Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sorry, it is a gun problem: "Cain killed Abel with a rock"

Inevitably, every time there's a(nother) prominent shooting, every time there's another senseless mass slaughter, the anti-gun control crowd predictably contributes to the conversation by screaming about how keeping guns out of the hands of killers isn't a viable solution to stopping killings.

There is one particularly stupid meme I've seen shared, in one form or another, after every mass shooting in the past few years (and, yes, the fact that I even have to write those words, the fact that we've become so acclimated to a world where mass killings are another facet of life -- and that the primary concern of so many is defending unlimited gun ownership rather than, I don't know, people --  makes me sick).

I don't know where this originated, but you can find it in lots of places.

Predictably, after the Charleston shooting, I've seen it showing up in my feed. The image, which reads, "Cain killed Abel with a rock. It's a HEART problem, not a gun problem" references Jeremiah 17:9.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
At which point, you're supposed to, apparently, throw your hands up in defeat. People have been killing each other since the days of myth, my friend; it's all part of God's mysterious plan, so don't be hating on the guns. It's all a byproduct of our fallen natures, so if you want to do something really productive, you won't waste your time preventing would-be killers from acquiring weapons that enable them to commit mass murder; you'll do something really useful, like push religion on people to address that "heart problem." (What religion? Well, damn it, your church's of course! After all, who knows the mind of God better than you and everyone who agrees with you?!)

Earlier, I called this a particularly stupid argument. Aside from the absurdity of trying to divine some sort of solution to a complex contemporary issue from a literary murder that was supposed to happen thousands of years ago, this is just a poor argument.

No one is suggesting that guns are the One Ring, that will corrupt the mind and turn a "Good Guy with a Gun" into a deranged killer. No one is suggesting that guns are the only tool with which someone intent on murder can go about realizing his ambitions. On the contrary, it's not that guns create killers, or that guns are the only tools killers have or could ever use, but that guns enable killers to do significantly more damage than they could do without guns. This isn't a difficult concept, but the image bypasses the actual issue at hand by implying a few strawmen arguments.

Like Don Quixote's windmills, the points this image addresses aren't real arguments. But those who share it seem to be convinced that they are, and that simply noting that people kill with other weapons too is enough to shut down a conversation on gun control.

Sorry, folks, it's not. We all get that some people snap, some people are evil, and some people are going to attempt -- and succeed at -- killing people. We get it. That's the reason we're having this conversation. And we get that guns are not inherently good or evil. They're just objects. We've got the concept.

But those inanimate objects, in the hands of people with "heart problems," are capable of inflicting a hell of a lot more damage than a rock would be. Which is, you know, why we're talking about keeping those tools of killing out of the hands of people who mean to misuse them.

It's really not that difficult of a concept. We recognize that the more damage a weapon is capable of inflicting, the more regulated it should be. No one in their right mind would argue that we should just let countries pursue nuclear programs, because, what the's a heart problem, dude, not a nuke problem! We're not crazy enough to advocate for civilian ownership of military weaponry because, hey, Cain killed Abel with a rock,'s not about Neighbor Bob's tank! We realize that when something empowers people to commit mass murder, it might be in our interests to regulate who has access, or at least keep them out of the hands of violent, crazy people.

Until we get to guns. Then, all of a sudden, our reasoning capabilities seem to go out the window, and we resort to, "But, dude, Cain used a rock!"

Sorry, people, it's a gun problem. It's a gun problem because we're making it incredibly easy for killers, those who suffer from "problems of the heart," to get guns, and those guns enable them to commit mass murder. That's the gun problem.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vesterheim museum, in Decorah Iowa

This past weekend I joined a group of folks from a rosemaling class I was taking for a field trip to the Vesterheim museum in Decorah Iowa. Wow.

So much history -- and beauty. Here are a few highlights from different sections of the museum.

Perhaps one of the most moving exhibits was this one, the translation of a poem written on a barn board by Halvor Langslet before leaving for America:
Here have I roamed many a day
in this wood, so green and fair,
but alas, my time is up,
ad I must bid this place adieu,
for I am off to America.
Farewell, ye birds, ye thousands
who for me have sung.
I fancy I'll here ne'er again come.
Farewell. Farewell.

- Halvor Langslet

 There was also a fascinating selection of items that accompanied Norwegians to the United States. Some of them were expected -- like spinning wheels, plates, etc. And then there were things like the following, which is a beautifully carved butter mold:

There were a number of fascinating pieces of furniture, including this one, that combined some impressive painting and carving.

The rosemaling was incredible, too.

Obviously, this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of everything that we saw...but hopefully it gives you an idea of the kinds of stuff there. If you're interested in rosemaling, or acanthus or chip carving, or immigrant history, etc., this is definitely a place to go!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Reminder: you are a broken, miserable person. Now praise the one who made you that way

Like God's Not Dead, Do You Believe? is pretty active with its "we love Jesus -- now see our movie" meme offerings. 

Like this one: a reminder that you, human, are a worthless, broken entity. By God's design (and Eve's snacking). And the only thing that can save you? Why, the thing that broke you in the first place! (Oh, and see our movie!)

You know what they say about imaginary cures for made up ailments...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Conservative Christian persecution watch: Gay ISIS and the impending criminalization of Christianity

As you may know, there are few groups as persecuted today as right wing American Christians.
Scratch that -- no group as persecuted today as far right American Christians.
Hell, there's probably never been a group quite so persecuted.

And do you know who is doing the persecuting? Well, obviously, there's the usual suspects -- women, Muslims, liberal Christians, liberals, feminists, moderate Christians, environmentalists, the Pope, the media, abortion doctors, and, of course, Obama. But there's no group quite so insidious, quite so brutal, quite so relentless and hateful as gay Americans.

You see, gay Americans want to be able to walk into a store and purchase an offered service without being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Gay Americans want to have the same marriage rights as straight Americans.

In other words, they're basically ISIS. And I'm not even really exaggerating here, except completely. But this is actually a concern some right-wing Christians have been expressing, as in the article The Gay Rights Movement: ISIS Without the Bullets?

It's a provocative question -- if, by provocative, one means bat-shit crazy. But, as Patheos blogger Libby Anne demonstrates rather well, bat-shit crazy is more or less a way of life for the article's author, Gary DeMar.

But the sentiments DeMar puts forth are hardly unique to the furthest fringes of the right-wing. They're rather a common refrain among the pro-discrimination crowd: it's persecution not to be allowed to discriminate against gay people. Throwing in ISIS is just the crazy-frosting on the rabid-bigot-cake.


DeMar's argument is that since breaking the law comes with consequences, sometimes financial ones, in the United States, American Christians who want to break the law are basically in the same boat as victims of ISIS, who must convert of die. Other than the dying piece. Which is kind of like saying that a paper cut is like a beheading, except you get to keep your head: still three degrees past are-you-freaking-kidding-me?

There's a lot more that could be said about it, but these points are worth making.
  • No one is demanding a conversion -- Jan (above) can be as bigoted as she likes. No one is trying to change her mind, or make her love gay people. She just can't break the law to withhold offered services from gay people. That's not what ISIS asks of its victims. By a long shot.
  • "Lose everything" is a significant overstatement (even in the cases he lists, many involve no financial repercussions, and in some cases the loss of income is voluntary -- the bigots in question would rather shutter their shops than sell to gay people). The comparison makes this particularly egregious -- because the "everything" in question on the left is literally everything, and the "everything" on the right is...well, not even close.
  • On a similar note... fines are not death. It's a far cry from slapping a fine on a shop that discriminates against customers based on sexual orientation (or race, or religion) to killing them. ISIS without bullets (and beheadings and burnings and sledge hammers, etc.) is not really ISIS. What makes ISIS so particularly loathsome are the very things the DeMar dismisses. When you strip away the killing, maiming, torturing and other violent aspects of ISIS, that's not ISIS.
But, as I alluded to earlier it isn't just one random homophobe spewing absurdities on his blog. This persecution complex is pretty inherent to the religious right these days. It's the message from celebrities like Josh Duggar (of '19 Kids and Counting'), who suggests that not being allowed to persecute people is actually an example of Christians being persecuted, to presidential hopefuls like Mike Huckabee, who thinks that...well, not being able to persecute people is evidence of Christians being persecuted.

Huckabee didn't mention ISIS, but he didn't need to invoke gay Jihadis in order to stumble through the looking glass.
I think it’s fair to say that Christian convictions are under attack as never before. Not just in our lifetime, but ever before in the history of this great nation. We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.
Because, you see, if gay people are allowed to wed, and religious charlatans can't force damaging pseudo-medicine on gay people, Christianity and Christians are under attack. It's not just bad, it's worse than it's ever been.

Basically, ISIS is at the gates. Demanding cake for their gay weddings.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The most delicious phone (or, cat meets technology)

I know I haven't been posting much has been taking up most of my time these days. But for now here's a video of my cat Teddi trying to eat my phone, because why not. :)

Monday, April 6, 2015

The "Special Snowflake" Syndrome of American Conservatives

The "religious freedom" debacles in Indiana and Arkansas have illustrated a lot of important points lately. The big one, of course, is that we as a society are moving past the point where it is socially acceptable to harbor animus toward another human being because of their sexual orientation, and try to find refuge in the law for discriminatory impulses that arise from that animus.

But there's another important one that should not be overlooked. It's the religious far-right's "special snowflake" syndrome. That's really what the entire conversation is about: conservative Christians thinking that because they believe God sanctions their particular brand of bigotry, they're special snowflakes who shouldn't be retrained by human decency, much less the pesky laws that the rest of us are obliged to follow. If you hate hard enough, the rules don't apply to you.

Because you are a special snowflake, who really, really believes in what you're doing; your feelings about something make you so special that the law just ceases to apply to special little you.

And it's not like conservatives are going too far out on a limb in believing this. In some measure we've come to accept that belief should excuse you from following the law, even as it impacts others. With, for instance, Hobby Lobby, we see a shift toward the idea that your beliefs, even if factually wrong, simply exempt you from the law -- even when, in practice, that has an impact on other people. We've moved away from the sensible idea that a person shouldn't be held to laws that conflict with his beliefs where exemption won't have an impact on others, to a world where religion is a valid excuse to get out of such obviously necessary things as driver's licensing rules. So we've gone from "your career won't be ruined for using a prohibited substance in your religious ceremony" to "you don't have to provide health care coverage for medicine you don't like". Religion and religious belief has become the trump card: having a belief about something, in a sense, did make you a special snowflake, and you could get away with all sorts of things, regardless of the impact on other people, by virtue of how special you were.

All animals are equal, but animals who profess a strongly held belief are more equal.

Or so conservatives, and their overly broad interpretations of religious freedom, seem to have convinced themselves. And then along comes the Indiana skirmish, and all of a sudden this isn't a given any more. Along the lines of "your right to swing your fist ends where the other fellow's nose begins," people, it seems, are not willing to make the same allowance for belief when it impacts people beyond the believer as they are when it concerns just the believer. In other words, people still haven't lost sight of the only sensible view of religious liberty there is: we should all be free to live according to our consciences, up until the moment that those consciences drive us to impose our beliefs on another person. In a world full of competing, often contradictory ideas, this is the only view of religious liberty that is feasible, or could possibly be evenly applied.

And it's a far cry from the special snowflake syndrome conservatives seem to be suffering from...because, at the end of the day, none of us are or should be special snowflakes in the eyes of the law, and none of us should have a trump card to use at the expense of our neighbors.

(Image info: "Unique, snow flake" by Pen Waggener - Flickr: Unique. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Since when did we decide that American discrimination doesn't matter as long as someone else is worse?

I must have missed the memo, but since when did we decide that our discrimination doesn't matter as long as someone else, somewhere else, is worse?

It seems like the right has adopted this as a go-to defense of their bigotry: stop whining about American Christians who want to be able to oppress gay people -- at least we're not asking to kill them, like they do in some countries!

It's a takeaway from Senator Tom Cotton's suggestion on CNN the other day that Americans upset by the potential for legalized discrimination really needed to "have a sense of perspective. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay."

And it's certainly the implication to posts like the following, from former Congressman Allen West.
I find it ironic that we are so tolerant of a religion that kills Christians, gays and lesbians, yet we are punishing businesses in America for their Christian religious beliefs. It seems this Easter weekend we are reminded that Christian persecution has risen to a disturbing level.
The above text accompanied this image:

Not only, you see, are Christians being "persecuted" by not being allowed to discriminate against LGBT people, West is complaining that we're tolerant of a religion that kills gay people. Presumably, the religion in question is Islam -- not only because it's a safe bet that, at any given time, Allen West is no more than half a sentence away from an Islam-slam, but because it would be far too much to expect the sort of honesty that would acknowledge the existence of murderous, homophobic strains of the Christian faith.

The message, then, is that you've no business criticizing Christian bigots, because at least they're not trying to murder gay people like some Muslim bigots do. (Except, of course, when they are; but once you're down the conservative rabbit hole, you realize that while "bad Muslims" define the faith, "bad Christians" just don't count.) In short, be grateful, gay people: American Christian conservatives are contenting themselves to isolate and discriminate against you, when they could be trying to kill you!

Of course, not all versions have to do with Muslims.

If Islam is Allen West's kryptonite, abortion is right-wing writer Matt Walsh's. So, obviously, he tells us in an over-the-top rage-fest on The Blaze, anti-discrimination efforts are, like, totally pointless -- because abortion!
Don’t be silly, the national outrage has nothing to do with dead babies, instead it’s all targeted at Indiana. No, not because anyone’s life is in jeopardy, but because a few homosexuals might be inconvenienced when attempting to purchase consumer goods.
In Walsh's mind, it's crazy that people could simultaneously think women should have reproductive rights and LGBT people shouldn't face discrimination.

Now, are there worse things that anti-gay discrimination? Of course (although a woman's right to choose is certainly not one of them...). Back in the day, there were worse things that segregated drinking fountains, or racial miscegenation laws. But we recognize that "something worse exists" isn't a valid reason to legalize the somewhat-less-bad action. It doesn't absolve a thief of his crime because he didn't also commit murder like someone else might have: he's still guilty of theft. It doesn't absolve a bigot of bigotry just because his particular brand of bigotry doesn't lean toward murder.

Yes, there are worse things than treating gay people like second class human beings, and there are more violently-inclined bigots than your average right-wing Christian bigot. But so what? There are worse things than having your wallet stolen -- both legal and illegal. But just because some financial schemes are essentially legalized theft, and some criminals resort to worse crimes than theft, I'd still be pretty upset if someone stole my wallet. And, if it was legal to steal wallets, I'd work to make it illegal.

So, no, conservatives, you don't get a free pass to discriminate just because there are worse bigots than you. No, it's not okay that you want to deprive people of anti-discrimination protections because you also want to target other people and their rights. You're not moral just because someone else somewhere else is even more immoral than you.

And, frankly, you do yourself no favors by lying on top of aggressively pursuing special protections for your bigotry. I don't think anyone outside conservative circles thinks it reflects well on you that your stance on LGBT rights isn't as bad as that of ISIS' or the Ayatollahs'. And I doubt the comparison sits that well with a lot of your base, either.