Saturday, June 03, 2023

More Saturday Male Beauty


The Toll Right Wing Hate Takes on LGBT Youth

Having spent decades in the closet before "coming out," I know full well the toll stigma and right wing targeting of LGBT individuals takes on one's soul - indeed, it contributed to two suicide attempts years ago at this point.  Yet, as we begin June - Pride month across the world - Republicans and evangelicals/Christofascists are busy at work seeking to renew anti-LGBT hate and stigma and peddling the lie that being LGBT is a choice.  Of course, all the legitimate medical and mental health research shows that there is no "choice" involved and that one's sexual orientation is predestined before birth and that the only question is one of when individuals decide to face the reality of who they are and who they are attracted to. Christofascists nonetheless continue to push the "change myth" and "conversion therapy" that changes no one, but lines the pockets of charlatan "Christian" therapists and gives political cover to Republicans more concerned about winning primaries than the harm they do to living, breathing people, particularly LGBT youth. 20% of those between 18 and 26 identify as LGBT.  While they have found more social acceptance, these LGBT youth and young adults continue to experience higher mental health issue than their straight peers.  Much of their mental health issues come from family rejection and a very real fear that their rights will be rolled back (something older gays are feeling as well) or that they are being erased by "don't say gay" laws in states like Florida.  Sadly, those pushing the new effort to stigmatize and denigrate LGBT individuals care nothing about the harm they do.  Indeed, doing harm is the entire goal of the effort.   A long piece in the New York Times looks at the state of LGBT youth.  Here are excerpts:

For L.G.B.T.Q. teenagers, high school is a much more accepting place than even a decade ago. They change their pronouns, go to school dances with people of the same gender, and are more likely than any previous generation to openly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or otherwise queer.

“Being queer and being happy about it is something that’s so normal,” said Reese Whisnant, who just graduated from Topeka High in Kansas.

Yet there is a darker side. Even as they are increasingly welcomed by peers, their mental health is significantly worse than that of heterosexual young people. Many young transgender and gay people have been affected by a wave of recent Republican-led legislation questioning their identity or putting restrictions on their lives. They’re being raised by generations whose approval of and comfort with L.G.B.T.Q. identities lag their own.

Their experiences highlight a “paradoxical finding,” as researchers have described it: Even as social inclusion for young L.G.B.T.Q. people has grown, large health disparities between them and their non-L.G.B.T.Q. peers have not shrunk.

“This is what young people teach us: Change can happen as quickly as a generation,” said Stephen T. Russell, a sociologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies adolescent development and L.G.B.T.Q. youth.

At the same time, he said, “the moment we’re in is so scary in terms of the mental health crisis.”

Researchers say many factors are probably contributing to L.G.B.T.Q. teenagers’ contradictory experiences. To better understand, we took a national poll and talked to two dozen high school students in five states. The students were from states like Florida, Kansas and Iowa, which have passed various restrictions affecting L.G.B.T.Q. minors, and Oregon, which has no such restrictions and has passed protections.

At Reese’s school, he was one of at least a dozen openly transgender students, and many more students identified as L.G.B.T.Q. It’s a different world from when his older sister, Brianna Henderson, attended just seven years ago, when there were very few openly gay students.

Yet Reese has at times struggled to get the support of adults in his life. He has heard slurs in school. His home state has passed laws related to restroom use and sports participation for young transgender people. It has all strained his mental health, he said: “It’s stuff that teenagers shouldn’t have to be worrying about on top of all the other stuff we already have to worry about.”

One in five adults in Gen Z (those roughly 18 to 26) identify as L.G.B.T.Q., according to Gallup polling, compared with 7 percent of adults in the United States overall. The majority of them identify as bisexual. About 2 percent of Gen Z adults are transgender, and about half of adults under 30 report knowing someone transgender.

In much of the country, what it’s like to be an L.G.B.T.Q. teenager changed around the mid-2010s. The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. “Will and Grace” had been on TV, and the show “I Am Jazz” started that year. In 2014, the basketball player Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in one of the four major North American pro sports leagues, and a year later, Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian and Kardashian, came out as transgender. . . . For today’s teenagers, it has been all they have known — they were in elementary school at the time.

This reflects other data that has found that verbal harassment of L.G.B.T.Q. teenagers declined during the 2010s, while support for same-sex marriage became the norm among young people. “You’re at the point among young adults where almost all these measures of acceptance are in the high 80s, low 90s,” said Jeff Jones, a senior editor who oversees research at Gallup. “It’s basically getting toward a consensus.”

As acceptance has grown, though, the mental health of queer youth has continued to suffer. Reported rates of mental health problems among all young people have been rising for the last decade, but non-heterosexual students face far higher rates than straight students.

About 70 percent of high school students who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual reported persistent sadness, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, twice the rate of their heterosexual peers. One in five attempted suicide in the past year, nearly four times the rate of straight young people.

Research shows that being in a minority group, especially if people in that group face stigma, causes stress that can affect their health — a phenomenon known as minority stress theory. Since adolescents feel a drive to conform with their peers, being a minority during this period may be particularly challenging. Studies have shown that L.G.B.T.Q. youth who experience more stress about their minority identity are more likely to have mental health challenges.

Young people are also affected by the culture at large, researchers say, as anti-trans legislation and what critics call “Don’t Say Gay” bills reverberate across the country. Among other bills, there has been a wave of legislation this year banning what doctors call gender-affirming care for trans minors, such as puberty blockers and hormones. . . . the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have urged states not to ban or limit this care.

Many teenagers, particularly in Republican-leaning states, said protesting these bans had become a big part of their lives.

“There is good data on the fact that these public moments that promote stigma and discrimination work their way into the culture and climate in schools and peer relationships with kids,” Professor Russell said.

Parents and schools play big roles and can do specific things to support L.G.B.T.Q. youth, researchers say. Studies find that family acceptance is among the most important protective factors, something that teenagers also said in interviews. . . . the most important component of the mental health crisis that L.G.B.T.Q. youth are experiencing,” . . . . “It’s family rejection.”

Some sex education curriculums cover L.G.B.T.Q. health and identities; nine states require it. The presence of a gay-straight alliance improves the school climate as a whole, studies show, even for people who don’t participate.

At Topeka High, Reese Whisnant said, teachers now talk about L.G.B.T.Q. issues, especially in history class, and there’s a gender-sexuality alliance with nearly 100 members. “They’re really trying to help kids understand they need to be accepting and stuff,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot better than it was. There’s still stuff that needs to be worked on, but it’s a lot better.”

Let's be clear.  Those who promote anti-LGBT hatred - be they evangelicals/Christofascists clinging to myth based religious beliefs and the bronze age beliefs of Palestinian goat herders in the Old Testament or Republican political whores - are hate merchants, plain and simple.  They need be shunned by decent, moral people.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, June 02, 2023

More Friday Male Beauty - Pt 2


A Peek Behind the MAGA Curtain

One of the most difficult things for me is to understand how people I know who outwardly are nice, decent and moral people can remain supporters of Donald Trump, a man defined by endless lies, corruption, total narcissism, cruelty towards others, and who has been found guilty of defamation and sexual assault.  This difficulty applies in spades to evangelicals who claimed morality and personal integrity mattered when they attacked Bill Clinton for his affair with an intern yet now brush off Trump's moral bankruptcy even as they wear their religion on their sleeves and provide endless displays of false piety.  One is NOT pro-life when you vote for those who placed children in cages, seek to shred the social safety net, denigrate and malign others endlessly, and embrace a man who is an open racist.  A column in the New York Times tries to answer this question largely without success and also looks at the alternate reality spun by Fox News and other far right "news outlets" and the willingness of the MAGA base to ignore objective facts and reality if it challenges their prejudices and apparent quest for political power at any cost.  Here are column highlights:

Every now and then, it’s important to watch Fox News in prime time. No, not because the programs are particularly good or because the hosts tell their audience the truth. Fox is writing Dominion Voting Systems a $787.5 million check for very good reasons, and it still faces a multibillion-dollar lawsuit from Smartmatic over the channel’s election reporting. But to watch Fox News is to begin to understand millions of your fellow Americans. And there was no better time to start understanding the 2024 Republican primary contest than Thursday night, during Donald Trump’s town hall in Iowa, hosted by Sean Hannity.

To watch the town hall was to start learning the answer to a key question: After everything, how can Republicans still be so loyal to Trump? But that word, “everything,” is loaded with different meanings in different American communities.

When I look back on the Trump years, I see a dark time of division, corruption and social decay. After all, when he left office, the murder rate was higher, drug overdose deaths had increased, and the abortion rate had gone up for the first time in decades. America was more bitterly divided, and deficits increased each year of his presidency. His early Covid lies helped fuel an immense amount of confusion and almost certainly cost American lives.

If you watched the town hall, however, you entered an entirely different world. According to Trump’s narrative, everything he did was good. His first term was a time of economic prosperity, energy independence, fiscal responsibility, a rejuvenated military, a locked-down border and fear and respect from foreign regimes. The only thing that marred his four years was a stolen election and his unjust persecution by the corrupt Democratic Party and its allies in the F.B.I.

In Trumpworld, the Trump past is golden, and the Trump future bright, but the present is a time of misery and darkness. It is President Biden, not Trump, who mishandles classified documents. It is Biden’s family, not Trump’s, that corruptly profits off foreign regimes.

False narratives are often sustained by a few kernels of truth, and so it is in MAGA America. The economy was strong before Covid, and there were fewer southern border crossings each year during Trump’s presidency than during Biden’s. The ISIS caliphate fell. And I don’t know a single Republican who isn’t pleased with Trump’s judicial nominees.

In short, there is enough truthful criticism of the Biden administration to make it vulnerable to an election loss. And there remains sufficient false Trump administration nostalgia to make Trump the G.O.P. nominee. Put both realities together, and the nation is facing RealClearPolitics polling averages that show Trump to be the overwhelming favorite for the G.O.P. nomination and a slight leader in a potential general election matchup against Biden.

Given these facts — and Thursday night’s peek at MAGA America — my colleague Frank Bruni’s warning to Democrats yesterday was timely and important: Democrats should not hope to face Trump in 2024. Rooting for him isn’t just dangerous; it’s based on misunderstandings. All too many Trump opponents — in both parties — have spent so long building their voluminous cases against him that they’ve forgotten how he looks to the other side. They can’t conceive of a coherent case for his candidacy.

The two most telling moments on Thursday came from Trump’s audience. First, they booed Mike Pence at the very mention of his name. Second, they shouted derisively at Hannity at the mere thought that Trump should perhaps tone down his rhetoric. Both moments emphasized the ferocity of their support for Trump. When you see that public response, you can begin to see his opponents’ dilemma. Given the size of Trump’s base, a winning Republican rival will have to peel away at least some members of audiences like Thursday’s — the very people who see him as a persecuted hero.

That challenge is compounded by every event like Thursday’s town hall, in which a relaxed Trump was “questioned” by a supine host in front of an adoring crowd. Hannity’s performance was quite a contrast to Kaitlan Collins’s pointed challenges to Trump during last month’s CNN town hall. Yet both events advanced Trump’s narrative. CNN’s tough questions reminded MAGA of his alleged persecution. Hannity’s coddling reminded MAGA of Trump’s alleged triumphs. Both ultimately helped Trump deepen his bond with the people who love him the most.

I am left thinking those Trump supporters I know do, in fact, suffer from a moral deficit.  The truth is out there if one bothers to look and if one keeps drinking the Trump/Fox News falsehoods, you have no one to blame but yourself.

More Friday Male Beauty


Thursday, June 01, 2023

Americans' Life Expectancy Continues to Drop

As noted in previous posts, the life expectancy of Americans is dropping in contrast to the life expectancies of residents of other advanced wealthy nations, peer nations, if you will.  There are several factors at paly, not the least of which is Americans' lack of universal health care coverage such as what one sees in much of Europe and the United Kingdom.  Throw in the unhealthy lifestyles of many Americans and the politicization of health care precautions and and vaccines by many on the political right and its a recipe for American exceptionalism but of the most negative kind. With Republicans' never ending quest for more tax cuts for the super wealthy and large corporations at the expense of spending on health care for the vast majority of the citizenry (who Republicans view as expendable), the likelihood of reversing this downward trend in American life expectancy - especially for the poor and racial minorities - is not promising.  A column in the Washington Post by two medical experts looks at this national disgrace and the needless loss of lives that sets America apart from its peer nations in a very negative way.  Here  are column excerpts:

Last fall, when federal statistics showed life expectancy had fallen for Americans in 2021 for a second year in a row, it was clear that the devastating covid-19 pandemic was the immediate cause. The coronavirus took the lives of more than 1 million Americans. Life expectancy fell by more than two years — and by twice as much among Hispanic, Black and Native Americans — setting the country back by two decades and producing the most abrupt decline in life expectancy since World War II.

But plotting life expectancy in the United States against that of other wealthy countries reveals three dark insights: Our life spans lag behind those of our peers; our life expectancy was already more or less flat, not growing; and most other countries bounced back from covid-19 in the second year of the pandemic, while we went into further decline.

Ten years ago, long before the world was hit by covid-19, we served as the chair and study director for a landmark report that warned about the “U.S. health disadvantage,” a gap in the health and survival of Americans relative to residents of other high-income countries. . . . . the report showed the United States had the lowest life expectancy among peer countries, and higher morbidity and mortality rates for dozens of causes. The disparity had been growing since the 1950s, by some measures, and was pervasive — affecting both sexes, young and old, rich and poor, and Americans of all races and ethnicities.

The committee examined five areas of relative deficiency that are likely contributing to the U.S. health disadvantage: (1) unhealthy behaviors, such as our diets and use of firearms; (2) inadequate health care and public health systems; (3) poor socioeconomic conditions; (4) unhealthy and unsafe environments; and (5) deficient public policies. The last category especially exerts a powerful influence on the other domains — and helps explain why other advanced democracies are outperforming the United States on almost every measure of health and well-being.

In the years before the covid-19 pandemic, as life expectancy continued to increase in other countries, U.S. life expectancy plateaued and then decreased for three consecutive years. Researchers identified a key reason: U.S. mortality in midlife (ages 25 to 64) was increasing, a phenomenon not occurring in peer countries. . . . . Enduring systemic racism and health inequities means that the U.S. health disadvantage is particularly acute among people of color, especially Native and Black Americans, whose life expectancy is far lower than that of White Americans.

In 2020 and 2021, U.S. deaths were the highest of any country and among the highest per capita. All five domains we identified in the “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health” report contributed to the death toll: Health behaviors (e.g., resistance to masking and vaccinations) facilitated viral transmission and limited vaccine uptake; health-care and public health services were unprepared and rapidly overwhelmed; socioeconomic conditions further deteriorated, especially for poorer Americans, as the economy imploded; . . . and the policy response to the pandemic was deeply flawed and highly politicized.

In 2021, declines were higher among White Americans than in most other groups, perhaps because of greater resistance to vaccination and masking in conservative communities.

Many of us long for a return to pre-pandemic conditions, but the reality is that health conditions in our country then were already dire. One study estimated that, between 1980 and 2019, the U.S. mortality disparity with peer countries resulted in an estimated 11 million excess deaths.

We know from other countries how to achieve higher life expectancy, since many have enjoyed better results than the United States for decades — and at far lower cost. Better food and nutrition policies, for example, can reduce the prevalence of disease. Common-sense gun-control measures could reduce the injury, death toll and psychological impact of threats from firearms. Better access to health care and behavioral health services would improve our physical and mental condition in the face of rising rates of depression, drug overdoses and suicides. The same goes for access to reproductive, sexual and maternity care. A living wage, a stronger safety net, more progressive taxation and more affordable care for families and children would go far in increasing our economic security — and thus our survival.

Unfortunately, in the United States, these proposals to improve health outcomes are seen by some as radical, if not un-American. A whole host of industries, furthermore, now depends on keeping things as they are: the health-care and insurance industries; manufacturers of drugs, unhealthy foods and beverages, and firearms; and companies responsible for carbon emissions and toxic pollutants.

Unless the country changes course, and soon, the structural conditions responsible for the shorter lives and poorer health of Americans will continue to claim lives and weaken the country. It is not just the old who pay the price. Young and middle-aged Americans are now more likely to die in the prime of their lives, devastating families and communities and taking a hard toll on our economic productivity.

Even more disturbing, in a change never recorded in the past century, the probability that children and adolescents will live to age 20 is now decreasing. If our country failed to hear the warning we sounded a decade ago, we can at least respond to the pandemic by starting to make the changes that could let more of our children see adulthood — and give the rest of us more years on Earth.

Yes, America is exceptional but in a very disturbing way that politicians - especially Republicans - bloviating about "American exceptionalism: will not reverse.  Our peer countries show us the way to improve, but will Americans demand that their elected officals take needed action?

Friday Morning Male Beauty


More Thursday Male Beauty


Manhood Crisis: Conservatives Whining About Manhood

Growing up gay and in the closet gives one a different perspective on stereotypical American manhood and how toxic it can be.   Under that stereotype, sensitivity and empathy for others and the decent treatment of women (and gays) are not positives and men are supposed to be avoid such things in favor of strength and stoicism and showing no emotion. Most of us likely see increased empathy, kindness and showing emotion as positives and a lessening of traditional societal expectations.   I certainly hope both of my grandsons will value kindness and sensitivity as they grow older.  However, for "conservatives" males - the same ones who need a big truck and guns to prove they are men - such behavior is "woke" and a terrible threat to the stunted manhood.  Sadly, those on the far political right have jumped on the bandwagon of claiming American manhood is in crisis for both monetary gain - think Josh Hawley's new book - and to use fear to convince men, especially working class men, to vote against their own economic interests and vote Republican. In short, despite some very real issues surrounding American men, especially those in impoverished communities, the "crisis of manhood" is being manufactured for political gain and self-enrichment by the elites of the right.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the issue. Here are excerpts:

American men are in crisis, as many an American man with a media platform will tell you. They aren’t working hard enough; they’re hypnotized by video games and online porn; and most of all, they just don’t know how to be men anymore in this confusing world. “No menace to this nation is greater than the collapse of American manhood,” writes Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in his new book, “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs.”

Like most of the crisis-of-masculinity-mongers, Hawley has little in the way of practical recommendations to fix this supposed problem. But if American men are really overcome by such anxiety, here’s a solution: Stop listening to conservatives telling you that masculinity is in crisis.

The most manly thing one can do might be to stop caring about masculinity altogether. That’s not to deny that men face some genuine problems, especially when it comes to educational achievement — even as they still dominate almost every facet of public life, from politics to religion to business.

But when Tucker Carlson suggests you tan your testicles to boost your testosterone, he isn’t just worried about rates of admission at medical schools. Instead, it’s the feeling of anxiety among men that he and others are playing to.

As much as this anxiety is described as a response to rapidly changing ideas about gender, it’s decades, if not centuries, old. In fact, it is often built into manhood itself.

In many societies, one can find the belief that girls become women almost inevitably through the process of physical maturation, while a boy’s passage to manhood must be earned through the completion of some kind of ritual, often involving the demonstration of physical courage or the ability to endure pain. Even in societies such as ours where those rituals are no longer formalized, the idea that manhood is an earned status persists. And if it has to be earned, it can be lost.

Manhood [to conservatives] requires public performance, and it has to be performed repeatedly, because it’s so fragile.

Your manhood can be taken from you in many ways: by a romantic rival, by another man besting you in a physical altercation or even by an economic setback. But if a woman’s husband cheats on her, no one says “She isn’t a woman anymore.” Women might wake up every day anxious about many things, but being robbed of their womanhood is seldom among them.

The result of men’s anxiety is what has been termed “precarious manhood.” Studies suggest not only that people perceive manhood as easily lost, but that when it is lost, it’s because other people no longer view that man as a man. Perceptions of manhood are intensely social.

Conservatives claim that men are being bombarded with messages delegitimizing masculinity. Such messages do exist, but “traditional” masculinity is still everywhere in popular culture. TV and movie screens are still full of hunky leading men who solve problems through violence.

And if the “manly virtues” include strength and stoicism, it’s hard to see them in the collection of hysterical whiners who make up today’s right. What exactly is “masculine” about finding a transgender influencer promoting Bud Light on Instagram so threatening that you have to respond with a public display of violence against beer cans?

As one study noted, “physically aggressive displays are part of men’s cultural script for restoring threatened gender status.” Recent history shows that even seeing someone else challenging gender norms can make some men so threatened that they have to show everyone that they’re still men — often through the performance of violence.

While that impulse is not new, today’s right reinforces it at ear-splitting volume, greeting every new challenge to gender norms with the message that you should be angry and afraid about it. Those stories are accompanied by the insistence that we are experiencing a crisis of manhood.

Ordinary young men feeling the alienation everyone experiences at some point in their lives are encouraged to understand it as a product of the supposed attack on manhood.

But deciding that your personal problems derive from a crisis of manhood will only make it worse. Like reading Hawley’s book. Or watching Fox News.

So how can men free themselves from the anxiety elite Republicans want them to feel? Stop worrying about whether you’re properly expressing manly virtues or whether other men are judging you. Don’t listen to the people who want you to be constantly terrified about the prospect of losing your manhood. Nothing is less manly than that. You want to be a man? Stop worrying about whether you’re man enough.

In the words of a song beloved by little girls everywhere: Let it go.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, May 31, 2023

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Today's GOP: The Politics of Delusion

No political party is perfect, but in today's political realm, the Republican Party has become a party where objective facts and reality simply do not matter and, indeed, a willingness to embrace "alternate facts" - in plan terms lies - is essential. And many of the lies on the political right rely on generating hatred towards political opponents and depicting them as a threat to one's identity and social group.  Racism, homophobia and a sanitized version of history are key elements to urging voters of the party base to ignore what is actually in their own best economic interests. A long column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon where delusion and depiction of  those belonging to opposing as the enemy are key. Yes, Democrats give into the urge to view Republicans as the enemy, but when one is a gay American, for example, Republicans are indeed the enemy as they seek to ole back LGBT rights and re-stigmatize members of the LGBT community. I and other gays have very good reason to fear the GOP agenda while Republican's embrace of the "great replacement" theory is not based in reality.  The piece also looks at the role of the far right media in driving ever increasing polarization and animosity.  Here are highlights:

There are very real — and substantial — policy differences separating the Democratic and Republican Parties. At the same time, what scholars variously describe as misperception and even delusion is driving up the intensity of contemporary partisan hostility.

Matthew Levendusky, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, describes some of these distorted views in his recently published book “Our Common Bonds: Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide”: Seventy-five percent of Democrats said Republicans were closed-minded, and 55 percent of Republicans said that Democrats were immoral” (Pew Research Center, 2019). Nearly eight in 10 say that the two parties “fundamentally disagree” about core American values. More than 70 percent of all voters think those in the other party are “a clear and present danger to the American way of life.”

A separate paper published last year, “Christian Nationalism and Political Violence: Victimhood, Racial Identity, Conspiracy and Support for the Capitol Attacks,” by Miles T. Armaly, David T. Buckley and Adam M. Enders shows that support for political violence correlates with a combination of white identity, belief in extreme religions and conspiracy thinking.

“Perceived victimhood, reinforcing racial and religious identities and support for conspiratorial information,” they write, “are positively related to each other and support for the Capitol riot.”

Since these beliefs have their foundations in core values, self-image and group identities, Wronski wrote, “people are motivated to defend them. Protecting your identity becomes more important than embracing the truth.”

In March 2021, Michael Dimock, the president of the Pew Research Center, published “America Is Exceptional in Its Political Divide,” in which he explored some of this country’s vulnerabilities to extreme, emotionally driven polarization: . . . Various types of identities have become ‘stacked’ on top of people’s partisan identities. Race, religion and ideology now align with partisan identity in ways that they often didn’t in eras when the two parties were relatively heterogenous coalitions.

The result is that an individual whose party loses on Election Day can feel that his or her identity has suffered a defeat.

Matters of status and identity are easy to whip up into existential conflicts with zero-sum solutions. To the extent that political leaders are encouraging people to focus on threats to their social status rather than their economic or material well-being, they are certainly directing attention in an unhelpful and often dangerous direction. It’s much easier to think of others as disproportionately dangerous and extreme when their victory means your loss, rather than focusing on the overall well-being of the nation as a whole.

. . . . .much of the polarization is delusional.” “There are two main drivers” of this phenomenon, Lenz wrote. The first “is the need for politicians to mobilize citizens with busy lives and not much of an incentive to participate in politics. There are many ways politicians can mobilize voters, but fear is tried and true.”

[O]f the causes of increased affective polarization, “the explanation I consider most viable is changes in the media environment.” In the 1970s, he continued, “the vast majority of the voting-age population encountered the same news stories on the same topics” — what he called “a vast information commons.”

Today, Iyengar wrote, not only are there more sources of information, but also “partisans have ample opportunity to tune in to ‘congenial sources’ — news providers delivering coverage with a partisan slant in accord with the viewer.”

I do not think most of affective polarization is driven by a misunderstanding of facts. Indeed, I think many in this field make the mistake of thinking that the line to be policed is the line between truth and falsehood. Rather, I think the critical question is usually whether the truth is relevant or not.

In this context, according to Persily, “partisan polarization resembles religious polarization. Attempting to ‘disprove’ someone’s long-held religion will rarely do much to convince them that your god is the right one.”

Viewed this way, partisan affiliation is an identity, Persily wrote, “and displays dynamics familiar to identity politics”: People root for their team, and they find facts or other narratives to justify doing so.

People are motivated, he continued, to affirm evidence that confirms their beliefs and affirms their identities. For committed partisans, they are often more motivated by these social goals than the desire to be accurate. People also share misinformation for social reasons — it can signal loyalty and help people gain status in some partisan communities.

Consistent with the political identity hypothesis, Democrats and Republicans were both more likely to believe news about the value-upholding behavior of their in-group or the value-undermining behavior of their out-group. Belief was positively correlated with willingness to share on social media in all conditions, but Republicans were more likely to believe and want to share political fake news.

[T[he irrational element of partisan hostility has seemingly created a political culture resistant to correction or reform. If so, the nation is stuck, at least for the time being, in a destructive cyclical pattern that no one so far has found a way to escape.

The embodiment of delusional politics is, of course, Donald Trump, with his false, indeed fraudulent, claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The continuing willingness of a majority of Republican voters to tolerate this delusion reflects the difficulty facing the nation as it struggles to restore sanity to American politics — if it’s not too late.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, May 29, 2023

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


More Monday Male Beauty - Pt 2


American Religion: Becoming Less Exceptional

As noted in today's earlier post, Christianity is on a sharp decline in America - something I view as a positive phenomenon give religion's - and Christianity in particular - role in fueling hatred, division and all too often violence and death over the centuries. In 1972, 90% of Americans called themselves Christians; now just 64% of Americans do so.  As first blush, it is ironic that declines in churchgoers and religious affiliation has been the most severe among the so-called "mainline" denominations while the declines among evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention have been less severe.  The anomaly may derive from the fact that the mainline churches historically have included the most highly educated congregants while evangelical denominations continue to include the least educated - and by extension the least willing to think outside of brainwashing received as children and youth.  This correlation between education levels and church attendance underscores, in my view, why Christofascists/Republican politicians are attacking education - think Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott - since a highly educated population increasing correlates with less religious belief and a stronger likelihood of voting for Democrat candidates.  Meanwhile, younger generations view Christianity as toxic as it becomes increasingly synonymous with hypocrisy, hatred of others, homophobia and the white Christian nationalism that now defines the GOP.  A piece in The Economist looks at the trend. Here are excerpts (NOTE: the trend for Catholics is likely less accurate since dioceses keep you on the rolls even if you never darken a church door but have not affirmatively had yourself removed from the list of church members):

WHAT IS a shepherd without a flock? Many of America’s pastors may soon have to answer. In 2014, 3,700 Protestant churches closed, by 2019 that figure was 4,500, according to Lifeway Research, a non-profit organisation that provides resources for ministry. Many parishes simply do not have enough congregants to pay the bills. In 1972, 90% of Americans called themselves Christians; now just 64% do. The waning of religiosity in America is not new, of course. But newly released data shed light on where religious adherence has dropped most, and among which Christian denominations.

Every ten years the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) attempts a tally of membership for every church in the country. It is a monumental feat of data-gathering, covering hundreds of religions and thousands of congregations. Figures for the 2020 census are now finally available. They issue a stark warning to the country’s “mainline” Christian denominations: membership of these old churches, such as the Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, is shrinking at an alarming rate. . . . the number of Episcopalians and Methodists dropped by 19% each, and the Lutherans plunged by 25%. Presbyterians, a Protestant group characterised by disdain for flashy ceremony, lost nearly 1m (40%) of their members over the same period—the largest drop of the major denominations.

Catholics claim they gained nearly 3m members (a 5% increase) despite closing over 1,100 churches.  Geographically, the states with the highest shares of Catholics and mainline Protestants have seen the biggest drop in religious adherence  . . . . .

What has gone so wrong for America’s oldest churches? One answer is age. According to data from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, a majority of mainline Christians are over 50 and one-third are older than 65. Only about one in ten are under the age of 30. For many churches, older congregants are simply dying too quickly to be replaced by new members.

Another explanation is conversion. Pew finds that just over one-third of Americans between the ages of 30 and 39 who were brought up in Christian households no longer identify with that faith. But only 20% of young adults brought up outside the church have travelled in the opposite direction, making far more leavers than joiners. The problem has become even worse in recent years. According to Pew, in 1990 only one in ten Christian-raised adults between the ages of 30 and 34 became “switchers”. Rates have more than tripled since then.

Pew reckons that if these trends continue, the non-religious could become the dominant group in American society as soon as 2055. One concern is what the shepherds will do next. A deeper one is what happens to a wandering flock.

More Monday Male Beauty


Exodus From Religion Correlates to Evangelicals/The Political Right

For years now I have argued that evangelicals and Christofascists are killing the Christian brand in America because of their hypocrisy, hatred of others and general Pharisee-like behavior.  During the Trump era, this demographic has merged with and become synonymous with the ugliest elements of the political right and behavior  made Donald Trump, a man who is thoroughly bankrupt when it comes to every aspect of true morality, their standard bearer. As the evangelical dominated Republican Party has doubled down on being the party of open racism, homophobia and general extremism, more and more Americans have decided they want nothing to do with institutional Christianity.  Thus, the surge in the number of "Nones" and alienation of younger generations from religion.  New data now confirms that the evangelicals and their lockstep ties to the GOP have accelerated the exodus.  The result is that those who most claim to value and honor Christianity are the ones bearing a large part of the responsibility for its decline.  A piece at Religion Dispatches looks at the data.  Here are highlights:

For centuries, American evangelical Protestants have been obsessed with religious ‘revival.’ Fear of ostensible societal, moral, and religious ‘decline’ is the other side of the same paranoid Christian coin.

The United States, deeply influenced by early Puritan settlers and other assorted Christian fanatics, has been slow to secularize relative to European countries. In fact, the rapid increase in the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans at the expense of Christianity—a trend that has generated significant buzz in recent years—can be traced back only to the 1990s. Since then, however, the shift has been stunning.

I’ll put my cards on the table here: I consider that a good thing, given that frequent church attendance consistently correlates with voting Republican, especially among White Americans. At the same time, I understand that religion is far more diverse than Christianity alone, and that even Christianity—despite its heavy imperialist baggage—comes in pro-social forms.

In order to understand American secularization, however, it is necessary to understand that because of Christian dominance and pervasive Christian privilege, many Americans’ primary association with religion is Christianity, and that shapes their responses to the questions about ‘religion’ they encounter in public opinion polls.

Some polling over recent years has suggested the trend toward disaffiliation might be slowing down or leveling off, but its continuation seems highly likely given that more and more children are growing up in non-religious families. And one of the primary factors driving the secularizing trend—the close association of Christianity with the cruel and anti-democratic politics of the Republican Party—is still very much in play, with intriguing findings about American attitudes toward religion and secularism from the latest Ipsos Global Religion report suggesting that this association continues to have an impact.

I’ll get to the details, but first, some context. Decades before the phenomenon we’ve come to call Christian nationalism became a defining feature of the Republican Party, the U.S. Christian Right’s push for political power was part and parcel of its members’ faith. As someone who was raised evangelical in the 1980s and 1990s, I know this all too well. . . . In our milieu, ‘liberal’ was a synonym for ‘godless’ that was frequently pronounced with a sneer; and supporting Republican politics, with a focus on banning abortion and ‘getting prayer back in schools,’ was an extension of our Christian practice.

[I]n the summer of 1980, the now highly organized Christian Right was denouncing abortion as ‘murder’ and using the goal of overturning Roe v Wade to win elections. That autumn, Republican Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in the presidential election, with the crucial support of White evangelicals, cemented that demographic’s place in the reactionary GOP coalition they’ve now come to dominate. . . . led many more moderate Americans to associate Christianity with meanness, hypocrisy, and reactionary politics.

In 2002, sociologists Michael Hout and Claude S Fischer first floated the thesis that politics was playing a key role in the religious disaffiliation that was by then showing up in surveys every year. They noted that religious affiliation was holding steady among American conservatives but declining among American moderates and liberals, and argued that “this political part of the increase in ‘nones’ can be viewed as a symbolic statement against the religious right.”

Subsequent events seem to have borne the thesis out, with the American population becoming more politically and religiously polarized. Since the early 21st century, the Christian Right—a mostly White coalition of evangelicals, traditionalist Catholics and Mormons—has fought vigorously (and increasingly successfully) to assert dominance and control over the rest of the population, abusing state law and the court system to do so. They made major gains under Donald Trump’s presidency, when the Supreme Court was stacked with the right-wing Catholic ideologues that made possible the dramatic step of actually overturning Roe.

Ipsos finds that since 2017, when Trump came into office, Americans’ attitudes about religion have shifted in ways that to me look telling. According to the new Global Religion report, the proportion of Americans who agree with the statement “people with a religious faith are better citizens” has fallen six points, to 39%. The percentage who “lose respect for people when I find out that they do not have a religious faith” also dropped six points, to 14%. Further, the proportion of Americans who agree with the statement “my religion defines me as a person” is down a full eight points and now stands at 41%.

One should always be wary of drawing sweeping conclusions from such bird’s eye view data, but given that these shifts took place between the beginning of Donald Trump’s Christian nationalist presidency and the present, they certainly look like confirmation of Hout and Fisher’s thesis. That is, since the proportion of Americans who see religious faith as important for good citizenship and for their own identity declined across this period along with religious affiliation, the decline likely has something to do with rising identitarian Christian nationalist politics. Christian nationalism has become increasingly explicit among Trump supporters and the Republican Party’s base over the past few years, as Trump and other Republican leaders like Florida governor Ron DeSantis have shattered political norms and vigorously pursued the culture-warring objectives of the raging Christian Right.

That marriage between conservative, mostly White Christianity and a Republican Party gleefully trampling the rights of queer people and women seems unlikely to end any time soon. And so long as that continues, we will probably continue to see empathetic Americans who grew up Christian deciding they no longer care to be religious in increasing numbers.

Meanwhile, I find myself part of the 39% of Americans who view religion as causing more evil than good in the world.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, May 28, 2023

More Sunday Male Beauty - Pt 2


DeSantis Is Destroying Education In Florida, Now He Wants to Ruin Your State

The last post looked at the scourge of white Christian nationalism, something on which Ron DeSantis has gone full bore as he and his enablers in the Florida legislature have sought to erase gays, honest accounts of race and history and sensitivity to anyone other than white evangelicals/Christofascists from education, both at the public school level and at the university level. In DeSantis's up is down, light is dark world, he claims inclusion of gays and honest history are a "war on truth" when in reality he is the one waging war on truth and seeking to disparage and malign countless Floridians.  Indeed, civil rights groups have rightly issued travel advisories against travel to Florida if one falls within targeted groups (which equates to everyone who isn't white and heterosexual).  Like a majority of today's Republicans, DeSantis wants to return society to the early 1950's, a time when "blacks knew their place" and gays remained invisible to survive.  With the launch of his hopefully ill-fated presidential campaign, DeSantis wants to take the poison he is peddling nationwide.  Everyone who believes in honest history, diversity and decency towards others should be uniting to send DeSantis and his Christian nationalist agenda - as well as those who want to emulate his destruction of a truth based education (e.g., Glenn Youngkin) - to the dust bin of history.  A piece in Politico looks at the hate and evil DeSantis is peddling.  Here are highlights:

The presidential hopeful isn’t the first Republican governor to embrace “parental rights” or limit how race and gender are discussed in schools. But DeSantis has built a long legislative record as an “education governor” amid battles with Democrats and civil rights groups that endeared him to rank-and-file GOP voters. Now he’s planning to pitch that record across the nation in a bid to become the new leader of the Republican Party.

Since becoming governor in 2019, DeSantis earned the nickname among conservatives by codifying a “Parents Bill of Rights,” vastly expanding school choice, allowing for armed teachers, and advocating for new workforce education. He has also rolled back higher education diversity programs, engaged in a high-profile feud with the College Board over its African American studies course and worked with other Republicans to reshape higher education in Florida by installing key allies in statewide posts.

“In Florida, we say we’re the state where woke goes to die,” he later added. “As president, I’m going to make sure woke ideology ends up in the dustbin of history.”

DeSantis’ moves are similar to Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.), who won election in a battleground state by emphasizing parental rights in education as Covid-driven school closures frustrated families across the political spectrum.

But Florida now has the most sweeping set of restrictions on classroom discussions about race and gender in the nation. It’s also inspired conservatives in dozens of states, including Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas, to duplicate these laws.

The Florida Parental Rights in Education Act that took effect last year and was billed as an effort to give parents more control over what their children learn at school after the pandemic increased scrutiny of K-12 education.

Opponents of the measure have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law because it bars educators from teaching lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity. This legislative session, GOP lawmakers bolstered the law by including restrictions on using a student’s pronouns if they “do not correspond” with their sex assigned at birth. Schools are also now required to pull books that are challenged within five days of someone flagging it.

DeSantis pushed the Individual Freedom Act — referred to as the Stop-WOKE Act — in 2022 which limits the way gender and race are discussed in classrooms and workplaces. Under the Individual Freedom Act, teachers are barred from teaching lessons that would make students “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.

Specifically requested by DeSantis, the law prohibits instruction on issues like “white privilege.” Critics of the legislation argued that the policy attempts to reframe or “whitewash” history.

While the law has been mired with legal challenges, the DeSantis administration has been using its law to reject the College Board’s new AP African American studies course. DeSantis has pushed for the changes in the course after slamming the nonprofit testmaker for including lessons on queer theory and intersectionality.

DeSantis’ latest feat is barring Florida colleges and universities from spending on most diversity, equity and inclusion programs under a slate of higher education reforms.

Florida is purging subjects like critical race theory and “DEI-infused” coursework from its schools, and university leaders are primed to take on a wide-scale review of courses and majors offered to students with lessons that assert “systemic racism, sexism, oppression and privilege.”

The legislation has influenced Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in Texas who have been shepherding legislation to require public universities to shutter their DEI offices and ban diversity training and hiring statements.

Be very afraid and be sure to vote a straight Democrat ticket in every election.  Boycotting Florida is also a good idea.

More Sunday Male Beauty


The Scourge of White Christian Nationalism

Having been raised Catholic and undergone what in retrospect can only be called brainwashing, I have long viewed the true agenda of the Vatican and the Church hierarchy to be one of power, money and control, especially power over others, with Christ's social gospel message often an afterthought at best.  Even the sex abuse scandal still burning in the Church - a new report in Illinois revealed over 400 sexual molesting clergy and roughly 2000 victims - stems in large part from a quest to control others with no accountability.   The same motivations are writ large in the white Christian nationalist movement which has nothing about true Christianity and much to do with control over others, namely blacks, Hispanics, non-Christians and, of course a long favorite target for abuse and fearmongering, gays.  With the ranks of Christians in America falling - in no small part due to the ugliness that is now the public face of Christianity thanks to evangelicals and Christofascists - the hate merchants and modern day Pharisees are desperate to reassert power over those deemed "other". In Florida, Texas and other "red states" this movement of hatred and control has found willing disciples in Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott and a host of other Republicans see a message hatred as a means to power.  A guest column in the New York Times by a Wyoming Republican and disillusioned Christian looks at how Christian nationalism is harming her state.  Here are highlights:

CASPER, Wyo. — I first saw it while working the rope line at a monster-truck rally during the 2016 campaign by my husband, Tim, for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat. As Tim and I and our boys made our way down the line, shaking hands and passing out campaign material, a burly man wearing a “God bless America” T-shirt and a cross around his neck said something like, “He’s got my vote if he keeps those [epithet] out of office,” using a racial slur. What followed was an uncomfortable master class in racism and xenophobia as the man decanted the reasons our country is going down the tubes. God bless America.

I now understand the ugliness I heard was part of a current of Christian nationalism fomenting beneath the surface. It had been there all the time. The rope line rant was a mission statement for the disaffected, the overlooked, the frightened. It was also an expression of solidarity with a candidate like Donald Trump who gave a name to a perceived enemy: people who do not look like us or share our beliefs. Immigrants are taking our guns. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. You are not safe in your home. Religious freedom is on the gallows. Vote for me.

The messages worked. And in large part, it’s my faith community — white, rural and conservative — that got them there. I am a white conservative woman in rural America. . . . I’ve straddled both worlds, faith and politics, my entire adult life. Often there was very little daylight between the two, one informing the other.

What’s changed is the rise of Christian nationalism — the belief, as recently described by the Georgetown University professor and author Paul D. Miller, that “America is a ‘Christian nation’ and that the government should keep it that way.” Gone are the days when a lawmaker might be circumspect about using his or her faith as a vehicle to garner votes. It’s been a drastic and destructive departure from the boring, substantive lawmaking to which I was accustomed. Christian nationalists have hijacked both my Republican Party and my faith community by blurring the lines between church and government and in the process rebranding our state’s identity.

Rural states are particularly vulnerable to the promise of Christian nationalism. In Wyoming, we are white (more than 92 percent) and love God (71 percent identified as Christian in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center) and Mr. Trump (seven in 10 voters picked him in 2020).

The result is bad church and bad law. “God, guns and Trump” is an omnipresent bumper sticker here, the new trinity. The evangelical church has proved to be a supplicating audience for the Christian nationalist roadshow. Indeed, it is unclear to me many Sundays whether we are hearing a sermon or a stump speech. . . . Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with control.

In last year’s elections, candidates running on a Christian nationalist platform used fear plus the promise of power to attract votes. Their ads warned about government overreach, religious persecution, mask mandates, threats from immigrants and election fraud. . . . None of those concerns were real. . . . . So what are we afraid of?

Yet fear (and loathing for Ms. Cheney, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and dared to call him “unfit for office”) led to a record voter turnout in the August primary. The Trumpist candidate, Harriet Hageman, trounced Ms. Cheney.

Last year, maternity wards closed in two sparsely populated communities, further expanding our maternity desert. Yet in debating a bill to provide some relief to new moms by extending Medicaid’s postpartum coverage, a freshman member of the State House, Jeanette Ward, invoked a brutally narrow view of the Bible. “Cain commented to God, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” she said. “The obvious answer is no. No, I am not my brother’s keeper. But just don’t kill him.”

This confusing ‌mash-up‌ of Scripture (Ms. Ward got it wrong: The answer is yes, I am my brother’s keeper) is emblematic of a Christian nationalist who weaponizes God’s word to promote the agenda du jour. We should expect candidates who identify as followers of Christ to model some concern for other people.

Rhetoric like Ms. Ward’s can have devastating implications when it results in policy change. Even though the Medicaid bill became law, the hospital in Rawlins no longer delivers babies, meaning Wyomingites about to give birth must now travel 100 miles over one of the nation’s most treacherous stretches of Interstate. Woe to those with a winter due date.

I am adrift in this unnamed sea, untethered from both my faith community and my political party as I try to reconcile evangelicals’ repeated endorsements of candidates who thumb their noses at the least of us. Christians are called to serve God, not a political party, to put our faith in a higher power, not in human beings. We’re taught not to bow to false idols. Yet idolatry is increasingly prominent and our foundational principles — humility, kindness and compassion — in short supply.

I recently attended a conference devoted to spiritual maturity. Of the attendees, a large percentage were pastors. Some had flown in, seeking anonymity for fear of job loss or reprisal. Many had dared to raise hard questions, challenging their congregation to think deeply about immigration, puzzle through the church’s treatment of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, to dive into Scripture and to find answers.

For some, just making the suggestion had put their neck on the line. One pastor was recently fired. Another, who was nearing the end of his career, lamented: Where did I go wrong in my teaching? Am I complicit in this movement? Have I created this monster? I have failed my flock.

I can think of no better illustration of the calamitous force of Christian nationalism than a room full of faith leaders, regret lined deep in their brows, expressing shame and disappointment in those they were called to lead.