Friday, September 29, 2006

6 Commonly Believed Things That Are Wrong

Ironically, Daily Irreverence "corrects" six common "misconceptions" with scientifically and historically inaccurate information. One would, I'd guess, think this odd. However, it's not really that unusual. I'll refer you to my post on Alexander Nussbaum's article, "Orthodox Jews and Science".

How is it that we correct others with our own inaccuracies or make use of bad science in "defense" of science/skepticism? How is it that many who claim to be defending reason do so in a highly irrational manner? (I refer you to my post "The Left's Thought Police" as well as to the controversies surrounding my "extreme atheism" column and the cyberlynching tactics used by my detractors.) How is it that some skeptics aren't very skeptical when it comes to what they want to be true? How is it that we can so accurately see the faults of others while readily ignoring our own?

We're human. Humans aren't known for humility. Instead, we're known for:

1.) Believing anything we want to be true.
2.) Mistaking perception for reality, how things seem for how things are.
3.) Wanting to be right to the point that we can't acknowledge even the possibility of being wrong.
4.) Maintaining our perceptions of ourselves at the cost of truth.
5.) Seeing anything that damages that perception as a threat.
6.) Running off at the mouth (or the keyboard) without thinking.
7.) Making lots of honest mistakes.
8.) Making no distinction between what others believe and why they believe it to the point that we assign nefarious motives to beliefs we don't understand.

Humility is the key to overcoming these faults. We must be humble enough to question how we see things, to give others due consideration, to ask why rather than to assume motive, to accept the limitations of our own knowledge, to challenge ourselves with the same vigor as we challenge others, to "step into" another person's perspective without judging, to think before reacting, and to remain silent once in a while. Then, we have to be humble enough to admit that we don't or can't do any of these things as often as we should.

Personal addendum: I must admit that humility is, for me, far more a goal than an accomplishment. Most who know me will tell you that humility is not something I have in large measure. (As opposed to intelligence, talent, charm, etc. which I have in abundance.) Others will tell you that I'm far more humble than those other people realize. (The persona is not the person.) From my perspective, I'm trying to be humble. Really, I am. I just don't like letting other people know when I've accomplished it. (I wouldn't want to brag.)

Paring Down the Bill of Rights

The Onion's take on the Republicans and civil liberties.


David Corn has pics of waterboarding that are enlightening to say the least. I don't think anyone with a functioning brain cell can look at that device and NOT see that it's a torture device.

Torture. Not "alternative interrogation methods." Not "alternative procedures." Torture. Get it?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Slate's Interactive Guide to Torture

For those of you who find the who, what, when, where, and why of the torture debate confusing. Here's a guide from Slate that will give you the info you need to make up your mind about whether what we're doing a.) is torture and b.) is justified.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Inter arma, silent leges?

In a comment to my previous post, Canardius quoted both Cicero and former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, "Inter arma, silent leges." which translates to "In war, law is silent."

My response is that what is is not what should be, nor should those who profess to love freedom ever accept it as such. Are we to believe that war's effect on the rule of law is a good thing when men in power may declare war at will for the very purpose of subverting the law or for enriching and empowering themselves and their cohorts? Or is it a thing to be feared, a thing to be avoided at all cost, a thing to be fought against with every fiber of our beings?

Bush and his administration propose a permanent state of war, the only possible war in a circumstance when we're fighting a tactic used since the dawn of human civilization. Are we then to surrender permanently the last vestiges of freedom hard won by American soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilians? Will they then have lived and died for nothing or for less than nothing? Can there be any greater insult to those who have provided and preserved our freedoms than to surrender them not only without protest but gladly to a tyrant who would declare himself king in a nation where there is not and never should be a throne? Having taken up the tactics used by the most brutal of regimes and the most evil of men, are we not surrendering the men and women who defend this nation to similar treatment?

Although the phrase is often misattributed to Benjamin Franklin, it was diplomat Richard Jackson who said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." I would add that those who would willingly surrender to tyranny under any circumstance deserve to be slaves. Have they the right to drag the rest of us into slavery along with them? I say not just no but HELL NO!

And to Canardius' quote, I add a few of my own:

Thomas Paine: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

Hermann Goering: "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Frederick Douglass: "Find out just what people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

Theodore Roosevelt: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

Rudolf Hoess, SS commandant at Auschwitz, in his statement to the War Crimes Tribunal: "This so called ill treatment and torture in detention centres, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people, and later by the prisoners who were freed were not, as some assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual prison guards, their deputies, and men who laid violent hands on the detainees."

Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-born U.S. novelist, poet: "While the system of holding people in hostage is as old as the oldest war, a fresher note is introduced when a tyrannic state is at war with its own subjects and may hold any citizen in hostage with no law to restrain it."

Carl Jung: "The healthy man does not torture others - generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers."

Ed Markey: "The war against terrorism is a war against those who engage in torture."

Ida B. Wells: "Brave men do not gather by thousands to torture and murder a single individual, so gagged and bound he cannot make even feeble resistance or defense."

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Alternative Methods"

I was once a patriot. I welled with pride at the sight of an American flag fluttering in the breeze. During my brief stint as a JROTC cadet, I filled with a sense of purpose and honor as I put on a uniform consecrated with the blood of heroes. As a Southerner, as a descendent of a conquered people, as a woman, as a gay person, I could never pretend that our past was lily white or that our present was perfect. I saw the blood quite clearly that flowed through our past and my own freedoms slip away.

But I was proud. Proud of the progress we'd made over long years of struggle. Proud to be amongst the first generation of Southerners to live in a fully integrated neighborhood and attend fully integrated schools. Proud to be a woman whose future was not determined by my lack of a Y chromosome. Proud to be a citizen of a country that had led the world in demanding that all human beings be treated as human beings. We were better because we didn't give in to brutality and horror.

We didn't torture people. We didn't set up gulags where our "enemies" could languish in the darkness, invisible to the prying eyes of those who demanded justice for all. We didn't give one man power over the rights and freedoms of millions. We didn't.

We do now. To those who say I hate my country, I wish that you were right. I wish I could merely hate it, because then I wouldn't have to feel the overwhelming grief at watching it die. I would not have to mourn as I watch good men, sworn to uphold our Constitution, stand by while the president of the United States destroys the honor and pride of the American people. I would not have to mourn as I watch the American people either stand silent or scream for more blood. I would not have to mourn as the land of the free becomes The Lord of the Flies writ large. I would not have to mourn as my people stand loyal to the president of the United States at a time when doing so is an act morally treasonable to the American public. I would not have to mourn...

But I do. If we are to do these things, commit atrocity upon atrocity without conscience or regret, America is no more. My America, your America, the America that once shone the lights of freedom, respect for human dignity, and reverence for the rule of law on the entire world is gone. Perhaps she never was. Perhaps it was all a carefully constructed fiction, a convenient self-delusion. If so, even the loss of that foolish dream is worth mourning.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Left's Thought Police?

Since I've been "wanker of the day" on Atrios, I thought I'd post this link. I think this says a lot about what I experienced after challenging an element of the left (even a very small and by no means representative one). One need only google my name to see the response to my work. You can judge its appropriateness for yourself.

UPDATE: More of the discussion on Brendan Nyhan's new blog.

UPDATE 2: My comment on the matter, posted on Nyhan's blog:
I'm with Nyhan on this one. Writers make mistakes. Given. We correct those mistakes. Required. This doesn't change the validity of Nyhan's point unless you think an idea is invalidated if you don't think the person defending it has a right to do so (ad hominem, anyone?).

As for false equivalencies, there's a huge difference between stating that the ideologies of the left and right are equivalent and saying that the tactics of extremists on both sides are the same. To accept a tactic when used by one side but not by another is hypocrisy.

Some examples: Accepting our use of torture while condemning it when it's used by our enemies is hypocrisy. Condemning manipulation and distortion of the facts from the right while accepting it from the left is hypocrisy.

Condemning a tactic based on a principled rejection of the tactic regarless of the party making use of it is fundamental ethics. If you are to condemn those who would criticize their own side for an abhorrent tactic as promoting false equivalencies, you must condemn Mohandas Ghandi (who criticized violence on the part of those who were fighting for Indian freedom) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who criticized extremist strains of the civil rights movement).

I, personally, am far to the left of anything that could be called centrist in this or any country. My work has been an almost steady drumbeat against the right's means, ends, and ideology. One column examining the extremists on the left (intended as part of a series that I'm reluctant to complete for obvious reasons) and I was Atrios' "wanker of the day," "cunt", "bitch", "Jew Dyke", "bigot", "right wing plant" and even an "agent of Cointelpro". I willingly accepted reasonable criticism based on a reasoned misunderstanding or disagreement. I publicly apologized for the fact that the work was not as well-written as it could have been and thus, was easily misinterpreted by well-meaning readers. I engaged and explained as best I could while being screamed down by a vicious net-mob. However, much of the vitriol against my work was based on willing misinterpretations of what I had written by PZ Meyers, Austin Cline, and others.

The cyber-lynching tactics that have become all too prevalent on the net do indeed threaten independent voices, even those who are ideologically far too the left but choose to engage in discourse with reason and principles intact. They also threaten the diversity of opinion that should be present in the best journals of opinion. The threat Nyhan discusses is not that opinion journals will disappear, but that we will have our biases catered to so narrowly that none of us will ever be challenged by differing opinions to assess our ideas clearly and consistently or to promote them in a way that can lead to consensus. If we're only "preaching to the converted," we change nothing. That supports the status quo, not the false "false equivalencies" you condemn.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Straight" Boys and Man Love

According to a study conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, ten percent of New York City men identifying as "heterosexual" have had sex with a man in the last year. This sheds light on four problems: the overdependence on self-identification in sexual orientation studies, the failure to adequately acknowledge the disconnect between sexual orientation and sexual activity, the prevalence of a disorder known as ego-dystonic sexual orientation, and the mainstream's refusal to acknowledge these problems.

The third problem, the prevalence of ego-dystonic sexual orientation, especially amongst lesbian, gay, and bisexual people is consistently ignored by the mainstream media. Rather than offering a view into the complexities inherent in sexual identity, the mainstream frames the sexual orientation debate around false controversies of nature v. nurture, choice, lifestyle, and whether sexual orientation can be changed. The problems with self-identification and our false correlation of activity with identity rest solidly on our problems with addressing ego-dystonic sexual orientation.

So, what is ego-dystonic sexual orientation? EDSO is an adjustment disorder that emerges when a person's sexual orientation conflicts with his or her ideal self-image. Our "ideal self-image" is built upon a variety of factors: individual personality, the status of our mental health, social expectations, religious ideals, class identity, gender attitudes, and cultural background.

In the realm of sexual orientation, the ideal self-image relies heavily on gender attitudes and the mores and expectations of our society regarding the primacy of heterosexuality. In other words, from the earliest moments of consciousness, we take in messages that girls like boys and boys like girls. The meanings and expectations attached to being male or female is heavily dependent on the idealized heterosexual relationship. From Snow White and her prince to Rapunzel and her prince to Cinderella and her, well, prince, the love story between the beautiful, innocent maid and the knight in shining armor is central to developing our own sexual and gender identities.

What do you do if you're a girl who'd rather be the prince who gets to rescue the damself in distress? Or a boy who'd rather be rescued by the knight in shining armor? What if you're a girl who wants to be rescued by another girl? Or a boy who wants to rescue another boy? Usually, you learn to sublimate those desires to the expectation that someday adulthood will make you a "real" man or woman with all that that entails. These feelings, once experienced without question or consideration, may become objects of shame as you become more and more aware of how "unacceptable" they are. But, you are assured, you'll grow out of it.

Awaiting the day that you finally "bloom," you learn to pass, to conceal your authentic self beneath the socially acceptable facade. Of course, you're never really aware of "why" you have these unacceptable feelings or "why" you feel like things don't quite fit. The "why" questions and their answers generally come with puberty, as your body begins sending unmistakable signals that there's trouble in paradise.

Coming to terms with being gay or bi is a matter of nature trumping nurture. If you're lucky, that transition (while troubling and difficult)passes rather smoothly. If not, the clash between your ego's ideal and your reality sparks chaos and disorder: ego-dystonic sexual orientation.

This disorder may prevent you from acknowledging reality even to yourself. Denial, the attempt to change one's sexual orientation, self-destructive thoughts/feelings, depression, rebellion, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, self-mutilation, and suicide are the inevitable consequences.

EDSO is experienced by people of all sexual orientations, however, it is most prevalent amongst homosexuals due to what I've described above. In fact, EDSO was once referred to as ego-dystonic homosexuality for that very reason.

So, it is no surprise that men who identify as heterosexual are out gallavanting with men, convincing themselves that this has no effect on their "real" sexual orientation. After all, they sleep with women. Perhaps, they're even married with children. It doesn't matter, they assume, if they have to fantasize about guys to do the deed. They're doing it and that "makes them straight."

It's also no surprise that so many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people attempt to "fix" themselves with the "help" of so-called ex-gay movements. Again, it doesn't seem to matter that (as admitted by many "ex-gays") they have to fantasize about members of the same sex in order to function. That still "makes them straight."

Or does it? Sexual orientation and sexual activity would, in an ideal world, be directly related to one another. We would only feel the need to have sex with people we truly desire and can, in the end, truly love. The world is far from ideal.

However we identify, those of us who are biologically gay, lesbian, or bisexual are pressured to conform to societal norms that may lead us to heterosexual activity as a means to conceal the truth from ourselves or others or to change the unchangeable. (Why biologically? The most reliable scientific research shows distinct biological differences between gay people and their straight counterparts in a variety of ways, including differences in brain structure. Examination of the animal kingdom has determined that homosexuality and/or homosexual activity exist in nearly 300 animal species. No known social factor or cluster of factors has ever been reliably connected to sexual orientation. Although there are many more questions to be answered, the nature v. nurture debate has been almost conclusively won by the nature crowd.)

The nature of sexual orientation in a society that priveleges heterosexuality has made it difficult to get accurate information about sexual orientation and sexual activity. This has been further complicated by the fact that most studies focus on either self-identification or self-reporting of sexual activity. Hopefully, studies like this one will force researchers to realize that reliable data can only come from a proper assessment of both self-identification and sexual activity in the context of ego-dystonic sexual orientation.

Maybe, if we're really lucky, the mainstream media will also recognize these truths known to researchers for decades. Perhaps then, they can stop "balancing" the scientifically supported data with the ill-informed and misinformed opinions of those that continue to insist that sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice that can be changed if a person wants it badly enough. Of course, that would require real objectivity, the hard work of source analysis, and the courage to speak the unpopular truth. That'll be the day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: Tragedy for Sale

I will spare you my personal 9/11 story. Suffice it to say that being in Manhattan that day was one of the most "transformative" moments of my life, leaving me particularly averse to the sound of jet engines and the sight of low-flying planes. Instead of a personal account that will add little to your knowledge of the issues surrounding the event and its aftermath, I offer a peek into the misappropriation of 9/11 for fun and profit.

It would be quite easy now, within that framework, to offer a resounding condemnation of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, et al. Too easy, repetitive, and tedious for my taste despite the validity of such condemnations. Just as easy but not as repetitive or tedious is a recounting of the controversy surrounding ABC's 9/11 docudrama and the license it takes with the facts. I'll leave that to a site more comprehensive than I can be here. Besides, the politicization angle is familiar enough to you already, I'm sure. At least, it should be if you've read anything or watched even a few hours of television in the last 5 years.

What is far more difficult is acknowledging how many everyday Americans and perhaps our very culture cheapened the event and the lives of those lost that day. Before the smoldering subsided, Americans were moving in to take advantage of the economic and dare I say it "prurient" potential of the focus on 9/11.

It began with theft and deception. The Red Cross used the funds specifically donated for 9/11 to finance other projects and administrative needs and continued to ask for blood donations long after the national supply had exceed a level that could be administered safely and effectively. Kieger Enterprises, Inc. employees stole three truckloads of donations but escaped prosecution because FBI employees themselves had stolen "souvenirs" from the site. A few horribly despicable people impersonated workers, victims, and survivors to make a quick buck on the "charity circuit." Hundreds if not thousands of Americans pilfered items from the site itself or the large debris field that blanketed lower Manhattan--papers, pieces of rubble, etc.--all "souvenirs" for people intent on "owning" a part of 9/11.

And then the vultures began to circle. Shortly after 9/11, souvenirs depicting the events of that day--photo books, Christmas ornaments, postcards, etc.--began popping up at street vendor tables and souvenir shops all over the city. One particularly tasteless postcard depicted the World Trade Center before, during, and after 9/11. Vendors everywhere ramped up their sales of NYPD and NYFD hats, t-shirts, etc. to cash in on the well-earned hero-worship surrounding the men and women in uniform still sifting through rubble to bring their brothers and sisters home.

And then the gawkers came. Many people have visited the World Trade Center site in the years after 9/11. Some to grieve lost loved ones. Some to come to terms with the fact that America is far more vulnerable than they'd ever believed. Some to gawk and stare like rubberneckers passing a car accident on the interstate. You can usually tell the difference in the looks on their faces--grief, sorrow, incomprehension, final acceptance, or, unfortunately, a look of wild-eyed glee at finally seeing "it" that is far more appropriate on those viewing the world's largest pancake than on witnesses to the site of history's most devastating terrorist attack.

In some bizarre capitalist free-for-all, the 9/11 tragedy became part kitsch, part Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. For a low, low price, (perhaps with a five-finger discount) Americans could prove that they'd been there and seen that and were hip to the post-9/11 "We are all New Yorkers" zeitgeist. On the back of a card depicting the simultaneous deaths of 3,000 people, they could write "Wish you were here" and promise to come back with pictures and souvenirs for those unlucky enough not to go there and see that.

We are the material children, the ones intent on owning a piece of everything, even tragedy. We collect artifacts of human suffering to hang on our walls and show to our friends with the rest of our acquisitions. We see opportunity everywhere and rarely ask if, perhaps, the "noble" pursuit of profit should have its limits prescribed by human decency and a little respect for fundamental human dignity.

If the recent spate of 9/11 movies and the release of the 9/11 commemorative coin are any indication, we're still selling and we're still buying. Life may be precious but tragedy is far too cheap these days.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Katrina Diaries: The Opening

My adorable imaginary wife and very good friend, Angela Weddle of Sketch Hunter, has just achieved her first major art opening as part of Galeria Tonantzin's Katrina Diaries series. A heartfelt congratulations to Angela, who is definitely one of the most talented people I know. If you happen to be anywhere near San Juan Bautista between now and October 1st, drop on by and support Angela and the other New Orleans artists participating in the show, who have recorded the grief and loss of Hurricane Katrina for posterity through their art. If you happen to be nowhere near San Juan Bautista between now and October 1st, drop by Sketch Hunter to see more of Angela's work and to support a gifted artist on her way up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Jewish Man Removed from Plane for Praying

I'll admit that, if you've never seen formal Jewish prayers being conducted, a Hassid praying could possibly make you nervous, what with the rhythmic bowing and muttering in Hebrew (which sounds vaguely like Arabic or Klingon). I, myself, have faced more than my fair share of confusion on the part of my goyish friends over my religious practices. One former roommate of mine, after being warned in advance of my practice of lighting sabbath candles on Friday nights, actually started screaming "Oh my G-d! What are you doing?" as if I were sacrificing small woodland creatures to the goddess or performing some other bizarre ritual. Explaining the kosher laws that control my dietary habits has also been particularly frustrating. (I must admit that, at my most irreverent, I simply say "I don't eat pork. You eat Jesus. Get over it!") This, of course, is in addition to those who feel the need to explain to me that my religion is wrong, that if I don't believe in Jesus, I'm an atheist, or that it's "okay" for me to be Jewish because Jesus was a Jew.

The ignorance and misperceptions of those not familiar with Judaism is to be expected. However, haven't we really gone way too far when the irrational discomfort of a couple of passengers is enough for an airline to throw an innocent man off of the plane? How far do we go in calming one person's nerves at the expense of another person's right to travel freely?

Let's take this practice to its most absurd conclusion. How do we respond when the uncontrollable verbal tics of a Tourrette's sufferer make other passengers nervous? Should we remove a black man from the plane because he makes the Klansmen in the back uncomfortable (or vice versa)? Should we forbid Arabs from flying in the post-9/11 world because their very presence may make their fellow travelers fear for their lives?

Isn't the more reasonable response to explain the situation to the nervous passenger? "I'm sorry, ma'am, but that passenger is simply praying (Jewish, black, Arabic, claustrophobic, suffering from a neurological disorder, etc.) and is no threat to you or other passengers on this flight. We can't remove a person who is doing nothing wrong regardless of how his behavior (or identity) makes you feel. If you'd like to take a later flight, we can make that option available. And thank you for flying with 'get a life, you spoiled, ignorant dimwit' airlines. Have a nice day."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Every once in a while, something bizzare and unusual happens, a coincidence so statistically improbable that you have to wonder. This weekend, on a trip to New York City, I ran into a friend on the street. Since I lived in New York for 2 years, you'd think this was rather commonplace. However, the friend I encountered has never lived in New York, currently lives in New Orleans, and was only in the city for the weekend. If I'd passed even a few minutes earlier or later, I would never have seen her. If my other two friends and I had followed the original plan of going to Washington Square Park instead of Hudson River Park, I would never have seen her. If I'd been on time that morning rather than an hour late, I never would have seen her.

In the event that I didn't run into her, I would have missed out on seeing a friend separated from me by Katrina, a great night of burlesque with my good friend, the Reverend Spooky LeStrange,the opportunity to brag about having a sexy burlesque dancer in my lap, and a great story about the most recent edition to the unusual and improbable events I've been collecting all of my life.

Coincidence? I think so. But it's definitely an amazing set of circumstances. And it will make a great story for many years to come. As for breaking my usual rule about no "personal" blog posts, it's a good reason for me to link to this and this. Isn't it amazing how a random, insignificant event can mean so much to us? Of course, can we be sure that they're always random and insignificant? Your guess is as good as mine.

CODED PERSONAL ADDENDUM: (Don't expect to understand this.) The Duck farts at midnight and belches gleefully in the evening.