Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Pleading for Sympathetic Acceptance: Your host blogger is in the process of moving, and has precious little time (not to mention space) to write. She should return to her regularly scheduled ranting in due time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The blood footprint

More animal-friendly than a vegetarian? 
There are all sorts of ways in which people can alter their diets for ethical reasons, but the presumed reason that people become vegetarians out of ethical concern is that they don't want to cause any animals to die in order to supply their meal. Jackson Landers at Zester Daily puts forth the counter-intuitive position that sometimes not eating meat can cause more suffering and death than eating it. In A Better Choice: Deer, he compares eating hunted venison to soy burgers:
Meat is not the only food that is the byproduct of animals suffering. Other foods have what I call a "blood footprint," but the relationship is more subtle. It is possible for a vegetarian meal to require more suffering than a carnivorous meal. A thoughtful carnivore, especially if she is a hunter, can potentially eat with a smaller blood footprint than a vegetarian. 
Consider the typical blood footprint of that mainstay of a vegetarian diet, the soy burger. The meal itself contains no meat. But the production of soy and tofu on an industrial scale requires quite a lot of killing. Crop depredation by deer and other animals is a huge problem for most soy growers. The majority of states will issue depredation permits to farmers who are suffering crop damage, and as a result, deer are shot in high numbers in the name of protecting soy and corn crops. Some states require that the deer shot under these permits be left to rot, and forbid any meat from being taken from the animals. Crows, starlings, blackbirds and other birds are shot, trapped and poisoned by the millions every year in North America for the sole purpose of protecting crops. Millions of mice, voles and ground squirrels are trapped, poisoned or otherwise killed for the same purpose. 
All of the food harvested from these fields is technically vegetarian fodder, but how many lives were lost to produce that tofu burger? How much suffering was required? You won't find anything on the label about that. If your purpose in ordering from the vegetarian menu was to dodge cruelty, your mission failed. 
True, if you compare a tofu burger to a grain-fed beef burger, the tofu burger comes out ahead. Corn-fed beef involves all of the sins required to grow its food, and then the cow is slaughtered to boot. But a wild venison burger is arguably a more ethical way of putting lunch on the table. A wild deer requires no killing until the moment of harvest to produce some 40 pounds of meat, even from a smallish animal. The deer lives free of cages, electric prods, hormones or antibiotics. No other animals are trapped, poisoned or shot to bring it to maturity. The blood footprint of the venison burger may be less than that of a tub of popcorn. One life, divided among many meals. The deer lives a good life, and then has one bad day.
Obviously this is not a complete argument for ethical vegetarians to resume/begin being omnivorous. For one thing it isn't necessary that they consume soy, though this essay addresses the importance of considering the possible suffering caused to animals in the production of whatever food you do eat, because that too is part of your blood footprint even if no actual animal flesh is part of your diet. Not eating soy doesn't get you off the hook. For another, while it might be possible for all current vegetarians to become deer hunters and swap soy for venison, that's a) not a very realistic thing to imagine and b) as proliferate as deer are, it wouldn't be possible for all of us who currently eat meat with a greater blood footprint than venison to switch to that as well. America eats too much meat, period, for us all to switch to venison even if we wanted to. And plenty of us don't.

Still, this is an excellent reminder to differentiate between ethics and sentimentality. I wrote the following on this blog two years ago, as part of a general discussion on the morality of survival:
I'm not touching so much on the "meat vs. no meat" discussion here, because I think that's a somewhat different issue. Certainly that's an ethical matter as well, but I think bringing the discussion of whether eating meat is inherently unethical into the general topic of how to eat ethically muddies things quite a bit. There are more and less ethical ways to eat meat, and generally speaking they coincide with the more and less healthy ways to eat meat. For example, I think that people who object to factory farming but aren't vegetarians should be big fans of hunting, which often involves shooting a deer, putting it in the freezer, and eating from it for much of the winter. That white-tailed deer has lived in the wild all of its life, eating the plants that Odocoileus virginianus traditionally eats as opposed to dining on corn and standing in its own feces, and later is killed by a hunter to provide a family with meat that is nutritionally superior to that of a CAFO steer. And we have in this country a ton of deer, as anyone who habitually drives in the country and has to worry about accidentally hitting one can testify. Of course not everyone can hunt for their food due to constraints on both geography and population, but it's something that meat-eaters who are concerned about the interests of animals should enthusiastically endorse.  
There may be a cultural gulf between the type of people who hunt and fish and the people who shop Whole Foods for only the most humanely produced organic products, but there isn't really an ethical one. At least, not nearly as much as one might think. And at least not regarding food.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Savage U

Long-time sex columnist, author, podcaster, advocate, and public educator Dan Savage now has a TV show. And it looks good.

I was a little concerned before watching the trailer that the show would be watered down, homogenized, and generally weaker than the typical frank, funny, pointed commentary we tend to get from Savage. And I'm still a little concerned, but not nearly as much. Savage has been doing Q&A presentations at universities and occasionally the odd appearance at stage venues in various parts of the country for years now, and it looks like the show is going to pretty much just show those appearances...along with some candid conversations with specific students about their particular concerns. But it's MTV, so there's still the potential for unexpected ruin. Nevertheless I'm keeping my hopes up and planning to watch. Hopefully a lot of non-collegiate teenagers will watch as well-- the kind of people Savage needs to speak to directly even more, but can't. And maybe, maybe, they will even watch with......their parents!

Yeah, probably not. But one can dream. The show premieres Tuesday, April 3.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Some actual good relationship advice on the web

I know, it's hard to believe. But hear me out in appreciating Madame Noir for the article 8 Dynamics That Should Never Exist in a Relationship (formerly "8 Things Women Think Are Normal In A Relationship That Aren't," which was a wise change). Since it's a list, each item must have a title. And each title appears so obvious upon reading it that you might wonder why anyone would need a list to inform them that these particular dynamic sshouldn't exist in their relationships, but then it's not the titles that matter most-- it's the descriptions and examples. Most of us tend to think we have good relationship sense, especially after we've had a few or a dozen, but we can also forget that that a relationship doesn't have to be outright abusive in order to have problems that need to be addressed. The section on "royal mentality" reminded me of this. Yes, the whole thing is written for women...but men, I know you can overlook that and benefit from it anyway.

Conservative group to gather, bemoan 40 year old advance in sexual freedom

No, I'm not kidding. And no, this is not from The Onion, though it sounds like it. The Family Research Council is holding a symposium on Wednesday, March 21st, to get together and talk about a terrible moment in history. The title is 40 Years Since Eisenstadt v. Baird: A Look at the High Court's Legal Attack on Marriage. Eisenstadt v. Baird, whose ruling was actually delivered on March 22, 1972, was when SCOTUS decided that unmarried people should have the same access to contraceptives that married people do, invalidating state laws to the contrary. Here is the FRC's statement on the purpose of their event:
On March 22nd, 1972, the Supreme Court undermined the boundaries and benefits of marriage. In the decision Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court struck down a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people, and implicitly sanctioned unmarried non-procreative sexual intimacy. 
While the decision may seem archaic and insignificant by modern sexual standards, Eisenstadt v. Baird dealt a decisive blow to the legal and cultural norm that marriage was the institution for the full expression of the sexual relationship between man and woman. The decision and its legal consequences affect us today. Forty years ago, the Court ruled that unmarried couples could not be denied their birth control. Today, the Federal government is forcing us to share the cost, for said contraception and some states are giving marital status to homosexual relationships. 
Join us on March 21st, as legal and social science experts Helen Alvaré and Pat Fagan explain why the Court's decision matters and how anyone who cares about the family should understand the legal landscape and the social consequences of this momentous decision.
It's telling that the final paragraph refers to "the family," and not "families." This is for the same reason that the organization is called the Family Research Council in the first place-- to seize hold of the notion of "family" and fight with tooth and nail against it referring to any other arrangement than one biological mother and one biological father who are married and have sex only after marriage. I would say "for the purpose of procreation," but apparently the FRC is a-okay with sanctioning married non-procreative intimacy, just not the unmarried kind.

And of course, they likewise want to grab onto the word "marriage" and insist that only one meaning of the word is appropriate-- theirs. That's the only way to describe the SCOTUS ruling as an "attack on marriage" with a straight face, when it did absolutely nothing to actually prevent people from getting married (just as, when it eventually acknowledges the right of gays to marry, it will do nothing to prevent anyone from getting married but conservatives will likewise again complain about being "attacked"). Presumably the FRC wants all children to be born to married parents, so their opposition to Eisenstadt here amounts to an objection to unmarried people being able to have sex, period. Thinking about this, bear in mind that not only did 95% of Americans have premarital sex in 2002, but that (evenly balanced as to sex) 70% had it in the 1930's.

The people going to the FRC gathering on Wednesday should consider that their great-grandparents might well have had sex outside of marriage, and used contraceptives in the process to prevent pregnancy. Yes, I know it's not fun to think about your ancestors having sex, period. But just for the sake of this thought experiment, it's important. It's important for the sake of remembering that no matter how much you want children to be born to parents joined in marriage, the solution is not to try and force unmarried people into marriage by preventing them from being able to have sex without risk of conception. For one thing, it should be obvious by now that that doesn't work. For another, people make their own sex lives, both before and after marriage (or totally outside of it, for those of us who are not keen on marriage to begin with). It's possible that if Eisenstadt had not turned out in the way it did, there might still be states with laws on the books preventing unmarried couples from having access to birth control. In which case we could expect to see the number of married couples skyrocket, but the demand for birth control remain the same if it doesn't escalate. Because people who want to have sex without procreating will do so. And they are the majority, all of the time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend web readin'

From Roger Ebert's Journal at the Chicago Sun-Times, Hey kids! Anybody here not heard the F-word?
Money quote:
If a director wants to make a film against bullying, it is not for a committee of MPAA bean-counters to tell him what words he can use. Not many years ago, the word rape was not used in newspapers, on television--or in the movies, for that matter. But there is a crime, and the name of the crime is rape, and if you remove the word you help make the crime invisible. 
This is yet another example of the MPAA sidestepping ethical judgments by falling back on the technicalities of its guidelines. It is even more insidious because the MPAA never clearly spells out its guidelines, leaving it to filmmakers to guess--although they often judge by past experience. It seems to me that either the f-word word is permissible, or it is not. If impermissible, nobody should use it at all in a PG-13 film. If permissible, nobody should count. Is it a magic word, a totemistic expression that dare not say its own name? Is it a vulgar equivalent of such a word as G-d?
From Bloomberg ViewFight Birth-Control Battle Over the Counter: Virginia Postrel
Money quote:
Unlike most medications, the article noted, birth-control pills require no medical diagnosis: “A woman herself determines her need for oral contraception; she assesses her own risk of pregnancy ... and the costs and benefits of both pregnancy and alternative contraceptions.” Nearly two decades later, birth- control pills look even safer than they did then, and recent research indicates that women are both able and eager to manage their own purchase decisions. 
Requiring a prescription “acts more as a barrier to access rather than providing medically necessary supervision,” argues Daniel Grossman of Ibis Reproductive Health, a research and advocacy group based in Massachusetts, in an article published in September in Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 
Birth-control pills can have side effects, of course, but so can such over-the-counter drugs as antihistamines, ibuprofen or the Aleve that once turned me into a scary, hive-covered monster. That’s why even the most common over-the-counter drugs, including aspirin, carry warning labels. Most women aren’t at risk from oral contraceptives, however, just as most patients aren’t at risk from aspirin or Benadryl, and studies suggest that a patient checklist can catch most potential problems.
From the LaCrosse Tribune, Iowa high school assembly stirs protest
Money quote:
DUNKERTON, Iowa — Administrators, teachers and students did not get what they expected Thursday during an extended school program. 
Everyone anticipated the message from Junkyard Prophet, a traveling band based in Minnesota, to be about bullying and making good choices. Instead, junior and senior high students at Dunkerton High School and faculty members said they were assaulted by the group's extreme opinions on homosexuality and images of aborted fetuses. 
"They told my daughter, the girls, that they were going to have mud on their wedding dresses if they weren't virgins," said Jennifer Littlefield, a parent upset with the band's performance.
Her daughter, Alivia Littlefield, 16, is a junior, and called Littlefield after the event. 
"I couldn't even understand her, she was crying so hard," Littlefield said. 
Littlefield also did not appreciate what she described as gay bashing. 
"They told these kids that anyone who was gay was going to die at the age of 42," she said. "It just blows me away that no one stopped this."
From Addicting Info, Fox News: There Is Definitely A 'War on Women Voters'
Money quote:
When the propaganda arm of the Republican party admits that there is a war on women voters, it’s time to accept that the recent attacks on women’s rights are not coincidental, that they are, in fact, an orchestrated political strategy. Sally Kohn of Fox News writes,
While women voters might rather focus on jobs and the economy, watching Republicans jeopardize women’s health and reproductive freedom while slandering those who try and stand in their way is enough to make women demand not only good jobs and fair pay but political leaders who respect the liberty and rights of women in America. 
President Obama’s campaign may be paying for fliers and advertisements to attract women voters, but in this regard, Republicans are giving him the kind of help that money can’t buy.
Now, to be fair, Kohn does seem to be a token liberal. She’s openly gay and was hired as part of Fox’s new “kinder, gentler” approach. And of course, Kohn doesn’t speak for the talking heads at Fox News. Bill O’Reilly, for example, denies that there is a war on women, going as far as to say, “It’s not about women,” much to the dismay of even one of his own correspondents. According to O’Reilly and his radio counterpart, Rush Limbaugh, the war on women isn’t because of Republican actions, it’s a Democratic conspiracy.
Also.....this ain't readin', but it's definitely worth watching (or, okay, watchin'):

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Doonesbury's take on anti-abortion ultrasound bills

Your local newspaper may not be running these cartoons specifically done to satirize the bills passed and passing to require invasive/unnecessary ultrasounds in order for women to get abortions, and here's why:
Several newspapers are reportedly running “flashbacks” — i.e. old strips — in lieu of this week’s Doonesbury, which deals with the recent spate of anti-abortion ultrasound bills.
“We thought the strips were over the line for the comics pages and won’t be running them,” Oregonian features editor JoLene Krawczak told Jim Romenesko. “We’ll tell readers where they can read them online.” 
The more controversial strips, expected to run Tuesday and Thursday, contain the lines “Do your parents know you’re a slut?” (directed at the strip’s protagonist by a “state legislator” after she tell him she’s been using the health clinic’s contraceptive services) and “By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape” (announced by the doctor administering the pre-termination sonogram).
Here's where you can read all six of them online. But after (or before) doing so, may I suggest registering some displeasure with the newspaper editors who found it appropriate to make you? A comment from Trudeau on his intentions:
For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why [Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice. 
Indeed. Thanks for this, Mr. Trudeau. After all, it's better to laugh than to cry, right? 

Fun with word clouds

Upon discovering, I decided to make a couple of word clouds. First, for my CV and dissertation (both of which which can be viewed by clicking the tab above, or here). And then another for this blog, which apparently only captured words from this front page. Very fun.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Misconceptions on contraception

Do you know how this stuff works?
This ongoing battle over the significance of contraception has come as quite a shock to those of us for whom it has been a normal, completely non-controversial part of life for so long. But perhaps it shouldn't be. Attacks on its importance have come in large part from people who don't know how contraception works, and that number will surely increase if measures like Utah's push to ban instruction on birth control, homosexuality, and any kind of extra-marital sex in public schools succeed and proliferate. What's especially worrisome is not just that Americans are stunningly ignorant of the varieties of contraception, their function, and their effectiveness, but that they aren't aware of their own ignorance:
Jenna had been living with her boyfriend for several months when he floated his own contraceptive theory. Jenna was taking her birth control pills continuously, meaning that she was skipping the pack’s built-in placebo pills in order to stop her period. At some point, her boyfriend discovered how she had managed to avoid the monthly ritual. “I was thinking you were just magical, like a unicorn,” he told her. “I mean, you hope one exists somewhere, but you never think you’ll get to live with one…a cool chick with no period drama that has sex all month long.” He added, “The guys thought I was making it up.” (Boyfriends could not be reached for comment for this story). 
According to a new study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, many young American men exhibit attitudes toward contraception that could best be described as “magical.” The study [PDF] surveyed American singles ages 18–29 about their perceptions about and use of contraception. Twenty-eight percent of young men think that wearing two condoms at a time is more effective than just one. Twenty-five percent think that women can prevent pregnancy by douching after sex. Eighteen percent believe that they can reduce the chance of pregnancy by doing it standing up. 
For the most part, men lagged behind women on the pregnancy prevention front. And when the study dipped into the realm of “female” forms of birth control, the gender divide intensified. In the study, 29 percent of men and 32 percent of women reported that they know “little or nothing about condoms.” When asked to rate their knowledge of birth control pills, 78 percent of men reported to be clueless, compared to 45 percent of women.
According to that study, most young people (the American singles in that age group) 
a) are sexually active (78% in the past year),
b) believe (94% male, 86% female) that pregnancy should be planned, and
c) say that it's important (88% male and 86% female) to avoid pregnancy right now.

Nonetheless, 19% no contraception at all and 24% use it inconsistently. 17% of women and 19% admitted that it is quite likely that they will engage in unprotected sex in the next year. 31% of women said that they had had an unplanned pregnancy. 

Why the discrepancy? A combination of ignorance (lack of information) and false belief (misinformation). Because these men and women did not receive sufficient instruction on contraception, they have relied on "folk" knowledge about how it works, which can make contraception seem unreliable at best and actually suspicious and harmful at worst:
Despite the myths, inflated fears, gaps in knowledge and more, nearly
all unmarried young adults say they have the knowledge they need to
avoid an unplanned pregnancy.  
• 90% believe (and 66% strongly believe) they have all the knowledge they
need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. 
Moreover, many are fatalistic about fertility and pregnancy… 
• 38% of men and 44% of women believe “it doesn’t matter whether you use
birth control or not; when it is your time to get pregnant it will happen.”
• Hispanics (49%) and non-Hispanic blacks (50%) are more likely than nonHispanic whites (34%) to believe that birth control doesn’t matter much.  
…and many are suspicious of the whole birth control enterprise.  
• 31% overall (40% of non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics) agree with the
statement, “the government and public health institutions use poor and
minority people as guinea pigs to try out new birth control methods.”
• 32% overall (44% of non-Hispanic blacks and 46% of Hispanics) agree with
the statement, “the government is trying to limit blacks and other minority
populations by encouraging the use of birth control.”
The study is full of other disturbing statistics, which you should definitely read for yourself. The take-home message, I think, is that young Americans are woefully misinformed about contraception, and even though the study says that only 13% of this group believe it to be morally wrong, misunderstanding how contraception works and how well it works can feed into the creation of beliefs about who needs contraception, and how much, and why. Erroneous beliefs that foster prejudice and, worse, grossly mistaken policy. Like in Arizona, where legislators are trying to make it possible for your employer to know whether you're using birth control and, if they have a problem with that, fire you for it.

One can't help but wonder how well they understand birth control. My hunch is: not well at all.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Working for a cause vs. for yourself

In discussion about Gloria Allred's attempt to prosecute Rush Limbaugh at Dispatches, a commenter called Harold observed the following (the first line is a quote from another comment, to which he is responding):
Is Allred trying to give Limbaugh the upper hand in the court of public opinion?
I believe she would not care one way or another.
A group of people exist who attempt to “take over” popular progressive stances and make themselves the “only real” advocates.
In doing so, they consciously or unconsciously value their own ego more than the cause they are ostensibly associated with.
To test for this propensity, simply ask yourself –
1) “If the issue I claim to be motivated by were resolved in the way I claim to want, to the great benefit of those I claim to ‘speak for’, but I received no direct credit or recognition, would I be happy?”
2) “Can the issue ever be resolved to my satisfaction, or will I ‘up the ante’ any time a resolution seems near, even if the resolution gives what I previously seemed to be demanding?”
3) “If people I don’t like for some reason actually support my side of the issue I claim to be motivated by, do I react by angrily trying to ‘disqualify’ them from being ‘true’ supporters, rather than forming common cause with them (on that issue)?”
If the answer to any of these is “yes”, then you are not really exactly an advocate for gender equality, gay rights, animal welfare, or whatever it is. You are actually an egotist, who prefers that the injustice you claim to object to continue, so that you can continue to pose as a crusading martyr. And in this way, you are consciously or unconsciously a strong ally for those you claim to most oppose.
I like it. It's a test that people who find themselves acting as spokespersons for any movement should probably take for themselves periodically. That is, if they don't want others applying it for them, later on down the line.

Gloria Allred tries to use slut-shaming law to stop slut-shaming

The most important thing wrong, to my eyes, with the fact that Gloria Allred is trying to hold Rush Limbaugh criminally responsible for his "slut" remarks is that it elevates him. It gives credence to the claim that his First Amendment rights are being infringed, because if Allred is successful they would be. No supporter of free speech should stand behind that.

But the added bonus of disturbing can be found in he specific legislation Allred wants to use to prosecute him: Section 836.04 of the Florida Statutes, which allows for the criminal prosecution of anyone who “speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity.” Jonathan Turley writes:
What is curious about Allred’s embracing of this law is that it is overtly sexist. The law suggests that a woman who is viewed as unchaste is so harmed that she constitutes a crime victim. Chastity is defined by Webster’s as “(a) : abstention from unlawful sexual intercourse; (b) : abstention from all sexual intercourse.” The law is based on the out-dated notion that a woman who has sex before marriage is damaged and subject to social stigma. To put it more colloquially, such a woman was viewed as a “slut or prostitute.” That is precisely the outrageous view voiced by Limbaugh in relation to Fluke and led to a worldwide condemnation. Now, Allred wants him prosecuted under a law that assumes that is based on the same assumption. The law was not designed to prevent women from being called sluts. Laws like Florida’s code provision were designed on the belief that a woman who is unchaste is a slut — and that “good” women should never be accused of sex before marriage. So Allred wants Limbaugh prosecuted for saying Fluke is a slut based on the law that effectively treats unchaste women as sluts. It does not protect men because an unchaste man was viewed under these dated laws as just a normal man. A man was not viewed as harmed or demeaned by being sexually active. Only a woman was harmed by the suggestion of sexual activities. Not also the law only protects women who are “falsely” accused of being unchaste. Thus if a woman has been sexually active before married, she would presumably not be protected under the law.
It's troublesome enough that so many people who are happy to condemn Limbaugh for his remarks without mentioning that it would be wrong to call Fluke a slut even if she did stand up in front of Congress and testify that she slept with five different men every day. But the law Allred wants to use against Limbaugh buys into the exact same patriarchal, sexist thinking that she seeks to prosecute. In no way does this effort score points for free speech or feminism, and so merits a big thumbs down from this fan of both.

The appropriate response when someone says that Fluke (or anyone) is a slut is not "No she isn't." It's "I'm not going to accept that it's your business to morally judge her sex life, which is what you just declared by using that word." It takes longer to say, but it notes something important, something definitely worth noting.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cultural relativism in gaming

Here you go:

The specific subject that MovieBob talks about is an incident involving a man named Aris Bakhtanians, who was confronted for publicly verbally sexually harassing a female player who he was coaching in a video game reality show. In brief, Aris defended his actions by saying that sexual harassment is part of the fighting game community, and that if you remove sexual harassment, it is no longer the fighting game community. 
Here’s where MovieBob attains Super Bigot Fighting Hero status. MovieBob doesn’t take (much) time addressing the specific instance for which Bakhtanians was criticized. Instead he opens up a dialogue about the argument itself – its weakness, its lameness. He points out that this excuse is used to justify many forms of racism, sexism and homophobia. He takes to task similar arguments like “It’s just how things are” and “This is the last place that it’s okay to talk like this.”

Pamela Geller is vile

Previously I knew Pamela Geller as a "creeping Sharia" proponent, the kind of person who makes a living off making Americans as afraid of Muslims as possible to the point of encouraging us to refuse them the rights we would ordinarily recognize as existing for any American; for any human. She is that, but her reaction to the Fluke/Limbaugh matter shows that she is a female misogynist as well, past the ranks of Ann Coulter. There's a special category of political commentator that should place them beyond consideration by anyone who strives to be rational. This category I called "unhinged," and Limbaugh and Coulter have dwelt in it for a very long time. Now, Geller makes me wonder if another category is needed for the super extra unhinged, the kind who might need to be institutionalized but instead are treated as a relevant political voice by...well, some. It's hard to tell how many. 

Exhibit A:
A 30-year-old poses as a 23-year-old, chooses a Catholic University to attend at $65,000 per year, and cannot afford ALL the birth control pills she needs... so she wants the US taxpayers to pay for her rampant sexual activity. By all accounts she is banging it five times a day. She sounds more like a prostitute to me. She must have an gyno bill to choke a horse (pun intended). Calling this whore a slut was a softball.
Exhibit B:
I have had it up to here with Fluke's vagina. Seriously. Clearly she's a plant. I don't have to exalt or honor women who debase and lower themselves to meat status. I will not honor this pig. I will not teach children to debase themselves. I will not teach children that this is "empowerment." 
I explain it to young girls this way. Go into any Wal-Mart or Target. There are hundreds of black handbags for sale in bins, hung on display walls, all cheap or moderately priced, and they can't give them away. 
Now  go into Hermes. There is one black, gorgeous, impossible to get, crocodile Birkin bag. There are waiting lists for this bag. No one can get that bag. It costs a fortune and still everyone wants that bag. 
Be that bag. 
I despise the women's movement. I despise what they have done to women (and men). Just look at Fluke. She is a full-fledged activist and an embarrasment [sic] to decent young women. 
Note: Sandra Fluke is not the one who made this about her sex life. Sandra Fluke did not make any mention of her sexual activity, and it wouldn't matter if she had. In no way did Fluke pretend to be anything other than what she is, and it's not her fault if conservative commentators made assumptions which proven to be erroneous. And Sandra Fluke is not the one comparing women to merchandise.

Women aren't an ideological group. We are a biological/cultural one, so there's no sense in which the behavior of one woman should be considered an embarrassment to the rest of us. But if one should be considered such, it doesn't seem like Fluke is that woman.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The "what you did" vs. "who you are" distinction matters

So Rush Limbaugh's brother David is sticking up for him and complaining that people aren't accepting Rush's sincere (yes, that's how David characterizes it) apology for being a bigoted lout. The apology in which, I would note, Rush further insults those whose pardon he ostensibly seeks by suggesting that his poor behavior amounts to sinking down to their level. The refusal to accept this apology as authentic and satisfactory by liberals, David says, amounts to rank hypocrisy. You can probably guess the basis for that complaint before I even quote him:
What I am observing is the most radical display of hate and intolerance that I've witnessed in years. It does not surprise me, but it is ironic that the very people who masquerade as exemplars of tolerance, civility and compassion have no room in their hearts for forgiveness.
The immediate response to this, of course is-- radical display of hate and intolerance? Are you talking about your brother's behavior? No, he is not. He is honestly saying that hateful and intolerant liberals are refusing to accept Rush Limbaugh's apology because they "want his scalp," and this is ironic given how much liberals like to talk about tolerance and compassion and stuff.

I would like to meet the liberal-- the anyone-- who defines tolerance and compassion as being nice to people who act like bigoted assholes for twenty years and then offer a backhanded apology for it once their sponsors start to pull out. No, when liberals advocate for tolerance and compassion, what they're advocating is for people to stop being vocally bigoted, especially to stop legislating their bigotry. You can be a bigot, but behind closed doors please. Stop pretending that the sight of a gay couple holding hands somehow damages your psyche and grow up. There are still Americans who haven't yet grown up and accepted the sight of an interracial couple holding hands, but we're making progress. Tolerance is recognizing that what people are, if they're consenting adults and aren't harming anyone, is not your business. Compassion, in this context, means not foisting your private moral disapproval on them by attempting to outlaw what they are, or at least the expression of what they are. Acceptance would be not disapproving in the first place, but people don't have a lot of control over what they accept. Acceptance is a feeling, and it's unfair to try and dictate peoples' feelings.  They can certainly, however, change their behavior.

Back to Rush Limbaugh. People are condemning him because of what he did, which was express bigotry against someone for who she is. Some people are taking the low road and making fun of his weight, yes, but the slams against him are not in general about immutable or semi-immutable traits. When you attack who someone is, you are by extension attacking everyone who shares the relevant trait in common. In calling Sandra Fluke a slut for wanting birth control, Rush called every woman who wants birth control a slut. And "every woman who wants birth control," in the U.S., is nearly all of us. Birth control is fundamental to womens' freedom and autonomy. In order to lead successful and independent lives, we need to be able to be sexually active without getting pregnant. That is why the war on birth control is being characterized as a war on women. In supporting it, especially by deeming it appropriate to insult and impugn the moral character of every woman who has used birth control, Rush attacked women for who they are. That is intolerant.

Refusing to be nice to individual people who have behaved abominably, especially intolerantly, is not intolerant. Tolerance has never been about being nice to individuals; it has been about respecting the autonomy and interests of groups. Every time a conservative attempts to conflate these two by whining about those liberals being so hypocritical by being mean to a bigot, a dittohead gets his wings.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Weekend web readin'

From The GuardianWired for Culture by Mark Pagel; Beyond Human Nature by Jesse J Prinz; Together by Richard Sennett – review
Money quote:
Central to his thesis is the fact that humans do not co-operate mindlessly, unlike other creatures that establish elaborate societies, such as ants and termites. In these cases, the role of the individual is suborned totally to the greater good of the nest or hive. Humans are still capable of expressing great individuality within a society. So think of our role in society as more like that of a venture capitalist who is trying to invest money, says Pagel. We seek out individuals with whom we can form the best alliances needed to set up friendships and businesses. The rewards are bountiful and can be seen in all the glories of modern civilisation, though we have to take care. This process only works if we select good candidates for co-operation and are selected, in turn, by others. To make sure this happens, says Pagel, we need to have good reputations. "Reputations act as the currency we use to buy trust and co-operation," he states. Thus we hold open doors, stand aside for others, help the elderly, give to charity and even risk our lives to save animals. It is all done to build up our own reputations so that others will seek us out and co-operate with us. 
But sometimes, says Pagel, it all goes a little bit too far and reputations are elevated to an almost religious status. They are considered to be heritable and are reckoned to run in families. As a result, those who are thought to be endangering a family's reputation are attacked by their close relatives. The result is an honour killing. Seen from this perspective, the act is a co-operative one taken to a grotesque, overzealous level. "A reputation acquires the worth of a human life," as Pagel puts it.
From TV By the Numbers, Syfy Original Series 'Monster Man' Will Showcase Hollywood Creature-Making Family Beginning Wednesday, March 14
Money quote:
Syfy will premiere its latest original docuseries Monster Man on Wednesday, March 14 at 11PM (ET/PT), immediately following the second season finale of Face Off at 10 PM (ET/PT). Monster Man will return to its regular timeslot, Wednesdays at 10 PM (ET/PT), the following week on March 21. 
Monster Man goes behind the scenes of one of Hollywood’s most respected practical effects workshops. For more than thirty years, when studios want a bizarre creature or out-of-this world alien, they turn to Cleve Hall and the team at SOTA FX. Only the horrifying monsters they build match the craziness of this extremely talented family. 
From Digital Life on Today, The "lost" cell phone project, and the dark things it says about us
Money quote:
At 6:30 a.m., the finder opened the calendar, private pix, social networking, online banking, HR salaries, remote admin, corporate e-mail and passwords. For the rest of the day, there was near continuous rummaging through the phone, including the eventual launch of File Manager to see the entire phone's contents.  
"It's relentless. He can't get into online banking so he goes back to the file that has passwords in it, checks the passwords again and tries again,” Haley said. “He tries to log in remotely to the computer, can't get on so he goes to password to get the password and tries again." 
By nightfall, activity on the phone stopped, and it remained relative dormant until it was moved to New York City's Chinatown area at 5:35 a.m. Feb. 9 -- one week after it was lost -- and wiped clean, probably for sale on the black market.
From Dispatches From the Culture Wars,  Badass Quote of the Day
Money quote....okay, only quote:
‎”Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders and millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” — Howard Zinn.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What Rush hath wrought

On the Daily Show clip in my previous post, Jon Stewart begins (after introducing the show) by noting that Rush Limbaugh's profession is to be a loathsome human being. It's just a matter of fact-- he's good at it, and has done it for over two decades with considerable success. But it's easy to forget that there are people who think otherwise. People who actually take him seriously. People who think that he has things of value to say. People who pass such messages on to their children. Who then pass them on to other children.

A Daily Kos member going by the name "beantown mom" posted an account entitled "I've spent the past two days trying to convince my 16 y/o she is not a slut." Long story short: her daughter had to go on hormonal birth control due to menorrhagia and secondary dysmenorrhea. Her daughter then went to a five day camp for band members, during which any prescription medicine had to be kept by supervisors and distributed at the beginning of each day to those who required it. Pretty standard procedure, right? Here's what happened next:
Thursday, my daughter came home from school and seemed to be a little out of sorts. I chalked it up to being tired and trying to get caught up on homework and such; however, I did ask her if everything was alright and she said yes, she thought so- it was just that at lunch there were some girls whispering and pointing at her in lunch and then they would break out into little fits of laughter. She couldn't figure out why they were singling her out but admitted that a couple of the girls were ones she had once had a problem with. They were the "popular" girls, 2 of whom were cheerleaders, and last year they had singled her out calling her names and such when they got bored and, in my daughter's words, "ran out of girls to harass and make fun of in lunch". I gave it no further consideration- we went on about our business of getting homework done, etc. Friday morning, I took my kids to school and headed off to my mother's to do some errands and such for my family. With the impending storms and bad weather bearing down on us, I sent my daughter a text that I would pick her up from school. My son had baseball so I only had to worry about her getting home. 
I pulled into the parking lot and saw that she was standing inside the doors at school, her head down and shoulders shaking- I thought she was laughing at something someone said or was looking at her phone reading something funny. I honked and waived [sic] to motion her out, not sure if she saw me. She never looked up, just pushed open the door and practically ran to the car. She flung open the door and I started to say something about the wind and rain, but stopped mid sentence because of the look on my child's face! She was sobbing, face streaked with tears, cheeks red and eyes so swollen I could hardly see her beautiful brown eyes- I slammed the car into park right in the middle of the parking lot and asked her what was wrong.
Apparently I'm a slut- a whore- a bitch who is screwing every guy in school! 
She was speaking but it wasn't making sense- who said this? What are you talking about? For a minute we were talking over each other and finally I said just get in the car and tell me what is going on! She handed me a wrinkled piece of paper. I could tell it had been opened and closed, folded and unfolded wadded up and straightened out so many times it almost looked like it was going to fall apart in my hands. 
Little miss innocent, huh? Whatever slut- you take birth control pills so you can f*&# every guy in school! What a joke- u are nothin but a whore! Pretty bad when some guy on the radio who isn't afraid to tell the truth has to break it down for everybody- if u on the Pill u are nothing but a skank ass ho! My mom said girls on the pill are tramps who just wanna get laid and don't care about nothin- is that how u are?
I thought I was going to throw up! I was crying- crying for my sweet daughter who was in a puddle on the front seat of my car, crying because I was so angry I didn't know what to do first! I drove home with one arm around my daughter and one hand on the wheel; I was saying things but for the life of me I can't remember any of what I said now. I just wanted to take the pain away from my child! I wanted to make her stop crying, wanted to erase all the horrible pain that she was feeling.
I read about this at Pandagon, where Amanda Marcotte has a pointed and optimistic essay about the ridiculous effort to portray the vast majority of American women as somehow shameful because they have or will rely on birth control at some point in their lives. That group which, statistically speaking, almost certainly includes both the bully who wrote the note above and her mother. Amanda describes such shaming as "backsliding" in a culture where hormonal birth control has been a realistic option for three generations:
These kinds of attacks on individual women---in this case, a 16-year-old girl in high school---are only effective in an environment where the bullies can imply that using contraception and/or being sexually active is deviant. The idea is to isolate the victim, make them feel weird and different, and terrify them for it. But when you have the President in the White House talking about contraception as a normal part of health care for pretty much all women, it becomes clear that being sexually active and using contraception is the national norm, as wholesome and American as apple pie. The high levels of support for the HHS mandate suggests that most Americans are already there. This panic reaction is the last gasp of the old order trying to turn back the clock, to a time where it was scandalous for people to live together without being married, to when women who have sex with their boyfriends worry about their reputation, and when contraception was seen as embarrassing, and so some people tried their luck without getting any, and usually failed.  
The thing is, as this example above shows, backsliding is possible. (If anyone in my high school was bullied for using contraception, I don't remember it.) Which is why it's more important than ever to talk about sex, and specifically how normal it is, how universal it is, what the benefits are, and to shame anyone who would say otherwise. We have the numbers on our side. We just need the courage. Remember, the people who think there's something bad about women just because they fuck are the weirdoes [sic] here. Don't be afraid to really believe that and act on it. 
Hear, hear. The word that keeps coming up for me is "irrelevant." Birth control is normal, uncontroversial, and necessary for men and women, married and unmarried, with children or without, young and old. People who try to pretend otherwise in the name of sexual propriety and are attempting to use this issue as a means to shame American women in general (and specifically) are badly out of touch, have nothing of value to say on this vital topic, and have shown themselves to be truly...irrelevant.

If you still need some levity after the above (I sure do), check out the Mother Jones "Are You A Slut" flow chart. It's ridiculous in its accuracy and accurate in its ridiculousness.

The Daily Show rips on right wing reactions to Limbaugh

Technically this doesn't count as me saying something, because it's Jon Stewart saying something...right? A lot of things. A lot of very funny things, regarding Limbaugh but specifically regarding Republican presidential candidates' and Fox News' reactions to his shenanigans:

Monday, March 5, 2012

On what's relevant if you're female

1. At Camels With Hammers today, Daniel Fincke takes an admirable crack at a topic people have danced around quite a lot in discussing Rush Limbaugh's ridiculous portrayal of why women want birth control: not only does it have nothing to do with promiscuity, but you don't get to just assume there is something wrong with promiscuity regardless. That's not something on which we're all in agreement, okay? Never mind how difficult it is to define what counts as a "promiscuous" sex life as compared to a regular one, the problem with slut-shaming at its foundation is that it assumes there's something wrong with being (whatever you define as) a slut! So Fincke's post, No, You Can't Call People Sluts, bluntly points out that "slut" is to begin with a term meant to cast shame on something not only nebulous but (surprise!) not necessarily shame-worthy:
In no way, shape, or form do I take promiscuity to be, in itself, an immoral thing. So, no, I don’t think there is any word that you can use that I would find morally acceptable. You call that controlling your thought by not allowing you whatever insult you want? Sorry, that’s morality. It controls some things. You don’t want to be subject to my moral standards? Well, I don’t want consensual, responsible, promiscuous people who do not harm anyone to be subject to yours. I have a lot of good moral reasons to think they don’t deserve derision and that such treatment of yours towards them is unfair and worth calling out. So I’m not allowing that any abusive word aimed at men or women over their promiscuity is copacetic. I don’t have to acknowledge your moral right to use insults to bully people who are not doing anything morally wrong. Legally, you may say whatever you want that does not cross the line into actionable harassment, threats, or libel, etc. But morally if I allow you to call people sluts as perfectly acceptable, then I’m approving your value judgment as perfectly acceptable. You’re entitled morally to argue for the wrongness of promiscuity if you like. 
Your “distaste” is not an argument and nor is it a justification for dictating to others or for denigrating them.
2. At her blog, Greta Christina talks about how last when when she was speaking at the University of Chicago on the topic of atheism and sexuality, someone defaced a promotional poster for the event by writing next to a photo of her that she is "the ugliest of all atheists!" Because....somehow, that's relevant. Note: she admonishes readers not to attempt to reassure her that she's not ugly (which is true-- had to say that) because that undermines the point that it is, actually, not at all relevant. It's not relevant to how well she writes, how well she speaks, how qualified or educated she is, whether what she has to say is well-reasoned or compelling or humorous or insightful or timely or fun or....anything. But because she's female, people (both male and female) tend to think otherwise:
I’m reminded of something Tina Fey said in the New Yorker about show business. “I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women though, they’re all crazy. I have a suspicion — and hear me out, because this is a rough one — that the definition of crazy in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.” 
It’s not just show business. The definition of crazy is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore. Or, indeed, a woman who keeps talking even if the person she’s addressing doesn’t want to fuck her. A woman who keeps talking even if the person reading the poster advertising the talk doesn’t want to fuck her.

If it's not a battle, why make it one?

The ever-controversial American Atheists have erected billboards in Paterson, New Jersey (large Muslim population) and Brooklyn, New York (large Jewish population), respectively, with the following two messages:

Even though the CNN Belief Blog notes that AA president Dave Silverman says that the billboards are intended to reach atheists in these communities who feel pressured by those around them to conform to religious beliefs and customs, their title for the piece still claims that "Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with 'myth' billboards in Arabic and Hebrew" and portrays the billboards as taking a step further in the "battle between atheists and believers." Because that's more exciting, I guess. Quote from Silverman:
“Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he says. “If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them. We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don’t want to.”
Hence writing the text both in English and in these languages. Reactions from Muslim and Jewish figures in these communities hover around irritation, amusement, and disdain, as you might expect:
Mohamed Elfilali, executive director of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, laughed when he learned the Arabic billboard would go up in the same town as his office. He says he’s surprised that someone is spending money on such a sign. 
“It is not the first and won’t be the last time people have said things about God or religion,” Elfilali says. “I respect people’s opinion about God; obviously they are entitled to it. I don’t think God is a myth, but that doesn’t exclude people to have a different opinion.” 
But Elfilali bemoaned the billboards as another example of a hyper-polarized world. 
“Sadly, there is a need to polarize society as opposed to build bridges,” he says. “That is the century that we live in. It is very polarized, very politicized.” 
The Brooklyn billboard is likely to raise eyebrows among Jews, in part because Orthodox Jews don't write out the name of God, as the billboard does. 
“It is an emotional word, there will be an emotional response," said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future. "People will look at it in a bizarre way. People won’t understand why someone needed to write that out.”
Except that the billboards aren't intended for observant Jews and Muslims (ostensibly). They're intended for atheists living in neighborhoods dominated by such people who are probably visibly indistinguishable from those who are observant, because they are afraid of backlash. I get it. In theory, at least, these are intended to be advertisements to give such people the message that they are not alone; that there are others out there who have seen fit to question and even abandon their religious faith. One major thing a lot of people wrestle with in this process is the feeling of having to give up the support structure that a religious community provides, and this is probably doubly, triply, a concern when your religion is a minority one. And, you know, when you live smack dab inside one of its enclaves. This is something that appears to have flown right by Elfilali and Brander, who can only interpret the billboards as directed toward the entire body of Muslims/Jews.

...Not that I can blame them, exactly, when the billboards say "You know it's a myth." I think that if the intent of the billboards is, as Silverman says, to reach out to specific people who have abandoned or are abandoning their faiths, the message would be made drastically more clear-- and drastically less obnoxious-- if it read "If you believe it's a myth." Here's why:

1. It's presumptuous, but more importantly often dishonest, to tell other people what they know. If you haven't heard a prior statement from them claiming such, or witnessed them facing evidence that directly contradicts their belief, then you have no idea what they know regarding it. And even if you have been exposed to such things, you can't quite be sure. Knowledge is justified, true belief. If people do not believe a thing, they cannot know it. If there is a possibility that a person is ignorant or mistaken, it is erroneous to claim that they know. People sometimes claim to believe what they know to be false, but to suggest that to an entire community simply because you believe (or even know) what they believe is false is an error. And an offensive one, because it accuses them of dishonesty in addition to ignorance/mistakenness.

2. "If you believe it's a myth" sacrifices nothing in terms of epistemological grounding, and gains everything in terms of clarity and consideration. It doesn't entail that the speaker loses any knowledge of whether the religion in question is a myth, but acknowledges that the listener (reader, in this case) may or may not believe it to be a myth. Indeed, that's what determines whether the billboard is speaking to that particular individual or not. A person who does not believe that his/her religion is a myth might have use for an atheist organization according to the atheist organization, but probably not according to him/herself, so can safely ignore the message and-- more importantly-- need not be offended by it. After all, for every religious doctrine out there, there is someone who considers it mythological in the sense of not being true. A person who is offended by this fact would be just as offended by the existence of a billboard advertising for any other religion besides his/her own.

"If you believe it's a myth" does not entail that a person can't also know it's a myth. After all, all of those who know also believe. But the use of the words "if" and "believe" would enable the billboard to more effectively pick out the members of these communities to whom it is ostensibly directed, and do so far less offensively without sacrificing its own viewpoint. Win-win, I'd say. And they should keep "And you have a choice," because presumably that choice is about what to do regarding this view that the religion which predominates in one's community is a myth. You believe it's a myth; now what? Well, I guess you go to and proceed from there, on your way to becoming a well-adjusted atheist.

JT Eberhard has a post up today saying that the billboards are an answer to "fatwa envy." "Fatwa envy" is a term for the resentment some Christians voice when atheists are insufficiently (in the Christian's view) critical of Islam, suggesting that the reason is that atheists refrain from such because they fear Muslims but not Christians. It's masked as a complaint about inconsistency, but in this particular form is really a case of the Christian making the complaint ruing the fact that they aren't as scary-- that they can't say "I'll make you shut up" and have anything with which to back up that threat (whether that means Christian terrorists or laws against blasphemy, or both).

Sure, the billboards count as equal opportunity pissing off of religious people. I just don't see any particular reason to piss them off in this case, view it to be a matter of incoherence of message and failure in logic, as well as counter-productive. Four counts against it, and none for it (at least, if you count this as an argument for altering the message rather than silencing it, which is the intent).

Eberhard then posts a couple of pro-religion billboards, one which depicts a boy with a gun aimed at you (the viewer) which reads "If God doesn't matter to him, do you?"; the other simply asks "Where are you going? Heaven or Hell" with an enormous phone number underneath: 855-FIND-TRUTH (you can dial that; I sure am not going to). Yes, those are offensive-- strangely enough, for much the same reason that the American Atheist billboards are. They all make unfounded, presumptuous assumptions about both the person reading the billboards and the beliefs (or lack of beliefs) they attempt to depict. There is no evidence whatsoever that if God doesn't matter to a person, people don't. None. Fail on that one, for a crap argument which offensively suggests that a person's lack of belief makes them violent. The second billboard compounds the error of assuming what the reader knows with an outright (and ironically vague) threat: heaven or hell?  You're going to one of them, for some reason, and we're not saying why but we're sure you know it! Or maybe I'm reading it wrong, and it's a one-question quiz: Where are you going? A) Heaven, or B) Hell? That, I suppose, would make the acronym in the phone number at bottom make a lot more sense. However, in that case it assumes that you don't know your eternal destination whereas whoever/whatever answers the phone can tell you.

So ultimately, bringing up those billboards amounts to a tu quoque: they're doing it, so why shouldn't we? The answer can be expected: Because two wrongs don't make a right. Because not all offense is created equal. Some people are offended simply by being told that their beliefs are false, sure-- the more important the beliefs are to them, the more offense is likely. But the A/A billboard claims that not only are religions myths, but that the person reading those words-- who is more likely to be an actual observant Jew/Muslim than anything else-- knows it. That's justifiably offensive for reasons that I have already explained, and what's more completely unnecessary. No better than telling someone they know that they are going to Hell, another version of asserting someone's beliefs for them. Not nearly as bad as telling someone they're likely to be a murderer because they don't share your beliefs, or telling other people falsely that they are, I'll grant. But still offensive, and pointlessly, counter-productively so. What's to be gained from that, I really don't know.

The last I hope to say on this is...

...That you really should go read Ken at Popehat's entire commentary on the discourse regarding Limbaugh/Fluke. I have nothing to add, and couldn't agree more.

Why no women? Well...

Byron York at the Washington Examiner reports that Sandra Fluke's testimony for the Democratic Steering Committee and the necessity for having it was a bit...manufactured. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa says that the Democrats originally waited for days before suggesting witnesses for the hearing before the Oversight and Reform Committee until the afternoon before the hearing, and then proposed Rev. Barry Lynn (head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) and Fluke. The Republicans invited Lynn; the Democrats said "No, wait!" but it was too late, so they disinvited Lynn, then complained that there were no women present at the hearing which occurred.

Dear Dems....why? Barry Lynn would have given great testimony; I'm sure. But was there such a paucity of female witnesses to invite that you couldn't have picked two of them? Assuming, that is, that having a woman testify is so important (and I agree that it is)? That would have prevented the indignity of having to call up someone you specifically selected to present testimony and say "Oh wait, never mind" because it would mean that you couldn't moan about the lack of women later after having been given the option to hand pick one and botched it.

None of which is Sandra Fluke's fault, of course. Nor is it her fault that this happened:
Issa explained that Democrats had requested Barry Lynn, that Lynn was invited, and that Democrats then retracted the Lynn request.  As for Fluke, Issa said Republicans had never heard of the Democrats' last-minute choice.  "I asked our staff what is her background, what has she done," Issa said at the hearing.  "They did the usual that we do when we're not provided the three days and the forms to go with it. They did a Google search. They looked and found that she was, in fact, and is a college student who appears to have become energized over this issue and participated in approximately a 45-minute press conference…I cannot and will not arbitrarily take a majority or minority witness if they do not have the appropriate credentials, both for a hearing at the full committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and if we cannot vet them in a timely fashion." (Fluke is in fact a 30 year-old law student with an extensive history of activism in leftist causes.)
Extensive history of activism or not, she was not as easy to verify as Barry Lynn with a quick Google search (which was only necessary because proper notice and forms had not been submitted), so Issa went with Lynn. If this is all true, I can't blame him for that. Maybe there's a good reason I don't know of why the Democrats were so slow in getting their proposed witnesses in. But as it stands, it doesn't seem like the Republicans are entirely to blame for that hearing being composed exclusively of men.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Weekend web readin'

From Amnesty International News, Amnesty International Urges Stricter Limits on Police Taser Use As U.S. Death Toll Reaches 500
Money quote:
On Monday, Johnnie Kamahi Warren was the latest to die after a police officer in Dothan, Al. deployed a Taser on him at least twice. The 43-year-old, who was unarmed and allegedly intoxicated, reportedly stopped breathing shortly after being shocked and was pronounced dead in a hospital less than two hours later. 
"Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the United States, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used," said Susan Lee, Americas program director at Amnesty International. "This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative." 
Strict national guidelines on police use of Tasers and similar stun weapons – also known as Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) – would effectively replace thousands of individual policies now followed by state and local agencies.
From Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, International Sex Worker Rights Day
Money quote:
Saturday, March 3rd, is International Sex Worker Rights Day, which is being celebrated around the world by groups and individuals who seek to recognize and defend the rights of sex workers.
According to Woodhull’s Executive Director, Ricci Levy:
“Research has demonstrated that the criminalization of sex work is associated with violence against sex workers, decreased access to health care, barriers to reporting human rights abuses, and disempowerment in condom negotiation (whether a sex worker’s wishes regarding condom use are respected). Governments should recognize and address the relationship between laws criminalizing sex work and the human rights violations that result from these laws.  
We see the affirmation and defense of the rights of sex workers as an integral part of our work to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. International Sex Workers Rights Day isn’t just about securing the rights of sex workers; it’s about securing human rights.”
From Dr. X's Free Associations, Jim Hoft is shocked! Stunned! 
Money quote:
Always slow to process the world around him, Hoft also seems to believe that some sort of trick was played on him because Fluke is a law student and reproductive rights advocate rather than a 'coed.' It was just assumed in the conservative blog world that "Georgetown student" means "coed," which is, by the way, an anachronistic term that hasn't been used in decades except by conservative values voters, porn producers and horny frat boy types.
Of course, there was never any deception involved. From the beginning, Fluke was identified in the mainstream media as "a third-year student at Georgetown Law and past president of the school’s Students for Reproductive Justice group." That was reported 15 days before Hoft was stunned by the news that Ms. Fluke wasn't a character from a movie entitled D.C. Coed Sluts.
From Dispatches From the Culture Wars, Politician Stands Up for Church/State Separation
Money quote:
We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief. 
At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral.
Who said that? Known communist Ronald Reagan.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Marks of the cross that don't rub off

Tattoo representing the Fourth Station: Jesus
meeting his mother
As mentioned previously, I'm a tattooed person. Not heavily so, but I've got 'em. I also have, after quite a lot of observation of other people's tattoos and their explanations of why they got them, developed a schema regarding the central elements of getting a tattoo:

1) Placement: where does it go on your body, and how is it aligned?
2) Significance: what is its meaning, and how well is that conveyed?
3) Aesthetics: how good does it look, in the end?

These are weighted differently for different people, but they're all important. Discount any one of those three, and you're on your way to a bad tattoo. A highly meaningful, beautiful tattoo will very likely still be regretted if you get it in a place where you might later want to hide it but can't, or it doesn't work with your body. A beautiful tattoo in a good place that means nothing to you might be just fine if you're already covered with other tattoos, but if it's your only one or one of just a few, you might later wonder why you bothered getting it. A tattoo which is very important to you and in a good place but looks bad will leave you regretting that you didn't choose to represent such a significant thought better.

With regard to meaning, it's cliche that you shouldn't get the name of a significant other tattooed on you. It's tempting fate, practically foretelling the end of what was previously considered a rock solid, everlasting case of true love. I would even say that in most cases it's probably not a good idea to get text tattooed on yourself, though there are exceptions. The name of a deceased relative or your child is probably pretty safe-- the deceased relative is gone and cannot change (though I suppose you could discover something horrible about them posthumously, the likelihood of that seems small) and whatever happens with your child, he/she is still your child.

What about....your religion?
 In a hip, artsy, area of Houston, a hip, artsy pastor is taking an unorthodox approach to Lent.
Standing in front of his congregation at Ecclesia Church, a congregation he admits is different - more diverse, more urban - than many evangelical churches - Chris Seay encouraged them to do so something he said combines the ideas of sacrifice and devotion that mark the Lenten season, the 40-day lead up to Easter. 
He asked them to get tattoos. Specifically, he asked congregants to get a tattoo corresponding with one of the Stations of the Cross, the collection of images that depict scenes in Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion. 
“The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering,” Seay said in an interview. “Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.” 
To help with the project, Seay enlisted Scott Erickson, artist-in-residence at his church. Erickson designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos, leaving out four stations that Seay said changed in context when you are asking someone to get something permanently drawn on their body.
So, not just religious tattoos (though those are numerous, in most religions you can think of as well as plenty more). Tattoos encouraged by your pastor, within specific parameters, applied by your church's artist-in-residence. The article doesn't say which four stations of the original 12 Stations of the Cross were left out because they change in context as tattoos, but I'm guessing "Jesus is stripped of his garments" is one of them.

It's up to them, of course, but it doesn't sound like the best idea to me. First, because people have been known to change religions, or deconvert entirely. Second, because even if they don't change religion, they might leave this church. And if they do, they would leave it bearing a very specific mark that ties them to every other member of the congregation who likewise decided to participate in this. Third, because that's a whole lot of constraint on the design and aesthetic quality of the tattoo that they might not have chosen for themselves otherwise. Individuals opt to get tattooed ritually-- that is, to make a religious ritual out of the experience of getting tattooed itself-- all of the time. But to make a proposition of such to a congregation on the occasion of Lent seems...well, pushy. Like some people might feel encouraged to get a permanent mark etched on their skin as a signal to pastor and/or congregation of their commitment, rather than as a signifier to themselves as individuals of the meaning of Jesus' sentencing, suffering, death, and resurrection.

Other people can argue about whether getting a tattoo in the first place is fundamentally irreligious. I don't believe it is. It seems to me that if people do something for the sake of religion, it can't be irreligious by definition. I also don't care to play No True Christian and take a side on whether it's doctrinally appropriate for believers of the Bible to get tattoos (though there are comments on that in the article itself if you wish to play). The pastor (Seay) says he has dissuaded some congregants from getting tattoos after announcing the idea, though the article doesn't discuss why.

The standard objection to tattoos is "How is that going to look when you're old?" I'd say a much more important concern is "How are you going to think about that if/when you become a different person, or when others do?"

"I'm sorry I did what I clearly meant to do and don't regret in the slightest"

Rush Limbaugh issued a double backflip notpology today for his slut/prostitute/sex tape remarks about Sandra  Fluke, saying first that he didn't mean to attack her personally ( do you say that someone is a slut who needs to learn how to have sex less on accident?), and then continuing to misrepresent the content of and reason for her testimony at the Democratic hearing, portraying it as "discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress." Sorry Rush, but no. It did not amount to a verbal rendition of a Penthouse letter. In fact, it did not address Fluke's personal sex life at all. He then went on to say that it is not our business to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom, which a) is an odd statement for someone who just got done demanding sex tapes from someone, and b) a complaint better directed toward someone like Rick Santorum who is actually advocating that bedroom activities are the government's business. Not Fluke, and not Pelosi, and not anyone who wants birth control to be covered by insurance.

Rush Limbaugh is a troll, as Rachel Maddow points out in the video below. Not a mythical creature who lives under a bridge, but someone who gets his jollies--and in this case makes a living-- by being an asshole and pushing people's buttons. I hope people continue to push his advertisers to stop sponsoring a platform on which he can do so.

Obama calling Sandra Fluke to commend her and condemn what Limbaugh said was like the school principal calling you into his office to apologize for the behavior of the school bully. It's a good gesture, but really the other students need to sign on in order for it to have enough significance. Not lend any support to the bully, and certainly not give him a radio show.

Here's Rachel Maddow yesterday...

...demonstrating why dummies are more dangerous than dicks: