Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Support Our Troops! (Some of them, anyway)

The states of Oklahoma and Texas have revived one of the beloved traditions of the Civil Rights Movement in the sunny South: the segregation academy.

Back in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's many southern states responded to court integration orders by simply closing the offending institutions. If ordered to integrate their municipal swimming pools they closed the pools so that their beautiful white babies wouldn't have to play and swim with black children. Ordered to integrate their schools, they closed the public schools and established so-called private "academies", colloquially known as seg academies, to skirt the legal effect of the court orders while continuing to deny educational opportunity to their black citizens. 

Now we hear, in the wake of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that some of the southern states are taking a lesson from their segregationist forbears.

Back then the enemy was racial desegregation, this year it's equal treatment for same sex couples.

 Other states in the proud Southern tradition who are refusing to provide same-sex benefits for their National Guard members include Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia.  

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks and our military response you can't go a day without seeing one more jingoistic appeal to "support out troops", and this sentiment seems to be strongest in the hyper-militarized Deep South. 

One can't help thinking that it's ironic that these are the states that are in the forefront of denying benefits to the troops. 

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, November 18, 2013

More great moments in religion

UPDATE: The church jury has passed its verdict. This hero has been suspended for thirty days and told that at the end of that time he's going to have to publicly state his willingness to knuckle under. As a friend of mine put it, "confess, or call for "more weight.""

After the jury pronounced its sentence, Schaefer's supporters began overturning chairs in the courtroom — symbolizing the biblical story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers — and held an impromptu communion service.

Just so you don't think I'm singling out any one religion, here are a couple of highlights showing modern religions living up to their holy principles.

The most current first. Today a Methodist minister was convicted in a religious church of violating church principles by performing a wedding ceremony for his son. You guessed the reason, right? The son married another man.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

The jury will reconvene Tuesday morning to decide the penalty for the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., the Associated Press reported. Schaefer faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to losing his ministerial credentials.
. . . 
The United Methodist church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, rejects homosexuality as contrary to Christian teaching and bars its clergy from performing same-sex marriages. However, gays and lesbians are allowed to be full members of the church.

Feel free to try to engage your brain in a system of reasoning that accepts gays and lesbians as "full members" while it disrespects and condemns their families. Just don't complain to me if it gives you the mother of all headaches.


And another story I came across today relates to a crime we've seen all too much of in recent years: clerical child rape. The twist is that it's not just for Catholic priests anymore.

It's reported in Vice:

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg—who is 63 with a long, graying beard—recently sat down with me to explain what he described as a “child-rape assembly line” among sects of fundamentalist Jews. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to be graphic,” he said.

. . .

 The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys. Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world—have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community. Dr. Amy Neustein, a nonfundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands.

It's tempting to say, as so many did in the Catholic rape crisis, that this is the actions of a minority of depraved individuals. The key here, though, as in the Catholic Church, is that the institution has stood together to protect the perpetrators and isolate and compound the crimes visited on the victims.

All we need now is aggressive action in behalf of these children.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A confession of ignorance

I'm not a regular reader of the Washington Post, so I was totally unaware of Richard Cohen until just yesterday. Cohen writes a column on the Post's Op-Ed page and by coincidence I heard about two of his columns within the space of a few hours.

First, the one everybody heard about yesterday. It was about Republican prospects, and particularly Chris Christie's prospects, in the 2016 presidential election. How will someone like Christie, with his personality and allegedly moderate views, in his attempt to get the votes of the Tea Party base of the Republican Party?

You can read the whole column if you want, but here's the money quote:

Yes, that's exactly what he said. Cohen claims that this does not represent his own personal views, and that he doesn't have to repress his gag reflex when contemplating mixed-race marriages, but he describes the holders of that gag reflex as "people with conventional views"; in other words, the norm, the mainstream of American thought.

And that's not all. I also came across, via Matt Yglesias's Twitter feed, Cohen's column about his experience watching the new movie Twelve Years a Slave. I haven't seen it yet but it's on my list. 

It appears to have had a real impact on Cohen and his thinking on slavery, which I suppose is a good thing.

Here's what he says about how it affected his thinking on slavery:

"... slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.

Steve McQueen’s stunning movie “12 Years a Slave” is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery. Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death."

And he goes further. For instance, he draws an explicit contrast between Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone with the Wind. To be fair, he does call Gone with the Wind "irrevocably silly and utterly tasteless", but what does he call Uncle Tom's Cabin? he says "Uncle Tom's Cabin was a lie."

The word most of us would choose is a novel--you know, a story that somebody made up--but in Cohen's view it is Harriet Beecher Stowe, not Margaret Mitchell, who is the liar. I would also challenge Cohen's evaluation of Gone with the Wind: it isn't silly, it is pro-slavery, pro-Confederate propaganda, and judging by the tenacity of the Lost Cause mythology, highly effective at that job.

Cohen eventually comes around to a recognition that slavery was not as nice as it is portrayed in Gone with the Wind, but did he really need to get to age seventy-two to find that out?

And more importantly, does the Washington Post really need somebody with such profound moral blindness writing on its pages? 

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, November 04, 2013

It was inevitable, right?

I remember way back to the late 1980's, maybe the early 1990's, when I started seeing these petitions at my local health food store calling on Congress to pass legislation exempting dietary supplements from federal regulation. It had a weird list of sponsors, from Orin Hatch to our own Pat Leahy, and including Tom Harkin, who is one of the best friends of quacks, health scammers, and the antiscientific mindset in Congress.

I never signed the petition. We didn't have blogs back then, but I told everyone who would listen about how dangerous I thought the idea was, and experiences like the way a dietary supplement called ephedra killed people showed that I was right.

 Now there's a new study on dietary supplements, using science-y stuff like DNA, and what do you know? If you buy these dietary supplements there is an excellent chance you aren't getting any of what you thought you were paying for.

In fact, the study shows that some of the products from some of the companies contain some of the ingredient people are paying for, but the herbal products from two companies contained no--zero--of the product named on the label. Even where there are some herbal products with some minimal evidence to support a beneficial effect, such as St. John's Wort for mild depression, the active ingredient couldn't be counted on to be there.
People are buying these products under the understandable misimpression that they are going to cure their medical conditions. (And yes, what are code words like  "promotes normal cholesterol levels", "slow down the doubling time of your PSA (male prostate) levels when cancer is present" but thinly disguised claims to cure medical conditions?) Nevertheless, don't you think people should at least get what they're paying for?

I don't go so far as to say that every peddler of herbal supplements is an outright fraud: I leave that to the homeopathic remedies.

There have been instances, such as the ephedra case, where dietary supplements have been taken off the market, but this new study makes it clear that the entire industry is irredeemably corrupt, and the only way to correct the situation is to repeal the law.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 01, 2013

Okay, conservatives, your turn

Who is the most popular Republican politician among extreme conservatives? Setting aside the ghost of Ronald Reagan, whom they would continue to vote for if they could, the top contender would seem to be Randy Paul, the eye doctor who decided the best way to become board certified, which is kind of the gold standard for medical specialist recognition in the United States, was to make up his own board to certify him.

Anyway, this isn't about that, it's about another area of dishonesty from young Randy. This time it's his plagiarism in a speech, and Rachel Maddow has been all over it.

Here's Rachel:

Pretty damning, right? I think she lets him off a little easy by allowing that he might not understand what plagiarism is, but there's no getting around the facts.

Now here's where the challenge to conservatives comes in. Back in 1987 Joe Biden plagiarized a speech by Neil Kinnock, a Welsh politician who made some great observations about the nature and reasons of his success. It was great when Kinnock said it and it would have been equally great if Biden had pointed out that the same lessons were true in his own life. What was not great was for Biden to adapt Kinnock's story to his own life and tell the story as though it had just occurred to him on his way into work.

Conservatives have never let him forget it.

The extreme right wing of the Republican Party is particularly receptive to the message of Ron Paul. By some weird quirk, they also embrace this weird self-image as intellectually rigorous independent thinkers, so this is their chance to prove it.

Let's hear some Republicans call out Randy Paul for plagiarizing Wikipedia and lying about it.

We'll wait.

Labels: , , , ,