"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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Outrage Factor, Pentagon Edition

I touched on this attempt at censorship recently, but I thought it deserved more attention, even though it isn't outrageous so much as ridiculous:

Somehow, things like this seem to originate on the right side of the aisle. Maybe it has to do with -- well, I don't know what it has to do with. I suppose it really has to do with our Puritan heritage -- you know, spy on the neighbors to see if they're doing something you disapprove of. And, of course, control what they read. From Army Times:

“Our troops should not see their honor sullied so that the moguls behind magazines like Playboy and Penthouse can profit,” said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., unveiling his House bill April 16.

His Military Honor and Decency Act would amend a provision of the 1997 Defense Authorization Act that banned sales of “sexually explicit material” on military bases.

The new language would “close existing loopholes” in regulations to bring the military “into compliance with the intent of the 1997 law,” Broun said.

“Allowing sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by escalating the number of violent, sexual crimes, feeding a base addiction, eroding the family as the primary building block of society, and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad,” Broun said.

Mmm -- how many moral waivers has the Army been issuing? Oh, excuse me -- that's not about real morality. Real morality is not allowing people to have access to Playboy and Penthouse. Seriously. After all, we don't want federal money supporting those publications:

Exchange officials noted that tax dollars are not used to procure magazines in the system’s largely self-funded operations.

But Broun’s spokesman John Kennedy contended that taxpayer dollars are involved — “used to pay military salaries, so taxpayer money is, in effect, being used to buy these materials,” he said.

How shaky is that? I have news for Rep. Broun -- when the soldiers put their pay in their pockets, it's not taxpayer money any more. It's theirs. They can spend it any way they want. (A number of the commenters to the article agree with me.)

I wonder what Rep. Broun's reaction would be if the PX was selling Drummer or Inches. Cardiac arrest, probably. Just wait until DADT is repealed.

(Footnote: The comments to the Army Times article are not particularly sympathetic to Rep. Broun, and bring up many of the same points I did, with the added one of separation of church and state. You have to hand it to the troops -- they're a lot more clear-eyed than our Congress.)

And I really think that people like Rep. Broun should spend some time worrying about the real problems the troops are having. Like suicide. From CBS:

Beyond the individual loss, it turns out little information exists about how widespread suicides are among these who have served in the military. There have been some studies, but no one has ever counted the numbers nationwide.

"Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total," Bowman said.

Why do the families think that is?

"Because they don't want the true numbers of casualties to really be known," Lucey said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

"If you're just looking at the overall number of veterans themselves who've committed suicide, we have not been able to get the numbers,” Murray said.

CBS News’ investigative unit wanted the numbers, so it submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense asking for the numbers of suicides among all service members for the past 12 years.

Four months later, they sent CBS News a document, showing that between 1995 and 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides. That’s 188 last year alone. But these numbers included only “active duty” soldiers.

CBS News went to the Department of Veterans Affairs, where Dr. Ira Katz is head of mental health.

"There is no epidemic in suicide in the VA, but suicide is a major problem," he said.

Why hasn't the VA done a national study seeking national data on how many veterans have committed suicide in this country?

"That research is ongoing,” he said.

It turns out that Katz was trying to cover his ass:

"There is no epidemic in suicide in VA," Katz told Keteyian in November.

But in this e-mail to his top media advisor, written two months ago, Katz appears to be saying something very different, stating: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our metical (sic) facilities."

Katz's email was written shortly after the VA provided CBS News data showing there were only 790 attempted suicides in all 2007 - a fraction of Katz's estimate. . . .

And it appears that Katz went out of his way to conceal these numbers.

First, he titled his e-mail: "Not for the CBS News Interview Request."

He opened it with "Shh!" - as in keep it quiet - before ending with
"Is this something we should (carefully) address ... before someone stumbles on it?"

This is the head of the Veteran's Administration's mental health division.

Or maybe their stateside housing deserves some attention. This video depicts the condition of the housing at Fort Bragg for a unit that just came back from 15 months in Afghanistan:

When you watch that video, do the words "a high quality of life for Service members and their families" spring to your lips? Mine either.

If there are $3.2 billion dollars' worth of repairs that are even more urgent than these -- $3.2 billion that has to be spent repairing houses that are literally toxic, or might explode or collapse -- then we should probably think seriously about firing everyone involved in military housing and starting from scratch.

And this is really scary -- the conversion of the Army to Christian soldiers:

One of the darkest developments of many dark developments in the Bush years has been the slow ascent of Christianism as a core value of the military. The promotion of Christianists throughout the armed services, the insistence by the president that no public institution be regarded as a place where religion should be silent, clear discrimination against Jews and atheists in military educational institutions: the possibility of a secular military dedicated to defending all Americans regardless of their faith or lack of it has been called into question under the current administration. The resilience of the ban on gays - while the military has granted a record number of waivers to criminals - can only be understood if one sees the US military as an increasingly religious institution at this point, and not a rational secular one. The latest story of an atheist soldier being threatened by superiors is believable in this context. Volokh has details from the complaint.

Here's Volokh's post, and please note the first comment. This is the really scary part:

I would argue that the presence of atheists in the military is vulnerable to that very same argument. Never mind the question of whether an atheist can feel any genuine loyalty to a Christian nation, given that he rejects the core principles on which our nation was built; never mind the unlikelihood that someone who denies an afterlife would sacrifice his own life for any reason, instead of cutting and running like John Kerry; never mind the fact that atheism correlates with all manner of other moral degeneracies. . . .

And it goes downhill from there.

Fortunately, most of the other commenters ripped that one to shreds (although one advances the idea that he/she is a troll).

It's not universal yet -- the Navy seems to be holding its own.

In light of the Air Force Academy scandal (not all that long ago, if you remember), the seven Army brass who appeared in a Christianist propaganda piece filmed in the Pentagon (without repercussions), Gen. "My God is bigger than his god" Boykin and the like, I'd say it's a real problem.

The Outrage Factor, SCOTUS Edition

We already know that the Supreme Court is working on gutting Roe vs. Wade, bit by bit. We've recently seen that it has no interest in protecting minority workers against discrimination in pay, in the Ledbetter decision.* Now, it seems, there is little sympathy for the right to to vote. It's long been fairly obvious that the Indiana voter ID law was a solution without a problem. Obvious to everyone but the justices, I guess:

n what the court described as the “lead opinion,” which was written by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court acknowledged that the record of the case contained “no evidence” of the type of voter fraud the law was ostensibly devised to detect and deter, the effort by a voter to cast a ballot in another person’s name.

But Justice Stevens said that neither was there “any concrete evidence of the burden imposed on voters who now lack photo identification.” The “risk of voter fraud” was “real,” he said, and there was “no question about the legitimacy or importance of the state’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters.”

Let me see if I've got this right: there's no evidence of voter fraud as covered by the statute, but because the risk is "real" (and I have my doubts about that), even though it demonstrably puts an undue burden on poor voters, it should stand.

I thought we were supposed to pass laws to correct things that are really happening. I guess this is post-9/11 thinking (the whole world changed, you know): if somebody with a vivid imagination thinks that something might happen somewhere, someday, we need a law to prevent it.

The court seems to be swinging toward the Scalia style of judicial reasoning -- that is, assertions make the best evidence:

The three others who made up the majority, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr., said in an opinion by Justice Scalia that the law was so obviously justified as “a generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation” that there was no basis for scrutinizing the record to assess the impact on any individual voters. “This is an area where the dos and don’ts need to be known in advance of the election,” Justice Scalia said.

I've little respect for Scalia's reasoning ability. He can chop logic with the best of them, to be sure, but he has a history of asking the wrong questions. When you start with a warped assumption and follow a tight logical course of reasoning, then you wind up with garbage. He shares the far-right tendency to ignore reality, to say the least.

In that respect, read dday's post on this at Hullabaloo.

Justice Scalia's broader ruling shows exactly what Republicans want out of this:
Scalia, favoring a broader ruling in defense of voter ID laws, said, "The universally applicable requirements of Indiana's voter-identification law are eminently reasonable. The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not 'even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.'"

But during the arguments, Scalia conceded that such laws would "inconvenience... a small number of people," and the Solicitor General for the state of Indiana actually said that "an infinitesimal portion of the electorate could even be, conceivably be, burdened by" the ID law.

You know, that's how the 14th Amendment WORKS, with equal protection for all, even that "infinitesimal portion of the electorate". And, as Amanda Terkel notes, that's a major soft-pedal of the impact:
Voter ID laws, however, affect more than an "infinitesimal" number of Americans and are more than a "minor inconvenience." According to the federal government, there are as many as 21 million voting-age Americans without driver's licenses. In Indiana, 13 percent of registered voters lack the documents needed to obtain a license, and therefore, cast a ballot. These restrictions disproportionately hit low-income, minority, handicapped, and elderly voters the hardest, leading to lower levels of voter participation.

And it's interesting to note that laws similar to Indiana's are either on the books or being considered in states with Republican majorities in their legislatures. Tell you anything?

Digby provides some background on this issue.

The Supreme Court has just legitimized the notion that "voter fraud" is a problem when, in fact, every study shows that it simply does not exist in any systematic way and that the voter disenfranchisement that results from such laws is a far more serious problem.

You will recall that "voter fraud" was at the base of the U.S. Attorney firings, the rationale for the illegitimate purge of voter roles in Florida in 2000, and at work in Ohio in 2004. It's a Republican strategy, and now the Republican Court has upheld it.

Jack Balkin has what seems to me to be a good take on the degree of denial in the Court's decision.

* For more on Ledbetter, see Digby. Digby also references this series by Echidne.

Update: Senate Republicans torpedoed the bill meant to override the Court's decision in Ledbetter.

So now the Supreme Court has become an arm of the Republican Party.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Friday Gay Blogging, Last Edition for This Weekend

I promise. It's about marriage. Two articles I couldn't pass up, and I missed getting them in yesterday's post.

Andrew Sullivan noted this article from the NYT Magazine this weekend, which I had also read via Jeremy Hooper at Good As You.

As the night went on, the gays and the straights — fueled, I suspect, by a shared appreciation for liquor — began to mingle, and before long the party coalesced into a boisterous celebration. Joshua looked delighted. And in a rare moment of repose, he sidled up to his taller, auburn-haired mate.

“Honey,” Joshua said, “we may be married, but we still know how to have a good time, don’t we?”

Benjamin, sharply outfitted in green corduroys and an argyle sweater over a striped dress shirt, smiled. “Josh is extremely social, and he keeps us busy all the time,” he told me. “I think we may be proof that opposites do attract.”

Sullivan notes:

It's important to remember when you read of such self-evidently constructive relationships that they are banned in 40 states, and that the president of the United States believes that they are destructive of family life. In fact, one political party is now dedicated to demonizing these people and denying them basic legal protections and validity. Targeting these couples as examples of moral degeneracy is given legitimacy by the Pope himself. And preventing them from having civil equality is now a core plank of the Republican party. Ask yourself: are these couples in any way hurting anyone? How can they ever be understood as threat to anyone else's relationship or marriage or family? It makes no sense at all.

Sullivan also notes this article, from NYT's Weddings section. This is a great quote:

Mr. Fraley said they wanted to formalize their union before considering having children. “We have very traditional New York City family values,” Mr. Fraley said.

Eat that one, Dobson.

I don't think I really have to point out the broader politics of this one: two sympathetic articles on same-sex marriage from NYT, which until recently could barely bring itself to mention "homosexuals" and only recently started using "gay" in preference. And whatever else I may think about the Grey Lady, as NYT goes, so goes the nation.

Footnote: Sullivan calls the accompanying photos in the Magazine article "silly" but I think he missed it. They're parodies, Andrew, designed to get right up Focus on the Family's nose. Somebody was having some fun with this one.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Screen Kisses/Day of Silence

I meant to comment on this yesterday, but with all the news. . . . Well, you know how it goes.

Now, the AFA headline leads one to expect some steamy man love on the boob tube. Joe.My.God has a nice image of their press release, among other things. The headline reads "Procter & Gamble promotes explicit open-mouth homosexual kissing" in big bold type. Mmm, I said. Hot man-sex on the soaps. Well, no.

I did take a look at the clip, and had a few thoughts.

OK -- open mouth? I had pretty much the same reaction as Jeremy Hooper at Good As You. Didn't look much like it to me. I thought it was kind of sweet at first, but then I started thinking about it. These guys are in love, right? They're worried about each other. We're supposed to believe there's deep personal commitment here.

I didn't see it. I don't believe I'm sitting here parsing an on-screen kiss, but here it goes: the kiss has that sense of urgency that one associates with male sexual expression. It's a sexual kiss, not a caring kiss. It's a straight guy's interpretation of a gay men's kiss. It would have been more effective, I think -- and given the AFA real heartburn -- if the two had held each other, sharing their strength and their reassurance. That's what I think the scene was meant to be about.

(By the way, Wikipedia has long and very informative entry on the Luke/Noah story line. For those who don't watch the soaps (oh, c'mon -- I can't be the only one!), it's worth a look.)

The politics of this is encouraging. It's the presentation of a gay couple as perfectly normal, sans stereotypes, much as in Shelter. In spite of protests by the AFA -- and this is exactly the kind of thing that's really going to get them in twisted knickers condition, Luke and Noah are there to stay, which means that millions of people are going to see a gay couple on television regularly, just being themselves (as far as in possible in the soaps). That is a major stroke in our favor, because the best way to counter the anti-gay forces in this country is through information. That's why I believe that being out is so important -- the more people who know gay people, the more people who realize that in all important respects, we're pretty much like they are, the less ready they are to believe the lies of the right.

Which leads to the second part of this post. This is the angry part.

I was sitting here last night sort of surfing, sort of thinking, and all of a sudden -- and I don't even remember what I was reading -- one of the gay blogs, about the Day of Silence -- and suddenly the horror of Lawrence King's death hit me. I mean that word, too -- horror, and a huge surge of anger. A fifteen-year-old boy shot to death by a classmate for being gay. Fifteen. And Simmie Williams, seventeen. And how many others that we don't hear about?

Then I read this post by Joe Brummer.

Gandhi held the belief that each side of a conflict holds a piece of the truth and a piece of the untruth. He believed that nonviolent conflict resolution could be found if each group sat down and pulled together the truths each held and dispelled the untruths. I have personally seen more gays and lesbians willing to do this than I have ever seen from anti-gay groups. I have seen more gay activists willing to compromise for peaceful resolution on the issue than I have ever seen from groups like Americans for Truth or Faith2Action. I see these groups fight, complain and make demands to silence and dehumanize gays but rarely do we see any of them offer solutions to the problems gays and lesbians face and as it has been stated a thousand times in history, if you are not part of the solution, than you must be part of the problem.

That's the core. I admire activists like Jim Burroway, Jeremy Hooper, and Joe Brummer for their willingness to be reasonable in the face of the relentless hostility and hate-mongering (and I use that phrase fully aware that it doesn't have nearly the impact it should, but there's no other designation that really fits) of the right. The problem is, you can't open a dialogue with people who refuse to admit that anyone else's point of view has any legitimacy. Focus on the Family, American Family Association, all the other "family" organizations that are fronts for the right-wing anti-gay hate campaigners condemn any attempt to portray gays as people. It's the one thing they can't counter except by trying to suppress it, because they have no counter-argument. The lies stop working.

One noteworthy thing: Brummer points out the single condemnation from anyone in this group of Lawrence King's shooting: It's from Stacy Harp, who otherwise is about as unhinged as they come, and it was undercut by her following remarks, but even with that context -- well, here's what Jim Burroway had to say:

One year later, Lawrence King was killed in cold blood on February 12 in front of his teachers and classmates. Since then, conservative Christians leaders have celebrated seventy-three consecutive Days of Silence.

I’ve searched for Lawrence King’s name on Focus On the Family’s web site and CitizenLink. Guess what? There’s nothing but silence. I’ve searched the Family Research Council’s web site. More silence. Same with American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, the Christian Post, Christianity Today, the Christian Newswire and the Baptist Press. Nobody has raised their voice. Instead, we’ve had days and days of silence all around.

Exodus International, one of the principal sponsors of the so-called “Day of Truth,” has joined this perverse Days of Silence observation as well. I haven’t been able to find any statements of concern or condemnation from Exodus president Alan Chambers, vice-president Randy Thomas, or youth assistant Mike Ensley.

Believe me, I’ve been looking for it because I’d love nothing better than to be able to write a post and say, See? They really are concerned. But none of them could be bothered to put down their instruments of cultural warfare to say, “This was a terrible incident and should never happen again.”

To give credit where credit is due, Misty Irons at More Musings On has consistently been -- not an advocate, but at least a rational voice. No, I take it back. In all important respects, she has been an advocate, although we've had our differences. (It's instructive that one of these differences was her use of the term "homosexual" to denote gays and lesbians. When I pointed out that we find that offensive, she said that her audience -- largely conservative Christians who are at least open-minded enough to listen -- would be offended by the use of the word "gay." That says something in itself, I think.)

At any rate, Misty directed us to this post by Michael Spencer at Internet Monk:

One of the inevitable results of the information age is that anyone who wants to know the worst behavior of any group can gather that information easily. If one chooses not to be judicious and cautious with such information, it is possible to make every member of a group guilty by association . . . For example, saying that some gays somewhere have hundreds of sexual partners has little to do with the behavior of gays that I might know. As a statement of statistical truth, it cannot be applied in a determinative way to any individual. The average preacher is well aware of the extremes of sexual sin that probably occur among heterosexuals, but few would find it as easy to speak about internet porn addiction as promiscuity in the gay community.

What this says to the gay community is simple: evangelicals aren’t interested in the truth as much as they are interested in an emotional response. There is an agenda to how we process such facts and stories into communication.

It's interesting reading through the comments to this post, but one thing struck me, both in the post and the comments: the automatic assumption that what one commenter called "the traditional biblical interpretation of homosexuality" is correct. In spite of Spencer's call to re-evaluate tactics, the basic lack of self-questioning on the fundamental issue is glaring. He's trying, but there are some blind spots here.

Unfortunately, I have to take this as a minority viewpoint among evangelicals, although there does seem to be hope for the future. But when you look at the reaction to Day of Silence, particularly from bullies such as Ken Hutcherson (and Dave Neiwert has some things to note about his activities, here, here and here), what we have is a political agenda.

I ran across this very interesting collection from 1998 at People for the American Way (and unfortunately, I can't link to the website right now for some reason. I'll have to get the link later. Update: I did get a link to the printer friendly version). It's a series of articles that lays out the religious right's use of gays as the centerpiece of a bid to impose their beliefs on the country at large. It's the clearest exposition I've seen illustrating the single most important fact about the religious right: it's a movement to take political power. It is not about belief, it's about power. It's interesting to see how timely it still is. I remember reading a New York Times article some while ago that quoted one of the rabble-rousers on the right as crowing about same-sex marriage -- it was the best fundraising tool they'd found in years.

Anyway, since this is turning into a ramble (that's the problem with surfing -- one thing leads to another, and your topic shifts to suit), I'm just going to say -- restate, actually -- a few things that have been ongoing themes here.

I admire those who try to establish dialogue with the anti-gay right, but I think the endeavor is doomed. The people who need to be listening refuse. They don't believe in compromise. It's that simple.

Yes, I'm angry. I'm a gay man -- it goes with the territory. I'm also very happy. There is a lot of joy in my life. (Yes, the two can go hand in hand -- the anger, after all, is justified, as is the joy. I respond to things as they are, pretty much.)

They declared war on us. Fine -- bring 'em on. (I think they're losing. They're even losing their own next generation.)

Keep fighting.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Oh. My. God.

It goes beyond poor judgment. Read this report by Dave Neiwert at Orcinus. This is a young man running for office as a Republican. Now, you might think, from his own comment, that he's just clueless:

Zirkle confirmed to The News-Dispatch on Monday he spoke Sunday in Chicago at a meeting of the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party, whose symbol is a swastika.

When asked if he was a Nazi or sympathized with Nazis or white supremacists, Zirkle replied he didn't know enough about the group to either favor it or oppose it.

"This is just a great opportunity for me to witness," he said, referring to his message and his Christian belief.

This was an event, by the way, in honor of the birthday of Adolf Hitler. He was a populist of some sort, right? Believed in traditional morality and all that?

But if you dig a little deeper:

An account of the gathering on www.Overthrow.com says "Zirkle spoke on his history as a state's attorney in Indiana, prosecuting Jewish and Zionist criminal gangs involved in trafficking prostitutes and pornography from Russia and the Zionist entity.''

... Zirkle said he feels he was misunderstood. His real mission, he said, is to rid the country of pornography, and that's what he was saying at the ANSWP gathering. So how did his comment about Jews fit in?

"Most of the male porn stars were Jewish at the beginning," Zirkle explained.

I'm not going to brand the entire Republican party with this, but I do want to say that perhaps they'd better keep an eye on their fringes. This guy's a little bit more than a loose cannon.

Hilzoy also had some comments on this story.

Friday Gay Blogging, Saturday Edition

(Yes, you'll get your picture, but not until later -- I'm not at the computer with my picture files.)

There -- all better now?

I wanted to concentrate on some good news today, because, let's face it, the news is generally about the downside of the religious right and its minions.

Of course, yesterday marked the Day of Silence, and aside from the commentaries published yesterday about that and the various counter-demonstrations fomented by the anti-gay forces, here's more, under the category "Ken Hutcherson and Other Crazy People," first Towleroad, and also from Box Turtle Bulletin.

Now, onward and upward:

From Gaypolitics.com, an interesting note on one man's reaction to Sally Kern:

Bob Lemon — lawyer, former political candidate and the father of a gay son — recently placed an ad in the Daily Oklahoman condemning the comments made by state Rep. Sally Kern.
I am disappointed when I learn of anti-gay speech by public officials. There is no doubt that such speech leads to hate crimes and creates an environment of fear in the LGBT community. These officials do not set good examples.

When my wife Mary Lou and I learned in 1993 that we were parents of a gay child, we decided to get acquainted with as many gays as possible, attend their events and join gay organizations, trying to learn all we could about homosexuality and what anti-gay people mant when they talked about the “gay agenda.” We never got the same answer twice from anti-gays, nor could they ever give us any logical reason for their animosity against gays.

I am also disappointed that anti-gays use the Christian faith to support their arguments. What did Jesus say against gays? Nothing. The Christian faith, as I understand it, teaches that we should love, honor and respect one another. It also teaches kindness and tolerance, and teaches against prejudice, hatred bigotry and violence.

Mr. Lemon should run against Kern.

John Corvino, the latest victim of the pope's insistence on mindless obedience (and a real cutie -- he can speak at my school anytime. I'll even go back to school.) has a thought-provoking piece at the Independent Gay Forum. At least, it should provoke some thought in the people who cancelled his appearance at Aquinas College; for the rest of us, it's a no-brainer:

In short, I welcomed the inclusion of a Catholic response because it was entirely consistent with my aims as an educator. It would manifest Aquinas’s identity not just as a CATHOLIC College, but as a Catholic COLLEGE—a place where serious discussion of controversial issues could take place. It was a win-win-win proposal: good for me, good for the administration, and (most important) good for the Aquinas students, who presumably attend college in part to learn about diverse perspectives and how to evaluate them. Shutting down the event robbed us all of a valuable teaching moment.

After the cancellation, President Balog was quoted in the Grand Rapids Press as stating, "We want to explore the issue from an academic perspective, not from the perspective of an antagonistic attack to core Catholic values.”

This is a gross mischaracterization of my approach, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of my scholarly research or my public advocacy would recognize. It pains me to see such distortion coming from a Catholic college president.

It pains me as an academic, but it also pains me as a former Catholic. I sometimes joke that I’m not a fallen Catholic, because I didn’t fall—I leapt. But the truth is that I still have deep affection and respect for the Catholic faith. Affection, because of relationships with countless priests, nuns, and lay theologians who nurtured me in lasting ways. Respect, because of the Church’s intellectual and moral tradition, which takes “big questions” seriously and strives to integrate faith and reason.

And that's the core issue: the idea that a college is a place of indoctrination, that no deviation from dogma is allowed, and that free examination of issues is discouraged. We seem to find that happening at so-called "Christian" schools, and whatever else I may think about Christianity (and my feelings are mixed: I probably sound fairly negative because most of what I'm responding to is the negative characteristics of a subset -- and I suspect is a small subset -- of "Christians."), it does have a tradition of independent thinking.

(One thing Corvino does not do is differentiate between the Church and the hierarchy, which to my mind are two very different things: the Church is an institution worthy of respect, while the hierarchy -- well, not so much.)

We have different expectations now than we did a generation ago. This note from Timothy Kincaid echoes a story I've seen a couple of places:

But a new study from the Rockway Institute Anthony R. D’Augelli, H. Jonathon Rendina and Katerina O. Sinclair of Pennsylvania State University and Arnold Grossman of New York University suggest that not only do gay youth want to be part of a couple, they expect to be.
In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, social scientists have found that many lesbian and gay youth have expectations of spending their adult life in a long-term relationship raising children. More than 90 percent of females and more than 80 percent of males expect to be partnered in a monogamous relationship after age 30. Two thirds of females and more than half of males expressed likelihood that they would raise children in the future.

As gay youth become more aware that they have the opportunity and the right to live their lives openly and with someone they love, the more they grow up expecting to do just that.

Bless 'em. Even I, at an age that can no longer be designated as "youth," think seriously about getting married. I just need to find a suitable husband.

Seriously, folks: think about this for a minute. In spite of all the lies spread by the Dobson Gang, it turns out that gay kids want to grow up and get married and raise families, just like their straight counterparts. For a commentary on that, here's Jim Burroway on the real threat of same-sex marriage.

I guess that's a new item on the Gay Agenda, between shopping and taking over the world.

Speaking of marriage (and you knew I was going to), it seems that Norwegians are way ahead of us. Via Box Turtle Bulletin:

According to Aftenposten, the citizens of Norway support the government’s plan to bring about marriage equality.
Left-wing voters of the Socialist Left (SV) and Red parties were particularly supportive, with over 90 percent saying they favored the new Act, which gives equal rights to gay and heterosexual married couples.

The Act gets solid majority backing from Labour and Liberal Party voters as well, just over 50 percent support from Conservative Party voters, and 50 percent of populist Progress Party voters say no.

Christian Democrat Party voters stand out with about 90 percent opposition to the new law proposal.

Welcome to the Third World, America.

About that T-shirt: Some local news that's gotten a fair amount of play on the Web. From the Chicago Sun-Times, a bit of added detail:

Neuqua sophomore Alex Nuxoll had twice filed for an injunction that would suspend the school's policy preventing him from wearing the T-shirt.

And twice courts had denied that request.

But on Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts' rulings against Nuxoll, saying the district court must order Neuqua to suspend its ban on the shirt while the civil rights lawsuit filed by Nuxoll and Neuqua grad Heidi Zamecnik proceeds.

In issuing this reversal, though, the court basically upheld the validity of the Naperville school's rule forbidding derogatory comments, oral or written, that refer to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

"High school students are not adults, schools are not public meeting halls, children are in school to be taught by adults rather than to practice attacking each other with wounding words, and school authorities have a protective relationship and responsibility to all the students," says the court's opinion, written by Judge Richard Posner.

Most of what I've seen online has just noted the decision, with appropriate expressions of outrage, and that the opinion was written by Posner, who is regarded as a "conservative" jurist. I remember Posner as a well-grounded, realistic judge who is rather more level-headed than the more recent "conservatives" with which the courts have been packed. Thanks to Towleroad, a little light has been thrown on this particular "outrage." (Sorry, boys and girls, but Posner's reasoning makes perfect sense to me. The T-shirt is not inciteful, the case is in progress, and Posner's opinion does consider the ban in general to be legitimate. Civics 101: this is what courts do -- they consider specific cases against the airy generalities of the law.)

The Pope and Reality

Andrew Sullivan, missing the point again:

Benedict will be pissed: masturbation keeps men healthier - and certainly at lower risk for prostate cancer. But it's been a long time since the Catholic church's claims about "natural law" were actually reflected in what we empirically know about nature. About 700 years, actually.

Excuse me, Benedict's still preaching against the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. He will ignore the benefits of masturbation as readily as he ignores everything else that doesn't agree with his 700-year-old dogma.

And this is news exactly how?


Andrew Sullivan is endearing, but equally frustrating. Not what I would call a clear-eyed observer. He thinks McCain shows some integrity:

I know that it's possible to infer cynicism on the part of McCain and the GOP with respect to the North Carolina race-baiting ad. But I don't share that cynicism and believe McCain is sincere in not liking or appreciating this kind of politics. With a couple of exceptions (the South Carolina moment that McCain himself has regretted), McCain just isn't a Rove-style sleazebag.

Excuse me, Andrew, we're talking about the man who rolled over for Bush in '04 after being smeared in 2000. (And you want to bet the Republican nomination this year was the pay off?) There is a certain body of opinion that says that if McCain had wanted to stop that ad in North Carolina, he could have, but as it stands, the mantra gets out and McCain smells sweet. (Update: Here's Dave Neiwert on the way that works.)

Ah -- the awakening. Quoting McCain:

I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. So apparently has Danny Ortega and several others. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare....If senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly.

'Nuff said?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Gay Blogging

The evidence mounts: Civil unions are not the answer. See this report by Pam Spaulding. From AP:

The 11-member panel, chaired by the former legislator Thomas Little, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee when it wrote the 2000 law, said it decided not to make a final recommendation, because to do so "would undercut the purpose and usefulness of its work and this report."

"It is the role of Vermont's policy-makers and elected officials to read and reflect on this report and in their best judgment determine what steps to take in their role as public servants of the people of Vermont," it said.

But in its findings the commission said "such a change in the law would give access (to same-sex couples) to less tangible incidents of marriage, including its terminology (e.g. marriage, wedding, married, celebration, divorce), and its social cultural and historical significance."

It added that full same-sex marriage "would likely enhance the portability of the underlying legal consequences of the status. ... The tangible same-sex marriage benefits ... raise serious questions about the operation of the civil union law and warrant additional research and serious attention."

And it said, "There is credible social science research supporting the conclusion that raising children in a gay or lesbian coupled family, per se, has no negative impacts on the well-being of children," but added that the topic needs further study.

What seems to happen when people actually investigate the question is that the rabids' position gets blown out of the water -- they have no arguments left.

That, however, doesn't seem to stop them:

Two leaders of the opposition to civil unions in 2000, Rev. Craig Bensen of Cambridge and president of the group Take It To The People, and Stephen Cable of Rutland and the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council, said they were not surprised by the commission's report.

Bensen questioned whether producing a report that contained no definitive recommendation pro or con for gay marriage was a good use of time and resources. "I wonder what the purpose of this report was." Then he added that some of the legwork would be done when a bill is introduced in the Legislature, as is expected to happen next year. "They did the research for this."

Bensen said the proper course is the same as the one he called for in 2000: a statewide referendum on the question.

Cable said his group would soon issue its own report on same-sex marriage. "It will contain some information the commission didn't have in theirs," he said.

Of course, if the report had made a recommendation for the legalization of same-sex marriage, Bensen would have been screaming his head off about using taxpayers' money to finance the "hommaseksual agenda."

And I'd love to see the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council's report, the one that includes what the official report didn't tell us. That should be choice. (Prediction: watch for "research" from Paul Cameron.)

Golden Rule Day:

A note from Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin on a rebellion, of sorts, in the ranks of anti-gay "Christians":

“Shouldn’t Christians be the first to oppose violence and cruelty?”, they ask.

Well that message is finally finding a home. A joint effort by Warren Throckmorton, psychology professor at Grove City College, and Michael Frey, a director with Campus Crusade, seeks to support the message of non-violence.

Throckmorton and Frey are encouraging conservative Christian students to join the silent protest, but to also let their classmates know that it is because of their Scriptural belief in the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

One thing Kincaid notes that I think deserves more weight than he gives it:

Further, I hope that we are all careful that efforts are not made to dis-identify those individuals who are currently being targeted for bullying and violence, thus diminishing the message that these specific people - gay kids - are worthy of decency and love.

Perhaps it's just that I am so distrustful of the good will of any espousing the kind of vocal and usually hateful "Christianity" we so often hear from the Dobson Gang and its hangers-on that I'm inclined to see just exactly what Kincaid is warning about here. Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced, but I think
I need to see how something like "Golden Rule Day" actually plays out.

But assuming that everyone is on the up-and-up, I welcome this, and I do think there's reason for hope -- there seems to be a movement within evangelical circles to leave behind the "hate the fags" message of the Dobson wing of the movement in favor of something that at least pays lip service to Jesus.

Jim Burroway also had some comments on the "Golden Rule Day," more in line with my thinking:

Believe me, I’ve been looking for it because I’d love nothing better than to be able to write a post and say, See? They really are concerned. But none of them could be bothered to put down their instruments of cultural warfare to say, “This was a terrible incident and should never happen again.”

But we do we hear from those who profess to follow the Golden Rule that we are part of an evil agenda, that there is a war between us and them, and that protecting LGBT youth is “worse than the holocaust.” We even hear preachers make light of anti-LGBT violence from their pulpits and threaten teachers who provide a safe place for gay kids to meet.

Oh yes, these people we hear loud and clear. No silence from them at all. And you can bet that each one of them thinks they’re following the Golden Rule.

So forgive me if I see this whole Golden Rule Day in a cynical light. A whole trainload of well-designed cards with yet another scripture quote won’t paper over the problem of anti-LGBT harassment and violence. And using Christianity’s highest ideal as a salve for Golden Rulers’ consciences won’t cut it either. Based on my past experiences with others passing out similar messages, if someone handed me a card like this today I would just throw it in the trash and roll my eyes. I’ve seen too many wonderful statements like this that have turned out to be empty platitudes, and I now find myself suffering from yet another case of déjà vu.

There's a good overview of the Christianist anti-gay hate groups at Break the Terror. Longish post, but worth reading.

The bottom line is that the "Christians" condone violence against gays. Period.

In a related post, Daniel Gonzales has produced a video about the Alliance Defense Fund's "Day of Truth."

It seems barely credible that organizations involved with the ex-gay movement can come out with this sort of propaganda without being laughed off the stage, but Americans seems to have an overwhelming fondness for ignorance. (I doubt that it's a particularly American thing -- it's much more likely just the human tendency not to want to confront difficult question, particularly if the answers are not
likely to fit received wisdom.)

There may be more gay blogging tomorrow -- seems there's a lot of news this week, and this post has reached formiddable proportions already. In closing, I just want to add one thing: Larry King did a PSA that deserves to be aired a lot:

That strikes me as some real truth.

Sex Miseducation

From Crooks and Liars, a post by Steve Benen on funding for abstinence only sex education. Quoting the Reuters story:

Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, said that it seems "rather elitist" that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate. "I don't think it's something we should abandon," he said of abstinence-only funding.

John Cole's reaction:

Damned elitists with their facts and figures and numbers and statistics and fancy degrees. What do they know about public health that a regular Joe from Tennessee doesn’t?

There are really a couple of possible reactions to Duncan's nonsense. First, of course, is that Duncan is a nice tame Republican echoing the Bush line, which in turn spuports a faith-based approach to reality. (How else to explain this administration?) The corollary is that it will play well at home.

And there's the good ol' politician's double-talk. The experts aren't talking about what's appropriate, which is a purely subjective measure. They're talking about what works, which apparently is something that Duncan doesn't want to deal with. Of course, the real question here is is it appropriate to give kids accurate information? I think the answer to that is obvious.

To everyone except Rep. Duncan.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Big Story, No News

Looks like the MSM is dealing with a major story the way they deal with most major stories -- not dealing with it at all. From Glenn Greenwald:

I was hoping to write about the fallout from the NYT's Saturday story regarding the media's use of Pentagon-controlled "independent" military analysts, but there hasn't really been any fallout at all. Despite being accused by the NYT in a very lengthy, well-documented expose of misleadingly feeding government propaganda to their viewers and readers, virtually all media outlets continue their steadfast refusal to address or even acknowledge the story. How can "news" organizations refuse to address -- just completely ignore -- accusations which fundamentally indict their behavior as "journalists"?

If you repeat is often enough, it's true, and if you ignore it, it never happened.

Here's the NYT story:

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

It's a long article, and way overdue. Read it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Legacy

I've pretty much avoided the torture discourse, simply because to me it's a no-brainer: It's wrong on every level. Period. Maybe I should be writing about it more, just to keep it in front of you, but it disgusts me as much as the fact-free anti-gay right (and, come to think of it, it's a lot of the same people), and you know what I think. However, Digby and her colleagues keep bringing it up, bless their hearts, and you can do a lot worse than note this post which is largely a reprise of a post from 2005:

Today, [Jason Vest] has written a piece on torture for the National Journal that is fascinating because he's spoken to old guard CIA who have had some experience with this stuff in the past. They all agree that the moral dimension is huge, but there are good practical reasons for not doing it as well. These range from the difficulty in getting allies to cooperate because of their distaste for such methods to the fact that the information is unreliable.

But the thing I found most interesting is the observation that it does something quite horrible to the perpetrators as well as the victims:
"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself. . . ."

To some extent civilization is nothing more than leashing the beast within. When you go to the dark side, no matter what the motives, you run a terrible risk of destroying yourself in the process. I worry about the men and women who are engaging in this torture regime. This is dangerous to their psyches. But this is true on a larger sociological scale as well. For many, many moons, torture has been a simple taboo --- you didn't question its immorality any more than you would question the immorality of pedophilia. You know that it's wrong on a visceral, gut level. Now we are debating it as if there really is a question as to whether it's immoral --- and, more shockingly, whether it's a positive good. Our country is now openly discussing the efficacy of torture as a method for extracting information.

The submerged part of the Bush Legacy: not only do we have former soldiers wandering around with mental conditions that mostly aren't even acknowledged, much less treated, but we now have a whole generation of torturers who are in the same boat, in a country that has come to see something that civilized societies regard as completely immoral as business as usual.

Thanks, George. Heckuva job.

Guarding Other People's Morals

You can count on someone being more than ready to safeguard them. Via Digby:

"Allowing sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by escalating the number of violent, sexual crimes, feeding a base addiction, eroding the family as the primary building block of society, and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad," Broun said.

Broun said he wants to bring the Defense Department into compliance with the intent of the 1997 law "so that taxpayers will not be footing the costs of distributing pornography."

That's Rep. Paul Broun, a Republican from Georgia. (Gee, I bet you were surprised by that, weren't you?)

Somehow, there's a particular resonance with this story, reported by Timothy Kincaid:

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) reports on the morals waivers granted to potential soldiers. The Military believes the following is acceptable within the history of their servicemember:

* manslaughter

* kidnapping or abduction

* rape, sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, incest or other sex crimes

* indecent acts or liberties with a child

* terrorist threats including bomb threats

Somehow, I don't think Playboy and Penthouse are in the running here when it comes to ascribing causes to rape and other crimes of violence by military personnel.

Of course, having gays serving openly (not just serving, mind you, but serving openly) would be worse. Just ask Peter Pace. (What is it about the religious fanatics in this country, that they can't bear honesty?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Burn Out

I am -- really burnt, I think. Look for light blogging for the next few days.

It's spring. It's really spring. That's my only excuse.

Stray Thought

Did you ever stop to think how much time and effort we spend trying to modify people to suit the limitations of our technology?

More on Fundamentalism

From Andrew Sullivan, an insightful comment from a reader:

The main feature of fundamentalism, I'd suggest, is exclusion - both in the realm of doctrinal logic and in human relations. The main feature of Jesus’ message is inclusion, both in doctrine and in human relations. Love, in other words. I don’t think reduction of a message to a few essential precepts is, in itself, fundamentalism. Obviously Jesus himself reduced the entire message of the Judaic tradition to a few precepts, such as “God is love”. The question is whether these precepts are treated as exclusive and hostile to the rest of the tradition, and intolerant of other traditions,, or inclusive and openly disposed towards the rest of the tradition, and tolerantly disposed towards other traditions.

It's an exaggeration of the human (anthropoid, actually, or even simian) tendency to categorize the world as "us" and "other." It's something that's common to the Abrahamic faiths -- note the historical insularity of the Jews -- and among fundamentalists it becomes a syndrome.

That is, I'm sure, one reason they find it so easy to demonize their "enemies" -- gays, immigrants, feminists, anyone who challenges "God's plan": the other is, by definition, not quite human. (Another reason to call BS on the "love the sinner" cant.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mindset: Quasi-Gay Blogging

Warning: Long post.

From a post by Andrew Sullivan,which is actually about something else.

I was outraged last week when Bill Kristol publicly called Obama a liar about his own Christian faith. The reason I was outraged is because accusing someone else's sincere profession of faith a fraud is about as nasty a tactic as one can imagine, about as brutal an attack on someone's integrity as can be devised. It will be part of the neocon right's attack on Obama this summer and fall. Obama's Christianity - modern, moderate, inclusive, non-fundamentalist, African-American - is terribly threatening to the Republican strategy of defining Christianity as exclusively fundamentalist and heartland, and rallying voters to the polls on those grounds. If the Democrat is obviously a faithful and observant Christian, and not a Christianist, this strategy might come undone, their polarization made less potent, and their cooptation of religion as a political tool less effective. So accusing Obama of being a Marxist, and a liar, and a spiritual fraud, is critical to the success of the strategy. I think this is gutter politics, disrespectful, uncivil and, in Kristol's case, a function of total cynicism and bad faith.

Now, Bill Kristol is one of the less reputable commentators around, no matter the regard he is held in by some -- such as the NYT -- but this does illustrate some of the thinking inherent to the right. This has a lot to do with fundamentalism, which seems to be making itself the subject of the day. It's Sullivan's fault.

The next piece of this comes from Melissa McEwan:

"I want to punch Clinton the person, not Clinton the woman."

These are not separable identities.

I see this notion everywhere—that some violent urge toward Hillary Clinton isn't aimed at "Clinton the woman," but at some other magical version of her where her sex and gender have been erased, presumably along with the entire cultural context of womanhood. The semantic contortions invoked to extricate "Hillary Clinton the person" from "Hillary Clinton the woman" are an attempt to do an end-run around that context, to create a space outside of reality, where Hillary Clinton exists in some sexless, genderless limbo and people can talk about wanting to injure that non-woman without all the icky negative images injuring actual women conjures for most decent people.

The worst part about this argument is that it denies Hillary Clinton her womanhood to justify violence against her.

When women / POC / LGBTQs / other marginalized people (and any and all intersectionalities thereof) are disappeared via denial of the intrinsic characteristics that define their marginalization, particularly in order to rationalize mistreatment, that's a social violence, a theft of identity and thusly a subversion of the framework necessarily used by subjugated people to connect to the larger culture because of how the larger culture defines them. Hillary Clinton is now told that being a woman, the source of the lifelong bias she has faced, no longer matters—not so that she can be made equal, but so that she can be punched in the face.

As you can see, McEwan connects the dots, although her main thrust is feminist. Her argument, to my mind, redounds directly to the "love the sinner, hate the sin" bullshit so often spouted by anti-gay crusaders. The idea that intrinsic characteristics are somehow separable from the person (if you happen to disapprove of them, say) is one that puzzles me a little, although I find the beginnings of an explanation in one of Andrew Sullivan's posts on fundamentalism. From a reader:

To properly understand religious fundamentalism it is necessary to realize that "fundamentalism" has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with mindset. A quote on your site by George Orwell states "to see what is in front of nose needs a constant struggle", this is indeed very true, and the fundamentalist mindset is in the relinquishing of that struggle. One no longer needs to learn the basic realities of life and build from those as all of those assumptions have already been assigned to you. . . .

Thus if the question is, what leads to the rise of fundamentalism, it is necessary to look at the type of person who wants to avoid the responsibility of understanding what is in front of ones nose.

In the case of "love the sin," it's simply a matter of definitions. Same-sex orientation is, by definition, a choice and a behavior, because it varies from "God's plan" for humanity -- at least, according to those who disapprove of it. Homosexual behavior is a sin because God said so; there is no such thing as a person whose fundamental make-up is, in part, founded on same-sex attraction.

One key factor brought up by Sullivan's reader: "one no longer needs to learn the basic realities of life and build from those." We are not dealing with a reality-based mindset here. It is a worldview based on received wisdom, backed by unimpeachable authority. After all, God said it's so, thus mere evidence is inconsequential.

This sort of attitude leads to some gappy thinking, as evidenced by the marriage debate over at Box Turtle Bulletin. Glenn Stanton's responses to Patrick Chapman's criticisms display all of the techniques of the fundamentalist debater: loose definitions that change on demand, specious arguments based on assertions without support, selective reference to data -- "cherrypicking" -- based on the desired conclusion. Here's Jim Burroway's wrap-up on that one. He touches on three points as defining the debate; the first, I think, has application here:

The Problem of Language

When we speak, we typically try to speak precisely with a commonly understood language in order to be understood. But our very language can restrict what we’re able to describe. Either we don’t have quite the right word, or the phrases we commonly use don’t quite get there. Conversely, our language may influence how we see the world, as it is filtered through the words and expressions which come naturally to us.

Fundamentalists have, over the past number of years, engaged in any number of what I call "debaters' tricks," which are most apparent when they are discussing evolution but come into play in other areas. The prime example, of course, is their use of the word "theory," as in "evolution is just a theory." What they don't say is that the definition of "theory" in science is radically different than the definition used in common parlance, which is an attempt to undercut not only evolution but science as a whole. (As far as Burroway's post is concerned, I think he's being much too kind to Stanton, who exhibited all the traits in his commentaries that I mentioned above. I'm not convinced that he didn't do it deliberately, because that is the mode of discourse on the right when dealing with issues that can't just be ignored, including challenges to their authority.) Another example is the often-used "children do better with a mother and father," once normally prefaced by "scientific studies show," used as an argument against adoption by gay parents. Actually, no such thing: the studies used contrasted children from single-parent homes with children from two-parent homes. No data were gathered on differences between same-sex and opposite-sex parents. All the studies that have addressed that question come to the opposite conclusion. The Dobson Gang got called on that one, so it has evolved, if I can use the word, from a "fact" with scientific backing, spurious as it might be, to a mere assertion without foundation. The "problem of language" in this context is simply that fundamentalists refuse to recognize the commonality of meaning that makes language work and insist that only their own usage has validity.

(There is the related idea as well of controlling information, which the debaters' tricks attempt to do, by suppressing it or warping it. It's a serious impediment to the open discussion which is, in theory, one of our American ideals. See this post by Timothy Kincaid on how Kentucky is dealing with the history of the Holocaust.)

This leads me to a final point: the moral ease with using debaters' tricks rather than substantive argument points to a fundamental immorality (gods! what a wonderful phrase in this context) in tactics. Fundamentalists justify their essential dishonesty in discourse, I think, by telling themselves that they are working to a higher cause -- they are doing God's work in a sinful, wicked world, and their opponents -- atheists, feminists, Muslims, gays -- are part of that wickedness, and so whatever tool comes to hand is legitimate. The only response I can make to this is, believe it or not, something I found in a novel by Tanya Huff (Summon the Keeper, I think it was, which I recommend for an evening when you want to relax and enjoy without deep thought):

"Evil done in God's name is not God's work."


Saturday, April 19, 2008


He really is running for Bush's third term. The man's an idiot. From hilzoy:

And Scott Lilly wonders
"whether the shallow and sloppy work that went into the preparation of this latest economic plan is an aberration in an otherwise serious effort to have a serious debate about future policy choices facing the country, or emblematic of an approach to government in which the facts don’t matter."

Since McCain has, to the best of my knowledge, not said anything in the past few years that even remotely resembles a contribution to a serious debate about economic policy, I'm going with the second option. I don't think McCain knows much about economics. I see no sign that he cares to learn about it. That would be scary under any circumstances. Right now, though, it's terrifying.

It's beyond terrifying. We've just barely survived seven years of an incurious, intellectually challenged lump of a frat boy in the White House, and McCain actually thinks we want to do it again? It's no wonder his pals in the corporate press are going after Clinton and Obama with anything they can find.

Yes, Virginia

There really is a place named East Greenbush, New York.

Misframing the Question

This story, from NYT, I think misframes the essential question, although it does offer some good insights:

Mr. Karanth, who has aided relocation efforts here and in several nearby sanctuaries, said that India today can have room for its tigers and its people but that the government must make it worthwhile for villagers to empty the national parks.

“I’m against any moving of people unless there is a positive improvement in their livelihoods,” he said. “If this happened in the ’50s and ’60s when India was starving, I would have said, fine, we don’t have room for tigers. Now we have 9 percent economic growth, and we don’t have room for tigers?”

To see this in terms of "tigers vs. people," as is the tenor of the Times article, is missing an essential point. As we are learning, what we tend to see as "habitat destruction" for a particular species is also destruction of necessary components of our own habitat. The projected climate effects of logging and large-scale slash-and-burn farming in the tropics are significant; when added into the effects of our use of fossil fuels, is it any wonder the weather's a mess? I'm also going to advance the idea that loss of species diversity -- our ongoing facility for driving other species to extinction that we seem not to want to talk about -- is a bad thing in itself; it also deprives us of as yet often unknown resources. (I'm not going to belabor the origins of most of our life-saving drugs in plants found in forests and jungles. That's a simple fact. To think that we've discovered everything at this point is sort of arrogant, don't you think?)

I think it's also a mistake to tie wildlife preservation to current economic conditions. Granted, once you're behind on this kind of thinking, it's hard to catch up, but two points: First, if preservation of species and habitat is already part of the game plan, the economic considerations are built in. Of course, there is a certain element in government that would always prefer to pay for a war (or not pay for it but have it anyway) than for anything of benefit to the populace, but we just have to deal with that. One of the problems with economics as the ruling paradigm is that it is so easily perverted. (And let's face it, a philosophy that gives the bottom line pride of place is a barren place to live.)

Second, neglect of the environment is only going to make economic slumps worse. If you take out one component of the system, you're making the whole system less resilient. Is this so hard to figure? We're seeing the beginnings of the result of years of environmental neglect -- no, let's call it what it has been: exploitation. We haven't been putting anything back, and now we're getting to pay for it. It's not all global warming/climate change (whatever the catch-phrase du jour is this week). We've spent the last hundred years damaging the system, and it's only gotten more extreme as the pace of our societies (and I use the plural here -- China and Brazil are dead set on replaying our mistakes) gets faster.

And, as is so often the case, at the root of the problem is the way we frame the questions.

Friday Gay Blogging, Saturday Edition

Made it, finally. There will be more to come.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Censor 'Em

This story wound up oscillating between this department and a regular post, but once I had written the whole thing,I decided it belonged here. It's also relevant to my link dump on Andrew Sullivan's fundamentalism posts, later on in today's posts.

John Corvino was scheduled to give a program at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, which was first postponed then cancelled by the school's administration.

Aquinas President Ed Balog canceled the event Thursday, saying the Catholic school cannot endorse a program that directly opposes church teachings.

"I'm not trying to keep people from seeing him. I'm trying to prevent the college from sponsoring an event that displays an attack on Catholic teaching values," Balog said.

That's the new excuse, from an institution that did, once upon a time, tolerate free inquiry and spirited debate. Balog's comment is rather disingenuous: of course he's trying to keep people from seeing Corvino. Given his wording, one has to question just what "Catholic teaching values" are at this point? Andrew Sullivan has a rather plaintive reaction:

When will the church realize that allowing the truth to emerge from reason is not a threat to God or the church? Why are we so afraid of the truth?

It's not "truth" that the Church is afraid of -- it's already defined that, albeit in purely self-referential terms. Dialogue and free examination of ideas, however, are no longer values espoused by Christianity, at least not its public face. This pope in particular is certainly not one to tolerate open discussion, and that may be one reason the talk was cancelled:

The cancellation came a week before Pope Benedict XVI's scheduled meeting with more than 200 Catholic school officials from across the country. The gathering Thursday, at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., is being called a lecture, but Vatican watchers predict it will be an admonishment that teaching and activities at U.S. Catholic colleges and universities more closely adhere to church orthodoxy.

Church officials won't give details about the content of the speech, but conservative Catholics are predicting -- and hoping for -- shock waves from Benedict, who before becoming pope was associated with public reprimands of Catholic theologians and blocked appointments of university faculty members he thought were too liberal.

"One thing the pope will emphasize is the importance for all (Catholic) schools to realize that they aren't independent contractors, they are part of the church," said the Rev. David O'Connell, Catholic University's president.

It seems almost a truism at this point that one falls back on this kind of authoritarianism when one's arguments are lacking in substance and consequently, in force. American Catholics are notoriously independent, and Benedict seems to have a need to enforce strict discipline, which is bound to backfire. Eventually it will register, I think, that the hierarchy is sadly out of step with the majority of Catholics, and a serious shuffle is going to happen.

I also suspect that Benedict and the rest of the Dobson Gang are going to realize that picking gays as the target of their hate campaigns is going to backfire badly: it's a stance that is terribly vulnerable for them simply because it can't stand up to the growing realization among most people that in all important respects, gays are just like they are. That's why the continuing attempts at dehumanization are going to fail: they're obviously and blatantly untrue.

So I guess it is about gays after all.

From Andrew Sullivan.


I can't find the link now, but a local church donated its space for Corvino's talk.


Some interesting insights on one of the central issues in gay life:

Recently I asked my introductory psychology students, “Do you think that gay men, on average, have different personality traits than heterosexual men? And do you think that lesbian women, on average, have different personality traits than heterosexual women?” Many of my students nodded emphatically, so I probed further and asked, “How do you think gay men differ from heterosexual men in personality? And how do you think lesbians differ from heterosexual women in personality?” Hands flew up and my students told me, in essence, that gay men are more feminine than heterosexual men and that lesbians are more masculine than heterosexual women. My students are not alone in their beliefs. Stereotypes that gay men are more feminine and lesbians more masculine than same-sex heterosexuals are common, according to many studies.

It really is an interesting summary of a couple of studies. My reservations come from the fact that masculine and feminine are social/cultural constructs, and while the broad outlines may be biologically determined (women are more inclined to be nurturing because they are the ones stuck with tending to children, while men are more likely to be aggressive because they are a) defending the children and b) providing for the children), a lot of what we regard as "masculine" and "feminine" traits are pure cultural determinism. (My own feeling is that men are highly emotional and hormone-driven, while women are pre-eminently practical and results-oriented, but our culture says the opposite. . Think about it.)

Consequently, some of the basic definitions are going to be skewed, and the results can't necessarily be held true across cultures. There's no real reason to assume anyone would try, except of course that some fundamentalist whack-job is going to start spouting "always" and "everywheres."

Of course, something like this can't really deal with causes, even though speculation is fascinating:

Furthermore, why do these differences tend to mirror gender differences in personality? One possibility is that there are biological factors (e.g., prenatal exposure to sex hormones) that cause both gender differences and sexual orientation differences in personality. This “essentialist” position holds that there are some innate personality differences between men and women and also between heterosexual and homosexual individuals, and the underlying factors that cause these two kinds of differences overlap. Other possibilities include various social-environmental explanations for homosexual-heterosexual differences in personality. For example, perhaps powerful gender and sexual orientation stereotypes mold individuals’ self-concepts and their gender-related traits and behaviors. In addition, subcultural norms, roles, and pressures may lead to different traits in heterosexual men, heterosexual women, gay men, and lesbian women. For example, macho peer norms often lead many teenage boys in our society to behave in very masculine ways, whereas gay and lesbian subcultures sometimes push their members to experiment with gender-bending roles that depart from normative masculinity and femininity (e.g., the campy gay man, the “bull dyke”).

Design in Daily Life

Something for the men to think about. I was going to put this in Friday Gay Blogging, but the ramifications are much broader than that.

One memorable example of the power of choice architecture comes from the men's rooms at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. There the authorities have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess, but if they see a target, their attention and accuracy improve. Spillage at the airport decreased by 80%!

I'm sorry, but I can't resist repeating an old joke:

Sign in men's room in a restaurant, probably in the South: "We aim to please. You aim too, please."

Sullivan on Fundamentalism

Andrew Sullivan has been running a series of posts on fundamentalism, a phenomenon he distrusts almost as much as I do. Check here, here, here, and here. Here's the post that started it all.

I'll have more to say on this later today, most likely.

More on the ABC Debacle -- Uh, "Debate"

Glenn Greenwald dissects the syndrome quite nicely, thank you very much:

Leave aside the question of whether those who hold themselves out as political journalists ought to report on substantive matters and be guided by objectives other than maximizing profits. Even with regard to what "Americans" want, David Brooks has no idea whether what he's saying here is true and he also doesn't care. He asserts these matters as fact because his only goal is to defend his "profession" and his colleagues. Thus, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos and all the rest of them have no choice but to be as petty and vapid as they are because that's what "Americans" want.

All available data proves the opposite. As the media assault on Obama's "character" intensifies using the petty, cliched personality themes that are the hallmark of their leader, Matt Drudge, Obama hasn't appeared to suffer much at all. To the contrary, he has steadily gained on Clinton in Pennsylvania beginning with the lapel pin/Michelle Obama/Wright/bowling/"bitter" controversies. Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the political coverage fed to them by the establishment media, which is held in almost as low esteem as the Bush administration, and complaints are common that the political process has little to do with their lives. Though it never occurs to him, the fact that the David Brooks of the world can't stop fixating on bowling scores and haircuts -- while the country spirals into extreme economic insecurity and more deeply into a Middle East occupation which the country hates -- might be one reason why:

Via Andrew Sullivan, who is starting to get it.

I do believe that the Beltway has missed a lot of what's going on out there. But I'm no less insulated than my fellow hacks - unless you count being out there in the blogosphere, and getting the constant feedback from you guys.

I spend a lot of time slamming Sullivan for being shallow (although he's nowhere near as shallow as Brooks), but he does have these redemptive moments of insight.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Gay Blogging

will be delayed until Saturday this week. I'm about to tear out of here for a long day with no easy computer access.


If ABC Had Hosted the Lincoln/Douglas Debates

From publius. Here's just a sample:

LINCOLN: In my opinion, slavery will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, did an Elijah H. Johnson attend your church?

LINCOLN: When I was a boy in Illinois forty years ago, yes. I think he was a deacon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you aware that he regularly called Kentucky “a land of swine and whores”?

LINCOLN: Sounds right -- his ex-wife was from Kentucky.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why did you remain in the church after hearing those statements?

LINCOLN: I was eight.

It's hysterical.

And read the comments.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


This is not exactly cheery news (I don't like the idea of a black hole eating the galaxy), but it is interesting:

"By observing how this cloud lit up and faded over 10 years, we could trace back the black hole's activity 300 years ago," said team member Katsuji Koyama of Kyoto University. "The black hole was a million times brighter three centuries ago. It must have unleashed an incredibly powerful flare."

The discovery of this flare may help explain why our galaxy's central black hole, called Sagittarius A* (pronounced "A-star"), seems to be less active than those in other galaxies.

"We have wondered why the Milky Way's black hole appears to be a slumbering giant," says team leader Tatsuya Inui of Kyoto University in Japan. "But now we realize that the black hole was far more active in the past. Perhaps it's just resting after a major outburst."

Since the center of our galaxy is 26,000 light-years from Earth, both the X-ray flash and the echoes we're seeing now in Sagittarius B2 actually occurred a long time ago, roughly 26,300 years back.

I suppose we have a little time before we get sucked in ourselves.

I Didn't Watch the Debate

Why spoil a perfect record? Doesn't seem as though I missed anything, except another chance to see the pathetic attempts at journalism that seem to infest our public discourse these days. From Greg Mitchell at HuffPo:

In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care and mortgage crises, the overall state of the economy and dozens of other pressing issues had to wait for their few moments in the sun as Obama was pressed to explain his recent "bitter" gaffe and relationship with Rev. Wright (seemingly a dead issue) and not wearing a flag pin -- while Clinton had to answer again for her Bosnia trip exaggerations.

Mitchell also notes David Brooks' comment:

To top it off, here is David Brooks' review at The New York Times: "I thought the questions were excellent." He gives ABC an "A." Of course, "A" can stand for many things.

John Aravosis has a summary of the comments from the blogosphere. Pam Spaulding has partial transcripts. As of this posting there were 11320 comments at ABC's site. Viewers weren't happy.

In fact, word is that the moderators were so bad that they were booed. Not the candidates -- the moderators.

How pathetic is that?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Bittergate"? Puh-leeze!

From Andrew Sullivan:

I'm beginning to suspect that the only segment left in America that genuinely feels that elitism is a problem for Obama are ... the elites. How funny is that? And how fantastic if it is borne out in the actual voting.

The point is, anyone who is aware of what Real People are thinking knew that.

In a later post, Sullivan once again dissects Obama's comments, this time on the premise that Obama was presenting too limited a picture of religious experience. This, to me, is symptomatic of the problems with our political discourse. Short form: too much analysis.

Obama also mentioned guns, xenophobia, and resistance to international trade agreements. News flash: they're all complex issues, the speech wasn't about any one of them individually, so of course Obama's presenting them as facets. Sullivan:

When the world disappoints or disorients, the appeal of a more absolute and unquestioning faith as a rock in a storm is powerful. The key factors are not just economic stagnation but cultural loss and a lack of faith in the responsiveness of the relevant political institutions.

Sullivan turns the whole discussion into a diatribe against fundamentalism. (Well, in a well-bred, understated, academic, punditly sort of way. He saves his real diatribes for Clinton.) But the key factor here is in the second sentence above. Uh, Andrew -- that's what Obama was talking about. Did you miss that part?