Grand Theft Auto: Jerusalem

Left_behind_2Sometimes the Christian Right surprises even me.

There’s this Christian video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” in which players try to convert people to Christianity — and if nonbelievers won’t convert, players have to kill them. (It’s in the news because non-psychotic Christian groups are asking Wal-Mart to stop carrying the game, on the grounds that it’s, you know, monumentally fucked-up.)

Left_behind_1I’m not going to get into the hypocrisy of this, the complete violation of actual Christian values. I’m not even going to get into the disingenuous, “we don’t understand why everyone’s so upset” attitude of the company’s president. I can only shoot fish in a barrel for so long, and these are exceptionally slow, stupid fish.

What I want to say is this: If there were a video game being sold in Iran and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in which Islamic fundamentalist characters won by converting or killing non-Muslims, people in the U.S. would be having nineteen kinds of hysterics. The Christian right especially.

So… okay, fine. I guess I am getting into the hypocrisy of it. So sue me.

Rod_and_todd(P.S. Because everything I needed to know I saw on the Simpsons, I have to mention the Christian video game Rod and Todd Flanders play, a “shoot to convert” game very similar to the “Left Behind” one. Bart’s playing the game with Rod and Todd: he excitedly shouts, “Ooh, full conversion!” and Rod says, “No, you just winged him and made him a Unitarian.”)

Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal

Mark_foleyWell, the main thing I was going to say about the Rep. Foley teenage boy dirty text message argle-bargle, Susie Bright has already said, and better than I would have. The upshot: Congress just abolished habeas corpus and legitimized torture, and the story got buried with the department store ads (the SF Chronicle put it on Page 3). But a gay teenage sex scandal in Congress — that’s the lead story everywhere, our top story tonight, front page above the fold, and probably will be for days. (Except for the Chron. The headline story in today’s Chron was the Michelin guide giving three stars to only one Bay Area restaurant in its new Bay Area guide. You kind of have to love the Chron sometimes. Foley did make Page 1 — just not above the fold.)

So here, instead, is the other thing I want to say about the Foley scandal.

*****

SixteenI was sixteen when I first had sex. (According to how I defined it at the time, anyway.) I had it with an adult, a man in his thirties. More than once, in fact: the affair lasted roughly a month and a half.

And while I don’t think the guy covered himself with glory, I also don’t feel that I was molested. My memories of the experience aren’t stellar, but they fall into the “stupid decision/learning experience” category — not the “invasive violation/abuse of power” category. I think the guy was a schmuck, but I don’t think he was a predator, and I don’t think he was a pedophile.

CongressBefore you flip out and hit the comment button, let me be very clear — I’m not trying to defend Foley. There’s a lot of stuff Foley did that the guy I’m talking about didn’t do. As far as I know, the guy I fucked didn’t make a habit of going for teenagers on a regular basis. He wasn’t aggressive or forward about pursuing teenagers, including me. He wasn’t taking advantage of political power and status to pursue teenagers — he didn’t really have any to speak of. And, of course, he didn’t head up a Congressional caucus on protecting teenagers from people like him. Foley is a Grade A asshole, and I’m watching his fall with shameless, gleeful Schadenfreude. As Molly Ivins once said, Mama may have raised a mean child, but she didn’t raise no hypocrites.

JusticeAnd let me be very clear as well — I support the idea of age of consent laws. They’re never going to be perfect — no matter where you draw it, there are always going to be people under the line who are ready for sex, and people over the line who aren’t — but I get that that’s what laws are like. I do think age of consent laws need to be tinkered with (I personally support a three-tiered system, in which under a certain age you’re off-limits, between certain ages it’s only okay with people close to your age, and over a certain age you’re fair game), but I think the basic idea is sound.

BritneyMy point is this. When we talk about the Foley scandal, I think we need to be extremely careful about we’re getting irate about. I don’t want to reflexively join in the hysterical chorus about pedophilia and molestation and “won’t somebody please think of the children?” There’s a big difference between having a thing for 16-year-olds and having a thing for, say, 12-year-olds. Having a thing for 16-year-olds makes you a chicken-hawk — but it doesn’t make you a pedophile. (If it did, everyone who watched the Britney Spears naughty-schoolgirl video with lust in their heart is a pedophile.) In particular, lots of gay men had their first sexual experience as teenagers, with older men — and lots of those teenagers had warm, positive feelings about the experience, and continue to have those good feelings into adulthood. A good case could be made that adults having sex with 16-year-olds should be against the law, and a good case could certainly be made that it’s creepy and fucked-up — but it doesn’t make you an evil despoiler of innocent children.

No, what makes Foley evil is the hypocrisy. What makes Foley evil is that he made political hash out of Scary Disgusting Sexual Predators On The Internet Who Are Trying To Seduce Your Children… while he was using the Internet to try to seduce teenage boys.

And what makes his Republican compatriots evil — more evil than Foley, I would argue — is that they apparently knew about the Foley thing and covered it up… while they’ve been busy frothing at the mouth about those awful liberals who supposedly want to protect criminals and terrorists.

By, you know, granting them habeas corpus and stuff.

Hurricane Katrina, and What Government Is For

Whenleveesbroke_1So I’m watching “When the Levee Broke,” the Spike Lee HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina (which you all absolutely have to see, by the way), and what with that and the one-year anniversary, it seemed like a good time to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a while, about what government is — or what it should be, anyway — and about people who think government is a bad idea.

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

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

Katrina_1And think emergency services. For fuck’s sweet sake, think emergency services.

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

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

Atom_1Because when you think about what government is — or what it should be — you realize that people who think government is a bad idea are essentially opposed to the idea of pooling resources. To oppose the very idea of government, to think of it as at best a necessary evil, is to believe in the philosophy of “Every man for himself.” It is to believe in the philosophy of “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine.” It is to believe that sharing is bad. It is to believe in the atomization of society, the breakdown of social responsibility into smaller and smaller units. To believe that government is a bad idea is to believe that society itself is a bad idea.

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

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

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

White House Caught Unaware By Sun Rising In the East

Fidel_castro

(AP) — The White House and Congress, caught unaware by Fidel Castro’s illness, prepared Wednesday for a possible showdown in Cuba as lawmakers drafted legislation that would pay millions of dollars to dissidents who fight for democratic change.

???

The handover was a surprise to the White House and Congress, one senator said.

?????

“The president’s comment was that everybody was caught by surprise, and we’ll have to wait and see” what U.S. action is necessary, said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, who discussed the developments with President Bush on Tuesday.

?!?!?!?!?

I don’t even want to talk about this legislation. I just want to say this: The Bush administration didn’t know that Fidel Castro was 79 years old, and therefore likely to get seriously ill? They weren’t prepared for this possibility, and were caught by surprise when it happened? They didn’t have a plan — even a cockamamie one — for what to do in the event that Castro got sick or died?

We are so completely fucked. I don’t even want to think about it.

North Korea, and Reason 8,624 that the War on Iraq was a Bad Idea

Kimjongil_1I’m not a 100% hardcore pacifist. I’m pretty close to it, but I’m not one. I do think there are times — not bloody many, but some — when military action is a necessary evil.

And I think that now, or soon, might just possibly be one of those times. A mentally ill, megalomaniacal dictator has been firing nuclear missiles into the Sea of Japan, with the likely intent of testing whether they can hit California. I think military action should, at the very least, be an option. It should be something we can consider. It should be a card on the table.

But it’s not.

BurningflagThanks to the war on Iraq — which we had no good reason for getting into and which has no end in sight — we have (a) no military resources, and (b) no international credibility. Our military is stretched so thin it’s accepting white supremacists to fill out its ranks. And in the field of international diplomacy and conflict, we have all the credibility and moral high ground of Tony Soprano. If a situation arises in which we do, God forbid, need the army — we are hosed. We are fucked with a chainsaw.

WiggumI’m not saying the U.S. should unilaterally attack or invade North Korea. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman. This was always one of my main arguments against the war on Iraq in the first place. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman — for the simple reason that we suck at it. As the world’s policeman, we are both corrupt and staggeringly incompetent. Our record as the world’s policeman is comparable to that of Chief Wiggum.

But if there’s an international consensus that military action is necessary — in North Korea or anywhere else on this increasingly volatile planet — we should be able to participate.

And we can’t. We expended our resources — and our respectability — to unseat a dictator who had weapons of mass destruction a decade ago, and now we have nothing left to unseat a dictator who not only has nukes, but is actually threatening to use them.

And North Korea knows it. Every megalomaniacal nutcase dictator on the planet knows it.

So this is why you don’t start pointless, unnecessary wars. It’s not just for all the obvious reasons, the misery and suffering and death and evil and children with their limbs blown off. It’s because you then don’t have the option of waging war when it isn’t pointless, when it might just possibly be necessary.

Oh, but I forgot. The war on Iraq isn’t pointless.

Oil_wellIraq has oil. And North Korea doesn’t.

Lucky for North Korea.

The CDC “pre-pregnancy” report — argle-bargle or fooferaw?

PrelesOkay. Dan Savage has ranted about it. Susie Bright has ranted about it. The blogosphere is supposedly going apeshit over it. And I have a giant question: Is it really that bad?

I’m talking about the recent CDC report about pre-conception health care — the one that the Washington Post reported on, the one that supposedly advises treating all women of child-bearing age as “pre-pregnant.” (BTW, that’s the Post’s phrase — the CDC doesn’t use it at all).

I read the actual report — not the Washington Post story about the report, not the opinion pieces about the Post story about the report, but the actual CDC report itself. And to me, it seems pretty reasonable. Am I missing something?

Here’s my layperson’s summary of what the report actually says:

1) Most women by far (85%) in the U.S. give birth by the time they’re 44.
2) Many problems in pregancy and childbirth (birth defects, complications, premature delivery, etc.) are preventable.
3) Therefore, the health care system should be trying to, you know, help prevent them.
4) Ways to help prevent these problems include planning your pregnancies if you’re going to have them, and taking care of your health in an assortment of ways before you get pregnant.
5) This is harder for poor women, and this disparity should be recognized and addressed.

Here, I think, is the key sentence:

“Preconception care offers health services that allow women to maintain optimal health for themselves, choose the number and spacing of their pregnancies and, when desired, prepare for a healthy baby.”

Please note the “When desired.”

As far as I can tell, they’re not saying “All women are baby factories and we have to treat them as such.” They’re saying “Most women of childbearing age will eventually bear children — so we should help make this a conscious, planned choice with a good outcome.”

The one part of the report that I think is even remotely problematic is the recommendation that all women — and men, for that matter — of child-producing age be given “pre-conception health care,” regardless of whether they currently plan to have children. But given that their idea of “pre-conception health care” centers on planning ahead of time when — AND WHETHER — you’re going to have kids… well, I don’t see the bad.

The CDC is saying — it seems to me — that since (a) most women of childbearing age do wind up bearing children, and (b) many pregnancies are currently unplanned, therefore primary care providers and gynecologists (who are the medical professionals most people see most of the time) should initiate discussions about the patient’s plans — if any — for having kids, and if they want kids, help them do it in a conscious, healthy way.

Again I ask: Why is this bad?

A final key sentence: “Each woman, man, and couple should be encouraged to have a reproductive life plan.”

You know — planned parenthood.

And once again I ask: Why is this bad?

So am I missing something? I’ll admit that I didn’t painstakingly read every sentence of this report — there’s a lot of medical and public-health jargon that I didn’t understand and therefore skimmed. If anyone out there works in public health/reproductive health/related fields, or is familiar with them, or even just knows how to read a CDC report, please speak up:

Is the hysteria over this report justified — or do we all need to just chill the fuck out?

P.S. Apropos of nothing: When I was doing an image search on Google for images of pregnant women (before settling on The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians), fully one out of four images on the first search page were of Britney Spears pregnant. I don’t know what that says about us as a society, but it can’t be good.

The South Dakota Thing

I’ve been thinking about this whole terrifying fucked-up South Dakota anti-abortion law, which completely outlaws abortion in the state, without even the usual exceptions for rape or incest. And I’ve been thinking about the pro-choice response to it… much of which has been to focus on the horror of rape, and why rape survivors should be allowed to get abortions.

I may get drummed out of the club for saying this. So I want to say first: I am absolutely 100% pro-choice, and 100% against this God-awful law.

But I’ve always thought that the “rape/incest” exception idea is bullshit. If you believe that a six-week-old embryo is a human being, what possible difference could it make how that human being was conceived? If you’re deciding whether it should be legal to terminate its life, why would that question be relevant? After all, you wouldn’t say it was okay to kill a two-year-old child (or a twenty-year-old adult) because he/she was conceived by rape or incest. If it’s a person, it’s a person.

The “rape/incest” exception that most anti-abortion activists make has always struck me as unimpeachable proof that anti-abortionists are actually not concerned about “life.” They’re concerned about sex. They think women who have sex outside marriage should be “punished” by having to have babies. (What a great life for that baby, huh?) That’s the only reason for a rape/incest exception — that rape/incest survivors didn’t have sex on purpose, and therefore shouldn’t be punished for it. (Other unimpeachable proof of this includes the fact that most anti-abortionists are also against easily accessible birth control and sex education.)

Anyway. My point is this: I actually think that refusing to make an exception for rape/incest is a more morally consistent position on abortion. As enormously as I disagree with it, if people really believe a
fertilized embryo is a human being with full civil rights, there’s no reason they should make a distinction between embryos conceived by women who wanted sex and women who didn’t.

The best and most consistent piece of anti-abortion writing I ever read (not a wide field, to be sure) was from a priest/minister (I forget which), who believed abortion was immoral… but also believed it should be legal. He said that if people wanted to stop abortion, they should be fighting to make birth control cheap and easily accessible to anyone who wanted it, including teenagers; to get good, realistic sex education in the schools; to make day care cheap and widely available; to improve funding for public schools; to make family leave a legal requirement; to make national health care a reality; etc. etc. etc. In other words, his position was that the best way to stop abortion was to make it unnecessary — to make sure that nobody got pregnant who didn’t want to, and to make sure that anybody who wanted a child could have one without it ruining their life.

And I don’t entirely disagree with him. I absolutely don’t agree that abortion is immoral — but I do think it’s usually sad. And I sure agree with his vision for a world in which it didn’t have to happen very often.

I actually feel some understanding for the more thoughtful, rational anti-abortion people (again, not a wide field). I sometimes think the pro-choice movement gives short shrift to the real ethical question at the heart of the abortion debate: namely, at what point does a fertilized embryo become a human being? I don’t actually think that’s an easy question to answer. In fact, the foundation of my pro-choice position is that it’s a damn near impossible question to answer — and that it therefore should be up to each woman to answer it for herself. But if I didn’t believe that — if I believed that an embryo was a human being — I’d be appalled by abortion too, and trying like hell to stop it.

But once again, for all their “baby-killing” rhetoric, I don’t think that’s really the issue for most anti-abortionists. I think the issue is that they hate the idea of women having sex without consequences.

My Letter to the Editor, or, Another Goddamn Bee in my Bonnet

So demonstrating my mastery of yet another literary form (I already have porn and scathing movie reviews under my belt), I just got a new letter to the editor published in the SF Chronicle. (This makes about four or five total. I don’t remember exactly.)

It’s a response to an Op-Ed piece about universal access to pre-school, which you probably should look at if you want to make sense of my letter (or if you just want to get your dander up). Or you can just appreciate by itself, in all its context-free glory.

My letter reads as follows and begins now:

Editor — I’m very glad that Daffodil Altan had a good life and a good education without preschool (“A time-honored alternative to universal preschool,” Dec. 28). But apparently she failed to learn that a single counter-example doesn’t disprove a statistical trend.

Nobody is claiming that every single disadvantaged kid who doesn’t get preschool will grow up to be a thug. Nobody is arguing that preschool is the sole solution to poverty and crime. And nobody is trying to force preschool on parents who don’t want it. Advocates of universal preschool are simply claiming that preschool, on the whole, gives a better chance at life to large numbers of kids, and that it should be available to parents who want it.

Altan’s early experience at her mother’s knee sounds wonderful and worthwhile — but it is one person’s experience, and as such it makes a terrible argument against a program that could be hugely beneficial to thousands.

GRETA CHRISTINA
San Francisco

Not bad, huh? I do so enjoy the whole “rational yet snippy” tone that letters to the editor seem to call for. Anyway, you can see the letter in the Chron itself if you like. (You have to scroll about halfway down the Letters page.) Yay! I’m a star!