I’m Just a Bill

Two bills, technically, as of sometime today. This was introduced in the House a week or two ago. It should be introduced in the Senate today. There’s no chance it will be passed or even receive a hearing this session, but this gives us an official version to start building support around. Isn’t it pretty?

Photo of Minnesota House bill #2966, allowing atheist and humanist nonprofits that sponsor training for marriage officiants to appoint such officiants.The funny thing about this bill is that it’s very close to what we started with. That’s because another member of the House independently introduced bills to make mayors and notaries public able to officiate weddings. We support both of those bills, so we’ll work with the people pushing them rather than start anything ourselves. Those bills have received hearings, where training turned out to be an important issue for committee members. That means that temporary officiants may be a dead proposition for the time being.

I Like My Politicians

No, this isn’t an April Fools joke. I’m genuinely pleased with the representation I have at the local, state, and national level. Perfectly pleased? Of course not. But disappointments are pretty rare.

Take, for example, the recent release of the Secular Coalition for America report cards for the House and the Senate.

Representative Keith Ellison: A

Senator Al Franken: A

Senator Amy Klobuchar: B

I am not generally as fond of pro-business Democrat Klobuchar as I am of my more progressive elected representatives, but in this case, it only took not sponsoring a bill to go from an A to a B. There was less nonsense overall in the Senate last year.

How did I get so lucky? Well, some of it is the “luck” of living in an arty city with a huge queer population where everyone bikes everywhere as many months of the year as possible. That really only explains Ellison, though. [Read more...]

What Hemant Wouldn’t Print

One of the folks at Secular Woman asked me to draft a response to the “pro-life” post at Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog. It was originally to be a guest post at Friendly Atheist, but Hemant decided not to publish this because he decided it didn’t fit the very narrow parameters he had set for a response to that post. He was willing to post the “pro-life” propaganda, but he was not willing to publish this. You can read Secular Woman’s take on his refusal here.

We at Secular Woman appreciate Hemant reaching out and clearing up the miscommunication over whether he was willing to host a pro-choice position on his blog. His apparent refusal was all the more alarming because it was unexpected, and we’re happy to see that part of this matter be resolved so easily.

Hemant asked for “A) a rebuttal to the specific things Kristine wrote about and B) the facts/data behind why being pro-choice makes sense”. While we understand why either of these might be considered the appropriate response to publishing a poorly reasoned, pro-life argument without comment, we feel those are not what the atheist community most needs right now. PZ Myers and Brianne Bilyeu have ably addressed the pseudoscience and non sequiturs of the original post. Avicenna has dealt with the humanitarian cost of “pro-life” stances. Commenters on the original post and across the atheist internet have made the argument that the bodily autonomy of people with a uterus does not disappear when that uterus is filled, the argument on which current legal rights are based, and they’ve done it repeatedly and well.

There is no need for Secular Woman to repeat the work of others. Instead, we would add our voices to those saying that playing at debate for the sake of debate on this matter is disrespectful to those nonbelievers (and believers) who face the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, it adds to the voluminous threats to health and liberty they already face. [Read more...]

The Fault Is Not in Our Technology

Finally, the folks who are looking for problems with GMO crops have what they’ve been looking for.

First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.

By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance were warning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge.

Key to effective management, said the scientists, were refuges set aside and planted with non-Bt corn. Within these fields, rootworms would remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. By mating with any Bt-resistant worms that chanced to evolve in neighboring fields, they’d prevent resistance from building up in the gene pool.

Of course, this isn’t a strictly GMO-related problem. This is a problem of good crop management being more expensive than poor crop management. So the good crop management didn’t happen, and now we have rootworms that are happy eating the modified corn.

The next time someone tells you technology will solve what is fundamentally a regulatory problem, remember that unless we regulate the technology, we don’t solve the problem.

Socialism, Rising Tides, and Identity Politics

Cait is one of the people who donated to help get me to Women in Secularism 3. In return, she asked me to address an argument.

I know a fair number of socialists whom I usually like but who have presented me with one version or another of this argument too many times over the years. Various versions of this argument were made as General Assemblies sorted themselves out in the Occupy movement. I’m sure it predates me as well. It goes something like this.

We need to address class issues. Women are severely affected by poverty. Racial minorities are severely affected by poverty. We must put aside these issues of identity politics to focus on what we all have in common, which is our relationship to capital. If you play identity politics, you’re serving the interests of the current owners of capital.

Here is one particularly lofty and recommended form of this argument, lest I be accused of strawmanning it.

Where identitarianism seeks to somehow unify the world’s often highly contradictory personal narratives of oppression into a coherent idea of social justice, Marxism looks at what makes the system itself tick, and finds that the vast majority of people have something very real in common: their position within the economy, i.e. their relationship to capital and the means of production. It’s around this that it seeks to rally people – not around moral or personal judgement, but around their objective common interests. Ideologies of social division, in the socialist view, mainly exist to keep people from realizing precisely those interests. Divide and conquer, as they say.

Socialism does not seek to unify people on the level of social, national or cultural identity; it is inherently internationalist and transcultural, because it operates on a completely different level. But that’s precisely why socialism is emancipatory by necessity: because to unite the working class means to unite people across the barriers of identity. The concept itself is inclusive, and cannot be realized without the inclusion of the majority of people, including people of all social identities. Nor does it exclude those who wish to see systemic change but belong to the upper classes; after all, it’s about reorienting the goals and methods of the system, not about personal moral judgement or the condemnation of people because of an accident of birth. Socialism does not posit some sort of economic equivalent of Original Sin that makes people unable to see beyond their own lives.

It’s got all the hallmarks: reduction of things like sexism and racism into mere personal interactions, implying that identities other than class identities are made up, the idea that critiquing socialists is playing into the hands of capitalists, calls for the vague ideal of “unity”, equation of privilege with sin. But boy, the words are big and the horse is high. More importantly, it has the same failure that all arguments of this stripe exhibit. The author of this piece is unwilling or unable to address the fact that not all power comes from capital. [Read more...]

Getting Drunk and Acting Like a Train Wreck

My friend Cait Quinn posted this last weekend. I’ve been friends with several Irish bands over the years, and as such, I really appreciated it. I asked her for permission to share it as a guest post. Keep this in mind as you plan your weekend festivities. I’ll just add that, not only are you not part of the Irish Republican Army, but (unless you’re part of a local indigenous group) the people around you aren’t the occupation either. If you’re feeling oppressed, go get involved in politics.

So I’m going to engage in my St. Patrick’s Day rant a little early. Sorry, I’ve just had it. Celebrating the Irish culture by drinking and acting like a total barbarian is choosing to behave in the exact manner of the Irish stereotype. It is a stereotype that is not all in good fun, it is not irreverent and harmless it is the caricature that was used for hundreds of years to justify occupation, forced labor, deportation and restrictions on the Irish people’s rights and autonomy. It fueled the hatred of the Irish in America, legalized and normalized the British government’s continued occupation of the Irish people both in Ireland and in other British colonies. It was even used to justify slaver and murder. Oliver Cromwell killed over 200,000 Irish civilians by painting them as a dangerous, barbarous people.

So getting drunk and acting like a train wreck on St. Patrick’s day helps to perpetuate that very harmful narrative that to be Irish means that you drink and act like an ignorant fool. That you damage property and cannot control your behavior because dooood I’m totally wasted and let’s break stuff, Yay Ireland. If you are Irish or of Irish descent, your ancestors are ashamed of you. They fought incredibly hard to dispel the misconceptions that held the Irish people down. So shame on you.

And before anyone gives me crap about promoting respectability politics around this issue I’m not. What I’m saying is that if you are going to celebrate a people and it’s heritage imitating the behavior attributed to a people by their oppressors isn’t really a great way to do it. And if you are looking for an excuse to cut loose and break some rules, by all means do it, just don’t do it in the name of a culture and a people. Own it and say you are doing it for you.

This rant brought to you by the riots on Umass campus in the name of getting drunk and celebrating St. Patty’s Day.

The Day I Decided to Have an Abortion

Migraines were the reason I was at the doctor’s office.

She was a wonderful doctor. It was the first time I’d had an internist as my primary care physician. She had a Palm Pilot with a good medical database on it so she didn’t have to work on anything by memory or leave me sitting to get more information.

A lot of what she had to say wasn’t new to me. I’d figured out that the frequent headaches and other weirdness were migraines through internet research. But she had access to more and better information. When I said I had these three to four days a week, she looked at me funny and said, “Three to four times a month is the point where we want to consider prophylactic treatment.”

I was all for treatment. She looked at my chart, particularly at my (low) blood pressure, consulted the Palm Pilot again, and said, “You’re having stress headaches with the migraines. I want to put you on propranolol.”

I was fine with that too. Then she said, “But if I give you a prescription for this drug, I need to know that you’ll be okay with having an abortion if you get pregnant.”* [Read more...]

You Made Your Bed, Now Burn in It

Kameron Hurley wrote a great post recently that everyone in the atheist community ought to read right about now. It’s starts with an argument with a toddler.

I had the questionable delight of hanging out with a 3 year old for the last week, and at some point, when I hauled off his pants so he could go “Pee-pee in the potty” he proceeded to sit on said toilet for a solid five minutes having an argument with me because I’d said “Hey!” when he tried to hit his mother.

“You YELLED at me!” he yelled. “We don’t yell in this house.”

“We don’t hit our mom, either.”

“We don’t YELL. You HURT my FEELINGS.”

At some point, this child will understand the difference between a feeling of guilt for being called out when he does something bad and actual hurt feelings, but today is not that day.

“And you hurt your mom’s feelings,” I said. “You don’t hit your mom.”

“We don’t YELL IN THIS HOUSE.”

The post then goes on to use this framework to explain why the idea that Jonathan Ross was abused by that portion of the F&SF community that objected to his hosting this year’s Hugo Awards at WorldCon is nonsense. [Read more...]

Why We Marry, Part 2: The State

A while ago, Tauriq asked why we should get married. In The Guardian, he argued that we shouldn’t, or at least that he shouldn’t.

I, on the other hand, have spent the last few months deep in Minnesota Atheists’ work on getting marriage law changed so that atheist and humanist celebrants don’t have to declare themselves religious or be recognized by organizations that identify as religious in order to have the state recognize the ceremonies they perform as legal marriages. This means I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who perform nonreligious ceremonies and to people who have been married in nonreligious ceremonies about why these ceremonies are important to people. I’ve spent somewhat less time talking to legislators about the state’s concerns with the changes we’re asking for.

It also means I’ve spent a bunch of time answering questions about why we’re involved in the issue at all. There are two that are incredibly common in various forms. Why should we take an interest in marriage? Why are we supporting the idea that the state should take an interest in marriage? I’d like to address both of these questions. I’ll split them into separate posts, because they are very separate issues.

In Part 1 of this, I addressed marriage as a ceremony, a ritual that signals a commitment and a combining of families. Now it’s time to look at the state’s interest in marriage, because it does have a legitimate one.
[Read more...]

Reviewing Marriage Officiant Law

If you’ve been following along here or receive the Minnesota Atheists monthly newsletter, you know we’ve been working toward changing Minnesota marriage law so that religious clergy are not the only non-government-employees who can legally officiate a marriage in Minnesota. We’ve discussed the issue with members of both the state house and state senate. In December, we met with Senator John Marty, who asked us some very good questions about our options for changing the law and the support that these options have.

In response to those questions, we surveyed atheists and secular humanists across Minnesota to get their opinions on the options they would support. The results of that survey appear in this month’s newsletter and will be shared on the Minnesota Atheists website shortly. I’ll link to them when they’re posted.

In addition, Senator Marty also asked how non-government-official, non-religious officiants are handled in the law of other states. Having a research background and finding this sort of digging fun, I volunteered to pull together this information. Below is the information I pulled together, along with links to the relevant law. These are the states that extend the ability to officiate marriages to more than elected officials (mayors, county commissioners, legislators, lieutenant governors, and governors may all officiate in some states) and judges or clerks of the court. Emphasis is mine, to draw attention to the relevant part of the legal code.

Hopefully this will make things easier for any other group that wants to change the law in their state. Be aware, however, that what I quote is a snapshot. Laws change continually, and the information should be verified before being used for another purpose. [Read more...]