Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Whats Left Of Me Now": Slut Shaming And The Need For Grace

If you haven't heard the story of Amanda Todd, the teenager from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia who committed suicide recently, a video she posted just prior to her death tells her side of the story:
There is nothing good about this story.  A young girl makes a stupid mistake - she admits as much - and, suddenly, her life is turned upside down.  The down side to our tiny connected world is millions of people with nothing better to do than make sure everyone who ever did anything wrong never forgets their mistakes.  This doesn't just include Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich, poster children for extra-marital fellatio (bi-partisanship!).  A girl, a girl  God Damn it, has to pay for a stupid mistake.

When I made the point last summer of giving vocal support for SlutWalks, it was because some people think there's something noble about telling people they are not just making mistakes, but somehow morally vicious and beyond redemption because of choices they make.  It's one thing to acknowledge that an underage girl flashing her chest to a stranger on the internet might not be the best thing in the world.  It's quite another thing to have this same girl trapped because too many people think it's OK to make sure she never forgets she's a horrible, evil slut.

A guy takes advantage of a combination of emotional vulnerability and weakness, sleeps with her because he knows she's willing, then does what every young man who has sex does: He brags about it, which, of course, leads to the inevitable confrontation with the guy's girlfriend.

This is why I'm no fan of slut-shaming.  This is what it looks like in extremis.  Turning a lapse in judgment (and how many teenagers have that particular virtue, anyway?) in to a life-ending indicator of essential moral lassitude.  That is what slut-shaming can do.

Folks who read here see the word "grace" tossed about a whole lot.  I suppose it's my mistake that I haven't, not really, defined it or explained the concept.  The thing is, it's a simple enough concept.  More than forgiveness but embracing it as well as judgment; more than acceptance but embracing it as well as rejection; grace is the idea that even as we acknowledge that we are error-prone and sin-prone creatures, there is no error or crime or sin or act that can separate us from God.  The Church should be the place where we live that out; we should be people who let the world know we can let go of shame and guilt because God's love for us is bigger than the Universe in which we live.  The Church is the place where Amanda Todd could have discovered, contrary to a line on one of her cards, that things do, indeed stop.

Amanda Todd's death, for all the other things it says about human cruelty and frailty, about the way bullying and harassment, guilt- and slut-shaming now know no borders, about the need for better intervention processes for vulnerable youth; for all that, Amanda Todd's death tells us Christians that we have failed, again, to reach out and let someone know that grace exists.  That grace is more powerful than the hatred and anger and self-righteousness of those who told her she should die.  There were no Catholics or Methodists or anyone else who showed Amanda Todd that, because God's love for us reaches us when we are furthest away from God, we can reach in to the darkest corners of human life and, by shining a tiny light, chase away the demons who fear light more than anything.

A quick postscript: Anonymous, that cybergroup of anarchists, has posted the name of Amanda Todd's alleged harasser.  The thing is, according to a story posted on the Canadian Broadcasting Network website, law enforcement believes the person responsible isn't even Canadian.  The story also reports that a man has lost his job after posting online: "It's about time this bitch died."  Despicable, indeed.  All the same, the only way this whole thing stops, the only way we show the world that shaming people for being stupid and hateful is as wrong as shaming people for acting without thought or judgment is if someone reaches out to this stupid, thoughtless jerk and let him know it's OK.  After all, we're all stupid thoughtless jerks at times, aren't we?

This postscript wouldn't be complete without this teaching moment for some among us who prattle on about morality and right and wrong and how that has to do with what God wants from us.  When I insist, "No!", to that crap, this is exactly what I mean.  God's grace, as we are supposed to live it out as Christians, confounds any acceptable understanding of right and wrong, good and bad.  We don't just mean grace is offered to those who are so lost they have given up looking for a way out; grace is offered to those who stole their maps.  If we don't, it isn't grace.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Assault On Voting Rights

If there's a theme to this election year, the title of this post says it all: The Republican Party has been waging an on-going, multi-pronged attack on the right of American citizens to vote.  Republican legislatures have passed voter ID laws.  The governor of Florida ordered a voter-roll purge that even Republican county officials have found too extreme and probably illegal.  We read articles that insist that voting is not a right; that voting should be restricted to "stake-holders".  One of the lower moments occurred over the summer when the state of Ohio, implementing a law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature, restricted the rights of active duty military personnel to vote early and the Obama Administration sued; the right and Gov. Romney turned this entire episode in to an instance of Pres. Obama trying to restrict military voting when the exact opposite was the case.

Just the past couple days have brought more evidence the right's attack on voting continues.  Mitt Romney is caught on tape telling employers they should tell their employees how to vote.  The egregiously horrible Rep. Joe Walsh has done the same thing.  An employee of a company hired by the Republican Party in Virginia has been arrested for destroying voter registration forms.  In Maricopa County, Arizona, home to notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, notices about the election specifically sent to Spanish speakers were mailed with the wrong date on them.

If you're noticing a theme here, it should be apparent.  One of America's two major parties would prefer we have fewer people voting.  People who support that party are all over the place insisting that these various shenanigans and rule changes are fine because voting is a privilege not a right.  Like pretty much every other thing the right has done over the past generation, it is a relentless, tireless assault any- and everywhere that not least has the effect of wearing down opposition.  Couching anti-democratic rhetoric in the tired logic of sensibleness is perhaps the most offensive; after all, how dare anyone claim someone who begins their argument saying, "What is the matter with . . ." is attacking something at the heart of practical American politics?

Unlike most of the other advanced polities with democratic practices, the United States does not require voting.  Many countries have such high voter turnouts because people will be fined if they don't show up at the polls.  Not here.  As a right, like free speech or assembly, we in the United States let people exercise or not exercise this basic right and duty at their own discretion.  Freedom, in other words, includes the freedom not to participate.

I was in a discussion group over the summer and someone insisted we should do much the same as countries where voting is a legal obligation.  Sounds sensible, doesn't it?  Perhaps even logical!  All the same, it runs contrary to a basic tenet of the whole concept of political freedom, US style.  Part of the burden of freedom is the weight we all carry from those who prefer not to participate.  Part of being a free society includes the freedom to make choices others would not make, choices that effect other people's lives.  The most we can do is insist that people vote.  We can hector them, plead with them, offer them rides to the polls.  We cannot, nor should we, compel by legal means, any single vote.

I, for one, have always thought more voting is better.  Big voter turnouts mean more people are engaged, feel they have a stake, a voice, are a part of the process.  I honestly don't care for whom anyone might cast their ballot on November 6.  If a bunch of folks who were all wearing Romney pins couldn't find a ride to their polling place, I would be the first in line to offer them a ride.  Because it's about participating.

Before I hit "Publish", I actually have a rule for this post, should anyone care to comment.  Any comment that attempts to argue the idea that restricting access to the polls is somehow legal, or at least should be; any comment that attempts to argue that employers either do or should attempt to coerce a vote from their employees; any comment that denies the reality that voting is a right all citizens over the age of 18 (with the exceptions, of course, of those who have surrendered that right for reasons of felony conviction); any of these, or variations on them, will be deleted.  Period.  My Give-a-Shit button for nonsense is now permanently broken.

Just a warning.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Debate Number Two

So it's binders full of women, "Please proceed, Governor," and Candy Crowley.  And Josh at TPM has a favorite picture that, he insists, speaks volumes.
There was much joy in Liberalville on Wednesday morning because the President did the one thing he should have been doing for four years: He stood up for his record, calling out crap when crap was dumped in front of him.

To be honest, I think the cheers from the left side of the aisle are as overwrought as the hand-wringing (mine included) from the days after the first debate.  There are certain fundamentals in this race that should keep it tight; there are also certain factors that could, given enough time and attention, create a big win for either candidate.  One thing to be said for last night's debate, however; it's difficult to argue there are few differences between the candidates' positions on issues of fundamental interest to the American people.

While I still think there would be, in practical terms, few differences between a second Obama term and a Romney Presidency - unless one or the other party sweeps Congress, giving the President a working majority in the First Branch of our government - there is little doubt last night demonstrated a deep ideological rift.  When asked about equal pay for women, Pres. Obama talked about the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act while Gov. Romney talked about binders full of women (in a story that turns out to be as false as pretty much every other major claim he makes).  When asked about tax plans, Pres. Obama talked about fairness while Gov. Romney insisted that his $5 trillion tax cut isn't, but if it was it was paid for, and he just didn't feel like saying how.  When asked about the differences between a potential Romney Administration and the Bush years, Romney wandered around looking under rocks while Pres. Obama made the point that, in some respects, a Romney Administration would be worse.

Romney was rude.  Romney was curt with the President of the United States.  Romney kept talking after Candy Crowley made it clear it was time for him to shut his mouth.  Romney got huffy when it was pointed out that he had, yet again, not spoken the truth.  Apparently, being called a liar when one lies gets one's children in a huff.

For all that, though, there are things that will continue to keep the race tight.  The economy works against the President, as does his preference to shade the differences between himself and his political opponents in search of a working compromise.  While Romney demonstrated he either doesn't know or doesn't care what positions he actually takes on some matters - the lines about contraception and Pell Grants are directly contradicted by his own campaign and previous statements, for crying out loud - and gets indignant when other people actually question the things he says, he does have a history and a record to which he can point (belied by his own hard-right tacking over the previous twelve months in search of the Republican nomination) that could sway those who might be willing to bet he won't govern as crazy as he's talked.

While the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi have been seized by Republicans to be used as some kind of game-changer, by lying about the President's reaction (and that was, truly, a brilliant moment as Pres. Obama allowed Gov. Romney to wind his own tongue around his neck and squeeze; that the right is all upset that Candy Crowley had the nerve to tell Romney he was wrong is perhaps the worst thing a journalist has done since Walter Cronkite told the American people that America was losing the war in Vietnam) they have effectively disarmed the issue, removing any substantive criticism that could be made because it's stapled to the crazy.  On the other hand, Romney displayed a talent for coming very close to melting down under pressure; as manic as his first performance was, Tuesday night that mania was tinged with something else, a refusal to concede to rules and a quick anger when questioned too much that are not good traits in a President.

I wasn't too confident of the polls when they showed the President had a lead outside the margin of error.  I continue to doubt polls that show Romney up ever-so-slightly.  The only thing I do think is correct is the race is still up for grabs.  For now.  There is one debate left, and it may well be that, depending upon which version of each candidate shows up at that debate, the race could very well hinge on the outcome (as well as the TV commercials that flow from them).  While not happy with Pres. Obama's performance in office, a Romney Presidency would be a disaster; if the debates have demonstrated anything, his unwillingness to brook any questions about his truthfulness or those things about which he prefers to remain silent, if nothing else, show a disdain for the practicalities of governance.

Without overcompensating and celebrating too much, I think the race is still on, in no small part to Barack Obama's discovery of a spine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Never Going Back To My Old School

I was surprised to see a story about my hometown on CNN's "ireport" site.  I was shocked and angry and more than a little embarrassed by the story.  The accompanying photo?  Well, let's just say you have to see it for yourself.
Someone thought it would be . . . what?  Funny?  Some kind of rallying cry? . . . to enhance school spirit by putting black face on a couple kids and have them act out Chris Brown beating the crap out of Rihanna.

I know.  I know.  What the hell does any of this have to do with a pep rally, right?  There are so many questions about this story, its ugliness, its mindlessness, and the even more ugly and mindless people from my hometown defending the event in comments on the story (scrolling through them, I'm figuring none of the people who think this harmless fun know any more about what happened than the people who are decrying it; that they would consider acting out domestic violence and celebrating racist attitudes and actions appropriate in any setting, most especially a high school pep rally, makes me wonder if they actually finished attending classes at the school) that I'm not sure where to begin.

Where were the school administrators and teachers in all this?  The photo showing the kids sitting there - far too white and comfortable as they watch a racist display re-enacting domestic violence - shows they, apparently, had no idea what they were seeing was "wrong".  Not a single teacher stepped up and said, "You know, putting black face on white kids is wrong.  Having them act out a man beating a woman is wrong.  Celebrating this by using it to rally students before a football game is wrong."

The local newspaper has a story (subscription required; I don't have one) in which Superintendent Joseph Yelich responds with the kind of general platitude that makes me wonder if he went to the same schools as Mitt Romney:  “I want to assure everyone that our Waverly School District is committed to creating a positive atmosphere through all of our activities.”  Really, Mr. Yelich?  Really?  You can't even come out and say, "Clearly, the public response to the skit at the homecoming pep rally ignores the broader context in which it occurred."?  The best response might have been, "Unaware of what the skit was going to be, the school administration is investigating and will respond with appropriate measures to all involved."  Because merely mouthing nonsensical platitudes that are belied by an abundance of evidence doesn't exactly create confidence among those of us who have to live with the fact that we went to this school.  Hell, my father taught in this district for 24 years.  What do you think this does for his reputation?

I'm guessing at some point, someone involved in this, whether a student or someone else, is going to be quoted in the paper saying something that begins, "We didn't think . . ."  Which is precisely the problem.  Schools are places where young people are taught to think.  This pep rally "skit" clearly demonstrates multiple failures of thought all across the board.

So glad I live in Illinois now.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I have become so disgusted by the Presidential election, the Congressional elections, and the stupid things we all seem to be talking about - whether it's where Pres. Obama was born or Mitt Romney's tax returns; Joe Biden's chuckles or Paul Ryan's biceps - I had an inkling to give it up for good.  It isn't like anyone reads what I write anyway; how could I possibly cut through the crap, make a difference, make the point that the entire exercise is so far removed from actual things that effect actual people's lives that even its entertainment value has disappeared?

Maybe I can't.  Probably I can't.

All I can do is talk about real stuff, and let folks check it out, and then compare it to the nonsense that passes for our electioneering.

A young woman whose blog I read talks about a documentary she watched recently:
This incredibly somber documentary follows a group of homeless children who live in the subways of Romania. Decades ago, the Romanian government was concerned about the population decline and the subsequent effects of this upon the work force. They decided to outlaw all methods of contraception, and countless unwanted children were abandoned and left in orphanages as a result.
I didn't know how to process everything that I saw in this film. Your sorrow for these children feels meaningless as their lives are deemed utterly worthless by society. People pass them by like they are invisible. Few give them money if they choose to beg. They spend their days hooked on inhaling glue in order to fight off the pains of hunger. I even watched one girl get beaten by a total stranger because she wouldn't stop crying in the subway from being so hungry. 
Parts of the city of Chicago look like they've moved back in time, back when violence seemed not only without cause but without an end:
Here’s a badge of shame: Chicago’s murder total for the month has already surpassed August 2011’s total and with 10 days left.
Thirty-eight people have been killed through Aug. 19, compared to 35 for all of August 2011 and 22 homicides through Aug. 19, 2011. Last Saturday there were six homicides in Chicago, which tied Feb. 19 for the day with the most murders this year. The numbers come on the heels on a July that Police Supt. Garry McCarthy touted asthe least violent month in Chicago in a quarter century and credited to a new gang auditing strategy he implemented last year.
The Chicago Tribune noted that most of the homicides this month have occurred in neighborhoods where, coincidentally, McCarthy first implemented his gang audits.
 You know how you're supposed to train a dog not to shit in the house by shoving its nose in a pile, swatting it and saying, "No!", then tossing it outside?  I feel like doing that to people who carry on about the great global warming hoax.  The pile we've created, and to which their denial is blind, is the small town of Shishmaref, Alaska.
"The land is going away," said Shelton Kokeok, 65, whose home is on the tip of a bluff that's been melting in part because of climate change. "I think it's going to vanish one of these days."
Coastal erosion has been an issue for decades here, but rising global temperatures have started to thaw the permafrost that once helped anchor this village in place. Sea ice that protects Shishmaref's coast from erosion melts earlier in the spring and forms later in the fall. As a result, the increasingly mushy and exposed soil along Shishmaref's shore is falling into the water in snowmobile-sized chunks.
The town even has a webpage designed to raise funds to relocate its residents.

These are a sample of the things real people face.  These are a sample of the things we could address if anyone thought them of any importance.  Instead, we continue to hear from birthers and morons like Todd Akin and some people think it matters whether or not the Romney's release their tax returns.  We discuss, the tones measured and words oh-so-careful, whether the Affordable Care Act is or is not socialism.

People are in peril.  Lives quite literally hang in the balance, each and every day.  While not the only solution to the problem, politics is one way we decide how we will address these and uncountable other matters that confront all of us.  We treat it like a bad game show.  That the race is close demonstrates so many failures in the system as to leave me wondering if we even deserve moderately competent governance.

I'm tired.  I'm exhausted from trying to make the point there's a real world with real problems that are sometimes desperate, sometimes horrific, all wearing a human face.  I'm tired of the prevalent belief that the divisiveness of our politics is a result of all sides playing some game, rather than the result of a very clearly documented strategy from only one party.  That one Presidential candidate this time around is very proud and public with his disdain for any commitment to any understanding of truth should mean something.

Alas, the race is tied, and the very real specter that a candidate singularly unsuited for any office of trust may well be our next President looms ahead of us.

And the silence about the lives that hang in the balance?

Virtual Tin Cup

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