Special Rights, Not Equal Rights

Equal Rights Are Not Special Rights Button (0473)I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a different take on the recent ruling upholding the Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California. It’s about how the court ruling essentially gives me and Ingrid and about 18,000 same-sex couples in California “special rights”… and what a strange, icky feeling that is.

The piece is titled Special Rights, Not Equal Rights, and here’s the teaser:

For years, one of the mantras of the anti-gay right wing has been that LGBT activists want “special rights.” (It’s a mantra that gets used a lot to defend bigotry — it was sounded frequently in the fight against civil rights in the ’50s and ’60s, and in fact was used to oppose interracial marriage — so please take note of that.) And for years, one of the mantras of the LGBT rights movement has been, “Equal rights, not special rights.” We’re not asking for special rights: we’re asking for the same rights, and the same responsibilities, and the same opportunities to participate in and contribute to society, as everyone else.

And yet the weird-ass upshot of this court decision is that I, and Ingrid, and 18,000 other couples, have wound up with special rights.

That, my friends, is a strange position to be in.

To find out how and why this experience is so deeply bizarre and unsettling — and what I plan to do about it — read the rest of the piece. (And as always, if you feel inspired to comment on this blog, please consider cross- posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog. They like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Blog Carnivals!

CarnivalBlog carnivals!

Humanist Symposium #37, at She Who Chatters.

Carnival of the Godless #117, at State of Protest.

Carnival of the Liberals #91, at Crowded Head, Cozy Bed. (And because I missed it, Carnival of the Liberals #90, at Quiche Moraine.)

Skeptic’s Circle #111, at Action Skeptics. (And because I missed it last time, Skeptic’s Circle #110, at Ferret’s Cage.)

Philosophers’ Carnival #91, at sevenlayercake: a sweet philosophy blog.

And Skeptical Parent Crossing #8, at Babylicious.

Happy reading!

Is It Okay to Mock Religion?

Hendrik_ter_Brugghen_-_DemocritusIs it okay to mock religion?

And if so, is it ever not okay to mock religion?

I got an interesting question from Ola the other day. She asked:

I have a question for you that arose in one of my disputes with a religious person, and it really bothers me. The question is about the use of humor in our arguments. Not just humor — irony. Sarcasm. Snark, if you wish. Things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Kissing Hank’s Ass.

People say that it is mean and disrespectful to mock their beliefs. No, I know what you’re about to say! You wrote: “Atheists see religion as just another hypothesis about how the world works. We decline to treat it with more respect than any other opinions, theories, philosophies. We decline to treat its writings with more respect than any other books, its leaders with more respect than any other political or community figures…” but that’s not quite it. The people who make this argument actually sound like they mean it to include not just religious beliefs, as an exception — but all beliefs and opinions. What they say is that humor and sarcasm are not arguments — they are cheap tricks to bias people emotionally, and they have no place in a meaningful debate. If you really want to discuss something, you should be deadly serious. Or so I understand.

What do you think?

Well, let’s see.

Is it ever okay to use humor and sarcasm when discussing an important topic?

Molly ivinsMy answer to that particular question is a completely unequivocal “Yes.” Of course it is. From Aristophanes to Jon Stewart, from Mark Twain to Molly Ivins, from Jonathan Swift to Monty Python, from Chaucer to The Onion, satire is a powerful, time-honored form of social and political criticism. Humor and mockery can be used to point out the pretentions and deceptions of the greedy, the pompous, the self- important, the hypocritical, the corrupt, the willfully ignorant… often far more effectively than any other device. Humor shakes you out of your usual way of looking at things and gives a different perspective on it — and when you’re subverting the dominant paradigm or whatnot, that’s absolutely crucial. When the emperor has no clothes, sometimes the only appropriate response is to point and laugh.

Steven colbertAnd if nothing else, humor keeps people paying attention. People will keep watching your TV show, listening to your radio program, reading your book or your blog post, if you’re entertaining them. It’s not just that humor is often more effective than sober commentary. It’s that it goes down easier. It keeps people listening… and it keeps people coming back. Plus it’s often more memorable.

I think this one is pretty much a no-brainer. Humor and sarcasm as legitimate social commentary? You bet! But I do want to address the question it brings up. Namely:

Is it acceptable — and is it useful — to use humor and mockery to critique religion?

First, just to be clear: I’m not talking about whether it’s legally okay. Of course it is — and in parts of the world where it isn’t, it should be. I’m not talking about whether people have the right to mock religion. I’m talking about whether it’s right to mock religion: whether mocking religion is ethical, or kind, or effective.

And surprising as it may seem, given the above rant about the power of satire as political and social commentary, I actually don’t think that’s a question with a single, simple “yes or no” answer. I think it’s a question whose answer depends on at least four other questions that I can think of.

1: What’s the context?

Candide voltaireAre we talking about mocking religion on your blog… or are we talking about mocking religion at Thanksgiving dinner? Are we mocking it in a book or a magazine article or a letter to the editor… or are we mocking it in a personal conversation with a friend about their beliefs?

I think the rules about public conversation are very different from the rules about private conversation. In public conversation, a much higher degree of criticism, both serious and sarcastic, is considered acceptable. (This is a point Richard Dawkins has made: the kind of language that’s decried as intolerant and insulting in atheist critique of religion is accepted with barely a blink in political commentary or restaurant reviews.)

In public discourse, ideas and information take precedence. That’s the whole idea of the marketplace of ideas. People speak loudly and passionately in favor of their ideas and against ones they disagree with, so that — ideally, at least — the most convincing ideas will be the ones that eventually sell. People do this using every rhetorical tool they have… including sarcasm. Dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire. They use all the tricks. And if you participate in public discourse, you’re expected to have a thick skin. If you dish it out, you should be able to take it. (See above, re: satire as a respectable, time-honored form of political and social discourse.)

Flying spaghetti monsterAnd to this end, I think mockery of religion isn’t just acceptable. It can be a positive good. It can be a way of saying, “We decline to treat religion with kid gloves anymore. We see religion as just another idea about the world… and when it’s a silly idea, we’re going to make fun of it, just like we would with any other silly idea.” The expectation that religion should be treated with extra respect is one of the main ways that religion protects itself from legitimate criticism… and mocking religion can be an important part of stripping that protection from it and making it defend itself just like any other idea.

But in private discourse, ideas and information don’t necessarily take precedence. In private discourse, personal relationships between people often take precedence. Kindness to the people you love and care about often takes precedence. If you’re writing a magazine article or a fashion blog, you might say, “Gaucho pants are a crime against humanity”… but you presumably wouldn’t say it to your cousin Cindy who shows up at dinner wearing them. And I think a similar principle applies to religion.

What’s more, in public conversation, it’s much easier for someone who doesn’t like what you’re saying to turn away: turn the page of the newspaper, change the channel on the TV, click to another blog. That’s a lot harder to do at Thanksgiving dinner. In a situation where there’s a strong social expectation that people not just walk out, I think it’s rude and unkind to put them in a position where their only choices are to walk out, to get into a big argument, or to sit there and let themselves be made fun of.

I’m not saying that religion is off-limits in personal conversation. I’m just saying the tone we take should be different. Personally, unless I’m pretty sure that everyone else in the room is a non-believer, I rarely bring up religion in social situations (although if someone ask what I blog about, I will usually say “Atheism and sex”). And if someone else brings it up, I try to step lightly, speak tactfully, choose my words carefully… a lot more lightly and tactfully and carefully than I do in my blog. And even if my own beliefs aren’t being treated respectfully, I still try to take the high road — a lot more so than I would in a public conversation. I may still use humor… but I’ll be a lot more gentle about it than I would in public writing or conversation.

2: Who or what, exactly, is the target of the mockery?

Monty python spanish inquisitionThere’s a line I try to draw when I’m being critical or mocking of religion. The line is this: I try to focus my criticism and mockery on beliefs and actions — not on people. I try to remember to say things like, “Catholicism is stupid” — not “Catholics are stupid.”

Partly I do this because I think saying “Catholics are stupid” veers dangerously close to religious bigotry. Because Catholics are so diverse, and vary so greatly in how much they do or don’t adhere to the tenets of Catholicism, saying “Catholics are stupid” is essentially deriding people on the basis of the group they belong to, instead of for what they themselves say and do. When we aim our mockery at religious ideas and actions, we’re participating in a noble tradition of satire as social criticism. When we aim our mockery at religious people, we’re participating in a much uglier tradition.

But I also do this because I think saying “Catholics are stupid” is patently untrue. Catholics are no more stupid or smart than anyone else. They have, IMO, some mistaken ideas about the world… but so does everyone else in the human race. You don’t have to be stupid to make mistakes. You don’t even have to be stupid to stubbornly hold on to mistakes in the face of overwhelming evidence. The human tendency to rationalize mistakes can be an aggravating one… but it’s also a universal one, one that every one of us shares. And the human ability to compartmentalize can be a deeply aggravating one… but it also gives room for people with some dumb ideas to still be smart and capable in other areas of their lives.

I do make a few exceptions. Public figures who deliberately make religion a big part of their public image, I think, are fair game… especially when they’re big old hypocrites. But on the whole, I try to aim my criticism of religion — mocking and otherwise — at ideas and actions, not at people or groups.

3: What kind of mockery are we talking about, anyway?

Jon stewart george bushThere’s mockery, and there’s mockery.

There’s mockery that has a point. There’s mockery that shines a spotlight on inconsistency, hypocrisy, stupidity, greed, arrogance, close-mindedness, sloppy thinking, and flat-out evil. (The kind of mockery than Jon Stewart is king of.)

And then there’s mockery of the “Janie is a doo-doo-head” variety. The kind of mockery that calls names and makes fun without any real content or point. The kind of mockery that essentially substitutes invective for analysis. (The kind of mockery that, alas, Keith Olberman is all too prone to.)

The latter, I think, is a whole lot less useful. It has its place, to be sure: it can be entertaining in the right context, and it can do a lot to relieve tension and forge bonds within a movement. And I certainly won’t deny that I’ve indulged in it myself. But I don’t have nearly the same “this is a powerful and venerated form of social commentary that dates back to ancient times, yada yada yada” respect for it that I do for the other kind.

Finally, and maybe most importantly:

4: What are you trying to accomplish?

ReligulousAre you trying to rally the troops? Are you trying to lift the spirits of non-believers who already agree with you, and to forge stronger bonds between you? Are you trying to inspire other atheists to get more involved, to take a further step into visibility and action? Are you trying to draw attention to atheism in the media and the public eye? Are you trying to shift the public perception of religion: to shake it off its pedestal, and get people to see it as just another institution, and just another view of the world, which we can debate and make fun of just like any other?

Or are you trying to engage in fruitful debate with people who disagree with you? Are you trying to persuade believers to reconsider their religious beliefs… or at least, to reconsider their attitude towards atheists?

Both of these are useful, valid goals. But they require a different approach. And in my experience, mockery is more useful in the first set of goals than the second. Very, very few people in this world will be persuaded that they’re wrong by being made fun of. Generally speaking, making fun of people makes them defensive, entrenches them more stubbornly in their beliefs. And this is especially true when it comes to beliefs that are deeply held, and deeply precious and important to people.

It’s not that humor can never be used in a respectful, persuasive, one-on-one debate. But in my experience, it has to be used more sparingly, and more lightly: with less of a mocking, sarcastic, “don’t you see what an idiot you’re being?” tone, and more of a gentle, “we are all fools together” tone.

If that makes sense.

Oh, and by the way, Ola: Thanks for the “Kissing Hank’s Ass” thing. I hadn’t heard that meme before. That is fracking hilarious.

Good In Bed

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

BedWhat does it mean to be “good in bed”?

This phrase, “good in bed,” has been stuck in my head lately. It’s a phrase I’ve thought about a lot over the years.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like it.

G spot bookI should get this out of the way first: Yes, of course, there are some basic skills that anyone hoping to have good sex should acquire. It’s more “basic pieces of knowledge” than anything else, really. Knowledge of male and/or female sexual anatomy and response (depending on which gender or genders you’re boinking). The understanding, for instance, that clits usually prefer somewhat delicate and indirect stimulation, and that dicks typically prefer a fairly firm touch. The understanding that most women take a while to get aroused and to come, and that most don’t come from vaginal penetration alone. The understanding that erections tend to not respond well when their owners feel pressured to perform. Where the G-spot and the prostate are. Where it is and isn’t safe to spank. That sort of thing.

But once you have that stuff under your belt?

In my experience, once you have these basics, good sex isn’t about learning a lot of fancy tricks or positions. It’s about communicating: being able to say what you want without pessimism or fear; being able to listen to what your partner wants without getting threatened or hurt. It’s about being familiar with your own body and your own desires and responses, so you can communicate them in the first place. It’s about being perceptive: paying attention to non-verbal signals as well as verbal ones. It’s about giving a shit about your partner’s pleasure in the first place, and being able to get aroused by their excitement as well as your own. (Which, as Ingrid points out, may not be a skill that can be learned…)

Cards_2And it’s about the luck of the draw: having good sexual chemistry together, getting off on the same sorts of things. You can have all the physical skills and know-how in the world, and be the clearest and most tactful communicator of your desires, and the most attentive listener to your partner’s desires… and if it doesn’t click for the two of you, then it doesn’t click. If you like it hard and nasty and he likes it sweet and sensual; if you like a marathon every week or two and she likes quickies four or five times a week… then the two of you are not going to be good in bed together, no matter how good each of you might be separately. (Not right away, at least. You might get good together if you really like each other and are committed to making it work… but it’s going to take some effort, and some willingness to compromise.)

I think the phrase “good in bed” is problematic for a lot of reasons. There’s the reasons mentioned above: people tend to use “good in bed,” not to mean “perceptive and good at communicating,” but to mean “possessing the physical skills required to get their partner off.” This puts the emphasis on physical parlor tricks, positions and gestures and whatnot, instead of perception and communication. And it de-emphasizes the sexual differences between people: the fact that your particular skillset might have worked great with Mary or Mark, but it’s not doing bupkis with Jean or John. Even that “basic knowledge of anatomy and response” stuff won’t always help: knowing that women generally prefer a lighter, more indirect touch on their clits will do you no good at all with women whose clits like it rough. (If you’re doing more complex or sophisticated forms of sex, like BDSM, then physical skills do become more important… but I think the basic principle is still the same.)

Tennis_silhouetteThe “good in bed” trope also contributes to the idea of sex as an achievement, or a competition. We tend to talk about being “good in bed” the way we talk about being good at making cocktails, or good at tennis. It makes it less about pleasure and joy… and more about ego. It makes it less about, “We are having such an amazing time together,” and more about, “I am such a hot stud/ sexy bitch. I can turn this woman/ man/ wombat to jelly. I am the bomb.” (Quick tangent: Are people saying “the bomb” anymore? I’m a middle-aged lady, and am kind of out of it when it comes to current slang.)

Which brings me to my final issue:

I think the phrase “good in bed” implies that sex is something one person does to another… instead of something two people do together. (Or more than two. I’m not particular.) It implies that being good in bed is a quality that one person has, instead of a quality that two (or more) people have together. It implies that sex is about the power one person has over another, instead of the power two (or more) people can create for themselves and each other. (Not that I have anything against one person having power over another, in a consensually kinky way… but you know what I mean.)

Kiss silhouetteSo I’d like to see us talking about “good in bed,” not to mean, “possessing the physical skills/ studliness to make their sex partners intensely aroused and orgasmic,” but instead to mean, “good at communicating and paying attention during sex.” And ideally, short of some very basic knowledge and skills, I’d like to see us stop talking about one person being “good in bed” altogether.

I don’t think one person is good in bed.

I think two people are good in bed together.

Or more than two. I’m not particular.

Sex, Culture and Religion with Greta Christina: My Interview with Weird Things

Model_600I’ve just done what I think is a very cool interview with Greg Fish of the Weird Things blog (a blog devoted to “exploring science, the strange and the unknown”). Greg read my Skeptic’s View of Sexual Transcendence piece on the Blowfish Blog, and asked to interview me about the intersection of sex and religion. (It’s not a podcast, btw: we spoke in person on the phone, but Greg then transcribed and edited the interview and posted that on the blog.)

We talked about why New Age spirituality is so prevalent in the sex-positive community; whether there’s a sex- negative community; how traditional religious communities reconcile their fear and hostility towards sex with the injunction to be fruitful and multiply; what inspired me to write about a skeptical/ materialist view of sex in the first place; and what my vision is for an ideal sexual world.

The interview is titled Sex, Culture and Religion with Greta Christina. If you want to read what I have to say about all that, check it out. (And if you’re inspired to comment here, please consider cross- posting your comment to Weird Things as well — I’m sure he likes comments as much as I do.) Enjoy!

The Prop 8 Ruling: Discrimination as a Constitutional Principle

Today, the California Supreme Court allowed discrimination to be written into the state Constitution.

Prop8guideToday, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that changed the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

I’m not just upset about this for my own personal reasons. I’m not just upset because I’m a woman in love with and married to another woman, and marriage equality is an issue of great personal importance for me. I’m not just upset because I think LGBT rights, including marriage equality, are among the most important civil rights issues of our day, with implications for straight people as well as queer. I’m not even just upset because of the intensely personal slap in the face: the slap of being told, by a majority of the people in your state and by the highest court of that state, that I am now, officially and legally and inscribed into the state Constitution, a second-class citizen.

All of that is bad enough. But it’s not the worst of it.

The worst of it is the precedent it sets.

JusticeSee, this isn’t just about gay rights and marriage equality. This is about the principle that certain rights are inalienable. This is about the principle that, as important as democracy is, as important as it is for people to be able to vote on the laws and policies that govern them, certain rights transcend that principle, and cannot be taken away by majority rule. This is about the principle that there are limits to mob rule: that the fears and hatreds and prejudices of one class of people towards another cannot be inscribed into law. This is about the principle that people have every right to be bigots, but they do not have the right to write their bigotry into law… even if that bigotry is shared by the majority.

That principle was violated today.

It is now official California state policy, written into our Constitution, that fundamental rights can be taken away by a simple majority vote. It is now official California state policy that if enough people in the state don’t like you, they can amend the Constitution to restrict your access to the institutions and laws, the rights and responsibilities, that are generally available to everyone. It is now official California state policy that discrimination against a specific class of people can be written into the Constitution if enough people support it. It is now official California state policy, written into our Constitution, that the basic principle of equality is less important than mob rule.

I don’t know enough about the law to know whether, from a purely legal standpoint, today’s decision is appropriate or defensible. I don’t know enough about the law to know how legal scholars will look at this decision in ten or twenty or fifty years: whether they will see it as unfortunate but legally necessary, or as a grotesque travesty of the most precious principles that are the foundation of the law, and indeed at the core of the very idea of justice.

Unbalanced_scales-too-far-rightI don’t know enough about the law to judge whether this decision is legally supportable. But I know this: It is a gross miscarriage of justice. And my greatest fear is this: Even if Proposition 8 eventually gets overturned by yet another ballot initiative (which I expect it will, sooner or later), that miscarriage of justice — the precedent that it’s okay to amend the state Constitution to discriminate against a particular class of citizens as long as that class is feared and despised by the majority — will linger on.

Money Changes Everything: “The Girlfriend Experience”

Girlfriend_experience_posterI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a review of the new Steven Soderbergh movie about prostitution, “The Girlfriend Experience.” The piece is titled Money Changes Everything: “The Girlfriend Experience”, and here’s the teaser:

I’ll admit I was skeptical. Even biased. When I heard about “The Girlfriend Experience,” a movie about a high-end prostitute who provides companionship as well as sex — and what happens when she gets emotionally entangled with a client — I expected one of two things.

I expected a) a morality play about the consequences of turning love and sex into a commodity, with either a sadder- but- wiser ending in which the guy just can’t live with his girlfriend being a prostitute, or — more likely — a happy ending in which the prostitute leaves the business to be with the guy…

or else b) a wacky romantic comedy, the kind that might star Ashton Kutcher and Sarah Jessica Parker, full of amusing secrets and misunderstandings and cross-purposes that all come to a head at the end of the second act and all get resolved in the third. With, of course, a happy ending, in which the prostitute leaves the business to be with the guy.

I was wrong. It’s neither. Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” is thoughtful, complex, emotionally nuanced, and thoroughly grown-up. It’s definitely a flawed movie (I’ll get to that in a moment), but it’s an interesting movie and is very much worth seeing. And, although the prostitute is the central character, in an odd way the movie isn’t really about prostitution. Instead, the movie uses prostitution as a way of commenting on the economies of human connection, underscoring the link between money and emotion in a variety of non-prostitution relationships… both professional and personal.

To find out more about this movie, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (And if you’re inspired to comment on this piece on this blog, please consider cross- posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog as well. They like comments there, too.)

The “Inappropriate Disclosure Song” Game, and Continued Blog Break

My health problems are mostly cleared up — thanks to everyone for the kind thoughts! But now I’m going out of town to visit friends for the holiday weekend. I’ll try to blog when I’m away, but I can’t promise anything: this blasted blog break may have to go on a couple/few more days. (Driving me up a tree, I tell you. I hate not blogging.)

So in the meantime, let’s play a game! There’s a trope in popular songs that’s been tickling me recently, and I’m trying to come up with more examples of it. It’s the “Inappropriate Disclosure to Service or Retail Personnel” trope, in which the singer of the song tells the sad/ hopeful story of his or her love life to postal carriers, airline ticketing agents, telephone operators, and other government or commercial representatives who almost certainly care not about the singer’s love life, even in the slightest amount.

PostmanThe quintessential example may be Please Mr. Postman, originally by The Marvelettes, covered by The Carpenters, The Beatles, and probably everyone else on Loki’s green earth, including Captain Beefheart and Snoop Dogg:

Please Mister Postman, look and see
(Oh yeah)
If there’s a letter in your bag for me
(Please, Please Mister Postman)
Why’s it takin’ such a long time
(Oh yeah)
For me to hear from that boy of mine

There must be some word today
From my boyfriend so far away
Pleas Mister Postman, look and see
If there’s a letter, a letter for me

I’ve been standin’ here waitin’ Mister Postman
So patiently
For just a card, or just a letter
Sayin’ he’s returnin’ home to me

Adding to the entertaining inappropriateness of the disclosure, we have the bonus inappropriateness of blaming the service personnel for the emotional distress (“So many days you passed me by/ See the tears standin’ in my eyes/ You didn’t stop to make me feel better/ By leavin’ me a card or a letter”). Giving the song, from the postal carrier’s viewpoint, that extra piquant touch of annoyance.

Check_inThen we have The Letter, originally by the Box Tops, covered by Joe Cocker:

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane,
Ain’t got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home,
‘Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.

Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no mo’.
Listen mister can’t you see I got to get back
To my baby once a-mo’–anyway…

Dude: The agent at the airline ticket counter doesn’t care why you want the ticket. They just need to know what city you’re going to, and if you have any baggage to check, and if any people unknown to you have given you items to carry.

Prison-busI can’t go on about this trope without mentioning Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree

Bus driver, please look for me
‘Cause I couldn’t bear to see what I might see
I’m really still in prison, and my love she holds the key
A simple yellow ribbon’s what I need to set me free
I wrote and told her please:

– in which the singer seeks a sympathetic ear from, of all people, the prison bus driver.

Lily tomlin ernestineAnd when I mentioned this trope to Ingrid, she immediately came up with one of the very best: Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels), by Jim Croce:

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s livin’ in L.A.
With my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So i can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

This one wins some sort of prize for “Highest Ratio of Inappropriate Disclosure to Actual Request for Service.” And Croce definitely gets bonus points for spending two verses and two choruses telling the operator all about his sad love life… and then changing his mind and deciding he doesn’t want to place the phone call after all.

So what other ones am I missing? I know I’m forgetting some important and obvious ones: I know, for instance, that there have got to be songs about inappropriate disclosure to train conductors and other railway personnel. Help me out, y’all!

BTW, I’m going to impose an arbitrary limit here, and rule out disclosures to bartenders. In theory because it could be argued that listening to people drone on about their love lives is an implicit part of a bartender’s job; but mostly for the practical reason that if we don’t rule out bartenders, we’ll be here all day. Let’s play!

Brief Blog Semi-Break/ Shameless Self- Promotion Opportunity

Hi, all. I’m taking an unscheduled break from the blog for a few days. I’m dealing with some health issues: nothing to worry about, nothing life- threatening or anything like that, but I’m in a fair amount of discomfort and my energy and attention span are both very low. I should be okay in a couple/few days; for now, though, I just don’t have it in me.

So talk amongst yourselves! Take this as an opportunity for shameless self-promotion. If you have a blog, or a cause or something you’d like to promote, plug it. Purely commercial plugs for businesses are discouraged, but if you’re an artist/ musician/ event promoter or something like that and want to tell us about what you’re doing, please do. If you’re a blogger, please tell us about your blog: either link to a specific post you’re proud of, or just tell us about your blog in general. And if you’re simply a blog fancier/ general gadabout and want to plug someone else’s post or project that you think is neat, please do that too. Thanks, and I’ll see you soon!

Abstinence, Birth Control, and the Difference between Theory and Practice

Lolcat498319I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about the idea that abstinence is a 100% effective method of birth control… and what, exactly, is wrong with that idea. It’s titled Abstinence, Birth Control, and the Difference between Theory and Practice, and here’s the teaser:

So how effective — really — is abstinence as a birth control method?

Bristol Palin, Sarah Palin’s famously “unmarried and pregnant at 17 and an unmarried mother at 18″ daughter, recently went on a tour of the TV talk shows, advocating — in an irony so massive I feel puny standing next to it — abstinence for teenagers.

And one of the arguments she made — with her baby on her lap — was that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy.

Now, if Bristol Palin, or anyone else, had gone on the TV talk show circuit arguing that, say, birth control pills were the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy — and they’d done so with their unplanned baby on their lap — they’d have been laughed off the stage. But people tend to see abstinence as different. People — and not just right-wing ideologues — tend to see a failure of abstinence as a failure of the people practicing it… not as a failure of the method.

So today, I want to talk about how we do — and do not — measure the effectiveness of any given method of birth control.

To find out how the effectiveness of birth control is usually measured — and to ask why this theory doesn’t get applied to abstinence as well — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (And if you’re inspired to comment on this piece on this blog, please consider cross- posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog as well. They like comments there, too.)