Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shades of Truth

In the end, even Scott McClellan couldn't quite grasp the transitive property within his message that Bush lied his way to assuming the wartime president mantle.
"Rather than open this Pandora's Box, the administration chose a different path — not employing out-and-out deception, but shading the truth," he wrote of the effort to convince the world that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, an effort he said used "innuendo and implication" and "intentional ignoring of intelligence to the contrary."

Intentionally ignoring intelligence to the contrary of what he trotted out as truth to the public on a daily basis is the very definition of out-and-out deception. That's not shading the truth. That's sealing the truth up in a lead-lined cement vault. The count as of this morning, if you're keeping track, is 4,084 US dead and over 33,000 wounded, over 42,000 officially reported iraqi deaths since 2005, and a new treaty between the Pakistani government and its pro-Taliban, Afghanistan-bordering Waziristan province.

Why this sideways sandpaper fuck and his cronies are still in power in Washington will be the sad mystery schoolkids are forced to write essays on fifty years from now.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday Roundup

Two oh wow moments upon opening the Trib this morning. First, former administration spokesmodel Scott McClellan has written a book saying yeah, we sort of misled the country into that whole Iraq war thing.
"History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided—that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder," McClellan wrote in "What Happened."

He added that "war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary."

The president's real motivation for the war, he said, was to transform the Middle East to ensure an enduring peace in the region. But the White House effort to sell the war as necessary due to the stated threat posed by Saddam Hussein was needed because "Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the . . . purpose of transforming the Middle East," McClellan wrote.
The White House has no comment. Will George Bush continue to link Iraq to September 11 with varying directions of causality, as he did in his speech to the 82d Airborne during last week's All American Week festivities? And I almost kept a straight face while asking that rhetorical question.

If that news item left me a bit surprised and shaking my head, even though Scottie's exit interviews suggested he was leaning toward eventually disavowing most of the stuff he'd spewed in his job as the president's mouthpiece, the next one had me hopping up and down for a couple of giddy moments.

Poll: Majority of Californians back gay marriage.

The results mark the first time in over three decades of polling that more California voters have approved of extending marriage to gay couples than have disapproved, said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. The survey of 1,052 registered voters was conducted over the phone.

The poll was conducted from May 17 to May 26 in the days after the California Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the nation's most populous state. A smaller percentage of respondents--48 percent -- said they agreed with the court's decision and 46 percent disagreed.

Maybe the pollster inadvertently dialed up more Ellen fans and Star Trek groupies than he thought he would, or maybe--despite the bleatings of religious conservatives that the sky will fall and the cows will be frightened--Californians have noticed that life has carried on as usual in Massachusetts four years into their foray into marriage equality, with no hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or plagues of frogs. Maybe Ellen's artfully simple dismantling of John McCain last week nudged a few fence-sitters into comprehending that our live really is equal to theirs. Ah, or maybe they're finally just sick of it all. Doesn't matter. It's about damn time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Photos Guaranteed to Put You off Your Feed for a Week

Going back to the Texas FLDS child-rape cult for a moment, if I may. I caught the ooo-weeeee exclusive closeup with an FLDS family report on the execrable Situation Room on CNN a few weeks back (available here) and was struck at the time by Wolf Blitzer's reaction of "Wow, great reporting," which I suppose was accurate if what he meant by that was wow, great reporting of exactly what the family in question told you, with no probing followup questions or, apparently, any critical thought at all.

The reporter, Gary Tuchman, marveled at the "children who seem very happy, even joyous... they were polite, smiling..." over footage of a half-dozen blond kidlets bouncing on the trampoline and eating dinner. The father, Chris Wyler (who was 16 when he married; the mother was 17), scoffs wonderingly at allegations of abuse.
"People here are taught that we're never ever supposed to yell at our children. When the children do something wrong, we're supposed to not, you know, even raise our voice any more than this... and there's no way anybody I know would ever abuse their wife."

Well, then, glad that's settled. That's the convenient thing about defining your own terms, I suppose; if abuse only equals spanking and yelling, then heaven no, there's no abuse here. At least not in this family, and at least not while the camera is rolling. The reporter might have inquired whether Mr. Wyler considers forcing an underage girl into sex toy/brood mare status constitutes abuse. Amazingly, he didn't take that opportunity.

Tuchman: If he married another woman, and she was right for the family, would that be okay with you?
Lydia: [silent]
Chris, jumping in: Well, it's part of our culture.
Lydia, snapping back to awareness and shrugging: Well, it's what we believe.

No word on what Chris and Lydia's reaction would be if their eldest daughter, who appears to be in the prime 12-to-14-year-old marrying range, were given to some older guy on orders of the prophet. And with that we're back to scenes of the happy family intercut with shots of Warren Jeffs, who Lydia is certain has been unjustly convicted. Asked what she thinks of him, she smiles her vague smile and says, "I know he's our prophet."

Something else she should know is that he, and all the people who follow him unquestioningly, are pedophile fucktards. Click over to The Smoking Gun for some of Warren Jeffs' myriad wedding photos, if you have the stomach, and then try to tell me with a straight face that this group's religious beliefs really ought to be respected and accommodated.

I would really have loved for CNN to have included even one of those snapshots in its breathtaking coverage of the Wyler family. Had one of the details been flipped, say making FLDS a cult centered on the rape of young boys by creepy older guys, would the network have gone to such pains to portray the "normalcy" of the family and marvel about the kids' good dispositions and flawless manners? I rather think not.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who Benefits?

I was wrapping up my last trip up to Mesa to visit the grandparents before they chug back to Colorado for the summer, the mental Offensive Comment Bingo card refreshingly under-blotted, when my grandmother said, "You know, I really don't have any idea what you do in your job." That's fine, not many people do. So I launched into my well-practiced spiel about the cultural resource management field, touching on Arizona's historic preservation laws, the rich history and prehistory of life in the Tucson Basin over the past four thousand years, outlining the process we go through in order to get artifacts out of the ground and onto my desk, describing briefly how I look at them and the kinds of behavioral inferences I can squeeze out of them, tooting ever so softly the little horn that plays the song about me managing to have achieved a decent reputation in the field and respect as an expert. It took a few minutes. She absorbed it and paused for all of two seconds before asking the ultimate question.

"But who does it benefit?"

That one stumped me. It's been stumping me for years, as I watch my relatives build meaningful careers in education and health care, as I have watched those same grandparents kick back and enjoy the very comfortable retirement my grandfather accrued through a lifetime of working his ass off. "Uh... I guess it mostly benefits people who are curious about how people lived in the past," I finally managed to sputter out. "So, nosy people, then." Yeah, something like that.

Does that do anything to better the world? I kinda have my doubts. My officemates agree that archaeology mainly functions to keep marginally socially incompetent riffraff like us off the streets. If we occasionally satisfy someone's curiosity about what might have been going on in their back yard in 1800 B.C., I suppose that's nice. But earth-shaking revelations about human behavior that actually benefit modern people are pretty few and far between. Ancient people used tools and generated mounds and mounds of trash. They remodeled their houses and ate dinner. They wore jewelry. They cared enough to bury their dead relatives and even, sometimes, their dogs too. They did things one way until someone came up with a better idea, and then they did them the new way until the next innovation came along.

In short, ain't a whole lot changed in four millennia. Does knowing that benefit your life? I hope so. Otherwise I'm squandering a lot more here than just time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Which We Are Just Too Tired

Too tired and cranky and hot, Jesus god, so hot, to string together the kind of insightful, astute analysis you've come to expect. Not today.

Life in Tucson tip: if you need plumbing supplies and advice in a hurry, say on a Sunday afternoon, Naughton's is your place. Just make sure you get there before three. Sunday was the first really hot day to hit so far this sun season, so I wasn't too surprised when I walked in through their wide open doors and saw half the lights were off. All the lights at Home Depot had crashed briefly not an hour earlier, what with all the air conditioners in the city suddenly being turned up to eleven at the same time, so yeah, just another cramp in the grid. The Naughton's lights sprang back to life as I puzzled over J-traps, and then all went dead. Ah, no worries, no need to panic. I dallied another minute or so before deciding to break down and ask for some guidance.

Boy, was the last guy in the store with the front door keys in his hand surprised to see me come around the corner. Oh, I didn't know you were here. Uh... we're closed.

At three in the afternoon? Seriously, who the fuck closes at three in the afternoon? When all my pipes are disassembled and strewn across the kitchen floor? Naughton's, apparently. Moral of the story? If it's Sunday, Ace is open until the scandalous hour of five.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Boltgirl v. US Soccer, Part Three

The good news: they finally cranked out a new National Team commercial. Unfortunately, since they only put the games on TV once in three or four blue moons, you're not likely to see it. The oh-Christ-here-we-go-again-news: well, just watch for yourself and see if you can find the innocuous two-second sequence that had me throwing stuff at the monitor.

Hint: it just might be the portion of the video accompanying the intonation of "real values..." which just might show a wedding set on a hand manicured with red, white, and blue fingernail polish, which maybe kinda sorta hints that US Soccer believes (or at least thinks their target fanbase believes) that Real Values(TM) for women mean the holy trinity of femininity, patriotism, and heterosexuality.

Commenters on BigSoccer are pretty sure it wasn't intended to mean anything, really, that they used the wedding ring to symbolize loyalty in contrast to that skanky ho Paris Hilton (who gets mentioned over and over and over and...). Uh huh. The Fed haven't evidenced the brightest minds in the business, but do you honestly think they "didn't mean anything" by sticking the ring footage in there? Like, now, in the age of consumer and media research databases that rival anything held by the NIH? I think they knew exactly what message that would send, as surely as they've breathlessly hyped every engagement and wedding among the players, as they still desperately cast about for the next fresh face to sell the team to the country.

Here We Go

The fallout from yesterday's California Supreme Court decision invalidating the state's ban on same-sex marriage started pretty much immediately, with half the country flinging confetti and the other half howling that the world is about to end.

Slate has some interesting commentary (passed along by Top!Secret G-woman) here and here and here. And also here. This last one, by Doug Kmiec, particularly intrigued me with its unusually non-inflammatory and almost plaintive presentation of probably the most common religious objection to marriage equality. That said, it still sent my blood pressure through the roof. The recurrent theme is the necessity of accommodating religious belief in public policy. To a certain degree, I won't argue against it. But when the argument is presented in the contexts of these three statements:
it would be prudent for Senator Obama and supporters of same-sex marriage to note that, for the most part, those who opposed that affirmation did so not out of acrimony or dislike, but out of a like appreciation for the family as an irreplaceable cultural building block and often sincere religious belief that deserves respect and accommodation.


It is often asked... how the acknowledgment of same-sex marriage harms marriage between a man and a woman. The inability to give a simple, secular answer to this explains the California victory in favor of same-sex marriage more than the reasoning of the opinion. That doesn't mean there is not an answer. There is a religious answer and it is anchored in the creation story recorded in the book of Genesis.


The end of sexual orientation discrimination has much to commend it, as again Marty nicely illustrates in his quotation from the opinion, but again, there are interwoven religious beliefs that are not based on stereotype and that do deserve accommodation.

it falls apart for me. The first point, that it's not personal when people vote to deny you the right to marry who you choose, it's just that, well, your marriage doesn't look like what they're used to and doesn't match one of the several models for marriage presented in their holy book, in which they profess a sincere belief? Too fucking bad. The FLDS church has a sincere religious belief that serial child rape is a prerequisite for entry into heaven, but no one outside Colorado City thinks that belief should be respected and accommodated in civil law. Do I need to bring up the sincere religious belief that was used to justify miscegenation laws prior to 1967?

Point two, that the Genesis creation story somehow provides the answer to how same-sex marriages harm straight ones, turns out to be woefully unsupported--unless simply stating that the answer is religious and comes from Genesis, QED, is all that needs to be said. Well, okay. If you find a religious proof in there, that's between you and your bible, but it is precisely the lack of a compelling secular explanation that makes this one a non-starter. Secular laws require secular foundations. QE fucking D.

And then we come to the last bit. Let's look at it just one more time.

The end of sexual orientation discrimination has much to commend it, as again Marty nicely illustrates in his quotation from the opinion, but again, there are interwoven religious beliefs that are not based on stereotype and that do deserve accommodation.

The end of discrimination has much to commend it, as if it were even a question that's still up for debate. Nondiscrimination? Pretty good, has a lot going for it, but... But there are some religious beliefs that aren't stereotypes, really, they aren't, and since they are religious beliefs and not, like, bald-faced bigotry or anything, well, they deserve accommodation. Sorry about your civil rights and all, but by "accommodation" I mean that if I don't get to exercise just a little bit of discrimination against you--say, maybe getting to determine who you can marry, since they already took away my ability to kick you out of your apartment or fire you from your job, although in most places I can still beat you bloody for asking me for a smoke--I just don't get to fully express my solidarity with Jesus, who loves you.

I was going to say I try to be empathetic to the mindset that considers that a legitimate foundation for argument, but I really don't any more. I will agree that religious beliefs may be accommodated by public policy so long as that accommodation does not abrogate the civil rights of, cause harm to, or, at this point, even fucking inconvenience anyone who does not share those beliefs. And accommodating your beliefs on marriage only means that the state cannot compel you to enter into a marriage contract against your will. It does not mean the state has to guarantee that all marriages conform to the religious model you have adopted for your own.

My life is not beholden to someone else's fairy tales. No one's life should be.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Dance

California. 'Nuff said.
The language of section 300 limiting the designation of marriage to a union "between a man and a woman" is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute, and that the remaining statutory language must be understood as making the designation of marriage available both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

Backlash in 3, 2, 1...

Science Thursday

Today, a nifty tidbit about the mantis shrimp. 400 or so species within the order Stomatopoda are known, but researchers working on specimens from the Great Barrier Reef have discovered that one variety, the technocolored Gonodactylus smithii, have the ability to see a complete range of polarized light no other creature on the planet can, effectively opening up an entire world to them that is invisible to the rest of us.

Is that four linear and two circular polarizations,
or are you just happy to see me?

Sharp-eyed, gutter-minded readers will likely notice that the order name "Stomatopoda" means "mouth-footed" and genus "Gonodactylus" means "genital-fingered." I can't be the only one here having visions of thumb-wrestling with that special someone whilst strolling barefoot across a field blooming with chocolate chips and Twinkies. And the occasional stretch of neatly manicured pad thai lawn.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Remorse Is Great and All, But a Little Ineffectual at This Point

Marian McClure is having a crisis of conscience. My e-mail to her this morning, and her response, below:

Dear Rep. McClure,

You're certainly being deluged with e-mails at the moment, but I hope you find the time to read this one. I do not live in your district (I'm in Tucson 28) but I feel compelled to register my extreme disappointment with your decision to vote for a redundant, intentionally punitive and discriminatory constitutional amendment, one that you freely acknowledge is unneccesary, solely on the basis of your personal religious beliefs.

I do not discount the tension between those beliefs and the reality of operating within a pluralistic, nominally secular society, but being a legislator requires you to consider the needs of all of your constituents and make decisions that do not cause unneccesary harm to even the least-regarded among them. Those decisions have to be made on the basis of good law, not on the teachings of one particular congregation within one particular sect of one particular religion. To do otherwise, as you did with your vote on SCR1042, is to compel all Arizonans to abide by the rules of your personal religion, whether they share it or not.

As for how you could possibly face your pastor and fellow congregants on Sunday, here are a few suggestions. You might start by asking how many of them have had their marriages destroyed by the committed gay couples living around them every day. How many have decided to get a divorce because gay couples are allowed to marry in Massachusetts. How many have decided to have affairs since their vows don't mean anything if a couple of women can make the same vows in Canada. Then you might ask how many feel their Judeo-Christian God-ordained marriages are diminished because non-Abrahamic religions conduct weddings. Or because atheists can get married too. Or because the straight couple in the pew behind them might have five previous marriages racked up between them.

The answer, if they are honest, will be "none." Marriage is not a zero-sum game where the status of an existing relationship is determined by that of the other relationships, where adding additional relationships to the pool damages all the others. And the state sanctioning of all committed couples under the umbrella of marriage does not force anyone to "accept" homosexuality any more than the current sanctioning of all straight adult couples forces you and your brethren to "accept" atheism, or paganism, or sexual practices that make you uncomfortable. Many, many marriages in Arizona do not conform to the traditional Christian model of man+woman+Jesus+lifetime. Same-sex couples are singled out for discrimination on religious grounds simply because they are the most visible examples of nonconformity. Specifically barring gay couples from marrying because they do not conform to God's ordained plan is an immoral stance when every nonconforming straight couple is given a pass simply because they are straight, simply because their public appearance meshes with your own.

You are free to believe as you wish and follow the tenets of your faith in your personal life. Enshrining your religious beliefs in civil law, however, encroaches on the ability of other people to live their lives as they see fit. I would not seek legislation that regulates the teachings and practices of your church (provided they do not harm unconsenting people). I do not wish to force your church to conduct same-sex weddings or to force straight people into same-sex unions. I firmly support your pastor's right to rail against gay people every Sunday from the pulpit if he wishes. I will, however, never support an attempt to change the constitution of the state of Arizona to reflect religious objections to full civil rights for all Arizonans.

I do not wish to diminish any spiritual struggle this issue has raised for you. I simply implore you to consider the issue as a legislator for all of your constituents and all the people of Arizona, and to think about the real reasons behind your religious objection to same-sex marriage and whether they truly pass logical and ethical muster.


Dear [Boltgirl],

I have had a few emails. I must admit I feel a great sadness in my heart. I did not and do not believe this measure belonged in the Legislature. I have always worked very hard to do everything you state in your email. In one fell swoop, I forgot everything.

Such crises hurt, particularly when they're incurred by very public fuckups. I'm sorry for that, really, I am. Her brain cramp at voting time didn't make or break the amendment, although it helped the 8-vote margin by which it passed, but her failure to stand up and fight against a ballot measure she admits the Legislature had no business considering has the potential to come back and bite a hell of a lot of gay Arizonans in the ass. I'm sorry you're sad, Marian. But I have a great sadness in my heart today too. You get to go on and live your life as you please. The amendment you voted for will impact the rest of my life so long as I stay in Arizona, and every one of these goddamned things that passes makes it easier for other states to write discrimination into their own constitutions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Please Help

Found this awesome trippy little game from the BBC via Chaotic Utopia. Very basic third-grader level questions, but the graphics are delightful and the music works just fine after a couple of glasses of wine. Ahem. Please, please, WTF are you supposed to do on level 3? I've clicked the owl and bird until my finger's gone numb.


A level I am sure would be wonderful if I could get off the goddamn
animal planet.

Well, Thank Goodness for This

Vatican: It's OK to believe in aliens

We are relieved to know that our infatuation with a certain Corellian freighter captain may proceed without peril to our mortal soul.

The only thing that
might make us entertain
notions of going back
to teh menz.

The Crux of the Problem

The restricted marriage amendment squeaked through the Arizona statehouse yesterday, partly (how large a part? I won't hazard a guess) on skids greased by this kind of thinking.
Also supporting the move was Rep. Marian McClure, a Tucson Republican, who said she thought a constitutional amendment was unnecessary because same-sex marriage already is banned by state statute. But ultimately she voted for sending it to the ballot because of her personal religious beliefs.

"If I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, how do I go into church next Sunday and try to explain to my pastor and to my Christian community that I voted saying that marriage was not between a man and a woman?" she said.

And with that, the measure trots off to the November ballot, keeping the hope alive that all Arizonans will be compelled to live in accordance with Marian McClure's personal religious beliefs. People who share those beliefs won't notice, and, when they vote to carve them into the state constitution, likely won't think about it all except possibly for a moment's delicious frisson of knowing their vote paves one more step on their road to heaven. People who don't share her beliefs but have lives that conveniently match up with the outward appearance of her vision of What Marriage Is won't be materially affected. And if an issue doesn't directly impact people, they tend to not actively participate in changing it.

Proponents of the amendment claim that "Arizonans deserve the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage,"(Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler), and that whatever definition they come up with (presumably as long as it goes along the lines of no gays ever) must be made permanent in the constitution now to prevent the ever-convenient activist judge bogeyman from ruling the existing statute unconstitutional in some undefined future. If Mr. Yarbrough and Mrs. McClure have any concerns about regular Arizona citizens in that future time being annoyed at finding their hands tied by their idiot ancestors, requiring them to go through the amendment process again to undo the travesty perpetrated in 2008, they have kept them well hidden.

I wish I believed in Jesus. Because I would pray for him to come back and personally slap each and every one of these homo-obsessed shitbags upside their sanctimonious heads for paying more attention to passages from the Old Testament and the rantings of Paul than to the admonishments from Jesus himself to love, to give a hand to those in need, and to treat others as you'd like to be treated yourself.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Comment of the Day

The finest summary of the problem, ever, from commenter Interrobang on PZ Myers' post recounting the repulsive story of an "honor" killing in Iraq:

People don't act this way because they are men.

Half right. They act that way because the culture has told them that because they're men, they're entitled to police what women do with their bodies, and that women aren't really human the way they are, so killing them carries approximately the same moral weight as getting rid of a malfunctioning machine.

This is seriously not an Islam-specific thing. We simply don't hear about the cases that happen every single day where women are tortured, raped, beaten, and killed by men for not conforming to the men's arbitrary standards. In our culture, we don't hide it behind a religious euphemism; we call it "domestic violence," and most people insist that it's a personal problem, rather than the inevitable, cultural result of a society that continually others and dehumanises women, and places men in the role of enforcing women's gender conformity.

When "honour killings" happen in Western society, we shrug our shoulders and call it "child abuse" or wonder what she was doing marrying that abusive loser in the first place, and asking "Why didn't she just leave?" Pointing this up as though it's specifically to do with Islam is misleading and mendacious; Islam simply provides a different sort of cover story to the standard Western narrative(s).

Incidentally, fundamentalist Christians would openly do this -- and claim it was part and parcel of their religion -- if they thought they could get away with it. They've been working hard, actually, to try to change the laws so that they can. (For a really scary time, look up "Christian discipline" and "voluntary slavery.")

I have nothing to add.

Product Review Monday

The girlfriend told me that since I had to replace the beloved BoltTruck, it had to be with something I would love. The prospects of that happening seemed really dim, since I loved the truck and hadn't driven a car for something like nine years. Aside from fuel economy and reliability, I do have this big bad lesbian persona to maintain, after all, and the ability to chuck large interesting things I might find at the side of the road on Brush 'n' Bulky Day was a large component of that.
This just might work out after all

After a week of tooling around town and a weekend zip up to Phoenix and back, well... I may be smitten with the Matrix.

It helps to not think of it as a car so much as a silver flash that can hit highway speeds before the bottom of the on-ramp, rather than the previous 45 mph and a prayer, with these interesting features called bucket seats that do not have large chunks of foam rubber falling out of the sides and hug portions of my spine that before did not understand the concept of lumbar support, a responsive clutch that does not threaten to overtax my already compromised meniscus, and, uh, a jack where I can plug in the iPod. And anti-skid plastic-backed rear seats that fold flat for decent hauling capactity. And one of those cute little antennas that look like a pintail.

Sorry, truck. I still love you. But I think we need to just be friends now.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

That Did Not Take Nearly As Long As We Expected

Commenter Anonymous points out that a few "homosexual activist" publications--such cachet; I must remember to add that to my blog tagline one of these days--have admitted that reactions to the Michigan Supreme Court domestic partner benefits such as those in the previous post are just trumped! up! hysteria! over! nothing!
"'The Michigan Court of Appeals decision never said that public employers could not provide health care coverage to domestic partners of employees,' Kaplan wrote in an e-mail. He said that employers can provide health insurance coverage for domestic partners as long as they do not specifically recognize the domestic partner relationship — by filing domestic partner benefit forms, for example — when determining criteria for insurance eligibility."

Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality, a homosexual activist group, said last June in a news release: "The Michigan Court of Appeals did not say that health insurance coverage for domestic partners is illegal. The court said that public employers cannot use criteria that recognizes the domestic partner relationship."

Well, I guess that settles that. Or does it? Let's take a look at how the city of East Lansing and Michigan State U are trying to work around the state constitution in order to continue extending benefits to same-sex partners without explicitly calling it extending benefits to same-sex partners.

MSU’s Other Eligible Individual program, which takes effect next month, is a pilot endeavor designed to provide benefits to individuals selected by employees. That will, in effect, allow same-sex couples to keep domestic partner benefits as well as extend benefits to unmarried opposite-sex couples for the first time.

When MSU approved domestic-partner benefits in 1997, opposite-sex couples were specifically excluded from benefits on the grounds that they could marry. According to the program’s guidelines, an MSU employee who has not specified a spouse may select an individual to receive health and dental coverage. This individual cannot be related to the employee by blood. The two must have shared a residence for 18 months on a non-tenant basis.

While this may prove to be a workable end-run around the constitutional prohibition on state recognition of non-straight marriages, it's somewhat disingenuous and seems, on its face, to be open to equal-protection challenges. Leave aside for a moment the wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality of a rule that prohibits you from claiming a beneficiary on the basis of a committed romantic relationship, but requires you to have shared a residence with your beneficiary for a year and a half before that person becomes eligible for coverage. And try to ignore the differential valuation of your relationship when married partners get coverage from day one, while your relationship is required to demonstrate the potential for longevity for a year and a half--be sure to brush well and floss twice a day in the interim--a period of time during which your straight colleague could divorce and re-marry three times, each time with the option of immediately signing his blushing bride onto his healthcare package, no questions asked.

Attempting maintaining benefits for domestic partners with just a bit of semantic sleight-of-hand doesn't fly with the Michigan branch of the AFA. In response to the Jay Kaplan e-mail (cited by Anonymous in the original post's comments), which concludes , “the new criteria developed by MSU address this issue. All public employers can provide coverage for (domestic partnerships) using these criteria,” we get this:

Not necessarily, says Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan. Glenn, who co-wrote Proposal 2, is unsure whether the MSU program violates the state Constitution.

“If MSU is just trying to cleverly restrict eligibility only to your unmarried sex partner, then I think the courts would eventually find this policy to be unconstitutional,” Glenn said.

Curiously, Glenn has no problem with an expanded benefits program adopted over in Ann Arbor, even though it includes gays too.

Glenn cited a similar proposal by the University of Michigan’s graduate employees organization that would allow a staff or faculty member to select any individual as a beneficiary. He said this program would be constitutional.

“Any employee could put a sick grandmother on health insurance, or a next door neighbor, or a homosexual partner,” Glenn said. “Those benefits would have nothing whatsoever to do with U of M, as a government employer, recognizing a homosexual relationship as being equal or similar to marriage as a basis for providing benefits.”

So admitting gay couples to the dental plan party unacceptably destroys the sanctity and specialness of marriage--and is generally cited by anti-gay howlers as them being forced to subsidize a perversion that squicks them out--but throwing the doors open and recognizing a grandmother-granddaughter relationship or platonic roommate relationship or next door neighbor relationship or single guy-homeless guy in the culvert relationship "as being equal or similar to marriage as the basis for providing benefits," while also incidentally recognizing gay relationships the same way, doesn't diminish the special sacred juju of marriage in their eyes? An institution is only wrecked when the gays are the only ones let inside the velvet rope?

News flash to Gary Glenn: even the blanket plan still treats gay couples as equal beneficiaries to straight couples. Are you really okay with that, or do you just enjoy forcing institutions to jump through multiple complicated, expensive hoops in order to get things back to exactly the way they were before you poked your nose into other people's business?

Of course, this whole thing may have been a wicked clever ploy by the American Family Association to force public institutions to formally divorce healthcare coverage from "marriage," thus forcing employers to support families in all forms, whether that means traditionally married straight couples, gay couples, single guys and their ailing grandmothers, two elderly sisters, whatever. While I would love to believe that last one, it stretches credulity.

Oh, and Anonymous? Don't pretend that the Michigan lawsuits didn't really mean anything in the end for the gay couples in that state who have either had their benefits summarily yanked or will have them yanked when their current contracts expire. If they didn't have the effect of punishing same-sex couples for failing to adhere to your personal beliefs, they would not have been filed, nor would they have been appealed up to the state supreme court, nor would the state universities and municipal school districts be scrambling now to formulate policies with language even an AFA attorney won't be able to weasel into a Deny Coverage directive. You can have domestic partner benefits as long as you don't call them domestic partner benefits has a short version, and it goes something like get back in the closet, faggots, and that's a message that tends to ring out loud and clear, no matter how many layers of equivocation you try to layer over it.

Arizona Voters, Please Pay Close Attention

As the newest version of the no-gay-marriage state constitutional amendment waits for enough right-wing douchebags to be present in the Arizona statehouse at one time to be appended to a completely unrelated bill and passed over to the senate, please refresh your memory of what the screw-the-gays legislation is allegedly about this time:
This amendment is not about disagreements about benefits or domestic partnerships. This amendment simply is about defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Now turn your attention to the latest bit of fallout from Michigan, where their 2004 ballot referendum on amending their own state constitution to recognize only one man-one woman marriage as a legal union was simply about defining marriage too. In fact, it was so much about only protecting the definition of the word against appropriation by anyone but straight couples that its proponents repeatedly went out of their way to assure voters that the change to their constitution wouldn't prevent any employer from extending health benefits to same-sex partners of their employees. Heck, they asserted repeatedly that employers could even cover their employees' cats if they were so inclined, with no interference from the law.

Uh, yeah. Not so much.

In a long-awaited and very disappointing ruling, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that any partnership benefits granted to gay couples, even those as part of negotiated union agreements, are unconstitutional under the anti-gay marriage amendment, Proposal 2, passed in 2004...

The district court ruled that Proposal 2 did not affect such benefits, but that was overturned by the appeals court and the supreme court upheld the appeals court ruling. The tragic irony of this is that despite the "save the children" rhetoric from the anti-gay crowd, the first people affected by this ruling will be the children of gay couples who may lose health care and other protections as a result.

It's never just about the definition of marriage, never just about preventing gay couples from trundling over to the courthouse and slapping down fifty bucks like any straight couple can do--something state statutes already prohibit. It's purely about opening the door to a multitude of interpretations that will be used to strip away hard-won rights and benefits. It's about one particular strain of self-proclaimed Christians bald-facedly bearing false witness in order to enshrine their religious beliefs into civic policy, so that they can immediately turn around and lay waste to the lives of people who have done nothing to harm them beyond having the temerity to simply exist.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Personal Economics

Three-forty-three was my personal tipping point, the tick mark that shifted my thinking from wow, these high prices suck to Jesus Tapdancing Christ, how the fuck am I going to stay solvent? It had been a halcyon three or four months there. I had finally wrestled the personal debt to a manageable size and place*, finding myself at the end of the pay period with double and sometimes even triple digits--if barely--in the checking account. The ability to breathe easily rather than holding it and paddling furiously toward payday was in itself an extravangance I hadn't had since my first year out of college, when I had a tiny, cheap studio over a bakery and no expenses beyond my next beer.

So in the face of eternally mounting repairs and the continuing failure of the MPG fairy to both materialize and sprinkle magic more-than-20-miles-per-gallon dust on the engine, it was finally time to replace the beloved truck with something that sips at gasoline and only occasionally puts in a polite request for some new oil. To do that at all, I had to borrow a down payment. And to have any hope of keeping the new buggy, I will have to make major slashes in discretionary spending. Which I suppose is why it's called "discretionary" rather than "willy-nilly."

Gas in Tucson has plummeted to a dizzying $3.35 since I made the decision to buy, but it will certainly fly back up to and well past that price point in the next month or so. Meanwhile, everything else that requires gasoline to be delivered continues to climb in tandem with fuel prices. The paper last week carried the story of increasingly desperate people unloading their possessions on eBay and Craigslist so they can buy gas and groceries, including a woman who sold her grandmother's tea kettle for $6. Six dollars. Family heirlooms are being let go for less than two gallons of gas. For a jug of milk that will be gone a day later. And then what?

$3.43 pushed me over the line from hmmm to worried. The line for many, many more people was a hell of a lot lower than that. As more and more of us start making choices we couldn't have imagined ten years ago, or even a year ago--keep that doctor's appointment for a nagging injury, or save for a fillup? throw money you don't have at repairs on the beater or throw even more at something new that gets better mileage, playing the odds that the savings on gas will balance the monthly payment before the next unforeseen disaster wipes out the bank account?--we get the tiniest glimpse of how bad things can be, how bad they have been for so many for so long. And we think about how much worse they are likely to get, and it's fucking scary.

*not including the $800 I still owe the girlfriend for the faux-wood floor. Hi, honey!

Friday, May 02, 2008

We Are Simply Humorless and Dour

Brian Fairrington draws pictures for the Arizona Republic, the rabidly right-wing rather conservative Phoenix newspaper. His cartoon below was printed in the Daily Star today. For this morning's Humorless Boner-killing Feminazi Quiz, identify the basic concept that eludes Mr. Fairrington. Bonus points for style commentary.

If you rolled your eyes and said, duh, "consent," you win. Bonus style points if you pointed out the juxtaposition of the FLDS people, carefully depicted as neatly dressed ladies gently shepherding their lovely, teddy bear-clutching charges, with the ambiguously gendered S&M couple in the foreground; the stippling on the asscheeks and legs of the figure facing away from the viewer suggests just a little that they're not only into masks and cattle prods but are gay too for good measure.

I'm sure if Mr. Fairrington had just a little more space on his canvas, he would have shown the inbred 50-year-old men marching the little girls into the temple bed for their ceremonial first banging while the rest of the gomers stand around watching, portraying the contradiction between appearance and substance within that FLDS culture and the disconnect between the same within our mainstream culture--and the irreconcilable friction between the two, and the immense difficulty faced by children raised within one sphere who will now have to navigate the other--with nuance and sensitivity, rather than going for the easy knee-jerk kink-bashing and gay-bashing fallback.

Or maybe not.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

National Day of Arrrrgh

The economic chickens haven't quite come home to roost yet, but they're clucking ominously in the distance, so I'm too depressed to crank out an original entry this morning. I see it's the National Day of Prayer, though. Take it away, PZ.
I can scarcely believe my country is officially pandering to such willful stupidity — elevating evangelical kooks to positions of prestige, trumpeting the virtues of sectarian religion, and actually crediting the successes of America to the fact that a subset of deluded, demented fools sit on their asses and beg an invisible man to protect us and help us kill people in foreign countries. What a waste, and what an encouragement of further waste.

On that note, anyone have any opinions about the Toyota Matrix? Anybody want to buy a loved-almost-to-death Toyota pickup with 210,000 miles and five times that many memories on it? The MPG sucks too hard for me to justify keeping it much longer. And since the grief that stirs in my heart is unbearable, I just can't wait to find out what it will feel like when old age catches up with my dog as well.