Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Being transgender is a product of mental illness? So says right wing writer...

There's a fascinating disgusting article at Townhall written by mental health expert right wing bigot John Hawkins. Hawkins, among other things, runs Right Wing News, which shares informative stories with taglines like this (actual) one: "You will NOT believe what this business owner is doing for his customers that makes LIBERALS crazy! Story below."

Aside from clickbaiting his million-plus proud hatriot followers, Hawkins is a champion for those afflicted with mental illness. And by mental illness, he means "transgender people". And by champion, I mean, writes that they're mentally disturbed self-mutilators. But, you know, before we go further, you should know that he really cares. Deeply.
There’s nothing shameful about having a mental illness. If you break your leg, you go to a doctor and get it fixed. If you have some form of mental illness, you go to a psychologist or psychiatrist and get it treated as best you can. Sometimes you can be cured. Sometimes it’s a lifetime struggle, but all of us have different challenges to deal with and that’s okay.

Now, you might be about to ask "what are John Hawkins' qualifications, to diagnose how many thousands of strangers with mental illness?" Since you ask, I can only assume you're one of those people who likes to "rant about 'bigots,' 'gay pride' and 'civil rights'"...so at this juncture, it's right to advise you:
...that encouraging troubled people to permanently disfigure themselves instead of working through their issues with a mental health professional is a thoughtless, cruel, and monstrous act.
(And, no, it doesn't look like he has any qualifications to make that kind of judgment call.) But to the specifics of what, let's say, Dr. Hawkins has to say about transgender people. It's more or less the standard transphobic stuff. First, a comparison with people who hear voices and want healthy limbs amputated, people who see mental illness as a "super power" or "dangerous gifts". Then we get to "something just as ridiculous." Which is, of course, "the idea that you can change your sex." Now, the good doctor seems to miss any of the nuances between gender and sex, but he does feel that the recognition of transgender individuals is a lot of nonsense: just people deciding to "cater to a pathology instead of treating it."
If you are born a man, you can mutilate yourself and take female hormones, but you can’t become a woman. If you are born a woman, you can mutilate yourself and take male hormones, but you can’t become a man.
 Regardless of surgery, "you’re not going to actually be a woman." But it's much worse than that; and this is where Dr. Hawkins heartfelt concern bubbles through again.
You’re also probably not going to be the attractive fantasy you imagined yourself being because you’ve had male hormones pumping through your body for a lifetime. 
You know, back when transgender people lived in the closet, this would be an easier point to make, if only because you could play off of people's ignorance. But with so many lovely trans people, like model Geena Rocero or writer Janet Mock, in the limelight it seems kind of absurd. It's been done, people have seen it, case closed. Right? Still, it's not just looks that the good doctor is concerned with; he also fears for transgender folks' relationships. Because, let's face it, they
 ...are probably going to be screwed up because most men are going to view you as another man. 
I'm not sure how this is an argument against gender reassignment surgery. If a potential partner is going to view a transgender woman's sex based on the genitals she was born with...how is having a penis going to improve matters? At worst, the partner's views will be exactly the same.

But there's more...
Even if you do somehow meet a guy you like who isn’t using you to fulfill some forbidden fantasy for a night, what happens when he finds out? The relationship is probably over. 
In the good doctor's view, trans women are either so masculine in appearance that men recognize them as "really" men from a mile away, and so will only use them for a night of "forbidden fantasy"...or the transition is "somehow" compelling enough to fool a man, just long enough for his trans partner to lure him into bed. You know, because that's what trans women are trying to do. (At this point, I had started to wonder if Dr. Hawkins was deriving his medical insight from actual medical sources, or a "stereotypes about people who aren't just like me" handbook).

But the ever concerned doctor delved deeper into the troubling implications of this "pathology;" because he's not just worried about how trans people are going to get lucky. He's also concerned that getting lucky might not be as much fun as it should be.
The sex probably isn’t going to be good either because your groin has been cut to pieces and refashioned. 
I would say the comment surprised me...but is there anything surprising about right-wingers worrying about other people's sex lives these days? It's practically a tenet of conservatism (I hear tell that not contemplating [with attendant mortification, of course] some sex act you deem illicit or forbidden at least three times daily is somewhere on par with thinking that children deserve healthcare. You know, squarely outside of "real America"-ville.) At any rate, I don't hear transgender people complaining about their sex lives post-surgery. Neither does Dr. Hawkins, apparently...seeing as how his best source is "probably." So his musings aside, this seems like a complete non-issue.

 We're getting to the real kicker, though.
Additionally, your mortality rate will be 51% higher than the general population because of suicide and all the female hormones you’ve pumped into your body en masse. In fact, the suicide rate for people who are transgender is 25 times that of the general population according to the American Psychological Association.
Well hello Dr. Clueless, I'd like you to meet Part-of-the-Problem! Here's a wild and random idea. Maybe treating transgender people like they're suffering from mental illness; maybe perpetuating the harmful idea that trans women are just trying to lure unsuspecting men into their clutches; maybe insisting that your ideas regarding another person's gender forever define that person's gender; maybe, just maybe, those things contribute to levels of depression that could boost a suicide rate. This is the same line that anti-choice zealots use: "we're so concerned about the mental health of women who have abortions, that we're going to ceaselessly hound, badger, bully and demonize them. Because we care!" And it's the same pack of lies. This example of harm (rather crucial to his comparison of gender reassignment surgery and limb removal) is far more logically attributable to other causes -- namely, people like Hawkins -- than gender reassignment surgery. And yet, like the anti-choice crowd, he contributes to the demonizing of trans people; and then points to depression and suicidal tendencies, not as evidence of the harm that can come of demonizing people, but as a cause to further demonize them.

Viking Fortress Discovered

While it's not exactly "breaking news" anymore :), the following is an article I wrote for a monthly newsletter I edit...figured the topic was still pretty fascinating, so, in case you haven't seen it, here goes.

Archeologists have newly discovered a Viking ringed fortress in Denmark, through an ingenious combination of old fashioned sleuthing and high-tech searching. The Danish Castle Center shares, “On fields at Vallø Estate, near Køge, [archeologists from The Danish Castle Centre and Aarhus University] have discovered traces of a massive Viking fortress built with heavy timbers and earthen embankments. The perfectly circular fortress is similar to the famous so-called ‘Trelleborg’ fortresses, which were built by King Harald Bluetooth around AD 980.”

Søren M. Sindbæk and Nanna Holm by the burnt remains of a castle gate
Søren M. Sindbæk and Nanna Holm
by the burnt remains of a castle gate
The Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen’s Viking Age historian, Lasse CA Sonne explained to the Copenhagen Post why this was such a phenomenal find. “[T]hese circular fortresses are unique to Denmark. Many have given up hope that there were many of them left.” But the archeologists who discovered the site had a hunch that it might be out there.

Says Søren Sindbæk, professor of medieval archeology at Aarhus University, “The discovery has been a piece of detective work. We suspected that one fortress was ‘missing’ on the island of Zealand. The location at Vallø was quite the right setting in the landscape: in a place where the old main roads met and reached to Køke river valley, which in the Viking Age was a navigable fjord and one of Zealand’s best natural harbors. From there we worked our way forward step by step.”

This work started with Nanna Holm, of the Danish Castle Centre in Vordingborg, and her examination of precise laser measurements of the landscape. She noticed an almost imperceptible rise, clearly circular in shape, in the field. Holm explains, “It is a huge monument. The fortress measures 145m from side to side. We recognize the ‘Trelleborg’ fortresses by the precise circular shape of the ramparts and by the four massive gates that are oriented at the four corners of the compass. Our investigations show that the new fortress was perfectly circular and had sturdy timber all the front; we have so far examined two gates, and they agree exactly with the ‘Trelleborg’ plan.” The next step was calling in an expert in archeological geophysics: Helen Goodchild, from the University of York, England. Gizmodo reports, “Goodchild used a technique called gradiometry, which involves taking measurements of the Earth's magnetic field found in the soil at the site. By comparing variations from location to location, they were able to detect where humans had altered the Earth”.

In this way, archeologists were able to develop a “ghost map” that gave them a detailed view of the fortress layout — and showed them exactly where to put trenches for excavating. And what they’ve found so far is very exciting.

Holm says, “We can see that the gates were burned-down; in the north gate we found massive, charred oak posts.” And while the exact date of the site has yet to be determined, the researchers are certain that this is from the Viking age. “Fortresses constructed in this manner are only known from the Viking Age.”

As for why the fortress was burned and when, researchers don’t know — yet. “The burned wood of the gates will make it possible to determine the age by means of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology,” Nanna Holm relates. “The samples have been sent, and we will be eager to hear the results. If we can establish exactly when the fortress was built, we may be able to understand the historic events of which the fortress was part.” She notes that the team is “eager to establish if the castle will turn out to be from the time of King Harald Bluetooth, like the previously known fortresses, or perhaps of a former king’s work. As a military fortification from the Viking Age, the monument may help to unravel the position of Zealand in relation to the oldest Danish kingdom.”

Article adapted from the following sources:
Danish Castle Center’s press release (in English) ... (Danish version)
Aarhus University article
Gizmodo article
Copehagen Post article

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scott Walker & the Mary Burke plagiarism charges...or, People Who Live in Glass Houses...

If you listen to Wisconsin Republicans, it seems like Mary Burke has been running around with scissors and tape, cutting and fastening snippets of just about everything together to form a jobs plan. The Republican Party of Wisconsin has been gleefully cashing in, declaring that Mary Burke refuses to "take responsibility", and putting out imagery like the following.

Granted, if your candidate is tanking the state economy, playing fast and loose with the law, cutting sweetheart deals for donors, mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds, withholding healthcare from the poor, repealing equal pay protections, implementing the largest education cuts in state history, shuttering women's health clinics, and generally lying his ass off, this one's going to make you pretty happy.

But before Republicans get too excited, I think a little perspective is in order. First, Mary Burke didn't write the individual words, word-by-word, of her jobs plan, any more than Scott Walker wrote his. Campaign consultants, consulting firms, and staff are employed to do this sort of thing -- put the candidate's ideas into text (and, doubtless in some cases, come up with something entirely). And sometimes those staff take unethical shortcuts. As is the case here, where consultant Eric Schnurer authored the jobs plan -- and self-plagiarized his own writing from other Democrats' job plans. Is this acceptable? No, of course not. But let's be very clear: Mary Burke didn't sit down, pour through Schnurer's work, and select passages to lift. That was a decision made by Schnurer, and almost certainly (considering what a needless political liability it would be) without Burke's knowledge.

So how did Burke and her campaign react when they found out? Did they really shirk responsibility, as the Republican party suggests?

Of course not. They acknowledged the error and took action.
"We terminated (Schnurer) immediately after this was brought to our attention by BuzzFeed," [Burke spokesman Joe] Zepecki said via email. "No member of the Burke for Wisconsin campaign staff or the candidate had ever seen the jobs plans of the candidates named in the story."
Burke hired staff with histories that would recommend them as reliable persons. Where it was discovered that this was not the case, the offending person was promptly let go. The worst you can accurately stick on Burke is poor judgment -- and considering Schnurer's resume, even this is a tenuous one. 
Yeah, that Mary Burke...what an idiot she is for hiring a guy with no prior (known) blemishes on his record, who had successfully written for multiple campaigns in the past. I mean, what was she thinking?!

Not that Mary Burke would have been the only one to encounter a consultant who decided to "recycle" for her campaign. No indeed. In fact, none other than ... Scott Walker! ... was criticized for this same thing last election cycle, when a consulting firm he hired copied both the fundraising technique and parts of the content from a 1998 campaign event for Ohio Republican George Voinovich. The one difference? After criticism started, Walker's campaign claimed that the idea was truly their own, and said that the firm actually advised them of the fact that they had done the same thing previously...and it was still okay'ed. If that is true, and not just a face saving measure (the goal was to illustrate how "incredibly genuine" Scott Walker was -- and his genuineness coming from a consulting firm's list of "eh, we haven't done this in awhile" might not aid that impression...), the "recycling" in this case came from Walker's camp, over the objections of the consultants. Either way, that saying about people who live in glass houses comes to mind...

In conclusion, the plagiarism scandal, if honestly evaluated, is little more than an embarrassment to Burke's campaign: she unwittingly put faith in a consultant (or consultants) who did not merit it (despite seemingly persuasive evidence to the contrary). She hired a guy with a great resume, who in turn ripped off his own past writing, and in the process gave the Republican Party a chance to distract from the continued failure that has been Scott Walker's time in office. And if you think that ill placed faith in an employee somehow signals an abysmal lack of judgment that should thwart her gubernatorial ambitions...I would remind you that Burke isn't the only leading candidate whose aides have humiliated them with unethical behavior. She is, however, the only one whose aides didn't actually do anything illegal while exercising terrible judgment (unlike the multiple campaign aides of Walker's who have been charged with crimes). Because if hiring someone who proves (despite appearances to the contrary) to be unethical should cast doubt on your abilities...what does hiring not one, but multiple, criminals entail? Again, we go back to what I was saying about people who live in glass houses...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pearls Before Swine strikes again

Another brilliant Pearls Before Swine comic.

The Rat trap (haha) illustrated here is worth contemplating: overemphasizing some aspects of a given thing (be it an act, a belief system, etc.) while downplaying other aspects is hardly a reliable way to form an accurate opinion about that thing. And resorting to "bribes" -- be they actual bribes, or rationalizations, justifications, etc. to convince ourselves -- is at least as bad.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Vyckie Garrison & the free gift of eternal life

An article based on Vyckie Garrison's speech at the Atheist Convention in Salt Lake City recently went live on her Patheos blog and other sites. I had already watched the talk on AtheistTV, and I highly recommend it (video below). If you prefer the shorter/written variety, it is at the link above.
Garrison spends some time discussing the Quiverfull movement. It being a movement very similar to what I was part of growing up (I don't specifically remember the term "quiverfull" being used, but the concepts were extremely close), I was particularly interested. I was the oldest of six kids, and we were raised for the greater glory of God...with the idea that we too would all raise a bunch of kids for God...who would raise their own army for God...and so on and so forth. And, naturally, we all answered to my father, because that's what God wanted. Seeing the similarities (misogyny being the overwhelming theme, often manifesting in identical fashion) between these fundamentalist branches was very striking.

I think my favorite quote relates to more than just a few types of fundamentalism, though:

You see, being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” he means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Awkward Moments: Balaam's Talking A**

So I've got the flu, which quite possibly explains why I find this unnecessary censorship so danged funny. (I swear, I'm not this immature most of the time. No, really.) If you haven't checked out Awkward Moments Children's Bible, you really should. Because it's hilarious. Particularly when you were raised to think this nonsense should be read literally, and was evidence of some higher morality and ultimate right in the world.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Have you ever had this conversation?

I have, and it's not pretty. There's a certain type of believer who thinks the mere presence of dissent is an attack on them and the horse they rode in on; and the only way for there to be true "religious freedom" is when all other opinions are firmly squelched. Because anything less is an outrage.

Found on David G. McAfee's Facebook page.