Friday, March 30, 2007

On the UNCGCRs: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so we've been following along with the UNC-Greensboro College Republicans as they celebrate "Morals Week," and it's been a rollicking good time. Looking at their deep concern for reproductive health on Pro-Life Day! Following their quest for family values on Straight Pride Day! Examining their sincere devotion to the welfare of our troops on Support Our Troops Day! What a hoot!

Unfortunately, we at Practically Harmless won't be able to join them in their PETA (People for the Eating of Tasty Animals) Barbecue. Why? Because we're Catholic, and we're not allowed to eat any kind of animal today, tasty or otherwise. But to make up for that failure, we'd like to offer the College Republicans their very own Morals Week Friday Not-Even-Random Ten. Assholes.

Sit back, make yourself a peanut butter sandwich, and enjoy the Ten:

1. No Doubt, "Hella Good"
2. Donna Summer, "Bad Girls"
3. Tony Bennett, "The Good Life"
4. Drowing Pool, "Sinner"
5. Skunk Anansie, "Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good)"
6. Garbage, "Wicked Ways"
7. Kay Starr, "It's All Right With Me"
8. Chevelle, "Until You're Reformed"
9. 3LW, "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)"
10. Amy Winehouse, "You Know I'm No Good"

And a bonus track, just for the UNCGCRs:

11. 311, "Misdirected Hostility"

Your weekend plans, your moral failings, and your own Tens go in comments.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

On Morals Week: The morality of war

Okay, so as we continue with Morals Week, the UNC-Greensboro College Republicans celebrate Support Our Troops Day, and so do we.

We here at Practically Harmless, of course, believe that supporting our troops means not bombing a country into a chaotic hellpit and sending them in undermanned, underarmed, and underarmored. But if you're going to be a doofus and do that anyway, we further believe that supporting our troops means taking care of them while they're there and after they come back. Which makes us really wonder about the morality of screwing with a veteran's medical diagnosis to deny him disability benefits:
on Town has spent the last few years fighting two battles, one against his body, the other against the US Army. Both began in October 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was standing in the doorway of his battalion's headquarters when a 107-millimeter rocket struck two feet above his head....

Eventually the rocket shrapnel was removed from Town's neck and his ears stopped leaking blood. But his hearing never really recovered, and in many ways, neither has his life. A soldier honored twelve times during his seven years in uniform, Town has spent the last three struggling with deafness, memory failure and depression. By September 2006 he and the Army agreed he was no longer combat-ready.

But instead of sending Town to a medical board and discharging him because of his injuries, doctors at Fort Carson, Colorado, did something strange: They claimed Town's wounds were actually caused by a "personality disorder." Town was then booted from the Army and told that under a personality disorder discharge, he would never receive disability or medical benefits.

Town is not alone. A six-month investigation has uncovered multiple cases in which soldiers wounded in Iraq are suspiciously diagnosed as having a personality disorder, then prevented from collecting benefits....

He was fit enough to serve when he signed up in the first place, but by gum that deafness-depression-and-memory-failure-inducing personality disorder turned into a bitch when he got back from Iraq. Too bad, really. Morality's hell.

But that's only for soldiers who're injured badly enough to get booted out of the Army without benefits.
If you're only kinda injured, like, say, injured enough to need surgery, recovery, and physical therapy, your reward is... well, one out of three ain't bad.
Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.

But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March. ...

Hernandez had served two tours in Iraq, where he helped maintain communications gear in the unit's armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But he could not participate in war maneuvers conducted on a 1,000-square-mile mock battlefield located in the harsh Mojave Desert. Instead, when he got to California, he was led to a large tent where he would be housed. He was shocked by what he saw inside: There were dozens of other hurt soldiers. Some were on crutches, and others had arms in slings. Some had debilitating back injuries. And nearby was another tent, housing female soldiers with health issues ranging from injuries to pregnancy. ...

A military official knowledgeable about the training in California in January and the medical processing of the injured soldiers at Fort Benning in February told Salon that commanders were taking desperate actions to meet an accelerated deployment schedule dictated by President Bush's so-called surge plan for securing Baghdad. "None of this would have happened if we had just slowed down a little bit," the military official said. "A lot of people were under a lot of pressure at that time."

This is in addition to all of the seriously injured troops whose conditions are being downgraded in order to make them deployable. Which sucks for them. But seriously, people, I think we need to start questioning the quality of our military recruiting efforts when we're getting folks who'll let weenie problems like broken bones and spine injuries and freaking narcolepsy slow them down. What a bunch of pansies. Walk it off, guys. Rub some dirt in it.

But you know what is even more moral than getting troops shot and blown up, denying them benefits, and sending them back into battle when they're too injured to go? Keeping them there indefinitely. That's way moral. Totally, totally, totally moral. Moral like whoa.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On Morals Week: The morality of women's health care

Okay, so Morals Week seemed like such a good idea, I figure there's no reason not to adopt it myself. After all, morality is a subject frequently raised in society today but rarely thoroughly discussed. And after all, the College Republicans started it.

We've already looked at two takes on morality from a conservative mindset, but we have to remember that people are always working with morality in mind. Take, for instance, the morality of cutting funding for cancer screening:
For fifteen years, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Missouri clinics in Joplin and Springfield have offered free breast and cervical cancer screenings as part of the state’s “Show Me Healthy Women” program. Now Governor Matt Blunt has announced that he will cut off all program funding to Planned Parenthood and redirect it to other health clinics. “Patients should not have to go to an abortion clinic to access life-saving tests,” Blunt declared. Refusing to fund cancer screening at the clinics, he said, “ensures women may access important preventative care without contributing to abortion providers’ goal of facilitating the destruction of innocent life.”

The punchline? Fewer than one in ten clients go into PP clinics to get abortions, less than 30 percent of the PP clinics in the country even provide abortions, and none of the clinics that lost funding do. What Planned Parenthood provides, far more than abortions, is affordable general, reproductive, and prenatal health care for women who need it and the means and education necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

But the thing to remember is that they're still evil. They treat women, who are inherently sinful, and some of whom have teh sex, which is evil. And it's worth it to punish evil health care providers like Planned Parenthood (Dr. Evil?), even if it means denying women access to cancer prevention and screening that could save their lives. Because when we say "pro-life," we mean "up until you're actually born, at which point you're on your own."

We can also examine the morality of denying pregnant teens prenatal care:
Pregnant girls should get adult permission before they get medical checkups for their unborn babies, the state House decided as representatives defeated a proposal to allow teenagers to seek confidential prenatal care.

North Dakota law now requires a doctor to have permission from a parent or guardian to treat pregnant girls who are younger than 18.

The rejected measure would have allowed pregnant girls to see a doctor privately, although it required health care providers to try to coax their patients to tell their parents about a pregnancy.

Now, as an unpregnant non-teen, I'm just throwing things out here, but wouldn't a teen who had a good relationship with her parents be likely to share her pregnancy with them anyway? And if a girl didn't have that good relationship with her parents, such that she was afraid of sharing her condition, might she have some compelling reason not to? And even if her reason isn't, by arbitrary standards, compelling, is withholding medical care really in the best interest of the teen or her fetus? "Sorry, kid, you really should have had an ultrasound and a whole bunch of vitamins by now, but since you think that your parents'll make you get an abortion if they find out, you're on your own. Good luck with that. Hope the kid comes out healthy." Way moral. Like, totally moral.

Man, it's going to be a long Week.

On a week of morality and "morality"

Okay, so the College Republicans at UNC-Greensboro have declared this week to be Morals Week (because, I'm sure, more than five moral days in a row makes them itchy). And, in the grand tradition of neo-conservative Orwellianism, they have chosen to celebrate said week by... hating people. The UNCGCRs celebrate morality by sticking it to the pro-choicers, the queers, and the vegetarians, and by bringing in military recruiters but not, one would assume, signing up themselves. I suppose we can all breathe a sigh of relief that they won't be hunting immigrants in the name of morality.

And, just out of curiosity, what the hell is inherent immoral about vegetarianism?

Anyway, that is (thank God) only one take on morality. Another view on the subject is held by Joe Murray, a columnist and former staff attorney for the American Family Association. Murray is the originator of such pro-family declarations as
The Sodomy Squadron has been flying high, for the Supreme Court has deemed sodomy a fundamental right, the Federal Marriage Amendment was DOA, and Massachusetts strong-armed the Catholic Church into ceasing its adoption program when it demanded that a Catholic agency allow same-sex couples to adopt children under the care of the Roman Catholic Church.

There is no question about it: the Summer of 2003 will go down in history as the Summer of Sodomy. The Buggery Battalion, forever diligent in its quest to lay siege to America's cultural institutions, has made tremendous strides in replacing traditional Judeo-Christian values with a New Age doctrine of tolerance and acceptance -- i.e., unconditional acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Put simply, there is not a social structure existing today that has not been touched by the homosexual movement.

Make no mistake, the past few months have been extremely beneficial to the homosexual community. Sodomy has become a celebrated constitutional right, New York City officially resurrected a homosexual Jim Crow by creating a high school strictly for gays, and gay marriage has been declared in Canada and, possibly soon, in California. There is no doubt about it, homosexuals are in the driver's seat and Americans holding traditional values have been moved to the back of the bus...

Hofstra is teetering on the brink of the ultimate betrayal -- it has sold its collegiate soul for a one-night stand with the extremes of the gay and lesbian community. Hofstra has bequeathed to the extreme left a powerful gift -- the keys to the academic vault...

and, in response to General Pace's remarks about gays in the military,
The American Family Association, a pro-family organization and former employer of this writer, sprung into action sending out this “action alert”: “Homosexuals working to get Marine general punished for comments calling homosexual act immoral.”

AFA then warned that the homosexual lobby “already forced [Pace] to back down a step,” and urged supporters to defend Pace and “take a stand for our troops who cannot get involved in this political situation.” AFA, like others, had pulled out its red herring.

This is not a political situation, but instead it is a situation where a high ranking official made comments that judged individuals, not ideas. Pace singled out gay soldiers during a time of war and told these men and women that they were immoral. His comments, as a military official, were over the line and not defensible.

AFA, like other “Christian” groups, chose to run to Pace’s aid and such an act suggests borderline bigoted behavior from an organization claiming the mantle of Christianity. This is disturbing.

Hold on, say what?
AFA, like other “Christian” groups, chose to run to Pace’s aid and such an act suggests borderline bigoted behavior from an organization claiming the mantle of Christianity. This is disturbing.


Pandagon's Pam was similarly, pleasantly surprised about Murray's apparent about-face, and she even went so far as to actually ask him about it. I recommend clicking over and reading the entire interview, 'cause it's a good one, but this is the part that stood out for me:
I am pro-life, but I am also in favor of gay marriage. I believe in a strong military, but I do not believe homosexuality is immoral. I believe that trade policy should protect the Main Street worker and not the Wall Street fat cat. I believe that America has a duty to protect her borders and preserve her cultural integrity. And I believe in a higher minimum wage. So, I am not sure exactly where I fit in political spectrum.

That being said, the issue of gay rights has been weighing heavy on my mind for quite some time. The gay issue is a human issue, and thus I strongly believe that it must be approached with concern and compassion. Furthermore, the individuals engaging in the debate must recognized that behind the theories there are real life human beings that are made in the image of the Creator.

While it is true that I have written some inflammatory pieces (which I will explain in the next question), I must say I never really gave them much thought, for I was attracted to the American Family Association (AFA) because of the pro-life issue. To me, that is the number issue facing our civilization today, for if one is not guaranteed the right to life, rights such as a gay marriage are meaningless because you will not be around to enjoy them. Hence, the gay issue was just a secondary issue in my view.

This, however, changed when I got to Tupelo.

After adopting the AFA party line for some time, something in the back of my head kept tearing away at my conscience. How could AFA, an earthly organization, declare the divine intention of the God and condemn the souls of homosexuals? How was it that men could make the declaration of who was getting into Heaven and who was getting the one-way ticket to Hades? ...

As I studied the Bible, I found that the word “sodomite” that was used in Corinthians and Romans referred not to all homosexuals, but largely to the promiscuous behavior of the Roman/Greek bathhouses and the use of boy prostitutes.

Take for instance, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, a verse commonly referred to support the argument that all forms of homosexuality are immoral. As I understand it, the Greek word translated as “boy prostitutes” may refer to catamites, i.e. the boys or young men kept for purposes of prostitution and the term translated for “sodomites” refers to all homosexual males who engaged in such practices with such boys. In other words, the condemnation of homosexuality in that passage, thus, refers only to homosexual males who engage the services of boy prostitutes-it is a very narrow definition.

To argue that this verse condemns all homosexuality ignores the true meaning of the words used. Rather than embrace the true meaning of the words and explore the possibility that some homosexual conduct may be permissible, such as that between two consenting adults, fundamentalists have opted to hijack this verse and fill in the gaps with the wisdom of the world. In other words, the definition was not as broad as many fundamentalists would argue, thus it left a huge opening as to whether gays in a committed relationship would be damned to hell.

How could preachers preach such vehement messages towards gays when it was clear that the Bible was unclear at best, and silent at worse, on the issue? Why recklessly condemn a group of individuals? Why fixate on them when your congregation is knee deep in divorce (Jesus had some pretty clear words on that issue)? And as for gluttony, how could preachers lecture gays on restraint when churches host pot luck dinner after pot luck dinner and not be deemed hypocritical?

It was this hypocrisy that caused me to open my eyes. Those on the Christian right, for whatever reasons, have become fixated on homosexuality. They are obsessed by it and perverse form of vengeance appears to be fueling their inquisition. I may be wrong, but I think actions are speaking much louder than words here.

The whole gay issue is no longer about the quest for the Truth; it is about fear and loathing. It is about shame and sorrow. It is anything but Christian. ...

While many on the right will argue I am soft on the issue and playing with souls, I believe that failure to seek the Truth and understand the Gospel is a worse sin. God gave us minds to exercise them, not be spoon fed information. I truly believe that if people actively seek the Truth, they will end up in the right place, but those who fail to embark on the journey will remain forever lost in the wilderness.

He also quotes Joan of Arc, who was asked, as she was being burnt at the stake, whether she'd get into heaven. Her response was, "If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.” Denying the right of judgment and condemnation to anyone other than God? What a concept.

So there are, presented with remarkably little comment, considering the subject, two versions of morality to chew on. I'll leave you to decide whether your personal standard for morality involves fear, hatred, aggression, and condemnation or respect, humanity, and compassion. It's not the kind of thing you can legislate or force on other people anyway. That's what makes this country great, and so damn scary.

Sidenote: As one commenter at Pandagon pointed in re: Morality Week, eating meat on a Friday? During Lent? Totally not moral, if you're Catholic. Tut tut, College Republicans, tut tut.

Friday, March 23, 2007

On healing

Okay, so you're stumbling to the bathroom, half-asleep, in the middle of the night, and in the process, you bark the hell out of your shin on the corner of the dress. Merciful saints, it hurts, you're wide awake now, and you've managed to scrape a not-inconsiderable chunk of skin off of your leg. Remembering your high school health classes, you wisely clean the wound up with some hydrogen peroxide, slap on one of those big Band-Aids, pop an Advil, and head back to bed.

In the coming days, you're vigilant about wound care - bathing suit season approaches, and you don't want that huge scar on your leg - so you check the wound daily, touching it up with some more peroxide and changing the bandage. But the wound just doesn't seem to be getting any better. Frustrated, you switch to a more concentrated hydrogen peroxide gel. Still, the wound isn't healing. You start cleaning the wound twice a day, and not only is it not getting any better, it's getting worse. What had started as a scrape down the front of your shin is now an angry sore, and finally, you take it to the doctor.

You're shocked when the doctor tells you what's wrong: You're what's wrong. As well-meaning as you were, it was your constant application of hydrogen peroxide that was keeping the wound from healing. While the peroxide was the ideal first step to disinfect the wound before applying the dressing, your subsequent applications have actually been hindering healing by killing off new, healthy tissue along with any bacteria. If you want that wound to get better, not worse, you're going to have to change strategy. The doctor applies a strong tribiotic gel and sends you on your way with a fresh pack of those big Band-Aids and instructions to change the dressing daily and keep an eye on the wound but not disturb things.

You meant well. You thought you were helping. You weren't. If you'd kept going the way you were going, you'd have ended up with a massive wound and may have even lost your leg. By changing your approach, by admitting that your original strategy was actually doing more harm than good and not using it anymore, you've made it possible for healing to truly begin.

On Friday Random Ten: Unintentional Superhero Hilarity Edition

Okay, so we've been over some pretty heavy stuff in the past couple of weeks. Executive abuse of power, interminable war, homophobia, misogyny, rape. What's the perfect antidote to all of that serious crap? Josh over at Martians Attacking Indianapolis (which is, as I've mentioned, the bestest blog name evah) shows us that it's unintentionally funny panels from old-timey comic books. Because really, nothing soothes the soul like memories of bygone days when Gotham trembled in fear at the Joker's boner.

The Ten:

1. Liz Phair, "Supernova"
2. Saliva, "Superstar"
3. Joss Stone, "Super Duper Love"
4. REM, "Superman"
5. Jill Sobule, "Supermodel" (hey, why not?)
6. Rick James, "Super Freak"
7. Curtis Mayfield, "Superfly"
8. Massive Attack, "Superpredators"
9. The Wombles, "Superwomble"
10. Black Masses, "Wonderful Person"

Your Ten, super or no, goes in comments.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

On the pleasure and privilege of the president

Okay, so we've heard so much about the "pleasure of the president" of late that I feel like I need a shower. The argument from the right is that, since the eight recently-fired federal prosecutors were appointed by the president, he has the right to fire them at will, right? Well, yes, and at the same time, a resounding no.

The confusion comes with the term "political appointment," which describes the process by which such prosecutors get their jobs. It means the jobs are partisan, having to do with politics, right? Wrong. "Political" simply means that recommendations are made by politicians and appointments are made by the president. Once appointed, prosecutors are expected to be not even bipartisan but apolitical - they are officers of the court, and as such, they are expected to execute justice fairly regardless of party affiliation.

And that's where "serving at the pleasure of the president" becomes a little bit trickier, because if the pleasure of the president is served with a slate of prosecutors who are politically motivated, the apolitical nature of federal law is compromised. If the prosecutors in question had, in fact, been dismissed for "performance related" reasons, no one can question the rectitude of the dismissal. If, however, a prosecutor who was a "diverse up-and-comer" two years ago is now being asked to resign after declining to indict a politician who happened to be a Democrat, questions might be asked.

The solution, then, is to hold an investigation and question all parties involved to discern whether the prosecutors were fired for reasons of politics or performance. Two key parties in that investigation would be former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Bush puppetmaster Karl Rove - if Congress can get access. Which they can't do. Because Bush has refused to compel his buddies to testify on the record, under oath. The best he's willing to allow is an un-sworn, off-the-record conversation. Why? Executive privilege.

Executive privilege is, in essence, the right for the president to speak with his advisors candidly to make the best decisions he can make. And that makes sense. It isn't designed to help a president hide evidence of wrongdoing, though, and when Nixon tried to invoke executive privilege to resist a Grand Jury subpoena for the Watergate tapes, this is what the Superme Court had to say:
The President's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the court. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection with all the protection that a district court will be obliged to provide. (Quote courtesy of the Court, emphasis courtesy of Glenn Greenwald)

Back in 1998, another president tried to use executive privilege to resist a subpoena - Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. All told, 31 of Clinton's top aides testified under oath, on the record, on 47 different occasions. 'Twas said in an op-ed on the subject,
Evidently, Mr. Clinton wants to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House compound on the theory that all such talk contributes in some way, shape or form to the continuing success and harmony of an administration. Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.

Chances are that the courts will hurl such a claim out, but it will take time.

One gets the impression that Team Clinton values its survival more than most people want justice and thus will delay without qualm. But as the clock ticks, the public’s faith in Mr. Clinton will ebb away for a simple reason: Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold — the rule of law.
(Emphasis courtesy of Think Progress)

Who said it? Tony Snow.

Except this time around, he feels "prestty comfortable with the constitutional argument."

It's kind of middle-school logic, I know, but if you're not planning on lying, why would you object to swearing an oath? If everything you're about to say is on the level, why would you object to a transcript being made of it? Non-testimony, behind closed doors, unsworn, with no transcript, has slightly less binding power than an overcooked spaghetti noodle; if you're unwilling to get as close as a pinkie swear to the accurate truth, your motives can and should be called into question.

The subpoenas are coming. If, as the president claims, the wrongdoing extends no further than "mistakes have been made," it's going to have to go on the record. Scary, huh, being held accountable for the things you say and do.

Monday, March 19, 2007

On this day in history

Okay, so on March 19, 2003, President Bush pulled weapons inspectors out of Iraq and sent bombs in.

In the past four years, we've seen:

- 3,217 American troops deaths
- 258 Coalition troop deaths
- 59,000+ Iraqi civilian deaths
- 73,000 mental disorders, 61,000 diseases of the nervous system, 87,000 diseases of the musculoskeletal system, and 7,000 "signs of ill-defined conditions" in American troops lucky enough to make it home
- $400 billion+ spent
- $95.5 billion more on the way
- $8.8 billion lost or misplaced
- 29,984 chemical munitions never found in Iraq
- 6.6 hours of electricity per day
- 38 percent of Iraqis who think Iraq is better off than before the war
- 26 percent of Iraqis who feel safe in their own neighborhoods
- 140,000 American troops currently in Iraq
- 21,500 more troops promised in Bush's "surge"
- 28,700 troops actually being sent into the line of fire

- Countless al-Qaeda "number twos" captured
- Countless detainees in Gitmo held without charges, evidence, or legal representation
- Little to no sacrifice on the part of the American people
- Zero sign of Osama bin Laden
- Zero government accountability
- Zero plans for success from the Bush administration
- Zero respect for the lives of American troops or Iraqi civilians

Doug has said it far better than I could:
Look, I know that September 11 changed a lot of things about this country and how we perceived our need to act in the world, and I'm not saying that all war has to be dismissed out of hand; the invasion of Afghanistan, for instance, was immediately needed to oust a regime that had directly assisted al-Qaeda and aided in carrying out their terrorist attacks. But war is something that should be wielded only as a last resort, and it's clear that that's not how it was viewed with respect to Iraq. Bush continues to claim to this day that all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted with Iraq and that the country presented an imminent threat, but the example he uses to prove this point -- Saddam Hussein supposedly kicking out the UN weapons inspectors -- isn't even true, because it was the Bush administration who ordered the inspectors out so that they could start bombing. We could've pulled up short of an all-out invasion of Iraq; we just didn't want to. Why?

Now the target du jour is Iran, and we have people both in the blogosphere and in the government insisting that "all options remain on the table" with regard to attacking that country -- all options, evidently, except negotiation. There may yet come a time when relations with Iran deteriorate to the point where war becomes the only option, but how can anyone say that we're at that point already? And how can anyone who says that be considered "serious" about national defense when we're already overextended by major military operations in two other Middle Eastern countries?

Just think about what war means is all I'm asking, people. War is never an easy thing. War means thousands of people getting killed; war means billions, if not trillions, of dollars getting thrown into the fire; war means entire societies getting scarred for generations. As Sadly, No! so succinctly put it three years ago, War never doesn't hurt. If we've learned nothing else after four years of agony in Iraq, I hope we've learned that. But I wouldn't even be bothering to repeat this if I thought everybody had.

Right now, the Senate is debating legislation that would insist on evidence of progress in return for all of the lives and money that have been invested in this war, and that would keep the war from lasting another four years if that progress isn't being made. Bush has promised to veto that legislation because he needs this war, because it's the only legacy he'll have, because this war, he insists, "will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through."

Resolve. That's the ticket. And money. And blood. And miles and miles and miles of heart. We've got plenty of it all.

Friday, March 16, 2007

On drunks, both Irish and faux-Irish: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so what do you drink on St. Patrick's Day if you gave up booze for Lent? Green club soda?

Ugh. The Ten:

1. Barenaked Ladies, "Alcohol"
2. Nancy Griffith, "I Would Bring Your Ireland"
3. Jimmy Buffett, "Why Don't We Get Drunk"
4. Monty Python's Flying Circus, "The Drunken Philosopher Song"
5. Flogging Molly, "Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon"
6. Texas, "Saint"
7. Chicane, "From Blue to Green"
8. Green Day, "Holiday"
9. Al Green, "Let's Stay Together"
10. Dean Fields, "Irish Bars"

Okay, so that was more than a little bit of a stretch. Whatever. Your Ten, and your plans for St. Pat's, go in comments.

Update: O'Doul's! Duh.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On eyedrift

Okay, so when we watch baseball, my girlfriends and I always joke about oogling the players' baseball bubble butts in their snug uniform pants. The guys tease us about it, but hey, at least we aren't checking out their junk.

Courtesy of Feministing, we have a report from the Online Journalism Review that, when looking at a picture, women look first and longest at the face. Men tend to take in the whole, well, package.
Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.

Coyne adds that this difference doesn’t just occur with images of people. Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site.
(my emphasis)

For the record, guys, when you spend all that time at Hooters "just stretching" and "just popping your neck," we know what you're doing. We just never thought you were checking out dudes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On men and monsters, Part II

Okay, so it's generally accepted that violent rape is bad. Rape apologists notwithstanding (and I still can't entirely understand how "he and three of his friends held me at knifepoint and raped me in the shower" can be excused as "oh, those crazy kids"), the vast majority of men and women recognize that holding a woman down and forcing sex on her is a bad, bad thing. "I'd kill a rapist," some people say. "Rapists are evil."

Would you be shocked to know that I disagree with that last part?

I'm not apologizing for anyone. There are rapists out there who definitely qualify as "evil" in my book. The ones mentioned in the linked post? Evil. The kind you see on TV jumping out of bushes and drugging women at bars? Evil. The Orange County rapists? Like the fruits of the devil.

"Rapists are evil," though, doesn't keep men from raping, and it doesn't keep women safe. Because while the stigma of "evil" might be enough to keep some men from stalking women at night and raping them in alleys (or at least make them more aware of men who do that), it also paints a limited picture that keeps men from recognizing their own actions.

I hate the terms "date rape" and "acquaintance rape," because they make it seem more casual, less damaging than its jump-out-and-grab-you cousin. Acquaintance rape can be just as traumatizing as stranger rape, if not moreso because of the betrayal and violation of trust that are frequently involved. Nonetheless, the distinction between the man in the alley and the one in the dining hall is an important one, because most women know to be wary of the man in the alley. More importantly, most men know that the man in the alley is a bad man who's doing something wrong.

It's easy to characterize the man in the alley as evil. But if you're the man in the dining hall, and you're not entirely certain the sex you had last night was consensual, are you going to recognize that what you did might have been rape? "Rapists are evil. I'm not evil. Therefore, I am not a rapist." Problem solved, right?

More valuable, I think, than turning the rapist into a monster is turning the rapist into a man. Men need to be taught that not-evil guys are fully capable of raping under some circumstances. They need to be able to recognize those situations in which they themselves are in danger of becoming, not an evil person, but a rapist.

Biting Bever has an exhaustive checklist of ways to tell if you're a rapist, whether you think you are or not. A few highlights:
1. You are a rapist if you get a girl drunk and have sex with her.

3. You are a rapist if you get yourself drunk and have sex with her. Your drunkeness is no excuse.

4. If you are BOTH drunk you may still be a rapist.

6. If she's sleeping and you have sex with her you're a rapist.

7. If she's unconscious and you have sex with her then you're a rapist.

9. If she is incapacitated in any way and unable to say 'Yes' then you're a rapist.

10. If you drug her then you're a rapist.

12. If you don't bother to ask her permission and she says neither 'Yes' or 'No' then you could be a rapist.

13. You are a rapist if you 'nag' her for sex. Because you manage to ply an eventual 'yes' from a weary victim doesn't mean it's not rape. You are a rapist.

16. If you threaten her, or act in a way that SHE thinks you're threatening her then you're a rapist. If you puff up and get loud and frustrated while trying to 'talk' her into sex then you're a rapist.

17. You are a rapist if you don't immediately get your hands off of her when she says 'no'. You are a rapist if you take your hands off of her and then put them back ON her after 10 minutes and she eventually 'gives in' to this tactic.

19. If you're necking with her and you're naked and you've already gone down on her and she says 'No' to sex with you and you have sex with her anyway then you're a rapist.

20. If you're engaged in intercourse and she says 'No' at ANY point and you don't immediately stop then you're a rapist.

21. If she said "Yes" to sex with a condom and that condom breaks and you proceed anyway then you're a rapist.

22. If she picked you up at a bar looking for sex and then decides that she doesn't WANT sex and you continue then you're a rapist.

23. If she changes her mind at ANY point for ANY reason and you don't immediately back off or you try to talk her into it and get sex anyway then you're a rapist.

24. If you don't hit her and she says 'No' you're still a rapist.

26. If you're a friend of hers you can still be a rapist.

27. If you had sex with her the night before but she doesn't want morning sex and you pressure her for it anyway then you're a rapist.

28. If you're her husband you can still be a rapist.

30. If she's had sex with you hundreds of times before but doesn't want to on the 101st time then you're a rapist.

40. If she has fucked every man in a 10 square mile radius and she doesn't want to fuck you and you have sex with her anyway, then you're a rapist.

41. Her clothing is not a reason for you to rape her. Her LACK of clothing is no reason to rape her. If she's wearing a thong and pasties you STILL have no right to rape her.

49. If you ‘only’ raped one woman, you’re STILL a rapist.

Read the entire list. I left out plenty just in the interest of space, but the entire list is a good overview of those coercive, passive-aggressive, negligent, and/or violent actions that men frequently don't recognize as rape - because they're not "evil."

One concept that I think has been underemphasized in our pitiful sex-ed system is that of affirmative consent. Affirmative consent is the recognition that consent for sex is more than just she didn't say no; consent for sex involves active and enthusiastic participation. Guys, it's not enough to just not hear "no," you have to wait for "yes." Preferably "yes, yes, oh sweet Jesus, yes." If she's unconscious and can't say no, that's not consent. If she's uncertain and hasn't said no, that's not consent. If she said yes last time but hasn't said it this time, that's still not consent. And having sex with a woman who doesn't consent is rape.

If you're not evil, but you haven't waited for affirmative consent, sorry, you're a rapist.

Commenter Thomas at Feministing had this brilliant take on affirmative consent:
I think the key to changing the rape culture is to change the view of sexuality from a commodity model to a performance model.

What I mean by a commodity model is the view that sex is something women have and men get; what Amanda Marcotte refers to as the "pussy oversoul" that women are guardians of and that men make applications for access to. Sex is like a ticket; women have them and men try to get them. Women may give them away or may trade them for something valuable, but it's a transaction in a good.


That whole model is wrong. Under that model, consent is not an affiramtive partnership. Instead, if someone tries to take a ticket and the owner doesn't object, then the ticket is free for the taking. Under this way of thinking, consent is the absence of "no." It is therefore economically rational to someone with this commodity concept of sex that it can be taken; rape is a property crime in that view. In the past, the crime was against the male owner of women (let's not sugar-coat it; until very recently women were in a legal way very much male property and still are in many places and ways). Even among more enlightened folks, if one takes a commodity view of sex, rape is still basically a property crime against the victim.

The better model is the performance model, where sex is a performance, and partnered sex is a collaboration between the partners; like dance or music.

Under a performance model, consent is not the absence of "no." Consent is affirmative participation. Who picks up a guitar and jams with a bassist who just stands there? Who dances with a partner who is just standing there and staring? In the absence of affirmative participation, there is no collaboration; forcing participation by coersion is not a property crime, but a crime of violence like kidnapping.

Under this model, looking for affirmative participation is built into the conception. If our boys learn this from their pre-adolescence, then the idea that consent is affirmative rather than the absence of objection will be ingrained.

Holy crap. Sex as two things that people do together for the enjoyment of both? What a radical and revolutionary concept!

Preventing violent rape means raising generations of men who aren't evil, who don't feel the need to put women in their place by violating them physically. Preventing acquaintance rape means raising men who respect women and respect themselves enough to only engage in sex as a participatory, mutually enjoyable activity. Because rape is rape is rape is rape is rape, whether you're an evil man in an alley or a nice guy in a dining hall. Rape is traumatic and damaging to a woman, whether she's kicking and screaming in an alley or frozen with shock in her own bedroom. But it's the easiest thing in the world - and pretty fun, too, I'd imagine - not to be a rapist.

Monday, March 12, 2007

On men and monsters

Okay, so a recent Salon article commented on the disturbing frequency of sexual assaults on military women in Iraq. After three women died from dehydration after a fear of going to the bathroom at night kept them from drinking water, women have been coming forward with reports of sexual assaults - and with the incapacity or unwillingness to help that they frequently encountered.

Almost as disturbing as the article, however, were some of the letters responding to the article.

From Frank:


Get the fuck out of the military already. Next thing you know they'll be complaining that they aren't getting the right type of moisturizer on the front line! Having chicks serve is an awful idea for the following reasons: Women are weaker, slower, and dumber than men. Emotionally, women are train wrecks for a week out of every month-MEDIC WE'VE GOT A BLEEDER! Add this weak ass sexual harrasment crap and one can only conclude that women are a HUGE LIABILITY!

Listen up ladies, war is hell!


Wait, no, that one didn't surprise me. Oh, here, from WB:
Men without women are animals, especially young men who have been trained to kill. The idea that women are natural warriors and that they can fight beside men as equals is simply an impossible idea. If the enemy does not rape them, their own side will. Every army in history has needed prostitutes or captives, like the comfort women given to the Japanese troops, to satisfy the exacerbated lust of war time. Women soldiers are paying a terrible price for the delusions of the feminists and the politicians.

From anon:
you can't expect some guy to be willing to risk getting killed every day and at the same meekly accept being told he has to go without sex.

From Jim:
A young man's urge to spread his seed is still his most powerful physical urge; it can be tamed -- if only barely -- under normal circumstances but war, constant fear of death and separation from the society that helps keep the lid on -- is not a normal circumstance.

And it's the feminists who are accused of hating men.

Seriously, guys, is that how you want to be known? Is that it? Are men ravening beasts, incapable of controlling their urges even to avoid committing a crime? Are men worthless without "taming"? Seriously, to my male readers (and I know there are a couple of you), do you appreciate this characterization? Military guys out there, particularly y'all who've seen combat, is that accurate? Were you all just priapic studs in heat, walking around with fists tightly clenched to avoid knocking down and ravishing every female on two legs and most females on four? These men who raped their sisters-at-arms, do you accept them as representative of the entire gender?

Is it that hard not to rape people?

Due to past relationship circumstances, I'm fortunate to have a goodly number of military guys, all branches, as friends. I have found myself, on occasion, good and drunk at a party ful of sailors and Marine - aviators, fighter pilots, notorious horndogs all of them. I've been asleep on the couch in the living room with three military guys nearby who were fully capable of doing horrible things to me. With all of these hazardous activities in my past, how is that I've remained unassaulted?

It's because the guys weren't rapists. Sure, they weren't under combat conditions at the time, and I can't testify as to how long it'd been since they'd felt a woman's touch, but the reason they weren't fighting me for mine was that they weren't rapists. Drunk, not rapists. Everybody in bathing suits at the lake? Not rapists. Margaritas and a hot tub, not rapists. They weren't "animals" looking to "spread their seed." The worst that could be said about them was that one "gets a little ambitious when he drinks." I never have to feel uncomfortable around them, I never have to carry a knife, I don't even have to lock the bathroom door when I'm in the shower, because they're not rapists.

Beyond that, the idea that rape is more about power than it is about sex is an accurate one. A man who prefers a frantic, terrified, struggling woman to his own willing hand isn't in it for the orgasm. So excusing these rapists as a bunch of testosterone-poisoned he-men who just really want sex is a copout at best and a willful, blatant lie at worst. Violent rape is the action of a person in power who wants to put someone in their place, whether it's a man in prison making another man his girlfriend or a soldier in Iraq showing a woman what happens to insolent bitches who try to take on men's roles.

It's become clear that the role of women, if not in combat at least in combat-adjacent support positions is absolutely necessary to the success of our military. There just aren't enough qualified penis-owning Americans to sustain a volunteer military on their own. And as long as women are going to be supply officers, pilots, truck drivers, gunners, MPs, and anything else alongside men, men are going to have to learn to live with it. They're going to have to start seeing women as coworkers, not comfort women. They're going to have to recognize that their own need to get off does not supersede a woman's agency over her own body. And we are going to have to stop excusing it as a matter of course, blaming the women for being there in the first place. The Salon article noted that sexual assault is practically a nonissue in those commands where rape is clearly forbidden; the pressure of authority is obviously enough to "tame" the "wild beasts."

It's no good to trust these men with some of the most high-tech and expensive weaponry in the world and then claim they can't be expected to master their own God-given genitalia. It does no one any favors, and it only casts a shadow on the good men who are capable of controlling their urges and their tempers, even under the harshest of circumstances.

I know men. Men are friends of mine. And the soldiers who did this aren't men.

Friday, March 09, 2007

On taking the unpopular stance, redux

Okay, so as the previous gay marriage post and subsequent debate are about to slip under the break to be lost for all eternity, another straight, married Republican from Wyoming (what is it about Wyoming?) takes a stand in the name of not being a homophobic putz. Practically Harmless officially hearts Rep. Pat Childers.
I didn’t have a speech prepared. I simply told a simple story about my family and told the Rules committee how the legislation was simply wrong. I tried to separate how the legal aspect of marriage from the religious aspect.

My youngest son wanted to have the same anniversary as my wife and I. He and his wife signed the legal papers on Sept. 1 in a Starbucks Coffee Bar during the week. Their religious ceremony was held with the family attending the next weekend.

Another example that I gave was that I was left-handed, born that way. My mother was left-handed but forced to write right-handed by tying her left hand behind her back. People do not do things that way now.

Growing up in the south, I also told about the discrimination against blacks.

I then told them that my daughter was a highly intelligent woman and functioning quite well in an independent business in Montana and that she was gay. She and her partner live a quiet life in her community.

I had researched our statutes and provided seven pages, single spaced, of statute cites (statute number with a few words of description) noting where marriage was tied to civil rights of couples.

Those statutes, if gay couples married out of the state were to move to Wyoming, would deny them their civil rights under the proposed law. Our definition of marriage has been in place since the late 1800’s and does define it as a civil contract between a man and a woman.

It does not make it right with the understanding of human makeup as known today.

I have nothing to add. Feel free to give the man some love.

Can we get some more Republicans like this? Hell, can we get some Democrats like this?

On Friday Random Ten: I'm Single, Bilingual edition

Okay, so my readers may be shocked (shocked!) to know that I love words. Looove words. Message strategy was my favorite part of my advertising curriculum in college, because it was all about using the right words in the right way to get your point across to the right people. I hate the phrase "it's just semantics," because using the right word is so important. I've got a list of about a dozen languages that I really want to learn because I'm just that into words.

Here are some new ones:

- In Japan, a bakku-shan is a girl who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.
- The German word for me to remember is Kummerspeck, the word that describes weight gain from emotional eating (oh, those wacky, oddly specific Germans!). Literally, "grief bacon."
- Albanians have 27 different words for "moustache," each describing a specific kind, from the madh (bushy moustache) to the posht (a moustache hanging down at the ends) and the fshes (a long broom-like moustache with bristly hairs).
- If your cat goes missing in Russia, you might want to track down your local koshatnik, who fences stolen cats.
- On Easter Island, a tingo is when that schmuck neighbor "borrow[s] objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left."

The word that won Doug's heart? Backpfeifengesicht - a face that cries out for a fist in it.

Here are some more foreign words for you (translations available on request):

1. Cibo Matto, "Le Pain Perdu"
2. J.S. Bach, “Dein blut, der edle saft”
3. Serge Gainsbourg, “Dieu Est Un Fumeur De Havanes" (with Catherine Deneuve)
4. Franz Schubert, “Die Taubenpost”
5. Giuseppe Verdi, “La donna é mobile”
6. Jacques Brel, “Les vieux amants”
7. Carmen Consoli, “Confusa e felice”
8. Giacomo Puccini, “Nessun dorma”
9. MC Solaar, “L'aigle ne chasse pas les mouches”
10. Serge Gainsbourg, “La Gadoue”

Your Ten, in any language, and your favorite foreign words go in comments.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On International Women's Day

Blog Against Sexism Day

Okay, so today is International Women's Day, a tradition that has been ongoing for nearly 100 years (a fact which surprised me, but yes, the first official observance involved 15,000 women marching on New York City for shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights in 1908). That it is also Blog Against Sexism Day is, of course, a far more recent development, but it's certainly a great way to observe the observance.

Over at Pandagon, Amanda poses a question that, curiously enough, really stymied me:

When did you become a feminist? Either when you embraced the word or when you realized that sexism is still a problem and that feminism is still necessary?

Well, holy crap. I can't say I entirely know.

And the fact that I don't entirely know is, I think, a good thing. The reason I don't know is that I can't remember a time when I wasn't some form of a feminist (whether or not I knew it at the time), when I wasn't aware of gender disparities in the world and of the ridiculousness of said disparities. I was six years old when Top Gun made it to TV, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I wanted to be a fighter pilot like nobody's business. But, at the time, women couldn't be fighter pilots. I accepted this reality and shifted my short-term fantasy career to that of helicopter pilot, but I recognized the unfairness of it all - wasn't I just as capable a future pilot as any six-year-old boy? - and knew that things would have to change in the future.

And they did. Obviously, my little ten-year-old self had nothing to do with the repeal of the DoD "risk rule" and the subsequent entry of women into combat aviation, but I thought it was pretty cool all the same. And though my fickle career aspirations had, by then, shifted to race-car-driver-slash-ballerina (do they make pink Nomex?), I still recognized the progress that had been made and the progress that was yet to be made elsewhere.

That helped lay down a pretty firm feminist foundation for me, and I was fairly observant of the world around me after that. I noticed that my mom mowed the lawn much of the time, and I noticed that my dad made most of the pancakes. I saw my mom working outside the home (resulting in fond memories of my dad learning to curl my hair in the mornings), and, alternately, not doing that. Up the street, my best friend's mom was the manager of the gift shop at the hospital, which I thought was incredibly cool; I wasn't really sure what a manager did, but it sounded important.

I saw the "girls can do anything" lecture played out in my life. I had female relatives as role models in just about every field - IT, medicine, teaching, science, law (I had no idea that you could be in the Army and be a lawyer at the same time, and I thought it was awesome), government. I was shown that a woman's voice could be every bit as powerful as a man's, as long as she was willing to use it. And when any of my little elementary-school guy friends expressed an opinion that girls couldn't, for whatever genetic reason, take part in an activity or play a sport or have a certain career, I found it absolutely ridiculous and brushed it aside. They obviously just had a lot to learn.

I, on the other hand, was learning plenty. Beyond Introduction to Prepubescent Women's Equality, I also got a really important education in self-awareness. I didn't get any euphemistic birds and/or bees; I got the penises and vaginas and sperm and eggs, and I got it when I was about five, and I got it (as one can expect of a five-year-old) from a pop-up book. I was never taught to be ashamed of my body. I was never taught that any part of me was dirty or bad. I was taught that there were activities that took place in the bedroom and activities that took place out of it, not because they were wrong but because they were private. And I was taught that I had authority over all the parts of my body, and that if anyone wanted to try to take that authority away from me, I was fully in my right to defend myself and to tell anyone who would listen and not be afraid or ashamed. It's hard to imagine an empowered six-year-old, but if such an animal exists, I was it.

As I grew older, I got the feminist curriculum to go with the practicum and learned exactly how badly women had had it in the past, and how much work had been done to clear the way for me. Women's suffrage. Women's liberation. The pros and cons of the sexual revolution. Famous Female Firsts. Bra burning (a myth, actually). The gender wage gap (neither a myth nor a memory, unfortunately). Affirmative action. The ERA. Birth control. Reproductive rights. Abuses of women across the globe.

The extracurricular accompaniment to that education was real-life exposure to things like sexism and gender stereotypes. Why were the smart boys popular and the smart girls geeky? When I got into a fight with Stephen in middle school, why was his behavior excused as "boys will be boys"? In history class, why was it "debate" when the guys said it and "argument" when the girls did (not you, Mr. Touchberry)? Why was it so important that girls be pretty and popular and smart but not too smart, all at the same time? Freshman orientation: Why did they tell the girls to cover our drinks and never walk alone, but never told the guys not to force sex on people? Why were men, human men, being treated like animals who were unable to control their sexual urges?

Why did my 3.75-GPA biology-major roommate turn into a blithering idiot when she attended sorority events?

Those self-centric observations soon led to something more other-centric: Why are there so few women in Congress? Why are there so few women CEOs? What's wrong with having a family and a career? Why is the government trying to tell women what to do with their bodies? Why is the government withholding aid from women's groups in developing nations? Just because they talk about condoms and abortions? Why is the government telling lies to schoolkids about sex education? What's wrong with a vaccine that prevents cancer?

I cared about these things. A lot of women, actually, cared about these things, and having the kind of agency to debate them and change them was a thrill. The real shock to me, though, was how many of my "liberated" girlfriends balked at the designation "feminist." I did it myself, at first; despite the message of equality that had been pounded into me since birth, the image I had of a "feminist" was a hairy-legged, man-hating hippie chick in combat boots and flannel, waving a placard and shouting. And that wasn't me. Yes, I agreed with most of the things that feminists had done, but that didn't mean I was one, right? Could you still care about women's rights without wearing a henna tattoo?

I thought I was doing something groundbreaking and revolutionary when I decided to defy the stereotype and show the world a kinder, gentler side to radical feminism. I was standing out on my own - alongside, it turned out, millions of other women who already knew what I would soon learn: that the man-hating hippie chick was a stereotype, a strawfeminist, employed to derail the important issues, and that if you believe that women should enjoy every right and privilege accorded to men as a matter of course, you're a feminist, whether you like it or not.

I love to shock people who aren't aware of that fact.

Women's rights activists are being arrested in Iran. Rape victims are being blamed for their attacks. Funding for women's health is being withheld as retribution for the recent controversy over emergency contraception. A women's rights activist was recently murdered in Pakistan. Women in rural India don't know about AIDS. Women in Israel are being forced to the back of the bus by religious fundamentalists. Rape is just another tool of war in the Congo. Women are being reduced to the status of "baby machines". Women are getting the message that even our vaginas aren't good enough without plastic surgery. Young girls are constantly sexualized and objectified. Presidential candidates are campaigning on their determination to take control of women's uteruses. And if that bothers you? You're a feminist, so you might as well get with the program.

Hat tips to Feministing, Feministe, Pandagon, and so many others for reminding us all of what's been done and what needs to be done, and for putting strong voices out there. And a big hat tip to all of the fantastic feminist women - and men - in my life who've shown me just how feminism really does benefit everyone.

And I'm still totally going to be a helicopter pilot.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On faith, reason, and government

Okay, so a lot has been made of religion lately. First came the Edwards campaign and Amandagate ("OMG Amanda Marcotte hates Catholics!!1!!one!"), and then came the Religious Right's inability to find a suitably religiously righty candidate, at about which time Mitt Romney ("OMG Mormon!!!1!!eleven!!") came out with the statement that only a "person of faith" should be president.

First of all, let me just say: Mitt, honey, the evangelicals have been saying that for years now, 'cept when they say "person of faith," they mean "not you." You're kind of like the geeky kid who manages the equipment for the football team; just because you go to their practices doesn't mean you can start saying "us," just because you go to their parties doesn't mean they aren't laughing at you, and just because you're running as a man of deep Christian faith doesn't mean they don't think you're a cultist.

Beyond that, though - I've got a lot of feelings on this subject as a liberal and a feminist and a practicing Roman Catholic ("OMG papist cult!!!111!!!"). One is that nothing that Amanda Marcotte says has ever offended me half as much as the way Jerry Falwell bastardizes the Christian faith on a daily basis. Another is the thought that specifying "person of faith" is a fairly wussy attempt at circumventing the issue; it's a nice way of pretending to be inclusive while overlooking the fact that, say, a practicing Wicca or devoted Hare Krishna would be an unlikely presidential short-lister on the basis of their faith (and so, for that matter, would a Roman Catholic. Or a Mormon).

The other thought I was having was confusion over the idea that being a "person of faith" should be seen as an asset to the role of public servant. 'Cause honestly, we're pretty darned irrational where faith comes into the picture.

Stay with me here.

Pretty much all religious traditions have a strong basis in faith, that is, believing stuff that completely defies any kind of logic. If you're a Catholic, f'rinstance, you believe that some really nice guy who had a lot of good stuff to say about the less fortunate got nailed to a cross (which caused an earthquake), died, woke up three days later, walked out of his tomb (unstinky), hung around for forty days, and was then bodily assumed into the sky to hang out with his dad, who was also him (as well as a friend of theirs, the Holy Spirit) and who planned the entire affair. Moreover, you believe this in spite of all scientific evidence and theory that would declare it all impossible - and you take great pride in this fact.

Now, don't think I'm trying to deride anyone's religion here. The tenets of any belief system are dead serious to practitioners thereof. A believer of Shinto is just as serious about the divinity of his houseplants as I am about the resurrection of Christ. But I will guarantee you one thing: If you follow any kind of organized religion, there is someone out there - probably a lot of someones - who thinks that your belief system is hilarious.

And they're right.

Religious tolerance is important. Freedom to practice religion is crucial. Respect for others' beliefs is a really good thing. But for some reason, we in this country (and the rest of the world, even) feel the need to take it further, to insist that others embrace our faith and to take it as seriously as we do. We want you to praise us for having faith at all.

Sorry, folks, but nothin' doin'. Of course discrimination on the basis of faith and harassment on the basis of faith are wrong and, rightfully, illegal. And the polite, nice thing to do is not to poke fun at a person's religious beliefs, just as the polite, nice thing to do is not to poke fun at someone's oddly-shaped birthmark. But I don't expect a cookie for believing that a dude held up a stick and split an entire sea straight down the middle, and I have no intention of giving anyone else a cookie for their similarly irrational beliefs.

Faith is personal. It's deeply-held and inexplicable. It's the willingness to say, "This story is ridamndiculous and goes against all logic, and I can't tell you why I believe it, but I do, right down to the core of my being." It's a personal decision to set aside reason in the name of religion, and it's not likely to make sense to anyone else. I don't know why I believe that some all-powerful dude in the sky cares what I do with my life, I just do, and if your beliefs are different from mine, I have no reason to declare mine any more valid than yours. Faith is personal - not public, personal.

And that's why I think that, if we're going to declare any belief system to be a recommendation for public office, agnosticism is the only way to go. Who wouldn't rather have an elected official who depends on logic and available evidence to make important public policy decisions? Why would we say, "No, actually, I think it's more important that we elect someone who's able to ignore carbon dating and millions of years of fossil record to think that the earth is 6,000 years old. I think that's better"?

I don't think that a Christian or a Mormon or a Jew or a Hindu - or an atheist - would make a better or worse candidate simply on the basis of their religious beliefs. In fact, I think that's a fairly crappy way of choosing someone to run a country. Maybe, just maybe, we can start judging our elected officials not by what they do on Sundays, but on what they do Monday through Friday. And maybe if we do that, we can pick a government that isn't so consumed with righteous fervor that they can't run the country equitably and fairly for all citizens, regardless of belief system.

Friday, March 02, 2007

On Friday Random Ten

Okay, so it's Friday. It's been a long, long week. It's the beginning of a weekend that can't even start with a beer.

It's time for Robo Cat.

The Ten:

1. Ella Fitzgerald, "Caravan"
2. The Killers, "Mr. Brightside"
3. Nelly Furtado, "Turn Off the Light"
4. Take 6, "Like the Whole World's Watching"
5. Frank Sinatra, "That's Life"
6. John Coltrane, "My Favorite Things"
7. U2, "Elevation"
8. The Beatles, "From Me To You"
9. Beck, "Jack-Ass"
10. The Psychadelic Furs, "I'll Stop the World"

Your Ten goes in comments.

(On a more serious note - as Doug mentioned, a horrible tornado ripped through Enterprise, Alabama last yesterday afternoon, killing eight high school students and a teacher and destroying homes. If you're the praying type, this coming week would be a good time to do it.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On updates: Iranian IEDs and American squalor

Okay, so it's time to follow up on a few stories we've been covering.

- Update: On the probable suspected IEDs from the Iranian government someone Iraqis

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at assertions from the Bush administration that IEDs recently used against American troops were unequivocally provided by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Then we looked at assertions that the previous assertions may have been overstated, and then we looked at further assertions that those IEDs weren't really the biggest problem the troops were dealing with.

Today, we look at assertions that the IEDs weren't so much "provided by Iran" as they were "built in southern Iraq using parts purchased on the open market":
Well. A raid in southern Iraq on Saturday seems to have complicated the case. There, The Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.), troops "uncovered a makeshift factory used to construct advanced roadside bombs that the U.S. had thought were made only in Iran." The main feature of the find were several copper liners that are the main component of EFPs. But, The New York Times reports, "while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.’s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue."

Among those cloudy items were "cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran."

March 2, 2007 (projected): Tony Snow briefs the White House press corps: "What I had meant to say was..."

- Update: On serving punishing and neglecting those who serve

More recently, we took a look at the horrible conditions for injured troops at Walter Reed and at efforts by the Army to short them on disability benefits. We now know that many conditions have changed as a result of the WaPo story. For instance, troops now get to wake up every day at 6 a.m. and have their rooms ready for a 7 a.m. inspection, never speak to the media, and take all problems, complaints, or paperwork questions up through their chain of command. This is, of course, an attempt to bring a sense of normalcy and consistency to men who would appreciate such an environment, and not a form of punishment for talking to the media.

Of course, talking to the media wouldn't have been an issue for them if Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), who had known about the horrific conditions for years but hadn't said anything because hospital officials "made him feel very uncomfortable," had pushed through the discomfort and actually said something. It turns out that Young was BFF with Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, a key figure in the Walter Reed scandal, and still finds him "committed to providing our war heroes with the very, very best medical care that is possible," despite the fact that Young's wife Beverly had complained to Kiley about conditions (like one soldier lying on a urine-soaked mattress pad) and Kiley had done nothing about it.

Oh, and this is where Kiley lives:

It's directly across the street from Building 18, where the rats live. Kiley's house is, one can assume, urine-soaked-mattress-pad free.

But we can all take comfort in the fact that, of the 200,000 Iraq veterans seeking treatment at the VA, a lot of them come in for dental problems, others come in for a lot of the normal things that people have," according to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. So outside of the 73,000 mental disorders, 61,000 diseases of the nervous system, 87,000 diseases of the musculoskeletal system, and 7,000 "signs of ill-defined conditions," we're really just dealing with a whole lot of root canals. Horrific, brain-injury-causing root canals.

Yellow ribbon magnets all around!

Donate to the Wounded Warrior Project.

On hunting brown people to raise brown people awareness

Okay, so as the debate over illegal immigration rages, the NYU College Republicans have one message to send: We care.
A game called “Catch the Illegal Immigrant” staged on New York University’s campus by a student Republican group drew several hundred students yesterday. But most came to protest the game, not to play it.

Under the game’s rules, according to one student Republican, players were to search on campus for the student chosen to wear a name tag saying “illegal immigrant.” The winner received a small reward.


The College Republicans said their aim was not to offend, but rather to draw awareness to the issues.

“We knew something like this would get people on the street,” said David Laska, a member of the College Republicans board, adding that events featuring speakers and debates did not draw the turnout that yesterday’s event attracted.

“I’d rather have people motivated against us than sanguine,” added Mr. Laska, who described himself as “the grandchild of four legal immigrants.” He said that the event might have been “politically incorrect,” but that it was not racist.

See? They're just trying to get the word out! They're really concerned about the plight, not just of Americans, but of the illegal immigrants themselves. As NYUCR campaign and intern chair David Laska put it,
When someone comes to this country illegally, and their labor is being exploited, because they're not eligible to earn minimum wage, and - We have illegal immigrants who are living in fear of going to the police when they're wronged, living in fear of going to a medical clinic when they're sick, living in fear of taking advantage of any of the social amenities in this country, because they're afraid of being deported - That's bad for the immigrant. That's not just bad for the country, that's bad for the illegal immigrant. When you try to tell these people that, they'll look at you and they'll say, "Oh, you don't actually think that. You're a Republican, you're racist, you're fascist, you don't care about anybody who's not rich and white." The point is, it's a satire, it's hyperbole, it's ruffling feathers to get people out here and thinking about it.

See? The protesters don't care about illegal immigrants! They just hate Republicans! The College Republicans, though, they care, and that's why they're trying to start a dialogue. Via an illegal-immigrant hunt. Because illegal immigration hurts everyone, people. And that's why it's important, out of concern for illegal immigrants, to reduce them to the status of prey to be hunted by ersatz-Minutemen in exchange for the ultimate prize of a gift card from Dean & Deluca. It's out of respect.

Illegal Messicans: We marginalize them because we care.

(H/T No More Mister Nice Blog.)