Saturday, November 25, 2006

That's a Bad Joke, Right?

Like Richards', but funnier? An apology is appropriate. But asking for money smacks of opportunism, unless it's a joke playing on all sorts of crass stereotypes.

[The "victims'" lawyer] Allred, speaking by phone from Colorado, said Richards should meet McBride and Doss in front of a retired judge to "acknowledge his behavior and to apologize to them" and allow the judge to decide on monetary compensation.

"It's not enough to say 'I'm sorry' on 'David Letterman,'" she said.

No argument, there, although one wonders: "not enough" what? "Not enough" for what? Sure, if he wants to restore his reputation, he needs to do something more than that, as Sharpton pointed out. I actually liked what I heard from Sharpton about this being an opportunity to open a dialogue about lingering and deep-seated racism in the US. But if we don't know the answer to "not enough what for what?", how do we decide what would be "enough"? What is the measure of "enough"?

She did not mention a specific figure, but pitched the idea as a way for the comic to avoid a lawsuit.

Ah, there we have it. "Not enough" means "not enough money for my clients." If you drop some cash on people, all is forgiven and you're not a racist, any more. Well, if that's not the logic, then what is? Here the "victims" essentially suggest that they will participate with Richards in a lie about how he's really not racist if he just pays them enough money. But if a public apology to Letterman, Jackson, and Sharpton isn't "enough" to make it plain that he understands the problem with what he did, or if those things are not enough to demonstrate that Richards is in some meaningful sense not racist, then neither is a million dollars. That would just make him a rich racist.

"Our clients were vulnerable," Allred said. "He went after them. He singled them out and he taunted them, and he did it in a closed room where they were captive."

"Captive"? They sure didn't seem like captives when they walked out. I hate to break it to you guys, but you went to a comedy club. Comedians often single out audience members and taunt them, especially when you heckle them. Richards' behavior was appalling, and I can imagine being disturbed and distressed by it, but anyone who says he was genuinely scared in that moment, as one of the guys claims he was, is completely detached from reality. What was going to happen? Richards was going to jump off the stage and lead a lynch mob? That's bullshit, and so is the hint of a lawsuit if Richards doesn't cough up some dough. The response to someone like Richards losing control and taking the low road is to take the high road, accept an apology, and suggest the guy get some help controlling himself, not ask for money like a cheap Sharpton knock-off.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oh My God! People Don't Behave Rationally!

I just stumbled across an article from May about the rationality of getting painful experience over with and, conversely, postponing pleasurable experiences. Not surprisingly, humans as a rule fail to behave according to economic models of rationality:

The research, being published today in the journal Science, is "terrific, " said a leading expert on brain imaging, Dr. Read Montague, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine who was not involved in the study. It demonstrates that the brain "assigns a cost to waiting for something bad, so that the bad thing is worse when it's delayed farther in the future," Dr. Montague said.

"Hence," he said, "the 'let's get it over with' bit when we're at the doctor's office waiting to get a shot."

The research also sheds light on economic behavior, said George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University. According to standard economic models of human behavior, choosing more pain in the short run is irrational, Dr. Loewenstein said: if you know something bad is going to happen, you should postpone it as long as possible, and if something good is going to happen, you should want it right away.

In real life, people often do the exact opposite, he said. They delay gratification to savor a sweet sense of anticipation, and accelerate punishment just to get it over with. The new study sheds light, he said, on how the act of waiting can be used to describe economic behavior more accurately.

I've been having these arguments recently about the idealization (indeed, elevation to a transcendental level) of reason and rational behavior. If we're going to learn to deal with humans, we need to learn how to think about irrational behavior. I had thought that logical positivism was as dead as the idea of homo oeconomicus, but both are apparently alive and well. Anecdotally speaking, it sure looks to me like -- you know, based on the empirical evidence -- many scientists and philosophers of science have an easier time recognizing the limits of empirical evidence -- and inductive inference therefrom -- than do their popularizing propagandists.

My argument has been that adopting the inductive principle is, strictly speaking, neither scientific (where that means empirically grounded) nor logically sound (where that means consistent with widely recognized logical principles, like the invalidity of circular arguments). It simply cannot be empirically verified that the inductive principle is the case; the principle itself can only be inductively inferred from a body of evidence. But the use of induction to confirm induction begs the question -- it's a textbook example of assuming the very thing you are trying to prove. But adoption of the inductive principle is of course perfectly reasonable/rational (in the broader sense of "reasonable" or "rational"), as long as we recognize that it is not and cannot be absolute.

Two consequences follow from this observation. First, science understood as an empirical system is substantially grounded in a principle unsusceptible of being proven scientifically. In that respect, then, the inductive principle is simply a specific case of the general rule, noted aleady by Aristotle and proven mathematically by Gödel (the incompleteness theorems), that formal systems cannot be both strictly complete and strictly consistent. So we are obligated by a commitment to empiricism to recognize empiricism's limitations, as we are obligated by a commitment to logic to recognize that a radical empiricism violates all sorts of logical principles. Even the logical positivists eventually pulled the plug on their own ideology when they recognized that it was precisely illogical; indeed, even worse from their perspective, it was ideological, i.e., metaphysical!

Second, reasonableness (or rationality) is not reducible to rationality understood as empirical science -- put another way, rationality is not reducible either to empiricism or to obedience to logical laws. Empiricism has a certain reasonableness to it, but to espouse a radical empiricism (that is, reductionist empiricism along the lines of the logical positivists) is inconsistent with both logic and science. But if a certain kind of common-sense empiricism is reasonable, as I suppose it to be, then what is reasonable about it is precisely a reasonable, commmon-sense form of it (more is not always better, and more empiricism is not necessarily more correct). Radical positions require radical rigor in their conformity to principles, and it is in that context that radical-reductive empiricism's violation of its own core principle is a problem. If we hold to a more reasonable standard of reasonability, however (along the lines, say, of the phrase "reasonable doubt"), what we can ultimately say is that it is perfectly reasonable to espouse a reasonable (ie, not absolute) empiricism; or, to come at it from the other direction, radical-reductive empiricism is precisely irrational because it is unreasonable, in common sense terms; irrational, in logical terms; and unscientific, in empirical terms.

It is also worth noting that science as an empirical endeavor is in no way undermined by this admission. Only if science vs. religion is an all-or-nothing, winner-take-all struggle between two absolute worldviews is such a thing even conceivable, and even then it would not follow. But let's acknowledge that while science and religion overlap in some important areas, that overlap is not definitive of either religion or science, so that one is not reducible to the other. Even where they do overlap they need not always conflict, even if specific religions will almost certainly conflict with specific scientific positions. The fact that many "scientific" and religious people think the war is precisely all or nothing does not make it so in principle, and only makes it so in practice to the extent that everyone else plays along.

In general, the religion textbook comparison of "science" and/or "humanism" to what most of us would call religion strikes me as specious, at best, and an insidious form of obfuscation, at worst. Is humanism a worldview? Sure, but that doesn't make it a religion except in a view of religion that is drained of any real meaning. That said, a lot of intelligent people seem to take science precisely religiously (just like many intelligent people believe in Yahweh, Jesus, and Brahman). The inductive principle is for such people the transcendent guarantor of truth, itself beyond disproof (because it proves itself), immune to contradiction or question, a transcendent logos that organizes the universe while remaining aloof from the very rules it imposes upon that universe. Does the Inductive Principle exist somewhere "out there"? No, of course not. But its more, um, committed (not to say "fundamentalist") adherents will brook no question as to its authority, will hardly contemplate any limit to its infinite perfection, completeness, finality, unity, etc. (add other properties of God here), and spend more time thinking about how wrong any acknowledgement of the contradictions of radical-reductive empiricism must obviously be.

I am fairly well convinced that for many such persons, the concern at bottom is to protect science from anti-empiricism, and particularly from the encroachments of explanation-oriented religious thought into scientific territory. Surely everyone who knows me knows I share this concern. But I don't think the way to fight fire is with fire -- either when it comes to fighting terrorism or to fighting imperialist religious thought. Let science be honest science instead of turning it into a religion in order to fight religion(s). To turn it into a religion, to commit to the clash of civilizations version of a war between radical-reductive empiricism and repressive-fundamentalist religion, is to play into the hands of religious absolutists, just like becoming terrorists to fight terrorism is to compromise the very values we claim to be fighting for. Perhaps there would be a lot less resistance to evolution if people didn't think just that it contradicts a literalist reading of the Bible, but that admitting it to be true would mean that they'd have to be atheists like Richard Dawkins. But it doesn't mean that, any more than the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric model of the world meant that.

For the record, I am committed to empiricism as a scientific principle and as a principle of common sense decision-making. I consider myself an atheist, not terribly far in this respect from Richard Dawkins, who rates himself a "6" on a 7-point scale of disbelief in religion. I would also rate myself a 6, although my logic would be a little bit different from Dawkins's. I am grateful, however, that physics has gone beyond naive realism (so that we know that the chair I'm sitting on is actually moving at the sub-atomic level, despite all appearances to the contrary, and that it is mostly empty space, despite the fact that I can sit on it). I am glad that no one told Einstein that he was being impractical when he made hay about the fact that the universe behaves differently at different speeds, especially at speeds human beings never actually attain. Conversely, I am convinced that we "know" things in other ways than a pure or simple empiricism (however theoretical that empiricism might be), that it is possible and even necessary for us to explore those other ways of knowing and the "objects" of those other ways of knowing. I do not think this position amounts to a validation of, or apologia for, traditional religions of any stripe. It's a recognition that we need to think about what it means to construct the values that interact with our empirically known realities. It's a question about how we "know" that, for example, rape is wrong. Like knowing that my hands are typing right now, I cannot possibly be mistaken about it. But how do I know it and what exactly is it that I think I know? I can't literally look at anything for empirical verification, even in principle, that makes it plain that I'm right. So what is it that I know when I know that and how do I know it? And what does it mean if I say slavery is wrong, when hundreds or thousands of years ago, it was so plain to everyone that it was right? Did the empirical evidence change? Did we get new "value telescopes" that allowed us to see empirical evidence we couldn't see before? Of course not.

So in the end, I say: Empiricists, be true to yourselves and your principles, and you cannot be imperialist empiricists. At this rate, however, I fear I will soon hear some of you claiming that "extremism in the defense of empiricism is no vice."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From Apartheid to Same-Sex Marriage

Maybe the US could enter into "constructive engagement" with this South African policy. What's the over-under on how long it takes W to complain about activist judges in South Africa?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Evangelical Gay-dar

Via the Revealer, a very interesting article from The Jewish Week on the evangelical movement and the electorate in the wake of the GOP mid-term election collapse and scandals around prominent evangelical leaders Mark Foley and Ted Haggard. A third of white evangelicals voted Dem in the election, signaling a problem in mobilizing the troops around Republican candidates as well as weakening evangelical power in the legislature (Rick Santorum's loss in particular is a huge defeat for evangelical Christians). The article also notes a potential cooling of the relationship between evangelicals and American Jews, pointing out that evangelical support for the state of Israel is seen as "replaceable."

But the best part is comparable to Monty Python's "How do you tell a witch?" sketch from "The Holy Grail":

Then, as if things could not get worse, there was the disgrace of [Traditional Values Coalition leader Lou] Sheldon's own friend and colleague, Rev. Ted Haggard, the Colorado mega-church leader and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an even bigger pillar of Republican support on the Christian right. Sheldon disclosed that he and "a lot" of others knew about Haggard's homosexuality "for a while ... but we weren't sure just how to deal with it."

Months before a male prostitute publicly revealed Haggard's secret relationship with him, and the reverend's drug use as well, "Ted and I had a discussion," explained Sheldon, who said Haggard gave him a telltale signal then: "He said homosexuality is genetic. I said, no it isn't. But I just knew he was covering up. They need to say that."
Soooo, if he weighs the same as a duck, he must be made of wood. And therefore . . . a fairy!

The best (or worst) part is the bizarre sense that the genetic aspects of homosexuality would be what render it morally acceptable. Here again we have the whole debate about what is "natural" behavior. But that's for another post.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Benedict Better Watch Out

According to "Bible prophecy," a John Paul II impostor is coming (back) as the eighth king after Benedict XVI rules for "a short space." I'm sure it's news to Herr Ratzinger that the Bible itself predicts his early demise.

The thing that always gets under my skin about these things, which are otherwise barely amusing quackeries, is that they utterly deny that the revelation given to the ostensible author had any relevance to him or to the people with whom he shared his revelation. So all the persecuted Christians of the time were apparently being misled by God, because this "prophecy" was meant for us, not them. Just like the chastisements and promises of the Hebrew prophets (aka, real prophets) were meant for Christians rather than for the Hebrew people to whom the prophets delivered their messages. Why would anyone trust such a deceptive God?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

You Were Doing a Heckuva Job in Iraq, Rummie

Rumsfeld told to back off. This made all kinds of sense in the face of Democratic control of Congress and possibly even of the Senate. And it will clearly lead to deep changes in the handling of the Iraq war.

But as William Arkin points out, it ain't gonna be no picnic for Dems:

In the ways of Washington, Democrats in the House will hold high-profile hearings to prove their point and punctuate their displeasure with the administration. It will be a tricky balancing act for them: Renewed accountability and oversight on the one hand to distinguish themselves from the rubber stamp; not appearing to be floundering and without a plan on the other.
One of the reasons this is a problem, of course, is that it goofy Dems helped get us into this situation in the first place. Arkin concludes:

I know that this election is just a warm up for 2008, and I know that cooperation and resolution is a long shot given the prize to come. But as much as I am tickled by the rejection of the extremism of Cheney and Rumsfeld, I also hope that the election will serve as a repudiation of those who think or argue that national security is just a political instrument.

The conspiracy crowd was wrong about an Iran October surprise or some other Rovian bombshell that would turn the tide: The truth is that wars are not deviously being planned and that the Iraq war wasn't a devious conspiracy. It was as much a product of visionless Democrats who supported it.

Time to get vision.

Into the Heart

Doctors at two London hospitals will be injecting the hearts of heart attack victims with the victim's own stem cells. According to the Guardian article:

Several animal studies and clinical trials in Europe have suggested that an infusion of bone marrow stem cells, within several days of a heart attack, can repair heart muscle and grow new blood vessels.

But the British trials, at the London Chest hospital and the Heart hospital, will be the first to test whether the treatment works within the critical five hours after an attack.

Around 300,000 people in the UK have a heart attack each year and nearly half die, according to NHS Direct. Half of those who die do so from cardiac arrest - when the heart stops completely - within three or four hours of the start of the attack.

Astonishing. A quarter of all heart attack victims (in the UK) die within three or four hours from heart failure. If you can stop that by using stem cells to repair the heart, that would be amazing.

One doctor notes:

"Because the stem cells are taken from the patient themselves, there are minimal ethical issues surrounding this procedure. There is also less likelihood of rejection complications."

Per Autoplectic's point on the last post, one wants instead to say, "there are minimal ways in which anyone could pretend to object to this procedure on ethical grounds." I haven't yet heard anyone kick up a fuss about this, but it would be interesting to see how evangelical leaders handle this procedure.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Beware the Minotaur!

Looks like we might be inserting human DNA into cow embryos to get around the ethical-political obstacles to stem cell research.

The embryos created from this process would then be almost entirely “human”, with the only cow DNA being outside the cells’ nuclei.

If they manage to pull off the feat, the human-bovine embryos would not be allowed to develop for more than a few days, the researchers say.

But what if they were? Or, so what if they are? Or . . . so what if they're not? What is the actual ethical significance of curtailing the embryos' development? Depends on who you ask, I guess.

Calum MacKellar of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics told the BBC: "In this kind of procedure, you are mixing at a very intimate level animal eggs and human chromosomes and you may begin to undermine the whole distinction between animals and humans."

First of all, which distinction is that? The one not undermined by pervasive human barbarity toward other humans? The one holding fast in spite of human beings' wide-ranging desire to (literally) have sex with animals of all kinds? The one causing no problems for humans rationalizing eating (other) "animals" on the grounds that animals eat each other (so, we're not animals, but it's ok for non-animal humans to eat non-human animals because non-human animals eat each other; you know, cows are always dining on chicken and pig and even other cows . . . actually, they kind of are, since that's what we feed them). Sorry, mate: you're soaking in it.

Second, who says this bogus distinction ought to be preserved? For what purpose are we committed to maintaining it? In particular, for what ethical purpose? It seems to me mainly a religious holdover epitomized by Levitical prohibitions against sex with animals -- it's a category violation. Us human; them animal. Bottom line, this position amounts to the claim that God wouldn't want us to do it. And if I don't believe in (that) God, then the argument is meaningless to me.

If there's any reason to oppose this research at all, the only one I can think of is precisely the precarious condition attached to the procedure: that the embryos will only be allowed to develop for a few days. Sooner or later, and I'm betting sooner, someone's going to want to know what happens when a human-cow hybrid embryo is allowed to gestate. Given that it is fundamentally impossible to predict what will happen (although the likeliest bet is probably that the whole thing would fail to get off the proverbial ground and die as a fetus), it would be immoral to experiment with any resulting being -- including probably the resulting fetus, depending on a number of conditions.

But the whole human/animal-distinction argument is crap, and I'm tired of hearing it. Any meaningful difference between human and non-human animals is unlikely to be threatened by a human-cow hybrid. Spurious dichotomies, on the other hand, deserve to go the way of all things, anyway.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Religions of the Cultural Elites

Interesting review (entitled, "Mystics of a Materialist Age) of what appears to be a very interesting book on the role of drugs in the historical development of European-American literature: Marcus Boon's The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs. It is particularly timely in the context of recent scuffles over Richard Dawkins's and Sam Harris's attacks on religion (which I admit I have yet to read, but which I plan to comment on here, when I get to them).

In his review of Harris, Alexander Saxton quotes the author: "At the core of every religion lies an undeniable claim about the human condition: [that] it is possible to have one's experience of the world radically transformed." Sure, but religion is hardly unique in this respect. Justus Nieland's review quotes Boon: "Psychedelics point out in a very direct and dramatic way that radical, rapid shifts in consciousness are possible."

Shocking! Religion and drugs share an element of consciousness-alteration. Who doesn't know this already? And why do we still need either religion or psychedelics to know this about consciousness? Haven't any of these people ever fallen in love?

Leaving aside for now the question of whether one (of drugs and religion . . . or love, for that matter) is more pernicious than the other, and in what way(s), a summary question for Boon from Nieland:

Finally, given Boon's sympathy for the quintessentially modern desire for transcendence, and his explicit "call for a proliferation of alternative methods of obtaining gnosis," more attention might have been paid to the specific political horizons that have historically given rise to and constrained the moderns various attempts to imagine its transcendent outsides (86). How might the position of drugs and other transcendent "hybrids" on the map of Latour's modern constitution be shifting in our post-9/11 climate; put another way, who needs opium when you've got Jesus or Allah?
Dawkins would, I suspect, put it in reverse: who needs Jesus or Allah when you've got opium? But in such tracts as Dawkins's, "more attention might [be] paid to the specific political horizons that have historically given rise to and constrained the modern's various attempts to imagine its transcendent outsides," or to its various attempts to imagine the world without transcendent outsides . . . also, dare we say, a historically situated perspective. Or is science itself the transcendent?

Eagleton notes in his review of Dawkins,
It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase [i.e., that religion is the opium of the masses]; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.

The Dark Side of the Evangelical Force

Haggard has more or less confessed, although he continues to be vague about what exactly he has to apologize for.

In a letter that was read to the congregation of the New Life Church by another clergyman, Haggard apologized for his acts and requested forgiveness.

"I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment for all of you," he said, adding that he had confused the situation by giving inconsistent remarks to reporters denying the scandal.

"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," he said.

Right, a dark side. Repulsive, even. Would that be the gay side? Or the john side? Or perhaps the meth side? Or maybe the point is that using meth, paying for sex, and having sex with people of the same sex are morally equivalent.

Has he learned anything from this experience? It would appear not.

Arabrein: The Flashback Solution to the Arab Question

Avigdor Lieberman has the "solution" to the Arab "problem": expulsion! Wait, maybe "forced migration" is a nicer way of putting that. He takes Cyprus, of all places, as a model for cultural non-co-existence. Interestingly enough, no one (including the Ha'aretz article, above, and an AP article I saw on notes the parallel to the displacement of Palestinians at the establishment of Israel.

The whole article above is worth reading to see just how deep a hole Lieberman digs, but I want to call out a point about so-called "clashes of civilizations."

"The reason for the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is not territory, not occupation, not settlers or settlements, rather friction between the two peoples and the two religions.
Why is it always right-wing religious nationalists (and mushy-headed liberals like Huntington, Harris, and Friedman) proclaiming that all political conflict is about religion? Many liberals, for their part, are prepared to ignore everything that comes out of the mouths of religious leaders except their proclamations that all politics -- particularly all political conflict -- is reducible to religion. They allow religious nationalists one true position presumably because those claims feed (neo-)liberal atheists' bizarre (and utterly unscientific and unmaterialist) prejudice that religion is the root of all evil, the only social force standing between modern humanity and utopia.

It boggles my mind, both strategically and ideologically/philosophically, that anyone concerned with social progress would so willingly play into the hands of the religious right-wing by assisting them in reducing all conflict to religion and all religion to fundamentalism.
"Everywhere, the world over, no matter if it's the former Yugoslavia or the Caucasus region in Russia, or Northern Ireland, wherever there are two peoples and two religions, there is friction."
He doesn't mention the US. I wonder why? And anyone who says the conflict in the north of Ireland, for example, is fundamentally about religion is only demonstrating their ignorance of the conflict and its history. Otherwise, see above.
According to Lieberman, Israel had no alternative but to move toward "exchanges of populations and territory, in order to create the most homogenously Jewish state."
"Homogenous" is here clearly a euphemism for "ethnically pure." Astonishingly, Lieberman goes on to turn the persecutor into the persecuted, conveniently eliding the history of his own state and its current conflict with the Palestinians by playing the Nazi card:
Referring to the Nazi-era term Judenrein, describing an area from which all Jews have been removed, Lieberman said:

"I don't understand why the Palestinians deserve a state which is 'Judenrein' - after all, we obligated ourselves to create a Palestinian state 'clean' of all Jews, to evacuate all settlements and all the Jews from there to create a homogenous state - while we turn into a bi-national country in which more than 20 percent of those within the state of Israel are minorities."
Lieberman disingenuously misstates the issue with settlements and outposts, which is not about ethnic purity but about establishment of government structures in occupied territories, and particularly about the commitment of the Israeli government to annexation. For him then to turn around and use this intellectually dishonest position as the basis of an argument for an ethnically pure -- excuse me, "homogenous" -- Jewish state is not only reprehensible, but also the worst kind of political opportunism.

In other news, Dick Cheney today suggested exchanging American Jews to Israel in the interest of creating a more homogenous United States. "I don't understand why we are obligated to create for them a homogenous Jewish state, but we have to have a multi-national country in which more than 33% of those within the United States are minorities," he said in a statement, adding, "Wouldn't they be happier with their own kind, anyway?"

Can you imagine?

Friday, November 03, 2006

More On Evangelicals, Sex, and Bigotry

Bitch | Lab posts from Rapture Ready an article about a new book on evangelical feminism. Who knew there was such a thing? A brief excerpt of a brief article:

[Wayne] Grudem, author of numerous books and co-founder and former president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona. In his new book, he discusses 25 patterns of argument employed by evangelical feminists and shows how each one dismisses the authority of Scripture.

[Albert] Mohler [president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] raises the question, “If the New Testament is to be superseded by a later reality based in a more modern understanding, how can the church justify relativizing some texts without relativizing others?”
It can't, but of course these guys have not understood that "Biblical literalism" is already "a more modern understanding." Is there a text in this religion?
Grudem argues that the hermeneutic, or method of interpreting Scripture, used to advocate evangelical feminism leads to the normalization of homosexuality as well. And the approval of homosexuality, Grudem writes, “is the final step along the path to liberalism.”
And here I always thought that gay rights was the first slouching step on the path toward Gomorrha, not the last! It turns out the first step toward recognizing gays as human beings is recognizing women as human beings.

The Culture of the Evangelical Closet

Jeff Sharlet notices the same thing I was thinking about this:

[T]he story is bigger than Ted; statewide, he's one of the key forces behind two new anti-gay amendements. Nationwide, as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he sets the political tone for the Christian conservative movement at an administrative level broader than the influence of better-known figures such as Jerry Falwell.

If the story is true, Ted's a hypocrite of the worst kind; then again, he's also another victim of the very closet over which he publicly stands guard, as are all the New Life church members he's led into it. That story may not make the mainstream media. Indeed, it seems unlikely that Ted's downfall will be reported with any more nuance than that of Mark Foley's political collapse. Sex, it seems, blinds the press to politics.
The rest of his post is also worth a look, particularly his repost of his Harper's article about Haggard from 2005. Note especially:
He moved the church to a strip mall. There was a bar, a liquor store, New Life Church, a massage parlor.
How . . . convenient.
His congregation spilled out and blocked the other businesses. He set up chairs in the alley. He strung up a banner: SIEGE THIS CITY FOR ME, signed JESUS.
OK, here I'm going to go all pedantic on you: "siege" is a noun. Use either "seize" or "besiege," not "siege." And these are the people who complain about education in this country?

Oh, yeah, and role models. Watch out for the role models.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Politics of Outing Evangelicals

Turns out Ted Haggard is gay, or at least it sure looks that way. Along with James Foley, this would be two prominent leaders of the Homophobic Community and their Homophobic Agenda. In general, I'm not in favor of outing people. But there's something really problematic about Haggard's and Foley's behavior, more problematic, I think, than outing them. It's not simply a matter of hypocrisy, like having a pr0n library when you head up an organization that fights pr0n. There's some serious and bizarre self-hatred going on here, which you suspect has deep roots in the evangelical Christian community these guys grew up in. I don't know the personal childhood histories of Haggard and Foley, and I'm certainly not making excuses for either of them. But what do you prove with them when you out them? That they hate themselves? There's news. But maybe it's about hatred generally, and here maybe about self-hatred taught and learned from childhood in ostensibly loving but insidiously hate-filled communities, self-hatred that is then projected out onto the rest of the world, so that you do your penance for your own sin by punishing and even terrorizing others.

OK. Now I feel better about this. But it's still pretty fucked up, the whole thing.

Who Exactly Is Afraid of What?

From The New York Times:

Pause for Peace
HERE in Gaza, few dream of peace. For now, most dare only to dream of a lack of war. It is for this reason that Hamas proposes a long-term truce during which the Israeli and Palestinian peoples can try to negotiate a lasting peace.

A truce is referred to in Arabic as a hudna. Typically covering 10 years, a hudna is recognized in Islamic jurisprudence as a legitimate and binding contract. A hudna extends beyond the Western concept of a cease-fire and obliges the parties to use the period to seek a permanent, nonviolent resolution to their differences.
The Koran finds great merit in such efforts at promoting understanding among different people. Whereas war dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill, a hudna affords the opportunity to humanize ones opponents and understand their position with the goal of resolving the intertribal or international dispute.

Such a concept a period of nonwar but only partial resolution of a conflict is foreign to the West and has been greeted with much suspicion. Many Westerners I speak to wonder how one can stop the violence without ending the conflict.

I would argue, however, that this concept is not as foreign might seem. After all, the Irish Republican Army agreed to halt its military struggle to free Northern Ireland from British rule without recognizing British sovereignty. Irish Republicans continue to aspire to a united Ireland free of British rule, but rely upon
peaceful methods. Had the I.R.A. been forced to renounce its vision of reuniting Ireland before negotiations could occur, peace would never have prevailed. Why should more be demanded of the Palestinians, particularly when the spirit of our people will never permit it?

When Hamas gives its word to an international agreement, it does so in the name of God and will therefore keep its word. Hamas has honored its previous cease-fires, as Israelis grudgingly note with the oft-heard words, At least with Hamas they mean what they say.

This offer of hudna is no ruse, as some assert, to strengthen our military machine, to buy time to organize better or to consolidate our hold on the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, faith-based political movements in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Turkey and Yemen have used hudna-like strategies to avoid expanding conflict. Hamas will conduct itself just as wisely and honorably.

We Palestinians are prepared to enter into a hudna to bring about an immediate end to the occupation and to initiate a period of peaceful coexistence during which both sides would refrain from any form of military aggression or provocation. During this period of calm and negotiation we can address the important issues like the right of return and the release of prisoners. If the negotiations fail to achieve a durable settlement, the next generation of Palestinians and Israelis will have to decide whether or not to renew the hudna and the search for a negotiated peace.

There can be no comprehensive solution of the conflict today, this week, this month, or even this year. A conflict that has festered for so long may, however, be resolved through a decade of peaceful coexistence and negotiations. This is the only sensible alternative to the current situation. A hudna will lead to an end to the
occupation and create the space and the calm necessary to resolve all outstanding issues.

Few in Gaza dream. For most of the past six months its been difficult to even sleep. Yet hope is not dead. And when we dare to hope, this is what we see: a 10-year hudna during which, inshallah (God willing), we will learn again to dream of peace.

Ahmed Yousef is a senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya.
Nov. 1, 2006