Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Take on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007

Back when I still believed the government was serious about addressing the rising cost of higher education and inequalities with regard to access, I received an email update regarding the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. "Finally," I thought, "a law that might help people attend college!"

I read through the law, I read the summaries, and I read updates from nonprofits whose very job is supposedly to protect and advocate student/debtor interests. About the law, I saw buzz phrases and soundbites like how the law was going to "strengthen the middle class by making college more affordable" and "encourage and reward public service."


The only question I have after all this is why is this law being so highly touted? It comes nowhere near to addressing the roots of our current "cost of higher education" crisis.

That's why I'm going to go beyond the catchy soundbites and examine the claims versus the reality of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

1. "Strengthen the Middle Class by Making College More Affordable"

One of the boldest and most appealing political claims about the College Cost Reduction Act is that it purports to make college more affordable.

How does the law "make college more affordable"? By cutting interest rates on loans that you have to take out to pay un-affordable college costs and tuition.

In other words, the cost of college will remain unaffordable, tuition will continue to rise, and 18-year-olds who don't have the luxury of thousands of dollars on hand to pay tuition will "get to" continue paying for college with student loans. It's just that now these students will pay less interest for doing so- that is, they will have to buy less money to borrow money for college from now on.

This lower interest rate applies only to federal loans.

In what universe does "not making college more affordable" suddenly mean "making college more affordable"?

2. "Increase the Purchasing Power of the Pell Grant Scholarship"

For those who aren't familiar, the Pell Grant is a small need-based grant that low-income college students can get. First off, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant is relatively small. In 2006, the maximum Pell Grant that the poorest of the poor students received to pay for one year of college was $4,050. The College Cost Reduction Act will increase this maximum amount to $5,400, over the course of the next five years.

Okay, let's be realistic here. The $4,000-5,000 is free money, and that's good. But at the same time, the average cost [PDF document] of attending a public university is $12,796 and at a private university is $30,367.

From my own experience, I received a Pell Grant all four years of college and, despite receiving a large academic scholarship, I still left undergraduate with a relatively hefty debt load. Of course, in my stubborn insistence for my low socioeconomic status growing up not to be a barrier to attending an "elite" university, I made what I now recognize to be a financially unwise decision to attend an overpriced private school. That experience of being a poor student surrounded by relatively wealthy elites who have the privilege of bragging about various European [insert foreign country] adventures and taking for granted that their parents can and will pay for their college is, I suppose, a whole other blog topic.

My point here is that Pell Grants don't really offer much incentive for poor kids to feel as though any university door is open to them, even if they are qualified to attend that college. In addition, as the Department of Education notes, only students with family incomes below $45,000 are eligible for a Pell Grant, with most grants going to those with family incomes below $20,000. And, students coming from families with a combined "lavish" income of $45,000/year would be eligible for the lowest Pell Grant amount of about $400/year.

In sum, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant is low and will continue to be pretty low even after this increase. Secondly, many students whose parents are far from wealthy are not eligible for Pell Grants and must finance their educations with some combination of scholarships, student loans, and credit cards. Rather than addressing the root causes of always-rising college costs and the higher education "business," a society of two unequal classes is maintained: a class whose parents can and do write tuition checks versus a large class who must finagle some other way to pay for college.

3. "Encourage and Reward Public Service"

This one, too, hits pretty close to home for me as I have been working in the public sector for many years. The College Cost Reduction Act allows for someone's remaining federal student loans to be forgiven after 10 years in qualifying public service work.

Exploring this benefit a little more deeply, we find that this provision has many limitations.

In order to qualify for debt forgiveness one has to have made 120 student loan payments on or after October 2007. Fair enough. But basically, you have to work in relatively low-paying public sector while paying down your loans for 10 years. Those who graduate with high debt burdens will clearly benefit over those who graduate with lower debt burdens- as those with lower debt can perhaps pay off their debt within 10 years. So, to be more accurate, this provision really only rewards and encourages those with high debt and low incomes to work in public service.

In addition, your loans must be what are called federal "Direct Loans" held by the Department of Education. Private loans, which have higher interest rates than federal loans, are not eligible for forgiveness. And, federal loans that you have consolidated or that you will consolidate with non-"Direct Loan" consolidation companies are not eligible for forgiveness. I, for instance, consolidated my loans after graduating from law school and so I am not eligible for public service loan forgiveness at all. And, annoyingly, under current regulations, I am not allowed to "unconsolidate" my loans into the Direct Loan program. I suspect that many are in the same boat. [Update: Supposedly, during a one year window starting in July 2008 those in my boat will be allowed to re-consolidate their loans into the Direct Loan system. Let's see if that happens and how many hoops one has to jump through to do so.]

In addition, this provision does nothing to reward those who have already been working in public service. For people who, for instance, have been working at a nonprofit while paying down their loans for say the past 8 years, their years of public service for purposes of this loan forgiveness provision will still begin in 2007, just as a new graduate's will. Then after 120 payments beginning in 2007, any student loan debt that is remaining will be forgiven.

Fun times.

On the plus side, the list of qualifying public service jobs appears pretty broad and perhaps covers anyone working at a nonprofit organization. But those details haven't been challenged or significantly addressed yet.

So, that's my summary of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. There are additional provisions I would have liked to discuss, but in the interest of not boring you I limited myself to the above three. My goal here was to provide a different view on the bill as it has been, I believe, wrongly portrayed as a huge benefit to the lower and middle classes. As the Law Career Blog humorously notes:

"It has been hailed by the House of Representative's Education and Labor Committee as 'the single largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill.' Interestingly, a separate press release from that committee explains that this 'investment' actually comes 'at no new cost to taxpayers.' A cynical soul might point out that this is not so much an "investment" as is it a "cost reallocation'...."

Yes. Perhaps I'm a cynical soul but I think this bill is extremely overrated. It fails to address class inequalities with respect to higher education while simultaneously ignoring the powerful and unaccountable student loan industry. Ironically, that the law is greatly hailed by the media, colleges, and politicians appeases lower and middle-class families who cannot afford college even though the law really doesn't do much for these families.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Deep" Thought #11: The Denial of Death Benefits is "Good News"

Recently, as the Americans for Truth [sic] About Homosexuality reported, a domestic partner bill for same-sex couples was defeated in Illinois.

This bill would have... well, why don't I sit back and let The Illinois Family Institute explain (as reported on the website for Americans for Truth [sic]) the "good news" on the bill's defeat:

"You made a difference! Thank you for taking action on this bill!

Thanks in part to your phone calls and emails, the Illinois House of Representatives in Springfield voted 43 to 67 (with 1 voting ‘present’) yesterday, defeating HB 4731, a bill that would have allowed homosexual partners of public school teachers to qualify as surviving spouses for purpose of survivor and death benefits.

Look at the chart below to see how your State Representative voted, or you can also download it by clicking HERE.

If your State Representative voted ‘NO’ — please call to thank him/her. You can look up your elected officals [sic] HERE, or you can call the IFI office at 630-790-8370, and we will be happy to look them up for you." [emphasis added]
What the defeat of this bill tangibly means for same-sex couples is that when a public school teacher dies his or her same-sex partner will not be able to receive survivor benefits as do the opposite-sex spouses of public school teachers. That the Illinois Family Institute and other so-called "family" and "values" groups are celebrating this injustice to the family of someone who dedicated his or her life to the honorable profession of teaching is, in my opinion, anything but moral or admirable.

Unfortunately, groups like Americans for Truth [sic] About Homosexuality, in their quest to defeat anything and everything "pro-gay," propagate the idea that compassion, fairness, and equality would utterly destroy the moorings of Family (tm). As Peter LaBarbera from Americans for Truth [sic] says, such a bill is the "last thing that children and the beleaguered institution of marriage need in the Land of Lincoln."


I would very much like to see the exact reasoning process behind how a bill giving death benefits to a deceased teacher's same-sex partner would magically hurt The Children (tm) and the Institution of Marriage (tm). Not that those pesky details matter, of course. Who cares. It's time to part-ay! The homasexuals lost this round! [insert touchdown dance and high fives]

Thank you Americans for Truth [sic] for continuing to give old words like "good news" new meaning.

It's simply fantabulous news when honorable tax-paying law-abiding citizens aren't afforded equal rights upon death. Yeah, deep thoughts.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day of Silence: Anti-Gay Groups Miss the Point

Tomorrow is the National Day of Silence that many youth are observing. For those who are unfamiliar with this day, the Day of Silence is "a student-led day of action when concerned students, from middle school to college, take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment -- in effect, the silencing -- experienced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students and their allies." Tomorrow, in symbolic solidarity with bullied LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth, I won't be blogging. Instead, this post will remain on the front page of Fannie's Room where millions dozens of people will read it.

See, anti-gay forces don't much like the Day of Silence- a peaceful, non-violent day of solidarity. Despite the fact that most of these anti-gay forces tout themselves as having superior moral values as most people, they lie about the purpose of this day and misrepresent what it's all about.

Matt Barber, for instance, of Concerned Women for America recently wrote a scathing critique on the Day of Silence (DOS). Unfortunately, his article has irrelevantly and entirely missed the point.

1. What is "Homosexual Conduct"?

First off, Barber's entire critique of homosexuality and the Day of Silence is based on the alleged harms that coincide with [male] "homosexual conduct," citing this study examining the life span of gay men with HIV/AIDS. As is typical with these anti-gay groups, Barber makes no distinction between being gay and engaging in unsafe sex.

Barber, for instance, claims that the Day of Silence is really about promoting "dangerous 'in vogue' behaviors" that are akin to smoking." Really, Matt? Really? In what logical universe does "bringing attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment in schools" equivalent to promoting "'in vogue' 'behaviors"?

And, eh, what are these "dangerous 'in vogue' behaviors"?

Barber goes on to misleadingly states that "the [International Journal of Epidemiology] study found that homosexual conduct shortens the lifespan of 'gays' by an astounding '8 to 20 years' - more than twice that of smoking." First off, that is a pretty big misrepresentation of the study's findings. The study actually found that having HIV/AIDS is what shortens one's life. That comes as no surprise, but perhaps Barber needs reminding that HIV/AIDS shortens one's life no matter if a person is gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, or atheist and no matter how a person became infected.

Let's explore Barber's claim a little further. See, while he "warns" us numerous times about the dangers of "homosexual conduct," he never specifies what he means by "homosexual conduct." Does he mean anal sex or does he mean watching musicals? Is he talking about man-on-man action, woman-on-woman action, or both? Okay, let's be real. You, me, and my little dog know that he's really only talking about gay men here, but what sort of gay male "conduct" is he referring to that reduces the life span of gay men?

Oh, right. Again, I think we all know that when Matt uses the term "homosexual conduct" he's talking about anal sex. It's not clear why he doesn't just come out and say "anal sex" when we all know that's what he's talking about. Perhaps it is essential to Matt's argument that he frame "anal sex"- an activity that not all gay men engage in and one that some straight people engage in- as "homosexual conduct" in order to turn "homosexuals" into deviant "others." When gay men have anal sex, it is "homosexual conduct." When straight people have anal sex, what is it? Is it just anal sex? Or is it "homosexual conduct"?

My point is that labeling a behavior that those of any sexual orientation can engage in as "homosexual conduct" is simply inaccurate. And that is why Matt Barber is wrong. "Homosexual conduct" doesn't lead to HIV/AIDS, unsafe anal and vaginal sex do (among other routes of transmission.) So to go from the study's conclusion that having HIV/AIDS takes years off one's life, to the conclusion that "being gay" takes years off of one's life is a bold and bigoted leap.

See, I can concede that gay men have higher rates of HIV/AIDS than other groups. That's just an epidemiological fact. Yet for once, I would like these traditionalist groups to concede that a man can be gay without engaging in risky sexual behavior. And by risky sexual behavior I mean unprotected sex. For once, I would like "concerned" groups to acknowledge that it's not "being gay" or "gay sex" that leads to HIV/AIDS, it's unsafe sex that leads to HIV/AIDS.

2. Where is the Concern?

Homo conduct (whatever that is) aside, I see right through Matt's Butt Sex Weapon of Mass Distraction.

Simply put, the Day of Silence is a day dedicated to acknowledging the bullying, abuse, and harassment that gay kids face. Rather than addressing that purpose, traditional values groups oppose the Day of Silence because it supposedly advances the gay "agenda." By completely side-stepping the bullying issue, these traditional values groups serve only to distract from the fact that gay or gender-nonconforming children are sometimes bullied. Perhaps because gay people are some sort of sick "other," these moralists hypocritically show no concern or compassion for bullied children.

Perhaps there is a more benign explanation for anti-gay groups' behavior. Maybe, just maybe, these groups do not believe that gay kids are bullied or ridiculed? I mean, it's already pretty clear that these groups fail to see their role in creating bullies and perpetuating hateful environments. But maybe, because they don't have gay kids or don't think that they have gay kids, they believe that bullying on the basis of being gay isn't real. Maybe that is why Matt Barber believes that the Day of Silence is really something sinister and it is somehow all about gay male sex and its risks?

In addition to that lack of concern, is another disturbing lack of concern. In this article from a group of women (or a man?) that claim to be "concerned" for our nation the author expresses no concern for the men who purportedly have these shortened life spans. Reprehensibly, these folks show no compassion for those living with HIV/AIDS. Oh, there is plenty of judgment. There is condemnation. There are smart-ass ideas like: We need warnings on condom wrappers that say "Male-male anal sodomy has been proven to shorten your lifespan by up to 20 years." (Although, as a picky note of accuracy, male-female "anal sodomy" is just as risky in HIV transmission as "male-male anal sodomy" is. Let's hope Mr. Barber doesn't appoint himself to the post of Surgeon General anytime soon.)

Okay, where was I? Oh right. From where I sit, I see no concern from purportedly concerned groups about the fact that men who have sex with men have higher rates of HIV and STDs than other groups of people. All I see is this implied message: Don't have sex with men if you're a man. I can guess that that public health message doesn't so much resonate with gay and bisexual men.

In Matt Barber's world, men wouldn't have sex with men. But in our shared world, men do have sex with men and they will have sex with men no matter what Matt Barber says.
Now, Matt Barber, how do we deal with that reality? How do we promote the health and well-being of gay and bisexual men and are you at all "concerned" about that?

The headline of Barber's article: "Day of Silence" Scam Places Children At Risk. is interesting. In the real world, effective HIV/AIDS prevention messages tell people how to have safe sex if they're going to have sex at all. Juvenile and simplistic message like "don't have 'gay sex'" don't work. No effective HIV prevention/intervention method funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes that message because it is precisely clumsy messages like "don't be gay" that pose serious public health risks. Are you, Matt Barber, at all "concerned" about that?

3. What About the Women?

The apparent obsession with gay male sexuality and its risks completely takes lesbians out of the equation. Barber's entire case against the Day of Silence is built on the alleged harms of being a gay man. Knowing that, I wonder if Barber would be opposed to a Day of Silence dedicated only to lesbians. He doesn't appear take issue with this group, or even acknowledge this group's existence. (I am extremely interested in Barber's case against lesbians, in fact. Please let me know if anyone comes across it.)

This handy omission lets "traditional values" groups sidestep the inconvenient truth that being a lesbian is not associated with HIV/AIDS and STDs.

But worse than this omission is that Barber, in his article, falsely alludes that being a lesbian is, actually, associated with "disease." Before listing a myriad of statistics relating to gay men only, Barber writes:

"In fact, multiple studies have established that homosexual conduct, especially among males, is considerably more hazardous to one's health than a lifetime of chain smoking."

Fact? Lesbians are considered the lowest risk group for STDs and HIV/AIDS. Transmission of these diseases between women is possible, of course, but the risk of a woman being infected by a female sex partner is much lower than her risk of being infected by a male partner. Yet, Matt Barber states that while male "homosexual conduct" is particularly hazardous, he insinuates that "homosexual conduct" of either the male or female variety is "considerably hazardous" to one's health.

That, my friends, is misleading propaganda.

4. So, Who's Using Propaganda?

Matt Barber says that the homasexuls are using propaganda,

"[Day of Silence] is pure, unadulterated propaganda and, based on the medical science, amounts to nothing short of educational malpractice. With liberal school officials in tow, these militant homosexual activists are brazenly circumventing and abusing parental authority to further this dangerous political agenda. DOS is also a slap in the face to the many students with traditional moral values."

So that's all settled then.

But seriously, note that two things are going on here. Although the Day of Silence is about remaining silent, Barber says that this silence amounts to "pure, unadulterated propaganda." The irony continues when he goes on to claim that this silence is "a slap in the face" to those poor children with "traditional moral values."

I can't think of many things that are less "propagandistic" and less offensive to another's "values" than silence. I can just imagine a "poor traditional values" child lambasting a Day of Silence observer: "Can you stop being silent so loudly, it's offending my delicate traditional sensibilities." What a joke.

See, the so-called "traditional values movement" decries us for being too militant, too powerful, and too propaganda-y but when we choose peaceful, non-violent, and sometimes silent methods of political action, we are still demonized. Yes, because they just will not stand for us acting in a civil manner!

By labeling all of our actions, nonviolent protests, vigils, and messages as "propaganda," "traditional values" groups seek to silence us. In the adult world, these "traditional values" organizations and "leaders" are nothing but bullies. To counter the Day of Silence, for instance, they have organized an ironically-named "Day of Truth." As I searched the "Day of Truth's" website for information on its purpose, I came across this lie in the "common questions" section:

"What is the Day of Silence?

The Day of Silence is a national program of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which asks students to remain silent for an entire day to express their support for the promotion of the homosexual agenda in the public schools."

Wrong. As the Day of Silence website states, the purpose of the day is to bring attention to anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools. It is immensely troubling and ironic that a special day dedicated to "truth" is predicated on either a blatant, baldfaced lie or a severe misunderstanding of the purpose of the Day of Silence. As Daniel Gonzalez of the Box Turtle Bulletin puts it:

"Funny, it sounds like those who created the Day of Truth are the ones struggling to communicate honestly about homosexuality."

Funny, in a scary, ironic, and hypocritically unfunny way, that is.

I don't think that all people who oppose gay rights are automatically bigots. But when people intentionally lie about us, our "agenda," our sex lives, and our rate of disease, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion. If they are, indeed, more innocent than it appears, if they are so uninformed about gay people and health information that they unknowingly spread lies and misleading statistics about us, than I can only wonder if they should educate themselves more fully before they form groups dedicated to opposing groups of human beings in a concerted effort to deny rights. Whether due to bigotry or ignorance, their actions and lack of compassion are truly reprehensible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Silly Bigot, Newborn Babies Don't Know How to Talk

Concerned Woman for America Kenneth Ervin, in a recent propaganda piece, recounts a... "unique" testimonial witnessing of a baby born to a transman.

Take a quick second to read it.

Miraculous, right?

Neither Ervin nor the media multitudes in attendance express shock at the obvious conclusion of the testimonial:

Babies born to transgender men are prodigies!

It's true. While most human babies gain the capacity to use words and form sentences around 12-18 months, the baby of this transgender man said not only one word ("Mama") but an entire sentence ("Silly Mama. Only girls can have babies!") while simultaneously displaying a knowledge of fundamental biology mere moments after her birth.

The reporters, all of whom mysteriously had access to family's hospital room, were seemingly too busy reporting that the pregnant man had given birth to make note of this remarkable speaking newborn. Ervin, presumably part of an elite press corps given super-duper access to the birth, was possibly too busy "documenting" the birth to express shock at what is surely a setback for those opposed to trans rights. The babies of transmen are Super Babies!

But then again, I suppose we all pretty much knew that when men started having babies they would be way smarter than the babies women have.

Observations from Watching Straight People Bowl

Something that yuppie heterosexual groups of friends like to do is play co-ed sports together. Sometimes this phenomenon occurs in organized sports' leagues, and other times this occurs in less formal settings. One such frequent informal setting is the bowling alley.

This past weekend, I observed firsthand the heterosexual gaggle phenomenon that is Co-Ed Bowling While Drinking.

Their evening progressed in several stages, and based on this sample size of 6 (3 male, 3 female, just like the Brady Bunch), I'm pretty sure that these observations hold true for all heterosexuals. It's only logical.

So, here we go:

1. Arrival

Upon arriving at the bowling alley, the male and female parties will grab their alley, rent their shoes, and select the appropriate bowling balls.

Unlike their working-class counterparts, yuppie heterosexual gaggles do not bowl frequently. Therefore, they usually are not good bowlers. Bowling, you see, is really sort of a pre-"going out" activity or a respite from "the bar scene," where alcohol can still be involved. Like the gaggle I observed, the unofficial motto of the night is "Let's just get drunk and have a good time."

2. Tips

Something that the male half of a straight couple likes to do is give his female partner "tips" on how to do sports. In mini-golf, this takes the form of standing behind the female partner and, by guiding her arms on the golf club, physically showing her how to properly hold and swing the club. (This technique is also observed at batting cages.) The role of the female half is to laugh at the appropriate times while making a show of how weak and awkward she "naturally" is with a sporting utensil. Sports are ha-ard.

In bowling, the "tip" usually involves the male partner demonstrating how to glide down the alley floor while "properly" releasing the ball in "perfect" bowling technique. His solid score of 115, compared to the female's 101, technically makes him a bowling expert.

Drinking continues.

3. Game Play

The male competitors will continue drinking and pretending that they're "just having fun." Secretly, each male is "in it to win it" and wants to get the highest score and corresponding alpha male-bragging rights that come with it.

The female specimens will continue drinking and, despite being "girly" and non-sporty will have similar scores as the men. Several times, in fact, after uncoordinated-ly lolling the ball down the lane, you will hear a crescendo-ing "ohhhhhHHHHHHHH" from the male specimens. This crescendo means that a girl-thrown strike could be imminent. High-pitched squeals of joy will confirm that yes, a strike did, in fact, occur.

This occurs less often as the drinking continues.

4. Drunken Confrontations

After a few hours, the novelty of "bowling" has worn off. Although "Karen" is up, the males are in their own corner drunkenly talking about man things while the females are off drunkenly talking about "girl stuff."

At this point, we see a particularly interesting stage of female drunkenness: The Truth Comes Out Stage. Apparently, something about "Karen" has been bothering "Stacy" for awhile and now, in the bright drunken lights of the bowling alley, is the appropriate time to share that frustration. To put it mildly, "it's time to start telling the truth [about something?] 'Karen.' Mumble mumble [authoritative drunk voice]." At this point, "Karen" will roll her eyes and realizing that it's her turn to bowl, pick up her ball and heave it down the lane because "Stacy" really ticked her off.

All parties will hereupon realize that a Serious Drunk Confrontation has just occurred and will immediately feign interest in the bowling game to distract from the awkwardness. "Karen" and "Stacy" will avoid eye contact with each other and will break up the man-talk to engage their respective boyfriends in whispered conversations about The Confrontation. And so ends a fun night of wholesome bowling.

So, what did all of this confirm for me?

Drunk Co-Ed Sports are Life. The rest is just details.

Yes, those are my brief observations upon watching a heterosexual gaggle bowl the other night. Looking back, I suppose I paid more attention to this gaggle and their goings-on than the 3 games I bowled which, of course, explains my shoddy scores. That I wasn't completely focused on my game is rather disappointing since "being competitive at things that don't matter" and "being good at sporty things" are definitely things lesbians like.

Oh well, fun times.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Deep" Thought #10: Marriage Defenders Are Right About Everything Especially When They Change Their Argument in the Middle of the Game

Shoutout to Ed Brayton for highlighting an odd article on WorldNetDaily:

"Gay' study: Marriage makes little difference
'Same-sex relationships must be unique, not like oppressive heterosexual norms'"

Before I delve into the cockles of stupidity here, let's all remember this article where we saw how marriage defenders often arrogantly and amusingly believe that "studies show" that they are right about everything. Well, what's happening in this WND article is a fun twist on that game.

It's a nifty little trick called:

Studies inconclusively prove that marriage defenders are right about everything unless a new study comes out showing that marriage defenders are not right about something, in which case the marriage defenders will still use the study in a way to deny gay people equal rights.

To summarize, WND reported on a study that made the "startling revelation" that "same-sex couples reported greater relationship quality, compatibility, intimacy and lower levels of conflict than [heterosexual] married couples." Oh, and it also showed that "same-sex couples are more honest about monogamy and sex. They're also more mature, considerate and fairer to each other than heterosexual couples. They're funnier and more affectionate when they argue. Less controlling. They don't take everything so personally." Yes, I too initially found it extremely odd that right-wing propaganda machine WND would reference such a gay-positive study. But watch what happens.

See, this study further showed that there are "few differences" in these happiness factors between same-sex couples who can and cannot get married. From here, the WND article selectively quotes a section of the study that explains how marriage is "controversial" within the gay community because it is a historically-oppressive institution. And with that little tidbit we all know where this is going...

Clearly this study "proves" that marriage doesn't make same-sex couples happier and, because marriage is an "oppressive institution," gay people don't really want to get married anyway.

(Except, of course, for the gay people who do want to get married.)

Ah. I see what's going on here. The study cited by WND puts same-sex relationships in a very positive light. And we simply cannot have that! So, even when this study suggested, contrary to the beliefs of the WND crowd, that those in same-sex relationships are more satisfied than those who are in heterosexual relationships, in the fucked-up WND world of illogic and double-think, that's still magically a negative for gay people.

WorldNetDaily, for instance, makes the odd and utterly illogical claim that this study somehow "takes the wind out of the sails of activists demanding same-sex 'marriage.'" Gay people are happy enough, I suppose. Why let them marry when they're already happy in their relationships? Of this preposterous claim, Ed Brayton puts it well:

"[W]hy would it "take the wind out of the sails" of the drive for same-sex marriage? The study is only talking about the self-reported emotional satisfaction and happiness of the couples; that has nothing to do with the legal and moral arguments in favor of same-sex marriage."
This article is a perfect example of how marriage defenders often move the goal posts in the middle of the game. In other words, when studies suggest that marriage defenders are wrong about something (namely that gay couples are happy and, indeed, possibly happier than hetero couples), marriage defenders fail to concede that that is a good thing for our side, and instead, distract us all with new claims about gay people that simply must be addressed: Do people who are already happy deserve equality? Do gay people even want marriage? Those of questionable intellectual honesty use this fallacy to prevent themselves from ever having to concede any point and to prevent the other side, at all costs, from "winning."

But I'll play along.

See, these rightwing propaganda machines and conservative groups (because I have seen other groups do this) pose an interesting and contradictory claim about gay people. On the one hand, we are clamboring to get into the institution of marriage and completely destroy it, but on the other hand, we're not clamboring to get married at all. They lick their chops at the prospect of a soundbite from a Gay Person Opposed to Marriage (tm), particularly if it's a radical feminist decrying the oppressive patriarchal nature of marriage, as though that person represents the authoritative gay opinion on the issue. It's as though despite the claims, organizing efforts, lawsuits, advocacy, and blog writings of numerous gay people who seek equal marriage rights, "marriage defenders" won't believe that many gay people really do want marriage so long as even a few trusty gay people are willing to chime in and say that they do not want marriage.

Many gay people want marriage. Some do not.

And yes, gay couples who have not been legally married in Massachusetts may be just as happy as those who have. I, however, do not generally see human happiness as a "bad" thing. And, that married and unmarried same-sex couples are equally happy is not to say they don't want their privileges, benefits, and protections of marriage. Because realistically, let's remember that even couples married in Massachusetts don't have the full range of federal privileges, benefits, and protections of marriage. So, since all gay couples, married or not, are denied numerous federal benefits, I think this all really means that all gay couples are all still in pretty much the same unequal crappy boat.

That, despite inequality, mass scapegoating, and propagandistic lies about us, we are still happier than married heterosexual couples is quite a testament, in fact, to our relationships. Wouldn't you say?

Yeah. Studies show that marriage defenders are right about everything and always "win," especially when they move the goal posts in the middle of the game! Deep thoughts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A "Preventing Homosexuality" Tutorial

After reading Focus on the Family's so very helpful guide on recognizing whether your spouse is a homo, I came across this handy-dandy "Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality" written by Joseph and Linda Nicolosi- founders of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

This guide doesn't really have tips, per se, because it is in the form of a family testimonial. Yet, *amazingly*, from this one single family we can glean tidbits of fact that are applicable to all families and their potential heterosexually-challenged children.

Like this:

1. Women, if you are pregnant, don't "hope" that your child will be one gender or another.

If you wish for a girl while pregnant for example, and it turns out that you have a boy, your magical girl wishes will be absorbed by the fetus in the womb and your boy will be born with serious identity issues.

Disappointed mother "Linda" explains:

"By the time I was pregnant with Jimmy, I wanted a girl so badly. Jimmy was to be our last child. When he was born, I was disappointed to tears."

The authors of the article interpret the situation:

"Perhaps Jimmy and his mother had unconsciously worked together to remedy that disappointment because at the age of eight, Jimmy was now his mom's closest friend. A caring and gentle boy who showed a gift for playing the piano, Jimmy was the kind of child who is naturally attuned to what other people are thinking and feeling. By this age, he could read his mother's moods 'like a book,' but had not a single male friend his age. In fact, he was already showing many signs of pre-homosexual behavior."

First off, readers, I bet many of you didn't know that being a gifted piano player and having empathy for another human being constitutes "pre-homosexual" behavior in boys. Parents should definitely discourage their sons from playing instruments and being nice to their parents.

But that's all sort of tangential. For, this testimonial really shows us the power that a mother has. Her unconscious desires often manifest into reality. Because the mother is so powerful, let's see if her desire for a heterosexual son will cause her son to become heterosexual.


Nope. Only a father can set his boy straight.

2. Men, take note: Don't be aloof fathers.

If you are aloof as a father, your male child won't know how to properly act like a male. Rather, he will model himself on his supernaturally powerful and overbearing mother.

Disappointed father "Gordon" explains:

"When Jimmy was little, I went through a tough time. Our marriage was stretched to the max, and I was having a lot of trouble at work. I guess I just didn't want to be bothered reaching out to a temperamental little kid who pouted and stomped off to his room whenever I said something he took as criticism."

Here, you can see how the boy's father ignored the little boy because the boy was too, ahem, "sensitive." Because the boy was too "sensitive" the father became aloof and the boy became "sensitive." Which came first, you may ask, the boy's "sensitivity" or the father's "aloofness"? It's hard to say, really. For purposes of homosexuality prevention, it doesn't really matter.

(Ssshh, "sensitive" is a code-word for girly. And there aren't many things worse for a boy to be than "girly.")

Now that that's all settled, in light of this father's aloofness working in combination with the mother's strong desire for a girl, we can see how "Gordon" and "Linda" caused their son to be gay.

In a similar vein, America is currently going through a fatherhood crisis caused by a breakdown in the traditional family. This is bad because little boys who don't have male role models turn into adult homosexuals.

Mothers, on the other hand, are abundant. That's why lesbians don't exist.

3. Parents: Let your son act like a girl but don't let him act like a girl.

The Focus on the Family article explains:

"It is essential that you always respectfully listen to your child. Don't force him into activities he hates. Don't make him conform to a role that frightens him. Don't shame him into covering up effeminate mannerisms. The process of change must proceed gradually, through a series of steps that are always accompanied by encouragement."

It's "essential" not to force your son to engage in "masculine" activities. At the same time, your son must engage in "masculine" activities if you do not want him to be gay. This is all just a roundabout way of saying that you should use the behavioral therapy systematic desensitization to progressively force your son to engage in "masculine" activities. But wait, you may say, shouldn't we save behavioral therapy for a licensed and qualified therapist. Yes. That's why such behavior modification should be done "with or without a therapist," according to Dr. Nicolosi founder of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

To sum it all up, since all gay boys are effeminate little princesses who secretly play with their sisters' E-Z bake ovens, this strategy simply cannot fail. Changing gender nonconforming behavior prevents homosexuality, you see.

4. And lastly, if you have a girl, none of this really matters.

Even though the guide touts itself as "preventing homosexuality" it's clear that we're really only concerned with male homosexuality.

As the last tip indicates, it is important that you handle your child's possible queerness firmly yet not in a way that forces "him" to be something "he's" not.

Being a boy is hard and homosexuality, you see, is "associated with" the "challenges" of being a boy. Nicolosi explains:

"As we've seen, boyhood gender confusion is really a retreat from the challenges of masculinity. And many studies indicate that gender confusion is also associated with other problems, which--as in Jimmy's case--usually include rejection of his father, social isolationism, and compensation in a fantasy world."

It's important that your boys don't grow up to be homosexuals.

Good times.

Addendum: As the comments below allude, it is articles like these, with the equation of homosexuality with gender nonconformity, that make me seriously question the (mis)understanding that these "traditional values" groups have of gay people. This article reflects a belief, based on anecdote, that parents are responsible for homosexuality and that all gay people subscribe to the traditional gender roles of the opposite sex.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Benefits and Protections of Marriage #8 and #9: Divorce

This article is part of my series on legal and economic benefits and protections of marriage. Rather than limiting discussions surrounding marriage equality to abstract debates, it is helpful to point out the tangible ways that same-sex couples are harmed by an unequal legal system. So, here we go.

(Nothing herein is intended as legal advice or establishes an attorney-client relationship. Blah blah blah)

Because of the current haphazard schizophrenic state of our legal system with regard to marriage equality, a legal marriage between two people of the same sex in one state does not have, in other states, a sometimes necessary right: The right to not be married any longer.

Before I begin, I am going to break this article into two parts, as there are at least two benefits and protections associated with divorce.

Benefit #8. Division of Assets

Like their heterosexual counterparts, married same-sex couples who divorce must face the very non-abstract and cumbersome process of dividing their property, assets, bank accounts, and pets. Oh yeah, and if they have children they have custody issues to deal with. (Custody, however, is a topic for another day).

In short, the right to divorce, and access to marital dissolution laws, brings with it a legal scheme for property division. Marital dissolution laws tell couples "how" to divorce and, along with courts, they decide who gets what according to general rules and principles. In order to protect themselves and their assets, same-sex couples can enter into what are sometimes called "domestic partnership agreements." These agreements outline what happens to property and assets if a couple separates. But, this is an additional step that same-sex couples must take. See, unlike heterosexual married couples, same-sex couples who are married in every respect except for the label "marriage" do not have an automatic default property division scheme if they separate.

What this means is that like many of the other protections and benefits that same-sex couples can "mimic," same-sex couples must be aware that they have this right, then hire an attorney to prepare the agreement, or try to figure out how to do it themselves (which can be tricky and can lead to an unenforceable agreement). Heterosexual married couples, as we have seen many times, have the privilege of default legal rules governing and respecting their relationships. Same-sex couples do not. Sometimes, they can create their own documents. But really, as law-abiding tax-paying citizens shouldn't we be entitled to these automatic protections too? Shouldn't we get them "for free"? Because there are always going to be many who are left out, of course, because they cannot afford attorneys and do not know their rights.

That is a travesty in our "free" and "equal" country.

Benefit #9. The Right to Divorce

Currently in the US, only Massachusetts recognizes marriage between two people of the same sex. Accordingly, a same-sex married couple may divorce in Massachusetts. Where varying state laws on the issue of marriage equality become problematic is when a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts moves to another state.

Generally, couples who move to another state who were married in a different state are entitled to get divorced in their new state of residence provided they meet applicable state residency and "fault" requirements. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution, states are generally required to recognize marriages performed in other states. However, states have historically granted themselves the leeway to refuse to recognize such marriages when they deem certain marriages to conflict with the second state's "public policy." And thus, states can weasel out of recognizing a legal marriage between two people of the same sex that was performed in Massachusetts.

Since gay couples sometimes divorce, just as heterosexuals sometimes do, this unwillingness to recognize a legal same-sex marriage means that sometimes a state will not even recognize the marriage for purposes of granting a couple a divorce. Logically, this makes sense. Granting a divorce would mean that a state must first recognize that there is a relationship to dissolve. Practically, this unwillingness and legal schizophrenia places great burdens on same-sex couples. And really, it's just unfair. Tangibly, a same-sex couple does not have the same access to the legal system that a heterosexual couple does.

This burden and injustice is apparent in a the recent case where two women sought a divorce in Rhode Island, their state of residence, for their legal marriage performed in Massachusetts. They had been together for more than a decade and two years after their marriage, the state of Rhode Island was unwilling to grant them a divorce. Massachusetts would have granted them a divorce if one of the women were living there, but that was not a viable option for either of the women. Without going into too much legal analysis, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the word "marriage" in the state marital dissolution law does not empower the state Family Court to hear a divorce case between two people of the same sex who were legally married in another state.

What does this tangibly mean? Even though the couple has separated, they still have the legal status of marriage in Massachusetts with all of the benefits, protections, and obligations that that entails. As GLAD states, "even if a couple is unable to obtain a legal divorce, the marriage may still be recognized for other purposes and the couple may still be held responsible for the obligations of marriage, such as providing financial support and being held responsible for each other's debts."

Good times.

Although the question presented to the court was narrow, ("can a state court dissolve a gay marriage performed in another state?"), those opposed to marriage equality feared that an affirmative response would open the door to a legal recognition of marriage in Rhode Island. (It's all a slippery slope, my friend!). This, of course, is the great fear of the anti-equality crowd: Justices who recognize inequality for what it is, who uphold our nation's promises of equality, and who invalidate the tyranny of the bigoted majority.

As a final note, this sort of schizophrenia provides some interesting potential measures. Some, for instance, are proposing laws to legalize "gay divorce" in states that do not recognize gay marriage. The irony of legalizing gay divorce so others can "save marriage" is not to be missed. Save marriage, legalize divorce! Good plan.

Secondly, because of the stubbornness of some to recognize the reality that many married same-sex couples are just like many married heterosexual couples, same-sex couples are held to a higher standard than straight couples: Namely, when they say 'til death do we part, they really have to mean it.

In addition, you can almost taste the glee with which conservative groups talk about, and sometimes exaggerate and lie about, the fact that some married gay couples want to now get divorced. There is this mocking attitude of "We knew all along gay people would just get divorced, even though they wanted marriage so badly." In their blindness they act as though all gay couples who are married are just now realizing what a commitment marriage really entails and are now begging for divorce.

Yes, we know, conservative groups love and cherish marriage. Except, of course, when gay people marry. Then you revel in their personal tragedies and seek to deny them the right to dissolve their unions.

Traditional values are fun.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

RightWing Roundup #2: Cranks, Cake, Equality, and Suckers

1. When You Can't Get Published in Real Scientific Journals, Just Start Your Own!

Evolution denialist group "Answers in Genesis" recently produced the first issue of its, ahem, "professional, peer-reviewed technical journal." (Those fine fellows over at denialism blog, per usual, do a brilliant job deconstructing it). This journal is basically a ginormous clusterfuck of the stupid. For instance, a recent issue "proves" unprovable things like how the role of microbes in "death and disease is a result of the Fall and the Curse on all living things."

Any "scientists" out there? Submit your papers now! Funny, though, that many (most?) contributors hail from fundamentalist Christian schools. Not all contributors do though! One article explains that its authors "hold PhDs in fields related to the topics of their abstracts, are scientists at prominent research facilities in the eastern part of North America [who] prefer to keep their creationist credentials hidden for the moment until they achieve more seniority."

That pesky Leftist/Marxist/Communist/Liberal Intelligentsia Conspiracy in Academia (tm), you know, is way too concerned about minor details like... verifiability and statements of fact. It's a conspiracy I tell ya, a conspiracy!

This latest balls-out display of incompetence shows that the Arrogance of Ignorance knows no limits. Those of us who are interested in finding truth (as opposed to those who already "know" it), quickly learn that the more we learn about something the more we realize that we still have much to learn. Those, on the other hand, who already "know" everything and therefore no longer need to be inquisitive, arrogantly try to redefine science by creating their own "scientific" think tanks and journals.

The million-dollar question is this: Since Answers in Genesis already knows and tells us all the answers, what purpose does this "academic" journal really serve?

Propaganda much?

2. Not At All Like Chocolate Cake

And the Fuckwad of the Year Award goes to Nick Eriksen, an official in the British National Party, for saying this on his personal blog:

"I've never understood why so many men have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the feminazi myth machine into believing that rape is such a serious crime... Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal. To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting force-feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence. A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched."

Apparently, Mr. Eriksen also advocates for domestic violence and traditional gender roles.

Aren't traditional values fun?

But seriously. Chocolate cake: good. Rape: bad. "Feminazis": good. Belligerent rape apologists: bad.

Period. If Mr. Eriksen doesn't believe me, he should spend a few months in prison and report back on the difference between "sex" and rape.

3. Political Irony

We recently observed the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. Conservative politicians everywhere capitalized on remembered the solemn date, which of course, is ironic considering the general conservative position on civil rights issues and racial equality.

Republican Presidential candidate John McCain took the opportunity to give a speech at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

Don't be fooled by McCain's sorry history on civil rights (he voted against making MLK day a national holiday, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1990 four times, opposes affirmative action, and voted against addressing the disproportionate number of minority children in prison), John McCain is all about the racial equality.

4. Which Party is the Party of "Elites" Again?

In boring Illinois news, state Republicans recently killed a big state tax hike on the wealthy. The tax increase would have gone towards roads, schools, and tax cuts for the bottom 98% of the population.

Hmmm. Infrastructure: good. Schools: good. Tax cuts on the great majority of people: good. Tax increases on those who are already rich: Not bad.

I suppose this is more evidence that there are two kinds of Republicans: Rich people and suckers. Dear bottom 98% of Republicans, how's that working out for ya?

And that wraps up this edition of RightWing Roundup. Fun times.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Deep" Thought #9: Studies Inconclusively Prove That Marriage Defenders Are Right About Everything!

Defender of the Traditional Family Fitz has an interesting self-contradictory claim. Before I begin, I should state here that I don't write these articles to pick on Fitz and company. I write them to point out examples of faulty arguments that many marriage defenders use. Rather than saying "marriage defenders always say X," I think it's better to actually point readers to someone actually saying X. It just so happens that the Opiners often say [insert faulty argument X].

Like the following.

One oft-used argument against gay marriage/parenting is this:

1. "Social science literature demonstrates the children who are reared by a married natural mother and father have more positive outcomes in a wide variety of important factors compared to children in other adequately studied family structures- including single parent families, adopted families, step families, divorced families and the like" [note, no mention of same-sex families]

2. "Courts, social scientists & advocates of same-sex “marriage” themselves concede that same-sex families have not yet been adequately studied so that solid conclusions can be made."

and Therefore,

3. The "Traditional family" is the "Optimal [ie- best] Family Form."

Here, note that out of one side of their mouths, marriage defenders admit that studies about gay parents are lacking, and that firm conclusions cannot be made. But out of the other side of their mouths they're simultaneously stating as fact their conclusion that "traditional families" are "optimal," the best, and certainly better than gay families.

This example leads me to a much larger issue with these particular bloggers, and with more prominent "marriage defense" blogs and groups in general: Their beliefs precede their actual knowledge. And therefore, in their eyes, studies always prove that they are right about everything. Even if the studies don't.

For instance, with regard to gay parenting and "optimal family form," the studies that "marriage defenders" use to support their claim that "traditional families are the best" do not compare heterosexually-headed families to gay-headed families. They usually compare married two-parent families to single-parent families with these studies showing that children do better when raised by two parents compared to one parent. But at the same time, studies thus far show that children of gay couples have "no inherent deficits."

But alas, for some reason, marriage defenders never seem to get it. Even though they freely admit that we don't know what the truth is, they continue to tell us what the "truth" is. For some reason, they continue to wrongly extrapolate the findings from studies comparing two-parent families versus single-parent families to gay parents anyway.


I think Fitz puts it best here:

"These are not “old” finding but indeed represent the latest research that reaffirms what we already know." [emphasis added]

In his mind, "we" (meaning he) already know that every child should be raised by a biological mother and father- as that is the "Optimal Family Form". At least, he knows that is so. He has always just known that is so. His belief precedes his knowledge and any research on the issue. And so, in a perfect example of confirmation bias, every study he reads confirms that intuition.

To confirm what he thinks he knows, he disregards the limitations of the studies he cites in support of his intuition and exaggerates the limitations of the studies regarding same-sex parenting. Interestingly, the studies he cites having nothing at all to do with same-sex parenting he regards as perfectly germane to same-sex parenting. The studies that actually discuss same-sex parenting and show that children of gay parents turn out just fine, he regards as inadequate, lacking, or otherwise inevitably "flawed."

In short, he suffers from a common affliction of the Opiners and others in the anti-gay business. While pretending to respect science and its findings, they don't act like scientists. Scientists seek truth. Fitz and company seek to confirm what they already "know" and believe about the world. Their curiosity and inquisitiveness is lacking because they already know what the truth is. Yet, back in the real world, the links between the findings of the studies they frequently cite and their own conclusions are tenuous at best. Yet they don't see that and will probably never see that.

For instance, Fitz's fellow blogger "On Lawn" recently declared that a study showing that boys and girls use different parts of the brain in different tasks proves his intuition-as-absolute-truth that all children need a mother and a father. Try to follow along here:

"Human beings are not designed to live forever, and pop out of nothing. Evolution requires generations, numerous births and deaths in a life-tree that we are all a part of. And proper cultural heritage requires the link through those generations builds [sic] strong societies. We are dependent on our process of pro-generation through history as a species. We are defendant [sic] to understand our heritage to progress as a society.

We are dependent on marriage equality -- gender integration and the quality of the mutual support/authority between both of those genders in raising their children."

One would never know, reading "On Lawn's" obtuse, odd, and lingo-y statement that the original study he's referring to is really about how boys and girls use different parts of the brain during language tasks. Interestingly, its findings, with "On Lawn's confirmation-bias goggles on, only further "prove" that the sexes are so entirely different that all children must grow up with a male and a female parent, or else! (Or else what? We'll tumble off that life-tree thing? What?!)

This extraordinary leap of faith is just one example of how nearly every time these "marriage defenders" cite a study, they use it in way where their every intuition about "gender" and "family" is confirmed. Doing so allows Fitz, "On Lawn," and company to believe that anyone who disagrees with them "is at odds with social science and empirical evidence now spanning a generation of social change & family fragmentation."

In short, and I do not mean this as a personal attack, these folks consistently mis-use data and are misinformed as to what science can actually "prove." And, Fitz in particular thinks that social science can and has proved absolute truths like "traditional families are best." While social science is a useful guide in making policy decisions, it should not do so in an ignorant way. It should never be used to spread untruths and misinformation the way various "traditional values" groups use it.

See, those who are magically capable of interpreting every single study they encounter as supporting their beliefs about the world should not dictate what is best for the rest of us. Because really, why should anyone have to live in the binary manner that Fitz and company believe is the best way to live?

Every day, we see how people like Fitz and "On Lawn" use studies to further their ideologies, rather than to seek knowledge and truth about the world. Under the guise of acting in the best interest of society, they are blind to the fact that they even have ideologies. (This "invisible" ideology, of course, is an entire topic in and of itself.)

Because they misunderstand science, they present their position as Absolute Truth Grounded in Science, even though their case against everything gay is essentially a mere prediction:

That because "studies show" that two-parent families are better than one-parent families (among other types, not including gay families) Great Harm will befall society if gay people are allowed to marry and raise children.

That's a pretty bold claim of future absolute knowledge. What other than extreme arrogance, ignorance, and/or outright bigotry justifies making that kind of prediction about a group of people's ability to destroy civilization? Not only that, but implicit in the entire argument is the dualistic idea that if "nuclear families are best" then other types of families are necessarily "bad." Real life, however, tells us a different story where lots of other families (perhaps more numerous than "nuclear families") are still good (even if they're not "the best") and they are always. going. to. exist.

While Fitz-aggedon and company appeal to fear on a grand scale and paint this debate as a ginormous battle between good and evil, we should all be acting like good scientists and asking if there are any other possible ways things could turn out. Are we confident that enough evidence for making a bold claim with regard to absolute truth exists? Does refusing to accept another's claim with regard to what "studies show" the absolute truth to be make us bad Americans, stupid, or dishonest as Fitz and the choir would imply and sometimes outright state? And, "if there are many different ways that things could turn out, why [are marriage defenders] painting such an extreme picture?"

Why indeed?

Studies inconclusively "prove" that everything the Opiners say about gay people, parenting, families, marriage, "gendered biology, kin anthropology, family law, and policy" is right. Except, of course, when these studies say nothing about gay people, parenting, families, marriage, "gendered biology, kin anthropology, family law, and policy" and they're just (mis)using them to confirm what they already believe about the world which, conveniently, is the way that they're already living.

Yeah. Deep thoughts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some Telling Ads?

Upon perusing uber-right wing website WorldNetDaily I can't help but wonder if the advertisements are a greater reflection on the average readership. (During this article, I am not going to include links because WorldNetDaily likely is paid for every click, and hey, who wants to support right-wing propaganda?). Now, in general, ads really annoy me and when watching the tellie I sometimes feel like shows exist only so people can make money off of the ads that are run during the shows. I mean really, is there any other explanation for Flavor of Love?

But seriously, I know ads at different media venues do not reflect upon all viewers of such media. But at the same time, there is a reason advertisers buy ad space at certain venues over others.

What follows is me poking fun at the ads and, therefore, some of the readers of a right-wing website. Yet, I could just as easily poke fun of the ads on gay network Logo (Hint: 5 minutes is entirely too long for any commercial, let alone one about animal abuse with Sarah McLaughlin singing in the background. Although props for catering to the musical tastes of Logo's target demographic.)

But alas, I choose to make fun of mean bigots before I make fun of the family. So back to WorldNetDaily...

First off, on WorldNetDaily, many advertisements are masked within the news announcements, often with a flashing "Breaking News!" logo right next to it. For instance, after clicking on the "article" "Navy Doctors Stumble Upon Breakthroughs in Cardiovascular Health," one is transported to an advertisement for some quack product. But more importantly, it's sort of cumbersome and surely confusing to many less-than-savvy readers, to decipher which links take you to advertisements and which take you to "real" stories (well, as real as WND stories can be, anyway). Wait, which "article" is news? Which is a commercial? Oh well. It doesn't matter.


For those readers seeking a more "objective" voice, a prominent link promises to take you to "your independent online intelligence resource"- which is essentially a paid-subscription-only site written by WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah. Don't forget to don your tinfoil hats when you get your credit cards kids, this site promises to be shock-full of right-wing conspiracy theories. (But really, don't forget your credit card!)


(The quotations are appropriate and necessary.)

Also within the site are ads for WorldNetDaily's various "products." The latest issue of WND's right-wing propaganda magazine Whistleblower, for instance, promises to reveal Barack (Hussein) Obama's "Secret Life." Subscribe Today! Then, of course, there's the upcoming "WorldNetDaily Cruise." Don't... *shiver* ....miss it. (I will refrain from distasteful jokes about right-wingers and the bottom of the ocean.)

Within all the various ads to buy things on WND, the numerous ads for credit counseling and "Federal Debt Relief System" are worth mentioning. Are you a slave to your creditors? Buy now! Continuing to cater to this demographic of relatively poor people who probably think they are poor "because of liberals," are ads for various money-making pyramid-like schemes, including one scheme to buy gold. Let's take a closer look at that first image:


Too good to be true? Nah. The world is your oyster according to your "independent news source."

But moving on, other ads are more... interesting. One flashing ad for "The Ultimate Fitness Program" includes a slideshow where a tough-looking bald man is standing shirtless and then the slide quickly switches to this same man, now clad in spandex, engaging in what can only be described as attempted coitus with the floor.


I don't know what this man is, um, trying to do.

Another ad takes you to a site for "Conservative T-shirts" which proudly displays worthy gems like "I'd Rather Be Waterboarding" (because who doesn't laugh at torture?) and "I'd rather be a conservative nut job than a liberal with no nuts and no job" (the irony of which is not missed in light of the debt relief and pyramid scheme ads galore on WND).


Right-wingers are a fun, good-natured bunch, aren't they? Hate sells, ladies and gents. Nowhere is that truth more apparent than WorldNetDaily.

Fun times.

If reading the "articles" on WorldNetDaily isn't entertaining enough for you, perusing the advertisements undoubtedly is!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

After reading a series of politically intense nonfiction books, I recently decided it was time to lose myself in some fiction. Desiring more of an escape than the type of novel I usually read, I picked up a cheap yellow-paged old copy of Ursula Le Guin's science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness and delved into another galaxy.

Written in 1969, the book is considered an early feminist science fiction novel. Yes, I'm a dork. And yes, I know, this totally ups my feminist cred, for better or... worse.

Anyway, my interest in this novel was peaked upon learning the characteristics of the inhabitants of the planet where the novel takes place. To me, what was more interesting than the actual plot, was the fact that the citizens of this remote planet called Gethen are androgynous beings. They have neither a biological sex nor a gender.

We can all make our own predictions of what a sex- and gender-less society would be like. In Le Guin's mind, and what I found most fascinating to think about, is that such a society lacked the capacity for war. (I know, it sounds simplistic and cheesy, but... keep reading). Le Guin's argument is that we, as beings with a (mostly) binary conception of sex and gender, tend to see the world in dualistic and opposing black/white terms. If you are not with us, you are against us. Good and evil. Yin and yang. In a world lacking the binary sex/gender concept that (arguably) leads to this dualistic worldview, the capacity to see an entire group of humans as "the enemy" is non-existent. Where we have a strong sense of "us" and "them" which may be based on the distinctions between male and female, the Gethenians see all people on their planet as "us"- as essentially the same, with no real differences. So, while the inhabitants of Gethen have the capacity for violence, this violence is limited to personal vendettas and other individual acts as opposed to mass acts of war, holocaust, or genocide which depend on demonization of "the other."

That idea is certainly something to think about. Politically, it has been my experience that those most insistent that "inherent differences" exist between the sexes and that the sexes have prescribed roles based on those differences, are those who also tend to have largely dualistic, absolute worldviews. In debate, for instance, they refer to gay people as "enemies of America" or as "worse than terrorists" rather than just as a group of people with opposing viewpoints.

A second interesting point is that Le Guin envisions this sex/gender-less society as being equal. Or, at least, there are no unequal divisions based on the category of "gender." At this point, it's worth mentioning how the Gethenians reproduce. Sex/gender inequality cannot be discussed without mentioning pregnancy, child-rearing, and the act of sex.

Le Guin writes,

"The sexual cycle averages 26 to 28 days.... For 21 or 22 days the individual is somer, sexually inactive, latent. On about the 18th day... the individual enters kemmer, estrus. In this first phase of kemmer he remains completely androgynous. Gender, and potency, are not attained in isolation.... When the individual finds a partner in kemmer, hormonal secretion is further stimulated until in one partner either a male or female hormonal dominance is established." (90)

Gethenians, you see, are androgynous and incapable of having sex (because they lack sex organs) most of the time. One turns into either a male or a female depending on who the partner is. Thus, one month one may become a male, the next month one may become a female. And further,

"Normal individuals have no predisposition to either sexual role in kemmer; they do not know whether they will be the male or the female, and have no choice in the matter." (91)

Because there is no such thing as male or female outside of kemmer, and each person is capable of either sex role, societal sex/gender roles do not exist. Interestingly, the narrator (a male from Earth) refers to all Gethenians as "he." It is unclear whether the narrator believes that males are the "default" Gethenian or whether he is using "he" in the generic sense to refer to androgynous beings. This usage is relevant as it reflects the male-centric thinking of a man from Earth, as he is assuming that a standard being without a sex/gender is the same as a "male" being. This assumption is challenged when a Gethenian asks the narrator what a "woman" is, and the narrator hesitates and realizes he cannot do so. In light of the fact that Gethenians are capable of briefly turning into men or women while retaining the same essential personhood, the narrator seems to realize that the distinction between "male" and "female" was more arbitrary than he thought.

But back to reproduction, because Gethenians can turn into either a male or female sexual being, they can produce a child as either a man or woman. But, since they revert back to androgyny after childbirth, there really is no concept of mother or father. Such a scenario, of course, has interesting implications for parenthood and the claim that a child requires a mother and a father. Does it count if the parent is both a mother and a father? :-) In addition, I wonder if a society in which anyone could become pregnant would take the role of motherhood and care-taking more seriously. I certainly think so. I can imagine the parental leave and pregnancy allowances would be much more lenient if everyone in the world could potentially become pregnant.

Finally, as some brief but interesting notes, Le Guin asks us to consider the following about her invented society: Unconsenting sex is non-existence as, from a physiological perspective, sex is only capable of occuring between two consenting people. In addition, there is no division of humanity between "strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, and active/passive" (94). That whole "tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking" is different on Gethen.

So, now that I'm reflecting back on The Left Hand of Darkness, I realize it wasn't quite the "escape" from political reading that I was searching for ;-) Although fictional, the novel helps me examine our world, our society, and the worldviews that we are trapped within. In her intro to the novel, Le Guin alludes to this as she writes, "Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive." And, even though Le Guin states that she is not predicting a future world where we are androgynous, she observes that in some ways "we already are."

Fiction, it seems, is sometimes more true than "fact."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Revisiting Title IX

Recently, I posted a student's letter regarding Title IX. I am thankful that a commenter came out of the woodwork to bring up many complaints and generalizations about the law, even though we disagreed on some issues. His comments inspired me to finally sit down and write about Title IX and women's athletics- two areas I feel strongly about and have been wanting to write about for some time.

See, as a girl, I was sort of a tomboy. Hard to believe, I know. I grew up in a relatively small working-class city where girls didn't have the multitude of soccer, softball, basketball, and other sports leagues that they had and currently have in other cities. Even though I played these sports with the boys (and other girls) in neighborhood games, when it came to organized teams, I was often relegated to sitting on the sidelines watching my boy friends wear their fancy uniforms and win trophies.

A couple of the leagues allowed girls to play, and I played on a couple of such teams. Yet, looking back, I think I was seen as sort of a curiosity. I wasn't really a "player." I was that girl on the boys' team. At the time, I had no words to describe this unfairness since I, and everyone else, at the time just took it as a given that girls didn't have sports teams of their own. The interest wasn't there, people said.

But now... girls' teams have been created. And the girls have shown up.

But back when I was a kid, most girls didn't play organized sports until junior high or high school. And even then, our teams were relegated to using the inferior "girls' gyms," the crapp(ier) locker rooms, and the dorky polyster uniforms from like the 1980s. During gym class, our male gym teacher, when lining us up to play basketball, would take two basketballs, drop them both, and make an obvious point of giving the boys the ball that bounced better and giving the girls the flat one. In high school, my volleyball team would hop on a school bus and, without complaint, ride a few hours to a tournament while the football team hopped on their comfy charter bus to travel the same distance. When we won tournaments, our victories were buried in the middle of the sports' page. When the mediocre boys' basketball team happened to win, their victories were front page news. And always, always, girls sports' scores were listed after boys' scores in the sports section. A small but telling detail that girls' sports always came in second.

And, in spite of this all, I and other girls were still interested in playing sports.

See, there is my story. And then there are the stories of countless other girls who thrived in athletics in the face of similar unfair circumstances. These experiences make the argument that "girls aren't interested in sports" a pretty tough sell.

In fact, it is nothing short of incredible that women organized teams at all in pre-Title IX environments that were far less amiable than the ones I faced growing up. Such women are, I believe, heroes to future generations of women. At the same time, they, and we (meaning female athletes), are sometimes scorned, hated, and mocked by those who see us as "taking" opportunities away from boys.

In my previous Title IX blog, I said:

"If there is a blame for the demise of smaller men's teams, it lies with the messy implementation of Title IX and the privilege of "big time" men's sports, not with women who were never given the opportunity to compete pre-Title IX."

I stand by that statement.

Title IX was not created in any supposed "spirit of vindictiveness" as a way to "punish" men or mens' sports. First of all, Title IX exists for the protection of both women and men. It just so happens that Title IX often benefits women because they have been the ones most affected by discrimination. Historically, girls and women were denied access to education and athletics for much of our nation's history.

This is not to say that boys never have faced or never face discrimination. It is just that it happens less rarely. And, if a program discriminates against boys, boys can and do file complaints for discrimination. At the same time, in their aggrieved states of mind (sometimes for good reason), parents of male athletes have lost sight of the fact hat women are a historically oppressed group when it comes to higher education and athletics. That fact does not justify treating boys unfairly. But the fact that some men are now treated unfairly does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Title IX was enacted for good reason: to remedy gender inequality. If it has resulted in overkill, that is something that is fixable and does not require completely getting rid of the law or rolling back the gains that women have made in education and athletics.

In fact, when boys and parents of boys push back as is their legal right to do, the system has a tendency to "correct" itself. For instance, currently girls as a group are more qualified for college and have proven that they do better than boys when they get there (which, of course, is a whole other blog topic). However, in the interest of gender equality, college admissions offices have been implementing affirmative actions programs for boys where less-qualified boys are accepted over more-qualified girls.

Secondly, for those who believe that Title IX overprivileges girls, I grew up in a post-Title IX world and still faced remnants of pre-Title IX discrimination in athletics. The unfairness in the pre-Title IX world was the lack of opportunities girls had in athletics. To blame the victims of this injustice for "creating" a perceived injustice against a privileged class of boys who never lacked such opportunities is odd. What is also interesting is that many of those who had no interest in gender equality when it was only girls who were suffering are the first to cry foul when they perceive gender inequality harming boys.

Gender equality in sports is not a zero-sum game, and it has never been under Title IX. Schools have three ways to comply with the law, none of which involve mandating quotas. In fact the agency charged with enforcing Title IX, the Office of Civil Rights, has explicitly stated that dropping men's programs to comply with Title IX is a "disfavored practice" and should not be done. What sometimes happens is that schools claim they have to drop programs to "save face" and distract from the fact that they've been doing very little to improve opportunities for women over the years. The quota myth is perpetuated by those who either misunderstand the law, are looking for someone to demonize, or who are actively trying to roll back the benefits of Title IX.

I also maintain that "big time" mens' sports (ie- basketball and football) are privileged over other mens' and women's sports, which contributes to the demise of smaller mens' programs. Statistics show that the majority of these Division I basketball and football teams spend more money than bring in for a school. That is, these "revenue sports" don't pay for themselves, let alone pay for other teams, as is often claimed. As one commenter suggested in my previous Title IX article, one solution would be to take football programs completely out of the Title IX equation. No other sport is of comparable size and it's not fair for other mens' sports rosters to be calculated with monstrous football rosters for purposes of Title IX equality. That is one workable solution.

In addition, football teams in particular have privileges that are unheard of for other sports:

"Some use chartered jets (instead of commercial planes) to fly their football teams to games, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many house entire football teams in hotels the night before home games (true for virtually all Div. 1-A schools), citing the need to ensure that players get adequate rest, have quiet time to study, have their meals and fluid intake monitored, and are available for pre-game meetings.

One university spent $120,000 to repanel the head football coach's office in mahogany while it insisted that there wasn't enough in school coffers to add sports opportunities for women.

Another spent over $1 million to buy out the contract of the football coach -- and cut two women's teams to save about $60,000.

Still another institution cut its men's volleyball team to address a $2 million deficit in the athletics program, only to buy state-of-the-art titanium facemasks (and new football uniforms) for the football team four months later, becoming one of only two collegiate programs in the country to have such facemasks."

Perhaps those concerned about the demise of lower-profile mens' teams should shed more light on such budget unfairnesses rather than knee-jerk demonizing Title IX, women athletes, and feminism. Schools make choices. And, unfortunately, some choose to cut smaller mens' sports rather than addressing the ginormous elephant in the room that is college football and its 90-player rosters.

See, here's what I think this is all really about. Male athletes, their coaches, and their parents are understandably angry and bitter about their small sports' programs getting cut and perceived "lack of opportunities" for boys. Yet they have lost sight of the big picture. Boys grow up in an environment where most "important" historical figures, leaders, and athletes are men. Look at the gender composition of corporate boardrooms. Look at Congress. Look at the presidency. Look at college presidents. Look at coaches. Look at religious leaders. Past injustices against women are not the fault of little boys today, but something is still going on in our society that is working to the detriment of girls and women.

Title IX needs to be implemented better, many will agree. But the law has been in effect for more than 30 years. In light of the glaring fact that men are still in charge of most things that matter in the public sphere, I seriously question whether Title IX has resulted in a serious injustice to boys here or whether parents and male athletes are, due to their personal grievances, rather nearsighted about the issue of gender equality.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Unimportant Breaking News from the Right Roundup

1. See Ya Next Tuesday

A new book has come out documenting Republican presidential contender John McCain's notorious temper. One particularly shocking example of an alleged exchange between McCain and his wife Cindy follows:

"At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain's hair and said, 'You're getting a little thin up there.' McCain's face reddened, and he responded, "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt." McCain's excuse was that it had been a long day. If elected president of the United States, McCain would have many long days."

Aren't "American Values" fun?

2. Technical Difficulties

Watch out for anti-gay blog Opine Editorials' sinister agenda to recruit new members to its "group blog." Only problem? Their latest recruit can't figure out that newfangled internets. It certainly puts a damper on one's ability to write anti-gay blogs when one doesn't know how to, um, post blog articles on the Google. Minor details.

3. It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Speaking of agendas, a Catholic bishop recently declared that the homasexuls have mounted a ginormous "conspiracy against Christian values." With regard to parenting, the bishop said that he would "not tolerate" the homosexuality of a child of his. A few moments later the bishop also said that he would "not condemn" the homosexuality of a child of his.

Aren't "Christian values" fun? In a, um, pardoxical sort of way.

4. "Interesting Movie" But..... You Still Lose.

Nasally unfunny actor Ben Stein has put out a documentary about war on "intelligent design." (Read reviews of the movie here). Let's begin the countdown until Christian proponents of this computer-programmer-in-the-sky idea begin salivating at the fact that Stein, who is Jewish, has delved into the "relation" between evolution and the Holocaust. Essentially, evolution is wrong because the Nazis "used" it. Oh yeah, and Stein is Jewish so he's not just making this up. It's personal. Because he's Jewish. Did they mention that Stein is Jewish? That gives him extra authority to misunderstand science and equate "Social Darwinism" with the scientific theory of evolution.

And did I mention that there are two surefire ways to automatically lose an argument? The first is to compare your opponent and his or her ideas to the Nazis/Hitler. The second is to "argue" that the Nazis used [insert behavior/idea/] and therefore that idea is wrong or bad. Both tactics "work" by associating whatever idea/person you are opposing with the moral reprehensibility of Hitler/Nazis thereby distracting from the merits of the idea/person itself. [For related information see Godwin's Law]

Whichever path you choose, the desperation brought about by your lack of an actual argument against the idea you are opposing is readily apparent.

And that wraps up this edition of "Unimportant Breaking News from the Right."