Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Celebrity trumps all ('09)

I do blame Gov. Schwarzenegger for much of the state's budget
troubles. But, even worse and even harder to overcome, is the
mentality of his supporters, the voters who elected him based on
impossible promises, and then re-elected him after he failed at every

Celebrity trumps all. How we can overcome that?

The cowardly APA on religion ('09)

In August 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a 138-page report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.

The press release said that the APA resolves that "mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments." About time!

But at the same time, task force chair Dr.Judith Glassgold told the Wall Street Journal, "[W]e have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else." That's a cop-out. See below.

The WSJ framed the message this way:

[T]he American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical -- and can be beneficial -- for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions....

[T]he therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.

But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.

In response, I wrote the following letter to the Wall Street Journal. It was not published.

Dr. Glassgold says there has been little research about the long-term effects of rejecting a gay identity, but there is "no clear evidence of harm" and "some people seem to be content with that path."

Bull. The APA are cowards. They refuse to make the obvious recommendation: [Some] religions are the problem here, brain-washing children with scientifically false crap, crippling their sexual and psychological well-being for life. If parents want all children to be able to live full and satisfying lives, they must spurn gay-bashing religions.

And if you agree with the APA that, "Oh, no, we couldn't say anything against someone's religion!" then you, too, are part of the problem. Stop giving religion undue deference. Religion is a choice. The APA and everyone should tell people which choices demonstrably help lives and which hurt lives.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Repeal the 2nd Amendment

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

Over here, it seems that many agree with me about repealing the right to bear arms.

As the top graph (copied above) shows, web hits for "Repeal 2nd" / "Repeal Second" run three times higher than for any other amendment.

(Click the "Guns" label below for more from me.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Arizona: "I've got mine. Screw you." ('10)

The LATimes editorialized about Arizona's ban on ethnic studies in schools.

This letter of mine in response was published in the Los Angeles Times in May 2010:

You write: "But it is now clear that Arizona's problem isn't only immigration — legal or otherwise. Its problem is Latinos."

No, it's even worse than that. In one of her first acts as governor, Jan Brewer rescinded many state benefits for the children and partners of unmarried state employees, heterosexual or homosexual.

It's not only immigration; it's not only Latinos; it's not only gays and lesbians; it's "I've got mine. If you're different from me, I don't care about you."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Slogans ('05)

Signs reported at a September 2005 anti-war march in D.C. (just weeks after Hurricane Katrina):

YeeHa is not a foreign policy

War is Terrorism with a Bigger Budget

Make levees not war

Ex-Republican. Ask me why.

Blind Faith in Bad Leadership is not Patriotism.

Bush is a disaster!
(with the President's face in the eye of a hurricane);

Osama bin Forgotten

Cindy speaks for me

Liar, born liar, born-again liar

Dude -- There's a War Criminal in My White House!!!

On supporting military actions ('05)

Link: Ahh, the good ol' days
from Daily Kos, August 2005

Quotes from when Clinton committed troops to Bosnia:

"You can support the troops but not the president."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."
--Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"
--Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."
--Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."
--Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."
--Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

Funny thing is, we won that war without a single killed in action.

Urban Archipelago ('05)

Link: Urban Archipelago: It's the Cities, Stupid.
by the editors of The Stranger, Seattle's alternative newspaper

[excerpts; full text at the link above]

Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on.

Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers.

For Democrats, it's the cities, stupid--not the rural areas, not the prickly, hateful "heartland," but the sane, sensible cities--including the cities trapped in the heartland. Pandering to rural voters is a waste of time.

Democrats need to pursue policies that encourage urban growth (mass transit, affordable housing, city services), and Democrats need to openly and aggressively champion urban values.

We can secede emotionally by turning our backs on the heartland. We can focus on our issues, our urban issues, and promote our shared urban values. We can create a new identity politics, one that transcends class, race, sexual orientation, and religion, one that unites people living in cities with each other and with other urbanites in other cities.

To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy.

It's no secret what the urban population is against--the Bush administration and its red armies have done us the favor of making it a cinch to identify: We oppose their sub-moronic, "faith-based" approach to life, and, as stated above, we hereby relinquish our liberal tendency to sympathize with their lack of, say, livable working conditions, a family wage, and a national health care program. We no longer have to concern ourselves with the survival of the family farm, nor do we have to concern ourselves with saving fragile suburban economies from collapse. They're against us; we're against them. This is a war.

We're for pluralism of thought, race, and identity. We're for a freedom of religion that includes the freedom from religion--not as some crazy aberration, but as an equally valid approach to life. We are for the right to choose one's own sexual and recreational behavior, to control one's own body and what one puts inside it. We are for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The people who just elected George W. Bush to a second term are frankly against every single idea outlined above.

Unlike the people who flee from cities in search of a life free from disagreement and dark skin, we are for contentiousness, discourse, and the heightened understanding of life that grows from having to accommodate opposing viewpoints. We're for opposition. And just to be clear: The non-urban argument, the red state position, isn't oppositional, it's negational--they are in active denial of the existence of other places, other people, other ideas. It's reactionary utopianism, and it is a clear and present danger; urbanists should be upfront and unapologetic about our contempt for their politics and their negational values.

Let's see, what else are we for? How about education? ... universities ... science ... And reason. And history. All those things that non-urbanists have replaced with their idiotic faith. We're for those.

A city belongs to everyone in it, and expands to contain whoever desires to join its ranks. People migrate to cities and open independent businesses or work at established ones. They import cultural influences, thus enriching the urban arts and nightlife, which in turn enrich everything.

It's not a question of tolerance, nor even of personal freedom; it's a matter of recognizing the fundamental interdependence of all citizens--not just the ones who belong to the same church.

Dubya's Second Inaugural ('05)

Dubya's Second Inaugural: The photos you didn't see in the mainstream media coverage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Religion as Corrosive (July '09)

Link: Religion as Corrosive
From Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish

An unnamed reader writes:

I think the unfortunate thing about [your coverage] on this issue is that you've failed to represent Dennett's (or other "grating" atheists') full arguments justifying their combative approach to religion. Personally, I'm a "grating" atheist because of two deep concerns about the influence of religion in general (i.e., religion as a concept).

First, the vast majority of religious people inculcate (or to put it another way, brainwash) their intellectually defenseless children with their own beliefs, demanding that the little ones believe these often ridiculous things to be true with no logical or empirical evidence, which I am convinced undermines children's development of logic and critical thinking.

Secondly, and more concretely, religion is the most pernicious cudgel influencing policy. Because religious beliefs (e.g., homosexuality is bad) are not held on account of logic or evidence (and perhaps also because of the way religion has influenced adherents' critical thinking skills), it is impossible for us to argue against them, yet their consequences affect us all.

Religion warps the policy sphere by determining how people vote and shaping the media dialogue, since a great number if not the majority of sincerely religious people seem openly unwilling to concede that their own supernatural beliefs should not be imposed upon the electorate in general.

The marriage equality debate is a perfect example of this, since all non-religious arguments (i.e., the ones not revolving around the word "sacred,") that I have heard against it are thoroughly specious. We can also reference the nakedly religion-based support for the Bush administration displayed by huge numbers of the Republican base, and ongoing local school board revolutions intended to place ill-disguised creationist dogma into the public school science curriculum.

Meanwhile, pandering to the religious crowd in policy debate merely reinforces their own biases (and reasserts their entitlement to a national audience) and hence does not usually result in any constructive compromise.

Thus, it is not merely that we atheists disapprove of people being religious because we like to chide them for not yet discarding that "crutch"... it's that we feel the violent political force of religion shaping our laws and leadership on a daily basis, while a new legion of young zealots is being indoctrinated with every generation.

[emphasis added]

Russell's Teapot

Link: Russell's Teapot (From Wikipedia)

Russell's teapot was an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, to refute the idea that the onus lies somehow upon the sceptic to disprove the unfalsifiable claims of religion. In an article entitled Is There a God?, commissioned (but never published) by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell said the following:

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

In his book A Devil's Chaplain (2003), Richard Dawkins developed the teapot theme a little further:

The reason organized religion merits outright hostility is that, unlike belief in Russell's teapot, religion is powerful, influential, tax-exempt and systematically passed on to children too young to defend themselves. Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Government-subsidized schools don't exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers don't stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers don't warn their sons off marrying teapot-shiksas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first don't kneecap those who put the tea in first.

See also the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

And, of course, my own note Why I am an angry atheist

(For more, click on the "Religion" label below.)

Rushkoff: Faith = Illness (April '06)

Link: Faith = Illness. Why I’ve had it with religious tolerance
by Douglas Rushkoff


I think it's time to ... let everyone in on the bad news: God doesn't exist, never did, and the closest thing we'll ever see to God will emerge from our own collective efforts at making meaning.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I no longer see the real value in being tolerant of other people's beliefs. Sure, when beliefs are relegated to the realm of pure entertainment, they pose no real danger. ... When religions are practiced, as they are by a majority of those in developed nations, today, as a kind of nostalgic little ritual - a community event or an excuse to get together and not work - it doesn't really screw anything up too badly.

But when they radically alter our ability to contend with reality, cope with difference, or implement the most basic ethical provisions, they must be stopped.

Like any other public health crisis, the belief in religion must now be treated as a sickness. It is an epidemic, paralyzing our nation's ability to behave in a rational way, and - given our weapons capabilities - posing an increasingly grave threat to the rest of the world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Victor can't visit the U.S.

That's all the travel postings until I get a chance to scan even older photos. (Click the "Travel" label at the bottom of this post to see what's here.)

But in keeping with my blog title, there's an outrage subtext to many of my trips.

In the mid-90s, I was naive about some aspects of immigration.

I knew all about the homophobia of our immigration laws: how citizens can bring a spouse into the U.S., but not a same-sex partner.

Living my whole life in south Texas and southern California, I also knew about all the issues around undocumented Mexicans in the U.S.

But I also knew that plenty of Mexicans came to visit with proper papers, so I thought that was easy, just a tourist visa. I had a lot to learn about tourist visas!

I was shocked when Victor's first application for a tourist visa was denied. The vague denial information from the State Department didn't help.

A staffer in my Congressman's office explained it to me more thoroughly. The U.S. needs to be convinced that a visa applicant will return to Mexico. How are they convinced? If you have a good job to return to in Mexico, that helps. If you have money in the bank in Mexico, a spouse and children well-established in Mexico, if you own a home in Mexico, if you have a non-refundable return ticket, if you've traveled outside of Mexico in the past and returned -- these sorts of things help convince the U.S. State Department that you will return to Mexico.

If, on the other hand, like Victor in the 90s, you're prime working age, your job in Mexico pays near minimum wage (Mexico minimum wage!), you have no wife or kids (!), you own no property, you have no savings, .... Well, forget it!

And there's nothing I could do to promise that Victor would return to Mexico, since, as the Congressman's aide put it, "Kidnapping is illegal." That is, short of locking someone in chains, there's no way to guarantee that they'll get back to Mexico.

On our second application, I wrote offering to post a monetary bond, but the application was denied again.

We tried once more. This time, I went with Victor to speak to the U.S. consul. He bluntly told us to stop wasting our time and money; Victor would not be getting a tourist visa.

We got the message. We gave up, and decided to travel outside of the U.S. (So far, Costa Rica, British Columbia, Argentina and, of course, all over Yucatán.)

At the time, I had hopes that maybe the politics of immigration would improve in the future. Ha! With Dubya's election, 9/11, vigilante border militias, things just kept getting worse.

Please support the Uniting American Families Act, and comprehensive immigration reform that includes it. Thanks!

[2014 update]

Travels around Yucatán

Liz (my niece), Rodney, and Victor at Chichen Itza, 2005

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

I've been going to Yucatán once or twice a year since 1993. Victor and I have traveled around the region quite a bit. You can see a few photos here.

Trip to Costa Rica (Dec. '99)

Victor and I went to Costa Rica in December 1999 - January 2000, on a tour with Wildland Adventures. We arrived a day before the tour started, spending the extra day in and around San Jose:

Victor at La Sabana Park, San Jose

With the tour group, we went to Tiskita Jungle Lodge:

Sunset over the Pacific, Tiskita

Then to Arenal National Park:

Victor and volcanic rocks

Then Monteverde Cloud Forest:

(That's not a blurry photo; it's a cloud forest!)

We then went back to the Pacific coast, and from there, returned to San Jose.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Trip to Argentina (Sept. '87)

At Bariloche

My friends and 1980s neighbors Lito and John went to Argentina every year, usually in the Fall. (Lito was born there.) I kept telling them that if they would only go a little earlier, before my teaching duties began, I would join them. In 1987, I made it.

We visited Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and Bariloche, then back to Buenos Aires. I returned home from there, while Lito and John stayed another week or so.

Lito arranged all the flights and accommodations. While in Buenos Aires, we also had dinner with different relatives of his almost every night, including one side trip to La Plata. I had a wonderful time.

Lito, John, and Lito's Israeli cousin Tzur, at Iguazu Falls

Trip to the Soviet Union (Spring '84)

Me in Red Square, Moscow, in front of St. Basil's Cathedral

In 1984, the late Ron Peterson, Professor of Russian Language and Culture at Occidental, led an Oxy group to the Soviet Union over Spring Break. We would visit Moscow and Leningrad, with a stop in Helsinki at the end. I jumped at the opportunity.

For more than you ever wanted to know about my week in the Soviet Union, read my journal (7 pages).

I bought some Soviet propaganda posters that you can see here.

In the group picture below, I'm in the back row, just beneath the raised hand. Ron is seven heads over to the right. (Click on the photo to see it larger.)