"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

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Finally" Revisited

They caved.



The Democrats are starting to show some smarts. They should have done this long ago:

Retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) late Thursday launched a one-man crusade to block an extension of unemployment and COBRA insurance benefits, vowing to allow the benefit programs to expire Sunday unless Democrats agreed to pay for them with unused stimulus funds.

Bunning’s quixotic pursuit of deficit offsets at the potential expense of payments to unemployed or uninsured citizens enraged Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other Democrats, who vowed to keep the chamber in session until Bunning relents or collapses.

A senior Democratic leadership aide said Durbin would ask for unanimous consent to pass the extensions without Bunning’s payment scheme every half hour for the foreseeable future. “We’re going to keep doing it until we break him,” the aide said.

It's a strategy that could pay off big-time for the Democrats, but there's one misstep in the article:

If Bunning is successful, it could prove to be a significant blow to the GOP. Unemployment and COBRA health insurance benefits are popular, and with the unemployment rate soaring, lawmakers have been keen to ensure there are no interruptions in payments.

Should the programs lapse, Democrats could use the episode to tar Republicans as unconcerned with the poor.

Not the poor, but middle-class Americans who can't find jobs. This is not about the poor, it's about Republicans once again trying to screw the middle class.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fighting Tooth and Nail

I mean the generals fighting repeal of DADT. I think it's finally on their radar that this is going to happen and that open opposition is a career-killer. Timothy Kincaid has a good summation at BTB:

A pattern appears to evident. No military leaders will oppose the study on the issue, perhaps each hoping that their own perspectives will prevail and in the meantime buying time until perhaps a more favorable Senate will appear. Further, it seems that the politicians in the Pentagon are opposed to the change, while those officers that are fighting wars really couldn’t care less.

Actually, I'd state it a little more strongly, based on what I've seen from people like Gen. David Petraeus as well as comments from enlisted personnel who are actually fighting the wars: Their feeling is "Get it done already -- we need everyone who can shoot straight. They don't have to be straight."

In the meantime, Kincaid has hit the nail on the head in one respect: they are desperately using delaying tactics to make repeal painful, difficult, and ultimately, they hope, impossible. They don't have an argument that stands up to even the mildest scrutiny. All they can do is stall and hope the senate gets filled with fellow true-believers.


I know it's been like that, first because I'd been sick (and I really don't hate anyone enough to wish that intestinal virus on them) and then because I've been fed up, and now because 1) I'm still getting used to the new technology and 2) I'm on deadline again and have to produce reviews of things, many things, very soon.

Another upside to Conan (the new laptop's name): I took it to work with me yesterday and actually got stuff done. (Wednesdays are good for that -- they are very, very slow.) And I'm slowly getting used to the idea that I can do more than one thing at a time on this one without the whole thing coming down. (And I even get automatic virus scans without stopping everything else.)

Still figuring out the various applications, though -- Media Player is downright opaque compared to the old version, although it can do more. And documentation is nonexistent, apparently.

I'll figure it out. Eventually.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gays and Conservatism

American conservatism, as it has remade itself over the past couple of generations, is hardly recognizable as anything I recognize as "conservative." Obviously, I'm not in sympathy with the neo-right's view of social issues, particularly those relating to gay civil rights: that, to me, demonstrates more than anything else that conservatism in this country has been hijacked by religious extremists. (Sorry, boys and girls, but the governing document of this country is not the Old Testament, or rather, your take on it.)

So I found the reactions of the attendees at CPAC very interesting. First, of course, is the fact that Ryan Sorba, leader of the California Young Americans for Freedom and wild-eyed anti-gay loon, got booed.

The Cato Institute hosted a panel titled "Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?" with Nick Herbert, MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Conservative Party, United Kingdom; Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish Blog, The Atlantic; and Maggie Gallagher, President, National Organization for Marriage. There's a video at the link, but it's long -- over an hour. Gods know what Maggie Gallagher was doing there, but there she was.

I'm not going to post my own reaction because I haven't watched the complete video, but there are some interesting takes out there. Jason Kuznicki seems to have summed it up pretty nicely at Positive Liberty, noting Gallagher's response to his question "How am I supposed to live my life?" Her answer: "I don't know."

She certainly doesn’t, and that’s the whole problem with gay conservatism — there’s hardly a life to be lived within it. There’s no breathing room. Until social conservatives offer us a better answer than “I don’t know,” until they offer us a way to be gay, and conservative, and respectable in their eyes, they’re not going to find many gay conservatives.

There's actually a bigger problem with conservatism implicit in that answer, not only relevant to gays: they don't know. Conservatism as it's presently constituted has nothing to offer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Close to Home

Just ran across this post from Ed Brayton. It's got me pretty pissed off. Quoting Bob Barr:

The US Air Force, at no less a prestigious location than the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, has taken the notion of religious tolerance to a new level, in creating an outdoor worship area for pagans. The site, apparently sacred to pagans, consists of an inner and an outer circle of large stones. I'm sorry, but this truly is hilarious. Don't get me wrong, if someone "has little or no religion and delights in sensual pleasures and material goods," which is the definition of a "pagan," then I say live and let live. (Emphasis added.)

Whose definition is that? Not mine, and I am one. Offhand, I can't think of a single Witch I know who has "little or no religion." Like me, they're all pretty devout, and most are more observant than I am. Keep in mind that most of us are converts, and there's none more serious about a faith than a convert. (There are those who would object to my using "convert" to describe this experience, because in theory you don't have to give anything up. In reality, you leave a lot of bullshit behind you.) As for delighting in "sensual pleasures and material goods," that's just totally self-serving crap.

I'll readily grant that we're not ashamed of having bodies, or of enjoying them. Can I point out here that a recent study indicated that people have sex because it's fun? Not to make babies, but because they enjoy it. (Take it as a given that when someone with Barr's credentials mentions "hedonism," as he does elsewhere in his remarks, it's code for "screwing without shame.") No one's managed to come up with a reason to be ashamed of having a body that makes any sense to me -- being ashamed of mistreating it, sure, but not of having it to begin with. And I fully realize that things such as gluttony, drunkeness, and lust are sins to Christians, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone.

As for delighting in material goods, huh? No more than anyone else, and probably a lot less than most. Most of the Witches I know live fairly modestly, as do I. Partly it's because none of us make as much as, say, Wall Street bankers, but it's also a matter of belief. Take me as an example: I'm pretty much a non-consumer. I just bought a new computer after nine years; this is the third computer I've owned since 1985 -- not what you'd call a lot of eagerness for the latest gadget. My other wants are likewise modest. Any new clothes I've bought in the past five years have come from resale shops. My cookware is old, but still very functional. Likewise my furniture, of which there isn't a great deal, and much of which was bought second-hand -- happily, with my backround and training, I have a good eye. (One aspect of this, which will make sense in a bit: when I buy something, I buy the best quality I can afford, even if it means tightening up a bit in other places -- that way, I don't have to replace it as soon.)

There is a religious belief aspect to this non-consumption: Paganism is an earth-centered religion, and as such is concerned with preservation. Unlike Christianity, Paganism doesn't see unlimited exploitation of the world as a god-given right. It's also a pretty pragmatic religion. So, I'm stuck in the middle of one of the most profligate cultures the world has ever seen. Making the best of it means setting an example of living in the culture without subscribing to its excesses.

Barr's remarks reflect the arrogance and condescension that seem part and parcel of any discussion by so-called "Christians" about anyone who doesn't follow their preaching. Frankly, I'm not really inclined to be very forgiving of this kind of open contempt, especially when it's trying to disguise itself as "tolerance."

(Oh, and about Pagans in the armed forces: we're basically disinclined to violence, at least in theory. But we're not forbidden to fight. Remember that the next time you feel like trashing me or my religion.)

There's Actually A Reason

I've been away for a couple of days -- I've been playing computer geek with my new laptop, getting it set up and all, complicated by the fact that it won't let me download anything -- software, videos, images, nothing -- from the web. Fortunately, it came with stuff like Adobe Reader, but I need BitTorrent, an FTP, and most of all, Firefox. (I really miss Firefox.) This is probably Microsoft's fault, although they swear it's Norton. We'll see.

I'm still investigating what I do have -- just discovered I can run slide shows of images on a disc or in a folder with just a click.

I still have to see if I can run my ancient version of Photoshop and my almost equally ancient scanner. And I'm really having a time adjusting to this tiny keyboard. But otherwise, I'm very happy.

I also rewarded myself for coming in under budget with my first DVD -- Loveless, of course. I hadn't watched it in a while, ever since it got pulled from YouTube -- it's still almost perfect. And Best Buy had it for less than Amazon. (I actually have two DVDs, but one's a review copy, so it doesn't really count.)

What's best, though, is that I can get up and take a break from writing or surfing or whatever and I don't have to reboot when I come back.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Whoa! These Are "Conservatives"?

Interesting post at AmericaBlog on one of the speakers at CPAC. Here's the video:

Getting booed by conservatives for attacking gays? Am I on the right planet?

Aravosis' post is pretty powerful:

No one wants Sarah Palin to be President. But we're talking about our civil rights. I think a lot of straight Democrats don't get that. They see out and proud gay people, a lot of us have good jobs, nice clothes, get to travel the world (and a lot of us don't, but they don't ever meet them), so they think our civil rights battle is some kind of champagne party to us, as if we're doing it for fun because we really have everything we could ever want. Well, anyone who thinks that didn't grow up gay. They didn't grow up thinking they were a pervert. That they were sick. That they'd never find love, never get married, never have children or a family of their own - because God made them wrong. They didn't grow up thinking they'd have to kill themselves once they hit the age of 30 because they'd be single, and people would 'figure out' that they were gay, and then they'd lose all their friends and family and their job and career. And they knew they couldn't live with that.

That last point is important. Pick any political issue, any political constituency, and ask yourself how many of those issues, how many of those people, considered killing themselves over their issue. Not a lot, I'm guessing. Now you're starting to understand why gay civil rights advocates, why gay people, care so fervently about their "issue." It's not just an issue for us. It's our lives.

All I can add is "Yeah -- been there."

I've been reading a lot of BL manga, as you are no doubt aware. I love it, but thinking about it, there's a particular reason I love it -- call it revisiting my youth. I would have given my arm to have something like that available when I was a teenager -- something that told me it was OK to love another boy, that I was a normal person who was entitled to be treated just like everyone else, and that there were stories about people like me who didn't kill themselves at the end.

Aravosis is right -- it's about more than civil rights.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Ideology of Through the Looking Glass

Maha has an absolute must-read post on the mythology of the tea baggers.

Michael Lind writes about mythological politics and the tea partiers, saying,
This is the key to understanding the otherwise inexplicable accusations by the populist right that Barack Obama is a socialist or fascist or whatever, as well as fantasies about a global secular humanist conspiracy. We are dealing with a mythological mentality, based on simple and powerful archetypes. Contemporary figures and current events are plugged into a framework that never changes. “King Charles (or King George) is threatening the rights of Englishmen” becomes “Barack Obama is promoting socialism” — or fascism, or monarchism, or daylight saving time.

As in other cases of mythological politics, like messianic Marxism, this kind of thinking is resistant to argument. If you disagree, then that simply proves that you are part of the conspiracy. Inconvenient facts can be explained away by the true believers. It’s hard to come up with arguments that would persuade people who think that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are totalitarians to change their mind.

This is something I’ve written about in the past. It’s important to understand that the political “thinking” of the True Believers on the Right is a thick soup of myth, allegory, and archetype. Stuff like, you know, facts, are irrelevant to them.

She goes on, and it's scary as hell but well worth reading. It's a mentality that has never been far under the surface, not only in this country but in others, and the kind of thinking that leads people to do otherwise unthinkable things. I don't know that it's necessarily tied to Christianity as such -- we've seen the same sort of thing under communist regimes in China and the former Soviet Union, and can see it now in places like Uganda and Zimbabwe. Perhaps the correct observation is that those who think like this -- reliance on received wisdom, charismatic leaders, a strong us/them mentality, and the other phenomena Maha describes, are also those drawn to authoritarian, hierarchical systems, and, at the very least, distrustful of actual reality, or at least able to deny it in favor of what they believe, no matter how far-fetched.

At any rate, it's something to lose sleep over, that's for sure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


It's not just me -- SEK has a post at Lawyers, Guns & Money on the rhetoric of comics and graphic novels, with a suggested reading list. The comments are devoted to suggestions (yes, I made a few). Worth checking out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Further Thoughts on The Evolutionary Basis of Teh Gay

As a coda to this post, I found this commentary by Christopher Ryan worth commenting on:

The currently dominant theory turns on self-interest, as is the case with most current evolutionary thinking. Gay men, the theory posits, will be much more nurturing of their nieces and nephews than would heterosexual men (who would, after all, have their own kids to worry about). Thus, in increasing the reproductive potential of their nieces and nephews (by helping more of them survive to adulthood), a fraction of the man's DNA is carried forward to future generations.

This strikes me as a bit of a misrepresentation. After all, it's not as though the "gay uncle" is a substitute for a father. He's an add-on -- you simply have more people caring for a particular family's children, which increases the likelihood of survival.

This, however, makes sense:

To my way of thinking, this theory seems to be bending over backward to account for something that really needs no explanation. Human sexuality in pre-agricultural societies was likely to have been more about maintaining relationships than about basic reproduction itself. Don’t believe me? E. O. Wilson, the founding thinker of what’s come to be known as evolutionary psychology, wrote that homosexuality is “above all a form of bonding,” and that, like “the greater part of heterosexual behavior,” homosexuality is “a device that cements relationships."

Men can and do form intense emotional bonds with each other. Whether those feelings are expressed sexually is another question -- that, I think, is subject to cultural taboos, and I think if you were to investigate societies not subject to the sexual restrictions of the desert religions -- classical Greece, pre-Meiji Japan, pre-colonial Africa come to mind -- you'd find that such bonds were more likely to find physical expression. As I noted in the previous post, having a male lover doesn't preclude -- or didn't, in the past -- getting married and having children. (Another mark against the "taking ourselves out of the gene pool" argument. These days, probably more likely as we establish identities as "gay," but even now, not necessarily the case, and in the past, much less likely.) Ryan actually supports this view, although not directly:

In prehistoric bands, everyone’s kids would have been familiar and very likely related to you on some level. In contemporary foragers, shared names, clan membership, and simple friendship are often more important social bonds than blood lineage – a concept to which we attach especial attention only because we’re obsessed with property rights. As we argue in our book, social bonds are different in societies not oriented toward getting and holding onto material wealth (which are more than ninety-five percent of all human societies that have existed).

I haven't thought about this connection -- the relationship idea -- very much, so I'm not going to draw any firm conclusions. It seems to me, however, that one can make a good case for same-sex bonding as a sort of social glue that extends beyond blood relatives and serves to add to the cohesiveness of the group, with benefit to all members. (And think about that in light of the "unit cohesiveness" arguments for DADT.)

Lots of possibilities here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Another Marriage Kerfluffle

Comments on this report have appeared in various places over the past couple of days -- Timothy Kincaid's commentary on the reporting is arguably the most accurate.

There are a number of people -- all, not surprisingly, opponents of same-sex marriage -- who are just taking the NYT report at face value and jumping on the promiscuity bandwagon. Two comments on that: science reporting in this country is in general pretty lame, and I've seen the Times go steadily downhill from a mediocre starting point in just the past few years. And second, if you're relying on this kind of lazy, inaccurate summary, you're going to get shot down.

One of those who seems to love going off half-cocked is Rod Dreher, who came up with this bit of legerdemain:

Because it speaks to how partisans on one side of the same-sex marriage issue wish to conceal scientific research that doesn't serve their purposes. If it's true that half of same-sex couples live in an open marriage/relationship, then concerns from SSM opponents that extending marriage to gay couples would redefine our culture's understanding of marriage can't be dismissed as unfounded. Note that James, an advocate of same-sex marriage, doesn't dispute that SSM will force our cultural understanding of marriage to evolve, but even cites unnamed experts saying that the gay model could change straight attitudes toward marriage for the better.

In an apparent attempt to be even handed, Dreher also notes that opponents of SSM don't acknowledge research that undercuts their position. The problem is that Dreher is relying on a badly flawed report to advance his arguments while condemning the pro-SSM side for not publicizing it. In fact, I've seen commentaries on the study, and the NYT report, on a number of gay blogs, so I'm not sure where Dreher is basing his criticism.

Maybe one reason Dreher isn't seeing the kind of coverage in the gay press that he wants to see is that the study doesn't say what the report says it does -- it's not about marriage, and it's not a study from which nation-wide conclusions can be drawn. Dreher is using the standard right-wing tactic of claiming that the "science" reaches conclusions that it doesn't reach. Timothy Kincaid calls him on it in the comments.

Damon Linker also takes Dreher to task:

Even if we assume that the study cited in the Times article is accurate and that gay community as a whole shares the outlook and attitudes of married homosexuals in Bay area, traditionalists need to explain the mechanism whereby the practices of roughly half of the members of a tiny minority who choose to marry will decisively influence the marital practices of everyone, or even anyone, else. Traditionalists dread this influence—just as some of those quoted in the article welcome it. But do those fears and hopes make sense? How is the change going to happen? Why should we assume that it will? Because sleeping around is fun, and the only thing holding traditional mores in place is ignorance among mainstream Americans that it’s possible to engage in consensual polyamory?

Linker also goes on to comment further on the fragility or "traditional" marriage:

What a fascinatingly bleak view of the human condition we find among sexual traditionalists: Traditional marriage is natural, and homosexuality is contrary to nature; but nature is so fragile that it needs to be backed up by unquestioning tradition, as well as by the force of law; the moment those traditional mores and legal sanctions are loosened, people begin to diverge from their own natures and conform to the unnatural practices of the deviants, thereby dissolving traditional marriage. This is why I’ve always had a perverse respect for those traditionalists who have been willing to follow their darkly pessimistic convictions all the way to the end—to admit that they think traditional marriage is fundamentally incompatible with freedom. (And no, redefining freedom to mean “obedience” doesn’t count.)

That's one thing that has struck me over and over again, not only in arguments pro/con same-sex marriage, but when debating the merits of gay civil rights in general: if their way is the natural way, why do they assume that if gays are allowed to live openly and honestly, everyone else is going to jump ship and swim madly for the "deviant lifestyle"? Something tells me Linker's got it right: the heterosexists don't have a lot of confidence in their position.

But That's Why They Do It

From Marc Ambinder:

Great job by the folks at the CBS News and New York Times polling department. They've uncovered a classic example of how language influences perceptions in polling. 59% of Americans agree that "homosexuals" ought to be able to serve in the U.S. military. But 70 percent believe that "gays and lesbians" ought to be able to serve in the military. So what are we to make of these confused Americans? "Homosexual" has become a pejorative term, too clinical, associated with a medical condition. But "gays and lesbians" are our friends -- all around us, part of the community.

I mentioned the "choice" mantra in connection with this -- if it's just a behavior, we choose to do it and it's nothing to do with genetics or identity -- but this is, I think, even more relevant: it's dehumanizing to refer to a person as a clinical condition. But then, for the anti-gay, "criminalize hommasectionals" right wing, that's the whole point. Wouldn't do for Americans to think we're actual people.

What's even more interesting is that, no mater what term is used, clear majorities favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. For Bam Bam Barber and Porno Pete: how does it feel to be a loser?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Asking the Wrong Questions

There is so much wrong with this report that it's hard to know where to start.

The findings may help solve the puzzle of why, if homosexuality is hereditary, it hasn't already disappeared from the gene pool, since gay people are less likely to reproduce than heterosexuals.

This is the kind of statement that falls apart to anyone with any knowledge whatsoever of cultural history. It's based on the assumption that throughout history, the phenomenon that we know as "gay" has existed as it exists now, when that's obviously not the case. I'm not even going to comment on a howler like "less likely to reproduce," except to ask "Since when does 'less likely' translate as 'not'?"

Before the late nineteenth century, there was no such thing as "a homosexual." As Kinsey found in his studies of male sexuality, desire seems spread across a continuum -- say what you will about Kinsey, his findings were, as much as is humanly possible, based on what men actually do, not what they're willing to admit.

The expression of sexual orientation seems to be largely culturally determined. As this report notes:

Vasey said he suspects that the conditions just aren't right in modern Western societies for this genetic predisposition to express itself.

One major cultural difference is the individualistic nature of Western society, compared with the collectivistic culture in Samoa.

"We think we're close to our families, but Samoans are really close to their families," Vasey said. "People are more geographically connected in Samoa."

Additionally, there is less discrimination against fa'afafine, compared with the still-widespread homophobia that exists in many Western societies. Even if many Western gay men wanted to be doting uncles, their families might not always encourage it.

Vasey said the next step is to test whether this trend exists in other non-Western cultures where males with same-sex attractions are also accepted as a unique category.

A corollary here is that in Western societies, that ingrained homophobia will also work against men pairing with other men, and in favor of men entering into heterosexual marriages and even having children, regardless of their sexual orientation. (I've known several men who were married before coming out -- we all have. And some of them had children. As I keep saying, we gay, we're not sterile.) The more conservative the milieu, the more likely that scenario would be, I think.

Historically, there's no reason to believe men with same-sex attraction were not having children. The shining example, of course, is classical Greece, where it was expected that not only would a youth take an older male lover, but that he would also eventually get married and have children of his own. (It wasn't just Greece -- there seems to be evidence for a similar institution in ancient Albania, and one of the grounds on which a woman could divorce her husband under ancient Irish law was that he spent too much time with his male lover.)

Both of the studies reported focus on kin selection as a mechanism for insuring the inheritance of "gay" genes, and I don't dispute the possibility -- I have, in fact, brought it up in other discussions. But there's no reason that has to be the only mechanism. My major irritation is with the cultural blinders that cause people to think there is such a "puzzle" to begin with. Nor am I discounting an obvious influence from right-wing anti-gay rhetoric: there's a vested interest in pooh-poohing the idea of a genetic component to sexual orientation because in the wingnut world view, anything that contravenes those 4,000 year old tribal taboos from which we are to pick and choose must be a "choice."

But FTLOP, people, back off and look at what you're saying.

Aiding and Abetting

The Republican position, such as it is, on the administration's anti-terror efforts is nothing short of astounding. I mean, this is the party that's "strong" on national security. I would think, in that case, they'd be all for whatever works -- such as the 100% conviction rate when terrorism suspects are tried in federal courts, and the humane treatment that makes it possible for suspects' families to work with us to get the information we need.

I suspect, however, that the left blogosphere is correct: it's politics uber alles for the right.

John Aravosis quotes Jonathan Alter:

I think they're [Republicans] in a place now where they just want to hurt Obama. What they don't get - and I wish they would look into their souls a little bit - if they convey, over and over again, that the President of the United States is weak, what does that do? It emboldens the terrorists. And I don't say that lightly. Think of terrorists overseas, or at home, that might be plotting an attack - if they think that the President is weak, which he is not, he is manifestly not. He's killed twice as many of them, not to put too fine a point on it, with Predators as his predecessor did. He is not weak. But if they continue to convey that he is weak, that gives serious help to the terrorists.

I think the pressure should now be on these Republicans, aren't you helping the terrorists, by insisting, against all evidence - remember we have 100% conviction rate of terrorists in civilian courts in this country. 100%. It's not like any of them are out walking the streets, as we're told. The only detainees from Guantanamo who have been released and who have returned to terrorism in their home countries were released under President Bush. So far there has not been one case of that happening under President Obama. So, this line is a bunch of hooey, and they have to stop saying it, and the onus now has to be on them for why they're not harming us by continuing to do so.

That seems to be the consensus in the left blogosphere, and it seems from this vantage that it's correct. The Cheney policies toward terrorists or suspected terrorists -- torture, rendition, military kangaroo courts (which haven't even worked the way Cheney wanted -- it seems that even enemy combatants have rights: who knew?), holding people for years without evidence of any wrongdoing on their part -- have only served to swell the ranks of al Qaeda and its allies. It's a history of failed policies predicated on the idea that we have to fight a "war" against terrorism. We've seen how well that works: nothing like occupying a third-party nation -- one that, as far as attacks on American soil were concerned, was perfectly innocent -- to swell the ranks of al Qaeda.

It's the war mantra that, I think, is very revealing. The Europeans have been more successful at ferreting out and dealing with suspected terrorists than we have, at least until recently: they've treated terrorism as a police action, based on good intelligence and cooperation between the agencies involved. That seems to work, but working is a minor consideration, apparently: we'd rather posture and rattle sabers and huff and puff and blow the wrong house down. Doesn't matter.

So now we have an administration that is interested in actually doing something, and all the right wing can do is -- well, huff and puff. They'd rather trash the Constitution and turn this country into a trembling, weak-kneed mess, which is exactly the goal of al Qaeda and its allies.

And gods forbid someone should call them on it, as the president's counterterrorism czar, John Brennan, did:

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America's counterterrorism professionals and America's system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.

Brennan's attack got the expected response:

GOP Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) is calling on a senior anti-terror official in the Obama administration to resign because the anti-terror official actually stood up to the GOP and called them on their bullying.

The Democrats should grow balls like that. As far as Bond is concerned, it seems that in a chamber filled with caricatures, everyone is trying to unseat Joe Lieberman for first place.

There are layers here. The surface is painting the president as "weak" on terrorism because he has, to a certain extent, dispensed with the "conservative" policies that don't work. (Not enough of them, and not decisively enough.) That ties in with the new "populism" of the right -- war, God, apple pie, the Constitution (until we can dispense with it in favor of the Ten Commandments), all of which serves to energize the constantly shrinking base and has no other real effect. Under that, of course, is the Republican determination to block anything this administration tries to do, no matter what, because then they can point to Obama as a failure and win an election. (The problem is, they're no better at governing than the Democrats.)

And please note that they have no faith in the American system of justice. It must be hard when you start believing your own propaganda, particularly when actual events demonstrate conclusively that the propaganda is bullshit. (I've noted before that I think the right wing in this country has come down, not as "un-American," but as "anti-American" -- they don't really seem to value our institutions at all.

Speaking of balls, I suspect there's a deeper motivation behind all this posturing. I alluded to it jokingly in this post on DADT, but I think there's an underlying truth -- call it living with the discomfort of "masculinity," which in its traditional form is a pretty awful concept, and it's at least as harmful to men as it is to anyone else. It seems that many of these hawks, starting with Cheney, have never gone to war themselves, although they are really enthusiastic of putting someone else out there. I guess it gets their testosterone levels up. Frankly, I know lots of guys, gay and straight, who are perfectly comfortable with themselves and don't feel any particular need to subscribe to this bizarre idea of what's "masculine," and certainly don't need to torture or kill someone -- or have someone else do the torturing and killing -- to prove how butch they are. (And yea, by and large these are the people opposed to repeal of DADT.)

(Disclaimer, or something like it: Ironically, as I've grown older I've worried less and less about my "masculinity," and yet people are now more likely to see me as masculine. Odd how that works -- I think it's the comfort level with who I am. I'm not perfect -- I'm not as patient or kind or generous as I think I should be -- but by and large I'm happy being me, and I think that, more than anything else, makes a real man. Think about that the next time some Republican draft-dodger starts spouting off about the "war on terror.")

I guess Alter is right: the Republicans are a bunch of wusses who are giving the terrorists everything they want.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

And on the Marriage Front

It seems that Iowans, unlike Californians, couldn't care less about taking away civil rights from gay people.

The Des Moines Register conducted a poll of Iowans asking, “The state Legislature can address large and small issues during the course of the session. For the following issues, please tell me if you think the issue does or does not deserve the Legislature’s limited time.” Banning gay marriage did not make the cut; only 36% thought it was worth the time discussing.

Not only was it not deemed worthy of legislative time, of the six issues that Iowans were questioned about, addressing gay marriage concerned them the least. Iowans were more concerned about payday loans and puppy mills than there were about whether same-sex couples married.

So in Iowa, regulating dog breeders is more important than "saving" marriage for human breeders.

But some people haven't figured that out yet. Brian Brown, the new face of NOM (and if that's the best they could do, I feel sorry for them -- he really looks like an axe murderer) is crapping his panties over the non-news that Judge Vaughan Walker, of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger fame, is gay. I'm not going to quote his rant, which you can read in full at Pam's House Blend. It's not only hysterical, but pretty much completely factually challenged. (Another non-news item.) Funny how he feels impelled to bring this terrible "secret" (which everyone knew) to light, now that the pro-discrimination side has shown itself to have no case. (I'm not going to waste time parsing Brown's screed -- it's enough to note that almost nothing he says is true, and what is true is severely spun.)


I sort of feel cheated -- here the mid-Atlantic is getting all this snow -- two feet or more -- and Chicago's only supposed to get about 10 inches. What's happening to the world?

Update: I decided you needed a visual on this one:


NYT's Blogging Heads has a video of Anne-Marie Cox and Rich Lowry debating DADT. It's pretty sad, since neither seems to have a grasp of real issues -- although Cox is much closer. The first time Lowry opens his mouth, he screws up.

It's a long video, and frankly, I don't know that I'd recommend watching the whole thing -- the basic assumptions, particularly on Lowry's part, seem to ignore the current realities.

Fox News also has a poll on repeal, which is telling -- even a Fox News poll is running decisively in favor of junking DADT, in spite of the bias of the questions. (Sorry, kids: my sexual orientation is toward other men; my sexual preference is big, hairy construction workers.)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

I've figured it out

I think I've got a lock on motivation for the resistance to repeal of DADT, especially the "showers" argument:

We're bigger.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

"It's About Time"

Tom Ricks published this e-mail from a young submarine officer that sheds some light on the "controversy" over DADT repeal:

The debate may exist in the media, and certainly exists in Congress, but on the ship, if it's talked about at all it with a little bit of confusion about what the big deal is. Don't get me wrong, there is homophobia and there are a few loud, mostly uneducated, mostly very junior, and mostly still well-meaning people who would tell you they think its wrong -- but they're the kind of people who are just saying it because its what they were brought up to say, and even they aren't saying it with much fervor. I can tell you with certainty that if the ban were lifted tomorrow -- no year of preparation -- life would go on exactly as it did before....

Life would go on. Mostly what I heard after Admiral Mullen's declaration was, "it's about time." There is no question if the military is ready -- the military is waiting.

... I just want the press to understand that it is the Congress that needs pushing, not the military, and that excuses such as "senior military officials like the CJCS and SecDef are out of touch with the low-level, young guys on the ground" may be true on many issues, but not this one.

I'm not entirely convinced of his last statement. The Marine Commandant is openly opposed to repeal, and I suspect he's not alone among the most senior officers -- that, after all, was the group that pushed most strongly for keeping a ban on gays in the military in 1993, and that's still the group -- fortunately, mostly retired by now, but not all (or enough) of them -- who oppose repeal now.

The dynamics on this question are falling into an all-too-familiar pattern: the right wing has bamboozled the press (a willing accomplice, in my view) into believing there is wide-spread opposition to repeal, in spite of the evidence (faith-based journalism?), and convinced members of Congress that they will pay at the polls for supporting something that the overwhelming majority of the American people, both in and out of the military, support. (I mean, 70% in the country at large, and nearly 60% among enlisted personnel -- is anyone looking at the polling?) And in this case, we can't even point to well-oiled lobbyists and corporate contributions. All we have left is a bunch of Congressmen and Senators with their heads up their asses -- and a president who's been way too lackadaisical about pushing his agenda.

It's just another glaring example of the disconnect between Washington and reality.


From Buzzfeed, here are some of the "arguments" that the press and Congress are taking as "serious."

Friday, February 05, 2010

I < 3 John Cole

Because he says things like this:

I think a lot of the problems in this country can be directly traced to the way the beltway pundit class reacts to... snow.

I think he's right.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Battle Begins: Update

I ran across this post this morning that points out something about Mac Owens' embarrassment that I hadn't mentioned:

Now, the most obvious thing that will jump out at the reader here is that MAC OWENS IS USING ANCIENT GREEK CULTURE AS AN ARGUMENT AGAINST (!!!) GAYS IN COMBAT. This is, obviously and not just for those of us who majored in classics, hilarious.

It strikes me that Owens, William Kristol and their ilk seem to have this weird 1950s idea of gays -- especially men, since they tend to ignore lesbians as being merely "women" -- as somehow frail, insubstantial creatures, unable to stand up to the rigors military service, which is for "real men." Nor does Kristol seem to have much respect for the "real men" -- read "heterosexuals" -- in the field:

Here's his pathetic response to the core question:
Advocates of repeal will say sexual orientation is irrelevant to military performance in a way these attributes are not. But this is not clearly true given the peculiar characteristics of military service.

I presume he means that he thinks that straight servicemembers would be traumatized by having to serve alongside gay servicemembers because they harbor absurd fears that they will be sexually harassed or even "assaulted", as his ally Tony Perkins recently asserted.

Owens seems to have the same take. There's some deep cognitive dissonance there -- on the one hand, we're too likely to faint under fire; on the other, we're too aggressive toward our fellows. Strangely enough, I went through high school and college gym classes, and especially swim classes, in which we were nude except for caps, without ever assaulting one of my classmates in the shower or locker room. Given the number of female servicemembers who have been sexually assaulted by their hetereosexual male comrades, do I see a little bit of projection here?

Two points about this attitude: in this country, you'd better believe that any gay boy who survives adolescence is tough. And, as far as Owens and his "philia" and "eros" and how the one is necessary and the other makes military service impossible, has the man never heard of the Sacred Band of Thebes?

The Sacred Band originally was formed of picked men in couples, each lover and beloved selected from the ranks of the existing Theban citizen-army. The pairs consisted of the older "heniochoi", or charioteers, and the younger "paraibatai", or companions, who were all housed and trained at the city's expense. . . .

After the Theban general Pelopidas recaptured the acropolis of Thebes in 379 BCE, he assumed command of the Sacred Band, in which he fought alongside his good friend Epaminondas. It was Pelopidas who formed these couples into a distinct unit: he "never separated or scattered them, but would stand [them with himself in] the brunt of battle, using them as one body."[5] They became, in effect, the "special forces" of Greek soldiery[6], and the forty years of their known existence (378–338 BCE) marked the pre-eminence of Thebes as a military and political power in late-classical Greece.

The Sacred Band under Pelopidas fought the Spartans[7] at Tegyra in 375 BCE, vanquishing an army that was at least three times its size. It was also responsible for the victory at Leuctra in 371 BCE, called by Pausanias the most decisive battle ever fought by Greeks against Greeks. Leuctra established Theban independence from Spartan rule and laid the groundwork for the expansion of Theban power, but possibly also for Philip II's eventual victory. . . .

Defeat came at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BCE), the decisive contest in which Philip II of Macedon, with his son Alexander, extinguished the Theban hegemony. Alexander became the first to break through the Band's line,[8] which had hitherto been thought invincible. The traditional hoplite infantry was no match for the novel long-speared Macedonian phalanx: the Theban army and its allies broke and fled, but the Sacred Band, although surrounded and overwhelmed, refused to surrender. It held its ground and fell where it stood. Plutarch records that Philip II, on encountering the corpses "heaped one upon another", understanding who they were, exclaimed,
Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.

But then, maybe that's what they're afraid of.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

DADT: The Battle Begins

After yesterday's stirring testimony by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, the expected wailing and rending of garments has begun in earnest, as exemplified by this moronic piece of tripe from one Mackubin Thomas Owens in WSJ (and it's at the point that we can count on WSJ for really stupid OpEds):

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, who no doubt knows something about racial discrimination, made the proper distinction in a reply to former Rep. Pat Schroeder during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in 1992 when she argued that point. "Skin color is a benign nonbehavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument," he said.

The reason for excluding open homosexuals from the military has nothing to do with equal rights or freedom of expression. Indeed, there is no constitutional right to serve in the military. The primary consideration must be military effectiveness. Congress should keep the ban in place. It certainly should not change the law when the United States is engaged in two wars.

What Owens fails to point out is that Powell has come out strongly in favor of repeal of DADT, and that there is no evidence to support any of the contentions he lists in his essay -- and make no mistake, they are mere contentions, with no more weight than anyone else's unfounded and ill-informed personal opinion.

The other is professional homophobe Peter Sprigg, representing the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council:

On the February 2 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Sprigg -- who once said he would "prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States" -- claimed that "the presence of homosexuals in the military is incompatible with good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion. That's exactly what Congress found in 1993. And that's what the law states." Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network replied that "there is no data, there is no evidence, there is no study whatsoever that you can point to, to support that outrageous statement."

But then, what does anyone expect him to say? He doesn't get paid for being rational. In case you think I'm being harsh, Andrew Sullivan has telling illustration of Sprigg's real attitude:

Matthews: So we should outlaw gay behavior.

Sprigg: Uh, yes! [laughs]

'Nuff said?

These arguments have been rebutted repeatedly and definitively:

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, foreign policy journal editor Mackubin Thomas Owens argued against repealing a ban on gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military by claiming it would "undermine the nonsexual bonding essential to unit cohesion"; Family Research Council senior fellow Peter Sprigg made a similar claim during the February 2 broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball. But those claims are heavily undermined by the fact that other countries allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military and have not experienced issues with "cohesion."

Pam Spaulding also has a good take-down, and a cautionary note from David Mixner:

The problem is that DADT isn't going to end in the near future - not even this year. These new converts are asking for a year long study and then maybe at least another year before implementation. After all is said and done, the implication is that once they 'study' us one more time, they might slowly integrate us into the Armed Forces over the next few years.

Given my previous posts on this topic, it's probably no surprise that I tend to agree with Mixner: it's another song and dance, and I'm hard put not to see a political motivation behind it, one that doesn't accord with the president's stated goals. I mean, c'mon, people -- can anyone think this issue hasn't been studied enough, and that there's not sufficient empirical evidence on what to do and how to do it? How stupid does the Pentagon think we are?

I should point out that one of Sullivan's readers has a different take on this approach:

Now, instead of changing the policy with a pen, which would certainly rankle some officers, he’s issuing orders, but giving time, and allowing the military to do its thing – which is to study, to figure out implementation, and to get the mission plan in place.

Like I said – it’s called governance. After eight years without it, I realize I’ve forgotten what it looks like and, no matter how frustrating, it feels like the right course of action. And, I’m a big gay democrat, who has wanted the ban ended for over twenty years.

Increasingly, I’m seeing this with just about everything the administration does and no matter the bumps in the road (and the periodic moments of cable-news-induced panic), I think I’m beginning to get it. Obama is governing. It’s hard work. It’s incremental. And, it’s working.

Sullivan agrees. I'm not convinced, and not only because this is a gay-related issue on which I want to see speedy action. The "governance approach" has brought us a stimulus package that was inadequate and a stall on health-care reform, with another mess looming on reform of the financial sector. I don't see how this translates to effectiveness on DADT repeal.

Yes, the testimony from both Gates and Mullen was encouraging and moving. I will be more encouraged and moved when it translates into something besides hemming and hawing.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Dragging Their Feet on DADT

It's becoming quit obvious that the Pentagon brass is fighting tooth and nail to avoid changing DADT. In spite of the president's stirring rhetoric, I doubt that we can expect any leadership from him on the issue -- he's real good at rhetoric, but on action -- not so much.

Pam's House Blend has a solid post on how it should work, drawing largely from this release from the Palm Center. What's key is this:

Recent media reports have suggested the Pentagon leadership may promote a lengthy process of implementation that would unfold over several years, a prospect that Palm Center experts found problematic. Dr. Nathaniel Frank, Senior Research Fellow at the Palm Center and author of “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America,” said the impact of the expected announcement would depend on an operational timeline that emphasizes strong leadership and swift implementation.

“The evidence is overwhelming that a quick turnaround on policy change minimizes disruptions to unit cohesion and morale,” he said. “If this is the goal, there should be no slow-rolling of the implementation process.” Frank pointed to the 1993 Rand Corporation report on implementing gay service that stated that openly gay service was entirely workable, but that a successful new policy must be “decided upon and implemented as quickly as possible” to avoid anxiety and uncertainty in the field. It said it was crucial “to convey a new policy that ends discrimination as simply as possible and to impose the minimum of changes on personnel.” Rand then outlined a Standard of Professional Conduct to guide interpersonal behavior that emphasized a uniform code of behavior for all service members.

But what we're hearing from the Pentagon is this:

Gates has voiced caution in the past against moving too quickly to repeal the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which began in the early 1990s, and Pentagon officials have made clear any changes should be incremental.

Some of the Pentagon's top officers oppose lifting the restrictions until at least the United States completes its withdrawal from Iraq.

And John Aravosis notes that the Pentagon is pulling out all the scare words, like "gay marriage" -- as if that had any relevance to DADT repeal.

Given the findings of the Palm Center, and the thrust of all research and real-life experience to date, I can't interpret the Petagon's stance as other than deliberate delaying tactics, to give opponents of repeal time to marshall their forces and start their campaigns. Apparently the only ones in the country who don't favor repeal are the military brass, Blue Dog Democrats, and Elaine Donnelley.

And since we can't count on leadership from anyone who should be leading on this, I submit that DADT repeal is as dead as any meaningful health-care reform.

On Reviewing

I've been having an e-mail exchange with author Elizabeth Hand (who will be featured in a special edition of Green Man Review on February 21), who sent me a gracious and thoughtful e-mail noting her appreciation of my reviews of several of her books, although my reaction has been mixed.

It got me thinking, once again, about my approach as a reviewer. I resist the classification of "critic," because to me that implies a critical stance or theory, which involves a set of preconceptions about what a work should be. (There's also the fact that most schools of criticism I've encountered are self-limiting -- they're ill-equipped to deal with a work of art as a whole. And a lot of them are largely political in outlook, which on the level of textual analysis I think is usually inappropriate.) I'm much more amenable to Samuel R. Delany's idea of "text-based" analysis, taking the "text" as sort of a Gestalt -- all of the classic elements are there, for example plot, character, milieu, and so forth -- but what becomes the operative factor is their interaction, they ways in which they reinforce each other.

I read a lot of genre fiction, which tends toward formula. As a rule, people think of "formula" in a negative light, but what becomes important to me is not whether a work is formulaic, but what the author (we'll stick to books for the time being) has done with the formula -- has he or she stretched the boundaries, and does that justify itself, or if he/she has worked within the formula, has it reached a peak? There's been, for example, a lot of buzz over the past few years about slipstream and interfictions, efforts in speculative fiction to push the genre boundaries outward until they become so tenuous as to disappear. (And yes, genre fiction is all about formula.) There are very few writers I've encountered who actually do it -- Jonathan Lethem, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Alexander Irvine, Connie Willis come to mind, all of whom tend to ignore genre tropes that get in the way of their stories.

And, since all those elements are interacting, I'm more interested in the final result than any particular aspect of the book, although I will give pride of place to character -- I see that as the necessary driving force for any story. So if milieu is merely sketched in, as long as there are clues to point me in a direction, I don't mind that (in fact, I enjoy it) as long as the characters are fully drawn. If the plot seems rather random, well, the universe throws you curves, and as long as events and characters mesh believably, I can deal with that.

In graphic literature, it becomes more complex: I insist that the drawings and layouts make a contribution to the narrative, that they actually function as part of the text. One of the reasons I'm not so enthusiastic about American comics pre-1985 or so is that they are merely illustrated stories, and the illustrations are, too often, terribly literal -- they don't carry any of the narrative.

There's necessarily a strong element of subjectivity in reviewing -- after all, it's my reaction to the work that I'm writing down -- but I try to hang that reaction on some sort of objective framework, based on my analysis of the text as described above. The ultimate question is, "Does it work?" I'm very well aware that what may not work for me may work very well for others (at this point in my career, I am an experienced, sophisticated and fairly demanding audience). So my main objective is to give as accurate an idea as I can of the experience of the work. Ultimately, I doubt anyone cares about my opinion on "good" or "bad," which are terms I try to avoid anyway. But if I can explain how I arrived at that opinion, that makes it worth something. (I noted to Liz Hand my too many experiences with reviews that told me nothing about the work and more than I wanted to know about the reviewer. Aside from the fact that I'm a fairly private person, it's not about me. My ego's healthy enough that it doesn't have to be.)

I may expand this as I think more about it, or maybe do further installments. And just for fun, why do you read reviews?

Monday, February 01, 2010

In Memoriam

Kage Baker passed away early yesterday morning. If you don't know the name, she was one of the finest writers I've run across, an extraordinarily versatile and intelligent teller of tales. Details here.