Quick Hits

28 11 2008

1) Fascinating interview up at Salon today with Richard Rodriguez, a gay Catholic Mexican-American author, on Proposition 8 and the role of religion.  He focuses on the relationship between the feminist movement and women gaining ground and the difficulties for churches founded on a male hierarchy, the reasons why religion has focused so much on Prop 8, and the cultural treatment of gay men in Mexican-American communities.  I highly recommend you give it a read.  I think I’m going to try to get a hand on his books soon.

2) The discussion board for Round Two of the lesbian book club, focusing on Irene Gonzalez-Frei’s Your Name Written on Water, is up now.  If you read the book, please pop in and give us your thoughts!

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I am thankful for…

28 11 2008
  • The fact that I was able to exercise my right to vote, for the first time without a hitch
  • The election of a candidate that could really bring about change in this country
  • The many bloggers who are willing to stand up for things I believe in, and can articulate these causes much better than I ever could
  • Having food on the table and a roof over my head
  • Being able to challenge myself intellectually 
  • Family and friends who understand when I disappear for a couple of years without a trace
  • The ridiculous number of technological advances that make my life so much easier
  • The fact that I live in a time where I can be openly gay and not threatened, abused, or killed for it
  • The fact that I live in a country where my human rights are at least marginally secure
  • The opportunities I have to change the world
  • The amazing people who came first
  • You, and you, and you, you and you




How important is “true” canon?

14 11 2008

As you may have figured out by now, I’m a huge Tolkien nerd.  I’m trying very hard to amass all his stuff before it goes out of print, and I’m working on a massive indexing project that may one day be commercially available, or may just be my own little nerdy pet.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about canon lately.  As you may know, a lot of Tolkien’s work was published posthumously by Christopher Tolkien.  J.R.R. also had a ton of notes and things, some of which are published, and there’s a published volume of letters, and all sorts of stuff.

Most people into his work have an opinion on what’s really part of the canon.  Some say that we can only count on what was published before he died, others say we can only count on what was actually published, others use notes to interpret the canon.  Of course, it doesn’t really matter all that much, because there is no Middle Earth, but in the universe in my head I’ll admit to being tempted to use whatever fits.  I happen to be of the opinion that Glorfindel in Rivendell is the same Glorfindel in Gondolin, for example.  It doesn’t bother me that Tolkien hadn’t thought of that until after he’d written the Lord of the Rings.  It was an evolving universe that was never completed, so I say it’s legit to interpret however you want to interpret, like you might do with a painting or a poem.

Of course, it has to stop somewhere.  I’m not particularly interested in Quenya poems by some dude on the street, or writings by people whose last name is not Tolkien.  And Tolkien’s own work has a lot of internal inconsistencies, but when I’m working on my indexing project I still plan to include stuff from the Histories, even though most people don’t accept that as canon except to the extent that it informs the original works and is consistent.  I’m not a literary scholar, so I don’t know how kosher that is, but I figure that if you want to know about Tolkien’s world, you want to know about everyone in it, right?





Positive and Negative Liberties: What Our Government Should Do

12 11 2008

From time to time, I get really thoughtful comments that make me want to respond a little more thoroughly than a usual quick reply, and unfortunately the WordPress system doesn’t allow for any sort of direct reply or notification.  I got one of those comments the other day from reader Teresa on this post, and so I thought I’d post my reply here.  It raises some interesting questions.

Yes, I think our descendants will be embarrassed about a number of things happening now. You bring up that there is a difference between a constitution and democracy, and that’s something most Americans probably wouldn’t think about. The Constitution lists what the government cannot do to us, while “democracy” is focused almost entirely at this time on what the government should be doing for us.

Obama has picked up FDR’s idea for a second Bill of Rights to give the country a “positive” list of what the government must do rather than what it must not do. Included in the list are things like jobs and houses and health care and education. But are those correctly labeled as “rights”? I understand a right as something natural that doesn’t impinge on another. If we guarantee everyone a satisfying job or house, then that means government must force someone else to provide it. I honestly don’t think most Americans have fully considered what Obama is proposing, or they are so stunned they don’t believe he will pursue these things.

The notion that Obama or his supporters would support the right to a job or housing or health care and construct the government machinery to strip mine the country for the resources but not the right to marry is outrageous, and I marvel still at the coalition of constituencies that gave him the election while denying this basic human right to the LGBT. Freedom and equality are not the same thing. Often they are contradictory, with freedom being the riskier, and only truly democratic ideal.

So what is a right?  The classic notion is that for someone to have a right, someone else must have a corresponding duty.  At the time of this country’s founding, the Framers were thinking about negative liberties in the context of an aggressive, intrusive imperial government.  The duty of the government was simply to stay the hell out – don’t stop people from speaking, from practicing their religion, from electing representatives.  These were freedoms from intrusion, not freedoms to a particular object.  One man’s right ended where another’s began.

But then socialism began to ascend, along with the idea of a state that has a positive duty to provide certain benefits to its citizens, whether that be health care, a living wage, or education.  People started talking about economic, social, and cultural rights.  Personally, I’m a strong believer in these rights, and in the idea that the state, to the extent of its resources, has a duty to provide them.  So my idea of rights does include jobs, houses, health care, and education, not only the “natural rights.”

Still, the “to the extent of its resources” bit is crucial.  I tend to support politicians that I think lean towards my socialist ideology, which includes providing to the citizens.  I also recognize that no politician can actually provide health care for all, quality education for all, a house for every citizen or a job for every citizen.  I think we should work towards these goals, but we don’t have the resources to achieve them.  We can’t achieve world peace, either, but does that mean that constantly working towards it is a waste of time?  I don’t think so.

I agree with Teresa, though, that it’s interesting that people would simultaneously vote for a candidate who is trying to assure everyone these positive economic, social, and cultural rights and vote against propositions that simply assure everyone the civil and political right to be left alone.  The right to marry does generally fall under positive rights, but as the Supreme Court has recognized there is a big difference between not having the resources to provide a service at all and having the resources but excluding only one group from its benefits.  I do see how this particular fight can fall into the category of government intrusion into individuals’ private lives, and I find it upsetting that the people of several states have decided this election to allow it.





On Being Out at Work and Other Thoughts

10 11 2008

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Rachel Maddow’s success, and some of that talk has involved the fact that she’s an out lesbian.  In lesbian circles, some of the talk has involved the fact that her lesbianism isn’t discussed more, and how that’s a good thing.  

I was thinking about coming out in a high profile position, because it’s a thought I’ve had in the past.  I’ve asked for advice before about disclosing my sexual orientation in relation to any possible future political role, but I’ve never felt all that serious about the question.  The fact is that I am out, and I’m never not going to be out, and I’m young enough to believe honestly that my orientation will not disqualify me for any serious position in an organization like the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, or others for which I’d like to work.

I do think that there is a timing thing to how people feel about being publicly out, and my guess is that more out politicians and policymakers will show up in the near future.  Some have commented on how Obama’s transition website includes a hiring policy that mentions non-discrimination based on orientation or gender identity.  I agree that that’s great.  I also expect more people to take advantage of it.

I was born smack dab in the middle of the 1980s.  I grew up in the 1990s, a time when a lot of bad stuff was happening to gay people – legislatively as well as in schools and communities – but also a time when gay people were suddenly very visible.  I know that I used to joke “he’s gay” or “she’s gay” and think gay people were gross up until 13 or 14, but I also remember seeing gay people on TV and being kind of silently curious.  Not with relation to myself, but gay people seemed glamorous and interesting.  The image I recall is of shirtless men in cut-off shorts with cool haircuts holding hands in California or somewhere.  I have no idea whether it was the news or a TV show or what, but gay seemed at least borderline acceptable.

The beauty of my generation’s timing is that we had some inkling that gays were coming out of the woodwork, and that gay just might be a bad thing, but we were young enough not to know about those bad things that were happening.  Anita Bryant and AIDS panic didn’t mean anything to me, really.  By the time I found out just how bad things are for homosexuals in our country, I was an out and proud lesbian.  Even through my teenage and college years, I honestly believed that though there was discrimination in my home region, this country generally was starting to really accept gays.  I believed that gay rights had come a long way and that we were pretty much home free.  A lot of that comes from the fact that allies in my parents’ generation, including my parents, have the impression that gay rights have come a very long way, and they have a point.  My mom recognizes that we have a way to go, but she grew up in a time where there would be no way to have a job and be openly gay at the same time.  

I was thinking about Harvey Milk, and the openly gay Durham councilman whose name I can’t remember, and the few scattered gay and lesbian politicians.  I think that there will be more.  Everytime I hear about a gay person in politics, I’m shocked.  I’m used to gay actors and singers by now, but politics is a new playing field.  I think we’re slowly beginning to inhabit it, because we do have non-discrimination policies, and we have people who are willing to hire us.  And then there are people like me, who just don’t think anything of it anymore when we “come out.”  We see ourselves as already out.  A classmate the other day told me that he couldn’t believe my courage for coming out in class the other day, and I was confused.  I had mentioned my own orientation as a tangent to make a point, and didn’t think anything of it.  I am gay.  Nothing’s going to change that, and I wouldn’t want anything to.

Still, I recognize the challenges behind us and the challenges ahead.  I think of the Southern minister who did so much selfless work for his community and was unable to share his sexual orientation during his lifetime because people wouldn’t get it.  I think of a mentor who couldn’t disclose his orientation as a public school teacher in North Carolina because non-discrimination policy or no, it wasn’t worth the risk.  I think of the high school friend who was beaten to within an inch of his life because it never occurred to him to seek closets when there was a wide open stage and an audience waiting to witness his talent.  To me, being open about who I am is no great heroic act, but I recognize that to some it is a struggle, and to others an insurmountable obstacle.  I hope that the openness and tolerance of some men and women will allow me to gain a position where I can effect change one day, so that other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people are able to seek employment or public office without even giving a thought to whether disclosure is prudent.  

I found it difficult to be optimistic on Wednesday morning, when I watched our rights wash away with the coming of the tide, but this is a new week, and I’m ready to put my best foot forward.  Two steps forward, one step back, but eventually that amounts to progress.

I close with a snippet from a friend’s e-mail.  I hope he won’t mind my sharing:

My great great grandmother was a slave, my great grandmother was a sharecropper in Louisiana, my grandmother got an eighth grade education in segregated schools and worked in the cafeteria of the “Black high school” in Lafayette, LA, my mother went to the segregated “Black high school” in Lafayette, LA and I went to the high school in the same building that was built as the segregated “Black high school” Alexandria, LA. I never imagined I’d see a day like Tuesday, 5 November 2008. And yet, it happened in my lifetime.

Yes it did.  And I have hope that many more great things will happen in mine.





Democracy, Constitutionalism, and Where Gay Marriage Fits In

7 11 2008

I’ve been writing a seminar paper on the democracy deficit in international law and arguing that the system can be legitimate without democracy because constitutionalism (and some other things) fill the void.  I was thinking about the whole California issue last night and it occurred to me that it raises similar questions.  Of course, we’re all raised to think that democracy is great and wonderful and special, but it does have its problems.  One of those is that internationally, we tend to not accept democracy if it doesn’t get us the “right” leader.  We don’t have that problem so much at home, but democracy doesn’t always work so well nonetheless.  There’s a tension between “tyranny of the majority” and “tyranny of the minority.”  Those of us who are gay or lesbian don’t feel so hot about the majority ruling on our rights, after all.  We want to say that no matter what the majority of Californians think, it’s just not right.  On the other hand, Californians in favor of the Proposition don’t like the idea of a minority of gay people, and the justices in kahootz with them, deciding what marriage is.  As biased as I am, there are points on both sides.

A constitution is supposed to be a document that reflects a society’s fundamental principles.  Of course, at the start, it was a democratic instrument, and it can be altered, but we have to sacrifice a teeny bit of the democratic element to protect vulnerable minorities and ensure that certain basic principles aren’t just vetoed.  That’s why constitutions are so difficult to amend.  There’s an argument coming out now, which I think is a good one, that Prop 8 is invalid because California has two different types of amendment processes and the ballot initiative one isn’t supposed to be used for amendments that fundamentally alter the existing nature of the constitution.  I think this is a good idea, because the whole point of a constitution is to protect against temporary political surges.  The amendment process is supposed to say “hey, are you sure you want to do this?”  A simple majority vote doesn’t quite achieve that.  

I understand the whole “judges legislating” argument, but let’s remember one of the key purposes of judges – to uphold individual freedoms.  The thing about equality is, it benefits everyone.  And this may bug some of us, some of the time.  But on the whole, it’s a good principle.  It protects straight people, too.  Despite what some may think, it wouldn’t be constitutional for schools, for example, to promote gay marriage over straight marriage, or homosexuality over heterosexuality.  

Sometimes I’m uncomfortable with my anti-democratic ideas, because a constitution could of course enshrine principles that are oppressive.  But I don’t think this is an issue when it comes to equal protection. I think equal protection on the whole, works well, and the discrimination Californians are trying to enshrine in their constitution is based on bare animus towards a politically unpopular group – something the Supreme Court has rejected, and I think most Americans would reject (even Californians, if you put it in general terms).  The problem is the cultural moment, and we’ve had many cultural moments in our history like this one, which we’ve eventually gotten past.  As one blogger said recently, in 20 years we’re going to be embarrassed about this.





2008 Election Liveblogging

4 11 2008

Oh, why not?  All the cool kids are doing it. 

Since I’m lame and go to bed early and can’t attend any parties, I’m going to celebrate here with you and CNN.com.  I’ll be checking the results there all night until I turn in, and updating this post regularly with my thoughts and commentary.  Be sure to check back periodically for updates, or tomorrow morning for my thoughts on the results.

5:44 pm CST: First exit polls out.  The economy is the most important issue.  Um… Surprise?  No, no, we want to know who you voted for, folks!  I’m also curious about the massive Republican vote suppression effort that was planned.  Did it happen?  I was supposed to do voter protection today, but due to an extremely frustratingly uncoordinated Obama campaign (more on that in a later post) I wasn’t given an assignment.  Some friends did get to do it, so I’m anxious to hear how many challenges there were.

6:42 pm CST: I like how CNN calls Vermont for Obama with zero percent of precincts reporting.  Classy.  I’ve decided there’s no way I can handle watching the CNN.com live video.  If I thought CNN itself could be annoying, these guys are total amateurs.  Just refreshing the results on the website is much better.

7:01 pm CST: CNN is being a little sloppy.  They’ve got blues and reds around the map but haven’t updated Obama’s electoral count, just McCain.  Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma going red – no big surprises.  Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and miscellaneous New England states blue, also not so shocking.  I have to wonder, if they’re going to call so many with no precincts reporting, why even wait for polls to close to call it?  There’s really no point.  And also, with Florida for example having something like 37% voting early or absentee and Iowa in the forties, what do tonight’s results really mean?  They’d better count the early votes, because they could actually decide it in some states.

7:31 pm CST: This isn’t very exciting.  I’m considering watching the West Wing (just got the entire series from Amazon) while I wait.

7:41 pm CST: CNN’s called PA for Obama.  That’s a big one.  Obama’s slightly ahead so far in NC but only 13% reporting.  McCain’s ahead by about the same amount in VA and nearly half precincts reporting.  Indiana also nearly half reporting, McCain just slightly ahead.  Florida same situation and Obama slightly ahead.  Getting interesting now.  I think it’s kind of funny that NC might go blue and VA red, though we do have a lot of liberals in the cities.  I suspect youth turn-out is particularly important with all the universities.  Why oh why did I switch my registration?  Didn’t get to caucus and IA isn’t even a swing state anymore!  My personal election experiences have so far all been bad.  Anyway, the numbers I’m really curious about are Measure 11 and Prop 8, and of course I probably won’t see the latter before bedtime.  Think it’s time for that West Wing to soothe the nerves since I’m too tired for wine.

8:22 pm CST: Well, the West Wing is still brilliant.  As for the election, Virginia’s narrowed to a one-percent margin.  Do they have early voting?  NC has also narrowed to four percent, though.  It looks like Democrats are picking up at least four new Senate seats and Republicans none so far.  Hagan’s got ten percent on Dole, and I am thrilled about that.  I can’t imagine a Democratic woman in Jesse’s seat.  Never thought I’d live to see the day.  Perdue’s ahead in North Carolina, though CNN’s not calling it yet.  I’d love to see her as governor.  The bad news is that it looks like Florida’s gonna ban gay marriage.  Measure 11 is No by 10% right now, but too few precincts reporting to know anything.

9:05 pm CST: Officially blogging from my warm cosy bed now.  NC and VA are the states I’m really watching.  VA has just crept up to Obama ahead 50 to 49 and NC has narrowed to the same 50 to 49.  I have a feeling those are going to have to count absentees and we won’t know for a few days.  Obama’s still ahead by 3% in Florida.  If CNN’s right on some of the ones they called quickly though, he won’t even need the swing states.  They’ve given him 206 electoral votes already, McCain 89.  They’ve called Ohio for Obama, incidentally.  Mom says the actual television CNN is predicting a big lead for Obama in Iowa.  Definitely looks like Hagan’s in, though Perdue’s lead is narrowing.  Measure 11 No still ahead by 10%, and Florida abortion ban still pretty likely to pass.  I’m getting rather weary, so probably to bed in half an hour for me and you’ll hear from me again in the morning.

9:37 pm CST: Last update from me for the evening.  I’m feeling good.  It looks like Obama’s won it, and it looks like we’re going to do well in the House and Senate as well.  Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing about the one I’m most interested in (Prop 8), but we’ll see tomorrow.  CNN has called 54 Democratic seats for the Senate, which is fabulous news.  Obama’s up by two percent in VA right now and down by one in NC.  Come on, home state!  You can do it!  Obama ahead by two percent in Florida, McCain by one in Indiana.  Dead even in Missouri but less than fifty percent reporting.  I’m glad the anxiety’s going to be over soon.  I need my beauty rest!

Happy Election to all, and to all a good night.

6:28 am CST: So I should be happy, right?  Obama won by a landslide.  But he pretty much won the states he was expected to, with NC apparently still too close to call.  And there are other good things.  It looks like we picked up about seven seats in the Senate and about eighteen in the house.  Perdue’s the governor and Hagan beat out Libby Dole.  The Democrats won for House and Senate here by a landslide.  South Dakota defeated Measure 11 by ten percent, which I admit is pretty awesome, and California also said no to abortion limits. 73% of Coloradoans said that life does not begin at conception.  But folks, I cannot celebrate.  Because it breaks my heart that Californians have banned gay marriage, as have Arizonans and Floridians, and that Arkansas has banned gay adoption.  This election gave me a moment of hope, but that hope is extinguished.  We really are second-class citizens, aren’t we?  I’m not sure I believe that’s ever going to change.  It may get worse.  It’s hard for me to be proud to be an American, when American isn’t proud of me.