"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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Point, Game, Match

This story has popped up a couple of places this morning, and I really wish there were more talking heads around with this kind of moxie:

"You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you."

That's former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski speaking to Joe Scarborough, one of the more persistent zits on the face of the MSM.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sex, Lies, Abstinence Pledges

Barbara O'Brien, as is so often the case, homes right in on the core of teen sex:

From reading several articles I take it the Dutch have what we would call a “permissive” attitude toward sex, and they also provide the kids with frankly explicit sex and birth control education. Middle-school age children practice putting condoms on broomsticks, for example. It seems all the parents are OK with this. Here, it would start riots.

I do not know if teens in the Netherlands are likely to begin having sex at an earlier or later age than American teens, but when they do have sex they are prepared for it. Our teens wrap themselves up in so much denial some of them probably can’t admit to themselves they have sex even while they are having it.

This hard on the heels of the news that The Netherlands, one of the most "permissive" countries in the world, has the lowest teen pregnancy rate.

Look, people have sex because it's fun. It's warm and fuzzy, it's exciting, it's pleasurable, it's intimate and rewarding. Of course, in this country we've managed to load it down so heavily with guilt and anxiety that it's a wonder anyone does it, but that just points up how nice it is: people do it anyway. Does anyone expect teenagers, who aren't much more than hormones anyway, to refrain? Doesn't it make sense, as O'Brien points out and as the Dutch do, to equip them as completely as possible for the likelihood? (And it is a likelihood, not a remote possibility -- this post starts with the most recent study showing that abstinence pledges don't stop teens from having sex -- they just seem to make it more likely that they'll either create a baby or get a disease.)

You are no doubt aware that I favor full disclosure in matters of sex (in general -- not on a personal level, because that's . . . um., personal). I have to agree with O'Brien and others on the "left" of this issue: it's going to happen, so make sure the kids are ready for it. That includes, by the way, honest discussions about the emotional fallout of sex, because there are going to be emotional consquences. Kids need to be given some handles on how to deal with them. (There's a touching scene in Little Butterfly when Nakahara says to Kojima, discussing his first sexual experience, that he wishes it had been with someone he loved. I think that's true for of everyone.)

I think it's also true that, as many commentators on this study have noted, abstinence pledges are more a means of establishing fathers' ownership of their daughters' virginity (and some of the descriptions I've read of "Chastity Balls" are really, really creepy). I'd take it one step farther: it's a way of establishing that children are property at a time when we should be preparing them to be independent.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving 2

Christopher Hitchens shines in this one. He will, of course, be called "hateful" and "bigoted" because his language is -- not intemperate, but strong, and I think accurate.

As Barack Obama is gradually learning, his job is to be the president of all Americans at all times. If he likes, he can oppose the idea of marriage for Americans who are homosexual. That's a policy question on which people may and will disagree. However, the man he has chosen to deliver his inaugural invocation is a relentless clerical businessman who raises money on the proposition that certain Americans—non-Christians, the wrong kind of Christians, homosexuals, nonbelievers—are of less worth and littler virtue than his own lovely flock of redeemed and salvaged and paid-up donors.

This quite simply cannot stand. Is it possible that Obama did not know the ideological background of his latest pastor? The thought seems plausible when one recalls the way in which he tolerated the odious Jeremiah Wright. Or is it possible that he does know the background of racism and superstition and sectarianism but thinks (as with Wright) that it might be politically useful in attracting a certain constituency? Either of these choices is pretty awful to contemplate.

A president may by all means use his office to gain re-election, to shore up his existing base, or to attract a new one.

It seems to have become a truism that anyone elected to public office in this country uses the perquisites of that office to work for re-election. If they happen to get some business done in the meantime, all well and good, but the goal is to stay in power. It's strange to think we've finally hit the point where a president begins working for re-election before he's actually taken the oath of office.

My own feeling is that Barack Obama, like all the rest of us, has certain blind spots and has his eyes focused on his reasons for following a certain course of action -- and it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone to think about the downside.

Or he just doesn't give a shit about the downside.

We've just had eight years of that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's Broken

If you think our priorities as a nation are on target, read this. I've been through that, and hope I never have to go through it again:

As I contemplate how to pry a few dollars from these systems designed to humiliate and degrade my clients, already struggling with being social outcasts, chronic illness, drug addiction and mental illness I sigh audibly. I read of billion dollar bailouts and disappearing pallettes of cash as I ponder how to help a family with $400.00 so they will not be homeless in three days. I am so very tired.

And then think about the banks paying out billions in "retention bonuses" to people who have nowhere to go anyway.

Rick Warren: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Frank Rich in today's NYT:

But we’re not there yet. Warren’s defamation of gay people illustrates why, as does our president-elect’s rationalization of it. When Obama defends Warren’s words by calling them an example of the “wide range of viewpoints” in a “diverse and noisy and opinionated” America, he is being too cute by half. He knows full well that a “viewpoint” defaming any minority group by linking it to sexual crimes like pedophilia is unacceptable.

It is even more toxic in a year when that group has been marginalized and stripped of its rights by ballot initiatives fomenting precisely such fears. “You’ve got to give them hope” was the refrain of the pioneering 1970s gay politician Harvey Milk, so stunningly brought back to life by Sean Penn on screen this winter. Milk reminds us that hope has to mean action, not just words.

By the historical standards of presidential hubris, Obama’s disingenuous defense of his tone-deaf invitation to Warren is nonetheless a relatively tiny infraction. It’s no Bay of Pigs. But it does add an asterisk to the joyous inaugural of our first black president. It’s bizarre that Obama, of all people, would allow himself to be on the wrong side of this history. . . .

McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.”

But there's every chance Obama is another Bill Clinton.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reviews in Brief: Hinako Takanaga's Little Butterfly

In spite of the frothy quality of the title, Hinako Takanaga's Little Butterfly wound up having much more to it than I expected. After passing over it for months, I finally picked up a copy based on the strength of her You Will Fall in Love, and I wasn't disappointed.

Kojima is an outgoing, upbeat high-school senior who decides to make friends with the quiet, withdrawn Nakahara. Nakahara's reserve is not just shyness: he is, when we get to know him, desperately unhappy due to a terrible home life. Kojima's breakthrough comes on a school trip to the seacoast, when he becomes entangled in Nakahara's attempt to run away to Korea, just a short ship ride away. The runaway attempt proves abortive, but Kojima proclaims that the two are now friends -- an idea that actually shocks Nakahara. Soon after, Nakahara confesses his love, which throws Kojima into total confusion: he likes Nakahara, and realizes he has been drawn to him for quite a while, but he's not sure if those feelings translate into "love."

Takanaga, based on this volume and You Will Fall in Love, has a knack for portraying the intensity, awkwardness, and insecurity of youth. It's deceptive work -- as I realized with You Will Fall, it grows on you as you begin to tie graphics, dialogue, and narration together and realize how much rests on those connections between the elements.

In Little Butterfly, Takanaga's portrayals are particularly apt: these are kids, fifteen years old, and while Nakahara is "experienced" (he's "done it" before, but confesses it wasn't a particularly happy experience), he's really no more self-confident than Kojima when it comes to the emotional side of their relationship. He is, however, steadfast in his affections.

What pulls this one out of the realm of the sentimental and "light" is the story Nakahara tells of the butterfly blown over the ocean to a strange land, where it flourishes: at the beginning of the story, that's his dream and his goal, but it changes as his relationship with Kojima deepens.

This is another one in which the cover art doesn't do the interior graphics justice: interior art is much more sensitive and expressive than one would believe from the cover.

It's hard in this case to know what the next volume is going to be about -- this one can easily stand alone. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

This is another from Juné.

What Digby Said

With a nod to Atrios.

This is a wonderfully thoughtful, reasoned commentary that relates directly to this week's FGB post. It's all about the idea that we should respect opposiing viewpoints, and I think Digby hits it right on the head:

As Ezra says, it's not enough that everyone has their views "respected" in any case. I don't even know what that means when it comes to fundamental issues of freedom, liberty, faith, duty etc. Of course I respect everyone's right to their beliefs and I will fight the proverbial fight for them to be allowed to express them. But I don't have to respect every view that comes down the pike and I certainly don't have to willingly make room in my political coalition for people to enact their agenda if it goes against what I believe in. Why would anyone think I should?

That, I think, is the trap that Obama's fallen into with this whole Rick Warren thing -- not just the invocation, but his whole relationship. Frankly, in my book, Warren's opinions aren't worthy of respect, being based as they are on ignorance and malice. His right to express them? Of course -- that's a no-brainer.

And on that note, check out the comments at this post by Pam Spaulding, taking off from yet another piece of wimpy drivel by James Kirchik. The Blenders get it -- Kirchik doesn't.

Those Poor Oil Companies

Seems they had to pay "thousands more" for oil leases than they'd planned. I suppose that's going to have serious impact on their billions in profits. From TPM, I found these bits wonderful:

"He's tainted the entire auction," said Kent Hoffman, deputy state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah.

Hoffman said buyers will have 10 days to reconsider and withdraw their bids if they think they paid too much.

"Tainted" the auction? How do you taint something that's already highly suspect?

Digby had some comments on this one:

Huh? Paid TOO MUCH? If a buyer is paying millions of dollars for oil-rich land, they obviously think it's worth it. What DeChristopher did was prove that the BLM was giving away federal land, basically owned by the taxpayers, to noncompetitive interests at obscenely low rates, and that the bidders would clearly pay more if forced. I thought these capitalists believed in the free market?

One slightly misleading statement: I work it out to less than $50 per acre, plus fees. Where in the hell can you buy land for less than $50 per acre these days? Giveaway? Absolutely.

And this gives a hint about the relationship between the oil companies and BLM:

Other bidders at the auction had complained about DeChristopher as unfamiliar and bidding in an unconventional fashion, which raised suspicions. . . .

"Unfamiliar." Sounds like a nice clubby sort of thing, doesn't it?

I think the Obama administration needs to take a long hard look at oil leasing practices. I don't expect them to, but they need to.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Please Don't Divorce Us!

An answer to the latest ploy by the Yes on 8 assholes. Good, strong slide show that I can't embed, but here's the link.

A Song

Another from Nickelback's latest. It's been growing on me:

FGB Footnote: Warren

Carla Axtman has an intelligent post at BlueOregon about the Warren flap, and I think in essence she's right.

There are a lot of excellent bloggers who know how to take the fight to the halls of DC and beyond. The ability to stir things up is a hallmark of what some of us love to do. But the ability to do this stirring has its limits. Our political capital is finite. Do we really want to spend it in an attempt to influence Obama to dump Rick Warren's Inaugural invocation? Really?

I have to admit I hadn't really thought about the fact that some voices are still calling on Obama to rescind that selection. I figure it's a done deal and he can't afford to back down on it. However, unlike Carla, I'm not so sanguine about Obama's commitment to civil rights:

Obama has made his position on gay rights crystal clear. By segmenting the evangelicals, Obama may just be bringing in those who focus on poverty and global climate change--and aren't particularly interested in fighting gay rights.

There are a lot of people who think gays should have equal rights, but they're not going to do much to make sure that happens -- take your pick of almost any Democrat in Congress, for example. I just have to reiterate what I've said before: harness this energy and point it right at Congress -- not Obama, because all indications are that now he's actually (almost) president, our issues are going on the back burner -- again -- and we can't pressure him the way we can our representatives: we're constituents, and that still carries some weight, especially on issues that don't have major corporate interests at stake. (And by all indications, the major corporate interests, if they have an opinion at all, are on our side.)

Oh, and yes, of course, there are major issues that affect everybody in this country right now, and I don't think I need to enumerate them. But I hadn't heard that Congress can only concentrate on one issue at a time -- unless the other ones are ours, of course. Push. And push hard.

Rick Warren, as I see it, at this point should be nothing more than a generator.


Barbara O'Brien does a slam on the new Bush rules allowing any medical practitioner, pharmacist, bedpan emptier, you-name-it, to refuse to do their jobs for reasons of "conscience."

Shall we just mention in passing that using the word "conscience" in this context is itself a perversion?

She also manages to drag in Dennis Prager, who has once again shown himself to be a complete idiot -- she links to a piece he recently published (oops -- bad link on her blog; I'll see if I can find a good one. Update: found it -- at Townhall, of course -- where else?) that is, as usual with Prager, more notable for what it avoids than what it addresses. I mean, I, who have no investment whatsoever in male-female relationships, couldn't stop laughing; I imagine anyone who's actually married to someone of the opposite sex would have an aneurysm.

The regs, of course, are disgusting and probably unconsitutional. Time to sue the gov, people.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Reviews in Brief: Momoko Tenzen's Seven

A special post-Christmas treat for you. I had considered holding this one, but I realized I was treating it like a special treasure, for me alone -- and after all, I have the book.

Momoko Tenzen's Seven falls under the category of "lucky find." It's one I snatched up on a whim, attracted by the graphics, which are superb, and not looking at the stories.

The title, as I eventually realized, is a play on the kanji character for two of the characters' names. Nana, which means "No Name," is a foundling who was taken in by a man who was both kind and cruel: about twelve years old, Nana had burn scars on his legs, nightmares in his past, and no memories of who he was or what his life had been. He was given a job in the man's bar, which was taken over when the man died by Ei, who allows Nana to live in a room on top of the building. Ei's friend Mitsuha wanders into town, and Ei tells him he can share the room for a few days. Mitsuha, an orphan himself, is a vagabond and a writer, not given to personal attachments. He had a brother, Nanao, from whom he was separated many years before -- the search for his brother is part of his wandering. The relationship between Mitsuha and Nana is the core of the first and last stories.

The middle story is about Nanao and his younger brother Hiromu. Nanao, as it turns out, is adopted; Hiromu suspects that he knew it, but they are both informed officially by their parents on Nanao's twentieth birthday. Given that this is yaoi manga, it's no surprise that their feelings for each other are somewhat more than brotherly love. Two things about this one: Hiromu has several books by the writer Mitsuha Kawase, and we learn that Nanao's name is written in kanji with the characters for "seven" ("nana") and "sound" ("o").

I mentioned the graphics. Wow. They are spare, sketchy, elegant, tremendously expressive, and fit beautifully with the mood of the stories, which is elliptical, poetic, indirect. (This is a case in which the cover art simply doesn't do the graphics justice -- the interior graphics are tremendously expressive, which doesn't come across on the cover at all.) It's the sort of thing where you finish reading and realize that you've just witnessed something very beautiful. These are not stories that hand themselves to you -- they demand attention and effort, and reward it. There's a certain amount of power here that resides below the obvious levels. Characters are the same: motivations, personality traits are not obvious, but they're there -- Mitsuha, in particular, goes through a transformation that's both subtle and unexpected.

Like I said: Wow. This one is very, very good. From Juné.

Friday Gay Blogging: Barack Obama Edition

OK -- the election is over, the right man was elected (and I don't mean that at all cynically -- Obama is probably the best we could have hoped for, and the alternative, with all his baggage, not to mention his VP choice, doesn't bear thinking about).

However, as regular readers of this blog will know, I've always taken Obama with a grain of salt. He is, after all, a Democrat, and moreover one who crystallized the Democrats' recent history: talk of change, but talk is cheap. What I'm seeing is business as usual, especially in regard to gay issues. This is all brought into sharp relief by the selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration, but here have been quite obvious signs aside from that.

Stephen H. Miller at Independent Gay Forum has written a post with which I pretty much agree, a response to this post by Jonathan Rauch. (Rauch's post merits attention simply because there is so much wrong with it, but I'll have to come back to it later.) First, Miller's summation:

Last month, you may recall, the incoming administration signaled that it won't seek repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" gay ban until some unspecified time when "consensus" emerges among military leaders.

Gays planning to attend the Obama inauguration are advised to take public transportation. Just remember to sit in the back of the bus.

I can echo that warning, based on a lot more than the selection of Rick Warren as the new face of evangelical Christianity (and don't think Obama was blind to that). In that regard, I think Obama is trying to defuse the "old guard" evangelicals -- Dobson, Perkins, Wildmon, Robertson -- and put a nicer face on things, but the idea that anyone can actually open a dialogue with the likes of Warren on gay rights, reproductive choice, or any of the social regressives' other bread-and-butter issues is dreaming.

Nate Silver had this observatoin, which I think is important:

Just who is on what side of the 55/45 split depends on what question you're asking -- a majority of the public now supports civil unions, although not yet gay marriage. That's beside the point, though; what I think the Warren dust-up reveals is that the left is now willing to raise at least as much ruckus about the issue as the right. The left, of course, has always had its own moral compass, but it's now beginning to convert that into more focused, overtly political action. . . .

Nevertheless, I think the passion aroused among the left on the issue has been fairly impressive, and is potentially fairly consequential.

Raising a ruckus, as I've been saying for a while now, is what it's all about, and converting our moral superiority on this issue into political action is a necessity. The flaw in what has become the standard thinking of such as HRC, Jonathan Rauch, Dale Carpenter, the other national rights organizations, is the desire to be "civilized" when dealing with barbarians, to demonstrate that we can, indeed, disappear into the woodwork -- as if anyone didn't know that already. We made our gains when we were being noisy and obnoxious, backed by good solid arguments. Think about the black civil rights movement (sorry, boys and girls, but that is a direct parallel -- not identical in detail, but the basics are there): it took years, and marches, and sit-ins, and speeches -- fairly inflammatory speeches, if you'll remember, but always accentuating the goals and ignoring the opposition -- it took action, not back-room negotiations before the next black-tie dinner.

The link to Obama here is just that desire not to make waves. Obama calls it reaching out. Anyone looking at it coldly, and remembering the history of the past two generations, will, I think, see it as appeasement, doomed to failure. Their side relies on dishonesty, and all that Obama is doing is buying into that and validating it.

This comment provides a good entree to discuss some of the distortions being thrown around:

With the Warren selection, Obama was basically saying "I disagree with this man's politics, but as a sign of respect and as an acknowledgment that he has a right to speak those views, I'll share the stage with him."

Well, no. That's the interpretation that the Obama team wants to see dominating the discussion, but taken in context (remember context? it's that thing that makes sense of sound bites, which is why politicians hate it), giving the invocation to Rick Warren is simpy a continuation of the "new" Democratic outreach to people who would just as soon see them dead. It's also a slap in the face not only to gay civil rights advocates, but to progressives as a whole, to anyone who sees "morality" as more than a knee-jerk repetition of 5,000-year-old tribal taboos from a bunch of Middle Eastern nomads.

It goes on:

The left's outrage, however, is no different than the typical right wing blowups. Possibly a little more hypocritical, because the left preaches tolerance and open conversation and then turns around and says "...but we can't tolerate *those* opinions, or have *those* conversations."

The left's outrage is in reaction to what is seen as a deliberate slap in the face to gays. This comment strikes me as fairly cynical, actually: to demand that "the left" accept every insult, every lie, every distortion uncritically in the name of "tolerance" is bullshit, and I think a quite deliberate attempt by the right to shift the blame for the tenor of the discourse. No one on the left is demanding that Warren be silenced; they're objecting to him and his nasty theology being given pride of place. I don't think anyone on the left has demanded that Warren somehow be shut up, and in fact those on the left are the first to say that he has a right to his opinions, no matter how unfounded, hurtful and divisive those might be. (It might be useful in this context to remember that when Richard Cizik, I believe it was, authored a recommendation for the National Evangelical Association (and I apologize if I've gotten that organization name wrong -- I can't even plead the excuse that it has "Values" or "Family" in the title) that evangelicals shift their focus away from gay rights and abortion toward poverty and hunger, James Dobson and the rest of his gang demanded that he be fired. Who's trying to silence who? And let's also recall that Warren himself is considered by many of his colleagues not to be a "real Christian" for the same reasons.)

But I am more interested in converting the likes of Warren than in silencing them, and in my experience the best way to bring people around to tolerance and acceptance is to tolerate and accept them, even when they say unreasonable things.

Just one point here: it doesn't work. It's something that liberals have been trying to do since day one, and it doesn't work. Warren and his fellow travelers will not see this as opening a conversation. They will see it as evidence of their continued power, and they will use it that way, the same way Warren used Obama's statements on gay marriage to pretend that Obama opposed Prop 8. There is no dialogue possible with Warren because in his mind he is right, based on unchallengeable authority, and you are wrong. No compromise is necessary or possible: God said so.

Ed Brayton has a post on Warren and his "Bill Buckingham moment" -- which is to say, he lied and got caught:

And he's flat out lying, as Buckingham did. He does in fact compare gay marriages quite explicitly to incest and pedophilia and when asked directly if he thinks those relationships are the equivalent of gay relationships he replies, "Oh I do." Game, set, match.

And Rachel Maddow, bless her, took the whole thing apart:

This is what we're dealing with, people, not some bright, shiny new evangelist who has any interest in allowing us the same rights he has.

Jeremy Hooper has a post about "the other preacher" at the inauguration that raises a good point:

Seems like a nice man. A nice contrast to Warren. One who is clearly working towards peace for all. But that being said -- can we please get past this silly, anti-intellectual idea that gays and lesbians can have everything except the word? It's just....bizzare.

The words "married in the eyes of God"? That is, will, and should be left up to individual denominations to decide. The words "heterosexually married"? That will still be applied only to the straight set. "A marriage I'm willing to personally accept"? Every private criticize will have the right to define their own parameters, whether in a public profession or private thought. However, when talking about the civil contract, the word "marriage" cannot and should not be denied to equal, tax-paying gay couples. We have as much right to it as anyone else. To suggest otherwise is and will always be an unacceptable, short-sighted, separatist stopgap!

Repeat after me: churches do not own the word "marriage." They never have, and I'm not going to be a party to handing it to them. That said, Lowery admits that his position is personal. He is someone with whom we can open a dialogue, as evidenced by the way his thinking has developed: in his eyes, we are not "Christophobes" or any other such ridiculous neologism. (And that's another point about Warren: I see no evidence that his thinking on gay issues has changed. In his mind, there is no reason it should. Lowery comes from a different tradition, one that admits the possibility of human error in interpreting God's will.)

Hooper also makes a point that I think needs to be in the back of our minds every time we look at anything Obama does:

Oh, and we will NEVER accept the idea that the Warren choice is simply "reaching across a divide." We certainly agree with the division part. However, by pulling Warren over despite all of the horribly anti-gay views we've heard him convey in recent days, gays and lesbians are having their lives and loves drug under a bus. And once again, America is receiving the message that gay bias is not as weighty of a problem as other forms of discrimination.

And if you think he's overstating the case, take a look at this story:

Key Democrats - even openly gay lawmakers - are quietly conceding to letting another two years go by before trying to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the controversial 1993 law banning openly gay people from serving in the military. Most fear that moving too quickly on such a divisive issue could backfire, and most would rather tread lightly, at least in the early months of President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

Which brings us full circle: Obama's already been backpedaling on this one, which should be a slam-dunk: almost everyone supports repeal, except the high-level Christianist brass at the Pentagon and the reptile-brain Southern Senators. That's who Obama has to appease.

And two years is the "early months"? Excuse me?

Although it seems rather a jolt to be offering dessert after this, here it is, courtesy of Queerty:

In Memoriam

Eartha Kitt.

Man, that's the end of an era, right there. I have always loved Eartha Kitt -- enough that I can't think of anything to say.

Harold Pinter.

I was first exposed to Harold Pinter as a theater student, when I studied under a professor who was extraordinarily fond of the Absurdists. Pinter was part of the mix, along with Eugene Ionesco, Michel de Ghelderode, and Gunter Grass (yes, Grass wrote a play or two). Perhaps that does something to explain my attitude toward life. At any rate, we performed works by the others, but I don't remember doing any Pinter: said professor was also very much into physical acting, and Pinter's plays were more cerebral, his Absurdism darker, scarier. At this point, I don't know that I would call him "Absurdist," but then, yeah.

But we read him, extensively.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Zoo Day Update

The storks were, indeed, quite hospitable.

The snow leopards, polar bears, etc. were much wiser than I -- they opted for warm and dry and stayed in.

But, no one was at the Zoo. They were all at the grocery store.

And on that note, to all who celebrate the turn of the year in whatever fashion, my very best wishes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

About that "5,000 Year Old Tradition"

Zoo Day

probably. It's the day before Christmas, not shopping, off work until Monday (the "use it or lose it" syndrome), and don't feel like doing much.

It will be nice just to go out and walk around in the snow (the Zoo keeps the paths and pavements clear, but getting there is another story), visit the Conservatory and see what's blooming in the orchid house, see if the storks in the African Journey exhibit are feeling sociable, see what the sand cats are up too (sleeping, most likely), see whether the snow leopards are actually out in it, and so on.

Get my self good and tired out walking around in the cold.

Sounds like a plan.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Logical Disjunct Twofer

One has to wonder.

This is, in all likelihood, one of the lamest posts by Andrew Sullivan I can remember:

Freedom Or Power?

In many ways, I think those two polarities often expose the deeper fault-lines in our politics than right or left (because the choice between freedom and power exists within both right and left as well). And this Rick Warren flap at its core, I think, is about the difference between those who see a civil rights movement as a means to wield power and those who see it as a means to spread freedom.

It starts with a false dichotomy (even though Sullivan calls it "polarities," he's treating it as a dichotomy, as you can very well see for yourself). Let me pose this question: how free are the powerless? The whole thing goes downhill from there. I had started a point-by-point deconstruction of the thing, but it's ridiculous: there's not a sentence in it that doesn't beg to be challenged, and time is short today.

(I'm very serious about this: the post is a page-and-a-half in print out, and every point in it is waaay off base, if not downright mendacious. I've never accused Sullivan of being an incisive thinker, but this is beyond the Pale. Start with the sentence reiterating the favorite -- and completely baseless -- wingnut mantra of "hate crimes laws equal thought police" and go on from there.)

And, if I hadn't run across that post by Sullivan, this one by Chris Crain would have walked off with top honors for inverted logic. Somehow, and I'm still not sure how he did this, Crain comes to the conclusion that protesting the elevation of a divisive and exclusionary theology to a place of honor is a call to abridge the First Amendment rights of the divisive and exclusionary party.

The angry blogosphere, D.C.-based gay groups and their progressive allies are basically demanding the president-elect remove one minister from his role in a major public ceremony because of his religious beliefs and replace him with one who is more acceptable. Their demand ought to trouble everyone, particularly LGBT Americans and anyone else who values the First Amendment separation between church and state.


The first flaw in this, of course, is casting this in terms of the First Amendment at all: expressing rejection of unpopular or distasteful views is called the "free marketplace of ideas." It's when the government enshrines that rejection into law that we start running into First Amendment considerations. That's nowhere at issue here, and Crain should know it -- I really expect better from him.

That said, there doesn't seem to be an argument in Crain's piece that can't be flipped to support the opposite conclusion. The idea that removing Warren from the program indicates that his religious views are "disfavored" (Crain's term, not mine) is as valid as saying that including Warren in the program in the first place sends the message that his views are favored. Rock, meet Hard Place: there's a logical leap here that is only going to lead to broken bones. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

I do agree with Crain that arguments against same-sex marriage are based in religious belief and that should be the point of attack, but to conflate that with First Amendment issues on the basis he does here is really out in left field. The shoe, as he says himself, is on the other foot.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Today's weather is close to what I remember Chicago's weather being a few years back -- but in January, not December: high about 3, wind chill down to -27, wind gusting up to 40 mph.

And I am sick of the whole Rick Warren thing, which is what's filling up the blogosphere -- still -- this morning.

It looks like a perfect day to stay in, catch up on reading and writing, clean house, all that sort of stuff. (Fortunately, the colder it is, the more heat I get.)

I may come back later and post an essay on something.

Or I may not.

Stay warm.

Reviews in Brief: Hinako Takanaga's You Will Fall In Love

A word about cover art versus interior art: in yaoi, it can be highly misleading. Cover illustrations are usually more finished, in color, and as often as not do not reflect accurately the interior graphics. I've mentioned a few notable examples -- Dog Style and Yakuza in Love come immediately to mind. The reason I bring this up is that yaoi are usually shrink-wrapped, so that you can't actually see the interior illustrations before you buy the damned thing. Not that that has ever stopped me, although thinking on it, it's more likely to make me pass over a book than buy it. The reason this comes up now is that the cover art for Hinako Takanaga's You Will Fall in Love is just beautiful, and, although the interior stuff is fine, it's not quite as eye-catching.

Haru Mochizuki was once a star archer. In high school, he and his best friend Reiichiro Shudo shared top honors in every tournament. And then Haru's game began falling off, and he left the sport. Of course, the fact that he was in love with Reiichiro may have had something to do with it -- that's what Haru thinks, anyway. At any rate, he's now a substitute teacher at a private school which has, among other amenities, an archery range. The first person he sees there is Tsukasa, Reiichiro's younger brother, captain of the archery club, whom Haru doesn't recognize at first. The Shudos are, in fact, proprietors and teachers of an archery dojo where Haru used to practice with Reiichiro. In spite of his resistance, and in spite of his wholly fictitious wrecked elbow, Haru is talked into becoming an advisor and coach for the archery club, and it doesn't take long for Tsukasa to confess his love. Haru is attracted to him, but regards his same-sex attractions as shameful and the reason for his archery going bad. Tsukasa sets out to prove to him that he's wrong. And then Reiichiro reappears and things go straight to hell.

If it weren't for jealousy and insecurity, I don't think anyone would be able to create yaoi. Those are the driving forces behind this story, along with Haru's own confusion in regard to his feelings, and I have to say they provide a good set of motivations: the story's a solid one, and I am once again favorably impressed by the psychological realism that Takanaga has brought to this one.

And, my opening salvo aside, the graphics are excellent, if not as ethereally beautiful as the cover, although the character designs are all slanted very much toward the youthful, which makes sense for Tsukasa, not so much for Haru and Reiichiro. (And while I have to admit that both Tsukasa and Haru are cute, Reiichiro is a total fox.) Visual flow is excellent, and there's a wonderful sense of motion in many of the scenes.

Another one from BLU, and, although I'm not as immediately taken with it as I have been with some others I have a feeling it's going to grow on me. (A note: Since I wrote this, I've looked at it a couple more times, and it's grown on me, enough that I went out and got volume 1 of Takanaga's previous work, Little Butterfly. Tsukasa, in particular, is a strongly defined character whose youth and intensity provide full justification for the somewhat melodramatic story line.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

FGB Saturday Edition: Some Thoughts on Rick Warren

How to offend everyone to the left of Attila the Hun:

Rick Warren is still all over the blogosphere -- man! are people pissed off. I'm not as furious as I was yesterday, which is maybe a good thing, and I'm sort of over it at this point: to reiterate, I've never had that much confidence in Obama because I think he's an operator, although I'm willing to entertain the idea that his heart, ultimately, is in the right place. On this one, though, I'm basically appalled.

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting take on the choice and the reasoning:

But there is one aspect of the worldview of many Obama supporters that I find genuinely difficult to understand. These supporters insist that by symbolically including and sometimes compromising with even those on the Right with whom he vigorously disagrees, Obama will be able to chip away at the partisan hostilities and resentments, and erode the cultural divisions, that have inflamed and paralyzed our politics. People on the Right may disagree with him, claim these supporters, but they won't be wallowing in rage, suspicions, and hatred towards him. Instead, they'll feel respected and accommodated. They therefore won't be distracted by petty sideshow controversies. As a result, he'll encounter less reflexive resistance to implementing the key parts of his progressive agenda. A New Politics will emerge: one of respectful and civil disagreements, but not consumed by crippling partisan and cultural hatreds.

The one question I always return to when I hear this -- and we've been hearing it a lot to explain the Warren selection -- is this: in what conceivable sense is this approach "new"? Even for those who are convinced this will work, isn't this exactly the same thing Democrats have been doing for the last two decades: namely, accommodating and compromising with the Right in the name of bipartisan harmony and a desire to avoid partisan and cultural conflicts? This harmonious approach may be many things, but the one thing it seems not to be is "new."

And let me add that not only is it not new, it's been disastrous. I, like so many other people who concern themselves with the nefarious activities of the anti-gay right, hate to sound like a broken record (remember records?), but Warren was quite clear on his willingness to compromise:

And Warren says "there is no need to change the universal, historical defintion of marriage to appease two percent of our population." As Warren puts it: "This is not a political issue -- it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."

That was, of course, part of his comments on Prop 8, in which he also lied about its effect on freedom of religious expression and free speech.

However, Obama is a much more complex man than Bush -- we've gotten used to a nonfunctional frat boy in the White House, and there are other aspects to this that Obama's seeing but not talking about. I found this comment from this post at Mahablog illuminating:

The significance isn’t as much that Obama invited Warren, but that Warren accepted.

Just two years ago, Warren was getting slammed in evangelical circles for inviting Obama to take part in his church-sponsored AIDS conference, with Obama even back then being called “the anti-Christ” and inherently un-Biblical and anti-American, which in evangelical-speak is basically calling someone satanic. Warren stuck to the decision, weathered the claims that he was endorsing The Beast, and remains huge in the evangelical world today–while pushing evangelicals to move past cultural issues to focus more on world health and poverty.

The point is not to convert the diehard, right-wing, functionally theocratic evangelicals to a progressive agenda, or to win their votes for Obama in 2012. The point is to drive home the message that those folks can no longer define evangelicalism. (Right now the movement is mostly on poverty and the environment, but attitudes towards same-sex marriage and civil unions are changing also).

So, is Warren better than Dobson or Reed? Marginally, overall, but not at all on gay issues, reproductive choice, and the like. He's still a snake-oil salesman, when it comes right down to it.

(Sidebar: Chris Crain seems to have his head stuck in something, as this obvious misreading of Warren's rhetoric demonstrates:

One thing they cite is how supposedly "compared" or "equated" gay marriage to incest and polygamy in explaining his support for Prop 8 in California:
I’m not opposed to [gay marriage] as much as I’m opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

This is neither "comparing," nor "equating." In fact, Warren specifically draws a distinction between that which he does not oppose -- gay marriage -- and the parade of horribles he thinks opening up redefinition of marriage will lead to -- incest, pedophilia and polygamy.

Let's leave aside that polygamy has been an integral element of that "5,000-year definition," with Biblical validation; that "child bride" is not a new concept by any means; and that the marriages of Egyptian royalty were routinely incestuous (and they were not alone, and it would be interesting to hear how Warren classifies the Biblical injunction that a man marry his brother's widow); and any observations that Warren is no more constrained by factual accuracy than any of his peers. However, I think I'm justified in pointing out that Crain is doing some "editing" here. Jim Burroway provides some context:

Rick Warren: But the issue to me is, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Steven Waldman: Do you think, though, that they are equivalent to having gays getting married?

Rick Warren: Oh I do. …

I'm not going to accuse Crain of intellectual dishonesty here. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Updated: Jeremey Hooper also noticed that little truncation.)

Back to the main thread: As I noted, I think Obama is playing a deeper game than most people are seeing, but the fact remains that most of us are taking this at the very least as indicative of the relative weight gay interests are going to carry within the Obama administration, which I'm reading as "light" to "inconsequential." Frankly, that's pretty mainstream: much as we may hate to admit it, we're not on most people's radar. On that score, Prop 8 and Rick Warren may give us a boost: if we can sustain the energy, we're going to be more visible, and if we're more visible, more people are going to be forced to realize that there's actually something going on here. It's up to us to harness that.

I've seen some objections to the furor based on the idea that this is simply a "symbolic gesture," but that slides past a very important point: we are a symbol using species. Symbols have weight and meaning, and we as a species are very sophisticated in their use. (That's one reason marriage is the issue it is right now: in addition to being a community ritual, which is a symbolic event in itself, it is a potent symbol of community acceptance.) Update: Ezra Klein addresses this issue briefly and makes an important point:

I'd endorse Matt's comments on "symbolism" here, and suggest that calling the Warren issue "symbolic" is just a method of marginalizing minority discontent. Warren is not a symbolic figure. He's a religious leader who mobilizes his flock and leverages his public influence in order to affect electoral outcomes.

I'd like to point out, thought, that this is not an either/or proposition: Warren himself is an instrumental figure; the importance of the symbolism of handing him the spotlight at the inauguration, however, can't be denied. Do read the post by Matthew Yglesias that Klein links to -- it's brief and he gets it.

So, wither Warren? Frankly, I was totally outraged, and I'm still fairly pissed off, as much at the sheer thoughtless ineptitude as the insult -- and it is an insult. Now, it's just giving me heartburn: in spite of his "passionate" words, I don't expect Obama to deliver, except maybe as a second-term kind of thing, if the climate is right.

I still have a review to finish this morning, and it has to be this morning. At this point, if you want to see differing points of view on this, it's all over the blogosphere. And frankly, I think the outrage is a good thing.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Gay Blogging

will be delayed this week. I'm on deadline and I just lost a lengthy post on Rick Warren and the inauguration which I don't have time to reconstruct. So, later. . . .

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who Would Have Thought

that such dry little article would lead to such an explosion:

Aretha Franklin and Dr. Rick Warren, an evangelical minister of the Saddleback Church, are among the select group of people who will participate in Barack Obama’s inaugural swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20. . . .

Dr. Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” will deliver the invocation.

If you want to read some of the explosions, check out Box Turtle Bulletin (which provides contact e-mails for various members of the transition team and inaugural committee), Pam Spaulding (here and here), John Aravosis -- and those are just the first three blogs I checked. From Burroway:

This is the same Rick Warren who recently said that the relationships of his “many gay friends” are no different from child rape, incest or polygamy. He also jumped on the paranoia bandwagon surrounding same-sex marriage by falsely claiming that Prop 8’s failure somehow would have overturned the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and religion. (It can’t. No law or state constitution can.).

Warren himself has acknowledged that the only difference between himself and Focus On the Family’s James Dobson is just “a matter of tone.” So given President-elect Obama’s stated commitment to bringing the country together, it’s hard to fathom the reasoning behind choosing such a divisive figure.

A couple of thoughts:

Actually, Obama's pick of Warren is not that big a surprise -- we really should have seen this coming. This is, after all, the man who gave us Donnie McClurkin. His heart may be in the right place (and sorry, but I have to emphasize that "may"), but his brain shuts off when it comes to gay issues. He can pick up on the obvious ones, but then, so can HRC.

I said two years ago that I didn't trust Obama -- remember, he was one of my senators -- and I've had no reason to change that reaction. I supported him, which given the alternative was a no-brainer, but I can't say that I get all warm and fuzzy about him. And he's prone to major gaffes with the gay community, I suspect because he sees us as a useful demographic, but doesn't really care aboiut our issues.

Pam's House Blend has published the Obama team's "rationale" for the selection of Warren, which is pretty much the sort of self-congratulatory, CYA kind of blandness that comes out of press offices these days.

* This will be the most open, accessible, and inclusive Inauguration in American history.

* In keeping with the spirit of unity and common purpose this Inauguration will reflect, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have chosen some of the world's most gifted artists and people with broad appeal to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.

* Pastor Rick Warren has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. He's devoted his life to performing good works for the poor and leads the evangelical movement in addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis. In fact, the President-elect recently addressed Rick Warren's Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health to salute Warren's leadership in the struggle against HIV/AIDS and pledge his support to the effort in the years ahead.

* The President-elect disagrees with Pastor Warren on issues that affect the LGBT community. They disagree on other issues as well. But what's important is that they agree on many issues vital to the pursuit of social justice, including poverty relief and moving toward a sustainable planet; and they share a commitment to renewing America's promise by expanding opportunity at home and restoring our moral leadership abroad.

* As he's said again and again, the President-elect is committed to bringing together all sides of the faith discussion in search of common ground. That's the only way we'll be able to unite this country with the resolve and common purpose necessary to solve the challenges we face.

* The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues. He has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, gay or straight.

* And for the very first time, there will be a group representing the interests of LGBT Americans participating in the Inaugural Parade.

Wonderful -- a high-profile anti-gay bigot who worked actively to remove our rights (and still does) gets to deliver the invocation, and we get to participate in the parade. Does that tell you where the balance point is here? Who knows -- maybe Rev. Lowery can pull his ass out of the fire, but I ain't holding my breath on that one.

There's also the fact that it's not just on gay issues that Warren is a devil: he's against all the core issues of the Democratic party and, if we are to believe what we've been hearing for the past two years, of Obama himself. It's all very well and good to invite dialogue, but we're talking here about one of the group of prominent "Christian" leaders (although Warren may be more genuinely Christian than the likes of Ralph Reed or James Dobson) who admit of no compromise. From Kyle at Right Wing Watch:

As we've pointed out several times before, in 2004 Warren declared that marriage, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were "non-negotiable" issues for Christian voters and has admitted that the main difference between himself and James Dobson is a matter of tone. He criticized Obama's answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice. He came out strongly in support of Prop 8, saying "there is no need to change the universal, historical defintion of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population ... This is not a political issue -- it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about." He's declared that those who do not believe in God should not be allowed to hold public office.

See? God has spoken. No debate allowed.

Anyway, use some of those e-mail addresses in Burroway's post and let them have it. Contrary to what you may hear from any number of sources, it is indeed the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

Update: Here's Digby with a slightly larger take on this one:

There are those who feel this is a very savvy political move on Obama's part --- by inviting Warren to give the invocation at the most watched inauguration in history, Obama is validating the views of the Christian Right and they may very well be moved enough by that to become Democrats. But it naturally follows that in order to keep their votes, the Democrats would have to honor their agenda and views --- the evangelicals are big voting bloc and if the Democrats become the social conservative party, they could count on their votes for sure. (If they don't make substantial moves toward social conservatism, this won't work, obviously.) It doesn't leave much room for liberals, but perhaps that's a good thing. They are nothing but trouble, defending women's civil liberties, agitating for gay rights and hectoring the government about not torturing and starting wars and all that. It would be a big relief if they didn't need them.

I'm not sure she's right, but then, she usually is.

Update II: BooMan gets it about right:

I care that inviting gay-bashing preacherman Rick Warren to do the inauguration invocation is gratuitous and mean-spirited. This decision is a needless insult to every gay person in the country and to all those that support gay rights.

Donnie McClurkin writ large.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Unenumerated Rights

There's an interesting post at Balkinization that discusses unenumerated rights and the Court's Due Process jurisprudence. For those non-legalists who happen by, "unenumerated rights" are those assumed but not explicitly listed in the Constitution. It's worth reading, but one thing struck me. I thought at first it was a typo, but it appears that it's not:

The rights of heart and home that the Court’s substantive due process cases have vindicated beginning with Meyer v. Nebraska are the very rights that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to guarantee for the newly freed slaves. The framers recoiled at the treatment of slave families – parents were denied the right to marry and often separated, children were taken from them, and education and free worship were limited or prohibited altogether – and they wrote the Privileges or Immunities Clause to protect these liberties of heart and home.

"Liberties of heart and home." That sort of says it, doesn't it?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Another Crime Against Nature

Birds do it:

'We decided to give them two eggs from another couple whose hatching ability had been poor and they've turned out to be the best parents in the whole zoo,' said one of the keepers.

Some interesting insights in the article.

You Have To Wonder

I mean, David Horowitz had to have been sitting at the keyboard laughing his ass of while he was writing this.

Could anyone take that sort of thing seriously?

Retrograde . . . um, Amnesia?

It's now the twenty-first century and the Republicans are still working on union-busting. How would we ever have guessed? John Cole has a couple of good takes on the Republicans torpedoing the bridge loans to the Big Three, here and here. Money quote of the year, of course, comes from Morgan Johnson of the UAW:

Otherwise, Johnson said of Vitter, it would appear, “He’d rather pay a prostitute than pay auto workers.”

That's David Vitter, of diapers fame, who purports to represent a state that has subsidized -- are you ready -- foreign auto makers.

On the other hand, you do have to be crazy to be able to pretend that somehow any principles are at stake other than union busting, which, I guess, is a principle in and of itself:
An action alert circulated among Senate Republicans on Wednesday called for Republicans to “stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor.”

In doing so, analysts said, Republicans were planting the seeds for a fundraising appeal to big business—other than the Big Three, of course—as they gear up for a major political fight next year over expected legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize.

Mitch McConnell and the Republicans (a more complete list here) who all voted against this bill but for the financial bailout will all earn 160k and the best benefits package in the country, but are going to let an entire industry die because some autoworkers make more money than Bob Corker thinks they should.

That sort of says it, doesn't it? Of course, most commentators are somewhat puzzled by Republican congressional acquiescence to the bank bail-out -- which will run well over a trillion dollars, when all is said and done -- against their resistance to a measly $15 billion for the auto industry. Hint: the banks aren't unionized.

And here I though we left the thirties behind a few decades ago. (Cole's posts are the best I've seen for reducing the whole debacle to apprehendible proportions, and well worth a read.)

What amazes me is the fact that the Senate Republicans, after being trounced in the last two elections, have decided to take on a major voting bloc.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reviews in Brief: Ellie Mamahara's Alley of First Love

Ellie Mamahara is another mangaka recommended to me by my yaoi guru -- or maybe I should call her "sensei." I ran across Alley of First Love and, having learned to rely on April-sensei's judgments, snapped it up. It doesn't disappoint.

Shusuke works in his family's liquor store and is quite popular -- he has a string of girlfriends, as well as catching the attention of the little old ladies in the town who play at matchmaking. Then his childhood friend Atsushi returns from England, where he had been working in a research lab. Their parting was not the best. Atshushi made his arrangements without telling Shusuke, who was really messed up by the whole thing, since, in addition to being best friends, he was in love with Atsushi. Nevertheless, they make their peace and start hanging out together again. It becomes a gentle, low-key comedy, with every opportunity to get to the meat of the matter -- leading, ultimately, to love confessions -- thwarted by interruptions by friends dropping by, customers, younger brothers, or Atsushi's twin nieces, who swear they will marry Shusuke when they grow up.

Low-key, yes, and I'd categorize the comedy more as humor, situational and personality driven, but funny nevertheless, although not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way, and not in a way that undercuts the seriousness of the story. It's another study in fear and indecision, mostly from Shusuke's point of view, as he works himself toward finally making that confession.

The graphics reflect this tension between humor and import, with a unique blend of an almost brutal angularity and an open innocence that's quite appealing. The proportions of the character designs are at first glance odd -- think Alberto Giacometti does comics -- but one soon gets used to them. No, I take that back -- I actually found them very engaging and quite expressive. There's a kind of heavy sensuality to Mamahara's more finished renderings that is hard to describe, but the cover art gives a good idea; amazingly enough, she slips into more comedic, not-quite-chibi renderings easily and with no disruption.

This one's a winner, and I'm eagerly awaiting Baseeball Heaven, due out in April. From BLU.

(And please note that this really is "in brief." I'm trying to tighten up on these because they've been getting too long.)

Well, This Is Annoying

Can I make a comment about Nate Silver's comment on the nonexistent Blagojevich/Obama connection?

With Rod Blagojevich facing the triple threats of impeachment, court-ordered removal from office, and a federal indictment, the tribulations of the Illinois Governor may yet prove to have an effect on Barack Obama's approval ratings -- but the early signs are that Blago will have no tangible impact on the public's perception of the President-elect.

There seems to be an underlying tone of amazement here. Maybe it's just that I consider the whole question not even worth asking to begin with. Of course, I live in Illinois, so maybe I have a better idea of what's actually going on here. (Of course, I probably have a better idea of what's going on anywhere than most of the people commenting on things.

What annoys me about it is simply the fact that Silver's comments actually grant the whole mantra some validity. I realize it's going to take time to break the pattern of the last ten or fifteen years -- just eating whatever the RWNM comes up with and spewing it back out -- but can we at least make a start with a healthy dose of scepticism? Please?

Maybe, just maybe, the public has finally gotten over taking the pronouncements of such as William Kristol and Michelle Malkin as something worth listening to. And maybe, just maybe, that means that in spite of all their efforts to shape the public perception of Obama, they're tanking.

Ya think?

If You Needed Further Evidence

that Camille Paglia is a self-absorbed idiot, look no further:

Marriage is a religious concept that should be defined and administered only by churches.

(And yes, the link is to the right page -- the rest of the piece is a wandering, toothless, bad-tempered ramble that doesn't make a whole lot of sense in any context, so don't waste your time looking for the beginning of it. It's not worth the trouble.)

Well, OK -- so in one declarative sentence Paglia demonstrates that she doesn't know history, doesn't know how America works, and is given to ridiculous decrees. Please note that marriage has always been much more a civil institution than a religious one, even within the modern West, as Andrew Sullivan points out. It's even less a religious institution as you go farther back and spread the net wider, so basically Paglia's full of the brown stinky on that score.

As it happens, clergy who perform marriages do so as agents of the state: in all states, I believe, they are granted the courtesy of acting as magistrates and justices of the peace for that purpose -- and that prupose alone. They have no inherent right to do so, and any marriage performed without an authorized signature on that state license is not recognized.

And no, marriage is not a religious concept. It is a social/cultural concept. You can just as easily, and with just as much accuracy, if not more, call it a business arrangement, at least in the 5000-year-old "tradition" so often cited by the rabids.

And, big surprise! In the rest of that section of her screed, Paglia falls right into line with the "gay" conservative position that we should just STFU and go back in the closet.

I'm not terribly impressed. But then, I never am.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fallacies: An FGB Update

Related to the Mike Huckabee/Jon Stewart video I posted yesterday, this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic:

The case for/against gay marriage is hung-up on this idea of choice--i.e. we should frown on gay marriage because it's a deviant lifestyle. Or we shouldn't frown on it because it isn't a lifestyle, it's a biological fact. This is where the comparisons with race come in. But I always hated this argument. Whenever people say, "You should not discriminate against people because they didn't chose to be black," I hear the mild tones of wild liberal condescension.

The comparison with race makes sense on the level that Coates is dealing with, i.e., the assumption that there is a more desirable "norm." Of course, the comparison with religion, which Stewart makes in the video, is much more apt: you can't get more choicier than that.

And of course, the "evolutionary" argument comes up in the comments:

From ja, this statement

For those of us who believe in Darwin and evolution, I think there has to be acknowledgement of the mechanics of reproduction. So when talking about Darwin and survival versus homosexuality and inability to procreate, I think (like it or not) heterosexuality wins out in the evolutionary game.

First off, this is an extraordinarily simplistic take on evolution and the way it works. The mechanics of reproduction are just that -- the mechanics. The fallacy here is equating same-sex orientation with sterility, and it's a pretty obvious mistake that anti-gay advocates seem to make again and again: we're gay, we're not sterile. We're not unable to procreate, as we've proven time and time again. We may or may not choose to do so.

In point of fact, Edward O. Wilson, in his discussions of the genetic economics of altruism in Sociobiology, made quite a convincing argument for the evolutionary advantages of non-procreative individuals and behaviors through the mechanism of kin selection, which ties in with the research that another commenter, jordan, noted, that found increased fertility in the siblings of those with same-sex orientations.

So, next time you get the "choice" argument from some wingnut, ask them about current research to find the fundamentalist Christian gene.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Marriage Equality in New York State: Via Joe.My.God:

Sen. Malcolm Smith said today that he will cease negotiations on the reorganization of the Senate with the so-called “Gang of Three”. "We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and change,” Smith said. “It became very clear to me, over time, that those negotiations started being more about self interest.”

This sort of puts the final nail in the coffin on the idea that Prop 8 killed marriage equality in New York, so beloved of "gay" conservatives.

Jon Stewart nails Mike Huckabee:

That's enough wing-nut watching for today. On to something more real: New Jersey.

The final civil unions commission report is out, and guess what? Separate is not equal. Here's the full report:

Final Report of the CURC

And a final note on Prop 8: Queerty has an interview with Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, which fielded possibly the most on-point ad of the campaign in spite of No on 8:

The ad has gotten over 450,000 YouTube views and framed the church leadership as out of touch and over reaching for its interference in our state. The ad was written, directed and produced for under $1,000 by volunteers.

It was the only ad in the entire season that showed a same-sex couple. After the election, the LA Times editorial criticizing the No on 8 campaign said this was the only “hard-hitting ad” of the campaign, and it was not even an official [ad].

Does that tell you everything about the No on 8 leadership? They think like establishment Democrats, which is a sure recipe for disaster.

Gack! Enough. Running out of steam, and done with it for today.

Dessert courtesy of DNA:


Which stands for "Religious Industrial Complex," vide Digby. I wasn't sure where to put this one -- it could be an FGB post, but it seems much larger. But then again, maybe not.

At any rate, Sarah Posner has written a piece that examines the phenomenon of "religious outreach" on the left. She's taking the same jaundiced look at this "new" phenomenon that I to do, especially in the area of social policy, which for me, as you might guess, is a deal-breaker:

Yet, while these leaders have taken on issues outside of abortion and gay marriage—not a new development, incidentally, for mission-oriented evangelicals—and claim to tamp down the divisive rhetoric on those issues, each remains wedded to core religious right beliefs. Warren and Hunter supported the same-sex marriage bans on the ballot this year in their respective states (California and Florida). Warren has argued that homosexuality disproves evolution and has compared pro-choice advocates to Holocaust deniers. Although Wallis has been at the forefront of promoting the “abortion reduction” agenda as “common ground” he says everyone can agree on, he remains opposed to reproductive choice.

So these new, more "liberal" voices on the evangelical right, are, when push comes to shove, still on the right -- note the comment on Warren's argument that homosexuality "disproves" evolution, based firmly, it would appear, on total ignorance in service of a religious agenda: Edward O. Wilson came up with a very tight, more than plausible evolutionary basis for homosexuality over 25 years ago. (See the discussions of "altruism" in Sociobiology.) And if you think these people have changed their spots, check out the sad story of Richard Cizik.

The bottom line here seems to be that the "establishment" faith outreach gurus are doing nothing more than pursuing the old Democratic pipe dream of luring the hard-core evangelical vote away from the Republicans.

There has, of course, been a response from the establishment, which Pastor Dan deconstructs rather effectively.

I had started a much lengthier post on this set of commentaries, but you can read them -- and I strongly recommend that you do. What I want to do, in keeping with the original intent of this blog, is to drop back a step and look at a basic question that doesn't pop up in any of them: What is the appropriate role of religious belief in public life in a secular nation? The arguments being tossed around in the writings referred to here seem all to boil down to "whose religious beliefs are going to be written into public policy?"

It occurs to me that the mere fact that this particular debate is happening is evidence that we are moving away from the core principles on which this country was founded -- note that this is all couched in terms of brands of Christianity. It's probably no surprise that as a non-Christian, I'm not real comfortable with this. (And to provide some context, when I say "non-Christian," I really mean that I don't subscribe to any of what Joseph W. Campbell called "the desert religions": I am a devout but not particuarly observant Pagan, and I don't really think that my beliefs, or anyone else's, should be public policy.) This is, when all is said and done, a secular state, and I think it should remain that way.

Do my beliefs influence the way I vote? Certainly. Does that mean I vote for candidates who express the same beliefs? Never -- I'm an issues voter, by and large, with an eye to how effective anyone is going to be at governing. Yes, my religion influences my vote, but that vote is going to be exercised toward those policies that best fit. I should point out the one salient factor that makes me weird in this context, that is, in terms of the "culture war": what other people do with their lives, as long as it's not destructive to others, is not my business. And so, a candidate's personal religious beliefs, particularly in that area, are at best an irrelevancy and at worst, a reason to vote the other way.

Digby touches on what I consider the bottom line, but doesn't quite nail it. I guess my bottom line is that this whole phenomenon -- the ascent of the religious right and the attempt to counter it among Democrats by embracing it, is cause for concern, but no less so are appeals to a "religious left." Whatever the hell happened to secularism?

Think about that for a while.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Censorship Update

The offending works have been re-installed:

Portraits of gay Brigham Young University students taken by a photography major for a class project are back in an exhibit at the school's fine arts building four days after school officials removed the display.

Michael Wiltbank, a senior from Eagar, Ariz., photographed students who identified themselves as gay, then paired each one with a portrait of a friend or family member who provides that student with support.

The photographs were not labeled. The artist's statement said labels create societal divisions. "It is my hope this body of work can be a vehicle for tolerance, support, love and change," Wiltbank wrote.

The display debuted in the atrium of the Harris Fine Arts Center on Dec. 1 in an exhibit of projects done for a fine arts photography class taught by Paul Adams. On Friday, Wiltbank's display was removed and the exhibit rearranged.

BYU spokesman Michael Smart said a miscommunication between administrators in the College of Fine Arts and Communication led to the removal.

"When the action became apparent after the weekend, college administrators reviewed the decision," Smart said. "Because the project does not violate BYU's honor code, the project was rehung Tuesday afternoon."

Wiltbank, as might be expected, regrets some of the commentary on the Internet:

"I don't have any bitterness," he said. "The whole premise of the show was to show tolerance and support on both sides of the issue. What I wrote on my blog about the removal has been construed as bitter, but I didn't think it was. I think what some said on the Internet went against what I was trying to do with the exhibit.

"If we yell out hatred and bigoted things, nothing gets better."

I'd like to suggest that BYU had a moment of revelation when the reaction began to be heard: the LDS Church is already reeling under the impact of the response to its support of Prop 8. I suspect that more negative publicity is not what it's looking for right now, especially since its feet are being held to the fire on its statement that it is not "anti-gay."

God and the Economy

Why do you suppose James Dobson hasn't claimed credit for the collapse of the Big Three automakers?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marriage, the Bible, and All That

Well, the unforgivable has happened: someone published a rational look at the religious -- specifically, Biblical -- context for same-sex marriage. Lisa Miller, in a cover story for Newsweek, noted:

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow.

Of course, given sentiments like that, you can imagine what the reaction from the "Christian" right has been:

“I see it as an attempt to caricature and reduce to a cartoon the social conservative belief in the efficacy of traditional marriage, and try to reduce it to some formulaic, scriptural literalism,” said Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. “There’s more of a practical, sociological foundation for why we seek to affirm marriage as an institution than I think is generally understood by those who want to legalize same-sex marriage.”

Two observations here -- mmm, make that three:

You have to remember that if it's Ralph Reed speaking, he's not really talking about affirming marriage as an institution. That -- and this is going to become a recurring motif here -- is what everyone on both sides of the issue wants to do: reaffirm the importance of marriage. Reed is talking about confirming marriage as an exclusionary device to limit social recognition to those couples he approves of.

Second, the social conservative belief "in the efficacy of traditional marriage" is a caricature and a cartoon, and it is invariably presented by such as Ralph Reed as a formulaic, scriptural literalism. That's the whole point of the article -- a point that Reed's statement doesn't address in any substantive way.

Third, Reed and his ilk keep citing a practical, sociological foundation for "affirming" traditional marriage, but he never seems to be able to say what it is, aside from "children to better with a mother and father," which isn't borne out by the evidence. If he's referring to the somewhat questionable "study" by Child Trends, which opponents of same-sex marriage seem to think is the only study done so far on this question -- and of course, that study doesn't deal with children raised by same-sex couples -- then he's really on thin ice.

Though Reed said he had respect for Newsweek, he said this week’s cover story was based on a “false assumption”: “We’re not trying to take the Bible and put a bill number on it and legislate it.”

If you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to talk to you about.

Land pointed to campaigns for anti-same-sex marriage referenda around the country as evidence that biblical instructions were not necessarily the main impetus behind social conservative opposition to same-sex marriage.

“The arguments that are used are often not biblical arguments. They are secular arguments, arguing about marriage as being a civic and a social institution, and that societies have a right to define marriage,” Land said. Broadening the definition of marriage could “shatter” the social role married couples have traditionally played, he said.

There's a major logical backflip here: no one's arguing that marriage is not an important civic and social institution: that's why gays want to get married. I've touched on that one before -- the most telling comment I've found is from Joseph W. Campbell. It's indicative of the sheer closed-off solipsism of the social (read "religious") conservative position that Land can say something like that and not even realize that it not only doesn't support his position, but undercuts it.

Jim Burroway has some very apt insights into the reactions:

But the other part of the outrage also seems clearly aimed at someone who really did intrude onto their home turf. After all, in the same-sex marriage debates, only one small group of Christians are presumed to be allowed to use the Bible — when they think nobody else is looking. Anti-gay activists behave as though the Bible is solely their possession and no one else’s — including other Christians who read the same Bible and come to different conclusions. It’s okay for anti-gay opponents to turn outside their own sphere of authority — science — to make their point. But now that Lisa Miller has taken them on in their own home turf, they’ve let loose with their persecution complex and complained that they– and by extension all of Christianity, since they presume to speak for all Christians – have been “attacked.”

Remember that: any disagreement, no matter how stated, is an "attack," not on the fuzzy, self-referential thinking of the Christianist right, but on Christianity itself, because, after all, only people who agree with the likes of Richard Land and Ralph Reed are real Christians.