Friday, December 12, 2008

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? 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.

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