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.

Jerry Falwell

Jerry_falwellJerry Falwell, talking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, September 13, 2001. Commenting on the 9/11 attacks, two days after they happened.

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

Let’s just not forget, people.

Mitt Romney: Gay Marriage Makes Baby Jesus Cry

Mitt_romneyYou know, it’s not so much the fact that he’s opposing same-sex marriage that bugs me. I pretty much expect that from any Republican Presidential candidate, and for that matter from most of the Democratic ones too.

John_mccainIt’s not even the fact that Romney used to be both more progressive and more gay-friendly. After all, John McCain needs someone to keep him company in his craven rush to suck the collective cock of the far right.

What’s really bugging me about Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage is that he’s using religion and the Bible to defend it.

Baptizing_of_americaSee, this is what I’ve been talking about. When I’m gassing on about the crucial difference between faith and evidence, this is the kind of thing I mean. When elected officials cite religious beliefs — and religious scripture in particular — to defend their political positions, they’re basically saying that they have the right to make decisions about other people’s lives, not on the basis of evidence or ethics or good arguments, but on the basis of unsupported faith.

Bible2And not just a general ecumenical faith in some sort of God or some sort of soul, but a specific set of beliefs and rules — about which people all over the world disagree vehemently and violently, and for which there is no basis for believing other than (a) their personal hunch, and/or (b) the tradition and authority of their parents and teachers and religious texts.

Bible4They’re saying that, when deciding an important question with a powerful effect on people’s lives (such as same-sex marriage), a book written thousands of years ago in a society that no longer exists — and their own personal interpretation of that book — is every bit as important, and maybe even more important, as what does and does not work to make our society flourish, and to make the people in it stable and happy.

Not just when it comes to their own life — their own marriage, their own body, their own sexuality — but mine, and yours, and everyone else’s.

And that absolutely makes me want to run screaming into the night.

IntuitionStack_of_bibles_2Because the thing about religious beliefs is that they’re not based on evidence. They’re based either on personal inspiration, or the authority of religious teachers and texts (or some combination of the two). And ultimately, they’re not debatable. You can argue with people about their religious beliefs, but eventually it always comes down to, “I believe what I believe.”

ConstitutionpreambleAnd while that is totally none of my business when it comes to people’s own personal lives, it is bloody well not how we should be deciding on laws and public policy. Our decisions about laws and policy should be based on what does and does not work in the world: what keeps people healthy and safe, what makes communities flourish, what helps children to grow up and function successfully as adults, etc. They should be based on what does and does not work 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. They should fucking well not be based on Mitt Romney’s personal faith, and what he believes the people who wrote the Bible meant when they wrote it more than two thousand years ago.

Bible3It’s not like Romney is using “religious faith” as another way of saying “my instincts and ethics,” either. He’s not saying. “The inner voice of God within me says this is true.” He’s citing Scripture. He’s saying, “The Bible says it’s true. Therefore, it’s true.”

Quakers_support_gay_marriageNow, for the record, I know that there are Christians who don’t think the Bible says any such a thing. I know there are Christians who support same-sex marriage whole-heartedly. That’s not my point. Actually… you know what? It kind of is my point. The Bible is a complicated, self-contradictory mess, written by different people at different historical periods with sometimes wildly different points of view. And it can be used — has been used — to defend just about any position, from slavery to civil rights, from the stoning of homosexuals to the support of same-sex marriage. (As Ingrid said: If you’re trying to pass laws based on the Bible, but you’re not passing laws against blended fabrics or charging interest on loans, then you need to shut up.)

ProofSo my point isn’t that religious faith should not be influencing politics and policy because it’s anti-gay. It isn’t always. I know that. My point is that religious faith should not be influencing politics and policy because it’s not based on evidence of what is and isn’t true in the real world. And that’s exactly what law and policy should be based on.

WeddingIt’s one thing to base your own life on a collective religious tradition or an inspired religious hunch. I think it’s mistaken, I think it’s problematic… but I also think it’s none of my damn business. But when people try to base MY life on their collective tradition or inspired hunch — without actually bothering to look at my life and what would and would not help me and the people around me — that is another kettle of fish. And it’s a kettle of fish that stinks to the skies.

So Christopher Hitchens Walks Into A Bar…

Susie_brightYou know, there are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin.

“This” being Christopher Hitchens’s recent piece in Vanity Fair about why women aren’t as funny as men. The key sentence: “For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing.” Because we bear and raise children, women are both more nurturing and take life more seriously than men, and thus lack both the mean-spiritedness and the frivolousness required of humor. That’s a gross over-generalization of Hitchens’s piece; but then, Hitchens’s piece is pretty gross, so I guess it’s appropriate.

Ellen_forneyI don’t even know where to start. And no, I’m not going to start with the absurdity of “For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing.” I have better things to do than shoot that particularly slow and stupid fish in that exceptionally small barrel.

Rosalind_russellSo I guess I should start with the obvious: It isn’t true. Flat out, plain, R-O-N-G Rong. Other bloggers have been busily coming up with lists of counterexamples, so I’m not going to bother. (Google it yourself if you like; I’m putting some of my personal favorites in my illustrations.) Instead, I’ll just say: He obviously hasn’t met my friends. Or my co-workers. Or my family. Or my girlfriend. Or the commenters on this blog. Or… well, you get the drift. It’s as if Hitchens spent 2700 words carefully pondering the question of why birds don’t fly.

Alison_bechdelAnd of course, there is the slow, stupid fish in the tiny tiny barrel — the assumption that all women are focused on baby-making above all other forms of human endeavor, a focus that drives everything that might interfere with it clean out of our pretty little heads. (And that no men are like that at all.)

Florence_kingBut what really kills me is the assumption that we are all — women and men alike — either completely nurturing or completely mean-spirited; utterly serious or utterly frivolous. You have to be one or the other — you can’t be both. You can’t make chicken soup for your sick girlfriend and then make mean-spirited snarky jokes on the Internet; you can’t spend all week taking care of mentally ill homeless people with AIDS and then spend an hour and half on Saturday night getting dressed up to go to a drag show. Nope. One or the other, please. Pick now, all of you. NOW, dammit!

Marilyn_monroeThis is the thing that irritates me most about this sort of simplistic “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” gender analysis. It’s the ham-handed division of the human race into two easily distinguishable camps, with everyone in one camp having A, B, and C qualities in unadulterated proportions, and everyone in the other camp having X, Y, and Z qualities in an equally pure form.

Sarah_vowellThe reality is that, whatever gender-differentiated behavior trait you can think of — aggressiveness, competitiveness, co-operation, empathy, whatever — we all of us have all of them to at least some degree, and there’s an enormous amount of overlap between the genders. Even in the areas where women’s and men’s behavior is pretty demonstrably different — the tendency to get into physical fights, for instance — it’s not as if all women are lumped from 1 to 5 and all men are lumped from 6 to 10. It’s more like we’re on overlapping bell curves — with women bell-curving from, say, 1 to 8, and men bell-curving from 3 to 10. (I’m literally and physically pulling those numbers out of my ass as we speak, by the way. But I’ll bet you that my science analysis is still better than Hitchens’s. A small Russet potato could analyze the science in this story better than Hitchens did.) And leaning towards the male end of one particular spectrum (spatial relations, say) is no guarantee that you’ll lean towards the male end of any other spectrum (like verbal ability).

Julia_sweeneyAnd maybe more to the point: I’ve seen studies that show that people — both women and men — who aren’t rigidly gender-typed, people who have lots of typical characteristics of both genders, tend to be happier and better-adjusted and more satisfied with themselves and their lives than people who adhere to rigid gender roles and expect others to do the same.

And I bet we’re funnier, too.

Our No. 1 Crime Fighter: Alberto Gonzales, and What Government Is For

GonzalesThere’s a piece by Tony Mauro over on an interview with Daniel Metcalfe, a former senior attorney at the Department of Justice who retired in January, about Alberto Gonzales’s term of office as Attorney General. And it absolutely gives me the chills. (Found it via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

The gist of it: The Justice Department under Gonzales hasn’t just been among the most corrupt and politicized in American history. It’s also been one of the most incompetent.

The quote that jumped out at me: “Most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it.” (Emphasis mine.)

KatrinaThis is exactly what I was talking about in Hurricane Katrina, and What Government Is For. When government is run — and staffed — by people who think government is a bad idea and hold it in contempt, then that government fails in even its most basic, obvious obligations.

I mean — the Attorney General’s office. The Department of Justice. That’s the central agency for enforcement of federal laws. That’s the people whose job it is to prosecute people who violate federal crime, from fraud to terrorism to, you know, things like kidnapping and murder. That’s the law and order stuff that conservatives are supposed to be all excited about.

GeorgebushAnd the man in charge of it, the man who staffed it with people whose “inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it”… this is the man George Bush calls “our No. 1 crime fighter”.

I think I’m going to be sick.

Oh, the other quote that jumped out at me: “I used to think that they (John Mitchell and Ed Meese) had politicized the department more than anyone could or should. But nothing compares to the past two years under Alberto Gonzales.”

Worse than John Mitchell and Ed Meese. That’s actually an amazing accomplishment.

Time to be sick again. How long is it until November 2008?

Credibility and the Duke Rape Case Fiasco

DukeI was going to chime in on the weird fucked-up-edness of the whole Duke University rape case fiasco. But the SmackDog Chronicles already said pretty much what I wanted to say about it. So I’m just going to point you to his blog instead. The quotes that really struck me:

But what really saddens and angers me about this case is that it simply reimposes all the usual memes and biases about sexually proactive women and women who do sex work voluntarily; in effect, if you are overtly sexual and happen to be violated in any way, you can expect to have no support or sympathy from the general public and damn near little or no support from the “feminist community”
especially if you happen to be a person of color, poor, or a sex worker or sex entertainer. And especially if your perpetrator just so happens to be either White or a person of privilege who has the full weight of his privilege behind him.


All of this makes my duty as a sex radical, a radical Black man, a feminist sympathizer/supporter, and a sex-positive activist that much tougher
but also that much more important. If there ever was a time for a sex-positive Left perspective, it is now.

Rainbow_fistAll this is reminding me of the Lynn Griffiths case. (I tried to find a link about it, but it happened in the pre-Internet days, and I couldn’t find anything on the Web.) Back in the ’90s in San Francisco, there was a very public, all-over-the-news incident of a lesbian named Lynn Griffiths who had been badly queer-bashed. The gay community and the gay press was all over it, in a “See, this is what homophobia looks like, this is what we have to be afraid of” way. And when the police started commenting that there were holes in her story, the community got irate about police insensitivity.

CrazypersonExcept it turned out that there were holes in her story. Because it didn’t happen. She turned out to be kind of a nutjob — she injured herself, and claimed she was gay-bashed to get attention. When the holes in her story started getting impossible to ignore, she actually did the same thing a second time — and then, in the face of increasing anger and incredulity, fled the state.

Which just made it harder for everybody. Because it’s not as if queer-bashing didn’t — doesn’t — happen. But after this incident, everyone who really did get queer-bashed — or who fought against anti-gay violence — suddenly found themselves a little less credible.

And it’s not as if African-American women, and sex workers, and African-American sex workers, don’t get raped by privileged white guys. But now the ones who do are going to have a much harder time of it. There are thousands of times that this happens, and it never makes the papers — but this is the case that people are going to remember.

But… oh, just go read the piece on the SmackDog blog. He says it better than I can. And it’s a really good blog generally, and worth checking out.

John McCain on AIDS: “Gee, I Never Thought About That!”

Mccain1Over on Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton has an excellent piece about a recent interview with John McCain on his “Straight Talk Express” tour bus, where he was asked whether the U.S. should fund condom distribution in Africa and elsewhere around the world to help prevent AIDS. You can read the whole transcript (much of which is appalling) on Ed’s blog, or on the New York Times blog he was citing. I just want to point out the comments that really jumped out at me:

“I never got a question about it before.”

“You’ve stumped me.”

“I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

So let me get this straight.

Act_upHe’s been in Congress since 1982. He’s been in the Senate since 1986. He ran for President in 2000. In other words, his national political career dovetails almost perfectly with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in this country.

And this is the first time he’s considered the question of what the U.S. government should and should not do to help stop the spread of HIV?

That, just by itself, makes him grotesquely unqualified to be President. Heck, it makes him grotesquely unqualified to be in the Senate.

Baptizing_of_americaOf course, I don’t think that’s really what’s going on. I don’t think this is the first time he’s considered this question. I just think it’s the first time he’s considered this question since he decided that, if he wants to be President, he has to start sucking the dick of the religious right. (The more I read about McCain, the more I realize that the whole “free-thinking maverick who’ll fight for the little guy” schtick is one of the most successful snow jobs in the history of American politics. You can read more about him in the Culture Wars archives and on Making Light.)

Mccain2But look at it this way. The very fact that he thinks “Gee, I never really thought about this before” is a remotely valid response to the question “What should the U.S. government do to help stop the spread of HIV?” — that, just by itself, proves beyond any doubt that he is not qualified to be dogcatcher… much less a Senator, and much, much less a President.