Friday, June 28, 2013

Gay marriage and religious rights

I mentioned the good news on gay marriage at the end of my last post. I didn't feel the need to comment more since it's so plainly right and pointing out how wrong those who oppose it are would be, at this point, redundant and exhausting. But Charles Pierce brought my attention to Ross Douthat's response to the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA and I couldn't resist:

Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters - the extent to which they are content with political, legal and cultural victories that leave the traditional view of marriage as a minority perspective with some modest purchase in civil society, versus the extent to which they decide to use every possible lever to make traditionalism as radioactive in the America of 2025 as white supremacism or anti-Semitism are today.

So because more and more people might see the anti-gay marriage view for being the bigoted bullshit it is, religious liberty on the issue will be destroyed. For Douthat, religious liberty isn't about being able to think what you want to think. It's about having a lot of people agree with what you think and not be demonized for having a bigoted belief so that you can try to get the gov't to enact that belief into law, at which point everyone who doesn't share your religious belief will have sacrificed their religious liberty so that yours can flourish.

In short, Ross Douthat doesn't understand the concept of religious liberty, nor the concept of the 1st amendment and the basic framework of how our gov't and legal system operate. For him and his fellow conservatives, freedom only matters when it benefits them and them alone. Otherwise liberty is being destroyed. And they wonder why young people who aren't brainwashed by their parents and non-white men aren't voting Republican.

And quickly, I have to disagree with Pierce when he says, "(The government can't make a church do anything.)". Well, it can in the sense that if a church decided it believes in virgin sacrifices the gov't could prevent it from partaking in that practice. As long as a church isn't doing stuff like that, the gov't shouldn't make a church do anything. Nor should a gov't do something just because a church wants it to, which is the concept that escapes many like Douthat on the right.

Update: I was think about this a bit more (because this is where my mind wanders sometimes) and I noticed something odd about the quoted part above. Douthat is complaining that the "traditional" view of marriage will become the minority perspective if us liberals keep pushing it the way we are. But that assumes this whole marriage issue is a zero sum game for us. It's not. We are simply pushing for gay marriage to go along with what they call "traditional" marriage. We don't want to get rid of anything.

Therein lies the implicit bigotry in Douthat's view of traditionalism. Traditionalism for the sake of traditionalism wouldn't be a problem on this issue if gay people weren't excluded. If they hadn't been, us liberals would be arguing in part for keeping a good tradition alive. Douthat only argues for traditionalism because it's what matched his beliefs. If it didn't, he wouldn't be concerned about it.

And of course, his traditionalism has an arbitrary time limit. He hints at it above, I think, when he says, "civil society". I think that's a very vague acknowledgement that there are forms of "traditional" marriage in societies Douthat doesn't consider civil that he doesn't agree with, probably forms like polygamy and arranged marriages. So what these arguments about tradition are really about are just hiding bigoted religious beliefs.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This week in racism

Race has been in the news a lot this week with the Supreme Court's ridiculous decision to rule parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, the affirmative action case (especially Thomas' concurrence) and with Paula Deen saying racist stuff (I've always found her extremely annoying). Alyssa Rosenberg has a good post about Paula Deen and how people like her trying to change the narrative. Check that out here. Dustin Rowles over at Pajiba has a good post describing his experience being born in the south and dealing with racism. Before you check it out, beware the horrible picture of Deen. You've been warned. Dustin's experience felt similar to mine, which I posted in the comments over there which I'll put here as well:

I was born in Memphis and have lived here most my life. It's a clusterfuck of racial tension. Words like "nigger" are rarely said in public. And people have gotten very good at using code words and couching their arguments in what appears to be non-racist motives. But as a white man I've heard it first hand from my family and from people who didn't know I was a non-racist liberal. There are Paula Deens all over the place.

I'm not sure they really belief they aren't racist. I think it could be more the fact that it's such a taboo to be seen as racist that they say whatever they can to avoid that label. And people like Deen are so shut off from people and a world that would call them out on their racism that they don't have to confront it until they are called out on it in a public way.

Public shaming is a very powerful thing. But like many other instances of public shaming, people don't seem willing to admit a fault and ask forgiveness. They would rather deny any wrongdoing and wait it out until they are around their yes-people and they can live in ignorance. That's easier than opening your mind and seriously thinking about what kind of person you are.

I had a few things to say on Twitter about the Supreme Court decision on the VRA and affirmative action. I don't have much to add aside from the fact the majority is just factually wrong. It's not apparent to these elitists who probably never interact with anyone outside their little social circles. But racism is obviously still alive. This was so apparent to Congress back in 06 (where there were still plenty of crazy people) that they reauthorized the VRA with near unanimous consent. It's 10th amendment and states' right bullshit to say that some states and districts shouldn't be treated differently when it comes to voting laws. And Thomas saying the pro-affirmative action argument is the same as the segregationist argument is incredibly simple-minded and again, factually wrong.

Not all was bad with the SCOTUS this week. This morning they ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, which should have been one of the easiest decisions the court has ever made. Sure enough, bigots like Scalia dissented and will go down in history as terrible justices. I'm obviously happy with that decision. But I'm still pretty depressed that we seem to have stalled in our progress when it comes to race in this country. People like Paula Deen should be publicly shamed for being racist. But along with that shaming, I think we need to find a more constructive way to deal with racists because the status quo doesn't seem to be working too well.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Farm Bill clusterfuck

Because about half of this country seems to have always hated the poor, food stamps (or SNAP) funding has been a part of what is know as the farm bill for a while so that it would have an easier time passing than if it were left to be voted on by it's own merits. It's actually the biggest part of the farm bill, which also includes subsides for people like Rep. Stephen Fincher who can use those subsides for their corporate farms to get rich and run for congress where they lecture people on how Jesus really didn't care about the poor unless they put in a full 60 hour work week, or were a farmer like him.

This process by which we throw a few bones to poor people so they can afford to eat while giving wealthy farmers millions of dollars usually goes off without much of a hitch, because of course it does in our corporatocracy. But this year's vote in the House brought it down in spectacular fashion when the combination of some Republicans disliking the fact that the bill didn't cut food stamps enough and Democrats actually taking a stand and not liking that it cut food stamps as much as it did defeated the farm bill. Here's congress' prominent dogfighting proponent, Rep. Steve King, making the argument for cutting food stamps:

"[W]hen we see the expansion of the dependency class in America, and you add this to the 79 other means-tested welfare programs that we have in the United States ... each time you add another brick to that wall, it's a barrier to people that might go out and succeed," Rep. Steve King said during Wednesday debate.

If by "barrier to people that might go out and succeed" you mean not fucking starve, then I guess he's right. I never ceased to be amazed by how much these people hate the poor. Not only that they hold the belief, but that they think it's ok and good for their reelection purposes to say so in public. But remember, this is a christian nation. And Jesus was famous for putting conditions on receiving empathy and charity.

And that's only part of the clusterfuck. The reason this horrible bill didn't pass was that Boehner didn't secure enough votes, which is a big part of his job as Speaker. Unless his goal was to have it fail on purpose so as to leverage either a better bill or something else, this doesn't look good for him. Normally I would be pretty happy when a horrible bill gets voted down. But I don't really see a scenario in which a better bill passes the House and then passes again when it's revised in the Senate. And that's not to mention that Obama did the right thing and said he would veto it. In the end I suspect the need for Republicans to give money to corporate farms will outweigh the need for Democrats to give money to poor people so they can eat and grease the wheels in the hopes of passing immigration reform and we'll get a really shitty farm bill. Because making sure rich people have more money is the most important thing for this country.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Man of Steel review

I've never been a huge Superman fan. I respect the character. And while I also respect the original Superman movies for breaking new ground, I have major problems with them. Superman Returns wasn't bad. And Smallville had some decent stretches. But I was hoping that my lack of love for Superman was a problem with filmmakers just not getting it right rather than an inherent flaw. So I wasn't as excited for Man of Steel as I was for The Dark Knight Trilogy. But I was excited enough to go to a midnight screening.

My first impression of the movie was kind of...meh. It was pretty good, but not as good as most of the early reviews said it was. The first half of the movie worked well. I was emotionally invested in Clark and the story. But the second half kind of lost me. I didn't feel much tension within the many fight scenes. And I didn't care for what had to be a ton of civilian casualties as a result of the massively destructive fights. Visually everything was very good (except for the almost Star Trek-level lens flares). But I'm so used to films looking great that well done CGI doesn't impress me as much. Story and character are vastly more important than those things.

But I was determined to give it another shot. So I saw it again today and I came away with a more positive view of the movie. It's no Batman Begins. But it's a pretty solid start to what could become a very interesting larger story. Spoilers from here on out.

The movie starts on Krypton with Clark being born. Russell Crowe is fantastic. There's just something about him that I find inherently compelling. So I wasn't surprised that he made Jur-El compelling. I felt for him and Laura having to give up their child while they face certain death. Zod's reasoning behind trying to implement a coup was enough to make me buy that he wasn't just nuts. And Michael Shannon did a good job of balancing anger and genuine concern for his people. The opening ends with Clark being sent to earth, where upon his ship landing on the Kent farm, we shift into Batman Begins mode where see Clark in the present timeline while getting flashbacks of when he was young.

Clark as an anonymous nomad and the flashbacks are my favorite parts of the movie. To me, Superman is an inherently unrelatable character. He's so powerful and so emotionally stable that he feels distant. But Clark at least appears relatively weak and unsure of himself. It's when he's trying not to be Superman and trying to fit in as a normal human being that we relate to him and therefore emotionally invest in him and his journey. Granted, none of us know what it's like to have to adapt to seeing through things and have fire shoot out of your eyes. But we all know what it's like to be scared and be seen by our peers and society as an outcast. And both young Clark and nomad Clark conveyed those things well.

I could have used more of Clark trying to find himself. The one thing that might have been missing for me was a greater sense of why Clark felt the need as a child and feels the need as an adult to help people. His father is constantly trying to get him to not help people so as not to risk everyone freaking out about his power. His mother doesn't really say much. It isn't a big problem. I can buy that Clark is just an inherently good and caring person. But I think things could have come together a bit more if we got kind of a mission statement from Clark.

The rest of the movie involves Zod escaping the phantom zone and coming to earth to find Clark and continue the Kryptonian race at the expense of humans. This was all executed well enough. I don't have any major problems with it. Some minor problems are the heavy-handed Jesus symbolism and the fact that I didn't care about any of the innocent people harmed in the fights. After my first viewing the vast amount of destruction bugged me and the fight scenes felt a bit flat. But I've come around on those two things. The fight scenes were pretty entertaining and I think the destruction served (or hopefully will in the next movie) a purpose to the plot and Clark as a character.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it was necessary to make Zod the first villain and have him push Clark as far as he did and destroy as much they did. Perhaps I'm missing the point with not having Clark spell out a more definitive mission statement because he hasn't fully formed one yet. He doesn't know what his calling is until Zod and his fellow Kryptonians almost destroy the earth. It takes having Smallville and what has to be the vast majority of Metropolis destroyed while Zod almost indiscriminately killing people for Clark to become Superman. Without that kind of threat Clark has no reason to reveal himself to the world. Zod in essence creates Superman.

That's what this movie is about, getting from a guy that is just Clark Kent to a guy that is both Clark Kent and Superman. I think they were largely successful with that. Like Batman Begins, Man of Steel left me with a feeling of the start of something special. As we saw with the LexCorp tanker and the Wayne Enterprises satellite (my favorite geek moment), there are a lot of exciting directions they can go with from here. I didn't have a problem with Lois. I'm thankful they didn't get too much into her and Clark's romantic relationship (I despise how much the original Superman movies focus on it). But I hope they delve deeper into their relationship and give Lois more to do than be obsessed with Superman. And I hope moving forward they expand on the solid foundation they have laid with Man of Steel.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kevin Drum on chutzpah

This is a fine example of chutzpah Kevin Drum alerts us to, from Senator Jeff Sessions on why he opposes immigration reform:

This increased GDP will be at the expense of poor and working-class Americans. The benefit will go to the business owners while the wages of U.S. workers—which should be growing—will instead decline

I want to print out that quote and throw it at Sessions every time he contradicts it. My arm would get tired pretty quickly because as Drum points out, Session and Republicans have never given a shit about the expense of the poor and working class. If they did the business owners and rich of this country wouldn't have been making the vast majority of economic gains at the expense of the rest of us for at least the past 30 years. I'm so sick of the elite white men of this country being assholes that soon I'll have to start giving myself pep talks in front of the mirror so I don't hate myself for being one of them, well, except for the elite part.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why is the US involved in Syria?

It was reported recently that Syria has used chemical weapons on some people. And for some reason, killing some people with those weapons is completely different than killing many, many more people with other weapons to the Obama administration. Thus they decided they had to do something more than what they were doing, which is openly arming rebels against the Syrian gov't.

There are big questions as to who among those rebels we should arm, not to mention the more important question of whether it's a good idea in the first place (see Afghanistan for perhaps the best example as to that problem, more recently Libya). I've tweeted links to smart takes on those questions. I didn't blog about it because I don't think I can add much to them. So I'll leave you to comb my twitter feed if you're interested in the specifics as to why it's probably not a good idea to arm rebels or do much of anything to escalate our involvement in the situation. It sucks to have to come to that conclusion because our instinct is to try and save thousands of people being killed. But history has shown that it's just very difficult and our involvement could just as easily backfire.

So back to the question of why we're involved. I'll give everyone some benefit of the doubt and say that most of why they care about the Syrian situation is all of the people being killed by the current regime. That's obviously the catalyst of the concern over the country. Though forgive me if I don't assume complete and pure motives here because frankly, many of the people who are concerned don't exactly display the same level of concern for human suffering in other cases (see Republicans and the poor in the US, and Democrats in places in the world that aren't the middle east). That brings me to this point made by Charles Pierce:

Again, I say, blowing the hell out of Syria will convince Iran not to build any nukes, which it may not be doing anyway, how exactly? It will scare the Russians into doing what, precisely? Enmeshing the United States more deeply in a civil war in which we know practically nothing about anyone on the side that we are supposed to be helping is a tough way to keep the King Of Jordan out of the toaster.

First off, I love Pierce's writing. He's smart, concise and funny. Second, I think he touches on a big reason so many in our leadership are concerned about Syria beyond humanitarian reasons, which is Iran. One thing both parties seem to agree on is that Iran is the most scary country on earth and that they can't be allowed to get nuclear weapons because they will destroy Israel and then shortly thereafter, the US. I won't rehash why that's misguided (which I have numerous times on this blog). But they believe it and they are terrified of Iran gaining or maintaining any influence in the region. So as the person who Pierce is responding to above says, we have to show Iran that we aren't screwing around when it comes to regimes in the region exerting power in a way we don't like.

What those people don't seem to understand is that (as Pierce points out) aggressive action on our part likely just serves to make Iran more nervous than they already are about the US. Trying to convince a nervous country that they don't need nuclear weapons to protect themselves against a military with thousands of nukes of their own and a military budget bigger than the next almost dozen countries combined is not an easy task. And while I'm not very familiar with the poli sci work on homicidal dictators and transitions of power, I'm not sure our escalating involvement in Syria is a very good way to persuade Assad to stop killing people. So no matter the reason, it's really hard to justify our further involvement in Syria. Again, I hate coming to that conclusion. But it's a situation where there are only bad and worse choices.