Thursday, January 31, 2008

Would He Have Edited His Own Conduct If It Were In a Movie?

According to CBS News, Daniel Thompson, a man who used to run a business editing feature films to remove conduct inappropriate for children has been arrested on suspicion of having sex with children.

Allegedly, in a great show of hyprocrisy (and cheapness) he paid two 14-year-old girls a total of $20 to perform oral sex on him.

Do I even need to say why this man is a hypocrite (if he's guilty of these acts, of course)?

Because while he discouraged others from viewing "dirty"* behavior in movies, he actually engaged in "dirty" behavior. Thompson's behavior, in fact, indicates that he is unable to realize that having sex with children is more harmful to children than bad words on television are.

Welcome, Mr. Thompson, to the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.

*Apparently, there's a real market for this sort of thing. (Er, editing movies that is). Observe this happy heterosexual-led nuclear family enjoying an evening of smut-free movie fun!

That's right folks, get ClearPlay now! Because shielding your children from profanity, violence, and nudity in movies means they will never have to encounter these 'evils' in real life!

(Shoutout to John for the heads-up on this one!)

[UPDATE: Apparently, The CBS story in the above link wrongly stated that Thompson managed a "Clean Flicks" store. The Clean Flicks company is now saying that Thompson has been wrongly using their name and trademark without permission and that he has never been an agent or manager for the company.

Adding weight to the claim that Thompson is a hypocrite, however, Thompson is still linked to a "Flix Club store, which his police report says was really a cover for a pornography studio. And, he allegedly asked the two teenagers to be a in a pornographic movie.]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

That Other Collateral Damage of War

For those who believe feminism is dead, I offer the following account.

Multiple men, who are US government contractors working in Iraq, allegedly gang-raped, Jamie Leigh Jones, a female co-worker. Afterwards, the company the woman was working for- Halliburton/KBR, held her under guard in a shipping container. The woman was released when, after contacting her family via a borrowed cell phone from a sympathetic guard, the State Department intervened. She was examined by Army doctors and, after it was turned over to the company, the rape kit "disappeared." (I have left out many gruesome details, but you can read them here.)

"Over two years later, the Justice Department has brought no criminal charges in the matter. In fact, ABC News could not confirm any federal agency was investigating the case.

Legal experts say Jones' alleged assailants will likely never face a judge and jury, due to an enormous loophole that has effectively left contractors in Iraq beyond the reach of United States law.....

KBR has moved for Jones' claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom. It says her employment contract requires it.

In arbitration, there is no public record nor transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Jones' claims would not be heard before a judge and jury. Rather, a private arbitrator would decide Jones' case. In recent testimony before Congress, employment lawyer Cathy Ventrell-Monsees said that Halliburton won more than 80 percent of arbitration proceedings brought against it."

Now, I'm confused. I hear all the time how women and men are now equal in society. Feminism is dead, they say. Time to quit with the gender card. Identity politics is so divisive and unnecessary. See, I'm confused because despite feminism's alleged death by irrelevancy, a group of men allegedly gang-raped Jamie Leigh Jones and nothing can or has been done to the men. Not even a trial to determine if Jones is telling the truth. (And yes, I think she is).

In a world where feminism was no longer needed, men and groups of men would not rape women (or men).

In a world where feminism was no longer needed, men accused of rape would be the ones held in guarded cells.

In a world where feminism was no longer needed, a woman who had been raped by her male co-workers would not be held in a cell with male co-workers guarding her escape.

In a world where feminism was no longer needed, rape kits would not "disappear."

In a world where feminism was no longer needed, the rape of women would not be an acceptable collateral damage of war.

In a world where feminism was no longer needed, the rape of a woman would be cause for media outcry (or at least coverage).

I share the feelings of this blogger, who writes,

"I found myself reeling, reading all of this. I read three major newspapers every single day. I watch the news every night at 10. I pay attention to the blogosphere and to the internet in general. I am on numerous feminist and women’s e-mail loops as well, yet until now – mostly by happenstance, because I don’t normally click on incoming links – I had not heard of this atrocity."

We regularly read about the deaths of our soldiers. And yes, the death of a soldier is a travesty. But so is the rape of another human being, perhaps a citizen or perhaps another soldier. If not for feminist media, where else do we hear about that "other" collateral damage of war?

Call me a leftist gender warrior, but I say feminism is alive and well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Well, It's Official

I'm voting for Obama.

I have been undecided for a long time. But alas, as the Illinois primary approaches, I decided it was time to jump off the fence.

The three viable Democratic contenders are pretty similar on the issues. Clinton is running on experience, Obama is running on inspiration, and Edwards is running on populism. And, while I don't agree with any candiate on every single issue (and admittedly would prefer a viable Green Party candidate), I think that any of the Democrats will be better than a Republican. (By the way, where are all the non-white, non-male Republican candidates?).

My reasons for Obama?

1. On the issues, my beliefs align with Obama's more than any other viable candidate. On what I believe are our nation's most pressing issues: Obama is for expanding health coverage and ensuring access to care, restoring human rights in the context of war, increasing social security taxes on the very wealthy to help "save" social security, reducing the Bush tax cuts to help pay for health care, immigrants earning a path to citizenship, and gradual withdraw of troops from Iraq.

On "moral" issues, Obama favors a woman's right to choose, supports stem cell research, supports benefits for same-sex partnerships (I think he should support full marriage equality, and perhaps in time, he will), wants to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," opposes the death penalty, and opposes an absolute right to gun ownership.

On environmental issues, he supports investing in alternative sources of energy and has sponsored legislation to improve energy efficiency.

As I said before, my beliefs also closely parallel those of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. What tips the scales in favor of Obama are the following criteria:

2. Obama's speeches and campaign are, by far, more inspirational than any other candidate's.

3. Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush-Obama is democratically and "in America anyone can grow up to be President" more appealing to me than Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush-Clinton.

4. On a similar note, he represents more of a change in Washington than does Clinton. I don't see his "lack of experience" as a liability, but as more of a refreshing change.

5. While all candidates are over-eager to prove their Christian street cred to the masses, he is adept at handling Christian bullying.

When, during his Senate campaign, contender Alan Keyes claimed that "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama," Obama articulately responded,

"...[W]hen [liberals and progressives] ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway....

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

Amen to that.

To conclude, I would have loved to for our nation to have its first female Commander-in-Chief (and perhaps Clinton will win the nomination). But ultimately, I have to go with the candidate who inspires me, who represents change, will stand up to fundamentalist Christian bullying, and whose beliefs on major issues best align with mine.

Here's to a Bush-free (and optimistically Republican-free) Presidency in T-minus 355 days.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Benefit of Marriage #4: Immigration and Permanent Residence

Immigration is a contentious issue and there are many directions an article about immigration could take. As this article is part of my Benefits of Marriage series, I want to explore how immigration law relates to marriage law. My point in this series is to iterate how the fight for marriage equality is not an abstract, theoretical game. While so-called marriage defenders discuss at length about the alleged future harm to marriage that would be caused by marriage equality, they are unable to provide anything more than abstract predictions. They talk a big game, stating as fact their beliefs about "family destruction," "downfall of society," and "sex-segregated marriage" (yes, really). But ultimately, their beliefs are just that. Beliefs.

For those of us on the side of marriage equality, these are our specifics. The facts. The real, everyday harms that are occurring to real people. Right now.

Before discussing how immigration laws are related to marriage, it will probably be helpful to provide a brief overview of immigration law. The basic law governing immigration in the US is the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA). As this helpful overview states, "For INA purposes, an 'alien' is any person who is not a citizen or a national of the United States. There are different categories of aliens: resident and nonresident, immigrant and nonimmigrant, documented and undocumented ('illegal')."

Why is US citizenship important for those living in the US? Because under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." In other words, and in theory at least, all US citizens have certain Constitutionally-protected privileges and rights. There is no such guarantee for non-citizens. For some concrete examples of the rights that US citizens have, they can: vote, receive more public benefits than non-citizens, receive legal protections, freely travel between countries with no time restrictions, and cannot be removed or deported from the US.

And abstractly, of course, you can say that you're a bona fide part of the good 'ol US of A.

Okay, sorry if this article is sorta Civics 101, but how does one become a US citizen? There are two ways: by birth or by naturalization. (Children from other countries who are adopted by US citizen parents automatically become US citizens when they move to the US).

Generally, there are numerical limits on the numbers of aliens who are allowed to become naturalized every year. The general requirements for naturalization include a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States; residence in a particular USCIS District prior to filing; an ability to read, write, and speak English; a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government; good moral character; attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and,
favorable disposition toward the United States.

The general rule is that applicants for naturalization must first have been admitted to the US as a lawful permanent resident. To become a permanent resident, one usually needs a family member or employer to sponsor him or her. As the group Immigration Equality notes, employer sponsorship is the most common way that LGBT persons to become permanent residents. For, only opposite-sex spouses count as "family members" for purposes of green card sponsorship.

Okay, let's pause for a minute to note that a foreigner who is in a same-sex relationship with a US citizen has exactly one less route to permanent residence (and therefore, to US citizenship) than does a foreigner who is married to a US citizen.

This policy applies even to those who were married in countries or states where two persons of the same sex are allowed to legally marry. Thanks again, DOMA!.

Hundreds of thousands of opposite-sex couples take advantage of the "family" route to permanent residence. As one immigration attorney notes,

"Each year, over 400,000 citizens of the United States marry foreign-born persons and petition for them to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered "immediate relatives" under the immigration laws, and are exempt from all numerical quota limitations. In other words, marriage to a U.S. citizen is the fast lane to a green card."

In 2000, there were approximately 35,820 bi-national same-sex couples in the US who would benefit from equal immigration rights.

So, here are some options to give same-sex couples equal rights with respect to this unfair set of laws:

1. Repeal DOMA. This would mean that for purposes of all federal laws, benefits, and privileges, marriage would no longer be restrictively defined as only "one man and one woman." Repealing DOMA will mean that same-sex couples legally married in other countries and states would receive the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex married couples.

2. Pass a law that recognizes same-sex "permanent partners" as "family" for green card sponsorship purposes. In fact, Contact congress now and tell them to support the Uniting American Families Act!

3. The best option, in terms of receiving all federal marial benefits, would be to repeal DOMA and allow same-sex couples to marry in (every state of ) the US. The repeal of DOMA would mean that the word "spouse" in every federal law could include same-sex spouses as well as opposite-sex spouses. If same-sex couples were given full marriage rights in the US, they could freely sponsor their non-citizen same-sex spouses for legal permanent residence.

(Just for fun, see if you could pass the Naturalization test)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gay Men Are Not the Default Non-Hetero Human Being

I take issue with statements and articles that assume gay men are the default non-heterosexual human being. Unfortunately, just as "man" is the historical default human being, some gay men- some heterosexuals- hold the view that gay men are the non-hetero standard human and lesbians (and bisexuals) are some sort of "other."

For instance,

1. Some Gay Men Do It

The latest Time magazine, in its series on "Love," includes an article called "Are Gay Relationships Different?" The purpose of the article is to explore whether gay relationships are different than heterosexual ones, yet the article is narrated by a gay man talking only of his own personal experience as a gay man, with a few crumbs thrown in about lesbian relationships. (I know, I know, it's the superficial pages of Time magazine, what more did I expect).

Even though what gay men and lesbians (and even heterosexuals) have in common far outnumbers our differences, gay men must be careful in presuming that their experience is The Authentic Gay Experience that can be generalized to all non-heterosexual experiences.

For instance, the gay male author writes of an old medical book talking about "the chapter on homosexuality" [that is, male homosexuality] that read "The homosexual must constantly search for the one man, the one penis, the one experience that will satisfy him. He is the sexual Diogenes, always looking for the penis that pleases. That is the reason he must change partners endlessly." Yet a few sentences later, indicating that the article is also about lesbians, the writer says, "Research on gay relationships is young. The first study to observe how gays and lesbians interact with their partners during conversations... wasn't published until 2003...." While speaking only from his personal experience as a gay man and citing old stereotypes about only gay men, it wasn't until 12 paragraphs into his short article that he mentions lesbians as well.

This sort of writing is reminiscent of early writings (both medical and oppositional) regarding "homosexuality." Homosexuality was largely framed as a male phenomenon. Homosexuals were men. Oh yeah, and women too when it was brought to the collective attention that women could also be gay. Yet, same-sex relationships, sexual behavior, or romantic feelings between women were largely seen as non-existent or non-threatening.

So, while the author in the Time magazine deigns to discuss "gay relationships," meaning gay and lesbian ones, he would have done better to limit his article solely to a discussion of gay male relationships and how they are different than other types of relationships. For, even though he invokes the phrase "and lesbians" a couple of times, the lesbian experience in nowhere in his article.

2. Anti-Gay Bigots Do It

What is more insidious, however, are anti-gay bigots. These folks are especially prone to thinking that gay men are the default non-heterosexual human. Unofficial chief of the anti-gay industry Peter LaBarbera of Americans Obsessed With Butt Sex For Truth About Homosexuality is particularly guilty of this. He bases much of his opposition to homosexuality on the "it spreads disease" argument- meaning, of course, that gay men have higher rates of HIV/AIDS than heterosexual people do and therefore gays and lesbians shouldn't have equal rights.

He writes,

"Wake up, medical and political establishment: homosexual behavior is unhealthy — no matter how many secular sermons you preach against "homophobia." Due to liberal political correctness, which insists on treating aberrant — even deadly — behaviors and lifestyles as a "civil right," we as a society don’t seem to have learned much from the AIDS pandemic....

Why aren’t all schoolchildren being taught that there are special health risks associated with homosexual behavior and that they should "just say no" to homosexuality?...

Why won’t the news media make the common-sense connection between these frequent stories about (male) homosexual behavior and disease — to the idea that perhaps it’s probably not smart for society and pop culture to celebrate homosexuality and bisexuality ?"

All this being said, I would like to ask him what his beef with lesbianism would be, as lesbians are at the lowest risk of HIV/AIDS out of any other group.

Oh, wait... wait a minute! His issue with lesbians is that (fictional) lesbian gangs are raping schoolgirls (a story later completely discredited. A-der), and that lesbian financial guru Suze Orman (wrongly) calls herself a virgin for being a Gold Star Lesbian (because if you have sex with women you're not actually "chaste").

Oh brother.

Those aren't real reasons for being against lesbians. Lesbians, to Pete, are an afterthought, just as "guilty" as gay men by virtue of association to everything homo. He doesn't want his sheeple to think too much about lesbians, because thinking about gay men is so much.... scarier. They get Teh AIDS and spread it! His writings about lesbians can be easily reduced to different variations of "ew gross, ew gross, ew gross" over and over again.

Now I forgot what I was originally talking about.

*thinking..... thinking*

Oh yeah.

Dear gay brothers,

Don't forget about the lesbians and other non-male-non-heteros and presume to think that you are speaking on behalf of "all gay people" when you tell your personal stories. Acting like Default Gay People pisses non-male gay people off. But that being said, we are in this together so all is forgiven.



Dear Peter,

I am eagerly awaiting your arrival in the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Question: Who are bigots whose actions discredit the anti-gay industry?

Answer: "Marriage defenders" who picket funerals of slain soldiers and movie stars because "God hates fags."

I can't decide if Phelps and Co. are mentally unwell or if they picket funerals just to get attention for themselves. Perhaps both.

Whatever the case, the only positive to come from this disgusting display of hatred and disrespect is that it helps turn the masses off from the anti-gay movement.

Rest in peace, Heath.

But At Least He's Anti-Choice and Doesn't Want Gay People to Marry...

"A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The study concluded that the statements 'were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.'"

You can find the study here, where you can read more details about how Bush "waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Putting aside the reprehensibility of Bush's waging of a war on false pretenses can I just take a brief moment to say this:

Way to go, "moral majority"! You did one "heckuva job" electing Bush on the basis of his supposed "family/tradition/moral values"! It's grand and all that gay people can't get married and that you have a couple more anti-choice boys on the Supreme Court (who are *totally* not activist judges). But seriously now, see what happens when you do a piss-poor job of diagnosing what our nation's social ills are?

Threats, threats everywhere....

Now, does anyone still have the gumption to tell me that advocates for marriage equality are the ones ruining America?

Thought so.

(To be fair, a White House spokeswoman said that these reports were "not worth spending time on." Oh. Okay. So that's all settled then.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Leftist Gender Warrior! Dun-dun-dun!

As if on cue, and fitting nicely into today's book review of Shut Up & Sing, previous Red Scare Award winner and anti-feminist blogger "Fitz" today provided another case study in conservative/anti-gay/anti-feminist propaganda-style messaging.

On the anti-gay blog of which he is a contributor, Fitz bemoaned "leftist gender warriors especially in our universities," elaborating on his recent article where he declared that advocates of marriage equality are "America's enemies."

Specifically, when he "thinks of 'enemies within'" he's thinking about the "important, well placed [sic], & influential element" of advocates for marriage equality, particularly in academia. And in Fit'z elaboration we see the liberal academia conspiracy theory once again rearing its beret-capped head.

("Fitz," without explanation, links to this article by conservative commentator Stanley Kurtz. I'm assuming here that Fitz does not mean to say that Mr. Kurtz is an enemy of America, but rather, that advocates for marriage equality are enemies of America).

How does Fitz use propaganda messaging?

Because, rather than discrediting an idea on its merits, he merely places a label on it and calls it a day:

"Extremist," "Element," "Marxist," "Enemy," "Homosexualist," "Identity Politics."

Ooooooh. Those are scawy, scawy words.

Fitz, you see, uses the messaging tactic of Name-Calling ("This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable.") and Demonizing the Enemy (Making his opponent seem "worthless, immoral, or sub-human." Unlike Fitz, who is an American, marriage equality advocates are enemies.) In addition, and this is the key part, after using these tactics, he offers no real or logical explanation as to why the idea or belief he is "critiquing" is in error. He lets his name-calling and demonizing stand on its own.

"Leftist gender warrior," eh? That may just be my new favorite phrase.

Thanks for today's chuckle, Fitz.

Perhaps this is what he has in mind....

Fannie's Room presents:

Leftist Gender Warrior Chronicles, Part I

Fannie: "Arrgggh! Arrrgggh! Arrrgh!" [insert hysterical, shrill screeching]

Society: "Save us, Fitz! Save uuuuuuuuuus!"

Fitz: "Watch me defend marriage and save society with my logic black belt. Take that you gender warrior!" *Crash* "Marxist!" *Boom* "Extremist!" *Bam* "Enemy of America!"

Fannie: "Ah hahahahahaha! Your tactics are no match for my sickle and sporty rollerblade! Ah hahahahahahah *cough* *cough* hahahahaha!" [Mad cackling]


Create your very own Leftist Gender Warrior (or Marriage Defender) here!

Book Review: Shut Up & Sing

Right off the bat I should tell you, I did not have high hopes for Laura Ingraham's anti-liberal book Shut Up & Sing (not to be confused with the Dixie Chicks documentary of the same name). The premise of the book is that so-called "elites" are stupid, evil, and ruining America. Seriously, the premise is that simple. Ingraham actually uses the word "stupid" several times.

Knowing her premise, I expected to be angry and/or annoyed much of the time I was reading it. However, upon reading the book, I relaxed. Ingraham's case against "elites," whomever they are, is nothing but a mostly unsubstantiated rant. A rant, rather than being a scholarly piece of work, is really sorta just propaganda. Which, again, made me nervous. Because propaganda is often more persuasive than cold, hard facts.

For instance, Ingraham bases almost all of her claims on her own stereotypes and assumptions about liberals, Democrats, and educated people. She is telling her audience of (presumably) conservative, Republican, un-educated, rural Americans exactly what they want, and are eager, to hear about the "elites." (I say presumably, because the only people Ingraham does not bash in her book are for the most part conservative, Republican, un-educated, rural Americans).

In short, in Ingraham, "the masses" have found an educated, conservative, Republican (elite?) who will validate their concerns regarding liberalism, Democrats, and educated people.

1. The premise of Shut Up & Sing is that so-called "elites" are ruining America. Concerned with this latest (vague) threat to the country, I immediately set out to discover what an "elite" is.

Is it someone who is highly educated? Yes. That seems to be one feature. In which case it is unclear as to why Ingraham (Dartmouth-Bachelor's, University of Virginia- Juris Doctor) does not meet her definition of elite (more on that in a minute).

Of these highly-educated "elites," Ingraham writes,

"The most left-wing of the elites hang their hats, or should I say berets, at our finest universities and colleges.... they are the establishment on campus" (15).

And mark another believer in the great liberal conspiracy theory of our educational institutions. (Although I have to admit that the beret bit was kinda funny). Ultimately, it's just not faaaa-ir that so many liberals are in academia. It's not faaaaaa-ir that Women's Studies programs, African-American studies programs, and LGBT studies programs exist in colleges. (It's also not faaaaa-ir that some Americans are hyphenated-Americans, because aren't we all Americans?). Much like conservatives will not be satisfied until creationism is taught alongside evolution in classrooms, the likes of Ingraham will not be satisfied until conservatives are equally represented in academia. Regardless of the merits of their positions.

Okay, so elites are "highly-educated" (yet "stupid," of course).

Yet there are also "media elites," "cultural elites," "business elites," and "world citizen elites." Although she admits that elites run across the political spectrum, she really only bashes Democrats and liberals- perhaps proving that it is okay to be "elite" as long as you agree with Ingraham. Media and cultural elites essentially are famous people, like Susan Sarandon and the Dixie Chicks, who are liberal (it's also essential, when denouncing these liberals, to include the most unflattering pictures of these people as you can). As the title of her book suggests, these entertainers should just shut up about politics and entertain us. Well, the ones with whom Ingraham disagrees should shut up, anyway. "World citizen elites" are those who believe in the outrageous, preposterous, outlandish notion that we are all citizens of the world (rather than just American citizens).

In the end, I was left unsatisfied by her definition of "elite." Ingraham has created a straw-group of people that she abstractly calls the "elites," whose sole common bond is essentially any person who holds a position that she does not agree with. For, even though she's influential, wealthy, and highly-educated, she is not an elite. Throughout her book, she claims that the "elites" do not reflect the values of "we the people" or "Americanism" or "democracy." Even though she has conducted no poll, she believes she speaks for America. Citing no evidence whatsoever, she believes that conservative views are the views of "the masses," of the real America. Does anyone else find it troubling that she views the beliefs of an admittedly uneducated group of people as "real American values." Or that ignorant viewpoints represent the real America? It is here that I must note that she not once tried to prove the correctness of her conservative beliefs. Her "case" is essentially this: Elites are educated but they're stupid so we shouldn't listen to them. The masses are uneducated but they know what's best because there is more of them.

Not exactly the case I would make for saying my position is correct. But then again, logic is surely a highfalutin' "elite" notion.

The group she uses to contrast with the "elites" are "the masses"- also known as the common people, the little people, or Americans. Yes. Americans. [*Brief pause to check my passport to make sure I'm still an American* ] See, Ingraham implicitly defines an American as those people who agree with her: conservative, Republican, rural, religious, and uneducated people (white, heterosexual ones, of course). The "other," the "anti-American," is anything that falls outside of this narrow group. Conveniently. By defining a true American as those who agree with Ingraham, Shut Up & Sing is an exercise in political, religious, and social intolerance.

In short, Ingraham's novel is a case study in how conservatives have hijacked the phrase "American values" by instilling their beliefs in that phrase- allowing conservatives to claim that anything other than a conservative outlook is by definition un-American.

2. When speaking about the Iraq War, Ingraham (who was writing in 2003) continually and almost-embarrassingly does a premature victory dance. For instance, she quotes Senator Ted Kennedy as warning in 2003 that a war with Iraq,

"will not advance the defeat of Al Qaeda, but undermine it. It will antagonize critical allies and crack the global coalition that came together after September 11. It will feed the rising tide of anti-Americanism overseas, and swell the ranks of al Qaeda recruits and sympathizers. It will strain our diplomatic, military, and intelligence resources and reduce our ability to root out terrorists...."

After this quote, Ingraham taunts that Kennedy was "Wrong, wrong, wrong" on all counts.

When, of course, we know now that Kennedy ended up being right. According to this GAO report, Iraq is worse off in many measures than before the war. What is disturbing is that Ingraham fell, hook, line, and sinker for Bush's "Mission Accomplished" victory speech regarding the war in Iraq and implied that Senator Kennedy, by warning us about the war, was an "elite" who hates America. With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back and see that this war is still occurring and has not been as successful as Ingraham unquestionably believed it to be (and was based on lies propagated by the Bush Administration).

Ingraham, as the title of her book does more than suggest, would prefer for critics of Ameican foreign policy and people with whom she disagrees, to just keep quiet. To silence liberals, she uses the age-old jibe that those who vocally disagree with her or conservatives "hate America" or that liberals are somehow America's enemies. And, even though free speech is a quintessential American value, liberals should just shut up. If they don't shut up, they hate America. If you don't agree with her, you hate America. See how that little trick works? It's really a quite common tactic (eh Fitzy?) and entirely deserving of a Red Scare Award! (Congratulations).

3. Ingraham writes, "By definition, elites can never outnumber common folk" and with the ever-increasing population (thanks to huge families and megachurches) of "the common folk," elites will some day be "effectively contained." (41)

With her message that powerful "elites" are evil combined with her acknowledgment that the "common" people are more numerous and, therefore, more powerful than the "elites," Ingraham's message is at its core sorta socialist. (Don't tell her that, as she lambasts liberal commies and Marxists throughout her book!). I agree with Ingraham that the one thing the masses have over "elites" (whoever they are) is that they heavily outnumber the "elites."

It's just too bad that so many of the masses fall for conservative rubbish exemplified by Ingraham's novel than they believe in liberal polices that could actually benefit them. By continuing to vote Republican and "family values," the blue-collar masses continue voting directly against their financial self-interest. While "the masses" obsess over which candidate will not allow gay people to marry, their elected politicians help widen the gap between the very rich and the poor, vote to extend a perpetual war that makes a few people richer and poor kids dead, and extend tax breaks that mostly benefit millionaires. (Hello recession, by the way!)

It makes the very rich happy, you see, when the little people vote against their own interests. It makes the very rich happy when blue-collar working stiffs denounce liberals and progressives as "reds" and "commies." The working class so prides itself on its "Americanism" and "American values" that it will automatically denounce anything that has an "un-American" label on it, no matter what the merits of the idea are.

In sum, I found this "New York Times Bestseller" to be a collection of stereotypes and personal attacks on a group of people defined mostly by Ingraham's dislike of them than on anything they have in common with each other. And, that such a negative book would be a bestseller in this country is depressing. Do people really believe what Ingraham believes? Does this book pass as an accurate diagnosis of America's social ills amongst the conservative crowd and the masses? Do they really believe that America's problems are brought on by a vaguely-defined group of liberal "elites"?

While denouncing an alleged victim mentality of "elites," Ingraham has created the perfect justification for conservatives to turn themselves into victims: Liberal elites are attempting to oppress the "the masses" and (conservative) "American values."

At the risk of sounding elitist, I must end on this note: After reading Ingraham's book, it's apparent to anyone with any sort of brains that the Empress is not wearing clothes. Now it's just a question of when Ingraham's audience will figure it out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Denialism, the Masses, and an Independent Judiciary

I recently came across the denialism blog, a ScienceBlog dedicated to discussing the problem of denialists.

What's a denialist, you might ask?

Well, Denialism is:

"The employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one's viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions."

A denialist would be one who engages in such tactics.

We've all come across such people. What's scary, however, is that denialists are frequently successful in convincing large numbers of people that their ideas are sound.

"Examples of common topics in which denialists employ their tactics include: Creationism/Intelligent Design, Global Warming denialism, Holocaust denial, HIV/AIDS denialism, 9/11 conspiracies, Tobacco Carcinogenecity denialism (the first organized corporate campaign), anti-vaccination/mercury autism denialism and anti-animal testing/animal rights extremist denialism."

Previously, I pondered why it was that so many social conservatives deny that humans are causing climate change despite the scientific consensus that says otherwise. While I found several explanations, I did not explore the tactics that those who hold this belief use.

denialism blog, however, does explore these tactics:

"5 general tactics are used by denialists to sow confusion. They are conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic."

The denialism bloggers regularly point out examples of such tactics being used and, I must admit, I'm a little jealous that they came up with this brilliant idea before I did! At the same time, denialism is offensive to many of our sensibilities, and I'm really glad for the sake of propaganda analysis that the bloggers are so good at what they do.

For, many people in our country are denialists, or they believe the teachings of denialists. Because they do not understand concepts like peer review and the scientific method, they believe denialist claims of "scientific consensus" conspiracies. Because a scientific theory conflicts with their religious beliefs, they argue that a scientific theory is just a theory and it doesn't prove anything. What is most frustrating to me is that, in the interest of presenting "both sides" of an issue, the media often perpetuates denialist claims thereby creating the appearance of genuine uncertainty over certain issues. As a result, although they lack truth and merit, many people then latch onto denialist claims.

denialism blog likens denialists, also called "cranks," to people with a mental illness as they "continue to hold unreasonable attitudes about the world in the face of evidence to the contrary." Perhaps a more descriptive definition of a crank, however, comes from a cited social psychology journal article describing "how people who are incompetent not only have an inflated sense of their own competence, but are also incapable of even recognizing competence."

(I can think of a few "debates" I've had with people from that one blog that shall not be named who pretty much define that description.)

Anyway, what is great about our country is, to use a cliche, that we have free speech and association. We can write blogs about almost anything we want. We can form organizations, clubs, and advocacy groups. But with this freedom, well... to steal the best phrase ever from Teh Portly Dyke, comes the ability to turn our channels of media (especially the internet) into kiddie pools full of poop. And, really, I don't have much confidence in the masses to distinguish the poop from the Snickers bars.

So there you have it. I admit it. I believe the masses can be easily, for lack of a better word, hoodwinked. (The reasons are myraid and entirely deserving of a post of its own.) And, in the face of such hoodwinkery and misinformation I don't believe it is appropriate for "we the bigoted people" to decide what other people's fundamental, constitutional rights are.

To use just one example: If the majority of this country believes, despite most credible scientific evidence saying otherwise, that a god created the earth 5000 years ago and that such a belief is "science," I don't want them to affirmatively vote to teach such belief as scientific fact in public schools. I want an independent judiciary, that was designed specifically to protect from tyranny of the majority, to step in and disallow that teaching. Even if most people want that teaching taught. Even if most people cry "let the people vote." Call me elitist, but I don't want a misinformed public having the final say as to what my rights are.

Do you?

This is all assuming, of course, that our independent judiciary is not composed of cranks.

In which case, goddess save our country.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wait, Who's Destroying Families? Another Case of Political Hypocrisy

The anti-gay prosecutor, Chuck Rosenthal (R), who argued before the US Supreme Court that sodomy laws should be upheld may be fired after the "discovery of e-mails containing sexually explicit videos, racist jokes and what is described as torrid love notes to his executive secretary."

As a refresher, Rosenthal argued in Lawrence v. Texas that the law criminalizing gay sex (er, "deviate sexual intercourse") should be upheld. Rosenthal lost his case as the Supreme Court struck down this law in 2003. What made the Texas sodomy law particularly heinous is that it applied only to same-sex sexual behavior. Specifically, it prohibited oral and anal sex only between people of the same sex, whereas some state sodomy laws prohibited these acts between all people.

Let's all take a moment to remember that as late as 2003, some states were still telling gay people (and sometimes straight people)- consenting adults- that they could not have sex in the privacy of their own homes! Effectively, many of my friends and I were criminals the entire 4 years I lived in Missouri.


Why is Rosenthal a hypocrite? The reasons are several:

1. Rosenthal is married and portrayed himself as a 'family values' candidate in his campaign.

2. Rosenthal argued in the Supreme Court, "I think that this Court having determined that there are certain kinds of conduct that it will accept and certain kinds of conduct it will not accept may draw the line at the bedroom door of the heterosexual married couple because of the interest that this Court has that this Nation has and certainly that the State of Texas has for the preservation of marriage, families and the procreation of children."

Rosenthal was essentially arguing that butt sex destroys marriage and families. And, while he was busy doing that, I suppose he forgot that it's actually adultery and, um, porn watching that destroys many marriages.

3. He also argued, "there is no protected right to engage in extrasexual - extramarital sexual relations." What really makes Chuck a hypocrite is that he believes that while others don't have the right to engage in "extrasexual- extramarital sexual relations," he does have that right. In short, he holds people to moral standards that he doesn't hold himself to.

But worse, his hypocritical actions will actually damage his marriage and family. Something gay sex has never done. (Unless, of course, he has more secrets yet to be uncovered....)

Congratulations, Chuck. Your spot in the H Hall of Shame is well-deserved!

I also must note that the allegations regarding racial jokes are, perhaps, even more troubling than his sexual indiscretions. We cannot reasonably expect the fair and equitable administration of justice in light of evidence that a state's top prosecutor is racist.

One example of the "jokes" found on his computer:

A picture "depicting a black man sprawled out on a sidewalk next to large slices of watermelon, a cup of soda and a chicken bucket. The title of the e-mail: Fatal Overdose."

While Chuck brags about his success in prosecuting and convicting criminals, I can't help but think that these recent revelations are even more evidence of a much larger epidemic regarding race and the criminal justice system.

One defense attorney says this of Rosenthal and the flaws in the criminal justice system,

"As I enter my 10th year as a criminal defense attorney in Harris County, I am more concerned than ever that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is systemically flawed — and that its leader, Chuck Rosenthal, has fostered a culture of inequality wherein which defendants are treated differently, not because of what they've done, but because of who they are."

It will be interesting to see how this pans out for Chuck.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Yes, CLEARLY, This Conclusion is INESCAPABLE!

More HIV/AIDS (mis)information linked to from Lifesite:

"South Africa and the neighboring countries of Botswana and Swaziland have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the world and also the highest rate of condom distribution.

The conclusion is inescapable that more condoms mean more cases of AIDS and more deaths."

Because, of course, when condoms are distributed everyone uses them and uses them correctly! The CDC, HIV prevention specialists, doctors, and the entire consensus of the health and scientific community has it all wrong in yet another liberal left-wing conspiracy.

What is disgusting to me is that uber-conservatives spread such misinformation, misinformation that can lead to more infections, all in the name of promoting their cookie-cutter family image:

"Marriage and family," you see, "are the real solution to the AIDS pandemic."

Whatever those glittering words mean, we should start packaging them and dropping them from helicopters to save the world.

The Illogic of Civil Unions

As you may know, New Hampshire's legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex civil unions. This law went into effect January 1, 2008. Lest any marriage defenders worry, though, civil unions are totally not marriage. For, marriage and civil unions, we all know, are separate [but equal?] institutions. And it's a good thing. Because we wouldn't want to call two things that are essentially so very different by the same word. See, marriage is for one man and one woman. Civil unions are for one man and one man or one woman and one woman.

Since same-sex couples require civil unions, as opposed to marriage, let's explore how civil unions are different from marriage.

1. State Benefits.

According to the New Hampshire Civil Union Law a civil union is a legal status in which the parties have "the same rights, responsibilities, and obligations as married couples."

See, people who are married are entitled to certain state rights and subject to certain obligations and responsibilities. The difference between marriage and civil union is that parties to a civil union are entitled to the same rights and subject to the same obligations and responsibilities that married people are.


It is necessary to call same-sex relationships "civil union" and opposite-sex relationships "marriage" to emphasize that both types of relationships are entitled to the exact same state benefits and responsibilities.

Oh wait. This example wasn't much of a difference. In fact, it's a similarity.

Moving on.

2. Federal Benefits

Married couples in New Hampshire are entitled to all of the federal benefits and responsibilities that come along with marriage. Civil union-ed couples are not (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act).

It is necessary to call same-sex relationships "civil union" and opposite-sex relationships "marriage" to emphasize that one type of relationship is entitled to federal benefits and responsibilities and one is not.

In this sense, we see that married couples are "more equal" than civil unioned couples. Scratch that. In this sense, we see that married couples are more privileged than civil union-ed couples.

3. More Than a Committed Friendship

Recognizing that same-sex couples are more than just two good friends who want to live together, the New Hampshire law does not allow one to be civil unionized if that person is already married or civil unioned to someone else.

Oh wait, that's another similarity.

4. Ceremony

Because marriage and civil unions are so different,

"The exact same individuals authorized to legally join two people in marriage are authorized to join two people in a civil union."

Oops, golly, that's another similarity.

5. Age

Oh, wait. These relationships are different.

14-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls can obtain permission to marry in New Hampshire. However, those seeking to civil unionize must be at least 18.

Okay, this post has been an exercise in demonstrating the schizophrenia of civil union law. Marriage defenders are so eager to hoard marriage as their own that they blind themselves to the fact that gay people who want to marry just like straight people who want to marry! Yet, having teased out the one major difference between gay and straight couples (gender of each partner) they are convinced that this difference precludes same-sex partners from having a marital relationship.

And now, we have a situation where those in civil unions receive all of the state benefits of marriage, but they cannot call their relationships "marriage." Those in civil unions must have ceremonies officiated by the same types of officials that officiated weddings, but they cannot call their relationships "marriage."

I suppose we should be thankful for at least the state benefits of marriage that are conferred upon civil union-ed couples (because there are many in the anti-equality movement who seek to deny us even civil unions). But because civil union-ed couples are unable to receive the federal benefits of marriage, civil unions remain an unequal institution when compared to marriage.

It is frustrating, infuriating, and unfair that we must have two unequal institutions for the same thing. And those who claim that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are not "the same" need a serious reality check. Sure, there are LGBT persons who do not want or seek marriage, and that's okay (just as it's okay for heterosexuals not to marry).

Fundamentally, those who oppose marriage equality while being for civil unions must be morally okay with the concept of separate and unequal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Congratulations to Congress!

I'd like to take a minute to congratulate Congress on the recent pay raise they gave themselves. Woop woop!

In 2008, they will receive $4,100 more than they made in 2007, bringing their salaries to a total of $169,300.

Since Congress recently raised the federal minimum wage for hardworking low-income persons to $5.85/hour, they were likely reminded that they, hardworking public servants struggling to get by, were due for a raise as well. Adding to the necessity of the pay raise is the fact that a whopping 25% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.


Book Review: The Future of Marriage, Part II

This is a continuation of my book report on David Blankenhorn's anti-gay marriage book, The Future of Marriage.

In Part I of my review, I ended with this thought: What the definition of marriage is, to me, seems less relevant than the policy reasons for and against allowing gay people to get married. Specifically, I think it is more relevant, prudent, and important to ask "what are the pros and cons of gay marriage?" than "what is marriage?"

4. The Children

I have a hunch that Blankenhorn might agree. In fact, he describes the marriage debate as two sets of rights pushing up against each other: The rights of gay people versus the rights of children. I applaud his willingness to try to tease out "the threat" that gay marriage poses to society (ie- children), even though, ultimately, I disagree with his conclusion. Most people opposed to marriage equality speak greatly of the "threat" that it poses, but when pressed for more details are unable to articulate what the threat actually is.

Blankenhorn writes, that in "prehistory" "to increase the likelihood of survival and success, the human infant needs a father and the human mother needs a mate." (p. 35). He firmly believes: "For every child, a mother and a father." (p.91). But, does he explain and provide evidence for this buzz phrase? What does the phrase even mean? That having a mother and a father is the most important characteristic of a parental unit? More important, even, than saneness, ability to provide for the well-being of a child, or love, kindness and compassion?

Blankenhorn is smart enough to know that he will have to do better than making an unsubstantiated and "intuitive" claim that every child needs a mother and a father. And, he cites his friend David Popenoe as saying "Compared to all other family forms, families headed by married, biological parents are best for children." (p.123). At this point, I should note that Blankenhorn's cite for this quote comes from this "fact sheet" put out by his very own think tank. Looking at the "fact sheet," I find it, ahem, superficial and unsatisfying as the quotes are from other "fact sheets," newspaper articles, Blankenhorn's friends, and an unknown group of "sixteen social scientists" as opposed to scholarly articles.

But more importantly, he has committed the same fallacies that other anti-equality advocates are guilty of regarding what the research says about parenthood. He cites one researcher as saying "numerous studies have shown that individuals generally fare best both in childhood and in later life when they grow up with both of their biological parents" (p. 198). What he omits from his analysis is the fact that these numerous studies were comparing single motherhood to two-parent families.

Yet, as I wrote before "the research actually looking at same-gender families reveal no inherent deficits or adjustment problems when compared to opposite-gender families." The negative outcomes observed mostly come from "single motherhood" as they are compared to heterosexual married couples. Clearly, same-sex couples are not "single mothers" so it is illogical and dishonest to infer that children of same-sex couples will have similar negative outcomes that children of single mothers do. So, while "For every child, a mother and a father" (versus "For every child, two parents") may be intuitively appealing to him (and many) it isn't backed up in research.

His second argument as to why all children need a mother and a father is, basically this: All children should have a mother and a father because, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, all children have the right to be raised by their biological parents. "Parents," of course, meaning only biological mothers and fathers. Blankenhorn sees adoption and alternative reproduction as denials of "this basic birthright"- a birthright that is more important than and incompatible with the right of same-sex couples to marry.

I find Blankehorn's invocation of the the UN Convention troubling for several reasons. One, a sort-of tangential point, the US has not ratified the UN Convention. It's not law in the US. Two, he's again taking a descriptive statement and turning it into a normative one. For example: X is the law, therefore X should be the law. I don't want him to tell me what the law is, I want him to tell me why it should be that way. His argument is an appeal to a higher authority much like some argue "The Bible says gay people are wrong, so gay people are wrong."

But I see where he's trying to go. He believes that it is a violation of international human rights law for gay couples to raise their (non-biological) children. And with the phrase "human rights violation" all sorts of horrible things are invoked. But, let's stop, take a deep breath, and remember the research regarding gay parenting and what the actual harm is and is not. (Hint: More "is not" than "is"). As I said, I don't want him to tell me that it's a human rights violation, I want him to tell me why it is a human rights violation. What is so horrible about alternative reproduction and adoption that makes it a violation?

Blankenhorn, in his insistence that it's a human right for all children to be raised by their biological mother and father excludes from his reasoning the phrase "except when it is contrary to the child's best interests" and the UN's Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally, which, um, is more than a little relevant to the issue of what the international community says about adoption. This document says "The first priority for a child is to be cared for by his or her own parents" except "when care by the child's parents is unavailable or inappropriate." In the case of a child adopted by a gay couple, it's not like the gay couple is stealing the child from his or her biological parents. The biological parents are unavailable, unwilling, or unable to care for the child. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the biological parents to raise the child. In the case of a child conceived via sperm/egg donor (and subsequently adopted by a same-sex partner), it would be inappropriate in most cases for the donor to raise the child with the other biological parent.

But more importantly, I think that Blankenhorn is interpreting the UN Convention literally and in a disingenuous manner. The UN Convention was written because: "children suffer from poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases, unequal access to education and justice systems that do not recognize their special needs" to address basic quality of life issues. It was written in recognition that "in all countries in the world, there are children living in exceptionally difficult conditions and that such children need special consideration." Like, you know, children who are soldiers, children who are sold into the sex business, and children who are unable to be reunited with their parents across borders.

And further, countries who have ratified this Convention are required to take steps such as passing laws and creating institutions to protect these rights of children. Yet, countries that allow gay couples to adopt also mysteriously (and in violation of human rights law?!) have ratified the UN Convention (Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, UK, etc.). They, apparently, do not see a conflict between the Convention and their legalization of gay parenthood. Although they do report extensively on steps they are taking to tangibly improve the lives of children far more important areas like poverty, HIV/AIDS rate, educational attainment, welfare, and substance abuse.

Frankly, it speaks of our privilege as a country when we are invoking this UN Convention to make the claim that gay parenthood in a relatively affluent country is morally equivalent to the human rights abuses the Convention was designed to address.

5. The Harm

In reading The Future of Marriage, I was most interested in the gut of his reason for opposing gay marriage: the alleged harm it would cause.

Blankenhorn argues that same-sex marriage would "threaten the institution of marriage in two fundamental ways" (p.201):

1. Allowing same-sex couples to marry would "deinstitutionalize" marriage from a pro-child social institution to a post-institutional private relationship.

Regarding this claim, if by deinstitutionalize he means marrying "for love" I hate to break it to Blankenhorn, but heterosexuals have already "deinstitutionalized" marriage all by themselves. [Stephanie Coontz recounts this in Marriage: A History.... Wait a minute... No wonder Blankenhorn doesn't like her book!] Coontz writes, "The demand for gay and lesbian marriage was an inevitable result of the previous revolution in heterosexual marriage. It was heterosexuals who had already created many alternative structures for organizing sexual relationships or raising children and broken down the primacy of two-parent families...." (In Marriage, a History).

Perhaps Blankenhorn would agree with this assessment, as his position is that gay marriage would then be the straw that breaks the camel's back- the final signifier that marriage has officially been de-institutionalized. The difference between Blankenhorn and Coontz is that Blankenhorn sees the deinstitutionalization of marriage as a "threat"- as a bad thing, and Coontz does not. Looking to countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, Blankenhorn cites "correlations" between legal gay marriage and other so-called social ills. Although he admits that correlation is not a cause and effect relationship, he strongly insinuates that gay marriage causes the weakening of marriage and other "social ills."

Blankenhorn ultimate goal, you see, is to halt and reverse the deinstitutionalization of marriage. He proposes many measures to "strengthen" marriage. Only one of which is to not allow gay people to marry. So, if these other non-gay-marriage related steps would strengthen marriage, isn't it true that the absence of these steps is weakening marriage? Which makes it odd that this self-described "marriage nut" devoted an entire book to a mere one of these steps.

What is also interesting is that marriage is sort of already in the shitter. We need to take concrete steps to fix marriage, according to Blankenhorn. Yet, note how "not allow gay people to marry" is a negative order. What? That's right. Gay people are not allowed to marry currently, and marriage is still in the shitter.

But you see, the other steps Blankenhorn mentions are actions that heterosexuals, married couples, and politicians would have to take. They are actual actions that people would have to take. Including mandating counseling, ending marriage penalties for low-income people, passing new laws offering financial and tax incentives for marriage, etc. I suppose no one, not even a "marriage nut," wants to be the guy to tell 90% of the population that they have to take concrete steps to strengthen marriage and that we as a society must raise taxes to strengthen marriage! Nope. It's much easier to simply advocate for banning gay people, an already unpopular group, from marriage, pat yourself on the back for defending marriage, and call it a day.

But really, I most definitely interested in why Blankenhorn wrote a book about strengthening marriage, casually admitted that many factors weaken marriage, yet primarily talked about gay marriage.

2. "Same-sex marriage would require us in both law and culture to deny the double origin of the child." (p.201). By "double origin" he is referring to men and women who procreate together. He says "Every child deserve a mother and a father" which, according to Blankenhorn, "almost everyone in the world has always assumed to be true."

Again, as a father, he may find it satisfying to believe that every child needs a mother and a father (particularly, a father!). And, he may believe that it's a violation of human rights to deny a child a mother and a father. But slapping the label "human rights violation" on a phenomenon doesn't erase the fact that the research shows that children raised by gay parents turn out just fine. As I already discussed, Blankenhorn's sole scientific evidence backing up his mostly-intuitive claim that all children need a biological father and mother does not support his conclusion.

He also argues conception via sperm/egg donation should be curbed, because the resulting child would not know or be raised by at least one if its biological parents. Which is true. But I have a hunch that the resulting child would have rather been born than not born, even if he or she did "have to" be raised by same-sex parents. Because implicit in arguments against alternative reproduction is this: a child is better off never being born if it is not raised by both of its non-biological parents. (Any children of divorced parents out there take offense to that, by the way?) Ultimately, to Blankehorn, the right to life seems conditional on his cookie-cutter version of "family."

More generally, however, I find a major fault with both of his claims regarding the "threat." Take a second to read them again. Both claims consist of mere descriptive sentences that are a bunch of conclusions stacked upon each other. They consist of glittering generalities and abstract, intangible "harms" that will result. If the threat is so real, and if Blankenhorn is so familiar with it, I find that he has not articulated his theory of harm in a real or tangible way. "For every child, a mother and a father." Okay, but why? Back that up. "Gay marriage will deinstitutionalize marriage." Okay, but how? Connect the dots. What does that tangibly mean to society and people's lives? And, why would that be a bad thing? This inability or unwillingess to really break down the specific harm we are facing is, unfortunately, all too common among those opposed to gay marriage. Yet, these vague, abstract propositions are easily accepted. Especially among those who already find gay people distasteful.


In the end, I'm glad I read this book. I feel that I better understand some of the concerns regarding same-sex marriage that have not been steeped in overt anti-gay prejudice and bigotry. Blankenhorn claims that he would support gay marriage were it not for the harm to children. Ultimately, I am left unconvinced that gay marriage harms children or would harm children. And, I wish that Blankenhorn would have devoted more of his marriage tome to (more than one of) the concrete steps that married people and our government could take to "strengthen marriage."

But beyond Blankenhorn, what do we do about the majority of anti-gay advocates who base their opposition to gay rights in hatred, fear, and intolerance?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Book Review: The Future of Marriage, Part I

To begin, I must admit that I approached David Blankenhorn's book The Future of Marriage with some trepidation, as I know that he is against extending marriage to same-sex couples. After reading the book, however, I have to give him credit for approaching the issue with more respect than most on his "side." He doesn't fall into the easy and usual trap of moralizing about homosexuality being "wrong," "perverted," or "unnatural." In fact, he goes as far as saying "homosexual behavior is an important and normal (expected) occurrence in human societies" (p.115) and "[w]e as a society can and should accept the dignity of homosexual love and the equal worth of gay and lesbian persons" (p.179). Such acknowledgments do a lot to encourage dialogue out of mutual respect; something that many (most?) on his "side" would do better to remember. I wish that more of the opposition would follow Blankenhorn's lead in recognizing the human dignity of LGBT persons.

That being said, I noted several flaws in his piece. To break this long post up, I have divided my cook report into two parts. Tomorrow I will post Part II. All quote from The Future of Marriage unless otherwise indicated.

To begin, he dismisses historian Stephanie Coontz's extensively-researched book Marriage, A History with a mere "it is a clear example of glossing marriage's history in a way that is superficial and unsatisfying" (p. 10). He also characterizes multi-volume marriage history books as "suffering from serious shortcomings" (p. 9). Ironically, Blankhorn offers his version of the history of marriage in 5 chapters (117 pages) and does so by mostly citing philosophers, poets, and various creation myths. I personally have difficulty accepting Blankenhorn's touchy-feely version over the above-mentioned histories by actual historians and anthropologists.

What I find most unsatisfying about Blankenhorn's blanket dismissals of these other books is that he doesn't address the shortcomings in these other history books that offer accounts of history that are different from his account. An uncritical audience may accept his dismissals at face value, but I do not. A book is not flawed just because one says it is, without any further explanation. If one is going to dismiss another's books one could at least extend the courtesy of a more reasoned and articulate dismissal. More on that later.

1. Defining Marriage

Right off, Blankenhorn admits that "Marriage is a universal institution, present in all known human societies. But there is no single, universally accepted definition of marriage- partly because the institution is constantly evolving, and partly because many of its features vary across groups and cultures." [emphasis added] (11). Yes, I think most historians would agree that there is no single, universal definition of marriage.

Yet, a few pages later, Blankenhorn writes that the Massachussetts court that held that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry "issued a ruling effectively requiring state legislatures to take steps to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples." (13).

On the one hand, there is no universal definition of marriage. But on the other hand, including same-sex couples in marriage is a re-definition. How is an institution re-defined, if it is not first defined?

Blankenhorn commits the typical fallacy of using circular logic to come to the conclusion that same sex marriage constitutes a re-definition of marriage. In his mind, marriage is already defined as an institution that can only exist between one man and one woman, even though he admits that there is no universal definition of marriage. And, he uses that assumption to reach his conclusion that including same-sex couples in marriage is a "redefinition" of marriage.

2. But, Who "Designed" Marriage?

So, what is marriage according to Blankenhorn? Citing no evidence or research, perhaps because this is all so obvious to him, he states, "Childrearing is probably the single most important social need that marriage is designed to meet, but there are numerous others as well." (15).

His argument is intuitively appealing, as most can agree that childrearing is important. But I'd like to move into the active voice and ask Blankenhorn who it was, specifically, that designed marriage for childrearing? Because the history of marriage books that I've read (and that Blankenhorn inexplicably dismissed) have said that over time and culture, societies designed marriage to meet various other "single most" important needs. For instance, anthropologist Edmund Leach proposes that marriage is more about regulating property than regulating sex and childrearing. Historian Stephanie Coontz describes the single most important function of marriage through most of history as "establishing cooperative relationships between families and communities." (In Marriage, A History). Some, it seems, think of children more as being byproducts of marriage, rather than the "primary purpose" of marriage.

A bit later, however, Blankenhorn attempts to substantiate his claim by quoting anthropologist Helen Fisher saying "People wed primarily to reproduce" ( p. 17). And, he expands on this quote by insisting that if children did not have to be reared, marriage "would make no formal sense" and that people would not get married (Ibid.) This statement implies that there is no reason for any couple who does not rear children to be married.

I am now curious as to how Blankenhorn will handle the facts that not all married couples are willing and able to reproduce, that same-sex couples reproduce, and that many of the legal, financial, and economic benefits of marriage in the US are not related to childrearing or reproduction. I will also eagerly await his proposal to ban marriage for heterosexual couples unable and unwilling to rear children. Because I can think of one class of citizens, many of whom are actually willing and able to rear children, who are currently unable to legally marry.

But more than that, it appears that even the "experts" disagree on what the primary purpose of marriage is and was. Is the marriage debate an example of both sides cherry-picking experts who make statements that support pro- and anti- same-sex marriage arguments?

3. Convenient Equivocations

In Chapter 2, the author makes his case for the proposition that "the origins of marriage appear to coincide with the origins of human civilization." A couple of things should be noted regarding this chapter. One, he never defines "marriage," although he refers to marriage throughout this chapter. Thus he presents marriage throughout human history as a universal unchanging societal institution (even though he admitted earlier that it was not such an institution). Using one word, when it has had many definitions and purposes over time, is an often-used and intellectually dishonest equivocation. Equivocation is "the misleading use of a word with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)."

To demonstrate, Blankenhorn cites anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss as reminding us that family is "based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children." And thus we have Definition 1 of marriage: male-female pairs who bond in order bear and raise children. Note that nowhere is this society's legal definition of marriage, as procreation is not a legal requirement of marriage.

In fact, while citing no evidence, Blankenhorn says that human evolution (eg- the loss of female estrus and the fact that human males have large penises) resulted in pair bonding which, in turn, transformed men from "inseminators" to "fathers." Which, in turn, created marriage (Definition 1) (p.33). And furthermore, these marriages (Definition 1) are responsible for the success of the human race, because they were (supposedly) seen "everywhere." (p.29) [Except, of course, when they weren't. A few pages later Blankenhorn contradicts his assertion that marriage and fathers were seen "everywhere" when recounting societies where fathers were not present and marriage did not exist (p.38-39)].

What is missing from most marriage debates, however, is a distinction between an anthropological definition of marriage and a state's legal definition of marriage (Definition 2 of marriage). Where I'm going here is that Blankenhorn's definition of marriage (Definition 1) confers no legal, financial, and economic benefits upon the people within that marriage. When many (but not all) males and females began to "pair bond" and have children together they did so without the sanction or conferral of benefits from a government.

It wasn't until "centuries later" that human societies created the legal institution of marriage (Definition 2) and began conferring benefits upon it (p.30).

So, on the one hand Blankenhorn describes marriage (Definition 1) as sort of the natural order of things. Because of evolution, he argues, men are now primed to be "fathers" and raise children with women. But, on the other hand, he acknowledges "marriage as an institution is a social construction" (p.30) [Definition 2].

Which, of course, leads me to this pressing question: If men are naturally primed for fatherhood and for this natural biological state of marriage (Definition 1), would merely calling same-sex unions "marriage" somehow destroy this biological and natural urge that heterosexual men have to pair-bond with women? Blankenhorn answers in this way, "marriage [Definition 2] is finally an imposition of law and custom upon individuals whose 'natural' behavior at any given moment might easily go the other way."

Wait, didn't Blankenhorn just devote many pages to telling us that what sets humans apart from animals is that it is natural for us to pair-bond and raise children with members of the opposite sex? Didn't he just explain to us in-depth about how we are sexually primed to fall in love with opposite sex partners? Didn't he just speak in much detail about how woman are so very pleased by their male partners' large penises and how face-to-face intercourse causes men and women to fall in love and raise babies together? Didn't he just say that evolution turned men into fathers who stayed with mothers to raise children? Didn't he just say that marriage [Definition 1] was responsible for the success of the human race?

And now, he's saying despite marriage [Definition 1] being our natural state of being, that marriage [Definition 2] is so very fragile because our natural behavior tells us not to be in marriage [Definition unclear]?!

Although evolution has primed [ahem, some] humans for male-female marriage, calling male-male marriage "marriage" will disrupt this natural urge, it seems.

Does anyone else find these equivocations confusing and distracting?

In Chapter 5, Blankenhorn sets out to provide his own definition of marriage by sort of combining definitions 1 and 2:

"In all or nearly all human societies, marriage is socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, conceived both as a personal relationship and as an institution, primarily such that any children resulting from the union are- and are understood by society to be- emotionally, morally, practically, and legally affiliated with both of the parents." (p.91).

Note how this definition (which may or may not accurate) is merely Blankenhorn's description of what marriage is "everywhere." In the rest of his book, however, he turns his description of marriage into a normative pronouncement of what marriage should be. In other words, because marriage is what it is, it should be that way. Two logical fallacies come to mind here: appeal to tradition (marriage has always been like this, so it should continue to be like this) and circular reasoning (marriage is x, so marriage should be x).

But the more I read arguments on both sides of the debate, the more I realize that arguing about the "definition of marriage" is a semantic game. Those opposed to gay marriage assert that marriage is and always has been between one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation. Those who advocate for gay marriage assert that the purpose of marriage has changed over time and it's now about "two people who are in love" (or something along the lines of a private relationship between two people).

What the definition of marriage is, to me, seems less relevant than the policy reasons for and against gay marriage. Specifically, I think it is more relevant, prudent, and important to ask "what are the pros and cons of gay marriage?" than "what is marriage?"

And that is what Part II of my review will deal with.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Favorite Recent Spam Emails Received

The other day, I took a walk through my email spam folder. I must say, much of the headline content was surprising. Admittedly, I didn't open any of the messages so I don't know what was actually contained (okay, I opened a couple out of curiosity).

But, here are my favorite headlines:

"Take this p!ll and make your lassie feel the difference!"

Clearly, this author is writing from Ireland.

"She will always be hungry for your new big sausage!"

Not to use a tired metaphor or anything.

"Your little soldier will grow up to be a big love general!"

I like this metaphor, however. It's quaint.

"Don't you know that girls yearn for big schlongs?"

Have I mentioned that these ads are so very professional sounding?

"Make yourself a Christmas gift- increase your pen!s!"

Gift, eh? Hasn't that already been done... by Justin Timberlake?

While I appreciate all of these offers to elongate my willy, the ads do get tiresome. Is there really a, um,...huge market for this? I mean, there must be, since these ads keep persisting...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Coming Out Fridays! From the Baby Jesus to Baby Dykes

The following guest blog is part of Fannie's Room's "Coming Out Stories" series. In the following post, regular reader and sometimes commenter, "Hammerpants" recounts her coming out process. Knowing "Hammerpants" in real life (one could say that she's my "committed friend"), I thought that many would find her perspective and self-realization interesting. See, she was raised in an Evangelical Christian environment, which means that she used to be all about the baby Jesus and stuff. She is no longer part of this religious movement, proving quite nicely that one can become an ex-Evangelical ;-)

On a serious note, I find it brave and admirable that during college, she sought out information that conflicted with the religious views she was very devoted to her whole life. By realizing and accepting that she was gay, "Hammerpants" simultaneously left a safe comfort zone where everything was already figured out for her and entered a scary morally ambiguous world. While many Evangelicals find it easier to live in a world where right and wrong are black and white, she actively searched for shades of gray.

Anyway, enough of me talking. Here is her story in her own words (It's sorta long, but worth it):

"First I want to thank Fannie for this opportunity to share my personal Coming Out story. At first I was hesitant to write this because writing to an audience about anything is an act of vulnerability, let alone the act of writing about something so personal. But if at least one person can relate to or find comfort in or know a little but more about gay and lesbian people because others and myself tell our stories, then it is worth it.

Its been 5 and a half years since my personal Coming Out and, since then, I've realized that coming out isn't just a difficult talk with your parents or a rough Ani-infused semester in college when your heart is shattered by your new worldly feminist best friend turned crush who you've recently realized has a secret lover who is also your roommate. Yes, it very likely involves those things, but really only at first. For most openly gay people, Coming Out happens daily. Fortunately, it usually gets easier than those first few runs of clumsy and emotional self-disclosure to close friends and family. But the choice to be honest about ourselves and our lives is one that we confront every day with neighbors, co-workers, real estate agents, doctors, lawyers, grocery baggers, new friends and new family.
So, I will tell the story of my first Coming Out—the time I chose to be honest with myself.

For me, there was one distinct moment in my mind when I said with surprising ease, "Ah, yes, that is who I am." The seconds that followed gave way to the most peaceful clarity of thought that I had ever known. It didn't last log, but it was an instant of peace. For a brief second, the world made sense. It was as if the first 19 years of my life I was trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle but the pieces didn't quite fit so nicely. And in a moment, they snapped into place. I could be happy. I could envision a family, a partner, a life. In this moment, I was more human and the more alive that I had ever been. The months leading to that moment were angsty, desperate, and, more than anything, scary. But the exchange of that dark journey for my first sense of true honesty was worth the surrender.

I was an independent child who, like most children, had very strong feelings about who I was and how I wanted to present myself. Whenever I could, I would sneak into my older brother's closet and steal his clothes to wear to school. I loved wearing boys clothes and I think it wasn't until the third or fourth grade that I realized I actually wasn't one of the boys in school. I mean I always knew I was a girl, but that was a mere technicality. I sat at the boys table for lunch, I played with the boys at recess, I identified with male hero figures in history and on TV. I felt limitless when it came to gender. I never felt like I was viewed differently for being a girl because I never really felt like other girls. Later, as I entered fourth, fifth, sixth grade, I had much difficulty. I felt expressly different from other kids. I did not know why. But I do remember crying at night, telling my mom with all the self-assurance I could muster, "I am different." I learned quickly that its okay--actually cute-- to be a tomboy until a certain age. After that age, people don't view it with the same endearment. So I caught on and started dressing more girly. I wore makeup and made a close group of girl friends in junior high. Finally, I felt like I belonged.

All along I was raised in an Evangelical Christian household. We were not subscribers to Focus on the Family, but I did grow up believing in an absolute Truth and a message of salvation, embodied by the Word of God. I did believe that it was by the grace of God that I was blessed to know this Truth and that sharing this message was part of my purpose in life. I did believe that people are inherently sinful and, alone, incapable of good. For I could only do good in this world by seeking out God's will and letting it be my compass. I felt like I was a child of God just as all of my fellow Christians were. It was with this firm grounding that I set off for college, trading the comforts of California for the foreign terrain of Chicago.

Things changed quickly.

Once dutifully arriving my freshman year, my earnest intent was to find a nice local church where I could meet and have fellowship with other Christians. Any good Christian knows that having well-grounded Christian friends is fundamental to a good walk with Christ. As the Sundays passed though, I found myself surprisingly not wanting to go to church and I began to objectively wonder why. Objective is the key word here. I tried to examine my feelings without judgement or guilt, but to just say, "Why am I feeling this way?" Looking back on it now, the best answer to that question is that I was beginning to realize that my life is my own and if I want to go to church, I am doing it for myself. Prior to my new-found freedom, I never had expressly felt like my faith was chosen by anyone else. At this cross-roads, I recognized more ownership over who I was and who I'd choose to become than I ever had before. That realization of ownership opened up the next chapter: reevaluation of everything I'd assumed I already knew.

Like all newcomers to college, I met a lot of people. Most importantly, I met a lot of people who were different from me. They came from different countries, different points of view, different upbringings. A few of the people who I got to know very well were types of people who, had I been in California and had it been six months prior, I never would have taken the time to know for the simple reason that they were the opposite of who I wanted to be. From what I could tell, they were not Christian, they were a bit rebellious, and they were, well, gay. With a good deal of hesitance, I let myself engage in conversation, just a little. A tiny part of me was curious and a large part of me was scared, mostly because I began to see myself in them. After a few months, a few of my gay acquaintances became very good friends. I learned that they were very good, honest, passionate people. Their kindness came at face value. No expectations, no judgement. They were just good, decent people who sought to understand and to be understood. And the paradox of it all was that they were supposedly the enemy, or at the very least the sinners who who most in need of redemption. They did not know God. And yet they seemed more Christian than most of the Christians with whom I grew up. It was so strange. Everything felt turned on its head.

I was confronted with serious questions with serious implications: Did I think that they were sinful for being gay? Did I think it was wrong? Well I thought it was wrong. Was I wrong? But who was I to say what was wrong when the people who were supposed to be wrong were really the kind loving ones and the people who were supposedly the right ones always made me feel like I was so wrong? I did not know. So I did the only thing I knew to do to find out what was actually right and true. I read the Bible. I went through every last book and I took note of all of my favorite Bible verses, many of which I had memorized in Bible school. I wrote many of the passages in my journal and most of all I scoured the pages for any hint of what God actually said about gay people. I already knew what other people said. I wanted to draw my own conclusions. I read it all. All of the quoted verses about men lying with men and blah blah blah. And after that I still knew nothing. Except that in my heart I knew that these were good human beings. And for the first time, I knew a few non-Christians for whom I did not pray in hopes that they would become Christians. I did not want them to change. I began to see for myself that the compass for knowing right and wrong and good and bad comes, at least partly, from within.

For the first time, I let myself be the judge. I did like it... until I realized what I was actually thinking: gay is a-okay. More than that, what I choose to believe about this world and this life is up to me. Panic set in. If it was okay for other people to be gay, then its okay for me to be gay. Am I gay? Just because its okay for me to be gay doesn't mean I am gay. Why do I think I might be gay? Suddenly a flood of pubescent memories stole me away. There was that time when I spent the night at Jessica Bergman's house in the 8th grade and all I could think about was kissing her. Then there was that obsession with the Ellen show (not her talk show but the old sitcom) and especially that one episode that my parents and I watched together when she came out. There was that deep yet distant feeling in my gut that night that one day I would do the same. And then there was that secret hope that Megan and Carrie from my high school basketball team were secretly having a lesbian love affair. They did have matching tattoos. More than anything there was a deep uncomfortable longing every time I thought of the possibility.

Following rigorous existential analysis of my feelings, my psyche, and my beliefs with the aid of some good books for about 4 months, it was in one of those uncomfortable longing moments when I just stopped. It was too much and I wasn't getting anywhere. I just tried to picture myself 20 years from that very place in time. Who would I be? What did I want? How did I see myself? With a flinch and a deep breath, I let myself picture another woman walking beside me, holding my hand. That was THE moment. The moment of instant relief. I said, "That's what I want." After that, nothing else mattered. There was no book to read to figure out what to do. I knew--very very deeply--what was true.

Up until that point I had felt like a spectator in life, never feeling like any of the world's offerings were for me. And now I felt alive. That time was very scary. What was scary was not so much the prospect of my being gay, but rather coming to find that I have power to choose what I believe and how I will live. The idea that what I knew most deeply in my heart to be true conficted with my one source and resource for Truth and direction was devestating. Everything that I had known in life added up to this not adding up at all. That is when I chose my new Truth over my old one: that if God did exist, He made me who I am. And I now I know who I am.

About two weeks after my personal coming out, I chose to come out to my new best lesbian friend (aka, my very first crush). She had become a good friend. She was kind and gentle and listened for 2 hours straight as I just talked and talked, sitting on her bed, petting her roommate's orange cat. At the end of the night, she let me down easy. She knew I liked her and I knew nothing would happen between us but what she gave me I have treasured since that night. It was a calm, ready ear and a deep understanding.

Later that year I came out to my parents. That time was very very difficult. The day after I told my mother, she looked right into my eyes and with fresh tears on her cheeks and from her gut and with a raspy voice she said, "I knew. I knew all along." Later that night, my dad told me that my mom had worried about my being gay since I was 5 years old. She would mention it to him often throughout my childhood. She really did know. Despite their inklings, both my parents stuggled with the news. I think they still struggle. But they have come to see that I am no different from and am actually more so the little girl who refused to wear a dress and arm wrestled the boys.

There may be people who read this story and say, "See its a choice. She chose to be a lesbian." To you I say, "I chose honesty over deceit." I chose happiness over emptiness. There may be some people who say, "It was those gay friends of hers who convinced her to be gay." To you I say "it was my gay friends who did not feel the need to convince me of anything." There may be some who say, "She gave into the temptation and doubt and was not steadfast in her faith." To you I say, "that's damn right."

My first coming out was very internal. It began as a deep struggle between my heart's belief and my heart's longing. In the end they became the same thing. I do very seriously belive that there is much room for God, gods, goddesses, no god or a lingering question of the existence of a god-like being in the lives of gay and lesbian people. Likewise, there should be room for gay and lesbians and bisexuals, and queer people, transgendered people, and questioning people as well as people who know and love and embrace people who are different from them in the church or place of worship of any god(s) or God or whatever. This was my personal journey through what had appeared to be and what I had previously believed to be two foes. Since, I have taken to not really knowing what I believe in terms of god or God, but I do acknowledge that its just downright silly to ever feel like I have knowledge or belief or faith that is superior to or more true than anyone else's. It's still a work in progress.

'Faith is not being sure. It is not being sure, but betting with your last cent... Faith is not a series of gilt-edged propositions that you sit down to figure out, and if you follow all the logic and accept all the conclusions, then you have it. It is crumpling and throwing away everything, proposition by proposition, until nothing is left, and then writing a new proposition, your very own, to throw in the teeth of despair... Faith is not making religious-sounding noises in the daytime. It is asking your inmost self questions at night and then getting up and going to work... Faith is thinking thoughts and singing songs and making poems in the lap of death.'"
- Mary Jean Irion, 1970
from "Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation"
available from

Thanks "Hammerpants," for sharing.