Vive La Difference

« March 2011 »

Memo to the False Equivalency Crowd: PAY ATTENTION, FUCKERS.

"Both sides do it." The single most toxic sentiment in American politics today. Because not only is it an oversimplification and a lie, it absolves everyone who uses it from making judgments, taking sides, or holding anyone accountable. It's bullshit.

And to demonstrate the exact level of bovine dung in the lagoon, I'm going to tell you two stories that, on the face of it, are prime candidates for a "both sides do it" evaluation. In both cases, content objectionable to one part of the political spectrum was objected to by the other end of the political spectrum. In both cases, the removal of the offending content was ordered. In both cases, the backers of the content cried "foul".

But the two cases differ in more than just the ideologies involved, which is why I'm confident in saying that no, both sides don't do it. Not in the same way, and not for the same reasons.

We start in the App Store, Apple's virtual marketplace for software for the iOS series of magic boxes. If you have a piece of software and you want to put it on the App Store, Apple has to approve it. If people object to your app, Apple can review it and decide to remove it. And that's what happened with "Exodus International".

If that name sounds familiar, it's because Exodus International is an infamous "pray away the gay" ministry, and the app was designed to help struggling homosexuals overcome their urges and cure their gayness. I haven't actually used it, but I think I can safely assume that it was just like the Hundred Push-ups app, except they added "NOT ON TOP OF ANOTHER DUDE" to the "good form" instructions.

Now, people complained to Apple. And over a hundred thousand people signed an online petition to get Apple to remove it. But what really mattered were the objections of Dr. Gary Remafedi, an actual scientist from our very own University of Minnesota, who told Apple that Exodus, and its app, had "erroneously cites my research in support of claims that homosexuality can be changed. ... Associating my work with that of the ex-gay ministry and other unfounded treatments is professionally injurious and grievous."

See that? An actual scientist, whose actual facts and findings were being distorted and abused by a group for ideological purposes. It doesn't even matter that I happen to think the group is one of the most pathetic, wrongheaded bunch of fundie 'tards on the entire planet. What matters is that they were twisting the truth - truth as established by the scientific fucking method. And so their app got pulled.

Which means that when Exodus president Alan Chambers, whose name, I must point out, anagrams to "anal chambers", sent out this ominous tweet: "Incredibly disappointing. Watch out, it could happen to you.", what he actually meant was it could happen to you if you happen to be a bunch of fact-abusing dickwads. Which is an important thing to remember as we turn our eyes to Maine.

In Maine, there was also content of an ideologically objectionable nature. You see, for years now, the Maine Department of Labor, tasked with regulating and enforcing the rights of workers, has had a mural on its headquarters honoring the struggles of the labor movement. Worse, it had named its conference room after leaders of the labor movement. Now, you might think that these are completely appropriate things for a Labor Department to do, but try to put that out of your mind, because Maine's governor is clearly out of his.

Yes, the ideological objection came from Maine's new Republican governor, Paul LePage, who decided that depictions of Maine labor strikes throughout history were unfair to business. Here's LePage's spokesman, Adrienne Bennett, explaining the reasoning.

"When you walk into our Department of Labor lobby, you see this mural, which is on several walls. There's no getting around it. You see it, and it's there. The administration feels it's inappropriate for a taxpayer-funded agency to appear to be on one side or another. Clearly, the mural depicts one side. [W]e've got to make sure, as a Department and as a state government, we're representing all Maine people."

Now, you could argue that the strikes, as historical fact, represent at most which side won that time, not which side should win from now on. You could also argue that the Department of Labor doesn't actually exist to represent all Maine people, just the ones on the side of labor. I mean, the Maine Department of Justice doesn't feel the need to take down murals honoring police officers out of fear that criminals might feel slighted. But none of this matters, because here's what the Department of Labor's acting commissioner said. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME! ACTUAL EMPHASIS MINE!

"We have received feedback that the administration building is not perceived as equally receptive to both businesses and workers -- primarily because of the nature of the mural in the lobby and the names of our conference rooms. Whether or not the perception is valid is not really at issue and therefore, not open to debate." - Acting Commissioner Laura Boyett.

Actually, whether or not the perception is valid IS THE ENTIRE ISSUE. And it's the only thing the debate could possibly be about. We do not make public policy based on invalid perceptions. Well, OK, we do. We do all the fucking time. But we shouldn't, because invalid perceptions are FUCKING WELL INVALID. It's right there in the job description!

Now I know the way certain thought processes work. And those thought processes may be tempted at this point to bring up "political correctness" and charges of racism and intolerance from the left. But this isn't some passing slur of the moment. It's a mural that's been around for three years and is just now being objected to by a single ideologue. But more importantly, whenever something like, say, Don Imus' infamous incident comes up, the validity of the perceptions is not only up for debate, it's debated for weeks, months, and years after the fact.

When arguing over the objectionable nature of content, facts matter. When making a decision on whether to remove an objectionable comment, facts matter. And when trying to determine the relative culpability of the major players in American politics when it comes to objectionable behavior, FACTS FUCKING MATTER.