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.