Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Off The Deep End We Go

Greeting programs! Blah blah Facebook, blah humor, blah angry. Seriously, I was thinking of joining Reddit to get a steady stream of things to write about, but Facebook keeps me hopping so much I'm surprised I don't have an aneurysm whenever I see the logo.
Pictured: Rage boner Viagra. (Source.)
Now, I'm going to do something I almost never do. I'm going to warn you, up front, that this post is highly controversial and in-depth. I'm going, in the next few lines, to give you massive spoilers by way of offering you the opportunity to run screaming. Mark your calendar.

I'm going to be talking about pedophilia, child molestation, and a bit about rape. A friend posted this article on Facebook a few days ago. It is filled with lies, sensationalism, and attacks on people who are actually doing some fairly decent things. But!

I understand that this is one of those topics that is nearly impossible to view objectively long enough to see the value of their work. I understand that these topics are bad triggers for some of my readers. So, with no rancor and no name-calling on my part, stop reading if you need to. I will not have panic attacks on my conscience. Have a kitten to see you on your way.

If you're still here, onward.

I'm going to ease into this by first apprising you of Minor's credibility. The article in question was written for/published by For those who don't know, WorldNetDaily is a "news source" focused on "neoconservative news." Also, conspiracy theory. 

Yeah. It's a tabloid that occasionally reports news. Remember all those crazy "Obama needs to release his birth certificate to prove he's American" stories running around? WND led the charge. Their ticker on their site, when I looked just now to get the link up there, listed a story about Christian persecution, two Ben Ghazi stories, a 9/11 story, a "defund Obamacare" get the idea. So, to be clear, this is not a reputable news source. If you want some deeper analysis on why I hold WND to be less than reputable, here's an article about this same general area, from ConWeb, a blog/news analysis site that focuses on conservative alternative news sources. To be clear, it's critic site, not a news source in itself. But at least the guy who edits it comes right out and says that. So, YMMV.

Next up: Minor's writing style. Minor does a number of things that make me cringe, not least of which is that he does not cite his sources consistently. In print, short citing or "common knowledge" claims can be used validly and sparingly, because print has limited space available. But when you're writing online and making serious claims of value and intent, I should not have to hunt your sources down for myself. Seriously, go look at a CNN online story sometime. You can barely read for the links taking you to reams of fact-checked evidence they're covering their ass with. And they rarely use content that isn't immediately available in archives accessible to the public. 

Why would you short cite in an online story? Well, in this case, so you can lie outrageously and twist your sources words to make them fit your story. At no point, and this is my next squick with Minor, does he present full and accurate quotes. 

In fact, Minor does the opposite. He writes around the quotes to create a misleading context so that the bits he quotes come off as having a new meaning. That's yellow journalism, plain and simple. 

Alright, we've sufficiently caught our breath. Let's get into the uncomfortable part.

The article in question makes a variety of claims, and does so by smearing a number of reputable and intelligent people who are actually working in the opposite direction of the "let them have the children" scare tactics being spouted by Minor. We'll take them in no particular order here. 

Of this organization, Minor says the following:
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. A group of psychiatrists with B4U-Act recently held a symposium proposing a new definition of pedophilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders of the APA. 
B4U-Act  calls pedophiles “minor-attracted people.” The organization’s website states its purpose is to, “help mental health professionals learn more about attraction to minors and to consider the effects of stereotyping, stigma and fear.”
The implication is that B4UACT is seeking the decriminalization of child molestation. This was, by the by, one of the first moments I realized that Minor's article was seriously hinky, but for the wrong reasons. At the time, I took the implications at face value, and assumed the organization was akin to NAMBLA. And the APA agreeing with such an organization on anything definitive strikes me as ludicrous.

NAMBLA, for those that don't know, is the North American Man Boy Love Association. They are the butt of many jokes, none of them funny. Because those jokes are also mostly accurate. NAMBLA believes that child molestation should be legalized. Full stop, no joke. And we're going to leave it at that because taking NAMBLA apart is another article entirely.

Here's a link to B4UACT's mission statement, which I will paraphrase:

They want to make mental health care available to pedophiles for the purpose of helping these individuals to control their urges. They want to remove the stigma of seeking that help, because pedophiles who fear seeking assistance are more likely to become child molesters. They do not want to decriminalize child molestation. They want to increase availability of the help pedophiles need to prevent them from harming children. 

That's a freaking laudable goal. That's something I think we could all get behind. When someone consistently suffers from suicidal or homicidal urges, we make therapy available to them post-haste. When someone has pedophile urges, we promptly vilify them and tell them to fuck off and die. How does that help anyone?

Scaring people who need help away from therapy does not help them or their potential victims. It does nothing but force individuals who are at risk for harming children to live in secrecy and fear, which in turn increases the potential that they will tip over into actually harming kids.

So spouting vitriol at an organization that seeks to get these people help earlier, more openly, and in a way that does not send them fleeing from therapy is disgusting and vile. 

Next up: IASHS —  

The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality is exactly what it says on the tin. They study sex. As a way of discrediting one Milton Diamond, who we will get to in a moment, Minor paints them in the following light:
The IASHS lists, on its website, a list of “basic sexual rights” that includes “the right to engage in sexual acts or activities of any kind whatsoever, providing they do not involve nonconsensual acts, violence, constraint, coercion or fraud.” Another right is to, “be free of persecution, condemnation, discrimination, or societal intervention in private sexual behavior” and “the freedom of any sexual thought, fantasy or desire.” The organization also says that no one should be “disadvantaged because of  age.”
Taken together and presented without context, this seems fairly damning. Unfortunately for Minor, here's the actual "basic sexual rights" list.
The ethical guidelines for the Institute are based on the belief that sexual rights are human rights.

1. The freedom of any sexual thought, fantasy or desire.
2. The right to sexual entertainment, freely available in the marketplace, including sexually explicit materials dealing with the full range of sexual behavior. 
3. The right not to be exposed to sexual material or behavior. 
4. The right to sexual self-determination. 
5. The right to seek out and engage in consensual sexual activity. 
6. The right to engage in sexual acts or activities of any kind whatsoever, providing they do not involve nonconsensual acts, violence, constraint, coercion or fraud. 
7. The right to be free of persecution, condemnation, discrimination, or societal intervention in private sexual behavior. 
8. The recognition by society that every person, partnered or unpartnered, has the right to the pursuit of a satisfying consensual sociosexual life free from political, legal or religious interference and that there need to be mechanisms in society where the opportunities of sociosexual activities are available to the following: disabled persons; chronically ill persons; those incarcerated in prisons, hospitals or institutions; those disadvantaged because of age, lack of physical attractiveness, or lack of social skills; and the poor and the lonely. 
9. The basic right of all persons who are sexually dysfunc-tional to have available nonjudgmental sexual health care.

10. The right to control conception.
That's so heavily sprinkled with CYA and references to consent, there's very little way to take it wrong. You'd literally have to be obtuse to miss the fact that they're very much against rape, molestation, and abuse in all forms. I made the part that Minor drew most of his quote from bold, just to draw your attention to the fact that in context it makes perfect sense. It refers not to youth, but to age as a sexual handicap. Since youth is a driving sexual force in our culture (legal youth, not minors) age as a handicap means an older person.  "Disadvantaged by age" doesn't mean "my partner is a minor" it means, "I'm getting older and no one wants to have sex with me."

So no, the IASHS isn't a ravening den of hedonistic barbarians lolling about in their debauchery, it's a group of scientists and researchers that happen to study sex, and want to advance cultural and social understanding and acceptance of said topic.

"Oh, but think of the children!" says Strawman Schmoe. "We can't have kids learning that sex is ok! Abstinence is the only way!" 

Welp, I'd like to point out that according to third party studies, abstinence does jack shit for teen pregnancy rates, as opposed to comprehensive sexual education. Given that, as my sister is fond of screaming about, the current platform of the loudest voices on the conservative side advocates a strict limitation of women's reproductive rights and a cut to services for those who are in financial need (like, say, single teen moms) I'd have to say that IASHS is thinking of the children. As in, doing their best to prevent instances of pregnancy that lead to abortion, by advancing understanding of policy based on teaching kids how not to get pregnant.

"But that will lead to sexual permissiveness!" Schmoe wails. 

Wake up. It's already here. You want to reverse the trend? Stop preaching hellfire, and start preaching commitment, personal responsibility, an open approach to sex that makes it less taboo (and therefore less appealing to a rebellious kid that wants a way to exercise control outside the boundaries of parental relationships.) In short, stop demonizing and glorifying sex. If it's just something that can happen, instead of this dark and mysterious rite of adulthood, we might make some headway towards teaching kids that "hey, maybe you should hold off on this."

But I digress. Mostly because we're about to get into the parts that will take some serious splainin', Lucy.

Milton Diamond —

Ahh, Dr. Diamond. Your positions, they make my life so hard. Here's what Minor has to say about Diamond:
Milton Diamond, a University of Hawaii professor and director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society, stated that child pornography could be beneficial to society because, “Potential sex offenders use child pornography as a substitute for sex against children.”
Oy. Ok, here's the part that's going to make you scream: Diamond actually did say that, although it was taken out of context to make it far more inflammatory than the actual statement as printed in the study Minor is quoting. 

Issues surrounding child pornography and child sex abuse are probably among the most contentious in the area of sex issues and crime. In this regard we consider instructive our  findings for the Czech Republic that have echoed those found in Denmark (Kutchinsky, 1973) and Japan (Diamond & Uchíyama, 1999) that where so-called child-pornography was readily available without restriction the incidence of child sexual abuse was lower than when its availability was restricted. As with adult pornography appearing to substitute for sexual aggression everywhere it has been investigated, we believe the availability of child porn does similarly. We believe this particularly since the findings of Weiss (2002) have shown that a substantial portion of child sex abuse instances seemed to occur, not because of pedophilic interest of the abuser, but because the child was used as a substitute subject. 
We do not approve of the use of real children in the production or distribution of child pornography but artificially produced materials might serve. As it is, with restrictions on even materials for the scientific study of the phenomenon forbidden to all but police enforcement agencies, these real life studies are the only way to begin to understand the phenomenon. Unfortunately, we do not have a breakdown by age of the perpetrators or victims of sex abuse. With the new Czech Republic law against child pornography, however, analysis of  findings over the next 5-10 years could show if this new prohibition against child pornography is correlated with an increase or decrease in sex crimes against children or without any noticeable effect. 
Diamond,  Jozifkova, Weiss. 2009. (Emphasis inserted.)

What Milton is saying is that availability of non-harmful sources of pornography, like Poser renderings, drawings, aged adjustment software applications that reverse-age an adult, text stories, etc, that adhere to the law and do not involve actual children in the production, but depict wholly artificial creations that appear childlike may provide a release valve that could potentially decrease instances of child abuse. 

 If there's a lot of weasel words up there, it's because it's a very, very, very hypothetical proposition. Is it still disturbing? Yes. But is Diamond advocating the wide spread availability of real kiddie porn? No. He is, at the most, stating that his study suggests that artificial alternatives to harmful child pornography could, maybe, lower child abuse instances. 

Breathe, people. Scientists are supposed to push the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. And in this case, the question was, "is pornography increasing or decreasing sexual violence?" And, having determined that it seems to cause an overall decrease, Diamond points out that this may apply to all forms of pornography. He then, however, states clearly that there is no way in hell he will get behind kiddie porn as a solution to child molestation and abuse. So yeah. Breathe.

Moving on.

Drs. Vernon Quinsey and Hubert Van Gijseghem —

We're going to take these two together because Minor does. Both argue that pedophilia is an inherent sexual orientation. Full stop, no holds barred, yes they really mean it.

And I heard a great cry of fury arise from across the land.

Bear with me, ok?

Here's Van Gijseghem testifying to the Canadian Parliament as an expert witness on the treatment of pedophiles:
When we speak of therapy or when individuals get therapy and we feel as though everyone is pacified, the good news is often illusory. For instance, it is a fact that real pedophiles account for only 20% of sexual abusers. If we know that pedophiles are not simply people who commit a small [offense] from time to time but rather are grappling with what is equivalent to a sexual orientation just like another individual may be grappling with heterosexuality or even homosexuality, and if we agree on the fact that true pedophiles have an exclusive preference for children, which is the same as having a sexual orientation, everyone knows that there is no such thing as real therapy. You cannot change this person's sexual orientation.
Notice, please, that nowhere in there does he advocate acceptance of this behavior. In fact, here's Van Gijseghem himself, on his own website, addressing the controversy surrounding his statements:
In response to the article of columnist Brian Lilley “«Experts» running the asylum in Canada” (Toronto Sun, February 25), I would like to make the following statement. 
M. Lilley may have been acting in jest when he wrote that Van Gijseghem “showed up (at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights) to tell MPs pedophilia was a sexual orientation just like heterosexuality or homosexuality” 
Now, if this may look funny, this misquote got around the country and people interpret it as if Van Gijseghem is trivializing pedophilia and treating it like, as on hate-mail stated, “a normal human function” 
My argumentation before the Committee was exactly the opposite 
What I said, in sum, is the following: Real pedophiles (about 15 to 20 percent of all child sexual abusers) would better be incarcerated rather than referred to some therapy program as an alternative. The reason: they are untreatable. Why are they untreatable? Because a sexual orientation (an exclusive attraction to prepubescent children is a sexual orientation) is irreversible. 
Unlike the way Lilley’s quote was interpreted, I affirm that pedophilia is definitely a pathologic attraction and acting out this attraction is a very serious crime.

Well, let's take on Quinsey as a way of addressing what the hell this means. Quinsey sat down for an interview in the wake of the Sandusky/Penn State nightmare, and responding with the following when asked if rehabilitating pedophiles was even possible, given his view that it is an unchangeable sexual orientation:
As far as we know there is no cure for pedophilia, but people can learn to control their urges, they can avoid high-risk situations. The evidence of treatability — that is, that clinicians can lower the likelihood these guys will re-offend — is controversial. If you look at the field as a whole, there is no consensus on how effective these programs are at helping these guys control their urges. From the social policy side, you have to do something. And one of the things we can do—and do quite well, in fact—is to assess the risk that pedophiles have of re-offending  And that risk varies substantially. Some guys are very likely to re-offend and some guys are not, and we can measure that. So that gives us a tool that allows us to determine what kind of supervision people might require to avoid re-offending, and how much attention we should pay to their risk.
Short story short? Quinsey and Van Gijseghem are not of the opinion that pedophilia should receive widespread acceptance; they are of the opinion that we're treating it wrong. By treating it as a "curable" condition, the need for the kind help that B4UACT advocates is obscured. Basically: pedophiles suffer from a serious, non-alterable condition, and slapping a palliative on it so we can be seen to be doing something helps no-one.

Are you angry right now? Are you thinking some variation of, "just burn the fuckers and let god sort it out. What kind of sick bastard would want to have sex with a kid?"

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but the sick kind. As in, the brain is not wired right. As in, this is a hard-wired condition that we have been treating wrong all along. So put your vitriol down for a second and consider the following:

Most pedophiles don't ever touch a child in an abusive way. Most, not some, not a few, most. Look back up at Diamond's study for a clue:
We believe this particularly since the findings of Weiss (2002) have shown that a substantial portion of child sex abuse instances seemed to occur, not because of pedophilic interest of the abuser, but because the child was used as a substitute subject.

That means, in plain English, that many child abusers abuse children because children are vulnerable, not because the abuser is a pedophile. Remember how rape isn't about sex, it's about power? Well, it's harder to find a more powerless victim than a child.

To make this absolutely clear: pedophile does not always equal child molester.

What it does mean is that there are people who spend every day of their lives actively working not to hurt children. In the face of biological imperative. It also means that when such people reach out for help, they get slapped down for being "evil."

To put that in perspective, again, if I'm having severe homicidal rage issues and I go to a psychologist to get help controlling it, I will be lauded for accepting that I have a problem and need help. If a pedophile admits he needs help controlling himself, we, to say this again, tell them to fuck off and die.

How, precisely, does that protect anyone?

Onwards, then.

Rep. Alcce Hastings (D-FL) —

Minor's words:
Pedophilia has already been granted protected status by the Federal Government. The Matthew Shephard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act lists “sexual orientation” as a protected class; however, it does not define the term. 
Republicans attempted to add an amendment specifying that “pedophilia is not covered as an orientation;” however, the amendment was defeated by Democrats. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fl) stated that all alternative sexual lifestyles should be protected under the law. “This bill addresses our resolve to end violence based on prejudice and to guarantee that all Americans, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability or all of these ‘philias’ and fetishes and ‘isms’ that were put forward need not live in fear because of who they are. I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of this rule.”
Right, then. First off, it's entirely possible Hastings said this. I can only find non-creditable sources reporting this story. And by non-creditable, yes, I do mean far-right-wing. Before anyone yells, you'll note that I don't use ThinkProgress or similar super-liberal/far-left sources. If I'm citing news, that article sure as the hell better come from a news source.

Let's just take this one as pure analysis, then. First off, the declaration that the Shepard-Byrd Act grants protected status to pedophilia, by way of listing sexual orientation as a protected class.

I give you: the Americans With Disabilities Act, which lays out the law for discrimination on basis of disability (including mental disability):

ec. 12211. Definitions
(a) Homosexuality and bisexuality
For purposes of the definition of "disability" in section 12102(2) of this title, homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and as such are not disabilities under this chapter.
(b) Certain conditions
Under this chapter, the term "disability" shall not include
(1) transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;
(2) compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or
(3) psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

Ayup. The foremost piece of anti-discrimination legislation in the US today specifically excludes pedophilia. Now, that's not Shepard-Byrd up there, I know. And that's because Shepard-Byrd is hate crime legislation. That is, it codifies that crimes committed due to perception or actuality of sexual orientation or gender identity are to be prosecuted as hate crimes.

What does that mean for pedophiles? Well, essentially, if (big if) pedophilia were to be recognized as a sexual orientation under the law, it would be illegal to beat up or harm a pedophile for the sole reason of their being a pedophile. It would not, and I want to stress this, not make child molestation legal.

Look at it this way: I'm gay. Being gay is protected under Shepard-Byrd in that if someone attacks me for being gay, they get charged with a hate crime, rather than a regular assault.

It doesn't mean I can rape people with impunity. Because that's ridiculous, right?

On that note, it is physically and psychologically impossible for a child molester's victim to give informed consent. Definitively speaking, that means that sex with a child is always rape. Always.

Rape, in case you've failed to notice, is wildly screamingly illegal, and will never be legal because it involves the act of violating a person through coercion or force, expressly without their consent.

Bluntly put: kids can't consent to be raped. So it will never be legal. Period.

One last source to address:

Linda Harvey, Mission America —

Minor uses Harvey as a supporting quote for his side, printing the following:
Linda Harvey, of Mission America, said the push for pedophiles to have equal rights will become more and more common as LGBT groups continue to assert themselves. “It’s all part of a plan to introduce sex to children at younger and younger ages; to convince them that normal friendship is actually a sexual attraction.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mission America. No really. That's his supporting source. A far-right Christian Supremacist activist who penned the following short article:
If You Support "Gay Marriage," You Also Support...
  • The aggressive promotion of homosexuality and gender change as good and worthy to our children, and any opposing views in schools, community groups, and children's media falsely portrayed as evil and eventually banned by law. 
  • The continued rise in the numbers of people living with HIV as 25,000 or more people are infected each year (the current trend) through male/male homosexual sex, with a particular spike among younger males, because our politically-correct public health system won't take aggressive action to discourage it, since it will be part of "dating." 
  • An immediate increase in incidents where Christians or conservatives are threatened or sued for expressing any disagreement with homosexuality or "gay marriage" in the workplace, in schools, in the press, or eventually, in churches. 
  • Younger and greater numbers of youth claiming a "gay" identity, and then acting on that identity. 
  • Churches silencing themselves on the sin of homosexuality, then the opposite: being encouraged to sell their congregations, including youth, on the idea. 
  • Resisters who continue to speak out will eventually be prosecuted, perhaps serve jail terms. 
Is this what you want? Most people can see how harmful and unjust all these outcomes would be if they happened. Yet these trends are already starting. So isn't it time to start trusting God and believing His word, that homosexual behavior is never beneficial but always a sin?

Let those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, believe the truth.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Harvey is not an authoritative source on legal matters. Harvey is, to be blunt, a social commentator in the vein of Falwell, Robertson, and Coulter. She has a specific agenda, and her comment falls right in line with it. Harvey is not reporting a trend, or analysing a legal point; she's stating her opinion, based on a belief that the inherently sinful nature of homosexuality equates it to pedophilia.

Alright then. We've come this far, and now, down here at the bottom of all this analysis, let's have some conclusions, shall we?

Conclusion the first:

Lying, distorting the truth, and using scare tactics to achieve a political goal based on pure personal belief divorced from reasonable accounting for legality and the actual intent and opinions of one's sources is a vicious and disgusting way to avoid the knowledge that the basis of our legal system and society is a secular median point under which non-harmful behavior that your code of faith objects to may one day be legal.

Short version: this is a bastard way to try and use fear to attack LGBT rights, because religion is not and cannot be a part of the political process.

To clarify, no I'm not saying Christians have no right to vote for their beliefs. I'm saying that we have a secular legal system that recognizes freedom of religion, but because of that, cannot be shaped by religion. If you wouldn't accept Buddhism, Islam, or Neo-Pagan values as being the guiding principles for society, you can't argue that Christian values should either. So yes, in cases where those values are the main opposing force for a legal recognition of a secular value, the non-secular values are probably going to lose eventually. I'm not attacking your beliefs, but for the system to be fair, that's how it has to work.

Conclusion the second:

Pedophilia may be a non-alterable sexual orientation. If that's the case, then the model for helping these people, and I mean helping them not to hurt kids, needs a vast overhaul. I've covered this extensively here, so I'm moving on.

Conclusion the third:

It's going to be pointed out that I'm advocating abstinence in the face of sexual orientation for pedophiles, should it be clearly shown that pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It will be further shouted from the rooftops that I am a huge hypocrite for advocating such, while arguing against it in the case of homosexual and bisexual individuals.

<ludicrous precision>

I have sex with adult, consenting males. I further, just to drive in on this, have a mandatory dating policy; a mandatory STD testing policy for all parties involved including me; and a mandatory policy that sexual acts will not occur under the influence of mind altering substances, including alcohol. My having sex is not harmful to my partners, and as my having sex with my partners does not affect anyone but myself and my partners, it is possible for me to ethically say that there is no reason to insist on abstinence as a "solution" to my not having a heterosexual orientation. I can further state that consenting acts between informed adults can be ethically engaged in regardless of the genders, sexual identities, or gender identities of the individuals involved.

Anyone that takes the above statement to include incest will be shot at dawn by mind bullets fueled by rage. Incest is a complex issue that cannot be fully and responsibly addressed by a single-paragraph claim of definition. While I personally believe that incest is psychologically damaging and therefore non-ethical behavior, I lack a grounding in research to make that statement qualitatively.

Should it be shown that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, then pedophiles who have sex along the lines of their orientation would be raping children. There is no correlation between pedophilia and homosexuality, beyond the fact that they may both be considered orientations at some point, should pedophilia be shown to be an orientation. One can be ethically acted on, the other cannot.

</ludicrous precision>

So bite me.

Final conclusion:

A claim that pedophilia as sexual orientation is a valid reason to avoid pursuing LGBT civil rights is vile on a number of levels. It presupposes a 1:1 correlation between the urge to have non-consensual sex with children, and the urge to have consenting sex with an adult of one's own gender.

It relies on misinformation and distortion of the truth to function, usually by smearing the work of those who are seeking to achieve a deeper understanding of how to help pedophiles deal with their urges safely.

It draws vilification to pedophiles, and obscures a potential need for a new system of treatment and support that may be necessary to aid pedophiles with their control, thus obscuring a strong possibility to further help and safeguard children.

And finally, it shows the worst kind of mind: the kind of mind that will threaten your children, even if only by proxy, to intimidate you into agreeing with them.

Bottom line, folks:

When you hear the slippery slope argument applied to pedophiles, stop and think. That person isn't warning you about a possible dark future. That person is threatening you, lying to you, and standing in the way of help that might one day protect your children.

And that, dear readers, is the kind of "agenda" we should fear and oppose.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Manners And You

Hello again, kiddies. As I have utterly failed to mention, I recently re-entered the customer service industry. And I have a few things I'd like to bring to your attention. Now, it could be argued that in the face of the important cultural issues and raw stupidity I normally address, simple manners are a bit of a comedown. But frankly, given that society is essentially a listing of prearranged behaviors we all agree to adhere to, it's a subject I think we should elevate.

First things first: what are manners?

Hint: not this. This is pretentious bullshit. (Source.)
Everyone has a different idea of what good manners and bad manners are, and even things we might assume are common can vary from person to person. So, at their most basic, Merriam-Webster defines manners in this context as habitual conduct or deportment. In other words, behavior that's a habit.

Well, that's unhelpful. At least, to those who want a list or definition of which behaviors are acceptable. Take swearing, for example. I love to swear. I swear frequently. There's just something about a nice f-bomb that punctuates and clarifies a sentence. I mean really, compare these:

"I find that statement/course of action/line of thinking/suggestion reprehensible/nasty/unpleasant/disagreeable/uncomfortable."

"Fuck you."

It's succinct, it makes a clear statement, and should confusion arise there's a firm basis of intent. And it's multipurpose; depending on the tone and body language of the person swearing, and the context surrounding the statement, it can be humorous, angry, frustrated, gets a lot done for two words.

But swearing is impolite to most.

Or hey, how about putting your elbows on the table while eating? Supporting your upper body can take a load off the back, or allow one to lean in for a display of intimacy, or present a barrier that displays hostility...but it's often considered rude by older generations. Such things as opening a door for the opposite sex, honorifics such as Sir or Ma'am — many things can be taken as good or bad depending on who you talk to.

Who do we turn to, then? Miss MannersEmily Post? Both are considered authorities on "manners" but are actually authorities on etiquette, which is a system of behaviors designed to navigate a rigid society based on class, parentage, and upbringing. And frankly, I don't think a new caste system should be put in place simply to make use of an outdated system of behavior.

Well, damn. That's about as clear as mud then. But, having established that "good manners" is largely a meaningless statement in a modern context, I'd like to forward a proposal for a new and clear definition of good manners:

Don't be an ass.

I'm lucky enough to work in a store where the customers are fairly friendly and I don't have to deal with children very often. And, to date, those children I have dealt with have been largely intelligent and polite. My brother, on the other hand, works for McDonald's. My sister works at a mall store for bounce houses, where children can come and play in inflated structures that allow them to bounce like trampolines without the dangers. My husband works as an in-bound call tech support rep for a major cell phone company.

And you know what? People are fairly crappy about these sorts of places.

I don't care what kind of day you've had, or your child is the future president of MENSA, or you have a PhD, or whatever your excuse is. There's no good reason to be an ass to someone who is doing their job.

Take my hubby: you call tech support, but leave your phone in another state (this has happened) there's nothing he can do to fix your device. He's tech support, not a Hogwarts graduate. Tech support can fix a limited number of issues, but they do so by telling you what buttons to push. And, gods forbid, there's nothing he can do and you have to take it to a store for actual repairs? Why would you be pissed at him? He's not the one who let your five year old teethe on your $600 pocket supercomputer.

Or my brother. Yes, McDonald's occasionally gets orders wrong. Are you really going to yell at the hapless guy that takes the money and hands you food? Nine times out of ten, that guy had not a damn thing to do with your food, other than to hand it to you. And the guy that made your food certainly didn't sit down and figure out how many people he was going to screw over today before he went in to work.

Heh, yep, every third customer is getting shorted five fries,
 and I'm going to use a special algorithm to figure out which 
menu items to swap today just so I can watch the bastards turn 
that one shade of red. Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha. (Source.)
So why do your orders get messed up? Probably for the same reason mine do. Because you have to be a special snowflake and have substitutions and changes.

Corporate come through and the guy in the kitchen isn't hitting that "90 seconds from order to delivery" average ideal? He gets yelled at. So when those orders pop up on the board, he skims them, and makes what he sees. If the store is busy, or he's tired, he can totally miss the 1/8 inch high super-pixellated letters at the bottom of the order that tell him you want special considerations.

And then there's my sister. Her job is to take the money, make sure your kid has a decent time without breaking bones, keep the store clean, and keep the employees moving in some sort of orderly fashion. That's it. That's her whole job. Her job does not include catering to your every whim. Her job does not include giving you discounts because you want them. And her job certainly doesn't include letting your kids wreak havoc because you feel that little Susie or Billy should be able to express themselves freely up to and including yelling and throwing tantrums when they don't get their way.

And no amount of yelling, berating, or ass-hattery will change that.

Where am I going with this?

We all have jobs to do. Some of us, admittedly, suck at them and really shouldn't be doing them. There are customer service people that are basically wage zombies and will happily fire the first salvo of rude. There are professionals who believe they are the gods' git to the profession and treat people like ignorant scum. Doctors and lawyers who think they can be supercilious simply because you don't have the level of training they do, and therefore cannot think for yourself.

And there are also those of us who are basically decent people doing the best we can who really do want to ensure that you get the best customer experience for your buck. There are professionals who remember that "professional conduct" includes politeness. Doctors and lawyers — yes, lawyers — who understand that since you don't have the years of training they do, it might be nice if they bothered to explain what the hell they're saying with a minimum of condescension.

But either way, being a dick won't help you. In the case where someone is genuinely doing the best they can, any rudeness on your part is truly uncalled for. Again, being an ass for the sake of being an ass is ridiculous behavior for an adult. Be nice to the person who's trying to help you as best they can within the bounds of their job.

Wage zombie being an ass? Ask to speak to a manager and stay calm. Yelling won't do you any good, but calmly explaining the situation might. Professional being rude? Again, manager. Or find another, if there's no manager. A professional who's rude won't do you any good in the long run, and the time spent finding another won't kill you. Doctors, lawyers, those kinds of guys and gals? You can change both. And really should, if they're being rude.

But why not be an ass if they're an ass first?

Well, why should you?

What does being an ass get you? Will it improve the service? Do you believe you posses a magical faculty of speech that will cause the rude employee's head to spontaneously implode under the stress of your relentless rightness? Or mindbend them into obeying your will?

Gods know you're not going to instill shame. That person's mother obviously failed, so how are you going to make headway?

Bottom line here: there's no good reason to be mean to anyone at any time. But when you're grunting out steaming mounds of assholery onto a person who's doing their job in good faith to the best of their ability, you are a jackass. And, if I had my way, a slap fairy would appear and dispense sharp and stinging justice concurrent with your level of idiocy.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Here At The End of Things

You know, I was raised with the belief that the world will end any day now. And once again, I'm being told by someone that the horrible flaming Tribulations and Chastisements are upon us.

Apparently, this is because the faithful are being persecuted. At least, the faithful who matter.

I mean, the Jews have been through thousands of years of crap and misery, but the world's still here.

Africans of every descent and faith have been shot at, hunted down, kidnapped and forced in to slavery, and many still live in some of the most horrific warzones on the planet...but the world is still here.

The monks in Tibet are being persecuted horribly. The world spins on.

The Middle East has been rife with various religious factions for longer than I've been alive, but the world was here to welcome me when I was born.

Hell, moving away from religion, there are millions of women every day who suffer unimaginable horrors. And guess what? Still here.

Gays? Lesbians? Bi? Trans? Anyone whose skin doesn't match that of the largest population in the area they reside in? All tormented, killed, persecuted.

The world is ending now, apparently, because two priest have been shot and killed. One in Egypt, one in Syria. Also, it seems that they're just not making many Catholic priests any more.

If this reads like I'm not hardly trying, it's because I'm not. I've heard this song before, and I'm not going to dance.

The world didn't end in the year 2000. The world didn't end in either of the major economic crashes of the last century. The End didn't get out of bed on 12/12/12 or 12/21/12 (depending on which conspiracy site you like.) Women can vote, and the world didn't grind to a halt. Gays can marry in multiple states, and we're still here. We didn't nuke ourselves into oblivion during the Cold War.

More specifically, the world didn't end at Christmastime any one of the seven years running it was predicted to me when I was growing up. I'm gay, my sister's bi, we both live alternative lifestyles, we're both pagan, and our lives are no better or worse than my parents. My brother who's still Catholic was just blessed with a beautiful baby girl, and his life is no more or less hard than anyone who just had a kid.

There's no empirical difference between what you believe in and the circumstances of your life. It changes from place to place depending on who's in charge. And sadly, none of the vast suffering on anyone's part seems to be enough for any deity to stand up and wipe the board clean.

So yeah. The end is not nigh. At least, no more nigh than it always is.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen - SCOTUS

Howdy, kiddos! So, while I was down, I missed a fair chunk of stuff. Also, I'm working from my broken laptop today, so y'all on your own for research. Let's talk SCOTUS, shall we?

Recently, SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of The United States, for those playing the home game) ruled not to hear the Prop 8 case on lack of standing grounds, and to over turn a lower court ruling on the same ground. They also struck down DOMA. These two rulings make me happy, naturally enough. I mean, I am gay. But I'm not entirely happy with SCOTUS.

And I'll tell you why. 

First off, Prop 8. Those suing were citizens, because the government of California had basically said, "well, fuck this" when the Northern California District Court struck it down on the grounds that majorities cannot vote to vacate minority rights. These concerned citizens took it up the line, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the same thing. When it came before SCOTUS, they took a sidestep.

First off, two lower courts had already used a clear legal precedent to prevent the removal of minority rights by a majority. A similar ruling on the part of SCOTUS would have been a massive step forward. It wasn't even a hard ruling. Legally speaking, it was absolutely firm. Prop 8 was created to perform an end run on the legally established right of homosexuals to marry in California. It was a clear attempt to vacate a minority right that had been legally established. Instead, they went for a "lack of standing" argument.

Now, while those who were trying to get Prop 8 upheld did not have standing, it was a weasel move. The "lack of standing" argument has been used to make a number of things go away. In one case, Clapper v. Amnesty International, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. FISA allowed the NSA to perform surveillance without notice, warrant, or reasonable suspicion. Actually, they didn't even have to suspect their target. All those things Snowden leaked? That would be FISA at work.

And who were these plaintiffs? Lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists who communicated with individuals overseas and who would, under FISA, be viable targets for surveillance. After all, they're talking to people overseas. What if they're secretly terrorists!?

FISA placed an undue burden on these people to take extreme precautions ot protect the privacy of their clients and sources. SCOTUS reason for throwing them out of court? Since they couldn't show that they'd been targets of covert surveillance, they had no proof of clear harm. Yes, you read that right. To point out the obvious, the most recent person who demonstrated the ability to prove harm in these circumstances is Edward Snowden, and he's being charged with treason.

And the others who would be able to make a clear argument for direct harm are the actual terrorists the NSA steps up to provide evidence against. And last I checked, we tend to toss such people in deep holes and deprive them of as many rights as we can lay our hands on. Because hey, terrorists.

So yeah. If you can't obtain secure documentation outside legal channels, you can't sue to protect your right to privacy.

Next up: SCOTUS basis for the DOMA ruling, while exciting and long overdue, was made on moral grounds. Legally speaking, there unfortunately aren't grounds establishing homosexuality as a federally protected class. And regardless of how it benefits me, the ruling was still made using weasel language. The closest thing to a clear reason SCOTUS was able to give for their decision was to declare a malicious intent on Congress part. Which, as it can't be proved, means that SCOTUS disagreed with Congress, and made a law go away.

Despite the unjust law, despite the need for federal minority classification of homosexuals to prevent discrimination, I can't get too excited when a branch of the government writes a pseudo-legalistic argument to justify undermining another part of the government on the basis of opinion.

So, on that front, woooo! DOMA's gone! But also, a little unsettling that it's gone because five people decided it should be.

Now, I can almost hear people quoting Dr. King Jr. on the justness of laws, and the ethical call to civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws. And I'm right there, I'm down. Problem is, SCOTUS has been doing some kinda sketchy things here lately.

For instance, they've struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act that protect minorities from specific forms of governmental discrimination. What parts? The parts that require traditionally discriminatory states to get Federal approval before they made changes to the way they run elections. The essential claim is that the data is outmoded, and the protections are no longer necessary.

Problem is, there's a rush to get voter ID laws passed, there's been all kinds of fun little tricks with gerrymandering, there's been multiple attempts to create laws that will not only attack illegal immigrants, but allow for discrimination against legal Hispanic and Latino populations — discrimination is alive and well. I mean, can you imagine people like Sally Kern, Paul Ryan, or Todd Akin having direct access to vote for changes to the election process without anyone checking their work?

Racism is alive and well in government. And the even scarier thing here is that after the Court struck down those portions of the act, Scalia went on the record as saying that the reason SCOTUS needed to strike it down was because Congress kept passing it. So, just to be clear: Congress passed a law to safeguard minorities. Congress, for once in their miserable existence, maintained a law that actually had purpose and a valid reason for existing. And SCOTUS struck it down because Congress wouldn't.

That should freaking scare you.

Next up: a rather nasty ruling against Miranda rights. No, you read that correctly. Against Miranda rights.

Genevevo Salinas, in a 1992 case, was taken in for questioning. He answered some questions that were pertinent to the investigation,  but elected not to answer a specific question relating to whether his shotgun would match the murder weapon. To clarify, this was investigative questioning, and he had not been Mirandized.

In court, the prosecution used his refusal to answer that question as a sign of guilt. Salinas appealed on the grounds that he has the right not to answer questions, and that refusal to answer a question before Miranda had been delivered could not be used against him in court.

SCOTUS disagrees. They ruled, 5-4, that silence before being read your Miranda rights is not protected by Miranda rights. So yeah. If the police come talk to you, and you don't want to talk to them, if they can get you into court they can use that against you.

Now, our legal system is not so corrupt that we have to fear the police. But mistakes happen. At the end of the day, the system is made of people and people are generally horrible beings when they act in large groups. So if there's circumstantial evidence, and you can't get clear of it, the prosecution can now tip the jury in their favor if you don't talk to the cops.

Oh, but no-one innocent would refuse to talk to the cops. Right?

Cops come in, start talking at you. You know you're innocent, they think you're not. And they start pushing buttons. Going over and over the same material, working to trip you up, taking up your time. Eventually, you get sick of it and walk out. The next time they want to talk to you, you tell 'em to go for a walk.

Bam. You have just refused to talk to the police in an investigation in which you are a suspect. Presented without context, you now look guilty as hell.

So, while I'm happy that my rights as a gay man are now on a more level playing field going forward, I have to say that SCOTUS is starting to concern me. Admittedly, they are the check to Congress' balance, and their power is clear and necessary. But when they start half-assing it, making up reasons to justify voting their opinions, avoiding cases that are clear violations of rights because the proof of rights violations is classified, and stepping on Voter Rights because Congress won't, we have a problem.

SCOTUS is arguably the most powerful body in the US today. And abuse of that power should rightly worry all of us, even when they abuse their power to rule in our favor.