Archive for February, 2007

Breaking the IRS

Posted in Finance on February 27th, 2007

I need a retirement account question answered. I’m a self-employed individual and I want to open up a SEP-IRA. Normally this should be a fairly straight-forward procedure, since I’d had to a nice discount broker like FirstTrade and open an account there. However, considering that I’ve found myself happily entangled with a member of the financial community, my ability to open accounts with discount brokers has vanished (due to SEC regulation issues, companies place strict limitations on places where people involved in the financial industry and their significant others can open accounts to make compliance easier). So I have to pick and choose where I open accounts in order to successfully minimize the account fees and purchase fees I’m paying.

So when I open up my SEP-IRA, I actually want to have it be two or three separate accounts at different brokerages and mutual fund companies. The only problem, is that there does not appear to be any documentation anywhere on the IRS site that explicitly states if you can do this. I’ve read publication 560 and 590 cover-to-cover and also read their FAQ on SEP-IRAs. Nothing doing. They do state that you can have multiple SEP-IRA accounts with different employers, which makes sense since each employer makes separate contributions . But they never state one way or another if an individual can make contributions to multiple SEP-IRA’s in the same year.

So I called them up to see what the deal was. The number for question about employer retirement plans (which this classifies as, even though I’m self-employed) is 877-829-5500. I waited on hold for about fifteen minutes. The first guy I got on the phone said that it was a great question and he had no idea what the answer was. I was then put back on hold for another ten minutes to wait for a specialist. She also had no idea what the question was, but put me on hold to go consult the documentation (publications 560 and 590 I would assume). When she returned she confirmed my inability to find a statement. So she took my name and phone number and the IRS is going to call me back in 3-5 days with an answer.

Am I the only person who has ever tried to do this? I’ve been really surprised at the lack of discussion of this topic online, so if anyone has ever done this, let me know.

Men aren’t the problem with porn (well, not quite)

Posted in Gender, Sex on February 22nd, 2007

Bitch Ph.D. want to know if men are the problem with porn:

Personally, I’m less interested in discussing whether or not mainstream, presumably man-focused porn is aesthetically revolting (no duh) than whether or not the simple fact that men control the industry as both suppliers and consumers is the major problem, and if so why and what does this mean? Do y’all think that men = “the patriarchy”? Is it that men, by and large, fear/dislike women’s “control” of sexuality and this expresses itself in gross misogynistic imagery?

I think that this question looks at the situation the wrong way. First, lets define the “problem” that she’s talking about. I would take her thesis to be that mainstream porn is misogynistic and geared towards an expression of mens’ dominance over women. It’s a thesis which I’m prone to agree with.

But to look at this as a simple cause and effect, that men being in charge makes porn misogynistic, misses the target. There is no necessary correlation between men making porn and the degradation of women. There is a possible correlation between men being the primary consumer of porn and it depicting women as facile sex toys. But the real issue here is the cultural environment that exists that causes this attitude to be the primary one that is reflected.

In depicting the dominance of men and the availability of women all porn is doing is reflecting the culture that has generated it. I would argue that things like the wage gap and the view of women as unable to compete in the business world due to pregnancy and child-rearing have much more to do with pornographic misogamy than the explicit make-up of the industry personnel. I think it is telling that even porn made by women, for women or couples, often buys into many of the same stereotypes that more mainstream porn does, even if they are greatly ameliorated. The dismissal of women is a cultural thing, not necessarily a gender thing.

As a comparison, look at the role of African-American men in the mainstream porn industry. First, there aren’t a lot. Second, they are treated as a novelty, often playing off the “forbidden” inter-racial aspect (Little White Chicks Big Black Dicks) in ways that bring to mind the worst of the Klan’s race-baiting. But is this because white men run the porn industry or because of the way that society perceives black people? Again, I’d argue that culture comes first. Black people are marginalized in general society, so why should porn be different. And despite protestations to the contrary, inter-racial relationships are still not really acceptable to many people and maintain their “forbidden” quality that makes them titillating.

I think it has very little to do with individual men and more with porn, like almost all creative industry, being a reflection of the culture in which it is produced. To change porn, you have to change the culture, not the other way around. Currently our society is predicated around the idea that everyone except white men are substandard citizens. And until that changes, the porn industry won’t change.

Now, if you want to say that our currently social order was crafted by white men and that in that respect they are responsible for the problem with porn, then I’d agree whole-heartedly with that. But to point to the individuals in the porn industry as the root of problem is missing the mark.

More Religion and Contraception

Posted in Religion, Sex on February 21st, 2007

So Contraskeptic is still looking for a way out of his bind, but it seems that things aren’t going as well as he hoped. I have to admit I’m getting a little skeptical of his purported intent, since he’s posing a question that is unanswerable from his religious perspective. Today he’s asking:

As I’ve detailed in previous entries, many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, believe that God also forbids contraception. Contraception, they say, is a refusal of God’s blessing of children, a withholding of one’s self from one’s spouse, a perversion of the marital bed. They say that contraception has spiritual and emotional consequences as well, such as estrangement and divorce.

The people who say these things are people I respect, people whose views I take seriously. I had hoped to hear from some of them in response to my request for advice. So far, I’ve had only one commenter from that perspective offer advice: Andy, who suggested NFP, which, as I explain above, is an option that has already been ruled out.

I’d like to reserve the comment box for this entry for those Christians who believe that contraception is a sin, to suggest solutions to my dilemma: How do I protect my wife from a dangerous pregnancy while avoiding the sin of abstinence and the sin of contraception?

The way I see it, he only has three options.

  1. He gets a vasectomy and he lives in sin.
  2. He doesn’t have sex with his wife and they live in sin.
  3. He has sex with his wife and risks her getting pregnant.

I guess that 4 might be to divorce his wife and find a woman who is willing to abide by god’s commands with him. But somehow I doubt that that is what he has in mind.

In fact, I generally start to doubt his commitment to the whole evangelical Christian thing. It seems, from his latest post that he’s attempting to strike some sort of bargain with god, essentially saying that if enough other Christians tell him he’s doing the right thing, then its okay to commit a sin and maybe god won’t mind so much. One of things that any Christian religion will tell you is that you don’t mark bargins with god. God tells you how it is and you obey his commandments or else. The ‘or else’ part varies from religion to religion and so does the interpretation of what the commandments mean, but the not barginning part remains a pretty firm constant.

And since evangelical Christianity is pretty black and white when it comes to things like contraception, I really don’t see how he expects anyone to find a resolution to this problem. Which means that Contrskeptic is either someone attempting to bait evangelical Christians or someone wrestling with what it means to have faith. If he is just baiting people, then who cares? Does it really accomplish anything to stir up this pot? In the case of religious faith, you can never ‘prove’ anything, so there is no ability to make some grand point about the ridiculous of religion. The people who already agree with you will nod their heads and the people who don’t aren’t going to care.

But if he is wrestling with his faith or at least heading down a road where he is wrestling with his faith, then that is a much more interesting situation. The position he is in is one that cannot be resolved given the current bound that his religion places upon him. In order to change his position, he would need to change his religious situation.

The entire idea that a Christian needs to take their moral code from the church has always fascinated me, especially since it seems in contradiction to what Jesus taught. One of my favorite verses of the bible is from Matthew 6, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. –Mathew 6:5-6

To me, what Jesus is saying here is that everyone’s personal relationship with god it just that. A personal relationship. The idea that a church and a rigorous body of religious law is necessary to mediate a connection with the divine appears to not enter into Jesus’ calculation of religion.

The question that Contraskeptic needs to ask himself is why does his communion with god necessitate that he follows the strictures of the evangelical church? If adhering to their view of the world plunges his life into misery and his family into crisis, it is really doing god’s will to continue? And is that really the only way that he can find Jesus?

Religion, Contraception, and Marriage

Posted in Religion, Sex on February 21st, 2007

A link from majikthise sent me over to Feministe and from there to Contraskeptic, where an evangelical Christian man is blogging about the ultimatum his wife has given him: either get a vasectomy or no more sex. It’s the sort of post that just reconfirms (to me at least) how much religion screws up the lives of people doing their best to get by.

So it has now been 15 months since we have had sex or even done much in the way of snuggling. It’s not that we don’t want sex. She has said several times that she didn’t sign up for a sexless marriage. But even more than she wants sex, she doesn’t want another pregnancy, another delivery, and resetting the clock for being a stay-at-home mom.

The lack of sex has been a wedge between us. The chemical thing that happens to your brain during sex to boost the emotional bond between a couple — that’s supposed to help sustain a couple in through the stresses of living together, but it’s not available to us.

Here is the dilemma I face:

If I get a vasectomy, we’ll be sinning if we have sex, and unlike using a condom, the sin will be permanent (or extremely expensive if not impossible to reverse). Practically speaking, there’s no repentance if indeed contracepted sex is a sin.

But if I don’t get a vasectomy, and we have to abstain until my wife reaches menopause, we’ll be sinning by not having sex. Couples are only supposed to abstain briefly but to come back together to avoid temptation (see I Corinthians 7). And it seems that the NFPers and the Quiverfull folks would agree that abstaining for the purpose of avoiding children is also a sin.

Beyond the concern about offending God, if I opt for abstinence over a vasectomy, our marriage will suffer. Love will diminish because we’ll be avoiding physical affection and because my wife will be offended that I am not complying with her wishes.

This is classic example of everything that is wrong with organized religion. According to evangelicals, marriages are supposed to be about children. About raising children to be successful, fulfilled adults. Christian groups spend lots of airtime talking about how a marriage between a man and a woman is the only true marriage because it can bring forth children. They talk about how children raised any other way will be deficient.

Here we have a marriage that was, by his accounts, relatively happy and engaged in raising their three children. And yet, the last 15 months of the marriage have been strained by an issue that only exists because of religion. Religion, remember, says that this marriage is necessary to create a healthy environment for those three children. But now that religion is creating a situation where the couple is engaged in blaming each other for the lack of sex in their lives.

When Contraskeptic writes that he would okay with having another kid, he is shifting the blame for their lack of sex onto his wife. And when she mentions post-sex that they could have lots more sex if he’d only get a vasectomy, she’s shifting the blame onto him. So now they’re locked into this loop of unhealthy behavior. Each one no doubt believes that the other person is being intractable. No doubt this is all made worse by the fact that they’re currently “living in sin”.

There is no way for people as far removed as us to know what sort of effect this is having on their children. Maybe it hasn’t had any yet. Maybe the blame hasn’t leached itself into their rest of their lives yet. It will eventually, minus a resolution. And in the process, it is destroying the very thing that the marriage was supposed to be creating in the first place. Religion’s one true way of raising children correctly.

Somehow I am missing God’s love and compassion in all of this. Creating a marriage where the two parties resent and mistrust each other does not seem like a worthy end goal. And it definitely seems to defile the idea of marriage as the only place to raise children.

In the beginning

Posted in The Blog on February 18th, 2007

So everything is a little dark now. I’m still in the process of teaching myself CSS and all the other fun things I’m going to need to know to actually edit some of these templates and create my own layout. Until then, just bear with me.