November 5, 2004

Ongoing Discussion 11-04

Another essay written as part of an ongoing election-politics discussion; the recipient had made rather free with my hospitality, but deliberately concealed his far-right religious and political views, and the fact that he was an admirer of the odious Ann Coulter (who sneers at others for their alleged ignorance, but confuses “advice and advise” in an online posting), and that he did not consider the Vietnam War to have been a mistake. Even after Robert McNamara himself, the architect of that war, had admitted as much in “The Fog of War.”

I challenge you to find the places where I said any of the things that you attribute to me. You are still putting words in my mouth. I never said you hated black people. I said that the Republican party has actively sought to disenfranchise black and other minority voters, and took advantage of Southern racism and disgruntlement after Johnson’s Civil Rights Act to expand the ranks of their party. I didn’t ever say nor was I trying to prove that faith is “irrational and prayer is a waste of time.” Show me where I said that. I do have faith and I do pray. I said that people’s individual religious beliefs have no place being legislated, because America has a little thing called the First Amendment. The papal humanae vitae, and mulieris dignitatem, whether I agree with their principles or not, have no business dictating American policy any more than the Koran, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Reading and understanding them would not change my position in the least. The contents of all of these documents and teachings are immaterial with regard to American laws, because our constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Our nation is diverse, and Americans worship and relate to the Divine in many different ways; choosing one religion to use as a basis for our laws would be unfair to those who practice different religions or no religion. You would protest mightily if Buddhists took over and forbade the eating of meat, or you were forced to meditate every day, or if verses from the Koran were posted in front of government buildings.

You haven’t told me much about what you believe, except that you think that your religion should dictate policy, even if others don’t share your beliefs, and even if it victimizes poor women, children, and gay people. You’ve been so busy with the kind of crazy hyperbole (Saddam-loving leftists) that you pick up from talking-heads shows that you haven’t limned your philosophy at all. I don’t get “talking points” from TV news shows, because I rarely watch them. When I have used other people’s words, I have attributed all quotes and ideas to their authors. Believe it or not, everything else I have written to you has been my original work and thoughts, not cribbed from liberal pundits. I came to these conclusions on my own, not because Michael Moore or John Kerry or Garrison Keillor told me what to say.

You’re the one who brought up China, not me. It’s a totalitarian, communist state, and its human rights record is atrocious; they clearly do not value human life the way we do here. I said several times that I would never want their forced abortion policies in America, any more than I would want forced pregnancy and childbirth. As I said before, I don’t support any policy that takes away people’s control (forced vasectomies?) over their own bodies. Any kind of law restricting reproductive rights disproportionately affects the poor, and I think they're wrong.

The Catholic church’s demonizing of birth control has kept many third-world countries where Catholicism is more or less the national religion firmly in the third world. As I said before, it’s impossible for families to focus on educating their children and bettering their lives when they can barely afford to feed them. Since the Pope has personally visited most of these countries, I don’t understand how any human being, much less a man of God, could see the misery of the Mexicans or the Brazilians, for example, and continue to advocate practices which serve to keep people poor, hungry and ignorant.

George Bush is intellectually incurious, and his relying on hunches rather than facts or reality bothers me. As an NPR commentator said yesterday, rather than focusing exclusively on facts, I think that John Kerry should have also invoked the passionate morality of the civil rights movement, which would have involved people emotionally, not just practically or empirically.

October 29, 2004

A Bigot By Any Other Name

A response to a friend's email claiming that racism is different from homophobia:

I never used the word “homophobia,” which is a bit precious, and puts a rather too-mild face on plain old bigotry. Of course, as I said, ignorance and fear are the creeks which feed the river of all bigotry, but "phobia" suggests a condition that you can merely avoid by avoiding the thing that causes it. But for people who actively seek to harm homosexuals, whether through direct violence, or through discriminative actions or legislation, well, mere “phobia” doesn’t describe them or their condition. Also, you know as well as I do that sexual orientation is exactly like race or gender in that it’s an innate quality or trait, and cannot be changed, although I don’t think it’s a strictly binary state – there is a whole spectrum, ranging in degrees from heterosexual through bisexual to homosexual. Intersex people are born with the genitalia of more than one gender, and their sexuality is similarly ambiguous, but you can’t blame them for their differences.

Religion, on the other hand, is a choice, and people frequently choose a different religion from the one they were born into, and sometimes change belief systems several times in their life. However, people’s religious beliefs are so strongly held and so personal that we have enshrined protection for them in our Constitution. Desire for religious freedom was one of the primary reasons the first colonies were established. Now, if we’re going to protect something that’s a choice, shouldn’t we protect something that’s equally personal, but is not a choice? It is wrong to discriminate against people because of who they are, and I cannot support it. I have met people who have experimented with different sexual partners, but I’ve never met anyone who has truly changed their underlying sexual orientation. Trying to be someone you’re not just ends up hurting everyone involved, and it is foolish to encourage people to pretend to be straight.

You wanted the “irreducible essence” of what marriage is, ergo my no-frills definition. I was only trying to come up with a legal definition, not an essay about the possible deeper aspects of a marriage relationship. Different people have different ideas about what marriage should be or can be, and I don’t think the government, which is what we were talking about, has any business quizzing people on how much in love they are with their partner, or how romantic it is, or any other personal questions. If I were not interested in having children, I’m not sure how much I’d be interested in getting married. I sometimes think that we as a society are unhappy in marriage because we expect it to be this amazing romantic sexy thing, and are disappointed when it’s hard work, and not lingerie and champagne all the time.

October 26, 2004

Civil Rights Speeches from America's Past Illuminate the Present

As part of my ongoing political debate with D, I researched quotes to support my hypothesis that the language historically used to justify slavery, racism and sexism is still being used to justify denying equal rights to gays, lesbians, intersex and transgendered people.

To address our differences of opinion regarding the rights and liberties we believe are afforded all Americans by our Constitution, I will turn to a 19th-Century orator, who spoke in 1871 on the topic of Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Rights.

Virginia Woodhull:

I trust you will pardon me the statement when I say that I do not comprehend how there can exist an honest and perfect appreciation of the fundamental propositions upon which the superstructure of our government is based, and, at the same time, an honest hostility to the legitimate deductions of them, therefore I appear before you to expound as best I may the law involved by these propositions and to point out the inconsistencies of those who evince hostility to such deductions.

Here is Julia's definition of marriage: The state of two persons being united in a legal, consensual, and contractual relationship recognized and sanctioned by and dissolvable only by law.

Mrs. Ernestine I. Rose, 1860:

But what is marriage? A human institution, called out by the needs of social, affectional human nature, for human purposes, its objects are, first, the happiness of the parties immediately concerned, and, secondly, the welfare of society.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, arguing for the right to divorce, 1860:

If marriage is a human institution, about which man may legislate, it seems but just that he should treat this branch of his legislation with the same common sense that he applies to all others. If it is a mere legal contract, then should it be subject to the restraints and privileges of all other contracts.

Where two beings are drawn together, by the natural laws of likeness and affinity, union and happiness are the result. Such marriages might be Divine. But how is it now? You all know our marriage is, in many cases, a mere outward tie, impelled by custom, policy, interest, necessity; founded, not even in friendship, to say nothing of love; with every possible inequality of condition and development.

…Now, do you believe, men and women, that all these wretched matches are made in heaven? that all these sad, miserable people are bound together by God? I know Horace Greeley has been most eloquent, for weeks past, on the holy sacrament of ill-assorted marriages; but let us hope that all wisdom does not live, and will not die, with Horace Greeley. I think, if he had been married to the New York Herald, instead of the Republican party, he would have found out some Scriptural arguments against life‑long unions, where great incompatibility of temper existed between the parties. (Laughter and applause.)

Stanton continues with an exact articulation of what I have always said about laws outlawing abortion and restricting the reproductive rights of women:

It is folly to make laws on subjects beyond human prerogative, knowing that in the very nature of things they must be set aside. To make laws that man cannot and will not obey, serves to bring all law into contempt.
Here is a sentence that could be applied to the concept of marriage rights for all:

Why is it that all agreements, covenants, partnerships, are left wholly at the discretion of the parties, except the contract which of all others is considered most holy and important, both for the individual and the race?
At the end of the 1860 National Women’s Rights Convention, William Lloyd Garrison’s words were summarized as follows:

The rights of woman are coëqual and coëternal with the rights of man, being based upon human nature; and, therefore, are not to be determined nor circumscribed by an appeal to any book in the world, however excellent that book may be. It was [Mr. Garrison's] conviction that, until the true origin of all rights was perceived and acknowledged, very slow progress would be made towards their obtainment. No matter what any book might say to the contrary, human rights were equal, inalienable, indestructible, without reference to sex or complexion. They belonged to the constitution of every human being. It seemed to him, in a government like this, that they had nothing more to do than to put the ballot into the hand of woman, as it was in the hand of man. If, after she had a fair share of political power and representation, any of her rights were cloven down, then the fault would be her own. Let her say what shall be the laws, in coöperation with man, and the work would be done. He trusted the day was not far distant when woman would fully enjoy the benefit of the democratic theory of government. That theory we must carry out, or go backward to despotism, repudiating the revolutionary struggle, and spitting upon Bunker Hill and Lexington. We must give to all the same rights under a free government; and then we should be a consistent and glorious republic.

D., you insist that extending marriage rights to all human beings would be “destroying” marriage, or “tearing marriage down and rebuilding it from the ground up.” Was Major League Baseball “destroyed” when Jackie Robinson was allowed to play? Or what about when women were allowed to play basketball – did it have to be torn down and completely rebuilt?

Here is Carrie Chapman Catt in 1916 on the anti-suffragists’ arguments, which are, not coincidentally, the same ones used to keep gays from enjoying equal rights:

The male and female anti-suffragists of all lands will puff and blow at the economic change which will come to the women of Europe. They will declare it to be contrary to Nature and to God's plan and that somebody ought to do something about it.

There have always been arguments for protecting the status quo; the most indefensible of these, in my opinion, cite the Bible as justification. Wasn’t Jesus a uniter, not a divider? The ultimate uniter, in fact? “The slave shall not rise up against his master” was a Bible verse used to justify the harsh punishment of slaves who escaped or plotted uprisings.

Carrie Catt again on the “Anti-suffrage” movement. This perfectly encapsulates what I believe about all socially progressive movements:

We have not won the reactionaries of any party, church or society, and we never will. From the beginning of things, there have been Antis. The Antis drove Moses out of Egypt; they crucified Christ who said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself"; they have persecuted Jews in all parts of the world; they poisoned Socrates, the great philosopher; they cruelly persecuted Copernicus and Galileo, the first great scientists; they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake because he believed the world was round; they burned Savonarola who warred upon church corruption; they burned Eufame McIlyane [sic] because she used an anaesthetic; they burned Joan d'Arc for a heretic; they have sent great men and women to Siberia to eat their hearts out in isolation; they burned in effigy William Lloyd Garrison; they egged Abbie Kelley and Lucy Stone and mobbed Susan B. Anthony. Yet, in proportion to the enlightenment of their respective ages, these Antis were persons of intelligence and honest purpose. They were merely deaf to the call of Progress and were enraged because the world insisted upon moving on. Antis male and female there still are and will be to the end of time. Give to them a prayer of forgiveness for they know not what they do; and prepare for the forward march.
I found a web page with a bio of a Georgia governor. Here's a quote from it:

Like his contemporaries, Griffin ran for office on a staunch segregationist platform. The U.S. Supreme Court had declared segregation unconstitutional just before the 1954 gubernatorial campaign. In that campaign Griffin promised to protect segregated schools "come hell or high water." During the Griffin administration no Georgia schools were integrated; the desegregation process did not begin until 1961, two years after he left office.
There’s that word “protect” again -- being used to describe the efforts of racial segregationists.

From a Louisiana man's blog:

…I had thrilled to the music of Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Little Richard, and other "race" musicians whose upbeat rhythm and blues was almost drowned out by the cosmic voice-over of Boss Leander Perez, virtual dictator of Placquemines Parish, Louisiana, who fulminated like Goebbels or Hitler about the imminent dangers of allowing "burrheads" into our schools in 1957. I was then serving as an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the suburbs of New Orleans. I vividly remember a hot Sunday morning after Pentecost when the pastor solemnly announced that the parish school would be integrated that coming fall. The good parishioners wept openly at the prospect of this seemingly apocalyptic event.
BBC Four: Jonathan Freedland discusses America 30 years on with Lani Guinier and James Fallows Dec. 19, 2002.

And MLK’s words in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written over 40 years ago, in 1963. It’s interesting what he has to say about the church’s position on civil rights; the words are still true today.

I have hope that [Mayor] Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

… One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.

… So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." … So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

… So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I see every parallel between the struggles of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and the struggles of gay Americans for equality and respect today. The reason that the judge in Massachusetts ruled as she did this year is that she could see no way to justify “separate but equal” marriage rules. Perhaps, as the religious leaders in Birmingham asserted, the current fight over gay rights is not “well timed,” but it’s been more than 35 years since the Stonewall riots, and there is still an unbelievable amount of hate directed at gays. Hate stems from fear, and fear from ignorance – the same emotions that were at work in opposing women’s suffrage.

October 22, 2004

Abortion in China vs. America

From an ongoing email discussion about religion and politics:

I was thinking about it again last night, and you have been the person who has always brought up China, as if there were no difference between China and America, and no difference between compulsory birth control or abortion and mere birth control and abortion rights. I don’t think there is anyone of any political bent in this country who supports the idea of importing China’s harsh population-limiting laws over here. Thankfully, there is as yet no need for it. Also, I and many people, even those who are in favor of reproductive rights, agree that China’s system is harsh, draconian, and often leads to abuses, as your article points out. (There’s also a big difference between behavior/attitudes/government in rural areas and in urban areas in China.) On the other hand, America is a democracy that stresses individual freedom, and has been around for over 200 years. In China, the current government has not been in power nearly as long, and Chinese, and indeed, Asian culture and tradition has long encouraged subverting individual desires for the “greater good,” however that may be defined. China is also a country that has in the last century has experienced several wars, foreign invasion and occupation, regime changes, and a pogrom directed at murdering, imprisoning, or exiling all intellectuals—vastly different from our experience during the same time frame. During all of this upheaval, its population growth rate raged out of control, and in 1970, the total fertility rate was about 6 children per couple, one that was clearly unsustainable considering its third-world status, its lack of food, and its lack of industrialization, which tends to support larger population density. Their solution seems to have curbed the population growth rate, although not without creating new problems, many of them related to cultural practices, the need for children to take care of aging parents, and the relative value of women and men in China. Here is a .pdf of a study on this topic:

Now, back to America, which is what I have been talking about. You are conflating reproductive rights with coercion. I don’t advocate any coercion by anyone or any government entity of any woman regarding her reproductive choices. Ever. I think all women (and men) should be able to obtain effective birth control, and that individuals, not the government, should decide when and whether to have children. Period. I don’t advocate forced abortion or sterilization any more than I advocate forcing women to give birth. Either practice is barbaric and unacceptable in a country that claims facilitate “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Neither compulsory abortion nor compulsory birthing are consistent with the individual rights and freedoms we pride ourselves on in this country. I am not in favor of either of these things, OK?! No, I don't want America to be like China, OK?

The fact is, that if abortion is outlawed, poor women will be the ones to suffer, because rich women will always be able to afford to travel somewhere abortion is legal. Laws limiting reproductive freedom will disproportionately affect poor women, those who can least afford to have unwanted children. The law just makes it that much harder and more miserable to be poor, and the likelihood of poor women dying in childbirth (11% is the risk of dying in childbirth vs. less than a tenth of a percent due to a legal abortion) or due to a botched abortion.

You mentioned racism the other day, and I do think it’s at work in some people who oppose reproductive rights. They see more teenagers of color having babies, and more white teens having abortions (although that’s not quite accurate) and they don’t want to see the minority population rate rise faster than the white. One guy I used to work with who opposed abortion rights said, “Okay, just go ahead and make yourselves extinct.” Right. As if that were possible in today’s world.

As for Brazil, or Mexico, or whatever we were talking about, it’s most certainly not racism that is prompting my observation about how the misery of the favelas would be lessened if people had fewer children. It doesn’t matter what color they are; the condition of people who are dirt poor and squatting in junk heaps behind the high-rises of Rio is not at all improved by having more children to feed. It just so happens that most of the people in the third world are not white, and not coincidentally to the poverty of many of these families, that they tend to have a much higher number of children per family than in the first world. But it’s also poor whites--no coincidence that so many Irish families, both here and in Ireland were historically so poor--they had a lot more mouths to feed. It’s a truism that there is a direct correlation between freeing women from the burden of constant pregnancy, and improving those families’ socioeconomic condition and level of self-determination. Did you know that the risk of death associated with childbirth is about 11 times as high as that associated with abortion? The Alan Guttmacher Institute maintains up-to-date facts on reproductive and sexual health issues, including abortion:

On the Andrea Macris issue, I’ve got a lot of outstanding borrowings right now, but that doesn’t mean that any harassment claim I were to bring would be categorically untrue. I don’t think she’s making it up, any more than Anita Hill was inventing things. Bill O’Reilly has always been smug and arrogant, and I guess we’ll see if the claims have any merit. I would certainly find it difficult to go back to work for someone who had treated me that way, but I am not going to judge the veracity of either party until after further investigation into the assertions.

October 7, 2004

Political Discussion 10-7-04

I must take you to task a little bit for your recent approach to debating. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of all the non-political issues you’re having to deal with lately, although they do sound like campaign issues, strangely enough. But when, over the course of several emails, and then in person, you make generalizations about me and those who share my beliefs, and put words in my mouth that you know darn well I would never say, much less feel to be true, and equate me with some of the worst tyrants of recent memory, then I can’t help but be puzzled and hurt, if not angry and outraged. Calling me a “Saddam-loving leftist” just because I don’t like G. W. Bush’s policies is not only a non-sequitur and thus a lousy argument, it’s an ad hominem attack, which is inappropriate in any debate, and frankly, beneath someone of your intelligence and discernment.

The point I was trying to make the other night is that this administration and its supporters, like some previous Republican administrations, has equated criticism of the president and his policies with being “un-American,” and has called any and all kinds of dissent “disrespectful” and “unpatriotic.” This goes back to the 1992 debate when Bush Sr. questioned Clinton’s patriotism because he had visited Moscow as a student. It continued during the last election, and after 9-11, when Ari Fleischer said in response to Bill Maher, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." The article where I found the quote also discusses numerous other instances of government- and self-censorship of opinions that were critical of Bush Administration policies, and documents the growing atmosphere of suppressing dissent. The message board posts I was referring to reflected Fleischer’s influence.

And still it continues. Just yesterday on NPR, there was a piece on a Senate debate over implementing the 9-11 Commission’s policies, and they were talking about the Duelfer report. Sen. Stevens (R-Alaska) insisted when Sen. Durbin (D-Illinois) criticized Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, citing the report’s finding no WMDs, that this criticism was “disrespectful of the president.” Durbin countered that he respected the office, but that as an American, he had a First-Amendment right to criticize the president, and such criticism is not disrespectful. You may listen to this exchange here.

I had to interrupt you the other night because you kept making the outrageous assertion that I wanted to suppress the speech of those on the message boards, even though you knew damn well that it wasn’t true, and that it wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I can’t believe you really think I’m that much of a hypocrite. Of course, I think everyone is entitled to express their opinion, no matter how much I might disagree with it. But there’s this weird double standard, and what pisses me off is the position of so many people who describe themselves as Bush supporters, or conservatives, or “those on the right,” or whatever title they choose. They are saying, “We can express our opinion because it jibes with the current administration’s party line, but all of you who don’t agree with the current administration should shut up because you’re being: (choose one) a) unpatriotic; b) disrespectful; c) un-American; d) supportive of the terrorists; e) a mixed-message sender.” My saying “The president is an idiot” is not un-American; however, my saying “You can’t say the president is an idiot because it’s un-American” goes against the concept of free speech, and is therefore un-American. I don’t know a single liberal/leftist/Democrat who wishes to restrict free speech, but I know plenty of conservatives/rightists/Republicans who do. And I don’t get it at all.

I think the government should be there to protect people from harm, should provide a legal framework for living and working in our society, should be an advocate for those who need one, and should provide temporary or permanent help with food, shelter, and health care to those who cannot help themselves, and who ask for this help on their own behalf or on behalf of a friend or family member. I do not think that the American government has any business dictating the religious, reproductive, or sexual practices of its citizens, and would hate to live in an America where this was accepted. You seem to advocate a “nosy parker” sort of government, and it’s one I could never support. There’s a big difference between thinking that abortion is wrong and vowing not to have one yourself, and believing that a law should be passed so that everyone will be forced to live according to your beliefs. What if there were a law saying that all unmarried girls under 18 had to abort any child they conceived? I would oppose that as equally wrong and restrictive. Haven’t you ever read Dostoyevsky's “The Grand Inquisitor?” People need to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. I think that the French have gone too far in restricting people from wearing headscarves, crosses, and other religious symbols, because while I would never want to wear a headscarf and find the practice rather sexist, it does me no harm, and it’s none of my business. France insists that it’s a “secular society,” but in contrast, the U.S. is a society that traditionally has taken a more laissez-faire attitude, and has embraced all the many religions and peoples it comprises. May it ever be thus.

I am beginning to think that personality is a huge factor in determining political allegiances, because certain personality traits seem to run parallel to party lines. Maybe our political leanings are more deeply rooted than we know. But as a former underdog, I find myself consistently rooting for the underdog, and I can’t help but align myself with others who share my inclinations.

October 4, 2004

The Debate Before the Debate

The beginnings of an ongoing political/religious/social debate between me and D.

In response to a presidential debate-watching party invitation, D wrote:

Will I be the only non-left person around? I'm used to that, though it tends to make me uncomfortable and I tend to stay in the closet. Much as a non-controversy-enjoying c**ksucking faggot might not tell his favorite people on a regular basis about his sexual proclivities if said fave peeps were rel-right extremists. Diversity, we learn, does not mean that one can dare to think different, as it were; not among the elite, not among the so-called educated or thoughtful classes. And I really don't enjoy it. Anyway.
I replied:

Wow! Sounds like someone hasn’t had their nap… Regarding the debate, I haven’t gotten any definite RSVPs for tomorrow, so you may be the only other person there besides me.

And I would totally disagree that among my educated/ thoughtful friends that one does not dare express an alternate opinion or that alternate or diverse views are not permitted. It’s just that after four years of having a president that I didn’t vote for, whose policies/values/priorities I didn’t agree with then, and who has since then, in my opinion, mucked things up worse than I could have imagined, and who has manifested in his policies all the character traits I found troubling, I am tired of watching my country suffer economically, socially, and in the court of world opinion, and I’m mad about it.

And speaking of how free speech has increasingly been discouraged and restricted, I’m also sick of hearing how it’s unpatriotic or terrorist-supporting to criticize the president or to disagree with any of his policies, and that I should just swallow the giant putrid cumwad that is the “Patriot Act” without blinking, while the real dangers and the real terrorists elude us. I guess I wouldn’t get mad if I didn’t care about where we’re headed, and I will probably go into a deep funk if we have four more years of Dubya.

I have to hear about him every day on the news, and I’d say that even moderates or Bush supporters can be fed up with hearing about his daily activities, so it’s nice to have the occasional opportunity to talk to friends who share my views, and who join me in my frustration. But if you come watch the debate at my house, I promise I won’t tell anyone that you’re gay, not that my friends would mind. :~}

September 27, 2004

Hey everyone! It's the "Oriental Newsboy Hour," with your host, Jack Wong!

Oriental newsboy hour?
Misanthropic zig dibble cogent?
Hebrew analogous gullah pancake?

There are some fascinating strings of 3-dollar words in this spam email I received today. Spammers sure are getting better vocabularies these days. Ahem. It looks like an excerpt from an Anthony Burgess novel. Perhaps rock bands that are stumped for a name should use these same random word generators. The results certainly wouldn't be boring.

I think “Bufflehead Photon” is going to be the new single from Ziggy Marley.

From: Horace Maynard []
Sent: Monday, September 27, 2004 2:28 PM
To: Erna Investor.relations
Subject: cleared. He was neither

oriental newsboy hour. adirondack apportion autocratic invitation deferred cope japan Vmight blast dadaist desecrate orthodontist not stablemen fantasist atkinson dionysian Vedmonton turing?

Do you have years of l i fe experience in your field ofexper t ise and are being passed up for promot i on?

titian brandon counterexample pummel gaslight rang. allah choirmaster - scabious appraisal abdominal? coarsen. Xwhy analyst? springboard dade marks bufflehead photon pare minus

Is your application for empl o y ment is being rejected becauseyou don't hold a Uni v er s ity - de gre e? We can provide you with the fully verifiable creden t i als toget your career BA C K - ON - TR A CKN o tes t ing or cour s e work requiredCa ll anytime 206-337-0293

plausible, purine? council katie Mmisanthropic zig dibble cogent, decimal stephenson? forbes cerulean - minnie mort, cosine captain - cutthroat taunt adagio optimal fiche coagulable revere concourse liquidate physiochemical alkaloid? sladang eightfold seventieth pouch, mien theoretician? Walphonse tsefrrjibhumiliate glory yugoslav defocus? bring? contestant motorola kgifohebrew analogous gullah pancake wa. patrician godsend construe, shoe - falter consume ruffian afterimage handmade memoranda Gensemble girlish Jbingham embryonic. venezuela charlie yellowknife skiddy chieftain edelweiss, orinoco dbovxagitate atomic nuclide rondo watchdog besikglikcivet apocrypha client featherbed Ctarrytown Zprofundity agony tam exfjgddwrfloodlight masturbate studious.

September 3, 2004

September 2, 2004

RSS Retro

September 1, 2004

July 12, 2004

Letter to a Soon-to-Be-Ex-Boyfriend

My surgery is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, and I have a pre-op appointment tomorrow morning.

Here's a link to an article I thought might be helpful to you. It's interesting that the article's author stresses the importance of having a number of activities to keep you busy and happy and prevent you from having lots of extra time to brood. He recommends taking up something you used to do, or trying something new.

I know you went through a hard time during and after your divorce, but it feels to me as if you are still in limbo, and still haven't forgiven yourself, moved on and put your life back together again. I'm an understanding person, but there seem to be things going on (or not going on) with you that go much deeper than temporary dysphoria or dysthymia, and I don't have the time and energy to carry on a relationship singlehandedly while I wait for you figure out how to be a happy person.

I'm often rendered speechless when I need a good example of something that has bothered me, but one example is the afternoon when I took SH's birthday present over to her. Instead of coming in with me, you stayed in the car with the motor running, were impatient when I went to give her the present, and were annoyed with me when I came out after spending 10 minutes with my friend. Her husband said to me, "How long have you been dating? Doesn't he know to come in by now?" Time after time, I am in situations with you where you choose not to be sociable, but get upset and impatient with me when I am or do. So often, you're in the corner or off to the side, scowling impatiently, rolling your eyes, pacing, and giving me death looks while I try to end a conversation or extricate myself from a situation graciously. Bring a book or find something interesting to look at already!

It reminds me of my dad, standing in the doorway of the kitchen, beckoning for me to come in and do another five hours of math. Not exactly my favorite memory. I have been feeling really oppressed lately, like I'm always bracing for the next salvo of criticism, combativeness, or general negativity. With all this medical stuff going on, this is not a good time for me to be around you, I don't think, 'cos I need all the positive energy I can get. I do want to stay in touch, if you do, but I think I need a break from the day-to-day for a while.

June 10, 2004

I Can't Stand Jealous Behavior

Sometimes you've got to lay it on the line with men. A letter:

I was really disappointed by the way you acted about my meeting DL while we were in New York. Your insistence that there was something more to it than a simple drink with a business acquaintance was more indicative of your insecurity than anything else. It is also incredibly insulting to me to suggest that I am some kind of tramp who is uninteresting except as a sex toy, or a shallow slut somehow unable to have a nonsexual interaction with a man, especially a married man I've met in a business setting, or that I was lying to you about the nature of the meeting. As I said to you before, I have never cheated on anyone, ever, and I don't plan to start now. I also think I'm capable of standing up for myself in just about any situation, and I'm not too worried about being victimized in the bar of a midtown hotel. If you think that there has to be more to it than a friendly meeting, then that says more about your own character and motivations than Mr. L's intentions, none of it good. If you really want to, I suppose you can keep playing the jaded, world-weary cynic who suspects everyone of having the basest ulterior motives, since it's a free country, after all. But I really dislike being around people like that, so you'll have to take your act somewhere else.

From a website that was linked to on CNN...

8 Mistakes Men Make That Disgust Women
by Brian Caniglia


Most guys act jealous when there is absolutely NO reason to... which makes them look extremely silly and foolish. Some guys even think that women are impressed by jealousy, like it's manly or something... nope. No healthy woman would want to be with a guy that feels threatened by other men. Women like men that are confident with themselves and at ease around "the competition."

Look at it this way, if your girlfriend or date requires constant supervision, if you can't trust her around other guys... then why would you want her? She's not the kind of high-quality woman you deserve to be with anyway.

June 2, 2004

Top 5 Things About Being a Kid

  1. Fresh limeade, lemonade, or orangeade every day during the summer
  2. Summer vacation - exploring the neighborhood by bike, listening to the frogs trilling at night, lying under a tree and reading a book while the air pulses with the sound of insects
  3. Time to really read books and listen to music
  4. Swimming whenever you want and not feeling self-conscious in a bathing suit
  5. The innocent thrill of new experiences, flavors, sounds, and feelings

May 28, 2004

Top 5 Jazz Songs

  1. Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday, Harry "Sweets" Edison
  2. Freddie Freeloader - Miles Davis
  3. My Favorite Things - John Coltrane
  4. The Girl From Ipanema - Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto
  5. Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five

May 27, 2004

Top 5 Breakfasts

  1. Baked Potato Omelet at Austin Java
  2. The "Quickie" at Red River Cafe
  3. Brian's Special at Austin Diner
  4. Any omelet I make at home with red onions, cheese, and herbs
  5. Belgian Waffles with Pecan Butter at Trudy's

May 26, 2004

Top 5 Memories

  1. Standing with a handsome Venetian watching Winter being burned in effigy on the canal, with the natives singing in dialect about fish soup
  2. Hearing a nightingale for the first time in the cemetary at San Miniato in Florence, then seeing the Duomo across the Arno, and weeping with sheer joy
  3. Having my portrait taken when I was five - lots of attention all day!
  4. Diving the Great Barrier Reef and meeting both Wally and "Nemo" in the space of 10 minutes
  5. Hearing Fijians sing at a Sunday church service

May 11, 2004

According to Rush, it's not torture, it's just "blowing off steam."

From: Julia Spencer
Sent: Tuesday, May 11, 2004 5:19 PM
Subject: Iraqi Abuse

Mr. Limbaugh:

I take great exception to your comments that the horrific treatment of Iraqi detainees is excusable because their captors needed "emotional release" or to "blow some steam off." Anyone who derives pleasure or satisfaction from humiliating, degrading, or torturing people needs to be in a mental hospital, not running a prison. The U.S. Armed Forces should not be a haven for sadists. The U.S. military represents our country abroad, and if we in the U.S. wish to demonstrate to the Muslim world the Judeo-Christian values of our country's founders, we should follow Jesus' teachings and show love and compassion for all our fellow humans, love even our enemies, and turn the other cheek when injured instead of seeking revenge. Or are you the rare conservative who does not claim to espouse Christian values, while nevertheless seeking understanding and compassion for your drug addiction? What ever happened to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you?"

Every single person in this country gets frustrated by the inevitable annoyances of modern society, but if we all coped with our frustration by indulging the basest part of our natures and violently lashing out at others, the world would be a frightening place indeed.

Thanks for listening,


Julia Spencer
Austin, Texas

May 6, 2004

Top 5 Songs About Texas

  1. This Old Porch - Lyle Lovett/ Robert Earl Keen
  2. Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer to You) - Larry Gatlin
  3. Amarillo by Mornin' - George Strait
  4. Streets of Laredo - Traditional
  5. Red River Valley - Traditional

May 4, 2004

Top 5 Home-Cooked Meals

  1. Steak in a red-wine reduction with green peppercorns and gorgonzola butter; mashed taters on the side
  2. Salmon marinated in lemon juice, sauteed with red onions and garlic; couscous with Garlic SASS on the side
  3. Steak salad with field greens, onions, and cherry tomatoes
  4. My mom's veal Cordon Bleu, with a hot-vinaigrette salad
  5. My mom's potato salad, which has only a bit of Coleman's mustard, not the liquid condiment

March 31, 2004

Top 5 Favorite Clothing Items

  1. String of graduated pearls (yep, they have a B.A.)
  2. Red patent leather rubber-soled mules
  3. Black pants that make me look slender and curvy at the same time
  4. Black peau de soie heels with criss-cross straps and "diamond" baguette buckles
  5. Unwrinkleable Cynthia Steffe dress with brown lace over blue lining

March 25, 2004

Top 5 Sitcom Characters

  1. Basil Fawlty - Fawlty Towers
  2. Kip Wilson - Bosom Buddies
  3. David Brent - The Office
  4. George Costanza - Seinfeld
  5. Benson - Soap

Honorable Mention:
George Utley - Newhart
Coach - Cheers
Jack Tripper - Three's Company
Det. Nick Yemana - Barney Miller

March 23, 2004

Top 5 Soups

  1. Trudy's chicken tortilla
  2. My homemade French potato leek
  3. My mom's chili
  4. Thai Kitchen's tom Gah
  5. La Madeleine's tomato basil

March 22, 2004

Top 5 Film Soundtracks

Another Top 5 List

  1. 27.3° Le Matin/Betty Blue - Gabriel Yared
  2. The English Patient - Gabriel Yared
  3. Cinema Paradiso - Ennio Morricone
  4. 9 1/2 Weeks - Various Artists
  5. The Accidental Tourist - John Williams

Honorable Mention:
A Room With A View - Puccini, Various
Taxi Driver - Bernard Hermann

March 11, 2004

Top 5 Opening Guitar Riffs

A group of friends at work started a Top 5 Site, and some of the topics provoked enough consideration to warrant posting here.

  1. The The - "Uncertain Smile"
  2. Sting - "Shape of My Heart" (Dominic Miller wrote this song, and plays the guitar solo)
  3. The Pretenders - "My City Was Gone"
  4. Tommy Tutone - "867-5309 - Jenny"
  5. U2 - "Where the Streets Have No Name"

Honorable Mention:
Tom Petty - The Waiting
AC/DC - Back in Black
The Pixies - Here Comes Your Man
The Eagles - Hotel California
The Clash - Should I Stay or Should I Go
The Scorpions - No One Like You
The Las - There She Goes
Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
Blind Melon - No Rain
Little River Band - We Two
Diesel - Sausalito Summer Nights
John Mellencamp (Cougar at the time) - This Time
David Bowie - China Girl, Fame
U2 - Pride in the Name of Love, I Will Follow
Stones - Miss You
Elliot Smith - Waltz#2
Cracker - Low
Stray Cats - Stray Cat Strut
Garbage - Stupid Girl
John Lee Hooker & Carlos Santana - Things Gonna Change
Ray Parker, Jr. - The Other Woman
XTC - King for a Day
The Police - When the World is Running Down
Lenny Kravitz - Are You Gonna Go My Way?

February 24, 2004

Oscar Party 2004

A look at my 2004 Invitation:

It's Oscar party time! Please join me for my yearly soirée at 6:30 p.m. this Sunday, February 29. An invitation is attached. This year, the Academy has moved the Oscar ceremony up a month in an attempt to reduce the amount of time and money studios spend on electioneering. At least there are a sizeable number of indie pics nominated this year—we'll see if the new time levels the playing field for the smaller films.

As usual, I encourage the wearing of creative and/or outrageous get-ups, costumes, and other miscellaneous finery by awarding a prize to the best dressed. If you come during the red-carpet coverage, you'll have a chance not only to gawk at what the celebs and other party-goers are wearing, but also to pile some snacks on your plate, have a drink, chat with friends, check out my usual array of Oscar-related quotes, ads, and posters, and most importantly, get yourself a good seat for the big show. I will have printed ballots for you to fill out with your take on the evening's winners. A prize will be also be awarded for the most correct guesses. I'll also include a list of this year's featured drinks.

February 10, 2004

Finding Fish, Finding Justice

I woke up at 2 a.m. with a terrible pinched neck, and couldn't sleep, so I got up and read a book for a while: "Finding Fish," Antwone Fisher's memoir. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie that bears his name. It makes me want to volunteer to be a social worker and visit foster children and make sure they're happy and being treated well. I think a lot of crime would be prevented if child abuse could be eradicated. Convicted D.C. sniper John Muhammed and all his siblings were beaten regularly within an inch of their lives. His uncle actually beat a mentally retarded teen to death at the state school. How can you be a productive member of society when you come from that kind of terror and misery?

When I think about how many people are just aching to have a child, and then how many children are unwanted, and treated that way, it just makes me sick. But obviously, there are no easy answers. Even though I was wanted, and my parents were well educated and reasonably enlightened, somehow, it just wasn't in my mother's nature to intervene on my behalf with my father, even though treating a 7-year-old like an adult, and making her stay inside and study for hours at a time was completely inappropriate. I don't know why educating people about how to, or maybe more importantly how not to raise children isn't more important. Shakespeare is wonderful and inspiring, but child development classes would also really be useful for a lot of people with kids. I guess everyone wants to be free to raise their kids in their own way, but whatever religion you follow, and however else you want to indoctrinate your kids, you shouldn't be beating them or telling them they're no good.

It seems that parents who attend child-rearing programs should get some kind of tax break. Why can't the Health and Human Services administration come up with guidelines on what should be taught—basic coping skills for different situations and for children with different personalities. Not a simple task, I know, but what is more important? School teachers shouldn't be expected to do the parents' job. And you can't do much with a child whose parents refuse to get involved. I feel so impotent; I just wish our priorities in this country would change. How can we be talking about sending people to Mars when we're not getting things right here on this planet? It seems a lot like having dessert before you've finished your vegetables. Why do politicians keep skipping the meal?