30 April 2010

¡Gracias, Arizona!

Oh, Arizona, gracias indeed for passing AB 1070, a/k/a the "Permanent Democratic Majority Bill." I don't mean to be glib - it's pretty bad. And on a personal, visceral level, I know exactly how it feels to wake up in this country with fewer civil rights than you had when you went to bed because a majority of your neighbors, or a majority of your elected officials, felt you didn't deserve them.

AB 1070, if you've been living under a rock (or, fair enough, outside of the US) for the last week, requires state cops to do racial profiling, mandates illegal arrests, puts thousands of Arizonans in fear of illegal arrests, and puts the state on the hook for future untold millions in legal costs. AB 1070 was passed by a craven and bilious state legislature and signed by a deeply unpopular governor who needed a lifeline.

Sound familiar, California?

And California has not until very recently been such a Democratic stronghold. From 1967 to 1999 we had sixteen consecutive years, and twenty four of thirty two years, of Republican governors. This was a purple state, and one in which Republicans consistently won statewide elections and had long had at least one of our two US Senators from the GOP.

Until Pete Wilson.

I was a frequent visitor to California in the early 1990's, and I remember the deeply unpopular Governor Wilson trying to survive. I remember reading that his approval rating at one point was in the low 20's, but I can't find that sourced now and I don't trust my memory enough to put that as a fact. I did find a reference here to Wilson being 20 points behind his Democratic opponent in 1993, a year before the general election. How did he come back? He ran on a platform of flogging anti-immigrant sentiment up and down the state to get Prop 187 passed.

Later overturned by the courts as being illegal, Prop 187 might sound familiar to anyone reading about the Arizona law. From the USC Libraries, Prop 187 required that:

1.All law enforcement agents who suspect that a person who has been arrested is in violation of immigration laws must investigate the detainee's immigration status, and if they find evidence of illegality they must report it to the attorney general of California, and to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

2.Local governments are prohibited from doing anything to impair the fulfillment of this requirement.

3.The attorney general must keep records on all such cases and make them available to any other government entity that wishes to inspect them.

4.No one may receive public benefits until they have proven their legal right to reside in the country.

5.If government agents suspected anyone applying for benefits of being illegal immigrants, the agents must report their suspicions in writing to the appropriate enforcement authorities.

6.Emergency medical care is exempted, as required by federal law, but all other medical benefits have the requirements stated above.

7.Primary and secondary education is explicitly included.

Sound familiar?

And it worked! Wilson came roaring back on the backs of fed up white voters who felt that the "illegals" were the reason that their taxes were going up, and that if only we got them off the state's "very generous welfare system" then all would be right in the world. This was the period of "Falling Down" (1993), the angry white man movie with Michael Douglas. Wilson was going to be tough - tough on crime and tough on illegals. And he was. He won his second term for Governor, but he lost the state for a generation - and counting - for the Republican party.

I guess xenophobia and race baiting cloud one's ability to do math. Hispanics as a percentage of California's population in 2000 was 32%. In 1990 it was 26%. That is more growth both in real numbers and in percentage terms than any other demographic group in the state over the same period.

Arizona's population projections? From a 2000 population of 5.1 million it's projected to grow to 10.7 million by 2030. In 1990, Arizona was 18% Hispanic; in 2000 it was 25% Hispanic and 20% Mexican American alone. I'm not a demographer or a math genius, and even I can see where the train is heading.

Vilifying 20% and infuriating 25% of your state's population is not a great way to get elected as a party when you've got white liberals in the state as well. In the South, fine, you can get away with centuries-old patterns of disenfranchisement at a statewide level because there hasn't been enough migration and capital flow to counterbalance the entrenched old white voting blocks (though this has started to change in Virginia and North Carolina); in the West? It won't work.

Arizona will continue to have the same number of senators, of course, but they might in another cycle or two be two senators with D's behind their names, instead of the two R's they have now. How will Republicans look 40% of the state's voters in the eye and say "No, not you, we didn't mean you when we angrily paraded up and down our state saying that we needed to arrest people who had accents and were, um, browner than us and send them back, we meant those other folks with the accents who are browner than us."

And by 2030 there will be two, or possibly three, or possibly even four new US House districts in Arizona. Which direction do you think they will lean?

To vilify and attempt to criminalize large portions of your own population is not only mean spirited, anti-Christian, illegal and ineffective (if your real goal is to "protect the border"), it's the surest proven way to make your political party irrelevant at the statewide level. So, Arizona, by 2016 at the latest I would like to welcome you to the "West Coast automatic Democratic electoral votes" Club.

And Nevada, we have room for you, too.

15 April 2010

Men and women in uniform less Republican - by a lot

Did you see this?

According to a survey of 1800 active duty reported on in the Army Times, there has been a huge drop since 2004 among those serving who identify as Republican. Then? 60%. Now? 41%.

From 2008 to 2009 alone those surveyed identifying themselves as Republican dropped 9%. It's not as though they are identifying as Democrats - not yet anyway - most are unaffiliated or "independent."

This strikes me as a very significant development, and it makes perfect sense. Most of those who serve in uniform are young - shockingly young, and if you've travelled recently then you know what I mean - and the Republican Party has had a very hard time holding on to the youth vote. Current young people don't really seem to care about the old wedge issues of identity politics, and they are less likely to be afraid of otherness.

Also, since the the deception of Republican leadership has put those serving in harm's way for spurious, fabricated, and/or political reasons, they know first hand the cost of being Republican.

I can't imagine that the expansion of military benefits led by Democratic leaders has hurt, but I suspect that's secondary.

And I can't help but wonder, if the shift were in the other direction (from Democratic to unaffiliated), how much we'd be hearing about this? Do you think that some talking hairpieces over at Faux would actually explode flogging this news item?

05 April 2010

Oh, Ricky...

As has been well documented, I have among the world's worst gaydar. In part it's because I don't really believe in it. Implicit in the concept of gaydar, the ability to tell who is or isn't gay, is that there are ways that gayness manifests itself outwardly - that there are tells by the way a person dresses or acts or looks at you or makes out with you... well, that last one, okay, but the rest? Really? What year is it?

After Stevie and I broke up, I had a rebound relationship with this dude Tony. We met at a sports bar, started talking, he lived in my neighborhood, we staggered home together after being over served, I mentioned "my ex-boyfriend, Stevie" early in the night, he told me he thought I was cute, and we took it from there. He later told me "if you hadn't told me I wouldn't have known you were queer." Might have been pillow talk, but I know that if he hadn't told me, I wouldn't have known.

Embedded in me saying this, there's an assumption so opaque that it's almost invisible: by saying that he and I wouldn't have known without telling each other, I'm acknowledging that there is a way to tell, and thus that there can be "gaydar." Further, saying that we needed to tell each other is to make a claim for ourselves to a non-stereotypically gay presentation. Our location, speech, dress, way of moving through space, interests we discussed - all placed us outside of "gay" in some way, so that we had to disclose our sexual alignment verbally to claim it. And despite my intellectual efforts against it, I would say that there was some pride - that we "passed" was seen as a good thing, or a better thing than "not passing."

I recognized that temptation to pride early in my coming out process, and I tried to be vigilant against it, recognizing it for what it is: divisive, oppressive, laden with gender normativity and value judgment. The fact is, though, that it takes constant vigilance to resist the temptation and to remain aware of the constant flood of messages that bombard us about gender roles and what is and isn't desirable, and I'm lazier now that I used to be. And in some ways I'm less out today than I was in the 90's in Denver or Chicago, when I wouldn't date someone who wouldn't hold my hand wherever the hell I wanted to, who wasn't fully out, who didn't have an integrated life. I have fallen out of some of the habits of earlier decades, in part because they are no longer necessary, but in part because I'm less cognizant of the need, and less surrounded by people who challenge me.

Shortly after I came out in undergrad I pinned a button on my backpack that read "Don't presume I'm straight" because it used to piss me off - this assumption making and distinction drawing. I wanted to reject the notion that "straight acting" was more desirable, or better, or even a thing, or that because I presented a certain way you felt fine telling faggot jokes around me.

But why am I like this? Is this how I really am, or at some level is my behavior formed by reacting against the straight need to be comfortable with a certain type of gay male, and its artifice?

Stereotype: All gay people are x.
Reaction 1: I'm gay, so I have to be x.
Reaction 2: I'm not x, so therefore I'm not gay. Whew!
Reaction 1 never made any sense to me; I wasn't x. (Who IS really, though? Oh, yeah. That kid on "Glee." And that kid in School of Rock. And every male character on "Will and Grace." And that character when a straight lead needs a gay best friend to help them laugh or shop or pick out clothes. Lazy, offensive, one dimensional depictions of gay men - rich, white, shallow, funny, and femme.)

I can't help but wonder if I love football so much as a reaction to stereotype, and that I let straight people's gay stereotypes define me even in a counter-typical way - in any way at all. I don't think that's the case, but it's impossible to test the null, and it's certainly possible. I've read enough biographies and met enough gay ex-Marines to know that there is a type of gay male who on some level tries not to be gay by doing the most stereotypically un-gay thing he can think of.

And in that pursuit or that action, the power is still ceded beyond himself - ourselves - to those to whom we give permission to determine what is the "right" way to talk, to dress, to move through space. The hegemony of cultural types and normative expectations is just that - hegemonic. By either revolting against it or acquiescing to our role within it, we are acknowledging its presence and power.

But I don't know how to avoid it - it's hegemonic, after all. It's foolish to pretend we live in a vacuum, or that our environment doesn't impact us. So what do we do with the normed expectations that are instilled in us from birth, once we begin to see them? What do we do when we reach adolescence and begin to understand that we don't fit - fundamentally can't fit - our proscribed roles?

As an adolescent I dreamt about playing football, and started watching and going to games every weekend. I started memorizing stats, scores and rosters to talk with other kids about. Why? How informed was that choice to follow football as a gay adolescent? From whence came my motivation? Is it coincidental that it started at the same time as I began to understand my inability to be who was expected of me? Unanswerable, unfortunately.

I think of this while thinking about Ricky Martin.

I was going to excoriate him for his cowardice and express my disappointment in his delay. I thought that maybe he is doing the best he can - but on further reflection, that doesn't pass the sniff test. I don't buy it. I try to be compassionate with my gay brothers (movement, not biological - and I have learned that the experiences of gay men and gay women don't have tremendous overlap, and I don't want to speak here for lesbians) and to be patient with their coming out processes. I know all humans have their own paths. I know that sometimes people come out when they aren't ready and that usually goes badly. I know that some people come out in anger. I know that some men are too weak or too wounded, and they can't by themselves get to a place where they are okay with being gay - they need those they love to make it okay for them.

But I continually come back to: dammit, grow a pair!

I made the conscious decision to come out; I did the work and I paid a price. And people who had the conversations after I did with the people with whom I had spoken had an easier time because I blazed the trail. It was 1988, 89, 90 and 91 in Milwaukee - you don't think it was hard sometimes? Or that when I walked straight people through their questions and their discomfort, for as long as they needed, that it didn't make it easier for those same straight people's little brothers, or roommates, or future co-workers? It was, and it did. And I knew it was a political act when I did it.

I made the decision - scared and after much deliberation, but I made a deliberate, conscious, political decision to tell my friends and then my straight roommates, to tell my mom and siblings and dad, to wear a button on my backpack, to hold my boyfriend's hand when I wanted to, to bring up an ex-boyfriend early in every conversation with a new person in my life so that if they didn't like gay folk we could move beyond it early, to put the pride coalition - made up - on my resume so that anyone thinking of hiring me would know, to come out in interviews and ask if it was a problem, to write about it in philosophy and theology papers, to challenge professors to do better than the lazy characterizations of gay folks they had been using in their lectures, to write letters to the editor of every paper I read when they needed to be written, to demand that the institutions for which I worked extend me equal rights and protections.

Gay people who say, "I don't feel like I have to go around announcing it to everyone," are usually so scared or so wounded that they don't realize how offensive they are being to those of us who are out. And it sucks they feel that scared and have been that wounded, it does. But the reality is that they are contributing to their own oppression by remaining invisible - the straight people who want us to feel like telling the truth about our lives is "flaunting" win, in that case. I try to react from compassion and not from crazy, and I think I usually succeed. But people ceding permission to others for how they live their lives, and people acquiescing to the institutions and power structures that says their relationship with the person they love isn't good enough to be named, are contributing to their own oppression.

And I am unwilling to do that. And I am willing to call you on it when you do that.

Don't those closeted queer folk realize that EVERY straight person goes around announcing how straight they are? On NPR Sunday, a radio announcer on Marketplace Money mentioned her husband, totally nonchalantly, where it was not at all needed for the advice she was giving a caller on purchasing a new car. I'm confident she did so without realizing that it was a political act because for her it isn't - it's so opaque it's invisible, her laying claim to the majority and the power implicit in that straight privilege. They don't even realize they're privileged, most of them. (Just like many males don't realize they're privileged. Just like many wealthy people don't understand the implications and depth of their privilege. Just like many white people - gott im himmel, try to point out to white person that he or she is privileged! And wealthy straight white males? You better have some time on your hands.)

People make a decision about coming out.

I get that some people live in a place where coming out requires a much higher price than what I paid. I don't live in a theocracy where I can be openly discriminated against; I don't work in a state that offers no civil protections for gay folk or where I could be fired for coming out; I don't live in a home where I could be beaten; I don't live in fear of losing my housing; I don't serve in a military branch from which I could be discharged with no pension or benefits. I am incredibly lucky. I know.

But people make a decision about coming out. And Ricky Martin, by waiting until he was pop-culturally irrelevant and until a sea-change on queer issues had occurred in Latin America over the last decade as they grew to be pretty tolerant of queer folk, missed the opportunity to be brave, and to be a leader. He is not someone who had to fear for losing his job, or losing his house, or losing citizenship status or being killed. He was insulated by money and power in a way that made it a small risk. And it's still a risk he didn't take.

And that is disappointing, as it is for people anywhere who still, in 2010, choose to live their lives in the closet. You can do better. Better late than never, but you can do better.

03 April 2010

What it costs (Part 3) / Why I'm a liberal (Part 2)

This wasn't originally going to be part three, but I read something in the paper this morning that I found so extraordinary that I had to comment on it. From the SJ Mercury News, here's the headline:

"Feds: Homes with Chinese drywall must be gutted."

And here’s the story.

During the 2000’s, drywall was imported from China that was found to be tainted. Toxic. Poisonous. From the Christian Science Monitor, one homeowner who moved into a house with the tainted product reported a stench of rotten eggs, and worse:

...mirrors that corroded around the edges, drains that rusted on the baths, pitted faucets, the television, computer, dishwasher, coffee pot, telephones, and air-conditioning system that all inexplicably broke down. Even the treasured gold-dipped necklace she wore around her neck turned black. Then there were the headaches, throat and sinus troubles.

Seems that Chinese drywall "contained strontium sulfide, which gives a rotten egg odor when moistened and reacts with hydrogen in the air to take on corrosive powers capable of eating through metals and electrical wires." And human tissue, like lungs and throats and eyes.

So. Over the last decade we imported an estimated 500 million pounds of drywall from China that was inadequately - or never - inspected. It turned out to be toxic. According to a great piece of reporting in the Sarasota, Florida, Herald Tribune, most of it ended up in Florida (graph and maps in PDF here, story here,), but the second biggest shipment - enough for 6,500 homes - went to post-Katrina New Orleans. Twelve states in all got shipments of the toxic drywall, and all told it was enough to build 61,000 homes.

I had two quick reactions. One was: We import DRYWALL!? What are we doing?

I worked construction with my brother one summer, and I have carried drywall around. I know from personal experience how heavy it is - one 4 x 8 foot sheet 1/2 inch thick is about 54 pounds. How can it possibly be more economical for very heavy drywall to be made in China, shipped from drywall factories to a port, loaded onto a ship, sailed 7,251 miles, say, from Hong Kong to the port of Long Beach, unloaded onto a train (or worse, a flatbed truck), and trucked or shipped across the country to Florida, than it is to make it somewhere in the United States? How big is that carbon footprint? How is it possible that this makes economic, environmental or ethical sense? According to the Christian Science Monitor story, from 2001 to 2007 we bought 500 million pounds of drywall from China. (Other sources also give the amount purchased as 500 million pounds but give a time window of 2004-2008 or "from 2006.") That’s 250,000 tons of drywall! Every Prius ever sold couldn't make up for the climate footprint of one laden tanker ship burning bunker fuel crossing the Pacific with a few tons of drywall in its guts.

Can it really be cheaper to do this? Well, of course you need to ask: "cheaper for whom." When we as consumers make decisions in the marketplace to save a buck, at least we have the power to make the choice, and we have to live with the consequences. In this case, those making the purchase have no motive except profit margin, and they don't have to live with the result.

Which as I thought about it brought me to my second reaction: This is why we need government! Okay, "invisible handers," TEA Partiers who think government should be dismantled, Grover Norquist who wants to get government so small he could drown it in his bathtub - why don't you all go live with the results of inadequate oversight and regulation?

Who was in charge while this was happening? Republicans. The Small Government Party. The Party who thinks we should just let the market regulate itself. The party who was so busy keeping us safe from fanatically religious Al Qaeda by invading rigorously secular Iraq that they couldn't keep poisoned goods from swamping our markets and ending up in American homes.

You see the pictures of the blackened pipes and faulty appliances due to the drywall and you start to get a sense of the scope of the problem. You read about these people in homes they can't live in because it will make them sick, and that they can't move out of because they can't afford it, with no recourse in many cases, and it makes you feel so bad for them that you stop thinking "well, it serves you right, you small government fetishizing, anti-own-self-interest voting, Republican traitor staters!" You really feel bad for them. And even in the reddest districts there are some Democratic voters.

What can these homeowners do? Some developers, to their credit, are trying to do the right thing by paying for the homeowners to move out while the poisoned products are removed from their homes. Or their homes are bulldozed and rebuilt. (Literally - some homes are so contaminated they need to be taken down to the ground by haz-mat teams.) Who's paying for it? Chinese manufacturers? Riiiight. Not so much. I'm sure the TEA Partiers, if they had to live in these houses, would be dead set against any government recourse and against any additional government oversight at ports to inspect imports - to be intellectually consistent, I mean.

China continues to manipulate their currency so that their exports are artificially cheaper - up to 40% cheaper by some estimates. And we keep buying them, or buying products with Chinese exports already in them. And we keep getting poisoned. Again, from the Christian Science Monitor:
Toxic baby toys, tainted animal feed and toothpaste, hazardous high-chairs, and infant formula contaminated with melamine have all been the focus of product recalls or warnings over the past 18 months.
All from China. We need to think about where the stuff we buy is made, and we think to think about where the stuff that goes into the stuff we buy is made.

And once again, we maybe could think a little bit more about what we save when we save a buck.

02 April 2010

She blinded me with... science?

Why is it that in all of the doomsday movies it's always a mad scientist who goes off the rails and cooks up plans to conquer the world? Rubbish. You don't read about a marine biologist who hears Darwin talking to her, telling her to murder her husband and eat her sister, do you? A scientist, if he or she hears voices, is likely to do the rational thing and seek medical attention, or take their meds, or talk themselves out it. They are trained in rationality, and know that when they hear voices that there is a rational explanation. What mad scientists have bombed subways, or mutilated or killed other scientists who held differing opinions about their fields of study? What scientists, mad or otherwise, have declared a fundamental truth about the world based on no evidence at all and then said "Furthermore, those who do not agree with my wholly fabricated version of the truth are lesser than those who do, and deserve to be dispossessed, or killed, or banned from my libraries and schools!"

Doesn't happen. Nope, it shouldn't be "mad scientists" in those movies, it should be mad priests.

The purveyors of religion create a context for irrationality. Once you come to believe that a made up man (and yes, he's always talked about as male) in the sky has control over your destiny, and that this made up man cares fervently what you do with your body, your brain, your money, and your life, what's to stop you from believing in everything, or anything?

This comes to mind this week as a "Christian" militant group - and think about that for a second - decided that the way to bring about transformational political change was to murder a cop and then ambush his funeral cortege. On their website, prominently, right there when you go to their site, is this: "Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive."

Find me a parallel in science and with scientists. Go ahead. I'll wait. (Tuneless whistling...) Right.

Jesus, the dude who 2000 years ago said some powerful stuff about the meek inheriting the earth, about taking the plank out of your own eye before judging the splinter in your neighbor's eye, about the peacemakers being blessed and "Sons of God..." - can't be down with this kinda thing. Murdering cops? You know why cops, of course - cops are evidently tools of the government plan for a new world order, which is part of a plan to usher in the anti-Christ. Right? It's laughable.

How DO you go from peacemakers being blessed to killing cops? Because theology, unlike science, is made up. Yes, Jesus lived, and yes, there are historical records of his life and some consensus on what he was about and what he said, but the reality is that the Bible is oral tradition, and oral tradition, as anyone who has ever had a Thanksgiving dinner with relatives knows, lends itself to mutability.

That's why only two Gospels talk about Jesus' birth. You'd think something that important would be worthy of note by all four of them, no? That's why there is a fourteen generation difference between Matthew and Luke when it comes to Jesus' geneology. That's why the nastier parts of the old testament - the parts in which men sleep with their daughters (straight people! Honestly...), in which women get stoned (and not that kind, sadly) for adultery, and have slaves - get ignored. So all those crazed people who talk about how gay folk are going to hell because its in the bible advocate for public stoning of adulterers, you know, to be consistent.

Right. That's the point - religion is internally inconsistent, and lacking a central doctrinal authority, which only the Catholics have and we all see how that's working out - you can make it believe whatever you want it to believe. Want to keep people of African descent as slaves? Feel free - they have the mark of Ham, and are therefore deserving of being enslaved. Want to start a militia for Christ? Go ahead - all the stuff about Jesus being a peacemaker can be thrown out the window if you want to believe in one verse, where he says, according to Matthew, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." There, you see? I should train in the woods, murder cops and try to overthrow the legitimately elected government. Jesus told me to.

Religion - with all of its various "interpretations," and agendae, and we-believe-this-part-of-the-"Divine Word of God"-but-not-THIS-part, and internal inconsistencies, can mean whatever the hell you want it to mean.

And I'll be publish a retraction the next time some millionaire scientist is caught caching weapons and diabolically planning to murder a cop to prevent the coming of the anti-Darwin.

Until then, I have to say that I'm sorry, Mr. Dolby, but I find it far more likley to be blinded by religion.

01 April 2010

BLC Editor's Note - new fiction blog

Because my fiction writing is so different than so much of what I put up on brensleftcoast, I've started a new blog for just that - fiction.

The web address is: http://blcfiction.blogspot.com/
I'll link to it from here.

I've taken down Will's and Genny's stories, and posted them, along with Dray's, at the new site. I'll keep the memoirs and political and sports and whatever other random things I feel need commented upon here.

Hopefully this division of labor will help improve the quality and production of each.

Thanks for reading!