Indiana becomes the center of the universe, for a little while

This is where Indiana is, in case you’ve been wondering.

Last week the state of Indiana made the national news by passing a law whose sponsors named it “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Opponents of the claim that this name is misleading, both because it does little to promote religious freedom and because it is significantly different from the US federal law known by the same name and from the laws modeled on that federal law that are on the books in many other states.  Because the law is expected to protect businesses that refuse to serve members of sexual minority groups, advocates of the rights of such groups have protested vigorously against it.

The two things about this controversy I’ve read that I’ve found most helpful are an essay posted on Facebook by lawyer Carolyn Homer Thomas and a blog post by Eve Tushnet.  As the weeks pass, I’ll probably see good things in print, but for now the story is fresh enough that the internet is the richest source.

Carolyn Homer Thomas writes that Indiana’s law differs from the federal law in two key ways:

First, SB 101 expressly recognizes that for-profit businesses which “exercise practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by…the individuals…who have control and substantial ownership of the entity” qualify for religious exemptions. This means that there is NO Indiana regulation that a business cannot theoretically trump by saying their religion forbids compliance. What’s rightfully getting the most attention (because of the gay rights movement) is the risk that businesses will try to trump non-discrimination and employment laws. This is because, until the Hobby Lobby case, most people had understood the earlier federal and state RFRAs to only protect individuals or non-profit religious institutions, like churches and charities. But the Indiana RFRA now allows even for-profit corporations to exercise religion.

“This means that there is NO Indiana regulation that a business cannot theoretically trump by saying their religion forbids compliance.”  A statute that, interpreted by its plain language, would dismantle the entire civil law system of one of the fifty states would seem to pose a threat to every law-abiding citizen of that state.  I can see that members of sexual minority groups are among those who are especially vulnerable that threat, and so it is reasonable that they should be among the major focuses of attention as Hoosiers* try to figure out how to get themselves out of the mess their state legislature and governor have landed them in.

Carolyn Homer Thomas goes on to identify another major problem with the Indiana statute:

Second – this is the most fascinating aspect of the whole thing to me as a religion law geek – SB 101 only protects a business who is actively “exercising” a practice that is “compelled or limited by” religious belief. This means that the religious belief cannot just be a preference — it has to be theologically mandated. So, a business who suddenly changes course, or comes up with a fairly weak theological reason for its action? That is a ground in court to reject their exemption. By contrast, SB 101 protects ANY “exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief” for individuals and non-profits. So it will be harder for businesses to get exemptions than individuals. Indiana will require a much higher showing of religious conflict before it will protect businesses. (I am going to bracket the fact that this difference presents its own Constitutional problems – courts aren’t supposed to, under the Establishment Clause, evaluate theology.)

Giving state courts the power to decide what does and does not count as a worthwhile religious belief would seem to be a pretty big drawback in something called “the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Eve Tushnet, as a conservative Roman Catholic and an out (albeit celibate) lesbian, has a unique perspective on this issue.  Because of her religious beliefs, she understands the scruples of those whose consciences won’t allow them to participate in same-sex weddings:

1. Cooking is an art, cakes are art, compelled creation of beauty is compelled speech. I feel like the denial that cakery is/should be expressive, that food bears meaning, is somehow Gnostic and class-biased (or sexist? if your grandma could do it, it must not be art?), but maybe that’s self-parody on my part. Anyway beauty + meaning, to me, pretty clearly = art. And photography is even more obviously art, right?

At the same time, because of her sexuality, she also understands dimensions of the issue to which other social conservatives are blind:

2. Still… I wonder how different this debate would look if more gay people felt confident that Christians know how common discrimination, harassment, and violence are in our lives. I mean I didn’t really know this myself for a long time. I was very sheltered. The past few years, in which I’ve gotten to know lots of gay people from different backgrounds (mostly Christian, mostly celibate, it turns out this doesn’t protect you–not that any of my friends asked it to), have been eye-opening for me.

And quite often I find straight people are even more surprised than I was to hear about the frequency and sordid creativity of anti-gay acts. I hope I’m remembering this right, but at a retreat I was at, the leader asked how many of the non-straight participants had either experienced violence as a result of sexual orientation ourselves, or had close friends who had experienced this violence. And I think all of us had. (Close friends, in my case.) And the straight people were shocked. When I tell this story now, people’s eyes widen–I mean, straight people’s eyes widen.

The support major corporations and prominent media figures have given to the protests against Indiana’s law has convinced social conservatives like Rod Dreher that America’s power elite is solidly in favor of the rights of sexual minorities, and that he and his fellow dissenters are headed for a future on the margins of society.  Mr Dreher writes, “On this issue, the left has the media, the academy, much of the legal profession, and corporate America on its side. That’s a powerful coalition. It is the Establishment. And you will not escape its view.”  At The Federalist, Robert Tracinski goes even further, declaring that “The Left Has No Concept of Freedom,” and that those leading the charge against the Indiana law portends a “law of the state [that will] expand so much that it leaves the individual no space in which he may determine his own private principles of action.”

Ms Tushnet has a response ready for Messrs Dreher and Tracinski:

We have a sharply bifurcated culture, where like Glee is on tv and Tim Cook is a gazillionaire, and yet countless kids are being harassed, berated, and thrown out of their homes for being gay.

I am not convinced most straight people know that stuff, and think it’s awful. I am definitely not convinced that most gay people trust that our heterosexual brethren know and reject that stuff. That’s some of what you’re hearing in the “slippery slope” arguments, Can they refuse to carry us in the ambulance? Can they kick our family out of the restaurant?

Those slippery slope arguments are pretty hard to forget when you think about small towns and rural areas of a sort that do exist in Indiana, places where public space consists of a handful of businesses, a few fundamentalist churches, and a couple of government offices.  If you live in one of those areas and the people running those businesses decide that it isn’t worth their while to be seen with the likes of you, your life could become very tightly circumscribed very quickly.

I’ll conclude with a very clever tweet from Michael Brendan Dougherty.  Mr Dougherty, who has taken a rightist stand in this debate, posted this:

Well of course they do.  That’s why mainstream political discussion had so little room for the rights of sexual minorities until recent times; most people can’t really imagine themselves wanting to exercise the right to form a same-sex relationship, or to be transgender, or to live any of the other lives that we now group together under the LGBTQI banner.  And it’s also why every other minority group, including religious minority groups, has a hard time finding a hearing from the general public.   I consider this tweet to be very clever because, in a single rhetorical move, it creates a category into which both the same-sexer who has to wonder whether the paramedics will refuse to put her in the ambulance and the photographer who has to wonder she’ll be sued out of business if she declines to take pictures at a same-sex wedding naturally fall.  So he, like Ms Tushnet and Ms Thomas, manages to open a space in the debate for a human voice.

*That’s what people from Indiana are called, “Hoosiers.”  No one knows why, though there is some evidence supporting a theory connecting it with an early-nineteenth century slang term from Yorkshire, “howzher,” which meant “oaf.”  Anyway, though the word may have originated as an insult, people from Indiana insist on being identified as “Hoosiers,” and if you call them “Indianans” they genuinely do not understand what you mean.

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Wednesday links

Zach Weiner explains very succinctly why it’s so hard to be a pacifist, Eve Tushnet reads about single mothers, John Wilkins doesn’t believe politicians have mandates, some guy named “Zippy Catholic” decides that women’s suffrage and abortion rights are inseparable (and therefore women’s suffrage must go!,) Laura Flanders and Eve Ensler have never talked to each other about their vaginas and don’t plan to start,  this map does a terrific job of encapsulating the results of the 2012 US presidential election, xkcd is hilarious, and Jim Goad can think of ten good reasons not to assassinate Barack Obama.

The American Conservative, March 2012

The table of contents of the March issue of The American Conservative seems to have a problem.  I haven’t seen the print edition yet, but the page numbers in the online edition’s table of contents  don’t match the pages numbers in the magazine. There was a similar, though smaller-scale, problem with last month’s issue.

In the cover story, Peter Hitchens argues that, while the snarling rage Margaret Thatcher continues to evoke in her opponents does go to show that she was a figure of great historical consequence, conservatives are quite wrong to adopt her as a model of political success.  Rather, her true significance is a tragic one, embodying the final collapse of a social ideal and of an approach to governance.  The reverence Lady Thatcher continues to enjoy on the Right in both the UK and the United States suggests to Mr Hitchens that her partisans in those countries have not come to terms with this collapse, and that their ability to formulate and direct national policy is handicapped by their attachment to these outworn notions.

Rod Dreher, the original “crunchy con,” takes a more optimistic view of another eminent Briton.  He gives a glowing writeup to Prince Charles, of all people.  Evidently Mr Dreher sees in His Royal Highness the prophet of a “revolutionary anti-modernism.”  I suppose it is a sign of my shortcomings that I can never keep an entirely straight face when the topic of the British Royal Family comes up; not being British, it would certainly be inappropriate of me to say that grown-up countries don’t have kings and queens.  But I will say that my favorite aspect of the British monarchy has always been the expectation that the various princes and princesses would keep their opinions to themselves.

Gary Johnson, who from 1995 to 2003 represented the Republican Party as governor of the state of New Mexico, has left that party and declared his candidacy for president as a member of the Libertarian Party.  W. James Antle gives sympathetic attention to the freedom-loving Mr Johnson and his quixotic campaign.  Mr Johnson and his fellow Libertarians oppose many things which I think are eminently worth opposing.  If they were the only ones speaking out against the crony capitalism, the wars of aggression, and the burgeoning police state that the Democrats and Republicans have combined to foist upon the USA, I would certainly vote for them.  Fortunately, however, former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson is running for president as a left-of-center candidate.   Mr Anderson stands against all the evils that the Libertarians would fight, and at the same time supports measures to ensure fair play for all to and restrain the excesses of the market.  Mr Anderson may not have much to offer the authors and editors of something called “The American Conservative,” but most of them are just as much opposed to Libertarianism as they are to the 1980s-style liberalism that Mr Anderson represents.

Our favorite Eve Tushnet returns to the magazine with an argument to the effect that the fear of divorce has spawned a social movement that has, paradoxically, weakened marriage in the USA.  Here’s one paragraph that’s too good not to quote:

Possibly in response to divorce scripts like “We just fell out of love,” or “It just happened,” which emphasize powerlessness, the contemporary delayed-marriage script attempts to crack the code, figure out the formula, and do it right.  The fact that marriage, like parenting, is mostly about acceptance, forgiveness, and flexibility in the face of change and trauma gets suppressed.

It’s hard to believe that a celibate like Ms Tushnet wrote such an insightful remark about the nature of marriage.   On the other hand, I don’t suppose Pythagoras was a triangle, and he came up with something useful to say about them.  Be that as it may, there’s some more great stuff in Ms Tushnet’s article.  For example:

A culture of love can’t be built on a foundation of rejection.  The path forward doesn’t include further stigmatizing divorce, or bringing back stigma against unmarried childbearing… What young people need is hope: a sense that marriages can last, not because the spouses were smart enough on the front end but because they were gentle and flexible enough in the long years after the wedding.

Samuel Goldman undertakes to explain “what sets conservatives apart from authoritarians and fascists,” a task prompted by a recent book that lumped together many writers who were in one way or another connected to the word “conservative” (in some cases by their own adoption of that label as a description of their ideological stands, in other cases by their affiliation with a political party with the word “Conservative” in its name, and in still other cases only by the fact that some self-described conservatives have spoken highly of them) and declared them all to be enemies of freedom.  Why so unimpressive a work should occasion an essay by anyone of Mr Goldman’s talent may seem mysterious, but the mystery lessens when one realizes that the author of the book actually occupies a chair of political philosophy at a well-known university.  When it first appeared, some critics noticed the author’s credentials and wondered if it was a parody of crude efforts by right-wingers to smear the word “liberalism” with tar from an equally injudicious brush, but that individual has insisted that he regards his production as a genuine contribution to scholarship.

Mr Goldman’s little essay is remarkable for the courtesy and patience which it shows towards this book and its author.  Not for Mr Goldman such words as “charlatan,” “impostor,” or “fraud.”  Nor does he engage even in subtle and urbane ridicule of his subject.  Instead, he takes it as an occasion for a concise exposition of major themes in the works of Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre.  Mr Goldman’s even temper, as much as his demonstration of the absurdity of the book’s characterization of those thinkers, exposes the depths of its author’s corruption far more effectively than could the most blistering polemic.

“Among the loneliest creatures in the universe”

The other day, Eve Tushnet posted a link to this post by Mark P. Shea.  Shea is responding to remarks by Watergate figure Charles Colson, who was in turn discussing the question of whether puppets Bert and Ernie, of Sesame Street fame, should marry each other.  Colson approvingly quotes the official statement from the producers of Sesame Street to the effect that as puppets, Bert and Ernie “do not have a sexual orientation.”  He sees a deeper significance in the idea that Bert and Ernie’s close friendship suggests a homosexual relationship, and quotes blogger Alyssa Rosenberg’s remarks about it.  Colson’s quote from Rosenberg included the beginning and middle of this paragraph:

And more to the point, I think it’s actively unhelpful to gay and straight men alike to perpetuate the idea that all same-sex roommates, be they puppet or human, must necessarily be a gay couple. Having close, affectionate friendships with another man doesn’t mean that you two are sleeping together, just as liking fashion doesn’t automatically flip a switch on your sexual orientation and make you only interested in dudes. Such assumptions narrow the aperture of what we understand as heterosexual masculinity in a really strange way. As much as I write about how narrow depictions of women can be in pop culture, depictions of men may end up being more positive, but that doesn’t mean they’re less limiting.

To this, Shea adds that the idea that friendship between people of the same sex must somehow represent “sublimated homosexuality” is:

just a lie and the incredible poverty that is foisted on our culture (and on men in particular, who are starving to death for lack of male friendships) is one of the great famines of our time. Some of the most nourishing relationships I have ever known have been friendships–with both men and women. American men are among the loneliest creatures in the universe, not for lack of women, but for lack of friends.

Shea’s blog is called “Catholic and Enjoying It!”   Like Shea, Tushnet is a tradition-minded Roman Catholic; the tagline of her blog is “Conservatism reborn in twisted sisterhood.”  Unlike Shea, she is an uncloseted (though celibate) lesbian.  Colson is neither a Roman Catholic nor a lesbian, but his ardent Baptist faith comes with quite an old-fashioned view of sexual morality.  So Shea’s comment puts them in an awkward spot.  If the label “gay” holds such terror for American men that they would rather take a place “among the loneliest creatures in the universe” than risk being identified with it, surely it is an urgent matter to drain that label of its terror.  To be sure, this is no easy matter.  For decades now, legions of people have been laboring mightily to destigmatize homosexuality, and the work isn’t half done yet.  But it is the obvious answer.  Indeed, the only conclusion I can draw from Shea’s remark is that heterosexual men have a vital stake in the movement to gain full social equality for sexual minorities.  This conclusion, however, is not one that Christian conservatives such as Shea, Colson, and Tushnet can accept, and so they are left facing a vastly complex, perhaps hopelessly complex, problem.  I believe their hearts are in the right place, and so I feel sorry for them.

 

 

 

In the flesh?

Most Sundays, Mrs Acilius and I can be found in a Quaker meeting down the street from our home.  She is a member of that meeting and a convinced adherent of the brand of Christianity associated with Quakerism; I’m not a member of any religious group, nor am I convinced of the truth of any religious doctrine.  The Friends are a likeable bunch, though, and I always feel that my time among them is well spent.

In  many ways, the Quakers are a group apart from other Protestants.  Not in all ways, however.  For example, like many mainline Protestant denominations the US branches of Quakerdom are currently rumbling with disputes about the status of homosexuality.  In some areas of the country, these disputes have gone very far.  The venerable Indiana Yearly Meeting, which has been going since 1821, is apparently considering a proposal to dissolve itself so that the local meetings affiliated with it can sort themselves into pro- and anti-gay groups.  Other yearly meetings may be approaching a similar point.  That means that Quaker denominations that have already made their minds up about the issue are facing the prospect of reorganizing to accommodate refugees from the divided groups.

Because I hear about this controversy quite often, I took a keen interest in Eve Tushnet’s notes on a talk that Christopher Roberts gave at Villanova University a few years back.  This bit especially piqued my interest:  “* CR: Progressive theology of marriage separates creation and redemption–for progressive, pro-gay-marriage theologians, sex difference is about creation/procreation and is private, while redemption (linked to marriage?) is ecclesial but unisex. ”

Roberts’ view of  “Progressive theology,” as Tushnet relays it here, reminds me of a problem at the heart of the sacramental theology of Quakerism.  The Quakers have traditionally held that the sacraments of baptism and communion are entirely “inward”; that is to say, what makes them holy is nothing to do with the physical elements of a ritual, and everything to do with supernatural events involving the soul and the Holy Spirit.  So, most Quakers do not practice an initiation ritual involving water, nor do they take wine and bread together in meetings for worship.

I haven’t read deeply on these topics.  If I were to study the arguments that have been made for and against Quakerism over the 350 years that the Friends movement has been underway, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some old writer who thought he had reduced Quaker sacramental theology to absurdity in this manner: 1. Quakers hold that the sacraments of baptism and communion are entirely supernatural, and that no particular physical act or material form is necessary to complete them.  2. Quakers do not deny that marriage is a sacrament.  3.  Quakers do not provide any reason to regard the sacrament of marriage as radically different from other sacraments.  4. To be consistent, Quakers must therefore hold that no particular physical act or material form is necessary to complete the sacrament of marriage.   5. The difference between male and female is known to us through particular physical acts and material forms, and in no other way.  6.  Therefore, Quakers have no grounds for insisting that a marriage requires a male and female body for its consummation.

Nowadays, many Quakers might accept this line of argument, and might proclaim that they are following in the tradition of the weighty Friends of the past when they endorse same-sex marriage.  Many others continue to resist it.  I’m not at all knowledgeable about Quaker theology, but it might be interesting to learn what sorts of arguments are exchanged in this matter.  If you happen to have knowledge I lack, I invite you to comment.

 

The American Conservative, April 2010

Pluto, no other label needed

My favorite read from the antiwar Right has undergone quite a few changes since it began in 2002.  Founding editors Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos are long gone from The American Conservative, and the hard line those men have taken against immigration from poor countries to rich ones is no longer the magazine’s editorial policy.  Last year, the magazine scaled its publication schedule back from biweekly to monthly.  This issue suggests that some further changes are underway. 

For one thing, the editors seem to want short pieces to end with pungent epigrams.  So Stuart Reid’s column about Peter Hitchens’ less interesting brother praises him for the the fine satires he directed at self-important British Conservatives in the 1970s (Reid ruefully admits that he himself met Peter Hitchens’ brother’s sardonic descriptions perfectly at the time) and praises him also for a 1986 piece arguing that the word “terrorism” should be discarded as worse than useless.  Reid laments that Peter Hitchens’ brother has now become an angry voice calling for endless war and jeering at advocates of peace.  The pungent epigram at the end is this:

Some people say that Hitchens himself is now a conservative.  That is absurd.  But he might one day make a great police chief.

Eve Tushnet’s column about the contrast between “Washington the dateline,” where the US government is headquartered, and “DC the hometown,” where she grew up and lives today, also ends with a pungent epigram: “Official Washington can disappoint you, but only home can break your heart.” 

Not only is the magazine’s style changing; there are signs of further shifts on poitical issues.  A review of a new book by former Texas Republican Party leader Tom Pauken notes Pauken’s case for replacing many federal taxes with a border-adjusted Value Added Tax, a proposal that the magazine has looked on warmly in many pieces in previous issues.  This time around, the response is much cooler, even dismissive: “Would the harm to consumers be offset by the benefits to producers?  Even if so, it’s hard to imagine the consuming many making that sacrifice on behalf of the producing few.”  Perhaps it is hard to imagine, but I would join Pauken in saying that something like it must happen if the “producing few” are not to go on becoming fewer and fewer.   

Not everything about the magazine has changed, however.  Bill Kauffman’s column closes with his characteristic assertion that “small really is beautiful.”  The smallness he discusses is that of the planet Pluto and the resources available to its discoverer, the unlettered 24 year old farm boy Clyde Tombaugh.  Tombaugh’s formal education had ended, apparently forever, when he graduated from high school; there was no money to send him on to college.  Toiling in his family’s pasture, he built his own telescope and spent nights drawing freehand sketches of Mars and Jupiter.  On a whim, Tombaugh sent these sketches to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The observatory operated on a shoestring budget; when its director saw Tombaugh’s sketches, he seized the opportunity to hire someone who might be capable of the drudgery involved in searching for a hypothetical “Planet X” beyond the orbit of Neptune.  After Tombaugh spotted Pluto on a series of photographic plates, he was awarded a scholrship to the University of Kansas, and began a distinguished academic career.   Kauffman points out that in a properly funded observatory today, “a 21st century Clyde Tombaugh would be wearing a hairnet and ladling mac and cheese in the cafeteria.”   I suspect that a 21st century Tombaugh would likely have qualified for a scholarship to the University of Kansas without having to discover a planet first, but Kauffman does have a point.  The bureaucratization of science, like bureaucratization generally, may be the road to efficiency, but there’s something to be said for the independent, uncredentialled researcher. 

I can’t resist mentioning that the Believer (aka Mrs Acilius) takes a keen personal interest in Pluto.  I read this piece to her; when I got to the bit where Kauffman says that the officials of the International Astronomical Union who in 2008 decided to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet were a group of “costive bastards,” she let out a war whoop that would have done her Cherokee forebears proud.  She was not satisfied with Kauffman’s conclusion that the label “dwarf planet” might “be okay” because “small really is beautiful,” however.  She wants it back on the list of full-fledged planets. 

The theme that “small is beautiful” comes up in another piece, Patrick Dineen’s “Counterfeiting Conservatism.”  Dineen traces many evils back to the introduction of primary elections in the USA in the early decades of the 2oth century.  While primaries were supposed to break the grip of political elites on the nominating process, in fact they merely replaced the old elite of local party bosses with a new elite of political professionals who operate on  a national scale.  This development has in turn led to the nationalization of elections, the rise of partisan ideology, and a new concept of patriotism.  Where a 19th century American might have thought of patriotism in terms of loyalty to a particular state and reverence for particular historical figures, the nationalized politics of the 2oth century pushed Americans to identify patriotism with enthusiasm for the nation-state and its expansion. 

I should also note a report on current US politics.  There’s an antiwar candidate running for US Senator from Indiana.  That isn’t the likely Democratic nominee, Congressman Brad Ellsworth of Evansville, but his predecessor in the US House, Republican John Hostettler.  Hostettler opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, and even wrote an antiwar book.  If Hostettler wins his party’s nomination, Indiana will see a conservative, prowar Democrat squaring off against an even more conservative, antiwar Republican in November.  I wonder how the Indiana contingent of Thunderlads will react to that choice.

The American Conservative, December 2009

Florence-King

Florence King

Fifteen writers list “The Best Books You Haven’t Read“; I don’t know about you, but the only one on any of the lists that I had read was Sam Tanenhaus’ pick, The Managerial Revolution by James Burnham.  And that one did not make a very good impression; it struck me as one part dumbed-down Max Weber and three parts shameless plagiarism from Lawrence Dennis.  The other books all sound good, though.  In particular, David Bromwich’s recommendations of two stories by Elizabeth Bowen (“Mysterious Kor” and “Sunday Afternoon”) sent me to the library.  And I always take notice when Florence King speaks; she recommends Kathleen Winsor’s Star Money, which upon its publication in 1950 was received as quasi-pornography.  That first edition sold extremely well, but garnered just one respectful review.  Granted, that review was by André Maurois, which may have taken some of the sting out of the rejection by the other critics.   

Florence King also comes to my mind whenever the name of Ayn Rand is mentioned, and in this issue a piece discusses Ayn Rand’s  Atlas Shrugged.  King’s review of a biography of Rand, reprinted in her With Charity Toward None, quotes a line of Rand’s about how it feels to be a truly creative individual confronted with the unreasoning hatred of lesser beings.  Read the line again, King says, and you’ll realize that it is a very apt description what it’s like to be on the receiving end of any kind of senseless prejudice.  King surmises that Rand, who spent her girlhood as a Jew in late-Tsarist St Petersburg, had found “a way to write about anti-semitism without ever mentioning the Jews.”  That’s a neat trick. 

Nor is it the whole of Rand’s appeal.  Her extreme individualism may not stand up to philosophical analysis, and it may not survive exposure to any well-developed social science.  But what she tries to offer is something that is urgently needed in today’s world.  Look at the USA.  Ever more of the young are in schools, ever more of the old are in nursing homes, ever more of those in-between are in prisons.  At this rate every American will eventually be an inmate in one or another such institution, always an object of service, of scrutiny, of control.  One will create nothing, own nothing, decide nothing.  The major political parties don’t seem to object to this trend; on the contrary, both are committed to accelerating it.  The Democrats promise better accommodations to inmates; the Republicans remind them that the institutions in which they are confined have to turn a profit.  Rand may not have known how to stop this trend, but at least she demanded that it should be stopped.   

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What is an “ex-gay”?

When a friend asked me shortly after my religious conversion what an “ex-gay” was, I replied, “Oh, that’s what evangelicals call their gay people.”

[Disputed Mutability, via Eve Tushnet]

Sexuality, Women, and the Movies

Eve Tushnet promotes her review of some recent film release with a mock headline declaring it  “A terrific date movie!  Unless you’re heterosexual or something.”  I love that “or something.”  I’m not sure whether she includes her non-heterosexual self among those for whom the picture is a less than terrific date movie. 

Click to read

Click to read

Friend of the blog Duncan Mitchel has recently put up two posts (here and here) about something that Tushnet’s line reminded me of.  In a 1985 edition of her strip Dykes to Watch Out For, cartoonist Alison Bechdel lays out a test for movies.  “One, it has to have at least two women in it; who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.”  Duncan calls this “Liz Warren’s Rule,” because Alison says she got it from her friend Liz Warren.  In his first post, Duncan looks at some published works that predate the DTWOF strip and include precursors of the Rule; in his second, he describes a South Korean movie that surprises him by meeting the requirements of the Rule.  Some of the precursors seem to me a bit harsh; for example, in an essay published in 1975 Samuel R. Delany wrote that “any novel that does not, in this day and age, have a strong, central, positive relation between women can be dismissed as sexist (no matter the sex of the author) from the start.”  A woman who had written a novel which did not have such a relation at its center might be rather surprised to find Mr Delany dismissing her work as sexist, but that’s what the guy said.

The American Conservative, November 2009

american conservative november 2009In this issue, former FBI employee Sibel Edmonds names some prominent US officials whom she believes to have accepted bribes from foreign governments.   

Eve Tushnet visits a Washington, DC locale known to the federal government as Meridian Hill Park, though she has “only seen its maiden name in two places: District government plaques and local girl Florence King’s autobiography, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.”  Everyone else calls it Malcolm X Park.  Tushnet compares the design of the place to a ziggurat, a Sicilian village, a complex borad game, and the world’s largest Slinky.  I can see why; there are also some views which remind me of M. C. Escher.  Whatever the park’s designers were thinking, they don’t seem to have been thinking of crime prevention.  “It’s an array of alcoves linked by narrow paths and staircases… The high walls and ample foliage make it a haven for people whose professions or hobbies require a talent for lurking.”  No one seems to be committing any crimes during Tushnet’s visit, though she does have her suspicions about a man who introduces himself as a podiatrist.  

A humor piece is written as if it were a diary entry by classicist-cum-neoconservative madman Victor Davis Hanson.  The locution “No American wishes to contemplate the idea of war, but” occurs three times, the locution “No Namibian mercenary wishes to contemplate the idea of war, but” occurs once.  A truly Hansonian piece, I’d say.   

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