CATEGORY: Guns

Rights and reasoning from first principles

I think both sides need to go back to the drawing table

I just saw a video that left me in a bit of a quandary. Unfortunately, it’s embedded in a Facebook post, so I’ll just have to link to it here rather than display it. The premise is simple enough. Kroger apparently permits open carry of firearms, at least in jurisdictions where that is legal. Upset gun control advocates would like Kroger to stop this practice.

Fair enough on it’s face. People want things to be different. They’re exercising their right to free speech to put pressure on the company. Fine.

Here’s what gets me though. Continue reading

Hillary announces, Progressives already getting thrown under bus

It’s not even damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s just damned.

Of course you’ve probably heard that Hillary has finally announced, on Twitter no less.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Andre Gide’s Corydon: Defending who you are…

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.”                                                                                                                                                – André Gide

Corydon by Andre Gide (image courtesy Goodreads)

The complex and provocative André Gide is known for his unconventional examinations of morality in which he usually pits the conventions of accepted public morals against the  individual moral (sometimes amoral) views of his characters. In novels such a The Immoralist, Strait is the Gate, and The Vatican Cellars Gide explores alternate lifestyles, failed relationships, and Nietzschean acts of ubermensch-iness for both tragic and comic effect. These works won Gide the Nobel Prize in 1947.

I’ve read all of the above mentioned works by Gide. My favorite is The Vatican Cellars (Les Caves du Vatican), a comic adventure that crosses elements of The DaVinci Code sort of conspiracy theory nonsense with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In the hands of an arch satirist like Gide, a plot about saving the Pope from the machinations of the Masons goes sideways because of the actions of a Raskolnikovean sort of ne’er-do-well named Lafcadio who decides that what he really needs to do with his life is kill someone at random so that there is no motive at all to connect him to the murder. Unfortunately, the man he decides to kill turns out to be a vital cog in the aforementioned Pope v. Masons business. Hilarity of the darkest shades ensues. Really. It’s a very funny book – in dark, dark ways.

Unfortunately, this sort of funny stuff was an anomaly in Gide’s oeuvre. He mainly focuses on the unhappy effects of rebelling against (L’immoraliste) or falling prey to (La porte étroite) accepted social and cultural institutions and behaviors. Corydon, his attempt to justify homosexuality as a natural human behavior, is firmly on the serious side of the Gide ledger. Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

Goodbye, Facebook. Supporting anti-gay marriage, anti-human rights candidate was finally too much.

After all Facebook has done, there’s only so much a person can take.

And kittehs. Can’t forget about the kittehs.

By now, anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of Facebook’s general user-unfriendly shenanigans, with the possible exception of Facebook’s support for net neutrality, to say nothing of all the minor aggravations users put up with on a daily basis…continually refreshing advertisements, live video popping up in the news feed, a news feed that doesn’t show you everything you mean to see, a newsfeed that occasionally reverts to Top Stories in spite of your every wish and command. Oh, but hey, there’s kittehs!

What kind of user-unfriendly shenanigans, one might wonder?

Continue reading

Glenn Beck might be available for your call. Don’t delay. Dial now.*

Is there a word for espousing the practice of fine points of faith while breaking with the key themes?

888-727-BECK

I realize my views on the following topic may well be considered heretical. I’m okay with that. The folks most likely to believe that about what I think and say hold views I’m likely to find heretical. I do hope you’ll pardon me for chiming in. I’m willing to bet I’m at least as qualified to weigh in on matters of faith as Glenn Beck is, so I see this as entirely fair game.

Recently, Raw Story posted the following:

MA mayor: City to donate $5 for every angry, anti-LGBT caller Glenn Beck sends after us

If one had to guess, in a general way, the religion of the people who hate LGBT people, or at the very least, express anger to and about them, what would it be in the good ol’ US of A? In other countries, other religions might fit the bill just as easily, but I’m talking about here. Continue reading

LGBT

Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading

It seemed like a fair trade, until…: a ‘Tokyo Panic Story’

In which I encounter a pair of drunks, one of whom tried to grab my crotch…

At Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, this guy was drunk beyond belief and reeked of booze. But he let me take is his picture.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Brendan Eich case raises free speech issues for people who don’t understand how free speech works

No, Virginia. Intolerance of intolerance isn’t the same as intolerance of human beings.

When it became public that recently appointed Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich had donated to the controversial anti-gay rights Prop 8 initiative in California back in 2008, things – as we used to say back home – blowed up. Rarebit yanked an app from the Mozilla marketplace and in a highly visible move, dating site OK Cupid asked its users not to access the site with Mozilla’s Firefox browser.

Eich fought back, and we witnessed a couple of days of textbook crisis management as the company (and its under-fire CEO) worked to convince the world that a person’s official and personal beliefs can be compartmentalized – that is, you can be anti-equality in your private life but suitably inclusive at work. Continue reading

Fred-Phelps

Gay marriage: Fred Phelps’ death is the end of an era, but it isn’t the end of the fight

The passing of Fred Phelps actually makes the struggle for gay marriage and LGBT equality a little more difficult.

A few days ago I summed up the impact the late Fred Phelps exerted on American society, concluding that he was, ironically, one of the best things that ever happened to the LGBT community’s quest for social justice. A number of other observers agreed, including Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast and Peter Scheer at TruthDig, who thanked him for “his years of service to the gay rights movement.”

Continue reading

LGBT

Fred Phelps is dead: the LGBT community owes him a debt of gratitude

An evil man has departed the Earth, but not before inadvertently making it a better place.

Without Contraries is no progression. – Blake

Fred Phelps, founder of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church, is dead.

Over the past several years Phelps distinguished himself as one of the most vile people in America, which is no small feat given the high profiles our society has accorded Hall of Fame hatemongers like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

As he has lingered on his deathbed in recent days, we’ve had a chance to ponder this moment and discuss what the proper response might be. My own pot shot – “may his funeral be well attended” – paled compared to some of the (justified, it must be admitted) rage against the man’s legacy. At the same time, we saw altogether more noble comments from people like Facebook’s First Citizen, George Takei, who reminded us that hate is conquered not by more hate, but by love. Continue reading

Pussy-Riot

П is for Pussy Riot: thinking ahead to the next Russian Olympic Games

Pussy Riot’s commitment to social justice in the motherland is more than admirable. It perhaps merits a spot in Russia’s artistic canon.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia closed today, and if you set aside the homophobia and generally strong-armed approach to governance by the host, one Vladimir Putin, these games were remarkable in just about every way.

The images of the opening ceremonies have lingered with me for the past couple of weeks. If you watched, you know that the creative team built their narrative around the highwater marks in the nation’s glorious history, honoring their accomplishments in the arts, literature, science and technology. Given Russia’s considerable heritage, the little girl’s interaction with Cyrillic alphabet primer, associating a historical moment with each letter, couldn’t help being an impressive reminder to the world of the nation’s rich cultural legacy. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LGBT

Michael Sam comes out; will any existing players join him?

Michael Sam has made it easier for current gay players in the NFL. Will they do the same for him?

By now you’ve probably heard that Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has publicly announced that he’s gay. A projected third-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, this decision will (unless all 32 teams simply decide that they’re going to be officially homophobic and to hell with whoever doesn’t like it) make him the league’s first active out player.

NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth predicts that players will accept him “with open arms.” Makes sense – his teammates at Mizzou did. Continue reading

CATEGORY: The New Constitution

The New Constitution: comprehensive statement of principles (draft)

CATEGORY: The New ConstitutionThe original plan when we began this project was to offer the amendments individually, invite discussion, then produce a final document. The course of the process, though, has made a couple things clear. First, there needs to be a period to discuss the entire document in context, and second, while the original “Bill of Rights” approach perhaps had a certain formatic elegance about it, the project is better served by a less formalized articulation of general principles.

As a result, what follows is a restructured draft that accounts for the discussions so far and that also adds some new elements that have arisen since the process launched.

We will compile a final statement of principles out of this discussion.

_____

1)    Organization, Composition and Conduct of Government

a)     Proportional Representation

i)      No political party representing a significant minority of the electorate – and here we suggest five percent as a workable baseline – will be denied direct representation in the legislature.

ii)     All legislative bodies shall be comprised proportionally according to the populations represented and all elected officials should be selected by direct vote of the people.[1]

b)     Public Financing of Elections

i)      In order to eliminate the corrupting, anti-democratic influence of corporate and special interest money on the electoral process, all elections shall be publicly financed. No individual will be allowed to contribute more than a token sum to an official, candidate or political party (perhaps the cap could be in line with the current $2,000 limit for contributions to presidential candidates).

ii)     All corporate, commercial and other private or publicly held entities shall be forbidden from contributing directly to any official, candidate or political party.

iii)   All citizens and collective entities are free to designate a portion of their annual tax contributions to a general election fund.

iv)    No contributions to the electoral process shall be allowed by foreign interests, either individual or institutional.

v)     Election funds shall be administered on a non-partisan basis and no candidate or party demonstrating a reasonable expectation of electoral viability shall be denied access to funding.

c)     Secular Government

i)      The government of the people shall be expressly secular. No individual, religious or quasi-religious entity or collective engage or seek to influence the course of legislation or policy in accordance with theological creed.

ii)     No government edifice, document, collateral, communication, or other production, including currency, shall make reference to religious concepts, including “god.”

iii)   No one shall, in any legal context, including legal processes or oaths of office, swear upon a sacred text.

iv)    Oaths of office shall explicitly require officials to refrain from the use of religious language and dogma in the conduct of their duties.

v)     No government funds shall be spent to compensate employees who exist to serve religious functions. This includes, but is not limited to, the office of Chaplain in various military bodies.

vi)    No religious institution shall be eligible for tax exempt status.

d)     Oversight of Covert Activities

No governmental entity shall conduct secret or covert proceedings absent ongoing oversight by a multi-partisan body of popularly elected officials.[2]

e)     Federal Autonomy

No state or local government entity shall assert special privilege or exemption with respect to established rights granted by the Federal Constitution.

2)    Individual Freedoms

a)     Free Speech, Press and Religion

i)      No government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall abridge an individual’s legitimate exercise of free speech. This includes all political, social and civic speech activities, including those criticizing the government, corporations and business entities and other collective organizations.[3]

ii)     The right of the people peaceably to assemble, especially for purposes of protest, and to petition for a redress of grievances will not be infringed.

iii)   The health of the nation depends on a vital independent check against public and commercial power. As such, no government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall be allowed to abridge the rights of a free and unfettered press.

iv)    Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

b)     Equal Rights Under the Law

i)      No governmental, corporation or commercial interest, or other private organization shall deny to any enfranchised citizen the rights or privileges accorded to others.

ii)     The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

c)     Freedom from Surveillance

i)      All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance by governmental entities in the absence of a legally obtained warrant articulating probable cause against the individual.

ii)     The right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, data, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

iii)   All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance and data gathering by corporate, commercial or other private or public entities unless they have specifically opted into such programs.

d)     Basic Human Rights

All citizens shall enjoy the right to shelter, nourishment, healthcare and educational opportunity.

3)    Conduct of Business and Commercial Interests

a)     Legal Standing

No corporation, business interest or any other collective entity shall be accorded the rights and privileges attending citizenship, which are reserved expressly for individuals.[4]

b)     Public Interest Standard

No corporate, commercial or other private or governmental entity shall be licensed, accredited or incorporated absent a binding commitment to serve the public interest.[5]

c)     Lobbying Restrictions

i)      In order to further the public’s interest in a free and independent legislature, elected officials shall not be allowed petition the body in which they served, either on their own behalf or on behalf of the interests of a third party, for a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms.[6]

ii)     No person shall be allowed to assume a position charged with regulatory oversight of an industry in which they have worked in the past five years.

iii)   No elected official shall be allowed to assume a position on any legislative committee charged with oversight or regulation of an industry in which they have worked or held financial interest for the past five years.

d)     Collective Bargaining

i)      All workers shall have the right to organize for purposes of collective representation and bargaining.

ii)     In any publicly held commercial interest where a significant percentage of the workforce is represented by a union, the workers shall be entitled to representation on the corporate board of directors.[7]

4)    Citizen Responsibilities and Service

a)     Mandatory Service

i)      All citizens will, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces.

ii)     Enfranchisement will be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation and the world.

b)     Right to Arms

i)      The right of an individual who has completed a two-year military service commitment to keep and maintain firearms appropriate to the common defense should not be infringed. [8]

ii)     The Federal government will establish guidelines by which enfranchised citizens may obtain firearms for reasonable purposes of sport and self-defense.

5)    Justice System

a)     Due Process and Fair Trials

i)      No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

ii)     In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed five hundred dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

iii)   In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of professional, trained adjudicators sanctioned by the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; defendants shall have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in their favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for their defense.

b)     Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


[1] This disposes of the Electoral College.

[2] An alternative might be to entrust the public court system with the decision. Make all documents automatically become public in N years (and make destruction a federal felony) but the government can petition a federal court to hold them as secret. Court uses a strict scrutiny standard to continue secrecy, advocates for release present arguments and can appeal a secrecy decision (no appeal on orders to release). (Submitted by Evan Robinson.)

[3] This does not prevent said entities from policing explicitly illegal behavior, such as theft of proprietary information or sexual harassment. (Suggested by Carole McNall.)

[4] This item overturns the Citizens United case.

[5] This item eliminates the narrow “interest of the shareholders” doctrine emerging originally from Dodge vs. Ford.

[6] It is suggested by multiple commenters that “a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms” might best be changed to “forever.” This is a perspective with some merit. In truth, though, we’re discussing a body of people who possess expertise that can, in the right circumstances, be of benefit to the people. A term of five years, for instance, might serve to rid the system of revolving-door corruption without permanently eliminating the possibility that a highly qualified individual may be able to contribute to the public good.

[7] This practice is common in Europe and promotes an environment of collaboration, instead of confrontation, between management and labor.

[8] Weapons systems are constantly evolving and we are now perhaps within a generation of the point where lasers, thermal lances and other currently experimental man-portable devices might be viable. The term “firearms” in this document should not be construed as limited to the sorts of projectile weapons we’re familiar with, but should instead be taken in a broader context. (Suggested by Rho Holden.)

Acknowledgments

The New Constitution has been a long time in the making, and it would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I reached this point on my own. In truth, I’m an intensely social, extroverted and associative thinker, which means that if I have an interesting idea, it probably emerged from interactions with one or more other people. This is why I work so hard to surround myself my folks who are as smart as possible. If they’re brighter than me, as is often the case, that’s all the better because that means there’s more opportunity to learn.

Some of the people in the list below are known to readers of S&R and others aren’t. Some have played a very direct and active role in my political thinking in recent years, and others contributed less obviously in conversations, in grad school classes, in arguments and debates over beers, and so on. In fact, there are undoubtedly some on the list who will be surprised to see their names, but trust me, each and every one of them helped me arrive at the present intellectual moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all endorse the project or want their names attached to it, so if there are things that aggravate you, please direct those comments at me and me alone.

All that said, many thanks to:

Brian Angliss

Frank Balsinger

Dr. Jim Booth

Dr. Will Bower

Dr. Robert Burr

Gavin Chait

Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark

Dr. Erika Doss

Dr. Andrea Frantz

John Hanchette

Sam Hill

Rho Holden

Dr. Stuart Hoover

Dr. Douglas Kellner

Alexi Koltowicz

Dr. John Lawrence

Dr. Polly McLean

Carole McNall

Stuart O’Steen

Alex Palombo

Dr. Michael Pecaut

Dr. Wendy Worrall Redal

Evan Robinson

Sara Robinson

Kristina Ross

Dr. Willard Rowland

Dr. Geoffrey Rubinstein

Mike Sheehan

Dr. Greg Stene

Jeff Tiedrich

Dr. Michael Tracey

Dr. Robert Trager

Dr. Petr Vassiliev

Sue Vanstone

Angela Venturo

Dr. Frank Venturo

Pat Venturo

Russ Wellen

Cat White

Dr. Denny Wilkins

Lisa Wright

CATEGORY: LGBT

Exodus International shuts its doors: Alan Chambers to promote “safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities”

Back in February I declared V-LGBT Day, saying that “the battle for marriage equality is over.” There had been a lot of significant pro-equity activity, including a huge number of corporations and influential organizations coming down publicly against the Defense of Marriage Act and several prominent GOP defections from the homophobia camp.

The last couple of days have seen two more dominoes fall – one big one and the other positively massive. First, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday became the third GOP senator to endorse marriage equality.

“I am a life-long Republican because I believe in promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government,” Murkowski wrote in an op-ed explaining her decision. “When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values. I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values: it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of peoples’ lives – while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another.”

And this morning, an absolute bombshell dropped, as Exodus International, the world’s largest pray-away-the-gay organization, closed its doors with an apology from its director.

In a letter “to members of the LGBTQ community,” Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus International, a group that has long backed “change therapy” for gays and lesbians, issued an apology Wednesday, stating, “I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced.”

….

“Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality announced tonight that it’s closing its doors after three-plus decades of ministry,” the organization said in a statement.]

The public statement comes in advance of a Thursday airing of the television broadcast “God & Gays” on Our America with Lisa Ling on OWN, in which Ling talks with Chambers about these issues.

In his apology, Chambers wrote, “I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”

Later, he added:

I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.

He even goes so far as to acknowledge his own “same-sex attractions.”

Chambers announces that he’s launching a new organization, and the language he employs is significant.

For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear (reducefear.org), and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.” [emphasis added]

“Welcoming” is the term that specifically describes gay-affirming churches, and its use here signals one of the most earth-shaking reversals of course in the history of our modern culture wars. Read the entire statement here.

As I said in February, “flat-earthers in the more socially conservative parts of the country will fight on as long as anybody pays them any attention.” But make no mistake: what Chambers has done today is the moral equivalent of Robert E. Lee defecting to the Yankees.

This is heartening news for a lot of people, straight and gay. America gets so many things wrong so consistently that it’s easy to throw up your hands and despair. But while our elected leaders can be counted on for an outrage or two a week, the truth is that our nation is home to a lot of courageous, enlightened people who soldier on in service to their vision for a better, more humane society.

So congratulations, everyone. June 20, 2013 is a win in our ongoing battle for justice. Many thanks, especially, to those who have made marriage a priority, even when doing so wasn’t necessarily the expedient path (and here I’m thinking of people like my friend Mario Nicolais, GOP candidate for the Colorado state senate, who has made marriage equality a lynchpin of his campaign). Kudos to Lisa Ling, without whose compassionate campaign for justice we might not be celebrating today at all. We beat the hell out of what’s become of journalism here at S&R, and it’s a pleasure to be able to say something nice about a journalist moving the dial in the right direction.

Finally, to Alan Chambers: you’ve done immeasurable damage throughout your career, and none of us can or should forget that. But today you’ve done the right thing, and I applaud you. I wish you all the best as you set about working to promote social justice and equality and I encourage my fellow progressives to offer you all the support they can.

We’ll be watching with keen interest.

Incomplete Transsexual

The incomplete transsexual: a small tale from the Seoul Bar

by Dan Ryan

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It was a little like the scenario in that Kinks song “Lola,” but only in passing. I met her in a little place called Seoul Bar, which is in a rundown section of northeast Tokyo called Sanya. At first I thought her was a him, and she sounded like a man but…

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The lipstick should have given me a clue, but it was confusing initially, even more so because his, sorry, her English was pretty rusty, and my Japanese was horrible. She took an interest in me because I was American. When she was still fully he, he used to work for Americans in the ‘60s. Or the ‘70s, but doing what I never completely figured out. But we managed fitfully to communicate, and after a few minutes I thought he was a pretty interesting woman.

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She’d had the money at some unspecified point in the past to start the process of becoming her true self, to transition from male to female. Her family, which might have included a wife and kids, never understood nor approved of what she needed to be. They disowned her many years ago.

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However, it was obvious she was accepted in Seoul Bar, but also treated a bit like an oddity. When another bar patron took a schoolboy jab at her breasts, it bothered me. It was playful, but far from respectful. But it was nearly 13:00, in a bar in a crummy part of town, and everyone was drinking. So maybe my standards were unrealistically high. Hell, she even wanted me to take a feel of her tits. She was proud of them. I declined.

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She was also proud of her hands, justifiably I thought, but seemed frustrated by lingering facial hair. My guess is whatever hormones she used to take had worn off some time ago. She also said she still had the male parts she’d been born with.

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I left the Seoul Bar when the karaoke was about to start and went out to the shōtengai to take more pictures. After about five minutes,  I noticed my ladyfriend walking in the same direction I was. She had bar-snack crumbs on her face, and in the outdoor light I could really see how worn- and shabby-looking she was. Yet as she waved her hands around at my camera, her manicured nails were still noticeable, as were her few female bumps and curves. She looked more like a woman standing up outside than she had hunched next to me in a chair in the dark little bar we’d been in.

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She and I walked together for a few minutes. She didn’t mind me taking pictures of her. In fact, she carried herself with a little bit of the vanity some women seem to naturally have, whether their looks entitle them to such vanity or not. But the fact that this woman, this shabby, incomplete woman, carried herself in this a way instantly earned a small measure of my respect. It took, for lack of a better term, balls.
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We came to a stop when she spotted a man she knew, a friend I suppose, a guy I had photographed previously. He was pretty goddamned drunk. But she wanted to go talk to him.
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Like I said, she was proud of her breasts and not shy about playing with them in public. I didn’t ask her to do this. I don’t know enough Japanese to get that far. But she posed for me a few times out there in the street, and this is where her hands always ended up. You’ve got to roll with these things in some parts of Tokyo street life.

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Then she walked over to talk to her friend. It was a short conversation. The guy in the gutter made a slow lunge for my ladyfriend’s crotch. Her response, as I barely understood it, was to offer to show the man that he would have gotten a handful of male goodies if she had let his fingers reach their target. This was a little bit too much for me, the idea that this incomplete woman was prepared to whip out her male equipment in the street.

So I walked away. But you know, I never even got her name.

(Pictures taken on the shōtengai in Sanya, Tokyo in April, 2012)

CATEGORY: LGBT

“Where Girls Grow Strong” – and Boy Scouts follow

Yesterday was a sort-of victory for LGBT youth: the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on LGBT scouts, after gathering over a million signatures to allow homosexual scouts to join. From the Huffington Post:

The Boy Scouts of America have reportedly voted 61-38 to allow gay Scouts.

According to multiple media sources, the scouting organization has chosen to eliminate sexual orientation as youth membership criterion. Under the new ruling, gay Scout leaders are still prohibited from serving.

I say it’s a “sort of” victory because I’m conflicted in my response to this new ruling. Obviously, this is huge progress for the group and great news for LGBT youth hoping to join the Boy Scouts – this outdated and discriminatory requirement is no longer a problem, truly a “better late than never” decision. Also a victory? The decision inspired the close minded, “morally straight” scouts and scout leaders in the On My Honor network to quit the Boy Scouts of America, and convene in Kentucky to consider “the creation of a new character development organization for boys.”

While these victories are hard-earned and extremely welcome, the Boy Scouts of America still aren’t allowing for LGBT den leaders, and do not allow for older LGBT scouts to be included in programs like Venture, a co-ed program for scouts who outgrow the traditional troops. This ruling is the Boy Scouts saying “It’s okay to be gay, unless you’re an adult.”

This sort of restriction bars young scouts from experiencing part of the real world, stops scouts from meeting people with different viewpoints and lifestyles of their own, and keeps scouts from learning that being LGBT is not a big deal. To me, it implies that being gay is okay until you’re 18 – an adult – as if being LGBT is something childish that scouts will outgrow.

Even more, by barring LGBT adults from participating in scouting, the Boy Scouts of America are allowing LGBT youth but giving them no LGBT role models to look up to. How wonderful would it be for a scout who is LGBT to have a successful and strong den leader who is just like them? To see that being LGBT is okay, and that they can be strong, independent and successful? And how great would it be for young straight boys to have an LGBT den leader to show them that being homosexual isn’t a bad thing, and that LGBT people are just like everyone else?

And how is it even an argument that LGBT leaders and scout members are such a detriment to the organization, such a harm to other straight members of the troop, when the Girl Scouts of America have long since proven this wrong?

When the Boy Scouts were excluding LGBT youth and leaders, the Girl Scouts were admitting everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or religion. From TIME Magazine:

In their statement of purpose called “What we stand for,” the Girl Scouts explicitly reject discrimination of any kind and consider sexual orientation, “a private matter for girls and their families to address.” Noting their affirmation of freedom of religion, a founding principle of American life, the Girl Scouts “do not attempt to dictate the form or style of a member’s worship” and urge “flexibility” in reciting the Girl Scout Promise. (They are encouraged to substitute the word “God” for something that’s more in line with their own spiritual practice.) It’s an arresting contrast to the Boy Scouts of America, who in addition to excluding gays also refuse to hire non-believers.

The religion factor in the Boy Scouts’ organization has a lot to do with its sponsorship: about 70% of sponsorship funding for the Boy Scouts of America comes from religiously affiliated groups (about half of those groups are Mormon), with the other 30% coming from corporations. The Girl Scouts are funded by corporate backers like Coca-Cola and MetLife.

Aside from religion, I believe the diversity and acceptance of the Girl Scouts of America has to do with its founding: the Girl Scouts of America were formed in 1912 to teach “girls – all girls” to be independent, to make their own decisions, to “help people at all times,” to dream big, to be as ambitious as the boys, and to forge a path for themselves in their professional and personal lives. The Girl Scouts were formed because young women were being excluded from the boys’ club – so to exclude girls would be hypocritical and counter to its purpose. Two great examples of this inclusion have been the integration of African American Girl Scouts as early as the 1950s and the recent inclusion of transgender Girl Scout Bobby Montoya.

While the Girl Scouts encouraged girls to think critically and to consider others’ ideas, the Boy Scouts encouraged boys to think as a team and subscribe to traditionally masculine “duties,” an idea growing more outdated as men and women in America grow into less traditional gender roles – a doctrine which makes it more difficult to fully integrate everyone, including LGBT scouts and non-religious scouts, and provide scouts a more accurate picture of the world outside the den.

I think that the inclusion of LGBT scouts in the Boy Scouts of America is a belated, but fantastic step forward. And I do believe that eventually, the Boy Scouts of America will have to include LGBT den leaders. But I think we need to stress to people that both of these additions are good things, that they are signs of a changing and more inclusive nation, and that they will show today’s young men that being gay is okay, and will grow more accepting leaders of tomorrow. Just like the Girl Scouts have been doing all this time.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Is CNN’s Howard Kurtz still credible? We’ll see.

How much credence should I place, beginning now, in whatever media reporter and critic Howard Kurtz says or writes? First came his ill-considered contretemps regarding NBA player Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay. That led to this morning’s mea culpa on Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” program on CNN, quizzed on his credibility by two other media critics.

Did Kurtz, in his phrase, “screw up”? Most assuredly. Did he fail to immediately amend and apologize? Yep. He admitted to both today under (somewhat predictable) questioning by Dylan Byers, media reporter for Politico, and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.

His two (perhaps overly gentle) questioners noted that Kurtz had made other, serious errors in the past few years involving two members of Congress and a commentator at another network. Given that record, he was asked: “Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?”

Given Kurtz’ decades-long body of work, which includes five books and, in his phrase, “millions of words,” so much might be an exaggeration. But given his profile — CNN’s media authority at “Reliable Sources” since 1998 — he faces a higher standard. And he said as much this morning. To be fair, he should be judged by that decades-long body of work, not on selected excerpts. But he’d better learn from this sensitivity fiasco. He’s becoming the Darryl Strawberry of media reporting in the past few years.

Should CNN fire Kurtz? No. He did nothing wrong on CNN’s dime and time. After all, CNN didn’t can Fareed Zakaria after his journalistic lapse (it’s called plagiarism). Why fire Howie? (It’s likely, however, this is Kurtz’s last contract with CNN. New honcho Jeff Zucker has been revamping, um, infotainment-ing, the network. Kurtz is a serious man doing a serious program about consequential matters. In the long run, he’s toast at ZNN … er, CNN.)

I’ve read and watched Kurtz for decades. I admire his skill. He’s first rate at what he does — reporting on the media. (He is, perhaps, not so skilled as a critic.) His face-the-music dance this morning — 15 minutes with no commercial breaks — required no small measure of guts. (Then again, CNN needed to do something to try to rehabilitate his reputation.)

Whether I continue to support him depends on whether he’s learned what he ought to from this insensitive episode: Speed is dangerous. He made errors of haste and carelessness (reminding me of some of my sophomores). He did not read the Collins piece in Sports Illustrated carefully. He made snap judgments about content and tone. He gave little time to careful consideration of what he wrote. Speed is dangerous.

So, Howie, here’s some advice.

  • Tweet less. Tweeting is about speed , and speed is dangerous. Twitter breeds haste. Cut back, Howie. Relentless tweeting breeds bad habits.
  • Shed some jobs. Decide what you most wish to do, then tackle it earnestly. Right now, you’re a walking bundle of conflicts of interest. You have too many deadlines at too many enterprises (which you shamelessly over-promote). That leads to … speed. Haste. Carelessness. As you said this morning:

Sometimes, under deadline pressure or when you’re doing something quick and short where it’s a little too hazy and decided when you should press a button.

Your problem, Howie, is that you have too many buttons to push. Rid yourself of a few. Get back to being the damn good reporter you used to be.

CATEGORY: Sports

I’m trying to take Tim Brando at his word, but he isn’t making it easy

Earlier today my colleague Otherwise uncorked on sports broadcaster Tim Brando for his reaction to the Jason Collins story. If you somehow missed it, NBA journeyman and free agent Collins publicly acknowledged on Monday that he is gay, making him the first active player in a US major sport to do so.

Brando brought a good bit of heat down on himself with a series of tweets that many perceive as being, well, I’ll let you decide. The firestorm seems to have started when he retweeted this one (although it looks like it has since been deleted).

.@CallMeG_Unit Simple Being a a Christian White male over 50 that’s raised a family means nothing in today’s culture. The sad truth. Period.
4:55 PM – 29 Apr 2013

And away we go with the white, Christian family man privilege problem, because if anyone in America has been historically downtrodden, it’s middle-aged white guys who go to church. Especially rich, famous middle-aged white guys. This is what set Otherwise off.

This isn’t what intrigues me, though. Brando has expended some energy defending himself and dismissing those who’d cast him as a reactionary/homophobe, and in truth, I’ve never had any reason before this to regard him as some kind of social conservative asswaffle. Maybe he is, but if so I’ve missed it. So I’d like to take a few moments to examine some of the nuance in this little dustup.

Brando is now working to frame his remarks as being not about gay or coming out, but instead about the word “hero.”

And:

Okay. Frankly, I’m sympathetic to the argument that our society has devalued the word “hero” by using it to apply to just about anyone who shows up for work regularly. I’ve been bitching about this myself for years.

Is Collins a hero? What do we mean by that word? Is he Sgt. York or Jonas Salk or Dave Sanders or the people who stormed the cockpit and crashed United Airlines Flight 93? Probably not, no. Had Brando truly meant his comments in this way, had he articulated them properly and stuck to the point, I wouldn’t be criticizing him at all. I’d be agreeing with him, and vehemently: words have meanings and we’re all better off when we use them the right way.

But that isn’t exactly what Brando did.

A lot of folks right now are comparing Collins to Jackie Robinson, the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Is this a seamless comparison? No, for a number of reasons, but there are certainly enough social, cultural and political parallels that we can undersand where it comes from.

Brando didn’t go in that direction. He went in this direction:

So, when thinking about the relative significance of this event in the history of American sport, Brando arrives at “sex tape” before he does “Jackie Robinson.”

Earlier today, I tweeted this:

I’m not trying to accuse or be even a little bit snarky. I think this is fair and honest. I don’t expect to hear back from Brando, of course, but if I did I think there’s a useful conversation to be had. Right now, a lot of people are calling his values and integrity into question, and it’s because he himself has spoken in ways that invite criticism.

If Brando wants to insist on a strict usage of the word “hero,” then he has a national platform from which to articulate the point and properly contextualize his views. If he believes what Collins did is worthy and to some extent courageous, he can say that. If he believes in the fair and equitable treatment of all Americans regardless of their sexual orientation, he can say that, and he can do so to a daily audience of thousands, perhaps millions. If he has a problem with the word “hero,” he can tell us what word is more appropriate, and if he believes that real heroes are more like Michael Monsoor, he can tell whom he thinks is a more apt comparison.

Brando could have done these things, but he didn’t. He still can, but if he does, “sex tape” makes it a lot longer walk around than it would have been a couple days ago.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Gay marriage is a matter of church and state

It’s unlikely that the Supreme Court will side with common human decency and allow homosexuals to marry. My colleague is correct that we have more important issues to deal with and that support for the right to marry is growing, or perhaps more precisely opposition to it is also dying. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is likely to trail popular opinion, and this Supreme Court seems less likely to rule based on the constitution and law than on personal opinion and religious dogma. Ms. Palombo is also correct that it shouldn’t even be an issue, but that’s not because of its relative importance on our to-do list.

My understanding is that We the People have freedom of religion in order to protect us from the establishment of a state religion likely to persecute citizens who don’t hold the same faith. Establishing marriage as between a man and a woman is effectively making laws based on religious belief, and the “defenders” of marriage invariably end up at a Christian basis for their argument that stems from a Christian understanding of marriage. (To be fair, Jews and Muslims generally agree with this but since they’re siblings that’s no surprise.) It doesn’t matter if every religion agrees with the concept of marriage. This is a clear issue of the separation of church and state. We’d be lucky if the Justices are strict enough constitutionalists to recognize it as such and rule appropriately. If they don’t, then it’s clear that there’s less regard than lip service for our founding document.

Marriage is simply a state issued contract. It essentially combines two people into one under the law to include such holy issues as finances, taxes, inheritance, and privileging spousal conversation in criminal trials. We get confused about what marriage really is because somewhere along the line we were stupid enough to invest churches with state legal power. Your pastor, priest, rabbi, or whatever doesn’t marry you for legal purposes so much as act as an official witness and file the paperwork. Pretty much anyone can do that. I can and have. I’ve never even been baptized much less become a judge or captain of a ship.

The solution to this issue is simple. Properly separate church and state. Remove state contract powers from the clutches of churches. Homosexuals and those of us who don’t give a rat’s ass about God’s approval will get married by the state and gain the rights and privileges that come from the contract. The religious among us can choose to be married in front of God and also through the state or forgo the state part depending on how they feel about rendering unto Caesar.

The benefit to Christians in this solution is that they can skip the state part and then cry about being persecuted. Nothing makes a Christian happier than being persecuted except maybe persecuting others.

CATEGORY: LGBT

LGBT marriage: Why is this even an argument?

CATEGORY: LGBTFacebook is awash in red equal signs. The Supreme Court is surrounded by protestors and supporters. And polling numbers show a massive increase in support for marriage equality – a recent poll from Pew showed support from Catholics, Jews, and Protestants well over 50% in support of LGBT marriage.

Which begs the question: why are we still arguing about this?

The ranks of allies and supporters of LGBT marriage equality are growing quickly for a few reasons. First, opposition to marriage equality is “aging out” – as more young people, who grew up in a more LGBT friendly time, are coming of age and voting, their political heft is surpassing that of of older voters who are less comfortable with it. Second, some of the older generations are, to use President Obama’s phrase, “evolving” on the issue – they talked to their kids, they thought about who they knew, and they slowly became more and more comfortable with the idea of men marrying men and women marrying women.

This graph from Daily Kos’s article “Republicans struggle to explain generational divide on marriage equality” shows support in different generations pretty nicely. What I found hilarious was how the GOP is trying to avoid the question of LGBT equality. Lisa Stickan, the chairwoman of the Young Republican National Federation, told POLITICO:

Gay marriage “is not as politically potent because you have younger people in a completely different scenario than five years ago. It’s post-college, paying off student loans, the ability to buy a house. Everyone is talking about the new normal being staying with parents longer because of the difficulty in terms of being able to find employment. And I think that’s something young people are concerned with.”

She’s wrong and she’s right, really. She’s wrong when she says that LGBT marriage equality “is not as politically potent” as it was – support has only grown, and it would be foolish not to jump on that support.

She’s right in that we have better things to argue about. Why, as a nation, are we suddenly so concerned with who people are allowed to marry? This shouldn’t be a question. LGBT people should have the same marriage rights as everyone else, it makes no difference to the government or to other private citizens.

We have so many more important things facing our nation. Why are we not devoting all our energies to creating jobs? Why are we not focusing our attention on comprehensive immigration reform? Why are we arguing about marriage when we could be reforming education?

In other words: LGBT marriage equality isn’t going to hurt anyone, and we clearly don’t care too much who straight people marry (or divorce). So why are getting so worked up about this and ignoring the more pressing problems we could be fixing?