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Whose Rights Matter

Religion and sex. It never fails. When these two forces meet, things are going to get sticky (if you’ll pardon the expression). Both are deeply ingrained in our lives, we don’t know how to talk about either of them, and they intersect at strange and discomforting places—just look the different ways we use the word “ecstasy”.

Unfortunately, unlike with sex, we have not yet come to a consensus that religion should be practiced only among consenting adults. Instead, we see an incessant drum beat from those on the religious right to force their morality on the rest of us. Among the stomach-churning aspects of yesterday’s Hobby Lobby decision is the glee that the right feels in being able to impose their religious practices on the rest of us. The basis of the lawsuit was the belief, ostensibly held by a corporate entity that certain types of birth control are, in fact, abortion, and that abortion is bad. Never mind that these beliefs are horseshit. This horseshit is tied up in their identity as Christian dead-enders, and maintaining that status priveleged in our society above all else. It is more important than womens health or emotional well being, more important true religious freedom (you know, the kind where others religious views don’t dictate your medical options), more important even than consistant application of the law (this ruling explicitly exempted medical procedures such as blood transfusions—you know, the kinds that 6 elderly male Supreme Court Justices might end up requiring—from being subject to the religious belief test).

Don’t take my word for it, though. They’ll tell you right to your face. Their true, deeply held religious belief is that you’re a slut and fuck you.

It’s all there in one gloriously sociopathic sentence. His religion (not religion in general, mind you. Specifically his religion) is the primary concern here. If some woman out there was having sex without his say so, then he might have his feelings hurt, and that is unacceptable. Better, then, to open the door to employers getting to determine how you spend your earned compensation. Your boss finds out you went to see raunchy rom-com over the weekend? Maybe they’ll dock you $10. Sound crazy? Well so does fighting your employees all the way to the Supreme Court just to keep them from accessing doctor prescribed health care that you find distasteful. But that’s just what happened. In America. In 2014.

Freedom From

December 4, 2013 Leave a comment

While I am rarely at my best beyond 140 characters, I thought I’d expand on some thoughts I tried to put together on Twitter earlier (you can read the original thread here. The discussion was about the importance of liberty, but I didn’t feel I was ever able to engage the topic. Before we could argue value of liberty, we had to agree on what it meant. That turns out to be surprisingly difficult in the space of a tweet.

It’s a slippery word. Like “freedom”, “liberty” is a noun. It is something you have. But while you have freedom to act a certain way, what do you do with liberty? You can be at liberty, but that makes it sound like a ballpark, a place you can visit but never reside.

So is liberty different from freedom? If so, in what way? For one thing, you can have freedom from as much as you can have freedom to. This is where conflicts arise. My freedom to can interfere with your freedom from. That’s the great challenge of a pluralistic society; how can we live free of hate, violence, even crippling poverty, while still allowing for the fact that sometimes people are not always going to get along? Liberty is constrained not just by oppressive government laws, but by inadequate school systems in black neighborhoods, by science and engineering programs that cater to young boys at their female classmates exclusion, by companies who sue the government for the right avoid paying for their own employee’s reproductive healthcare.

Clearly we’re not going to resolve that over Twitter. And that’s what I was getting at. Maximizing liberty means taking all of our freedoms into account, and making sure everyone’s voice is heard. It’s a hugely difficult balancing act, and it means that liberty and democracy really two sides of the same coin.

Categories: Politics

Some People Don’t Understand Free Speech

Being on vacation this week, I’ve mostly missed the hubbub surrounding Chick-fil-A’s anti gay stance. I did, however, read this article about the pro Chick-fil-A backlash in my neck of the woods. What struck me most was that so many people standing in line to support hate seemed to seriously believe they this was more of a matter of free speech.

“I’m here because (the owner) should have the right to say what he feels and not be chastised for that,” said Jean Matt.

Here’s the thing: that’s not how free speech works. In America, you DO have the right to say what you want, but you have to expect a reaction. That is how we function in a marketplace of ideas. You come out with something batshit crazy, I call you in it, and people line up along sides arguing the merits of our positions until the matter is sorted out.

If this gentleman truly valued free speech, he would have sent his $5.95 towards the ACLU. Unfortunately, we do live in a time where free speech is often under attack, and the ACLU functions as the first line of defense.

It is admirable to care deeply about the state of free speech in the world today. There are plenty of instances where it is in danger. But if the extent of your activism is to stand in line to buy a chicken sandwich (delicious though it may be), then it is time to think about what truly motivated you. You’re not standing up for speech. You’re standing up for hate.

Josh Marshall’s Semi-Modest Proposal

The fact is that mass disenfranchisement of voters is a true, on-going problem in our country. It’s time to raise awareness of this continuing injustice.

Every vote is sacred.

Categories: Politics

Consequences

February 25, 2012 Leave a comment

A lot of the dialog in the culture war lately has been about consequences. The idea of consequences was front and center in the recent debate about contraception. The idea is that people who make, shall we say, less than (small-c) conservative decisions should be forced to take their medicine, whether they like or not.

Jamelle Bouie flags a Washington Post blogger, Alexandra Petri, discussing a fatal episode of domestic violence  at the University of Virginia. She’s obviously disturbed by the incident, but doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a narrative that can explain what happen.

She argues that the system is to blame. It was too lenient. It let these kids think they could get away with murder.

This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life’s edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences.

The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times a week, where you can sleep with someone and he can come to the stand and say that you were just friends, and it can be true. It’s a no-man’s land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely.

[Accused killer] Huguely sent Yeardley Love, his girlfriend, a hand-written note saying that alcohol was ruining his life. He choked her. He threatened her.

Huguely’s friends said that at one point, they thought of staging an intervention because of his drinking. They didn’t. Why would they? They were college students.

It seems to me that the fact that this guy’s friends even considered an intervention means that they understood consequences. They realized that things were spiraling out of control. I’m sure they wanted to help but didn’t know how. After all, they were college students.

But I wanted to talk more broadly about how some people think of consequences. The idea is that every action has a predictable consequence that should not be mitigated. If you fuck, someone’s going to get pregnant and you should shut up and have the kid. If you drink, I guess someone will end up beating you to death? I’m not really sure where the Right is going with this.

My point is that of course we try to lessen the consequences of various dangerous activities. Negative consequences are bad and I don’t think we’re spoiling ourselves by looking for work arounds.

Think about the result of a car crash. It can be pretty catastrophic. That’s why we’ve built seat belts and air bags and the like. We want drivers to be safe, but ensuring the worst possible consequences for any failure is not the way to do it. We do not have a moral imperative to make cars unsafe.

The world is a complicated place. There are too many factors involved in any action to always be able to determine what the consequences should be. Of course, we need to consider the possibilities before we move. We need to think not just of ourselves but of those around us. But too many are still stuck in the puritan mindset that says the only way to keep people in line is through fear of fire and brimstone.

People make mistakes. Sure, society should try to prevent mistakes where we can, but there’s always going to be some asshole. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, and a lot of people get hurt. But that doesn’t me we shouldn’t be standing by to help pick up the pieces.

Categories: Politics, Religion

The Valentines Present

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Equality

Marriage is a horseshit institution. You may be reading this beside your loving spouse and wonder what I’m talking about. After all, you’ve got it pretty good. You’re living the American Dream. How can it be horseshit? Just look at the map above.

This is the an image of a coherent system. The problem is that any institution built on apartheid is broken. The system that doesn’t even intend to work for everyone is built on shaky ground. Today marriage is being used as a weapon against a whole class of people. It’s not the first time in history that this has happened, and I’m afraid it won’t be the last.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the ideal of marriage. Letting consenting adults partner up the way they choose seems to work for a lot of people, so it’s no surprise that those who have been so long disenfranchised fight so hard for equal footing.

And it was nice to see the New Jersey Senate make a symbolic gesture in this direction the day before Valentines Day by voting 24-16 in favor of equality.

Don’t start hiring florists just yet, NJ queer community. Governor Christie has promised to veto this. He’s terrified of being “The Republican Governor Who Gave Gays Some Rights” the way that Mitt Romney is “The Republican Governor Who Gave People Health Care”. That would mean losing a lot of supports in that part.

Let’s think about that for a moment. These are the people we’re dealing with. Those whose knee jerk inclinations are against equality and health care. They apparently also hate puppies and rainbows.

Here’s Christie’s thinking. A hot button referendum like this is going to unearth tons of voters who get off on voting against gay folk. While they’re out, they’re likely going to vote for the Republican guy running for President. If that guy wins, he owes Christie big.

If that guy looses, Christie gets to run in 4 years, and doesn’t have to worry about facing the mouth breathers who vote in Republican primaries as a guy who signed a Marriage Equality bill, which in that race is akin to carrying an autographed picture of Stalin.

So who knows where this is going to end up. You need 27 votes to overturn a veto. Either way, a bunch of politicians took a vote on what seemed like a hopeless issue and made a statement. Good for them. It was still the nicest Valentines Day present they could give, even to us who aren’t gay (or planning on getting married).

Update: The NJ Assembly has now voted for Equality, 44-33. Still not enough to override a veto.

Categories: Politics Tags:

Pussy Riot

February 8, 2012 1 comment

Love this story from about punk-feminist-performance-artists in Russia. Pretty sure NPR just aired it to see if they could get away with using the word “pussy”, but either way, it warms my heart to see pissed off punk rockers taking to the streets (or Red Square, in this case), turning their guitars all the way up and making a statement. Music will always be the best medium to get your voice heard over over the establishment. They may have the guns but we have the amplifiers.

Categories: Music, Politics Tags: , , ,

Our Broken Patent System Part XLXXII

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Technology is changing even our most mundane items. For instance, I’m pretty sure my stapler has Bluetooth now.

As people build on the available state of the art to give us ever newer and cooler things, we see time and again innovation being thwarted by patents. Our broken Intellectual Property system is effecting our lives more and more every day. Today it’s thermostats. Tomorrow it’ll be coffee pots with timers or cars that use a certain joint in their axle. New products are either being made more expensive due to outrageous licensing, or they’re being kept off the market to begin with because small companies don’t have the resources to navigate reams of patent law. The end result is we have to put up with crappier products.

Tell me again how patents incentivise innovation.

 

Hoosier Mate

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Parks and Rec Spoilers Below:

Amy poehler parks and recreation


Amanda Marcotte makes a pretty strong case that Parks and Rec has recently been laying off the subversive feminism it specialized in over the last couple of years. Ben has become a bigger part of Leslie’s life and has played the “knight in shinning armor” on more than one occasion. Where once our strong willed, independent heroine would have come through on her own, or (more often) by rallying her friends and coworkers to pitch in, now we see Ben more and more saving the day.

I can’t say I completely agree that we’re seeing the writers dumb it down. After some growing pains, I see Ben as integrating into Leslie’s team. She’s always had a tendency to get in over her head, and the show has been clear that it’s characters care about each other and are step in to help. Ben sacrificing his job to save Leslie, for example, is similar to her taking the fall for shooting Ron in the head. In the show’s world, these are the things you do for the people you care about. You could argue that it’s a trope the writers have returned to too many times this season, but I’m not sure it reflects a change in the shows point of view.

However, in a follow up post, she points to this week’s Operation Ann as the payoff of this new anti-feminist bent. She calls this episode a “fundamental betrayal of both the characters of Leslie and Ann and of the show’s quiet but persistent feminism they’re now selling down the river in a desperate bid for ratings. ” This is a serious accusation, and I don’t think the evidence warrants it.

To me, the question is whether or not the story stayed true to the characters. Were Leslie and Ann acting in a way we would expect their characters to act? This is a tough question because, over the course of 4 seasons, Ann has only every really existed in relation to the characters in the series. I’ve seen most episodes of this series twice now in the last two months (don’t ask) and I still don’t think I have a great handle on Ann Perkins. That’s problematic, but it doesn’t effect this argument. It’s been a constant of the show since day 1.

But we do know a little about Ann. Specifically about how her feelings of self worth are tied up in her relationships. She gets lonely and makes bad decisions. After breaking up with Mark, she kisses Andy. When Chris breaks up with her, she dyes part of her hair pink and flails about dating random men (after she considers moving). What Amanda sees as “having a fun time tearing through every dude in Pawnee” was really Ann’s reaction to being rejected. Remember that that storyline ended with her and Leslie’s first big fight as Ann decides to skip out on a job interview so that she can go on a date with a guy literally named “The Douche”.

So when Valentines Day comes, it doesn’t seem out of character for Ann to be a little bummed that she’s spending it alone. Even empowered women who realize that Valentines Day is horse shit can still find herself feeling down having romance thrown in her face constantly. This episode wouldn’t have worked if it were randomly situated in the season. But in context it makes sense.

I don’t know that Amanda’s correct in thinking that Season 2 Leslie would simply have given Ann the same speech she gave Chris and sent her on her way. We know that Leslie is a romantic at heart, and that she loves to meddle. To me, it’s totally plausible that after seeing Ann seem sort of lonely, Leslie would take it upon herself help Ann find a date, whether she wants it or not. Why didn’t Leslie treat Chris the same way? She’s not as close to him or as protective.

So Leslie puts the rest of her team on the case. They are each charged with bringing a single male friend for Ann, and of course each screw it up in their own unique way. When April suggests she try going on a date with Tom, the audience is as shocked as Leslie. But April’s reasoning makes sense. “[T]he whole point of Tom’s character” is not that he’s “an insufferable douchebag”. In fact, he’s an insecure but generally decent guy who often acts like a total douche as a defense mechanism. The show has often hinted that there’s a likeable guy underneath the cologne cloud. Ann (and the audience) want to see if there really is anything worthwhile to this guy.

In Season 3, Ann (sort of) almost set Leslie and Tom up. That didn’t work because Leslie would never have put up with Tom’s bullshit.

But Ann isn’t Leslie. She doesn’t see the world in quite the black and white way her best friend does. Whether you like the direction this storyline is going, it’s true to the characters. And hopefully, it’ll be funny too.

Worldwide SOPA

As I write this, SOPA is not yet law. It hasn’t even been voted on in Congress. Free speech advocates across the country have banded together to fight this bill. I’ve been planning a post on the particulars of the bill, but enough has been said over the past few weeks that I’m not sure what more I can add. Suffice it to say that I am against any attempt to treat people as felons for violating “intellectual property”. When ideas flow freely, we all benefit.

What scares me the most, though, is the way the idea of protecting IP at all costs has infected all levels of our government. Big Media is likely to be seen as holding the leash of government in the coming decade the way Big Oil was in the last. The State Department, for instance, is trying to bully our trading partners into accepting draconian IP protection that hasn’t even been able to pass in the US (yet).

If you’re reading this blog, you probably fall into the gaping chasm that many in our government labels “criminal”. What’s infuriating is that this criminalization of a large class of Americans is happening without what feels like a real debate. It’s conventional wisdom that something must be done, and that rather than heeding the advice of the experts, we should wield as large a club as our political capital will allow. Consequences be damned, something must be done now.

Of course, I think most Americans would say that the problem is overstated, to say the least. Rather than being a drain, the technology of the last 20 odd years has allowed creativity and entertainment to flourish (outrageous reality show of the week not withstanding).

Related reading: Dear Congress – It’s No Longer Okay To Not Understand How The Internet Works

Categories: Politics