Friday, July 1, 2016

The politics of cynicism

In the breathtaking aftermath of the UK Brexit decision, we learn that the proponents of the departure of the UK from the EU, principally Nigel Farage of the odious UKIP party, and the gadfly Tory Boris Johnson, really didn't expect to win.

They have no plans.

They are backtracking on what they promised (more money for the National Health!  No immigrants!)

The whole campaign was a cynical exercise in lies and mis-statements, intended to inflame the right wing of the party and gain them power.  They didn't expect to actually have to DO anything, like drag the UK out of the EU (and potentially shatter the UK).  Indeed, Johnson as a journalist has a long record of telling lies.  (Does that remind you of anyone?)

The media treated pronouncements on both side as equally sober, because the UK media like the US  is not about journalism, but about false equivalence that makes a horse race.  (Rupert Murdoch has much to answer for).

And now that the referendum has passed, the truth is revealed (though it was known all the time).  And Boris Johnson's plans to be PM are over.

Similarly, the far right in this country has cynically manipulated the electorate to believe that Obama is a crazed commie liberal Muslim and we are going to hell in a handbasket because of environmentalists and homosexuals.  They have merrily blown up any concept of sober governance and compromise purely for power and leverage.

So much for the best of the country and the governed.  It's all a game, scoring points.

The Conservative Establishment in the UK tried to call the right wing's bluff by calling for a Brexit referendum, and now they are careening into economic unknown.   The Prime Minister has resigned and who knows what is next.

The Republican Establishment in the US thought the could control their right wing, but lo and behold, DJ Trump is now their candidate, on an explicitly racist platform.  Now, as they move into the general election, the Elites are trying to figure out how they can manage this disaster.  And the mediatainment industry loves it.

In neither case is anyone actually interested in the well-being of the country.

The peasants are revolting and the big cats are still trying to make it to their advantage. It is sobering and not a little frightening.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pause to remember

Let us remember the African American victims of the shooting in Charleston a year ago, and the LGBT victims at Pulse this last weekend, targeted for who they were.

And let us remember all the other victims and come together in one human family to mourn, and to love.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Words fail in response to the horror of the shooting in Orlando where 49 young people were murdered because a madman was angered when he saw two men kiss.

Our "crime" is to love, so we will love, and defeat hatred by our love.  We will teach love. We will not be afraid.

And still we rise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Under the influence

A while back, we were all shocked by the hit and run death of a cyclist in Baltimore, by a (now former) Bishop who was drunk.  The alcohol may have been the reason for her impairment but not an excuse for driving drunk and causing grievous harm.  She's in jail, as she should be, for years.

Apparently, though, if you are a privileged white athlete at Stanford, alcohol absolves you of personal responsibility and it's somehow acceptable that you have "20 minutes of action" (as his father actually put it) performing a violent sexual assault on an unconscious woman.  The judge gave this nice white man a mere 6 months since he's suffered already.  In return the rapist promises to talk about booze and promiscuity on campus.  The media has a winsome picture of this blond haired, blue-eyed, boy-man looking sad.

As his victim wrote in a searing letter, the problem isn't promiscuity.  It's CONSENT.   The whole thing is disgusting, not least of which what it says about any man who physically violates an unconscious woman's body.   (Go read her letter.  It is powerful.)

Interestingly there was a case in Tennessee this spring as well, where a former Vanderbilt football player was convicted of raping an intoxicated, unconscious woman.  He's going to get at least 15 years.   What's different in Tennessee?  Either their judges get it, or, black football players get different rules than white swimmers.  What do you think?

As one internet meme put it, we make laws against trans people using the bathroom to prevent women from being assaulted, but apparently we can't convict a man who actually assaults a woman.

Because, well, it's going to ruin his life.  Poor boy.

Talk about privilege.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Predators don't need a bathroom

So to those of you who think you’re being helpful by “protecting” me and my fellow women, you’re like a shark sitting in the lifeguard chair. I wasn’t uncomfortable until you showed up at the pool and the only potential predator I see is you. 
Your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters don’t need you to walk them to the bathroom for safety. Your fathers, brothers, friends and sons need to walk themselves away from their own double standards. Women are sexually harassed and sexually assaulted on school campuses, on the street, at their jobs, on the Internet, in their own homes, in ANY public place. And it has been excused or ignored for so long because of what you and I are taught from the first years of our interactions with each other: You, as a male, are not accountable for your own actions. It’s MY responsibility, as a female, to not “provoke” you. But then you get to knight-in-shining-armor your way through life for those in your protected categories and I am expected to applaud you. Why the outrage now over bathrooms? Why aren’t you outraged every single day? 
If you’re telling me that there are high volumes of boys and men out there, in schools or in general, who are just waiting for a “loop-hole” to sexually assault girls and women, we have bigger problems on our hands than bathrooms.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wearing orange against gun violence, after UCLA

Today and Sunday, the Bishops Against Gun Violence ask us to join the Wear Orange movement to protest gun violence. I have dutifully donned an orange sweater.

This is particularly striking in the aftermath of the events in Los Angeles yesterday, where by all accounts an engineering professor at UCLA was murdered, apparently by a former student who then shot himself.

Some of you may know that I am an academic.  My wife was unnerved, and asked, when I have office hours, can I see who is there?  I explained that the door is open for drop in office hours.  If a student makes an appointment, they may have to knock.   I'm not going to treat my students like a threat, even though it crosses my mind occasionally that a student angry about a grade, or about an honor infraction, could mean harm.  A bad grade or  honor infraction can impact whether someone gets into graduate or professional school, and thus have lasting effects.

I've only once been really nervous, years ago in a previous job, when an student seemed agitated when he wanted an appointment.  I stationed a very large graduate student at a desk just outside my office Just In Case.  It was unnecessary.  The agitated student was fine;  he just needed someone to give him some time and listen with sympathy to his concerns.  (Sometimes teaching is really more like therapy.)  If someone means to do ill, of course, the office door is no barrier.

The Bishops ask for very little, mainly increased background checks.  Most Americans (on the order of 85%) support the idea that there should be background checks for guns.  After all, guns are lethal weapons the purpose of which is to kill.

As one pro-gun legislator put it,
I am hard pressed to believe that the values of safe use and personal accountability that underscore responsible gun ownership are incompatible with our expectations surrounding access to firearms. This isn’t about gun control. It’s about promoting shared values that defend our right to be safe from the often tragic and irrevocable outcomes that spring from the use of firearms by people who, by any measure of common sense, should never had been provided access to firearms in the first place.
It also seems unfathomable to me that we have a huge rate of small children getting their hands on guns and shooting themselves or others.
By the end of 2015, about 265 children under 18 picked up a firearm and shot someone by accident, and 83 of those shootings were fatal, according to research compiled by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Some 41 of those deaths involved the shooters themselves, and most of the shootings involved toddlers or teens who were playing recklessly with the guns. (Source)
This is treated like some sort of acceptable collateral damage by gun advocates.   Horrifyingly, the NRA this week advocated keeping loaded guns in children's rooms, because of some paranoia about home invasion.  But,
...the threat of a violent home invader is far less likely than Pincus claims. Not only is the national rate of household burglary decreasing steadily, but so is the rate of violent crime during a home invasion. Less than one percent of homicides in the U.S. occur during a home invasion, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report from 2010, the most recent year the issue was studied. The roughly 100 homicides per year that occur during household burglaries is far dwarfed by the number of shootings by kids who accidentally get their hands on firearms (not to mention the staggering number of unintentional shootings committed by adults every year).
So, this obsession with guns for protection far exceeds the reality of the danger.  You are much more likely to be shot by your child than by a robber.

I know gun enthusiasts and while it's not my thing, I don't want to take their guns away.  But sometimes they seem a little unhinged on the subject, advocating a free-for-all that is almost a fetish.  And they seem far too willing to accept our unreasonable level of gun violence as an acceptable price of their freedom.  Please, I'm open to your suggestions, gun enthusiasts.  What do you suggest?

I don't want someone to be shot by a toddler who gains access to a gun.

And I don't want some unhinged student able to walk into a gun store to buy a weapon to shoot me because I gave him a C.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Enforcing gender norms in the bathroom

Well, as we all predicted, there have been now numerous cases of self-appointed bathroom police going after interlopers in the women's room.  However,  those "interlopers" are actual cis-gendered women.

You see, for the bathroom police,  any woman who does not match their ideal of what a woman should look like, is Not Allowed.  And apparently if you have short hair and wear boy's clothes, that's a bad thing.

Indeed, I know at least one woman with very short hair who is concerned now about using the restroom in public spaces at all.  I know a graduate student, who presents in a very androgynous way, who sparked a panic in our building last year simply by using the restroom because another student thought she was male. Even me, with my long hair and a very curvy figure-- I've occasionally been thought to be a guy, because I like to wear jeans and I have a deep voice.

Let us be clear, this is not about trans people.  It is not about predators.  It is all about enforcing gender norms.

The fear of trans people is almost entirely the fear of trans women, who have unaccountably (to some) given up the privilege of maleness to be women.  That's a broken gender norm right there.

Those androgynous women, with short hair and male clothes, they are a threat because they challenge the norms themselves.  And of course, if a guy finds them attractive, is it because he secretly thinks they are guys?

There's no accident that the really conservative sects impose a strict dress code on women:  long hair, dresses.

Does this all tie in  to the victory of marriage equality? Because nothing challenges gender norms (which really means, male privilege) like a same-sex partnership. Some same sex couples do have a gender-binary type of relationship, of course, but many do not, leading to discomfort in some straights.  "Which one of you is the man?"  is a question every lesbian couple faces, either spoken or unspoken.

A great article from the Atlantic today thinks so...
America is experiencing a period of profound gender anxiety. Mainstream understandings of “gender” are changing, which may be why Mississippi legislators felt the need to codify concepts that have always seemed culturally implicit. .... 
Non-traditional notions of gender have finally become widespread enough to foment a sustained backlash....The fact that legislators in overreach-hating, small-government-loving states like Mississippi and North Carolina have resorted to the law to protect their notions of gender shows the depth of their panic about these ambient cultural shifts.
Of course this is impossible to separate from Bible-thumping conservative Christianity, that opposes anything that doesn't fit their ideal binary men-and-women model. So, they claim that same sex marriage and transgender rights somehow affects their religious "freedom" (which is really religious privilege).
But more broadly, this is also a question about gender roles. In a recent PRRI / The Atlantic poll, 42 percent of Americans said they believe society is becoming “too soft and feminine.” Thirty-nine percent said they believe society is better off “when men and women stick to the jobs and tasks they are naturally suited for,” including 44 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of white evangelical Protestants. These numbers suggest nervousness about fluid gender identities—and that America isn’t even close to a consensus that men and women should choose the way they act.
And, again, not so much religious privilege, as MALE privilege.
If transgender people are able to use the bathroom of their choice, that suggests women are perfectly safe when former men, or women who have masculine characteristics, enter their intimate spaces. “Part of the threat here is that women are saying they do not need protection from men. That has long been a source of anger for men and women who believe in this notion of female submission to male authority,” said Griffiths. At least in part, “men who are supporting this are reasserting a protective role.”
Read that again:  men are "reasserting a protective role".  Because how DARE women think they don't need the protection, the authority, of straight cis-gendered men.  Isn't it telling that the bathroom wars are ostensibly to protect women from assault by straight cis-gendered men?

The Atlantic article isn't very hopeful that we will figure this out any time soon.  Meanwhile, I have no issue with who uses what bathroom.  There are stalls and they are private, and I'm indifferent to the plumbing details of the person in the stall next to me.

Everyone needs to be free to pee.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The End of Christianity?

A provocative article from the Guardian.
The most recent British Social Attitudes data shows that “No religion” is now by far the largest single identificationin England and Wales. It is very nearly half the adult population, and more that twice the proportion who self-identify as Anglican....
The author proposes some reasons.
Over the last 50 years “religion” has come to stand for the opposite of freedom and fairness. This is partly an outcome of the sexual revolution and of the long and ultimately futile resistance to it mounted by mainstream denominations. “The religious” now appear to young people as obscurantist bigots whose main purpose is to police sexuality, especially female sexuality, in the service of incomprehensible doctrines. Institutional resistance to the rights of women and of gay people was an exceptionally stupid strategy for institutions that depends on the labour of both. But the Church of England was so much a part of the old imperial state that life in post-imperial Britain was never going to be easy.

It’s hard to see a route back for normative Christianity.....
And what will we lose?
This century will be one in which humanity faces gigantic challenges, brought about by our own success in colonising the planet. Global warming and the still present threat of nuclear destruction both need a sense of global solidarity to overcome, and a vision of humanity that transcends narrow self-interest. If Christianity no longer can supply that, what will?
Well, I would argue that a vision of humanity that transcends self-interest is not de facto Christian.  And in a climate where so-called Christians are supporting Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and their shenanigans, what IS normative Christianity?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Our fixation on toilets

Apparently it goes way back.  Obsessions with restrooms drove opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment -- with exactly the same language!
For generations, Americans have imparted bathrooms with their deepest anxieties about changing social norms and practices. From the Industrial Revolution to Jim Crow to women’s lib to today, restrooms have been a proxy for political fights on almost every major issue in American life — race, class, gender, crime, sexuality, you name it. .... 
If the past is any guide, we shouldn’t count on the current struggle over restrooms for transgender people being easy or quick. In fact, bathrooms have proven a surprisingly powerful political lever over the years. They’ve been pivotal in many political arguments — and, in perhaps the most masterful harnessing of bathroom anxiety in American history, a largely invented controversy over unisex bathrooms in the 1970s ultimately killed off the almost-enacted Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Racism, fascism, wrapped in the flag....

In North Carolina, a tow truck driver refused to aid a disabled woman because she had Sanders stickers on her car.   And because he's a Christian.

Shupe, a 51-year-old from Travelers Rest, South Carolina, was very serious. “I’m a conservative Christian, I’ve just drawn a line in the sand,” he said. “I’m not going to associate or conduct business with them.” 
Right, because Jesus would decline to tow a Sanders supporter, a woman.  This is the same as the bogus "religious freedom" that wants to legalize discrimination against gays.

Of course, he's a Trump supporter.  Welcome to The Donald's America, us vs them, as long as "us" is not women, not minorities, not gays, not disabled, not Muslims.   

One of the very scary things about Donald Trump is how he has emboldened the separatists, which culminates in open racism. Indeed, this is probably the scariest thing.  White supremacists are emboldened by Trump, they call him their own.  And he won't disavow them, or the KKK.

David Duke, notable supremacist, hopes that Trump will "dispose of the Jews".  Right out there.  Breathtaking.   This is the 1930s.

Let's be clear,  This isn't just any election.
You cannot view this election solely as a choice between two platforms, two parties, or two personalities. This election is about much bigger issues. It’s about the way way we look at people, and talk about them, and care for them. It’s about the soul of America and its relationships to the world. If you care about that, you cannot vote Trump, or stay home, or vote for a third party spoiler. 
How can this man, who has fomented so much anger and hate, represent the United States to the world, and to its own people? How will minorities feel safe in the U.S. if he is president? How can this country stand to be even further divided? The chasm is already too wide. 
This isn't about politics.  This is about extinction.  Andrew Sullivan writes, in a new article entitled "Democracies end when they are too democratic"
In the wake of his most recent primary triumphs, at a time when he is perilously close to winning enough delegates to grab the Republican nomination outright, I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself.... 
For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
It's not about Sanders vs Clinton.  It's about Trump the fascist vs the future of our Republic.