Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday Reading

Old Warriors — Jill Filipovic at The Nation explores the myth that Roe v. Wade started the culture war and that marriage equality will further it.

Numerous commentators, most notably at The New York Times, have expressed concern that a broad ruling on marriage equality could turn into the next Roe v. Wade, igniting decades-long culture wars and damaging public perception of the Supreme Court. Better to rule narrowly, they say, and let the states follow the emerging trajectory towards marriage equality.

That argument, though, is not only totally ahistorical, but dangerous for both civil rights and the Court’s credibility.

Contrary to the current mythology, Roe didn’t incite the culture wars, and before the case was decided in 1973, the right to abortion across the fifty states was far from a foregone conclusion. As Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel detail in their book Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, an organized, primarily Catholic Church–backed anti-abortion movement existed in force before Roe. Although abortion rights were initially championed by Republicans and favored by a majority of Americans, social conservatives saw an opening to exploit for political gain. According to Greenhouse, before the Court decided Roe, conservative architects of the “New Right” had already decided to use opposition to abortion as part of a strategy for party realignment that would come to fruition with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. “New Right” leaders sought to bring Catholics and into the party and politicize Evangelicals to form a coalition of traditionalists based on hostility to progress and change.

Abortion was hardly their only issue. The new conservative coalition opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, claiming that gender equality would destroy the family and send our daughters to war. They stoked white voters’ fears of full racial integration with racist tropes about black criminals and welfare queens. Those narratives and appeals to tradition continue today, with social conservatives hoping for a return to a gauzy vision of Good Old Days America before the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s—and before women, people of color, religious minorities and other marginalized groups were able to secure a full range of rights.

A different ruling in Roe—or none at all—wouldn’t have prevented a Republican Party realignment that was already underway. It wouldn’t have prevented abortion, and the rights of women and other traditionally disempowered groups, from becoming controversial political issues. But a Roe-free United States would almost certainly mean a United States wherein abortion laws were wildly varied, with women in many parts of the country having no legal right to abortion at all. Similarly, even though Brown v. Board of Education inspired an immediate backlash from Southern racists, it’s tough to argue that without court intervention, racial integration of public schools and other facilities would be better without Brown than the (admittedly lacking) state of racial equality today.

Acceptance — Aaron Hartzler tells how he gets along with his parents who would rather see him dead than gay.

“Honey, we’re praying for you.”

This is how my mother ends every email she sends me. Typed in italics and peppered with smiling emoticons, Mom’s electronic missives are as precious as she is — as earnest as the Empty Tomb Cake she bakes each spring on Good Friday. An edible replica of the cave where Jesus was buried after dying on the cross for our sins, the Empty Tomb Cake is the standard passion week centerpiece in my childhood home. It is frosted in gray, surrounded by a field of green coconut grass, and finished off with a Hostess Ding-Dong as the stone that was rolled away. On Saturday night, after everyone goes to bed, Mom steals into the kitchen under cover of night and rolls the Hostess Ding-Dong away from the door of the Empty Tomb Cake, then retouches the frosting. On Easter morning Jesus has risen — right there in the middle of the kitchen table.

As sweet as Mom’s loving messages and born-again baked goods appear at face value, there’s a silent threat in “we’re praying for you” that sticks in my craw. I came out to my parents the first time at the age of 19 when I was kicked out of the Bible college where my dad taught. Since then, their ongoing prayers for my “deliverance” from “Satan’s lie of homosexuality” have continued unabated in the presence of my four younger siblings and the unsuspecting wait staffs of Olive Garden restaurants nationwide. Indeed, my parents offer a never-ending stream of supplication to a God they’re certain is testing them with a son who has been blinded to the righteous pursuit of a female partner by the penis-shaped temptation of Satan.

“We’re praying for you” isn’t a harmless afterthought. It’s not a pleasant wish for my general well-being, continued physical health or financial security. No, my mother’s “we’re praying for you” is an italicized baseball bat, a silent plea for God to change her oldest son from something abhorrent and abominable back to the fresh-faced young man who dated the captain of the Bible college cheerleading squad, before it was discovered he was also sleeping with the captain of the boy’s soccer team.

Very Natural Gas — A dairy farm in Indiana goes for recycling in a big way.

Here at one of the largest dairy farms in the country, electricity generated using an endless supply of manure runs the equipment to milk around 30,000 cows three times a day.

For years, the farm has used livestock waste to create enough natural gas to power 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop and a maze of child-friendly exhibits about the world of dairy, including a 4D movie theater.

All that, and Fair Oaks Farms was still using only about half of the five million pounds of cow manure it vacuumed up from its barn floors on a daily basis. It burned off the excess methane, wasted energy sacrificed to the sky.

But not anymore.

The farm is now turning the extra manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, powering 42 tractor-trailers that make daily runs to raw milk processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Officials from the federal Department of Energy called the endeavor a “pacesetter” for the dairy industry, and said it was the largest natural gas fleet using agricultural waste to drive this nation’s roads.

“As long as we keep milking cows, we never run out of gas,” said Gary Corbett, chief executive of Fair Oaks, which held a ribbon-cutting event for the project this month and opened two fueling stations to the public.

“We are one user, and we’re taking two million gallons of diesel off the highway each year,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”

Doonesbury — Live birth.