Posts from March 2004

A Bigot By Any Other Name…

Ampersand at Alas, A Blog points out an important difficulty in debates about gay liberation:

One area of miscommunication in the marriage equality debate is about words like bigot and homophobe. Marriage equality opponents, quite understandably, don’t like being called
bigots and homophobes. They might genuinely have nothing against lesbians and gays; some of them have good friends who are lesbian or gay, and some of them are lesbian or gay themselves.

The problem here, I think, stems from two different definitions of bigotry. Marriage equality opponents think bigot, in this context, means someone who hates lesbians and gays.

Speaking for myself, that’s only one possible meaning of bigot or homophobe. Another meaning, which is how I tend to use those words in the context of the marriage equality debate, is someone who favors an unequal legal status for lesbians and gays. And by that latter definition, it makes perfect sense to describe those who oppose marriage equality as homophobes and bigots.

This is no different from how I view any other issue involving bigotry. To reuse an example, consider someone in the 1960s who favored laws and rules excluding Jews from fancy country clubs. That person may have had many close Jewish friends; perhaps they only favored the exclusions because they valued the club’s longstanding traditions. But regardless of this person’s personal love for Jews, they nonetheless favored one law for gentiles and a different law for Jews, and that made them an anti-Semite.

Alas, a Blog: How is bigotry defined?

Another way to put it (cribbing from the Marxists) is this: words like homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, etc. can be used either in the sense of subjective conditions or in the sense of objective conditions. On the one hand, you might use them to say of some individual person that she or he has a particular set of (negative) attitudes towards other people based on their membership in a particular group; on the other hand you might use them to say of some person or class of people that they are involved in creating, sustaining, and reinforcing material conditions that hurt people who are members of that group.

I think this is an important distinction to make—all too many people today think that racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. are all about having bad feelings towards people in some group or another; so they seem to think that if they can show that they don’t really have those bad feelings then that’s enough to prove them blameless for the hardships that historically oppressed people face. But it should be obvious that the kind of policies you support and participate in are just as important as your personal overt feelings. (Why should gay people care about the fact that you don’t personally hate them, if you support laws that make them second-class citizens?)

There’s an important caveat to point out here, though, which Ampersand doesn’t draw out. It’s certainly true that objective hostility towards gay people is just as important as a term of analysis and criticism as subjective hostility, and the reflexive urge of many Right-wingers (though certainly not all of them!) to complain about being called bigots or homophobes just misses the point, because it confuses the two ways in which the word is used. But I don’t think that this confusion is entirely the Right-winger’s fault. Part of it is due to unfortunate terminology. Sexism and racism, like imperialism, Communism, republicanism, and so on are terms that obviously can describe either a body of attitudes or beliefs, or an actually-implemented political system. The way we use words ending in -ism is just such that either interpretation might suggest itself, depending on the way in which the word is used. But this is far less obvious in the case of words like bigotry and homophobia. (If a pseudo-psychological term like homophobia isn’t meant to suggest a particular sort of personal attitude towards gay people, then what in the world would be meant to suggest it?)

This isn’t to say that we should ditch the words homophobic or bigot. They’re serviceable words, they work well enough for what they do, and we can make the distinctions we need to make even if it goes against the grain of how the words are constructed. But we should be aware that we are going against the grain, and understand that when discussion is diverted to irrelevant arguments about personal attitudes — the sort of arguments that Ampersand rightly complains of — the language that we’re using to describe people who are anti-gay is partly to blame. (Even if we don’t intend for it to be taken that way: objective conditions are as important as subjective conditions in language, no less than in politics!)

Hardy Har Har

photo: Bush yuks it up

Belly laugh!

Let’s say you told a lie and everyone found out.

In fact, let’s say you started a war over a lie and everyone found out.

Hell, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you started a war over a big fat fucking lie and now 8,000-10,000 people who used to be alive, aren’t alive anymore, because of the lie that you told, and slowly, people began to find out about what you’d done.

There are many ways that you might deal with such an awkward situation. Is this one of them?

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush poked fun at his staff, his Democratic challenger and himself Wednesday night at a black-tie dinner where he hobnobbed with the news media.

Bush put on a slide show, calling it the White House Election-Year Album at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association 60th annual dinner, showing himself and his staff in some decidedly unflattering poses.

There was Bush looking under furniture in a fruitless, frustrating search. Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere, he said.

Bush pokes fun at himself, from CNN.com

Of course, George Trifecta Bush’s sense of humor may be different from yours. I personally would like to see this tape replayed after the election if current trends continue and the American people laugh him out of office. Now that would be good for a belly-laugh! Hardy har har.

(link via Dear God Damn Diary, via feministe)

Because of assholes like this, part II

A while ago I talked about Judge Neal Dickhead Stephenson and his crude mishandling of a sexual assault trial. I entitled the post Because of assholes like this guy… because I took the case as evidence that state and local criminal courts can’t always be trusted to try rape cases appropriately. Unfortunately, current events have provided independent corroboration for the claim: in this case, the trial of Kobe Bryant.

Let me begin by saying that I have not been closely following the proceedings in Colorado, and even if I had it’s unlikely that I’d be familiar with most of the relevant evidence at this point. So I don’t know whether or not Kobe Bryant is a rapist. But I do know that he is a huge asshole.

Here is what the legal strategy that he has apparently authorized, and encouraged, has done:

Although Colorado’s rape laws are designed to protect alleged victims from publicity and to keep the victim’s sex life from being publicized, the laws appear to have collapsed under the press of high-priced lawyers and inquisitive media outlets, especially tabloid newspapers, consumed by the case.

While major media outlets have avoided revealing her identity, the woman’s name, photo and biography have been splashed across supermarket tabloids and Internet sites, and talk-radio hosts have made sport of her florid sexual reputation.

Fans of the basketball player have besieged her with angry phone calls and visits, forcing her to live on the run, moving to four states in the past six months.

On Thursday, the alleged victim’s mother sent a letter to the judge urging him to bring the trial to a quick conclusion because her life is on hold and her safety is in jeopardy. The woman’s lawyer said that she has been besieged with hundreds of threats of physical violence.

She can’t live at home, she can’t live with relatives, she can’t go to school or talk to her friends, the mother wrote. Even the defendant [Mr. Bryant] is able to continue living in his home and continue with his employment.

But there was little indication yesterday that the judge intended to intervene. Mr. Bryant’s lawyers have asked the judge to waive the rape-shield law that prevents personal history from being used as testimony in sex-assault trials, on the grounds that rape is not dependent on the promiscuity or virtue of the victim. In order to determine whether her history and reputation are relevant, the judge has put the woman through a week of closed-door hearings in which she has been interrogated about her sexual history.

Lawyers say that the sexual-history questioning is likely to continue through May. A trial date has not yet been set.

— Media glare at Bryant trial falls on rape complaint from The Globe and Mail

(That’s right. This is the pre-trial. This shit will be going on for months to come.)

Here is a simple guide for whether it is legitimate to use a woman’s sexual history in a rape trial. It’s not difficult; it just consists of a single question. Does this woman’s sexual history include a history of false rape charges? No? Then shut the fuck up. It has nothing to do with the trial. Citing it can have no possible purpose other than to humiliate the alleged victim and prejudice the judge and jury. In a high-profile case such as Bryant’s, they have the additional effect of unleashing hordes of cretinous goons to harass, defame, and threaten to hurt or murder the alleged victim. Whether or not the sexual assault charges turn out to be true, that’s an incredibly cynical, sleazy, unethical, and probably completely illegal way to conduct a defense. (Meanwhile, faced with this wholesale contempt for Colorado’s rape shield law, the judge seems to be stifling a yawn.)

The trial, at this point, would already be a farce if it weren’t so damn appalling; an immediate mistrial should be declared and the case should be reassigned to a different judge who is actually able to control the court-room.

Or perhaps not: his lawyers are unlikely to let up on their scorched-earth assault, and as it turns out, even if Bryant is convicted, he may not even go to prison:

If he is found guilty, Mr. Bryant, 25, could face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

Based on what he’s done in the court-room so far, and the possibility that he could be found guilty without any serious consequences resulting,
I’m increasingly beginning to think that we should just give up on the whole damn thing. Just give up and release Kobe—right into the middle of a large and well-armed Take Back The Night march. It would save everyone a lot of trouble, and it would make some great reality TV.

Supporting Our Troops

Photo of President Bush's Photo-Op with a fake turkey

This turkey is fake.

Hey, remember that allegedly heartwarming Thanksgiving visit that President Bush gave the soldiers stationed in Baghdad? You know, back when he snuck into Baghdad like a thief in the night so that he could show the men and women in uniform (and, in a complete coincidence that obviously had nothing at all to do with the decision, several newspaper photographers and FOX News television cameras) just how much he Supports Our Troops?

At the time, I mused:

Why are we supposed to feel good about it? Because he made a very public and very scripted show of supporting the troops which consisted of a whopping three hours with 600 (no doubt carefully selected) troops?

But such speculation and nay-saying was no doubt the result of mindless, pathological, Bush-hating cynicism. The passage of time has clearly shown just how much President Bush genuinely cares about the troops and would never ever use them as props for a cynical photo-op:

photo: George W. Bush

What did you think about President Bush’s Thanksgiving visit to Iraq?

I was there when President Bush came to the [Baghdad] airport. The day before, you had to fill out a questionnaire and answer questions, that would determine whether they would allow you in the room with the President.

What was on the questionnaire?

Do you support the president?

Really!

Yes.

Members of the military were asked whether they support the president politically?

Yes. And if the answer was not a gung-ho, A-1, 100 percent yes, then you were not allowed into the cafeteria. You were not allowed to eat the Thanksgiving meal that day. You had an MRE.

About this questionnaire, it raises a serious question about whether military personnel, or civil servants for that matter, should ever be asked questions by their supervisors about their political beliefs. It also raises the whole question of freedom of speech. In particular, the circumstances under which members of the military have freedom of speech.

There is none.

Is a soldier free, for example, to speak to the media if it is in support of the president and his policies, but not free to do so if in opposition or if raising uncomfortable questions?

If you are spouting good things about the president, you are allowed to speak. If you are saying anything negative, you are not allowed to speak.

— Unknown Soldier Speaks Out To Bring Troops Home, from Intervention Magazine.

Bush-Cheney ‘04: defending the nation against sagging approval ratings; supporting the troops that support us politicially.

Rad Geek People’s Daily Too Hot for Google?

So I had this $25.00 gift certificate for Google AdWords, and — foolish me — thought that I might use it to advertise my site. After a few hours in the big leagues, however, I got this e-mail greeting in my mailbox:

Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2004 14:12:57 -0800
From: <adwords-support@google.com>
To: …
Subject: Your Google AdWords Approval Status

Hello Charles,

Thank you for advertising with Google AdWords. After reviewing your account, I have found that one or more of your ads or keywords does not meet our guidelines. The results are outlined in the report below.

SUGGESTIONS:

-> Content: At this time, Google policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain language that advocates against an individual, group, or organization. As noted in our advertising terms and conditions, we reserve the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising we accept on our site.

Well, that’s fine. Google has the right to determine what they will or won’t run ads for. But I’m a bit puzzled by the application of the standards being cited. My reply:

Dear Google AdWords Team:

Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning my account with Google AdWords. While I understand that you have every right to determine what will or will not be advertised through Google, I have to confess that I’m a bit mystified by the reasons you have given here for suspending the ad campaign for my weblog, http://radgeek.com

On Tue, 23 Mar 2004 14:12:57 -0800, you wrote:

SUGGESTIONS:

-> Content: At this time, Google policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain language that advocates against an individual, group, or organization. As noted in our advertising terms and conditions, we reserve the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising we accept on our site.

Again, you’re fully within your rights to choose what you will or won’t advertise. But I’m having trouble understanding what it is on my website that constitutes language that advocates against an individual, group, or organization. Of course, my website carries a great deal of political content; and since it carries political content it contains some entries that are critical of other people and organizations. For example, lately I have carried items criticizing Samuel Huntington’s and David Brooks’ writings on immigration, condemning Virgin Airways’ plans to install urinals in the shape of women’s lips in the JFK Airport clubhouse, criticizing President Bush and condemning the terrorist bombing in Madrid, and encouraging people to attend the pro-choice march in Washington DC in April. All of these items might be construed as advocating against some individual (such as the President or David Brooks), some organization (such as Virgin Airways or al-Qaeda), or some group (such as misogynists). But what is the line between merely disagreeing with someone or some group, and presenting views in opposition to theirs, and language advocating against that person or group? I would understand if AdWords simply did not accept political ads, or ads from sites trading in political criticism. But THAT is surely not the case. Consider the following typical AdWords results from a search for the keyword republican:

“The Passion of Clinton”
and other Democratic nonsense
New & Satire: We report You despair
www.affunnystan.com

Build a Stronger America
Support the RNC and the President’s
Compassionate Conservative agenda.
www.RNC.org

The Right Wing Conspiracy
Proudly become an official member.
T-shirt, free newsletter, and books
RightWingConspiracy.org

John Ashcroft Gets Sexy?
The Ashcroft Sex Film Contest
Celebrity Judges - Win $1,000!
nerve.com/promos/videocontest

All of these sites carry strongly-worded political content, and all of them criticize specific individuals and organizations. Or consider the following AdWords search result for the keyword feminism:

Feminist Fantasies
Essays on feminism in the media,
workplace, home, and the military.
www.eagleforum.org

(This is an ad that leads directly to a page containing a great deal of advocacy against feminists as a group, and advertising a book which is devoted to the same.)

I’m not writing to suggest that these sites should be suspended. Rather, I don’t understand what the salient differences are between the content at these pages and the content at http://radgeek.com/ such that the former is acceptable content for advertisement through Google AdWords and the latter is not. Could you explain to me further why this is so—or perhaps give some specific example of the nature of the problem? If so I would be much obliged. I really appreciate the service that Google makes available through AdWords, but I don’t understand the policies and if I don’t understand them, I fear that this will leave me unable to choose to advertise events or products through your service in the future. Since I would like to have as productive a relationship with you as possible, I hope that you could either make clear to me what the problems with my site are, or — if there are not such problems — reinstate the account.

Thank you very much.

Charles Johnson
Rad Geek People’s Daily

Of course, I am not an impartial observer of my own website. Is there something that I’m just not getting here? Is it because I called the President a dickhead? Is it because my recent slam on John Ashcroft wasn’t accompanied with a snarky porn video contest? What is it? If you know, help me out here—if I’m going to be too offensive to The Powers That Be to run on Google AdWords, I’d at least like to know what it is that I’m doing right….