Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Statutory Rape

Yes, I'm finally trying to get my thoughts together about this.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, there's this excellent essay. (BTW, before you read this: Serious trigger warning. Not even kidding.)

Entering our teenage years in the sex saturated ’90s, my friends and I knew tons about rape. We knew to always be aware while walking, to hold your keys out as a possible weapon against an attack. We knew that we shouldn’t walk alone at night, and if we absolutely had to, we were to avoid shortcuts, dark paths, or alleyways. We even learned ways to combat date rape, even though none of us were old enough to have friends that drove, or to be invited to parties with alcohol. We memorized the mantras, chanting them like a yogic sutra, crafting our words into a protective charm with which to ward off potential rapists: do not walk alone at night. Put a napkin over your drink at parties. Don’t get into cars with strange men. If someone tries to abduct you, scream loudly and try to attack them because a rapist tries to pick women who are easy targets.

Yes, we learned a lot about rape.

What we were not prepared for was everything else. Rape was something we could identify, an act with a strict definition and two distinct scenarios. Not rape was something else entirely.

Not rape was all those other little things that we experienced everyday and struggled to learn how to deal with those situations. In those days, my ears were filled with secrets that were not my own, the confessions of not rapes experienced by the girls I knew then and the women I know now.

When I was twelve, my best friend at the time had met a guy and lied to him about her age. She told him she was sixteen and she did have the body to back it up. Some “poor hapless” guy sleeping with her accidentally would make complete sense - except for the fact that guy was twenty-five. He eventually slept with her, taking her virginity, even after he figured out how old we were. After all, it’s kind of a dead giveaway if you’re picking your girlfriend up at a middle school.

Another friend of mine friend shocked me one day after a guy (man really) walked past us and she broke down into a sobbing heap where we stood. She confided in me that when she was eleven she had a child, but her mother had forced her to put the child up for adoption. The baby’s father was the guy who had nonchalantly passed her by on the street. We were thirteen at the time, a few weeks shy of entering high school.

Later, I found out that she was at school when she met her future abuser/baby daddy. He was aware she was about eleven - what other age group is enrolled in Middle School? At the time, this guy was about nineteen. He strung her along in this grand relationship fantasy, helping her to cut school as they drove around and had sex in the back of his car. When she got pregnant with his child, he dropped her. However, living in the same area means she would run into him about once a month, normally leading to an outburst of tears or screaming fits on her end and cool indifference (with the occasional “you were just a slut anyway”) from him. (...)

The years kept passing and the stories kept coming.

My ex-boyfriend had a friend who had been dating the same girl for about seven years. I found out the girl was eighteen at the time of their breakup. Eighteen minus seven equals what? The girl was eleven when they began dating while the man involved was nineteen. When the relationship ended, he was twenty-seven. I expressed disgust, and my ex had told me that while everyone else in their friend circle had felt the same way, the girl’s parents were fine with it, even allowing the guy to spend the night at their home. “Besides,” my ex offered nonchalantly, “she had the body of a grown woman at age eleven.”

Not rape came in other many other forms as well. No one escaped - all my friends had some kind of experience with it during their teen years.
It's hard for me to read these stories and not feel like these girls were transgressed upon, but...

On the other hand, there's a question of agency. Just as it is not fair to say that adult women are not qualified to make certain decisions (it used to be voting, nowadays for many people it's reproductive control), I hesitate to look at a very young girl with an older partner and say, "She couldn't possibly have really agreed to have sex with him. I mean, she's too young. No young girl thinks about sex or wants to have it, let alone with older guys. They're young and innocent!" Isn't that perpetuating a sexist myth that women are these idealized vessels of purity who become less pure with age and sexual maturity? That men are wicked corrupters,twisting innocent virgins and ruining them by having sex with them!

There's also the fact that people who have sex with younger partners (obviously not always women, but let's say women because it's the iconic example) might end up in sex-offender registries, introducing themselves to their neighbors for the rest of their lives as a sexual deviant because when they were seventeen their girlfriend was sixteen or fifteen or whatever.

Can we say with all the certainty and weight of law that a person below the age of eighteen is not qualified to govern his or her behavior? If we can say that a young girl is not mature enough to consent, is it so different to say that she is not mature enough to refuse?

I don't know how I feel about it. Opinions? Having sex with a much younger partner: rape, Not Rape, or seriously totally fine?


Some Baptists showed up at my door to talk to me about Christianity. That's always fun in a morbid sort of way. Bunch of them. Two little kids were wrestling in the middle of my lawn the whole time, which was hilarious. Two guys my age were talking to me, with a girl and an older guy standing by silent. They were allegedly doing a survey about people's feelings on their community. Then they randomly asked me my faith.

They asked my religious affiliation and I ended up explaining both Wicca and Hinduism (and, as far as I'm concerned, Christianity).

They pulled that "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" thing on me. See, Jesus said he was God. So he was either a liar or a madman (which in either case means nothing he said was worthwhile), or he was what he said he was. It's a common reply to people like me saying he was a good teacher and fine example of a human. Try to get me to say, "I think his teachings are worthwhile, so therefore he couldn't be a liar or a lunatic, and the only option left is God. Egad! I just became a Christian!" Instead I told them I think we can learn a lot from crazy people.

As much as I enjoy the verbal sparring with these people... I can't help but feel a little bit transgressed upon. I feel like I need to talk to them to stand up for all the folk they'll be evangelizing to who won't be able to make the good counterarguments and earn some respect. Even though I'm glad to do that... I often wish there weren't a need.

I can understand the compassion angle. If you think your patron deity is really seriously going to destroy the souls of people who don't worship him a certain way, then you really are a jerk if you don't try and save people from him, because as far as you're concerned you're doing less than your best for the people around you.

Unfortunately, I'm coming at it from the respect angle. There is no way to respectfully approach beliefs that you are trying to replace with your own. This is why evangelists look for easy targets, people whose beliefs they are not obligated by social pressure to respect. People try to convert foreigners and poor people, not Rabbis with doctorates in theology.

I don't think the question of what happens after we die matters nearly as much as the things we can all agree on, things that need to be done here, where living people are. I would rather help feed the poor with a Christian than argue over whether their deity is going to condemn me.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I reserve the right to disagree with a deity, and if yours does not want me to love my fellow mortals best... I think your deity is wrong, and you won't make a convert out of me. Try and love your neighbor (the poor, the foreign, the infidel) as yourself for a minute, instead of spending all your time figuring out how to change your neighbor into you. Maybe then you'll find some common ground, finally.

Putting Israel’s “Perspective” in Perspective

Putting Israel’s “Perspective” in Perspective

As we hear that the IDF is bombing universities and killing United Nations personnel in addition to the hundreds of Gazans already dead in the three days of the Israeli attack on Gaza, we will hear the inevitable cry "but Hamas has been lobbing rockets at Israelis for years from Gaza!" Juan Cole tells us about these rockets, and provides some perspective:
Israel blames Hamas for primitive homemade rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli city of Sederot. In 2001-2008, these rockets killed about 15 Israelis and injured 433, and they have damaged property. In the same period, Gazan mortar attacks on Israel have killed 8 Israelis.

Since the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israelis have killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly a thousand of them minors. Since fall of 2007, Israel has kept the 1.5 million Gazans under a blockade, interdicting food, fuel and medical supplies to one degree or another. Wreaking collective punishment on civilian populations such as hospital patients denied needed electricity is a crime of war.

The Israelis on Saturday killed 5% of all the Palestinians they have killed since the beginning of 2001! 230 people were slaughtered in a day, over 70 of them innocent civilians. In contrast, from the ceasefire Hamas announced in June, 2008 until Saturday, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas. The infliction of this sort of death toll is known in the law of war as a disproportionate response, and it is a war crime.
But of course you won't see this on your evening news, not unless you live outside of the US. You're more likely to know about this if you live in Tel Aviv than if you live in Milwaukee.

Johann Hari backs up Cole's numbers on the rocket casualties, and offers a response to the Israelis' stand that they pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and the Gazans responded with rocket attacks:
The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 - in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior advisor Dov Weisglass was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders - so they voted for Hamas. ... It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 percent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 percent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test their sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. They announced they were blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. They surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine - but not enough for survival.
Dov Weisglass' comment was that the Gazans were being "put on a diet." Turns out it's a starvation diet: Oxfam says only 137 trucks of food were allowed into the Gaza Strip this November -- an average of 4.5 per day, compared to the December 2005 average of 564 per day. Gaza has nearly 1.5 million people crammed into 139 square miles -- 137 food trucks wouldn't begin to cover their needs, especially since the inhabitants aren't allowed to go outside of Gaza to seek work. The UN says poverty there has reached an "unprecedented level." Not exactly the conditions that engender feelings of brotherly love.
There might be people on reading who have a better grasp of this whole mess than I've got, but this seemed like a fairly good rundown. Is it? If I could get an opinion from someone with more knowledge in this area, that'd be awesome.

On the other hand, if all you have to say is that Palestinians are cockroaches and we need to support Israel (our allies, right or wrong!), then please don't comment. I'm looking for something that's been seriously considered, because this isn't an area I'm familiar with and I'm trying to get a more nuanced picture of it than Jews Good, Arabs Bad!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Coming Out

You know, it's always been a bit hard for me as a heterosexual woman to understand just how terrible it would be to be "in the closet." I mean, I can sorta get that having to lie to be accepted--knowing that who you are will never be enough for some people you love to love you--would suck. I'd hate it, too. But something occurred to me earlier this evening that helped me wrap my head around it a bit.

There are people I've met in college who were really introverted when I met them. They didn't really distinguish themselves at first, and even if they were interesting people... it was hard to tell. They were just sort of there. Blending in. Being normal. So normal they escaped notice.

Some of these people changed over the course of college. One girl, as I described it to her, used to be quiet and unobtrusive but at some point cut her hair short and lost her damn mind. And she's wonderful. Another friend of mine also chopped off his hair, started dressing like the fine creature he is, and is also smiling and laughing with his friends whenever I see him. They're amazing, brilliant, and loved.

They're wonderful, but I didn't notice it when I first met them. It took me a while to see all this great stuff in there. Either long hair is somehow stifling to a person's potential or the difference was the transition between "in the closet" and "out." Now I can tell what they were keeping in, what they were hiding. Now I can tell what a terrible shame it is that they were afraid of what would happen if people knew them. They were afraid that if they dared to openly be these beautiful, creative, and smiling people I know... that people wouldn't like them anymore. That they would be judged, hated, mistreated.

And now I think I get it. How many opportunities for joy did they miss, hiding? And how much did the rest of us miss, not really knowing them? What a horrible thing.

I hadn't even really known what I'd been missing, but now that I do I'm glad they're out. My world is better for it, now that it really and truly has them in it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seriously? I mean, really?


Hell no. Not cool. You do not agree to these things.

President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony will feature big names like minister Rick Warren and legendary singer Aretha Franklin, the Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced Wednesday.

Warren, the prominent evangelical and founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, will deliver the ceremony's invocation. The minister hosted a presidential forum at his church last summer that challenged both Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain on a host of faith-related issues. Warren did not endorse either presidential candidate.
In case anyone on my friends list doesn't get yet why this guy is a total asshat embarrassment to America, here's the statement from People for the American Way (who, I gotta say, are pretty spot on with this comment).
It is a grave disappointment to learn that pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.

I'm sure that Warren's supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.

Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn't need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good.
Prosperity Gospel-spewing misogynist theocratic sonovabitch. I can't actually figure out what part of this little combination bothers me most... it might actually be the Prosperity Gospel bit. rake_blackguard has an eloquent (and appropriately foul-mouthed) take on this.
It looks like Obama is getting in bed with a nutso fucking religious zealot. For real this time! He's getting that bigoted, greedy Dr. Phil wannabe Rick Warren to do his inaugural invocation. Bonus points for his book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," because in biblical baby-talk and large, page-eating text basically condones and encourages an economic underclass. That, by accepting your ditch-digging vocation, you're "letting go and letting god" or somesuch tripe.

THIS is the man Obama selected to speak at his inauguration. A man for whom two people making a legally-recognized commitment is comparable to incest and rape, discussions on social welfare tantamount to Marxism, and who thinks some gold-encrusted megachurch glorifies the pauper son of a carpenter.

This man is emblematic of everything wrong with American christianity. And Obama's cuddling up to him.
Yep. About says it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meme compliance!

Several days back on another journal I asked people to tell me what to blog about. One suggestion was that I blog about local or state politics as a counterpoint to my frantic blogging about national politics for the past, oh... six months.

Interestingly enough, this was a question I was asked during a job interview. I mentioned Hoosiers for Beverage Choices. So I'll talk about them here, too!

If you read the link I just gave, you'll note that Indiana does not allow certain kinds of retailers to sell alcohol on Sundays under certain circumstances. There are problems with this for many reasons. One, it's inconvenient for people who do their shopping on Sundays (like, say, people who work during the week) to be unable to buy alcohol to drink or cook with while they're there. Extra travel means extra gas money, and the likelihood of paying higher prices for cold booze at a liquor store when you'd have been just as happy to buy it warm at the grocery or pharmacy and stick it in your fridge later.

There's also the obvious influence of Christian Temperance-style sensibilities. Don't sell booze in grocery stores on the Lord's day! Never mind that it doesn't actually stop people from drinking on those days since they can still get it in restaurants and bars, or y'know. Buy it on another day so you can drink it on Sunday. But why the hell should I have to adjust my shopping habits to fit the religious sensibilities of a group that--by and large--doesn't really concern itself with "demon rum" anymore?

However, there is another side to this. The guys interviewing me mentioned that there were actually discussions going on in the legislature currently about this issue, and one thing to consider is that hearing from "big box" stores like SuperMegaUltraKroger or TurboExtremeHyperMeijer that they're being discriminated against so that owners of restaurants (which, unless they are franchises themselves, have only a slim chance of staying in business) have an advantage one day of the week is not exactly compelling. However, some liquor store owners don't want those laws repealed either. According to The Evansville Courier Press, "a common contention is that any boost from Sunday sales will be exceeded by the costs associated with staying open an extra day."

So it's not actually as simple an issue as it seems. It's not just Prohibition-throwbacks trying to keep people from drinking on the Lord's day, though it certainly seems to have started that way. There actually are decent arguments on both sides (even if, for the sake of my own ability to buy booze more cheaply and conveniently, I still fall in on the side of HBC).

All in all we had an interesting talk about it at my interview, and I think they were impressed that I actually care about things in the state legislature's sphere of influence. Maybe you'll be impressed, too! Who knows!

Things that have been on my mind lately...

Another run-down of random stuff.

Equal Rights for LGBT Citizens

Hoosiers discuss Prop. 8 and their experiences with gay marriage

Tiffany Dow, board member, Indiana Black Pride: “(Indiana is) not at the forefront, by any means. I believe there will be (legal same-sex marriage) at some point, but I think the only way it’s going to happen in the state is if it’s a federal thing.

“It’s kind of scary to me that with Prop. 8 passing, a right that was already given to people was taken away, at the hands of the voters. Any time you have minorities’ rights dictated by the majority, that’s certainly a civil rights issue.”(...)

There’s no amendment in the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage. A proposal to amend the constitution has been pushed in years past, as opponents of gay marriage fear Indiana’s judges could strike down the law. Such a ban failed to pass out of the General Assembly in 2007 and again this year, which means the lengthy process to amend the state constitution would have to start from scratch in 2009. That’s unlikely to happen.

Democratic House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer has not shown a willingness to allow a floor vote. A constitutional amendment requires passage by two separately elected legislatures, followed by the approval of voters in a general election.

Today in Traditional Marriage
A husband and wife have been charged with torture and other counts after a bruised, terrified 17-year-old showed up at a gym with a chain locked to his ankle, claiming he had just fled his captors, authorities said Tuesday.

Kelly Lau Schumacher, 30, and Michael Schumacher, 34, were arrested late Monday, said Matt Robinson, a spokesman for police in Tracy. (...)

Kelly and Michael Schumacher are legally married—and they can stay legally married, even if they're found to be guilty of this horrendous crime. They can stay legally married even if the decomposing remains of twenty other teenagers are found buried in their backyard. Their marriage license cannot be revoked. If Michael dies in prison, Kelly can remarry—even if she's serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. If Kelly decides to divorce Michael, he can remarry—even if he's sitting on death row. He can remarry and divorce and remarry and divorce and remarry and divorce until he runs out of prison pen pals. Because the courts have declared that marriage is so fundamental a right that it cannot be denied to convicted rapists or to serial killers.

But it's a right that's denied to me and my boyfriend. Because we're both men and that ain't right.

Why churches fear gay marriage
American families are under a great deal of stress. The divorce rate isn't declining, it's increasing. And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people -- it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

In such a world, we need to identify the relationship between feminism and homosexuality. These movements began, in some sense, to achieve visibility alongside one another. I know a lot of black churches take offense when gay activists say that the gay movement is somehow analogous to the black civil rights movement. And while there is some relationship between the persecution of gays and the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, I think the true analogy is to the women's movement. What we represent as gays in America is an alternative to the traditional male-structured society.

Judge Removes Child From Lesbian Parents
Fayette Circuit Judge Paul Blake originally agreed to allow Kathyrn Kutil and Cheryl Hess to be foster parents for the infant girl, following a positive assessment by the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Court records show that the little girl was born to a drug addicted mother and the baby had had cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines in her system. Shortly after birth the baby went through drug withdrawal. The father was unknown.

The Department placed the child with Kutil and Hess, who had been approved as foster parents, when it could not find any blood relatives of the mother.

But nearly a year later when the couple applied to adopt the little girl both the Department and Judge Blake balked. In his ruling Blake ordered the child removed saying the baby should be permanently placed in a home where the parents would be a married opposite-sex couple.

The ruling said that he had agreed to allow the women to foster the child because it was the best option at the time. But he never intended it to be permanent.

New York City LGBT Healthcare Found Lacking
A study by New York’s Public Advocate into the ways the LGBT community receives healthcare has found major barriers and recommends urgent action.

The report, Improving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Access to Healthcare at New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Facilities, was released by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

It specifically details the barriers LGBT New Yorkers confront in obtaining health care from New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).

The report found that both were in sensitive to LGBT medical needs, that there often was homophobia and hostility from providers, and as a result many LGBT people in the city are not accessing basic healthcare services.


Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue
In quotations from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”

Challenging the Order?
Salon.com interviews gay Catholic author Richard Rodriguez about gay marriage, the "Desert religions", and the power of women in religious life. What is striking about the piece, from my perspective, is how close he gets to endorsing a shift away from monotheism (or at least male-oriented monotheism) while discussing religion.

"The desert religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- are male religions. Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god. If the male is allowed to hold onto the power of God, then I think we are in terrible shape. I think what's coming out of Colorado Springs right now, with people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, is either the last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion. That's what's at stake. And women have a determining role to play. Are they going to go along with this, or are they going to challenge the order?"

While Rodriquez talks about how the traditional monotheisms feel "threatened by the rise of feminism", he seems unable to look outside the "desert religions" and see that millions of women are indeed challenging the order by leaving it entirely for a variety of faiths that are more egalitarian in outlook.

Why the Debate Over Creationism Matters
Recently I have been involved in a couple conversations with folks who aren’t really “informed” (I use the term loosely) creationists but have been hounded enough by creationists/biblical literalists who have drawn the battle line twixt themselves and evolutionists/biblical contextualists that they sit down firmly just on the creationists’ side of the fence — just in case evolutionists really are godless heretics. They’re not interested in getting into discussions about the origins question; while not wholly dismissive of those who accept the scientific consensus (biblical contextualists), they’re entirely content to live and let live. They can’t be bothered to investigate the issue on either the scientific or the biblical side, but, when pressed to mark where they stand, figure that they can’t go wrong if they just stick with the (perceived) default: interpreting Genesis as historical.

There are things I believe are true and right that I don’t become an activist for because of their essentially trivial nature; but there are a few reasons that I think this particular issue is no trivial, purely academic dispute.

Projecting Hostility
Conservative Evangelicals often project a hostility onto others that simply isn't there, and may in fact reflect an assumption that others are as hostile to them as they are, deep down, to others. My initial point was the irony of a more exclusive group calling a more inclusive group "less friendly". I can appreciate a good bit of irony, but things seem to have gotten seriously out of hand at this stage.

Thinking back to my more conservative days, I wonder whether a key reason for maintaining that one is facing hostility even when one isn't has to do with the Bible. The New Testament reflects contexts in which real persecution (arrest, imprisonment, even execution) were part of the church's experience. Might one reason conservative Christians treat the world as hostile in this way, even when they live in a country that safeguards their religious freedom, be that if the world they inhabit doesn't allow for direct application of the New Testament, then they simply don't know how to make sense of their lives? Could it be the desire for a simple hermeneutic (or conversely, fear of a more complex process of interpretation) that is at the heart of this phenomenon?


Technology is driving down the cost of teaching undergraduates. So why are tuition bills going up?
On August 6, 2008, the Washington Post reported that tuition and fees at public colleges in Virginia will increase by an average of 7.3 percent this year. The article was four sentences long and ran in the Metro section, below the fold, in space reserved for unremarkable news. The drumbeat of higher education price increases has become so steady in recent years that it barely merits attention. But the cumulative effect is enormous: the average price of attending a public university more than doubled over the last two decades, even after adjusting for inflation. The steepest increases came in the last five years.

And there’s nothing routine about the way college costs are weighing down lower- and middle-income families. Students are still going to college—in this day and age, what choice do they have? But some are getting priced out of the four-year sector into two-year colleges, while others are trying unsuccessfully to simultaneously hold down a full-time job and earn a degree. More students are going deeply into debt, narrowing their career options and risking catastrophic default. The lightly regulated private student loan market, which barely existed ten years ago, now controls about 20 percent of loan volume, burdening financially vulnerable undergraduates with high interest rates and few legal protections. State and federal governments have poured tens of billions of new taxpayer dollars into student aid programs, only to see them swallowed up by institutions with a seemingly unlimited appetite for funds.

For years colleges have insisted that rapidly rising prices are unavoidable because higher education is a labor-intensive business that cannot become more efficient. A forty-minute lecture takes just as long to deliver today as it did a hundred years ago, they say; a ten-page paper takes just as long to grade. Because efficiencies in other industries are driving up the overall cost of skilled labor, colleges have to offer salaries to match, which pushes productivity down. (Economists call this "Baumol’s cost disease," after the New York University economist who first made the diagnosis.) Regrettable for students, of course, but what can be done?

In fact, this premise is false. Colleges are perfectly capable of becoming more efficient and productive, in the same way that countless other industries have: through technology. And increasingly, they are. One of the untold stories in higher education is that the cost of teaching is starting to decline, but virtually none of those savings are being passed along to students and parents in the form of lower prices. Instead, colleges are pocketing the difference, even as they continue to jack up tuition bills. (...)

Since it’s effectively impossible to judge institutions by their outputs—that is, by how much students learn—the pecking order in higher education tends to be based on measures of inputs, like the SAT scores of incoming freshmen or the cost of a year’s tuition. As a result, price has become a symbol of quality instead of a component of quality. Colleges have many incentives to raise prices and none to lower them—indeed, lower prices send a negative signal to the market. Instead of increasing the number of customers, lower prices often drive them away. The U.S. News rankings reinforce this. Ten percent of a college’s score in those rankings is based on spending per student, while another 20 percent is based on factors like faculty salaries and small class sizes, which cost money to buy. Colleges that used the savings from technology to cut prices—and thus expenditures—would see their ranking go down. Their status diminished, schools would see their applications for admission and alumni donations fall as well.


Obama and the Brass
The conventional wisdom seems to be that tension is unavoidable. Military leaders are, the theory goes, bound to be skeptical about a young president who didn't serve in the military, and who has articulated a withdrawal policy many in the Pentagon are skeptical of.

But there are at least two key angles to consider here. First, during the ongoing transition, Obama seems to be reassuring military leaders about his plans, and signaling to the brass, through his personnel decisions, that "he will do nothing rash and will seek their advice, even while making clear that he may not always take it."

Second, and just as importantly, Obama has an opportunity, which he plans to fully take advantage of, to make some changes that military leaders and Pentagon officials have wanted for years, but which Bush failed to even consider. Indeed, for all of the perceived conservatism of the military, Obama's vision and agenda for the Pentagon is far more in line with officers' beliefs than the current president's.

Soldiers Who Have Taken a Life More Likely to Defend Iraq War (Thanks to copperstewart)
Wayne Klug, a psychologist at Berkshire Community College, asked 68 Iraq War veterans about their experiences, their thoughts on the war and their opinions about Iraqis and Americans. Compared with soldiers who never saw combat and those who witnessed a death but were not involved, veterans who “were directly involved in an Iraqi fatality” were much more likely to consider the war to be beneficial to both countries.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Various Good Things!

Yes, yes. Another quick run-down. I knew I had to do one, because I leave each of these pages open in a tab until I can get to it. Means that I don't always get to them until my browser begins groaning in pain because of all the open tabs. For the sake of my Firefox, here are some of the pages I had open.

Civil Rights

Meet the Hip Young People Who Hate Gay Marriage

This. Is. Hilarious. And also sad. The ads for Proposition 8, the voter initiative in California that'll undo the state's gay marriages, are out of control.

Miami judge rules against Florida gay adoption ban
The state presented experts who claimed there was a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among gay couples, that they were more unstable than heterosexual unions and that the children of gay couples suffer a societal stigma.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association all support permitting same-sex couples to adopt.

Lederman rejected all the state's arguments soundly.

"It is clear that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person's ability to parent," the judge wrote. "A child in need of love, safety and stability does not first consider the sexual orientation of his parent. The exclusion causes some children to be deprived of a permanent placement with a family that is best suited to their needs."


Why American Christians look so stupid and what you can do about it
On our trip out to Wyoming I listened to the program on Crosstalk Radio where they allowed callers to tell who they were going to vote for and why. Almost every single one said, “I’m voting for McCain because I’m a Christian.” Well guess what, folks, I voted for Obama because I’m a Republican and a Christian.(...)

We don’t just look like a bunch of kooks. We are a bunch of kooks. I’d be willing to put up with Christians speaking out on the election if they displayed the slightest semblance of a biblical worldview and a marginal ability to exegete a Biblical text. But they don’t. The eschatology of someone who can find “an olive-skinned Muslim” in the Book of Revelation is that of a deluded moron.

Not only that, our Biblical rhetoric thinly veils a Republican partisanship that is downright idolatry. Bible-Thumpers across the spectrum reveled in the lurid missteps of Clinton. But when Bush showed the militancy of a Caligula we were the first to bow before his throne and overlook war crimes, trampling of civil rights and the most disgusting waste of America’s bounty on bombs rather than bread. We’re not a city on a hill. We’re temple prostitutes at the altars of materialism and neo-imperialism.

There’s no escape from your husband
I believe that long-term emotional and verbal abuse is a sin of unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant. If headship means anything, it means that the husband should take the lead in creating a safe and nurturing environment for his wife and children where everyone can develop the gifts they have been given by God. Unfortunately, a lot of the headship and loving submission dogma I’m hearing is nothing but misogyny with a makeover. I recently listened to a woman who had been very active in directing a crisis pregnancy center who resigned because she wanted to “restore Godly submission in her home” and “find her fulfillment in building up her husband.” That is a bunch of baloney. Her husband is a couch potato. Hasn’t anyone ever told her about Priscilla and Aquila? Or Andronicus and Junias? Or Martha and Mary? Or Mother Teresa? Or Ladybird Johnson? Or Marie Curie? Or Aimee Semple McPherson? Or Corrie Ten Boom? Children of God are called to impact this world regardless of their reproductive organs. And husband and wife teams have a huge potential to fulfill God’s kingdom and that doesn’t merely mean she keeps his shirts ironed so that he can fulfill his ministry.

My main point is that if a woman in your church is seeking separation from her husband, give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s highly likely that she is being intimidated by her husband, she’s ashamed of “failing” as a wife, and she’s feeling condemnation from everyone in her church.

Misc. Politics

Obama to Create Commission on Torture?
Obama aides are wary of taking any steps that would smack of political retribution. That's one reason they are reluctant to see high-profile investigations by the Democratic-controlled Congress or to greenlight a broad Justice inquiry (absent specific new evidence of wrongdoing). "If there was any effort to have war-crimes prosecutions of the Bush administration, you'd instantly destroy whatever hopes you have of bipartisanship," said Robert Litt, a former Justice criminal division chief during the Clinton administration. A new commission, on the other hand, could emulate the bipartisan tone set by Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton in investigating the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 panel was created by Congress. An alternative model, floated by human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, would be a presidential commission similar to the one appointed by Gerald Ford in 1975 and headed by Nelson Rockefeller that investigated cold-war abuses by the CIA.

Supporting Our Troops
Marine Cpl. James Dixon was wounded twice in Iraq -- by a roadside bomb and a land mine. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion, a dislocated hip and hearing loss. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Army Sgt. Lori Meshell shattered a hip and crushed her back and knees while diving for cover during a mortar attack in Iraq. She has undergone a hip replacement and knee reconstruction and needs at least three more surgeries.

In each case, the Pentagon ruled that their disabilities were not combat-related.

In a little-noticed regulation change in March, the military's definition of combat-related disabilities was narrowed, costing some injured veterans thousands of dollars in lost benefits -- and triggering outrage from veterans' advocacy groups.

The Pentagon said the change was consistent with Congress' intent when it passed a "wounded warrior" law in January. (...)

Years ago, Congress adopted a detailed definition of combat-related disabilities. It included such criteria as hazardous service, conditions simulating war and disability caused by an "instrumentality of war." Those criteria were not altered in the January legislation.

The Pentagon, in establishing an internal policy based on the legislation, in March unlawfully stripped those criteria from the legislation, the Disabled American Veterans said.

"We do not view this as an oversight," Baker testified before Congress in June. "We view this as an intentional effort to conserve monetary resources at the expense of disabled veterans."

Did Talk Radio Kill Conservatism?
It is not that conservatism generally permits less nuance than liberalism (in terms of political messaging, that is probably one of conservatism's strengths). Rather, the key lies in the second passage that I highlighted. There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

John Ziegler is a shining example of such a conservative. During my interview with him, Ziegler made absolutely no effort to persuade me about the veracity of any of his viewpoints. He simply asserted them -- and then became frustrated, paranoid, or vulgar when I rebutted them. (...)

Moreover, almost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. (If they weren't doing something else, they'd be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what Wallace refers to as the importance of "stimulating" the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them. (...)

Conservatives listen to significantly more talk radio than other market segments; 28 percent of conservative Republicans listen to talk radio regularly, as opposed to 17 percent of the public as a whole. (Unsurprisingly, conservative hosts also dominate the the Arbitron ratings). It may have gone to their heads a little bit; they may have forgotten about radio's idiosyncrasies as a means of communication. The failures of the Bush administration have woken the country up; conservatives now need to find a way to communicate with people who are actually paying attention.

Blog Coverage Matters!
And [Obama] does indeed respond to pressure from bloggers:

A number of bloggers -- most notably Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and Andrew Sullivan -- have raised serious concerns about intelligence official John Brennan, who's been rumored to be a possible candidate for either the CIA director or the Director of National Intelligence in the Obama administration.
Brennan's critics accused him of supporting some of the Bush administration's most offensive intelligence-gathering policies, including rendition and "enhanced interrogation techniques." Obama, they said, even if he intended to move far away from those policies, should not make room for Brennan in his administration.
The criticism seems to have had the desired effect. Brennan has withdrawn from consideration for any intelligence post in the Obama administration.


As for the broader context, Brennan's withdrawal appears to be the direct result of blog coverage. For those who believe bloggers' concerns are inconsequential, this is clear evidence to the contrary.
Most excellent. Brennan wasn't the most outrageous choice Obama could have made, but he was, nevertheless, an apologist for the Bush regime and has no place in the next administration. I'm glad our objections made a difference.

Why Center-Left Blogs Dominate
For more than two years, I was the editor for Salon' "Blog Report," featuring posts from the left and right. It led me to read dozens of conservative blogs every day, and I quickly realized that when it came to depth and seriousness of thought, the two sides weren't close. (James Joyner, who is both thoughtful and knowledgeable, is a noticeable exception.)

Indeed, to help drive the point home, earlier this year, Erick Erickson, RedState's editor, acknowledged that the "netroots" have an advantage over the "rightroots," but attributed it to an asymmetry in free time, since conservatives "have families because we don't abort our kids, and we have jobs because we believe in capitalism."

This is largely the kind of thinking that dominates on conservative blogs. They can't quite get to policy disputes or serious analysis, because they're too busy mulling over the implications of liberals joining forces with Islamofascists, the United Nations, and Mexican immigrants to execute some kind of nefarious plot.

Worse, Kevin noted that when these blogs do consider key policies, such as global warming and growing income inequality, they tend to believe the problems don't exist.

"Global warming and skyrocketing income inequality are problems that didn't even exist in 1980, which means there is no 'Reaganite' solution to appeal to," Kevin concluded. "There might still be conservative takes on these things, but they won't do any good until conservatives actually accept that these are real problems that people genuinely care about. That day still seems pretty far off."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More things I've been reading!

I keep finding these really cool pages, and I don't have time to turn these all into coherent entries about relevant stuff with insights from me (which I know you crave like the delicious crackity crack they are). However! I still wanted to share them. I kinda sorta tried to categorize them, though this doesn't always work perfectly.

Anyway! Have some stuff.


Quick Note: The Voters Who Like Wiccans

As more pollsters dissect Obama's win, we continue to get a trickle of interesting data points regarding modern Pagans. Conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group has released their look at how "people of faith" voted in the 2008 election.

Faith and Works
Suppose you believed in a just and loving God, a God who had said the things I quoted above. And suppose you had taken it upon yourself to tell parents to throw their kids out onto the street, children to stop speaking to their "apostate" parents, and the various other things detailed in the Post story. The thought that you might be wrong might not worry you much if you didn't take God seriously -- if you just took Him to be a name you could toss around at will. But if you imagined that He was real -- a real other person who might or might not approve of the things you had done in His name -- then how could you not lie awake at night, wondering whether you had somehow mistaken His will? (...)

Again: taking God's name to justify all this wouldn't worry you if you didn't believe in God. But if you did, it would be terrifying. This is one of those cases in which I think that the actions of a religious person, though justified entirely in the language of faith, can best be understood on the assumption that the person in question does not really believe in God at all, in any serious sense.

What About Our Faiths?
"In Paganism, there is no sense of a norm in terms of a handfasted relationship. While the Church, and others keen to hold to a status quo, have been fearing for the future of marriage and the family with gay weddings and extended legal rights for couples cohabiting, the Pagan perspective is quite different. Tribe and family are of paramount importance, yet far more worrying than the increase in 'different' household arrangements is the ongoing decline in people's ability to craft intimate relationships at all." - Emma Restall Orr, "Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics"

As a recently re-galvanized LGBT community and their allies take to the streets protesting the passage of California's discriminatory Proposition 8 (which bans same-sex marriage), editor Japhy Grant at the prominent gay blog Queerty asks an important question.

"I personally understand that for many Prop. 8 supporters, their beliefs are the most important thing in the world to them, that the idea of living without those beliefs would be too much to bear. Well, that's how we feel about our equal rights. We are not asking you to abandon your faith, just stop making the rest of the country bow before your altar. What of the faiths which bless same-sex unions? Are you not denying them their freedom? Freedom from religion means freedom for all religions (even the absence of it), not just freedom for your religion. Keep your beliefs, but leave our rights alone."

This very point is one I, and other prominent Pagans, have brought up at length. Proclaimed caretakers of "traditional" marriage are quick to raise the flag of "religious freedom", while completely ignoring the fact that numerous faiths are denied the right to legal recognition of their own holy unions.


What Marriage Is
No on 8 never showed us the thousands of families that were directly threatened by this amendment, and they started to to disappear from the minds of Californians. Whenever Yes on 8 said, "Family!" No on 8 said, "Rights!" And as we already know, the heart only sings in response to one of those songs, even when the words are all wrong.

When the people of California went into the voting booth, they compared the two sides. And these Californians knew, in their heart, that what marriage is isn't a right, it's a family. And so they voted for the side they thought cared about protecting families, because for many of them, the rights about mariage didn't make sense in their heart. And it's easy to deny a person something you don't understand, aren't sure exists, barely realize you have. By the time they left the booth, they thought they'd protected families, perhaps at the cost of, at most, some legal technicalities.

What they did is destroy families.

If I could go back in time and run the No on 8 campaign, I would put those families front and center. I would run the ad where parents say, "I want to teach my duaghter that she doesn't have to worry about the state taking her away if something happens"; "I want to teach my son that if something happens to his mother, I can take care of both her and him." I would let these families stand in front of the state and say, "We are in danger. Think about your family, and protect our family."

Because I wish that Californians had understood what I knew in my heart. That when they voted yes on Prop 8, they weren't voting about laws or rights or judicial activism or theology or lawyers or mayors or even tradition. They were taking daughters and sons and husbands and wives and sisters and brothers and uncles and nieces and aunts and nephews and grandparents and stepchildren and saying, "You. You over there. Not the other ones, just you. YOU ARE NOT A FAMILY. YOU NEVER WERE. YOU NEVER WILL BE."

Because that's what they did.

And so many of them still don't even understand that.

Why civil rights should not be put to a majority vote.
"The religious institutions that file this petition ... count on article XVIII to ensure that the California Constitution's guarantee of equal protection for religious minorities cannot be taken away without a deliberative process of the utmost care possible in a representative democracy. If Proposition 8 is upheld, however, the assurance will disappear-- for, just as surely as gay men and lesbians could be deprived of equal protection by a simple majority vote, so too could religious minorities be deprived of equal protection-- a terrible irony in a nation founded by people who emigrated to escape religious persecution."

Phear of buttsechs and strong wimmen
I've noted before that it was straights who redefined marriage (during the sexual revolution) and gays getting in on it is reminding people that traditional "husband" and "wife" roles are fast disappearing. The effort to "defend traditional roles" may be a proxy for the politically incorrect desire to get the little lady back into the kitchen.


Affirmative Action for Conservatives
Eric Boehlert noted, "Who's stopping conservatives from being hired in newsrooms? Honestly. If Newsbusters can document how scores of qualified College Republican grads were passed over by local newspapers to poorly paying jobs to cover local zoning commission jobs simply because the applicants were conservative, we'd love to hear about it. Because right now there's nothing stopping young conservatives from joining newsrooms and working their way up from the bottom just like everybody else in media does. They just don't want to do it."

Gun ownership NOT a disqualification in Obama's administration. Conspiracy theories continue to fly.
Captain Ed Morrissey of the A-list righty blog Hot Air titles his response to this news "Owning a gun a disqualification in Obama administration."

That's a lie.

HHS Secretary-designate Tom Daschle is a gun owner, according to a spokesman quoted in this article, and according to an e-mail reproduced at the sight sdshootingsports.org.

Correction pending, Ed?

Making it Explicit
Pethokoukis and Cannon claim that if Obama succeeds in passing health care, then people who might have been conservatives will like it, and will be more likely to vote for the people who passed it. This is unexceptional. An honest conservative might accept this claim and say: well, I guess our ideas are unpopular, so we'll just have to make our case more persuasively.

But that's not the conclusion they draw. Pethokoukis and Cannon say: because people will like health care reform, if we do not block it, our party will lose support. So precisely because people would like it if they tried it, we need to make sure that it fails.

At least they're honest about it.


I believe that religion is a cultural system like any other, and that the first and most vital question is always whether Religion X is a cultural system in which I want to participate. Dogma and cosmology are a distant second.

I believe in forgiving those who have hurt me but cannot again.

I believe that anyone who wants me to forgive and forget their offenses is up to something.

I believe that every person is responsible for her failures, which means that it's ultimately my fault if I hurt someone no matter what they did to provoke me. But it's also someone else's fault if they hurt me no matter what I did.

I believe that gender is a toy that some people like to play with and some people don't. How we play and when is nobody's business but our own.

I believe that nobody's perfect. I also believe that--for the most part--people who invoke "nobody's perfect" are afraid of trying to be, or too lazy to care.

I believe that no one should listen to the Broadway recording of Les Miserables if the London cast recording is available.

I believe that if you can't prove something to me, you probably haven't proven it to yourself either.

I believe that if someone doesn't know what they want or what they need, I am not obligated to provide them with either.

I believe that boring people who read books with boring characters probably don't know what they're missing.

I believe that anyone who plays a musical instrument can sing if they try (though this is iffy with percussionists).

I believe that the end result of a decision is more important than the principle behind it, though both do matter.

I believe that relationships are like books: just because I start one doesn't mean I have to finish it no matter how miserable it makes me.

I believe that love marries people in the eyes of the gods, and that lack of love separates them. Everything else is a legal or cultural hoop to jump through so that other mortals can understand what the gods already know.

I believe that the narratives of a religion do not have to be historically truthful in order to teach something.

I believe that different branches of the US military tend to attract different kinds of people, ranging from brilliant engineers to thick-necked thugs. I believe all are necessary, but that some are easier to respect than others.

I believe that Americans dress in too much pastel or drab grey. More color, my countrymen, more color!

I believe that if you do not trust me with a choice, you cannot trust me with a child.

I believe that hospitality is important. If you have guests, take care of them as best you can with the means on hand. A good guest will not demand too much anyway.

I believe that we should offer to consenting humans every mercy we offer to housepets. We often adopt animals from shelters instead of breeding new ones to reduce the number of homeless pets, and consider putting down terminally ill pets to be an act of mercy. Do humans deserve less, if they want it?

I believe that the day you enter adulthood is the day you shout at someone to close the damned door because we're not heating the outside.

I believe lots of things. Some are more important than others, and some change. But these are fairly consistent. I was thinking about this earlier today, and thought I'd try and get down as many as I could. Maybe in a few years I'll make another such list and see what's changed.

And hell, why not turn this into a meme. What do you guys believe? Make your totally random list and post it up. I'm curious to see where we overlap and where we differ.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I want to be your sledgehammer. Why don't you call my name?

Went to the nationwide Prop 8 protest in Indianapolis. There were a few dozen people there (I think) out in the windy cold, but a friend who went with us bought a big carton of bagels at Einstein Bros. to share, and someone else hit a Dunkin Donuts to contribute coffee.

I'd never been to a protest before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Everyone was really nice, and some people had brought their kids (so we all kinda ended up keeping an eye on them as they ran around and tried to get away with crap when their parents couldn't see). My favorite part was the cars driving by honking for us and waving out their windows. That made me smile every single time.

There was one lone counter-protester most of the time. He had a sign that said "Jesus Saves" on one side, and "Say no to sodomy" on the other. Now and again people would join him and shake Bibles in the air, but mostly he was alone. The going theory was that someone might have paid one of Indy's homeless to switch signs, because it's hard to think of anyone else willingly standing all alone on a streetcorner being ignored.

The greatest comment came from one of the guys standing near me. He gestured to the "say no to sodomy" sign and quipped, "Say no to sodomy? Well, yeah. I mean, sometimes we all do, like, 'no, I have to go to work.'" Everyone was nice to the poor bastard, though. When we walked by him we made sure to toss him a kind word so that he didn't have any room to rail about the nasty nasty gays and their nasty hetero backers.

It was a good day, even if I was still a little tired and chilled later. It was definitely worth it, and I'm glad we could go.

In other news, some links to stuff I've been reading:

A collection of semi-random science stories. This blogger puts one of these up each Sunday, but this one was particularly cool.

Obama already affecting Iraq policy.

Obama to Explore New Approach in Afghanistan War.

Bush is trying to do it again. He needs to seriously stop trying to redefine various birth control methods as abortion. Will you guys go sign on again? We did it once, and we evidently need to do it again.

SC Catholic Priest: Obama Voters Should Not Take Communion because they have cooperated "with intrinsic evil."

Obama gives up his Senate seat early.

The United States' merc outfit is in some trouble now for shipping automatic weapons to Iraq without proper permits.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leaving LDS

Thanks to anjala for linking to Mormons Resigning Despite Strong Heritage, Citing 'Hatred' by LDS Church.

Mormons continued to register their resignations with, and post resignation letters to Signing for Something this week, citing "hatred" and "discrimination" among their chief reasons for quitting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These resignations come among the continuing backlash against the Mormon Church's involvement in passing California's Proposition 8 last week to take away the right of civil marriage for gays and lesbians.

Excepts of a few recent letters are posted here, with links to the full letters. (...)

Andrew Callahan's diary:
Since the LDS church has decided to VERY PUBLICLY extend their hatred beyond their realm I’ve decided that the time has come to make my voice heard, too. I resigned membership recently as has one of my friends from California who was recently married to his partner of 28 years.

More from: SigningforSomething.org:

But now I see that there isn’t a community or a place for me. There’s not a place for the people I love. The Church is not a place for anybody who believes in equal rights and the Constitution of the United States of America. The Church is not pro-marriage, it is anti-gay. The leadership fights for bigotry and hate. The God I grew up with was perfect in His Love and Justice. Shame on the men who act so disgracefully in His name. See complete letter here: http://signingforsomething.org/blog/?p=2015

Families alienated over the church's approach to "protecting" them:
As a member of the LDS church I was always taught to love one another and to treat everyone with a certain amount of respect. The position the church took on this particular issue went against everything I learned from the church. Not only was the church’s position discriminatory, but it was also hateful.

I found it extremely strange that it took the church 14 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act to allow black members to hold the priesthood. I just excused this inaction as a mistake, but now as I see history repeat itself I realize that it wasn’t a mistake and the Mormon Church will always discriminate.

My whole family has been traumatized by the church’s efforts and will be sending in letters of resignations. See complete letter here: http://signingforsomething.org/blog/?p=2038

And one more:
For 45 years I served in every calling I was asked, in leadership, in service, in every capacity. I did it because I knew I was serving my Heavenly Father, a loving God. I continue to serve him and in doing so, I am resigning from this organization that I believe to be corrupt from the egos of mere men, that has strayed so far from its’ original mission to serve God and His people. See complete letter here: http://signingforsomething.org/blog/?p=2027

Thank you, guys. Thank you for not letting your church hierarchy speak for you, for not letting them spread lies and fear in your name. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints may not be listening to you, but you sure as heck got my attention.

For those of you who aren't sure yet whether the church is flat-out wrong, check this out. 11 Scriptural Reasons Latter-Day Saints Should Oppose California's Proposition 8. You can find more resources along the same lines at SigningforSomething.org.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"It's what you do that defines you."

It's a frightening thing to realize that someone you're talking to doesn't disagree with you because they're coming from a vastly different set of values, but because they've never actually thought very hard about how to apply values the two of you allegedly share. The moment you realize this is the moment you realize that you are fighting a losing battle, and it's an appropriate time to walk away (or run screaming from the unspeakable Cthulhoid horror that is their critical thinking ability).

Of course, there are other options. I could sit and explain things in terms they perhaps have not heard before. I could have a long discussion in which I dig down into people's self-images and alleged values to force them to look at their own decisions as closely as I'm looking at them.

I could get them to think about themselves, instead of being blindly reactionary. I've done it before, so I know it's possible. But lately my immediate reaction to someone who says, "I think all Americans should be equal under the law," but also says that legally "redefining marriage" to include everybody is wrong... is to write them off.

How about another example? A missionary telling me that they respect the beliefs of people they're evangelizing to--even if they still think those people would be better off abandoning them.

How about another, you ask? Someone who claims that children shouldn't be raised by two men because they need the judgment and influence only a mother can offer, but that that same mother isn't morally mature enough to be allowed to decide for herself whether to bear a child in the first place.

There are more. Someone who knows they should seem informed to be taken seriously, but who replies to all offered evidential proof with, "we could all link statistics all day and it wouldn't mean anything."

Maybe those people who know it's bad to say black people are inherently inferior to white people, but still don't want their daughters dating them, or voting for them.

I'm anthropology-girl. It's my job to pay attention to people and try to make sense of them. But is it really worth the trouble to do this with people who aren't even paying attention to themselves? I just want to send one last message and then ignore them forever. "I don't have time to teach you the critical thinking skills necessary to compare and contrast the contradictory things you claim to believe."

I think the problem here is a disconnect between how people want to be seen and how they are. It's "politically correct" to avoid expressing overtly homophobic, jingoistic, misogynist, anti-intellectual or racist sentiments, and doing so will cause you social disruptions. The problem is that people have internalized these growing cultural expectations without actually thinking about why. This means that they don't understand why it's bad to be homophobic or racist. Just why it's bad to get caught.

If you don't want people to think that you're scared of what'll happen if homosexuals are equal under the law, maybe you should really ask yourself why people with those fears are reviled as ignorant or bigoted.

If you don't want people to think that you're an arrogant fanatic, maybe you should ask yourself why people treat missionaries like they're arrogant fanatics.

If you think a woman cannot be trusted with a choice (but can be trusted with a child), maybe you should ask yourself why people seem to think you're cornering women into a single social role.

If you don't think research can prove anything, why do you think people treat you like this is a bad thing that makes you uninformed?

If you don't want to be seen as racist, ask yourself what it is that makes people think racism is destructive.

Ask yourself questions. Figure yourself out. Don't make me do it for you, because I just might show you a person you've been taught to dislike. I just might show you the person I've seen all along: someone who will claim to hold whatever values make them look like a good person, but who works against those values whenever they think they won't get caught.

In my current frustration, I can't help but think that these people are either completely comfortable with hypocrisy, or they're just too damned dull for the sustained critical thinking necessary to detect hypocrisy in the first place. This isn't to say that all people who disagree with me must be either evil or stupid. But people who disagree with me and claim to be upholding the very values they are eroding... they're a different story.

The shortest way to say this? "Be what you would seem to be." If you wouldn't uncritically accept someone else's beliefs without comparing them to their actions... why should anyone accept yours?

Once more with a transcript!

Everyone everywhere is talking about this, but there's a reason. Wow, Keith.

If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because... truly... I do not understand.

Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don't want to deny you yours. They don't want to take anything away from you. They want what you want -- a chance to be a little less alone in the world.

Only now you are saying to them -- no. (...)

I keep hearing this term "re-defining" marriage.

If this country hadn't re-defined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal... in 1967. 1967.

The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn't have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it's worse than that. If this country had not "re-defined" marriage, some black people still couldn't marry black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not "Until death, do you part," but "Until death or distance, do you part." Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.

You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are gay.

And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing. Centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have--through a lie to themselves or others--broken countless other lives, of spouses and children... All because we said a man couldn't marry another man, or a woman couldn't marry another woman.

The sanctity of marriage. How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the "sanctity" of marriage rather than render the term meaningless?

What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don't you, as human beings, have to embrace that love? The world is barren enough. It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward.

Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work. And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling.

With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?

With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then spread happiness -- this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness -- share it with all those who seek it.

The video is at the link I gave above. And really, I'd like an answer to Keith's questions as well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Resource Management

Y'know. This is a good point.

This is a pretty intense crystallization of an issue that American and European leftists have been troubled by for a long time, that some of the constituencies most afflicted by or excluded from capitalist economies are also the most reactionary and in some cases, the most inclined to have strongly felt racial biases.

It’s schadenfreudey fun to read the ongoing psychotic meltdowns at various far-right sites like the Corner, I agree. But there’s little need to take the really bad-faith conservatives seriously now. For the last eight years, we’ve had to take them somewhat seriously because they had access to political power. You had to listen to the hack complaints about academia from endlessly manipulative writers because it was perfectly plausible that whatever axe they were grinding was going to end up as a priority agenda item coming out of Margaret Spelling’s office or get incorporated into legislation by right-wing state legislators. You had to listen to and reply to even the most laughably incoherent, goalpost-moving, anti-reality-based neoconservative writer talking about Iraq or terrorism because there was an even-money chance that you were hearing actual sentiments going back and forth between Dick Cheney’s office and the Pentagon. You had to answer back to Jonah Goldberg not just because making that answer was arguably our responsibility as academics, but also because left alone, some of the aggressively bad-faith caricatures he and others served up had a reasonable chance to gain even further strength through incorporation into federal policy.

There are plenty of thoughtful, good-faith conservatives who need to be taken seriously. And the actual conservatism of many communities and constituencies (in Appalachia and elsewhere) remains, as always, a social fact that it would be perilous to ignore or dismiss.

But I think we can all make things just ever so slightly better, make the air less poisonous, by pushing to the margins of our consciousness the crazy, bad, gutter-dwelling, two-faced, tendentious high-school debator kinds of voices out there in the public sphere, including and especially in blogs. Let them stew in their own juices, without the dignity of a reply, now that their pipelines to people with real political power have been significantly cut.

Hilzoy adds:
Until last Tuesday, I felt I had to take arguments made at, say, The Corner somewhat seriously. They were, after all, arguments that were likely to be taken seriously by people in charge of our government, and by some voters. Starting now, though, that changes. I will write about those arguments if they seem to be gaining broader currency, and I can imagine writing a thoughtful post on, say, what's gone wrong with the conservative movement in which I might quote them. I will also keep reading them, just because I think it's a good idea to know what other people are saying. But I will not feel any general need to point out when they are wrong. They have no more power. Some of them have gone so far over the edge that they have lost any credibility they might ever have had. I wish them well, but I will not comment on them unless I see some particular reason to do so. I now have the luxury of debating only thoughtful, sane conservatives who argue in good faith, and I intend to enjoy it.

This is something I must keep in mind. I don't know how well I'll do, but now that certain views are not directing public policy to the same degree they used to, attempting to fight them is not the same crusade against institutionalized irrationality and anti-intellectualism.

The danger in this is obviously that progressives might become complacent. This election has taught us that there is nothing so absurd that you can write it off as too small to be a threat (flag pins what-now?).

I guess the compromise would be to merely drop in on the irrational doomsayers, conspiracy theorists, and wannabe-prognosticators crying out against the godless liberal Illuminati out to destroy families with tyrannical European ideas. Drop in on them. Remind myself they exist outside of The Onion. Then go back to the land of reason. Progressives can't take too much of a break, but it's important to remember that there are other tasks to complete and battles to fight.

We can't waste time arguing reason with the irrational, presenting evidence to anti-academics, or preaching civil rights to values voters who only value people "like them." They're not going to be convinced. We speak different languages. Reason can't fight faith, evidence can't fight anti-intellectualism, and civil rights don't always matter to those who've got them. Accept it.

So let's spend our time where it'll do some good. We've got a new President-Elect who needs to be held accountable to his stated intentions. We've got a Democratic majority in the legislature that needs to grow a pair and hopefully will, now that the balance of power has changed. And we've got more and more people who are realizing that "us" and "them" were not who they seemed at first blush.

So let's do something. Let the wingnuts throw temper tantrums because the grownups are talking to each other instead of giving them attention. Consider this their time-out.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Holy crap. This is amazing.

Y'know, I read a lot of people swooning over http://www.change.gov/, and so I checked it out. I figure, okay, Obama has a new website. That's nice.

The hype was right. I think copperstewart said it best. "I'm impressed. It's a bold naming of our problems in ways politicians often won't, and without many euphemisms. Take a gander at the "Civil Rights" section." He also added, "My federal worker partner is also quite impressed and a little stunned, as I am, to see that the rhetoric isn't being tempered or swept under the rug, but actually elaborated and addressing our REAL problems. He's actually making himself MORE accountable. I can't believe it."

Go look. Really, go look.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I posted this comment to an acquaintance's journal, and thought it might be worth posting up as an entry in its own right.

For the record, civil unions aren't the same as marriage. Even if the rights on paper are the same, as I understand it there are a lot of policies (both government and private for things like insurance companies) that refer to "marriage" or "spouse." If a policy refers to "marriage" or "spouses," the spirit of the law would indicate that civil unions and partners thereof also count.

But if it's not required, you know people and companies and organizations will try to get away with giving gays less. In states that allow civil unions, you get conversations that go like this:

"I know what you're asking for, but it says marriage here, and what you have is a civil union."

"Dude, you know what they mean."

"But it says marriage, and everyone knows gays can't marry."

That's what tends to happen in states that allow gays to have civil unions but not marriages. I think a lot of people haven't quite caught on to the fact that we've tried the whole line that "it's okay to have separate establishments and accomodations for different kinds of people. As long as they're equal, there's nothing wrong. And people will make sure they're equal, right?"

America sucks at "separate but equal," which is why we unfortunately can't use "civil union" as a synonym for the legal contract of marriage. I did for a while, because I think the government should let consenting adults have whatever kind of legal marriage they want, and we'll leave individual church denominations the choice of whether they want to discriminate against certain kinds of couples in their own religious practice. Can't legally stop them from being dicks there.

One thing that I think is interesting about the times when this comes up in political discourse is watching how many politicians are pushing for civil unions because they really want gays to be able to get married... they just can't use the M-word without panicking churches who're afraid they'll lose their leeway to discriminate. Personally I think Obama is for full-on "call it marriage" gay marriage. He's dropped hints about it when talking with LGBT publications.

This was a great article from The Advocate.

Q: Both you and your wife speak eloquently about being told to wait your turn and how if you had done that, you might not have gone to law school or run for Senate or even president. To some extent, isn’t that what you’re asking same-sex couples to do by favoring civil unions over marriage -- to wait their turn?

I don’t ask them that. Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit -- I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, "Wait your turn." I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, "Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom."

So I strongly respect the right of same-sex couples to insist that even if we got complete equality in benefits, it still wouldn’t be equal because there’s a stigma associated with not having the same word, marriage, assigned to it. I understand that, but my perspective is also shaped by the broader political and historical context in which I’m operating. And I’ve said this before -- I’m the product of a mixed marriage that would have been illegal in 12 states when I was born. That doesn’t mean that had I been an adviser to Dr. King back then, I would have told him to lead with repealing an antimiscegenation law, because it just might not have been the best strategy in terms of moving broader equality forward.

That’s a decision that the LGBT community has to make. That’s not a decision for me to make. (...)

As I said, I think the LGBT community has every right to push for what it thinks is right. And I think that it’s absolutely fair to ask me for leadership, and my argument would be that I’m ahead of the curve on these issues compared to 99% of most elected officials around the country on this issue. So I think I’ve shown leadership.

What this says to me is, "I can't fight this battle right now, because if I do I won't get elected and I won't be any good to you. But I want you to keep fighting for it because you're right, for the same reasons the civil rights movement was right. I just can't die on that hill right now if you still want a president in office who gives a damn about you."

Fortunately people like me aren't running for election, which means that there are basically no real consequences to me being vocal about what I want. I don't want civil rights being up to a vote, because whenever the majority gets to vote on the rights of the minority, it goes poorly.

I agree that the USA will become more and more ready for gay marriage because, despite being legendary worldwide for being one of the most conservative nations this side of the Middle East, we're catching up. But even if leaving these issues up to state vote means that people will eventually get their rights, it will be after a long struggle in which people continue to suffer. Real people, who will never get their time or their sanity back once they've been wasted by injustice. I know that eventually gays will be able to marry in America, and the official LDS hierarchy wouldn't be so scared if they didn't know it, too.

What I also know is that people have already suffered because of Prop 8, and it's only been a few days. And that means it's too late. Their rights have been infringed upon, their relationships degraded, their commitments disregarded. I saw an entry on livejournal that was really short and still just hurt to read it.
A gay friend of mine in California just changed his Facebook status from "engaged" to "in a relationship." Obviously, who cares about Facebook... but that breaks my heart.

And, you know, the way it's actually worded makes it even worse: "[my friend] went from being "engaged" to "in a relationship."

Just like that.

If I were engaged to Brian and suddenly Indiana passed a law stating that we couldn't marry because, say, our religions don't match up the way the state thinks they should... how would I feel? How would you feel?

Because of how that would feel, I've actually made the decision not to marry until gays in my state can marry. In Indiana this means that the best I can have is a domestic partnership. Maybe if straight people start getting the little half-marriages allowed to gays, we can erode the myth of "separate but equal" by refusing to let gays be separate. What gays can't have, I don't want. which, amusingly enough, means that it isn't gays who are damaging my likelihood to get a "legitimate, godly" marriage. It's people who're scared of gays, and of what'll happen if gays are treated like they're citizens.

Perhaps that's part of why this is such a powerful issue for me. I'm a woman in a healthy, loving, beautiful committed relationship. I know that's what Brian and I have, and so does everyone else. But if he were a woman and not a man, he would be the "wrong" sex to have a healthy, loving, beautiful committed relationship with me.

I think it's sex discrimination to let Brian marry me because he's a man when he would be forbidden to do so if he were a woman. Putting it in terms of sex discrimination isn't something most people do, but that's how I think of it. I would have the same relationship with Brian if we were two gay men or two gay women. But if one of us had the wrong sex organs, we would be forbidden to marry because our relationship would be less morally-correct according to a religious code that neither of us shares.

I think that's tragic. That's why, until gays can have it... I don't want it.