Rationalizing bigotry, failing in leadership

Travis Bille:

There are so many different perspectives to consider in this Paris tragedy. This well-written piece from explores it from a personal and statistical standpoint.

Originally posted on Jim Rosenberg's Blog:


Like just about everyone, I followed the news coverage of the terrorist activities in Paris with great interest over the weekend. It was all the more significant to me because I’ve stayed a number of times in the neighborhood where much of the activity took place, including several times on Boulevard Voltaire, where the Bataclan Theatre is located.

While there are visitors and hotels just about everywhere in Paris, this is not as much of a tourist area as some other neighborhoods are. A couple of metro stops up from Place de la Republique, where evening news anchors and reporters are using the monument as a backdrop for their on-the-scene reporting this week, there is a neighborhood with a lot of people from the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. I was happy to use the cheap internet service in a little storefront where I was the only person who…

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Lilith quote

The Legend of Lilit, and Why We’re Afraid of a Female President

For most of human history, we have followed a template that puts men in charge, presumably dating back to times when physical strength actually meant something towards our survival. In today’s world, when it comes to survival, that extra time in the gym could feasibly be trumped by a geek with a cell phone.

Age of the Geek, Baby!

So here we sit, with a patriarchal history and fear of change, and one wonders how, through the many civilizations that have ruled the Western world, we are still afraid of powerful women. The answer, it turns out, goes all the way back to the Judeo-Christian story of the creation of mankind.

Before there was Adam and Eve, there was Adam and the mythological first female known as Lilit, or Lilith. Her role in Western monotheism is not a common topic, as she has almost no ties to Christianity, but every so often, she makes an appearance in pop culture. Most recently was in the HBO show True Blood, where she fulfilled the role of the first vampire, created in the image of God. I would show a clip of her from the show, but she’s pretty much always naked and covered in blood, and I’d like to keep things relatively PG around here. All you really need to know about that particular character is that, despite the obvious fictional nature of the show, the representation of Lilit as a powerful vampire at the very beginning of her race is not a great stretch from how she is portrayed in some very old writings that were used to provide context to passages in the Hebrew Bible. These writings are called “midrash.”

If you're a fan of the HBO show True Blood, you may remember the last few seasons that included a character named Lilith. This character is roughly based on the legendary Lilith of Jewish Midrash. In the show, she represents the first vampire, created in God's image. This is not far from the many representations of Lilit as a demon.

If you’re a fan of the HBO show True Blood, you may remember the last few seasons that included a character named Lilith. This character is roughly based on the legendary Lilit. In the show, she represents the first vampire, created in God’s image. This is not far from the many representations of Lilit as a demon.

Midrash is an exegesis of writings that is used to “fill in the gaps” of the Tanakh (Tanakh is sort of an acronym for how the Hebrew Bible is categorized: Torah+Nevi’im+Ketuvim = TaNaK). Think of it as the Christian Old Testament, only really, really different. So I guess don’t think of it that way, but there are many books from the Old Testament also used in the Tanakh, it’s just that they’re viewed different, interpreted differently, set in a different context, and mostly have different reasons for their existence. Judaism also spends much time studying sacred texts outside of the Tanakh, as a way of reaching logical conclusions of Tanakh text or confirming an argument in a certain passage. But otherwise…sure, same thing. The specific use of midrash is not to say that the Tanakh cannot be a complete document on it’s own for the Jewish faith, but rather that there are certain ideas and events and people that post-Temple era rabbis felt needed further context. And in those writings is where we meet Lilit.

It would be unfair to say she is strictly a Jewish figure, as she does show up in the Christian Bible. Kinda. And only once.

Isaiah 34:14 (International Standard Version):

And desert creatures will meet with hyenas, and goat-demons will call out to each other. There also Liliths will settle, and find for themselves a resting place.

If you recognize this verse, you likely have never heard this version before. “Liliths” is generally translated to something along the lines of “night creature” or “night monster” or “screeching owl” in most translations. The point is, she made an appearance, but it’s difficult to read too much into the legend of a screeching owl.

Lilit is given a far more prominent position (pun intended; you’ll get it later) in the Creation story additions of Midrashim, specifically as the actual first woman, created equally by God from the earth with Adam. If you belong to any Judeo-Christian faiths, you likely have heard little more about the Creation story than “There was light, God made Adam, Adam got bored, God took Adam’s rib and made Eve.” I have no qualms if this is the story you follow and believe; none of this is about figuring out how the universe and life were created. I actually see the Creation story as more of a long parable than a historic event, and that personally makes more sense to me. Other Judeo-Christian faiths believe it was a literal account of the Creation, which perhaps makes more sense to you. Honestly, I don’t really care how you think it happened. How the universe was created carries almost no importance compared to whether it was created. You don’t have to understand the creative musical process going through the mind of Miles Davis during a solo just to appreciate his music. The important part is that he played and someone recorded him. Maybe you think Miles Davis isn’t real, but you still have to admit the music is pretty cool. Is this metaphor working for you? Cause I forgot how it started…


The story of Lilit throws quite a significant curveball into the Creation story, mostly by shifting our perspective of the supposed natural roles of male and female. Much of history has insisted on woman being subservient to man for various reasons, one of which is because she was created from man’s rib, which works quite well in the long history of men exercising control over women. It just seems natural, right? Woman was created by God because man asked for her, then she came in and got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Clearly this means that a woman can’t be put in charge of a whole nation. Or something. Men were also buoyed by the fact that, in general, we are able to more easily build muscle and carry things and kill things. That was especially useful during the days before pizza delivery and Amazon.


But consider a different narrative, where the original man, Adam, was created equally from the earth with the first woman. Not Eve, but Lilit. That’s the story anyway, according to a Midrashim of anonymous texts called The Alphabet of ben Sirach. So where and when did Eve enter the text? That would be after Lilit left the Garden of Eden (or was kicked out, depending on who is telling or translating the story…she was either kicked out for saying God’s name out loud, or she yelled his name on the way out of the garden while flipping Adam the bird). She had many qualms with Adam right from the start, all coming down to the fact that Adam wasn’t thrilled with shared power and responsibility and wanted her to submit to him. The deal-breaker came down to sexual positions. Short version is…they both wanted to be on top (get it? position? from before?).

However the inequality manifested, it didn’t end well. Adam had no intention of being equal, and Lilit had no intention of submitting, and in fact seemed to want Adam to submit, so Lilit gave him the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and left the Garden forever. God told Adam to sleep it off, took out one of his ribs and created Eve, the perfect unopinionated servant wife who only made one individual decision, which screwed up humanity’s relationship with God for the next few millennia. Booyah!

Lilit, on the other hand, went to the Red Sea, where she told God’s angels, and I mean told God’s angels, that she could take a baby’s life whenever she wants, up to a male child’s 8th day or a female child’s 12th day.

And thus, man was able to sustain his status as the dominant gender through the most powerful historical means of preventing another group from gaining any semblance of power: Propaganda. Lilit became the Mother of Lost Souls, Mother of Monsters, Mother of Demons, Succubus Demon, and any other nasty name you can think of for the screeching owl witch that wouldn’t submit. She was to blame for every miscarriage and stillbirth. She was the evil succubus that made men ejaculate in their sleep, so that she could take their semen and produce hundreds of demon babies (part of her deal with God for letting her leave was that 100 of her demons babies would die every day, so she had to make up ground somehow). Women feared her; men despised her. She was the entity standing in the way of our ability to be fruitful and multiply, all because of her own selfishness to not allow herself to be owned by Adam.

By the 13th c. the evil portrayal of Lilit wasn’t quite enough. She was already a baby-killing demon, so making her worse would be quite a task. At that point in history, when propaganda through text becomes no longer viable, the next step is art.

Lilit, portrayed as the Serpent, tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God

Lilit, portrayed as the Serpent with a snake tail, tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God

Lilit was no longer a demon; she was the demon. This first woman, the woman with the gall to claim equality with man, could only be the Biblical Serpent that tempted Eve, then Adam, and convinced them to disobey God. Every cartoon you saw on it as a kid probably showed the “forbidden fruit” as an apple. Maybe a peach. But there are different interpretations, and the nature of the Lilit legend often comes with a subtle or not-so-subtle hint that Lilit tempted Eve and Adam sexually. In some cases, it is also suggested that she had both male and female parts, because obviously we can’t have gays in the Garden.

While it seems like an interesting interpretation, it’s important to gain a perspective of this carving and the many examples of Lilit as the Serpent in the proper context, especially when examining it in relation to modern events. When you look at this picture, there is a deeper significance in which we interpret the scene, whether or not we even realize we’re doing it. According to this picture, we are being told that giving a woman power can only lead to humanity straying from God, unleashing temptations that we cannot resist, and breaking up the delicate nature of the male-dominated marriage. Lilit was the chance for all women to have a voice, and she used it for evil, and our society continues to evolve based on that.

**In case you’re wondering, Lilith on Cheers and Frasier (Frasier’s wife/ex-wife) was not named after the Biblical Lilit, though it’s difficult to gloss over how well she fits the role of Lilit that we imagine**

How does this apply to Hillary Clinton and the strong possibility of the first female President? Quite simply, the stronger Hillary gets, and the louder her voice, the more she is painted as a modern-day Lilit. She isn’t seen as strong; she’s seen as a bitch. She represents the biggest threat to date of a male-dominated culture.


**Please note that none of this post is an endorsement of any Presidential candidate. I have yet to make my decision in the Democratic primaries. I see many positive qualities in both Clinton and Bernie Sanders. On the national level, campaign finance and foreign policy are my two biggest issues…Bernie wins on campaign finance, Hillary wins on foreign policy. Regardless, my decision still will not come until next Spring. I don’t put up Christmas decorations until the day after Thanksgiving and I don’t pick a President until the ground thaws**

The idea of a female President is not a new precedent. As far back as 1884, there was a woman on an official Presidential ballot, and in 1920, Laura Clay became the first woman to be considered for nomination by a major political party. You would think that would have put us on a more progressive path with advancing women’s rights, but these women unfortunately turned out to be pioneers well ahead of their time. Clay was considered for nomination in 1920, which coincidentally was the year that the states ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, meaning Clay could run for President, but couldn’t vote. ‘Merica.

Many women have carved out powerful roles in government over the last few decades. Frances Perkins was the first female appointed to the President’s Cabinet as Secretary of Labor in 1933. Since that time, women continued to hold various powerful Cabinet positions (albeit at a disturbingly low rate), and in 1997, Madeleine Albright was confirmed for the most powerful Cabinet position as Secretary of State. This led to a surge, of sorts, of women holding this particular position; three of the last five going back to Albright (Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton, split by Colin Powell and succeeded by John Kerry). Did we suddenly realize that women are actually good at this job and perhaps the idea of being represented to the world in diplomacy by a woman was a good idea? Perhaps, but you better believe those three women were climbing a steeper ladder than others and they still came out ahead. Albright was absolutely brilliant, and Clinton, after stretching the position of First Lady to the height of its power, then serving a term in the U.S. Senate, may have been the most effective Secretary of State in our history.

As Secretary of State, Clinton was heavily involved in an historic diplomacy deal to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I fully realize that she was not in that position when it was made, but her fingerprints are all over that deal, much to the delight of Republicans that don’t like the deal and think they can use it to show her as weak. Add on the lifting of the trade embargo with Cuba, which she also steered heavily towards before stepping down, and she appears to have been an awfully powerful member of Obama’s State Department. Even on the day she left office, she managed to toss in a conversation with Obama about ending the embargo. In other words, she “matter-of-factly” suggested it was time to end the Cold War. That’s two major, MAJOR diplomatic achievements, something the rest of the world perhaps thought the U.S. was incapable of after a decade of war and machismo.

I’m tempted to draw a line between the male and female perspective to show the effectiveness of having a woman leading debates on foreign policy. As many times as I’ve heard that women are naturally “too emotional” to hold such a high or higher office, or they won’t be able to handle the pressure of diplomacy, or a train moving too fast might make their uterus fly out (wait, what?), it turns out that men are at least equally too emotional but in different ways, instinctively seeking revenge and holding long grudges. Both Iran and Cuba have said and done some nasty things to the U.S. in our sordid and confusing history, but Hillary Clinton was able to see past the grudge match and comprehend the opportunity to make America better by reaching out a hand to our so-called “enemies.” Considering all this, everyone should at least be intrigued by the possibility of her as President.

How does the legend of Lilit come into play? Because the treatment of Lilit and her legend over the centuries offers some insight into our apparent fear to put nuclear launch codes into the hands of a woman. No one comes right out and says Hillary is an evil succubus that kills babies…well, okay, most people don’t come right out and say it.


The legend of Lilit came through perfectly in the portrayal of Secretary Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I normally wouldn’t bother quoting Rush Limbaugh, because man he went so far off the deep end so long ago, but he paints this picture beautifully, allowing us to see perfectly how to propagandize the Clinton-Lewinsky affair with maximum efficiency by portraying Hillary (the only one not involved in the affair, by the way) as the evil, power-hungry Serpent.

After Clinton got what he wanted, after he got his jollies, after he got his consensual whatevers, then it was time to destroy her — along with every other woman that popped up, not just Monica Lewinsky — and it was Hillary right in there.

So there it is. Forgive me for reading too much into it, but just look at how Rush corrupts this story, and then look at how many people listen to him every day. The real story is that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had an affair, and Hillary stayed with him to work through it. Or they have an open marriage or something, and she didn’t care; that’s really none of our business. But In Rush’s version, and the perspective implanted into the minds of the masses, Bill is just being a regular guy, getting “his jollies” like we do. And it was consensual, so big deal, right? Monica is the innocent girl that is tempted and doesn’t know any better and she follows directions when they get caught, so she’s forgiven. Plus she’s young and pretty, making it easier to present a narrative that presents her however he media wants to present her. She could be young and innocent, or a pretty mean girl. For all political purposes, it doesn’t matter which is the truth, or if either are the truth. What matters is how you’re led to see her, and the resulting opinion you then have of Hillary, the demon that somehow managed to become the antagonist because her husband cheated on her.

Perhaps it sounds like I’m stretching to make the analogy work, but I challenge you to look throughout history and see this scene played out over and over. Wherever there is power, and wherever a woman might have a claim or ability to wield that power, you will see Lilit being cast out of the Garden. In offices all across the country and world, you will see a man and woman do or say the exact same thing, only to hear the man described as “assertive” and the woman described as “bossy.” You’ll see young men being taught to be leaders and young women being taught to be secretaries. Even look at some Facebook comments of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, where Hillary is chastised for not being able to “satisfy” Bill. She’s been a U.S. Senator and a Secretary of State, and somehow she’s still reduced to a sexual object, because in that guy’s mind, that’s the only reason we have women around…to satisfy our sexual desires.

We’ve gotten better at hiding our biases over the last 50 years, sometimes to a point where we don’t even consciously know they exist. But it’s there. Deep down, when a guy feels emasculated by a female boss or his wife being more successful, he’s basing it on a belief that certain words and actions are viewed as strong and indicate power and virility, while others are weak and indicate a delicate and dainty disposition. This comes from a lifetime of being told to look for Eve; gentle, submissive, Eve. Eve always listens, so she can be controlled, which is historically the only way men feel safe around women. We just don’t get women. Seriously, in our brains, you’re all weird. So the idea of one at the head of the most powerful country in the world is terrifying. But guys, we’ve had over 200 years, and while we’ve produced some great Presidents, we’ve also produced some really lousy Presidents. We don’t exactly have solid ground to stand on in saying that a woman can’t be President, cause plenty of dudes really sucked at it. Let your mind embrace the chaos of a future that you can’t predict, because even if it’s not Hillary in 2016, it won’t be long before we have a female President. And to many people, it will be scary.

To the rest of us, ready to see a world that enforces and honors equality, it will be exhilarating.

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Dear Educator Hating Strangers: Your Opinions Belong in the Comments Section. Not in my Inbox.

Travis Bille:

Kelly Wilz continues to expose the real misplaced anger and divisiveness that Wisconsin Republicans have created.

Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

computer-screen-inbox-macro-9014146 (2)

This is now the third time I’ve written about being harassed for being an educator, but clearly the message isn’t getting through, so I will try one more time to reason with those who spend their lives making it their duty to share their opinions regarding my profession, my areas of expertise, and disparaging the work that I do in places they have no business sharing their opinions.

In my “Open Letter to Those Who Hate Teachers,” I recounted this lovely incident that happened in July:

“I was at a gas station when a man approached me.
Man: ‘Looks like gas prices have gone up!’
Me: ‘Um, yep? I guess so?’
Man: (looks at my UW-faculty parking sticker) ‘If I had your kind of money, I wouldn’t be complaining about gas prices, bitch.’

I was dumbfounded.  A good friend noted, ‘Wow, eliciting sympathy purely in order to twist it…

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Why Democrats are Better for Business

When I hear the liberal opinion about business explained to me by a conservative, I often find myself trying to walk back the explanation because I fear that liberals are being misrepresented.  Then I wonder if maybe I don’t fit the liberal position on the topic. When I discuss liberals and conservatives, I typically try to clear out opinions on social issues and focus specifically on one key factor: government involvement. The extent to which a person will want the government involved in various activities is generally where they are placed on the board. While it’s hard to really ignore social issues, the fact is that most social issues flip to the other side for both liberals and conservatives compared to business and economic issues. Think about it…conservatives want deregulation of business, while at the same time they want government to make women’s health care decisions and decide whether two lesbians get to have the same tax benefits as any other married couple that lives together and shares everything. That’s awfully invasive for a group of Reaganites that generally feel government is the problem.

What trips us up is that social issues are the ones that make our hearts hurt. Economic issues are the ones that make our brains hurt. We like to have our hearts hurt because in the movies, there’s always hope and the belief that the pain will make us stronger. Worries about the economy, however, do not usually offer hope. I’m not saying there isn’t any economic hope; I’m just saying the people that get the most airtime and column inches (at least that anyone pays attention to) are the ones that are absolutely sure the economy is going to make us all gay and destroy us with hurricanes. Point is, we don’t like it when our brains hurt, because we don’t understand the thing that is bothering us, and are more susceptible to hyperbole and lies. The economy can’t be solved by “an hour-and-a-half of beach houses in the rain until the woman turns around and realizes love was here all along.

As much as I complain about over-simplifying things, they can also be over-complicated

As much as I complain about over-simplifying things, they can also be over-complicated

Anyway, the point is that trying to consider all issues across the board requires several axes (Nerd Alert: “axes” is the only word in the English language that can be the plural of three different singular nouns; ax, axe, and axis), and far too much word-play. I like to take a simpler approach. Seriously. Despite what any regular readers would think, the word “simple” is actually in my vocabulary.

Assuming that anything we deem a human right should be provided by the public, it can be generally safe to say that the amount of things you feel that you and everyone else have a right to is highly indicative of where you would fall on the political spectrum. In order for this to work, though, the business world needs to act as a control group, rather than as any kind of partnership with government. Once you start pumping subsidies into this and that, you create a different dynamic whereby it becomes impossible to know where government ends and business begins. You can’t determine x, y, and if you smash them all together. For business to achieve their ultimate goal is a complex process, and many have failed. But the goal itself is simple…make money.

Business should use any and all legal means possible to make the most amount of profit possible, ethics be damned. Before conservatives start high-fiving me and liberals start calling me a corporatist or any of several other adjectives, please read on through at least the next sentence. While business should do whatever possible to make the most profit, government has the responsibility to protect the liberty of each of us by enacting and enforcing laws and policies that protect the workers in that business, the consumers of that business, and bystanders within a figurative arms reach of that business. Remember when I said any and all legal means? That was the catch, in case you missed it. Here’s an example: should a company dump toxic waste into freshwater lakes any time they want if it’s legal and saves them money? Absolutely. Should the government make it illegal to do so? Absolutely. We the People, through those we vote in as our representatives, have the power to regulate business to the extent that we desire. Over the business world, we have no power. We the People don’t elect their leadership nor determine their policies. This is how important your vote is, for President and for City Council, because the extent of regulation is decided by that vote. Rather than blame businesses for committing shameful, legal acts to make more money, we need to look inward and realize that only We the People can stop it…not by engaging the business, but by engaging our civic duty.

See? Flawless.


The standard view of liberals from those that are are not liberals is anti-business, anti-corporation, and anti-people-making-money. That’s the surface level, where many liberals express their anger and frustration with corporate figureheads that treat their employees poorly. We desperately need to go below the surface to better understand where this sentiment originates and why it is misleading. More importantly, we need to understand our current position in this anti-corporate dynamic in order to better explain it to the greater business community. Also, a (hopefully) small demographic of liberals will have to admit that they’re wrong and I’m right about their opinion. That should go well.

if i were wrong

My liberal view of business is tied up in an understanding of how to separate the purpose of business in a capitalist society, and the role in government in moderating that purpose. The key word there is separate, and either pronunciation can be accurate depending on context. For starters, let’s consider the view that many feel the left has towards corporate executives. That view is likely composed of hatred of the unethical, money-grubbing nature of the free market capitalist corporation. If this is how you think liberals view the topic…okay, you’re not wrong. Except for the hatred part. The distinction, I would submit, is in saying that those at the top of a corporation being unethical and power-hungry is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is exactly what it should be, so really a liberal view within capitalism should be indifferent.

The #1 goal of any corporation is to make as much money as possible by whatever legal means possible. Frankly, I think many businesses police themselves entirely too much, rendering them unable to compete with those willing to cross as many lines as necessary. You can’t follow a strict ethical code that far exceeds government regulation and expect to compete with Walmart; at best, you might steal a tiny portion of their business in the shrinking demographic that is willing to pay more to avoid shopping at places like Walmart. But they will still dominate the market, and eventually render your services useless.

In such a scenario, small and medium-sized business should be in favor of more regulations in their market, as it typically will serve to even the playing field with the predators at the top. I applaud the businesses that take steps to do the right thing, but I do not expect it, and neither should you. What I expect is that the people I elect to positions in government accept and carry out their responsibility to regulate business so that it does not infringe on my liberties. And my rights to deep-fry anything and everything.


As a matter of example, let’s take a look at a popular liberal punching bag when it comes to paying taxes: General Electric. Back in 2010, it was widely reported that GE had $5.1 billion in profits and a tax liability of…$0. No joke. As we’ve learned from many years of suffering Karl Rove, widely reporting something with great repetition does not, in fact, make it true. Much of this was based on corporate balance sheets paired with statements from GE, not GE’s actual tax filings, but the reality is still that their eventual tax burden was still ridiculously low considering the profits they took in. In addition, GE, like all companies, would have been responsible for paying several other taxes on behalf of their employees outside of general corporate or income tax. Regardless, let’s examine this through the lens of “massive profits, little to no taxes.” The immediate liberal response in past years has been to say that GE is cheating the system by moving money overseas and all the other little tricks and loopholes that led to this atrocity.

Step back for a second, though, and realize that they reached that point by following all of the rules. They broke no laws, and at the end of the day, they produced the maximum profit for their shareholders. If they have resources to do such a thing without breaking the law, how can anyone blame them? If I was a shareholder, I would be upset if they didn’t take advantage of every legal loophole possible. We misdirect our anger towards GE because it’s the simplest means of attack. They are right there, on the surface, doing seemingly evil things in the pursuit of money. But I submit that your anger should not be directed at GE, but towards a government (and I would posit one political party far more than the other) that manufactured a situation that allowed GE to take such advantage of the many loopholes available in order to produce this result. If the teacher tells you the test is open book, would you close your book on principle?


It is our responsibility, as citizens and constituents, to elect government officials that will set fair business laws and properly hold business accountable when those laws are broken. An easy test would be that if the profit earned from an illegal activity is more than the fine imposed and/or the damage of the punishment, we need to take another look at that law and adapt it to modern times. Like many things in life, it comes down to risk/reward. If dumping toxic waste will save a business $1 million, but will cost them a fine of $500k… I mean…duh? It is our responsibility to put a government in place that will enforce laws (with modern punishments), and make sure that the penalty does not just fit the crime, but pushes the risk/reward prospects to such extreme levels that trying to “get away with” something, or outwardly doing something unethical because you know it’s more cost-effective to do it, is practically forbidden.

The idea that conservatives constantly push of “getting government out of the way” and letting business grow and produce is inherently flawed in a free market capitalist society. In such an instance, government stepping aside is not only dangerous for you and me, but also for the business. Many of the protections provided by government are the very reason some businesses are able to convince customers that they are trustworthy. Why is that relevant? Because businesses don’t need to be trustworthy; they need to provide a product or service in exchange for an agreed upon amount of money. And the government should make sure the amount of money is fair, that the product or service is as advertised, and that the money is real and legal tender. That’s it. Separation and the resulting natural checks and balances in a capitalist society are the only way capitalism works for everyone. A pure, unchecked free market would be disastrous to nature, the climate, technological advancement, and anyone making middle class or lower pay. But most importantly, the business world needs to understand why it would be disastrous for the business world.

I sometimes feel like liberals tend to fight the wrong fight, or at least we don’t have a proper understanding of how to differentiate “us” from “them.” Perhaps it’s because of my time as a conservative in my younger days, and my ability to know what conservatives know and anticipate their response. But as liberals, we constantly lose ground in the messaging battle because we aren’t able to clearly articulate any kind of message.

So here’s the message: Business world, despite all you’ve been raised to believe, your business is actually far better off with Democrats. If you don’t believe me, then leave the talking points and the childish nicknames at the door, and let’s start a conversation.

I wonder how many guys are homophobic, but cool with this picture...

Gay Marriage in America: Should Straight People Care?

I’m a Christian Democrat. No, really, that’s a thing, and it’s actually becoming quite a prominent movement. Overall, I believe liberalism is the stronger ideology for the advancement of the human race, though I also understand that reality bears the requirement of occasional pragmatism. I also believe that, as a big picture, liberalism is far closer to the teachings of Jesus than the bizarre form of conservatism being practiced today, and that the next crop of conservatives realize this. 

My opinions on social issues, such as same-sex marriage, will likely not fully agree with anyone on anything. I don’t expect you to fully agree with my complex stances on the issue of same-sex marriage. I’ve never really been able to comply with a strict liberal or conservative opinion in this area; by trying to make a complex issue simple, political parties only manage to confuse the issue. In fact, I’m still confused at how big government liberals are the ones standing up for LGBT rights, and so-called limited government and concerned about privacy conservatives are so eager to know what you do in the bedroom and damn you to hell for it.
My hope is not for you to read this and say that I’m right. I mean, that’s cool and all, but it’s not my overall goal. I encourage dissent when it’s warranted, because I’m fully aware that I could be wrong. My real hope is for you to say, at the very least, his stance is fair. If you find yourself drifting through, I encourage you to step out of the box with me and see the spectrum of opinions, as opposed to right or wrong, left or right, black or white, gay or straight.

I want to break this into three distinct categories. I intend to show, first and foremost, that this conversation becomes far less controversial, indeed almost non-controversial, if we assume and expect a metaphorical wall standing tall and strong between church and state. I will also show that, as opposed to the popular Christian perspective, the evidence against same-sex marriage is not so clear-cut. In fact, it just might be shaky enough that erring of the side of not dehumanizing another human being is preferable. None of this, however, is as important and impactful as an understanding that the language we use within the controversy makes it far more confusing than it needs to be. All of this can be so much easier, with far fewer words than I’m about to drop on you. I would ask that you reserve your opinions until you’ve read the entire piece and have a few moments to reflect on it. This is not surface-level stuff, so please do not treat it as if you’ll find the answer on a bumper sticker.

Church and State

The separation of church and state, despite popular belief, is not worded as such in the U.S. Constitution.  Rather, it was an interpretation published by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause from the Constitution. Going back even further, the idea was first promoted in writing by the Flushing Remonstrance (not to be confused with the Universal Remonster), which was a statement written by a group of English Citizens in the mid-17th century in response to the governor of New Netherland banning all religions except the Dutch Reformed Church, and the following resulting persecution of Quakers.  None of the signers were Quakers. They just thought it was stupid to persecute the Quakers for being Quakers. Imagine that…they were fighting for the rights of others to worship differently than them.

The wall of separation has since been held up as precedent numerous times by the Supreme Court, namely because the Founding Fathers that were responsible for religious liberty and the Establishment Clause in the Constitution were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of which urged the interpretation using the wall metaphor. The Supreme Court has decided on multiple occasions that because the author of the concept of the wall metaphor was a key player in entering religious liberty into the Constitution (Jefferson), his later writings on the topic can be extended and understood to essentially be part of the Constitution, much the same way that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution in their decisions set Constitutional precedent.

The reason this is important to the current controversy of same-sex marriage is because this wall separates the controversy into two distinct parts that have no reason to overlap: should same-sex marriage be allowed by the state, and should same-sex marriage be allowed by the church. From the state side, the wall makes it absolutely clear. The fight against same-sex marriage comes directly and only from the Bible, and because the religious argument should be separate in matters of state, there is no religious argument allowed in the debate. A same-sex couple going to the courthouse and getting married, filing joint tax returns, being with their partner on their death bed, and enjoying all other benefits our country offers to married couples can be based in no part on anything that establishes religion in a matter of the state. This is undeniable. In this way, the wall of separation protects the state from the church.

It’s important to note, though, that this protection is two-sided. The wall of separation is equally as necessary to protect the church from the state.  The state does not have the right, even if same-sex marriage is legal within the state or even as federal law, to force a same-sex marriage on the church.  In this way, the wall is used to protect the church from the state. It is absolutely necessary, when interpreting the idea of this wall of separation, to understand it from both sides and understand that it is for each to protect from the other, so that neither can exercise control over the other or encourage corruption within the other.

It is also important to note that none of this means that a business can refuse to offer services to someone based on a sexual orientation that goes against their religious beliefs. Commerce follows different rules, and frankly, if you’re a business and you’re picking and choosing your customers, you’re doing capitalism wrong.¹

What the Bible Says

The Bible, specifically a couple passages in Leviticus, is the absolute foundation for the movement against same-sex marriage, to the point where some people are so excited to share their judgment of homosexuals that they get the verse tattooed on them…apparently not realizing that a chapter later, Leviticus also bans tattoos. This guy is all down with Leviticus 18:22:

22 Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.


Apparently that’s the only important one to him, because if he had read any furtherc he would have come across Leviticus 19:28:

28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. (emphasis mine)

Cain Facepalm

Cain Facepalm

And that’s just the start of this hypocrisy. Leviticus also says you shouldn’t cut your hair on the sides or ever shave your beard. It says several times to observe the Sabbath, but that doesn’t keep supposed Christian Republicans from pushing for a legal 7-day work week. You’re also forbidden from mistreating a foreigner in your land. There goes another decent chunk of Republicans. You’re not supposed to hold a grudge or seek revenge on anyone in your land. and since the death penalty is almost 100% based on revenge, most of Texas might as well just throw in the towel and prepare for hell fire.  I could go on with much of the Old Testament, but hopefully you get the point. There was a reason these things were written at the time they were written, and at the time all of those reasons were extremely valid and necessary. But many were changed, or more appropriately, verified and clarified by Jesus. You know, the guy this entire religion is based upon. Read the Beatitudes, and you’ll see a lot of “You have heard that it was said…” followed by the stated law, sometimes from Leviticus, followed by, “But I tell you…” where Jesus clarifies the law. This is not a contradiction, but rather a fulfillment of laws that are perhaps no longer necessary to serve their original purpose. In fact, Jesus almost directly states this in Matthew 5:17-18:

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

So, did he do it? Did Jesus fulfill the law? My guess is that if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be a worldwide religion to celebrate his fulfillment of the law. Think about some of the things in Mosaic Law that were no longer part of the law after Jesus fulfilled it. Do we still sacrifice animals to atone for our sins? Of course not; He was the ultimate sacrifice, fulfilling the law to take the place of animal sacrifice. Every time he pissed off the Pharisees for “breaking” the law, he was actually fulfilling the law. So why assume that Jesus fulfilled some parts of the law, but not others?

Many of the laws in Leviticus, even the ones that seem weird, served a very logical purpose in the context of the time period. A popular one in any Leviticus argument is the ban on eating pork products. Any hardcore Christians out there willing to swear off bacon for the rest of your life?


I mean, come on, we bake a ham to celebrate the Resurrection. If it seems like it’s a law that God just dropped on us like a troll, just to see us squirm, then it’s time to look at that law from a logical perspective, and within the context of the rest of the Bible. Without proper refrigeration methods, pork products would go bad extremely fast, so God told them to not eat them. Either that’s the reason, and it’s now okay to eat pork since it can be properly preserved, or God has a nasty streak where he does mean things just to screw with us. Occam’s Razor would suggest the former. In much the same way, a ban on homosexuality at the time served a purpose. The Israelites needed to build and grow their population, and quickly, and that can’t happen when people are dying from spoiled pork and engaging in sexual activities that don’t lead to procreation. Now, fast forward to today, where the world is suffering from water shortages, energy shortages, and all kinds of other issues attributable to the ridiculous rate of population growth. Is procreation really as necessary today as it likely was then?

It’s important to note that I’m not offering my specific opinion on interpretations of the laws in Leviticus. Though it may seem like I’m pushing you in a direction, it is not my intent. My intent is for you to stop and think for a second. What if you’re wrong, and what would that mean in regards to the way you’ve treated homosexuals in your life? Nothing in the Bible is so clear-cut that you can rely on knee-jerk reactions because you find something icky. For straight people, you could even apply a template of Pascal’s Wager and come to the conclusion that acting with respect towards others has the best chance of preserving your own soul. If homosexuality is a sin, then you have treated a sinner with respect, just as Jesus did. If it’s not a sin, then you haven’t judged someone unfairly.

The Gay Gene and the Myth of Choice

Regardless of how you feel on anything I’ve written so far, if you take nothing else away from reading this, please take this. The question of whether homosexuality is a choice has been phrased poorly from the beginning, and all because of the word “choice.” For decades, scientists have been looking for the “gay gene,” that little part of a homosexual’s DNA that creates homosexual feelings. If it could be proven as a real thing, the entire debate would change dramatically, as this would mean that discrimination of homosexuals is no different than discrimination for skin color, for being born with a disability, or having the nerve to be born as a woman.

**One more thing to think about: hermaphrodites are born the way they are…does that mean God created a loophole around his own law? Even more interesting to think about is how the rules translate in the case of someone that has had a sex change. If a female is attracted to other females, then has a sex change and becomes a male, is that another loophole? I feel like if this law is really so important that not following it will cause hurricanes, God wouldn’t be so ambiguous and leave significant portions for us to just figure out on our own**

Moving on… The evidence of the so-called “gay gene” is generally inconclusive at this point. Both sides of the debate are certain the debate is over and their side is right. I’m not here to tell you which is right and which is wrong. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter. Because even if there is nothing coded in our DNA that decides sexual orientation, it is still most definitely not a “choice.” It’s not as if a young man grows up liking girls, then changes his mind and “chooses” to like guys instead. You’ll find many homosexuals that had earlier relationships with the opposite sex, but ask them if it was because they truly were attracted to the opposite sex. It’s more likely because it was the only way society would include them. So for the sake of argument, let’s use a hypothetical default sans a biological reason, and show that an environmental reason should be equally as powerful in any discrimination discussion as any biological or genetic characteristic.

Start by viewing this through the perspective of someone else. You are not you in this exercise; your new background provides you with a very different childhood and very different feelings on many topics.  Imagine being born into a family where the father is an unloving and terrible person, and let’s just say that this lack of a loving father played some role in your attraction to the same sex later in life. Please note that this is a hypothetical; I’m not trying to somehow diagnose homosexuality. Now, if this situation were to take place, as many who argue against genetic sexual orientation would claim, the decision to be attracted to the same sex is still not a choice by any definition of the word choice. Perhaps it’s the father’s fault, but if so, why punish the son for following a natural inclination that may or may not have been the result of his lack of a father. So either it’s genetic and they don’t have a choice, or it’s environmental and they don’t have a choice, or it’s a combination of both and, shockingly, they don’t have a choice. So please, let’s just remove the idea of “choice” from the debate altogether. It may be genetic, it may be biological, or it may be environmental. For all practical applications, it really doesn’t matter. None of them involve choosing one or the other.

The reason I find this so important is because I think straight people try to simplify sexual orientation so that we don’t have to think too much about it. It’s difficult to have empathy when one can see no circumstance which would require them to make a “decision” about liking men or women. It’s so ingrained in me to be attracted to women…WOMAN, I meant woman, singular. Aw hell, my wife never reads my blog. I think I’m safe.

Examining your own sexual orientation is an important self-reflection. If I’m judging someone for an action that they take or feelings that they have, I’m basically saying that I understand the circumstances because I face the same challenges. But this is extremely and entirely false. I have never had to ask the question: do I like men, or do I like women? It was just natural for me to be attracted to the opposite sex, as it is natural for others to be attracted to the same sex.

one of you is

Life is easy being straight. I don’t have to worry about what people will think of me for being attracted to my wife. I don’t have to worry about losing my job or being treated unfairly at work by a homophobic boss. I don’t have to worry about getting beaten up for no other reason than my sexual orientation. I didn’t have to walk around campus during my college years and read signs saying that God hates me. If the love of my life is sick, I get to sit next to her in her hospital bed, and she gets to be with me if I’m sick. It’s too easy for straight people to disregard all of the hurdles and discrimination and pain and humiliation that some people have to go through just because they have a different predisposition, even though, as I feel I’ve shown pretty clearly, it wasn’t their choice. So if you ask me if homosexuality is a sin, my answer is this: I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, and it’s time for Christians to move on. If it is indeed a sin, then you’re not going to change a homosexual by hating them or treating them as though they’re damaged and scary.

I mean, this gets talked about as if you could just toss out the rest of the Bible and base your entire life on this one verse in Leviticus and you’ll be golden with God. Recently, as Indiana passed their controversial religious “freedom” bill, a local florist named Melissa Jeffcoat was asked why she wouldn’t serve to homosexuals. She predictably said because it’s a sin. Then she was asked if she would serve to an adulterer, or someone that didn’t honor their father and mother. Her response, and I cannot make this stuff up, is that she would because adultery is a “different kind of sin.”

Okay, if we’re going to start grading the sins, let’s take a quick look at this. Homosexuality gets a short blurb within a book of the Bible that also tells you not to have sex with your daughter and/or goat (by the way, for those saying gay marriage is a stepping stone towards people being able to marry animals, you’re missing a key contextual point…consent). Not committing adultery is a Commandment…you know, of the infamous Ten Commandments? Charlton Heston? In fact, it was such an important commandment in the Old Testament that Jesus doubled-down on it in the New Testament. Matthew 5:27-28:

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Do you know where it is in the Bible that Jesus says homosexuality is the worst of all sins, or worse than other sins? Of course not, because he didn’t.


This sin that far too many Christians think is an automatic ticket to hell, no forgiveness here, was so important that Jesus talked about it exactly zero times. But he did say something about how you should or should not judge others, even if you believe what they’re doing is a sin.  Matthew 7:3-5

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Only when you yourself are sinless will you be able to see clearly to help someone else avoid sin. If you are not sinless, then how do your sins compare to mine or anyone else? Have you never lied, cheated on your spouse, even with just your eyes, dishonored your mother and father, placed a celebrity on a pedestal equal to or higher than God, stolen anything, worked on the Sabbath… When you have all of these covered, and are sinless as only Jesus was, then and only then do your judgments carry weight in the eyes of God.

¹  In a strange twist of irony, one of the ways odd ways to combat a bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve the LGBT community would be to reinterpret and extend corporate personhood from Citizens United v. FEC. By establishing the corporation as a single entity unto itself in regards to political donations, the entire concept of the corporation, and all commerce, changes significantly.  And in some cases, hilariously. No longer could corporations and business owners transfer their own religious beliefs onto the entire corporation, because the corporation is its own entity. Corporate personhood has its pros and cons, so perhaps corporations would be less interested in the pros if they are also saddled with the cons, which would be the result of strengthening corporate personhood.  Not saying that’s what I want to happen, but it’s an interesting twist, no? The nerd in me digresses…
pro union republicans

Response from my State Senator on Right to Work

Several weeks ago, I sent a message to my State Senator Robert Cowles regarding his upcoming vote on the Right to Work bill in Wisconsin.  On the plus side, I received a response, so it’s nice to know he’s at least partially engaged.  The problem is that my letter, which can be read here, was not the kind of generic talking point letter that politicians typically expect, which means the response completely ignores the points I was trying to make.  In general, I understand that elected officials at a certain level cannot possibly respond to every email and letter they receive.  Being responsive to constituents is important, and in fairness, Senator Cowles has held multiple public listening sessions on the state budget that has been proposed by Governor Walker.  Sadly, there wasn’t sufficient time on Right to Work to hold such sessions due to the fact that it was shoved through the process so fast that Senator Cowles couldn’t even be bothered to understand what it means.

What bothered me about the response is this: I made very specific points which would have been difficult to refute.  So the letter, being a generic talking points response, seemed an awful lot like a dodge from someone that doesn’t really believe in what they’re doing.  Even worse, he continued to spout the lie that Right to Work gives employees the choice of whether to join a union.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, federal law already accomplishes this.  All Right to Work does is allow employees to be represented by a union without having to pay any fees for that representation.  In other words, Right to Work should really be called Right to Freeload.  The following is the letter I received.  If you wrote to him expressing opposition to this bill, you likely received the same letter.

Dear Travis,

Thank you for contacting me with your opposition to Senate Bill 44, the Wisconsin Right to Work bill.  As you may already know, this bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly and has been signed by the Governor into law.

This legislation simply gives Wisconsin’s workers the freedom to determine whether they wish to join and support a labor organization, while ensuring that they cannot be punished for refusing to join a union as a condition of employment.*

This legislation does not eliminate any unions, void union contracts, prohibit collective bargaining, lower wages, or prohibit workers from organizing a labor organization.**

As I researched the potential impacts of this bill, over the past ten years a number of states have generated compelling economic benefits after passage of Right to Work legislation.***

Thank you again for contacting me with your thoughts on the issue.


[signature stamp]

Senator Robert Cowles

* – Repetition of a lie does not make it the truth.  Senator Cowles has made this statement several times, as well as many other Republican legislators.  Many of them are even lawyers.  Unfortunately, getting a law degree doesn’t seem to have given them the background to do some simple research and understand why this statement is a blatant lie.


** – Everything he states here that the legislation does not do is true…sort of.  On the surface, it does not eliminate unions.  But it does weaken them by allowing people to reap the benefits of union training and collective bargaining without having to pay for those services.  It does not prohibit collective bargaining, but it does leave the union in a weaker position at the bargaining table.  Purposefully telling only part of the truth and actively ignoring the other part is a lie.

*** – A number of states likely did generate economic benefits after passing Right to Work legislation.  The fact that the rooster crows when the sun rises doesn’t mean the sun generates because of the rooster’s crow.  Much of these “compelling economic benefits” can be explained by the fact that these states were coming out of a national recession.  Giving credit to Right to Work legislation for a national recovery is as absurd as if someone were to blame Right to Work legislation for the economic crash in the first place.  All research on the success or failure of Right to Work is basically an economic wash, leading to the conclusion that any economic gains or losses are due to factors not connected to the legislation.

The significance of this is in how it displays the true motives of Right to Work legislation.  This was not a move to make Wisconsin more competitive; it was purely and obviously political.  Cracking down on public sector unions in 2011 was supposed to help make Wisconsin more competitive.  Instead, we’re getting crushed by the rest of the Midwest in nearly every economic category.  So what do Wisconsin Republicans do when their legislation isn’t working?  They double-down on it and go after private sector unions.  When an elected official agrees to continue voting for policies that do nothing for their constituents but only serve to hurt their opponents, it’s time for them to move on.  Or for us to vote them out.


What Part of Israel do you Stand With?

Dear Republicans, 

I get that you #StandWithIsrael …good job. What I don’t understand is which part of Israel you stand with. Is it their universal health care system? Is it because they have perhaps the most liberal abortion laws in the world? Is it because they actively promote immigration?

Oh, it’s because they want to blow up Iran and you’re seeing dollar signs? You might be standing with Israel in trying to start a war, but don’t stand too tall. You might get some liberal on you.