Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#heblowsalot update: the fallout

Both the principal, Karl Krawitz, and Emma Sullivan are receiving all kinds of negative attention as result of the Brownback apology affair. Krawitz has apparently received some death threats from different parts of the country, while Sullivan is being bullied by peers who call her an attention whore, or just a whore, and demand that she be expelled from school
The bullying, much of which is taking place on Twitter, is part of the reason that Sullivan was staying home from school on Tuesday. “They’ve been sending me tweets, calling me an attention whore, saying this is all about fame and that I don’t deserve to be getting any of these interviews,” she said. 
A Twitter hashtag set up against her contains numerous expletives, including one user, @PoundShop_Zoe, who calls her a “whore” multiple times. “When Emma Comes back she should be forced to go to north #HopeYourHappy… Whore,” he writes
“Get Emma Sullivan out of East [Shawnee Mission East High School] please #teamkrawitz,” adds @megmms
In fact, students have organized a rally Tuesday afternoon in support of her principal, Karl Krawitz, and in opposition to her, said Sullivan.
I'm actually more surprised by this bullying than by the death threats. Death threats from far-off places have become a ubiquitous response to any bad behavior that is published on the internet. There never seems to be a shortage of people with web access who find it appropriate to express their displeasure with someone in the news for doing a bad thing by issuing threats against that person's life, and that's probably all that this is. I assume however that this knowledge, even if Dr. Krawitz has it, is of no particular comfort to him.

The behavior of Sullivan's schoolmates is surprising only because they are easily identifiable and close. I imagine that they are jealous of her limelight, however unintentionally earned, and also convinced that the school principal is someone who must be respected at all costs. They are probably big “school spirit” types who believe that their collective reputation has been tarnished by a student saying rude things about the governor and drawing negative attention to the school as a whole…even though it was actually the principal’s demand for a letter of apology that thrust this situation into the news in the first place.

And they are incapable of recognizing that Krawitz might be a good principal who made a very bad decision, much less that believing he’s a good principal doesn’t require saying that Sullivan is a whore who should be expelled. That requires a level of nuance that appears to be quite beyond them. As is, ironically, an awareness of how public speech on the internet really can be-- something Sullivan will now likely never forget.

If Sam Brownback really wanted to show that he "treasures" freedom of speech, he could send a message directly to these students in support of Sullivan and strongly condemning any harassment of her for her use of and defense of that freedom. Want to make any bets on whether something like that will happen?

Monday, November 28, 2011


Ah, the power of Twitter. It can help organize protests, keep people in contact in the midst of tragedy, spread news like wildfire, and allow governors to become aware of the fact that teenagers are saying mean things about them. And then take action!

Emma Sullivan is an eighteen year old student at Shawnee Mission East high school in Kansas. While making a visit to the state capitol of Topeka as part of a Youth in Government program, she made the following tweet:
"Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot." 
She didn't actually meet him-- the tweet was a joke with friends. But that wasn't a factor to Brownback staffers, who in scanning social media for mentions of him came across the tweet and proceeded to contact Sullivan's school. The school's principal, Karl Krawitz, called Sullivan into his office and proceeded to berate her for nearly an hour:
"I had no idea what it was about or why I was being called into the office," she said. "I had never been in trouble before."
Sullivan claimed that the principal "told me he needed to do damage control and was really upset."
"He said I was an embarrassment to the school and the school district and that I had been disrespectful," she added.
Krawitz followed this with a demand that Sullivan write a note of apology to Brownback for the tweet, to be turned in on Monday (today). Sullivan had decided by Sunday night, with the support of her parents, that she wasn't going to do it. This became a non-issue today, however, when the school district decided it could not demand an apology:
“The district acknowledges a student’s right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally protected. The district has not censored Miss Sullivan nor infringed upon her freedom of speech,” said a statement. “She is not required to write a letter of apology to the Governor. Whether and to whom any apologies are issued will be left to the individuals involved.”
Sam Brownback himself responded by blaming his staff:
A statement issued by Brownback on Monday did not reference Sullivan by name or mention the prospect of any apology letter. He did emphasize his support for "freedom of speech," while thanking "the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum."
"My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize," the governor said. "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."
Meanwhile Sullivan's Twitter following has jumped from 63 to almost 11,000 (as of now). Brownback's is at about 3,000. And the #heblowsalot hashtag is being used constantly by Sullivan's supporters. A representative tweet:

It's unusual, I think, not to have heard of Brownback before considering that he was a U.S. senator from 1996 until this year, and ran for president in 2008. Still, there's no question that awareness of him is exploding because of this...and doubtless not in a way he would prefer. Like the enormously successful campaign to re-define Rick Santorum's last name, "heblowsalot" might become the phrase that comes to most people's minds when considering Governor Brownback.

Now, here's the question: would that be a good thing? Does Sam Brownback, in fact, blow?

Maybe not literally. But as those of us from Kansas--especially women-- who are not right-wingers are more than aware, figuratively he most certainly does. If you want a quick idea, imagine Rick Perry and take away some reasoning ability and restraint. As Amanda Marcotte notes over at Slate,
I suppose it's not that big a surprise that someone like Brownback, who has a strong belief that women should not be in control of their own ladyparts, would also find the notion that teenage girls have the legal right to make fun of him deeply threatening. First he comes for your abortions, then your contraception, and next any fancy electronic devices that could be used to register displeasure with dudely authority figures. The freakout over a teenage girl having a less-than-flattering opinion of him was also predictable if you look at Brownback's long history with the C Street Family, a religious-political group that specifically promotes patriarchy and disdains the idea of women holding political power. (Though they have been known to make exceptions for the occasional woman who has economic goals in common with them.) To a large extent, Brownback has created a bubble around him that has a pleasing 19th-century cast to it, where young people and women knew their place, and men of privilege are protected from the opinions of those who are most subject to social control. No wonder a juvenile bit of tweetage caused such an oversized reaction.
This is not an exaggeration. Brownback has spent his years in office, both as senator and governor, doing everything he can to restrict reproductive freedom for women. He is also not a fan of state funding for art, having eliminated Kansas' arts commission this year making it the only state without such an agency. He denies evolution and supports the Discovery Institute (intelligent design think tank), is relentlessly pro-war (supporting the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the suspension of habeas corpus rights under the Military Commissions Act of 2007), and is so adamantly opposed to gay marriage that in 2006 he blocked confirmation of federal judicial nominee Janet Neff because she had attended a same-sex commitment ceremony. He believes that the Constitution does not carry any guarantee of a right to privacy. His record on civil rights is rated-- this will shock you-- 20 percent by the ACLU. Pretty dismal. As is, no doubt, the outlook of any Kansan who cares about civil rights since Brownback assumed governorship, which I'm guessing includes Emma Sullivan.

But regardless of why Sullivan thinks Brownback blows, specifically, I think her handling of the issue has been excellent. She seems quite level-headed:
Emma Sullivan said Sunday that she thought the tweet "has turned into a good starting point to open up dialogue about this ... free speech and the power of social media and the power that people my age could potentially have, that people will listen to us."
Indeed, indeed. Although it's unfortunate that this dialogue would not have opened up in the first place had Brownback's staff and Sullivan's principal (any bets on whether she'll get an apology from him?) both not wildly overreacted to something said in that context.

This whole event could result in a bully pulpit for Ms. Sullivan, should she choose to use it. She said that she's interested in getting involved in politics, and judging from the coverage this is getting not only on Twitter but ABC, CNN, HuffPo, and so on, this seems like a good start! I hope she takes advantage of it to go out and do something. Whatever she finds most appropriate to do in terms of combating the many ways in which Sam Brownback sucks. And blows.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quote of the day

From Dr. X, discussing whether using "crazy" as a pejorative should be considered offensive to people with mental illnesses and therefore be stricken from the lexicon of a considerate person:
Political correctness most certainly is about passing tests of radicals who are more interested in group identity signifiers than substance and true decency. P.C is a greatly overused accusation by the right, but it’s a concept invented on the left to describe the use of signifiers as shackling rules that, IMO, are bristling with the narcissism of small differences.  
Things aren’t much different on the right. Not using the signifier “God” in a Thanksgiving address can “offend” certain Christians. Signifiers divorced from awareness of common usages and context–from intent, from speaker, from audience, time, place, and attitude are really about identity politics. . .  
Craziness and madness, one’s own and the insanity of the world, can render the best efforts to bring comforting coherence to our existence absolutely futile sometimes.  
So despite not satisfying your club rules on the use of language, I will continue to refer to being driven mad with grief, crazy with rage, nuts, out of my mind with pain and whatever else I feel useful to explain that time in my life and my experience. Those words make flesh and blood out of the reality of a long period of unremitting agony. And I think those very frank words help people to empathize with the depth of suffering and disorientation I experienced. You don’t own those words. They have uses that help people know what the hell we’re talking about sometimes.  
We live in a world that is often much more crazy than sane. We deal with people going nuts. We have crackpots in politics. I also won’t apologize for saying someone lacks a conscience or they’re a heartless bastard because it might offend psychopaths. They have a mental disorder too. So let’s not use any language that could offend them; they’re just victims of a brain disorder.  
If you actually live an examined life, you’ll notice madness all around, in all the people who are deemed sane. There are no exceptions, only a certain amount of necessary denial to forge ahead in life, but crazy is on a continuum that is part of all humanity. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Masculine Christianity" and the Penn State scandal


This is University of Nebraska Assistant Coach Ron Brown praying on behalf of his football team and that of Penn State prior to their game on November 12th, in the wake of the latter university's scandal regarding former head coach Joe Paterno. Which you already know about if you haven't been living under a rock for the past week and a half, so you don't need any commentary on it from me. But Brown thought that God needed a comment on the matter, specifically regarding manhood and young boys:
There are a lot of little boys around the country, today, who are watching this game. And they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground of what manhood looks like. And we will compete with fierce intensity. With the honor, and the gifts, and the talents that you've given us. And may we be reminded, Lord, as it says in John 1:14, that Jesus is full of grace and truth. May the truth be known!
Indeed-- may the truth be known. And the truth is that a coach from a public university found it appropriate to use a scandal involving child molestation as an opportunity to teach little boys what manhood is, via a football and declarations about Jesus. I saw this, and thought "I can't be the only person believes this to be very, very wrong." And I'm not-- it's just that it's hard to articulate all of the things wrong about it.

Hemant Mehta decided to re-write Brown's statements to be something that is, in Mehta's eyes, more useful:
Here’s what Ron Brown could’ve said to the teams — and the crowd of over 100,000 — that would’ve made a real difference — instead of the worthless tripe that came out instead:  
We’ve been through a lot this past week, but it’s nothing compared to what Jerry Sandusky’s victims have been through. We can never let something like this happen again.
 If any of you ever sees abuse taking place — on the field, off the field, after you graduate — it doesn’t matter who the abuser is, go to the police immediately.
If you’re ever the victim of such abuse, please tell someone you trust what happened. It doesn’t matter what you think about the person who did it to you, and no one will ever think less of you for turning them in.
If you had nothing to do with the situation but you still want to help, well, we need more people like you. Please encourage your fans, friends, and family members to make a donation to a child abuse prevention organization.
That will do more for these children that our god ever can. 
That would’ve taken real courage to say, so I’m not surprised we didn’t hear anything even remotely resembling that before the game.  
I suppose it would have taken real courage to say, but only because of the last line-- and that line should be left out. Everything else is not particularly courageous, but it is certainly important. It's what people need to hear and know, valuable information. It doesn't exactly take the place of what Brown said, though, because it's not ceremonial. It doesn't address the communal mood, the event that is about to take place. It's a comment that should be made in addition to something else, and here's the important thing...that "something else" should not be a prayer. This is something overlooked in Sean O'Neil's essay concerning what he calls "muscular Christianity":
John Sandusky is an older man who used his prestige and power to abuse boys. Perhaps, then, Brown’s prayer about a redemptive display of masculinity merely reinforces a truism: that decent men would never abuse anyone. Since lines were transgressed in obviously horrific ways perhaps the boundaries of decency need to be reinforced in just as obvious a fashion. This still raises other questions, though: Who gets to re-draw these borders at such a sensitive time of (national) crisis? Also, what will young boys learn about gender from the dominant religious portrayals of manhood in muscular Christianity? 
Muscular Christianity refers to the wedding of traditional conceptions of masculinity—such as bravery, chivalry, and athleticism—with evangelical Christian emphases on personal conversion and biblical devotion. Tim Tebow is perhaps the quintessential muscular Christian, combining religious and athletic vigor on the most visible athletic platform in the country: the National Football League. 
Muscular Christianity is also developed in more pedestrian venues, on college campuses among groups such as the Fellowship for Christian Athletes. Evangelicals espousing some form of muscular Christianity (not a term that most would use) tend to interpret the Bible conservatively—especially with regards to sexual norms. Gay sex among consenting adults, for example, is usually labeled sinful in such evangelical contexts. There are few if any progressive religious voices in these settings. . .  
If the only religious voices heard on the fields are the most conservative on issues of human sexuality, there may be few opportunities for athletes to combine vigorous athleticism, strong religious commitment, and fidelity to LGBT identities in the same breath.
Hoo boy. If you know me, you know what will be the sticking points here: 1) "traditional conceptions of masculinity" and 2) "religious voices heard on the fields." Bin them both, please.

Why? Let's start with the former. I hate to point out the obvious, but "LGBT identities" often do not conform to "traditional concepts of masculinity." Nor is there any reason why they should, considering that "traditionally masculine" people are often outright phobic or hateful of those who are non-traditional. Just as much or more than being brave, chivalrous (ugh) or athletic, traditional masculinity entails being straight. And so far as I can tell, there is nothing about being non-straight, non-traditionally masculine, that inhibits one's athleticism. So maybe when it comes to football or any other sport, it would be better to call a spade a spade and emphasize that. Those attributes of character that are desirable to have also-- bravery, stalwartness, reliability, foresight, cunning, and so on-- are by no means exclusive to the masculine. Especially not the traditional kind.

(I will also mention, though I hope it's not necessary, the significance of focusing on how to tell/show young boys what it means to be a (traditional) man in the wake of scandal surrounding child rape. Just as with the scandals within the Catholic Church, there are plenty-- perhaps Asst. Coach Brown is one of them-- who interpret such an act as part and parcel of homosexuality. As something that gays just do, or that just gays do. This bigoted belief has no place on the football field or anywhere else.

Let it be emphasized: a decent person would not abuse anyone. Indecent people come in all sorts of gender and sexual configurations.)

As for religious voices on that field...why do we need those? Even disregarding the question of whether it constitutes a church/state violation to have a coach for a public university's football team to deliver a prayer before a game, O'Neil's grievance above illustrates precisely the problem with having a religious invocation in the first place-- it creates a debate about whether it's the right religion. Whose beliefs should prevail. Because for everyone who doesn't worship Jesus and/or doesn't appreciate the treatment of Jesus in the prayer given, the ritual becomes a period of discomfort rather than bolstering. And for many of those to whom the words about Jesus ring pure and true, any other religious message will seem either diluted or outright blasphemous. By all means, don't prevent the players from practicing their faith as they see fit. But leading everyone in a massive group prayer such as this seems designed to be unnecessarily divisive and yet squelch any minority views.

I can't help but wonder how many of those players kneeling around Assistant Coach Ron Brown feel resentful, silly, or confused. How many wish that a message acknowledging the situation but encouraging them to play a good game could be delivered without being wrapped in platitudes about what it means to be a real man and a real believer. How many of that group would never breathe a word about such sentiments, for fear that they would be ridiculed, hated, maybe even attacked by others.

How sad that is. And how completely unnecessary.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pareidolia of the day: Cliff's note

This time on a cliff in Ireland, by a pilot called (appropriately) Sandra Clifford:
Clifford, a pilot fron San Francisco, spotted the figure recently while visiting the famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare with her friend, Fiona Fay.  
The two saw what Clifford thought looked like the image of Jesus on the side of one of the cliffs and she immediately snapped a photo on her digital camera.  
"I definitely felt a divine presence," Clifford told HuffPost Weird News. "To me, it was definitely a face, but I realize some people may interpret it differently."  
Clifford feels her training as a pilot has honed her vision and also taught her to be skeptical about what she sees, which is why she asked the folks around her their opinions of the cliffside Christ.  
Clifford proceeded to ask a group of German men if they could see the outline, according to, and after looking at it closely, she says they too nodded their heads in agreement, and began taking photos.  
"I am glad I asked strangers about what they saw," she told HuffPost Weird News. "I hope they come forward with their pictures as well."
This is interesting to me because how Clifford apparently defines skepticism: confirming that you are not the only person who interprets a thing you saw in a certain way. "I think I saw a face....did you see a face? Then it must have been a face!" Which, being an interpretation dependent on perception, is exactly like saying "I think the cannelloni at this restaurant is you think it's good? Then it must be good!"

The fact that some Germans agreed with her and might "come forward" with their pictures (doesn't it sound like a criminal investigation?) provides corroborating evidence for the assertion "There are some rocks on a cliff in Ireland that look like a face." It could not, however, provide any evidence at all for the assertion "This image indicates a divine presence," Clifford's feelings notwithstanding. I do wish she had asked the Germans if they also felt themselves to be in the presence of the divine, but their answer would not have affected the truth of her statement either way. The face in the rocks might actually have been that of Odin. Or Mohammad. Or Santa Claus. Or no one at all. It might be-- and very likely is-- simply an image that formed in the rocks naturally through erosion, with no intent by anyone to convey an impression of anything face-like. Cool, certainly, but not necessarily divine.

Most of us probably recall staring up at the sky as children, trying to identify shapes in the clouds. For some reason when we become adults, we tend to forget (if we ever realized in the first place) that the perception of the shapes comes from us, and not something inherent about the clouds themselves. Or the wood grain in a door, the gravel on a road, or the rocks in a cliff. Making patterns out of randomness is what humans do, and we're very very good at it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My favorite quote right now

TheTweetofGod is the Twitter account of David Javerbaum, author of The Last Testament: A Memoir By God. I follow it because somebody retweeted something hilarious he said one day and I decided that my day could do with some more ongoing hilarity. But he also makes some interesting observations, such as the one above. It seems especially relevant today, in light of this bit from a GQ interview with Herman Cain that everyone seems to be talking about:
Chris Heath: You've said that you find it hard to be politically correct. Why do you find it hard? 
Herman Cain: When you learn how to be politically correct, you sound like all of the other politicians. People like my directness and my bluntness. What happens when you become so worried about being politically correct, you find yourself not saying anything. Because you're trying to offend the least number of people. I'm trying to attract the greatest number of people. Different strategy.
Does this count as "bragging"? I'd say so. Because Cain is contrasting himself positively to "all of the other politicians" who, presumably, are dishonest because they're trying not to offend people. Whereas Cain is blunt and direct-- he gives it to you straight, and people like that.

But people also like not being offended, don't they? It sure seems that way. So are politicians who are politically correct mistaken about what will offend people? Or are they aware of what will offend people, but avoiding offending people requires dishonesty so it's better to be direct and blunt?

The answer that most people who pride themselves on not being politically correct would give is: yes. That is precisely what they think. Because every time they are direct and honest, somebody gets offended.  And it couldn't be the case that what they're saying is legitimately offensive, so it must be that they're simply politically incorrect. This is how "politically incorrect" as a label of pride has come to be a code word for "asshole." It rests on the assumption that all attempts to avoid offending people are based in dishonesty. That if everybody  were honest, everybody would say things that are commonly considered offensive. A person who proclaims that he or she is politically incorrect, "just telling it like it is," is in fact doing so because he/she assumes we're all assholes's just that the rest of us insist on hiding it.

Political incorrectness that isn't legitimately offensive usually takes the form of comedy. Making jokes out of things that would otherwise be considered horrible to say is an art form, and one of the things that makes a comedian excel in this is making it obvious that he or she doesn't mean it. If your audience leaves a performance thinking that you are actually a bigot, they probably won't be your audience again-- unless, of course, they're bigots themselves. I'm sure there are actual racists and homophobes who find Lisa Lampanelli funny, because they enjoy her jokes on a very base, literal, let's just call it "moron" level of comedy comprehension and don't understand that she's actually making fun of them.

Non-comedic political incorrectness that is not legitimately offensive also exists. It must, if illegitimate offense can exist. It will always be tricky to clarify what should count as such and what shouldn't, but it's important to do so in order to avoid allowing people like Cain to claim that everything they say falls into that category. Whatever you might think about the ethics of using the word "niggardly," for example, it shouldn't be placed in the same category as a statement of belief such as branding Muslims in general as terrorists or declaring that a pizza with lots of vegetables on it is a "sissy pizza." I have to use that example because it's from the same interview with Cain quoted above, and it seems to be what people are talking about today. notes:
In an interview with GQ, Cain decries any adherence to political correctness and then uses a term that will probably offend. . .
Over a pizza lunch, Cain offered his take on what makes a "manly" pizza. The use of sausage was high on his list. But vegetables were "sissy" pizza.
"I'm very particular about the pizza that I eat," he explained, saying men want a harmony of "abundance" and "taste."
"What can you tell about a man by the type of pizza that he likes?" asked reporter Chris Heath.
"The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is," Cain declared. "Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance," he added with a laugh.
"A manly man don't want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza," Cain said.
Yes, we are talking about a presidential candidate with the sensibilities of a twelve year old boy.* Talking this way isn't just "politically incorrect"; it's offensive and frankly stupid. It is, to return to our initial quote, as sign that the speaker is also dozens of other kinds of incorrect. It is not a state of being of which a person should be proud, nor one for which he deserves respect and admiration except by others who are equally incorrect. Lisa Lampanelli is cleverer, funnier, and less offensive. Maybe she should run for president.

* Apologies to all of the bright, mature twelve year old boys out there who know better and would never say such things.

Monday, November 7, 2011

LGBT news today

1. Lesbians sent to "forced confinement" clinics in Equador are being tortured. has a petition to the Ecuadorian Minister of Health to stop the practice.

2. The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality's (NARTH) annual conference this weekend will feature a speaker advocating for the imprisonment of gays around the world.

3. The Family Research Council is apoplectic about Conan O'Brien getting a mail-order ordination and presiding over the same-sex marriage of one of his staff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pareidolia of the day: Face of foreboding

Here's an interesting one: a face in a testicular tumor.

Photo: Chronicle of Higher Education

The image of the man's face, seemingly in some distress, was sent to Urology, the International Society of Urology's official journal, and was published in the journal's September volume. 
G. Gregory Roberts and Naji J. Touma, from Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, had conducted the ultrasound to examine an unusual mass in the testicle of a 45-year-old patient. 
Writing in the journal, they said: "The residents and staff alike were amazed to see the outline of a man’s face staring up out of the image, his mouth agape as if the face seen on the ultrasound scan itself was also experiencing severe epididymo-orchitis,” wrote the authors, referring to an inflammatory condition.
The article notes that no religious significance was attached to the image, as is often the case when faces appear pretty much anywhere else-- doors, underpasses, grilled cheese sandwiches, and so on. I can't help but wonder whether the reason for that might be the unfortunate location of this appearance. What person would want to believe that a higher power deliberately placed the image of a face on something like a tumor? Especially a face with....well, an expression like that?

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Radley Balko got quite a lot of hate mail in response to an article he wrote for HuffPo on Occupy Wall Street. One letter hilariously complains
I am appalled by your lack of integrity. You quoted someone from the Cato Institute but didn’t reveal that you also worked for them. You also didn’t reveal that while they pretend to be conservatives, they are really George Soros peacenicks, homos, and potheads (your probably all three) who wear ties to disguise themselves.
Peacenicks, Homos, and Potheads Who Wear Ties. It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Ed Brayton picked this up and reprinted it on his blog, where the first posted response was "Not to forget that Cato is financed in large part by the Koch brothers…" Brayton replied:
So is the ACLU. That doesn’t mean they don’t do great work on many important issues. Nor does the fact that they’re wrong on some issues. I think some people just don’t get the point of a think tank that looks at a large range of issues. They have scholars who specialize in entirely different subjects. Their scholars working on economic regulation issues may be completely wrong and their scholars working on Fourth Amendment or eminent domain issues (or any number of others) may be completely right. Heck, the same scholar may be right on one issue and wrong on others, or right on the overall issue while wrong on some particular facet of it. Welcome to the real world, where no one is right on everything (you and me included).
Following from my recent post on spokespeople.....yes. Of course groups are more complicated. Of course money changing hands encourages bias. Of course we have to decide whether a non-profit/think tank endorses our goals enough to justify supporting them financially. These concerns are all relevant. But an organization receiving money from sources you dislike is not rat poo in your ravioli. It doesn't irredeemably taint the group as a whole, and it doesn't make their conclusions false. Good luck finding a politically active organization to support which is funded entirely by people who agree with you. People have different interests, different goals, and if we're concerned with politics while too busy with life to be full-time activists ourselves, we have to figure out who is doing the closest thing to what we'd be doing if we were activists, and support them.  

If deciding that individuals in public life are your spokespeople and getting angry or denouncing them when they say something "wrong" is unreasonable and unrealistic, then surely doing the same thing with organizations is moreso. Actually thinking critically about the content of information disseminated and the value of acts committed is obviously more work, but it beats simply turning your brain off and putting your entire faith in a group or denouncing that group as evil in every way. Doesn't it?