Friday, August 31, 2012

A Victory for fairness....

I wanted to give this a more deliberative review (the opinion of the three judge panel overturning Texas' voter ID law), but I don't have the time and besides, what I had to say comes down to this:  Texas is cheap.  Damned cheap.  And that's what cost them this time.


Although SB 14 prohibits DPS from “collect[ing] a fee for an [EIC],” id. § 521A.001(b), EICs will not be costless. Not only will prospective voters have to expend time and resources traveling to a DPS office, but once there they will have to verify their identity by providing “satisfactory” documentation to DPS officials. Specifically, prospective voters will need to provide (1) one piece of “primary identification,” (2) two pieces of “secondary identification,” or (3) one piece of “secondary identification” plus two pieces of “supporting identification” in orderto receive an EIC. 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 15.182.

 A “primary” identification is an expired Texas driver’s license or personal identification card that has been expired for at least 60 days but not more than two years. Id. § 15.182(2). A “secondary” identification is one of the following:

 • an original or certified copy of a birth certificate;
 • an original or certified copy of a court order indicating an official change of name and/or gender; or
 • U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers without an identifiable photo. Id. § 15.182(3).

 A wide array of documents qualify as “supporting identification,” including school records, Social Security cards, pilot’s licenses, and out-of-state driver’s licenses. Id. § 15.182(4). In sum, SB 14 will require every EIC applicant to present DPS officials with at least one of the following underlying forms of identification:

 • an expired Texas driver’s license or personal ID card;
 • an original or certified copy of a birth certificate;
 • U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers; or
 • a court order indicating a change of name and/or gender.

 Importantly, it costs money to obtain any of these documents. This means that EIC applicants—i.e., would-be voters—who possess none of these underlying forms of identification will have to bear out-of-pocket costs. For Texas-born voters who have changed neither their name nor gender, the cheapest way to obtain the required documentation will be to order a certified copy of their birth certificate from the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics at a cost of $22. See Advisory Regarding Election Identification Certificates, ECF No. 308, at 2. (A copy of a court order indicating a change of name and/or gender costs $5 for the records search, plus $1 per page for the court order. Actually obtaining a legal change of name and/or gender costs far more—at least $152. See Attorney General’s Response to the State’s Advisory Regarding Election Identification Certificates, ECF No. 330, at 2-3.) More expensive options exist as well, ranging from $30 for an “expedited” birth certificate order all the way up to $354 for a copy of U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers.

You may have heard there aren't that many DPS offices in Texas. The court noted 81 counties in Texas have no DPS office, and in 34 others, the offices are open only 2 days a week or less.  Houston, a city of 4 million, has 7 offices.  That's roughly one office for every 57,000 inhabitants in the city.  Not that all of those people are voters, but you get the idea.  By contrast:

Georgia law requires each county to “provide at least one place in the county at which it shall accept applications for and issue [free] Georgia voter identification cards.” Ga. Code Ann. § 21-2-417.1(a). Similarly, every Indiana county has a BMV office that is required by law to disperse “free” photo IDs.

But why do I say Texas is cheap?  Because the court said so:

By contrast, Georgia residents may present a wide range of documents to obtain a voter ID card, including a student ID, paycheck stub, Medicare or Medicaid statement, or certified school transcript. See Ga. Elec. Code § 183-1-20-.01. The diverse range of documents accepted by Georgia (24 categories in all) means that few voters are likely to incur out-of-pocket costs to obtain a voter ID.

Rick Perry said this opinion was a "victory for fraud."  The only fraud here is Rick Perry.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

May those in the storm's path get the help they need

The news this morning is largely about government officials (mayors, city employees, county officials, etc.) responding to the needs of their citizens, of government employees (police, firemen, etc.) helping people escape rising flood waters or deal with wind damage, all in the wake of Hurricane (now TS) Isaac.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's major contribution to the national discussion was to complain his state wasn't getting enough federal money soon enough.

All this while the GOP rails against "big government" and assures us that "We built that."  By which they don't mean the bridges and roads people used to escape the storm as it bore down on them; nor the satellites, radar, and entire national weather forecasting system which told them, days in advance, that this hurricane was coming.

And they say irony is dead.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

None dare call it anything but prejudice

I am going to just turn this into a regular feature.  If I knew how to set these posts off from all the others that clutter this blog.

Read this article at the National Journal, and you might be surprised that it ends up here:

That leaves one inescapable conclusion: The Romney campaign is either recklessly ignorant of the facts, some of which they possess – or it is lying about why (and how) it is playing the race card.
It is fair and balanced, however, because it never mentions the word "racism."  Hard to accuse anyone of something so vile if you won't say the word, but Mr. Fournier has his reasons for that:

 Men like Miller and Benson don’t use the N-word and they don’t hate (disclosure: I grew up with Miller, who now lives in Macomb County): For a five-figure salary and overtime, Miller risks his life fighting fires in a black neighborhood just south of 8 Mile Road.
 Please understand that Miller and working-class whites like him have reason to be angry and cynical. First, life is tough and getting tougher for the shrinking middle class, regardless of race. Second, as the National Journal reported in the story involving Miller a year ago, minorities are steadily pushing their way into the middle class, which was once the province of whites.
I heard these kinds of excuses all my life, growing up in the South.  I digested them, incorporated them, and finally regurgitated them late in life when I recognized them for the excuses for racism they are.  We used to say "prejudiced" as a perjorative, meaning a white who didn't hate blacks, but who didn't much like them, either.  A racist hated blacks; a prejudiced person just didn't like them.  Neither was good, but one was worse; which meant, of course, the other was acceptable.  Well, more acceptable.  Almost understandable, really; like working-class whites who have reasons to be angry and cynical, and to blame other people for their problems based on skin color.  I mean, really, it's almost reasonable, when you think about it....

Full disclosure:  I grew up among racists, and it took me a long time to realize how indelible racism is, and how easily it can be excused.  Read the whole article, and you'll notice the excuses live on:

I share this story to crack the code – the subtle language of distrust and prejudice that whites use to communicate deep-set fears, and that cynical politicians translate into votes. Translating Miller and Benson:

“Subsidization” = Welfare

“Generational Apathy” = Lazy

“They Slept All Day” = Blacks Sleep All Day

“I Feel Like a Fool” = I’m Mad As Hell
 Emphasis mine.  See, when you know the people involved, when you know they don't wear white hoods at night or shave their heads or have Nazi memorabilia around the house, you know they're okay; you know they're only a little misguided, maybe a little angry, and you know that's okay.  It's just prejudice.  It's just deep-set fears.  And I mean, really, what can you do about deep-set fears when skin color is involved?  You just have to accept it and move on.

God forbid any black men should get angry about it.  That would be terrible.....


I was mentioning to my daughter, and my Lovely Wife, and anyone else unfortunate enough to be within earshot of me, that I think the overt racism of Romney's welfare ads will eventually tip against him, that it is a bridge too far to accuse an African American President of shoring up his "base" with welfare.

Not surprisingly, Josh Marshall is too cautious to mention that USA Today interview in his post, and equally unsurprisingly, almost no one else is bothering to notice it, either.  At least, not yet.  Marshall thinks that may be changing:

Here’s the key passage from US News
Though the first few minutes were spent on niceties, Fournier soon brought the conversation around to a hot-button topic: the Romney campaign’s new series of welfare ads. The ads say that the Obama administration ended work requirements for Americans in the welfare program, effectively “gutting welfare reform.”
Fact checkers have largely debunked the premise of the ad, pointing out that the work requirements in fact have not been ended.
But Fournier did not just tell Kaufman the ad was wrong, he also accused the Romney campaign of “playing the race card.” Fournier, who is from Detroit, Mich., said that welfare is a hot button issue in his hometown, and that this ad was “pushing that button … playing to that racial prejudice. And I’m wondering: are you guys doing that on purpose?”
Again, pretty much everyone knows this is true. You’ve either got to be a rube or a jackass not to see it. But it’s … well, it’s indelicate to say it. And once you do, appealing to racism isn’t just one view against another. It’s something our society has decided is simply wrong. Could it be that the Romney campaign is just finally doing it so transparently that at least a few of the biggs will come out and say it?

Who’s next?

And I think he's exactly right:  the whole issue of racism isn't a "he said/she said" narrative that Tom Brokaw can waive away with an anodyne "everybody does it, so let's move on." If this doesn't blow up in Romney's face, I'll be very disappointed with America and it's ability to hold any kind of public discourse that isn't dictated by the politically powerful.  If it does blow up, it's gonna be Katie bar the door.

And also a pretty effective end to the Republican Party as we have come to know it.

Update:  it's getting closer and closer to the surface.  I guess this is what Ann Romney means about really looking at the issues.

And while I have your attention:  Haley Barbour, who knows nothing about racist dog whistles at all, nosireebob!

When Allen suggested that race has been injected into the 2012 campaign even more than in 2008, Barbour retorted: “I suspect Hillary Clinton wouldn’t agree with you on that.”

Allen mentioned the Romney campaign’s anti-Obama welfare attack, claiming that the president by fiat has removed the work requirement that Bill Clinton signed into law, as a possible example of race-baiting. Barbour disagreed.

 “To me, it’s offensive to say that everybody on welfare is black,” Barbour said. “Most of the people on welfare are white…There are some people who want to inject race into everything. Don’t get me started. I’ll put my foot in my mouth.”

The class non-answer answer to the "race question" of every Southern politician I have ever known.  Well, the ones who wanted to keep a tight grip on the white vote....

Monday, August 27, 2012

None dare call it racism

I feel like this should just be a continuing feature.

The New York Times, commenting on Romney's "birth certificate" joke:

Mr. Romney's chances hinged to a large degree on running up his advantage among white voters in swing states who show deep strains of opposition to Mr. Obama but do not yet trust Mr. Romney to look out for their interests, Republican strategists say.

Many of those voters are economically disaffected, and the Romney campaign has been trying to reach them with appeals built around an assertion that Mr. Obama is making it easier for welfare recipients to avoid work. The Romney campaign is airing an advertisement falsely charging that Mr. Obama has "quietly announced" plans to eliminate work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries, a message Mr.

Romney's aides said resonates with working-class voters who see government as doing nothing for them.  The moves reflect a campaign infused with a sharper edge and overtones of class and race. On Friday, Mr. Romney said at a rally that no one had ever had to ask him about his birth certificate, and Mr. Ryan invoked his Catholicism and love of hunting. Democrats angrily said Mr. Romney's remark associated him with the fringe "birther" camp seeking falsely to portray Mr. Obama as not American.

 When I lived in southern Illinois I often drove to Clayton, MO, the county seat of St. Louis County.  I took to watching the traffic stops, because I noticed that I never saw the white police officers pull over a white driver.  Whenever I saw a car stopped with a police vehicle behind it, lights flashing, the driver was always black.

Every.  Time.

I've never been randomly stopped, either, or asked for my driver's license except when I was speeding.  And my wife is almost jealous of my ability to talk my way out of tickets.  No one has ever asked me for my birth certificate, either.

But that's because I share one salient characteristic with Mitt Romney, which he knows he doesn't share with Barack Obama.

And yet the most we can say is that this indicates a "sharper edge" and "overtones of class and race."

When what it really indicates couldn't be more obvious.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Those are metaphors," said Jesus. "Don't take everything so literally."

Speaking of things that speak for themselves, I came across this at Huffington Post.  And if you haven't read it, you should.

Parables Of The Not-So-Social Gospel

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why doth not the black man rage?

This Ta-Nehisi Coates essay is, as far as I'm concerned, required reading.  It's long, complex, thoughtful, and not fully grasped in excerpts; but I'm going to excerpt it anyway.

His central thesis is the prevailing racism in America, which he wisely defines as "not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others."  A skepticism based on skin color and culture, which makes it all the more powerful.  The quotes in the essay from Robert Byrd and William Buckley are enough to make you realize Faulkner's truth, that the past isn't even past; and that culture is the framework from which we all think about the world.

But one of the most interesting parts of the essay is the political assessment of President Obama.  Coates starts off pointing out how President Obama's comments about Trayvon Martin turned that story from one of national sympathy for Martin to one of national scorn and suspicion about black kids and hoodies.  In that context, he later develops the argument about the limits placed on a black president who can't be a black man, but rather has to just happen to be black.  That argument takes him here:

The political consequences of race extend beyond the domestic. I am, like many liberals, horrified by Obama’s embrace of a secretive drone policy, and particularly the killing of American citizens without any restraints. A president aware of black America’s tenuous hold on citizenship, of how the government has at times secretly conspired against its advancement—a black president with a broad sense of the world—should know better. Except a black president with Obama’s past is the perfect target for right-wing attacks depicting him as weak on terrorism. The president’s inability to speak candidly on race cannot be bracketed off from his inability to speak candidly on every­thing. Race is not simply a portion of the Obama story. It is the lens through which many Americans view all his politics.

But whatever the politics, a total submission to them is a disservice to the country. No one knows this better than Obama himself, who once described patriotism as more than pageantry and the scarfing of hot dogs. “When our laws, our leaders, or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism,” Obama said in Independence, Missouri, in June 2008. Love of country, like all other forms of love, requires that you tell those you care about not simply what they want to hear but what they need to hear.
It's the bind so many Obama supporters find themselves in: some of his policies are more Bush than Bush, yet even when he gives the GOP what they want (as in waivers to states seeking to make the "welfare to work" policy work better in their circumstances), he's described as the President who wants to let everybody live comfortably on welfare, with no incentive to work at all.   Mitt Romney's racism is no better disguised than Newt Gingrich's "food stamp President".  Instead of food stamps, Mr. Romney simply says President Obama doesn't understand the importance of the link between welfare and work.  Why President Obama, a man who has worked his entire life, wouldn't understand that goes unstated because it doesn't have to be stated.  The whole argument is a baseless lie (Gingrich at least had statistics about food stamps to back up his claim), but the only fact that matters is the President's race.

President Obama is not only a perfect target for right-wing attacks depicting him as weak on terrorism.

But, as Mr. Coates points out, a total submission to right-wing politics is a disservice to the country.  It would seem to render President Obama particularly ineffective to not stand up to such attacks, to not assert what he did in Missouri in 2008.  However, as Mr. Coates points out a bit later:

 In 2009, Sergeant James Crowley arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr., the eminent professor of African American studies at Harvard, at his front door in Cambridge, for, essentially, sassing him. When President Obama publicly asserted the stupidity of Crowley’s action, he was so besieged that the controversy threatened to derail what he hoped would be his signature achievement—health-care reform. Obama, an African American male who had risen through the ranks of the American elite, was no doubt sensitive to untoward treatment at the hands of the police. But his expounding upon it so provoked right-wing rage that he was forced away from doing the kind of truth-telling he’d once lauded. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Obama said at the time, “but nobody’s been paying much attention to health care.”
In the essay, the parallel is to the Trayvon Martin case: once Obama stepped in, everything changed about that, and it wasn't just because the President of the United States was involved, but because the Black President of the United States was involved.  And, among many other causes, this controversy almost derailed health care reform.  And would we, as a country, be better off with a black President who stood firmly, even stubbornly, on principle?  Or with one who actually accomplished something legislatively?

The tools of racism, the easily provoked fears of angry black men and "unfairness," are still very, very powerful.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Abortion is abortion is....?

This is proving such a hot button issue that I started thinking about this idea of "except in the case of rape or incest," and where it came from.

I can't say with scholarly precision, but it sounds like a thought experiment meant to test the limits of one's opposition to abortion.  Fair enough, but it has no counterpart in law; at least none that I know of.

Wikipedia is hardly the most scholarly resource, but it doesn't mention any state which restricts abortions only to cases of rape or incest.  And by "restricts," I mean outlaws it entirely (which would contravene Roe v. Wade and probably violate the Casey "undue burden" standard).  Given the Casey decision, in fact, I'm not sure limiting abortion to cases of rape or incest would ever pass muster, and I don't know of a state which has tried to do so.

So what is the argument about?  Money.

This issue came up most recently (prior to Rep. Akin's remarks) in 2010, when Akin and Paul Ryan tried to restrict federal funding for abortions, and were worried about any exception based on rape or incest.  They weren't trying to ban abortions (they knew that wouldn't work); they were simply trying to ban federal funding for abortions (it's money that matters!).  The people pressing for this restriction were worried about how federal money was going to be spent.

I don't think that worked out too well, either.

So now we have to ask:  where's the beef? The idea of the validity of the exception already cedes ground to the anti-abortion side which they don't currently control.  Any discussion of the exception is, in fact, a sop to the "middle ground," to those who are not devoted to one side of this issue or the other.  It had to have started as a way of sounding more reasonable than the opposition.  But as a point of concern for pro-choice advocates, it's pointless:  Roe and Casey aren't going to be overruled because of the rape/incest exception.  If anything, it has abortion opponents creating absurd arguments which only serve to underline the poverty of their claims.

I mean, when Rush Limbaugh says your anti-abortion argument is groundless.....

A rape is a rape is a rape


"Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize," he says in the ad, which was first posted by Politico. "As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them."

"The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy," he continues. "The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness."

First, let's define the term "rape." When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase "forcible rape" or "assault rape," for that specifies what we're talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we're not addressing that here.

 Efforts to outlaw abortion and legislatively narrow the definition of rape to only the most violent assaults go hand in hand, as abortion opponents believe rape exceptions to abortion bans will be exploited by women to obtain abortions in an environment in which it is otherwise outlawed. Rape, therefore, needs to be defined differently -- to be defined more narrowly and to be defined, most critically, as something that does not result in pregnancy.
Akin says his sin was not his concept, but to use "the wrong words in the wrong way."  He wants to maintain his position, and his position is that women want to use rape as an excuse for an abortion.  Now you can follow that off into the weeds about access to abortion, but that's playing Akin's game.  The issue here isn't really access to abortion.  The issue here is the definition of "rape."

Akin, under the smooth guidance of Mike Huckabee, sought to change his original word choice from "legitimate" to "forcible."  Unless rape is "forcible," it's not real rape, because the issue is about consent.  Note that second quote:  "Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual...."  That's the kind of thinking that led the US Conference of Bishops, and others, to freak out about how federal money was going to get spent in the discussions surrounding HB 3 in 2010.  It's completely false.  Statutory rape is rape by definition, not by evidence of consent or the lack thereof.  The issue is, an always has been, and always will be:  consent.

It's the definition of "consent" that is under challenge now.  Akin's ideas about biology are not going to be widely accepted; even Rush Limbaugh found them pathetic.  But what might find a wider audience is the argument that "rape is rape," except that leads to the next question:  what do we mean by "rape"? ( And if we mean consent, don't we mean rape as an act of violence (as it was explained to me in high school?).  That's an especially pointed question when Paul Ryan is starting to echo President Obama.  That rape was an "act of violence" was the preferred definition 40 years ago, to distinguish rape from simple sexual desire.  The idea then was a woman could provoke rape by how she dressed or acted, and so to defeat that canard, rape was an act of violence, not an action of sexual desire.  That definition worked too well, though, and so “date rape” became the preferred term, because rape didn't always involve the stranger in the bushes who beats you brutally before raping you. Too soon “date rape” sounded like a kinder, gentler sexual assault, and we were back to the woman’s behavior again:  did she “lead him on” by what she said, did, wore?  Is it really rape if you know the guy?

Of course it is, if there is no consent.  But where rape is still associated with force, where rape is still only considered "legitimate" if it is "forcible," we are going to be facing this question anew.  The canard that will not die is not the idea that rape cannot lead to pregnancy (and so pregnancy negates rape); it is the idea that rape is violence, or it isn't rape at all.  It is the idea that rape is a gateway to access social resources, money, or even society's sympathies.

The canard that will not die is that women use rape the same way they use sex:  to get what they want.  This isn't an assault on abortion access.  It's an assault on human beings.  While you do have to fight ideas with ideas, let me reiterate this blog's informal motto and, before I do, remind us all:  Eyes on the prize.

Ideas don't matter. Things don't matter. People matter.


AKIN: You know, Dr. Willke has just released a statement and part of his letter, I think he just stated it very clearly. He said, of course Akin never used the word legitimate to refer to the rapist, but to false claims like those made in Roe v. Wade and I think that simplifies it….. There isn’t any legitimate rapist…. [I was] making the point that there were people who use false claims, like those that basically created Roe v. Wade.

Res ipsa loquitor.  At least, I think it does.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When is rape really rape?

This is just getting worse, and yes, we're going to have to have a discussion about when "rape" is "rape," and when it isn't.

But we don't have to have it right now.

Why?  Because Rep. Akin is now saying his mistake was in his terminology:

“I was talking about ‘forcible rape’ and it was absolutely the wrong word,” Akin said.

That term has a history, too.

“Forcible rape” is a term included in H.R. 3, the controversial House abortion bill Akin, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other social conservatives co-sponsored in 2011. “Forcible rape” was dropped from that bill after it caused a similar uproar.

But beyond that, we're into the quagmire of definition; and if there's one thing ideologues and especially conservatives don't seem to like, it's the problem of definition (except when they can use it).  Not that too many others are crazy about the topic, especially when its applied to a subject like rape.

"Rape is rape," declares President Obama, and who would disagree with him?  That is, as long as we're talking about stranger-in-the-bushes attacks that lead to non-consensual sexual intercourse.   It's the consent that's the issue in rape, be it a criminal or merely a social charge (and there is a difference).  I draw this from an essay I taught once, which unfortunately I no longer have access to.  It was a question of definition, and the essay, in a very objective way, went all the way from stranger-in-the-bushes rape ("Forcible rape," I presume Rep. Akin means) to morning after regrets rape.  I wish I had all its carefully documented examples before me, because each was an actual case, not a thought-experiment; and it highlights the problem of establishing consent.  The issue is not just "No means No," but when can "no" be said?

The details of that sound niggling and legalistic, but it's a legitimate question. Just as sodomy can mean anything put in a vagina that isn't a penis (which covers digits, oral sex, even dildoes), rape isn't necessarily the stranger-in-the-bushes.  And so you get rather silly terms like "date rape," as if rape is always a matter of strangers, and non-consensual sex with someone you know is, well, not as bad.  You see, immediately, that "rape is rape" is a convenient attitude to take, but it's only rape if there was no consent.  Did the woman consent while drunk?  Well, if all she feels is regret that the guy wasn't as cute in the morning as he was the night before (the female version of "coyote ugly" is all I'm getting at), is it rape?  If she says so; but if she doesn't?  If she'd rather forget the whole affair and reconsider her attitude toward large amounts of alcohol in short periods of time, is there a question of rape involved?

I think some might still think so; and the argument could get rather interesting.  But it's a question of consent, and if the alcohol affects her ability to consent, but the woman who had sex under the influence doesn't feel her consent was impaired, is it rape?  She may think she was stupid, but was she raped?  Only if someone can convince her she didn't consent.  Well, maybe if they were convinced she didn't even though she's not convinced, it might still be rape, eh?

We start to slide into the arena of statutory rape, now, where the law decides when you are old enough to consent, and when you are too young to consent.  Never get away from that issue, do we?  So when can consent be withdrawn?  When you're kissing?  When he takes your top off?  When you're naked and he's ready to enter?  Just before ejaculation?  Just after?  The morning after?

I do not ask to mock the issue; I ask because this is the issue.  In the essay I mentioned, the case I remember most clearly was of two college friends, male and female, who got drunk and slept together.  Later than even the next morning, she regretted it as a blot on their friendship, and her friends agreed with her it was not only a mistake, but that it was rape. Why?  Because the next day, or even a few days after, she withdrew her consent.  Obviously this wouldn't hold up in a court of law, but it did make the male friend a pariah on campus, at least among those who sympathized with the woman.  Was he legally a rapist?  No, but the campus society, or enough of it to make life miserable for him, said he was anyway.

Were they wrong?   Either way you answer, you have to draw a line on the issue of consent, and it becomes rather like Zeno's paradox about Achilles and the tortoise.  Wherever you draw the line, why can't you draw it later?  When do you pass the point of no return, and why?  Penetration?  Ejaculation?  Fingers?  Tongues?  Hand down the jeans?  At which point is it too late to say "No!," and why?  There has to be a point, otherwise rape really is only "forcible rape."

If we want to avoid the stranger-in-the-bushes=rape and nothing else scenario, we have to have a reason why.  Agreeing to take off your clothes, then deciding it's not such a good idea anyway, is a pretty easy case of withdrawal of consent.  You don't want consent to be agreeing to have a drink, or wearing a short skirt or a low-cut blouse.  Consent has to be given or withdrawn much later than that.  How late, then?

There is a legal answer, but I'm not interested in it (and too often it depends on the jury and the lawyers).  I'm interested in the "social" answer, the "what is acceptable to the social norm" answer.  Set aside circumstances like going to a room together; set aside anything that can lead to the "she was asking for it" conclusion.  We won't accept that; we will only accept a clear withdrawal of consent to have sexual intercourse.

But when is it too late to do that?

Addendum:  Part of the reason I wrote this post is because of arguments like this:

Let's stop differentiating between different types of rape as if they were different flavors at an ice cream shop. Politicians need to get over the pervasive fear that adopting a zero-tolerance attitude towards rape means that people will be able to disingenuously "cry rape" if they're having a bad day. That's not going to happen. You know what's way more dangerous? Allowing legislators like Akin to make declarative statements that are unarguably false. If you don't know how basic biology works, you shouldn't be able to hold a government position that gives you real power over the bodies of millions of women.
 I actually agree with the first sentence:  rape is rape, as the President said. I despise the term "date rape," especially because it makes "forcible rape" a more legitimate term (and the latter should not be legitimate at all).   The problem is:  what is "rape"?  The next two sentences in that paragraph are actually undercut by something cited earlier in the same post:

 The term [date rape] entered the national consciousness in 1985, when Ms. Magazine published a three-year federally-funded study by psychologist Mary P. Koss on date rape on college campuses. The study found that one in four college women were victims of rape or attempted rape, and that only one in four women had experienced sexual assault that met the legal definition of rape at the time. In the piece, Koss encouraged women to reconsider their past experiences and ask themselves if they had actually consented, even if the person in question was a friend.
Which is back to the points I raised earlier: when can consent be withdrawn, and whose consent really matters, and when does it matter?  Can we persuade women that the consent they thought they gave wasn't really consent after all?  Probably not in a way that would satisfy a court of law, but in the social sense:  when is sexual intercourse rape, and when is sexual intercourse just a bad idea?  When is consent a social matter, and when is it purely private?  That's another problem, because we want sex to be a purely private concern, but on the other hand, even questions of consent involve social discourse.  Is consent, then, a purely private matter?  Or is it something to be determined in consultation with others?  It's a matter of another line, another "when" in the mix:  the concept of valid consent has to be agreed upon by the society at large, but it also has to be determined by the individual in the situation.  But who gets priority, and when?

True, the issue in such an extreme case won't lead to anything politicians can do anything about, because no court of law is going to allow a rape charge based on a withdrawal of consent long after the event.  And, yes, legislators like Akin are idiots.  On the other hand. HB 3, the law Akin and Ryan co-sponsored in 2010 to, in part, redefine rape in federal law, didn't get very far despite Akin's ignorance.  The problem is not really Akin's ignorance of basic biology:  it's his ignorance of basic legal definitions.  If the definition of rape stops turning on the issue of consent, we stop talking about rape; in social contexts, or legal contexts.  At one extreme that becomes the alleged feminist position from several decades back that all sex = rape.  At the other extreme, only the most violent sexual assault can be considered rape.*

We really need to keep the conversation somewhere in between those poles, and we really need good reasons to do so.

One more thing:

The "forcible rape" language in HB 3 was added to that bill in "an effort on the part of the sponsors to prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for federally funded abortions for any teenager." That is from the Congressional testimony of Richard Doerflinger, on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Why were they worried about this?  Because teenagers, i.e., girls under the age of consent, are protected by statutory rape laws.  The law presumes they cannot give consent, and so any pregnancy of a teenager is, technically, the result of rape.  If there is an exception in federal funding for rape victims, then all pregnant teenagers are entitled to a federally funded abortion. Voila!

The only way to prevent that was to add language to federal law requiring the rape to be "forcible."  At least, that was the idea.  (Planned Parenthood and other groups denied they had ever thought of this, and to date, they've never used this "loophole."  And, yes, this idea predates the 2010 attempt to write it into law.  And nobody wanted to talk about it then, either.)  The law is dead; the idea of "forcible" rape lives on.

Definitions matter.

*An example of the interesting problem here is the mention in the blog post of "marital rape."  When does the wife consent just to make the husband happy, and when does she get forced into sex she'd really rather not have?  Does marital rape require a showing of violence, that is, must it be "forcible rape" in order to be rape?  Or can it simply be "He was going to be impossible to live with if I didn't"?   The issue comes up often: what kind of consent is "true" consent?  It's the question Mary Koss was asking.

If we are going to raise these issues, or if they are going to be raised, we need to deal with them.  And frankly, this points up the weakness of the "exception for rape and incest" in the abortion argument.  Do we really want to argue that a married woman must prove "marital rape" in order to get an abortion?  Must she prove violence to decide she can't have another child? I've met these people; these are real-life decisions, and I'm blowed if I can figure out how many other people are justified in being involved in that decision.   Is there any kind of legitimate state interest involved there?

Ideas are bulletproof

and that's the problem.

So Rep. Todd Akin says that "legitimate rape" doesn't lead to pregnancy because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."  This is, of course, simply magical thinking.  But where does such thinking spring from?

Garance Franke-Ruta gives us a series of examples that this kind of thinking isn't limited to Mr. Akin, but a reader at TPM fills in the blanks at the Missouri level:

 I grew up awash in the Pro-Life reasoning, and this idea of “real rape” (typically defined as the stranger assaulting the victim in a violent manner) preventing pregnancy was the standard response to the Pro-Choice argument about making exceptions for rape and incest.

The reasoning (as I recall it being explained) is that during acute stress, the body will prevent implantation, or else miscarry, due to the hormones released in response to stress. Now, any OB/GYN can explain to a Pro-Life person why this isn’t the case, but like the way any lawyer could easily dismantle the Birther argument, the truth doesn’t matter. The problem is how does a Pro-Life justify forcing rape victims to carry their babies to term, and the solution is to say that “real” rape victims don’t get pregnant and those who claim they were raped are disproven by the fact that she hadn’t miscarried. Shamefully, the second half of that justification includes dismissing the claims of rape victims who weren’t assaulted in the stereotypical manner, and even then, there are doubts about the veracity of the claims.
In other words, a desperate need for an explanation leads to a desperate explanation.  And this is why Rep. Akin spoke of "legitimate rape."  Truly non-consensual intercourse cannot lead to pregnancy; or so the reasoning goes.  If that sounds like it's one step away from the man planting his "soul" via his sperm to form a human being in the woman's "fertile soil," it should; because the reasoning is that, well, medieval.

I hesitate to use that words as a pejorative, but in this context it seems the only legitimate adjective.  In feudal Europe, where title to land was everything, the marriage ceremony took place on the church steps.  Not the sacrament of marriage, but the part the other landowners were interested in:  the exchange of title deeds.  It was a public declaration of who owned what, and what happened in the church sanctioned the children of that marriage, because they were next in line to legitimate ownership of the property.  Children of the marriage were, as is the law in Texas (and I presume all other 50 states) today, presumed to be the children of the husband, and so were presumed legitimate.  It was rather difficult to prove otherwise, so that presumption was a very important one to feudal society.  Aside from affairs, how might a woman get pregnant by a man not her husband?  Rape.

Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse.  If you consent to the sex, you might even enjoy it.  If you enjoy it, as a woman, you might have an orgasm.  Of course, if you have sex, you also might get pregnant.  But what if you don't enjoy the sex; and why don't women get pregnant every time they have sex?

We understand the biology of reproduction today better than they did then, but the only outward sign they could look to, other than ejaculation, was the female orgasm.  And so the notion arose that the orgasm was essential to reproduction; without it, no baby.  A woman being raped is most unlikely to have an orgasm; ergo, she is most unlikely to get pregnant.  If she does, the child must be legitimate, i.e., her husband's; because otherwise, the sex was consensual, and not rape.

The idea, crude as it is, is in some sense a protection for the woman (a proof of rape, v. adultery) and more importantly a protection for the estate.  But you can at least see that the idea is necessary to a society so concerned with things rather than with people.

Which, honestly, is what so many anti-abortion fanatics are concerned with:  things, not people.  The 'babies' they profess to protect are not human beings to them, any more than the mothers are.  Their fanatical devotion to their cause belies any true interest in the human beings seeking either family planning counseling or abortions.  And it leads to the kind of vicious idiocy reflected in Rep. Akin's comments.  You can't draw a straight historical line from his "idea" back to medieval Europe.  This idea seems to be rooted in science, just as the medieval idea was rooted in Aristotle.  But you can put both Akin's idea and the medieval idea in the category of  "mindlessly idiotic."

Except, of course, the medieval idea has the excuse of unavoidable ignorance.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Getting a band together

There is so much hatred available, it's hard to keep up with it.  So much cruel mendacity, it's easy to despair.  I am guilty of sounding that clarion call myself, as Scott the Obscure reminds me:

We can't get our band back together, because they've either sold out or been murdered by those who desperately want might to make right. I can't even think to much about Romero or the Maryknoll nuns. I was taught to admire these people, back when I was in Catholic school, and they were presented as well along the track for sainthood. And then admiring them became too incovenient for the Church's relationship with Power, and next thing I knew, I'm told Liberation Theology is heresy. Now the collusion of Bidness and Politics As Usual to make us ordinary folk suffer as much as possible seems insoluble, and I have moments that I fear blood in the streets and the sound of tumbrels.

I'm holding my tiny baby daughter, and I just don't know where this goes. Where can I find comfort without breeding complacency? Any passages you'd recommend, RMJ?

A question without an easy answer, unless you believe in the power of Hallmark cards.  I mean no disrespect, but this question always bothered me as a pastor, because I felt like the only response was to hand out scripture verses like nostrums, and that's a disservice to scripture and to the person asking me for help.  Given the forum, I'm going to indulge myself and answer Scott's question with reference to something Alberich asked:

 I guess this is more a question for the Reverend, so to speak: what is the point of exhorting a crowd, who is mainly already baptized and confirmed as Christians, to accept Jesus? How can religion be a bulwark for a democratic society if all religion involves is faith and the vocalization of that faith? Such vocalization is certainly beneficial to the faithful and I don't knock it at all, but how can that be all there is?

And if it is not all there is to religion, why the need to continually emphasize the acceptance of a faith and not the consequences thereof? Is there something that, as a Jew (albeit one who has, growing up in an 'evangelical' enough area of the country myself, heard this kind of talk from a very young age), I simply don't grok?
Because I find the two are related, and it explains why I shudder at citing scripture in answer to a plea for comfort or insight, at least in these cases.  Alberich brings in a very useful term, one I learned from studying the Hebrew Scriptures but not in these words.  He said, in full:

 I know in Judaism, while we talk about the need to acknowledge the sovereignty of God, we also follow it up with both petitions to God and also with an acceptance of the yoke of heaven (i.e. in our tradition, the commandments).
 "The yoke of heaven."  Even if the metaphor is agricultural and practically anachronistic, I still like it.  That, I think, is a key tenet of Christianity, but one little observed except among the religious and the pastor/priesthood, who too often are expected to take it on for the rest of the community:  the idea of the duty of faith, or to put it more bluntly, the obligation of trust.

What Alberich is describing in his encounters with his relatives is a basic soteriology, one resting wholly on the atonement theory of the crucifixion (to be fair, on a particular atonement theory, but there are other soteriologies rather than the classic atonement).    It is a commonplace of many strains of Baptists that salvation is the central teaching of Christianity, the central purpose, and the central goal.  One is "saved" by "accepting Jesus," preferably "into your heart;" but that salvation seems never to be assured, so one must return to church every Sunday morning, and attend revival meetings throughout the year, and....well, speaking wholly as an outsider who grew up among the Baptists and yet never lived as one of them, that seems to be about it, corporately speaking.  Individuals can backslide and sin in ways great and small (drinking and dancing being the most publicly heinous), but a Sunday altar call or a revival or two, and all is well again.

I'm doing the Baptists of this stripe something of a disservice, but I still remember the booklet I got once, about a pastor who'd discovered how to revive his preaching in December, preaching that was almost entirely of the fundamentalist/evangelical/Baptist-as-I've-described-it, stripe.  His discovery was Advent.  His discovery was the ancient Christian liturgical calendar.  His discovery was that there might be more to Christian worship than salvation, and that renewed, or at least reaffirmed, every 7 days or so.

The consequences of that faith were that you lived according to the dictates of your fellow church members.  Not, in itself, something unusual in the history of world religions.  In this case it usually meant no drinking or dancing; at least not with the shades up or the windows open.  The old joke was that Baptists didn't make love standing up because somebody might think they were dancing, and the only time Baptists didn't recognize each other was in the liquor store.  But what is the yoke of heaven for them, beyond that?

I must confess I don't know.  But I also don't know of many Christians who would take the "yoke of heaven" very seriously.  So it's not a problem peculiar to Baptists, and I'm not presuming to stand superior to them.  It's an opening point for a discussion, here, and that discussion now turns to the question of:  now what do you do?

You've become a confessing Christian, whatever creed or soteriology you confess; now what?  Now how do you face the future, comfort your child, comfort yourself?

Baptists comfort themselves by assuring themselves they are "saved."  Soteriology is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, of their confession.  For them the "wages of sin are death," and that death is metaphysical, not physical; it is damnation, death in hell, death in eternal separation from the glory of God.    At least that's how most of the Baptists (and not a few of the non-Baptists; religion is far more cultural than it is denominational) I've known have understood it.  So salvation is central: what matters is not how you live now, so much as how you will live then.  And, for most Christians actually who make salvation a central concern, how you live now only affects how you will live then based on what you believe, far more than on what you actually do.

Which is as unscriptural as anything can be, to be honest.  It is not what goes into a person, but what comes out of a person that matters, Jesus says.  God tells Jeremiah that the human heart is so devious even God can't fathom it, that God must test it to know what is there.  God, in other words, judges by what comes out, and what is on the lips is far less important than what is in the actions.  Not that Baptists are any better, or worse, at visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless.  As I say, any group of Christians who places a heavy emphasis on salvation ends up worrying more about the death of the soul than the privations of the body; at least of the bodies of others.  We always find ways to take care of ourselves first.

Does this lead us, then, to despair?  Depends on where you put your trust.

Scripture tells you to trust.  Scripture tells you to have faith.  Scripture tells you to put that faith, that trust, in God.

Jesus said God is God of the living, not of the dead.  God is not then, God is now.  The Scriptures tell us, from Genesis to Revelation (if those are your scriptures), that God is in history, if not of history.  So the faith we confess is that God is active now, right now, even now!  You want despair?  Look to Jeremiah and the Lamentations.  Look to Psalm 22.  You want joy?  Read Psalm 22, and don't stop until you are through with Psalm 23.  Read Isaiah 40, and just keep going.  Read Ezekiel, and don't stop with the valley of the dry bones.  Read of the joy of the early church in the book of Acts.

The Scriptures don't tell us not to despair.  The Scriptures do tell us to trust.  And where is that stated?  Where is it given as a simple phrase, a cohesive word, a telling argument?  Everywhere.  Nowhere.  The Scriptures give us passages, but I always want to urge people to find them for themselves.  Don't take one from me, don't take my word for it!  Take the word of God and see what you find in it.

What does one have to do with the other?  What's the connection between Scott's question and Alberich's?  Trust.  Seems to me the ultimate question is:  where do you put your trust? My critique of the sotierology of Alberich's relatives (but not, mind, of his relatives) is that it seems to put trust in what we do, not in what God does.  The constant repitition of the confession of faith may comfort the believer, but it too easily reassures the believer that she is in charge, that God is under control, that salvation is assured through their words.  If I trust in God, I set aside concerns for my salvation and I step out on faith to engage the world.  My answer to Scott is:  trust in God.  Which is a terribly broad and vague answer, and it always seems a bit like giving someone a snake when they asked for an egg.  But are things so bad as they seem?  Not if God is in history; not if the witness of the Scriptures is true.  And if that witness is false, where is the virtue of any sentence in it?  Where is its value, except as a bit of wisdom 2 millenia old, or from a time and place and people all but lost to memory?

What would I say to Scott?  I would say with Isaiah "Your God is coming!"  I would say with Jesus "Consider the lilies of the valley, which do not sew or spin, yet Solomon in all his finery was not clothed more beautifully than they are."  I would say "God's imperial rule is right there in your presence."
I would say that we live in the world we see.

Teach your daughter to see a good world; call it the basilea tou theou, the empire of God.

And that is the world she will live in.

I should add:  if God is indeed the God of the living, and to God even the dead are still alive, then the clouds of witness continue to surround us, and the circle continues to be unbroken, and the band is still together.  Teach your daughter that, too:  that the empire of God is always with us if we will just see it, and that the citizens of that empire are always with us, even if we can't see them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Turning on the light in the kitchen

David Stockman is against it. 

The U.S. Bishops of Paul Ryan's church are against it.

Denny Rehberg of Montana and David McKinley of West Virginia are against it. 

Mitt Romney was for it, before he was against it.

John Sununu's only hope was to lie shamelessly about it.

Rick Scott and Rick Perry don't want to have anything to do with it.

Which is one more reason why John Boehner knows he can't sell this sh*t sandwich across the country:

But the specifics — tweaks to Medicare and Medicaid —do not seem to figure prominently into Boehner’s 12-minute speeches. Vaulting those issues onto the 2012 stage is risky for House Republicans, who have long bet that this year’s election would center on the President Barack Obama’s stewardship of a sagging economy . D.C. Republicans are extremely wary of talking about the Ryan budget in many districts, knowing that it polls dismally with moderates.
So, why did they pass it? On the Romney-esque grounds that revealing it now will cost votes in November, Donald Trump is against it).

Even Paul Ryan is now against it.

Yet it passed the House overwhelmingly just four months ago, and only five Republicans voted against it. 

Which makes you wonder:  why don't they like it now?  And who are they truly representing in D.C.?


Per a "GOP operative:"

 The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.

It's also the budget approved by the House GOP.  What part of "representative democracy" do they not understand?  Seriously.

Rick makes the point, in comments, that this was eminently foreseeable.  I think he's exactly right, and the only saving grace right now is the cockroaches scattering because the lights are on, and cockroaches "are extremely unpopular."

How long the lights stay on, however, is another matter.  And then Plato's observations become even more trenchant.....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Of angels, candles, pins, and darkness

Starting, for no particular reason, with this:

And I was recently rereading James Fitzjames Stephens, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Stephens is obviously the ‘conservative’, rebutting Mill, the ‘liberal’. But in a lot of ways their positions don’t track contemporary notions. For example, Stephens is very opposed to the state tolerating lots of little heterodox churches. No. The state should do its best to figure out which one is best and sponsor it. (Theological spin on industrial policy and ‘picking winners’.) The proof, offered in passing: anything else and you’ll end up having to tolerate Mormonism. Which is obviously not on.

Well, there is a particular reason, which I'll make plain in a moment.  But first, I want to tie it into this.  And raise the seemingly unrelated point that the reason we are seeing religion in decline around the world (to the extent that we are, and I'm still not in despair or even discouragement over that "decline") is for the very reason that theology has been deposed by science as the source of all that is reasonable.

In other words, it's a simple matter of education.  What you teach people is what they will consider a valid baseline; and if you no longer teach them that theology is the mother of all the sciences, then eventually religion itself will lose any allure it might once have had.  Which, to the ignorant and small minded, is an improvement.  But look again.

In the ancient world children were routinely left to die of exposure -- particularly if they were the wrong gender (you can guess which was the wrong one); they were often sold into slavery. Jesus' treatment of and teachings about children led to the forbidding of such practices, as well as orphanages and godparents. A Norwegian scholar named Bakke wrote a study of this impact, simply titled: When Children Became People: the Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity.
Love of learning led to monasteries, which became the cradle of academic guilds. Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard all began as Jesus-inspired efforts to love God with all ones' mind. The first legislation to publicly fund education in the colonies was called The Old Deluder Satan Act, under the notion that God does not want any child ignorant. The ancient world loved education but tended to reserve it for the elite; the notion that every child bore God's image helped fuel the move for universal literacy.
Jesus had a universal concern for those who suffered that transcended the rules of the ancient world. His compassion for the poor and the sick led to institutions for lepers, the beginning of modern-day hospitals. The Council of Nyssa decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the sick and poor. That's why even today, hospitals have names like "Good Samaritan," "Good Shepherd," or "Saint Anthony." They were the world's first voluntary, charitable institutions.
The ancient world honored many virtues like courage and wisdom, but not humility. People were generally divided into first class and coach. "Rank must be preserved," said Cicero; each of the original 99 percent was a personis mediocribus. Plutarch wrote a self-help book that might crack best-seller lists in our day: How to Praise Yourself Inoffensively.
Jesus' life as a foot-washing servant would eventually lead to the adoption of humility as a widely admired virtue. Historian John Dickson writes, "it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion...Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian."
In the ancient world, virtue meant rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. Conan the Barbarian was actually paraphrasing Ghengis Khan in his famous answer to the question "what is best in life?" -- To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.
An alternative idea came from Galilee: what is best in life is to love your enemies, and see them reconciled to you. Hannah Arendt, the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton, claimed, "the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth." This may be debatable, but he certainly gave the idea unique publicity.
Humanitarian Reform:
Jesus had a way of championing the excluded that was often downright irritating to those in power. His inclusion of women led to a community to which women flocked in disproportionate numbers. Slaves--up to a third of ancient populations--might wander into a church fellowship and have a slave-owner wash their feet rather than beat them. One ancient text instructed bishops to not interrupt worship to greet a wealthy attender, but to sit on the floor to welcome the poor. The apostle Paul said: "Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus." Thomas Cahill wrote that this was the first statement of egalitarianism in human literature.
There are all kinds of problems with these kinds of sweeping generalizations.  But the fact that these changes in Western culture spring from religion, not science, is undeniable.  I'm not sure science per se has anything to say about humanitarianism, forgiveness, humility,  how to treat children as human beings, or even the value of education, beyond the value of understanding science.

And on that point, does anyone else feel like they're listening to the Catholics and the Lutherans argue over the substance of the host in the Eucharist when they listen to climatologists arguing with meteorologists arguing with physicists about exactly what "global warming" means?  This morning alone a scientist on Diane Rehm assured me climate change is real, but at the same time we're insufficiently skeptical about what is real about it, and we really shouldn't do anything about it until we can be less skeptical (and he left me skeptical about his facts, since the journalist on the program corrected him on a few of the non-science ones, such as what treaties President Obama has signed).  Immediately after on Fresh Air a member of climate central assured me global warming is both real and must be responded to.  Now certainly reasonable people can reasonably disagree, but the technicalities of the discussions are all concerned with the consequences of which particular shading you give to which particular interpretation of a set of facts which are themselves not established (one argument against climate change is that the data from reporting stations is inconsistent.  No, seriously); and all the while Al Gore assures me that Rome is burning.

Is this really fundamentally different from quibbling over the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin?  Perhaps in theory it is; but in practice, we're still quibbling.  What has changed here?  That we're discussing climate models v. weather models, rather than sizes of pins and degrees of angelhood (and, to be fair, this was never an argument of the medieval church; the Renaissance made up that cliche as a jape against the medievalists.  Of course, much of what obsessed the Renaissance would seem farcical to us now, too; also; as well.  Anyway.....)

But you see, science is sciencey, and even the arguments over what are really fundamentals (do we do nothing? do we do something?  It was said on Diane Rehm this morning that if we had done something 10 years ago, it would have been the wrong thing, because we were interpreting the wrong data in the wrong way, and it was better to have done nothing?  As the pragmatists taught us a century ago, not to act is to act.  Whither now?) are not considered arguments over fundamentals because we all agree that science=truth!  Well, at least the truth that will solve all our problems and keep the affluent society....affluent.  (Honestly, when we're arguing about climate change, what else are we arguing about?)

Do I mean that religion has an answer to this problem,  a solution that will resolve all?  No.  It's just interesting that religion is completely excluded from any consideration, except as to how religion causes problems, which, of course, science never does.  Or if it does, well, bitter with the sweet and all.  The science that gave us weapons of mass destruction and assault rifles and bombers, also gave us penicillin and air conditioning and skyscrapers, so whaddya want, eggs in your beer?  And religion, on the other hand, makes people wear turbans and other people shoot them for wearing turbans, and is the cause of all the strife in the Middle East (funny how nothing else is the cause of that strife), and anyway more people died in religious wars than any wars evah, as any fule kno.

Or something.

People today decry the ignorance of science that leads to claims for "creationism" and calls for teaching something other than the Darwinian theory of evolution in biology.  But ignorance of religion leads to the same end (creationism is born of ignorance in both realms), and religion is a more enduring aspect of human culture (and probably human nature) than science.  Indeed, as much as there is clearly a "language instinct," I think there is a "religion instinct."  The old 19th century model of "progress" whereby we will all advance beyond "superstition" and "belief" is belied by the very language used in the climate change debate.  I didn't hear one scientist or hard-nosed journalist this morning who didn't speak in terms of belief in the data about climate change, as if the sine qua non of scientific reasoning was to believe the data, and so finally to come to the true conclusion as to the state of reality; or at least, of the world's climate.

And anyone who wants to tell me "belief" in that context is completely and utterly different from "belief" in the context of religion, is going to immediately mark themselves as ignorant of the fundamentals of both fields, and of the proper use of langauge.  Especially if you want to equate "belief" with "faith," and then say you "trust" the data of science (whatever data and whatever science.  And one of the debates in the climate change argument is over what set of data to trust.), because "faith" means very little more than "trust."

Which is so unreasoning when it is applied to things traditionally religious, and so reasonable when applied to things traditionally scientific.  But the fundamental dichotomy between them really doesn't stand up to scrutiny:  you accept one, and not the other, because you trust one, and not the other.  And at that point you're dealing with the "live option" that William James wrote about, not with what is "true" and what is "false."  Because if you still believe in "true" and "false" in that simplistic way, I'll introduce you to the David Hume, the greatest of the empiricists.  And I'll leave you there to figure your way to Kant and modernity; if you can.

I'm not making a truly cohesive argument here so much as jabbing argument against ignorance, and there is a great deal of that in the world.  Why do you trust science, and distrust religion?  Because you have learned science from the first grade, and learned religion, if at all, at home or in "Sunday school."  You haven't, in other words, learned religion at all to the degree you've learned science.  Which, in part, takes us back to the opening quote from Crooked Timber:  there's a damned good reason we don't teach religion as we do science, because: MORMONS!  Or some other such nonsense.  The reason we don't teach religion is that, on the surface, there is so much disagreement between religions.  But, as is apparent, while on the surface there is so much agreement between sciences, in reality, there is nothing but disagreement.  The physicist who thinks the climatologist is misinterpreting the data and the meteorologist who sees a snake where the climatologist tries to see an elephant, are all arguing over basic understandings.  Why isn't this seen as schismatic, rather than simply bewildering? (and don't even get me started on what physicists think of psychiatrists or anthropologists!).   Perhaps because we teach religion as specific (and so don't teach it at all), while we teach science as general (and so miss the problems of the specific entirely, and don't know what to do with them when they arise.).

Should we teach religion in schools?  Yes, but no more specifically than we teach science.  We teach students who don't specialize in college "science."  Not physics, or biology, or psychology, or anthropology, or chemistry...although we may teach any and all of those subjects.  But chemists don't come from American high schools, nor physicists, nor meteorologists.  We teach, in other words, the general tenets of science, the general principles of science, as they apply to living things, to rocks, to weather, to physical things.  What if we taught, as religion, the basic tenets of religion.  Things like, oh, I don't know:  humility; compassion; education; humanitarianism.  These could be taught as values in themselves, and as values arising from religions beliefs.  Perhaps we could even teach religious tolerance, instead of a new version of religious intolerance championed by the "new atheists."  We could teach it by teaching religion as a thing worth understanding, just as science and mathematics are worth understanding.  Worth understanding even if you'll never be a scientist and don't really need to know how your computer works or why a phone rings or what keeps the food in your refrigerator cold.  For all of those I know the basic principles; but if I can't identify them according to the basic laws of physics, or in terms of electrical theory, am I any the poorer for it?  I always understood I was taught those basic principles not so I could design an internal combustion engine from the ground up, or replicate the telephonic communication system or even design a laptop from scratch, but just so I could understand.  I know basically why a light bulb gives off light, but do I need to understand it as an engineer does, or a physicist?  No more do I need to be  devotee or even a priest in a religion, to understand something more basic to human existence than modern technology.

Being ignorant of it really hasn't done the world a great deal of good, and arguably has contributed to the rise of religions fundamentalism and religious fanaticism.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the vacuum created by our modern ignorance of religion a whole host of demons has found refuge.  Maybe, instead of cursing the darkness, we could start lighting a few more candles?

Monday, August 13, 2012

See what's become of me.....


In recent months, Ryan has been receiving briefings from Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush's former Middle East director at the National Security Council, and Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, as first reported by Weekly Standard reporter Stephen Hayes on Twitter. Another conservative foreign-policy specialist who has briefed Ryan said the Romney campaign in Boston has arranged for briefings with a parade of former government experts on foreign policy in recent weeks.
Why do we care?
Back in the cowboy days when St. Ronnie winked at the rape and murder of American churchwomen in Central America — noted funnyman Al Haig suggested the four murdered nuns ran a roadblock, and radio comedian Laura Ingraham once told a reporter from the Times magazine that she was going down to stay "at the Four Dead Nuns Inn." Yes, they're all sociopaths — besides being a co-conspirator, Abrams was the pre-eminent cheerleader for that policy, which included the murder, on the altar, during mass, of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a crime committed by men for whom Abrams was a conspicuous apologist.

Besides, some of us remember Reagan's presidency.  As tbogg says, William Kristol is getting the band back together.  I'm not trying to connect Paul Ryan to the death of Oscar Romero, but if Kristol can get his band back together one more time, can't we use to occasion to re-examine the past that isn't over, and isn't even past?  Can't we get our own band together? This is from Memory of Fire: Volume III, Century of the Wind, by Eduardo Galeano, tr. Cedric Balfrage, Pantheon, 1988.

"ARCHBISHOP Romero offers her a chair. Marianela prefers to talk standing up. She always comes for others, but this time Marianela comes for herself. Marianela Garda Vilas, attorney for the tortured and disappeared of EI Salvador, does not come this time to ask the archbishop's solidarity with one of the victims of D' Aubuisson, Captain Torch, who burns your body with a blowtorch, or of some other military horror specialist. Marianela doesn't come to ask help for anyone else's investigation or denunciation. This time she has something personal to say to him. As mildly as she can, she tells him that the police have kid-napped her, bound, beat, humiliated, stripped her-and that they raped her. She tells it without tears or agitation, with her usual calm, but Archbishop Romero has never before heard in Marianela's voice these vibrations of hatred, echoes of disgust, calls for vengeance. When Marianela finishes, the archbishop, astounded, falls silent too.

"After a long silence, he begins to tell her that the church does not hate or have enemies, that every infamy and every action against God forms part of a divine order, that criminals are also our brothers and must be prayed for, that one must forgive one's persecutors, one must accept pain, one must. . . Suddenly, Archbishop Romero stops.

"He lowers his glance, buries his head in his hands. He shakes his head, denying it all, and says: 'No, I don't want to know.'

" 'I don't want to know,' he says, and his voice cracks.

"Archbishop Romero, who always gives advice and comfort, is weeping like a child without mother or home. Archbishop Romero, who always gives assurances, the tranquilizing assurance of a neutral God who knows all and embraces all-Archbishop Romero doubts.

"Romero weeps and doubts and Marianela strokes his head."

Or the four women Alexander Haig joked about:
"THERE are so many deaths everywhere that it is incredible.

"The 'death squadron' strikes in so many poor homes. A family of seven, including three small children, was machine gunned to death in a nearby town just last week. It is a daily thing- death and bodies found everywhere, many decomposing or attacked by animals because no one can touch them until they are seen by a coroner. It is an atmosphere of death.

"The organized, as they call the left, are made up of some of those simple courageous, suffering farmers. In the Pastoral de Asistencia [pastoral Assistance] work that Ita began in Chatelango, one comes in contact with so many poor refugees-women and children especially, who have lost husbands, brothers, fathers.

"It has become an ordinary daily happening. Two lovely young women were cut into pieces by machetes in a community nearby where so many of the people have been killed. The brave mother of one of these young women is also the mother-in-law of the other and she was here with us taking refuge. We are trying to help the refugees-bringing them to shelters and getting food to places where it is desperately needed. "Archbishop Romero [murdered while he said Mass in San Salvador on March 23] and all the martyrs of this little violent land must be interceding for a new day for Salvador.

"I am beginning to see death in a new way, dearest Katie. For all these precious men, women, children struggling in just laying down their lives as victims, it is surely a passageway to life or, better, a change of life. . . .

"I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I am at peace here and searching-trying to learn what the Lord is asking. Ita is a beautiful, faith-filled young woman. I am learning much from her. At this point, I would hope to be able to go on, God willing. . . . This seems what he is asking of me at this moment. The work is really what Archbishop Romero called "acompanamiento" [accompanying the people], as well as searching for ways to bring help.

"Write to me soon. Know that I love you and pray for you daily. Keep us in your heart and prayers, especially the poor forsaken people."--Maura Clarke

Maura Clarke was a Maryknoll sister working with the poor in EI Salvador when she wrote this letter in October 1980. On December 2 of that year, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel were brutally murdered.
Mitt Romney is currently ignoring a request from the "Nuns on the Bus" to pay attention to the poor in America, something I've noted we haven't really done since Robert Kennedy ran for President. The nuns have also called Paul Ryan's budget immoral.  Unless the poverty rate has changed since last August, the fact that more people are in poverty today than in the last 50 years is probably not only appalling, but misleading.  But then, misleading is what our public discourse does best.

So, for once, can we just get the band back together and stand for something moral?  Can we, just this once, declare people more important than things (money) or ideas (politics as usual)?  Can we try to remember what we've done in the name of liberty and freedom (D'Aubisson was a graduate of the School of the Americas).  We won't dredge up the ghosts of the past, like RFK walking among the poor in full view of the cameras, or to consider the blood of priests and nuns on our hands. Granted, that's not much of a reason for a reunion, but can we for once try for atonement?  Or does that exceed the carrying capacity of a nation, to acknowledge its sins and ask for redemption?  If we don't go that far, can we at least try to be moral?  Just this once?  If nothing more, in opposition to business as usual?