Keeping it Real

In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This week’s featured article is “What’s So Scary About Caitlyn Jenner?

This week everybody was talking about Caitlyn Jenner

My article on Jenner focuses on where I think my own discomfort and the social-conservative vitriol come from. But there’s a whole other argument going on among liberals about whether transsexualism conflicts with feminism. Elinor Burkett argues in the NYT that it often does:

By defining womanhood the way he did to Ms. Sawyer, Mr. Jenner and the many advocates for transgender rights who take a similar tack … undermine almost a century of hard-fought arguments that the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us.

But Slate‘s Amanda Marcotte isn’t having it.

Unfortunately, writer Elinor Burkett (last seen crashing the stage at the Oscars) brought along for the ride one of the worst tendencies of academia: highly intellectualized arguments made in bad faith. … Here’s an idea: Why don’t we call a truce and let ordinary people express themselves without lighting their asses on fire for not sounding like they’re reading out of a doctoral thesis?

As I understand it, the gist of the dispute is whether the transsexual experience undermines the notion that femininity is socially constructed rather than inborn. (Jenner, after all, has been treated like a male for a lifetime. Why didn’t that take?) And I guess I agree with Marcotte: that’s a topic for a research paper, not an op-ed. The apparent disjunction strikes me as an anomaly that some wise person should carefully explain, not a contradiction to fight over.

and the USA Freedom Act

The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it wanted more restrictions on the NSA, but

Even so, we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating because, however small, this bill marks a day that some said could never happen—a day when the NSA saw its surveillance power reduced by Congress. And we’re hoping that this could be a turning point in the fight to rein in the NSA.

The article outlines the steps that still need to be taken: More legislative provisions sunset in 2017 and shouldn’t be re-authorized, there’s an executive order they’d like rescinded, and there’s the problem of “overbroad classification” that keeps the public from knowing what its government does.

Another rising cause is the movement to drop the charges and let Edward Snowden come home. Courts have ruled that he was right: the program he exposed was illegal. The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy thinks we should be “thanking Snowden for his public service” rather than trying to lock him up.

and (still) the Duggars

The parents were interviewed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who gave them a pretty soft ride. At least, that’s what people tell me; I haven’t watched more than a few seconds of it.

Amanda Marcotte focuses on the Duggars’ use of the Christian-persecution myth:

Nursing the grievances of [Fox News’] right-wing audience is big business. Its audience wants to hear all about how the meanie liberals are picking on this cute little Christian family for an itty-bitty multimonth rampage of child molesting.

Caryn Riswald explains how the opposite is true: The Duggars’ career in general and this issue in particular make good examples not of Christian persecution, but of Christian privilege.

Like white and male privileges, Christian privilege affords members of a status-group the ability to do and get away with things that those who are not members of that group could not. It is unearned and unseen, affording advantages that holders of it can actively deny existing, yet count on every day. Examples of things a Christian can assume because of this privilege: Adherence to my religion will be seen as an asset; I can wear symbols of my religion without being accused of terrorism; I know that my workplace calendar respects my religious holidays and Sabbath. We can add to that list: My religious identity will help me escape punishment for criminal activity.

and getting ready for the Supreme Court to rule on marriage

Tom Delay says “all Hell is going to break loose” if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. He pledges “to stand for marriage even if it takes civil disobedience.”

I’m having trouble picturing which laws he’s planning to disobey. If you google “civil disobedience against gay marriage” you can get all kinds of pledges and petitions and whatnot. But they’re all a little vague about how the campaign would work. Your neighbor’s marriage doesn’t really need your cooperation, so refusing to cooperate with it doesn’t accomplish much.

Here’s Glenn Beck interviewing the organizer of “The Future Conference: what you thought was coming … is here now“. Beck says he believes 10,000 pastors “are willing to lay it all down on the table and willing to go to jail or go to death because they serve God and not man.”

I’m not sure who these 10,000 pastors expect to kill them. What I fear is that having gotten all revved up and then discovering there actually are no jack-booted troops coming, the Right is going to create violent incidents of its own.

Another possible response to the Court: Secede from the Union. Joseph Farah, editor-in-chief of World Net Daily, explains what a bonanza secession could be for any state that could pull it off:

I know there are millions of Christians, Jews and others who would pull up stakes and move to another country that honored the institution of marriage as it was designed by God – a union between one man and one woman. … Is there one state in 50 that would not only defy the coming abomination, but secede in response? The rewards could be great. I would certainly consider relocating. How about you? … We need a Promised Land. We need an Exodus strategy.

He’s ignoring, of course, all the people who would immediately leave his theocratic utopia. (I would expect the net population flow to be out rather than in.) But I think the interesting question is: Should the rest of care?

I mean, suppose one of the redder states — maybe Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, or some combination thereof — decides to become the New Israel for people who can’t stand the idea of continuing to be Americans after marriage equality becomes the law of the land. Suppose the seceding state(s) even agree to reasonable conditions: (1) a period of time for people to move in and out freely before either side closes the border; (2) assuming a fair share of the national debt; (3) letting the U.S. military remove any WMDs before turning over its bases; and maybe some others I haven’t thought of yet — nothing punitive, just making sure they’re not taking advantage of the rest of us.

In that scenario, I’m not seeing a reason to go all Abe Lincoln on them and force them back into the Union. What do the rest of you think?

and you also might be interested in …

Last week I neglected to cover all the new presidential candidates, and it will be a while before my 2016 Stump Speech Series can catch up. The new announcements include Democrats Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee; and Republicans Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. The total number of candidates is up to ten Republicans and four Democrats. The NYT projects the ultimate numbers will be five Democrats and 15 Republicans — and they don’t count Donald Trump, who will announce something June 16.

Part of the difference is that Jeb Bush is not as popular among Republicans as Hillary Clinton is among Democrats, so his candidacy hasn’t intimidated anybody out of running. But another reason is that liberals don’t have the lucrative celebrity culture conservatives do. Running for president is a good career move on the Right, even if you don’t win. There’s a lecture circuit waiting for the Michele Bachmanns and Herman Cains. You can make a lot of money even if hardly anybody voted for you. Sarah Palin had such opportunities for wealth that remaining governor of Alaska just seemed stupid.

Once you get past the Clintons, though, it’s hard to find anybody making big money as a Democratic celebrity. The lecture circuit will probably open up for President Obama after he leaves office, if that’s what he wants to do. But it will continue to be a small circle. Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 campaign should have established his brand as an authentic liberal, but nobody bought his book and I haven’t been invited to hear him give a sponsored lecture anywhere. Elizabeth Warren got a decent book deal, but nothing on the Palin scale. Howard Dean shows up fairly often as a guest on MSNBC, but he didn’t get his own show like Mike Huckabee did on Fox.

In short, I can easily imagine a failed presidential campaign turning into a financial bonanza for Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. Not so for Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb.

One of the more embarrassing campaign moments so far — at least it’s embarrassing to me as an American — came when Rick Santorum urged the Pope not to make an issue out of climate change.

The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science. We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.

It’s parody worthy of The Onion, but it’s what Santorum really said. I mean, who is ignoring the scientists here? It’s Santorum and his fellow climate-change deniers, not the Pope.

84% of Americans agree that money has too much influence in politics. Why doesn’t that lead to change? Because money has too much influence on politics.

This would be an interesting experiment: Redo that poll, but weight the responses according to the respondents’ net worth. The lower half of the country, i.e., households with net worth zero or negative, wouldn’t count at all. A billion-dollar household would count as much as a thousand million-dollar households, and so on.

That poll would be a more accurate reflection of the public as Congress sees it. And it might well turn out that a net-worth-weighted majority thinks money’s influence is perfectly fine. Sure people think that money has too much influence; but money probably thinks that people have too much influence.

College Humor presents: Diet Racism.

Gun Owners of America President Larry Pratt makes it clear why people like him shouldn’t be armed.

The Second Amendment was designed for people just like the president and his administration. … Yes, our guns are in our hands for people like those in our government right now that think they wanna go tyrannical on us. We’ve got something for ‘em. That’s what it’s all about.

Remember the Conservative-to-English Lexicon‘s definition of tyranny:

When a Marxist gets elected and then tries to carry out the platform the people voted for.

Marxist, in turn, is defined as “one who regrets the increasing concentration of wealth”.

538 does a good, even-handed discussion of the job market, the unemployment rate, and all those related statistics people often grind an ax about.

and let’s close with a duel

Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” video can be read as a full-force assault on the food industry.

But Funny or Die reads it as an attempt to subvert the revolution, and does an “honest version


So which is it: Are the capitalists selling us the rope to hang the capitalists? Or is seeing-through-the-illusion the new illusion?

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  • Carol Wheeler  On June 8, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Surely the whole thing about men who become women (and so on, the reverse, another version of the same, whatever) does exactly belong on an oped page. Why would you deprive the public of such a discussion? (It’s not like you–we all find this a little confusing, I think; and we need whatever input we can get, academic or otherwise; I found the piece very interesting and I am a simple member of the reading public.)

  • 1mime  On June 8, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Regarding secession: it might be just as interesting to see how many might choose to leave a state that secedes. After all, not “everyone” in the mentioned states believes in the paranoid views of the vocal reactionaries. And, I include many conservatives. The reality of secession, i.e., going it alone, would be a gut check of enormous proportion. Think “big” government is bad? Try recovering from a hurricane in Texas and Louisiana, or a devastating tornado in Kansas, or an HIV outbreak or listeria. No, I suspect that the reality is that when it gets down to how much a state has to lose from secession, wiser minds will prevail. Now, I’m down with all the others leaving (-:

  • Chad  On June 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Re succession: Never going to happen, and not because liberals would oppose it (even if the terms of separation were not as scrupulously fair as you postulate), but because the GOP apparatus/power-brokers in the remnant United States would not stand for it.

    Re Chipotle: Funny or Die’s “honest version” of the Scarecrow ad is overly (unduly) cynical. Yeah, the ad is an ad. But Chipotle has made a variety of business choices that advance animal welfare and environmental sustainability. We should save our firepower for more worthy corporate offenders.

  • Charlie  On June 8, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    RE: Secession: some of us in those red states depend very much on the federal government to protect us from local oppression. I’m deeply offended at the thought of being abandoned by my government to the mercy of the local wolves. I have a job, a family, and a life here; I shouldn’t be forced into becoming a refugee by a bunch of neo-confederate secessionists.

  • Josh  On June 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Why should they bother seceding? There are plenty of countries that don’t separate church and state, why not just move to one of them?

  • Barb  On June 8, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    We could only hope that a red state like Texas would do us the favor of seceding. I certainly would have no desire to stand in the way of any state that feels so oppressed by the federal government that it wanted to go it alone.

  • Michael Wells  On June 8, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    It wasn’t clear to me that you were serious about inviting comments on the feasibility/desirability of secession. Put simply, the United States could not survive allowing secession of states from the union. That principle was unambiguously rejected by the Civil War (notwithstanding some recent irresponsible comments from some right wing politicians). Once allowed, even as a theoretical political solution, unscrupulous politicians would first, attempt to whip up hostility to the federal government, then obstruct enforcement of federal laws, and finally encourage anarchy. And as a last point, “Charlie” gets it right. Why force law abiding citizens to leave their home, work and possibly families because the neo-confederate theocrats have a way of undoing our constitutional protections.

  • Abby  On June 8, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Regarding Caitlyn Jenner, I really think that it would be appropriate for her to acknowledge that she got a lot of advantages from being a man. Coming out as trans was brave, but I have a strong inclination to ask her to contribute generously to funds for Title IX enforcement, and for developing the abilities of young female track athletes. I am nowhere near that athlete that Jenner is/was, but I do know that when he won the Olympic decathlon, he got lots of recognition and financial reward. Can you think of even one female track athlete who got that level of attention and reward? Also, as Bruce, she got lots of help in developing her talents BEFORE she won at the Olympics. Female running teams often had to supply their own transportation to races, and got no support from their schools, etc, even while boys got lots of help. I speak from experience. This is my story. So I think that a graceful acknowledgement by Jenner of the benefits that she received from being physically male would be very appropriate. Likewise, some enthusiastic and generous financial support for fellow athletes-in-training in her newly-acknowledged gender would be a great show of support and solidarity. If you are going to become female, you have to acknowledge the crap that goes with being female in this society, as well as the good stuff. Caitlyn–welcome to the Sistahood! Show us some support!

    • Anonymous  On June 9, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      Yay, Abby!!!! If Caitlyn had been BORN Caitlyn, the Olymipcs might not have been an option, no matter how talented she was.

  • John  On June 8, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Re: Seceding States: There are two problems I can see. First, for those who stay but don’t support the seceded states policies. It creates an Israel and Palestinians situation where those outside of the “true believers” may have reduced rights or even limited rights to the homeland. Second, if states can be formed around ideas like this, or any others, what keeps the United States from changing, I would say devolving, into a series of smaller and smaller zones of new states, where people have narrower and narrower views on topics of perceived or perhaps real importance. Out of this comes not understanding, tolerance and love but closed borders, minds and an increase of inter-country strife.

  • Larry Benjamin  On June 8, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    The conservative reaction to the imminent nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage would be funny if these people weren’t so dangerous.

  • Camilla Cracchiolo  On June 9, 2015 at 8:31 am

    As to secession, I often dream it would happen. The problem is, we woukd be left with hawkish, theocratic nut jobs on our border……

  • Kim Cooper  On June 10, 2015 at 2:01 am

    Given the good points people have made about secession, the obvious solution is that we should break up into 50 small countries. Then, some may wish to join together to form larger countries or not. 🙂

    • Larry Benjamin  On June 10, 2015 at 6:01 am

      I hate to go all originalist on everyone, but the Constitution contains no provisions for secession. It has mechanisms to create new states either through new territory or splitting from old states, but nothing on separating once a state has joined the union. The framers clearly did not intend for this to be an option – a wise decision, considering the silly reasons people want to secede.

      • weeklysift  On June 11, 2015 at 6:13 am

        I originally thought it might be done through the treaty-making power, but Article I forbids the states to enter into treaties, and doesn’t exempt treaties with the United States. (I thought it might have done so implicitly, by banning “treaties with foreign nations” or something.) So probably there would have to be a constitutional amendment recognizing the state’s independence.

        The whole thing is extremely unlikely. I doubt that, once the practical impacts were spelled out, you could get anything close to a majority for secession in any state. Imagine how effective the TV commercials would be: “I was born an American. I want to die an American.”

      • Larry Benjamin  On June 11, 2015 at 6:24 am

        I’ve had discussions with people over whether the Union’s opposition to the secession of the Confederate states was legal under the Constitution. My position is that the Confederate secession was illegal.

        The only way a state can secede would be through successful warfare, where they would then hold allodial title to their territory. It’s clear that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for the states to be able to secede for any reason. The proof of this is that the Confederacy declared war rather than going through any legal channels for independence.

  • Rocjard Drewna  On June 20, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I thought you swore off referencing “World Net Daily”?

    • weeklysift  On June 21, 2015 at 11:14 am

      You’re really going to hate it tomorrow when I link to a Stormfront forum. Sometimes you gotta go to the source.

      • Rocjard Drewna  On June 23, 2015 at 4:53 am

        I wasn’t familiar with Stormfront; now I need to take a shower. I hope you didn’t have to spend much time there to find that. You’ll be glad to know that searching for “weeklysift” in their forums doesn’t get any hits.

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