No Sex Please, We’re Democrats: The Blowfish Blog

CongressSo a a House subcommittee recently voted, not only to continue funding abstinence-only sex education, but to increase funding for it by $27.8 million.

To see me rant about this — er, analyze it and put it in context — come visit the Blowfish Blog. Here’s a taste:

Very few people — and even fewer politicians — are willing to look at teenage sex and say in public, “It turns out this really isn’t a big problem.” Very few politicians are willing to say, “We have bigger issues to worry about than 16-year-olds having sex.” Very, very, very few politicians are willing to say, “You know, I had sex when I was 16, and it didn’t do me any harm.”

Check it out. And then write your Congressperson.

Get Out of Jail Free: Paris Hilton and the Justice System

EiffeltowerCongratulations, universe.

You win.

You made me care about Paris Hilton.

Not sure if y’all have heard, but Paris Hilton was released from jail after serving three days of her sentence (probation violation in a reckless driving case), and is being allowed to serve the rest of her sentence under house arrest. The reason? An “unspecified medical problem.”

And I care.

I’m furious.

Jail1Because if you, or I, or anyone we know, were sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating probation on a reckless driving charge, you can be damn sure we’d be serving every day of our time. No goddamn medical condition would be getting us out. I’m sure new prisoners develop medical conditions all the damn time — jail is horrible and profoundly stressful — and they don’t get out in three days because they’re not feeling well. Nobody but Paris Hilton gets to call in sick from jail. There is a compassionate release program for terminally ill prisoners — but it’s unbelievably harsh. You have to be pretty much right at death’s door to qualify for it.

StopsnitchingAnd people wonder why folks are cynical and mistrustful about the legal system; why some young people are taking on “stop snitching” as an ethical standard. If anyone has any doubts at all about how broken and corrupt our justice system is, how completely 100% opposite it is to what a justice system should be, this should blast those doubts into shrapnel.

(P.S. The picture of the Eiffel Tower is there because I couldn’t stomach the thought of having that vacant rat-faced smirk on my blog.)


Addendum: She’s back on her way to jail.


I’m tempted to say “okay, maybe sometimes the system works.” Except… how many other rich influential folks are getting special treatment by the justice system in cases that aren’t as well publicized and don’t raise as much of a shitstorm? And I’m not even talking about the day-to-day injustices: the “driving/ walking/ breathing while black” arrests, the greater penalties for crack cocaine than powder, yada yada.

The fact that it took a huge public outcry to get justice served for the spoiled princess isn’t a sign that the system works. It’s a further sign of just how broken it is.

That’s Not What We Meant: Hate Crime Laws, Round 2

Hate_crimeI think that those of us who support hate crime laws — and I do — have a moral obligation to speak out when they’re mis-applied. If we’re going to argue — as I do — that they’re substantially different from hate speech laws or rules and don’t constitute a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, I think we need to speak out when they get applied in a way that is unconstitutional and does restrict free speech.

And it seems like that’s what’s happened in a case in which teenage girls who distributed anti-homosexual fliers at their high school were charged with a hate crime. (The original news article about it has expired off the web, alas, but you can get details here and here.)

LynchingSo I think it’s important to say: No. That’s not what we meant. Hate crime laws mean that when you kill someone or beat them to a pulp because they’re gay or black or Muslim (or for that matter, straight or white or Christian), it’s a more serious crime than killing someone or beating them to a pulp because they dented your car or slept with your girlfriend, and it deserves a harsher penalty.

They don’t mean that you get hit with a hate crime charge for distributing flyers. No matter how hateful they are.

JusticeNow, I don’t think a single misapplied arrest proves that hate crime laws are bad laws. I mean, laws against murder and rape and assault get misapplied all the time, and I don’t see anyone screaming for those laws to be overturned.

LaramieAnd I understand that this case may not be as simple as it seems on the surface. If one or both of these girls committed some other serious crime, and the prosecutors think it was motivated by anti-gay hatred, then I could see the flyers being admissible as evidence of a hateful motivation in that other crime.

But the distribution of the flyers itself?


That should not be a crime.

First_amendmentThat is most emphatically not what we meant.

Carnival of the Liberals #40

Carnival of the Liberals #40 is up, and they were kind enough to include my piece, Even If It’s Wrong: Barack Obama, Religious Faith, and Same-Sex Marriage in their roundup.

Of course, the carnival host described the piece as having “something to do with religious people using their faith in God to stifle Greta’s intent to destroy everything worthwhile and decent in this world. I betcha she hates ice cream too.” But don’t worry. He did the same thing to everyone.

Stranger in an Increasingly Strange Land: An Atheist Identity, Part 2

Atheist_tshirtIn yesterday’s episode, our heroine gassed on about how atheism — or naturalism — is a positive philosophy, more than just a lack of belief in God or the soul or the afterlife. In today’s startling revelation, she answers the second part of the question of why her atheist identity is so important to her — politics, and the place of religion and atheism in our society.

Second: Politics and society.

AlfredIf religion weren’t so important and so prominent in our society, my atheism almost certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near as important to me as it is. As Eclectic said, I might be non-religious in the same way that I’m a non-butler, or that I’m not from Poughkeepsie, or that I don’t eat broccoli.

CrowleyfoolIn fact, if religion weren’t so prominent, I might not even be an atheist. I might still be an agnostic, or a woo-woo Tarot reading hippie, or a vague believer in some sort of mystical animating spirit that connects all living things. The fact that religion is so much in my face has forced me to think about it carefully, to really consider what I believe — and how likely it is to be true.

PrayinghandsBut in America — and around the world — religion is unignorable, and getting increasingly so. Just as one example: According to a Gallup poll, almost half the people in this country believe in strict Creationism — that “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” And these people have become increasingly powerful politically in the last couple of decades, with some very real-world effects — fucking up our schools, our health care system, our environmental policies, etc. etc. (I could go on in this vein at some length, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Gay_fistSo being an atheist is important to my identity for the same reasons being queer is important to my identity. My queer identity is important because of homophobia, and the assumption of heterosexuality, and the fact that queers have been stepped on and have to scream just to be heard. (And interestingly, as these things have diminished somewhat — at least in the little lefty paradise of San Francisco — my queer identity has become somewhat less important to me. The fact that I’m with Ingrid — very important. Crucial. The fact that I’m a bi-dyke
 not as important as it used to be.)

Pat_robertsonAnd similarly, my atheist identity is important because of the religious right. Because of laws restricting abortion rights. Because of abstinence-only sex education in the public schools. Because of the Christian right getting Wal-Mart to stop politely saying “Happy Holidays” to their customers instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because of children being terrorized with the prospect of burning and torture if they even question what they’re taught about God.

Pope_benedict_xviBilly_grahamBecause when my atheist father was admitted to a nursing home, my brother was asked, “Is he Baptist or Catholic?” (As if those were the only choices. That one didn’t just piss me off on behalf of atheists — it pissed me off on behalf of Jews, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and Wiccans, and Unitarians… and for that matter, Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians.)

TheatheistAnd because according to a recent Gallup poll, only 49 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President, while 59 percent would vote for a homosexual, 92 percent would vote for a black person, and 95 percent would vote for a woman. Think about what homophobia, racism, and sexism are like in this country, and that’ll give you some context for this statistic.

CreationismBefore you hit the Comment button — Yes, I know that that’s not the only way to be religious. But it’s a depressingly common one, especially in this country. And because of its “believe what you’re told” nature, it’s a way of being religious that wields a frightening amount of political power. If most religious believers in this country were moderate and tolerant, I’d still think they were mistaken in their beliefs… but I wouldn’t particularly care.

Again, I could go on about this at much greater length, and at some point I will. But that is a post for another day. The point is: If none of this crap were true, I might well be a non-believer in the same way that I’m a non-butler.

But it isn’t.

Atheist_buttonSo I’m not.

Even If It’s Wrong: Barack Obama, Religious Faith, and Same-Sex Marriage

Barack_obama_1There was this piece about Barack Obama in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. And it had a comment in it — about both same-sex marriage and religious faith — that chilled me to the bone.

Barack_obama_2“If there’s a deep moral conviction that gay marriage is wrong, if a majority of Americans believe on principle that marriage is an institution for men and women, I’m not at all sure he shares that view, but he’s not an in-your-face type,” Cass Sunstein, a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago, says. “To go in the face of people with religious convictions — that’s something he’d be very reluctant to do.” This is not, Sunstein believes, due only to pragmatism; it also stems from a sense —

and here comes the kicker, people —

that there is something worthy of respect in a strong and widespread moral feeling, even if it’s wrong.”

I’m trying to think of the best way to put this:

No_2No, there isn’t.

No, no, no, no, no.

A wrong moral feeling is not — repeat, NOT — made worthy of respect by being either strong or widespread.

Danger_poisonI don’t just think this idea is wrong. I think it’s dangerously wrong. I think this idea — that even if a belief is wrong, if a lot of people share it and hold it passionately then it has somehow earned gravitas and respect — this is among the most destructive ideas that human beings have come up with.

Why? Because it is essentially a self-perpetuation machine for bad ideas.

LynchingDo I even need to explain this? Think of all the evil, harmful things in human history that have been supported by a strong and widespread moral feeling. Slavery. Clitoridectomy. Imperialist wars. Religious wars. The disenfranchisement of women. The censoring of information, and active disinformation campaigns, about birth control and sexual health. The Salem witch trials. The Inquisition. Genocides ranging from the Trail of Tears to the Holocaust. Lynchings. Putting queers in jails and mental institutions. Do I need to go on?

And every one of these events and institutions was made stronger and more durable by this “worthy of respect” idea — everyone else thinks it’s okay, so how bad could it really be?

Witch_burning_monty_pythonThe idea that a strong and widespread moral feeling deserves respect, even if it’s wrong… it’s morality by mob rule, by popularity contest. It’s an idea that enables people to not think about what’s right and wrong in the world, but instead to let everyone else think for them. It’s an idea that makes it possible to not question received wisdom, even if that wisdom is blatantly contradicted by the reality around you. It’s an idea that makes people vulnerable to skillful demagogues who are experts at manipulating strong feelings and fears — especially the fear of being left out, of not being part of the group.

Ted_haggardAnd it’s one of the more troubling aspects of religious faith — the idea that holding strong, passionate religious beliefs is by itself a good thing, regardless of what those beliefs are, regardless of whether they’re demonstrably untrue or demonstrably harmful. The idea that being a “person of faith” is an admirable trait, one you have to give at least grudging respect to… even if you find that person’s actual faith itself to be bigoted, evil, stupid, and/or insane. The idea that a lot of people believing the same thing together at the same time is a beautiful thing — regardless of whether the thing they believe is in any way based in reality. (BTW, before everyone writes in — yes, I understand that this isn’t the only way to be religious. But it’s a depressingly common one. And I think the “faith ultimately trumps evidence” nature of religion makes it unusually susceptible to this way of thinking.)

Bill_clintonAnd I don’t want a President who thinks that. That’s what we had with Bill Clinton — a weathervane President who was unable to take an unpopular moral stand, on same-sex marriage and about a billion other issues. And as much as I would give ten years off my life to have Bill Clinton be President again right now (how depressing is that?), as much as he’s pretty much been the best President of my conscious lifetime (and how depressing is THAT?), I sure as heck wouldn’t vote for him in a primary, and I don’t want another President like him.

WeddingBecause the upshot is this: Ingrid and I want to get married. Legally. But a whole lot of people have a strong feeling that it’s wrong — and that feeling is supposedly deserving of respect. Even though that feeling is based on ignorance. Even though that feeling is based on hatred and fear. Even though that feeling is being manipulated and taken advantage of by corrupt, power-hungry frauds. Even though that feeling completely disrespects us. We’re still supposed to respect it.

NoAnd I say yet again: No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Fuck that. We have to do nothing of the kind.

Barack_obama_3(P.S. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that these are not Obama’s own words — they’re the words of a colleague describing her his understanding of his ideas. But it’s a colleague who seems to understand him very well. And given the positions he’s publicly taken on same-sex marriage (he supports same-sex civil unions, but opposes same-sex marriage because “marriage is a religious bond”), it seems pretty damn plausible that “worthy of respect even if it’s wrong” is an accurate representation of his position on religious homophobia.)

Old Growth Forests and My Butt: The Great Toilet Paper Dilemma

Scott_toilet_paperI found out something very disturbing recently. Not about Dr. Laura, or Mitt Romney, or Christopher Hitchens.

About toilet paper.

Old_growth_forest_2What I found out is that much commercial toilet paper is made from old growth forests.

HamburgerNow, I try to be socially conscious and eco-groovy; but I’m also not a psycho about it. I tend to apply the harm reduction model to my social conscience generally, and to my eco-friendliness in particular. If I generally walk and take the bus, I’m not going to kill myself over the times that we drive; if I generally eat organic and free-range and keep my consumption of energy-wasteful meat pretty light, I won’t go into conniptions over the occasional burger from the corner deli; if I generally recycle, I’m not going to have a guilt trip over throwing away the occasional to-go cup.

Quilted_northernAnd for a long time, I was that way about toilet paper. I was like, “Okay, I know the recycled stuff is better; but I’m really not crazy about it, and since I’m normally good about this sort of thing, I’m going to cut myself some slack on this one.”

Ten_minute_activistBut then I read this book called The Ten Minute Activist: Easy Ways to Take Back the Planet. (Actually, Ingrid read it first and then called the toilet paper issue to my attention.) Good book; all about ways to be socially conscious without being a martyr about it.

And one of the things they said was that lots of commercial toilet paper is made from old growth forests.

So I started thinking.

Old_growth_forestOkay. On the one hand — on one side of the scale — we have old-growth forests. Source of ecosystems, and oxygen, and, you know, life on the planet.

Wipe_my_buttOn the other side of the scale: Slightly less soft paper with which to wipe my butt.

EquationAnd I realized that this is a no-brainer. Having slightly softer paper with which to wipe my butt is not — repeat, not — more important than old-growth forests. It’s just not. There is no math in the world that can make that equation come out any differently.

Seventh_generation_toilet_paperSo the recycled stuff it is.

Cotton(P.S. In fact, recycled toilet paper technology is a lot better than it used to be. It’s still not as comfy as the commercial stuff, but it’s perfectly fine. There’s also this toilet paper made out of cotton instead of paper: we decided we liked the recycled paper stuff better, but if you’re considering making the great renunciation, the cotton stuff is worth trying.)

The Sins of the Mother: Dr. Laura and Son

Drlaura_schlessingerYou might think I’d be joining in the “Ha ha” brigade.

As you may have heard, Deryk Schlessinger — son of notorious homophobe/ sex-phobe/ right-wing relationship and sex advisor Dr. Laura Schlessinger — is under investigation by the Army (he’s a soldier in Afghanistan) for creating a MySpace page with some unbelievably disturbing and fucked-up shit on it. Among other things, the page (now removed) included cartoon depictions of rape, murder, torture and child molestation; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned “My Sweet Little Habib”; racial epithets; and a comment that “godless crazy people like me” have become “a generation of apathetic killers.”

Deryk_schlessinger(Read the whole story. It really is quite unsettling — this guy is clearly profoundly disturbed. The scariest part for me: “I LOVE MY JOB, it takes everything reckless and deviant and heathenistic and just overall bad about me and hyper focuses these traits into my job of running around this horrid place doing nasty things to people that deserve it… and some that don’t.”)

Nelson_hahaAnd much of the blogging that I’ve seen about this has been pretty gleeful, along the lines of “poetic justice” and “the bitch got what she deserved.” I’ve seen comments like, “What goes around, comes around”; “Good job, Mama Laura!”; “Karma has a hilarious tendency to bite us all in the ass”; and “Can’t wait for the next revelation.”

Ted_haggardNow, usually I’m up for a good round of Schadenfreude. I’m perfectly happy to cackle with glee over the downfall or public humiliation of right-wing, homophobic, sex-phobic hypocrites. Especially with folks like Mark Foley and Ted Haggard, where the punishment so perfectly fit the crime.

But not this time.

This time, I’m just sick and sad.

Here’s why.

SinsofthefathersFirst: When hateful fucked-up parents raise deeply disturbed children — that’s not poetic justice. That’s tragedy. Even when the fucked-up parent has made a career out of self-righteously scolding other parents and giving them appalling advice on how to raise their kids. I can see why it’s tempting… but really, what kind of karma or comeuppance is it to have parents “punished” with disturbed, sociopathic children? Do we on the left really want to be engaging in that kind of Old Testament, “sins of the fathers” thinking? Do we really want to be looking at messed-up kids as the just deserts that evil hateful parents deserve?

Dr_laura_nudeWhen bad things happen with the hateful hypocrites themselves, I’ll happily have a laff riot. (The Dr. Laura nude photos, I was perfectly willing to cackle over.) When bad things happen with their kids… not so much. It may be reasonable to point out the hypocrisy of smugly preaching about family values when your own family is so completely fucked up. But the gleeful tone of some of these blogs is, in my opinion, wildly inappropriate.

Second, and maybe even more importantly:

It’s not as if liberal families don’t ever have disturbed kids.

AlcoholismLiberal, gay-positive parents can be distant, controlling, abusive, alcoholic, generally crazy, and any number of other things that can seriously fuck up their kids. And for that matter, totally healthy families can end up with disturbed kids. (It’s not nearly as likely, but it does happen.)

Hate_is_not_a_family_valueI agree with the T-shirts and picket signs that hate is not a family value. But neither is directing your contempt for hateful homophobes in the direction of their fucked-up children. Let’s please not act as if violently disturbed kids are somehow the natural result of right-wing parents… and please, please, let’s not be so joyful about it.

Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell, and the Blasphemy Challenge

God_hates_your_tearsDon’t know if y’all have heard this, but Fred Phelps, the seriously insane right-wing hate-mongering funeral-picketing homophobic fundie nutjob, has announced plans to protest at Jerry Falwell’s funeral.

Believe it or not, that’s not the weird part.

Jerry_falwellHere’s what jumped out at me. Phelps’s reasons for hating Falwell and believing that he’s burning in hell are basically that Falwell disagreed with Phelps about the correct interpretation of the Bible. And one of the main pieces of Scripture he’s using to support his “Falwell’s in hell” thesis is the one about committing the one unpardonable sin and denying the Holy Spirit.

Blasphemy_challengeExactly the piece of Scripture that the Blasphemy Challenge people are going on about.

The piece of Scripture that many Blasphemy Challenge critics claim is irrelevant.

BibleApparently, the whole “one unforgivable sin”/ “denying the Holy Spirit”/ blasphemy thing isn’t as irrelevant as some people think. I’m sure it doesn’t get much play in more reasonable, loving, tolerant churches and Christian families. But Ingrid’s dad grew up in a hard-core fundie household… and when we mentioned the Blasphemy Challenge to him, he knew exactly which passage we were talking about.

God_hates_fagsNow, I get that Phelps is the fringe of the fringe. He is almost certainly mentally ill, and I mean that quite literally. Even other hateful homophobic right-wing fundie nutjobs think this guy is a nutjob. This is the guy who went from picketing at funerals of gay people to picketing at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq, on the theory that the war in Iraq is God’s punishment of America for tolerating gays and other evil people. His theory that disagreeing with his own interpretation of the Bible constitutes a denial of the Holy Spirit is hubristic to the point of delusional. He gets in the news a lot, but he doesn’t represent mainstream religion, or even a reasonably sizable rivulet off the mainstream, or indeed anything other than a handful of equally insane followers.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

Hate Crime Laws, and the Difference Between Speech and Evidence

BillAs you may have heard, there’s a bill winding its way through Congress that would expand the current Federal hate crime law to include hate crimes committed over sexual orientation, transgender identity, gender, or disability. (The current law covers hate crimes committed because of race, color, religion, or national origin.)

PhoneI’m not just writing this to beg everyone reading this blog to write or call your Senators. (Although I’m doing that, too. Please, for the love of all that is beautiful in this world, write or call your Senators. This passed in the House, but it’s facing a fight in the Senate, and I’m hearing that the calls against the legislation are far outstripping the calls supporting it. It takes two minutes. Google your Senators’ names, find their official Websites with their phone numbers, and call them. Please do it.)

Hate_crimeBut that’s not the only point of this post. I’ve had a rant brewing for some time about hate crime laws, and now seems like the obvious time to do it. (Important disclaimer: I’m a smart observant person, but I’m not a legal expert. If any legal experts see any flaws in my understanding of the law, please point them out.)


God_hates_fagsThere’s a common misconception about hate crime laws — which is that they criminalize hateful speech or writing. They don’t. There is an enormous difference between hate speech laws or rules — such as the ones that exist on many college campuses (and which I do, in fact, vehemently oppose) — and hate crime laws.

Matthew_shepardHate crime laws don’t criminalize speech. What hate crime laws do is say that, if a crime is motivated by hatred or bias towards a group — a race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc. — then extra time should be added to the sentence.

In other words, they say that certain motives for crimes are worse than other motives, and deserve a more severe punishment.

And that’s a legal principle that is both extremely well-established and widely accepted.

Maltese_falconLook at the difference between first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, justifiable homicide, etc. Our laws say that it’s worse to kill someone in cold blood for money than to kill someone in the heat of passion for anger; which is worse than killing someone recklessly and stupidly in an accident; which is worse than killing someone in self-defense. It’s a clear legal principle: different reasons for killing people deserve different degrees of punishment.

First_amendmentNow, some people argue that the problem with hate crime laws is that they are de facto laws against hateful speech — since hateful speech is typically what distinguishes between a hate crime and a regular crime. If you’re screaming, “Die, faggot,” when you’re beating someone up, that’s evidence that it’s a hate crime — and some people argue that this makes hate crime laws a violation of the First Amendment. (I’ve seen this argument made — unopposed — not just in political and punditry circles, but in otherwise generally intelligent and more or less progressive pop culture arenas, such as Law & Order, The West Wing, and South Park.)

But that’s just silly. There’s a huge difference between speech as speech, and speech as evidence of motive.

Double_indemnityAgain, let’s look at the difference between first-degree murder, second-degree murder, justifiable homicide, etc. If a person who’s killing someone is heard to say, “Ha ha, after months of careful planning, my scheme to kill you for your insurance money is finally coming to fruition,” you can bloody well believe that those words are going to be used as evidence of first-degree murder. Nobody on Earth is going to oppose that on First Amendment grounds.

Self_defense(And if the killer is heard to say, “You bastard, I can’t believe you’re having sex with my wife, I’m so angry I could kill you,” or “I can’t believe how drunk I am — whoops!”, or “Get your hands off me! Help!”, or “I’m sorry, but the ghost of Millard Fillmore spoke to me through the fillings in my teeth and told me to kill the first redhead I saw,” then that’s going to be used as evidence to support second-degree murder, or self-defense, or an insanity plea, or whatever.)

That’s what hate crime laws do. They don’t make hateful or bigoted words into a crime. They allow those words to be evidence of a particular motive for the crime.

LynchingAnd they do this to support the principle that hurting or killing someone because of bigotry and hatred is an exceptionally bad reason to hurt or kill someone. They say that this sort of crime harms not just the victim, but all of society. They say that our society is exceptionally appalled by crimes committed because of bigotry, and finds them even more intolerable than garden-variety crime.

Now, I’ll remind you here: We already have a federal hate crime law on the books, adressing crimes committed because of race, color, religion, or national origin.

LaramieSo to oppose this latest law is to say that hurting or killing someone because of any of those reasons is exceptionally bad
 but killing someone because of gender, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or disability is nothing special. No big deal. When someone gets beaten up because they’re black or Jewish or Italian — that’s exceptionally serious. When someone gets beaten up because they’re queer, female, transgendered, or disabled — not so much.

That is some fucked-up shit.

Phone_2Please call your Senator, and ask them to vote yes on the hate crime law. Please do it now.