Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Holidays: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Delete December from the Calendar

This time of year, I see a lot of gay sites talk about 'coping with the holidays' and our special problems as - er - special people. Honestly, I don't think we have more problems than straight people, just different problems... sometimes. Some of the holiday plans and coping strategies posted on such sites sound a lot like those of straight people.

True, we do have a higher-than-normal percentage of 'black sheep' and disowned folks in our numbers. That's not always bad, though. Look at the articles aimed at 'normal' people to help them cope with the loving relatives they all supposedly have. Being shunned by some families can save mileage on your car, money for otherwise obligatory gifts, and time in rehab.

Long-term readers may have noted that my partner and I have developed our own coping strategies for fun outside the family fold. It's not like we don't have family to spend time with, though. For every condemning zealot out there, there's a relative who considers your peanut butter fudge more important than who else uses the kitchen. Some family members even - gasp! - still love us. If you have such relatives, treasure them. Even if they do still pinch your cheeks.

If you've been closed out by your family and feel depressed, though, consider renting or buying The Ref with Dennis Leary. It'll make you feel a lot better about being absent from what would really just be a table of your enemies. Invite some friends over to watch it. It seems that friends are actually healthier to be around than toxic family members. In many cases, friends are becoming a new family for marginalized folks. Just consider them an extension of the extended family.

Most importantly: remember that holidays fall on the just and the unjust. What happens with them, ultimately, is what you make of them.

And don't go into a mall without backup.

Blessed Yule,

Sarah G

Friday, December 09, 2005

The War on Yule - er, Christmas

A book titled "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought", authored by Fox News anchor John Gibson, recently hit the shelves. The "War on Christmas" is one of the latest rallying points by fundies hoping to further the culture wars. They claim that Jesus is being removed from His own holiday. Never mind that it wasn't a Christian holiday to start with. History isn't important here; the persecution of American Christians is.

The fundamentalists are so 'offended' by inclusive greetings that they've even criticized their usual darling, George W. Bush. Dubya recently received widespread criticism from previous backers by daring to mail out cards that wished recipients a happy 'holiday season'. If it doesn't say 'Christmas', it must be anti-Christian, right?

I am a liberal. I don't mind being wished a 'Merry Christmas'. Most well-wishers are simply expressing a hope that I be happy, hardly something to complain about. It's the people who say "Merry Kee-RIGH-st-mas" who get a "Joyous Yule" or "Happy Hanukkah" from me (don't say the latter if you're wearing a pentagram; they really will assume you're Jewish). These people aren't really wishing you a happy anything, they're making an assertion in disguise. I just make one back, which usually ends the transaction. I suspect most liberals feel the same way.

I think it's pretty hypocritical, though, for large fundamentalist churches to complain about a liberal "War on Christmas" when many of them will be closing their doors on Christmas Sunday. They claim that this is so worshippers, including their employees, can have 'family time' on this day, but I think I know the real reason: the kids will screech if they have to wait to open their toys.

This sends a really bad message to those kids. Johnny, forget learning how to delay gratification (a sadly missing skill in our society). Susie, never mind what I said about the spiritual being more important than the material (a cornerstone of Xian thought). Timmy, playing with your new Lazer Tag is much more important than going to another kid's birthday party, even if He did save you from the lake of fire.

Who's really taking the "Christ" out of "Christ"-mas this year?

Sarah G

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Consumer Complaint

After nearly a year, I think I am within my rights to DISrecommend the HRC credit card. I signed up for the HRC Platinum VISA with the promise of no interest on transferred balances and the assurance that a portion of my purchases would go to the Human Rights Campaign.

I filled out the form and mailed it in. I was soon sent a notice that Providian was providing this donation opportunity. I looked them up and learned that they had recently begun offering themselves as a source of revenue for worthy causes. Shortly thereafter, I received a snazzy credit card with the HRC logo (to show my pride, natch), plus a notification that the balance from my CitiCard had been transferred without trouble.

Oh, wait. I had to pay $75 for a transfer fee. For transferring the balance, of course, that was somewhere in the small print. Let me clarify further: in the small print of the booklet Providian sent with the card. Not on the HRC application form itself, where I had been told to just give them the information on any balances I wanted moved. Okay, it was less than 1%. I paid the fee and decided it was a minor 'gotcha' that came along with the 0% rate for the first year.

The following month, I opened my bill and looked it over. They charged me interest for the fee! I emailed my objection and snail mailed a complaint form to them. It turns out that the $75 fee is defined as a purchase as far as Providian is concerned. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Hey, it's only interest on 75 bucks, right?

Skip ahead a few months. My cousin is getting married in Charleston, and I need to rent a car a little younger than the 1992 Corolla I inherited from my grandmother. I put it on the card, then paid it online when I got home (i.e. after my paycheck went through). I paid back the amount charged to my card within five business days. This was well within the 20 - 30 day grace period most credit cards give customers before they charge interest.

Notice that I said most credit cards. Providian was not one of these. They began charging me interest immediately. When I complained (again), they informed me that existing balances had to be paid before newer debits were touched. But, not to worry, I was getting my points.

Points? Yes, I have points through their system. Not enough to get any benefits, of course, since I had been thoughtlessly frugal with my purchases. After studying both my bill and the 'servicing' site, I also see no indication that Cent One had gone to the Human Rights Campaign, which ostensibly was the reason the card was a desirable one in the first place. I notice that the HRC no longer advertises the credit card on their site or in their emails to me. I think I know why.

I offer this conclusion: if you want to support the HRC, I'd suggest a direct donation or volunteering your personal time. I also offer this warning: Washington Mutual has just bought Providian, and Providian will be taking care of WaMu's credit card customers. I suggest you pay up and bail now.

Feeling surly,

Sarah G

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Criminal Minds

Last night's episode dealt with the agents investigating a so-called "Satanic" crime. On behalf of people waiting to catch the episode during the rerun season, I'll limit my description of the plot. Basically, dead people are found in a forest near a tree where Satanic symbols have been carved. The FBI agents are called in to assist.

I was very pleased to see the agents disabuse the police (and the viewers) of several myths. They described the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s that spawned a number of urban legends about Satanists sacrificing people, abusing children during rituals, etc. The agents identified these legends as such, explaining that oftentimes the investigators/therapists inadvertently provoked the sort of 'recovered memories' they were looking for. They concluded by stating that there has yet to be a single proven case of Satanic human sacrifice. In contrast, there have been several non-Satanic cults that did perform murders.

Sadly, they did do the usual Satanists ='teenagers listening to heavy metal' bit. Maybe there is a grain of truth in the description; I'm sure that many self-described Satanists fall into this category. At least they didn't do the "Dungeons and Dragons is connected to Satanism" bit.

I found the interview with the leader of the "Satanists" to be the most interesting. He explained that all the word 'satan' means is 'opposer' (or 'enemy'), and that he viewed himself as opposing God, and His religion. He opposed the hypocrisy, the telling people how to live their lives, the restrictions.

He described Satanists as atheists, though, which is inaccurate. In order to oppose something, you generally need to believe it exists. I think mistheist might have been a better term. I notice that his intellectual world view didn't stop him from wearing black mascara, drawing inverted pentagrams, listening to thrash metal, or collecting a group of high school 'followers'. I think there might have a little bit of 'scare the mundanes' in his brand of spirituality, too. ;-)

I realize that Satanism really isn't a 'Pagan' topic, but Pagans do often get lumped in with them as a group. Anything that busts the 'you sacrifice babies, don't you?' mentality helps. I was pleased with the episode, even though they didn't get things 100% right.

Sarah G