Blankenhorn's argument, which I will try to keep an eye out for.

Update:

A little tangential, but germane, I think. Here's a terrific interview at Pam's House Blend with Joe Murray, colimnist former staff attorney for the American Family Association who came out strongly against Peter Pace's remarks on gays in the military. It touches on gay marriage and gay rights in general, and provides some good insights into the minds of Donald and Tim Wildmon, two of the strongest opponents of any rights for gays. Although Murray claims not to know what they're thinking, his evidence of their actions is pretty revealing, particularly since he is coming from the stance of a conservative Christian.

Oh, and do read the comments from the hateful lefties.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Best American Fantasy

An announcement from The Mumpsimus. I've begun getting acquainted with Jeff VanderMeer's work, which I admire enough to want to read more. It will be very interesting to see how he approaches editing an anthology like this one. (I've already e-mailed my editor at GMR to be sure we're getting a review copy.)

This is also by way of beginning to distance myself a little bit from political commentary. (And it's sort of appalling to think of myself as a "political commentator." Yikes!) It's getting stale, and with the 2008 elections heating up, it seems like a good time to bow out (but not completely -- politics is like smoking -- I can't just quit). But look for more commentary on books, and more links to different kinds of sites.

It's called rearranging your head.

And On That Note

I just wanted to say that I'm back at work on a/k/a Hunter. Look for some new galleries. (I may even get the GMR music reviews updated and posted.)


Katie Couric

After her attempted hatchet job on Elizabeth and John Edwards the other day (which I didn't see -- I undertsand they came across as dignified and intelligent, while she came across as bitch on steroids), I noticed that Digby has a comment remembering her similar treatment of Michael J. Fox.

Maybe she just has a woody for sick people and no standards or ethics. Obviously not someone whose broadcasts I'm going to watch.

" More Evidence Of The (Lack Of) Tolerance Of The American Left"

I was going to pass on this post by GayPatriot, but I just ran across it again, and it's just sooo GayPatriot.

A GP reader sent me this and I asked if I could reprint. It is a perfect example of how liberals preach and preach and preach the Gospel of Tolerance… but are the very last to actually practice it.

The "perfect example" of liberals and the "Gospel of Tolerance" involves the immature actions of two high schools girls who apparently are making a distinct effort to be fools. Apparently GayPatriot can't tell the difference between a high-school girl and an adult who disagrees with him, or feels comfortable casting all "liberals" as badly behaved adolescents. (Or maybe that just makes him feel better about something.) I would think that any adult would recognize that these are kids -- they don't necessarily know how to behave, and like as not they're acting out. But to oh! so seriously try to tie this to your political opponents as some kind of defining moment? Jeebus!

I was going to let it go because it's the kind of crap I've come to expect from GayPatriot -- shallow, nasty, and functionally blind. The post over there on William Jackson at the height of Abramoff/Coingate and a couple of other "business-as-usual" Republican scandals (you remember -- the one titled "The Democrats' Culture of Corruption") was the one that finished me off on that site. He's obviously not interested in any sort of rational discussion.

Frankly, although there are a couple of posters on that site who periodically show some signs of higher brain function, he's not one of them. I say that having been an off-and-on visitor for about a year now, and my frustration level just got to the point where I wrote the site off. I am, believe it or not, very much interested in dialogue with people who don't agree with me (frankly, sometimes here I feel like I'm preaching to the choir), because I don't understand where they're coming from as often as not. I do, however, get more than a little impatient with something on the order of GP's stock answers and knee-jerk condemnations -- usually based in cheap and desperately flawed arguments. It reminds me of nothing so much as Chris Crain calling me a "Democratic apologist." I'm still scratching my head over that one. It seems obvious that not only did he not read the post in question, he's read nothing else here at all. (I was just noting my labels -- for a Democratic apologist, I find it very strange that I've got labels for "PC blindness," "the totalitarian left," "liberal hypocrisy," and the like. Sure sounds like a dirty liberal to me.)

The Pace Policy

Alerted to the exchange reported at Pam's House Blend by Andrew Sullivan:

Corey Andrew had his profile and resume posted at Careerbuilder.com, and it caught the eye of Army recruiter Marcia Ramode, who contacted him. He wasn't interested in a position in the military, particularly because of the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.

When Andrew informed Ramode that he is gay, and believed that the DADT policy was wrong, the two engaged in a three-day email exchange that included statements by Ramode, in her official capacity as a recruiter, that boggle the mind.


The e-mails from an Army recruiter are not something I'm going to post here. I'm the only one allowed to call names on this site, and I never get this low.

Interestingly enough, Sullivan doesn't comment on this as reported by the ever clueless Dan Riehl:

Read the whole email exchange via the pdf, you'll see that Powell aka Andrew was being inappropriate and looking for a fight from the start - bragging about how he and his gay male, pierced-nippled friends would do a better job than the current soldiers. In typical feckless Liberal fashion, he started a silly flame war and now he wants to turn it around and be some whinny victim hounded by gay oppression. Gay, or not, it's pretty clear he has nothing to offer the military. He'd be crying for a lawyer if he ever really came under attack.

Uh, hey Dan? Your partisan's hanging out.

If you read the whole exchange (pdf), it's true that Corey Andrew was being a little bitchy. Frankly, I would probably take the same opportunity to confront a member of the military over this policy, although I'd probably limit myself to a little bit of snark -- after all, she didn't make the policy. But just look at the tone and the content of Ramode's e-mails compared to Andrew's -- not only homophobic but racist, and extremely so, and this coming from an American Indian in her professional capacity as an Army recruiter.

Riehl's attempt to build "context" here is also pretty much irrelevant, and strikes me as being nothing more than a tactic to deflect the onus to the victim. (He's also guilty of some sloppy reading -- he attributes things to Andrew that Andrew didn't write, or mis-reports them, but I suspect that's just part of the tactic.) Let's face it, Ramode had a number of options. She could just have restated the policy and noted that her duty is to carry it out. She could have broken off the exchange before starting the name-calling. She could have just said, "I'm sorry you feel that way" and let it go at that. And the point is, she's the one who initiated the exchange, and she's on duty. Reading Andrew's first response, it's obvious (to me at least) that she was dealing with a pissy queen. Best just let it go, in my opinion.

To be sure, Andrew came up with some comments that were totally out of line. I can feel some sympathy -- under the category of "things you wanted to say" -- but that's the whole point: they are things you might have wanted to say but didn't because you're too dignified and have too much self-respect for that. So he was wrong on that score. However, in what seems to have become a contest on who could be more offensive, Ramode wins hands down.

The point that's most relevant here, aside from the nastiness of Ramode's e-mails, is that she was communicating in her official capacity as a representative of the US Army. In the nuts-and-bolts sense, she was using her government e-mail to make racist and homophobic attacks (under some degree of provocation, as amply demonstrated) on a potential recruit whom she had first approached, but the larger issue is that she is a walking, talking, e-mailing example of Army policy toward gays.

Shall we measure the ick factor here? Thank you so much, General Pace.

(PS -- It's very interesting reading the comments at both Dan Riehl's post and at Pam Spaulding's. Just take a run down them for a compare-and-contrast view of "the hateful left" as opposed to "the patriotic right.")

Update:

Here's a report by Steve Ralls from SLDN with some follow-up.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More on Morality

Vis-a-vis my ongoing conversation with GayPatriotWest on morality (currently on hiatus, because we are both busy with other things right now), I happened across this post at Echidne of the Snakes. Eye-opener:

Morality is a concept in disrepute. That is because people mistake the system of taboos based on authority for morality. Those tediously repeated, hypocritically observed taboos are the officially recognized “morals”, the only ones that are allowed. But those taboos, based in inequality and disrespect for the equal rights of individuals, are alien to a modern democracy. Their utter failure, even within the most tradition ridden families and communities, show that they are false.

"The system of taboos." What I've been trying to say for a couple of years now. I've been calling it "a list of rules" but the taboo thing is a lot more accurate.

Very interesting post. Read the whole thing.

New Blog

Ran across The Mumpsimus yesterday. Makes me feel guilty that I don't spend more time blogging about writing, but I don't really talk about writing or the writing biz very much. This blog is one of the ways I get away from that.

Also check out Little Bird Blue, another writer's blog.

sigh

Guarding the Borders

That, apparently, is what the Minutemen are up to these days. Guarding the Canadian border. Against illegal Mexican immigrants. I don't normally link to posts for which I can't check primary sources, but this one by Sara Robinson at Orcinus is just too good to pass up.

More on Edwards

Quite a heated discussion going on over at EA Forums about the Edwards' decision to continue with his presidential campaign. Atrios has this take:

People who get a serious illness, or become disabled, lose both their agency and their humanity in the eyes of many. They become freaks who have to prove they are human in every interaction, and have to reassert their own agency at every moment.

For some reason the most natural and seemingly healthy impulse - to go on with your life as you had intended to the best of your ability - seems to be the most alien to those not experiencing a tragic illness.


I've been steadfastly in the "it's their decision to make" camp over at EA. Atrios refers to the comments by Rush Limbaugh, who wins the weekly Coulter Award for gross offensiveness.

Great Minds

Or something like that. Re my post about the Senate staffer slipping the US Attorney provision into the Patriot Act: Josh Marshall says Arlen Specter did it. Paul Kiel's version is closer to my own recollection. In fact, I remember Specter being quoted as saying he didn't know about it.

The thrust of both commentaries is away from my question, which remains: how can something like this get into the law without any of those responsible for making laws knowing about it?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

There Is A God

From the inevitable PZ Myers:

What a shock—that awesome "Left Behind" video game in which you get to convert the infidel and slaughter the heathen has tanked, big time. They sunk $27 million into it, the stock had a peak of $7.44, and now it's worth 18 cents.

I guess they didn't pray hard enough.


What can I add to that?

Marriage Notes

South Carolina did it (I'm only surprised it took them so long). Andy Towle had a comment that struck me:

Not that they weren't ugly in the first place, but it's interesting how much uglier actions like this begin to look as other states, such as New Hampshire, start opening their doors to civil unions, as is happening more and more often.

It really is becoming a matter of proving how ugly you are.

And the problem I have with stuff like this is sort of summarized in this post by Andrew Koppelman at Balkinization:

The reality, owing to the vagaries of New York politics, is that a decision in favor of same-sex marriage is unlikely to be overturned by legislation. Governor Eliot Spitzer, who has a veto, is on record as favoring same-sex marriage. And it’s unlikely that the state legislature, a notoriously dysfunctional graveyard of legislation, would ever pass a law anyway.

The result would be that, although New York same-sex couples could not marry within the state, they would be able to make the relatively short trip north to Niagara Falls, get married there, and come right home again. New York would effectively join Massachusetts, which recognizes same-sex marriages for all purposes, and Vermont, Connecticut, California, and New Jersey, which recognize it in all but name (they call it “civil union” or “domestic partnership”), so that more than a quarter of the population of the United States would live in a jurisdiction that gives same-sex couples all the same rights as married heterosexuals. And all because of the intervention of the militantly antigay Alliance Defense Fund. Who says that left and right can’t work together?


When I read stuff like this, I wind up sitting here scratching my head and wondering how idiots like this wound up running the country for so long.

(And for a good commentary on Hernandez v. Robles, see the comments to Koppelman's article. When I commented on that decision, I remember not being able to decide whether to laugh because the decision was so strained and overtly political, or to scream for the same reasons. This is a nice dissection.)

Breeding Stock -- A Comment on Sexual Morality

A few posts ago (the long one about morality) I made a comment to the effect that the Dobson Gang doesn't reduce heterosexual relationships to mere sex. I'm wrong on that, if you stop to think about it: the whole idea that sex is for procreation, a cornerstone of the Christianist position on sex and morality, is just about that: people are breeding stock, pure and simple.

Gingrich Tactics

Even Newt doesn't like them any more. From Kevin Drum:

Oh it's clever....It's the Entertainment Tonight version of governing a great country. And its very dangerous, because we have no habits anymore of serious dialog, we have no habits of serious citizenship. Everything is reduced to gossip, attack, whose consultant is cleverer, and it's really very destructive.


Hold on a second while I pick my jaw off the ground. There. Got it.

Is he serious? Newt "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" Gingrich is now complaining about partisan attacks? Newt "Contract With America" Gingrich is complaining about consultant-driven politics? Newt "Let's Impeach Bill Clinton Over a Blowjob" Gingrich is complaining about the inability of our political system to solve real problems?


I don't know if I want Gingrich to run for president or not. I guess it depends on how many people can see the emperor's underwear.

The US Attorney Purge

I haven't been writing about this one because a) I've been focusing on other things, and b) Josh Marshall and his crew are doing a bang-up job of covering it over at TPM.

But one thing that came up early on in the story that I don't recall seeing much about since: the provision of the Patriot Act that allows the appointment of US Attorneys without Senate confirmation was reportedly slipped in by a Senate staffer and none of our Senators knew about it. In fact, I seem to remember reading something about it being slipped in after the vote, but I won't vouch for that -- my memory does play tricks sometimes.

So, do you think we have a structural problem here? Staffers drafting and inserting clauses into legislation without legislators' knowledge seems to me to be a real problem. Legislators voting on bills they haven't read is a real problem.

Should be illegal.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What Would Newt Do?

So, Edwards is going to stay in the race in spite of Politico. Ran across a post at Malcontent drooling over this little bit of public bitchery by James "Damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't" Taranto at that augustly impartial screed rag, WSJ, which Malcontent has reproduced in toto, and frankly, two appearances on the Web are enough for this BS, so I'm not going to.

Taranto takes on two targets -- John Edwards, for staying in the race in spite of Elizabeth's cancer (with, let us note, her urging to do so) and Andrew Sullivan, because Taranto likes easy targets.

I can't help but think, "What would Newt do?"

Why, divorce her, of course.

Cue Light Bulb

Dale Carpenter at Volokh:

What I think this suggests is that for many gay couples the struggle for marriage is not only, or even primarily, a struggle for particular legal benefits. It is a struggle for equal dignity, recognition, legitimacy, and respect under the law. That is something only full marriage can provide because it is a relationship that families, friends, co-workers, and employers readily understand. Marriage has a history and cultural meaning unrivaled by any other status. Academics who have hailed alternative statuses -- civil unions, domestic partnerships, registered partnerships, etc. -- as offering couples a "menu" of choices fail to appreciate that, to lots of gay couples, the only choice that really matters is marriage. To them, everything else on the menu is "bread crumbs." Or to use another metaphor I heard not long ago, civil unions are like a song with all the lyrics but none of the music.

Look at that first sentence. This is what comes of letting the Christianists and HRC frame the discourse. It has always been about equal dignity, recognition, legitimacy and respect. I wrote on this very thing two years ago, and a year before that It's not about the tax breaks. It never has been. The problem is that we only believe things in this country that we can quanitfy, and in this case, tax breaks and financial considerations are the only quantifiable parts. That's why the Massachusetts decision was so important: it recognized the significance of the word "marriage" in terms of its social status and recognition.

Gad! I don't believe we have to keep saying this.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Moral Blind Spots

A very nice piece by Harold Myerson at WaPo on Rev. R. Albert Mohler, the Southern Baptists' answer to Josef Mengele, and Gen. Peter Pace, who has trouble recognizing the difference between his religious beliefs and appropriate government policy. Via Pam's House Blend:

Mohler's deity, in short, is the God of Double Standards: a God who enforces the norms and fears of a world before science, a God profoundly ignorant of or resistant to the arc of American history, which is the struggle to expand the scope of the word "men" in our founding declaration that "all men are created equal." This is a God who in earlier times was invoked to defend segregation and, before that, slavery.

Myerson is brilliantly scathing, and right on the mark. Read the whole thing.

Contrast Pace's and Mohler's comments with this from the Episcopal Church, via Andrew Sullivan:

We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth.

All of which allows us to segue very nicely into the next post, part of my ongoing discussion with GayPatriotWest.

Gay and Moral

Ran across this post by TerranceDC at Pam's House Blend, which I think impacts directly on the conversation I had started with GayPatriotWest on morality and gay men:

It comes down to a basic question: Can you be gay and be a good person? Can you be good person and be gay? Can you be gay and good? Good and gay? From religious conservatives, there seem to be two answers: Maybe. And no.

It's a long post, but very much worth reading. The post is concerned mainly with the reaction of conservative Christian spokesmen and the ex-gay movement to the idea that homosexuality has a biological component (which admission earned Albert Mohler some brickbats from the right) and with how the idea of same-sex marriage changes the playing field in relations between men and women, which is, of course, a severe threat to the established world order as defined by the likes of James Dobson. There is, however, a lot in it that's relevant here.

GPW wrote me this e-mail in response to my post on his post:

I wouldn't say that I have a "moral absolutist" position on sexuality, instead have learned, in large part from experience, that intimate contact is far more meaningful if there is a spiritual connection to our partner. I do believe human beings (particularly men) do need to, for lack of better word, "experiment" with their sexuality, but should be open to what they feel, not only during the act itself, but afterwards.

I used to believe that a hookup could lead to a relationship. But, more often than not, most men seem eager to break that bond as soon as he has climaxed.

While I wouldn't say I was mistaken to use Matt Sanchez as a starting point, I may well have been mistaken to use him as an example of change. If, as I first imagined, he did porn, then realized how empty it was, and changed his life -- as many men have, his would truly be a compelling story. And that's how I first saw it. I saw some stuff on the web that appeared to contradict his own story. I don't know the full truth of his life (about which there seems some dispute). So, in order not to get my ideas bogged down in his story, I don't want to use him as an example.

The issue is developing an attitude towards sexuality that allows us to see it as involving more than its carnal component.


I don't think we're in disagreement on any particular point, but as usual I'm wanting to dig a little deeper. Yes, I think intimate contact is more meaningful if there is a relationship (call it "spiritual connection," call it "the contract"), but it's the nature of that relationship that seems to be where we run into difficulties.

I agree with GPW that the issue is finding the emotional and spiritual surround that sexuality inhabits, but I think I have a different take on it. There's a marvelous interchange in Fiona Patton's The Granite Shield that I think is pertinent here:

Llewen looked him straight in the eye. "I usually have sex, me."

Taken aback by the straightforward answer, Etienne colored slightly. "Oh. Ah, with, uh, anyone in particular?" He asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

Llewen shrugged. "With whoever's handy."

"You mean, you've done it with people you don't love?"

Llewen laughed at his friend's shocked expression. "I never said I didn't love them, did I?" he replied. "I have a special friend, sure, but we haven't come to any formal understanding yet. When she's not there, I have other special friends, mind."

"I don't understand."

"That's because you've been locked up here your whole life, haven't you? It's just games, Etienne, to pass the time like or to scratch a mutual itch."

"So . . . when you do find someone you love . . ."

"It'll stop being a game, won't it? Or at least it'll still be fun, but it'll mean more. . . ."


Fiction, yes, but a passage that does what fiction is supposed to do, which is illuminate larger truths. (And it is, in a very quiet way, one of the funniest seduction scenes I've ever read.)

A couple of points I want to make before we get any farther into this. A discussion like this one, if it is to have any point, means that we must examine very carefully our basic concept of morality as it stands now, else we don't really know what we're arguing. One of the values of the post from TerranceDC is that it confronts directly the basis of the conservative Christian condemnation of gays; one of the values of the quote from Fiona Patton is that it provides an example of an alternate view of sexuality and its purpose. We have to be careful to recognize how deeply the Christian view -- which is, after all is said and done, the most pervasive view in this society, whether we profess Christianity or not -- has influenced our perceptions of things like "spirit," "purpose," "good" and "evil."

One of the traps here, as a side note, is the idea that things like sex have a purpose. I know that's the idea that the whole edifice of Christian morality is built on, but I find the arguments hollow, coming as I do from a non-Christian, scientifically literate viewpoint. To say that sex has a particular purpose is tantamount to saying that the human foot evolved so we could walk upright, and I can't quite buy that one. I see it as a confusion of carts and horses.

Back to the main thread: I think, in the light of what I've just said, I have to backtrack a little and disagree with GPW. I think the issue is developing an attitude toward sex that enables us to see it for what it is in any given instance. Then we decide if we want to participate.

GPW brings up the matter of change in his allusion to Matt Sanchez. I'm not sure what the point is there. Sanchez, like any good conservative, has apparently fallen back into the "there's-no-such-thing-as-a-homosexual" camp in claiming that not only is he not gay, but his clients weren't, either, but as far as I'm concerned that's just so much bullshit. It's part of the basic Christianist mindset that same-sex love is a choice (witness the howls from the right at Mohler's admission of biological causes) and an integral and necessary part of the attempt to belittle the emotional life of gays. TerranceDC notes this comment by Andrew Sullivan:

You can see the benefits of this point as a strategy. Reducing love, friendship, passion and companionship -- the critical elements of most gay relationships -- to a simple physical act is extremely reductive. We'd never talk about heterosexual marriage primarily in terms of vaginal intercourse, or merely sexual needs. It slights the depth and variety of the heterosexual relationship.

Which, of course, is one of the main purposes. See the quote from Harold Myerson in the post above about the God of the Double Standard -- you don't see any one of the Dobson Gang making that point about heterosexual relationships. I seem to see some seeds of this sort of assumption in GPW's remarks contrasting the moral value of "spiritual connection" and "hooking up." I disagree that we must always be attempting to forge those deeper bonds anytime we have sex, which I think is the point he's making. Yes, it's much nicer that way, a deeper and richer experience, but I'm not sure it's necessarily more meaningful, just, as Llewen points out, the meaning is different -- sometimes it's just scratching an itch.

This leads me back once again to the contract and our expectations. The meaning of sex, like that of any other experience, is composed of varying proportions of what it is and what we expected it to be -- what we wanted from it. We've all seen this in things as simple as being disappointed in a movie that had a lot of positive buzz. Offhand, for a young man, I can't think of anything that has more positive buzz than sex (except perhaps money). And I think many, perhaps most of us grow up with the inevitable linkage of sex and love -- one will lead to the other, as GPW alludes in his comment above. If we expect it to and it doesn't, of course we're going to be disappointed. From my own experience, sex can lead to a night's pleasure, it can lead to the illusion of love, or it can, indeed, lead to love. Depends on the particulars, including our expectations and our reading of our partner's expectations.

This is turning into a hideously long post, but I think I've laid some groundwork here. By the way, this is not an exclusive dialogue -- anyone's allowed to jump in. That's what the Comments are for. (But do spare me the mourning over failed assassination attempts. Those will get deleted.)

Related Posts:

Morality: An Ongoing Commentary
Sex and the Single Boi

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fin

I seem to be falling into French as my back-up, which is odd -- I was never fluent in it (unlike German, which I once upon a time did speak fluently and which now never comes into my head) and it's been many, many years since I've even tried. Strange, that.

Aty any rate, I've got to get writing here. Still have a couple of reviews to pump out today, and absolutely not a thought in my head.

GayPatriotWest and I have agreed in principle to maintain our conversation on gay morality. Watch for something on that later this week.

More "Meme Chose"

This story bothers me a lot.

House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year.

It's a little more complicated than that, and it's a little more complicated than Republican pork versus Democratic pork -- a lot of what the Democrats have tied to this bill seems to be funding for necessary projects that will have a direct impact on the lives of farmers, the dispossessed on the Gulf Coast, and everyday people. (Probably one reason the administration is against it. Let's see, Halliburton is moving to where?)

To me, it points to a systemic problem with Congress and the government as a whole. Granted, this country is supposed to be about compromise (or at least, it used to be), but there's something about this example of it that gets my back up. Maybe I still hold a naive set of expectations for our leadership, in spite of everything I've seen.

I'm also not too thrilled with WaPo's rather facile analysis. Too easy, too pat. (Although the quote from Musgrave's staff is choice. Coming from the office of one of the least effective members of Congress, who firmly believes that the sanctity of marriage is the most important issue facing the country, that's really a joke. If she's such hot shit, why wasn't she able to get some drought relief measure passed while the Republicans held a majority? Maybe because she didn't try?)

About Those Persians

This little bit caught my eye, from Digby quoting Newsweek:

Moved by Hanson's evocative essays, Cheney invited Hanson to dine with him and talk about the wars the Greeks waged against the Asian hordes, in defense of justice and reason, two and a half millennia ago.

Just in case anyone was wondering, the Persians were the same racial stock as the Greeks: Indo-European, from the same wave of migrations that found the Achaean Greeks (of Iliad fame) invading Hellas. The Persians just turned left at the Bosporus, that's all.

If Hanson is the one coming out with the "Asian hordes" bullshit, that just confirms my opinion of his intellectual strength. I suspect, though, it's Newsweek dispaying its liberal bias. Actually, the more I look at that statement, the funnier it is. Could it be the least little bit tongue in cheek?

Digby also comes up with this from the Jawa Report:

Go see "300". If you don't like it you probably hate America. That, or you're gay.

Excuse me? The big gay soft core film of the year so far? All those hot boys running around in Speedos and capes? (Packages, pecs and abs, oh my!) Not to mention those delicious kink queens on the Persian side. Yummy!

Actually, I haven't seen the film, but I'm beginning to think I want to. I just keep remembering one thing, though, as I read all the deep psychosocial analyses: it's from a comic book.

Marriage And The Constitution

From none other than Antonin Scalia, as quoted by Ann Althouse:

You may also be interested to know that he reveals what he thinks about whether Congress has the power to regulate marriage: "No, I don't see anything in there. I don't see any authorization of the federal government to do that." So presumably, in Scalia's view the Defense of Marriage Act, which among other things, absolves states of the obligation to respect same-sex marriages made in other states, is unconstitutional.

Scalia, you may remember, is the one who has come up with such priceless legal pronouncements as "the Constitution doesn't guarantee anyone the right to homosexual sex" and "doesn't guarantee the right to homosexual marriage." As I read it, the Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to sex or marriage at all, and anything that can be interpreted (another one of those dirty liberal words) to mean so doesn't differentiate between straight and gay.

Who knows? Maybe he finally read the damned thing.

Do As I Say. . . .

Speking of marriage, that sacred institution so beloved of the right, just a tidbit from Greg Sargent on the sanctity of marriage, left and right:

The top four GOP candidates have divorced a total of five times, while the top four liberal candidates have a total of zero divorces among them. And the whole field of Dems seen to have a credible shot at winning has gotten fewer total divorces than the current GOP frontrunner. Not exactly heavy lifting, admittedly, but it certainly seems worth noting and keeping in mind.

Inversion

That seems to be the basic rule of right-wing semantics over the past generation or two. Digby has some interesting insights on a specific example:

Indeed, until 9/11, the most vociferous objections to the ultra-conservative islamic regimes came from liberals (mostly feminists and gays, as it happens --- hardly the base of the Republican party.) It makes no sense to throw godless liberals in with Islamic fundamentalists, as conservative writers like Dinesh D'Souza finally realized when he wrote his book in which he basically --- you guessed it --- blames America first, for its godless liberalism. And let's not forget that the high priests of the religious right, Falwell and Dobson, blamed America first after 9/11, or as Barone puts it, "the parts of America they don't like."

The incoherence goes further than that, as when the authoritarian right argues intensely that "the constitution is not a suicide pact" as an excuse for undermining and usurping it. (Perhaps they should be known as "Trash the Constitution, Texas Republicans.") Their cries of "treason" and "unamerican" and "blame America first" are no longer salient as the people see that they were lied to and spun and manipulated into Iraq and the Republicans have betrayed every principle they supposedly held dear to rape the treasury, reward their friends and fail at the most basic functions of government.


Glenn Greenwald also had a few comments about the subject from a slightly different angle:

One of the reasons why I wrote about that HuffPost story when it was still nothing more than infected bile bubbling up in the right-wing blog sewers was because it was glaringly clear that it was going to worm its way through the standard channels and become a major media story. And the reason that was clear is because the tactic embodied by that "story" -- namely, finding isolated, obscure, stray, unrepresentative individuals or comments and obsessively focusing on them in order to imply that they are representative of "liberals" or "the Left" generally -- is a deceitful tactic that is one of the most commonly used by the right-wing noise machine, and the national media has been trained to ingest that tactic and disseminate it.

Digby also notes the role of the MSM in disseminating the talking points (almost by rote, it seems). An irony: the MSM has so far internalized the right-wing mantra of liberal bias that it's almost impossible to find a news source that is not biased -- toward the right.

It's broader than the insignificant instances of hate-mongering by right or left, of course. although I find it instructive that when HuffPo was apprised of the Cheney assassination comment, it was deleted; when LGF was apprised of the Carter assassination comments, LGF defended the commenters. Ironically enough, in a topic loaded with ironies, it's the left-wing, "bleeding heart" liberals who have said, in regard to the Christianists particularly, that we have to understand: it's their world view, that's how they see the world, so we have to make allowances. (I think this came up in some discussion of the Christianist "there's no such thing as a homosexual" trope, Ted Haggard variety. I think it was Jim Burroway's analysis of ex-gay Newspeak.)

Why? If your worldview is nonfunctional in terms of dealing with reality, you need to get help.

Of course, it's been very functional for them, in terms of grasping and holding power, but how long did they expect people to buy it? You can only lie to most people for so long, particularly when the lies are that big. Eventually, they start looking at what's actually happening and figure it out.

As far as views of America go, you can look at it several ways, as you can anything else. On the one hand, you can see it as a bunch of parts, which is ultimately destructive. Witness the state of American politics today, after thirty years of right-wing rhetoric: dirty, cheap, and nonfunctional.

Or, you can see it as an integral whole, a single entity with many facets. Then the goal becomes to understand how the facets work together, which seems to me to be a much more constructive approach.

And, like just about everything else, it's a continuum, with viewpoints scattered all along the range.

Greenwald has another comment specifially about the article by Michael Barone that Digby discussed:

But what is most notable about the column is that -- while repeatedly attacking what "they" think -- he never once identifies a single person who believes any of the things he is condemning. Supposedly, America is being threatened by this huge swath of people who fit the cartoon that is floating around in Barone's slothful and uncritical mind -- the "they" -- yet Barone cannot find a single example to identify. Nonetheless, the largest right-wing bloggers excitedly point to it as some profound illumination of what "they" think.

If someone can come up with hard evidence of a similar tactic on the left, I'd welcome it. I honestly don't know if this is a nonpartisan phenomenon or not, although I have to say that the examples I run across, even without cues from "liberals" like Greenwald or Digby, seem to cluster on the right. ("Hard evidence" in this case means quotes and links to specific statements by specific people, such as Orcinus did on a post I commented on recently. No attributions to "They" allowed.)

This is the kind of semantic manipulation that leads to headlines like this. Just think how your reaction would differ if the head were a little more accurate -- like "Pro-War Rally Outnumbers Anti-War Protesters." Of course, that probably would not get anyone pissed off, which I suspect is the point.

I think there must be two basic factors in the right's success over the past years: if you can just repeat things like this, you don't really have to think about anything. Most people, it seems, would rather not. (Possibly the one thing that Ayn Rand was right about, although John Brunner treated the phenomenon more elegantly.) And there are always people who would prefer to believe the worst. I guess it makes them feel better, somehow.

Franklly, I'd rather believe the best, although that's gotten me into a lot of trouble.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Morality: An Ongoing Commentary

Those of you who may have followed this blog through its several incarnations will know that "morality" as a concept, and the varying definitions of it, is something that has occupied me for quite a while. I ran across this comment, which echoes my own feelings very strongly, from Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald:

Morality, it has always seemed to me, has less to do with commonalities of existence than with how you treat other people. Do you lie to or about them? Do you steal from them? Do you cheat them? Do you walk by their suffering, oblivious? Do you, except in self-defense, harm them physically or mentally? The answers to those questions, I think, define morality more exactly than whether you're sharing a bed with someone who has the same sexual equipment you do.

Pitts is taking Gen. Peter Pace to task for his outrageous remarks on gays in the military, and quite effectively -- read the whole piece.

I've had an interesting exchange with GayPatriotWest about morality as it relates to gay men. We may be coming from the same place. With any luck, it will turn into a real conversation.

Bummer


I'm sitting here with a bunch of books that need reviewing and an approaching deadline, and they aren't cooperating.

The one thing I find that I need for a successful review is a hook -- some overarching concept or image that I can build a review from. It may or may not have anything to do with the subject -- in fact, sometimes I need to get outside of the subject to be able to take a good look at it, especially for nonfiction, but sometimes for fiction as well. And every once in a while I find a book or record that doesn't seem to have one.

This time I have three.

Envy me.

New Blogs of Note

Ecophotos. Some wonderful wildlife photography

Walter Reed/This Veteran's Life. Strong stuff. Good.

Update:

Just found another site that is really neat. It's not a blog, but it's worth looking into:

The Tree of Life


Something about ". . . meme chose"

I can't remember the French, but the translation runs "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

I really had hopes that the Democrats would do something about this runaway warmonger in the White House. Damn.

John Nichols in The Nation:

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies in the chamber's Democratic leadership initially accepted that spending legislation designed to outline an Iraq exit strategy should also include a provision barring the president from attacking Iran without congressional approval, they opened up a monumental discussion about presidential war powers.

As such, the decision by Pelosi and her allies to rewrite their Iraq legislation to exclude the statement regarding the need for congressional approval of any military assault on the neighboring country of Iran sends the worst possible signal to the White House.


It's called giving away the store, and I find it incredible that, out of all the possible negotiating points in the Iran/Iraq issue, Pelose gave in on this one.

One of the chief advocates for eliminating the Iran provision, Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley, said she wanted it out of the legislation because she wants to maintain the threat of U.S. military action as a tool in seeking to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "It would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran," explained Berkley.

You can count on the Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot. Another illustration of the fact that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to serve in Congress. Requiring the president to get congressional approval before attacking Iran doesn't take away anything from anyone, except His Majesty the Deciderer.

From Dennis Kucinich, as quoted at Hullabaloo:

This week the House Appropriations committee removed language from the Iraq war funding bill requiring the Administration, under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution, to seek permission before it launched an attack against Iran.
...
This House cannot avoid its Constitutionally authorized responsibility to restrain the abuse of Executive power.
...
The Administration has been preparing for an aggressive war against Iran. There is no solid, direct evidence that Iran has the intention of attacking the United States or its allies.


Look, Bush and Cheney are going to take this and run with it. Who can possibly seriously think otherwise? Who the hell does Pelosi think is going to be satisfied with another empty bill? Not anybody out here, although I'm sure Bush and the Neocons are licking their chops. Are we all looking forward to a government that includes only the executive branch?

What do you do when the only options you have are Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dum-Dum?

A comment by Digby on the Bush foreign policy in general:

When you combined the neocon and harcore hawk track records with a mandate to reject anything that Bill Clinton might have endorsed, you ended up with the hacktacular mishmash of sophomoric chest thumping, mindless military actions and conscious rejection all mutual understanding with our allies.

Remember, this is the group that hasn't been right about anything so far.

And now Pelosi's going to let them keep on keepin' on? Sheesh!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Apology My Foot

I have seen way too many calls for Pace to apologize for his completely out-of-line remarks about gays in the military. What is this crap? He's demonstrated that he has no respect for Marine regulations, has damaged troop morale, has endangered currently serving personnel, and has cast doubts on his fitness to command.

He should resign.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sex and the Single Boi

A couple of posts by GayPatriotWest (hereinafter known as "GPW") at GayPatriot on sexual morality. The first is here. Of course I have some objections, stemming mostly, I think, from the fact that I'm not sure he and I are speaking the same language. On most social issues I can only call myself a left-libertarian (I'm not going to call myself a "libertarian" overall because I think libertarianism is a spiritually impoverished philosophy -- my approach is basically "butt out," but I do think government has to provide a safety net), and I am coming from the religious philosophy of a Pagan, which is markedly different from most of what you're going to find in America.

Sexual restraint lies at the heart of any notion of sexual morality. And even while acknowledging — and one day hoping to act upon — their own longings for same-sex physical intimacy, gay people are capable of restraining themselves sexually. It’s just that our culture, alas, does not seem to promote such restraint, indeed, encouraging us to “let go” sexually just so long as we “play safe.”

Why should it? Why exactly should sexual restraint lie at the heart of any notion of sexual morality? This falls too neatly into the kind of morality espoused by the Big Three Monotheisms, and I don't see any real validity to it as a thing in itself. So I have to ask Why? It once again reduces the idea of morality to a list of dos and don'ts without any foundation.

A real understanding of morality would help us place our sexuality in a larger context. We would see that by the very physical closeness that sex allows, we are drawn together with another human being. If we can appreciate that that closeness transcends the physical, we can allow the physical intimacy to become something more than mere pleasure.

But, alas, men being men, too many of us are too eager to turn away from our partners once we have completed the “act.” A true moral understanding of sexuality would mean looking at these encounters not from the point of view of whether they are right or wrong, but whether or not they are good for our soul. Just as Matt Sanchez learned that porn “flattens the soul,” so do many of those of us who have hooked up learn that such encounters also numb us and prevent us from realizing sexuality’s full power.


I see a couple of intertwined threads here. I can certainly agree with GPW's first sentence, and the second. (John Cameron Mitchell said that sex is a means of connecting, and I certainly can't disagree after he gave that idea such a delightful expression.) Where we start to separate, I think, is in the conclusion. I think we have to re-examine the idea of "pleasure" in this context. Let's put that aside for a moment and get back to the main issue, which seems to me to be about the "contract" rather than getting into questions of our souls right off the bat. I think that the sexual contract, like any relationship, should be based on honesty, respect, and generosity. To me, that means your soul already has to be at a particular place in its journey before we can get into the idea of sex being "good for our souls." I think approaching sex from that basis also takes care of the pleasure part -- sex as "just" pleasure (a statement I find pretty judgmental in itself) is fine. But both parties (or maybe I should say "all parties," for those encounters that involve more than two people) need to agree that's what's going on here.GPW

(A sidebar: I seem to detect in GPW's comments a distrust of sensuality and pleasure for their own sakes, as though they are not sufficient experiences. Depends on what you're looking for, I guess, but I think we have to take into consideration the idea of "expectations." Just what is it you're after? Which leads back to. . .)

"Sexuality's full power." Which, as far as I can see, is no more and no less than what you invest in it. Back to the contract. If it's an honest understanding, then sex as pleasure takes on no small measure of power itself. Sex as sharing, sex as connection, sex as an expression of love, all have their own degrees of power, and I think those are all dependent on the contract. Sexuality is not something that exists all by itself, and it has only the power we give it.

In order to realize that power, we need to develop a moral vision of sexuality, to realize its potential to be more than a mere grinding of loins. We need to become capable of sexual restraint — and to tie our sexual expression to forging a real and lasting connection with our partner. To see him, as we see ourselves, not just as an individual with a body, but also as a human being with a soul.

Here's where I may be parting ways from GPW. I'm not sure exactly what he means by "restraint." I don't think that sex has to be only reserved for forging connections with one partner, although it can be a valuable and powerful tool for doing that. If he's talking about the partner of the moment, then I think we're pretty much in agreement, but from the tone of his post, I'm not at all sure that's what he means.

Sexual morality thus would not mean labeling gay sex as per se immoral, but instead recognizing that, in the carnal act, there is a potential for spiritual intimacy. And to understand that sexual restraint does not necessarily mean denying our urges, but holding them back so that one day we might express them in a manner which both provides physical pleasure and promotes real relationship.

Here we most definitely do part company. GPW seems to be coming from some sort of moral absolutist position, which is one that I've never been able to credit. Witness William F. Buckley, Jr.'s statement that "morality is an absolute," which I still find good for a laugh. GPW obviously is not going that far, otherwise he wouldn't have written this post. "Holding back" I can understand -- sometimes sex is just not what's appropriate -- but the idea that sex has to be limited to promoting "real relationship" is, again, not clear to me. Is it the relationship of the moment, a "casual" affair (I've never been able to have one of those -- I'm not real casual about stuff like that), or the love of our life? I think sex is appropriate in all three cases, as long as everyone's coming from the same place.

Which is all very nice for theory.

In real life, sex is too often a demand, a duty, a requirement, and does as much to kill a relationship as to build it. This is where I think GPW misses the boat: morality is not about using sex to establish or maintain a relationship, but using the honesty, respect and generosity that must be the foundation of a good relationship (or for that matter, the foundation of good character) to enable sex to make that spiritual connection. I find it astonishly difficult to put my point into any sort of didactic prose. Maybe this will make it clear:

Drowsing intertwined:
afternoon slides to the horizon.
You were a tiger, stripes painted
by light through slatted blinds,
lean and hard above me as you entered,
cat-eyed with desire, lust softened
in your gentle, gentle hands.

We are still sharing our souls.
I feel your lips against my throat,
sated and thirsty for more.
There is a universe under my hand
that smells like sweat, like summer after rain.
Fit reward for our honest labor.

But hard as we try,
I remain me,
you, you:
in spite of ourselves, two people.

We will get rowdy soon,
when we rouse and play
tickling games,
release
from too much tenderness.


Update:

GPW's second post expands his ideas, but not by much.

The first part of the post is about Matt Sanchez, and I think GPW was, indeed, mistaken to use him as a starting point. Sanchez' comment that working in the porn industry "flattens the soul" is not necessarily a given, at least in theory. The reality is that it probably does, but I think that has a lot more to do with the fact that it's an industry than that it's about sex. (Brad Patton is on record as saying that he does porn because he likes it.) I found working in a corporate environment flattened my soul. It took about five years to get my head back on straight. Does that mean that corporations are intrinsically bad? Nope.

Where GPW gets interesting is here:

I proposed instead putting forward a vision of morality which is not judgmental, but instead transformational — where we see that our sexuality can transcend the physical. Instead of berating, I wanted to inspire, to draw from the lessons I learned in my various experiences and begin a conversation about the potential of our sexuality to foster spiritual intimacy.

And if I fault gay men at all, it’s for not being willing to engage in this important conversation.

I believe sexuality is a very individual thing — and each person should be free to decide how to act on his desires. But, I also believe that our sexuality can nourish us spiritually (as well as satisfy us physically) if we see it as more than a means of physical pleasure, but also as a means of human connection.


I still have the same questions, revolving mostly around some tight, explicit definitions of things like "restraint." I find myself coming down on the side of promiscuity, although I also tend to look at promiscuity with a jaundiced eye ("Been there, done that") and think that maybe it's for the young. Maybe. It may also be wasted on the young.

I think GPW is also mistaken in saying that gay men are not willing to engage in this conversation. There is a wealth of writings dealing with just this, many of which are excerpted or referenced in Mark Thompson's Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. For that matter, the overwhelming body of gay literature, art and film (aside from the output of the porn studios) deals with just these questions (hence my references above to John Cameron Mitchell and (ahem) myself.) Another approach is exemplified by Graham Jackson's The Secret Lore of Gardening: Patterns of Male Intimacy, which deals with these questions from the standpoint of Jungian psychology but goes far beyond the basics. I'd be very interested to hear GPW's reaction to either of these books.

A note on the value of our fiction: It is, and has been, thoroughly engaged with a lot of the issues that Blatt raises in his post, and has the power, potentially at least, to alter viewpoints. Think about the ramifications of a film like Brokeback Mountain, whether you want to call it a "gay" movie or not: when have we seen such a clear-eyed examination of love between men, in all its pain and beauty? Maybe it took a straight writer and a straight director to do it, but the message was very clear: the love itself is as valid as any other and necessarily involves our groping toward some new definitions of self, morality, spirit, and all those other imponderables that go into our attitudes toward our lives. The point for this discussion is that it doesn't separate sex and love, but recognizes that they are an inseparable whole and we only damage ourselves by trying to keep them apart. That must become part of our own discourse, else we're not talking to any purpose.

That's what art does -- it sneaks past your defenses and makes you confront ideas and points of view you might otherwise dismiss. It also demonstrates that you do not have to accept the mainstream's premises. I think any commentary on gays and morality that ignores those contributions really does miss the point.

Update II:

There is a third post that seems to address some of my concerns, but I haven't quite got my head around it yet. More later, maybe.

Update: Profiles in Courage

Well, Obama and Clinton, at least, finally figured it out:

From Barack Obama, via AmericaBlog:

Statement from Senator Obama on General Pace

"As the New York Times reported today, I do not agree with General Pace that homosexuality is immoral. Attempts to divide people like this have consumed too much of our politics over the past six years."


It's unfortunate that he had to have his nose pushed into it.

From Hillary Clinton's Senate Web page:

Excerpt of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Bloomberg News Regarding the Comments Made By General Peter Pace

"Well I've heard from a number of my friends and I've certainly clarified with them any misunderstanding that anyone had, because I disagree with General Pace completely. I do not think homosexuality is immoral. But the point I was trying to make is that this policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not working. I have been against it for many years because I think it does a grave injustice to patriotic Americans who want to serve their country. And so I have called for its repeal and I'd like to follow the lead of our allies like, Great Britain and Israel and let people who wish to serve their country be able to join and do so. And then let the uniform code of military justice determine if conduct is inappropriate or unbecoming. That's fine. That's what we do with everybody. But let's not be eliminating people because of who they are or who they love."


Some interesting fallout from this. It occurs to me that the right side of the aisle is so eager to bash Democrats that they find themselves taking fairly untenable positions.

Chris Crain, for example, finds himself defending Pace and Sam Brownback, who came out in favor of Pace's position (big surprise, that), based on a medieval-style Christian theologian's parsing of everyone's remarks, context be damned. Love the letter, hate the spirit, I guess.

And maybe it's just the lawyer in me, but are the Democrats parsing words here? General Pace never said "homosexuality is immoral," and it's a bit of a straw-man to suggest otherwise. He said "homosexual acts" are immoral, and in so doing he tracked the language of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which still prohibits consensual homosexual sodomy.

This is more than a little disingenuous: Pace's words were, indeed, that homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral, and likened that to adultery among heterosexuals. This whole liine of argument is specious, and fairly obviously so. Adultery is not part of anyone's fundamental identity; same-sex relations for gay people are. So we're left with the stunning realization that a gay man who has sex with a man and a straight man who does the same thing will get the same penalty.

Wow. Just what are the chances of a straight guy in the army (or the Marines) having sex with another guy? Minimal to zip? (Unless, of course, he's getting paid for it, because the Bush administration is supporting our troops sooo well.)

What Pace is really saying is that gay people, by their very make-up, are immoral. How hard it that to figure out?

Nor does Crain tackle the bigotry inherent in the UCMJ -- in fact, he uses it to justify Pace's remarks.

Crain goes on, after accusing the Democratic candidates of creating a straw man, to create his own, much larger straw man.

Were the Democrats still dodging by saying they disagree that "homosexuality is immoral" while taking no position on whether "homosexual acts" are? Maybe that's why Hillary told Bloomsburg News, all while "clarifying" her disagreement with Pace, that morality will still have a role to play in the military, even after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":

Let the Uniform Code of Military Justice determine if conduct is inappropriate or unbecoming. That's fine. That's what we do with everybody. But let's not be eliminating people because of who they are or who they love., and then tries to make it all OK by saying, in essence, that Pace was wrong to begin with. Maybe if he'd leave off trying to dish Clinton and Obama for a minute, he might have time to think up an intelligent argument.


Whoa! Let's take a look at this: Crain has so far bought into the right-wing divorce between person and act vis-a-vis gays that he can't seem to make the jump (or doesn't want to) from "homosexuality is not immoral" to "homosexual acts are not immoral." Contrast this with the idea that only some heterosexual acts -- those that take place outside of legally recognized relationships -- are immoral. Add in that gays are not allowed any legally recognized relationships on the federal level. Sure, Brownback takes that position, but we expect that of junk morality from someone who has this kind of right-wing compartmentalized mentality. Love the sinner, hate the sin, right? No one's buying that one any more. Even the Christianists are steering clear of it. To credit Clinton and Obama with that viewpoint is pretty much false, I think. There's no reason to suspect that they share that worldview. The basis of Crain's post seems to be, indeed, parallel to the idea that homosexuality is a choice, that it's a temptation that sinners fall into (see Ted "I'm Completely Heterosexual" Haggard), and that is has nothing to do with anyone's fundamental psychological make-up.

This is coming from a gay man, who should know better.

As far as Clinton's reference to the UCMJ, it does make moral judgments, and that's where it needs to be revised. When it deals with relations among military personnel on the basis of relative power, I have no objections to it. When it starts into the idea that certain behaviors are, in and of themselves, grounds for punishment, then it's simply wrong. Clinton should have made some comment on that, and I seriously object to the implication that the UCMJ as it stands is just fine -- that's going to come back to bite her. (Crain does have the right take on that statement, although he sort of buries it. Of course, if he'd based his post on that, he would have had to trash Pace and Brownback, too.)

Still searching for evidence of higher brain activity on the right.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Peter Pace, Part Primo

I just couldn't resist the alliteration.

Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as you may have heard (ahem), made some completely inappropriate remarks during an interview with the Chicago Tribune:

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace said in a wide-ranging discussion with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.

"As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior," Pace said.


First, before we get to the actual subtance of his remarks, let's just take the context: speaking as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Pace comes out with a condemnation of a segment of the American populations (which includes, please remember, an estimated 65,000 currently serving personnel) based on his personal religious beliefs.

As might be expected, Pace's comments are receiving some criticism, which to me seems more than justified. I'll get into that in more detail as we go along.

One will find the usual boneheaded remarks about how his "freedom of speech" is being curtailed in the comments at places like GayPatriot as well as in the comments from Frank James' follow-up, linked below. (The level of ignorance revealed in the comments at the Trib is breathtaking.) Let's set something in stark black and white, which seems to be the only colors that the right recognizes: the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, guarantees it from interference by the government; it does not insulate anyone from criticism for inappropriate or even unpopular remarks. In case no one had noticed, Pace is a serving military officer, a Marine, in fact, which means that he does not have an untrammeled right to freedom of speech. (If he were Pete Pace from down the street, the Tribune in all likelihood would not be interviewing him to begin with.) In fact, as a serving officer, he is, as it turns out, in violation of Marine regs. (Andrew Sullivan links to the relevant section, but my brower comes up "file not found"; I'm sure it's just a coincidence.)

Then, regarding his analogy: Pace compares any gay relationship to adultery. Given the legalistic, nitpicking turn of the right, I can see where this originates, but that doesn't make it valid. Even by that standard, since gays can't marry except in Massachusetts, he has no argument there. Totally specious comparison.

Also, as Frank James notes in a follow-up at The Swamp:

Pace's comment raises questions of logical consistency. If as leader of an institution as important as the U.S. military you believe people are engaged in immoral behavior, the fact that they keep quiet about it doesn't make it any less immoral, does it?

So why would Pace be OK with don't ask, don't tell? It seems the only logically consistent attitude would be for him to oppose the current don't-ask, don't-tell policy and, instead, to support purges of suspected gays.


Former Senator Alan Simpson sums it up nicely:

Gen. Pace is entitled, like anyone, to his personal opinion, even if it is completely out of the mainstream of American thinking. But he should know better than to assert this opinion as the basis for policy of a military that represents and serves an entire nation.

There are larger questions involved when you get into the substance of Pace's remarks vis-a-vis his position as the head of the armed forces (except for, of course, the Commander-in-Chief, Psreznit Decider). I'll have to do more on this later, since I'm running out of time. However, as a parting shot, I bring you a couple of "Profiles in Courage," or "Why I May Just Not Vote in 2008":

Barack Obama, on whether gays are immoral.

Hillary Clinton, same question.