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    Mary, Mary—flat tire!

    Posted by Sean at 06:44, June 19th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan is urging gays who are in the pocket of the Democratic National Committee to start trying to hit it where it hurts:

    One way to get the Obama administration’s attention on civil rights is for gay people to stop funding the Democrats. That’s all these people care about anyway when it comes to gays: our money. If the Democrats refuse to support us, refuse to support them. This is a start. But we need to get more creative. We need actions to highlight the administration’s betrayals, postponements and boilerplate. We need to start confronting the president at his events. We need civil disobedience. We need to tell him we do not want another fricking speech where he tells us he is a fierce advocate for our rights, when that is quite plainly at this point not true. We will not tolerate another Clinton. No invites to these people for dinners or fundraisers. No cheering him at events while he does nothing to follow up on his explicit promises. Of course these things can be done. If anyone high up in the Obama administration or the Pelosi-Reid Congress gave a damn, much would have been done.

    “That’s all these people care about anyway when it comes to gays: our money.” Well, yes, some of us have thought that for quite some time. Or maybe not quite that coarsely—I’m sure plenty of DNC higher-ups genuinely care about gay people, but when it’s time to make political calculations, we have little power unless we’re part of a larger bloc. I don’t say that out of self-pity; it’s just cold, hard political reality. The incentive to give gay activists what they want just because they’re being loud about wanting it is pretty low, though I certainly agree that gay people who feel betrayed should feel free to exercise their First Amendment right to petition the government.

    Allow me to observe, however, that it would be nice if they hadn’t set a track record of making it so easy to walk all over them. Sullivan talks about not tolerating another Clinton, but liberal gay politicos have already made the same mistake they did with Bill: showering a charismatic politician with such adoration that they can hardly blame him for presuming on their unconditional love. And then looking whiny when they start bellowing about how betrayed they feel. Nick Gillespie posted this yesterday at Reason.com:

    I can appreciate the anger and disappointment among gay and lesbian supporters of Obama, but in their frustration may well be the seed of a deeper understanding that politics and politicians are disappointing at best and malevolent at worst. Which is precisely the reason to squeeze their power and influence over citizens and human activity to the bare minimum, whether we’re talking about the bedroom or the boardroom.

    We can dream. If this does get gay activists and voters to rethink their knee-jerk allegiance to the DNC, then the tactics Sullivan is calling for will serve a good purpose. But unless they recognize Gillespie’s libertarian point, it’ll be hard to shake the feeling that they’ve learned the tune but are pointlessly rewriting already adequate lyrics:





    Added later: Also, there’s this from Matt Welch:

    For journo-pundits especially, but I think all of us too: Life really is better lived when you reserve your love for the deserving people you know, rather than the undeserving politicians you think you understand.


    A night to remember

    Posted by Sean at 13:27, June 13th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan links to a post by Lars Thorwald at Kos, which defends the DOJ’s brief defending DOMA. Sullivan says:

    Lars Thorwald has a strong post on why Obama’s DOJ brief in defense of DOMA is in fact a keeping of a promise: to restore the rule of law after eight years of abuse. I take every point he makes. Read the whole thing.

    And Thorwald (I hope that’s his real name, because it would be a rather creepy Hitchcock reference to take as a pop-culture pseudonym—not that that vitiates his arguments…I’m just saying) states:

    Because what happened the last 8 years was this: We were a nation of men, or, more precisely, a handful of men. If Cheney, Yoo, Addington, Feith, Bush, and the rest didn’t like a law on policy grounds…well, we can just ignore it.

    I don’t care if it is DOMA, or FISA, or whatever. The law is the law, and the executive must apply it and defend challenges to it, if it is legally defensible. (The Americablog assertion that Presidents routinely and frequently simply decline to defend enacted laws in Court is wrong for reasons far too numerous to entertain here, and on the occasions it has happened without good justification, I submit those Presidents were wrong, too).

    The point is: The man I voted for told me he would return us to a nation of laws, not of men. That means we follow (and apply, and defend–or else it means nothing) the law. Regardless of the whims or policy desires of the man in the chair. Because he is bound by the law, too.

    Have you all forgotten this so soon?

    My understanding from posts by other attorneys is that, in fact, the brief filed yesterday is not really different from those of the Bush administration DOJ in substantive legal terms. So…this represents Obama’s commitment to the rule of law, but those represented Bush’s cavalier attitude toward laws he didn’t like? It’s possible that I really am missing something, but Thorwald is explicitly and mindedly pitching his post at the educated non-lawyer reader, and I don’t think there’s anything in it I just didn’t understand.

    If we’re talking about the rule of law outside the realm of DOJ briefs—well, Obama’s done plenty of talking about changing how we prosecute the WOT, but the actual shifts he’s made, even by the standards of the things leftists have been complaining about for years, are very meager. And looking at the administration from 35,000 feet, we have the tax-evading Secretary of the Treasury [!], the plans to interfere with the contracted-for bonus structure at AIG, and the strongarming of Chrysler creditors to facilitate a sop to the union$. I have a great deal of difficulty seeing these things, either collectively or separately, as representing anything but a system in which some rules apply to super-cool people and others apply to everyone else. People are welcome to cheerlead for Obama’s policy prescriptions, but they’re going to have to do better than this if they want to argue persuasively that his administration is setting about enacting them through the renewed application of the rule of law.

    I used to admire Sullivan very much, but for the last several years, reading him has made me feel a lot like Robert Christgau when he reviewed Cyndi Lauper’s third solo album, which cemented her metamorphosis from genuine free-thinker to bland market-segment opportunist: “How embarrassing to have placed hope in this woman.” I agree with Eric that it’s odd for Sullivan to keep labeling himself a conservative, fiscal or otherwise, and of course in terms of policy I wish he still were. But what’s really depressing is that he can’t even seem to do new-convert liberalism with consistency or conviction.


    We’re all following a strange melody / We’re all summoned by a tune

    Posted by Sean at 11:58, June 12th, 2009

    Now do you see why some of us were cautious about Obama, guys (via Instapundit)?* John Aravosis at AMERICAblog is livid:

    And before Obama claims he didn’t have a choice, he had a choice. Bush, Reagan and Clinton all filed briefs in court opposing current federal law as being unconstitutional (we’ll be posting more about that later). Obama could have done the same. But instead he chose to defend DOMA, denigrate our civil rights, go back on his promises, and contradict his own statements that DOMA was “abhorrent.” Folks, Obama’s lawyers are even trying to diminish the impact of Roemer and Lawrence, our only two big Supreme Court victories. Obama is quite literally destroying our civil rights gains with this brief. He’s taking us down for his own benefit.

    Anyone who knows me well or reads me often is aware that I think the way activists have pursued SSM is self-defeating and naive, but it requires a particularly egregious level of naivete to be blindsided by this development at this point. Thus far, the Obama administration has manifested a preference for big donors with lots of people and power to leverage. Gay activism doesn’t fit those criteria. It’s loyally Democratic and has plenty of donors who (for individuals) give a lot, but its aggregate power isn’t major. And that’s leaving aside the possibility that Obama may be perfectly fine with gay people’s living our lives but just seriously believe that DOMA isn’t unconstitutional. I will say I find it droll to read that the Obama administration has suddenly taken it into its head to worry about how “scarce” government resources are and thus to be all parsimonious and judicious and stuff in allocating them to people who really, really deserve them. Where was that attitude during Bailout Fest a few months ago?

    Actually, this episode leads me back to a question that’s nagged at me ever since the Obama candidacy started taking over the airwaves: Liberal friends, doesn’t all this uncritical adulation for a politician worry you? I mean, I know you like the guy. I know you were sick of Bush and the GOP and were excited for a change. My libertarian heart and brain suspected that I wasn’t going to like Obama’s policy directions, but I understood why other people were willing to take a risk on him.

    But a lot of other people were True Believers, a type I recognize from my extreme-right/fundie upbringing. It’s that part that I think is insalubrious. Their faith in Obama is nonfalsifiable—he’s going to do the right thing, and if he doesn’t do the right thing, that just proves that he’s a pragmatist who’s willing to make the hard compromises that are sometimes necessary, so he really is basically doing the right thing—until they get a kick in the teeth that’s too powerful to spin away. Then they freak. And you can expect it to happen more and more often, because Obama’s been idolized by so many people with so many (ahem) diverse ideologies that, even if he were a paragon of principle, he’d inevitably end up screwing over large numbers of them.

    This is why I’m unmoved when friends complain that I’m too cynical about politics. Being suspicious of the motives of those who hold state power may make you gretzier after watching the news, but it at least ensures that you don’t make the mistake of equating politicians with rock stars. Celebrities can be Guardians of our Collective Dreams, but politicians set policy backed by the coercive power of the state. That means we should be searching out all available information about them and evaluating it unsparingly, so that we can make the most educated possible prediction of what they’re going to do once we give them the keys to the office. Swooning unreservedly over an untested politician may give you a nice glow now, but it’s a recipe for heartache later. You have no one to blame but yourselves when your misapplied religious impulse comes back and bites you.

    * I mean, of course, cautious in general, not cautious in the sense that I share Aravosis’s beliefs about SSM.

    Added later: Dale Carpenter has a post up at The Volokh Conspiracy:

    Historically federal marriage benefits have been available to anyone married under state law. The federal definition was parasitic on the state definition. If a state chose to allow 14-year-olds to marry, but most states did not allow that, nobody thought federal recognition of such marriages functioned as a subsidy forced on the taxpayers of other states. DOMA changed that, but only for gay marriages. “Neutrality,” as the Obama administration understands it, does not mean federal recognition of state choices in this matter. It means denying federal recognition of state choices.

    My point here is not to claim that the DOJ’s arguments are anti-gay, homophobic, or even wrong. Much of the brief seems right to me, or at least entirely defensible, as a matter of constitutional law. My point is only to note how much continuity there is in this instance, as in others, between the Bush and Obama administrations. In short, there’s little in this brief that could not have been endorsed by the Bush DOJ. A couple of rhetorical flourishes here and there might have been different. Perhaps a turn of phrase. But, minus some references to procreation and slippery slopes, the substance is there.

    Obama says he opposes DOMA as a policy matter and wants to repeal it. Nothing in the DOJ brief prevents him from acting on that belief. He is, he says, a “fierce advocate” for gay and lesbian Americans. When does that part start?


    When you’re seen anywhere with your hat off…

    Posted by Sean at 14:06, November 14th, 2008

    My blog friend Sarah Hoyt is a sci-fi author, so she does a lot of thinking about social issues and the evolution of institutions. She has a post up about her support for gay marriage that takes what is, I think, the best tack possible: arguing that institutions such as marriage exist at least partially to push people toward beneficial behavior and away from destructive behavior that other around them may end up picking up after. I don’t know that I’m entirely convinced, but she goes far beyond the soundbites along the lines of “But my partner and I love each other just as much as straight couples do” or “Well, gee, why shouldn’t our gay friends have the same rights as my wife and I do?”

    Sarah also brings the perspective of someone reared in a country that was not the States:

    A law might be able to institute a system like the one in Portugal – and please, those of you who know me, engrave this in stone, because it’s the one time in my life where I’ll say something is better in Portugal – where you have to get a “legal” marriage before the religious one. The legal one is a right, (though I don’t think they have gay marriage, before anyone jumps on me) the religious one isn’t. In fact, the religious one isn’t needed. It is between you and your G-d. The legal is usually done quietly and not celebrated by those people who intend to have a religious ceremony later. (In Dan’s and my case we had our civil ceremony in South Carolina in July, then went to Portugal for the religious wedding in December after I got my green card. It gives us two anniversaries.) At any rate a law could spell out that no religion will be forced to perform unions that offend its tenets or beliefs.

    I know at this point my gay friends – or their sympathizers – reading this are groaning and saying that the law will never come because look at all the defense of marriage stuff going on. Well… a properly written law might have a better chance. It might calm a lot of the fears.

    She may be right about that, though one of the problems is that so many of the most voluble proponents of gay marriage are too wrapped up in using it to get approval from all quarters. I’m not so sure they could be trusted to lay off the churches in exchange for marriage performed by a justice of the peace.

    *******

    Speaking of fabulously opinionated pro-SSM blog friends, Virginia Postrel appeared on PJTV to discuss the problems that Obama’s glamour might pose when he actually tries to carry out his duties as president. It turns out that her chemotherapy, in addition to helping beat her cancer into remission, has given her a Marcel wave. Do we live in an age of wonders, or what?


    Love on your side

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, November 13th, 2008

    Thanks to those who e-mailed to ask what I thought about California’s Proposition 8 and its aftermath. I didn’t post anything largely because I thought I’d said what I had to say about the gay marriage debate many times over.

    I still do. But Caltechgirl, whose blog I haven’t visited nearly often enough in the last several months, hit many of the important points:

    For the record, I voted NO on Prop 8, folks.

    Now that THAT’s out of the way, let me get to my point.  Last night’s protest rallies in West Hollywood and elsewhere did NOTHING to help the No on 8 cause.

    The election is OVER.  The ballots have been counted.  The “No on 8″ side lost.

    Sitting in a busy intersection, holding up traffic and waving signs from an election that’s past now doesn’t make people want to support you.  It makes people think you are a bunch of whiny crybabies with nothing better to do than to hold them up in traffic.  Which, as we LA folks ALL know, is sh***y without protesters blocking up the main intersections.

    So get over it.  Wipe your tears.  Get up and fight back. The RIGHT way.  The SMART way.  Don’t make your opponents so upset that they resent you.  That’s no way to “win friends and influence people.”

    You looked like a bunch of sissies in front of a big bully last night.  Seriously.  Do you WANT to play to stereotypes?  Do you think that’s anyway to bring people to your cause?  Sure it rallies people who agree with you, but the majority of Californians (at least according to the vote) probably thought it was pathetic and predictable from a “bunch of whiny sissies”…

    Last night’s protest here in New York appears to have been more dignified, but several essential problems remain:

    Mitchell Stout, 41, an actor from the Upper West Side, said, “We want to have the freedom and liberty to express our love for our partners the same way any American has.”

    One of the most pervasive beliefs about gays and lesbians is that we all suffer from arrested development and are driven by unexamined and unchecked emotions–we can’t deal with being told no by Daddy (either literally or as embodied by the state), and we deal with everything based on what feels good. When our most politically active men and women appear in public this way, all they do is reinforce that crap.

    Increased gay visibility was accomplished in the context of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when reflexive posturing against The Man was the order of the day among trendy liberals. Unfortunately, like other leftists–gay, straight, male, female, white, black, yellow, other–the loudest gay activists seem to be stuck in that mindset.

    Gays did not invent the entitlement mentality, we didn’t set it loose in the land, and given how many people just voted in Obama under the apparent assumption that he would make their kitchen-table problems disappear, we can hardly be considered its most egregious proponents. It may not be fair that we should have to work extra hard to combat that image, but it is a fact that any sensible, even-keeled person with a modicum of political savvy is aware of, even in California.

    Along the same lines, I have my doubts about targeting religious organizations in these contexts. Yes, the Mormons contributed a lot of money to supporting Proposition 8, and they probably seem like a good target for gay opprobrium because a lot of Americans regard them as a bit weird. And not nice to women. Still, such demonstrations have a way of looking like protests against the moral and spiritual ordering power of religion in the abstract, an effect that’s hardly counteracted by appeals to the Mormon history of polygamy (where are people’s heads?) and soppy invocations of a government-sanctioned contract as an “expres[sion of] love.”

    Once, convincing people that gay men and lesbians really did fall in love and form life-long partnerships was a real victory in and of itself, but the argument over marriage has evolved far beyond that point by now. As long as those against gay marriage are advancing sophisticated arguments about child-rearing and community building, its proponents are going to keep getting trounced when all they do is come back with effusions about love, prejudice, and ever-expanding rights.

    Of course, it’s possible that I should be grateful that the pro-SSM activists at least seem to inhabit Planet Earth, Year 2008. Eric posts about a group of gay anarchists who are operating in such a fantasy land it’s almost touching. Almost. Eric realizes that Bash Back is not representative of the gay mainstream, but his point–that tactics that alienate Middle Americans are a great way to foment a backlash–is well taken.

    Added later: I hadn’t noticed that Dale Carpenter had, naturally, posted about the first protests almost a week ago, too:

    Here’s my advice to righteously furious gay-marriage supporters: Stop the focus on the Mormon Church. Stop it now. We just lost a ballot fight in which we were falsely but effectively portrayed as attacking religion. So now some of us attack a religion? People were warned that churches would lose their tax-exempt status, which was untrue. So now we have (frivolous) calls for the Mormon Church to lose its tax-exempt status? It’s rather selective indignation, anyway, since lots of demographic groups gave us Prop 8 in different ways — some with money and others with votes. I understand the frustration, but this particular expression of it is wrong and counter-productive.

    Public protest against a constitutional ban on marriage for gay families is entirely justified. More than a mere vote, protests communicate intensity of feelings. They’re valuable in a democracy. Something incredibly precious was lost on Tuesday. Those who lost it should not be expected to go back quietly to producing great art and show tunes for everybody’s amusement.

    That via Jonathan Rauch at IGF, who wonders whether the protests aren’t nevertheless an encouraging sign.

    Added on 14 November while dressing for dinner: Have I linked enough people yet? Of course not! Robbie at The Malcontent weighed in several days ago:

    What is required in these protests is a target. But the very nature of identity politics precludes the two most obvious demographics who voted for the initiative – Hispanics and African-Americans. Could anyone imagine a parade of mostly white gays and lesbians descending on black communities and churches in protest? No, and those pushing the protests know that tactic would never fly in America.

    Why not go after Catholics, a demographic that supported the proposition with both cash and votes? First, because Catholics comprise roughly 25% of the American population. In addition, California is a heavily hispanic state, and hispanics are overwhelming Catholic. Would any smart GLBT organizer have their activists and supporters declare war on the Catholic Church and expect support from hispanics and a large portion of white voters? No, not even in that liberal state.

    This leaves us with the Mormons, the red-headed stepchild of American religion. Secularists think they’re crazy, and other Christian denominations believe they’re a strange, deviant cult. We need look no further than the Republican primary to see that liberals and conservatives strangely converge when it comes to a low opinion of the Mormon religion. Right out of the gate, the protesters have a target that will be left wanting of defenders. Furthermore, the actual numbers of Mormons in this country is rather low.

    They’re the safe target. The only target. The one target that invites almost no recrimination among a large swath of conservatives, liberals, the religiously devout, and atheists.

    What these protesters should be asking is how a small, out-of-state religious denomination blew them out of the water when the media, history, every celebrity living and dead, and the demographic majority was soundly on their side. What these protesters should be asking is what went so wrong with their campaign and message that they could barely corral even their fellow gays into the voting booths.

    I don’t know that I entirely agree about the Catholic part; anti-RC animus hardly goes unexpressed in gay circles, though it hasn’t really flared up since the AIDS protests a few decades ago. OTOH, this was a special case, given the California demographics Robbie cites. Happily, the demonstrations planned for tomorrow target political institutions.


    Interesting times

    Posted by Sean at 00:01, November 5th, 2008

    I’m a libertarian; I’m used to being unsatisfied with election results, even when the candidates I voted for win.

    I did not vote for Obama. I don’t agree with his policies, and I don’t sympathize with his view of the world. But most politicians, no matter what you think of them while they’re campaigning, have a way of turning into windsocks once elected. Time will tell what he does with the office. In a few months, he’ll be our president, and I wish him the best.

    Added on 5 November: I’m glad to see Connie and Dean posting them, but do people really need to be told these things? Reading the comments here, I guess so.

    A related point: I’m disturbed at the complaints that seem to imply that Obama was elected because of the media or his cult-creating mind rays. Yes, the media were shilling for him shamelessly. Yes, a lot of his most fervent admirers seemed to be working themselves into the sort of ecstasies that have no business surfacing anywhere outside church or a performance at the opera.

    But it’s our job as citizens to seek out information. Ours. Those who wanted to read his memoirs critically were able to do so. Those who wanted to find information about Bill Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge were able to do so. Those who wanted to know what the historical record says about social-democratic policy were able to do so. I’m not absolving CNN of its transgressions, only saying that it demeans our fellow citizens to imply that they needed to be spoonfed the truth. Some people are fully aware that Obama’s longer on charisma than on policy, and they hope that’s enough because they recognize that a lot of the most pressing issues of the day are going to have to go through congress anyway. Others decided that he would be the less deleterious choice in the long run despite disliking quite a bit of what he stands for. And finally, some people persist in believing that the Third Way will somehow work if we get it right this (twelve millionth) try.

    I don’t agree, but that doesn’t mean that large segments of the electorate were brainwashed by Wolf Blitzer and Andrea Mitchell. If we’re going to argue that people should be expected to earn their own way in society, surely we can expect them to use Google, on a terminal at the public library if necessary.

    Having now criticized my own side a bit, let me get back to the more fun project of criticizing the opposition. I agree that the election of a black president is a moving, historic moment. It was one thing to know that it was theoretically possible, because we all said that we were worried about policy and character and not skin tone. It’s another thing entirely to see America actually show that someone’s non-whiteness would not prevent his being voted in. It’s the difference between the hopeful belief that you’re good enough for your beloved and actually having your marriage proposal accepted. I get it. In and of itself, that’s a good thing. And this is an American election. so of course it’s American racial history that we’re using as context to judge it.

    At the same time, could we just every once in a while show some knowledge of the wider world here? Racism and ethnocentrism are the norm in human history, not some rebarbative Yankee aberration. The United States did not invent ethnic tensions, and it was not even the last country to outlaw slavery. To outsiders from nations that have traditionally been more ethnically homogeneous, our noisy, front-and-center conversation on race looks like unrest and a chronic inability to get along, but that’s exactly backwards. In America, arguing is what we do. Our periods of glazed-over gentility such as the 1950s tend to arise from external circumstances and be short-lived. American mouthiness and rough-and-tumble debate cause more immediate bruising, but they’ve helped us to advance organically through our racial and ethnic problems much better than the Europeans, Asians, and Africans that so many left-of-center people think we should be genuflecting to.


    Mental gymnastics

    Posted by Sean at 23:26, November 12th, 2007

    Rondi links to this piece by Bruce Bawer on “Norway’s answer to Ayaan Hirsi Ali”:

    Fortuyn’s murder should have put an end to the character assassinations of the advocates of freedom. Nope. Instead they’ve only grown more sophisticated. Nowadays when someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali assails Islamic fundamentalism, the clever thing to do is call her a fundamentalist–because she’s so uncompromising in her insistence on liberty, get it? In this spirit, a hijab-clad Dagbladet staffer compared Storhaug’s call for Muslim women to “take the hijab off and embrace freedom” to “the rhetoric of the bearded fundamentalists” – thus equating an advocate for the victims of forced marriage and honor killing with the perpetrators of these barbarities.

    As Dagbladet reader Hans-Christian Holm cogently put it, Norway’s media are engaged in “a sick tolerance competition, in which whoever tolerates the most intolerance wins, and the one who suggests that we perhaps should not tolerate so much intolerance is automatically branded as the most intolerant of all.” Storhaug’s own concern, as expressed in an email the other day, is that the relentless demonizing of persons like herself by those who are determined to suppress open liberal debate about these vital issues can only strengthen the hands of both right-wing nativists and Islamists.

    How difficult should it be to recognize that tolerance has to be reciprocal if a free society is to function? You can recognize people’s right to beliefs you find repugnant without recognizing their ability to force other people to bend to them. Or at least you should be able to.


    Like a little child

    Posted by Sean at 21:44, November 12th, 2007

    Eric posted yesterday about a case in southeastern Pennsylvania in which a newly married couple with problems asked successfully to have the marriage invalidated in court:

    In a York County case, a Common Pleas Court judge invalidated a 10-month marriage, finding that a friend of the bride’s who officiated at the wedding didn’t have the power to do so under Pennsylvania law even though he had been ordained online by the Universal Life Church. The judge ruled the friend didn’t qualify as a minister under state law because he had no regular congregation or place of worship.

    By 1885, Pennsylvania had clearly developed two types of marriage licenses. The first required a “minister of the gospel, justice of the peace, or alderman” to officiate. The other let a couple solemnize the marriage themselves (a self-uniting license) and register it with the county.
    Little changed until the legislature amended the law in 1953. While the law still allowed for both types of licenses, a reference to religious ceremonies was added to language describing who could obtain a self-uniting license. The law remains in effect.

    Since the commonwealth government is not the United States congress, I assume it has more leeway to limit freedom of religion; why it would want to do so in this context is beyond me, though. If you succeed in getting a marriage license, it seems to me, you’ve passed such requirements as the government deems fit. (Pennsylvania doesn’t even require a blood test, IIRC from hetero friends who have taken the plunge.) Who officiates, since legal marriage doesn’t require anyone to certify that you’re entering into the union mindedly or that you’re not likely to split up.

    Eric seems to feel the same; I like his idea for a new denomination, too:

    I think the sudden firestorm is grounded in the fact that ordinations can now be obtained online. Big effing deal. What makes one form of communication between humans more suspect than another? Suppose a religious-minded blogger decided to form the Divine Church of the Holy Blog, and decided upon a common set of beliefs, based on articulable principles known and understood and agreed to by all interested joiners. Why wouldn’t their congregation (“Holy Blogroll”) and place of abode be just as valid as any other? What business is it of the government to decide?

    I’ve been thinking about what makes a religion “legitimate” from a different angle over the last week or so, since a friend with whom I went to church growing up contacted me for the first time after a dozen or so years. I posted about this last week. Some consider the Worldwide Church of God a cult; others think it was a genuine Christian sect that got carried away on certain doctrinal points and was poisoned by a cabal of amoral leaders at the very top. (I’m speaking of the church up to about ten years ago; it’s now made numerous doctrinal changes that have brought it into line with mainstream evangelical Protestantism. I think. There’s something about converting to atheism that lessens your attention to theological points, so I may be overstating the case.) I think that this site does a real service in giving former members a place to read up on the inside dirt and share horror stories. The church was supposed to be the center of your life, and it’s perfectly understandable that many people who took that to heart have had real difficulties adjusting since leaving it.

    I do wish, though, that the people who posted were a bit more given to recalling that they freely chose to get involved with the WCG, in countries in which freedom of religion is protected. There’s a page that has a long, long, long list of bullet points for which the ministry ought to apologize—ways the enforcement of church doctrine and culture played havoc with people’s lives. Okay, point taken. But no one was forced at gunpoint to keep attending church, or to refuse to take her children to the doctor, or to fork over twenty percent of his gross income per year to church headquarters. Ministers are responsible for the destructive untruths they peddled, but they can’t be blamed for the unusual eagerness of many members to believe them. Much of the WCG membership comprised, in my experience, people who felt like misfits and were bad at running their own lives. My parents frequently had discussions with friends who were positively relieved to outsource their decision-making about jobs and marriage and childrearing to their pastors and church elders, even when the advice they were given flouted all logic and sense. With the exception of people who were brought up in the church and had been prevented by devout parents from ever knowing any other way of living, I find it difficult to view church teaching as something that was done to sympathetic, pure-of-heart dupes. Being weak-minded may help explain why you’re acting like a ninny, but it doesn’t excuse it.

    The couple in the York County case, similarly, was presumably aware of the difference between an experienced pastor of an established religion and a friend who obtained an ad hoc ordination as a clergyman. It’s ridiculous for them to argue now that they should be legally able to pretend it never happened just because they discovered too late that they weren’t compatible. I hope Eric’s right and that the current decision is “eminently reversible.”

    Added on 15 November: Blogger Ironwolf, who was brought up in the same church as I was, has posted about yet another lectern-thumper who wants us to know we’re all doomed. The specifics of how we’re going to fry aren’t all that interesting–social collapse, big-scary-nightmare empires established by the most populous Asian countries, nuclear holocaust–no one seems to bring much imagination to these things. (Just once, can’t one of these doomsayers jazz things up by predicting that the Satan will launch the End Times from, like, a village in Surinam?) I point it out only to give an indication of the sort of talk that was common coin at church services and among my parents and their friends when I was growing up.


    ノン気

    Posted by Sean at 22:46, September 24th, 2007

    Gay Patriot West takes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to task for claiming that there are no homosexuals in Iran. Well, he’s more taking gay and liberal groups to task for not calling BS:

    Yesterday, we had a lesbian claiming she had a little crush on this man who, even she acknowledged, would “probably have [her] killed” because he was so forthright in “calling out the horrors of the Bush Administration.” [Yeah, you know, if there’s anything it’s hard to find on the world stage, it’s a head of state who’s willing to score cheap political points off President Bush.–SRK]

    As bad as those on the gay left claim this Administration to be, it doesn’t execute gay people. Yes, we should fault the president and his team for failing to repeal the pernicious Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell Policy preventing gays from serving openly in the military and should take the president to task for endorsing the Federal Marriage Amendment. But, there is a world of difference between opposing gay marriage and open service of gays in the military and murdering gay citizens as matter of state policy.

    It’s amazing that some people on the gay left are so caught up with their hatred of Bush, that they refuse (or, are otherwise slow) to condemn the leader of a nation whose government does just that — murder its own gay and lesbian citizens.

    A good rule of thumb is that anyone from anywhere at all who says his country doesn’t have homosexuals doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Since I’ve been living in Tokyo, I’ve met guys from Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria out at the bars–all just as up on Britney’s new single and this season’s Prada as any fag in the Castro. One of the most annoying skeeves my friends and I currently run into is from–I’m not making this up–Papua freakin’ New Guinea. And as for Iran…ha! I can’t count the number of Iranian guys who’ve hit on me since I’ve been living in Tokyo.

    Now, yes, we can get into the usual tiresome identity-politics discussion of what exactly constitutes a homosexual. (And I might note that when I first arrived in Japan, people told me they didn’t have gays here, either, which has to be just about the most clueless thing I’ve ever heard.) But the men I’ve met from developing countries have mostly said something on the order of, “Well, sure, I’m married and have children. I have to be. My country is not America. Don’t get me wrong–I respect my wife, and I love my kids–but you don’t know how lucky you are to be able to have a partner.”

    BTW, I know it’s pointless to get exercised over this sort of thing, but why do people insist on being so idiotic?

    Protesters also assembled at Columbia. Dozens stood near the lecture hall where Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak, linking arms and singing traditional Jewish folk songs about peace and brotherhood, while nearby a two-person band played “You Are My Sunshine.”

    “You Are My Sunshine”? An allusion to Silverlake Life, maybe? But surely that would be way to esoteric for even a gay-friendly lefty audience to pick up on, especially when most of them were probably in second grade back then? Odd.

    Added later: I should have known Eric would have posted about this already:

    I’m not holding my breath either. Feminists who once condemned the veil now allow that it might be “liberating,” and gay activists in Berkeley dismissivly compared the systematic murder and torture of Palestinian gays to what “happens in every western society, including in San Francisco.” And what about the treatment of the murdered Pim Fortuyn?

    Maybe because I’m friends with a lot of Brits and Europeans, I still hear Fortuyn referred to pretty frequently. But Eric’s right that the gay left sure as hell hasn’t seized on the opportunity to hold him up as an example of how tragically gays can be persecuted.

    Added on 26 September: Naturally, one of Columbia’s gay groups has gotten into the act (via Eric). Andrew Sullivan reports:

    “We stand in solidarity with our peers in Iran, but we do not presume to speak for them. We cannot possibly claim to understand the multiple and diverse experiences of living with same-sex desires in Iran. Our cultural values and experiences are distinct, but the stakes are one and the same: the essential human right to express our desires freely. Moreover, we would like to strongly caution media and campus organizations against the use of such words as “gay”, “lesbian”, or “homosexual” to describe people in Iran who engage in same-sex practices and feel same-sex desire. The construction of sexual orientation as a social and political identity and all of the vocabulary therein is a Western cultural idiom. As such, scholars of sexuality in the Middle East generally use the terms “same-sex practices” and “same-sex desire” in recognition of the inadequacy of Western terminology. President Ahmadinejad’s presence on campus has provided an impetus for us all to examine a number of issues, but most relevant to our concerns are the complexities of how sexual identity is constructed and understood in different parts of the world.”

    Ahmadinejad was right, you see? There are no gays in Iran. Just ask the Queer Studies Department.

    Having spent my entire adult life toggling (not always successfully) back and forth between American English and Japanese, I’ll certainly agree that you have to be exceedingly careful when using words from one language and culture to describe abstractions in another.

    It’s the tone that’s grating: We Westerners, with our inadequate terminology and our resistance to examining deep “issues” unless a thugocrat shows up to give a lecture, just can’t understand how complex all those people from other cultures are. But if that’s the case, where does the CQA get off calling anyone in Iran its “peer”? The relationship between their sexual identity and their “same-sex practices” isn’t like ours, after all.

    Added on 1 October: Eric has still more reaction to the subject-changing debate that’s resulted from Ahmadinejad’s remarks:

    I’m sure that a good defense of the author’s thesis could be made too. In theory, I might be willing to venture such a defense, but I’m not about to take my cue from a murdering tyrant who believes in executing homosexuals — whether “homosexuals like in your country” or homosexuals like in his country.

    It’s a legitimate topic, but I think it’s rather unsettling to have to parse a murderer’s words and judge their theoretical meaning according to the trends of the latest Post Modernist jargon.

    Yeah, at least when the post-structuralist brigade was lining up to explain away Paul de Man’s pro-Nazi writings, it wasn’t discussing someone who’d actually presided over a murderous government.


    You scumbag, you maggot

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, March 7th, 2007

    For the first time in a dozen years, I woke up this morning wondering whether I was a faggot.

    See, Eric is trying to figure out what Ann Coulter’s explanation of her remark at CPAP would mean if applied consistently:

    At any event, it would seem that Ann Coulter is urging upon us the following, very novel definition of “faggot.”

    • Correct usage: a) a schoolboy who is considered by another schoolboy to be “weak or timid” and b) pretty much every Democratic politician — male or female, specifically including Hillary Clinton. (Um, does Bubba know?)

    • Incorrect usage: any homosexual.

    While I guess I should be glad that Ann Coulter has taken it upon herself to unburden homosexuals from the yoke of this rather unpleasant word (as well as change the word’s gender), there’s that stubborn common-sense part of me that just doesn’t quite understand.

    There was a time not that long ago when calling a heterosexual man a faggot was the worst insult you could bestow on him. It was considerably worse than calling him a “wuss,” and that’s because not all wusses are homosexuals. According to the popular stereotype prevalent at the time, however, all homosexuals were wusses. So, if you called someone a faggot, it carried extra weight.

    Now we are told it no longer does, because the word “faggot” does not carry the imputation of homosexuality. It only means “wuss” — and the “wuss” factor is completely detached from the gay factor.

    Hmm. Maybe I’m not the best judge, but I don’t think I mince or flounce or anything. And I think I’m good at facing problems squarely and doing what needs to be done about them. Does that mean I’m a homosexual non-faggot? I’m pretty sure that fantasizing about Bobby Cannavale makes me a homo; could the specific things I fantasize about doing with Bobby Cannavale push me back over the line into faggotry? Will I become a faggot again if I wear purple three days in a row (no difficult feat given my closet)? Does it matter whether it’s plum or lilac?

    This is all very disorienting, so to speak. Next thing you know, someone’s going to tell me I’m not actually a bitch.

    I never figured Coulter was anti-gay*. I have friends who’ve seen her out having drinks or dinner with prominent artfags, for one thing. And for another…well, generally speaking, a lot of loudmouthed, high-strung, unmarried urban professional women are fag hags. I’m pretty sure she’s against gay marriage and abolishing the DADT policy in the military, but those are specific policy positions, not overarching attitudes. Not that I gave it much thought.

    Now, of course, it’s suddenly become impossible to open a browser without encountering a solemn discussion of what exactly Coulter meant when she mentioned John Edwards and the word faggot in close proximity to each other. Her explanation strikes me as sincere. “You can’t understand the joke I was trying to make without bearing in mind that I operate at the developmental level of a second-grader” sounds about right, doesn’t it?

    So while I think she’s wrong about the way the word is used in contemporary American English by adults, I wasn’t particularly offended. I agree with Connie that fetishizing words is a bad idea, and I think it’s especially bad in this case. The last thing we need as gays is to look yet again as if we were easily-bruised creatures who need to be protected from hurt by big, strong, kind-hearted straight people. (See, for example, that letter a bunch of conservatives wrote in protest, as posted by Michael: “Coulter’s vicious word choice tells the world she care little about the feelings of a large group that often feels marginalized and despised.” Even conservatives are bleating about marginalization now? Ick. And people wonder why I cling to the designation “small-l libertarian”!)

    * We’re still allowed to use gay to mean “homosexual,” right? Or are we now to be treated to a revival of the pseudo-Mencken mewling that it’s some kind of crime against English expression that you have to find other ways to talk about the gamesome and happy-go-lucky nowadays?