Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spoken Sango: a musical language

For those of you wondering what Sango is, wonder no more. Sango is the national language of the Central African Republic (the official language being French). There are also numerous tribal languages, making most Central Africans trilingual at least.

For those of you out there wondering how Sango sounds when spoken, wonder no more. For your listening pleasure I give you the November 5, 2008 evening broadcast of Radio Centrafrique, Sango language edition, where President Bozize offers his congratulations to President-elect Obama.

You can download the Sango version, or listen here:

For comparison, you can download the French version, or listen here:

I hope you hear how musical spoken Sango is, with its high, medium, and low tones like Chinese. If you listen closely, you can hear numerous French words slipping in (a hallmark of educated urbanites), although the prepared text of the broadcast does try hard to limit the number of loadwords where possible to help develop Sango as a sufficiently rich language on its own.

For those who understand neither Sango nor French, President Bozize expressed (very roughly) the pride that (Central) Africans have that a man of half-African descent has become the most powerful man in the most powerful country of the world, and that this is a sign that skin color is no longer an issue. The Sango motto of the CAR is Zo Kwe Zo (literally "Person-each person") meaning that every person is a somebody, regardless of tribe (or by extension, race or nationality). Those who think this sounds an awful lot like the South African idea of Ubuntu have good instincts. Both phrases center on the word "humanity". For Americans, Obama's election is a welcome sign that we too are at last embracing the idea that Zo Kwe Zo. Strom Thurmond must be rolling over in his grave.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why does the State care about marriage anyway?

Stand To Reason Blog asserts what they consider the essential Rational Basis for the State to oppose gay marriage:

...marriage isn't an issue of fairness. It's not a civil right. It's necessarily discriminatory because it favors the kinds of relationships that the state has in interest in. Marriage is unique in that it produces the next generation of society, an interest all cultures must favor. Marriage also provides the kind of stability that not only protects children. Without that kind of stability when the family breaks down, the state has all sorts of new burden that affect everyone, including increased crime and poverty that social programs are then needed to fill the gaps.

The state obviously has an interest in traditional marriage.

Obviously? Let's look a little closer:

  1. The California Supreme Court has applied the standard of "strict scrutiny" in the appelate review in re Marriage, not a "rational basis" standard, so even if the above were true, it is not sufficient cause to oppose gay marriage. The State must clearly show not that children might be harmed but that in statistically significant numbers they will be harmed. No such evidence has been accepted by any court to my knowledge, and most certainly not the California Supreme Court.

  2. None of the three branches of California State government have made the above argument, nor did Proposition 8 make it (having after all only 14 words in it). To be relevant in a legal context, this argument must be advanced through Executive Order, Legislative Action, Judicial Finding, or Popular Initiative. Blogging provides no legal standing.

  3. The claim is facially untrue. Marriage does not produce the next generation, sexual reproduction does. This not only does not need marriage, it will soon not even need parents. A fertilized egg could be incubated, or a person cloned.

  4. The claim is substantively untrue: "About half the babies born in Sweden are born to unwed mothers, though very few are born to teenagers....Despite all these “problems,” the Swedish birth rate has increased steadily since 1970 (Home sweet home, 1995), and children rarely suffer....Swedish children showed the highest educational performance of the four groups in the study, the lowest percentage in poverty, and nearly the lowest child abuse death rate."

  5. The state obviously has an interest in traditional marriage.

    No. The state might have an interest in traditional child rearing, in which case it must more narrowly tailor its support, allowing binding marriage proposals only to a woman who conceives (or declares her intention to conceive) a child, with whoever she thinks can best co-parent with her. This marriage proposal would automatically become a marriage contract upon successful live birth (and be retroactively nullified upon failure to achieve this) and would automatically dissolve when there are no children of minority age. Spousal cohabitation (unlike the parent-child relationship) would be a matter purely of contract law, with default nuptial obligations when no prenuptial agreement is in place. In fact, the child would logically even have standing to sue both parents for breach of contract in the case of divorce or family strife. The State obviously has no business involving itself so intimately in the intimate lives of adult relationships, and certainly not in an unequal and discriminatory fashion.

Family law is very messy business, and the courts continually seek (and are legislatively encouraged to seek) advice and guidance on child welfare issues from experts to form a time-varying consensus understanding to inform their legal judgment. There are already ample sanctions against irresponsible parents, without government intrusion into the private lives of consenting adults.

There is a meme, relentlessly promoted by anti-same-sex-marriage advocates, that the State has a right—and duty— to care about marriage. It does not. The State has a duty only to children, not to parents, and though it may permissibly embed what is clearly an instinctive bipartite pair bonding (common among most all higher-order animals) in contract (spousal) and family (child) law, it has no right to restrict this institution to opposite-sex couples. Many religious arguments against same-sex marriage have been advanced, but the First Amendment forbids consideration of these in our civic framework.

No wonder this tired argument never made it out of the sermons and blog pages and into a legal finding. Not the California Supreme Court, not the Assembly or Senate, not even our Republican Governor has shown any more sympathy for this argument than I have.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

LDS and Prop. 8: Losing sight of the goal?

It has been said that the fanatic is the one who redoubles his efforts while having lost sight of his end.

So reminds us Doug McManaman in his (Catholic oriented) essay On the Importance of Taking Oneself Lightly. He goes on to note:

I have seen a tremendous redoubling of efforts on the part of many Catholic teachers in recent years, engaged as they have been in strategic planning of job action for this, for that, and the other thing, all accompanied by a manifest loss-of-sight of the end of their vocation as Catholic teachers of the baptized.

Humans need a purpose to live, and some religious people deep down do not trust that God has given them sufficient purpose. Even among these, some fear that they will not be around to watch the wicked get their just desserts. Theirs is the sin of self-importance.

The LDS focus opposing same-sex marriage is a fixation on means, not ends. As a practical matter, the most probable end in forcing gays to choose between their immanent orientation and God is to prematurely kill their faith in God, or at least to keep infantilized their moral conscience.

Biblically, the usual course of events is a lone voice crying out from the wilderness, followed by earnest exhortations for the wicked to change their ways, which is always ignored, the righteous withdraw, and God smites those left behind. This leaves a clear moral example for those coming after, that free choice has consequences.

We are in uncharted waters now, where the "righteous" decline to withdraw and let God do the smiting. This forecloses on free choice, and deprives those coming after of any cogent moral message.

Or to use another parable: what if the wheat had decided that instead of waiting for the farmer to separate out the weeds after harvest, they are going to crowd out the weeds from the field themselves, not only usurping the farmer's prerogative to decide the weeds' fate, but forestalling the possibility that a weed may choose before it dies to become a wheatstalk.

I believe it is this second aspect that is ignored among the religious. You cannot save a sinner by preventing him from sinning, you only strengthen his resolve to sin. If same-sex marriage is so far beyond God's plan, will it not prove its fruitlessness in the fullness of time? Does the wheat not have enough to do in producing grain, or must it also weed the garden?

If the real goal is not the voluntary choice of chastity, but chastity itself, then we would be better off neutering those unwilling to marry the opposite sex by some age cutoff. Would this not better serve God's plans for humankind? By eliminating sexual desire, do we not eliminate the sin? Is the elimination of sin itself the real goal? Or has our willingness to be the instrument of God's will metastasized into an insistance on our being that instrument? Do we just need to be needed?

Maybe we should all stop playing God. One day the field will be harvested. If the weeds are not keeping the wheat from producing, maybe we can afford to let both coexist until the final winnowing.

Or is the real problem that you don't want to be the wheat, and would rather be the farmer? If God had just wanted us not to be wicked, he could have just created us all heterosexual.

Do you have the wisdom to play God? Judging by the LDS involvement in Prop. 8, somehow I doubt it. Maybe you should just stick to being wheat and stop uprooting the weeds, before the entire field is barren.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"Persecuted by governments. Arrested and beaten for being who we are. Our rights put up for popular vote, time and time again."

Equality California's new ad makes the connection between past persecution and current discrimination, such as the passage of Prop 8:

(alt. video link)

Actually, gays' rights are usually not put up for popular vote. The immediacy of a popular referendum on your life is so much more compelling than having some mere bureaucrat stand in your way. It's nice to know where you stand, once in a while.

I know where I stand. I hope the California Supreme Court will be standing there with me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Overturning Prop. 8 would be a win for all

There is a false rivalry between Mormons and Gays.

Proposition 8, which overturned the CA Supreme Court's ruling that gays have a right to marry (each other), presupposes that the right for gays to marry impairs the right of the religious to keep marriage religiously based.

Nonsense. This confuses ends and means. Gays are looking for what and don't care about how or why. We win when we achieve the goal. Religious (especially Mormons) win through the fight itself. It is the opposing that matters, works being the most credible sign of belief, the sacrifice for a good cause, fighting the good fight. The final result can be safely be left to God's hands.

All sides win if the California Supreme Court overturns Prop. 8: Mormons can feel satisfied that they reaffirmed their belief in a divine transmortal marriage and did all in their power to defend this, gays can (finally!) get married, and marriage itself gains from being shown explicitly not to arise merely out of statute or public will (even one that included gays, had Prop. 8 been defeated), but out of a more basic natural right.

LDS, Gay, Marriage: all three winners when Prop. 8 wins before losing. All sides could be proud of their participation and be winners by their own criteria: Mormons in their means, Gays in their ends, and Marriage for all.

Let's hope the Court does not miss this opportunity to make everybody happy.