Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Suzanna Walters: "The Tolerance Trap": a sweeping history of views of gay (in)equality

Author: Suzanna Danuta Walters

Title: “The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality
Publication: 2014, New York University Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-7057-3, 330 pages, hardcover, indexed, 4 parts, 11 chapters
Amazon link is here.   I reviewed the book from a free sample.
Remember how New Gingrich, back in the 1990s, used to talk about the “distinction” between “tolerating” something and fully “accepting” it.  And that something was homosexuality.
In fact, I can recall that in 1995, Gingrich wanted to go back to “asking” in the military, producing an outcry about “forced outings” from ex-servicemembers like Keith Meinhold – I recall that in my AOL inbox.  That was shot down, in a time when Bill Clinton’s feeble “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” was seen as an advance.  Shortly thereafter, in fact, Clinton would issue an executive order protecting gays in civilian jobs requiring high clearances, like at the CIA.   Walters covers the debate over gays in the military retrospectively in Chapter 7, called “Homeland Insecurities”, opening Part 3, “Citizen Gay” (and there’s no Rosebud as for “Citizen Kane”).

Maybe I’m off topic here, but I like to give my own recollections and reactions to a book like this.  I started my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the mid 1990s, during the critical period when DADT had started, and SLDN (now called Outserve) was coming into prominence.

The other parts of the book (rather like parts of the Elizabethean theater) tell you how it is set up: Part 1 is “The End of Coming Out?”, Part 2 is “Do these Genes Make Me Look Gay?” and Part 4 is “Escape from the Tolerance Trap”.

In fact, I came out twice.  The first time, in 1961, doing so got me thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman.  I would go to college at home, then graduate school in Kansas, take the draft physical three times, and actually get myself drafted in 1968, and “serve without serving”, or without the physical sacrifice in Vietnam of others.  I would start working, and experience my “second coming” in early 1973, just in time, before my 30th birthday.

So, what is there to “tolerate”?  Walters says, on p. 205, “the real lavender threat, perhaps symbolized by marriage but certainly not subsumed by it, is that gay kinship, gay sexual frontiers, gay intimacies will disrupt the norms of heterosexual family life.”  There you have it.  Gays will provide a distraction (or detraction) for marginal heterosexuals, making them less inclined to maintain the sacrifice that decades of familial intimacy (and the family bed) requires. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t work unless everybody else has to do it, too (reminds me of the old military draft).  In Russia, Vladimir Putin hardly minces words: he fears that homosexual “propaganda” will convince marginal “waverers” not to give the motherland the new babies it needs. I always thought that homophobia had a lot to do with the apparent “refusal” or reproductive duty.  But, after all, I’m an only child. 

But in fact the author had a baby and said she always wanted a child, even as a lesbian single mom.  I’ll leave the moralizing about the welfare of kids here to others.

Walters does a good job of analyzing the flaws of the “immutability” argument.  Not the least of these liabilities was mentioned by GOP Texas governor Rick Perry recently when he made the inevitable metaphor with a genetic inclination toward alcoholism or drug addiction (which is medically true).  She also provides a historical perspective on the marriage equality arguments, which have blossomed rather suddenly.  In my own day, I just wanted my own life, to be left alone, to live in a slightly separated, if reconciled, dominion – a big city.  I didn’t need to have the government of society support a personal relationship;  just leave it alone and ratification would come from within.

She mentions the “upward affiliation” issue (actually, that’s a term invented by George Gilder in the 1980s with “Men and Marriage”);  she discusses the “reparative therapy” claims of Joseph Nicolosi (one of whose missives is reviewed here Jan. 23, 2009), “So the male homosexual is trying to find his unfulfilled masculinity” (p. 114).  So, the logical question of Nicolosi is, “So what? Why is it somebody else’s business?”  We know how Putin would answer this.  Isn’t admitting psychological “contagion” or temptation just a sign of moral weakness of others?  There’s something interesting about her mention of Michael Lindenberger, who confronts us with the idea that we don’t get to choose the personal burdens we will carry in life (that others don’t).  Life was never fair. 

Her writing style is a lot like mine, particularly the wrote a lot of abstract arguments (regarding gays in the military, workplace fairness and family values as well as my proposed "constitutional amendment" in my first DADT book in 1997)/ 
She mentions Chandler Burr, whose book “A Separate Creation” created a big stir in the 1990s.  Burr has said that he is an assimilationist, but he criticisms of him go beyond that.  I have a review of Burr’s novel here September 1, 2010; see also his LCR booklet June 15, 2009.   

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Life publishes album "70 Years Later: D-DAY: Remembering the Battle that Won the War"

At a Harris Teeter in Arlington VA yesterday, I spotted a Time album book, “70 Years Later: D-Day: Remember the Battle that Won the War”, paper, 112 pages.

The book has seven heavily illustrated chapters: “Introduction”; :The World Stage-1944” (John Keegan); “Ike: The Indispensable Man” (Robert Sullivan); “Overlord: The Drumbeat to D-Day”; “The Longest Day” (Douglas Brinkley); “On to Berlin” (Daniel S. Levy); “Taps” (Harry Benson). 

The book is filled with graphic photos, including the actual casualties lying in the battlefield, mostly in black and white.  The color photos have the look of early Technicolor in the movies.

Time-Life (which is continuing to experience business issues and mergers in changing markets) says that when Life was founded, it didn’t anticipate becoming a war reporting magazine.

The world was generally oblivious to the threat posed by both Nazi Germany and Japan early in the War, but by 1943 (the year I was born) it had achieved a certain parity, storming from North Africa into Italy.  The location for the landing was chosen partly on the basis of surprise, that the Germans would not have been defending the specific areas chosen as well because the topography made landing difficult.

During the early years of the Eisenhower administration, my own father used to recall Ike’s order “Let ‘em rip.”  I visited the Omaha Beach site near Bayeux, France in May 1999 on a European visit.

The book points out that the Soviets actually liked the idea of seeing western Allies take more casualties.  The course of the war would set up a world where the Soviets would become an enemy very quickly after WWII because of ideology, and would push a social value system in the United States that kept male conscription very much alive, until the time of my own military service that started in 1968.

Wikipedia attribution link for D-Day Map of Atlantic Wall 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Elizabeth Warren: "A Fighting Chance": More about policy, less about personal values

Author: Elizabeth Warren
Title: “A Fighting Chance

Publication: 2014, Metropolitan Books, ISBN 978-1-62779-052-9, 366 pages, hardcover, heavily endnoted and indexed

Amazon link

On the Washington DC Metro, Sunday afternoon, going in to see an independent film, boarding at Ballston in Arlington, I was fortunate enough to sit by (in a crowded car) an attractive young man who noticed the book I was reading, and said, “that’s who should become president, rather than Hillary Clinton”.  It turned out he had been interning for another Democratic Senator and was about to look for real jobs on the Hill.

There are always two sides to the question of inequality question.  (Warren insists that nobdoy makes it completely on his own.) One side (as does Warren in most of the book) advances policy changes to level the playing field – and Warren argues quite persuasively in this book that it is much harder for “average people” to maintain traction on the treadmill than it was for my or her generation (I am six years older than her).  Policy changes often include rolling back tax shelters and breaks for the rich, and particularly more regulations on corporate America (especially, in this book, banks and financial institutions) to prevent deceiving ordinary consumers and tricking them into “irresponsible” personal financial decisions and investments (like overpriced homes with subprime loans).

The other side says that helping the poor is an individualized, personal responsibility, part of one’s karma.  Volunteer more.  Sacrifice.  Take turns in the soup kitchens.  Or make it personal.  Adopt disadvantaged children.  Get real.  And some of the more conservative churches (especially LDS) are very good with resilience, and with helping everyone after real disasters (like Hurricane Katrina in 2005).  Warren’s coverage of the personal vulnerability of many families – to one illness, natural disaster, or even crime victimization, would seem to underscore this view.  All of this melds with the view of equality of opportunity and collective resilience as moral imperatives.
Warren goes through her early like quickly.  But when he dad had heart trouble, the family care was repossessed and mom had to work.  She won a scholarship at George Washington University (from which I graduated in 1966) but dropped out after two years to get married.  Fantastically, while a mom, she finished her degree in Houston, went to graduate school, and eventually (and rather quickly) became a law professor.  That simply shows to me old fashioned ambition and hard work – a conservative virtue.  She notes that when she taught bankruptcy, she actually had students who didn’t take the subject seriously and flunked the course.  She gives a lot of personal anecdotes, like vomiting from nerves before going onto television.

She explains what led to the 2008 bust well.  It’s true, it was a vicious cycle.  The banks had won the deregulation they wanted, and Wall Street went wild with securitizing loans (and inventing default swaps).  With looser regulation, buyers could be approved with subprime interest rates and weak credit.  When the introductory rates expired, they couldn’t make payments.  Anyone with any sense would see this couldn’t be sustained.  But there was a whole system.  Because houses were temporarily overpriced, buyers had to go for it.  Mortgage salesmen had to make cheesy pitches to make quotas.  But were the individual homonwners “personally responsible” for trying to get something for nothing?  Should they have known better, if they thought ahead five years?  Oh, yes, real estate would go up forever, right? 

Warren makes some comparisons to the SL crisis at the end of the 80s, which was regulated more closely with a lot more prosecutions and lawsuits.

She talks about her work with COP (the Congressional Oversight Panel) and the creation of a CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Board).  She makes the point that financial arrangements should be regulated as “consumer products” rather than as “contracts”, buried in legalese.

The last part of the book concerns her run for the US Senate.  As a “pundit” or amateur journalist, I personally find it very difficult to contemplate volunteering for any particular partisan candidate.  Yet, it was with campaigns, volunteers, and solidarity that policy, collectively, used to get changed.  Would Warren really run for president?