The Briefing 01-13-17

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Convicted killer in California first to receive taxpayer-funded gender-reassignment surgery

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Should fashion designers who refuse to dress the Trumps have that right based on moral objections?

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We are what we watch? How our TV habits reveal worldview

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Transcript

The Briefing

January 13, 2017

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, January 13, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Convicted killer in California first to receive taxpayer-funded gender-reassignment surgery

Headlines come and headlines go, but sometimes a headline is genuinely new. Take this headline in the Washington Post, dateline California,

“A convicted killer became the first U.S. inmate to get state-funded gender-reassignment surgery.”

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We often note that certain headlines or expressions in the news are understandable only to those who live in modern times and to no previous generation. But in this case the very complicated headline actually has a very profound announcement, and that is that in the state of California an inmate has now received sex reassignment surgery—that just in itself a concept understandable to only a very few in very recent times—and it was state-funded, it was state-funded gender reassignment surgery. Kristine Guerra, writing for the Washington Post, writes,

“After a lengthy legal battle, a California transgender woman became the first inmate in the United States to receive a government-funded gender-reassignment surgery.

“Convicted murderer Shiloh Quine, who is serving a life sentence for her role,”that’s how it’s written, “in a deadly 1980 incident in Los Angeles, is currently recovering from the surgery, according to the Transgender Law Center, which represented Quine in a federal civil rights lawsuit against California prison officials.”

This story really does deserve a much closer look, because it announces something important about where we have now arrived in this sexual revolution in this country. We’ve arrived at the point that a man convicted of brutal murder in the state of California can then turn around as an inmate in a California prison and demand that the taxpayers of California not only allow what’s claimed here to be gender-reassignment surgery, but pay for it. And of course if this were an isolated case, it probably wouldn’t be so newsworthy, but this is what we’re going to be seeing case-by-case, prison by prison, state-by-state.

Just in recent times we saw the state of Massachusetts sued similarly and the state of Massachusetts lost, but that case was overturned at the appeals court level. Now this inmate in California becomes the very first to have received state-funded gender-reassignment surgery. As Guerra reports,

“Advocates say it’s a significant step that sets a precedent in recognizing transgender people’s constitutional rights behind bars, particularly on issues of medical treatment. But they also caution that the fight for transgender rights in prisons is far from over.”

Harper Jean Tobin, identified as director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said,

“Medical needs for trans people are rejected out of hand, or not even treated as medical issues; they’re treated as a political issue.”

At this point we simply have to insert the fact that here you have a transgender activist defining gender-reassignment surgery as a medical issue, as if it’s just like any other medical issue. Then Guerra writes,

“In what advocates called a historic settlement, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed in 2015 to pay for Quine’s gender-reassignment surgery and to transfer her to a women’s facility. The agency also agreed to change its policies so that transgender inmates can wear clothes and have commissary items consistent with their gender identity.”

Later in the article we read this,

“Quine, currently listed as an inmate at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., about 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, is serving a life sentence without parole for murder. She sued prison officials in federal court in 2014 after her requests for surgery and a transfer to a women’s facility were denied. A settlement was reached in August 2015.”

Quine, born male, having committed murder as a male and being convicted as a male, then demanded that the state of California recognize him as a female and pay for the surgery.

Quine “was arrested and charged with robbery, kidnapping and murder in 1980, after she and an accomplice killed 33-year-old Shahid Ali Baig, a father of three, in downtown Los Angeles.”

The Washington Post story also includes this detail,

“California Correctional Health Care Services spokeswoman, said she could not discuss an inmate’s health care. But depending on individual circumstances, she said, costs for gender-reassignment surgery could reach up to $100,000, including counseling and other treatments and medications before, during and after a procedure.”

So let’s be clear. We’re talking about a procedure that could reach up to $100,000 for an inmate that was convicted of a brutal murder and is now demanding that the state of California, that is its citizens, pay for this gender-reassignment surgery. The Washington Post article actually offers a rather more specific detail about how some of these costs come about, the cost vis-à-vis the transition from male to female or female to male. I’ll leave that to the article. But what’s really important here is the demand that is implicit, no explicit in the entire story. As one activist said,

“More courts will have to step in and remind the government of those responsibilities.”

“Those responsibilities” being the state’s demanded responsibility to pay for gender reassignment surgery for inmates, including inmates serving life without chance of parole for brutal murder.

At this point we have to acknowledge that as a society we are losing all hold upon any kind of moral sanity or legal sanity, constitutional sanity. We’re talking about a society that has now decided by means of this process and adjudication in California that it is the responsibility of the citizens of a state to pay for the gender reassignment surgery for an inmate convicted of murder. At what point does this make any moral sense? Or to ask the question otherwise, how could you possibly explain this to someone from any other epoch in history, even a fairly recent generation?

As Dr. Paul McHugh of the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center has pointed out quite courageously, there really is no power given to human beings to change gender. He says this really isn’t gender-reassignment surgery. A male is not being turned into a female nor a female turned into a man. Rather it is the mutilation of the body and some kind of cosmetic or ultimately plastic surgery to try to create an impression that simply isn’t real. The genetic basis, the chromosomal basis, even the skeletal basis remains unchanged. As we pointed out, if at some future point an archaeologist were to unearth the grave of what’s now called a transgender person, the archaeologist would quite rightly be able to identify the person by the gender in which the person was born, the sex assigned at birth.

To reach the point of this headline, we have to recognize that as a society to some degree we have bought into a massive experiment in self-delusion, or at least we are allowing this experiment in self-delusion. But at this point we’re not only allowing it, we are demanding that the state, through its taxpayers, pay for the delusion and pay for the bodily mutilation, pay for what’s called the gender-reassignment surgery.

Like so many other issues of its kind, this story is both infuriating and heartbreaking, perhaps in equal measure. It’s heartbreaking to a Christian operating out of a biblical worldview because we understand that there is horrifying confusion reflected in this story coming right down to the individual who is at the heart of the story. But we’re also honestly facing the fact that this is an infuriating story because this makes to an even greater degree every citizen of California complicit in this self-delusion.

But there’s another aspect of this of which I’m reminded, and that is an article that I cited earlier this year by Natasha Vargas-Cooper that was published in the American Conservative. Vargas-Cooper pointed out that when it comes to the transgender revolution, we’re looking at something genuinely new.

Every previous rise of a so-called sexual minority came with its mantra “leave us alone.” But now, the transgender revolutionaries, their demand is not “leave us alone,” but “notice us and pay for our expensive gender-reassignment surgery.” This is something very new. It would be newsworthy and concerning enough that the demand were made, but in this case it’s all the more important for us to recognize the demand has been met, the surgery has been done. Mark this as one more very sad milestone in the nation’s moral revolution.

Should fashion designers who refuse to dress the Trumps have that right based on moral objections?

Next, today we’re going to look a bit closely at the interaction between worldview and culture in some of its more interesting dimensions having to do with fashion and entertainment. More interesting I say because it’s clear that at least many people in this country do find these subjects interesting, including fashion. The New York Times, as we have pointed out, has multiple fashion reporters and takes fashion very seriously both in terms of its news contents and in terms of its advertising. But the Washington Post similarly reflects this kind of very high estimation of fashion; the paper has an entire style section. But in one of its latest editions it runs this headline,

“Should designers dress Melania and Ivanka? The question is more complex than it seems.”

That was the headline in the story by Robin Givhan, and the story really is interesting. It echoes another story that I cited some weeks ago from the New York Times that ran in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States. But the Washington Post now tells us,

“The American fashion industry begins a new year faced with a quandary it has never had to consider: Will designers choose to dress the nation’s new first lady?”

Now wait just a moment. First of all, we’re talking about a news story about fashion and we are told that the fashion industry now faces a challenge it has never faced before. I guess that’s in the long list of challenges we should have noted in the history of America’s tragic fashion past. But nonetheless the question is, will designers choose to address the nation’s new first lady? Now if this is a new issue, then evidently this hasn’t been an interesting question at any point until now, but we’re told the election of Donald Trump has changed everything. Givhan writes,

“In the past, regardless of the political party controlling the White House, this has never been a question for Seventh Avenue,” that representing New York’s fashion district, “particularly when it comes to the wardrobe the first lady wears on Inauguration Day. Because that gown is traditionally enshrined in the National Museum of American History, its designer is instantly written into the history books. It is an honor. But this election cycle, nothing is as it has always been. President-elect Donald Trump ran a campaign that framed immigrants, minorities, women and Muslims as ‘other,’ inspiring new waves of racism and violence. Whether to associate with him has become a moral question. Performing during his inauguration, marching in his parade and attending his swearing-in ceremony are all decisions that have caused personal and public soul-searching for people in the public eye.”

Then she comes finally to her point,

“And so, catering to his wife quickly became an ethical dilemma for designers. Would doing so signal tacit approval of her husband’s scorched-earth tactics?”

With reference to the previous story that ran in the New York Times, we talked about the sense of self-importance that evidently attaches itself to the fashion industry. But it shows up in a more self-conscious and perhaps even self-critical way in the Washington Post piece when we read,

“How do designers view their work? What is the role of the fashion designer in the broader culture? What is the definition of patriotism, and what is the best way to express it?”

The final question the reporter poses,

“And is there anything wrong with a first lady simply buying retail?”

The Washington Post goes back to the letter written by one famous fashion designer that sparked the New York Times article weeks ago. The article was by Sophie Theallet, who is identified as the first designer to announce publicly that she would have nothing to do with designing anything for the new first lady. With language that seems like it came out of a dorm in a postmodern university, she said,

“The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by. I encourage my fellow designers to do the same. Integrity is our only true currency.”

Now that’s a very interesting way for a fashion designer to speak, but you’ll notice that “we,” “the shared values we live by,” clearly this is at least an assertion that in the elite realm of the fashion industry there is a “we,” a shared worldview and set of convictions, or at least a political ideology. The Post tells us that several other big-name designers were ready to join the statement made by Sophie Theallet, but others were not so quick to join the bandwagon.

Tommy Hilfiger, we are told, “went so far as to chastise some designers for being ‘political’ and told Women’s Wear Daily, ‘I think Melania is a very beautiful woman and I think any designer should be proud to dress her.’”

The Post also tells us that Sophie Theallet’s argument was based upon the idea that,

“As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas. . . Our runway shows, ad campaigns, and celebrity dressing have always been a celebration of diversity and a reflection of the world we live in.”

Now you’ll notice the “our” here as we saw in the “we” language before. But you’ll also note that diversity is here defined in a very specific way, in a way that wouldn’t include Melania Trump as First Lady of the United States. The Post then explains,

“Like other creative individuals, Theallet sees fashion as a way of expressing her views about beauty and the way women are perceived in society. Fashion is her tool for communicating her world vision.”

Just consider that in terms of worldview, I inject.

“In the same way that a poet’s words or a musician’s lyrics are a deeply personal reflection of the person who wrote them, a fashion designer’s work can be equally as intimate.”

Well, there you have another assertion of the self-importance of the fashion industry. But this also reveals that we’re not just talking about fashion as a way of making someone look beautiful, we’re looking at fashion as a way of understanding the meaning of life. The Post also celebrates the supposed moral victories in recent years of the fashion industry, including the impulse to “create clothes that empower women instead of objectify them.”

Quite honestly, it’s hard to read that with a straight face. The fashion industry objectifies women at every conceivable turn and on every single runway. But the big impact here of this article from a Christian worldview perspective is the fact that worldview matters so much even in the fashion industry, so much that it has made a second huge news story having to do with the supposed moral crisis faced by elite fashion designers as to whether they will make a statement or how quickly they will make a statement that they will not dress the new First Lady of the United States for the inauguration or any of its events, lest they somehow compromise their own moral purity.

A final note in this, worldview issues aside, there is no indication whatsoever that Melania Trump has asked any of these designers to design any clothing in the first place.

We are what we watch? How our TV habits reveal worldview

Next, along similar lines, we look at the intersection between popular entertainment, in this case television, and worldview, because in our world few things reveal worldview more transparently than our preferences and choices in entertainment. Farhad Manjoo, writing for the “State of the Art” column in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times writes,

“When ‘One Day at a Time’ started its run on CBS in December 1975, it became an instant hit and remained so for almost a decade.

“In its first year, ‘One Day at a Time,’ a sitcom about working-class families produced by the TV impresario Norman Lear, regularly attracted 17 million viewers every week… Mr. Lear’s other comedies were even bigger hits: One out of every three households with a television watched ‘All in the Family,’ for instance.

Last week, a new version of ‘One Day at a Time’.”

But as Manjoo reports, a far fewer number or percentage of Americans actually watched it at all. He writes,

“Yet, well intentioned and charming as the new streaming version may be, there’s a crucial aspect of the old ‘One Day at a Time’ that it will almost certainly fail to replicate: broad cultural reach.”

He writes that,

“The two versions of ‘One Day at a Time’ are noteworthy bookends in the history of television, and, by extension, the history of mass culture in America.”

The two versions of the program are separated by no less than 40 years of technology: the old program reaching back to the days of two televisions and three networks, the new technology streamed largely on handheld or portable digital devices.

In a really interesting analysis, Farhad Manjoo points out that primetime television back in the day of the three major television networks actually created a unique moment in contemporary history, a moment in which you can count on the fact that many of your neighbors, perhaps even most of your neighbors and of course your own entire family or household, could talk about the common programs that you watched. Back then America had a set of common metaphors, a set of common narratives, common television programs, common characters, and even common laugh lines. Farhad Manjoo contrasts that with today when everyone watches separate screens sometimes in the same house, not to mention the same community, and where an almost dizzying array of alternatives means that there are few common metaphors or narratives to our culture today.

He says that this is also a reflection of the political polarization of the culture and “the new echo chambers within which we hear about and experience today’s cultural hits. There will never again be a show like ‘One Day at a Time’ or ‘All in the Family’ — shows that derived their power not solely from their content, which might not hold up to today’s more high-minded affairs, but also from their ubiquity. There’s just about nothing as popular today as old sitcoms were.”

I think Farhad Manjoo is absolutely right as far as he goes, but he doesn’t go far enough. He looks at political polarization, but what he misses is the deeper dimension of the worldview divide in America.

But his own newspaper just before the end of the year published a nothing less than fascinating set of charts, actually maps, of the United States in which this worldview divide was made abundantly clear with a political overlay. Josh Katz, writing in the Upshot column, demonstrated the maps of TV watching in America, comparing in particular two very paradigmatic programs: on the one hand, “Duck Dynasty” and on the other “Modern Family.” He points out that viewers of these programs tend to be overlaid with their political preferences. We looked yesterday at the fact that the drivers of Ford F-150’s overwhelmingly voted Republican and drivers of the Subaru Outback overwhelmingly voted Democratic. But when you look at TV preferences and overlay these two programs, where “Duck Dynasty” is the most popular program Donald Trump won overwhelmingly, and Hillary Clinton did similarly well in the maps where “Modern Family” is the dominant television entertainment as first choice.

In introducing these maps, Katz writes,

“If you had to guess how strongly a place supported Donald J. Trump in the election, would you rather know how popular ‘Duck Dynasty’ is there, or how George W. Bush did there in 2000?”

Now consider this absolutely shocking sentence:

“It turns out the relationship with the TV show is stronger.”

Katz writes,

“That’s how closely connected politics and culture can be.”

So what we’re looking at here is the fact that if you knew the voting results from the presidential election in 2000, that wouldn’t in terms of a political map tell you as much as you would learn if you knew whether or not “Duck Dynasty” or “Modern Family” was the most popular television program. At least in terms of culture, Katz points out that the map shows three different America’s or three different cultural regions. One of them is the group of conservative whites watching “Duck Dynasty,” the other is the group of more liberal white citizens watching “Modern Family,” and the show “Empire” most popular amongst America’s African American citizens. So you’re looking not at three different areas of the map, not exactly, but three different worldviews represented by entertainment first-choices. But the map’s not unimportant.

Just consider this: according to Katz, “Modern Family” is most popular in liberal urban clusters in Boston, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, California. The show is least popular in states like Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas. “Duck Dynasty” it turns out is most popular across many states in the South reaching also into the Midwest. It turns out there aren’t that many people watching “Duck Dynasty” in Manhattan or, for that matter, in Silicon Valley. Go figure.

The Christian understands that our entertainment choices not just so much in terms of style, but in terms of worldview, reflect who we really are and what we really believe. Our worldview, we understand, determines what we find interesting, what we find admirable, or for that matter what we even find humorous. And what we laugh at eventually we will come to terms with. Perhaps in this sense we reveal a great deal about our worldview, not just in terms of what we say or what we read, but what we do with the remote control or on your modern digital device whatever functions as a remote control.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing