No on Prop 8 Website Under Attack

No on 8
And the sleaze just keeps on coming.

The No on Prop 8 website (the website for the campaign for marriage equality in California) has been subjected to a continuing and coordinated Denial of Service attack, attempting to shut it down and/or make it inaccessible.

It seems to be a coordinated national effort, coming in tandem with a similar attack on the No on 2 website in Florida (another campaign for marriage equality), and with participants from around the country.

So. Let me get this straight. One of the big tropes of the Yes on 8 campaign is that “activist judges” (i.e., the California Supreme Court enforcing the State Constitution) forced same-sex marriage down the throats of an unwilling state, and the Yes on Prop 8 campaign is simply an attempt to redress this wrong and restore democracy.

And yet somehow, their love of democracy doesn’t include the idea that their opponents have the right to publicize their views and raise money on their own Website. Their love of democracy somehow doesn’t include the right of people to donate money to the political campaign of their choice.

And their love of democracy — not to mention the traditional morality they’re claiming to be preserving — doesn’t include the idea that political campaigns should obey the law.

See, this isn’t just sleazy. This isn’t just dishonest. This is a federal crime.

The upshot: If you’re trying to donate money to the No on Prop 8 campaign, and you can’t do it through their website? There are other ways. You can do it through ActBlue. You can do it through Equality California. You can do it through the National Center for Lesbian Rights. If you’re trying to help, please don’t give up because you can’t get through on the No on 8 site. Thanks.

Hurricane Katrina, or What Government Is For

This is a rerun of a piece I wrote about two years ago. I’m repeating it because now, in this Presidential election, it seems particularly pertinent.

When the levees broke
So I’m watching When the Levees Broke, the Spike Lee HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina (which you all absolutely have to see, by the way), and what with that and the one-year anniversary, it seemed like a good time to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a while, about what government is — or what it should be, anyway — and about people who think government is a bad idea.

Here’s what I think government is. Or rather, here’s what I think government should be, and what it actually is at least some of the time. I think government is/should be the structure with which a society pools some of its resources for projects and services that benefit that society, but are too big to be handled privately by individuals or small groups. And it is/should be the structure a society uses to decide how those pooled resources should be used.

Firefighters
Think roads. Sewers. Parks. Fire departments. Public health services. Law enforcement, even. God knows I have mixed feelings about law enforcement as it actually exists in our society — but as Ingrid pointed out recently, when there’s a Ted Bundy on the streets, you want there to be people whose job it is to catch them. It’s pretty much spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution, actually: “…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Hurricane_Katrina_August_28_2005_NASA
And think emergency services. For fuck’s sweet sake, think emergency services.

Except we have a government — a federal government, anyway — that’s run by people who think government is a bad idea. We have a government run by people who think government should always be as small as possible, that taxes should always be as low as possible, that government is at best a necessary evil. (Or who say that’s what they think, anyway. I think they’re big fuckin’ hypocrites, but that’s a different rant.)

And when you see what happened a year ago in New Orleans, you see why government run by people who think government is a bad idea is a criminally bad idea.

Because when you think about what government is — or what it should be — you realize that people who think government is a bad idea are essentially opposed to the idea of pooling resources. To oppose the very idea of government, to think of it as at best a necessary evil, is to believe in the philosophy of “Every man for himself.” It is to believe in the philosophy of “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine.” It is to believe that sharing is bad. It is to believe in the atomization of society, the breakdown of social responsibility into smaller and smaller units. To believe that government is a bad idea is to believe that society itself is a bad idea.

George w. bush
It feels freaky to be defending the idea of government when I’m watching a documentary about its callous incompetence, its inhuman detachment, its colossal screw-up on every level. And it feels ultra-freaky to be defending the idea of government when we’re suffering through what may well go down as the worst Presidential administration in history. But in a way, that’s my point. I think that government should be run by people who think government is a good idea. People who think government is a good idea are looking for ways to make it run better. People who think government is a bad idea are cynically looking for ways they can use it to enrich themselves and their buddies.

Vote
The big devil’s advocate question, of course, is why all those big social projects — roads, sewers, parks, fire departments, public health, law enforcement, etc. — can’t be handled privately, by business or charity? That brings me to the second part of my “what government should be” theory — namely, the structure a society uses to decide how its pooled resources should be used. The problem with big social projects being handled by the private sector is accountability. I want to have my roads maintained, my fires put out, my immunizations delivered — and my emergency services provided — by people I can vote for, and vote against. And I don’t want them handled by people whose top priority is not roads or fires or immunizations or emergency services, but profit. (If you want a top-notch example of why social services shouldn’t be delivered by the private sector, watch the part of the Spike Lee Katrina documentary that talks about how the insurance companies completely shafted Katrina victims.)

Form 1040
Are there problems with government? Fuck, yes. Massive ones. It needs to be fixed, and pronto. But it needs to be fixed by people who believe in it. So the next time someone’s running for office by promising to reduce government and cut taxes, think about whether that’s what you really want from your people in office. Because if there’s a better way for a society to pool its resources and decide how those resources should be used than a democratically elected government, I can’t think of it.

Support Same-Sex Marriage — Buy Porn!

Crash pad no on 8
Hey, this is cool.

If you subscribe to the Crash Pad lesbian porn video series on Thursday, October 30, 100% of your subscription fee will go to the No on 8 campaign to protect same-sex marriage in California.

(Here’s more info on the Crash Pad series. These are seriously hot videos, btw, authentic and well-made, passionate and nasty… all those things that Gretas like best.)

If you’ve been holding off on donating to No on 8… maybe this will inspire you. Support same-sex marriage while you buy porn!

Lies, Blackmail, and Family Values: The Sleazy Tactics of Yes on 8

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

LiarLiar
It’s bad enough that the Yes on Prop 8 campaign — the initiative to stop same-sex marriage in California — has been telling outright lies in their campaign ads. (Saying, among other things, that if Prop 8 fails and same-sex marriage is allowed to stand in California, kindergartners will be taught about gay sex in public schools, and churches will lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings. (Both outright lies. Both lies so ugly that even a Mormon scholar has denounced the campaign for telling them, and a group of 59 law professors has issued a joint statement detailing the falsehoods in the campaign.)

Believe it or not, it gets worse than this.

The Yes on 8 campaign has a TV ad/video running (here’s the video, properly fisked), using footage from a 1st grade field trip to their teacher’s lesbian wedding… and using it without the parents’ permission. These parents are very much against Prop 8 — the field trip to the wedding was optional, and the parents happily gave permission for their kids to attend — and they’ve written letters and given a press conference, expressing their anger that their children are being used to support a cause they so vehemently oppose… and expressly refusing their permission for their children’s images to be used in this ad.

Yes on 8 is ignoring the parents’ request, and is continuing to run the ads.

So let me get this straight. The whole point of this particular ad is that parents have rights when it comes to raising their kids. The whole point is the claim — patently false — that if gay marriage is allowed to remain legal, parents won’t be able to decide how their kids are to be raised and what values about marriage they’ll be taught.

And yet they’re using the images of 1st grade children, not only in a distortion of reality, but in direct opposition to the parents’ clearly expressed wishes.

Those are some great family values you got there, people. That’s some real respect for parents’ rights.

That’s enough reason right there to support No on 8. But believe it or not, it gets even worse.

Yes on 8 hasn’t just been telling outright lies. They haven’t just been using the images of children against their parents’ express wishes.

Blackmail
They’ve resorted to blackmail.

ProtectMarriage.com sent a certified letter to several business that donated money to No on 8, threatening to expose them as opponents of traditional marriage unless they made an equal donation to Yes on 8. The letter went not only to large businesses like Levi Strauss and AT&T; it went to small businesses as well.

Just to be clear: They have a legal right to reveal those names. The identity of companies who donate to political campaigns is a matter of public record. But it is morally repugnant to link a threat of exposure with a request for money. The word for that is blackmail.

And blackmail is not a family value.

So again, let me get this straight. The Yes on 8 campaign claims to be about protecting traditional morality and traditional family values. To accomplish this, they are telling outright lies; violating parents’ rights when it comes to their kids; and resorting to out- and- out blackmail.

And this is the morality they want us to support. This is the world they want us to live in.

Okay. Now, the important part.

We can’t let this stand.

We can’t let this work.

We can’t let them win.

Prop8_logo_revise
The Prop 8 race is very, very close. Nobody knows at this point which way it’s going to go. And it’s a hugely important race — not only for California, but for the country. California is widely seen as a political pioneer, and whichever way this election goes, it sets a precedent for the rest of the country. If same-sex marriage is banned in California, it’s going to be much harder for it to get a foothold in any other state. And if same-sex marriage is allowed to stand in California, it becomes much more clear every day that family and society is not being brought to a crashing disaster by this latest evolution in the institution of marriage… and the cause of equality gets a big, big lift. (And nobody will be able to blame it on “activist judges”.)

The amazing thing about the Internet — well, one of the amazing things — is that it makes it much, much easier for political campaigns to raise serious amounts of money in large numbers of small donations. It’s one of the main reasons behind the success of the Obama campaign, which by February of this year had raised $28 million online — 90% of which was in donations of $100 or less, and 40% of which was in donations of $25 or less.

My point: Small donations matter. Small donations add up.

No-on-8 protect marriage
If you can, please donate to the No on Prop 8 campaign. Even a small donation of $25 would make a difference. If you really, really can’t, then please, talk to your friends and family. Volunteer to do phone banking. If you can’t donate money to help No on 8 run their video ads on TV, then spread the ads directly. Write about it in your blog, and encourage your readers to make donations. Please don’t let bigots write their bigotry into the California State Constitution… and don’t let lies, blackmail, and the unwilling manipulation of children win.

On Watching…

Please note: This piece discusses my personal sexuality — specifically, my personal tastes in erotica — in quite a bit of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read that stuff are advised to skip this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

On Watching the Same Ten-Second TV Spank Scene… Over and Over and Over
by Greta Christina

It seemed vaguely ridiculous at the time.

It seems even more ridiculous now.

Weeds-season4-marylouiseparker
Why — in a world where I have almost infinite pornographic material at my fingertips — would I find a ten-second spanking scene in a cable TV comedy series so erotically compelling? Why would I rewind and re-watch it a half a dozen times… and then fetch my vibrator, and watch it a dozen times more?

What is it about sex scenes in non- porno movies and TV shows, novels and comic books, that makes them hot? Not necessarily better than porn; but different, and different in a way that makes them special and exciting?

I’d like to say it’s how unexpected it is. You rent or download a spanking video, you expect to see a spanking. It’s fun, it’s hot, but it’s a bit anticlimactic. But you’re watching a regular old TV show — okay, on Showtime, but still — and you see a spanking? (Or a lap-dance, or blowjob, or whatever it is that floats your boat?) That’s a bit of a shock. And the shock of having one of your erotic buttons pushed out of nowhere can jolt you out of your TV- watching haze, and wake up your libido like a slap in the face.

Sure. Sometimes that’s true.

But in this case, it would be a filthy lie. The spanking I’m talking about had been heavily foreshadowed in the previous week’s episode. Heck, it had been highlighted in the “And now, scenes from next week’s episode” clips. I didn’t see the spanking come out of nowhere. I’d been waiting for it all week. With bated breath, and a twitchy hand on the remote.

So that’s not it.

Weeds cast
It’s not the authentic feel you get from good acting, either. Usually when I rave about porn, it’s the authenticity that I rave about: the feeling that the performers have genuine enthusiasm and passion about what they’re doing. But that’s almost the exact opposite of what I saw here. In a spanking video, there’s a pretty decent chance that the people you’re watching are really getting off on it. In “Weeds,” these are highly- skilled, professional television actors… and while they did an excellent job convincing me of the characters’ passions, I have no idea how the actors themselves felt about it. That’s what makes them, you know, actors.

And I’d like to say that it was exceptional porn. Exceptionally erotic, exceptionally well-made. Something.

Weeds spank 1
But honestly, it wasn’t. The scene was fine by spanking porn standards — it was certainly better- filmed and better- acted than most — but it wasn’t wildly extraordinary. And the actual spanking only lasted ten seconds… which is a pretty major downside for porn. The very fact that I had to rewind and re-watch it a dozen times was something of a hassle. It did lend a certain sleazy, drooling- pervert charm to the proceedings (especially when I was watching on frame- by- frame slow- forward); but it’s hard to keep a sustained arc of sexual arousal when you’re hitting “Rewind” every ten seconds. And while it was a good, hard ten- second spanking, from a purely porny standpoint it wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.

See for yourself. If you Google “Weeds Nancy Botwin spanking,” or go to YouTube and search on those words, you can see what I’m talking about. You can watch it here, if they haven’t taken it down already. But unless you’ve been watching the show and care about the characters already, it probably won’t seem all that interesting.

And that, I think, is the key.

That is what the ten-second spanking scene on “Weeds” has to offer that the overwhelming majority of porn doesn’t:

Caring about the characters.

You can get some of that in written porn, if you know who the good writers are. But for reasons that surpass my understanding, from a purely porny standpoint I’m a much bigger fan of video than I am of fiction. And alas, the overwhelming majority of porn videos completely suck at engaging you with the characters, giving you a sense of what all this sex means to them, getting you to give a damn about them.

But I already care about the characters on “Weeds.” I’ve been watching “Weeds” for close to three years now, and it’s an unusually smart and well- written TV show. So compared to any porno vid I’m going to watch, it already has a three- year head start… not to mention the considerable advantage that a well-paid writing staff will give you.

Weeds spank 2
So when I watched Nancy Botwin get spanked, it was like watching a friend get spanked.

No, not a friend exactly. I don’t think the characters I watch on TV are my friends. But a reasonably close acquaintance. A friend of a friend. Someone I know a lot about and have come to care about from a distance.

And I think this is part of why people get so excited about sex scenes or kink scenes in non-porno TV and movies. (Apart from the celebrity fetish, of course; but that’s not my thing, so I can’t say much about it.) It’s not like porn, where nine times out of ten you sit through a stupidly- written, woodenly- acted pool- boy seduction scene that’s both unconvincing and unsurprising before you get to the “good stuff.” The spanking in “Weeds” had all the complex intensity and emotional depth that my own sex fantasies have… with the added treat of not being made up in my own head, and therefore being at least a little surprising and new.

And that’s something I’ve only gotten from a handful of porno vids.

Election Snippet: Lies, Intimidation, and the Youth Vote

Today’s election snippet: This video from the Rachel Maddow show, about lies being told to college-age voters to intimidate them from voting. Students at Virginia Tech were told that they could forfeit their scholarships, lose their health insurance, and increase their parents’ taxes, if they voted locally (i.e., in the state where they go to school). And at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, a flyer went out saying that undercover cops would be staking out voting booths on Election Day, to catch people with unpaid traffic tickets.

Wanna know who’s doing this? Hint: The youth vote is polling extremely heavily towards Obama. And while young people in this country traditionally don’t turn out very heavily in elections, it’s generally being assumed that this election will be different. Young people aren’t just supporting Obama: they’re extremely excited about Obama. Passionate, even.

And just to point out: The states where these reports came from? The hotly contested swing states of Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The pertinent bit starts at about 1:10. Before that, what you get is a bit about a prank flyer announcing a separate election day for Democrats of Wednesday, November 5… and a deeply ironic clip from a McCain speech, about “letting the voters weigh in.”

Let’s hear it for the Republicans. Who happily trumpet the principle of democracy in jingostic abstractions… but are happy to trample on the democratic principle that everyone who wants to vote, and who is legally entitled to vote, should be able to vote, without intimidation.

Video below the fold.

[Read more…]

Faith as a Last Resort

Faith
So why should you need faith to believe in God?

I know that seems like a dumb-ass question. But hear me out.

Why should there be a real, enormously powerful entity in the world, an entity with a more real and more powerful effect on the world than anything else… and yet, for this entity and this entity only, in order to fully understand and believe in its existence, the most essential requirement is that we want to believe?

(A requirement charitably described as “the will to believe”? Uncharitably described as “wishful thinking”?)

Let’s take a brief, grossly oversimplified tour through the history of religion. And I’ll show you what I mean.

Zeus-lightning-bolt
Once upon a time, you didn’t need faith to believe in God. The existence of God, or the gods, was just obvious. Who else made all this stuff? Who else made lightning? Who else made the rain come, the sun rise and fall, the crops grow? The gods, of course. Stuff happens because someone makes it happen. If rain falls, then a rain god must have made it fall. I mean, duh.

Breaking the spell
From our perspective of the modern world today, thousands of years later, we can see the ways that people created gods out of their brains. We can see how human minds see intention and pattern, even where no intention and pattern exists. We can see how, given huge important events that people didn’t understand and had no power over, they’d make up the idea of gods who they could influence with prayer and sacrifice, so they wouldn’t feel out of control and totally freaked out. Etc. etc. (Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is an excellent book on this subject.)

But none of this was conscious. Consciously, religion wasn’t primarily based on faith. It was based on evidence, and analysis of the evidence. Not very good evidence, granted… but the best evidence available at the time.

But now, things are different.

Over the centuries and millennia, the role of evidence in religion has been diminishing. To put it mildly. We’ve gradually been building a coherent picture of why the world is the way it is… and supernatural beings are not part of it. The need for religion to explain the world — and the correspondence between the known facts about the world and our religious explanations of it — have been inexorably been shrinking.

Faith book
But as the evidence for religion has been shrinking, religion itself has not dwindled. (Well, it has, but not by as much as you’d think, what with the shrinking evidence and all.) Something else has been happening instead. As the evidence for religion has been shrinking — as God’s existence has become less obvious, less of a “like, duh” conclusion — the role of faith in supporting religion has been expanding to fill the gap.

Religious leaders and teachers, religious apologists, ordinary rank- and- file religious believers: all have increasingly stressed the importance of faith — of believing in God because you choose to believe, because you will yourself to believe, indeed simply because you do believe. And I’m not just talking hard-core fundies, whose religion is based on the active denial of reality. Much modern progressive theology is less about, “What reasons do we have to believe in God?” than it is about, “Why is it okay to believe in God, even though we have no compelling reason to do so?”

In fact, for many religious believers, the very fact of faith — the fact of believing in a supernatural being for which there’s no real evidence — is considered not only acceptable, but positively virtuous. Faith is often considered a finer, more pure basis for belief than trying to find evidence in the crappy old real world. And it’s common for religious believers to overtly advocate the rejection of evidence if it conflicts with their belief.

If you’re a believer, all that stuff may seem self-evident and sensible. Of course religion is based on faith. That’s what makes it religion. I mean, duh.
But if you’re a non-believer — or if you step away from your belief for a moment and look at it from the perspective of an outsider — it suddenly seems very strange.

Why should this be so?

Why — to return to the question I started with — should there be a real, powerful entity in the world… for whom the single most important quality required to understand and perceive it is the desire to believe?

Tinker bell
Why should God be like Tinker Bell?

And why should this method of “perceiving” be not only acceptable, but superior? Why should it be better to believe in something you don’t have evidence for than to believe in something you do?

Somebody made a really interesting point in this blog recently, a point that cuts right to what I’m getting at. In response to my Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe in God piece, Thorin N. Tatge said:

There’s just one major reason for atheism I would have put on the list that you left out. That’s just the fact that there are so many feasible motivations (as opposed to reasons) to believe in God. After all, if you’re discrediting an argument or belief, it’s a nice touch to try and explain why the misguided argument or belief is widespread in the first place. And it isn’t hard to identify some of these motivations. Wanting an afterlife to exist is a big one. Wanting justification for thinking of one’s own group as superior is another. Wanting a sense of grand understanding of the universe (but not quite being able or ready to grasp science) is one of the more noble ones. And so forth.

Thorin is right. There are way, way too many reasons for people to want to believe in God for us to view the belief with anything other than a suspicious eye.

See, here’s the thing. If you really, really want something to be true — whether you call that “the will to believe” or wishful thinking — that’s when you have to be extra rigorous. That’s when you have to make a special effort, not to argue yourself into your belief, but to try to argue yourself out of it.

Mistakes_were_made
You have to do this because it’s been clearly demonstrated, in thousands of ways, that when we already believe something, or when we’re strongly motivated to believe something, we amplify the importance of evidence that seems to support it, and filter out evidence that contradicts it. (A tendency that becomes more pronounced the more we’ve invested in the belief.)

And what could we be more strongly motivated to believe in than immortality? What could we be more strongly motivated to believe in than a perfect, blissful place of eternal life where we’ll be reunited with everyone we’ve ever loved? What could we be more strongly motivated to believe in than the unreality of our permanent death, and of the permanent death of everyone we care about?

So.

If the strongest argument you can make for your belief is faith? The fact that you really want to believe it, or that you have a strong will to believe it, or simply that you already believe it?

That’s not an argument in favor of your belief.

That’s a very, very strong argument against it.

Simpsons_church_sign faith
The more I think about faith, the less it looks like a genuine foundation for religious belief. The more I think about faith, the more it looks like a last resort. It’s the argument you make when you’ve run out of arguments. It’s the argument you make when you know you’ve been beaten, but are really attached to your point of view, and really, really, really don’t want to concede.

Faith doesn’t look like a foundation. It looks like an ad-hoc structure hurriedly put into place, to prop up a building whose foundation is crumbling.

Election Snippet: The McCain Campaign and Science

Manusingmicroscope
Today’s election snippet: The McCain campaign and its consistently hostile, contemptuous, and trivializing attitude towards science.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula rants about this better than I could, so mostly I’m just going to link to him. The gist: The McCain/ Palin campaign, in its effort to demonize taxes and earmarks, has shown a repeated pattern of bashing science: acting as if it’s not a necessity but a frivolous luxury, something an advanced civilized society can easily do without.

You know, it’s easy to make fun of small scientific research projects. (And as Homer Simpson would say, “Fun, too!”) It’s easy to trivialize people who study some obscure frog in some tiny swamp. It’s easy to mock researchers who want funding for their research projects as self-absorbed whiners sucking on the public teat, spending years studying petty details about stuff that nobody else cares about and expecting the taxpayers to foot the bill.

But that attitude shows a stupendous ignorance about how science works.

Science consists largely of lots and lots and lots of little pieces, being put together into an increasingly coherent big picture. Everyone admires Big Breakthroughs in science… but Big Breakthroughs are rare. And the Big Breakthroughs are dependent on all the little pieces being done, and being done right. (What’s more, you never know which little breakthrough is going to lead to a Big Breakthrough.)

We are a highly technological society. Medicine, communication, transportation, agriculture… science and technology are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, and that’s just becoming more and more true with time. Even seemingly weird little projects can have a great impact on our lives. (As Skeptico points out, the fruit fly research that Sarah Palin disparages was research into the olive fruit fly — a major pest that threatens California’s olive farmers.)

Loving your country, and wanting it to be prosperous and successful, means valuing science.

To understand our world — for both practical applications and the simple enhancement of our lives that greater understanding gives us — we need research into things like fruit flies. And bear DNA. And planetariums to teach kids about science. And all that stuff the McCain/ Palin campaign holds in such casual contempt.