violence against women act

The Article

Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy, co-chairs of WomenVote Pa, wrote a scathing opinion article on 03/11/13 as an indictment of the Pennsylvanian legislators who voted against the Violence Against Women Act.

They did so because they see the resistance of these legislators as politically motivated marginalization—if not of women, then of the subset of women who happen to also be “gay, bisexual, and transgender domestic abuse victims [as well as] Native American Indian women assaulted on reservations by non-Indians.”

They pull no punches. They name names:

Mike Kelly (PA-3); Scott Perry (PA-4); Tom Marino (PA-10); Keith Rothfus (PA-12); Joseph Pitts (PA-16); Tim Murphy (PA-18).

They do so even though the act was passed.

The Content

Why, then, despite a victory do they pursue an annihilation?

This might be why:
Because the article gave me the curiosity to go ahead and contact my representative. I asked him why he had voted against the revised act. This is what he said (I italicized his reasoning):

Dear Mr. Kane,
Thank you for contacting me about the Violence Against Women Act. It was good to hear from you, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
As you may know, the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became law in 1994, with the goal of preventing domestic violence and protecting abuse victims. Since then, Congress reauthorized VAWA twice, and although the most recent authorization expired in fiscal year 2011, VAWA programs have continued to receive funding.
During the 113th Congress, both the House and the Senate offered reauthorization bills forVAWA, which came to a vote in the House on February 28.
I voted in favor of the House language to reauthorize VAWA because I agree with you that it is important to prevent and prosecute violence against women. This legislation would have increased oversight and ensured that funds actually go to prosecuting perpetrators and providing much-needed services to victims.
The Senate version of the bill raised constitutional questions about the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts over non-Indians. In particular, I had concerns about rights to due process and a jury trial for non-Indians in tribal courts. Without the opportunity for the House Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings on the Senate bill, I could not support it. Ultimately, the senate Version passed the House of Representatives and now awaits the President’s signature.
An essential part of our government is the exchange of ideas between constituents and their representative, and I value your input in this process.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me on this important issue, and it is an honor to represent you and Pennsylvania’s Twelfth District in Congress. If you have any additional thoughts or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. To read more about my views and positions on a wide range of issues, you can sign up to receive the District E-Mail Newsletter by visitng

If Mr. Rothfus, as he here claims, voted against the Senate version of the bill because it “raised constitutional questions about the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts over non-Indians,” then I suppose I can’t pitch a fit. That seems like a legitimate concern, albeit for potential defendants in abuse cases.

I am most curious to know why the House Judiciary Committee had no opportunity to sort those questions out and suggest a tweak of that section of the legislation. It seems to me like Mr. Rothfus is implying that the HJC is a normal part of this process, which raises the question—why was this intentionally-designed body responsible for oversight of legislation barred from that duty? If, however, the HJC isn’t a normal part of the process, well, that makes Mr. Rothfus’s concern a bit of a standout.

Here’s why: Pennsylvania has no federally recognized tribes. So, beyond attempting to ensure that defendants of abuse cases are adequately afforded due process, it seems as though Mr. Rothfus is protecting his constituency from something that doesn’t exist—namely, a tribe and its tribal court.*

*I’m not claiming to have a great understanding of these things—it’s with a cursory logic that I hit this snag. I may very well be missing something crucial, and so if you have any familiarity with the law or what happens when a Pennsylvanian non-Indian goes to Oklahoma and is accused of brutalizing a Native American woman there, then please share!

Let me now explain that I did not find the reasoning that Mr. Rothfus offered as substantial enough to dictate a rejection of the re-authorization of VAWA. In fact, because I had so many questions about it, I had another read—this time at what was between the lines.

What I found was no mention of the other portion of what changed in this version of VAWA: the inclusion of “gays, bisexual, and transgender domestic abuse victims.” And that’s just a little bit suspicious—especially because Mr. Rothfus opposes same-sex marriage. You would think he would have at least mentioned opposing protection for women in those relationships because he believes they ought not to exist in the first place. To turn to a technical reason—a mutable and distant-from-the-spirit of the law reason—as substantiating his rejection seems like a cop-out.

That said, I’m not very happy with his reply.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.


a president for black america

The Article

Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post wrote a wonderfully engaging opinion article on 02/20/13 by creating a simple supposition in reaction to something President Obama said during an interview with Black Enterprise magazine.  The question posed to the President was this: “How do you respond to the criticism that your administration hasn’t done enough to support black business?”  The President responded, “I’m not the president of black America.”  Emphasis on the unspoken “only” may have been tactful on the President’s part, but while the statement is realistic and just there is something amiss—an opportunity blown, a reservation when an assertion ought to have been made.  Milloy sees this, and so appropriately dons the mask of President Obama to give a revised and more complete reply to an underlying question, “How do you respond to the criticism that your administration hasn’t done enough to support black life?”

Milloy slams the reader with statistics that drip blood and tears.  And these statistics linger because his writing flows, metaphors dropped are immediately picked up and used again in escalation.  My favorite, which seems a shame to say given what it means, is this:

Our “school to prison pipeline” is so huge that it would make the Keystone XL pipeline look like a soda straw.
It’s surreal: Big Oil getting its black gold out of the ground while we bury ours.

I can only recall front page of the Local section and the countless portraits of murdered black men and women, of their weeping and wailing families.

Milloy, as faux president, continues with a turn of apology, a list of quotes that illustrate the President as being well aware of the deplorable state of black America yet perhaps never naming it as starkly as it truly exists.  What he can name starkly, however, is his own future:

Let me be frank. Less than two months into this new term, I’m already having trouble getting a secretary of defense confirmed—and a Republican one at that. Two years from now, I’ll be a lame duck for sure. So I’m asking you to think long term.

The last sentence is no longer a Milloy-as-the-President;  it’s a worried Milloy—worried by the all-too-human tendency to lose hope quickly, to disengage, and to become self-destructive.  Facing that threat, Milloy musters the strength to put on the mask again and offer a plug for the President’s web page that seeks to build a collaborative relationship with the black community, and then to set expectations high:

Get involved. Take advantage of every opportunity available. Then help create more opportunities for others.
This is your president speaking. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

The Content

I shared this article for two reasons—first because it’s rare that an opinion article is so creative.  Opinion writers often speak on a personal level—as themselves—and if they do deviate, it’s to an absurd and comical degree, masquerading as ideologues.  But this was different; it was sedate and honest; it was a writer sharing himself through something he cared about rather than through a personal narrative or expert opinion.

The second reason is that I’m pleased it was brought up.  I’m displeased it needs to be “brought up.”  But surely my having written that illustrates my location, describes my awareness, and cuts my attentiveness down to the size of just who I am.  I then am left wondering if this article was otherwise effective.  How many more hits did the White House website get that day?  How did you receive the article?  What should that mean to me?

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

eliminating gerrymandering

The Article

David W. Miller, a faculty member in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote a wonderfully thoughtful article on 02/17/2013 describing a potential solution to eliminating the political bias inherent in district-drawing.

Miller writes tactfully when he first introduces the issue of gerrymandering.  He neglects to name names (though anyone who is aware of our political present knows instantly of whom he writes) because such a simple device bespeaks of the honesty of his suggested solution.  He understands that the redrawing of districts is, due to time, necessary.  He also understands that the growth and decay of populations adhering to our dominant political parties will ensure periods of greater rule for each—rule that will include oversight of the redrawing of districts.  So, if the examples he provided put the GOP in a bad light, it is only because they are the most recent party guilty of biased redrawing; the same should be evident in times when Democrats had greater rule; the same could be evident in the future for both parties.

Following this sensitive presentation of evidence, Miller shares the reason of why he’s writing—the unique qualification of having compiled a software database of census and federal elections data for use in his courses.  It would seem that if such a program could be used to witness the power-dynamics of the past, a similar program could be crafted to prevent unnecessary (and detrimental) power-dynamics of the future.  Again, Miller is no champion of finger-pointing; he is merely an intelligent person who stumbled upon a brilliant idea worth sharing.

And so he shares, suggesting that we ought to, with the assistance of technology, eliminate the threat of human bias by implementing a computer program for the sensible redrawing of districts.

The Content

I share this article with you because it is exemplary of what good news should do.  It presents an issue without undue accusation, it describes the origin of its own generation, and it concludes with an appeal that suggests a just solution.  Miller’s thinking mirrors that of a few writers I greatly admire, and whom I hope you might likewise find worth reading: Steven Johnson,  Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, and Malcolm Gladwell.

I also share this article because of its relevance to the issues that I normally write about—issues that are propagated by (and which have solutions inhibited by) politics.  When gerrymandering occurs, our political power as voters is manipulated—waxed and waned—according to the machinations of politicians.  In this way, politicians are evidenced as actors in an exercise of self-preservation, a sentiment captured by the article’s accompanying artwork, produced by artist Stacy Innerst, that nods respectfully to M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

failure of the courts

The Articles

I want to vomit.  No, I want to beat something to bits and vomit over the pieces and cry all the while.  Why so visceral?  Because for the past two days I’ve been confronted by articles in the newspaper that exhibit a horrific scene facilitated by the court that could easily be avoided by a practical and cheap solution.

The two articles (day 1, day 2) by Paula Reed Ward of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describe the current trial of a suspected serial rapist.  If the charged crime itself elicits both disgust and rage from you, then you are human.  If the trial for such a crime seems like putting a band-aid on an amputation (yet must still be conducted for the sake of averting future horrors), then you are reasonable.  And if the articles encourage you to believe something is amiss in that courtroom, then you are a knife like me.

Ward seems to feel the same way—that’s why her articles open with narrative to pull our hearts through the meat grinder and end with partial courtroom transcriptions to demonstrate the fallout of a gap or flaw in courtroom procedure.

The Content

What disturbs me is twofold:

First, that the court failed to recognize the potential and unnecessary harm that would be imposed upon the victim-witnesses while encountering their accused violator.  This encounter is not a simple or proximal encounter either—in fact, the judge had wherewithal enough to demand that the defendant remain seated while conducting the cross-examination—but it is instead a complex encounter, a conversation of sorts designed to draw out relevant details that ought to sway juror opinion.  But in reading the partial transcript, it is evident that the defendant had no interest in swaying opinion.  In fact, it seems as though none of his questions substantiate a defense; rather, they seem to have but one end—to relive the episode.  Having but the most cursory of understandings of rape dynamics, I yet vaguely recalled it being purported that most rapes are assertions of power rather than unbridled lust or perversion.  Such were the obvious directives of this defendant’s cross-examination, and constitute a second violation of these victims as they are obligated by the court and the success of their case to answer their accused violator and in detail describe their helplessness at his hands.

Second, that such a circumstance has not yet been resolved!  Within hours of reading the first article, I wrote to a law-student friend and within minutes he replied that while the judge ought to have foreseen this complication (and the devastation it propagates), what’s more crucial and what removes the burden of a judge’s discretion is a change in courtroom procedure.  His proposed solution?  Allow the defendant to conduct his own defense—only this time, in recognition of the potential for his abuse of that right and privilege, allow him only to write the questions and assign a court clerk to actually ask them of the victim-witnesses.  This is merely a product of a moments’ discussion, and the issue begs more knowledgeable and capable actors for appropriate address.

What this case illustrates is a gross disparity between what the collective culture knows about the best treatment of individuals and what the local culture of any institution, group, family, or couple actually exhibits.  Our failure to share and embrace information and enact simple, practical solutions causes undue suffering and further retards our growth as a healthy global society.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

immigrants, women, and scouts

The Article

Humor seems to be the only device that makes current news of behind-the-times action palatable, and that’s why I bring this article, written on 01/30/13 by Reg Henry of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to your attention.  After noting the “Sporadic outbreaks of sanity and common sense” involved in the push for immigration reform, the revision of combat-restrictions for women, and the consideration of the Boy Scouts to drop a ban on gay scouts, he hares off on a delightful little description of his fake website, (Latin for “my mistake”), that can be used by politicians to generate letters of apology to the citizens they’ve neglected and marginalized in the past—namely Hispanics, women in the military, and gay prospective (or current and closeted) Boy Scouts.

My favorite Reg-mea-culpa letter:

“Dear Hispanics of America,

It came to our attention during the presidential election that some of you would rather have voted for a cactus than a Republican candidate on the grounds that the cactus was less prickly to your sensitivities.

Apparently some of you have mistakenly gotten the impression that we in the GOP think you are all illegal criminals who have come here to take away jobs from those Americans who, just like you, are dying to make motel beds and pick lettuce when not on welfare. We regret this impression very much and we are mucho sorry, as you say in your language. Please vote for us next time because we now believe in immigration reform. Really.

Sincerely, the RNC”

Henry’s article is a muted celebration of progressive change and as such serves to leaven the arena of discussion surrounding these issues, and although he teases the opposition, he also judiciously points out that many are now deviating from the conservative bloc to participate in an “era of reasonableness.”

The Content

While I agree that the trends evidenced by these efforts and events are positive, I must also emphasize their corollary demands for attentiveness.  For if changes are enacted without due consideration of the people subject to the policy, then we will be in for a much longer and much more arduous process of change fraught with incidents, inefficiencies, and over-corrections that may obscure progress.  The adoption of a progressive and pragmatic mindset also requires the proliferation of comprehensive knowledge.

For instance:

It seems as though immigration reform has garnered bi-partisan support more for political reasons (substantiated by the fast-growing population of voting Hispanics with whom the immigration issue is a priority) than because of an honest desire to curb the deleterious effects of ignoring or otherwise addressing the issue via punishment—both ineffective and costly methods.  I hope that the new policies are tailored to facilitate immigrants and current illegal residents toward a conscious investment in our culture by sharing and integrating their own.  I suspect that with cohesive mechanisms in place, we can expect greater appreciation for American multiculturalism and a lessening of the xenophobic vestiges of racial and ethnic hate.

With respect to greater inclusion of women in combat positions, I hope that the military identifies and fosters an appreciation of the strengths and abilities that women can contribute to modern warfare.  By updating policy to reflect realities on the ground, the military has created an atmosphere of transparency that is essential to identifying, understanding, and addressing issues that arise.  In addition, I have an idea that begs vindication: it seems that women (on average—remember that all people are sexually diverse in body and mind) might be more effective in navigating front-line activities in which civilians are a battlefield complication.  I suggest this because women, who are generally more adept at communication because of a higher attentiveness to body language and vocal tone, seem predisposed to greatly contribute to the awareness and safety of soldiers operating in complex environments that belie traditional war-zone boundaries.

Lastly, I am encouraged by the actions of Boy Scouts of America to consider the repeal of an organizational ban on gays, but it is a hop when a Wiley Coyote sling-shot leap is needed.  The repeal of the national ban would simply pass the choice on to local chapters—a move that does nothing to thwart the hate perpetuated in an organization funded in large part by various religious institutions.  In fact, those institutions seem so threatened by this possibility of self-determination that effectively embraces a marginalized population (and the consequent questioning and erosion of dogma)  that they have suspended funding or diverted it to other boys organizations that purportedly still discriminate appropriately.  What the BSA ought to do is act at a national level by implementing a policy of openness, complete with education of boy scouts and leaders about the biological sex spectrum.  Such a move would inevitably shake up the financial supporters of the group, but I suspect that for every donor that abandons the youth, another will rise to the occasion in appreciation of a truly respectful organization.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

lgbt student safety

The Article

Taryn Luna of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an article on 01/21/13 about the efforts of three entities (the Persad Center, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in hosting a “Safe Schools Summit” to identify what mechanism is at play in the failure of Allegheny County school districts to explicitly condemn the bullying of LGBT students despite higher probabilities of this population being bullied than their heterosexual peers.

I explained in my i am a heterosexual male post that this marginalized population suffers mistreatment because of a general public ignorance.  It doesn’t help, then, that when the author sets the stage for the impetus of the summit, she uses phrases that misguide us.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents are more likely to become targets of bullying in school and attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.  /  But in 93 percent of anti-bullying policies in Allegheny County school districts, there is no mention of sexual orientation, gender identification or sexual preference.”

To begin, the author groups lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents together by putting them in a undifferentiated parallel list.  The trouble is that the first two groups of adolescents describe biological sexes and sexual orientations; the third group describes a nebulous biological sex and a sexual orientation that recognizes only the polar biological sexes; the last is not a biological sex or sexual orientation, but it is instead a gender role identification that happens to be contrary to one’s biological sex.  Now, the author can’t really be blamed—this term-cluster has been around for more than a decade, and so its inherent flaws are simply a reminder that the known reality of biological sexual difference as a clear concept among the public is as yet unrealized.

Given that unfortunate state of affairs, I would like to take a moment to hash out some new term categorizations that I think would help all relevant discussion:

Biological Sex Spectrum – the entire range of humanity as physically developed by varying amounts and balances of sexual hormones

Genitalia – male, female, intersex (ambiguous), hermaphrodite (both male and female), transsexual (sexual reassignment in accord with transgender identity resolution)

Brain (Identity, internal feelings) – cisgender (same as genitalia), androgynous/queer/polygender (ambiguous), transgender (opposite of genitalia)

Brain (Role, external expression/sexual orientation) – heterosexual/straight (corresponds to opposite genitalia), homosexual/gay (corresponds to male genitalia), homosexual/lesbian (corresponds to female genitalia)

*Also note that although I’ve distinguished genitalia from the brain in making these lists, they inform each other throughout development.

In addition, and evident after a consideration of the terms above, the author’s inclusion of “sexual preference” is doubly faulted.  First, it is a redundancy: sexual orientation describes sexual attraction, and so to include “sexual preference” is to posit it as a possible choice of terminology used by school districts in policies.  Second, such a terminology implies that sexual attraction is a choice; biological science explains that it is not.  To keep this myth alive is to keep alive the myth that such an attraction can be changed—a dangerous notion that negates our comprehension of reality and maims the victims to which it is applied.

Please enjoy this cartoon from the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So in which the concept of choice is invalidated:

If it seems to you that I’ve made an awfully big stink over a few mismatched terms, then consider this: the crucial distinctions I’ve just made are the foundations of a new structurally-complex way of considering biological sex as a spectrum of development, and such distinctions are necessary to encourage the public to comprehend this complicated reality.  If it seems to you that I unfairly cut-up the author’s work, then let me say that I absolve her from fault on the grounds that the article is subject to the constraints of the medium.

The Content

The summit, at which some 200 people gathered, is just the first of a three-part project that will identify the “lived experience” of LGBT students via survey and conclude with focus groups to “develop solutions and accountability measures to take to school districts for implementation.”  This approach seems like a sound attempt at comprehending and then addressing the issue.  But it also seems like a wasted effort, and this is why: The two researchers from Duquesne University conducting the project have previously “found that one reason adolescents continue to target LGBT students is because they don’t see it as bullying.”

You ought to be asking yourself what the hell that means.  I spent a day wrapping my head around it.  I’ll start by defining bullying as the malicious intimidation and violation of another person by verbal or physical means.   If the actor does not recognize the action of bullying for what it is, then what is it, precisely, that they do not recognize?  Surely, in saying that these adolescents don’t see LGBT victimization as bullying, they admit to knowing what bullying is.  That leaves just a single element unidentified—the person.  I suspect that these adolescents don’t see their acts as malicious intimidation and violation of another person because they do not see LGBT students as people, but instead must see them as freaks, as contemptible deviants.

I can think of only two sources for this kind of mentality: religious dogma and an industry-perpetuated sexual binary.  In a practical address, I suggest two things: the promotion of a critical analysis regarding the day-to-day drivel we’re inundated with from the popular media (as I hope to have done here), and the early (before puberty) education of students with respect to the biological sex spectrum.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

my creed

Knives like me,

You now know my location as well as how I comprehend the world from it.  Everything that I write from this point forward will most likely draw upon the same conclusions and values that I have already set forth.  We will observe the validity of my creed as it encounters life.

But before moving on, I would like to summarize the past three posts below:

Biological sex is something that isn’t our choice, but that does matter; it is our duty to comprehend the biological sex spectrum and to identify where we are on it so that we can both embrace others and our own dispositions.

Racial distinction is something that isn’t our choice and that doesn’t matter…except that we’ve made it matter by having subjugated and marginalized a people based upon race; it is our duty to recognize this paradox and address it as best we can.

Religious adherence (or lack thereof) is something that is our choice and that does matter; it is our duty to comprehend the context of other religions, and to deny them their practice when it inhibits education or threatens human dignity.

Each topic described a mechanism of expressing difference among humans for the sake of maintaining lesser communities than that to which I feel a part.  This is why I addressed each in turn: Humanity is my community.

I remember just two words from my greatest teacher: Slow down.  And that’s just what I intend to do here—slow down, observe, and share what I think with you.

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

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