"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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Banned Books Week

And I, of all people, should have something to say.

Let me start off by pointing you to this piece by Steven D at Daily Kos.

Usually when I think about freedom, perhaps the one I cherish the most is the opportunity to read what I want regardless of whether someone else approves or disapproves of my choices. The public library was as much a sacred place for me growing up as church. Yet for a "free country" the United States has a well known history of banning or restricting access to books, even in recent times. . . .

It seems everyday someone makes a complaint about why certain books should not be available because they find something about it that doesn't agree with their most cherished beliefs or prejudices. But isn't the entire point of freedom that we get to make those decisions for ourselves? That we don't turn away from books with ideas that we don't hold, but engage them and their ideas and make up our own minds?

This leads more or less automatically to a series of posts from last month about censorship, libraries, and the role of partisan interests, here, here, and here. That led to quite a debate with someone calling him/herself "SafeLibraries" who apparently wants libraries to be safe for everything except books. What is most interesting about S/L's comments is not their content, which was minimal, but the style of argument, which seems composed of equal parts of deflection and the sense that any resistance to the proponent's agenda is necessarily ideological, when, in fact, it's the proponent (in this case, "SafeLibraries") who is operating from ideology.  (The giveaway in these exchanges is S/L's insistence that objections to "ex-gay" literature, or other things advocated by "conservative Christians" are passed over because of ideology, although I pointed out a couple of times that the "ex-gay" movement is founded on pseudo-science and quackery and has been demonstrated repeatedly to be harmful.)

Banning books is simply banning ideas, as Steven D points out.  To me, that's a direct attack on the First Amendment, which I consider the cornerstone of everything that comes after (the lock-and-load contingent notwithstanding).

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Think about the sense of that sentence:  it's all about access to ideas and the liberty to express them freely, which is exactly what the Gail Sweets and SafeLibraries of the world are trying to take away from us, under the guise of "preserving community values," the community being those they can stampede into agreeing with them by application of that old scare mantra, "Save the Children!"

(A note:  Yes, I'm fully aware that children need to be guided and that they can't be thrown headfirst into a bunch of ideas that they're not yet equipped to deal with.  There is an answer:  it's called "teaching" and it makes use of books,  many of which the Guardians of Morality (TM) would like to see banned.)

I'm not confining my condemnation to the right, by any means.  I remember not so long ago that there was a movement to "clean up" The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the great classics of American literature, because of its portrayal of race, including prominent use of the "n" word.  The same mechanism is at work:  blinkered vision, intolerance of other viewpoints, and an amazing inability to see other possible approaches.  (And for those who might be inclined to quibble that Huck Finn was only being brought into line with modern sensibilities, or some such bullshit, a one-word response:  No.  Censorship is censorship, whether it be banning or "editing.")

My immediate response to someone who objects to a book is simply "Don't read it."  Unfortunately, it's a somewhat more pernicious phenomenon than that:  ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills are how we wind up with phenomena such as the teabaggers, who are so easily manipulated by the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Newt Gingrich.  And don't expect any politicians to buck the trend, at least not on the national level:  their corporate pals don't want a populace able to think for itself.

I think the next censorship battle is not going to be over books.  It's already taking shape in net neutrality, and it's going to be interesting to see which politicians will be falling over themselves to sell us out.  I figure it will be the so-called "moderates" on both sides of the aisle lining up behind the corporate tools on the right.

We're going to have to come up with a way to implement a "Banned Websites Week."

In the meantime, read something that's been banned.  And share it with your kids.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stick It To 'Em

Stuff like this makes me very happy. It's the sort of thing I'd like to shove down the throats of those stuffed shirts on Capitol Hill. Do you suppose they get it?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Truthiness to Power
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Hero of Truth?" Puh-leeze!

Ran across an interesting video at Crooks & Liars about the controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque," which is not at ground zero and is not a mosque.

Pay attention to Pam Geller, the lunatic who bears the most responsibility for the mess.

(I can't embed the video -- for some reason, Blogger won't accept the embed code and I can't figure out how to fix it. Follow the link above to see the clip.)

I can't do better than Nicole Bell's comment about Geller: "You should shut up simply because you wouldn't know the truth if it sat shiva for your integrity in your apartment."

What struck me is the expression on Geller's face: I've seen it on middle-class Jewish girls, WASPs from Long Island, Polish girls from Chicago's southwest side. I think it must be something the pick up in Princess school: they're being bitches, they know they're being bitches, and they know they're going to get away with it because they're Princesses.

Overall, I think this must be the most intelligent and fair bit of coverage I've seen in any medium of this whole thing. It's worth the twelve minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


is sometimes worse than being sick. It's more annoying, at any rate.

I'm still dealing with residual congestion and the consequent lack of energy and focus. Bear with me.

I mean, it's not like the news is any different. The Republicans are still against everything and the Democrats still haven't grown spines. What's to say?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bullying: It Gets Better

I've been meaning to link to this for a couple of days, but the cold has been short-circuiting my brain.  From Dan Savage:

I’ve launched a channel on YouTube— www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject —to host these videos. My normally camera-shy husband and I already posted one. We both went to Christian schools and we were both bullied—he had it a lot worse than I did—and we are living proof that it gets better. We don’t dwell too much on the past. Instead, we talk mostly about all the meaningful things in our lives now—our families, our friends (gay and straight), the places we’ve gone and things we’ve experienced—that we would’ve missed out on if we’d killed ourselves then.

And here's the first video, from Dan and his husband Terry:

It does get better. I had my share of hassles in school, and haven't been back since I graduated. But I'm really happy with who I am (although I do wish I could find a way to cram an extra day into the week). And thinking back, I've had a lot of support and friendship from people who are much cooler than the people I went to high school with.

At any rate, check out the YouTube channel.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where Do They Find These People?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This has to be a spoof. It has to be. Doesn't it?


I was working on a rather substantial post about the Muslim community center proposed for a couple blocks away from the WTC site -- the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" -- based on a post by Elizabeth Moon (yes, that Elizabeth Mooon) brought to my attention by Will Shetterly (yes, that Will Shetterly) and Doctor Science.

I have to say that I admire Shetterly for his patience and forbearance -- he's much more forgiving of logical lapses than I.

However, I am now fighting a cold and my focus is kind of blown -- have a horrible sore throat and have been gulping vitamin C and echinacea for the past day. (And I want you to know that this is entirely against the rules -- I have one cold a year, and that's it, and I've already had this year's cold, so this is not even a legitimate cold.)

Maybe I can get to it. And then again, maybe not.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bullying and The Christianist Right

I promised a follow-up to my posts on "Contemptible People" and "FoF Thinks This Is A Good Thing".

Here's Candy Cushman, of Focus on the Family, along with Eliza Byer of GSLEN, and Rosalind Wiseman, who works on bullying issues across the country.

Cushman gets creamed -- you'll notice she never actually answers any points brought up by Byer or Wiseman. She just keeps repeating herself until she finally brings up the "kids being taught homosexuality in kindergarten" mantra, a sure sign of desperation on the right.

But think about what she's saying here: it doesn't matter why kids are being bullied. Even Cooper's disbelief is obvious on this one. And the rebuttals ring true: if you can't discuss why kids are being bullied, how easy is it to talk to someone about it? You have nothing to say: "They're pickin' on me!" "Stop picking on him." Problem solved -- at least, according to Focus on the Family. And of course, the causes go unexamined and unresolved, but I suspect that's part of the strategy. It's instructive to note that in their eyes, "gay" outweighs "children" every time. This is the reasoning behind my comment that Focus on the Family believe kids should be protected from bullying, except it's OK if they're gay. The other leg of that statement is her whole thing about "politicizing" the issue. Can you say "projection"? "Displacement" will do just about as well. If anyone has politicized school bullying, it's been FoF and the Christianist right because they seem to think that when a gay kid commits suicide, that's a good thing. (And no, I don't think that's an unreasonable conclusion, given how much they've fought against including sexual orientation in anti-bullying programs and hate crimes laws.)

Oh, and Cushman's remark that 30% of children report being bullied. Time for a reality check: for GLBT students, it's nearly 90%. I would think that even someone as intellectually stunted as Cushman would see that and maybe, just maybe, think we have a special problem there.

This costs. The cost is just too damned much. I noted a couple of suicides of high-school students when I originally posted on this subject. The one that's gotten the most follow-up is Billy Lucas', in Greensburg, Indiana. Box Turtle Bulletin has been doing major follow-up on this one. This horrible report is the most recent. Jim Burroway, quoting from this story:

Homophobic hate messages were left Thursday on a memorial page set up for Billy Lucas, a Greensburg High School student who killed himself last week after being mercilessly bullied, friends said. Numerous images were uploaded to a Facebook group, giving visitors a taste of the kind of hate Lucas endured, friends said.

The messages chided the teen about defending himself and made attacks on his presumed sexuality, 6News' Joanna Massee reported.

This is the aftermath of the "solution" to bullying that Cushman and FoF are peddling. Billy Lucas didn't seem to have anyone to go to, even though the school had an anti-bullying policy in place.

When looking at this whole thing -- Cushman blindly reiterating her talking points and never even acknowledging other's points in rebuttal, the insistence that talking about gay people is completely out of line, the total disregard of the real human cost of what they are proposing -- I realize what it is that bothers me the most: it's the complete lack of anything even remotely resembling compassion or empathy, or even simple humanity, in their position.

A good parallel, although it's not about bullying, is this clip of Mike Huckabee talking about health care, particularly the ban on refusing insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Same mindset, same tactics, different topic.

Do you begin to see why I despise these people?

Update: In support of my contention that the Christianist right is lacking humanity, see this post at Politics Plus.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I really meant to

do a follow-up to the bullying posts today, but it was a scary day.

Probably tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm reading a critical/philosophy anthology that is an excellent example of how close contemporary writing in philosophy comes to Newspeak.

The Greeks were right not to trust sophists.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

For Those Who Throw Rocks

Specifically, at gay Republicans: this lengthy profile on Matt R. Salmon, son of a conservative Mormon politician from Arizona. It focuses a lot on family conflicts, but Salmon's comments about what he went through before he was able to accept himself are worth the read.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FoF Thinks This Is A Good Thing

A follow-up to this post on Candy Cushman, "education analyst" (whatever the hell that is) for Focus on the Family and her "bullying is good" tour.  Just a few highlights of the week:

Yet another teen suicide in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, bringing their total for the past year to five.  Yes, Five.  The school district's response?

"It's very difficult. We have a community that has widely varying opinions, and so to respect all families, as the policy says, we ask teachers to remain neutral," said District Spokeswoman Mary Olson.

Here's an example of the school district's "neutrality":

Two Anoka-Hennepin School District teachers were accused last year of tag-teaming a student whom they harassed, insinuating that he was gay and embarrassing him in front of his classmates. The student, who was not gay, eventually transferred to another district and brought suit against Anoka-Hennepin. The district settled with him for $25,000. The teachers in the case were placed on leave, and remain on leave currently, the WCCO report said.

This is from a very good, thorough article at Edge.  (Which covers most of what's in this post, but I only found it as I was writing.)

Someone's going to have to explain to me how respecting all families means letting some families' children be driven to suicide.

Another teen suicide, in Indiana this time.

In a heartbreaking irony of circumstance, 15-year-old Billy Lucas killed himself during National Suicide Prevention Week. Billy was the victim of merciless bullying. BulliedBilly.jpgWhile he never self-identified as gay, he was cruelly harassed for being different, and many of the taunts accused him of being gay. Last Thursday, a student pulled a chair out from under Billy and told him to go home and kill himself. And Billy did, hanging himself in the family barn.

The principal comes up with the astonishgly novel "blame the victim" defense:

This time the ‘I Don’t Give A Damn Award’ goes to Principal Phil Chapple, who had no idea that Lucas was being bullied. Nope, no clue.
But he did say this:
“Sometimes he created that atmosphere around him,” Chappel said. “Kind of like a little tornado because he went around doing things that made dust fly, I guess.”
So Chappel saw dust fly, but never noticed that kids were threatening Billy every day. Un-huh. And he admits that his problems were because “people found out who he was.”

And according to GLSEN, things aren't getting much better:

The 2009 survey of 7,261 middle and high school students found that at school nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.

An analysis of National School Climate Survey data over 10 years showed that since 1999 there has been a decreasing trend in the frequency of hearing homophobic remarks; however, LGBT students' experiences with more severe forms of bullying and harassment have remained relatively constant.

So I guess Candy Cushman and her paymasters at FoF can rest assured that they are successful in doing God's work by helping to drive vulnerable teenagers to their deaths.

Did I mention how much these people disgust me?

There will be more on this, but not until I gather my thoughts. News like this, in light of the smug self-satisfaction of creeps like Cushman and her bosses, really pisses me off.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A New Interest

in economics.  In part, it's because it's an overwhelmingly important issue right now, with Republicans and Democrats (I mean real Democrats) making diametrically opposed statements as to what we need.

Here's Austan Goolsbee talking about John Boehner's (R-pick a country club) statement that he would vote for ending the tax cuts for the rich if he had to:

It's nice to see someone from the White House on the tube actually pushing back.

There's actually another reason for my interest in economics:  Austan Goolsbee is really cute.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Take That, Sarah Palin!

The best headline I've seen on the "Ground Zero mosque" tempest is this one, from this post by Eric Martin at Obsidian Wings:

It Was Insensitive that the Twin Towers Were at Ground Zero

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To A "T"

Ran across this site at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Some of them are really funny, some not so much, but it's worth checking out.

We Knew That

From this story at NYT:

Republicans, and a few Democrats, assert that the Bush tax cuts should be extended for everyone, warning that a tax increase right now, even if limited to the highest income bracket, would hurt small businesses and choke off an economic recovery that is already gasping.

Given the economy’s persistent weakness and an unemployment rate hovering above 9.5 percent, those arguments have gained traction. And because another round of government stimulus spending is considered politically unviable even if it were warranted, the debate over the tax cuts will be laced with promises to spur economic activity and reduce unemployment. The concept of lower taxes is so appealing to voters that many embrace them as an economic cure-all.

But economic research suggests that tax cuts, though difficult for politicians to resist in election season, have limited ability to bolster the flagging economy because they are essentially a supply-side remedy for a problem caused by lack of demand.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office this year analyzed the short-term effects of 11 policy options and found that extending the tax cuts would be the least effective way to spur the economy and reduce unemployment. The report added that tax cuts for high earners would have the smallest “bang for the buck,” because wealthy Americans were more likely to save their money than spend it.

Point 1: The top 2% already have more money than they know what to do with.

Point 2: Nobody's spending money now because nobody has any. The dribble you get for "extra" in your paycheck ain't going to change that.

Point 3: The Bush tax cuts are a big part of why we have this great honkin' deficit to begin with. How the hell is extending them going to make it better?

Everyone seems to get that except Washington.

LCR vs. U.S. Note

A brief profile of Judge Virginia Phillips, who wrote the opinion this week trashing DADT.

With, of course, the obligatory "judicial activist" quote from Tony Perkins. Doesn't the man have any idea how tired that little mantra is?

Avoiding the Mirror

This is what passes for soul-searching in the media. I find it less than penetrating.

Especially since there's another story on Jones on the front page.

Friday, September 10, 2010

You Have to Wonder

When the major progress on GLBT rights is being made by Republicans -- in this case, LCR.

A federal judge in Riverside declared the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional Thursday, saying the “don't ask, don't tell” policy violates the 1st Amendment rights of lesbians and gay men.

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the policy banning gays did not preserve military readiness, contrary to what many supporters have argued, saying evidence shows that the policy in fact had a “direct and deleterious effect’’ on the military.

Like anyone doesn't know that.

Here's the ruling:

Decision finding DADT is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Democrats continue to stall.

Update: Here's some analysis from Ari Ezra Waldman at Towleroad. Jason Mazzone has this comment at Balkinization; without going into detail, whatever the precedential basis of his comments, the reasoning strikes me as a little strained.

The Way It Should Be

This is the way it should be, in contrast to the politically inspired brouhaha over the sogenannte "Ground Zero mosque" -- the one behind all the sex shops and bars on the teabaggers' "sacred ground" of the week.

BERWYN, Pa. (AP) — A new mosque recently opened in this well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia, but not many people noticed.

That was fine with leaders of the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge. Amid a tense national climate for U.S. Muslims, they did not seek publicity for the happy occasion, only continued peace with their neighbors: a Jewish synagogue next door and Baptist church across the street.

Funny thing about all the controversy -- you know what I haven't heard from any of the religious freedom opponents so far? "Some of my best friends are Muslims."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Contemptible People

This week, as is so often the case, it's Focus on the Family, who support driving teenagers to suicide.

Three teens at a Minnesota school district have committed suicide over the past year after enduring anti-gay bullying. The Anoka-Hennepin School Board claims that they take bullying seriously, but they’ve refused to implement anti-bullying education programs aimed specifically at anti-gay bullying — which is precisely the issue that has led to three deaths this year. A group of anti-gay parents have formed a pressure group to support the board’s anti-gay stance, and they have the full backing of Focus On the Family:

Focus' so-called "education expert" Candy Cushman has been making the rounds to say that FoF is supports anti-bullying programs -- unless they include gay kids, because that's  "sexualizing" the issue.  (I don't know any gays who think about gay sex as much as the spokespersons for the Christian right.  I really don't.)  From the looks of things, I know more about education than Cushman does -- the difference being, I suppose, that I'm actually educated.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has taken a good look at Cushman's little campaign and come out swinging:

For the last few days, an “educational analyst” for Focus on the Family has been getting a lot of press. She’s been suggesting that anti-bullying efforts that draw attention to the harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students are part of a “gay agenda” to “sneak homosexuality lessons into classrooms.”

One can argue, as some have, that Focus on the Family is a fringe group that doesn’t represent the majority of Christians in the United States. That’s true. But it’s also true that Focus on the Family has an outsized impact on conservative thought in this country. And by using deception and spin, the group has managed this week to grab the media spotlight. The goal is apparently to make schools less safe for LGBT students and more safe for their harassers. That cannot be ignored.

That's just the first two paragraphs.  Read the whole thing -- it's pretty tough, especially the part where author Maureen Costello lays out FoF's agenda.  Jim Burroway has a similar take on what they're after:

The best way not to solve a problem is not to talk about the problem. And since Focus’ position is that we should not talk about the problem, at some point you have to wonder if, in some unspoken dark corner of their collective souls, they see these suicides as serving their purposes. Focus consistently portrays the “homosexual lifestyle” as synonymous with abject misery — rampant drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide. And, coincidentally or not, they consistently oppose efforts to constructively address drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide among gay youth. After all, if we really were to address drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide among gay youth by actually talking about drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide among gay youth with an eye toward identifying solutions to these problems instead of using those problems as a hammer, then drug abuse, ST’s, depression and suicide among gay youth might actually go down. And the “homosexual lifestyle” won’t seem so full of misery, will it?

Groups of professional bigots, armed with a full arsenal of lies and distortions, cost us.  They cost us a lot, and it's not just LGBT youth I'm talking about here.  Read this very moving post by Betty Greene Salwak about the lifelong aftermath of her father's suicide. Now imagine it's your kid.

And thank Focus on the Family.

Star Guts

It's also been called a stellar "pearl necklace." Rather awesome, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Obama's Labor Day Speech

didn't say much about labor. It was a good speech, though.

But we already knew he can give good speeches. He seems to think that's the whole job.

Labor Day Thought

In spite of what you may have heard from (insert favorite Rahm Emanuel clone here), we don't owe our standard of living to the captains of industry. We owe it to organized labor.

Don't ever forget that.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Misplace Assumptions, an Addendum

Another thought concerning this post, which occurred to me in reading the further comments on Susie Madrak's original post, and in this post by Michael Hamar at Bilerico.

Well, OK, a couple of thoughts.

One thing that struck me about the comments from the Crooks and Liars post -- not so much at Bilerico -- was the tone of moral indignation in many of the comments, summed up most neatly in the comment of one person that "abuse of children is wrong under all circumstances," to which my response -- if I had made one -- would have been "Define 'abuse' and define 'children'." It's this sense of moral superiority couched in broad generalities that offends me, simply because it reeks of judgment based on near or complete ignorance, something that we seem to find both on the right and on the left.

Secondly, my real point in all of this, which I probably didn't state clearly enough, is simply that yes, there are abuses, obvious from the accounts of abduction and rape. To call for eliminating the institution on that basis is, I think, a grave mistake. Eliminate the abuses, to be sure, but before you demand that the institution itself be eliminated in toto, be damned sure you know what you're doing.

Evolution in the Widest Sense

A couple of fascinating essays by Susan Blackmore at NYT, here and here -- a transposition, if you will, of the evolutionary idea of "copying" and how it plays out in memetics, with particular reference to what Blackmore calls "temes" --- that is, technological memes, a way of describing the information explosion.

I haven't really digested these essays yet, but they're fascinating reading.

And, under the category of "first thoughts," what Blackmore is describing echoes quite strongly the mechanisms of folklore as described by Joseph W. Campbell in The Flight of the Wild Gander -- a tribal story travels to a neighboring tribe, is embellished with elements of their own history by the members of that tribe, and finds its way back to the original tribe with the embellishments. A sort of cultural equivalent to the way that genetic variation travels through populations in biological evolution.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Misplaced Assumptions

This post by Susie Madrak sort of rocked me back on my heels this morning. Sadly, it seems that once again I'm proven correct: the PC left is just as blinkered and judgmental as the rabid right. It also demonstrates that "Save the children!" goes straight to the lizard brain, bypassing all higher cognitive functions.

Madrak's headline gives a good idea of the thrust of her post. (And frankly, I expected something more intelligent from Madrak.)

In Afghanistan, We're Looking The Other Way As Police, Tribal Leaders Commit Child Rape

After a brief nod to this article, which introduces the "abduction and rape of teenage boys"" mantra in passing as part of a broader group of abuses by the national police, Madrak focuses on this highly inhlammatory article by Joel Brinkley. The gist of the "scandal" is this:

Western forces fighting in southern Afghanistan had a problem. Too often, soldiers on patrol passed an older man walking hand-in-hand with a pretty young boy. Their behavior suggested he was not the boy's father. Then, British soldiers found that young Afghan men were actually trying to "touch and fondle them," military investigator AnnaMaria Cardinalli told me. "The soldiers didn't understand."

All of this was so disconcerting that the Defense Department hired Cardinalli, a social scientist, to examine this mystery. Her report, "Pashtun Sexuality," startled not even one Afghan. But Western forces were shocked - and repulsed.

For centuries, Afghan men have taken boys, roughly 9 to 15 years old, as lovers. Some research suggests that half the Pashtun tribal members in Kandahar and other southern towns are bacha baz, the term for an older man with a boy lover. Literally it means "boy player." The men like to boast about it.

"Having a boy has become a custom for us," Enayatullah, a 42-year-old in Baghlan province, told a Reuters reporter. "Whoever wants to show off should have a boy."

Madrak's framing gives it away:

So our troops are fighting and dying for child rapists in a warped fundamentalist theocracy. And we're protecting them? This is too much for my mind to comprehend. . . .

Don't look for any sort of rational discussion here. What we have is the lizard brain in full control, fueled by the assumption of cultural superiority.

The commenters, with one exception, are no better. The one exception at least had the wit to ask

So what I'm wondering is: what happens to the boys? Obviously they don't die from these relationships. Are they ostracized, or do they have a separate place in the society as they grow up, or do they just take on the other role when they themselves are men?

Now, I don't normally expect a lot from the comments on blogs (except here, of course, where the commenters are perspicacious and well-spoken, or if not, entertaining in their ineptitude), but the comments at that post are spectacularly ill-informed and injudicious.

However, to the substance. My own comment brought up the fact that we are dealing with another culture with its own standards and mores. (And I have to confess that I am basically dismissing both articles that Madrak cites -- the first made a passing reference to the "abduction and rape of teenage boys" as part of the list of abuses perpetrated on the civilian population for no reason that I can detect other than a deliberate attempt at titillation --the article is basically about political corruption and the drug trade -- the second is so horribly slanted and smugly superior that I can't credit any conclusion the author draws.) Brinkley's article cites it as a centuries-old tradition; it may, in fact, be far older. The best-known example of similar relationships is, of course, among the ancient Greeks, but there is evidence of similar practices among the ancient Albanians and Irish (the hero Cuchulainn took a male lover, and it's good to remember that in spite of his prowess as a warrior, at that point he was still a boy), and possibly even the Vedic Indians, to the extent that some researchers have posited that such relationships were a pan-Indo-European cultural institution.

And nowhere in either of the articles, or in Madrak's post, is there any investigation of the attitudes of the Afghanis, other than to note that they are accepting of this practice. I would assume so -- traditions that do not meet with acceptance never have the chance to become traditions. One aspect that is notably missing is any revelation of the actual forms of the practice and the degree to which the boys have autonomy. (This is something I touched on my my review of the anime series Loveless: the automatic labeling of this phenomenon as "child rape" is, aside from being inflammatory and prejudicial, a means of avoiding any real examination. And it's worth noting that Japan, at least in pre-Meiji times, is another one of those cultures in which it was common practice for a man to take a younger man or youth as a lover.) There is also the question of what constitutes a "child" in this sense. The age of consent varies widely throughout the world -- as low as 13 or 14 years -- but does someone want to try to convince me that a thirteen-year-old is somehow more capable of what one commenter called "enlightened consent" than a twelve-year-old? By what criteria? And quite honestly, when dealing with other cultures with different traditions, and particularly different attitudes toward sexuality, that kind of question, founded on a concept that is solely the fruit of Euro-American legal practice, becomes pretty much irrelevant.

There is also the question of the quality of the relationship, which Madrak and most of her readers automatically assume is exploitive and/or abusive, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. That's merely assertion, and of no value. I would not be at all surprised to find out that the boys involved are the recipients of gifts and that there is a degree of affection involved, even if the participants are not willing to call it "love" -- that's much more likely than the image called up by characterizing them as "rape."

I did find a link to the study by AnnaMaria Cardinalli, "Pashtun Sexuality", noted in Brinkley's article. The document itself is somewhat problematic, particularly in its somewhat loaded terminology and the conflation of circumstances that are objectively classifiable as "rape" with those that may not be. There is a strong cultural bias (and more than a little underlying homophobia, but the study was, after all, done for the U.S. military, which, true to form, selected a woman to do a study among Islamic men) that is quite blatantly obvious throughout, leading me to question the study's value for any purpose other than propaganda. There's also the not-so-deeply-buried homophobia in Madrak's characterization of this whole thing as a "toxic stew." And, interestingly enough, in the child abuse column, no one brings up the question of the age at which Afghani women are considered ready for marriage, leaving the whole issue in the realm of that favorite scare mantra of the far right: Teh Gays are going to steal your sons!

Yes, I'm disappointed in the articles, the blog post, and the comments, but not for the obvious reasons: I'm sadly disappointed in the intellectual flabbiness and assumption of superiority displayed by almost all concerned, not to mention the complete insensitivity to the cultural traditions of other peoples.

Does this practice need to be stopped? Based on the evidence presented to date, who knows?

Note: read the follow-up to this here.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Another Day, Another Right-Wing Lie

The "unemployment benefits encourage people not to work" argument is a major crock, but it really just registered this morning when I ran across this post from Karoli at C&L, commenting on this piece by Robert Barro. From Barro:

The unemployment-insurance program involves a balance between compassion—providing for persons temporarily without work—and efficiency. The loss in efficiency results partly because the program subsidizes unemployment, causing insufficient job-search, job-acceptance and levels of employment. A further inefficiency concerns the distortions from the increases in taxes required to pay for the program.

Aside from the fact that it's bullshit on its face ("loss of efficiency"? Are you serious?), it's also fact-free.

I suspect most states are like Illinois, where you are required to present proof that you have been looking for work in order to continue to receive benefits.

Karoli's piece is a little more vitriolic than necessary -- or maybe not. This guy sounds like a real cheap date, if you know what I mean.