Jesurgislac’s Journal

June 30, 2008

Sometimes, the world is good to me

Filed under: Bad Stuff Happens,Good Stuff Happens — jesurgislac @ 10:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago, Heinz was running a cute funny ad for Heinz Mayo (a gooey, sickly product, laden with fat and sugar) on British TV. It was an excellent ad (much better than the product).

The theme of the ad was that Heinz Mayo is so good it’s “like having a New York deli man in your kitchen”. Two kids getting ready for school get their mayo-slathered sandwiches from the deli man, whom they address as “mum”. Then another man, suit-and-tie, very respectable, picks up his lunch and is heading out the door when the deli man bellows “Hey! Ain’t you forgetting something?” and the two men kiss.

“Love you. Straight home after work, sweet cheeks.”

You can see it for yourself on Youtube – just search for Heinz Mayo. Although some US news media have made a point of the ad not being broadcast to children, they omitted to mention that this was because of the product it was selling, not because two men exchange a marital kiss.

But in a campaign apparently organised – or at least inspired by – the Christian Right in the US, over 200 people “spontaneously” complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about this “offensive” “Inappropriate” ad, and Heinz had a fit of spinelessness and pulled the ad and grovelled a bit about how awful it was that they hadn’t realised that some people would find the ad not cute and funny but offensive. Left a nasty taste in my mouth, so I contacted Heinz and told them I liked their ad and wouldn’t be buying another Heinz product until i saw it back on the air. (I like Heinz baked beans. And Heinz tomato ketchup. And Heinz tomato soup, in a certain childish mood when all I want is sweet tomatoey goodness. But I think they’d all taste like rotten homophobia to me right now, with all Heinz’ concern about being a “family product”, and not offending freaked-out homophobes.)

The petition to reinstate the ad (here) has gathered 11895 signatures (as of 10pm Monday) since it was set up last Wednesday. Yes, it’s just an ad. But Heinz is being taught, as every signature is added to that petition, that a lot more people were offended by their weak-kneed “oh goodness yes two men kissing is offensive, how could we not realise?” than by the ad itself.

At the same time as this story was breaking, last week, a different story was breaking for a British homophobe. Stephen Green, of Christian Voice, is the kind of hate-filled creep who likes to show up at Pride and tell people they’re going to burn in hell. No one minds people standing around quietly waving an ill-spelt placard quoting from the Old Testament – indeed, it’s a popular sport on Pride day to get your photo taken kissing in front of such placard-wavers – but Stephen Green was going up to people and pressing his hate-literature on them, and claiming (when he refused to stop doing this after he was politely asked to quit) that his being prevented from harassing happy Pride-goers was an infringement of his religious freedom.

Last year, Stephen Green tried to sue the Director General of the BBC (Mark Thompson) over the BBC2 broadcast of Jerry Springer the Opera and Jonathan Thoday of Avalon for its subsequent theatre tour. He lost, of course: it was a nutty attempt. And the Court ordered costs against him.

Stephen Green has to pay Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday £90,000. He has to pay the BBC’s solicitors £55,000. He has to pay Thoday’s solicitors £35,000. That’s £180,000.

He admits himself: he doesn’t have the money. His solution? He told Thompson and Thoday:

It should be enough for Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday that they got away with blasphemy, insulting God and the Lord Jesus Christ, at least in this life. For these rich, powerful men to pursue me into the bankruptcy courts over money I don’t have would be vindictive.

Yeah, because it would be totally vindictive of them to expect Stephen Green to pay up what he cost them in his frivolous lawsuit.

But Stephen Green has told them they should just swallow what he cost them and pay up – “in the interests of goodwill and justice”.

It just gives me the warm fuzzy giggles. Especially since Christian Voice were trying to collect names on an e-petition to Thoday and Thompson begging them because they’re rich to just put up with what Stephen Green cost them.

No, not begging: demanding.

And in a week, they’ve got about 770 signatures. Compare that to the Heinz petition….

June 26, 2008

Thursday cat blogging

Filed under: Uncategorized — jesurgislac @ 7:15 am

I’m taking my older cat to the vet this morning, for an operation on her thyroid gland.

Wish her (and me) well, please.

June 23, 2008

“With this ring I thee bind, with my body I thee worship”

These are the words that Peter Cowell and David Lord used to wed each other at the Church of St Bartholomew in London, on Saturday 31st May 2008:

I N take thee M as my partner, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, and thereto I pledge thee my troth.

With this ring, I thee bind, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Reverend Martin Dudley married them, and says he did nothing wrong and would do it again. This is by far from being the first time that two Anglican priests have wed in church, but two things make this different.

Before 5th December 2005, there was no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the UK. Civil partnership is legally different from marriage (primarily, it has a different name: but there are some small legal differences, too). But the differences are not big enough to make the legal recognition comfortable to the Church – indeed, it’s hard to see what differences would be. In common parlance, civil partnership is regarded as gay marriage.

The other difference: past ceremonies were carried out in secret. The Church of England has never objected to having gay bishops and gay priests so long as they lie about their sexual orientation to the laity: but honest priests who make no secret of their sexual orientation are distrusted, and honest bishops are very nearly anathema. Secrecy, shame, and concealment make being gay or bisexual all right: honesty, openness, and unashamed love are what the Anglican Communion cannot bear.

Giles Fraser spoke in the BBC Thought for the Day on 18th June:

So what, then, is the Church of England’s theology of marriage?

Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, as the Book of Common Prayer was being put together, marriage was said to be for three purposes:

First, it was ordained for the procreation of children. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication. Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

As Fraser notes, the Church of England does not bar mixed-sex couples from marrying who cannot have children, and makes no intensive inquiry into whether couples wed in church intend to “procreate”.

Why, then, does the Church of England object to same-sex couples marrying? (The argument “marriage is about procreation” can only be taken seriously when consistently applied: when it is used to ban mixed-sex couples who cannot have children together.)

The Bishop of London takes the Rev Dudley’s action very seriously: he has issued a public rebuke where he says:

The real issue is whether you wilfully defied the discipline of the Church and broke your oath of canonical obedience to your Bishop.

In short: Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, says the problem is not that God is homophobic; is not that Chartres himself is homophobic (Chartes claims that “homophobia is not tolerated” in his dioscese): the problem is “the discipline of the Church”.

The problem is that 300 homophobic bishops are declaring that if the Anglican Communion continues to tolerate openly gay bishops and priests, instead of requiring a gay person who is ordained to be dishonest and live in the closet, they can no longer be part of the Anglican Communion: they will walk away from it.

As Haaretz reports:

Some 300 bishops – a third of the Anglican bishops in the world – arrived in Jerusalem this week to attend the Global Anglican Future Conference, organized by the traditionalist wing of the church, which is opposed to ordaining homosexual bishops. GAFCON is being staged as a rival to next month’s Lambeth Conference in London, the Anglican Communion’s main event held every 10 years.

GAFCON has drawn some 1,000 participants: bishops, clergymen, and activists from Anglican congregations in 28 countries, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

These people believe that God hates queers, and that the Episcopalian Church ought to enforce celibacy and lies on gay clergy. When an openly-gay priest was appointed to a bishopric in 2003, they went mad: when civil partnerships became law in the UK, and gay priests who had been living together for years or decades began cautiously to wed, they screamed. They know God hates where they hate, and they can’t understand why the rest of the Communion can’t see it.

I’m an atheist, and before I was an atheist I was a Quaker, which is fairly far removed from the angst and ceremony of the Anglican Communion. (In the UK, Quakers decided some years before civil partnership that if a same-sex couple wanted to marry in a Meeting for Worship, they should make application to their local Monthly Meeting, just as a mixed-sex couple would, and it would be up to that Monthly Meeting to say yes or no. This is a very Quakerly solution: unlike most other Christian sects, the Religious Society of Friends doesn’t just say they believe in freedom of conscience, they work to ensure that all Friends do have freedom of conscience. There is no hierarchy, and there can be no demand for ritual obedience.)

So why do I care about the Anglican Communion? Well, in 1986, I made a friend whose friendship I still treasure, though he died nearly 16 years ago. For his sake, in his memory, I still go to the church where he was ordained a deacon, for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and other times when it occurs to me. I even take communion, though I never did when he was alive: I used to tell him that as I had never been baptised, and had never been a communicant member of any Christian congregation (Quakers don’t do baptism and don’t do Holy Communion) I could not possibly take communion as part of a Church of England service. I wish he were still alive to argue with me about it. But he died, and so I eat the bread and drink the wine and remember my friend, who unfairly won the argument by leaving it. He had a partner: they were never married, of course, but “for the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity” they were an admirable couple.

So I care. In a sense, of course, as an atheist and a believer in religious freedom, if Peter Akinola and his homophobic cohort wish to uphold their belief that God hates where they hate, I see no reason why they shouldn’t – I would wish it otherwise, but Nigeria is one of the countries in Africa where gays are actively persecuted, and an Archbishop who believes that Christians ought to persecute and humiliate gays is simply going along with mainstream opinion in his country. It would take enormous courage and steadfast principle to oppose the violent mainstream even if Akinola believed that God is love, but there’s no indication that Akinola is anything but sincere in his belief, shared with many other Christians, that God hates and the Church should enforce God’s hatred.

In the UK, Christians arguing that they have a right to incite hatred are mainly arguing they should have the right to abuse and intimidate schoolchildren, not for a right to incite lynch mobs. It’s easy for me, living in the UK, not a schoolchild, to say “This is a matter of religious freedom” because it is not my life or my wellbeing on the line.

Nevertheless, in a detached kind of way, if you don’t look at or care about the homophobic violence (and the Archbishop of Canterbury prefers not to) the situation becomes:

One third of the Anglican Communion has decided it cannot tolerate the majority. They are threatening to leave, if the majority won’t support their homophobic beliefs and persecute lesbians and gays as the minority believes we should be persecuted.

The Anglican Communion survives on tolerance – on accepting, however reluctantly, that within the Church of England there can be a diversity of belief and opinion. If a significant minority of that Communion now finds the tolerance of the majority intolerable, they should leave.

What they shouldn’t do is blame the objects of their bigotry for their leaving. Akinola’s complaints are chiefly directed at the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: because Williams has failed to persecute the openly-gay priests and bishops of the Anglican Communion with the rigour that Akinola believes God wants. Williams and others like him seem to blame the victims for being there – for being open and honest and in love.

Update: Archbishops fail to condemn violence against lesbians and gays (Ekklesia)

At the press conference [for GAFCON] Iain Baxter of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) from the UK asked the Archbishops how they reconciled their faith with their support for jailing lesbian and gay people, which had led to cases of rape and torture.

He also asked why they had refused to speak out against such incidents which had taken place in their respective countries.

In response Archbishop Peter Akinola said that he was not aware of any such incidents anywhere in Africa. He also said he was unaware that anyone had been imprisoned for being gay or lesbian.

When given the example of a lesbian women from Uganda [Prossy Kakooza] who had applied for asylum in the UK after being jailed, raped in the police station, and marched for two miles naked through the streets of Uganda, Archbishop Akinola said: “That’s one example. The laws in your countries say that homosexual acts, actions are punishable by various rules. I don’t need to argue.”

“If the practice (homosexuality) is now found to be in our society” he continued, “it is of service to be against it. All right, and to that extent what my understanding is, is that those that are responsible for law and order will want to prevent wholesale importation of foreign practices and traditions, that are not consistent with native standards, native way of life.”

It’s quite clear: for Akinola, God is hate. More on this later.

June 20, 2008

What’s the value of a human life?

Over the past several months, the US has been “dealing” with the Iraqi resistance in Sadr City, home to 2.5 million people, by firing “Hellfire missiles, tank rounds, satellite-guided missiles and rounds from machine guns”. (The resistance have been firing “rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and mounted machine guns as well as AK-47 rifles”, according to this recent New York Times article.)

How many Iraqis have been killed as a result? Impossible to say, exactly: as a matter of policy, the US military does not count or try to count Iraqis killed, and of course will claim as a matter of routine that any adult male Iraqi killed was a member of the resistance, and therefore a legitimate target for the occupying army.

But if you think about what would be likely to happen if the FBI were to “deal with” violent crime in New York City, the most populous city in the US, by firing Hellfire missiles at locations where they believe violent criminals live or where they’ve been storing weapons, you might have an idea of what is happening in Sadr City.

The other day on Obsidian Wings, Eric Martin posted what I thought was a fairly uncontentious post: The Going Exchange Rate:

From a distance, the true levels of devastation are hard to appreciate in any deeper sense. Further, the relentless drumbeat of bombings and other incidents leads to a certain level of numbness. It’s impossible to pause and take notice of each. As a result of this continued conflict, the numbers of dead and wounded have reached those hard to comprehend levels where the tragedy of lives lost is blurred by the sterility of statistics. The fact that our media has deliberately chosen to keep images of the carnage from our screens and pages also contributes to the impersonal nature of the math.

One thing that I find myself doing almost reflexively when I read about a bombing such as yesterday’s (perhaps to counteract this tendency), is to try to imagine what such a body count would equal in American terms (something Juan Cole did some time back IIRC). That is, given that Iraq is a much smaller country population wise, what would the corollary be in a country America’s size (this is relevant when trying to measure the impact on a society as a whole from such acts). The conversion rate is actually quite easy due to a certain symmetry in Iraq’s pre-war population (roughly 30 million) and America’s (roughly 300 million) – about ten times the size.

Thus, in order to begin to empathize with Baghdadis, imagine what a bombing that took 630 Americans would feel like. Imagine the outpouring of emotion that would ensue, the sadness, the outrage. And that’s from just one day out of thousands in a war that has seen few, if any, pass without comparable tragedy.

The blogging community at Obsidian Wings – front page posters and regular commentators, a group of perhaps a hundred people – lost one of our number in Iraq this January past: Andy Olmsted, who also posted as G’Kar. Andy touched more lives than most, but for every life lost in Iraq (well over a million since 2003, as two separate counts have confirmed) there was a group of people who felt as we did – friends, family, loved ones. Unlike some others on the blog, Hilzoy or Gary Farber, I wasn’t particularly close to Andy; yet the knowledge of that life wasted, of the loss of all Andy hoped for, still sometimes brings me to tears. I’ve lost close friends and family before: there is a grinding grief you just have to spend time – months, years – working your way through. Mourning.

For each life lost in Iraq, people are feeling that grinding grief. For each one of a million lives, there are family and friends who are still trying to endure the loss, the grinding grief, the mourning.

It’s impossible to comprehend the scale of this tragedy – no one could hold an understanding of that much grief and loss and misery and pain. It’s awfully easy to dismiss the lives lost that we only hear about by the dozens in news reports – thirteen dead here, sixty-three dead here – as not holding that much grief, that much pain, as our individual losses, that we know by name and family and the words they wrote.

But Eric’s point is well made: if Iraqi lives and American lives are considered of equal value, then to measure the impact on the US if an equivalent number of lives were lost, you have to think of ten times the number.

Before the war, there were 30 million people in Iraq. 300 million people in the US. One million Iraqi dead. To understand the scale of that loss, do simple arithmetic: imagine if the scale of the American losses were not four thousand but ten million.

Given ten million American dead, a group the size of the Obsidian Wings network would not have experienced just one loss in five years. Every time someone was offline for a while, the worry would be that (as I think most of us regular readers worried about Riverbend) that something had happened – that they were among the dead, or the injured, or the refugees who had been forced to flee. (As Eric also noted, to consider the scale of the disruption caused by 4 million Iraqi refugees, think 40 million American refugees.)

Only two basics are required to understand the point Eric was making in his post: the basic humanity to know that each Iraqi killed is the same loss as each American killed, and the ability to do basic arithmetic.

What are we to think of the people who aggressively, bitterly resisted Eric’s post, claiming that it was impossible to equate the deaths of Iraqis with the deaths of Americans? It would be generous, I suppose, to blame the American educational system, and believe that they don’t know how to do basic arithmetic.

June 19, 2008

William Saletan on the pro-abortion pharmacies

Pro-abortion pharmacies are a bizarre phenomenon: claiming to be “pro-life”, they promote abortions by denying women contraception: especially emergency contraception, which is of course needed precisely when a woman knows there’s a high risk she might well need an abortion otherwise.

William Saletan (via) sees these pro-abortion pharmacies as a “matter of conscience”: some pharmacists, he feels, just see it as moral to ensure that more women need to have abortions, and the law shouldn’t stand in their way.

There’s actually, I discover via Saletan, an entire website devoted to supporting pro-abortion pharmacists, including even a PDF of guidelines to ensure a person who wants to work as a pro-abortion pharmacist or in a pro-abortion pharmacy, can get the job they want.

The PDF suggests that “the following techniques have been used successfully on several occasions to obtain employment in which the company agreed to a [proabortion] dispensing policy for the pharmacy. This means no [female contraceptive] drugs or devices, including birth control pills, and no referrals for the same.” (I’ve edited the unscientific inaccuracies out.)

  • a belief that God has such employment in mind
  • prayer that God will prepare the way to find it
  • include the pro-abortion message clearly on the resume
  • Unless the interviewer brings up the pro-abortion ethics statement, defer discussing it until the end of the personal interview
  • refuse to take the job unless the pharmacist enforces pro-abortion policies on all staff and customers

Saletan’s “solution” to these pro-abortion pharmacies is typically libertarian:

And Stein’s reporting suggests the abstaining pharmacies aren’t making their policies clear enough. If they won’t do this voluntarily—by posting them, for instance—the law should make them do it. If I were writing the regulations, I’d draw up a big, fat, standardized “We don’t stock birth control” notice, complete with a 24-hour toll-free number that will direct you to the nearest pharmacy that has what you need.

Which of course, if it’s the only pharmacy in a small town, might be a hundred miles away.

I’d suggest to Saletan that a more accurate notice would say: “We promote abortion” and besides Saletan’s slightly pointless 24-hour toll-free number for the nearest real pharmacy, would be required to include contact details for the nearest health clinic that performs abortions: and each pro-abortion pharmacy would be required to pay a percentage of their gross take per 28-day period to that clinic to support women on a low income who need abortions.

Or, you know: the law could just require that a pharmacist who has suddenly developed religious scruples about doing their job, which includes providing women with the means to prevent abortion, would have to either quit being a pharmacist or quit trying to impose their religious beliefs on their customers.

Meanwhile, as an active Internet citizen, I’d like a websearch for pro-abortion pharmacy and pro-abortion pharmacists to bring up the appropriate site: PFLI, the pharmacists for abortion. Unlike pro-lifers, and certainly unlike these pharmacists, I actually think it would be great if there were fewer abortions each year – safely carried out, as early as possible, and prevented as far as possible by provision of wider choices to women.


Robert Semler, the pro-abortion pharmacist
Robert Semler, the pro-abortion pharmacist
Drugstores Market Beliefs:

When DMC Pharmacy opens this summer on Route 50 in Chantilly, the shelves will be stocked with allergy remedies, pain relievers, antiseptic ointments and almost everything else sold in any drugstore. But anyone who wants condoms, birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraceptive will be turned away.

That’s because the drugstore, located in a typical shopping plaza featuring a Ruby Tuesday, a Papa John’s and a Kmart, will be a “pro-[abortion] pharmacy” — meaning, among other things, that it will eschew all contraceptives.

Like the doctors, nurses and other staff members at Tepeyac, Robert Semler, the pharmacist who will run DMC Pharmacy, plans to start each workday with a prayer with his staff, which at first will just be his wife, Pam, a nurse. “Being a faith-based workplace, it’s a logical thing to do,” Semler said.

(More on this from Jill at Feministe.)

June 18, 2008

Maggie Gallagher redefines marriage

Unsurprisingly, Maggie Gallagher (Redefinition Revolution, National Review Online) is spouting off about how awful it is that two men can now go to California and get married. (Though the first marriage in California was between two women who had been partners for 55 years, Maggie makes no reference to this: it doesn’t fit her paradigm of “gay marriage”, and as her meltdown on The Volokh Conspiracy three years ago demonstrated, she is simply not capable of fact-based arguments for or against same-sex marriage.)

Let’s be clear; opponents of same-sex marriage are homophobic. There’s no reason to oppose lesbian and gays having the legal right to marry, but the belief that it’s wrong for LGBT people to have the same civil rights as heterosexuals: and that is a homophobic belief.

The justifications for why it’s “wrong” are all illogical. Maggie begins her argument with “Gay men are promiscuous!” (Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon points out that if consensual promiscuity were a reason for banning marriage for all, straight marriage has to be banned too.) In part of course Maggie is just presenting a naively homophobic argument – it’s okay for straights to get married even though some of them will be openly polyamorous within marriage, but gays have all got to behave far better than straights if they want to be “permitted” the right. But mostly, I think Maggie begins her argument with this because she wants to summon the familiar prejudices against gay men, and “they’re all promiscuous!” is certainly one of them.

Moving on to Maggie’s next “point”, she mentions:

Same-sex marriages are tailing off rapidly, after what the New York Times describes as “an initial euphoric rush to the altar.” In Massachusetts, that rush included residents of other states — as indicated by the New York Times headline of May 18, 2004: “Despite Uncertainties, Out-of-Staters Line Up to Marry.” The latest data indicate that 867 gay weddings took place in Massachusetts in the first eight months of 2007, down from 6,121 gay weddings in the first six months of 2004.

This is the same pattern seen in other jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been allowed.

Yes, Maggie, it is. And a little thought – or even a little examination of the marriages taking place in the first few months – would tell you why this pattern is common to all countries and states where same-sex marriage, or civil union equal to marriage. Because couples who have been together for decades, who have committed their lives to each other, who are given the chance to marry, will do so. Immediately.

Once all the couples who have been waiting for ten, twenty, forty years to be able to marry are married, of course there’s an apparent fall in the marriage rate. There is no more backlog, so the marriage rate steadies to a normal rate.


Why do people get so panicky about falling birthrates?

There are two short answers to that: racism and sexism.

The sexism part is fairly obvious: the anti-choicers (who hate the idea of women getting to decide whether we have children, how many children, and when to have children) see in a “falling birthrate” that a significant proportion of women in a country who have become uppity. (Anti-choice women seem to have achieved the far-from-unusual hypocrisy of thinking that all other women have become too uppity to have all the children they should want to have. (As David P. Barash (via Pandagon)points out in the LA Times op-ed pages recently, humans are evolutionarily inclined to eat when we feel hungry, drink when we feel thirsty, and have sex when we feel horny. We are also inclined to take care of and feel protective of babies when they arrive, but this is a separate bit of programming from wanting to have sex.)

The racism part ought to be just as obvious. The human species is in no danger of becoming extinct. None at all. There are over 6 billion humans worldwide: while it’s possible that a human-created catastrophe could end up wiping out our entire species, in plain fact, a species with as large a breeding pool as ours and as a wide range, is not in any danger of extinction short of a human-created catastrophe such as a nuclear war.

What several people have argued (most recently, I had this argument on Family Scholars Blog [before I was banned] but it’s a standard right-wing anti-choice Thing) is that there’s a problem with demographics – that countries where women are both educated and independent enough to be able to decide for ourselves how many children we want to have and when (and which are usually countries with a good enough health care system that all the children a woman decides to have will most likely survive to adulthood – this is not coincidental) are countries with an aging population, where “soon” there will be too many people too old to work and too few younger people to support them.

One may then – logically enough – point out that immigration generally solves that problem. It’s not as if there’s a real shortage of human beings: if there’s any country in the world which really is having trouble because there’s too many old people and not enough young people, it’s because that country has managed to block off most legal and all illegal immigration. (Needless to say, I do not believe there is such a country, nor ever will be.)

Then your average racist Christian right-winger (I mean that as a compound: Christians who are neither right-wing nor racist, and right-wingers who are not Christian nor racist, should not feel included, but FSB’s right-wingers are both Christian and racist and homophobic and sexist… you can see why they banned me….) frothing gently at the mouth, will say that they want their culture to stay their culture, and it won’t if there’s mass immigration from other countries that don’t share their culture. Right now, this fear is usually ostensibly anti-Muslim. A century ago it would have been anti-Eastern European/anti-Jewish/anti-Irish, and fifty years ago it would have been anti-West Indies. It is the same racist fear, and it is unfounded every time, as one can see by looking back at previous examples.

What this fear of falling birth rates ultimately comes down to is: we want our women to have more and more of our babies. What that means to your average right-wing Christian racist is: white women should have white babies, and a white woman shouldn’t under any circumstances be allowed to abort just because she can’t afford to take care of a child: she should hand the baby over to a white (and heterosexual, and married) couple. (Egg-donation and sperm donation, however, are bad, because anything that lets a woman feel in control of reproduction is fundamentally bad: women who are in control of reproduction have fewer children.)

I got banned from FSB because the moderators objected to having homophobia identified as bigotry, or indeed identified at all: the preference of your average right-wing Christian homophobe is for their feelings about LGBT people to be regarded as normal, not as homophobia – still less to have homophobes called out as bigots. But in a sense, their homophobia is a side-effect: the real motivation behind all this twisted nonsense is a knotted-up combination of racism and sexism. Hard to pick out which comes first, which is more important to them: a riddle as unsolvable as the chicken and the egg.

But it all ties together: these people who oppose contraception, sex education, abortion, and who oppose child support, a right to paid maternity leave, breastfeeding, subsidised daycare, free education for all beginning in nursery school. Racism and sexism are the roots, with homophobia as a flourishing fruit of the tree.

Lovely. Let’s cut it down, burn it up, and party on the ashes.


This post was first published on my greatestjournal, on 13th May 2006.

June 17, 2008

How to celebrate your 55th anniversary

Get married.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon made history – again – at 5:07 p.m. Monday [16th June] when they were declared “spouses for life.”

At that moment, standing next to each other in the mayor’s office in San Francisco City Hall in front of cheering friends and relatives, the couple of 55 years became the first same-sex newlyweds in San Francisco and among the first in California under a new right bestowed by the state Supreme Court.

“And it feels great,” said Lyon, 83. (link)

These days, unless of course you’re in the military, or you’re a teenager still at school, or financially dependent on homophobic parents, most Americans can come out about their sexual orientation in reasonable certainty that while some people may be stupid and rude enough to publicly disapprove, no one is likely to kill them over it.

When Del and Phyllis met, 55 years ago, their love was legally regarded as a illness or a disability: a feeling that they were supposed to be ashamed of or want to be “cured” of.

That things have changed so much in 55 years is due, in part, to the courage and hard work and sheer admirable stubborness of these two women, and many others.

Thank you, Del and Phyllis.

There haven’t been very many days like these around the world, where suddenly couples who had been denied the right to be married may at last be legally wed.

“A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage kerchief, may you be healthy all your days. May you be blessed with long life and peace, may you grow old with goodness, and with riches.”

For Del and Phyllis, this wedding blessing is already so: they’ve lived their lives to grow old with goodness, long life, and peace.

But there’s another traditional blessing, even more appropriate for this day:

May those who love us, love us.
And those who don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts;
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we will know them by their limping.

Don’t let the anti-marriage activists try to redefine marriage for everyone by eliminating from marriage the love, respect, devotion and joy that Del and Phyllis feel for each other, and cutting marriage down to a card figure of any man or any woman.

June 15, 2008

US: Pro-life politicians are anti-children

Here’s a convenient piece of documentation: American politicians, and how they vote on pro-child policies.

You can look up the worst and the best politicians for yourself.

John McCain has a 10% score, by the way. Barack Obama has a 60% score. (Hillary Clinton has a 70% score.)

Correlating the pro-child politicians against the “pro-life” politicians, unsurprisingly, we find that the politicians most likely to vote against children are the politicians also most likely to vote “pro-life”. Being anti-child has a strong correlation with being anti-woman.

I won’t give them a link, but the NRLC has a convenient little tool by which you can look up different politicians and discover how they voted on anti-women bills: McCain has the lowest score as anti-child in the Senate, and he also has a lot of bright green ticks on NRLC (and is endorsed by them as a “pro-life” candidate).

David Vitter, James Inhofe, James W. DeMint, Tom Coburn: score at 20%, – strongly anti-child: and all of them have a 100% voting record as anti-women. Among the legislation they supported was a vote that had the effect of defunding UNPFA.

You can continue checking: it’s tedious but disgusting work, confirming that if you’re the kind of politician who votes to limit women’s choices, you are the kind of politician who votes against helping children.

Pro-lifers don’t care about preventing abortions (a pro-lifer showed up in the comments to that post to confirm this): but if you ask them, they’ll claim their justification for trying to make abortion difficult to access or illegal is “Helping moms, saving babies, ending abortion!”

Yet they vote for and urge others to vote for politicians who don’t care about helping moms, or saving babies (or older children) and who actively prefer to avoid preventing abortions.

Now why do they do that? If they wanted to “help moms” they could campaign for paid maternity leave, for free healthcare for pregnant women and children. If they wanted to “save babies” – well, babies and older children – they could campaign for and support politicians who can be trusted to vote for policies supporting children.

There are Senators who score 100% on voting for pro-child legislation (listed below) and, unsurprisingly, NRLC doesn’t like how they vote very much. Check their names: some of them have a few approving green ticks from NRLC for voting for anti-woman legislation, but most have nothing. NRLC doesn’t score points for voting to help children: all NRLC cares about is the codeword “saving babies” – which has nothing to do with actually helping real children, any more than it has anything to do with preventing abortions.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) 100%
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) 100%
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) 100%
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) 100%
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) 100%
Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) 100%
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) 100%
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) 100%
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 100%
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) 100%
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) 100%
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) 100%
Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) 100%
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) 100%
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) 100%
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) 100%
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D/I-CT) 100%
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) 100%
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) 100%
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) 100%
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) 100%
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 100%
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) 100%
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) 100%
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) 100%

June 9, 2008

Guantanamo Bay: show trials are evil

I’ve written before on why it was clear from the very beginning that the US was in breach of the Geneva Convention when the first prisoners were sent to Guantanamo Bay – even though we know so much more now than we did then. (Such as the fact that many of the prisoners are innocent kidnap victims.)

Guantanamo Bay is the visible oubliette in the US’s gulag archipelago: there are other prison camps round the world, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq (over 24 thousand prisoners held without due process, including at least 513 children who have been classed as “imperative threats to security”).

(Nevertheless, if you’re a UK citizen, please sign the petition to close Guantanamo Bay. What we can do is worth doing.)

(And all I want to say, any more, about the other current event is that I agree with Julia.)

Right now, the Bush administration has put on show-trials for five of the extrajudicial prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. (There were to be six, but apparently Mohammed al-Qahtani, who has been held in Guantanamo Bay since January 2002, has had charges dropped because, it seems, it would be too obvious in a courtroom, that after six years of torture and solitary confinement he’s completely insane.)

The five remaining show-trial prisoners are:

  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
  • Walid Bin Attash
  • Ramzi Binalshibh
  • Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali
  • Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been an extrajudicial prisoner of the US since the beginning of March 2003. In March 2007, after over three years being passed from one secret prison to another, and six months in Guantanamo Bay as an official extrajudicial prisoner, he confessed to a shopping list of terrorist crimes (read the full list here). He’s known to have been tortured which puts the entire confession out of court, though not, of course, out of consideration at a show trial determined on condemning “al-Qaeda terrorists” to death. And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is also determined to be a martyr and has refused legal representation. (Shortly before his arrest, his children were kidnapped, and since his arrest they have been interrogated, held in extrajudicial detention, and made use of to get KSM to talk.)

Walid Bin Attash has been an extrajudicial prisoner of the US since April 2003. In September 2006, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He presumably spent the intervening three years – over three years – in various secret detention centres. (His name appears in a HRW report from October 2004, “confirmed” as a prisoner of the US at an “undisclosed location”.) He too has confessed to a shopping list of crimes.

Ramzi Binalshibh has been an extrajudicial prisoner of the US since September 2002. In September 2006, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. A HRW report references evidence that he was tortured in a Jordan prison at least part of the time he was one of the US “disappeared”. He’s described as “uncooperative and unresponsive”, but apparently he too has confessed a list of crimes and been implicated by others in their confessions.

The above three all appear to have genuine connections with al-Qaeda – that is, they are implicated as involved in al-Qaeda by material evidence, not by confessions obtained under torture alone. Whether that makes them guilty of the charges brought against them is another question: whether they could be convicted in a court of law, after so long as extra-judicial prisoners and given the extreme likelihood that all confessed under torture, is still another.

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, or Ammar al-Baluchi, is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s maternal nephew. After KSM was captured, his nephew spent time with Walid Bin Attash, and when Walid was taken by the US, so was Ali. He too has been an extra-judicial prisoner of the US since April 2003. He’s listed as a ghost detainee in a HRW report from 2005: he too was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006. There is no evidence linking him with al-Qaeda apart from the family link: he is accused of wiring money to the 9/11 hijackers in the US.

Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi is another peculiar case: he’s been an extra-judicial prisoner of the US since March 2003, in Guantanamo Bay since September 2006, and has been accused of sending money and credit cards and “Western clothing” to the 9/11 hijackers. But material evidence linking him to al-Qaeda appears to be either scant or non-existent.

Regardless of their actual guilt or innocence, the Bush administration’s determination to find them guilty and condemn them to death makes these proceedings a show trial, not justice. (Thanks to the treatment they received, no just trial may ever be possible.)

Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and John Ashcroft – and if those five, then George W. Bush as well – are all directly implicated in the decision to torture American extra-judicial prisoners – as well as George Tenet, then head of the CIA.

So all of these five prisoners (and many others) have been tortured with the approval and advance knowledge of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Ashcroft, and Tenet. Should the next administration decide to investigate and prosecute the crimes of the previous administration (as we all hope will happen) it is very clear that these seven powerful people could, if justice prevailed, find themselves in court on very serious criminal charges.

The first thing I thought of, when I heard that these show trials had been announced, was that the Bush administration had taken an unspeakably horrible means of insuring themselves against any real investigation of their crimes with regard to the extra-judicial prisoners tortured with their knowledge and approval: they intended to time the show trials so that the prisoners would be found guilty as close as possible to the first Thursday in November. When found guilty, the prisoners would be condemned to death.

The Bush administration would then announce that they would pass responsibility for carrying out those executions to the next administration: a bold move, because if Obama is in the White House next January (let’s hope) he might just refuse the poisoned pawn and prosecute the investigation, despite all the media and the Republicans would have to say about how Obama’s refusal to execute these prisoners proves him “soft on terrorism”.

But if whoever’s President next January executes the prisoners, this execution implicates them in the Bush administration’s crimes: and if the President commutes the death sentences to life imprisonment, where else could they be held but in Guantanamo Bay? And if Guantanamo Bay remains as the US flagship oubliette, what of all the other secret detention centres where prisoners can be held? If the next President accepts the poisoned pawn, the next administration is forced into accepting these crimes of the last as a given.

Even if you don’t accept this particular theory, but think the Bush administration is just putting these five on “trial” with the intent of looking like they accomplished something with their thousands of extra-judicial prisoners, so that Bush can claim he finished his disastrous reign by convicting people supposedly “responsible” for the terrorist attack on 9/11, it is still very important that the prisoners’ trials should be completed and the prisoners condemned before Bush leaves office.

But in order to do so, the trials must proceed with extra-ordinary speed. The JAG lawyers ordered to defend these five have proved themselves professionally responsible and honourable, determined to do their best for their clients – a lawyer’s duty – even in these unpromising circumstances when it has become clear that their superiors in the military, and the civilian hierarchy commanding the military, do not want these lawyers to do their best for their clients: they want the accused to be found guilty.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had already refused a lawyer to defend him. Now so have the other four. While agreeing with KSM’s reasoning that the trial is a mockery and there is no point having a lawyer since the court will find him guilty, that’s not as important as the need for the trials not to be completed until – we all hope – McCain loses the election, and – we all should hope even harder – does not get into the White House. (McCain, I have no doubt, will execute the condemned prisoners and continue the extra-judicial detentions without a qualm: there’s room to hope that Barack Obama will put an end to it.)

Via Sideshow, I discover there’s a reason why all five have rejected their right to a defense lawyer: though all five have been held separately for years, none of them allowed to talk to each other, but then, just when it’s most convenient to the Bush administration and the other criminals implicated in the torture and illegal detention of prisoners:

(EmptyWheel) Doesn’t seem that earth shattering at first; however, think through the dynamics to date and the blaring significance sets in. The US has assiduously kept the detainees separated and isolated all this time so that they could not communicate and have structural control from the top down and, then, out of the blue, viola! Right in the middle of the courtroom, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is blithely allowed to huddle them up like Favre does the Packers. When they break huddle, all of them, even the hesitant ones, suddenly want to dismiss their JAG/military lawyers that have been doing such commendable work under impossible conditions. Exactly at the point it is useful to help the US rid themselves of those meddlesome military lawyers that have been beating up their dog and pony shows.

First the Cheney Administration sacked the military judge that had the gall to allow even a shred of due process to the detainees, and now they have effectively sacked the military lawyers that had the temerity to seek it. This was a knowing and intentional play to deny counsel. The US Administration knew what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would do, and they knew that, given the opportunity, he would command the other detainees to do the same. So the US made sure it happened, so as to suit their demented self serving convenience. In writing this post, I have found one other person (h/t to Siun) that has also realized what occurred, and it is none other than Anthony Romero, the Director of the ACLU; everybody should know and be ashamed of what has been done in our name.

This huge bit of legal depravity is of truly profound significance, I cannot emphasize that enough. It sure will go an awful long way to wedge out and marginalize the only lawyers actually doing their job in this whole mess, and will insure that a competent record of the torture will not be created (even if the detainees do mention it). It will also hasten the death penalty killing of these detainees that are prime evidence of the whole US torture scheme. Pretty much is one big eraser and obscurer of the legal hash the prosecution has made. Brilliant. But morally, ethically and legally craven and deplorable. This is the story from the Guantanamo arraignment last Thursday that should be being discussed and decried. This is the penultimate straw; the last straw will be the snuff films that have been facilitated and hastened by Thursday’s Gitmo arraignment shame.

Again I say: It is not a question of whether any of these five who have been put on show trial are in fact guilty or innocent. Nor is it entirely a question of whether my theory is correct, that the executions of these five will be handed to the next President to blood him with the crimes of the past regime, so that the chief criminals can relax without any worries that nasty questions may at some time be asked of them about their approval of torture and extra-judicial detention of terrorist suspects – or even about the decision to grossly violate the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War, as long ago as November 2001.

These are show trials. Show trials are always profoundly wrong: they subvert and destroy justice. It is one of the nastiest ironies of the whole bloody business that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed may actually be guilty of some of the charges brought against him – may indeed be one of the co-conspirators behind September 11. But, thanks exclusively and entirely to the Bush administration’s treatment of him and other prisoners since he was captured, no court of law could possibly convict him. The train of evidence has been corrupted with torture, kidnapping, and long periods of extra-judicial detention. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed evidently thinks he serves the al-Qaeda cause best as a martyr, and he’s certainly right. The Bush administration may well provide him, because they want themselves to avoid prosecution, with the death he wants, and the martyr that al-Qaeda can use for a century.

This isn’t just wicked: it’s stupid.

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