Thursday, September 30, 2010

Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, has created a website for the purposes of  harassing the student body president at University of Michigan because he is gay.

I first heard of this here. Be careful. It is an atheist website. If you are uncomfortable with atheists and their baby gobbling, death sentencing, pushing their godless agenda in your face ways, you may find their defense of homosexuality to be disquieting.

The blog that Andrew Shirvell uses to harass Chris Armstrong is here. It is, in the manner of blogs written by the truly knowledgeable or very disturbed, long and windy and dull. Skimming it for even a short time, however, reveals it to be full of over the top hyperbole, bigoted and unconfirmable generalization, and invasive comments. There are also multiple violations of Godwin's Law and a weird tone-deafness to humor. If there are any virtues to his blog, they are so well hidden amongst angry hyberbole and raw bullshit that it is someone else's job to find them. Andrew Shirvell's blog is very unpleasant to read.

Andrew Shirvell's interview with Anderson Cooper is a less unpleasant and garbled formulation of Mr. Shirvell's views. It is less unpleasant because it takes less time to get through, and less garbled because Anderson Cooper asks him to clarify his views, which boil down to an objection to gender neutral housing couched in a lot of bile and loathing.

I'm for freedom of speech (Yay, Andy). I'm against Frat Boys (Boo, Chris), though not in any legalistic fashion. Just, you know, personally. I'm for gay sex, rarely in any personal fashion any more, but in a generalized legalistic sense. Debauchery is also fine if it's all consensual.  I believe that 20 is old enough to know how to conduct yourself in public, and if you don't know how to set your Facebook profile settings... well, you get what you ask for. It would be nice if everybody could just let it all hang out like they did on the commune... but really, grow up.

That said, from Shirvell's report, Chris Armstrong isn't doing anything more damaging than any other asshole Frat Boy. In fact, Shirvell's blog histrionics quickly become laughable and cartoonish. A prime example is his howling about the Ann Arbor police having to shut down a noisy gay frat party. In my day, U of M students rioted in the streets over basketball games. My last class in library school was held in a pub because the tear gas from the night before hadn't dispersed from the Library School building yet.

Shirvell interpretation of Facebook exchanges are also laughably simplistic. My favorite is the one where a couple of the kids are ironically ragging on how pushy religion can be.

Student 1: "Ugh, looks like someone was eavesdropping on my phonecall with God last week."
Student 2: "What!? He was gchatting me at the same time, Kaitlin. I feel two-timed."
Student 3: "Hahah, he never talked to me. I feel left out : ("

Shirvell says that this exchange is "indicative of his LONG-HELD viciously anti-Christian and pro-Culture of Death worldview." Yikes. That's severe.

So it's pretty clear, from the context and the dashes of far right radical Christian agenda he throws in (Isn't it fun the demonize your opponents? Those fucking RADICAL CHRISTIANS!), that Andrew Shirvell has a religiously based hatred of gay people.

Christians don't hate, however. Our culture is conflict adverse, and having some trouble, still, traversing the path from a monoculture to a pluralistic society. We don't like to admit our petty prejudices, and if they influence public policy, or if we go off the handle about them in public, we tend to defend them with fucked up rationalizations. Like the Bell Curve. If you are an Evangelical Christian, your rational is to "hate the sinner, not the sin" and fall back on "god's standards." According to Mr. Shirvell, god's standard is apparently ad hominem, hyperbolic bigotry.

There are calls for Shirvelle to be fired. Which is hard for me. Free speech is an important part of how our society works. I agree that people are allowed to have personal opinions.

But if you are in charge of persecuting crimes for the state, can you be trusted to do so in a rational fashion if your sensibilities are dominated by such a narrow view of what is culturally appropriate?

What is your legal competence if you tread so merrily on the line between free speech or libel and slander? Isn't accusing someone of trying to "seduce your children" pretty much an accusation of rape? Is the conflation of gay rights with Nazism and the Klan at the least paranoid? It would be nice, if for once in history, right wing nutjobs were held to some standard of proof. By an authority, like the State or Federal Government, rather than the blogosphere. Even fortune tellers need a license.

Regardless of Armstrong's ability to take care of himself, what kind of judgment does it show on Shirvelle's part to start a major, very public campaign harassing a student body president? There is no evidence that Armstrong  is a  danger. There have got to be more efficacious methods for Shirvelle to address the gender-neutral housing issue. Maybe a polite letter to the President of the University? Sue me if I don't know how U of M's policy making infrastructure works.

Mike Cox, the Michigan Attorney General and Shirvelle's boss, says he won't fire him. “The reality is, I’m out of office in three months. I have a duty to defend the Michigan Constitution. I have a duty to defend the Michigan civil service rules, even at those times when I don’t like it.”

I'd like to believe that's a principled stand, but it sounds like lame duck lethargy or passing the buck. Cox points out Shirvel's lack of judgement and calls him a bully elsewhere. Is bullying a good skill set for law enforcement? I'd like to think not.

"Here in America, we have this thing called the First Amendment, which allows people to express what they think and engage in political and social speech," says Cox. I don't know that the first amendment guarantees protection from all consequences. An atheist couldn't get into the White House. Why should a homophobe be guaranteed a position as a prosecutor of public morals?

New York magazine brings it home best, I think. "Shirvell might be within his legal rights to hate-blog and peaceful protest. But shouldn't a legal representative for the state of Michigan, especially one associated with public prosecutions, have a vested interest in fairness and justice even for people unlike himself? Or did Shirvell bring his legal training to bear to make sure his actions appear impeachable?"

I would have added the word "just" to the last sentence. "Just to make sure his actions appear impeachable." Because there's the abuse of power.

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