Archive for the ‘Partisan Nonsense’ Category

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I Beg of You

2013.November.2

Ganked with permission@Anti_Intellect was talking to his people, so with his permission I decided to translate his message to people who share my identifiers:

Dear White folks: Stop undervaluing Black folks, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good.

Dear men: Stop undervaluing women, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely fragile.

Dear hetero people: Stop undervaluing LGBT* people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good at decorating.

Dear cis people: Stop undervaluing trans* people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely rare.

Dear liberals: Stop overvaluing Republicans/conservatives/Tea Partiers, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely powerful.

Dear Southern people: Stop undervaluing the complicated nature of history and science. Just stop.

Dear polyamorous people: Stop overvaluing monogamous people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely calm.

Dear people raised working class: Stop overvaluing rich people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good. And stop planning and voting as if you’ll be one any day now.

Dear people who are financially stable: Stop overvaluing poor people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely poignant in fiction. Their lives are real and it could happen to anyone.

Dear educated people: Stop undervaluing people without degrees, whether it is that they are uniquely evil or uniquely in control of their circumstances.

Dear non-religious people: Stop overvaluing religious people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely hateful, uniquely hypocritical, or uniquely unified.

Dear human people: Stop mis-valuing everyone who seems different from you, whether it is that they are uniquely evil, uniquely good, uniquely enlightened, or any more bizarre than yourself. We’ve all got too much work to do on ourselves to be worrying about everybody else.

Oh yeah, and stop mis-valuing yourself too. A small change will accomplish more than any big guilt-trip.

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How Dyadism Ruined the Best Moment at SexTalk

2013.February.12

Two weeks ago, Southwestern University hosted its annual Brown Symposium in Georgetown, Texas

– wait, let me highlight why this is interesting:

Last week, the oldest university in Texas hosted a symposium on sex, specifically how we communicate about sex.

And with a little help at home, I was able to attend. “SexTalk: A Symposium with Benefits,” was the most-attended Brown Symposium in memory, and the one most attended by Southwestern students. As easy as it would be to snark about how topics like “Discoveries of Inter-relationships in the Circumpolar North” or “The Music of Olivier Messiaen” should have been equally crowd-pleasing, I prefer to reflect on why this event was such a remarkable draw, for students and visitors alike. And that list starts with Dan Savage.

For the two of you who don’t already know (and even that’s probably inflating my readership a bit), Dan Savage is the nationally syndicated columnist behind Savage Love, a bawdy verbal romp that debuted with Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, over twenty years ago. From the beginning, the column has centered on hetero people writing in for sex and relationship advice from Dan Savage, who dispenses information and insults with a wink and a “fuck you” toward the stereotype of the sassy gay friend. Along the way, he has sprinkled in political, queer, and non-monogamous content: he coined the term “monogamish” to describe committed partnerships that include threesomes or other sanctioned dalliances and even leads Google searches with readers’ namesake for former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Many members of the audience were already fans of the column (as well as the podcast, which one friend has described as the only podcast she could listen to due to its superior production values). You know someone has attained iconic status when it feels awkward to only say the person’s first or last name. “Dan” sounds like a person, “Savage” sounds like a witness in a newspaper article, but “Dan Savage” is an entity. If you already knew about Dan Savage coming in, there’s a good chance his Q&A with a nervous SU graduate would only have confirmed what you already believed, good or bad (and depending on how far back you’d been reading). He took the stage second, after a sexologist/Unitarian Universalist minister‘s presentation on reconciling faith and sexuality, and framed himself as a gay nobody who just happened to become a champion of healthy sex and decision-making for all people. Savage Love, as he describes it, is written in the tone of a group of buddies who are sitting around being drunk and honest with one other (adding that his increasingly frequent appearances as commentator in mainstream news outlets are far less casual).

After the strained opener, the audience was invited to ask questions. They mostly furthered earlier topics (griping about our decidedly sex-negative governor, Rick Perry, for example). Then for the penultimate question, Eli took the mic.

(I should explain here that I know Eli… sort of… in that way that the Internet and huddled interdependence can make it difficult for sex-positive activists to NOT vaguely know one another in this state. I believe we were briefly Facebook friends due to some Austin project that never quite took off. If memory serves — and it may not — Eli identifies as genderqueer, but will accept “trans man” if a label is absolutely necessary; to be safe, I’ll tell this story using Eli’s conveniently short name instead of pronouns.)

Eli was the first questioner to be nervous, but also the first to ask anything controversial. In a rambly, somewhat accusatory tone, Eli braved the room to ask Dan Savage about certain patterns of insensitivity. The points were familiar to anyone who’s already seen sex-positive folks roll their eyes over Dan Savage: transphobia, bi-erasure, and general prejudice against queer identities that are far removed from his own (for the record, Dan Savage is a white, married cismale, quasi-monogamous, and the toppy-er partner). Dan Savage had briefly touched on this reputation already, but Eli’s question was far from moot; Eli even cited an earlier crack about a young lesbian having a Justin Bieber poster on her wall as an example of his disregard for effeminate men.

Dan Savage’s response was more rambly than I would have expected, but still calm and respectful toward Eli. He welcomed the concern and reiterated that Savage Love has the tone of a drunk group of friends at the root of its coarseness and its slang, but also its honesty. (Personally, I think Dan Savage’s detractors might be less critical if this were stated in the column’s header, but I’m sure there would be other drawbacks.) He talked a little about how much things have changed for him and the column over its life, but without many specifics. He rambled about his love of effeminate men (such as his husband), which got a lot of laughs but sounded just a little like, “My best friend is black, so I can’t be racist.”

Now, from this point forward, I must apologize for having an even fuzzier memory than usual, but two separate phenomena were taking shape. Positive debate has been on my mind a lot (and it’s no secret I’m skeptical of confrontational structures and dependent upon a minimal amount of affirmation in my activism), so I chose to focus not on the discussion between Eli and Dan Savage, but on the audience’s reaction to it.

We were in a large auditorium, with several hundred people on the floor and plenty more up on a balcony I couldn’t see over. Eli stood in a side aisle, about three-quarters back from the stage; most of the audience had to turn around to see Eli and did so politely at first. When Eli began to speak again, though, much of the crowd bristled.

Eli pressed further, a little more steady this time, saying something about hostility and dismissal toward trans issues. I felt that Eli’s concerns were better stated, but that the audience was less interested; either the crowd of Dan Savage fans felt Eli had already been rebuffed by Dan Savage’s mere awesomeness, or maybe Eli’s point was hitting too close to home. By the time Eli’s two or three sentences were complete, only a handful of people were still looking directly at Eli, and this is where I bristled. The vast majority of the audience had faced forward, literally turning their backs on Eli: half were looking toward Dan Savage on stage (many incredulous, as if to say “Can you believe this person? Don’t they know who you are?” and others just kind of staring blankly), and the rest looked at their feet, their notebooks, anywhere but back at Eli.

Dan Savage, too, got more articulate in his next response, especially regarding his treatment of trans issues. He assured the audience that over the more than two decades of the column, he has learned and grown with the help of critical readers. He also pointed out that he’s never relied solely on his own opinion and frequently brings in experts to check his work or even do it for him; sometimes they disagree with him, but he prints the full exchange anyway. He pointed out that he was tagging in Buck Angel and Kate Bornstein to comment on trans topics 15 years ago, long before anyone else had ever heard of them.

By this point, I think most of the audience members considered Dan Savage to have “won”, and there seemed to be more than a couple of smug smiles facing the front of the room. I detected that Eli and Eli’s allies (few in number, but easy to spot because they were still looking at Eli) were listening intently, and that some of their agitation had melted away. Unfortunately, everyone else was just waiting for the discomfort to pass like an argument over family dinner.

Dan Savage continued that, as an advice columnist, he must work with the questions he receives and that he sometimes eliminates relevant letters because they include language he knows will be too offensive. However, he emphasized, there are not always polite terms for sexual acts and identities that are bold and controversial to the mainstream. Using existing slang gives Dan Savage the freedom to talk to people where they live; as he eliminates slang from inclusion, he must sometimes also eliminate the perfectly reasonable discussions that could come from that slang. The direct consequence of this is that people who don’t know how to write about trans issues consciously enough to be included don’t get included at all, and fewer trans discussions take place than in the past.

In the end, Dan Savage and Eli agreed that Eli could write in and encourage others to do the same. Now this wasn’t a perfect answer, but it was a good answer, and Eli and Eli’s allies were both heard and attentive; maybe I’m being idealistic here, but it seemed like the exchange closed on a mutually respectful note. I felt some of Dan’s answers were a tiny bit derailing, but then I also wondered if Eli might be spoiling for a fight instead of a discussion. I felt like neither was as articulate as they could have been, but they were both being honest and human and, despite the tension in the room, respectful. Most of the audience missed this moment of subtle peace, particularly those who had already decided Dan Savage had “won” (which he hadn’t). That the conversation ended so well was, to me, a testament to their both wanting not to win, but to find a stronger path forward. Everyone who was still paying attention really seemed to come together during this final point; unfortunately, that portion comprised only a fraction of the total audience. It served as a demonstration of how much tone matters and a reminder of how few of us have the courage to sit through awkward, non-competitive conversations — even when they take us someplace better.

I love this kind of dialogue just for existing. I guess it’s fitting that in the time since the Symposium, I’ve been mulling over this piece, by a prominent advocate for marriage equality who managed to befriend Dan Cathy of hate-nugget fame. Like the discussion between Dan Savage and Eli at Southwestern, it is a bit unfocused and inkblotty, allowing readers to reinforce preconceived notions about the parties involved. But agree or disagree, I don’t see a lot of credit going to people who stand up before their allies and say, “Hey, maybe we need a new perspective.”

Now, I’m not a journalist (repeat after me: “Blogging is not journalism.”), but if I were, I would have followed up the Dan Savage/Eli story with research. I would have talked to Eli over the lunch break or in a subsequent interview to find out whether Eli was happy with the exchange. I would have reached out to Dan Savage for comment. I would have obtained a video of the discussion so I could parse out every word. Perhaps I would have looked for other examples of hero worship getting in the way of good discussion or activists whose messages and methods weren’t always in obvious accordance. But I’m just a part-time writer on a nearly quixotic search for better questions and better communication.

It invigorates me to see people discuss an issue beyond some ideological “victory”, but three quarters of the room at Southwestern had no interest in such matters. When I found not so much as a tweet about the exchange, I started wondering if  there might be some conflict avoidance inherent in red-state progressivism. Since many of us (especially allies with little-to-no queer identity) band together in little bubbles, face-to-face activism is both rare and optional. It’s primarily online or in groups. We don’t have to change anyone’s minds, just sit safely at home, secure in the knowledge that we are right.

We tell one another boogeyman stories about how unsafe we are in this state, but we are given a lot of choices and we don’t choose what is difficult or unpopular nearly as often as we’d like to think. We tell ourselves it’s braver to leave what we know and go to liberal oases (Austin, Seattle, DC…) than to stay and live openly as peace-loving, radically inclusive, judgment-defeating neighbors and citizens. How many of us would call out a stranger for saying something offensive or untrue? How many of us leverage our privilege to challenge others where they live? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making choices to avoid conflict (I’ve made them myself), I just don’t want us to fool ourselves. Engaging the issues is not the same as engaging a person, and I suspect that’s a flaw in the system that everyone is happy to ignore. I want to out that this freedom to choose is a privilege, and that quietly choosing between pre-drawn sides reinforces not only the powers that be, but the structures that cycle that powers without transformation. Change still happens, but it is slow. Can we say we know for certain that participating in a movement is easier and more effective than engaging in dialogue with those who disagree with our worldview until we’ve actually tried? Can we say for sure that there even is a movement if we don’t all take such action?

When we approach any discussion looking for an automatic winner and loser, the question I have to ask is, “Why?” My theory: conflict avoidance so pervasive that we lose the ability to see dialogues at all, that we eventually only see debates. Better to be part of an unpopular throng than standing alone somewhere in the crossfire, I guess.

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Ranty McRantenstein

2010.August.23

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

Politics has been particularly upsetting lately. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t really want to write about it. Well, nothing particularly useful, anyway. So, in that vein…

I’ve had it with social conservatives. If they don’t appreciate what freedom of religion in this country gives them and they can’t share with everyone else, the motherfuckers can all try and practice their religion in Iran. It’ll be cheaper for the rest of us to evict them and pay for their relocation than it will be to continue to fight their senseless wars. And Hell, even the Supreme Court of MEXICO has upheld same-sex marriage as a right. Fucking MEXICO, people! One of the most Catholic nations on the planet understands separation of church and state better than Americans do.

I’m sick of Libertarians, too. The Market is not some magical force that can fix everything. In fact, left to their own devices, markets have been responsible for and/or supported some of the worst things that people do to one another (let’s start with slavery and go from there). Also, you stupid motherfucking twats, just because you were born with enough privilege to pull yourselves up from nothing (And your idea of “nothing”? Not even close.) doesn’t mean that everyone else in this country is. On paper the opportunities may be equal, but it’s far past time to take off your blinders and see what things look like in practice.

I’m sick of the Republican party pandering to the social conservatives and other various nutjobs (yes, I’m looking at you, Teabaggers). How the fuck hard is it for you to grasp the idea that you’re supposed to be helping the country, not wanking over bikini/rifle pictures of Sarah Palin?  Keep trying to hold back progress and progress is going to squash you like the insects you are.

I’m sick of the Democrats and other liberals being such cowards. Why is the US (supposedly the greatest nation on Earth) always the last to take care of its own people? Where’s our version of universal health care? Where are you on getting all of us equal rights and privileges? Quit cock-gobbling the lobbyists and do what’s right for the people for a change. Oh. That’s right. That won’t get you re-elected. I just have to ask, “If it’s the right thing, who the FUCK cares?” If you can’t grasp the gravity of that, go simper somewhere else. Like Nevada. Prostitution is legal there, so you should have no trouble at all earning a living.

Oh, and all this illegal immigration crap is beyond disgusting. It’s a bunch of white people trying to protect their privileged status as the majority. You know what? Every last person who thinks that illegal immigration is the problem should be doused in napalm and set on fire.  It’s not the problem, you puss-dripping cocks, it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of the economy in Mexico (and other places) being even  shittier than ours. It’s a symptom of businesses who think they’re above minimum wage and worker safety law.  It’s also a symptom of a legal immigration path that can take in excess of 20 years to process a simple application. We could build Fortress America, and people would still figure out how to get in if the problems that lead to the symptom of illegal immigration aren’t fixed.

You know what else pisses me off? Our schools. Yeah. Exactly what this country needs is more mindless automatons. This is one of the many things that’s led to our economy being crap, our government being dysfunctional (at best), and has supported the gradual loss of individual liberty. But they’re doing their job right now, I’ll give ‘em that. We’ve got a huge workforce of complacent and compliant workers.  So many we don’t know what the fuck to do with them all.  It’s our just deserts for not encouraging innovation and imagination and for allowing politics to determine curriculum.

But wait! There’s more!

The whole WTC/Mosque flap is another great big steaming pile of racism. Something like 84% [editor's note: Gallup polled 68% nationwide] of the population oppose the location. Well, you shining nuggets of shit, the site is a full two NYC-sized blocks from the (16-square-block) WTC complex. It’s being built on private property with private funds. It’s not just a Mosque, but also a community center. Some of the higher-ups involved with the project have even openly cooperated with the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yep. Let’s demonize and dehumanize the enemy and then pretend we didn’t know better when average people start taking matters into their own hands.

Then again, maybe we should just start rounding up all the Muslims and Mexicans and putting them into camps like we did with the Japanese immigrants in WWII. Oh. Wait. We already tried that (with the Muslims, anyway). Shrub/Chimpy (the guy who spent 8 years with Cheney’s arm up his ass running him like a puppet) didn’t get all that far on that one, did he? Maybe there’s still some hope for the masses, after all…

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Dr. Laura: Read the Constitution

2010.August.20

Dear Esteemed Doctor:

How fares your research into the effects of insulin on 3-0-methylglucose transport? Well, I hope. I understand if you haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to it since you’ve been busy the last few decades taking radio by storm, but I am not so cynical as to figure someone of your stature would ever advertise her PhD without maintaining some connection to her thesis. (Plus, as I understand it, the California Board of Behavioral Science Examiners frowns on counselors using the title without a degree in psychology.) I look forward to reading more, whenever you can get around to it.

I hear you’re having a rough time of it right now, what with every politically correct, language-policing liberal in the country denouncing your recent use of the “n-word”. Well, I’m not here to do denounce your show — I always enjoy a good laugh. In fact, this situation reminds me of a cartoon I saw in a magazine once (I’m pretty sure it was one of my step-dad’s Playboys from years ago; don’t hold it against me, I was so young and curious!): two men are talking at a dinner party, and the guy speaking is casually holding a drink and pointing his finger while saying, “The way I see it, the Bill of Rights cuts both ways. The First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, but the Second Amendment gives me the right to shoot you for it.” Hilarious! Oh man, I still laugh every time I think about it.

I want you to know that, like such luminaries as Voltaire and his friends, the Supreme Court of the United States, Charlton Heston, and that guy in the Playboy comic, I stand 100% behind your right to express yourself openly. I applaud your candor and your willingness to “say the wrong thing”, which is — truly — a tenet of my life. Unlike many other couch-commentators, I have actually listened to the show in question (available here on video and transcript) and noted that you never once used the n-word against anyone, but instead only quoted what you have heard from some rather explicit comics on HBO. (And isn’t HBO the standard to which we should hold society’s greater good? I mean, it’s not just television.)

So far as I can tell, you were — in your own, special way — trying to approach the painful and epic history of racism in America from a place of heartfelt reason. You were trying to ask a highly charged question that deserved careful, thoughtful consideration and long, contemplative discourse, wherein we spend more time listening to the experiences of those different from us than we do talking about our own, and that takes courage. Sure, you asked the question point-blank, with a raised, accusatory voice and a finger on the “drop-call” button, and without one of the nuances I above endorse, but you did raise them and I thank you for that. You went on to apologize for hurting people with the utterance and for not offering the caller help with her problem, and I congratulate you for recognizing how the conversation could have been handled better, albeit after the fact.

But despite your resoundingly adequate handling of the matter up to that point, I simply cannot stand by the follow-up appearance on Larry King, wherein you announced that you will soon end your radio program. I must protest the devastating impact this announcement is having on our country and our culture.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no strong opinion about whether you continue your radio show (it is, after all, a free country). However, I must protest because in your reasons, you perpetuated a common myth in our American culture that needs to be corrected. Sadly, someone must serve as an example to others.

See, check this out:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now, the rest of that stuff is pretty controversial itself, so let’s just focus on the parts about free speech:

    Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech [...].

Fucking A! That’s a good rule! Man, I love that rule. Thanks to that rule, I can get away with saying anything from “Fucking A!” to “George W. Bush Loves Dick!” to “Obama is a gingerbread man destined to be consumed by the nation he would save!” no matter HOW profane they seem. Ergo…

Under the First Amendment, any American (and most any visitor) has the right to:

  • Have any opinion about anything.
  • Express any opinion publicly.
  • Present a falsehood or misconception as fact (think misleading advertising… doesn’t it just make you sick, Doctor of Physiology Laura?).

Of course, this amendment only explicitly applies to Congress (not the Executive or the Judicial Branch, which regulate the notable exceptions for public safety, sworn oaths and testimonies, obscenity where there might be children around, etc.); an eroding distinction has been made between personal speech and commercial speech, but you’d have to go back for a J.D. to navigate those waters. Also, and this should be obvious but isn’t, don’t just assume you can invoke your First Amendment rights in another country…

But, here’s where it becomes relevant to you, Doc…

What the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee Americans:

  • That anyone will listen to you.
  • That you can make money by virtue of having or stating an opinion.
  • That someone else won’t exercise their free speech to disagree with you.
  • That you won’t say anything stupid.
  • That forces outside the government (such as public opinion, cultural progress, scientific evidence, advertiser dollars, your own guilty conscience, or the bigwigs overseeing your contract) will back you up if you say something stupid.
  • That you can say something stupid and avoid facing any consequences (e.g., social, political, or financial — you’re still covered for legislative, though!).
  • That your perfect PR apology for the stupid thing you said will be accepted and the whole matter forgotten by the offended party/parties.
  • That — outside of Congressional abridgement — some person or persons won’t take issue with the stupid thing you said and publicize / denounce / protest / boycott / demote / reschedule / fire / otherwise embarrass your dumb ass for saying it.

So, you see, when you said you were leaving radio to “regain [your] First Amendment rights”, you were doing a rather unpatriotic disservice — to yourself, to our Constitution, and to the civic understanding of the thousands of American children whose parents force them to listen to you — by encouraging bad information.

By invoking the First Amendment, you have placed the blame for your present predicament on Congress. Instead, I think you will find our polarized political culture offers you two ready-made scapegoats: the dehumanization of corporate Capitalism or oversensitive Black People. Just remember to choose one, stick with it, and don’t get them confused; we certainly wouldn’t want you to accidentally denounce the dehumanization of Black People! Boy, that would be embarrassing!

Now, I probably sound like I’m being a little harsh, but I need you to know that you are not alone in this misunderstanding. Liberals who denounced Bush, conservatives who denounce Obama, the poor over-moderated members of Internet community boards across the country, and plenty of Hollywood visionaries have made the same mistake. Maybe they’re using the Constitution as a metaphor, but I suspect most of them are just plain wrong.

The uproar over your comments, while unpleasant, was no more a violation of your First Amendment rights than your repeated interruption of the caller, ranting, and abrupt hang-up were a violation of hers. You yourself have decried the quality of education in this country; set an example and read up about from whom the constitution protects us. Maybe if more people understood our Constitution better (I’m pretty sure we all learned it in high school, but sadly we live in a culture where it is all too easy for facts to be overwritten by beliefs), we could get back around to meaningful conversations about the roots of such controversies.

Why is the n-word standard applied unevenly? Is the U.S. generally insensitive or overreactive about race? Is it possible to be both? Is the media’s coverage of racism just a little too much like wind applied to fire: whether blowing it out, spreading it around, or just making things miserable with a lot of hot air?

It could have been a good conversation.

Instead, what we heard was you and the caller getting defensive as soon as the n-word was out there (quite a Pandora’s Box, isn’t it?) and legitimate questions from both sides being buried in the most common reflexes to these situations: anger and self-righteous vitriol. At that point, no one can go on to win the argument, but those of us who’d like to see a thoughtful discussion definitely lose. Congratulations, you are now the proud host of every other political call-in show on the air! May your conversations be just as successful and productive as the legendary Crossfire!

Whatever you do next, I hope you will never hold back your earnest thoughts, so the dialogues can always be honest, the reactions passionate, and the deserts just.

Good luck in your future endeavors!

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Dear Obama: Eat a Cheeseburger

2010.August.15

Dear Mr. President:

I think it’s awesome that you have come out openly in favor of the Islamic center in downtown New York City and that you held a dinner honoring the first night of Ramadan.

But if you want to head off the resurgence of “Obama is a Muslim” BS that will necessarily come from these public displays of tolerance, you have got to do the following:

Schedule a daytime lunch outside the White House. Don’t announce it, don’t make a big to-do, just carve out some time for you and some food. Walk if you can, it’s good for you. Go for fast food, the greasier the better. President Clinton liked the McDonalds on 17th, but I recommend the Burger King at K and 16th. (There are also innumerable greasy spoons tucked away in the office buildings around the area, but the security would be a nightmare.) Choose on the spot, so they don’t know that you’re coming. Order a small bacon cheeseburger. “Have it your way”, but the bacon is the most important part. Fries are optional.

Now take your deliciousness out to Farragut Square. I think there’s a Rolex store around there somewhere with a big clock in the window. Stand in front of that window (also close to the Farragut North Metro Station) in broad daylight, with the clock behind you (and maybe a copy of today’s Washington Times just to be safe), and you eat the hell out of that cheeseburger. Pull off a strip of bacon and eat it with your fingers, then lick them like there aren’t a million people watching. Give a big thumbs up to the crowd as the latest Metro train unloads. If the press show up or anyone asks for comment, tell them it’s important to eat well, but once in a while you just need a fast food fix.

Not only will it help your standing with the set of Americans who love to bowl to show how much you enjoy the odd cheeseburger (BTW, don’t ever bowl again in public. Nor in private, for that matter. Somehow, I doubt that will be a problem.), it will also serve the health of our nation (without subverting capitalism) to point out that such deliciousness is okay to be enjoyed in moderation.

But the most important part is the bacon. Eating in the daylight (and eating bacon no less!) will be a gentle message to reg’lar Americans that just because you’re down with respecting the faith of Muslims in America and across the globe, it doesn’t mean you yourself pray to the east. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about extremists perverting the Koran and Islam being a religion of peace and people will be skeptical because most people don’t know much about Islam.

But anyone who knows anything knows that Muslims do not eat pork and they do not eat in the daytime during Ramadan, their holiest month.

Should anyone try to question the display, just point out that, clearly, they don’t know anything.

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Our Political Atmosphere: How Bad Is It?

2010.July.28

So bad that fear of one’s opponents is a faster motivator than those opponents themselves.

The short version is that a Black nonpartisan federal employee was caught on video saying something that sounded racist against Whites and was fired almost immediately, only for word to later come out that the video had been edited to place her comments in antithetical context to their personal-triumph-over-racism origin. Partisan officials from the top scrambled to apologize and offer the woman her job (or better) back.

So what role did partisanship play in the whole fiasco? Ironically, only the partisans are really talking about this, and you’re not going to get much of a straight answer out of either side.

Of course, liberals are pointing fingers at conservative media (e.g., Fox News). The NAACP (not staunchly liberal, but let’s say sympathetic; they were implicated because it was at their event that the video was shot) declared “we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias … we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”

Conservatives rebut this by pointing out that Fox barely had time to mention the video before the woman was forced into resignation. The Tea Party activist who first posted the edited video has refused to apologize, swearing up and down that the video was already edited when he received it (source unknown).

Media sources that attempt to be nonpartisan are just shaking their heads going, “WTF?” because those who bought the story gave it legs and those who didn’t only avoided doing so because they weren’t fast enough. The old UPI motto “Get it first, but get it right” is clear in its structure about which half is the priority and which is the caveat.

Ugh. This is our politics. Just makes you want to burst into patriotic song, doesn’t it?

I watched a little of the ensuing tennis match between Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly earlier tonight. I laughed with Rachel and cringed at Bill like I was supposed to (grouse though I might about partisanship, I do tend to sympathize with those who tout social justice over corporate interests), but it felt rather distant from reality. There was one very meta moment wherein Rachel was speaking alongside a monitor displaying Bill, who in turn was shown alongside footage of Rachel… it was like looking at a reflection of a reflection of a reflection (AKA an “infinity mirror”)…

I was left feeling a little empty. I didn’t gain anything from watching this display, and I doubt Rachel or Bill or anyone on either of their staffs learned during those 5… 10… 30… however many minutes this volley will go on. The whole story seems to be showing us an ugly underbelly of politics and media, even as it is exploiting it, without offering any solutions or hope for improvement.

There have been some oblique references to how journalists should check their sources, but aren’t we at least past the point of confusing “commentators” with “journalists”? Just clarifying the difference between news for the sake of news and opinion posing as news for the sake of entertainment posing as political involvement would go a long way toward a calmer, more rational political climate for all sides. There are commentators trying to be journalists and journalists trying to be commentators, but a real newsperson isn’t going to have his or her name ahead of the word “News” in the title of a program. Instead of everyone saying, “Those journalists should have checked their sources!” how about we ask how and why journalists, commentators, the NAACP, and the freaking federal government could get so invested in a story without checking their sources?

How about the liberal commentators and officials check their sources, even now, and recognize that while, yes, Fox News and their allies have created an intimidating news environment, in this case they were behind the curve. Just because officials feared their backlash doesn’t mean the backlash had actually begun. While their at it, liberal and non-partisan officials need to grow a spine and not jump to defend themselves against every little attack. And liberal commentators who nightly denounce ideologues like Bill O’Reilly for being caustic blowhards need to not get involved in tit-for-tat, self-referential reporting, lest you become blowhards yourselves! (Oops, too late.)

And conservatives, who are more or less faultless in this one incident (congratulations, your seeds of self-destruction have been sewn quite well in the opposition), need to recognize that playing the frothy underdog for ten years has only made them bitter and lightning rods of fear (both felt and inspired). If they want to defend this country so well, they need to let go of the most extreme rhetoric and sit down and have a conversation with their enemies once in a while. Maybe then they can see we’re human beings, too, we’re Americans, too, and that somewhere between us is the path to a successful America.

Or that, at the very least, people look very different when not viewed through a reflection of a reflection of a reflection…

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Texts from the Shore (Well, the Edge)

2010.June.27

[Pre-convention workshops]
I’m getting breakfast, running late, not caring.
(Have fun with the Dems and keep me posted.)
You know I will. ;) Did I tell you yesterday the vet band narrator asked that we all “celebrate” the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War?
(Um, no. I’m sure he meant commemorate. Oh words. They are so silly the way they mean things. ;) ) [from my budding co-blogger, AriseKraken]
Ann Richards sticker on a PT Cruiser, which postdated her career and possibly her life [nope, there was a 7-year overlap].
[Yesterday, passing through Victoria, I saw a circa-1960 Cadillac complete with a retro Kennedy/Johnson sticker.]
And it’s raining just a tad to welcome me!
Texas Freedom Network event on textbooks bigger than their space, which is awesome! And a little sad that more can’t sit in.
I got signed up for convention texts somehow… Most of them aren’t announcements but meaningless polls, whose results will only be announced next week. Techfail.
I’m wearing my NGLTF T-shirt. Got me thinking… how interesting that to Queer Liberaction, Stonewall is stodgy, but here, they seem young and radical.
(They should have planned better for the textbook thing. I think it’s a huge thing this year.)
I’m glad to see it; hope TFN benefits long term.
I hear a choir downstairs, don’t know whom. Think I’m going to read before I head over to the arena.
Reading The Count of Monte Cristo may be bringing out an unusual curtness in me, for which I apologize.
You always have a choice, even if it’s not one you consider reasonable.
Thinking about the act of denouncing others… I know for my book it will do no good to call people racist, but through storytelling I can inspire reflection which basically makes it allegorical use of history. And isn’t allegory what made Jesus so effective?
(I’ve been having similar thoughts, though less global. Too much to explain in text, but I don’t think calling people out does much good.)
I’m not comparing myself, just seeing I’m not original.
(Jesus probably wasn’t original, either. ;) )
We should reflect on that some time…

[Convention reconvenes and Linda Chavez-Thompson speaks]

Program about to begin. “Turn off cells.” Ha!
Last song on speaker: “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. Is jealousy really a good theme for the party not in power?
(Is jealousy really a good theme for anybody?)
I’m no theist, but I really liked today’s invocation–by yet another Al Green.
Anthem was awesome, but she forgot “through the per’lous fight”.
People are really slow coming in. Also wondering if all cameramen are atheists, since they don’t stop working during event prayers. What a fascinating situation.
I’m glad not many people bought the authentic custom Democrat plastic clappers. They would have gotten old quick.
“How many zeros in $19 billion deficit? Eleven if you count Perry and Dewhurst.”
(Is this session the only thing today?)
There was training earlier, but this is it. Last night was mostly a rally. Today is more business. Should be out around 3 or 4, then I’m hitting the beach.
Laredo and south San Antonio have lost their last bookstores. :(
Middle class pre-k kids average 13 books per kid. Low income kids average 300 kids per book.
“Republicans called Latinos their children. Someone should call CPS! You can stuff a jalapeno in a pig, but that doesn’t make it a chorizo!”

[Electing a State Chair]

Executive Committee picks one male and one female from each district. Trans erasure much?
Farouk Shami elected to it: he’s a former gubernatorial candidate and haircare millionaire. Rumor has it Perry uses his products.
They’re handing out stickers for a chair election taking place in ten minutes that has no chance of being close. Just seems wasteful. I can’t believe how much is spent on that stuff.
…And it’s going to be a roll call vote, most tedious kind. Every single delegate must be counted, incomplete delegations prorated. Dems not known for their mad math skillz.
It just kills me because the contender’s going to lose and it’s very dog-and-pony.
The challengers are always shrill.
My group is ready to vote before they’ve even spoken. Hate this part.
Only time all day people won’t applaud politely [well, at least until the Texas Two-Step came up...]. I want to back an upstart, but have to admit the slate is good under current chair. Should vote on this in December, after the election.
Challenger backing both “longtime office holders” and new recruits. This guy should run for something smaller. I don’t think he’s got any experience.
For the incumbent: “We need public servants, not politicians.” Also pointing out getting rid of Craddick and winning races like Wendy Davis‘.
Gotta admit, I thought 7 minutes would be a farce, but I’d say it gave the challenger enough rope with which to hang himself.
I love my old bookstore manager. I swear he was one of maybe two to vote for the challenger in our district. He’s way more quixotic than I’ll ever be.
Wonder what our Executive Committee representative is telling the challenger…
(I’m getting double texts from you from time to time.)
Ugh. Probably because of low signal inside. Worried about draining battery…
First district tally reported wrong name of the challenger.
Numbers even lower than I expected. What a waste of time.
Nice… One district had abstentions [there were others later]. That was probably my first choice coming in…
Challenger won a couple of districts, at least. Probably his home area. He really should’ve run for county chair or something. Wonder if he was a straw man…

[Etc.]

Seem to be a lot of TX congresspersons on the Homeland Security Committee of the US House. Wonder if that’s a good position or weak…
Wow, I think that’s the first time someone has called for straight-ticket voting. Much better than in 2008. Lot of downticket and Dem slate talk, but straight tickets are a trigger for me.
Congressman Green thinks Perry is worse than Hurricane Ike. Wonder if Galvestonites agree…
Wonder if anybody is lobbying for moderate, non-partisan redistricting. If not, perhaps I should start…
Battery Low. May have to keep comments to self or write them down for a while.
Phone died. Water pressure low. Debate ended. Angry. :D
I went to my car during debate over Texas Two-Step for phone charger, barely got it on before they called for a vote, and now I’m outside during the count. Whew!
(Your previous text didn’t make much sense. This one is better.)
I’m worried about the water pressure here. It dropped significantly before I left and doesn’t seem better yet.
(The water pressure in the convention center?)
What really aggrevates me about all this is that it isn’t constructive. The Two-Step has won numerous challenges, no one is undecided, and no one has new ideas.
Yes, I dare say it’s a health risk…
TVs in hall alternate between inside proceedings and USA vs. Ghana match. Fun hearing the cheers. Even Dems get bored enough with procedure to watch soccer.
There’s a hospital here named Christus Spohn. I know Corpus Christi means “Body of Christ”, does this one mean Christ’s spoon?
We’re moving on with the agenda now…
Now my phone’s been weird… We may adjourn soon, I’m not sure… :*
[We didn't, but the mass exodus had begun.]
I think I’ve had my fill… Going to dip my toes (maybe more) in the water for a bit, then get dinner and wifi and head on toward Houston.
(Everything okay? Just saw your facebook post)
LOL! Oh, that was mostly about food. It took me forever to find/pick something and when I did, there were tons of onions so I had to go to Wendys. ;)

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Texts from the Edge (Well, the Shore…)

2010.June.26

These are excerpts from text conversations I had through my first day at the Texas Democratic Convention. While I have a Twitter, I do not post to it from my phone. Parentheses () indicate someone else’s response. Brackets [] indicate a note I’ve added here. If anything isn’t clear let me know.

[I left Austin before ten and arrived in Corpus Christi at 12:30. I should have eaten before going in...]

Safe, sound, and parked for free on the… um, wet! shores of corpus! Here I go, wish me luck…
Aside from NARAL giving out lube, the booths are very disappointing this year…
Proof the Dems don’t have their shit together: this venue has two eateries, both of which have been sold down to nachos since I got here.

[Local Caucusing]

We’re already getting into pissing contests for party officers. Oh shit, someone just brought up the Texas Two-Step
(That’s today’s headlines…)
Is it? I’ll have to look for it. I abstained because none of the candidates seemed objective.
I never noticed before how many people are disabled here.
Wendy Davis sounds a lot more like a politician than she did two years ago. Very inspiring and vague.
And it was pretty clear that the party insiders had a group pre-selected. Ho hum.
“We will elect someone who is [...] an independent thinker and listens to the people.” [I forget who this was, either one of our caucus leads or our local Bill White organizer, but the contradiction made me chuckle.]
Having walked to the nearest Burger King, I can see how the convention center gets away with charging $5 for small nachos…

[Calling the convention at 6]

Music provided by the POW/MIA band. Blink. Blink.
It’s actually quite awkward for people to walk into the band playing, the conductor talking, and an unofficial rendition of ‘God Bless America’ being sung with one unknown voice coming from on high.
The Black Eyed Peas are officially past their prime when old white politicians come onstage to them.
Invocation awkward, preferential…
Also a mariachi band playing on cue for one speaker. They sound more skillful than the Vet Band, but refused to stop playing until the song was over.
“This is the year!” This is ALWAYS the year… [cf. 2008]
“We are the little people!”
I think the current speaker’s lobbying us to focus on recruiting Hispanics. And she doesn’t appear to know that bluebonnets are violet in color…
Wonder if anyone’s ever researched party strength against general polarized thinking…
The media is better than last time. Mission impossible video is well-made and engaging… if cheesy.
The vote for permanent convention chair didn’t even wait for the nays before calling it. ["All those opposedtheayeshaveit."]
I’m sweaty from my walk earlier… Possibly stinky. :/
Wow, they’re really hammering Perry over the mansion.
Oh, we’re getting a montage of videos. Some are really good. One is rather questionable/hypocritical though…
Made it 45 minutes before they started asking for $…
They showed a Kay Bailey Hutchison ad! Hmmm… [the one that bothered me above was one of hers, also, which explains that]
Lone Star Project touting how they are “Fighting Back with Facts” but their whole ad was a dig on Perry’s hair
Wonder what happens to all the Rubbermaid buckets they use to collect donations…

[Bill White Introduction and Speech]

“$18 billion deficit not good enough!”
Bill White gets like 8 intro speeches… [actually 3]
I wish the people who reference Perry’s sympathies would learn to pronounce “secede” more distinctly from “succeed”.
White’s daughter seems very political…
White comes out to “Start Me Up“. It’s been done. He should have come out to Black Eyed Peas instead.
He says the Democrats are the oldest political party in the world. Hmmm…
(That might need fact checking.)
My thoughts exactly. I know it’s the oldest in the U.S. [Looks like he may have been right.]
Ah, the awkward moment when a chant is started and people have to listen to figure it out before they can join in.
White: Perry only schedules 7 hours of state business a week. Taking record federal money but writing a book about states rights.
Dems are so excited about White they’re running 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
He got in a dig at the Republican scheme to help the Green Party.
He’s a great speaker: lots of info, not just rhetoric.

[Aftermath]

I like the Dems and all but damn the energy is repressed here. Where is the kinky caucus???
What’s with the people who raise their hands like calisthenics during benediction?
Watching the aftermath as people leave… Nary a visible tattoo or mischievous smirk to be found…
Only protesters I’ve seen are working a small table outside. They think Obama isn’t liberal enough and root for someone named Kesha Rogers.
I just helped a guy who lost his keys… by leaving them on top of his car. ;) [I also have a knitting bag I grabbed from the seat ahead of me... I'm pretty sure I'll spot the woman tomorrow to return it.]
I’m all done! Leaving downtown and looking for halfway decent food…
When am I not a work in progress? ;) Besides, first rule of event-planning: the agenda isn’t final until the event is over!
My spring rolls AND my tom yum had unexpected and un-extractable onions. Corpus hates me. Wendy’s here I come…
Much to my surprise, the Texas Democrats do not yet have a platform item for bringing JJ and Prentiss back to Criminal Minds, but I’m doing what I can to raise awareness.

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Into the Beast of the Belly (Can I Get a Whataburger with That?)

2010.June.24

I love a road trip. It gives me an excuse to tidy up my living space, sleep even more erratically than usual, spend hours at a time alone with the open road, and indulge in some serious primal sing therapy. If I had my druthers, my book would be written entirely from the road, via dispatches on research, conversations, and sights from across the South.

It’s been over a year since I had a decent excuse for a road trip, so I gladly signed on when invited to attend the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi (home of Texas’ own Whataburger–their burgers are nominal, but their breakfasts are excellent).

The process so far required just about the least I could do. The Dems prorate their delegations at each level based on corresponding primary turnout, but unlike 2008 there were nowhere near enough volunteers. I was nominated by my precinct in absentia, and promoted to the state level by virtue of having shown up at the county convention. I don’t even know whether I’m a full-on delegate or an alternate.

This year’s convention should be fascinating like a social worker checking in on a past case. While only a fraction of the enthusiasm of 2008 remains, that year has sculpted much about this convention. In 2008, I cheered on Obama’s campaign for not only rallying his influx of newly passionate voters, but for educating them along the way. I said even then that if Obama lost, the knowledge his organization injected into previously uninvolved voters would sustain a stronger movement among those who needed it the most.

To get through the Texans for Obama process and have a chance as a delegate to anything, you had to learn about your precincts, your senate district, your county, and how all of these institutions exist in conjunction with or separate from one another. You had to get to know your neighbors, your fellow activists (new and old), your Internet organizing resources, and you were invited to frequent training, volunteer, social, and strategy-planning opportunities. Even in Texas, where Obama was trailing and the campaign invested only minimal resources, those of us who participated got to know candidates, rules, and organizations at every level–information that, for the most part, remains relevant and useful long after inauguration.

From what I’ve seen so far, it is working, though perhaps not as thoroughly as I had hoped. Several supporters I met in 2008 have gone on to run for local office, form neighborhood organizations, or take on issues like activists instead of whining like armchair quarterbacks.

Of course 2008 also casts some shadows over the convention…

At any moment of the SD conventions I attended in March, you would think the Tarrant Democrats were a strong, united front with a healthy respect for polite dissent and the communal goals of serving the greater good and strengthening the Democratic presence in Austin…

Well, at any moment but one, and it’s kind of hard to explain.

The proportional delegations I mentioned above are part of a fun little contrivance the Texas Dems call the “Texas Two-Step”, where the state primary is split into both a primary and a caucus. Voters can participate in both. Those who support this system say it defends the interests of party faithful and/or particularly passionate voters who are willing to go to extra lengths to be heard. The caucus system is the source of most of the state Democratic platform, and everything is voted on at every level. But detractors say it essentially allows for some participants to vote twice.

If you heard about the 2008 primary here in Texas, then you probably heard that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each won and lost–Clinton won the primary, Obama the caucus. Because the caucus counted for slightly more votes, Obama ended up with most of the state’s delegates. Clinton supporters statewide, which included much of the party establishment and only a minority of the wave of newcomers to the process, were not exactly happy about the result, and a huge chunk of platform debate at every stage involved whether to keep or toss the Texas Two-Step.

Back to March of this year, when the issue came up again, I got to see that 2008′s animosities were alive and well. As someone who quixotically believes that liberal values and simplification of politics/government can somehow be compatible, I was the only former Obama-supporter to vote in favor of eliminating the Texas Two-Step. Moreover, I was told that this was really just “all about Hillary again”, and those of us who stood were chastised by friends and strangers alike, even booed. So much for unity.

Our delegation narrowly voted against the resolution to eliminate the Texas Two-Step, but I suspect it will come up again in Corpus Christi. Otherwise, all assurances are that this one will be swift, painless, and inspiring. Gubernatorial candidate Bill White lacks the charisma of either Obama or Clinton, but fortunately most of us are just as antipathetic to his opponent as we were to his predecessor, W.

Maybe I’ll actually have time to attend a party or two this year (conventions are rife with affinity-based trainings, happy-hours, and after-parties; the twelve-hour days in 2008 prevented my or anyone else attending most of them). Maybe there’s a reason they call them political parties after all…

Sorry, I was a real ass for saying that one. ;)

[Tomorrow (or, you know, whenever I get around to it): A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing! Or, How Does an Independent Survive Two Days of Non-stop Partisan Rallying?]

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Liberals: The Eternal Optimists

2010.May.25

[Editor's Note: In acknowledgment that I take too long between posts to keep this blog lively, I have invited a couple of friends to post here as well. Our beliefs overlap somewhat but I value their different perspectives and look forward to what they will bring this page. Don't hesitate to let them know you like them more!--QT]

Contributed by AriseKraken 

I have found a person with whom I can have respectful conversation about things political, despite having very different beliefs from this person. I will write on “respectful conversation” soon, but a recent discussion helped shine a light on our root difference.

I, the liberal bordering on socialist, see the good and potential for good in EVERY PERSON, and she, the more conservative who worships at the altar of capitalism, sees the potential for bad in every person. It’s important for me to make clear that she doesn’t see BAD in every individual, just the potential for bad. The notion that given the chance, a lot of people will exploit the system, and/or be lazy.

Then I realized this is one of the core factors of liberal versus conservative debate. When a liberal Democrat works for social programs, it’s because the Democrat believes that if you just give this person a little help right now, they’ll get themselves into a better situation and go on to be a contributing member of society. A conservative Republican, on the other hand, believes these entitlement programs lead to people who’ll come to expect help, rely on help and cheat the system in order to not have to do any work.

These beliefs then extend to community responsibility versus individual responsibility. The liberal wants to put programs in place to improve the community, because by improving the community around them, the individuals within the community will be improved. It will be a better place for everyone, and everyone will have access to the same opportunities. The conservative focuses on making things better for self and family, and puts the burden on every other individual to do what is best for himself or herself and family. If all individuals are responsible for themselves, then the community around them will be a good place. This leads to the statement I hear all too often that if you don’t like the schools your kids attend, then move to a better neighborhood. Community be damned! Family first!

Another area I see this kind of extreme thinking is in regards to immigration. Conservatives see immigrants stealing our jobs, or living the cushy life courtesy of our social programs. Liberals are joining the Facebook group “I’d rather live in a country full of immigrants than in a country full of racists.” Liberals see people coming to the United States because it is the land of opportunity, and these people want the opportunity to improve their lives by working hard and receiving benefit from their hard work. Meanwhile, not much attention is paid to the fact that a lot of immigrants are doing jobs Americans don’t want, and at a wage they can barely live on.

One key to improving the individual, the community, the society and the world is to stop thinking in such extremes (including my own extremes of “liberals” and “conservatives”). Not everybody is good, and not everybody is bad. In fact, most people are both good and bad. The goal in creating and improving communities and society should be to optimize the individual’s potential for good and minimize the potential for bad. Sometimes, some people will need help. If they are given an appropriate type of help, see real benefit to their efforts, and then are trusted to improve their situation, then perhaps they will. Perhaps they will not. But there has to be trust, and there has to be a real benefit from their efforts and a real possibility for improvement. Teaching a man to fish is great, but if there are no bodies of water, then it benefits no one and harms everyone, taking the person’s potential away.

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