Thursday, October 30, 2008

Your Brain on Creationism

I'm officially on vacation for the rest of the week, so I'm going to take a break from political writing and post something that's just bizarre.

I first saw it on Neurologica. Apparently, a couple of creationists have a unique "fossil" that they believe is a really old (but younger than 5,000 years old of course) "petrified human brain." They've even made a website about it packed with photos of smiling rubber-glove-wearing (creationist) "authorities" holding the brain and saying things like "It is scientifically impossible for this to not be a brain."

Since I am no expert in brain anatomy, I can't say with any certainty whether this rock-brain fossil is a real human brain or not. Although this website includes x-ray photos of the thing, these pictures enlighten me no more than when doctors have pointed out "shadows" and "wrinkles" on x-rays in my own life. Outwardly, I nod as if I "see" what they see, but secretly I know that it's all really a big shadowy-Rorschach mess.

Of the rock-brain, neurologist Steven Novella, of Neurologica says:

"This is just a lumpy rock that happens to have a cleavage roughly down the middle, without anything that resembles a brain. The human brain doesn’t just have squiggles (gyri), it has a very specific pattern of gyri that can be identified and named and are organized into different lobes.... No real anatomy is apparent. The rock shows no specific anatomical features of a brain, nor any features that would confirm it is a fossil of any kind. It’s a rock."

It is Dr. Novella's job to be skeptical. Possessing no hidden agenda and armed with credentials, specialized knowledge, and expertise, I find his word to be credible.

As creationists tend to generally be anti-science, I wondered what the purpose of this website was. Specifically, what does someone who believes in the creationist ideology have to gain by telling people that this rock-brain thingy is a petrified human brain? After perusing this website I was able to deduce what the point of all it was. In a nutshell, the argument is that:

(a) It is the author's opinion that Noah's flood petrified things very quickly.

(b) Yet, mainstream science tells us that things take millions of years to petrify.

(c) This "brain" petrified very rapidly.

(d) Therefore, mainstream science is "wrong" and creationism is right.

Or something. The argument is not exactly articulated in any comprehensible fashion.

Am I weird for thinking this is weird? Do other people think this is strange, funny, and/or legitimate?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Great Scott! Magical Thinking From the Professional Christian Set

I see that a few of you, dear readers, have participated in my handy-dandy poll regarding James Dobson. Perhaps some of you didn't vote because you don't know just how unhinged this man's teeth-gnashing anti-gay rantings can be. Or, maybe you just agree with Dobson's message. As, um, at least a few readers here seem to.

Here's a recent little taste of just how unhinged this man's communications can be. Pam, over at Pam's House Blend, recounts an odd piece in which an apparently Delorean-time-traveling Dobson imagines himself a reporter in a dystopian homofantastic future writing a 16-page "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America."

He imagines:

"I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.....We are not 'the land of the free and the home of the brave.' Many of our freedoms have been taken away by a liberal Supreme Court and a majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, and hardly any brave citizen dares to resist the new government policies any more."

Our "freedoms have been taken away"? It's funny, you know. The Bush Administration has probably done more to strip away our "freedoms" than any president in modern memory and we don't hear a peep about that from the likes of Dobson. Yet, Dobson thinks he can make huge predictions about Obama-caused loss of freedoms when Obama hasn't even entered office yet? It is this sort of demagoguery that renders me incapable of taking hard-core rightwingers seriously. Well, that and their feigned "psychic" abilities.

True to form, Janet Porter (formerly Janet Folger), who has a history of writing homofantastic fantasies of her own, has also recently shared with us her magical psychic abilities in her own anti-Obama warning letter. Here's a morsel of her warning:

"To all those who name the name of Christ who plan to willfully disobey Him by voting for Obama, take warning. Not only is our nation in grave danger, according to the Word of God, so are you ... [T]his election is not about race. It's not about the economy. It's about obeying God."

Alllllrighty then. Janet Porter has an "in" with who Jesus and God would vote for and has super-special insight as to who will be sent to "Hell" for voting for the wrong candidate. For, she goes on to warn that the very "eternity" of those who do not obey God by voting for the correct candidate is at stake. Wow, I'm pretty sure that Porter just doomed half of our nation to "Hell." And here is yet another reason I just can't take rightwing Christians seriously- they so obviously use their religion to manipulate people. I mean does this woman even see how absurd her argument is to those on the outside? Besides, if this "God" would send people to "Hell" for making a mistake and voting for the wrong person, "He" is simply not worthy of devotion. End of story.

It's simply a shame that this type of spiritual immaturity tries to pass itself of as the only authentic "real" Christianity in our nation. Porter shamefully has the gall to tell Christian Obama-supporters to "do us all a favor and quit calling yourself a Christian." Apparently, on top of her psychic abilities, Porter is the arbiter of who is and is not a real Christian. Just so that's all cleared up.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Propaganda Watch: The "Harm" of Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts

Just in time for the 2008 elections and the vote on Proposition 8 in California (and Prop 102 in Arizona, and Prop 2 in Florida), SPLC-recognized hate group Mass Resistance has put out a "fact" sheet regarding "What same-sex 'marriage' [sic] has done to Massachusetts." I first saw this dishonest piece of propaganda promoted on anti-equality blog Opine Editorials. Occasional Fannie's Room commenter Chairm promoted this piece without questioning a single claim that Mass Resistance made.

Mass Resistance gives it the good college try, I suppose(?), but the most striking fact about its list is that there are absolutely no citations for any of its egregious claims.

It is easy for our opponents to make all sorts of asinine, dishonest, and misleading claims about gay people and same-sex marriage. What is frustrating is that, to rebut even the smallest one-sentence claim, it takes genuine research and several paragraphs to do an adequate job. That's what critical thinking, as opposed to ideological sound-bite thinking, entails. It's just far easier for these people to make unverified sound-bites and pretend that it "proves" their point that same-sex marriage causes Great Harm than it is to say anything of substance. So, while there is so very much I want to point out about this "fact" sheet, I hope you realize that rebutting all of these claims would be a full-time job.

Thus, I'm going to focus on a few particularly egregious claims.

1. Gay Marriage Causes Teh AIDS!

This first claim is one that others will undoubtedly use to stir innocent people into a scary-disease-fearing frenzy. Citing no epidemiological data or any sort of evidence whatsoever, Mass Resistance claims:

"Since homosexual marriage became 'legal' [sic] the rates of HIV / AIDS have gone up considerably in Massachusetts. This year public funding to deal with HIV/AIDS has risen by $500,000."

The implication is clear, the legalization of same-sex marriage caused HIV/AIDS rates to rise. But the funny thing is, most people know that (say it with me now) correlation. does not. imply. causation.

Besides, Mass Resistance's statement is utterly devoid of any context. What do they even mean by "HIV/AIDS rates"? For instance, it's simply not clear whether they're referring to prevalence or incidence of HIV/AIDS, two very different epidemiological measures.

I mean, it is true, actually, that the numbers of those living with HIV/AIDS are increasing nationwide (prevalence). This is because, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites (below), people with HIV/AIDS are living longer due to advances in anti-retroviral therapy. When people with HIV/AIDS live longer, then the numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS are necessarily going to increase. A-der. And, this trend is occurring not just in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage happens to be legal, but everywhere in the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains it this way:

"This increase was expected, due to the fact that antiretroviral treatment has greatly extended the life spans of people with HIV, and because more people become infected with HIV than die from the disease each year."

Anyone who actually works in the field of public health would laugh someone right out of the office for suggesting that a rise in HIV/AIDS rates has anything to do with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts

Secondly, the more relevant statistic, the one that would even allow us to begin to start talking about correlation in a same-sex marriage context, would be numbers of new diagnoses in a particular time span (incidence). And, looking at the actual data from the Massachusetts Department of Pubic Health, we can see that while, yes, the numbers of those living with HIV/AIDS has increased over the past 7 years, the numbers of new diagnoses has dramatically decreased. Curious minds, as opposed to those whose minds already have "everything" figured out, would also want to know which population groups these new diagnoses are occurring in.

But no, Mass Resistance gives us none of this relevant background information. They merely give us a general statement that honestly tells us nothing more than that two things happened to occur together: increase in "rates of HIV/AIDS" and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Neat. O.

You know, as a demonstration in ridiculousness, guess what else just happened to occur the exact year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. The Boston Red Sox won the world series! Are these phenomenon related in any way? Did same-sex marriage cause the Red Sox to win? Who knows. But in order to make baseball fans everywhere support marriage equality, I'm just going to start an innuendo-filled After Same-Sex Marriage is Legalized, Baseball Teams Tend to Win the World Series campaign.

2. Gay Marriage Causes Wannabe-Lawyers to Learn Teh Law!

Secondly, as an attorney, I also want to respond to this asinine claim made by Mass Resistance:

"The Massachusetts Bar Exam now tests lawyers on their knowledge of same-sex 'marriage' issues. In 2007, a Boston man, Stephen Dunne, failed the Massachusetts bar exam because he refused to answer the questions in it about homosexual marriage."

This one is really quite ridiculous. The purpose of a state bar exam is to assess an attorney's competence with respect to knowing what the law of a particular state is. Competent attorneys learn rules of law even if they do not agree with these laws. And, attorneys must prove that they are qualified to practice law by answering questions related to these laws on a bar exam. If candidates refuse to answer questions that involve laws that they morally disagree with, there is no way to prove that they are competent or that they actually know the law of their particular jurisdiction. There is no right to practice law. Accordingly, people are not entitled to a law license just because they go to law school but refuse to answer bar examination questions that they happen to have moral qualms with.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Illinois, and yet I and other gay and lesbian attorneys here do not refuse to answer questions pertaining to family law on our bar exams. That would be ridiculous. But hey, if Mass Resistance wants to utilize attorneys who "refuse" to learn about and respond to questions of law that they do not agree with, go on ahead. Throw your education down the toilet and fail your bar exam. More power to us.

3. Gay Marriage Causes Concerned Parents to Go to Jails!

When I read this next tidbit, I immediately knew there was more to this story than what Mass Resistance was telling us:

"By the following year [information about same-sex marriage] was in elementary school curricula. Kindergartners were given picture books telling them that same-sex couples are just another kind of family, like their own parents. In 2005, when David Parker of Lexington, MA – a parent of a kindergartner – strongly insisted on being notified when teachers were discussing homosexuality or transgenderism with his son, the school had him arrested and put in jail overnight."

Why did I think there was more to the story here? Well, like many reasonable people, I just really doubt that a guy would be arrested for merely insisting on being notified when his son's teachers discussed gay stuff. I mean seriously. When I spent, oh, about two seconds googling "David Parker" I quickly learned that the man was really arrested for trespass because he refused to leave the school. The Boston Globe reports that Parker went to ask to be notified about content at his son's school and:

"The meeting ended with Parker's arrest after he refused to leave the school, and the Lexington man spent the night in jail. Yesterday, Parker was arraigned in Concord District Court on one count of trespassing, and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. Bail was set at $1,000, and Parker was freed after being ordered to stay off Lexington school property."

That is certainly a relevant piece of information that inquiring readers would want to know. Parker wasn't arrested as part of some sinister homofascist plot to silence concerned parents, he was arrested because he wouldn't leave the dang school!

You know, marriage defenders always try to articulate the various harms of same-sex marriage. Yet can they ever do so in an honest and logical way? It's too bad that the ones who try, the ones who claim to be coming from a place of morality, make their cases by mostly resorting to dishonesty, fear-mongering, and innuendo. These tactics have no place in a civil debate. There is a reason some people are called haters and bigots.

This piece is profoundly disgusting. If those who oppose marriage equality have to invent the "harms" of same-sex marriage, one is forced to wonder why exactly they are opposed to marriage equality in the first place.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yes on 8's "Respectful" Request

Previously, I have written about the Yes on 8 campaign's tattle-tale list of wrongs done by individual defenders of marriage equality. If you remember, these wrongs included individuals supposedly stealing and defacing Yes on 8 lawn signs and a person who "flipped off" a woman who had a Yes on 8 bumper sticker on her car. While these acts are wrong and should be condemned, there is no evidence that they are part of any sort of organized anti-Proposition 8 group conspiracy.

But, what if some of the actual organized, concerted actions of the Yes on 8 movement, the movement that claims to be coming from a place of moral righteousness, were immoral, threatening, and unethical?

The Box Turtle Bulletin has reported that the Yes on 8 campaign has been sending threatening letters to businesses who donated money to oppose the anti-equality initiative. Businessowner Jim Abbot, who donated $10,000 to the No on 8 campaign, recently received a letter from Yes on 8 "respetfully requesting" that he contribute to the Yes on 8 campaign or else. This letter reads, in relevant part:

"We respectfully request that [Abbot's company] withdraw its support of Equality California. Make a donation of a like amount to which will help us correct this error. Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. You would leave us no other reasonable assumption. The names of any companies and organizations that chose not to donate in like manner to but have given to Equality California will be published."

Apparently, a donation form was included with the letter, which was also sent to dozens of small businesses that contributed to the No on 8 campaign. This letter was signed by 4 leaders of the Yes on 8 campaign and Yes on 8 has confirmed that the letter is legitimate. Perhaps what is more audacious than the threatening tone of this letter is the fact that Yes on 8 refers to Abbot's support of Equality California as an "error." As though, whoopsies, he just didn't know what he was supporting when he sent his check to oppose Proposition 8 and now that Yes on 8 has notified him of this error he will immediately correct it.

But back to the threats, let's notice the key phrases: "Were you to elect not to donate comparably," "You would leave us no other reasonable assumption," "will be published."

That is, the people who sit perched above the rest of us as our culture's supposed moral leaders have no qualms about sending blackmail-esque communications to those who do not support their policy position. I'm not a Christian but I do know that is definitely not something Jesus would do.

While the actions of Yes on 8 are probably not illegal, they are still morally questionable, audacious, and despicable. Threats have no place in civil discourse.

Yes on 8, welcome to the H(ypocrite) Hall of Shame.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lesbian Mafia News!

Leftist Gender Warrior (LGW) would like to take a few moments to say that she is pleased to hear that the 8 Against 8 campaign has surpassed its goal of raising $8,000 to fight California's anti-equality Proposition 8. Thank you to all who contributed to the cause, whether via 8 Against 8 or elsewhere.

For today's reading pleasure, LGW would like to direct you to the 67th Carnival of Feminists over at the blog Jump Off the Bridge. My article on gender privilege, "Voting with the Little Hood," was featured.


Cackle, cackle.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The "What About the Children?" Double-Standard

I've been reading over and over again about how "marriage defenders" in California object to marriage equality because if same-sex couples are allowed to marry, then children will be taught about same-sex marriage in schools. For instance, the "Yes on 8" Voter Guide says that Proposition 8 is necessary because:

"It protects our children from being taught in public schools that 'same-sex marriage' is the same as traditional marriage."

Many "marriage defenders" such iProtectmarriage have jumped on this bandwagon saying things like:

"Public schools are required to teach the role of marriage in society. If Prop. 8 passes, that won't change. If Prop. 8 does not pass, children as young as kindergarteners must be taught about same-sex marriage."

Yes on 8's Frank Shubert has claimed that equality advocates believe that "gay marriage should be taught to children in school."

All I can say is, that's it?

First off, what does it even mean to "teach gay marriage" to children? "Marriage defenders" don't want children to learn about how same-sex couples can get married too even if it is a factual statement? What is the inherent harm in "teaching gay marriage"? It has been my experience that disgust and disapproval of same-sex relationships is a learned response, rather than one that children are born with. Besides, let's get real here, it's not like informing children about marriage necessitates detailed conversations about coitus and anal sex. How in-depth do people think these oh-so-nuanced and intellectual conversations about same-sex and opposite-sex marriage with "kindergarteners" get?

Anyway, the fact is local school districts control curriculum and state law permits parents to withdraw their children from lessons they find objectionable. Get a grip, people.

Wait, [re-reading iProtectmarriage's quote] what is this iProtectmarriage website anyway?

Oh. Right.

As I wrote about previously, it's the hip and tech-savvy "marriage defense" website aimed at youth.

Now, since this site has a presence on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Youtube its target audience is more likely to be teenagers than "kindergarteners." But still. Young kids these days have a strong presence on the internets. That's why I think "marriage defenders" should be clear. They should be explicit with respect to what they're really objecting to when it comes to Indoctrinating Our Youths. When "marriage defenders" whip their masses into a frenzy about the prospect of teachers informing kids about same-sex marriage, what they really mean to say is that they don't want young children to learn that it's okay for two people of the same-sex to get married. That would go against their own very clear message that it's not okay for two people of the same-sex to marry. Youth, you see, can learn about homosexuality. As long as the message is carefully controlled and placed in a disapproving framework.

For instance, while this movement says out of one corner of its mouth that oh dear god the children should not learn about the mere existence of same-sex couples/marriages, they're trolling around on the internet trying to sway kids against equality by citing the rates of HIV/AIDS among gay men, as though that is in any way relevant to marriage. And, while "marriage defenders" believe that children definitely should not learn about how gay people exist, this movement hypocritically believes that kids should definitely learn about how "If same-sex marriage stays legal, nothing prevents the legalization of polygamy and incest" and how marriage will become "whatever anyone thinks it is, and that includes extreme stuff like polygamy, man-boy love, and multiple partners."


I think I get it now. It's not okay to teach kids about same-sex marriage but it is okay to promote dishonest propaganda and asinine slippery slope arguments in order to vilify same-sex couples as playing a key role in the End of the World!

Thanks for clearing this up, Prop 8'ers.

And another thing. Maybe if "marriage defenders" didn't constantly compare gay men and lesbians to polygamists, pedophiles, and polyamorists and unnecessarily fixate on our sex lives, they could envision a youth-friendly discussion about gay people that does not entail a detailed discussion about sex. It's really too bad that "marriage defenders" project their own shortcomings with respect to this inability onto children, most of whom are far more willing, capable, and ready than adults to understand benign concepts like "Ellen and Portia love each other like your mommy and daddy love each other. Now, who wants to learn their ABCs?"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rightwing Roundup: Muslim-Baiting, Anti-Elitism, and Separatism

1. Joe McCarthy Called and He Wants His Tactics Back

In case you haven't heard, Republican Colin Powell has endorsed Barack Obama for president.

What I find most important about Powell's statement is that a prominent politician has finally said what should have been said 2 years ago. Namely, to paraphrase, even if Obama were a Muslim, so what? Intimating that Obama is a secret Muslim is insulting to Obama, who is a Christian, and to Muslims. It has been clear during this election season that Muslim-baiting is the new Red Scare. Obama is forced to deny that he's a Muslim as though there is something inherently bad about being a Muslim, thanks to the All-Muslims-Are-Terrorists meme that circulates among the conservative crowd.

This sort of religious intolerance is shameful and has no place in the free nation that we say we are.

2. The Age of Mediocrity

The McCain campaign has an interesting tactic with respect to denigrating smart people. Apparently, it would be very bad for our country if smart people were in charge of things. It would be much, much better if Joe Six-Pack were in charge.

This anti-elitism is an interesting phenomenon among the right in general. Previously, I've written about Laura Ingraham's anti-elitism tirade of a book Shut Up and Sing. I re-read my review and remain convinced that the word "elite" is, basically, the new pejorative term for anyone with whom the Republican elites disagree. By framing liberals, progressives, and Democrats as "elites," Joe Six-Pack mistakenly comes to believe that those in charge of the Republican party are the ones looking out for the little guy.

3. A "Gay" Idea

Apparently, Chicago is creating a separate (but equal?) "gay-friendly" school for kids who have been harassed because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Although the intentions appear to be good, I believe that this separate school is problematic. Kids can be brutal during the high school years, especially towards those who are gay or thought to be gay. When I was in high school I was way too scared to be "out." And, I do remember multiple occasions where I was verbally harassed because people thought I was gay. While racial epithets were not tolerated at my school, gay ones and gay jokes were par for the course. Even these days, I regularly hear teenagers say "That's so gay" meaning something along the lines of "That's stupid."

Rather than removing innocent gay people from these schools, I think the far better solution would be to turn schools into safe spaces where intolerance is not tolerated or condoned. Discipline kids for calling people "fags." Explain to them why it's not okay to say things like "that's so gay."

And, most importantly, remove bullies from schools rather than removing gay kids from the "normal" schools. The harassers are the ones who create the unsafe space. Merely removing gay and lesbian kids from an unsafe situation will not give bullies the opportunity to address their sexual prejudice and abusive behavior. When the "fags" and "dykes" leave, these bullies will inevitably find other people to pick on. Then, they will graduate (or not) and become ignorant, bigoted members of society.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mayors and Lesbos and Money Oh My!

During Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the "Big Bad" that Buffy had to overcome was an evil mayor. This mayor was a unique character in the Buffyverse. As the Wikipedia entry on the Mayor describes him:

"Unlike many villains featured on Buffy, he has quite a pleasant demeanor. A family man with an aversion to swearing, he almost always wears a smile on his face, and is obsessed with cleanliness."

As it turned out, however, the "kindly" mayor was really an evil sorceror with superpowers who was hell-bent on transforming into a demon who wished to use the human inhabitants of his town as demon food. What made this character intriguing was the juxtaposition of the nice-guy front who seemed completely unaware of the sinisterness of his eventual goal. This is a guy who, when angry, was only able to muster up a "gosh." He was a man who wanted to be righteous and who, lacking any semblance of self-awareness, probably believed himself to be merely because he had forsaken "sins" like uncleanliness and swearing. He just didn't get that, in the grand scheme of things, swearing is way less morally wrong than his supreme evil master plan.

Where am I going with this?

Well, when I read articles like this- articles that are nothing more than composed tattle-tale lists of alleged wrongs done by those who favor marriage equality- I am reminded of this mayor.

The organized Yes on 8 campaign presents a pleasant, family-focused, innocent-enough-looking demeanor. In fact, it is kind of endearing how these folks describe the "dirty tricks" of some gay rights activists and how these righteous "marriage defenders" conjure up moral outrage when describing how "a pregnant woman was 'flipped off' because she had a Yes on 8 bumper sticker on her car" and how "one [Yes on 8] sign that was left up had the word 'Yes' crossed off and replaced with 'No.'" I'm sympathetic if these people truly felt threatened, but I sincerely doubt the defacement of signage is the most trying tribulation a person has to endure in one's life.

Now, lest anyone get me wrong here, I certainly agree that trespass, threats, and property damage are wrong- both morally and legally. I understand the anger that fuels such behavior. But these angry behaviors are not acceptable. Those of us in favor of marriage equality should not feel as though we have to resort to such behavior in order to win. Besides, I sincerely doubt that these 32 listed instances of vandalism constitute a concerted conspiracy against Proposition 8. Rather, I'd be willing to bet that it's the actions of outraged citizens who are sick and tired of this election-year asininity which forces us all to devote time and resources, that could be better spent elsewhere by the way, to oppose this gay-baiting propagandistic movement that calls itself "marriage defense."

Most importantly though, let's look at this Mayor Wilkins-esque movement for what it is. Simply put, I think the Prop 8'ers are deluding themselves if they believe that reasonable people will look at their tabulated list of wrongs and forget for a minute that this is a movement steeped in dishonest propaganda for purposes of trying to write un-American discrimination into the constitution. Most people understand that there are different levels of wrong. While defacing signs and flipping people off are definitely rude behaviors, these actions are simply of a different scale than the concerted actions of the Proposition 8 movement.

This movement presents a kindly, pleasant demeanor to its mostly-Christian supporters. But those of us on the receiving end of the lies and propaganda see quite a different face.

Today, I'm joining my blogging Sapphic sisters in donating money to help metaphorically(!) slay the demon that is Proposition 8.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Dump Dobson

Those of you who noticed my minor blog re-design might have seen the poll on the left column:

"Should the National Radio Hall of Fame & Museum reverse its decision to honor James Dobson's group Focus on the Family?"

This poll references the National Radio Hall of Fame's upcoming honoring and induction of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. For some background, Dobson broadcasts the evangelical Christian-themed "family" (code word for anti-gay) radio show Focus on the Family, has founded the anti-gay Family Research Council, and seeks to "heal" same-sex attraction. What is most disturbing, in light of Dobson's self-imposed status as Arbiter of Morality, is that multiple researchers have accused Dobson of distorting and misrepresenting their academic research as part of a dishonest anti-gay agenda.

Why was Dobson inducted?

Apparently, this year's hall of fame voting process was changed from the previous years. In an open letter addressing this "controversy," the Hall of Fame Chairman wrote that in previous years, "voting on the annual nominations was open to the general public only if individuals were members of the Museum of Broadcast Communications (home of the National Radio Hall of Fame), or became new online members by payment of a $15 fee. A change in the voting process for 2008 enabled the general public to vote for nominees online without joining the Museum."

Because of this year's change allowing anyone to vote, as Wayne Besen says, "James Dobson used his Focus on the Family show, which runs on 3,000 radio stations, to essentially stuff the ballot box."

Not surprisingly, a "DumpDobson" coalition has sprung up to oppose the induction of Focus on the Family. I, too, strongly oppose the induction of James Dobson into the Radio Hall of Fame. In fact, I will be attending the protest of his induction. I have no doubt that some in the anti-gay movement will characterize this protest as "censorship" and "fascism" so let me be very clear. I believe in free speech and I do not think that Dobson or his intolerant organizations and radio show should be censored. But I do believe that those of us who are privileged enough to live in a nation that values free speech have the duty to use this privilege responsibly. And, we should not honor those who use their privilege irresponsibly, as Dobson undoubtedly does.

It is admirable that Dobson has built a media empire. Yet, the decision to bestow an award on a communicator must take into account the content of that person's message. James Dobson and Focus on the Family will tell you that they do not hate gay men and lesbians. That might be true. But what is undeniable is that it is a warped version of love to condemn all gay men and lesbians as being inherently more immoral and more sinful than heterosexuals. What is undeniable is that, even if Dobson himself does not wish harm on gay people, it is profoundly irresponsible to use a loving religion to promote the condemnation and discrimination of LGBT persons.

As Wayne Besen has said, Dobson "has built his following by exploiting fear, promoting hatred and appealing to humanity's lowest common denominator. His broadcasts have sharpened divisions in society, poisoned politics and made America a more hostile nation...."

Free speech is our right. Yet it is also a responsibility.

So even though there is likely nothing we can do to prevent the squeaky wheel from getting the grease this time, we must continually remind Americans that the loudest voice is not the only voice. And, the loudest voice is not always the voice of morality, truth, and love even if it promotes itself as such at every opportunity.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
-1 Corinthians 13:1

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Random Fun News!

1. A Worthy Cause

As a general blogging rule, I try to stay away from suggesting to readers that they donate money to specific causes. Personally, some people of the mass-emailing variety just have that it's-a-good-thing-I'm-here-to-remind-you-to-give-to-the-needy attitude that assumes you aren't already donating your spare dollars to worthy causes.

I don't want to do that. But, in case you haven't heard of it before I would like to let you know of this cool that site one of my friends recently alerted me to. It allows donors to give money directly to teachers to help them carry out proposed educational projects that the school could not otherwise afford. In its own words:

" is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund."

The teachers requests are touching in their simplicity. For instance, one teacher was asking for money for jump ropes to teach her students about physical education while another teacher was requesting money for special seating for students with autism.

I thought it was pretty cool to see how you can make a direct positive impact when you combine even small amounts of money with other people.

2. Bold Assumption

During the last presidential debate, the one with the "townhall" format that supposedly favors John McCain, many viewers noticed a condescending assumption John McCain made about a man who asked him a question. Specifically, a young African-American man asked the candidates a question about the economy. John McCain began his response by telling the man "You've probably never heard of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before this [economic crisis]." In the background, Obama kind of chuckled, as did the man.

The man who McCain questioned, it turns out, is named Oliver Clark. On NBC, Clark took a minute to respond to McCain's out-of-touch assumption:

"Well Senator, I actually did. I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. I have a bachelor degree in Political Science from Tennessee State, so I try to keep myself up to date with current affairs. I have a Master degree in Legal Studies from Southern Illinois University, a few years in law school, and I am currently pursuing a Master in Public Administration from the University of Memphis. In defense of the Senator from Arizona I would say he is an older guy, and may have made an underestimation of my age. Honest mistake. However, it could be because I am a young African-American male. Whatever the case may be it was somewhat condescending regardless of my age to make an assumption regarding whether I was knowledgeable about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

In general, I didn't find the "townhall" format to be favorable to McCain. I found his insistence on invading the personal space of the questioners to be awkward and that he constantly referred to them as his "friends," I found to be cheap politics-as-usual. Obama, perhaps because he wasn't trying too hard to create an Average Joe Sixpack narrative, came off both as more genuine and more in touch with constituents.

3. The Marriage Defender Who Opposes Prop 8

Although he continues to oppose marriage equality in general, David Benkof has written another opinion piece specifically opposing Proposition 8. On October 13, Benkof re-iterated his criticisms of the organized movement that some of the "mainstream, major backers of the ballot measure" are offensive and anti-Semitic.

I have written before of some of the dishonest and mean-spirited propaganda that the Prop 8 movement relies on and I applaud Benkof for doing so as well. For instance, he cites the "youth-friendly" iProtectmarriage site's irrelevant and fear-mongering reference to the high HIV/AIDS rates among gay men as well as the site's "age-old" scare-tactic of acting as though "man-boy love" will be legitimized if gay marriage becomes legal. Benkof is right when he notes that these tactics have no place in honest, civil discourse. Such propaganda is meant to rile up the masses and, whether intentionally or not, these "arguments" perpetuate hatred of and the vilification of gay men and lesbians.

That the Prop 8 movement utilizes the Alliance Defense Fund, a self-described Christian "ministry" masquerading as a law firm (or is it a law firm masquerading as a ministry?), should frighten all of us who do not subscribe to the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. That this law firm/ministry refuses to hire non-Christians, even the ones who agree with them on conservative social issues, demonstrates that there is simply no place for religious and spiritual diversity in this group's ideal (Post-Second Coming) world.

It's funny, you know. Before Benkof realized these things about the Prop 8 movement, marriage defenders loved citing his pieces. They couldn't get enough of this gay man who renounced his homosexuality and opposed same-sex marriage. These same folks are, strangely, nowhere to be found now that Benkof is rendering critiques of the professional "marriage defense" crowd.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Maybe My Definition of Straight Talk is Different

I didn't make my decision to vote for Barack Obama based solely on LGBT issues. Like most Americans, I care about the economy, health care, and improving educational infrastructure. I believe that Obama will address these issues in a way that is better for our nation than McCain will. It is an added bonus that Obama acknowledges the dignity of LGBT families and persons (although he could definitely go further in his support).

Pam over at Pam's House Blend recently posted two form letters, one from McCain and one from Obama, to a constituent who had asked about each candidate how he would protect all families, including LGBT ones. These two letters demonstrate a stark difference in political style between the two men. I encourage you to read them.

You will notice that the first letter, the one from John McCain, can be paraphrased quite simply: I'm going to ignore your concern about protecting LGBT families and ask you to vote for me anyway because Muslim extremists are scary and I have a lifetime of public service!

His letter represents, not a "maverick," but a typical out-of-touch politician whose only concern seems to be to get elected. When someone brings a concern to a politician it is usually a good idea to address that concern. Instead, McCain completely ignores the very important question an American asked him. Which, of course, is understandable given the fact that it's sort of against the interest of LGBT families to vote for McCain. In short, this letter is generic even by generic political form letter standards. It could have been a "response" to a constituent's concern about one of any number of issues. Is this the type of "nuanced" and "responsive" attention we the people would receive from a McCain Administration?

In contrast, Obama's letter begins:

"While we live in a nation that is enriched by a vast array of diverse traditions, cultures and histories, it is our commonality that most defines us. The desire to build a life with a loved one, to provide for a family and to have children who will grow and thrive --these are desires that all people share, regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity."

For starters, he acknowledges the constituent's concern- we as humans share common desires to thrive in families even if we're different in some ways. He then goes on to state, more directly:

"We also have to do more to support and strengthen LGBT families. Because equality in relationship, family, and adoption rights is not some abstract principle; it's about whether millions of LGBT Americans can finally live lives marked by dignity and freedom. That's why we have to repeal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act. That's why we have to eliminate discrimination against LGBT families. And that's why we have to extend equal treatment in our family and adoption laws."

Obama gives us straight talk. That, ironically, is in stark contrast to the man who has branded himself as the engineer of the Straight Talk Express.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rachel Maddow Takes the High Road

So, does anyone here watch The Rachel Maddow Show? What I appreciate about Maddow is that she's smart, articulate, and funny. She is a welcome contrast from the angry, screaming pundits who tend to dominate political discourse. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have proven for quite a few years now that humor, snark, and sarcasm can be effective tools in rendering political critique and in pointing out our oftentimes absurd politics. The use of humor gives us a critique that is more genuine than anything the "objective" and unquestioning media offers us.

While watching her show the other night, however, I was amazed to see someone attempt to knock Maddow down a notch. The topic at hand (and you can watch it all here, it's the segment entitled "Grand Old Panic") was supposed to be about the negativity of the McCain campaign and how, during rallies, threats of violence toward Obama were going unchallenged by the McCain camp. Conservative David Frum, however, had other ideas. In his mind, the problem with our political discourse is The Rachel Maddow Show.

Frum began by stating that the show "itself is an example of this problem [regarding negativity]." With a healthy dose of patronizing self-righteousness and the creation of false equivalencies, Frum urged Maddow "to do better" than the "heavy sarcasm" and "sneering" that her show currently uses. His lecture officially went over the top when he, incredibly, advised Rachel to be the change she wished to see in the world. Now, Maddow handled this impromptu scolding with grace. She answered that the tone of her show is simply not equivalent to the tone of those who go to McCain rallies and yell "kill him" about Obama. Those of us who watch the show know that she uses light-hearted sarcasm that comes nowhere near threats of violence against politicians or, for that matter, the mouth-foaming platters of rage and negativity served up by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Pat Robertson.

Frum, however, did not back down and continued scolding Maddow for a good 8 minutes. His message was quite clear, in fact. To render a critique, in anything other than a completely serious manner, of negative and absurd politics is morally equivalent to being a negative and absurd politician. To criticize a campaign for condoning threats of violence toward Obama is morally equivalent to actually making threats of violence toward Obama. How warped.

Frum's lecture reminds me of how, in the minds of extreme anti-gays, calling someone a bigot is worse than actually being one. Absurdly, some anti-gays see nothing morally wrong with vilifying gay men and lesbians, yet strongly object to the fact that some people label them bigots. Calling people a bigot is "mean," you see, unlike spreading propaganda about how the Homosexual Agenda is Threatening Civilization!

It reminds of how, in the minds of the ex-gay movement, criticizing the movement is worse than using fraudulent psycho-babble to advance an intolerant agenda. Yes, seriously. One leader of the ex-gay movement has actually publicly declared that "ex-gays" are the "most bullied and maligned group in America." Why? Not because ex-gays are victims of hate crimes and violence, but because people dare to question and criticize the movement.

It reminds of how, in the minds of fundamentalist Christians, criticizing fundamentalist Christians for wanting to Christianize the public sphere is worse than wanting an intolerant religion to completely dominate that public sphere. (Google, for reference, Christian Persecution Complex).

These false equivalencies have one thing in common. They change the topic in the middle of the conversation. The criticism conveniently moves away from what genuinely needs to be criticized, and it's then projected onto some other target. It's a Weapon of Mass Projection, really. It's not McCain who needs to clean up his act, it's Rachel Maddow who needs to clean up her act. It's not fundamentalist Christians who are intolerant, it's other people who are intolerant of them.

What is notable, despite Frum's criticism of Maddow's tone, is the class she displayed during Frum's moral lecture on civility. Frum came onto her show and almost immediately began personally attacking her, belittling her show, and accusing her of contributing negativity to the world. Even though a great many host would have shouted over this man and not let him finish a sentence, Maddow remained calm and civil. She pointed out the absurdity of the false equivalency and, at the end of the clip she simply says "I couldn't disagree more" and let it end at that.

Personally, I do wonder how much Maddow's gender and sexual orientation anger some conservatives. Would David Frum have gone onto Chris Matthews', Rush Limbaugh's, or Sean Hannity's show and patronized these male screamers in this way? I doubt it. Maddow's mere existence on television and, especially, her confidence, offends many I am sure. Her intelligence and success is just even more salt in the wound. Frum, for instance, writing on his online "diary" yesterday attempted to justify his behavior. What is notable is that this proponent of civil discourse saw fit to mock Maddow's expertise saying that he's received masses of emails complaining about his "rudeness to Ms Maddow (sorry - her fans call her 'Dr Maddow')."

It's odd that Frum takes issue with the "Dr. Maddow" thing. It's pretty common knowledge, actually, that Maddow was a Rhodes Scholar and has a PhD in political science which, you know, makes the "Dr." title accurate. But wow, it sounds like somebody has issues with intelligent women if they have to resort to mocking the fact that some of her fans call her "Dr. Maddow." Just as an aside, I regularly listen to Maddow's podcast and the "Dr. Maddow" bit is a tongue-in-cheek jokey segment of her show. Listeners call in with random questions about any topic imaginable and "Dr. Maddow" (who has screened the call and already looked up the answer) answers as though she knew the answer off the top of her head just because she has a PhD. It's called humor, Frum, she's not trying to be arrogant. That's okay. We get it. Many intelligent women know that the mere fact of our gender combined with our educational credentials is "arrogant" to some.

Personally, this sort of ridicule reminds me of how my status as an attorney has been mocked or questioned by various men on the internet more times than I can count. And I do mean to say men here. A woman has never taken cheap shots in the way that men have against me. More often than not, the men who try to cut me down in this way are the ones who are less educated than I am. Some men still just can't handle the fact that many women are more intelligent and better educated than they are.

It really puts women bloggers in a Catch-22. For, I've had the experience of a male commenter asking me what made me even qualified to talk about legal principles only to have him turn around and accuse me of "lording" my law degree over him when I told him that I was an attorney and that made me qualified to, um, talk about legal principles. If you don't have credentials, these types don't take you seriously as a woman. If you do have the credentials, you are being "arrogant" and "self-aggrandizing" if you let these people know that you have the credentials. This sort of taunting tells me that the guys who ridicule me must be really threatened by me, my existence, and/or intelligent women if they have to resort to that sort of immaturity. It tells me that usually they are attacking me because they don't want people to notice that they are the ones who are actually unqualified to opine competently on an issue.

To conclude, I think that most of us understand the valuable role that sarcasm, humor, and parody play in political discourse and that it is profoundly hypocritical for David Frum to level cheap shots at Maddow's qualifications and her show while, at the same time, claiming to be a proponent of civility.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Activist Judges" Again

Yesterday, I provided a recap of the Connecticut marriage ruling. Today, I want to write about the expected knee-jerk Activist Judge (tm) backlash from the marriage defense crowd.

You see, before anyone even had a chance to read the entire Connecticut court's 85-page opinion, rightwing news[sic]sources began lambasting the high court's activist "imposition" of same-sex marriage on the state. The court's reasoning didn't matter, of course. These articles so rarely discuss a court's articulation of equal protection and due process principles. Apparently, legal principles don't matter. What matters is that oh dear god a court "has overruled the will of the people and taken it upon itself to legalize homosexual 'marriage.' [sic]" It is unfortunate that so many Americans seem to oppose marriage equality, not because they understand the legal principles involved, but because they don't want "elite activist" judges "imposing" something on them against their will.

Matt Barber, former Policy Director at Concerned Women for America and current director at Liberty Counsel, immediately reacted to the ruling:

"[It] is only inevitable in the minds of judicial activists who are hell-bent on imposing -- through judicial fiat -- their own skewed ideology on 'we the people'....[O]nce again we have a court full of judicial activists circumventing the will of the people and circumventing the constitutional process in order to manufacture a so-called 'right' to homosexual marriage...."

Notice how the objection is not based on the Court's reasoning. It is based on the fact that judges are "hell-bent," not on upholding constitutional principles, but on Imposing Their Will on The People (tm)! Yet, all of this hyperbole about judicial activism is a basic, faulty appeal to the masses: A whole buncha people are against same-sex marriage therefore it's wrong of judges to validate same-sex marriage.

If marriage defenders object to the court's reasoning, that's one thing. But Barber is not objecting to the court's arguments per se, he's objecting to the fact that our legal system allows for judicial review of legislative actions. For once I'd like these "marriage defenders" who only come out of the woodwork to critique the activism of judges who make decisions they disagree with, to acknowledge that inconvenient truth. In reality, I suspect that it is not judicial review that Matt Barber takes issue with. Rather, he objects to its use in certain cases. Namely, the ones he disagrees with.

Throughout our nation's history, the Activist Judge (tm) cry has been commonplace.

I have written before of an interesting parallel to the same-sex marriage issue. "Marriage defenders" loathe any analogies comparing gay people to people of color but it's worth remembering that the Brown v. Board decision created a severe backlash to integration whereby segregationists strongly denounced the "activist" Brown justices. One Senator from Mississippi, for instance, called the "activist" decision "illegal, immoral, dishonest, and a disgrace" while another called it "a monumental fraud which is shocking, outrageous and reprehensible." In one of the greatest statements undermining judicial review, a Governor said "no true Southerner feels morally obliged to recognize the legality of this act of tyranny." If these guys had it their way the Supreme Court would have rubber-stamped majority opinion and school integration would not have occurred until majorities of the people came around, stopped being bigots, and agreed to integrate schools.

Unfortunately, people still believe that the civil rights of the citizenry should be up for popular vote. Masses of people still mistakenly believe that their own rights have been trampled if they do not get to deny other people civil rights.

The marriage defender's opposition to "judicial fiat" and "judicial tyranny" overturning the will of the people is just as applicable to the Brown v. Board decision as it is to the Connecticut marriage decision. Intellectual honesty and consistency requires that if one is going to object to the use of judicial review in one case, one must object to it in all cases. Otherwise, one's moaning regarding "judicial tyranny" is nothing more than transparent demagoguery for purposes of riling up the masses.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Connecticut Ruling Rundown

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex couples are entitled to marriage. (A PDF of the opinion can be found here). There are several items of note with respect to this case (all quotes from the opinion).

1. Civil Unions versus Marriage

First off, like California, Connecticut had a separate non-marital legal word for same-sex couples that granted them all of the state rights and benefits of marriage. Same-sex couples just couldn't call their unions marriage. Because of this legal set-up in which same-sex couples could get "civil union-ed" but not than married, the state had argued that same-sex couples did not actually suffer harm. That's a pretty common argument, actually, among "marriage defenders." They don't understand what all the fuss is about since same-sex couples can at least get all of the statewide benefits of marriage.

It's always seemed extremely odd to me that some "marriage defenders" will grant us all the rights of marriage as long as we don't call our relationships marriage. If you're willing to concede that same-sex relationships deserve the exact same rights as opposite-sex relationships, you should be willing to concede that the relationships should be called the same thing. Because, you know, they are the same thing since they deserve the same rights and all.

Effectively, as the Court articulates, insisting that same-sex couples refer to their legal unions as something other than marriage sends a clear message to gay men and lesbians that they are that fabulous type of inferior citizen of the second-class type. The Court says:

"Especially in light of the long and undisputed history of invidious discrimination that gay persons have suffered... we cannot discount the plaintiff's assertion that the legislature, in establishing a statutory scheme consigning same sex couples to civil unions, has relegated them to an inferior status, in essence, declaring them to be unworthy of marriage."

This is true, of course. Interestingly, I think many "marriage defenders" would actually agree with part of that statement. In their eyes, gays and lesbians are not worthy of marriage. Many of them believe that because of how speshul it is that some heterosexuals can procreate together, same-sex relationships are less than, not as important, and not as significant as the relationships that opposite-sex couples have. That's sort of the point of creating this separate legal animal called a civil union. In the "marriage defender's" eyes, marriage is reserved for those who procreate together. Civil unions are for non-breeders. Er, civil unions are for gay and lesbian non-breeders, that is. Heterosexuals who are unable to procreate can still get married. Because... umm... yeah. Because.

Essentially, the "marriage defenders" who will actually concede that same-sex couples deserve rights are saying that even though we deserve equal rights, society has to make sure everyone knows that marriage is for (heterosexual) breeders (and heterosexual non-breeders) otherwise people will get really confused, start believing that marriage is about love rather than "responsible procreation," and thus they will start having children out of wedlock and getting divorced and that would be really bad for society. Marriage is a very special and sacred institution in our society, you see.

In fact, the Court here acknowledges that marriage is quite exalted in America. No one would deny that, right? Yet, that exaltation of marriage necessarily makes other relationships, like "civil unions" and "domestic partnerships" inferior to marriage. And that, my friends, is precisely what our legal system takes issue with. Placing two separate labels on what is the same type of relationship doesn't jive with equal protection guarantees.

While many "marriage defenders" undoubtedly do believe that opposite-sex relationships are superior, what these folks fail to understand is that our legal system doesn't allow for such distinctions if there is no good reason for these distinctions. Equal protection under Connecticut's constitution requires "all persons similarly situated" to "be treated alike." To put it generally, the Court simply agreed that heterosexual couples and same-sex couples are too much alike to justify legally calling their relationships by different names. The state failed to put forth strong enough reasons for treating these couples differently. After all, as the Court stated as part of its heightened scrutiny analysis, the public policy of Connecticut is such that "sexual orientation bears no relation to an individual's ability to raise children," it bears no relation to an individual's capacity "to enter into relationships analogous to marriage," and bears no relation to an individual's "ability otherwise to participate fully in every important economic and social institution that the government regulates." Check. Mate.

2. The State's Bad Arguments

Another interesting aspect of the case were the astoundingly poor arguments that the state offered against marriage equality. First, it offered that trusty old appeal to history "argument" that goes two people of the same-sex cannot get married because same-sex couples have never been able to marry. Erp. And then, the state argued that all people, gay and straight, already had the right to marry. They just had to marry a person of the opposite sex. Of course. A-der.

When people utter these arguments, it shows how they are completely missing the point of the debate. Precisely, we are arguing about whether gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry someone of the same-sex even if marriage has historically been between a man and a woman. Answering that question by merely saying same-sex couples can't get married because same-sex couples have never been allowed to marry doesn't get to the heart of the debate. All that historical information tells us, as the Court rightly notes, is that the discrimination has existed for a long time. And, suggesting that gays and lesbians already have the right to marry (people of the opposite sex) and, therefore, that they do not require the right to marry people of the same sex evidences a profound lack of understanding of what it is to be gay.

I applaud the court for articulating cogent arguments in favor of marriage equality Maybe I've just been reading too many asinine "marriage defense" arguments lately but I've found it really refreshing to read smart people in positions of prominence and authority deconstruct profoundly bad and illogical "marriage defense" arguments. Thank gawd members of our judiciary, unlike the pro-Prop 8 mobs, are able to transcend anti-gay propaganda and sexual prejudice.

Unfortunately, as I will blog about tomorrow, this decision has already cued another ignorant round of Activist Judge (tm) bleating from those who misunderstand the role of the judiciary in our democracy. In fact, I predict that the Yes-on-Prop-8ers will use this victory as more "evidence" that elite activist judges are ruining everything by overturning The Will of the People (tm).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Fun News!

1. My Goddess Forgives Your God

I first saw this on Good-As-You and had to share it. This website lets you make your very own Westboro Baptist Church sign:



2. The Elephants Missing From the Room

In giving her rundown of the 2nd presidential debate, ProfessorWhatIf provides an anecdote from the mouths of babes. While watching the debate, her 9-year-old daughter asked:

"When does McKinney ever get to make a speech?"

(Ignoring the fact that at 9-years-old, my little mullet-headed self was too busy playing GI Joes or kickball to concern herself with the intricacies of our faulty 2-party-system) As adults, I think we sometimes get so used to political circumstances that they became invisible to us. How many of us watching the debate were thinking about why 3rd party candidates are systematically excluded from presidential debates? Factually, we know that 3rd-party candidates like Cynthia McKinney are also running. But, perhaps like many Americans, I am so resigned to the reality of the Democrat/Republican binary that I've ceased even questioning it.

Is it something that you all thought about during the debates or during this election cycle?

3. Male Seat Hogs

Any woman who rides public transportation will definitely want to read this woman's vision of a utopia in which men won't insist on sitting with their legs wide open and overflowing onto your seat!

Frankly, it's always nice to know you're not alone in noticing and being annoyed by this.

4. Dogs v. Cats, Revisited

Sometimes, when I do stretches on my yoga mat, White Dog walks across the mat. And by "walks across the mat" I mean that he thinks it's okay to do the dog butt-scoot across my mat while I'm, like, in the middle of Greeting the Day. A cat would not do this. This brings my running tally to:

Dogs 2, Cats 5.

And then another time, after it rained, Brown Dog found a giant worm lying helplessly on the sidewalk. He immediately gobbled it up. A cat would not do this. A cat would pick it up in its mouth, bring it back inside, bat it around for awhile, tear it apart, and then leave a gross mess of worm parts all over your floor.

Dogs 3, Cats 5.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Voting With the Little Hood

Perhaps you've seen the clip that produced this humorous quote about McCain/Palin from Samantha Bee of The Daily Show:

"As a proud Vagina American myself, I can tell you I'll be voting for McCain in November... John McCain chose a woman who is almost completely unprepared for the job and who disagrees with me on every core value I believe in, but I will be voting McCain in November because he understands. Woman don't vote with the big head [pointing to her head]. They vote with the little hood [pointing downward]. Am I right ladies? You're with me!"

It's funny. What makes the bit funny is that it mocks the McCain campaign for insulting the intelligence of women by thinking we'd vote for a woman who is diametrically opposed to many of our core beliefs just because she's a woman. What many believe is that McCain chose the reactionary political newbie Sarah Palin as part of a political scheme to attract female voters to his ticket.

Yet, what's also become clear is that this insulting mindset that women vote with their vaginas is not restricted to conservatives and Republicans. I think the prospect of female voters deserting Obama for McCain/Palin really, really frightens Democrats and liberals- particularly the ones of the male variety who know that women are anxious to see a woman in the White House.

Around my male friends and co-workers, for instance, I find myself saying things like "I'm still voting for Obama, heh heh!" Because I hear that fear in their voices and see them look at me with hope and doubt, I need to remind them that even though I have complicated thoughts about Sarah Palin (I respect her accomplishments as a woman but disagree with her substantively) I'm not going to abandon ship. Some liberal/Democrat men really do believe that liberal/Democrat women will vote for a rightwing candidate just because the candidate is a woman.

Blogger skylanda of Echidne of the Snakes renders an apt critique of Tim Wise's widely-circulated piece on White Privilege and the election. Wise's piece raised many excellent points with respect to white privilege. But in the process, as skylanda critiques, Wise strips women of their intellectual agency and narrates a battle between white women and people of color when he says:

"White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a 'second look'."

At this point, if you don't already know, Tim Wise is a white man who claims to be one of the "most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the US." What I am wondering, and what you all may be wondering as well, is who are all these masses of white women who disagree with Sarah Palin on all the substantive issues yet who are voting for the McCain ticket anyway? Perhaps Tim Wise believes he has some special insight into the collective psyche of White Woman, but as a white woman myself who disagrees with Palin on the issues, I can say that I didn't think twice about switching to the McCain ticket. And neither have any of my white woman friends for that matter. Yeah, it's anecdotal, but so is Wise's "insight." Frankly, I trust my experience more than his when it comes to what progressive white women are thinking.

And my opinion is this: If McCain's ploy has convinced any white women to vote for his ticket, it is likely these are the women who were undecided or, prior to the selection of Palin, did not have strong feelings for either candidate. But I don't believe for one minute that hoards of liberal, progressive, and Democratic white women are abandoning Obama to vote with their little hoods.

The great irony of Wise's article, of course, is that a white self-proclaimed anti-racist guy is lecturing his nation on privilege while letting his elephant-in-the-room-like male privilege go unacknowledged. For, inherent in his White Women Are Flocking To McCain myth is the discounting of the desire that many of us women (of all races) have to see a female in the highest executive office of our nation. Skyklanda writes, "And way to totally dismiss the desire that some of us women have to actually see a woman in the White House before the end of our lives; it is this kind of bull that made the clash between Clinton and Obama so profound." If white women who opposed Palin's positions voted for the McCain ticket merely because it was the first opportunity for us to finally, finally see a woman in the White House it speaks to the failings of male privilege than anything else.

Too often, left-leaning men believe that being liberal or progressive is "good enough"- that being liberal somehow proves that they are righteous or that they are good guys who "get it." Yet, these are often the same men who "fail to see" male privilege. On various liberal and progressive blogs over the years, I have read comment after angry comment written by guys who deny that male privilege exists just because they don't see it. It's ironic, really, as one of the defining features of privilege is that it's usually invisible to those who have it.

I sincerely hope that a white man like Tim Wise with such insightful thoughts about white privilege will rethink some of his statements in light of his own male privilege. Here's a start. Male privilege involves being able to vote for a candidate (who is probably of your gender) and not being accused of voting for that candidate just because of his gender.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Undercover "Ex-Gay"

For anyone interested in reading one woman's undercover account as to what happens at "ex-gay" program Exodus International, I urge you to read this article by journalist Lucy Bannerman.

Personally, I find the account to be both humorous and, at times, sad. For instance, the journalist recounts how the "counseling" center tightly packed a group of women into a small room together for a workshop on "Journeying Through Lesbianism." How dangerous! I'm certain that if I were in that workshop I would be stealing flirty glances and having titillating thoughts about the other Women Struggling With Same-Sex Attraction mostly because it would be inappropriate to do so given the context. Why such workshops are sad is that, at their core, they tell us that it is not okay to love some people in a certain way. You know, because there's entirely too much love in the world and it's a very bad thing to sanction the "wrong" kind of it.

It's easy for those of us who are so comfortable with our sexuality to joke about these ex-gay camps. Yet, we should remember that living in a homophobic society does not allow all gay men and lesbians to be so at east with themselves. The message we often hear is that gay men and lesbians don't deserve the right to marry each other because they can already just marry someone of the opposite sex. Ex-gay boot camps try to make it possible for gay men and lesbians to happily marry those of the opposite sex. While it's clearly possible for gay men and lesbians to conform and enter into heterosexual marriages, actually changing one's sexual orientation is less real. Bannerman writes:

"It could be comical were it not for the teenager shaking in the corner, and the man sobbing as he prayed. Excusing herself from a session, Michelle goes to her room and cries. 'I don't think I want to willpower right through it,' she confides before going to sleep. 'Where's the change in that?'"

The participant, Michelle, gets it. Repressing your sexual orientation does not mean that your orientation has changed. Oftentimes, "ex-gays" become celibate, sex-less people rather than genuine heterosexuals who actually have sexually and emotionally fulfilling relationships with the opposite sex. Sadly, I don't think that matters to proponents of the "ex-gay" movement. In their eyes, that a person is not having a same-sex relationship trumps that person living a fulfilled life.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Unhelpful-Yet-ScArY HeAlTh NeWs: Pollution Edition

You know what gets me about the whole ban on indoor smoking in Illinois? That Cook County, specifically a neighborhood very close to where I live, has the most toxic air in the nation and not too many people seem to care about that.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm completely for the indoor-smoking ban. Smoking in bars and restaurants just isn't fair to other patrons and employees. But environmental pollution is inescapable. Many of us are not in positions where we can just pick up and move out of the city or stay indoors all day. For the most part, I stopped jogging outside over a year ago, when it felt like jogging in smog and car exhaust was doing more harm to my body than good. To be quite honest, I don't know where the pollution is coming from but I know it's there. It is something that many of us have become accustomed to. It is so much a part of our lives that we often do not even notice how immune we have become to the stench until we leave the city and smell the fresh air above the cornfields of rural Illinois.

Articles about pollution invariably make me think back on the illnesses of myself and my friends over the years- allergies, asthma, lung cancer in non-smokers- and wonder what, if any, of these conditions are at least in part due to environmental pollutants. It makes me feel helpless.

I feel especially helpless when I read bits of news from the above link saying things like, "most of the air pollution is legal under federal laws and regulations....[But] a growing body of research shows dirty air is more dangerous than had been thought. Heavy metals and chemicals these factories put into the air—such as chromium, lead, manganese and sulfuric acid—have been linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other ailments."

In other words, I live in one of the most polluted cities in the country. This heavy pollution may (or may not!) cause cancer, learning disabilities, and other bad scary health conditions. But the companies can continue to pollute because they are doing anything illegal.

Great. Thanks for the info.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Liberal Democrat" Identity Politics

You may have heard of marriage defender David Blankenhorn. A while ago, I reviewed his anti-gay marriage tome The Future of Marriage. Recently, he wrote an op-ed piece in the LA Times opposing marriage equality.

Now, I have respect for Blankenhorn because in his zeal to "defend" marriage he doesn't demonize gay men and lesbians in the process. In fact, unlike many on his side, he goes so far as saying things like "I reject homophobia and believe in the equal dignity of gay and lesbian love." Such a sentiment is commendable and appreciated.

Yet, I do question his often-use tactic of irrelevantly stating his alleged identity as a "liberal Democrat" in his anti-marriage equality pieces. For instance, he begins his LA Times op-ed by saying:

"I’m a liberal Democrat. And I do not favor same-sex marriage. Do those positions sound contradictory? To me, they fit together."

Now, Blankenhorn may very well be a liberal Democrat. But the way I see it is that this constant mentioning of his identity is nothing more than an attempt to appeal to the LGBT community's natural liberal Democrat allies. In a sense, he's attempting to make it morally okay and justifiable for other liberals to support a fundamentally un-liberal position.

Furthermore, this extra-special glimpse into Blankenhorn's identity is simply irrelevant to the legitimacy of his position on same-sex marriage. A person's arguments for or against same-sex marriage should be focused on the pros and cons of same-sex marriage, not on the arguer's political identity or label. After all, most of us are more than our political ideology. We may be Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians or Greens, but very few of us support the entire platforms of our respective parties 100%. That Blankenhorn happens to identify as a "liberal Democrat" who opposes marriage equality is unique inasmuch as it's also "unique" for a liberal Democrat to favor the death penalty or conservative Republican to be pro-choice. Blankenhorn's position goes against the "party line" but it certainly doesn't make him any more "right" about it than a conservative "Republican" who also opposes marriage equality.

In short, don't tell us who you are. Tell us why your position is correct.

All that being said, there is, substantively, much to take issue with in Blankenhorn's op-ed. Once you get beyond the "liberal Democrat" label he's given himself, he's basically recycled the same faulty arguments against marriage equality that he made in The Future of Marriage (that I've previously addressed in my review of his book).

What I've noticed is that Blankenhorn over-relies on his "liberal Democrat" cred and seems to overestimate both his competence and the authority of his opinion when it comes to the marriage debate. For instance, in his book he conveniently-but-not-convincingly dismisses historian Stephanie Coontz's extensively-researched book (Marriage, A History, which I also read) by simply saying that her tome was "superficial and unsatisfying" without, you know, actually explaining what was so "superficial and unsatisfying" about it. Perhaps those who already agree with Blankenhorn about all this would find such a denouncement satisfying, but the rest of us were left wishing he would support such bold statements with reasons, evidence, and facts.

His op-ed piece had a similar tone. While the central claim of many marriage defenders, Blankenhorn included, is that marriage exists for the purpose of a man and woman to raise their biological children together the central claim of many marriage equality advocates is that marriage is a private relationship between two people. Blankenhorn begins his denial of the marriage equality advocate's position by saying "...I spent a year studying the history and anthropology of marriage, and I’ve come to a different conclusion." Okay. Wow, he studied marriage for a whole year! That's neat-o and all but, again, some of us are left asking how that minimal amount of time studying marriage gives him more authority than actual historians and anthropologists.

As a general rule, the arguer should try not to get in the way of his or her arguments. Yet, Blankenhorn often clumsily inserts himself and his self-described identity and "expertise" into his arguments. When a writer does this, we should always be asking why he or she is doing so. As John B. Eisenberg wrote in an op-ed response that Blankenhorn "makes his op-ed foremost about his political profile, inviting scrutiny of who he claims to be." And, when politically-motivated people opportunistically play identity politics and make their arguments be about themselves, their identities become fair game for scrutiny (see, eg, Sarah Palin). Accordingly, all "liberal Democrat" readers of Blankenhorn's op-ed piece, I am sure, would be very interested to know why a self-proclaimed "liberal Democrat" and his alleged "non-partisan" think-tank would be funded by ultra-conservative Republican groups that have given him millions of dollars over the years. That sort of info makes one question what Blankenhorn's definitions of "liberal Democrat" and "non-partisan" are and why he is trying to present that image to the public..

Frankly, I don't care what David Blankenhorn's politics are. It shouldn't be an issue. When I become interested in someone's identity politics is when I see him opportunistically using the "liberal Democrat" card when the evidence suggests that the label is not an accurate reflection of reality. It makes me think that maybe that person is shouting his political identity from the rooftops hoping that no one will notice that his position and arguments are fundamentally conservative ones.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rightwing Roundup: Propaganda Pete, Bush, and Palin

1. A Convenient Omission

As he usually does, anti-gay head of the Illinois-based Americans For Truth [sic] About Homosexuality Peter LaBarbera recently ventured all the way to California to cover the fetish-themed Folsom Street Fair. As of October 1, 2008, in fact, 7 out of the 8 articles on AFT[sic]AH's front page were devoted to covering this fair which caters to a small segment of the LGBT community. (I'm not providing a link, but here's a screen shot):


Mr. LaBarbera frequently attends events like the Folsom Street Fair, events that are attended by a minority of mostly gay men, some lesbians, and others. His schtick is to then present these events as though their attendees are representative of all gay men and lesbians. His tattle-tale site conveys the message that gay people are depraved and that being gay is all about public displays of (gay male) nudity, "sexual anarchy," and "public sex." The implication is clear: Because gay people are so depraved, filthy and immoral, gay people should not have equal rights. To even tolerate them is an assault on "Christian" values.

Of course, the reality is that many gay men and lesbians live pretty mundane lives. Sure, maybe we'll go to the pride parade during the summer, but it's certainly not par for the course for us to just start randomly having "public orgies" in the middle of the street or to even see such things! And, even if some members of our community attend fetish fairs like Folsom that cater to sado-masochist sub-cultures, so what? Heterosexuals also attend fetish events and that certainly doesn't mean that they do not deserve equal rights. And it certainly doesn't mean that all heterosexuals have these fetishes. If LaBarbera has an issue with the activities that occur at the Folsom Street Fair he should protest that fair, not present it as some sort of "expose" that is reflective of all gay people. That's just dishonest.

Logical people know this. That's why I wonder what LaBarbera's motives are. He claims that his organization is about exposing the "truth" about the "homosexual activist agenda," but one presenting such a one-sided distortion of gay men and lesbians cannot by definition ever present the truth.

See, in his zeal to cover some events catering to the LGBT community, Peter LaBarbera selectively forgets to send correspondents to cover less socially-malignant events like the Matthew Shepard March Against Violence that took place in Chicago last weekend. I searched and searched his website for "incriminating" photos of the March but all I found were a few articles mentioning Matthew Shepard. And, all of these articles were not about the peaceful LGBT-led march against violence, but rather, they were about how Matthew Shepard was killed not because he was gay but because he was a druggie.

This historical revision is a common, but erroneous, argument that anti-gays use to try to deny that violence is ever inflicted on gay people on the basis of sexual orientation. The anti-gay so lacks compassion that he believes all that of this liberal hullabaloo about Matthew Shepard and "hate crimes" is just some sort of conspiracy to discredit the anti-gay movement.

It is not surprising, given the fact that LaBarbera selectively "exposes" the LGBT community and denies that sexual orientation-based hate crimes exist, that he fails to mention events like the Matthew Shepard March. After all, why cover LGBT events that remind his Christian readers that LGBT people really are sometimes victims of hate-based violence? Doing so would go a long way towards humanizing gay people. And we certainly can't have that, can we Peter?

2. Heckuva Job

President Bush is not a usual target of my bloggings. His place as one of the worst presidents in the history of our nation, I think, is already cemented. To the extent that McCain is desperately trying to distance himself from Bush, this given has made the president irrelevant to the 2008 election. Personally, I'm just hoping the man doesn't decide to touch anything else before he leaves office.

Yet, if only for the sake of history, it is worth noting that President George W. Bush has hit 70% disapproval. This is historic because, in the entire history of the poll since 1938, a president has never been so disapproved of.

It sort of makes you wonder who the people are who actually approve of the job he's done.

3. Bush III?

The thing about George W. Bush is that I think he was twice elected on the basis of his Average Guy appeal to voters, his extremist Christian beliefs, and his opportunistic use of the "family values" card. More than any other presidential or vice presidential candidate, these characteristics remind me of Sarah Palin. Many McCain/Palin supporters lurve their Sarah Palin because she's an "Average Jane" who just happens to be an elite politician, a Young Earth Creationist(!), and a devout family woman.

I know Palin's not running for president, but in my opinion she'd be a wee bit too close to the presidency if McCain is elected in November. And scawrily, I think that a Sarah Palin presidency would be as equally disastrous as the George W. Bush presidencies have been. Simply put, I have nothing against the woman personally, it's just that nothing she's said up to this point has convinced me that she would have the capacity to address the economy, manage two wars, and lead our country in a way that is thoughtful, informed, and nuanced. At least 5 well-known conservative writers and pundits have publicly voiced similar feelings, in fact.

That's why I wished people would realize that voting for a candidate to lead our nation just because s/he believes homosexuality is wrong, ridicules "elites," hunts moose, or would be fun to get beer with just doesn't make sense. These factors are simply irrelevant as to whether that person would make a good, intelligent leader.