Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hypocrites? Naw...

Some might not find this poll surprising. From Religion News Service:
WASHINGTON (RNS) Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and many say activist groups — particularly gays and lesbians — are trying to remove “traditional Christian values” from the public square.

The findings of a poll published Wednesday (Jan. 23), reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.

While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.

“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.” Poll shows a double standard on religious liberty
I am going to try to link to the graphic at their web site, text follows:

Religious freedom is a beautiful thing, insured by the Constitution in a burst of wisdom by the Founding Fathers. Everybody can practice their religion, or not practice any religion at all, the USA is a free country and the government will stay out of it. The First Amendment has been tested many times as people push the limits in all directions; the government cannot establish religion and it cannot prevent citizens from practicing their religion, and that is really an impossible dilemma but we have done pretty well at balancing it.

The wisdom of it lies in the understanding that people are different. You might think your god is the only real one, and I'm not saying you're wrong about that, but Joe over there worships a different god and he is sure he's got the only real one, too. That's how it works, the government doesn't choose. Everybody can worship in their own way and they can all be right in America.

As carefully as our country has cultivated this difficult freedom, there is one group who, at the end of the day, feels they have been cheated and persecuted. And oddly it is the least cheated and persecuted group in the country. The rest of us bend over backwards to humor them with their stupid creationism and their hatred of gay people and their obsession with sex and abortion, we pretend that these are serious ideas that deserve respect and should be accommodated in schools, the workplace, and in public. In this poll, ninety seven percent of evangelicals -- ninety seven percent! -- believe that "religious freedom has become more restricted in the U.S. because some groups have tried to move society away from traditional Christian values." That's pretty much all of them. Twenty-nine percent of skeptics agree, but with a smile on their faces.

And what would those "some groups" be? Seventy-nine percent of evangelicals think that "the gay and lesbian community is the most active group trying to remove Christian values from the country." I never would have guessed. The evangelicals blame the group that they have discriminated against most aggressively.

Evangelicals are the only group where a majority is "very concerned about religious freedoms becoming more restricted in the next five years in the United States." They are the only group where a majority does not agree that "No one set of values should dominate the country." They are also the only group where a majority agree that "Traditional Judeo-Christian values should be given preference in the U.S."

The guy used the word "hypocritical" to describe this pattern. Evangelicals say they are concerned about religious freedom, and also that one particular set of religious beliefs should "be given preference in the U.S." They define hypocrisy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gun Day Score is High

American gun-lovers declared January 19th "Gun Appreciation Day." The official web site told people to "go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your 'Hands off my guns' sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama."

Gawker compiled a list of what actually happened on Gun Appreciation Day.
Yesterday [Jan 19] was deemed a day to appreciate your guns in America, and boy did we. Five people were shot at gun shows in North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana. These were not, however, the only instances of gun violence yesterday.

As happens everyday, numerous people were either injured or killed by guns on "Gun Appreciation Day," be it on purpose or accidentally. Spanning Alaska to Florida, here are those people:

  • A 14-year-old suburban Atlanta boy shot and killed his 15-year-old brother while playing with their mother's handgun.
  • A 26 year old was shot and killed while driving in San Francisco.
  • A woman in an El Paso County, Texas shooting range was hit in the knee by a bullet that ricocheted off a trash can.
  • Two women were shot to death in a Dallas-area home.
  • Two women were injured after someone opened fire at a crowded soccer field in Las Vegas.
  • A 15-year-old girl was shot while sleeping in her bed when her Anchorage home was shot at.
  • A 7-year-old boy in Tallahassee shot a 5 year old with a gun he found in a 22-year-old relative's room.
  • A Huntsville woman shot her boyfriend after the two had an argument.
  • A 23-year-old man died after being accidentally shot in a Greshman, Oregon home.
  • A Cleveland father has been charged in connection with the death of his 6-year-old daughter from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
  • A man was found shot dead in a parking lot in Greenville County, South Carolina.
  • Two people were shot and killed outside an inn in Hampton, Virginia.
  • A Colorado Springs man was driven to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
  • One man was shot at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Jackson.
  • An 11-year-old boy was shot in an Oklahoma City apartment complex.
  • Police believe gang violence is to blame for the shooting death of one man in Santa Ana, California.
Here’s a List of People Injured or Killed by Guns on ‘Gun Appreciation Day’
Hey, did you hear this one:
Q: How many NRA officials does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: More guns

You have to laugh, I don't know what else to do. There are plenty of good reasons to have a gun, I don't have anything against them. I know lots of guys who hunt, I know plenty of people how have pistols for protection. If you're not insane, if you know how to take care of your firearm, if it is not designed to mow down crowds of helpless people, then fine; guns are inherently dangerous but with some regulation and care I am pretty sure we can protect the rights of shooters as well as the rights of people who don't want to be accidentally or stupidly shot. But these crazy people think the government is going to come into their houses and take their guns, so they are making a big show of "standing up for their rights," and they are literally shooting themselves in the foot.

I guess the bright side is, Darwin was right. A few more Gun Appreciation Days ought to balance the scales, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dwyer Talks

We first met Don Dwyer at the 2005 CRC Hatefest. An anti-gay cell in Montgomery County, Maryland, called itself ironically the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, held a kind of conference with nationally known speakers to stir up sentiment against LGBT people. It was the kind of event where you felt you needed a shower afterwards, it made you want to go home and hug your children. It was creepy.

Don Dwyer was the worst of the speakers. He is a state Delegate from Anne Arundel County, and his speech was chilling. He barked from the podium, "If you don’t know about it, I’ve been accused of spreading hate and fear among the churches throughout the State of Maryland. Guilty as charged. I am spreading hate and fear. I am spreading the hate of the homosexual activist and I’m spreading my fear of what’s going to happen to this great state and our great nation if people of this world do not take a stand." You can listen to his speech at the link above, or read the transcript.

This past August he wrecked a speedboat on the Magothy River, injuring nine people, while he was drunk. A five-year-old girl's skull was fractured, seven victims went to hospitals, including four adults and five children. And while I guess there is nothing literally hypocritical about being a destructive drunk while trying to keep people who love each other from marrying, it does seem to take away from his message of pure Christian virtue a little bit.

I guess the Maryland Gazette must have published some articles critical of him, and he complained, so they sent a reporter out to interview him and let him tell his side of the story.

Turns out Delegate Dwyer was drinking a lot last summer, and he had two reasons:
First, he separated from his wife in November 2011.

Second, he felt “betrayed” by longtime allies in the State House.

“I felt a tremendous amount of pressure in my family,” he said. “You take those personal issues (and) add betrayal on the professional side, and it really gets to be overwhelming.” Dwyer opens up on his drinking and recovery
Is it just me, or is there something weird about proponents of "traditional marriage" who can't stay married? My parents weren't very religious but they took the "till death do us part" thing seriously. So what's up with all these guys waving Bibles around? At the CRC Hatefest, Dwyer even opened his oratory with a prayer. Divorced and drunk, now there's a real Christian for you.

When he says he was betrayed by longtime allies, what he means is that some Republicans voted to allow same-sex marriage in Maryland.
Pressures at home were met with challenges in the State House.

Dwyer says he felt sold out when Dels. Tiffany Alston, Wade Kach and Bob Costa voted for same-sex marriage, an issue he spent years crusading against. Dwyer told reporters one day before the vote that he had enough support to block the bill.

Kach, a Republican from Baltimore County, and Alston, a former Democrat from Prince George’s County, voted against the bill in committee. But Kach changed his vote after hearing testimony from gay couples. Alston shifted her vote after her amendment was adopted.

Kach and Costa, of Deale, were the only two House Republicans to vote for the bill. It passed the House by two votes in February.

“I had no time to do anything,” Dwyer said. “Had I known earlier, I could have taken some action.”

It was petitioned to the November ballot and passed by 52 percent of voters state wide. Voters in Dwyer’s district, however, rejected it.

“That betrayal really affected me,” he said. “I was physically ill. You pour your heart into an issue like that and it’s devastating.”
Dwyer was so upset that gay people would be able to marry in Maryland that he went out and got drunk and sent seven people to the hospital.

It seems to me that some people have a warped sense of what is right and wrong.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Extry, Extry, Michele Bachmann Not Nice

Over a year after she dropped out, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has refused to pay five staffers from her failed presidential bid, according to a former top campaign official. Peter Waldron, her controversial former national field coordinator, told Salon the dispute started when former Iowa straw poll staffers refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement that would bar them from discussing any "unethical, immoral, or criminal activity" they witnessed on the campaign with police or reporters.

Waldron said the staffers are owed a mere $5,000, and that Bachmann has more than $2 million in her campaign account, but has refused to pay unless the staffers sign the agreement. Bachmann still hasn’t paid presidential campaign staffers
Can you do that? Can you hire somebody and make them sign a pledge that they will not report you for doing illegal things? Maybe I'm naive, but I never heard of that before. Well, maybe like the Mafia, but ...

And even worse to get the work out of them first, and then tell them they have to promise not to rat on the boss if they want to be paid.

There's more at the link, but there are a few angles to this.
“I feel a moral obligation to see that my Christian brothers and sisters are paid for worked performed in good faith. I’ve continually communicated by telephone and email with Mr. Pollack for 1 year but he broke every promise made to me to pay the staff. I appealed to Dr. [Marcus] Bachmann for help. I appealed to Representative Bachmann’s Chief of Staff Robert Boland to intercede with Mrs. Bachmann on behalf of her loyal Iowa staff — all of whom are married, all have children,” Waldron said in the press release.

“It is sobering to think that a Christian member of Congress would betray her testimony to the Lord and the public by withholding earned wages from deserving staff,” Waldron added.
Well, I'll say this, it is hard to assert the you hold the high moral ground when you rip off the people who worked to help you.

Snark aside, it is a deadly prejudice of Christians to think that they are some how "more good" than anyone else -- as if other people don't have consciences, or can't tell right from wrong, or have no motivation to behave ethically. They really seem to believe that they are less likely to lie, or to cheat somebody, to be mean, to make stupid choices, to be bigots, to commit sexual offenses, to be greedy, and the result is that they just make more elaborate and unbelievable excuses when they do evil things, which they do just as often as anybody else.

Oh, this is rich, referring to Bachmann's campaign as "unnatural!"
“They wanted us to have no further conversation [with police] without first notifying Michelle’s attorneys, and we just refused,” he told Salon. “We’ve been lied to at every turn.”

“This story is important. I’ve got five soldiers, as it were, five men who are willing to stand and not capitulate to this unnatural pressure that is coming from the Bachmann campaign. It’s just immoral what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to shut us up. You want to get paid? You gotta sign this agreement and not talk to either the police or lawyers,” he continued.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

An Impassioned Lecture on Gun Rights

You cannot predict where the Nutty Ones will appear, it's like whack-a-mole. A few years ago it was anti-LGBT bigotry, last year they were justifying rape, and now that mass murder is all the rage across the country they are speaking out in favor of guns.

Talk show host Pierce Morgan made some pretty strong anti-gun statements after the Sandy Hook massacre. Some gun proponents put up a petition at the White House to have him deported, and he invited one of the leaders of that group onto his show.

Conservative spokesman Alex Jones has a syndicated talk show, broadcast nationally by Genesis Communications Network to more than 70 AM and FM radio stations in the United States. You need to watch this video of him being interviewed by Pierce Morgan. It's in two parts. Watch both of them, it just gets better and better.

Part One.

Part Two.

I think we have a little bit of a problem here.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Pentagon Blocking LGBT Sites, Responds to Criticism

There is an interesting dust-up going on between AmericaBlog and the Department of Defense. Blogger John Aravosis recently criticized the Pentagon for blocking LGBT-oriented web sites on DOD computer networks. Rightwing blogs are accessible, but even such a mainstream, G-rated site as AmericaBlog itself is blocked for DOD employees, because Aravosis is gay and the site's content reflects that. The Pentagon has responded.

I must admit that Internet censorship is something I hate. I am a grown-up person, and also a productive worker, and I can decide for myself what is good for me. I don't expect everybody to agree with me; I am happiest with the most complete freedom to indulge my wondering mind, and do not think that some other person has better judgment than me about what information I should have access to. Call it a personal quirk if you must, my curiosity has served me well over the decades.

There is not much of an objective case to be made for censoring certain Internet sites so that people don't waste their time at work. One, people can surf the web on their phone, tablet, or laptop, so it's not like they are being stopped from wasting time. Two, if you are going to crack down on time-wasting at work then you will need a more comprehensive approach than just blocking web sites carrying taboo content; you'll have to set a time limit for lingering at the drinking fountain, sitting in someone else's cube, reading, etc. -- I saw a lady once who watched soap operas on a television set on her desk, another was working on a big jigsaw puzzle. And three, there is only one way to make sure you comprehensively block all of any category of content, whether it is porn, games, LGBT content, hate speech, or whatever, and that is to block everything.

If management decides they want a workforce of numb-minded, incurious zombies with no outside interests, then they can just pull the plug on the Internet and let everyone with an active intellect and desire to participate in the modern world find work somewhere else. At least you wouldn't have people using their work computers to waste time surfing the web.

Most companies, including government offices, have some sort of filters on network computers that attempt to funnel employees' attention into a socially acceptable subset of the Internet. There is pretty wide consensus about blocking certain things, for instance, I have never heard anyone complain about hate-speech sites being blocked, or pornography. But, for instance, sometimes the category "pornography" is extended to all sexual topics. Someone once told me that their workplace blocked access to the Wikipedia chapters "Penis" and "Vagina," which are medical terms for body parts that almost all of us have. People complain but accept that gambling and game sites are blocked. Even humor is blocked in some offices.

After AmericaBlog complained, the Pentagon released this statement:
Statement by George Little on Internet Information Access

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little
Recent reports have suggested that the Pentagon is blocking access to LGBT related websites. The Department of Defense does not block websites based on LGBT content.

The Department of Defense strongly supports the rights of gay and lesbian men and women in uniform to serve proudly and openly.

With Internet technology constantly evolving, the Department of Defense is working to ensure that service members have access to an open Internet while preserving information and operational security.

There are a number of different Internet tools used across the department to ensure that adequate cybersecurity and information security standards are maintained, and in certain instances, access may limited to content not directly related to carrying out mission or professional duties.

In order to help maintain adequate levels of information security in support of DoD policy, some components employ commercial tools that may allow users to visit “news” sites while disallowing pages categorized as “personal sites and blogs”.

No filter is perfect and some sites may have unnecessarily been blocked. The Department Chief Information Officer will work with relevant components to address these situations. DOD to investigate complaints that gay blogs, news sites are censored on Pentagon computers
Listen, none of this has to do with "cybersecurity and information security standards." There is simply no security risk with "personal sites and blogs." Let's call it what it is: it is about authority and control.

One thing that makes this issue difficult is that there is no precedent for it. The Internet is like having the Library of Congress in your pocket. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that all knowledge is available to everyone, all the time. And no one really knows what their rights should be regarding that easily accessible body of knowledge. Employees will feel vulnerable sticking their necks out to argue that medical, or fashion, or sports information should be accessible from their desks at work, because employees' rights in this domain have not been established.

There is a kind of assembly-line supposition that goofing off at work is bad, but white collar office workers are not doing repetitive work on an assembly line. They are expected to use their minds to solve problems, they are expected to think outside the box, and there is no box sealed as tightly as a government agency or office. An active, intelligent, problem-solving mind goes off-topic sometimes.

The Pentagon faux pas demonstrates the weakness of a system that allows management to filter information. I can just see a roomful of brass saying, "I don't see why those queers need to read about their perverted lifestyle while they're working for us," and then being told that this Negro liberal President is telling them they have to treat gay people like they were goddamn spotted owls or something. When you control people's access to information you impose your own values on them, and that is the problem.

Here, try this. If you're at home, click this link: Transadvocate. Now imagine that you are a person who has had the courage to transition your life from the sex that was assigned at birth to the one you really are. You have dealt with identification, name change, and legal matters; you have dealt with weeping relatives, outraged friends, creeps hollering at you on the street, the constant threat of violence. Here is a web site with articles that speak to you, they address the actual issues you deal with as a unique person but not one who is all alone. They speak your language and understand your perspective.

Next, when you're at your desk at work, click on this same link. If you work for the government, I would guess you are not allowed to connect to Transadvocate (let us know in the comments section). How do you feel -- even as a straight cis-person -- when that "Site blocked" screen comes up, along with the knowledge that your name has probably gone onto some list of moral-code violators? It is a humiliating insult to those who have had the fortitude to struggle through all the personal battles involved in making a difficult transition. And never mind the poor person who is considering making the transition, they have suffered with a mistaken identity through their entire life and are nearly ready to start out on the difficult journey -- what is the message to them, when they can't even read about people like themselves?

There are groups that advocate for computer users, for instance they lobby for the privacy of users from surveillance and eavesdropping. There are also, of course, groups that advocate for the rights of LGBT citizens to be treated fairly. These two need to get together and bring this issue of biased Internet filtering to the top of the list. I will be interested to see how this one plays out as we create the future we will live in.