Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Erring on the side of life

I don't really know what to make of the whole Terri Schiavo battle because I don't know enough of the particulars. Did she tell her husband she would want to die in these circumstances or didn't she? Is he an adulterous sleazebag who just wants the life insurance money, or does he have her interests at heart? I don't know, so I'm glad I'm not the one who has to decide. I do know, however, that if I were in Terri's shoes, I'd want the tube removed. In fact, I'm working on a living will to say just that so that my family will never have to fight over what to do should this happen to me.

I have to admit that I'm confused by the conservative Christian stance here. I understand why Christians would be against euthanasia. I certainly am. But I'm not sure why a Christian, who presumably believes in a glorious afterlife with God, would want to artificially prolong a life here when the higher functions of the brain are gone. Do they really think it's better to lie in bed not able to think or feel or be than to move on to the next life just because we have the technology to do so? And yeah, I know there is disagreement about whether or not she's in a "persistent vegetative state," but I find it hard to believe that she isn't. If she hasn't recovered after 15 years, then how likely is it that tomorrow will be the day? Miracles can happen, but they can happen with or without the aid of technology and it seems cruel to me to use the technology just on the off chance that there might be a miracle.

The whole thing feels to me like her family is in a 15-year-long state of grief wherein they won't move to the final stage, acceptance, and their supporters are helping them stay stuck in that place.

I don't know that in this one particular case removing the tube is the right thing to do. But if it's ever me, please remove the tube, let me be alive with God instead of the living dead here, and let my family grieve and move on. That's how I would define "erring on the side of life."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Some words from James Madison

Today I found an interesting quote that James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper #10 that pertains to the whole "activist judges" thing and the idea that if the majority of the population votes for something, it must be right.

[M]easures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

The whole article is entitled "The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection" and is basically about how the government needs to safeguard individual rights against the passions of various factions. Very interesting reading.

Friday, March 18, 2005

One step forward in California

A little behind the times here, but of course I had to comment on the California decision this past Monday.

Naturally, I'm thrilled, although this will obviously be fuel for constitutional amendments in many states. Certainly we're already seeing it in Arizona.

The arrogance of this ruling is incredible - the people of California voted by 61 percent to preserve marriage, which has been the fundamental social unit of society for thousands of years. But one judge in San Francisco knows better than all of us, and has created out of thin air a "right" to homosexual marriage.

I have to say I don't get the whole "activist judge" argument. Isn't that why we have the judicial branch of our government, to keep the other two in check so that there cannot be a tyranny of the majority? 61% of the people deciding what other people can or cannot do with their private lives doesn't make it right. I know it's not the same, you can't compare GLBT rights with black history, but Brown v. Board of Education can't help but spring to mind. Thank God "activist judges" didn't allow a majority vote to decide what is right and just.

I totally agree with the judge that the justifications for the "marriage defense" laws aren't sufficient. Tradition? Slavery was a tradition, too. Marriage is just for procreation? Uh, good thing there are fertility drugs these days or I guess my marriage wouldn't be valid. That whole concept is deeply flawed.

That ruling in Baker v. Baker, the conservative group noted, held that "the first purpose of marriage, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation. A woman, to be marriageable must, at the time, be able to bear children to her husband."

Baker v. Baker, by the way, was an 1859 case to allow a man to annul his marriage because his wife was pregnant by another man. Judge Kramer then quotes more from the decision of this case:

"With a man of honor," the 1859 decision reads, "the purity of the wife is essential .... We can conceive no torture more terrible to a right-minded and upright man than a union to a woman whose person has been defiled by a stranger."

This is the best argument for marriage needing to be limited to man/woman only? There isn't even a passing similarity between adultery and same-sex marriage. I like Judge Kramer's response:

The line in Baker regarding 'the first purpose of matrimony' no more supports a rational governmental purpose to preclude same-sex marriage than would the line in the same paragraph that 'with a man of honor the purity of the wife is essential' support a notion that in California, only virgins can marry.

You go, Judge Kramer!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

More from those wacky folks at the Center for Arizona Policy

I'm really trying to wrap my mind around this group. The things in their newsletters (link will be provided as soon as they put the current one on their website, but for now I'll post the contents of the newsletter as a comment to this post so people can read it in its entirety) are so outrageous that it would be hilarious if they didn't have some real political clout and the ear of people in Arizona who might believe what they say is true.

In a counter-response to Wingspan's response to their claims that homosexuals are more likely to be molesters, is the following:

The President of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault said that "the vast majority of men and women who sexually abuse children self-identify as heterosexual, regardless of the genders of their victim." (emphasis added). Read that carefully - there is no attempt to say the study from Illinois is flawed.

Uh... nothing like taking a single quote out of context (with no link to the entire Wingspan response, I might add) and then making a conclusion that is directly refuted by other quotes omitted.

For clarification, here are some quotes that not only attempt to say the study from Illinois is flawed, but bluntly state outright that its author is a hack:

"Dr." Paul Cameron, the author of the study that Len Munsil cited, was kicked out of the American Psychological Association in the early 1980's for unreliable survey methodology and outright lying about data to further his own radical agenda.

Citing Cameron's breach of the APA code of ethics, the APA expelled Paul Cameron from its membership in December 1983. Cameron claimed that he had actually resigned before the APA expelled him, but APA bylaws prohibit members from resigning while they are under investigation.

In 1985, the American Sociological Association (ASA) asserted that Cameron "has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism" and noted that "Dr. Paul Cameron has repeatedly campaigned for the abrogation of the civil rights of lesbians and gay men, substantiating his call on the basis of his distorted interpretation of this research." An ASA committee was formed to critically evaluate Cameron's work. The ASA voted to pass the following resolution: "The American Sociological Association officially and publicly states that Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and condemns his consistent misrepresentation of sociological research."

I find it interesting that the CAP must give its supporters incomplete information in order to make their point. Fight your fight, yeah, but don't do it through misinformation. I guess that's why this group scares me. There are people who get e-mails from them who believe their lies (yes, I'm sorry, I'm not going to mince words here, CAP is lying to their supporters) without doing any checking. And this wasn't even the most outrageous assertion the newsletter made, just the easiest lie to expose. There's stuff in there about "homosexual activists...fail[ing] to repudiate organizations like the 'North American Man-Boy Love Association'" and more stuff to try and falsely connect GLBT rights to pedophilia. It's really malicious and I have a hard time accepting the statement in the next article at face value:

But we cannot allow our concern about policy to override our compassion for those individual people who are caught up in homosexual behavior.

I just can't see anything Christ-like or compassionate in the attacks they make.

For more information on this "study," see this previous entry or even better, these comments from a social scientist who did some digging into the (in)famous Illinois study and its author.

Friday, March 11, 2005

When is a rape not a rape?

Apparently when the perpetrator is the victim's spouse.

Wow. I mean... wow. I didn't even know spousal rape was seen as less of a crime in the eyes of the law. What possible logic could defend this?

After reading about this this morning, I was so angry I wasn't even coherent. After taking several hours to calm down, I wrote the following letter to the House Committee on Human Services and my own senator and two representitives. It is significantly toned down from how I really feel about this, but hopefully it will get the point across.

To the members of the House Committee on Human Services (and to my District 30 representatives and senator):

I am writing to you in regards to SB 1040 regarding spousal rape, which was assigned to your committee and then failed there.

I am extremely disappointed that Representatives Allen, Anderson, Knaperek, and Nichols voted against this bill. It seems to me common sense that rape is rape. The fact that the victim is married to the perpetrator should not make it less a crime. As a married woman, I am horrified by the idea that in the eyes of the law it would be more acceptable for my husband to attack me than a complete stranger. Particularly disturbing were Rep. Nichols' comments as quoted in the Arizona Daily Star:

"When you enter into a marriage, you enter into a contract for all sorts of different things with your spouse," including sex, he said.

Since the "including sex" was paraphrased and not a direct quote, I would like to give Rep. Nichols the benefit of the doubt that he was misinterpreted. Surely Mr. Nichols is not saying that the wedding vows include either spouse giving up the right to say no. I know I said no such thing in my vows and am appalled that such a thing could even be implied.

Women -- and men -- have the right to say no to sex. Whenever they want. To whomever they want. Including their spouses. How could it possibly be less of a betrayal to the victim when the perpetrator is someone who is supposed to be the person she trusts most in the world?

I am not afraid for myself; it would never even occur to my husband to violate me in such a way. There are many women, however, who are not as fortunate. Domestic violence is a huge problem in our state and in our country. How can we fight against it if we then say that one of the most vicious and psychologically damaging forms of abuse is not considered a serious crime when committed by one's spouse? What does that tell the woman trying to escape an abusive home? That she deserved to be rape because she's married to her attacker?

Please reconsider this important legislation.

More on equating homosexuality with pedophilia

Here is a good editorial about equating homosexuality with pedophilia.

Also, I got the following from Knitress, who commented on the March 8 CAP post on this topic. She did some further research on Dr. Cameron and his methods, and I thought her results were worth posting. To quote her credentials from that post, she is "a social scientist -- an economist (Ph.D, tenured prof, etc. etc.) [She doesn't] do research on homosexuality. If it matters, [she's] straight and a practicing Catholic." A huge thanks to her for researching this, sending me her findings, and allowing me to post them here.

Here's my reaction to my digging on Paul Cameron. I'm emailing rather than posting as a comment on Bad Methodist because of the length. The short version is that his methods aren't just weak -- they're lousy. The way that he leaps to conclusions has no scientific merit and seems to me to be totally driven by his preconceptions.

I've done expert witness work, and I'm not surprised to hear about the judge's reaction to his testimony.

The "obituary study" he did is a truly fine thing, btw. He argues that being gay is unhealthy. None of our datasources for lifespan tell us if the dead person is gay or straight, so instead he looked at the obituaries in gay community papers and compared the age at death to the reported age at death in "regular" newspapers.

And what do you know? Gays and Lesbians die decades earlier than their straight peers!

Except. . . suppose your uncle Jim just died. You kinda think he might have been gay, but heck, the man was 80, and you never really knew the details of his life. Do you think that you'd ask the local gay newspaper to run an obituary?

In short, the data he used are so bad that you just can't trust the conclusion.

I've had trouble locating his study. As far as I can tell, it was published in the March issue of Psychological Reports, which looks to be a not-at-all-impressive but peer reviewed journal.

Based on the newspaper coverage, it seems that he looked at children in foster care or in a "subsidized adoption" (eg, special needs kids who are adopted; parents in this case get a stipend similar to a foster care stipend) in Illinois from 1997 - 2002. The study results (as far as I can tell) are:

(1) 1% of the kids were molested each year; 3% were physically abused. I am very nearly certain that Cameron didn't survey the kids or the families directly; more on this later.
(2) Over the period, 34% of the molestations were "homosexual in nature" by Cameron's definition; in other words, fathers molesting sons or mothers molesting daughters.
(3) In 69% of the cases where a mother was the abuser, the victim was a girl. In 14% of the cases where a father was an abuser, the victim was a boy.

Cameron goes on to claim that between 1.5% and 3% of the overall adult (ages 18 - 59) population is gay. (More on that later as well). He's quoted in an Illinois paper as saying that these findings "suggest that a child's risk of being molested is considerably higher when their parent engages in homosexuality".

Why? Well, as far as I can tell, his argument is that if gays molested children at the same rate at which straights did, then only 1 - 3% of the molestations would be same-sex. Because straight people would only molest children of the opposite sex, and gay people would only molest children of the same sex. What that conclusion doesn't take into account is that it's entirely possible -- indeed, it's likely -- to be a father molesting a foster son while still having sex with his wife and identifying as straight.

I also have serious questions about how the sample was selected and the data source; I'm willing to bet quite a bit that Cameron didn't survey the families, but is relying on DCFS records. If "straight" abuse is less likely to be reported than same-sex abuse, his results are meaningless.

What's repugnant to me -- as a social scientist -- is the way in which Cameron is willing to jump from his results to a blanket conclusion that the children of gays (foster or not) face a higher risk of molestation. His data simply don't support anything remotely like that conclusion.

I also did a little digging into Cameron's overall record. He's done some amazingly and appalling bad "research"; it all reaches anti-gay conclusions, and he then goes on to make blanket statements about how dangerous it is to be gay. I see no sign that he's done anything that I'd consider to be serious academic research. The best example of what's wrong with his work is his "obituary study".

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

It's baaaaack!

In 1988, Arizonans passed an Official English amendment to our state constitution that would require government services, ballots, etc. to be conducted in English only. It was eventually struck down by the Arizona Supreme Court for violating the U.S. Constitution.

17 years later, Official English is back.

[House Concurrent Resolution 2030] would amend the state constitution, including prohibiting ballots and election materials from being printed in any other language.

[The amendment], which would have to be ratified by voters next year, also would bar printing most other documents in different languages and even would let someone sue the government or its employees and officials for violations.

Supporters believe this bill would survive the legal challenges that brought down the 1988 amendment.

Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the new language does not have the same flaws. He pointed to a provision that says public employees and officials could continue to speak with constituents and residents in any language. There also are exceptions for public health and safety, protecting the rights of criminal defendants and crime victims, and documents necessary for international trade.

Still, making it illegal to print ballots in another language (and we all know we're talking Spanish here because of Arizona's proximity to Mexico) is disturbing, particularly this gem:

[Rep. Pearce] also said nothing in federal law requires ballots in other languages. Pearce said it simply prohibits states from requiring that voters be fluent in English.

Isn't that drawing a bit too fine a line? We can't require voters to be fluent, but we can make it impossible to vote by not providing ballots in Spanish?

For the record, I strongly believe that immigrants to the U.S., particularly ones who wish to become citizens, need to learn English. I used to work at a school for the deaf, and as such I was a foreigner in their land, if you will. I felt it was therefore incumbent upon me to learn the language of the "land," American Sign Language. After two years of ASL classes and another four years working there, I never did reach fluency, but I got pretty close. By the time I left, I was able to hold one-on-one conversations in ASL with a fair amount of confidence, and if a deaf student or teacher had a request of me, I could usually understand it and respond without help. That said, even in my last year there, if there was an issue of great importance where accurate communication of difficult concepts was critical, I always requested an interpreter. Not out of lack of respect for ASL or out of laziness to use it, but because some things I simply was not yet capable of expressing or understanding in anything but my native language. Had I not left the school when my children were born, I expect that I would have eventually gotten to the point where an interpreter was not necessary for even crucial discussions, but it would have been a long and ongoing process.

If ever there was an issue that fits both the descriptions "complex" and "crucial," it's issues on the ballot. Even with English as my first language I sometimes have difficulty understanding ballot initiatives. Do we really expect a new citizen, even one with a decent command of conversational English, to be able to get the concepts presented on a ballot with enough accuracy to vote correctly? Do we really think that we're following the spirit of the law by not barring non-fluent English speakers from voting, but not allowing them information in their own language?

Encourage residents of our state to learn English, absolutely. But don't put unnecessary barriers in a naturalized citizen's right to vote by forcing All English All the Time down their throats. Print ballots in Spanish because of the vast numbers of Spanish-speakers here, and provide interpreters for non-native speakers of other languages. Some issues are just too important to make language a barrier.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Will the Center for Arizona Policy please apologize now?

You gotta wonder how firm a ground an organization is standing on when they need to use outright lies to defend their position. The Center for Arizona Policy is the right-wing organization that is trying to put a very restrictive amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions on the Arizona constitution. They released the following statement in their March 3 e-mail newsletter:

HOMOSEXUAL MOLESTATION. Here's something you won't read in the homosexuality-promoting mainstream media - homosexuals molest children at much higher rates than heterosexuals. The latest evidence - a six-year study of sexual abuse committed by foster parents in Illinois found a highly disproportionate percentage of the cases were homosexual. While only about 3 percent of adults engage in homosexual behavior, 34 percent of the molestation cases in Illinois involving foster parents were homosexual. Based on this study, homosexual molestation occurs at a rate about 17 times higher than heterosexual molestation. Will everyone who accused the Boy Scouts of bigotry for blocking homosexual Scoutmasters please apologize now?

Oh, where to begin with such a ridiculous load of manure?

First, the "study" was conducted by The Family Research Institute. One glance at their website will reveal their bias.

Second, the researcher involved, Dr. Paul Cameron, was kicked out of the American Psychological Association in 1982, kicked out of the American Sociological Association in 1985, and had his credibility as an expert witness questioned by a judge in a Dallas Texas District court case about sodomy, all because of his "consistent misrepresentation" and "distorted interpretation" in his research.

Third, the heads of both the Arizona Sexual Assault Network and the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault called CAP's comments "long on hype, but short on facts" and creating "false panic allegedly on behalf of Arizona's families."

If a bogus study that flies in the face of real studies about the lack of relationship between sexual orientation and pedophilia is the best CAP has to offer in its attack on same-sex marriage, consider me unimpressed. If they want to offer any kind of real debate, let them first take their own advice and "please apologize."

The value of a job

I thought this editorial about raising the minimum wage was interesting. I don’t know much about author Steve Chapman nor the studies and economics experts he cites, but I do agree there are some real problems with raising the minimum wage.

The idea that wages should be based on what constitutes a "living wage" has always struck me as illogical. Wages are paid for services rendered and should be based on the value of that service, not on the value of the person performing that service. My husband is an excellent spouse, father of triplets, and currently the sole financial provider for our family. While all of these things are valuable to us, they are irrelevant to his employer. When he asks for a raise, he doesn’t ask for it based on any of these factors, even though they are the main reasons why he wants a raise. Instead, he bases his request on the work he does. He either deserves a raise or he doesn’t because he’s doing valuable work for his employer or he isn’t. The fact that feeding a family of five is expensive has nothing to do with his value to the company and we have no right to expect the employer to take that into consideration any more than a single person should expect to make less for the same job just because he or she doesn’t have anyone else to support.

Frankly, there are some jobs out there that just aren’t worth $7.25 an hour, even if the worker is trying to feed a family. That doesn’t mean the person doing those jobs isn’t valuable or doesn’t deserve to earn a living wage, but if one wants to earn a living wage, one needs to find a job where the contribution made to the employer is worth $7.25 an hour or more.

I know that’s oversimplifying poverty. I know there are factors that make finding good jobs difficult for those already below the poverty line. I also know that Christians are called to help the poor, but we have the responsibility to make sure we’re being effective in helping the poor and not applying band-aids that may make the situation worse in the long run. Poverty needs to be addressed at the cause level: how can we help people learn the skills necessary to earn a living wage? Artificially inflating the value of some jobs is not the answer. It’s unfair to employers (who aren’t always rich and selfish but may be struggling to feed their families as well), bad for business, and ultimately bad for consumers, to whom the increased cost of business gets passed on. Last time I checked, "consumers" includes those below the poverty line and increased cost of living only makes their situation worse.

I would be much more in favor of increasing wages on jobs that are underpaid not because workers can’t earn a living wage, but because the service they render is more valuable than the compensation they’re receiving. Teaching is a profession that springs to mine. There’s an area where I would support wage increases, not because I worry about the personal finances of teachers, but because teaching is an incredibly difficult and incredibly important job. Educating our children should have a high value attached to it. Flipping hamburgers at a fast food joint should not.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Gospel of Luke

I've been doing my daily Bible reading this year from The Message by Eugene H. Peterson. Normally I choose translations over paraphrases (NRSV is my favorite), but I have to say I really, really like the new insights I'm getting from reading Peterson's version.

My favorite Gospel--my favorite book in the whole Bible, actually--has always been Luke. A lot of people really like John's Gospel, but there is a tone to that one that has always bothered me, whereas Luke just has a feel to it that speaks to my soul. I always figured a lot of it had to do with the fact that Luke wrote about women more than any of the Gospel writers. Also, he's a scientist and therefore very methodical in his storytelling in Luke/Acts, which appeals to my sense of wanting things to be rational and in order ::coughANALRETENTIVEcough::. Today I begin Luke 1, and Peterson's introduction really intrigued me.

But religion has a long history of...reducing the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules, of shrinking the vast human community to a "membership." But with God there are no outsiders.

Luke is a most vigorous champion of the outsider. An outsider himself, the only Gentile in an all-Jewish cast of New Testament writers, he shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by the religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheepherders), the racially different (Samaritans), the poor. He will not countenance religion as a club. As Luke tells the story, all of us who have found ourselves on the outside looking in on life with no hope of gaining entrance (and who of us hasn't felt it?) now find the doors wide open, found and welcomed by God in Jesus.

YES! No wonder Luke has always spoken to me! Where John seems to be the gospel of Skittles Theology, Luke is the Gospel of the outsider included.

I look forward to the next month of reading Luke. Then onto the challenge of reading John in April. Actually, I look forward to that, too. I'm curious what new insights Peterson's Message will bring to one of the books I find most difficult.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One down, two to go

I am relieved that my fellow Arizona citizens are significantly less scary than our legislators. Public outcry killed HB 2666.

Now we just have to get rid of HB 2325 and SB 1363.

You go, Arizonans!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Do you feel safer yet?

Many of the legislators in the Arizona state government scare me, and today's news is a good example of why. Two pieces of gun legislation sailed through the House of Representatives. The first, HB 2666, would allow people to carry concealed weapons, including guns, grenades, rockets, mines, and sawed-off shotguns, into any public place so long as they're only trying to defend themselves.

Current statutes list a series of acts that are a crime. These range from carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and having a deadly weapon on school grounds, to possessing certain "prohibited weapons," which includes bombs, grenades and automatic rifles.

The restrictions do not apply to peace officers, members of the military, correctional officers and anyone specifically authorized under state and federal law to have these weapons.

HB 2666 would add a new exemption: any U.S. citizen "who carries a deadly weapon for personal protection or the protection of others." The exception also extends to those who are protecting "the state" as well as any home - whether or not the person lives there.

So let me get this straight. Anyone can take a gun or, say, a grenade to a school campus to defend themselves. This will somehow make us safer? Somehow, I don't see a Columbine-type scenario being improved by teachers, or God forbid students, being armed and shooting back.

Then there's HB 2325.

[HB 2325] allows anyone who gets a permit to carry a concealed weapon to keep that permission for life. Gone would be the requirement to renew the license every four years, undergo a new background check and attend a firearms refresher course.

HB 2325 also would cut the required hours of initial training to get a permit in half, to eight hours.

So if we take these two bills together, we not only have people allowed to carry concealed guns into places like schools and courthouses, but we're going to make sure they're untrained in how to use them?

My father is a CPA and he has to go through extensive testing to renew his license every few years. This is logical because if he is ignorant of changes in the law, he could easily ruin someone financially. It's common sense. Yet the legislature doesn't want to apply the same common sense to someone wielding a weapon as they do to someone who wields numbers? What's wrong with this picture?

The Senate has its own scary legislation before it.

SB 1363, awaiting Senate debate, would permit guns if the bar or restaurant owner does not post a written notice, and if the patron promises not to imbibe.

Oh my. I can carry a gun into a bar if I promise not to drink? Yeah. That'll work.

All three of these are, of course, supported in the name of the Second Amendment. The intent of that amendment, however, was never to allow for vigilantism. Ratified in 1791, 15 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Second Amendment states, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." (emphasis mine) The country had just won a revolution against a totalitarian regime, and they won it with a militia made up of private citizens. In order to ensure this infant government would not itself turn totalitarian, the Founding Fathers wanted to protect the rights of private citizens to fight back against the state. Of course, in an era where the war was won with muskets and bayonets and the closest thing to a WMD was a cannon, they could hardly foresee an age of nuclear and biological weapons, none of which I'm too crazy about being in the hands of the average citizen. Still, the intent was clearly to protect the people from the government, not from messed up kids firing AK-47s on their high school classmates.

None of these laws will help defend the people against the state, and none of them will protect innocent people from criminals. All they will accomplish is to make it more likely that schools, courthouses, bars, or anywhere can become a war zone. Yes, the criminals are already making it so. However, well-intended but untrained people firing back is hardly the solution.