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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for February, 2012

Not reacting according to Culture War sides

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

February 16th, 2012

Unfortunately, in today’s Culture War driven political climate, one’s political affiliation and group identity often dictates their response to issues and situations.

And our community is not immune. We make excuses for those who kinda may support us – or are, at least, affiliated in some way with our supporters – while holding to ridicule and derision proposals and ideas by those who oppose us on matters of equality whether or not those proposals or ideas have merit or impact our community uniquely in any way.

At BTB we try hard to be thoughtful rather than reactionary. We don’t always succeed, but we try. And it is in that context that I declare my agreement with Gary Bauer and Concerned Women for America on a situation.

The matter is trivial, a foolish mistake made by an overzealous government worker who turned off their brain and placed tick-boxes on a clipboard as being far more important than the purposes for those tick-boxes.

According to the Carolina Journal, an agent with the Department of Health and Human Services came to West Hoke Elementary School to inspect the lunches of pre-schoolers and make certain that they were eating an approved meal. The school decided that one four year old girl’s lunch – consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice – was not adequately nutritious and so she was informed that Mommy’s lunch was bad and it was replaced with a cafeteria meal. [UPDATE: DHHS has issued a press release stating that the child was not told that Mommy's lunch was bad, that they do not inspect home prepared lunches, and that besides she was simply offered milk to supplement her meal. To date (2/17) there is no information on exactly how she came to the impression that her lunch needed additional nutritional elements or why whomever noted the lack of compliance with federal guidelines missed that the lunch the girl actually ate was not something that a nutrition-focused parent would select.]

For lunch that day, the girl ate three chicken nuggets.

Now, the right wing is delighted. Here is an example of government at its worst, lurking in your child’s classroom and making her eat chicken nuggets. And the opportunity to attack their enemies was too good to pass up.

Dr. Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America sees Michele Obama as to blame.

I think our state legislators [and] our federal legislators have to get involved in this because regulation is coming from the top, and quite frankly, a lot of this stems from the first lady’s emphasis on nutritional requirements that the government has to certify that each child has the appropriate nutritional requirements.

Gary Bauer (who isn’t running for President this year) sees communists in the bushes.

The girl’s grandmother, who often makes her granddaughter’s lunches, asked rhetorically, “This isn’t China, is it?” Not yet, but welcome to Obama’s brave new world. If the government can force us to buy specific products, force religious institutions to violate their values and send lunchbox inspectors to sort through our kids’ food, Chinese-style “commissars” are in our future.

It’s tempting to leap to the defense of the Obamas and the federal program, isn’t it? Considering that it’s Crouse and Bauer our instinct is to disagree and insist that federal guidelines are necessary to protect the health of children. This can’t be blamed on Obama because this was never their intent and besides this error was on the part of the school. Let’s get our excuses in order and blow these right wingers out of the water…

Except that in this case they are right. Not about the ‘blame the Obamas’ part, but about this being an example of a federal government that has exceeded all reasonable boundaries and has insinuated itself much too far into the minutia of our daily lives.

If we stop for a moment, we will all agree that three chicken nuggets are not a healthier choice than a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice. Some of us snort at the notion that a government which approves of chicken nuggets – about as close to poison as you can get and still call it food – has any business making any valuations about nutrition.

Some of us go further, questioning why it is that any government official, at any level, is inspecting the lunch bags that parents send with their children. Why the federal government is dictating standards at local schools for home-brought lunches, at all? When did the Senator from Alabama and the Representative from Pascagoula get the right to decide what my kid eats for lunch, anyway?

Some of us hold to the principle that a child’s health and nutrition are primarily the responsibility of that child’s parents and if they are lacking in knowledge or concern then their community – relatives, neighbors, teachers – can offer counsel. Ultimately if it raises to the level of abuse or abandonment of care, the state can step in as protector.

But to abdicate our own responsibilities as parents and community members to a federal bureaucracy is to invite lunch bag inspection. If our desire to control others and force them to do what we know is best rules the day, then control and force will be the result.

And we need not use the examples of “forcing religious institutions to violate their values” to illustrate our point. (And he’s right, as long as they are using their own money and not administering taxpayer funded programs, the Catholic Church should not be forced to pay for contraception, abortion, or any other procedures they find morally objectionable. Nor should the Gay and Lesbian Center be forced to pay for insurance that includes ex-gay counseling, for that matter.)

It’s not the poor abused conservative Christians that are the real victims of governmental excess. Rather, our own community is the very poster child for federal abuse, most of it instigated by political allies of Gary Bauer and Janet Crouse.

The State of Massachusetts is suing the federal government because the Feds refuse to honor the centuries old right of states to determine marriage (so long as they are constitutional determinations). Residents of that state – and five others – are victims not of federal lunch inspectors but of federal crotch inspectors. If there are not the right amount of penises in the relationship, then the government box-tickers will not approve. “No, don’t eat that – not enough penises. Have a chicken nugget.”

Federal legislators are actually proposing a bill that would ban equality-supporting chaplains in the military from offering the rites of their faith to military members at their own chapel if those rites affirm the commitment of a same-sex couple.

And, in a policy that every ‘small tax conservative’ and every ‘pro-business conservative’ and every ‘fewer-restrictions conservative’ should each use as example number one – but for some unknown reason they never ever seem to bring up – our Federal Government has dictated that if a business wishes to offer to its employees health insurance coverage for their spouses, the business must track gay employees separately from straight employees and report this coverage to the Federal Government so that it may tax the gay employees – but not straight employees – on their health benefits.

But Crouse and Bauer aren’t interested in government intrusion on those issues. They lobby for increased federal crotch inspection and further appropriate orientation requirements. “Don’t tell me what to do, but here’s a list of laws that we think should restrict the freedoms and equalitites of gay people.”

I think that the question we should be asking is not “Why is this program anti-gay?” or “Why is this program anti-religious?” or even “Why is this program anti-parent packed lunch?” but rather the question should simply be “Why is this program?”

If we stop fighting and hating each other enough to think, surely we can agree that we all could use a bit more liberty and independence and a little less bureaucracy in our lives.

Is Janice Shaw Crouse Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

Rob Tisinai

December 14th, 2011

I’ve written about anti-gay activist Janice Shaw Crouse in the past.  More than once, in fact. Her arguments tend to be so off-the-mark, it’s hard to decide whether she’s deliberately dishonest or just heroically incompetent.

She’s at it again. In the midst of a calm, measured, and false presentation against homosexuality, she says this, as if it were significant:

Homosexual relationships generally last only a fraction of the time that most marriages last. Very few homosexual relationships last longer than two or three years. In fact, it’s rare that they last more than one and a half years.

She doesn’t say where she got these numbers.  Perhaps she doesn’t want her viewers to find out she commonly uses obsolete data in ways that piss off her sources.  The problem in this case, though, is that Crouse is comparing relationships in general to marriages in particular. And if you do that, you can just as easily say:

HETEROSEXUAL relationships generally last only a fraction of the time that most marriages last. Very few HETEROSEXUAL relationships are long-term relationships.

Half of women don’t marry until after their 26th birthday. For men, it’s even later.  And you know what?  Before that, they date, having relationships that a few weeks, a few months, occasionally a few years. As a result, the great majority of their relationships don’t last as long as most marriages.

How many three-month relationships can you have in your twenties?  And how many twenty-year marriages can you have in your life?  This isn’t about hetero/homo — it’s about arithmetic.

I’m sure Janice Shaw Crouse knows arithmetic. She’s got a Ph.D. in, well, something, and she’s a paid expert on, you know, stuff, so she ought to understand the gross error in comparing length of relationships to the length of marriages.  Hell, even Herman Cain understands the difference between apples and oranges.

And that brings us back to the original question: Is she dishonest or incompetent?*

Believe it or not, I’m now  leaning toward incompetence. I’m reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, by psychologist (and 2002 Nobel Prize winner in economics) Daniel Kahneman. He demonstrates that humans are bad intuitive statisticians. Instead, we makes sense of numbers by inventing causal explanations even when they don’t belong — especially if the explanations fit our pre-existing bias. Then, once our brains have come up with a story that feels coherent, we interpret all information in light of that story, avoiding or rationalizing away any contrary logic or data (the book is fascinating; I’ll be writing more about it in the next few months).

This isn’t a conservative trait or a liberal one — it’s universal and human. The only way out of it is to bump up your own self-awareness and deliberately apply some critical reasoning to your own bias-ridden intuitions.  That’s hard (it’s hard for everyone) but not too much to expect from a Ph.D. writing a statement she’s planning to read on camera. Apparently, though, this is something Janice Shaw Crouse is unwilling — or unable — to do.

*I understand this is not an either/or proposition.

Another Criteria for Marriage

Jim Burroway

August 3rd, 2010

Late last night, Timothy Kincaid posted a great list of NOM’s criteria for marriage. Concerned Women for America’s Janice Crouse last week added another: If you’re Methodist, your spouse cannot be Jewish.

Newsweek Essay Draws Howls of Protest

Jim Burroway

December 9th, 2008

Anti-gay activists are pulling their hair out over Lisa Miller’s essay in Newsweek, in which she lays out a religious case for same-sex marriage. She opens her essay by saying, “Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.”

As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well with one particular segment of Christianity. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the Focus on the Family Board of Directors, wrote:

Many observers believe that the main obstacle to this agenda [of allowing same-sex marriage] is a resolute opposition grounded in Christian conviction. Newsweek clearly intends to reduce that opposition.”

That was one of the calmer reactions. Tony Perkins of the Family “Research” Council denounced it as “yet another attack on orthodox Christianity.” The Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association called it “one of the most biased and distorted pieces concerning homosexual marriage ever published by any major news organization.” Not surprisingly, he also is calling on his followers to inundate Newsweek with emails.

And Peter LaBarbera, not one to be outdone, called the essay a “scandalous hit piece” and an “embarrassing attempt to make a Biblical case for sodomy-based ‘marriage.’” (See why we have an award named in his honor?) And Peter’s pal, Matt Barber responded, “You know, scripture says woe to those who call evil good and good evil, and I say woe to Newsweek for even printing this drivel.”

Part of the outrage stems from the fact that anti-gay activists have tried for years to couch their opposition to same-sex marriage on sociological research to make their point — research that, as we have pointed out many times, they have distorted with amazing consistency. But by calling on science instead of the Bible, they seek to inoculate themselves from charges of trying to impose their religious views on others. “See? We’re not religious zealots. Science supports us,” they like to say. Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, repeated this line in saying, “The arguments that are used are often not biblical arguments. They are secular arguments, arguing about marriage as being a civic and a social institution, and that societies have a right to define marriage.” And Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, claimed, “We’re not trying to take the Bible and put a bill number on it and legislate it.”

But when they are talking among themselves, religious arguments are firmly at the fore, whether it’s LDS Elder M. Russell Ballard speaking of the “central doctrine of eternal marriage” or Richard Land himself explaining with an apparently straight face that what he calls the global warning “hoax” is simply due to “cycles of nature that God has allowed in the cosmos.” Neither of these positions sound very scientific to me.

But the religious face is not the public face that these religiously-motivated leaders want to present. And by having to respond to Lisa Miller’s essay, they are forced to publicly defend the religious basis for their beliefs, which annoys a few of them to no end.  Watch how Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse pivots when asked about the Newsweek essay:

“Beyond the Scriptural distortion, the article distorts the pro-marriage and pro-family movement that is solidly grounded on sociological research about family structures that contribute to the well-being of women and children.”

She then goes on to mischaracterize what “experts agree.”

But the other part of the outrage also seems clearly aimed at someone who really did intrude onto their home turf. After all, in the same-sex marriage debates, only one small group of Christians are presumed to be allowed to use the Bible — when they think nobody else is looking. Anti-gay activists behave as though the Bible is solely their possession and no one else’s — including other Christians who read the same Bible and come to different conclusions. It’s okay for anti-gay opponents to turn outside their own sphere of authority — science — to make their point. But now that Lisa Miller has taken them on in their own home turf, they’ve let loose with their persecution complex and complained that they– and by extension all of Christianity, since they presume to speak for all Christians – have been “attacked.” 

Which reminds me of a great and appropriate graphic making its way around the Internet: