On the shaming of Miss USA pageant queens, and ‘The Hunger Games’

June 17, 2013

Have you heard? At the Miss USA  Pageant, both Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, and Miss Alabama, Mary Margaret McCord, gave ignorant or incoherent answers to questions related to current events? Everyone’s talking about it (See: here, herehere, here, here, here, here, etc, etc). And two of those linked pieces come from Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine, who decided to write short pieces ridiculing each.

Some of these articles, if not the actual video clips (which I’ve decided to not help circulate here directly, though they are embedded on some of the above links), have been circulating like crazy on my Facebook wall. Ha ha! Isn’t it funny how dumb these stupid know-nothings are? I must share their ignorance across the internet at once!

I, however, have a different reaction to this. I feel like picking on a pageant queen is not only a waste of energy but also just playing into the Hunger-Games-like system the establishment has created. It’s not Miss Utah or Miss Alabama”s fault women are systematically underpaid or that the NSA is spying on American citizens without a warrant; it’s the fault of government and corporations. Miss Utah and Miss Alabama are just the latest child sacrifices from Districts whatever seemingly used by those in power to distract us from real enemies like the big banks or our completely ineffectual Congress.

And no, I don’t mean there’s necessarily a deliberate literal conspiracy happening here. But every time the news wastes our time on mind-numbing celebrity sensationalism, that’s less time they’re talking about prosecuting the Wall Street bankers who profited off of destroying the American economy or the blatant unconstitionality of the NSA surveillance practices, or the unequal pay for women in this country. And isn’t it funny how a woman has managed to become the target of scorn in the name of a feminist issue like equal pay for women? Funny how that works out, huh.

Now to be fair, even I’ve fallen into this trap before. Several years ago, I’m pretty sure I wrote an article on this very blog skewering then Miss California, Carrie Prejean (why do I still remember her name? Argh!). And I might have also mocked 2007’s Miss Teen USA Miss South Carolina over her now infamously incoherent answer. So I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent here in this public shaming by–let’s face it–mostly over-educated liberals, of beauty pageant contestants who are asked these sorts of serious political questions for no other reason than to make a shallow, despicable contest over nothing other than which barely legal girl a bunch of random swarmy yahoos happens to think is prettier seem less despicable.

But I guess I realized what my real problem is with this after a Facebook friend suggested, “I think you’re reading too much into having a few cheap laughs at the expense of someone who deserves it.” Watching mostly over-educated liberals shame these girls is one thing. but I don’t think the news media should be using their power and influence to have cheap laughs at a 23-year old girl who merely aspires to win a beauty contest.

The reason this is such a cheap and lazy story for news outlets is it feeds off the audience’s own smug sense of self-satisfaction. Everyone gets to congratulate themselves for knowing more about at least one thing than she does. What an accomplishment! Good comedy makes targets of the powerful. I guess where I disagree with my friend is I just fail to see in what way these girls deserve it.


Libertarians don’t understand the ‘game of thrones’

May 26, 2013

One of my Facebook friends posted the following image on their wall:

libertarian

This prompted a commenter to call libertarianism “pure selfishness,” and well, you’ve been on the internet. You know where these things go. Both parties found common ground and readers were witness to a pleasant rational and academic discourse on topic of governance.

Just kidding.

That didn’t happen. No. Instead, the original poster replied: “how is it selfish to want people to be free?” This led to the objector calling libertarianism “selfishness distilled,” which in turn led to the libertarian declaring ” its about choice over force,” which I can only conclude must be true because it rhymes. And as we all know, all slogans that rhyme… are true all of the time.

Well since it seems like forever that I’ve ranted about some of the many ways I think Libertarianism is bullshit, and since it’s been forever since I’ve even written anything here (and my sincere apologies to my readers for that), without further ado, here’s yet another attempt by me to distill some of my thoughts on this nauseating topic…

All these utopian pipe dreams are just a shell game. You can say getting government out of our lives is freedom but historically, it’s never worked out that way for the vast majority of the populous Ultimately, you can’t have a functioning society without establishing certain ground rules, aka compromises on one’s freedom. Otherwise, what you have fails to even be a society in any meaningful sense. That means someone or ones are going to have to step up to take some form of leadership role to make up those rules. And then those rules are meaningless unless someone enforces them. These are the basic building blocks of any social contract.

Government at its absolute idealized best serves to ensure fairness between parties under its governance. Government at its absolute worst is fascism. Now what you get when you have government at its most inept is functionally identical to a hard Libertarian state, where the vast majority–and certainly anyone with the great misfortune to be born into a marginalized outgroup–are at the complete mercy of whoever wields the most might, be it through wealth, arms, influence, whatever. And so, while this utopian vision with its grand pronouncements of “freedom” sounds lovely, in actual practice, they’re no less naive as the utopian promises of hard Communists who also built an ideology around getting powerful forces off their backs. I always find it funny that the very tyrants Communists found too oppressive are seen as liberators by Libertarians, and vice versa.

Ultimately, neither utopian fantasy solves the fundamental problem of power dynamics. In arguably every social interaction, one party has more power than another party. On a macro-scale we just call that government. And whether that government is made up of elected officials, military conquerors, robber barons, or just charismatic people with social influence, it all, by any other name, still functions in the role of government.

Interaction with others simply necessitates rules and compromises…compromises on one’s freedom. But hey, you can always break away from society and go it alone. Then you’ll really be free, right? Nope. Nothing interferes with one’s wants more than the constant demands on one’s time that is securing, maintaining, and protecting their necessities and resources.

Sorry, but there simply is no end to the game of thrones. I for one would prefer a society that functioned more like John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” where the rules are designed in such a way that one would deem them fair prior to any knowledge of what one’s own social position in said society would be. Of course that’s just a thought experiment, but it still sounds like a far more rational way of at least approaching these issues of governance than the extreme polar ideologies of Communism and Libertarianism, who think the solution is trading one form of oppressor with another.


Why I disagree with my liberal peers on Bloomberg’s proposed ‘soda ban’

March 11, 2013

Today, a judge struck down NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed limits on surgary drinks. And as a liberal progressive with mostly liberal progressive friends, most of my peers seems overjoyed by this news. But I’m not.

I’ll admit, when news of the bill first emerged, my initial knee-jerk reaction seemed to be the same as everyone else, that the proposed law was ridiculous. But then my opinion gradually shifted to the point that I’m now more in favor of it than not. Paradoxically, it probably didn’t help that Big Soda’s political ads running at movie theaters couldn’t have been more ridiculous and misleading if they were hosted by Troy McClure. And since the smallest beverage size offered at most movie theaters these days is 32 ounces, it’s hard to see any conflict of interest among theater owners’ opposition to the bill. Unfortunately, I don’t think it took corporate geniuses to spin this as a attack on consumer freedoms after the press was quick to inaccurately label the proposal a “soda ban.” The very first conclusion we all jumped to was the wild notion that Big Government was taking away our soda. And that’s certainly the angle of today’s nauseating headline in the joke that is the NY Daily News:  “Bloomberg’s soda ban fizzles, New Yorkers win.”

But that’s not what’s going on here at all. On the contrary, it’s not the consumers who are the targets of this bill but the corporations. They’re the ones being infringed upon. Now normally, it’s the liberals in modern society who crusade against corporate power, sometimes even to the point where that clouds their judgment. For instance, two popular pseudo-scientific positions, anti-vaccinationism and anti-GMOs, are held disproportionately by liberals railing against the corporations at the center of these issues. But here we have a case where corporations like McDonalds (sorry they’re always the stand-in representative for all fast food), have successfully diverted attention away from their role in America’s public health problems and managed to make the Left-Wing sound like the gun-obsessed Right that’s also been heavily in the news lately. Just like the gun-totting Republican stereotype proclaiming that they won’t let Big Government take away their guns when nobody is really coming for their guns, now I see my liberal peers proclaiming nobody’s taking away their freedom to drink sugary drinks when nobody is coming for their sugary drinks. That’s not what the bill is trying to do at all.

Now let me be clear here. The appropriateness of any given public health initiative is always debatable no matter how scientifically sound its premise. And sensible people can reasonably disagree on such public policy decisions without being driven by ideology or corporate money. Now I used to flirt with libertarianism myself in college but it didn’t take. I’ve since become a strong opponent to libertarian ideology while still maintaining that there are some cases where the more libertarian approach may be called for. But when it comes to public health policies firmly rooted in real science, I tend more socialist. For instance, I support strong vaccine policies and water fluoridation programs. So if a reasonable amount of scientific evidence backed the notion that reducing sugary drinks has a statistically significant positive health effect, I’d have no problem at least entertaining the idea of government playing a role in reducing that health threat, provided I felt the measures didn’t go too far.

Today, there was a great piece over at Think Progress that touches on the relevant science and facts surrounding this issue:

Restaurants’ portion sizes are more than four times larger now than they were in the 1950s — and that culture of excess is making its wayinto Americans’ homes, too, where meals are also getting bigger. Soft drinks sizes specifically have seen one of the largest increases, ballooning by over 50 percent since the mid-1970s. And research suggests that larger portion sizes do lead people to consume more than they would have otherwise, since we tend to estimate calories with our eyes rather than our stomachs.

The average American child consumes about 270 calories from soft drinks each day, which adds up to U.S. children drinking about 7 trillion calories from soda each year. That’s a huge problem in the larger context of childhood obesity rates, which have tripled since 1980. But there’s evidence that innovative public health measures can pay off. After all, states with aggressive nutrition policies, which include limits on sugary drinks and fried foods in public schools cafeterias, have experienced decreases in their childhood obesity rates.

The impact of sugary drinks on the ongoing obesity epidemic, and how best to encourage Americans to make healthier choices, is one that health advocates continue to grapple with, and there’s general consensus that proposals like Bloomberg’s are worth a shot.

Now I remember years ago when NYC implemented a policy to reduce smoking by banning people from smoking indoors in public spaces. Back then, even though I’d never smoking a cigarette in my life and had no love for the tobacco industry, I passionately opposed that policy decision. In the years since, however, the statistically significant drop in lung cancer deaths in New York City made that position more and more untenable. The reward proved to far outweigh the infringement on civil liberty, in my opinion. If I’m honest, perhaps my feeling I’d been wrong about that decision has influenced my position on the sugary drink restriction bill by making me reconsider my initial negative gut reaction to the idea.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the ethics of the matter, Bloomberg’s proposal seems at least born out of a drive to improve public health. And for any public official to put the people first is admirable…and rare these days. The message the mayor wants to send people is that too much soda is not good for you. He does this by slightly inconveniencing consumers who wish to drink more. I suspect that if this bill does come to pass, it’ll have an overall statistical effect on people’s waistline. But we’d have to see when we get the hard data. I concede that it’s entirely possible it will fail miserably. But I think it’s a worthwhile experiment.

It’s also worth noting that this is hardly breaking the mold; we regulate lots of substances and the legal system attempts to determine in each case what a fair penalty is. The only difference here is that sugary drinks are generally viewed by our society as benign despite the science showing the contrary, and so people quickly jump to a knee-jerk argument from personal incredulity. Again, the proposed law does not target the consumer, but the corporations.

Now paradoxically, the very reason the judge today ruled against the law is largely the reason I like this particular proposal in the first place. His complaint was that it left open too many loopholes, and thus was unenforceable. After all, hasn’t everyone already patted themselves on the back for being genius enough to conspire to buy two cups? But that’s the whole point! Yes, you can buy two 16-ounce drinks to buck the system, you sly devil you. Hell, you could buy 20 cups of soda if that’s your personal idea of freedom, or whatever. The press has done a horrible disservice to the public by labeling this a “ban.” It’s nothing of the kind. You can buy all the diabetes juice you please. That’s the beauty of the bill and exactly why comparisons to alcohol prohibition completely fail.

Any individual CAN get around the bill easily if they were so inclined. The beauty of the bill is that it’s built on decades of psychology research that predict that given the choice, the vast majority people simply WON’T ultimately choose to buy more than one cup and WON’T bother to make another stop somewhere else, because most people will likely choose the path of least resistance. And it gets even better than that. Not only will people on average likely choose to not make an extra effort and just accept whatever size is offered, but its using the corporation’s own stigmatization strategy against them. Decades ago, McDonalds realized that many customers would finish their small fries, and despite still looking hungry, would not go up to buy another order of fries. They eventually discovered that people didn’t go up to order more fries because it was embarrassing to be seen ordering even more food. That’s why they introduced larger sizes; it’s more discreet. The Bloomberg plan does the same thing in reverse. Sure, everyone says they’ll just order multiple cups –and most importantly of course, the law doesn’t stop anyone from doing so– but who really wants to be the guy sitting at McDonalds seen with two cups in front of them? I suspect the ordering multiple drinks strategy will be more common among those taking their food to go. But then again, if you’re taking it out, why even bother buying insanely overpriced soda at the fast food restaurant?

So what’s my final takeaway here? Big Government isn’t taking your soda any more than its taking your guns. Bloomberg’s proposal infringes on corporations, not consumers, who would be just as free to consume sugary drinks as they’ve always been in whatever quantity they please. If psychology research proves accurate, merely adding a slight inconvenience to consumers who choose to drink above 16 ounces will drive many to just accept the smaller sizes given, and in turn, consume fewer calories from soft drinks and less sugar, which would have a statistically significant effect on public health in the long run. And regardless of whether the science is sound, most people will probably reject this policy and similar policies in the future for ill-conceived, illogical, and ideological grounds before finding an actual good argument to oppose it (and I certainly think there are some good reasons). Oh yeah, and patrons can always order larger sizes of diet beverages.


Why progressives need to support Obama now more than ever

August 22, 2012

I came across an interesting article in The Atlantic on my Facebook feed called “Liberals Need to Start Holding Obama Responsible for his Policies” by Conor Friedersdorf. And I found the article to make a lot of sense. In fact, I’ve been making similar arguments for the past few years. And had this article been published last year or the year before, I’d have no disagreement with the author. However, not this year. This year is different.

It’s true that Barack Obama has been too often a disappointment for progressives, be it his compromises on healthcare that took the single-payer plan off the table, or his record deportations, or his failure to prosecute those bankers whose fraud caused the economic crisis, or his continuing of the War in Afghanistan, or his continued support of countless Bush policies like the “War on Drugs” and abstinence-only sex ed classes, or the drone strikes against innocent civilians. Take your pick.

But this is an election year. And that changes things.

I’m all for criticizing Obama for his failure to fight for the progressive policies he promised. But I don’t think this is the time to START holding Obama responsible for his bad policy decisions. During the first three years in a term seems the best time to hold Obama responsible for bad calls. But come election year, that’s when I think the focus should be on criticizing the far worse of the two evils. Strategically, it’s best for progressives to stand behind Obama for the next few months. Then after the election, we can give him hell again.

Now let me be clear here. This is not a free pass, but a stay of execution until November. What good will come out of increasing Romney’s chances of victory?

Unfortunately, it’s either Obama or Romney at this point. In an ideal world, there’d be more options on the table, but in an election year particularly, we’re prisoners of the system. Too late to introduce a true progressive third party alternative who could plausibly win the presidency and too late to redirect the Democratic Party’s platform. If Obama were to suddenly turn super-progressive tomorrow, his campaign would suffer from accusations of being a flip-flopper. No, now’s the worst time to attack Obama’s policies if the goal is a progressive presidential cycle for the next four years.

The day after Obama wins reelection, I say go to town on his bad decisions. And maybe then, if we push him and the press hard enough, we’ll have a chance at getting a few important policy decisions go our way or, though very unlikely, even get Obama to make changes to help fix the system like he promised. But neither of those options exists with Mitt Romney in the White House. He’s even more bought by the corporations than Obama and even more motivated to push conservative social and fiscal policies.

All evidence suggests a Romney presidency would continue to marginalize women, LGTB Americans, and every other minority group. They’ll likely continue to deregulate the market and make it easier for the super-rich to profit off the poor and middle class. They’ll likely promote a science policy that undermines climate change research and the teaching of evolution in schools. Whatever you might think of Obama, by all indication, a Romney presidency will almost certainly be disastrous.

The time to fight Obama in this term is over. Progressives who care more about the cause than shaming the president need to put the pitch forks down for now and support Obama now more than ever. Then after he wins, feel free to let him have it.


On Chick-Fil-A, bigotry, and absurd rationalizations

August 1, 2012

I’m going to take it as a given that everyone has heard about the recent controversy surrounding the fast food restaurant, Chick Fil-A, and so I’m not going to rehash the whole story. What I want to talk about is bigotry and why some non-bigots express their willingness to continue to frequent Chick Fil-A.

Now I’ve heard A LOT of people feed me A LOT of different reasons for why there’s nothing unethical or political about their decision to continue giving money to Chick Fil-A. In every single case, however, it all boiled down to rationalizations and excuses. The fact is that when someone starts feeding you their personal line about why it’s okay for them to buy Chick Fil-A even though they’re in favor of marriage equality and civil rights, what they are really telling you is:  I enjoy that chicken sandwich so much that I will keep buying it NO MATTER WHO IT HURTS.

And make no mistake. When you buy Chick Fil-A, you’re not just giving money to a bigot, but rather you are indirectly funding organizations who are actively engaged in trying to curtail civil liberties in Washington. These organizations spend millions campaigning to influence public policy in order to prevent marriage equality. And without your money, they simply can’t do that.

So if your craving for this one fast food joint trumps accepting responsibility for contributing in some small way to causes that you very well know hurt people, then it’s become a dangerous addiction. In a way I think the same could be said with another issue that’s been back in the news lately, America’s obsession with guns despite the undeniable harm that produces. But this isn’t a piece on gun regulation, so let me get back on track.

One actually reasonable argument I’ve heard against a boycott is that obviously not all Chick Fil-A franchise owners and employees agree with CEO Dan Cathy’s position, and while Dan Cathy isn’t likely to go broke, the innocent may be the ones most hurt by such a boycott. But you can say that about any organization, and on those grounds, it’s never acceptable to fight any corporation. I tend to liken it to the famous scene in the film Clerks, when they discuss the independent contractors working on the second Death Star, who certainly died when the rebels destroyed it (spoiler alert):

Chick Fil-A’s overly Right-Wing Christian values are well known and anyone who would choose to invest in a Chick Fil-A franchise would have to be an idiot to have not done any research at all. And surely employees aren’t blind to the company’s politics. So when you get in bed with a business like that, like the Death Star contractors, you knew the risks when you took the job.

One interesting aspect to this whole controversy is how quickly Republican politicians who have probably never eaten at a Chick Fil-A before in their lives have come out in support of the fast food chain via Twitter, mostly with passive aggressive tweets about how they’re at this very moment eating at Chick Fil-A with their families. Ironically, Sarah Palin did this as well mere weeks after the world was shocked when her toddler bastard of a grandson called his aunt a “faggot” on television. Wonder where the kid picks up this sort of stuff. Kinda reminds me of that old drug PSA from the 80’s where the kid is asked by his father where he learned about drugs and the kid famously replies, “From you, alright! I learned it from watching you!”

The less passive approach has also been quite popular among conservative pundits like Michelle Malkin, who, as recently as today, decried calls to boycott Chick Fil-A as a “war on Christian businesses.” Funny how nobody is calling to boycott any other Christian-owned or run businesses, not even ones whose CEOs are openly anti-gay. Some war, huh. That’s like insisting after the BP oil spill of 2010, that angry protests against BP are a war on business run by white people. It’s also ironic how conservatives are usually the ones who most insist letting the free market decide is the answer to all our problems and that there’s no crying in politics. What happened, tough guys? Suddenly, when the market of public opinion has ruled against the GRAND Old Party, all we hear is whining about what big meanies the Left is and that darned Christian persecution that’s so rampant in this country. When Democrats called the Republican’s consistent pushing of policies that infringe on women’s rights a “War on Women,” the GOP condemned such sensational language. But now a proposed boycott by Christians and non-Christians alike against a single company that donates millions of dollars to organizations promoting bigoted legislation is suddenly a “war on Christian businesses”?  Give me a break. And of course the height of the irony comes from those on the Right who have directly called this proposed boycott itself an act of “intolerance.”  Moreover, Mike Huckabee tweeted today that eating at Chick Fil-A is supporting free speech. But free speech is FREE; spending millions on bigoted public policy is corporate thuggery.

Now, all that’s not to say I don’t agree with the Right with regards to news that certain city officials have tried to exile Chick Fil-A from their cities. For the record, I do think that constitutes as an abuse of political power. The only good thing I have to say about that is that it’s at least refreshing to see the so-called “culture war” or public opinion, so dramatically shift in favor of equality and LGBT-acceptance.

Now, to return to a point I only casually made two paragraphs earlier, there are just as many Christians, if not more, who either disagree with Chick Fil-A’s policy or are more neutral. For instance, I read a piece the other day from a Christian moderate, Rachel Held Evans, on this very subject that tried really hard to find balance between the two most prominent sides in this debate. I for one think this is an issue where one side is right and the other wrong, where such attempts at neutrality just fail miserably. This is evident from the comments section of Held Evan’s piece. There were three positions represented:  the unambiguous bigots, those making excuses to justify having their precious chicken sandwich even though it hurts people, and then the far more thoughtful responses from people leveling what, in my opinion, is a devastating rebuttal to those positions.

Held Evans criticizes both sides. To those against Chick Fil-A, she decries the use of the words “bigot” and “homophobe” in their rhetoric, saying:

You have every right to be tired of being treated as a second-class citizen.

I get it. I really do.

But I beg you to please remember that not all Christians who speak out against gay marriage are bigots or homophobes, and calling them those names is as unjust as it is unkind.

Now don’t get me wrong. I hear what Held is saying. I get it. I really do. I know her intentions are honorable.

But she’s dead wrong. This is a total false equivalency that only suggests she’s out of touch she is with the everyday realities of being part of such a marginalized class. Now I know there are many who would throw around the word “privilege” to explain her lack of awareness, but I’m not going to go there because, frankly, I don’t know what her life has been like. Certainly, as a woman, she too may have faced serious marginalization. And being a straight man myself, I can’t say I entirely understand what it’s like to be LGBT in America today.

But to return to Held Evan’s statement quoted above, to suggest that being called a bigot or homophobe, even if unjustified, is somehow “as unjust and unkind” as being  denied basic civil rights (a thing that she too acknowledges this is about in the very second sentence of her piece) is ridiculous. But the even bigger problem on display here is this implication (and maybe it’s unintentional) that nobody should ever be called a bigot or homophobe…even, you know, bigots and homophobes. Now certainly if you want to talk strategy in terms of trying to persuade bigots and homophobes to stop being such things, a legitimate conversation can be had regarding how persuasive such loaded terms are in changing the minds of bigots and homophobes. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

The very first commenter on Held Evans’ piece, KatR, said it quite well:

No one is a racist any more, have you noticed this? When some city council member forwards some atrocious email and is called on it, the first thing he/she says is “I’m not a racist”. The word has become so loaded that in order to be classified as a “racist”, you need to be a full throated member of the KKK, participating in cross burnings and threatening lynchings.

I think Christians have gotten this way with the word “homophobe”.  They think its those horrible people at Westboro Baptist, not them voting to make prejudice a part of the state constitution, or giving money to pray the gay away groups. But they aren’t yelling and screaming at anybody! So it’s different.

I get it. I used to be a nice bigot too. But all of the flowery Scriptures and love the sin not the sinner in the world cant take away the fact that I was a bigot. And it’s not going to take it away from them either.

I almost wanted to paraphrase that but it was just too elegantly said as is that I didn’t even try. KatR just nails it right on the head with that one. That was immediately followed by this great comment from Kaoru Negisa:

I was just about to come here and point this out. Denying people rights is, by definition. bigoted. You can be sweet as a human being, but you’re still a bigot. You can help your neighbors, but you’re still a bigot. There is no getting around this.

Fred Clark already covered this very nicely, I think http://www.patheos.com/blogs/s…

I’m sure Rachel’s friends feel very bad about having to make other people’s lives measurably more miserable. But quite frankly I don’t much care that somebody’s feelings are hurt by being called a homophobe when they engage in homophobic behavior. Not so long as same-sex couples are not allowed to visit one another in the hospital or don’t get the same government benefits or are bullied and beaten up by those who live in a culture where they see the very existence of LGBT people as intrinsically wrong, regardless of the intentions of those who “simply disagree.”

When a person acts in a bigoted fashion, they are a bigot, regardless of the source of their bigotry. And they deserve to be called out on it.

Then when asked if both sides can be accused of being bigots, Negisa beautifully responded:

The key word is “prejudices”. Those are, as far as we understand language, pre-conceived notions on the behavior of people. However, the opposition to anti-LGBT activity is reactive. Gay people are not proactively looking to demean Christians, they are reacting to people who lie about them, condemn them, and oppose their legal equality. This is not some pre-conceived notion invented to demonize people, it’s a response to the demonization LGBT people receive on a regular basis.

Held Evans herself  chimes in on the comments with this:

I guess I feel like a better approach would be to begin with the assumption that many of the folks who oppose gay marriage don’t hate gay people, and then use that assumption as an appeal to urge them to support equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Option 1: “You’re against gay marriage so you must hate gay people.”

Option 2:”Because you don’t hate gay people, don’t you think they should be given the same basic rights that you enjoy?”

Maybe it’s too subtle a difference…or maybe it’s too stark. I guess I just feel like the conversation breaks down right off the bat when we start with Option 1 instead of Option 2.

Again, I hear what she’s saying and I think her heart is in the right place, but I think what she’s describing is a distinction without a difference because if we all agree that marriage is indeed a civil right (and again, she herself says as much right at the very start of the article), then the belief that one group that’s solely defined by a largely innate and uncontrollable characteristic that doesn’t hurt anyone should be denied that civil right is inescapably unfair, i.e. unjust. And while hypothetically, we can sit around and invent some imaginary alternative motivation for such a belief that doesn’t ultimately boil down to an unjustified belief in that group’s inferiority or “otherness,” all the excuses that have been so far presented have either been expressly expressed as homosexuality being viewed as sinful or unnatural, etc. or thinly disguised as such, as with the absurd literalist interpretation of the dictionary’s current definition of marriage. Now you could say that believing homosexuality is sinful, evil, or unnatural is not synonymous with “hating” gays. I don’t get the impression that Held Evans buys the “hate the sin, not the sinner” line of BS that are so prominent among Christian bigots, but the problem is see with her Option 2 is that I can’t even fathom what alternative reasonable reason one could devise for someone who thinks gays are equal citizens to everyone else to actively oppose them having the same basic rights. But as a skeptic, I must volunteer that this could be simply due to my own failure of imagination, so I’m certainly open to such alternative arguments.

And again, commenter Negisa, gave a wonderful reply to Held Evans in her comments section:

You’re talking about approach here, and I’m talking about reality. You’re right, there are times when calling a person a bigot for acting in a bigoted manner is not the right approach. Sometimes it is the right approach, and the realization of their own discrimination will snap them out of it. It’s a case-by-case thing.

What I was replying to was your statement that there are people who oppose marriage equality and aren’t bigoted or homophobes, and that’s impossible. As KatR alluded to, you can no more do that than post a Whites Only sign on your pool and claim to not be a racist (which happened in Ohio last year). I’m sorry your friends feel so bad about having to add to human misery, but they are adding to human misery in significant amounts. There’s no getting around that, and pretending that somebody can be against the rights of others and not be bigoted doesn’t help anyone.

To be fair, Held Evans does say a lot that I agree with too. She rightfully says we should all be concerned that public officials are trying to legislate away the bigotry, which could set a very dangerous precedent and can easily be exploited by propagandists who will point to it as alleged proof of a “gay agenda.”  She also rightfully says Christians ought not cry persecution and rightfully warns Christians that defiantly putting up Facebook pictures of themselves holding a Chick Fil-A bag may send a different and more hurtful message than they intend. And I absolutely agree with this advice of hers:

Finally, I urge you to take a few moments to listen to the stories of gays and lesbians who have been negatively affected by the organizations that are supported by Chick-fil-A. 

Really, my largest point of disagreement with Held Evans concerns what I feel is her letting the continued patrons off easy:

So, in short, you can choose to patronize Chick-fil-A without 1) rubbing it in people’s faces, 2) crying persecution, and 3) closing your ears to the concerns of others, particularly those from the LGBT community.

Related to this, there’s another moderate Christian take on this issue comes from Branson Parlor over at Think Christian. I get the sense that the fast food chain’s position leaves a bad taste in Parlor’s mouth but yet he still ends his piece with a rather misguided attempt to de-politicize his favorite chicken sandwich in order to rationalize his addiction to it NO MATTER WHO IT HURTS:

So, if I am hungry for a chicken sandwich, I will eat at Chick-fil-A. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I’m hungry for a chicken sandwich. If I want to watch the Muppets, I will. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I find the Muppets amusing. We typically do not ask about the religious affiliation of our plumbers, grocers, accountantsand mechanics because we recognize the reality of common grace. In a similar way, we should recognize that the political positions of our retailers, book-store clerks, Internet providers and pharmacists are not as big of a deal as we are often led to believe.

In the end, being pacifists in the culture wars may turn out to be the best way to embody the Christian worldview. Instead of worrying about winning, we can start to truly seek the shalom of the culture to which we’ve been sent.

He’s simply deciding to tune it all out so he doesn’t have to think about the consequences of his actions, where his money is going, or take personal responsibility in being complicit in injustice. He’s like a child putting his fingers in his ears, shouting:  “La, la, la, la, I can’t hear you!” Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. As Uncle Ben so famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Or how about Edmund Burke, who said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Or Christopher Hitchens, who said, “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.” I don’t think I have to remind my readers of how history has judged the bystanders around Dachau or Auschwitz, or Switzerland, who similarly chose to stay neutral.

A culture of injustice and bullying can ONLY exist so long as individuals are willing to put up with it. And choosing to sell the freedoms of others so you can enjoy some greasy chicken sandwich is a Faustian bargain that comes at too high a price, as my friend Mitch explains here.

And once again, another great commenter, James G. Gilmore, stepped up for a rebuttal to Parlor:

I take issue with your suggestion that some acts are inherently apolitical.

The choices we make about what we eat, what media we watch, what we buy, are inherently and always political choices, using a more expansive definition of the “political” in terms of the “polis”—anything implicating questions of how we organize and maintain society—rather than the narrow “partisan” usage.

When one buys a sandwich at Chik-Fil-A, one provides material support to a number of political (in the expansive definition) viewpoints—not just Dan Cathy’s opposition to LGBT equality, but also to American currency as valuable, to meat-eating, to CFA’s payment and treatment of their workers—in short, to the systems in which Chik-Fil-A exists. Buying a farmer’s market tomato, a McDonald’s burger, or a $100 bottle of wine is a similarly political act.

Many will probably say that I’m overdoing it with the previous Holocaust references because it’s just about some silly fast food joint, but injustice and unfairness must be challenged at every turn, big and small. To let it go because, “It’s not my problem,”  is to invite evil. And while you might not be the target this time, one day it might be you, and you’ll just have to hope others take your concerns more seriously than you did theirs.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Martin Niemöller

To anyone who continues to give them money while knowing full well that that money will be used to fund evil because, like Gollum with his “precious”, they just couldn’t resist the damned chicken, you are not neutral; you are an accomplice. Your choices have an impact and your excuses are no good here.


Question for Penn Jillette

June 4, 2012

Hemant Mehta is looking for questions to ask Penn Jillette and I have one I’d really like to ask him:

How can you justify the position that the free market free of governmental oversight serves as an effective solution to corporate malfeasance when even your own show has demonstrated time and time again (such as the shows on new age medicine, bottled water, and environmentalism when people signed petitions to ban water from the environment) that consumers are easily fooled by dishonest marketing, consumers often don’t act in their own best interests, and that corporations rarely voluntarily choose to be responsible citizens and act in the best interests of their communities?

In the following clip, Penn directly states that he thinks “that nobody wants to be more careful about how they treat their customers than business people”:

He couches his rhetoric in words like “I like to think”, which seems to be to just another way of saying “I have faith in X” and I’m willing to risk human lives on that faith. Even his own show demonstrates this claim is plainly false. Tobacco companies are looking out for their customers? Ridiculous! And this is the kind of myth perpetuated by the corporations themselves, such as Big Tobacco. There’s a funny clip from the film Thank You For Smoking where a tobacco lobbyist says the same thing, that it’s in the best interest of Big Tobacco to keep their customers alive and healthy:

If Penn believes that sort of bullshit, I think that makes him a lousy skeptic.

Besides, doesn’t the whole democratic process contain a component of free market thinking. Penn doesn’t seem to trust politicians very much (nor should he), but by his reasoning, nobody should be more concerned with keeping us safe and happy than a politician wanting to be reelected. Why is money a sufficient incentive but maintaining power not sufficient? The answer is it’s the same thing. Politicians AND corporations lie, cheat, and steal for their own benefits. But if you ask a politician, they’ll tell you it’s in their best interests to serve the people well if they want to get reelected. And if you ask the corporate lobbyists, they’ll say it’s in the financial interests of the companies they represent to keep their customers safe and happy too. Tell that to Goldman and Sacks or JP Morgan or BP, or Toyota.

Another great film clip is Edward Norton explaining “The Formula” in Fight Club:

 


Help! Ann Leary is hopelessly confused about Occupy Wall Street!

November 19, 2011
Wall Street Sign. Author: Ramy Majouji

Image via Wikipedia

I really have no idea who Ann Leary is other than that she’s comedian/actor Dennis Leary’s wife…and apparently she’s got a blog. This second thing I learned today when I discovered a piece she wrote attacking the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Now once again, I’m delving into political territory here, but really my response to Ms. Leary here is about addressing some very popular pieces of bullshit that she’s perpetuating, whether deliberately or not. As far as I’m concerned, people are free to disagree with OWS. I just want them to be disagreeing with them for legitimate reasons and not because of misinformation.

Leary begins her piece by saying that until yesterday, she supported OWS…which is odd because she spends the bulk of the piece as well as the bulk of her replies in the comments section insisting that for the life of her, she just can’t even figure out what OWS is all about. Another issue she had was the anti-cop mentality seen among some protesters. The final big criticism she makes that stands out in the article is reflected in her title, “No, Please, Not….DRUM CIRCLES!” Remarking about the presence of individuals at the OWS protests playing drums as well as embedding a video of two young female protesters going topless to draw attention, it’s clear that Ms. Leary is embracing the popular negative stereotype of the OWS movement as just a bunch of hippies.

Now most of her commenters state that they support Leary’s opinion “100%” which is worrisome on its own. One would be hard pressed to find anyone who I agree with “100%” on any issue. If someone told me they agreed with me “100%” on something, I’d advise them to think harder about it.

But I digress. After several comments, one brave soul calling himself Todd finally stepped up to challenge Ann Leary. Todd, like me, doesn’t agree with a lot of things about how OWS has been operating. However, he did a fairly decent job of politely pointing to sources explaining some of the goals of the movement as well as his own grievances. He also linked to this amusing little comic strip, though I think the strip’s defining the OWS mission as simply protesting “economic injustice” is too vague to be really meaningful.

But since this “I can’t understand their message” rhetoric is so common right now and since Ann Leary is so utterly, utterly lost, I decided to help her out by listing some of the very specific goals/solutions being championed by OWS. It’s not a complete list and certainly not every single protester will necessarily agree with each item but it’s a start:

-close the loopholes that allow corporations to shirk paying their fair share in taxes
-stop corporations from bribing our government officials. Elected officials are elected to represent the people who elect them, not just the donors who give them money.
-Remove the overarching effect that big business has on our government. Reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which decided that corporations are people. Take corporate money out of the election process and eliminate the super-political action committees that have turned our elected officials into myopic, self-serving zombies. Reform the business of lobbying our elected officials so there are no more meetings between elected officials and lobbyists at private retreats or expensive restaurants–and let everyone know what the conversation is about by doing it out in the open.
-Reform the tax code so it’s understandable and fair to everyone who contributes to the economy.
-Provide incentives for companies to create jobs here in the U.S.

That’s just a few very specific goals of this movement. There’s also a great piece on the Daily Kos about OWS here. And here’s a fairly concise video from The Young Turks addressing both the specific goals of the movement as well as the transparent media bias:

Now regarding the whole drum circle and topless girl thing, part of me wishes the minority fringe hippy/Commie/etc. elements would just get out of the way because they paint a negative picture of the whole movement, but those people have shown up at EVERY protest I’ve ever been a part of so it’s unreasonable to think the OWS organizers have greater power to get rid of them.

What DOES bug me a great deal is the OWS vs. NYPD mentality. While there have been several examples of a few individual cops who seem to have abused their power and used unnecessary force, by in large, the NYPD has done a phenomenal job of keeping the peace in a difficult situation. The other day, I even briefly spoke with some cops at Zuccotti Park. They were very friendly and sympathetic to the movement. One even said he had walked through the park himself on his day off. They didn’t want to have to be there but it was their job. So I strongly oppose this anti-NYPD rhetoric coming from OWS. And I’ve personally seen one protester try to claim the right to be belligerent to the cops. He was given a friendly warning and escorted across the street. I also have no patience for those claiming “America’s the most fascist nation in the world” with no sense of irony. The very fact that they feel comfortable saying that in public without fear that secret police will disappear them in the night proves the absurdity of this statement better than anything. But even at its worst, the U.S. wouldn’t make the top 100 most fascist nations in the world. Anyone who makes such a claim is obviously just saying “don’t take anything I say seriously because I’m crazy.”

I also strongly condemn OWS for some serious lies they’ve made. After the first attempt to cross the Brooklyn Bridge led to massive arrests, they claimed the cops gave them the okay to do it even though video later surfaced showing cops with bullhorns telling them NOT to march over the bridge. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, I was at Zuccotti Park as protesters waited for the judge to rule on whether they could restore their camp. At one point, protesters claimed that they’d gotten word that the judge had ruled in their favor and demanded the NYPD step aside. Many accused the cops of violating a court order because they were following their original orders until they got word otherwise from their more legitimate sources. The crowd got very riled up. But there was no judge’s order. It didn’t come for hours later, and when it did, the judge ruled against the protesters. Such lies do not help the movement and it is despicable that anyone would make up such lies in order to incite violence.

Still, however, over all I support this movement and condemn the easy stereotypes the media pushes. If these people were lazy, would they commit themselves to working 24 hours a day for two months maintaining their encampment?

Here’s how one commenter described the impression Ann Leary gave them of what OWS is all about:

BRAVO… I couldnt not have said it better. You have put the whole OWS into perspective. I am the wife of a retired police officer and the mother of a firefighter. When i was growing up if a cop told you to move and you were sitting on your stoop you MOVED. These people just look like a bunch of new age hippies with no respect for people. I admire your outspokeness and insight.

thank you

Of course, when out of thousands of people, Ann only focuses your attention on the two (count ‘em, TWO) naked, hippy women yelling at a cop, it’s understandable that you’d get the impression that the movement is just “a bunch of new age hippies with no respect for people.” Of course, having been down there numerous times now, I’ve found most of the movement to be fully dressed, non-new age, normal people with legitimate grievances and who treat the NYPD as well as many others around them with respect.

Ann Leary doesn’t need to agree with this particular movement, but I have to insist she stop perpetuating biased, inaccurate ideas about it. She also stated that she felt the protests should be targeting Washington, not their bosses here on Wall Street.

Ann, I hope I’ve helped you to understand just a little bit about this movement that you found so very confusing.

And just because I enjoy ridiculous, topless, young protesters as much as the next guy:

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