Don't Stop the ACLU

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Are you a good word or a bad word?

A couple of posts back, my colleague astutely identified some of today’s most worthless debate jargon. While most of what the Captain said in that post was spot-on, I simply will not stand for his endorsement of the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

Here’s why both of these terms need to go:

Just look at them and you’ll see why no one debates intelligently about abortion in this country. One side says if you disagree with it, you’re against life; they other says you’re against choice. Are you starting to see the problem here?

It’s true that these words have come to take on other meanings and that in context just about everyone knows that “pro-life” means “abortion is murder,” which of course means “ban abortions” just as well as they know that “pro-choice” means “a woman should have total control over her body,” which means “keep abortion legal and safe.”

How about now? Is it getting any clearer?

Notice that each camp talks about the other as its opponent, but they are not having an argument. The quality of the resulting “debate” is terrible and absurd. It’s sort of like if I said, “The death penalty should be abolished because killing for vengeance is wrong” and you said, “Hamburgers are delicious.” The first contention has nothing at all to do with the second. This is not a debate.

As long as we keep this stupid terminology around, we’ll never get a real debate going. Those who fight to keep abortion legal will never have to address the question of whether or not abortion is murder (sure, the assumption seems implicit, but how many “pro-choice” people have you ever heard state flatly that abortion is *not* murder?), and those who oppose legal abortions will never have to address the question of a woman’s right to decide when her uterus is open for business (again, the assumption seems to be that a woman does not have the right to decide this, but you will never ever ever *ever* hear any “pro-life” person — ever — come right out and say “A woman has no right to declare her uterus off-limits”).

We need people to say these things. We need to define the boundaries of discussion, to get at the roots of the issues each camp is concerned with. We need smart people to spend hours at a time arguing just about whether or not abortion is murder. Then we need them to put that aside and argue for several more hours about whether a woman’s right to determine the allocation of her bodily resources to others is inalienable.

The camps (i.e. the ban-its and the keep-it-legals) don’t want any part of this, however, because to have productive arguments, each one must acknowledge the cornerstone of the other’s argument. And if they do that, they’ll also have to come to terms with ethical, philosophical and practical shortcomings of their policy recommendations.
posted by Maven Swift at 12:48 AM | link | 1 comments

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The politics of underpants

A group calling itself the American Decency Association has an ongoing public denouncement campaign against Victoria’s Secret. Victoria’s Secret is a specialty clothing store specializing in women’s undergarments and sleep apparel (a.k.a lingerie).

From americandecency.org:

Victoria's Secret distributes a magazine which [sic] is essentially soft porn … Their sexualized advertisements in wall and window displays in malls across America are seen by millions of American children everyday.

First, the good news: at least the group is being civil about it. They’re launching letter-writing campaigns calling up their congressmen and generally respecting the democratic process, which I appreciate.

But soft porn? Victoria’s Secret? Really? That sounds a little harsh to me. I’ve seen plenty of VS ads, and not a single one of them contains a sex act or even a naked person. All I see are women (usually posing alone and never posing with men) in their bras and underpants and miscellaneous pajamas, nighties, bathing suits, etc. If you see pornography when you see a woman in a bra, I think that says more about you than it does about the bra-wearing woman or the photographer or the company that hired them to sell the company’s bras.

Think about that. What, exactly, does it say when a fully grown adult person thinks a woman in her underwear is pornography? Don’t try to tell me it says the adult is an especially moral being. I know lots of very moral religious people, and they’ve all been to the beach, but I’ve never heard one declare the bikini pornographic.

It’s something else. If anything, it feels like a perversion of religion to be so ashamed by the vessels that carry our souls.

Not to mention, excuse me, but this is a store catalogue we’re talking about, like the ones they give out at Wal-Mart and Sears. Victoria’s Secret sells underwear, so their models model the underwear. If I am a woman and I want to buy a dress or a pair of jeans, I look through catalogues that contain other women wearing the jeans and dresses. Why are bras so different? See if you can tell me without using the words “moral” or “values” or “decent” or any synonyms or derivatives thereof.
posted by Maven Swift at 11:38 PM | link | 3 comments

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Words without thoughts never to heaven go

My favorite thing about the Internet is that it gives everyone a voice. My least favorite thing about the Internet is that it gives everyone a voice. The means of communication is no longer exclusively in the hands of wealthy TV/movie producers and newspaper publishers, and the common man has gained exceptional power since the blog revolution kicked off. But as I learned from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. Unlike pro journalists, bloggers don’t have fact checkers or editors to deal with, so they’re left to police themselves. Rival bloggers and readers help somewhat by calling bullshit when they see it, but for the most part, it’s up to the blogger himself to be honest and respectful.

Unfortunately, political rhetoric in the blogosphere devolved into – or maybe it started out with – petty bickering, name-calling, and general shenanigans.

This is a plea to all the poli-bloggers out there to refine their rhetoric and return the sacred art of debate to its rightful place. Below please find a list of words and phrases that we must banish (or at least use in a more appropriate manner) from future political discourse if we are to achieve our goal of a tolerant, peaceful community. Please note that variations and synonyms of the words below that are used to similar effect are also to be outlawed.

conservative/liberal/right/left – These words are used too often to dismiss dissidents without paying any heed to their arguments, as in “You’re just a conservative. I don’t have to listen to anything you say.” They do nothing but polarize.

communist/socialist – Similar to the above item. Communism and socialism are rarely associated with their political/economic theories, but rather, they are associated with anti-Americanism and authoritarian governments. Please use caution when deploying these terms.

freedom – Unless this word is followed by a prepositional phrase, such as “of expression,” please do not use it. Many people will use “freedom” in an attempt to elicit an emotional response, as in “terrorists hate our freedom,” to which you should reply, “No they don’t. They hate us because we’re Christians and we support Israel.” Let’s not throw around sacred words so loosely.

our children – Sure, there are basic protections we need to have in place for children, but don't invoke their names in the middle of a politcal debate unless you're discussing one of said protections. We don't collectively share all of the world's children, so speak for your own, not everyone else's.

stupid name puns, e.g. dumb-o-crat/rethuglican/etc. – Such puns are not at all clever or humorous. All they will do is make you look hateful and detract from your argument.

fascist – Before you use this word, ask yourself these questions: 1) Is the person I’m about to call a fascist an evil dictator, or does he support an evil dictator? 2) Does the person I’m about to call a fascist espouse oppressive, authoritarian economic and social policies? If the answer to either question is no, do not call the person a fascist.

morals/family values – These words no longer mean anything. Morals and values are entirely relative. Unless you’re offering your personal notions of morality at the same time, don’t use these words.

patriotic/unpatriotic – Also very relative. Ask yourself, does your opponent really hate America, or does he simply disagree with you about what’s best for America? Unless you’re expressing your own love for America, which is entirely acceptable, don’t use these words.

nazi/hitler – Just don’t go there.

flip-flopper – Changing one’s mind is acceptable. No need for name-calling.

bushisms – Making fun of G.W. for his linguistic flubs was entertaining for the first few months of his administration, but now it’s just kind of pathetic. Find something better to do with your time.

islamofascist/judeofascist – See “fascist.” Same questions apply here. Can't you just call such people "terrorists" instead of making up strange hybrid words that are vaguely offensive?

religion – You don’t get to make laws based on your religion, so unless religion itself is the topic of discussion, leave it out.

war on terror(ism) – As Mr. David Cross explains, “The war on terrorism is a fucking joke. You cannot win a war on terrorism. It’s like having a war on jealousy … It’s an absurd notion.” In a war on an abstract concept, no one wins.

spelling/grammar – Only assholes point out spelling and grammar mistakes. If you do this during a debate, you automatically lose.

illegal – Calling illegal immigrants “illegals” is a great example of bending the English language in ways it shouldn’t be bent. Please don’t change parts of speech. Respect the words, and they'll respect you back.

clinton’s blow job/bush’s drugs and alcohol – Who gives a shit? Find something relevant to talk about.

baby killer – Yikes! Just say you believe that life begins at conception. Don't turn people off with such angry words.

gay agenda – If you’re using this phrase to describe the LGBT population’s quest for equal rights and tolerance, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, no.

gun nut – The Second Amendment’s biggest champions are also the most responsible gun owners. Don’t call them names.

weasel words – FOX News loves these! Using phrases like “some people say…” and “it’s been said that…” is a good way to distance yourself from some crazy assertion when your actual goal is to make that very assertion. Please don’t do this.

bush bashing – If you want to criticize Bush’s policies, fine, but do it calmly and rationally. We already have one Michael Moore, and we don’t need another one.

loony/wingnut – Calling people who disagree with you crazy will only make you look ignorant. Don’t do it.

anti-choice/pro-death/anti-life – We agreed on the terms pro-choice and pro-life decades ago. Stick to those.

indoctrination – Calling institutions – particularly colleges and universities – indoctrination centers is the same as saying that all students are ignorant morons who can’t think for themselves. College students are actually very smart and independent, and they’re quite capable of making their own decisions. Give them some credit. (Aside: I spent four years at what is considered one of the most liberal universities in the world, and I never once encountered a professor who used the classroom to preach. It doesn’t happen as often as David Horowitz would like you to think it does.) The whole idea of indoctrination speaks very poorly of the human race. We're not idiots.

cable news hosts – What hath Ted wrought? Cable news is all show and no substance. The hosts of the supposed debate shows are all full of shit, and their discussions amount to pissing contests. If you watch them for entertainment (kind of like you'd watch pro wrestling), fine, but don't put any stock into what they say. Again, they're all full of shit. Especially O’Reilly, Geraldo, and Matthews. But especially all the rest of them, too. Don’t listen to them, and for chrissakes please don’t quote them or try to pass off their rants as valid arguments.

That’s it for me! Please feel free to add to this list.

posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 1:39 AM | link | 4 comments

Friday, April 07, 2006

Communarchists

I was browsing Stop the ACLU's online store today, and something a bit odd caught my eye. They have merchandise calling the ACLU a bunch of Commies, which isn't too surprising. But then at the same time, they have other merchandise calling the ACLU a bunch of anarchists. Say what? How can they be both at the same time? (Hint: They can't.)
posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 6:37 PM | link | 0 comments

Thursday, April 06, 2006

But will you love me tomorrow?

Calling all conservatives: this one's for you.

By now you've probably heard a lot about the "morning-after" pill, and I bet some of what you've heard is inaccurate.

If I understand correctly (and I'm sure you'll let me know if I don't), the reason many conservative people object to the morning-after pill is that they believe it causes abortion, which they believe is murder.

What I wanted to tell you, as discussed late last week on Slate, is that that may not be the case at all. I'll paraphrase a bit, so if you'd like to see the whole of what I've read, simply read the Slate article and follow the links from there.

Plan B is one-stop birth-control. When taken as directed, it will stop an egg from being released. If an egg has been released already, it will prevent fertilization/conception. It will also alter the composition of the uterine lining so that if an egg were already fertilized when the pill was taken, the egg would not be able to attach to to the lining. It does not, however, cause already implanted fertilized eggs to detach. In other words, Plan B does not affect pregnancies already in progress. I repeat, if a woman is pregnant already when she takes Plan B, nothing will happen.

Whether or not you believe that life begins at conception, it is inescapably true that pregnancy is impossible to detect until after a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. The doctors can't tell you until then. They don't know. To quote Slate:

"It takes a week and a half for hormones to register in pregnancy tests. To verify fertilization before then, you'd have to open the woman up. And that would kill the embryo."

So let me put this another way: Someone you love is raped. You take her to the hospital as soon as you can -- maybe an hour or two after it happens. You sit with her, cry with her, wait while the doctors examine her and treat any injuries (internal and/or external) she suffered during the attack. She can take Plan B right now and go to sleep tonight knowing that even if she has contracted a terrible disease, even if her attacker is still out there somewhere, even if she will have to testify against him in a court room and possibly be subject to further abuse in the form of questions about her sex life, her social life, her alcohol consumption, or the length of her skirt (all of which terrors she may have to face), at the very least she will not become pregnant.

Or a physician could refuse to give it to her for "ethical" reasons that may or may not (as discussed above) hold any water. I don't know about you, but if a physician refused Plan B to someone I love under those circumstances, I would be very, very angry.

Just think about that. Then, if you still disagree with me when I say that Plan B should not only be legal, but that hospitals should be required to disperse it to patients who want it, please take a deep breath and calmly tell me why.
posted by Maven Swift at 4:00 PM | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spare some freedom?

After the original reasons for the war in Iraq turned out to be a little less than true, the Bush administration regrouped and focused its rhetoric on two words: freedom and democracy. It was a somewhat effective attempt to add an air of nobility to the cause. In the end, I guess we wrested a nation of people from the control of a tyrannical dictator and introduced something like democracy.

It's all well and good that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power in Iraq, but all the freedom and democracy talk invites the question of why Iraq and not the countless other countries where F&D are limited or nonexistent?

Remember FDR's Four Freedoms. Quickly, they are freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. When ideas such as want and fear factor into the freedom equation, it's easy to see that evil dictators and corrupt governments aren't the only ones who abridge freedom. Poverty, hunger, disease, and strife can be just as oppressive as the cruelest of dictators.

Nowhere on Earth is freedom more lacking than the continent of Africa. Some of the atrocities that are happening in Africa right now make Saddam Hussein's Iraq look like Club Med. Africans are caught in the grips of famine, civil wars, genocide, and an AIDS epidemic. Here is a mere sampling of what is happening in Africa:

- In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, civil war claimed 4 million lives before a tenuous cease fire ended the bloodshed in 2002. It was the deadliest conflict since World War II.

- In Rwanda, over 900,000 Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus were killed by Hutu militants over 100 days in 1994.

- Twenty thousand children have been kidnapped and used as soldiers and sex slaves in the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

- Four hundred thousand have died in an ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

- An estimated 30 million Sub-Saharan Africans are living with HIV/AIDS, including 2 million children. Each day, about 6,500 people die from AIDS, a total of 2.4 million per year. As many as 18 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. In some countries up to 40% of the adult population has HIV/AIDS, compared to 0.3% in the United States.

It's definitely not a pretty picture. If we're so concerned about spreading freedom and democracy, why aren't we helping the people who need it the most?
posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 3:22 PM | link | 0 comments