Thursday, July 31, 2008

Using Fear: The Giu91an1 Awards

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Demagogues, those who invoke the human fear response for political gain, have long known this.

With that in mind, I'm just going to come right out and say that, first off, I think there are generally two types of Republicans: rich people and suckers. How Republican elites garner support from the common folk is often through demagoguery.

Whether it's Republicans covertly (or overtly) sending the message that Obama is a secret Muslim or the "family values" crowd appealing to popular prejudices of gay people, both tactics are used to garner votes. When I see these tactics being used, the only thing it tells me about a candidate is that he, or she (but probably he), must be so unqualified that he cannot win on his own merits. It tells me that, despite the crappiness of this candidate, a group of people nonetheless desperately want this candidate to win. Most disturbingly, it tells me that a group of people doesn't trust us- the common folk- to make the "correct" choice if we the people are given only the information relevant to each candidate's merits.

The propaganda suggests that some people aren't being completely clear about who this candidate is really benefiting.

For the sake of disclosure here, I don't identify with Democrats or Republicans. I will vote for Obama because I find him to be a better choice than McCain. There. That being said, I find that it's Republicans or supporters of Republicans who use the particularly reprehensible scare tactics of invoking hyper-nationalism, using red scare tactics, and alluding to the spectre of another 9/11 to gain support not on the merits of their candidate but by trying to invoke the fear response.

During the primary season, many pundits mocked Republican candidate Rudy Gui91an1 for mentioning 9-11 in virtually every speech he gave no matter the topic. His idea in doing so was, I believe, to invoke fear at the prospect of another terrorist attack, to let voters know that he had been there before and knew how to deal with these scary times, and to try to capture some of the patriotic sentiment that surely was responsible for President Bush's sky-high approval ratings.

And thus a Fannie's Room Award was born: The Giu91an1 Awards. This has the potential to be a recurring feature during the 2008 election season. Anyway, the first annual Giu91an1 Awards winners, those who have opportunistically and exaggeratedly invoked fear for attempted political gain, are as follows:

1. In the "Please Stop Using 9-11 for Political Purposes" Category

In Florida, one businessman has exploited the 9-11 tragedy for monetary gain and for attempted political gain for the Republican Party. The propaganda? A ginormous billboard featuring the twin towers still smoking from the terrorist attack. The caption? "Please Don't Vote for a Democrat." The implication is obvious: Oh dear god, we better not vote for a Democrat if we don't want another terrorist attack to happen!

Yet, rather than helping his cause, this foolish, desperate businessman is probably doing more harm to Republicans. I mean, supposedly, the Republican party in Florida has even called the billboard "inappropriate."

2. In the "Barack Hussein Obama" Category

We certainly can't forget the numerous allusions to Obama's alleged Muslim faith and all the scary implications that brings with it. The New Yorker recently caught a lot of flak for its satirical photo of Michelle and Barak Obama decked out in Muslim gear, doing a "terrorist fist jab," and burning an American flag. Well, South Carolina Senator Kevin Bryant recently posted something similar on his Senate blog. Except, I don't think it was meant to be a satire.

The fear-mongery propaganda? A t-shirt with a photo of Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama. The caption read "The difference between Obama and Osama is just a little B.S." Hardy-fuckin-har-har, right?

Like, the best this sorry politician can do against another politician is to falsely allude that he's in cahoots with a major international terrorist? I wonder if Bryant has any actual, you know, critique of Obama's policy positions or if he's just into defamation.

The thing is, it's these types of "funny" little slogans that get forwarded in emails all across our nation. Being from where I'm from, blue-collar America, I sometimes receive these Obama/Muslim forwards from people who don't know that I don't think like them. Peruse some conservative "common folk" blogs and websites and see for yourself how prevalent the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim is. Many of these people will vote for John McCain, not because they like John McCain or particularly know much about his policy positions, but rather because they believe Something Really Bad will happen to American if Obama-the-Secret-Muslim is elected president.

3. In the "Hot Mess of Asininity" Category

And no demagoguery award show is complete without at least one piece from the professional anti-gay crowd. The following example is a nice two-for-one combo package of anti-gay and anti-Obama propaganda. Professional Christian Janet Folger, who is under the delusion that the imprisonment of Christians is imminent, recently opined in her article "A jail cell with your name on it":

"I can argue why marriage matters for the continuation of civilization. I can tell you about every study that shows without a doubt that children do best with both a mother and a father. But let me cut to the chase: If we don't win the marriage battle, now on the ballot in California, Florida and Arizona, people who disagree with homosexual behavior will ... go to jail."

The elipses in the last sentence were in the original piece. Did you catch the dramatic effect? Anyway, listen up, Folger continues her dire warning:

"People in California are starting to understand just what is at stake in the battle for marriage – freedom itself.... If you care about America's freedoms, muster the courage to stand up, sign up and speak up for marriage and McCain. Because if we have a few more months like this one, and four years of a Barack Obama administration in lockstep with the homosexual agenda, we won't have our freedoms and we won't recognize our country."


At the risk of taking this fear-monger seriously, I just want to point out that Obama does not, actually, support the right of same-sex couples to marry. In fact, when it comes to the marriage issue, Obama and McCain are pretty similar. Both candidates have opposed a Federal Marriage Amendment and neither favor same-sex marriage. Details shmetails, what matters is oh dear god the world is a scary scary place in which our very freedoms are at stake! (and while you're casting your anti-gay-marriage vote don't forget to vote for John McCain!)

But seriously, with these inconvenient facts in mind, my only question is whether Folger is out to deliberately lie to her readers or whether she's merely ignorant. In any event, the result is the invocation of fear for political and/or monetary gain.

How Christian.

To end, I believe that many people can see when candidates and/or supporters are motivating people to vote for them by trying to invoke fear. When such tactics are transparent, they are laughable and ridiculous. Yet, it would be giving people too much credit to assume that all potential voters are capable of laughing off absurd messages. When people use fear, rather than the merits of their candidate, to garner support, I can't help but to wonder what it is these people are hiding about their candidate. If they have to try to trick masses of people into voting for someone who they would not, without this fear, otherwise vote for I also wonder if this candidate is really the best person for our nation.

Could it be that the only thing our nation has to fear really is fear itself?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Deep" Thought #20: Description of What Anti-Gay Initiative Does Might Prejudice People Against Voting For What Initiative Does

California's Attorney General has changed the wording of the state's ballot initiative that would amend the state's constitution to take away the right of same-sex couples to marry. While the "marriage defenders" wanted the language on the ballot to read that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," the new language on the ballot will state that the initiative will "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry."

This new statement is completely accurate, of course. Same-sex couples currently have the right to marry in California and the constitutional amendment would eliminate that right. Yet, marriage defenders aren't happy about this new accurate wording. For instance, Jennifer Kerns of the Protect Marriage coalition believes that the new wording "is so inflammatory that it will unduly prejudice voters against the measure."


See, in the realm of Earthly logic, one would think that the proponents of an initiative would want voters to know exactly what it was they were voting for. In the case of this new wording, it lays out exactly what it is the initiative will tangibly do-- eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. But no. Accurate messaging? We shan't have that now.

Here's a little hint, people. If you are scared that an accurate description of your initiative might be so "inflammatory" so as to "prejudice" people against voting for it, you should probably come up with an initiative that isn't so repugnant when it's accurately described. Amending a constitution is serious business and if the only way for you to succeed is if you are in control of the messaging, well, then maybe your little amendment doesn't deserve to be in anyone's constitution.

But that's okay. We understand what this latest drama is all about, don't we? Now that voters will have to come face-to-face with the fact that they're taking something away from gay couples, some people's consciences might get the better of them. That's what the anti-gay crowd is fearing here. And that's why Kerns' statement is worthy of a "deep" thought. Kerns and the other members of this movement are objecting to accurate descriptions of what their initiative will do. They don't have faith in the average voter to do what's "right" unless the people can be persuaded that they are bravely and justly "defending" an institution rather than taking something important away from a minority group. The Attorney General has brought this movement back down to Earth, out of the realm of grandiose hyperbolic predictions of Great Harm to Society, and has shined a light on the reality of what this initiative tangibly means.

Now that the light is shining, take a good long look America. Look at this movement that is desperate to control the messaging, see how it fears truth, and ask yourself what side you want to say you were on when the history books are written.

Yeah, Kerns. A description of what your bigoted initiative actually does just might prejudice people against voting for what it actually does. Ya think?

"Deep" thoughts.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some Fundamentalist Christian Responses to the Tennessee Shooting

Perhaps by now you've already heard of the horrifying shooting at a church in Tennessee. An unemployed man with a self-described "hatred of the liberal movement" is being charged with first-degree murder after shooting and killing two members of the liberal gay-welcoming Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

To begin, it should go without saying that this man isn't representative of all people who are opposed to liberals and gay people. I mean, you know a person's more than a little unhinged when he believes shooting up a church is justified because it's a gay-affirming liberal one. That being said, I have found some of the anti-gay reactions to this incident odd, to say the least.

1. On Responsibility

In any incident of this type, one has to wonder how anti-gay/anti-liberal writings and rantings factor into the equation. While I don't think the violence can be attributed solely to anti-gay propaganda, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that the recurring message that gays/liberals are ruining everything contributes to incidents such as these. After all, it's not like the the killer wrote his manifesto outlining his hatred of liberals and gays in a society brimming with unconditional love and acceptance of liberals, gay people, rainbows, and ponies.

While some anti-gay groups have gone on the defensive and wiped their collective hands clean of this incident, Good As You observes that the anti-gay "news" source OneNewsNow's coverage of the incident is ironically surrounded by articles criticizing gay people and the churches that support them.

Anti-gay/pro-family (whatever you choose to call them) regularly send out messages like how gay-affirming churches are not "in line with biblical teachings" and that allowing gays in the military is a key step leading to the, wait for it wait for it, "moral unraveling of society." I'm not advocating censorship here, but I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that these messages, in the mind of a desperate, unhinged person, could lead to violence.

Freedom of speech demands greater responsibility than what many anti-gay propagandists show via their demagoguery and fear-mongering opinion pieces.

2. The Unitarian "Church"

After perusing some of the reactions among the anti-gay crowd, what I found interesting were references to the "fact" that Unitarianism is not "real" Christianity. Now, am I the only one having trouble connecting the dots between how noting this "fact" is in any way relevant to noting that the shooting was heinous?

But alas, this odd juxtaposition goes along the lines of "Now, I don't condone this killer's actions, but can I just say that Unitarians are NOT real Christians!" Okay, neat-o. Like, you just had to throw that passive-aggressive little FYI in there for shits and giggles?

I mean, you can pretty much guarantee that had the shooting occurred at an Evangelical Church, some folks would be the first to cite the incident as yet more "proof" of Christian persecution.

But I digress.

I just find it really uncouth that, in the context of this shooting, people actually think it's an appropriate time to chime in that hey by the way Unitarians aren't "real" Christians. (And by the way, have any fundamentalists ever thought about taking a comparative religion course? I mean, seriously, this pastor didn't even know what Unitarianism was until he heard about this shooting and went and looked it up. But again, I digress.) Observe how this pastor opines in his article that is inaccurately entitled "Thoughts on the Tennessee Valley Shooting":

"My primary reason for writing this post is to answer the question: "What is the Unitarian Universalist church?" I was asked this yesterday and couldn't give a clear answer. All I knew is that they are a very liberal group, but I didn't know really what they believed."

Thus, contrary to the title of his post, his article is more about "What is the Unitarian Universalist church" and less about the actual shooting. For, after strongly condemning the shooting the scare quoting begins:

"[Y]ou can see for yourself on their own web site that the Unitarian Universalist 'church' is obviously not a true, biblical church by any means. They have no doctrinal belief about God. He/She/It can be whatever you want he/she/it to be. Or you can choose to not believe in a god at all. Or you can believe in many gods. It doesn't really matter....I could continue indefinitely describing this so-called "church" as a false church. Again, for more details see this helpful site for information on a wide range of religions, cults and denominations."

In addition, this blogger defensively predicts that oh dear god this horrible incident just might benefit the homaseckshuls and hurt the anti-gay Christian movement:

"Homosexual activists will try to persuade the public and legislators alike that speech and/or action taken against the pro-homosexual views of this "church" must be silenced. They will attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among the public. They will try show that conservatives on this issue are violent and must be stopped."

So, let me get this straight. Two Unitarians were murdered by a crazed gunman and this pastor's messages are (1) That this incident will probably hurt the anti-gay movement and (2) That the Unitarian church, excuse me "church," is a false one.

How loving and compassionate.

3. A Christian Message of "Peace"

Then, of course, there is professional anti-gay Peter LaBarbera's Christian message of "peace" concerning the incident. In an article entitled "Tennessee Church Murderer Deserves Death Penalty if Found Guilty," LaBarbera rebukes the incident and asks us to pray for the victims and their families.

While I appreciate the fact that the leader of an arguable anti-gay hate group decries this act of violence, I take no solace in his defensive message of violent vengeance. For, right after he asks us to do the Christian-y thing and pray he expounds:

"Of course, pro-homosexual activists will seek to exploit this case to win passage of a federal 'hate crimes' law, but as I told an American Family Association reporter today, surely justice can and will be done in this case — including the death sentence this murderer deserves — without the extra help of special 'hate crimes' prosecution."

Without getting into a full-on debate about the death penalty, this statement that LaBarbera mailed to a "homosexual" newspaper is simply inflammatory. He both accuses "pro-homosexual activists" of being exploitative and he describes hate crimes laws as "special" rights. If he himself were not being exploitative and opportunistic with respect to this tragedy he would have simply requested his followers to pray for the victims and their families and left it at that. Instead, he is politicizing this event to further his own anti-gay agenda.

In fact, I predict that, in the future, LaBarbera will point to this article and his cry for vengeance to "prove" to the world that he doesn't hate gay people and he doesn't run a hate group. You heard it here first.

Keeping in mind the rhetoric that many so-called Christian and anti-gay groups put out, I am not surprised that they are now defensively wiping their hands clean of this shooting. Perhaps most of those who lead the anti-gay movement do not wish harm on gay people or liberals. Yet, while watching them decry this act of violence while they simultaneously go into off-topic rants about how Unitarians are not "real" Christians and how gay rights activists could use this incident to their advantage, the above folks demonstrate how clumsy and reckless they are with their words.

By refusing to accept any semblance of responsibility for their intolerant, bigoted, and often hateful utterances and, in fact, refusing to even acknowledge that their words are intolerant, bigoted, and hateful I am not at all surprised that they see no link between themselves and those who commit violent acts against those they so frequently demonize.

Our words and actions always have consequences beyond what is foreseeable to us. That our words may affect someone as unhinged as the gunman in Tennessee is a risk we assume in a free country. It is a risk I wish those on the anti-gay side would at least acknowledge.

Monday, July 28, 2008

DADT "Expert" Embarasses Self Before Congress

The House Armed Services Personnel Committee held the first hearing in 15 years on the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. The committee invited veterans as well as Elaine Donnelly to testify. For some background, Donnelly is neither a veteran nor does she have any particular training or expertise in the area of military readiness. It just so happens, however, that she runs the Center for Military Readiness which opposes gays in the military and, rather than conducting original research of its own, merely writes various opinions about issues like women and gays in the military.

I'm sorry, but writing op-eds about military stuff doesn't make one a military expert. In fact, a Duke University law review is publishing a critique of Donnelly's "expertise" because her testimonies are "riddled with errors" due to her ignorance and misunderstanding of research methods.

How. Surprising.

According to Washington Post writer Dana Milbank, here's a sampling of what Donnelly opined before Congress:

"She warned of 'transgenders in the military.' She warned that lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower. She spoke ominously of gays spreading 'HIV positivity' through the ranks.....Her written statement added warnings about 'inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community,' the prospects of 'forcible sodomy' and 'exotic forms of sexual expression,' and the case of 'a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault' a fellow soldier."

What a confused woman. Not surprisingly, her "arguments" resemble those of so many other anti-gays who foam at the mouth at the thought of two guys or girls getting it on. Perhaps it's the mere thought of gay men and lesbians that so flusters this woman that renders her incapable of making anything other than laughable irrational statements. I mean, why the alleged behavior of gays and lesbians constantly has to be an issue with these people when the behavior of heterosexuals is not similarly challenged demonstrates that some people really do just dislike and/or fear gay people. "Exotic" sexual behavior? Pretty sure heteros engage in that too. "Passive/aggressive" behavior? Pretty sure heteros can be that as well.

Oh, and while we're at it, let's do talk about "forcible" sex. Is forcible sex only wrong in Donnelly's eyes when it's forcible man-on-man sodomy?

See, some have observed that Donnelly's "real concern is forwarding a traditional values agenda that has nothing to do with military readiness."

Indeed. For someone who supposedly cares so very very much about the rape or sexual assault of all those poor heterosexuals in the military, one would think she would devote at least as much time, energy, and effort into asking Congress to do something about the much, much higher rates of women in the military who are sexually assaulted by heterosexual men. But no, she chooses to testify before Congress about a rare incident from 1974 in which a woman was allegedly assaulted by a group of lesbians. Break out your microfiche, ladies and gents, it's time to find obscure incidences of homasexul assault to use for political purposes!

To wrap up here, it's a joke that Donnelly fancies herself to be in any way a credible speaker or any sort of expert on the topic of military readiness. Unfortunately for the anti-gay movement, what passes for "expertise" is usually nothing more than a mere shared desire to advance a "traditional values" agenda. You see this attitude in various conservative "institutes" and "group blogs" in which the writers carry no expertise in anything relevant to political or legal thought but who nonetheless mistakenly believe that their good ol' conservative "common sense" renders them subject matter experts on anything having to do with politics, marriage, family, society, law, policy, morality, and ... well...pretty much everything.

Anyway, it was refreshing to see that members of Congress refused to take Donnelly seriously. There were actual guffaws at some of her statements:

"Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) labeled her statement 'just bonkers' and 'dumb,' and he called her claims about an HIV menace 'inappropriate'.... Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), a veteran of the war in Iraq, called Donnelly's words 'an insult to me and many of the soldiers' by saying they 'aren't professional enough to serve openly with gay troops while successfully completing their military mission....Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) said she was 'embarrassed.' Shays said it was 'scurrilous' of Donnelly to talk about the menace of homosexual misconduct, because it would be punished the same way the military punishes heterosexual misconduct."

If Donnelly presents the "best" that the anti-gays-in-the-military side has to offer, I hope she keeps on talking. Everytime she opens her mouth, it seems that she discredits her side a little bit more.

God bless America.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Color Scheme!

Hello everyone!

This is still Fannie's Room, I've just done some redecorating. It's very..... green... now.

I hope you like it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Review: Envisioning Power

I would first like to thank my friend and occasional Fannie's Room commenter Vieve for recommending anthropologist Eric Wolf's book Envisioning Power. She recommended it to me awhile ago, but I finally got around to finding a cheap copy, ordering it, and reading it.

The general purpose of this book is to examine the role of culture, ideas, and power by examining case studies of three societies characterized by strong ideologies and power imbalances. Now, since anthropology is not my area of expertise, I will save the "deep" anthropological analyses for actual anthropologists. Rather, I want to focus on Wolf's chapter examining the conditions and interplay of ideas surrounding Nazi Germany.

See, it is an unfortunate fact of internet life that over-the-top Hitler/Nazi analogies are overused. The true purpose of the Hitler/Nazi analogy is often to invoke guilt by association. Because Hitler/Nazis are so thoroughly discredited, linking a person's idea with Hitler/Nazis supposedly discredits that idea and/or person. Yet, those who make such analogies usually lack a thorough, nuanced, and complex understanding of Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, these analogies usually fail because they are so over-simplified, which makes them ludicrous. What ends up happening is that the mere existence of the analogy automatically discredits the person making the analogy. Yet, perhaps more importantly, these faulty and exaggerated Hitler/Nazi analogies rob valid comparisons of their impact. I know, I know. Everyone thinks that their analogy is valid. Chances are, however, it's not. Especially if you're talking about something not even remotely close to the horror that was the Holocaust. Deal with it. Buck up and at least try to craft a legitimate argument.

1. National Socialism

First off, although it was called National Socialism, the Nazi movement was not actually rooted in the ideology of socialism. The Third Reich "did not alter the capitalist relations that had guided the country's mobilization of social labor throughout its forward thrust into industrial capitalism after the mid-nineteenth century" (278- all numbered citations are from Envisioning Power)

Taking this overview from Wikipedia for ease of reference "Nazism is generally considered by scholars to be a form of fascism. While not directly linked to any school of western conservative thought, like all strains of fascism, it drew many elements from and formed solid alliances with the political right." In other words, although National Socialism has the word "socialism" in its name, it is more associated with the Rightist movements than with Leftist movements. Because of the "Socialism" label, Nazi analogies are sometimes inaccurately used to try to discredit all forms of socialist/leftist thought.

2. Culture, Language, and Power

To put it broadly, the three societal case studies presented in Wolf's book are observations in how culture, language, and power inter-relate. Again, the book is pretty dense and any book review could take a variety of directions. So, if you're really interested in these topics, I urge you to read the book itself. My review is but one way of looking at these concepts.

Generally, I tend to agree with Pierre Boudieu that "language is not only an instrument of communication or even of knowledge, but also an instrument of power. One seeks not only to be understood but also to be believed, obeyed, respected, distinguished" (55). Wolf presents how this concept played out in Germany during the rise of National Socialism.

The rise of National Socialism, of course, implicates broader German history. Germany's defeat in World War I led to inflation, hunger, crisis, territorial losses, and exactions of reparations to be paid on the victorious Allies (221). During a time of upheaval and crisis, "National Socialism projected the imagery of a new society, a 'community of the Volk'" (235). In short, Hitler's message was that Nazism-National Socialism- would restore national pride to Germany and to the Volk.

The concept of Volk is roughly translated as "people" or "nation" but as Wolf explains "it stands for far more than that" (Ibid.). It was a "social entity rooted in space and time and characterized by an enduring inner essence" (Ibid.). Using the authority and power of the National Socialist party, Hitler promoted his vision of the Volk-community as a "project to be realized" by "purifying its racial composition" (236). In other words, in order restore Germany and the Volk, Hitler created and promoted the message that racial purification was necessary.

By building upon already-existing anti-Semitic ideas, Hitler used the message that Jews and other "undesirables" were the cause of nearly every social ill facing Germany. Citing Mein Kampf, Wolf describes how Hitler framed the "Aryan race" as those who create culture whereas he framed "the Jews" as those who destroy culture (237). The general idea was that Germany and the Volk could not be restored so as long as Jews, those "culture-destroyers," were around.

This message of racial purification combined with another message that the National Socialist party seized upon: That a post World War I Germany was reeling from its embarrassing loss and subsequent "world turned upside down" (270). Hitler "forged an ideology" out of these ideas and presented the National Socialist party as one involved in a "heroic effort" to restore society and, of course, the Volk. Thus, the state became an instrument for destroying the "weakness" and the "enemies within" Germany- "socialists, communists, Jews, and Gypsies" (271). And others, of course. Through the interaction of German culture, crisis, and Nazi power, Hitler's ideology was believed, obeyed, respected, and distinguished.

3. "The Orchestration of Brutality"

It is often asked how normal, everyday people could have gone along with and carried out such a brutal ideology. How and why could human beings have committed these atrocities? Wolf, citing social psychologist Herbert Kelman gives us a framework for understanding this. Promoting the Volk/racial purity ideology and using the power of his office, Hitler created the conditions required to "remove the customary restraints on open violence against individuals and groups" (253). First, the state- via its power and authority as such- authorized violence (254). Violence was legal, official, and encouraged. Secondly, a state bureaucracy was developed and perfected to "deploy violence 'by the book'" (Ibid.) Officers were "merely" following orders and doing their jobs. Third, the victims were dehumanized (Ibid.). Conceptualizing human beings as "others," "disease organisms," or "evil becomes abstract and powerful enough to justify not merely severance but destruction" (Ibid.).

To end, I want to acknowledge that various theories and explanations regarding the rise of Nazism exist. I'm not claiming to be a historian or an anthropologist, but rather, a student of history searching with an open mind for legitimate explanations for past atrocities. That being said, it should never be denied that the circumstances leading up to the rise of Nazism and the carrying out of a state-sanctioned system of "racial purification" involved a complex interplay of culture, power, crisis, and communication. Analogies to this scenario should not be made lightly, cheaply, or without adequate historical knowledge.

We should all be wary of and object to ludicrous Hitler/Nazi analogies made by ignorant people for mere hyperbolic political purposes rather than genuine concern that the past is repeating itself.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carnival of Feminists No. 61

The latest Carnival of Feminists is up at Diary of a Freak Magnet. There's lots of good stuff in this one, so check it out for some feminist reading today!

Also, my criticism of Time magazines "Making of America" series was featured.

On a random lesbian note, I just want to say that I think Rachel Maddow is fabulous. She's smart, well-spoken, and capable of regularly flustering tool-y conservatives in the male-dominated field of professional punditry.

Leftist Gender Warrior says "ohhhhhhhh yeah!" to that.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sporty Soap Operas: Danica's "Catfight" Edition

I have long believed that collegiate and professional sports serve as soap operas for men. Yes, lots of women like sports too, myself included. But while it's okay for women to watch sports, it's not really socially acceptable for men to watch girly shows like soap operas. Thus, men get their "soap opera" fix via sports.

Thus, while reveling in sports as one of the few remaining bastions of hyper-masculinity, many male sportswriters are nonetheless as gossipy about athletes as any US Weekly writer is about movie stars. The subject matter is different, of course, but the drama is all there. [Insert athlete] is so over-rated. No way! Can you believe [insert good/bad athlete] just got traded by [insert foolish/smart team]?! In fact, some of the longest articles in Sports Illustrated are the behind-the-scenes-type stories of star athletes showcasing their personal lives and the various challenges these athletes have overcome in their lives.

Mostly, I find this amusing.

Unfortunately, though, when it comes to writing about female athletes, the sportswriting is especially dramatic, subjective, and imbued with unsupported opinions presented as "fact." Recently, for instance, I took a tour of reactions to Indy Racing League (IRL) driver Danica Patrick's "encounter" with another female IRL driver. In short, Patrick walked over to fellow female driver Milka Duno and confronted her about some on-track driving behavior she didn't approve of. According to NBC Sports, "the confrontation lasted only about a minute, but witnesses said it grew heated and that Duno flung a towel in Patrick’s direction at one point as the two exchanged words. Patrick eventually walked away."

I think the whole incident is sort of funny, in all honesty. Especially how Milka Duno tried to shoo Patrick away by snapping a towel near Patrick's face. I don't care if we're watching men or women, that shit's funny.

Unfortunately, we can always count on articles about incidents like these to be imbued with references to the female athlete's gender, over-dramatized, and gossipy. Meanwhile, the trashy-magazine tone of such articles goes unchallenged because, after all, these are sporty articles about manly sporty things.

1. Female Athletes versus Regular Athletes

Rather than presenting the situation as one in which two IRL drivers exchanged words, some sportswriters couldn't resist reminding everyone that these were two female IRL drivers. This characterization follows a trend in articles about Women in Sports: In major sports media, mention is almost always made of their female-ness- their "other-ness." If not in the article itself, then definitely in the asinine comment section following the article. If an athlete's gender is not mentioned in an article, you can almost guarantee that the article is about a male athlete- aka, a regular athlete.

FOXNews sportswriter Kevin Hench, for instance writes:

"What the IRL has in Patrick is 100 pounds of TNT (T, I said, TNT) with an anger management problem. The diminutive Danica — mini driver?..."

Hardy-har-har. Embedded within two passive-aggressive sentences are a reference to Patrick's smaller-than-male frame, an attempted ass-n-titties joke, and a questioning characterization of Patrick as a "mini driver?" rather than a real/male driver. In fact, if you read the entire article you will see that it's a hot mess of gossip and cheap shots. How manly.

The trend continues in another piece written by "":

"Danica Patrick's now famous temper has flared once again. And this time, it led to a PG-rated version of 'Girls Gone Wild' in the pits during a practice session for the Honda Indy 200."

So, two female race drivers having a verbal spat is pretty much a toned-down version of vacationing college girls flashing their boobs? Erm, okay FOXNews. If you say so. Thanks for letting us all know that you take female athletes about as seriously as Jimmy Dugan does at the beginning of A League of Their Own:

"Girls are what you sleep with after the game. Not what you coach during the game."

See, the constant drawing of attention to the female-ness, the "other"-ness, in the context of every. single. article. about female athletes sends the message that women are so rare in the sacred domain of masculinity that is sports that limiting a to their actual athletic ability or accomplishments is simply impossible. This message comes with the implicit question: Are women even welcome in this domain, if people can't even get past the fact that these athletes are women? For the answer to that question, peruse the comments left by FOXsports fans after any article about female athletes.

2. "Boorish-ly" Exaggerated Behavior

Secondly, female athletes are often held to higher behavioral standards than male athletes. For instance, male drivers have regularly had spats and even fistfights with other male drivers. We've all seen ESPN clips of male drivers jumping out of their cars and socking some other driver in the face. Rarely, however, is such behavior given much attention or labeled as "boorish," as Hench called Patrick's non-physical confrontation. Rather than numerous op-ed pieces bemoaning a man-on-man incident, we might get a couple clips of the incident presented while the sportscasters chuckle about it. Boys will be boys, after all. When a woman even shows hints of similar behavior, the reactions are exaggerated and full of disapproving tsk-tsks.

Pam Gaulin notes both the double-standard and sports media's dramatic exaggeration of the incident:

"Milka Duno and Danica Patrick did not get in a fight at an Indy Racing League race on Saturday. They were in an argument where the only thing thrown was a towel. This type of heated argument happens a lot in NASCAR racing, between the male racers....Danica Patrick, like any other race car driver in the Indy Racing League or in NASCAR should be allowed to have outbursts like any of the male drivers. She simply gets more press mileage out of it because she is a woman."

Indeed, while the two women did not actually get into a fistfight, male sportswriters have been presenting hyperbolic accounts of the incident. One headline, for instance, alarmingly says "IndyCar Drivers Danica Patrick, Milka Duno Get into Brawl" even though exchanging a few words is hardly qualifies as a "brawl." Elsewhere, other words associated with the incident have been "tantrum," "enraged," and "heated."

I have no doubt that Patrick was angry, but only in the context of something seriously f-ed up, like, Mike Tyson ear-biting are men similarly characterized as juvenile, out-of-control, and enraged. I mean, come on people. The two women didn't even make bodily contact. Get a grip.

[Insert mud-wrestling/super-soaker lezbo-action allusion.]

3. The "Attention-Seeking" Female

Sportswriters also absolutely love to write gossip about Patrick and profit off of stories about her while simultaneously criticizing her for "seeking attention."

FOXNews' Hench, for instance, presents the recent incident as Patrick's "latest it's-really-all-about-me drama." One blogger similarly writes, "It seems that in IndyCar Racing these days Danica Patrick is trying to grab headlines any way she can."

The "attention-seeking woman" critique is one of my favorites. Basically, it's a psychic endeavor into another person's mind which serves as a way for a critic to pretend to know someone's intentions for behaving a certain way. These critics don't actually know why Patrick acts the way she does, but with their "authoritative" voices, these all-knowing men declare to the world that they do know such things. Frankly, I could do some psychic networking of my own and say that such men are just threatened by the prospect of strong women able to do "manly" things better than most men, but I would at least acknowledge that such an opinion is mere conjecture.

Anyway, let's just believe for a moment that Patrick is acting out in order to get attention. If such were actually the case, I would have trouble scrounging up sympathy for sportswriters who moan about the level of attention Patrick receives while simultaneously bestowing attention upon her.

See, what tops Hench's criticism that Patrick's "extracurricular activities antics were detracting from the results on the track" is that, within his story, is a prominent embedded link to a video of the "spat" along with a montage of the "best images" of Danica Patrick from the "eventful weekend." For one who ridicules Patrick for making things all-about-her, Hench and FOXNews certainly love making things all about Danica Patrick.

What drama queens.

As male sportswriters regularly lift their legs to mark sports as the last remaining bastion of masculinity, where male domination is both the expected and "natural" state of affairs, it's these day-to-day insults that let female athletes know they are to be ridiculed and/or not taken seriously. This isn't to say that female athletes should not be criticized. They should be. But holding female athletes to higher moral standards than male athletes, constantly referencing the gender of female athletes, and mis-characterizing female athletes is unacceptable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

RightWing Roundup: Theocracies, Confused Bigots, and Vegans

1. Another Reason We Don't Want an American Theocracy

What I find ironic about Christian dominionists is that they use the American principle of freedom of religion as a tool to attempt to prevent other religions from flourishing in our nation. They see no problem with the concept of theocracy. Such a form of government is, in fact, their ultimate goal. Thus, their main objection to oppressive Muslim theocracies in the Middle East is not that these nations are theocracies, but rather that it's the "wrong" "god" via the "wrong" religion that's in charge.

The comparisons between fundamentalist factions of the three major Abrahamic faiths are numerous, in fact. What immediately comes to mind is the common condemnation of homosexuality and the oppression of women all, of course, which hinge on the alleged word of a "god."

Thanks but no thanks.

A most intolerant tenet of Christian dominionism is to have a legal system calling for the execution of homosexuals (via stoning or burning) in accordance with "biblical law." The Middle Eastern nation of Dubai doesn't go that far, but here is a little taste of what we could look forward to in an American theocracy:

The pseudo-Western nation of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), recently detained 17 foreigners who "allegedly displayed homosexual behavior in malls and other public places." Unfortunately for these men, "outward homosexual behavior" is banned in the UAE.

The only question I can muster at this situation is what sort of "homosexual behavior" did these men exhibit in a shopping mall? Ridiculing someone's shoes?

Good times.

2. "Genital Drives"?...... Weird.

Marriage defenders often like to joke that gay people are gay because they're just "confused." What follows sort of demonstrates that that claim is sort of a projection. Straight people obsessed with gay sex come off, actually, quite confused themselves. I think that the idea of two men together so flusters, enrages, or arouses some of these anti-gays so much that they lose all ability to think rationally.

Recent winner of the Box Turtle Bulletin's LaBarbera Award, Arizona Republican candidate for Congress Joe Sweeney confounds us all in an interview:

"Q: So, again I’m going to ask the same question I asked Mr. Chewning. Basically, a secular reason why two consenting adults of the same sexual orientation should not be married or allowed to be married.

Sweeney: Well because it’s addictive and it creates social chaos, social problems.

Q: Just out of curiosity, what would you base that on?

Sweeney: Well I would base that on the fact that people come together with their genital drives, and they either bridle their genital drives — and that’s what a marriage contract is supposed to be about — or they just go around acting like they can go whoring down in Nogales or prostituting anywhere they want, they can do whatever they want with their bodies. They don’t have any higher responsibility other than their own gratification. Hedonism, which is maximizing pleasure over pain. And that’s what happens at Nogales every night when they go down there whoring and causing all the social strife. Now they got those kids in the whorehouses in Nogales coming up here to Tucson to be anchor babies. You know I’ve witnessed that stuff.

Q: Okay, so there’s another question following that. You guys both have said marriage should be between a man and a woman. What about a transgender person who used to be a man, now became a woman and wants to marry a man.

Sweeney: Well, I’ve got a friend like that. And… you know… That’s what he wants to do with his social activity and his life, his social functioning, that’s up to him, you know? But to say that we have to validate that, the rest of society has to validate that kind of behavior, you know, let him conduct his behavior the way that he’s going to conduct his behavior. You know, I don’t agree with prostitution in Mexico, but they have laws that say it’s a way of functioning, socially functional society five feet the other side of the border that allows that to happen. We think the repercussions of that totally outweigh the responsibilities.

Q: Just out of curiosity, what do you think that homosexuals have to do with whorehouses in Mexico?

Sweeney: Oh, I don’t know. We’ve got the only Southwest weekly newspaper, we’ve got more homosexuals down here than we’ve got a lot of other kinds of people.

Q: Again, what does that got to do with whorehouses in Mexico?

Sweeney: Well, what happens is you get what I call a hedonistic attractiveness to do anything and everything with your genital drive . ….

Q: Again, are the homosexuals frequenting the whorehouses?

Sweeney: I wouldn’t be surprised. Anything can happen around this town. We’ve got gay bars down on Fourth Avenue …"

It's certainly an, um, interesting tactic to talk about "homosexuals," prostitution in Mexico, and "genital drives" as many times as you can within the confines of a incoherent hot mess of an interview hoping some of those concepts stick.

What a confused man.

3. Who Are You Calling a Vegan?

Speaking of the Peter (LaBarbera), our favorite anti-gay was recently outraged that the mainstream media failed to cover his "pro-family" boycott of the McDonald's headquarters he held in Oak Brook, Illinois. Apparently, McDonald's is too pro-gay or some shit for the Peter's liking.


While only a handful of people attended the Peter's latest boring anti-gay event, a lot of entertaining things are going on his latest hissy fit of an article describing it. For one, he uses one of my favorite words- "bawdy"- to describe Chicago's Pride Parade. Secondly, he refers to the mainstream media as the "secular media," as though the media would be less biased if it were "Christian."

What really takes the cake, though, is this statement:

"The people involved in this boycott of McDonald’s are good family people — not vegans, America-hating leftists, or some other fringe group."

That was way harsh, Peter.

I can see how "Christians" might want to demonize so-called leftists and other fringe groups. But what's so bad about vegans?

I mean, I know some of them can be self-righteous moralists who make you feel guilty for biting into that delicious juicy Quarter Pounder, but I'm pretty sure that many vegans are also "good family people" too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Death Trap

So, yesterday I received what I at first thought to be a fun, thoughtful gift for my birthday- a foam roll thingy to help me stretch after I work out. Don't be fooled. Although it appears benign enough, clearly it is no such thing.


See, upon further inspection, I found this little notice in the foam roll's box:


Note the first sentence: "The risk of injury from participating in this or any fitness regimen and/or from the performances of these exercises or similar exercises is significant and includes the potential for catastrophic injury or death."

Yes, these labels are on everything. But you have to admit that trying to imagine what sort of position a person would be in on this little foamy thing to be able to induce "catastrophic injury" or death kind of puts a damper on wanting to use it. I mean, these warning labels on every piece of exercise machinery fit right in with other "helpful" scary health news that's bombarded at us daily. Hey, you better work out so you don't suffer a premature death. But hey, if you use these exercise machines they might seriously maim you or cause premature death!

If I didn't work out I would totally blame scary health news and hyperbolic warning notices.

Also, what's up with the notice's odd deity-like capitalization of "You"?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Fun: I'd Be a "Failure" as a 1930s Wife

But on the upside, I would make an "average" 1930s husband. I think much of my failure as a wife has to do with the fact that I don't wear a nightgown, that I walk around the house in stockings, and that don't ask my husband's opinion before making important decisions (or even have a husband for that matter!).


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!


As a 1930s husband, I am

Take the test!

Okay, so as I was going through this, my mind kept going back to how contrived these "acceptable" behaviors for husbands and wives are. Yet, these ridiculous and exaggerated ideas regarding sex-appropriate behavior are built upon the theory that all men and women are inherently very different from each other. That's why they their roles in marriage are so different! This same assumption, of course, is one argument against same-sex marriage and parenting. You know it, it's the "marriage demands a man and a woman" (circular) argument.

After all, it is "necessary" for a man to fill the "husband" slot because men are super-duper different than women. And, it is "necessary" for a woman to play the "wife" because women are very different from men. This little quiz, while entertaining, can also serve the important purpose of teaching us all how men and women are different and, therefore, how marriage is only for a man and a woman.

So... I guess my burning question is this: Since I way more resemble a 1930s husband than a 1930s wife, technically, wouldn't it be more proper for me to marry a woman than a man? I mean, if I were to marry a man that would give us two "husbands" in the marital relationship, and we shan't have that shall we?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

College Cost Reduction and Access Act Updates

A while ago, I wrote about the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRA). Due to recent developments, here is an update:

1. Re-Consolidating into the federal Direct Program

Part of my original critique of the CCRA was that, although graduates working in public service may have their loans forgiven after 10 years of making payments, the only loans eligible for this benefit are federal Direct loans. One problem with this provision is that many graduates hold other types of student loans, such as loans from private companies that usually charge much higher interest rates, that are not eligible for forgiveness. Another problem is that, prior to the CCRA, many graduates had already consolidated their federal loans out of the federal Direct program- thus rendering themselves ineligible for the loan forgiveness program.

However, as of July 1, 2008 borrowers have the right to re-consolidate their federal loans into the federal Direct consolidation program. Thus, those who had already consolidated their federal loans into a non-Direct program can now qualify for public service forgiveness if they meet the other requirements of the program.

Now, on July 1, I certainly didn't get a letter from Sallie Mae (or the Department of Education for that matter) informing me of my right to re-consolidate into the Federal Direct loan program, but alas. Apparently we do have that right. I'm sure glad I'm on top of these things. Kudos to organizations like the Project on Student Debt who keep us abreast of these intricacies.

I'm going to fill out an application, send it to the bureaucracy that is the Department of Education, and see what happens. If I run into hassles I will certainly blog about it.

2. What is Public Service?

Another part of my critique was that the definition for "public service" is vague and very broad. What this means is that graduates are in the dark as to whether or not their employment will end up qualifying as "public service" at the end of their 10 years of service. The proposed regulations to "clarify" this section of the law will basically require graduates to verify that they've worked in qualifying public service for 10 years, submit this verification to the Department of Education, and "hope for the best."

The Project on Student Debt has an action alert out requesting the Department of Education to:

"Please fix this problem by developing a system that lets borrowers confirm and track their eligibility for this form of loan forgiveness, so that they have a clear incentive to enter and continue in public service, and a sense of security while doing such important work."

If this is something you think is important, sign on.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

HPV Vaccine: More "Helpful" Health News!

I have blogged before about my annoyance with unhelpful, uninformative, and intentionally over-dramatic health "information."

Well, as my friend Jane recently blogged about, CNN ran a story about the HPV vaccine entitled "Should parents worry about the HPV vaccine?" The only problem with the story? It doesn't give us an answer as to the very important question it poses.

But that's okay. We get it. Vaccines are controversial. And that's good.

Observe, from the article:

"Girls and women have blamed the vaccine for causing ailments from nausea to paralysis -- even death. Fifteen deaths were reported to the FDA, and 10 were confirmed,"

Eeep. Vaccines are scary.

"but the CDC says none of the 10 were linked to the vaccine."

So, in breaking news, 15 deaths were blamed on the HPV vaccine. But in less exciting news, only 10 deaths were confirmed. And, in even less in exciting news, none of the 10 deaths were linked to the vaccine.

The "scary" health news continues:

Out of 26 million distributed vaccines,

"Gardasil has been the subject of 7,802 'adverse event' reports from the time the Food and Drug Administration approved its use two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Oh dear, adverse event! That's scary!

But on the other hand,

"[Merck] said in a statement that an adverse event report 'does not mean that a causal relationship between an event and vaccination has been established -- just that the event occurred after vaccination.'"

Of course the existence of an "adverse event" does not automatically mean that the vaccine caused the adverse event! However, that's less exciting to report. And, that fact, no matter how rational or logical it's presented to parents, will never convince some of them that the vaccine did not cause the adverse event.

So now, after reading this story, do you think parents should worry about the vaccine?

I don't.

But now they are going to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

LOMMS and Moronic Doood Sports' Questions

Have you ever had a case of the LOMMS? Do you know what that is? Check out my latest Stuff Lesbians Like post over at Grace the Spot.

In other random news, Feminist law professor Bridget Crawford describes an annoying experience at Major League Baseball's All-Star Fanfest, where she happened to catch an appearance by four former players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL):

"The interviewer’s 'big' question to the former AAGPBL players was, 'Which of you was Madonna [portraying]?'

And with that I have to echo Professor Crawford's view that "hearing more about the players’ perspective on the continued exclusion of women from so many levels of professional sports" would have been infinitely more interesting a question.

As so many male sports' fans and members of the media are unable to take female athletes seriously, I appreciated Crawford's slight:

"But 'Fanfest' must be code for 'let’s pretend,' judging by the number of grown men dressed in baseball caps, baseball shirts and carrying their gloves around the Javits Center."

Now that's funny.

David Benkof Calls it Quits

I hesitate to give this guy any more attention. But, in "breaking" news David Benkof announced the other day that he "must withdraw from openly supporting man-woman marriage in the United States" due to recently learning "quite a bit of disturbing information that makes it impossible for me to continue supporting a movement I no longer respect." Thus, he no longer advocates "that people give time or money to the Proposition 8 campaign in California."

The willingness to change one's position in light of new information is admirable. Prior to this announcement, Mr. Benkof was no friend of the LGBT community. At least, not in the eyes of those he regularly vilified. And, this move will now likely alienate Mr. Benkof from his "marriage defense" allies just as his previous statements have alienated him from many LGBT people.

So, I suppose now we're left with the $5 question: What is it that David Benkof found out about the marriage defense movement, particularly the Propostion 8 movement in California, that caused him to withdraw his support from it?

Does anyone even care or think it's odd that he would denounce the entire "marriage defense" movement because of the wrongdoings of some members of this movement? Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled if Benkof is sincerely quitting the marriage defense movement. But, lest anyone be mistaken, Benkof still opposes same-sex marriage. Apparently, he just refuses to support a movement whose members he can no longer respect in light of some new "disturbing information." For, elaborating on his recent switch-a-roo in Pam's House Blend, Benkof writes "I have realized that I do not want to be associated with the people defending man-woman marriage."

That he would quit a movement which supports a position he still strongly believes in speaks to a tendency he has shown in his previous articles (which he is now erasing from his blog) to over-generalize-- to hold all members of a group or identity accountable for the actions of some. For, we know all too well that when he writes of the "gay community" or the "LGBT community" he does so as though it is a monolithic entity in which all members hold the same beliefs and are guilty of the same wrongdoings. So, that he now chooses to no longer support a "movement" because of information he's allegedly found out about some members of this marriage defense movement is not surprising to me.

At this point I could Benkof my article and chalk this new "disturbing information" up to proof that all marriage defenders are repugnant just because some of them are. But alas, even though saying what I'm about to say won't garner me any op-eds in "major newspapers," in the interest of not creating even more propaganda in this sound-bite world I'll decline from making such a huge generalization.

That being said, the "sins" of the people who comprise a social movement do not, in and of themselves, make the aims of that movement "wrong." Yes, it sucks that so many "marriage defenders" are homobigots. But the fact that so many are homobigots, in and of itself, doesn't make them wrong about marriage defense. It just so happens that they're wrong about marriage defense for other reasons and they're also homobigots. Which sort of sucks for them.

Always, we must look at the issue itself and form our opinions on that basis. Yet, at the same time, I can see how the "wrongdoings" of some members of a movement would repel some members from that movement. I have no special insight into why Benkof has allegedly renounced the movement. But I have a couple of theories as to why one in his position might do so.

1. Is it because some of the leaders of the movement are at least bordering on anti-semitism?

The majority of the organizations in support of California's Proposition 8 consists of evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christian groups.

The relationship between such Christians and Jews is complex. On the one hand, many evangelical Christians and congregations strongly support Israel. Yes, much of this support is grounded in the belief that "the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion." But.... oh. On that note, I'm not sure that supporting Israel under the belief that by doing so Jews will eventually no longer exist is a notion all that supportive of Jews. And, of course, let's not forget what happens before this mass "conversion." By the very nature of their religious beliefs, evangelical Christians see it as their religious duty to convert non-Christians, such as Jews, to Christianity.

Are these beliefs anti-semitic?

It looks like it, although I'm sure evangelicals would strongly disagree. So, slap whatever label on this belief you want, but I would imagine that hoping that someday there will be no more Jews is quite offensive to Jewish people. I mean, as a non-Christian myself, the belief that the ideal world will be free of non-Christians is highly offensive to me. (And sounds rather boring to boot).

Yet, these are the beliefs of many organizations, individuals, and churches who support Proposition 8 and the marriage defense movement in general.

According to media watchdog MediaMatters, the American Family Association (AFA), which is one of the supporters of Proposition 8, "has long served as a platform for anti-Semitic theories and innuendo." Turnabout, however, is not fair play. In true Christian persecution manner, AFA Chairman Donald Wildmon has suggested that the Christian right would withdraw its support for Israel if the Anti-Defamation League continued to criticize the Christian right.

According to its website, the AFA has over 2.6 million supporters.

While the alleged anti-semitism of some of the marriage defense movement's leaders does not make this movement's position on marriage defense "wrong," I think it's plausible that a Jewish man would be uncomfortable being in cahoots with some of these groups.

2. Is it because many of the leaders of the movement seek to Christianize America?

To those paying attention to the so-called "culture wars," it is apparent that certain members of the Christian right are seeking to "re"-Christianize America by imposing their own brand of fundamentalist Christianity on our entire nation while claiming that, no, it's everyone else who seeks to impose their beliefs on Christians. Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, writes:

"In 1994, we sounded an alarm. In our book, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, we said that 'an exclusionist religious movement in this country has attempted to restore what it perceives as the ruins of a Christian nation by more closely seeking to unite its version of Christianity with state power.'

Alas, our call was not well heeded and we are beginning to see some of the consequences of what we identified.

As a result, today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized, and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!

Who are the major players? They include Focus on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund, The American Family Association and the Family Research Council. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructures throughout the country designed not just to promote traditional 'Christian values,' but to actively pursue that restoration of a Christian nation."

As a non-Christian myself, I can see how such efforts to "restore" American back to its mythical status as a "Christian Nation" are quite threatening to other non-Christians. I can see how it could be troubling for Mr. Benkof to ally himself with the above Christian dominionists who view him both as morally flawed due to his gayness and spiritually flawed due to his religious beliefs. Yet, "defending" marriage, for many Christian dominionist groups, is the most important battle of the Secular versus Religious RightWing Christian culture war.

This belief allows such groups to justify raising and spending millions of dollars not for the more Christ-like endeavors of feeding the hungry, aiding the poor, or providing health care to the uninsured, but rather for ensuring that gay people can no longer marry in California. That, to me, is what is most repugnant about the movement. Although they are capable of raising enormous amounts of money, we rarely hear of many of these "Christian" groups taking tangible steps to help people, for instance, through distributing food, assistance, or emergency funds to the needy. Instead, we get divisive rhetoric painting the current state of affairs as some sort of vague enormous battle between good and evil. We get a movement in which a Christian theocracy is the end goal, with little or no room for other religions or moral systems, including Judaism, to flourish. For, by their very nature, dominionists are antithetical to tolerance, diversity, and religious pluralism.

To end, I'm not claiming to know why Benkof called it quits. I'm just saying here that it's understandable to me why a Jewish gay/bisexual man might want to distance himself from some of these folks. If we come out victorious in the end, and I do believe we will eventually, groups like the AFA will go down in history as having once been a threat to what is great about our nation: That many religions and types of families are able to thrive, rather than one "correct" type of each.

But, if Mr. Benkof knows anything more disturbing or sinister than the above about the marriage defense movement, and the Proposition 8 campaign in particular, I certainly hope he decides to share it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Brief Message From Grace

My friend Grace from Law with Grace (as opposed to the Graces from Grace the Spot, confusing I know) has asked me to send a note to my readers- some of whom are also her readers:

She is okay and will resume blogging again in a week or so.

H Hall of Shame: The "Advocate"

What's more hypocritical than a marriage defender visiting a prostitute?

A male "feminist" blogger and dormitory resident advisor who "claimed to use activism and education to promote 'a more just and life-affirming culture of sexuality' for women, especially those women who have been victims of sexual violence" who pleads guilty to this:

"with an intent to arouse my sexual desire, I photographed and filmed Jane Doe and her breast without her consent."

His name? Kyle Pane. His pleading stems from his arrest back in February 2008:

"A search warrant was executed at Pierce Hall room #B10 on April 26th of last year. Authorities seized a computer and a digital camera from 22-year-old Kyle Payne's room. A search of the Ida Grove man's car turned up photographs described as personal in nature that also showed the woman may have been assaulted physically without knowing it.

A search of Payne's Ida Grove home turned up more evidence including another computer. All items were sent to the DCI Crime Lab for forensic analysis.

Through investigation it was found that Payne, on January 3rd of 2007, was serving as RA for Buena Vista University when he attended to an intoxicated 18-year-old female student in her dorm room. He allegedly physically assaulted her while she was unconscious and video taped the act and downloaded the images onto his laptop." [emphasis added]

Takes on this incident are making rounds throughout the feminist blogosphere, and rightly so. As a resident advisor, he abused a position of trust and authority. As a "feminist" man, he abused the access to women that that label gave him.

Frankly, I don't care what the fuck label a guy slaps on himself. I'm far more interested in (a) whether he sees me, and other women, as his true equal and (b) whether he's capable of acknowledging that men have certain privileges in the world that women do not have. For, I've seen far too many men use the "feminist" label in order to gain access to women and make them think they're Nice Guys (TM) who "get it." While I think men are capable of being feminists, it's men like Payne who make many of us pause before accepting a man's feminist cred.

See, what I've learned is that those who are secure that their inner beliefs match their outer ones don't have to constantly shout their self-label from the rooftops in order to convince the rest of the world that they are what they say they are. A fitting analogy is the marriage defender who casually mentions his devout religious beliefs in nearly every article he writes just so we all know he's a religious, and therefore, "moral" man.

So to all the feminist men out there I can only say this.

Don't tell me that you're a feminist. Be one.

Friday, July 11, 2008

RightWing Roundup: Lindsay, "Wrestling," and DADT

Sometimes, you have to take step back from the immersion into RightWing Asininity. That's sorta the theme of today's Roundup.

1. I Was Hoping For Natalie Portman But I Guess This Will Do

Okay, I don't know that the stories about Lindsay Lohan's recent birthday speech actually confirm her lesbian status or her alleged romance with another lady (wait, does anyone even care about this?) but if the rumors are true, I'd like to take a non-RightWing moment to congratulate the happy couple.


Too gay to function?

2. It's All About Channeling Our Urges Into Acceptable Behavior

Professional "wrestling" has always been bizarre to me. Back where I'm from, a lot of guys love watching ripped, pretty men in tights and make-up pretend to fight. They seriously get really into it. That's why I like to think of pro wrestling as soap operas for men: Drama, suspense, and action all wrapped up in macho blue-colored wrapping paper to make it acceptable for men to like.

Humorously, like the idolization of male athletes in general, pro wrestling is also especially homo-erotic. Small contingents of grown men and adolescent boys are absolutely and inexplicably enthralled by the "sport" to the point where you sort of think they have unknowingly have crushes on their favorites wrestlers. With all this in mind, I could only laugh at one recent Arkansas "cage fight." If the audience members weren't already standing at attention, one utterly hilarious homo prank certainly got a rise out of them:

"The day after the June 5 Texarkana bout, Fort Smith's convention center hosted 'Blue Collar Brawlin.' Fort Smith police Sgt. Adam Holland said organizers told him a character named 'Straight Dave' would goad a planted audience member into the ring for a fight.

The two men would then wrestle, rip away some of their clothes and share a brief kiss reminiscent of one between Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell in the film "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby....

The audience, as well as local fighters drawn to take part in the show, became enraged. 'It set the crowd off lobbing beers,' Holland said. 'They had beers in plastic cups. Those things can get some distance on them actually.'

Holland said it took officers about 45 minutes to clear the convention center, as the two actors sprinted away through a specially set-aside tunnel."

Apparently, two sweaty men rolling around together in a cage is for fightin' purposes only!

3. Don't Ask Don't Tell Update

A nonpartisan group of four retired officers from different branches of the military studied the effectiveness of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) and recently issued a public report (PDF). Based on its findings (below), the group made several recommendations, including the repeal of DADT.

"Finding one: The law locks the military's position into stasis and does not accord any trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances

Finding two: Existing military laws and regulations provide commanders with sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct

Finding three: "Don't ask, don't tell" has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and undermining the cohesion of their units

Finding four: "Don't ask, don't tell" has prevented some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from obtaining psychological and medical care as well as religious counseling

Finding five: "Don't ask, don't tell" has caused the military to lose some talented service members

Finding six: "Don't ask, don't tell" has compelled some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to lie about their identity

Finding seven: Many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are serving openly."

Interestingly, "not a single expert who opposes gays in the military was willing to meet" with the study group. I wonder if this unwillingness to participate in a non-partisan study had to do with these experts' unwillingness to go on the record, and down in history, as continuing to support DADT as late as 2008. Or, perhaps, these experts had a hunch that attitudes about gays in the military had shifted since 1993 and didn't want to put their name on some sort of faulty "unit cohesion" argument and go down in history as being on the wrong side of history.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Benkof "Apology" and More Propaganda

I have to admit that whenever I read a David Benkof article I'm usually more shocked than anything. I take him at his word that he's concerned with non-gay-marriage issues like prison rape and the lack of lesbian health research. But at the same time, here is a man who parades his devoutly religious nature while simultaneously making huge, usually inaccurate, vilifying generalizations about "the gay community" without offering much, if any, evidence to support his bold claims. I'm not here to attack Benkof as a person, I'm here to demonstrate how asinine one of his latest pieces is. I mean, just rebutting this man's anti-gay claims could be a full-time job in itself. And that's not a compliment. It's just a fact that it usually takes several paragraphs to rebut just one single lie or inaccurate statement.

See, when I read one of Benkof's latest truly bizarre pieces, I was dumbfounded. The title was "I'm really, really sorry." Immediately, I wondered what it was that Benkof did that would cause him to write an article both admitting that he did something wrong and apologizing for it.

Don't be mistaken, however. Benokf, writing from the usual gay-male-centric perspective, is not actually apologizing for his behavior. He's apologizing for the "cruel" behavior of the rotten gay community that he so often disparages. His format is to recite a list of but a few alleged sins of the gay (male?) community that he claims to be a part of and then to apologize for these sins that he himself didn't commit but which other gays supposedly did.

There is much to take issue with in Benkof's piece. For starters, is an apology really an apology if one is "apologizing" for acts that others have supposedly committed? Is an apology really an apology when it's a tattle-tale list of alleged wrongs done, not by him of course, but by "the gay community"?

I think not.

Yet, what really struck me about this piece was the odd, confused first sin of the gay community. In his own words, Benkof "apologized" for:

"1) Heterosexual AIDS

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, gay activists insisted that a wave of 'heterosexual AIDS' was just around the corner in the United States, even though no data existed proving that was going to happen, and even though HIV spread through heterosexual sex has always been and continues to be a small percentage of the American transmissions of the virus. Out of fear that Americans would not devote energy to treating and curing a disease spread mostly through gay sex and drug use, AIDS activists consciously lied about the size of the miniscule threat to Americans who did not use drugs or have gay sex. As a result, huge sums of money were spent to educate about and prevent a 'coming health epidemic' that would never materialize. People made major lifestyle changes to protect themselves from what was essentially a phantom menace. Now, I wasn’t openly gay until 1989, but I do remember raising a ruckus about 'AIDS is not a gay disease,' despite the overwhelming evidence that AIDS was, and is, pretty much a gay disease, at least in America. I’m sorry. I was wrong."

At first, I thought I knew where he was going with this from the title "Heterosexual AIDS." Thus, I braced myself for a blame-session in which Benkof was surely going to apologize for heterosexual HIV infections "caused" by gay men. But nope. It's actually a bizarre apology for the "fact" that early "AIDS activists consciously lied about" the threat that HIV/AIDS posed to heterosexuals. You know, if one is going to make an extremely bold and over-generalizing claim like that, one needs to back it up with evidence and distinguish who exactly among "early AIDS activists" supposedly lied and did not lie about HIV/AIDS. I'm talking valid and legitimate sources for such a claim, not hearsay. Not Benkof's "personal experience." But alas. Like so many of this man's claims about the "gay community," this one is not supported by actual evidence.

When one has as little credibility as this man does, he can't expect many people to take his word on things just because he is or was gay or bisexual. Or whatever.

But let's explore Benkof's theory a little further. He writes that because of this alleged lie, "huge sums of money were spent to educate about and prevent a 'coming health epidemic' that would never materialize. People made major lifestyle changes to protect themselves from what was essentially a phantom menace." In other words, the alleged lie made the heterosexual community take extra precautions which subsequently made that community....... safer! Um, "sorry" for that?

Yet, I'm not convinced that "AIDS activists" (Benkof should be specific here on who he's talking about, by the way) were out to consciously lie about the threat HIV/AIDS posed to heterosexuals during the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis. For starters, at the beginning of the epidemic (the early 1980's) we knew very little compared to what we know now. In 1982, the CDC was gathering a little data on groups of gay men, hemophiliacs, IV drug users, and Haitians who were quietly dying of "gay cancer" and "GRID." There weren't clear answers on how it was transmitted, there was great concern about contagion, and what we were learning was changing very quickly. To chalk these complex circumstances up to a "gay community" set on deceiving "innocent" heterosexuals is asinine. I'm sorry, but it really is. (I encourage anyone interested in the history of the response
to the HIV/AIDS epidemic to read And the Band Played On but for ease of reference a timeline of the epidemic can be seen here)

Most importantly, though, it is simply inaccurate to describe the threat of HIV/AIDS to heterosexuals in the US as a "phantom menace." Currently, the epidemic is raging through Africa at rates much higher than in the US. This disease affecting millions of African heterosexuals is the same disease that some in the US, including David Benkof, wrongly call a "gay disease." Many inter-related factors explain the high rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa (poverty; economic disparity; social instability; gender inequality; sexual violence; other sexually transmitted infections; lack of male circumcision; high mobility; rapid urbanisation and modernisation; and ineffective leadership during critical periods in the epidemic’s spread). Say, you know what? Some of these factors also touch certain heterosexual populations in the US. Remember this in a couple of seconds.

See, whether HIV/AIDS is called a "gay disease" or not doesn't change the fact that here in the US, women now make up one-quarter of all new diagnoses with HIV/AIDS being the leading cause of death for black women aged 25-34. And further, heterosexual contact is the mode of transmission for 80% of new infections among women. I dare Mr. Benkof to tell these women that their disease is "gay" or that they don't really have it because contrary to what gay people say, AIDS is a gay disease. Clearly, health disparities and numerous factors are at play with respect to high HIV/AIDS infection rates among black heterosexual women. Continuing to wrongly frame HIV/AIDS as a "gay disease" renders all others with the disease invisible and it is simply an erroneous public health message.

Which brings me to my next point. Whenever we're studying sexual behavior and disease, especially a disease with as much stigma as HIV/AIDS, the picture is always complex. I know that Benkof's op-ed pieces have word limits but if he can't do justice to a topic within the confines of the space restraints he's given, he should think twice about being the carrier of misinformation.

That being said, it would be nice if Benkof would refine, back up, acknowledge, or correct his inaccurate statement regarding HIV/AIDS and the gay community. I could care less about an apology. I just want the lies to stop. It is amazing to me how so many religious folk have so little respect for the truth.

I can only re-iterate something I've told him before: If you really want to mobilize the gay community behind your "gay agenda" you won't get very far by doing what you're doing.

It's the oddest community organizing tack I've ever seen. But good luck with that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The (White Man's) "Making of America"

In addition to reading the occasional US Weekly, I also read Time magazine. The latest issue of Time was part of its annual "Making of America" series which "celebrates history by offering provocative insights into the lives of those who shaped the American experience."

Cool, I thought, upon seeing that humorist and political commentator Mark Twain was on the cover of this year's issue. Yet, upon opening the issue and looking at past honorees, I quickly became troubled. Yes, I realize what I'm about to write will cause some people to rally their defensive "unfair identity politics" cry. But you know what? The thing I've learned is that those who make such a cry are also usually the ones whose identities, and yes we all have them, render them the good fortune of not being oppressed in some way on the basis of their particular identities. If you disagree, I should forewarn you that you probably won't like much else of what I say here.

Here we go. Time presents the past honorees who have made America:

Lewis and Clark. Ben Franklin. Jefferson. Lincoln. Teddy Roosevelt. Mark Twain.

See, what troubles me is not who Time chose to honor in previous years. I am not here to deny that the above dead white men made significant contributions to our nation. Rather, I want to ponder who the magazine could have honored but chose not to when it created this very vague and subjective "Making of America" series. By thus far choosing to honor only white men, Time reinforces the common belief that only white men were major players in the making of America.

I mean, seriously guys? This is 2008. Why are major publications still reinforcing this outdated notion?

And by the way, Time, please don't give us a future special on Betsy Ross, the only woman I remember learning about in grade school history. The contributions of women and non-white men are greater, more important, than the feminine sewing of a flag.

Harriet Tubman. Cesar Chavez. George Washington Carver. Jane Addams. Frederick Douglass. Aren't these but a few men and women who also helped "make America"- whatever that vague phrase even means? Once the great white men of the past secured their freedoms and admirably made this new nation, albeit often on the backs of women and non-white men, the work of "Making America" was far from over. I would even go so far as to argue that where the "neutral" and "objective" ideologies of great white men have fallen short, it has often been non-white men and women (and yes some white men too) who have furthered our nation along its path toward greatness and toward fulfilling the promises it makes to its citizens.

And, lest we forget, the accomplishments of dead white men should not be discussed without also mentioning the circumstances as to why white guys have so often played such prominent roles in history. For instance, professor Roger McCain discusses how historically, wealthy white men in particular have had better access to resources than non-white males and all women and how this access has led to their accomplishments:

"Before the 20th century, only the privileged white and male, mostly in Europe and to some extent in North America with very few elsewhere, have had access to those resources. That is wrong and regrettable, but nevertheless a fact about the past. Consider, in a different field, Charles Darwin. Darwin, an heir to the Wedgwood China fortune - one of the vast fortunes of the early 19th century - had the wealth and connections that enabled him to sail around the world and spend his life doing the research that defined the modern biological worldview. He did much of his research at home at his own expense. There may have been others, poor, nonwhite, female, living in areas remote from Europe's great cities, who could have done even more with the same resources. But in point of historic fact, they did not have the resources and so did not do the work."

Combined with the the privileges inherent in male-ness and white-ness, one has to wonder how any white man born into wealth could not be successful? Yes, there have been great white men who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. I'm not denying that. Life isn't all fun and games for poor and working-class white men. And by the way, here's where Marxist arguments could come in handy for these men, since class is largely invisible in America. Unfortunately, these folks are often too blinded by the "commies are bad" propaganda to realize that class structures need to be challenged and discussed.

But, even without class privilege, poor men are still men and white men still have their whiteness to fall back on. Those traits alone have opened many doors, from a career and education standpoint, that were not and still sometimes are not available to those in our nation lacking such traits. That men have created the myth that it is the unique role of "woman" to raise children and stay out of public life while men attend to the more important task of becoming fully realized human beings undoubtedly accounts for innumerable historical successes and accomplishments of men.

Is it any wonder, then, under these historical circumstances that non-white men and women would organize and engage in "identity politics" in order to gain access to denied opportunities and rights?

But, of course, Virginia Woolf already wrote this story. It's the story of Shakespeare's Sister, the essay in which Woolf ponders whether a woman with the same gifts as Shakespeare would have been denied the opportunities to develop and use them. Think about these issues when you think about the latest Time magazine "Making of America" series.

I, for one, think the following questions would have been infinitely more probing, interesting, and perhaps honest than yet another dead white male circle-jerk celebration:

Would it have been possible for a Marge Twain to have been as successful a writer as a Mark Twain? Would the public have taken her words as seriously as it took Mr. Twain's? Would she have been able to travel as freely throughout the world and without as much fear for her personal safety as Mr. Twain was able to do? In short, would it have even been possible for a "Miss" Twain to "make America" in the way that Mr. Twain supposedly has?

I know what I think.