Oh My God, The Gay Nazis Are Taking Over America, Says Gohmert

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

The most intellectually challenged man in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), strikes again with an extraordinarily dumb and incendiary statement. After an anti-gay TV show was cancelled due to protests, Gohmert called this a “fascist intolerance.”

The fact that increasing numbers of people are speaking out against anti-LGBT discrimination is interpreted by Gohmert as “exactly what we’ve seen [. . .] [in] the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”

Twisting the reality of long-standing discrimination against sexual minorities by religious zealots like himself, Gohmert claims that conservative Christians are victimized by being called “‘haters’ and ‘evil’.” Furthermore, in all seriousness, he claims that this increasing resistance religious bullies are facing is just a prelude to book burnings—you know, just like in Nazi Germany.

That is of course nonsense, pure hyperbole.

Being called out on your bigotry does not equal discrimination against you

It is quite telling how the American Christian Right perceives their declining ability to discriminate against LGBT people, or the fact that they get called out on their bigotry these days, makes them feel as if they are being victimized, that their freedom of speech is being taken away.

I obviously interpret freedom of speech very differently. You may be legally free to say whatever you wish (such as nonsensical Nazi comparisons), but you are not guaranteed isolation from any opposing views.

That, my friends, is because freedom of speech also applies to everybody else.

Last time I checked, there were no government-sponsored book burnings in the U.S. Neither should there be. Ideas should debated in the public space.

And in my opinion, the anti-LGBT hatred promoted by religious fundamentalists and other bigots is a bad idea that should go the way of the dodo for the sake of humanity.

By the way, self-proclaimed defenders of ‘Judeo-Christian Biblical marriage’ might want to consider the interesting variety of marriage arrangements in their holy scriptures. They will find that the often-promoted version of ‘one man, one woman’ is one among many.

Marriage According to the Bible

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Bonus:

Another great list of things the Bible bans (from Dante Shepherd at survivingtheworld.net). I have the feeling that conservative Christians are cherry-picking to discriminate against LGBT people. That’s just wrong!

 

Horrible Politicians: Texas Democrat Downplays Domestic Violence

Horrible Politicians: Texas Democrat Downplays Domestic Violence

Alternate Texas flag map. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
Alternate Texas flag map. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

When I read about reactionary politicians in America, these days it is almost a sure bet that the latest horrible thing uttered about women, LGBTI people, non-white Americans, poor people, foreigners, or anyone who is not of their particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity, comes straight outta GOP. But not this time!

As the Huffington Post reports, Lloyd Oliver, a candidate for District Attorney in Harris County, Texas, frequently says absolutely terrible things when it comes to the issue of domestic abuse.

For instance, he thinks that domestic violence is “overrated” and that it should be prosecuted less.

To that effect, he gave ‘helpful’ advice to victims of domestic abuse during a call-in show in 2012, encouraging them to “maybe learn how to box a little better.”

In that same show, he also downplayed domestic violence as a problem, claiming that it was a part of “some couple’s sexual routine.”

Statistics see serious domestic violence problem

Be that as it may in a tiny fraction of cases, but as the HuffPo article notes,

Harris County has the highest rate of domestic violence homicides in the state. According to a report by the Texas Council on Family Violence, 30 women were murdered by intimate partners in 2012.

Taking this into consideration, domestic violence is certainly not a non-issue, something that maybe a few kinky BDSM afficionados engage in consensually. It is, instead, a serious social problem.

But Mr. Oliver seems quite ignorant of that fact.

Here’s a clip from the progressive news show The Young Turks with some more details:

Texas German, A Disappearing Dialect Shaped By Immigration

Texas German, A Disappearing Dialect Shaped By Immigration

NPR reports on Texas German, a variant of German spoken today only by a rapidly declining minority of the population of the Lone Star State, whose origins can be traced to mid-nineteenth-century German migrants to Central Texas.

The Texas GOP Versus Critical Thinking in Schools

Texas State Capitol: North side by night. By Kumar Appaiah (http://www.flickr.com/photos/akumar/4195756025/) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

It is probably a truism to say that these days there is extreme partisanship and division between the different political camps in the US. There are broad ideological differences regarding the right way to govern the country. But sometimes, things happen that seem to go way beyond mere disagreement on a particular policy matter.

Exhibit A:

In their 2012 party platform, the Texas GOP argues against teaching students critical thinking skills in public schools.

The full section reads as follows:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

You can read about HOTS here and here (pyramid chart), and about Outcome-Based Education here.

Higher Order Thinking Skills, based on the works of educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom (1956), are a taxonomy that establish a pyramid of thinking skills, from basic to advanced levels:

  • knowledge
  • comprehension
  • application
  • analysis
  • synthesis
  • evaluation

I fully admit that I am not familiar with the minute details of the educational system(s) in the US, but I was truly amazed that something I had assumed would be valued by most people regardless of their politics, would be so overtly attacked by one of the major political parties, if only on a state level.

Indeed, a student armed with critical thinking skills will ask many questions. And it is possible that, when presented with facts and the mental tools to evaluate them, students may arrive at different conclusions than their parents regarding any given issue at some point in the future. But such is the price of education. Is it not a good thing to be able to make up one’s mind independently?

The Argument From Authority and Democracy

As the Fallacy Files blog explains, the appeal to authority, also known as argumentum ad verecundiam (argument from respect/modesty (Latin)) is a logical fallacy structured in the following way:

Authority A believes that P is true. Therefore, P is true.

Note that the authority is not required to present any good reasons for its position.

I assume that the Texas GOP, perhaps instinctively, correctly understands that a citizenry trained in critical thinking will be less susceptible to arguments from authority. In the beginning, these arguments are necessarily coming from parents, but later in life the crowd of authority figures widens to include other public figures, such as the local clergy, news anchors, or politicians. Certainly, this makes it more difficult for authorities to defend the state of affairs, be it social or political. If the targets of their messages ask “Why do you think this?,” then the authority in question is forced to justify their position. “Do as I tell you, because!” becomes increasingly unconvincing.

That might be an unpleasant annoyance for those without good arguments, but it is necessary in a free and open society.

For a democratic society, an uncritical citizenry poses a fundamental problem. If citizens do not develop the mental capabilities to evaluate statements or actions by public figures, then their ability to hold elected representatives or any other authorities accountable diminishes.

Progressive American educational reformer John Dewey (1859 – 1952) formulates this argument in his Democracy and Education (1916) (Chapter 7) in the following way:

The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.

Dewey also notes that education in a democracy is a prerequisite of social mobility. Preventing the education of the broader population, on the other hand, works towards establishing a hierarchical, static, class-based society, and is thus intrinsically undemocratic:

A society marked off into classes need be specially attentive only to the education of its ruling elements. A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive. The result will be a confusion in which a few will appropriate to themselves the results of the blind and externally directed activities of others.

A 2011 study1 by Georgetown University seems to confirm this notion from a century ago for the near future, as far as predictions of the future based on current trends go. According to its findings, by 2018 almost two thirds of all occupations in the United States will require a college degree. On the face of it, Higher Order Thinking Skills as conceptualized by Bloom are essential to mastering college. Reading fairly complex texts and extracting concepts and ideas are going to be extremely difficult without some form of prior training. But as Dewey’s argument illustrates, the ability to think critically has implications far beyond mere personal future economic prospects.

Anti-Intellectualism in the 2012 Presidential Primaries

During the 2012 Republican Primary, Rick Santorum lambasted President Obama as a snob for wanting to enable more Americans to get easier access to some form of higher education. Pushing for this would be an elitist endeavor and out of touch with the average American. He also claimed that college education would lead to religious students losing their faith,2 which he, as an ultra-conservative Catholic, disapproves of.

But expanding higher education to larger parts of the population rather than limiting it to a tinier part is, by definition, neither snobbish nor elitist. What can be observed in this piece of political theater is an anti-intellectual populist gesture promoting the antagonistic image of an overeducated (liberal) elite in order to mobilize the resentment of blue-collar voters.

On a closer look, it becomes quite clear that for many of the the major players in the GOP, by whom, for the purpose of this argument, I just mean potential presidential candidates, agitating against higher education is but a political prop.

The hypocrisy on the part of Santorum, most of all, is that he himself holds several college degrees (a B.A. in political science, an M.B.A., and a law degree). In fact, most major Republican contenders at the time held advanced college degrees. Ron Paul has an M.D., Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D., and the victor of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries,  Mitt Romney, has an M.B.A. and J.D. from Harvard. 3

How serious can you take a person who tries to discourage you from pursuing higher education because only sinister elites would be interested in such a thing, only to tell you the next moment that they themself are heading for the ivory tower? Not very much, in my opinion.

Even the most famous Texas politicians are no strangers to higher education. POTUS #43, George W. Bush, who was, on the one hand, depicted by his opponents as intellectually challenged, but on the other hand also forged his own public image as anti-intellectual, down-to-earth Texas cowboy, holds an M.B.A. from Harvard and a B.A. in history from Yale. It does not get much more ivy league than this.

The idea that democracy’s prospects are not bright when education is held in low regard is not new. Today’s Texas GOP might revisit the advice of POTUS #3, Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826):

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Holidays of Interest: Juneteenth (June 19)

Juneteenth day celebration in Texas, 19 June 1900. From Wikimedia Commons. The picture is in the public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmancipation_Day_celebration_-_1900-06-19.jpg

Juneteenth falls on June 19 every year and commemorates the liberation of African Americans from slavery. It was first celebrated by former slaves in Texas in 1865, when, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the American Civil War, Union General Gordon Granger reached Galveston Bay, accompanied by 2,000 troops.

On June 19, General Order No. 3 was publicly announced. It read:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere. 1

The former slaves celebrated their newfound freedom with exuberant songs, barbecue, and rodeos. Throughout the late nineteenth century, Juneteenth was established an African American tradition. But with the Great Migration towards the Northern industrial centers, the holiday declined in prominence.

Moreover, during the Reconstruction Era and the rise of Jim Crow, Juneteenth was not widely endorsed by state and federal governments, especially in the former Confederate States. In Texas, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in 1890.

Since the last decades of the twentieth century, however, there has been an increased activism to bring back Juneteenth into public conscience. Currently, Juneteenth is recognized as an official holiday in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia. [Update: It is now celebrated in fourty-two states]2

At the Griot blog, you can read about Barack Obama’s proclamation for Juneteenth 2012.3

Sources:
Davis, Kenneth C. “Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day.” Smithsonian Magazine. 16 June 2011. Web. 20 June 2012. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Juneteenth-Our-Other-Independence-Day.html

http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

Wikipedia: Juneteenth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth

Social Psychologist Stephen L. Klineberg on the Changing Face of Houston and America

On June 14, 2012, Stephen L. Klineberg, social psychologist and Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, visited American Studies Leipzig as part of the Fulbright lecture series. Houston, Texas is one of Leipzig’s sister cities.1

Professor Klineberg, who has been co-directing the Kinder Houston Area Survey for thirty-one years, talked about socio-demographic developments in the  Houston area and its implications for the US in the twenty-first century.

Panoramic view of the Houston skyline.
Panoramic view of the Houston skyline. By Hequals2henry (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) , via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Panoramic_Houston_skyline.jpg
For most of the twentieth century, the primary source of wealth for the Houston area has been its geographic nearness to the oil fields of East Texas. According to Klineberg, in the twenty-first century, Houston will transition into a center of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology industries.

If this is to become a reality, Houston needs to lure the best and the brightest into its centers of academic research, and develop ways to turn new knowledge into profitable ventures. In order to succeed in the emerging knowledge economy, the city needs to become attractive for an international mobile elite that could—at least in theory—live anywhere in the world. In this context, quality of life issues are taking on a central role for the economic success of the city as a whole.

Geography and Demographic Developments

With merely one third of LA’s urban density, Houston is the most spread-out city in the US. Harris County, TX covers a land area of 1,703.48 mi² (4,411.99 km²) is the fifth largest metroplex in the US and the third most populous county, inhabited by around 4 million people. It is a city of automobiles, open spaces, and suburbs. The latter are largely the result of the post-World War Two baby boom.

By 2035, the population of the Houston area is estimated to grow to around eight million inhabitants.2

But despite the reliance on cars, mass transit by other means has become increasingly important. Since 2004, Houston has a light rail line, the METRORail, covering 7.5-mile (12.1 km) and catering to approximately 34,000 daily commuters, something that has long been a common sight in European cities.

In the last decades, living in the city, as opposed to suburbia, has become more attractive. Surveys have traced the growing popularity of smaller homes closer to the city centers, where the workplace and other infrastructure is within walking distance.3

Demographics, Klineberg holds, is the key cause for this development. Today, less than one third of all households has children living at home.

All of this constitutes a trend towards “walkable urbanism.”

New Immigration, Ethnic Diversity, and the Face of Twenty-First Century America

Historically, Houston has essentially been a bi-racial Southern city. But today, it is the most culturally diverse metropolitan center in the US. In 2010, Houston’s population was 40.8% Hispanic, 33% Anglo, 18.4% Black, and 7.7% Asian.4

Race and ethnicity 2010: Houston By Eric Fischer  [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Race and ethnicity 2010: Houston By Eric Fischer [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0). Maps of racial and ethnic divisions in US cities, inspired by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago, updated for Census 2010. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other, and each dot is 25 residents. Data from Census 2010. Base map © OpenStreetMap, CC-BY-SA. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Race_and_ethnicity_2010-_Houston.png
The new immigration from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean has prevented population loss in Houston, which has been a problem in other major US cities.

In some ways, Houston today hints at the future of the US in general. By 2045, so the U.S. Census Bureau estimates, a majority of the population will be of non-European descent.5

Professor Klineberg is optimistic about the prospects of the US population dealing with this fact. Looking at Houston, with its great ethnic diversity, he points out that anti-immigrant sentiment is less pronounced here than in other places in America.

Much of this optimism stems from what Klineberg calls the “psychology of inevitability.” While the American population as a whole is aging and today’s seniors—the Baby Boomers—are mostly Anglo (or non-Hispanic white), younger generations of Americans are disproportionately non-Anglo. Furthermore, there has also been a significant increase in interracial marriages over the last decades.6 Younger Americans today are better attuned to the reality of a more ethnically diverse society than their parents or grandparents. In Klineberg’s view, the major fault line of the twenty-first century will therefore not be race but economic class.

The Knowledge Economy, Higher Education, and Inequality

In the twenty-first century, education will be the key to prosperity. The effects of globalization, automation, and government inaction have led to a decline in manufacturing jobs and put the American working and middle classes under increasing pressure.7

In the knowledge economy, both in Houston, Texas, and the US as a whole, access to higher education is therefore the crucial factor for long-term economic well-being of citizens.

Here is American Studies Leipzig’s video interview with Stephen L. Klineberg:

  1. Aktivitäten und Projekte – Partnerstadt Houston (USA). Stadt Leipzig. http://www.leipzig.de/de/business/wistandort/international/partnerst/houston/02513.shtml
  2. Houston-Galveston Area Council 2035 Regional Growth Forecast. http://www.h-gac.com/community/socioeconomic/forecasts/archive/2035.aspx
  3. Smaller homes, urban lifestyles attractive to new homebuyers: ULI. Housing Wire. March 21, 2012. http://www.housingwire.com/news/smaller-homes-urban-lifestyles-attractive-new-homebuyers-uli
  4. Harris County, Texas, 2010. State & County QuickFacts. U.S. Census Bureau. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/48/48201.html. See also the Wikipedia page on Demographics of Houston.
  5. U.S. Population Projections. U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/population/www/projections/index.html
  6. Jordan, Miriam. “More Marriages Cross Race, Ethnicity Lines.” Wall Street Journal 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 15 June 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204880404577226981780914906.html
  7. Noah, Timothy. The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It. Bloomsbury, 2012.; Pierson, Paul, and Jacob S. Hacker. Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. Simon & Schuster, 2010.