Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Hampshire deserves praise

New Hampshire deserves credit for two votes in the State Senate today. First, in a 14 to 10 votes the Senate voted to legalize medicinal marijuana. This is such a no-brainer that I'm still shocked there are any votes in opposition. Governor John Lynch is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud on social freedom. It is unclear whether he will sign the bill or not but he says he sides with "law enforcement." From what I've seen this governor needs to be involuntarily retired at the next election.

Shortly after that bout of common sense the same Senate then voted to approve marriage equality by a vote of 13 to 11. Once again Lynch has been bitching about this measure and indicated he doesn't approve.

The New Hampshire law has a clause that I'd like to know more about. It has a two types of marriage. One is a civil marriage and the other issues a religious marriage license. This, no doubt, is to address the hysteria of panic-stricken fundamentalists who fantasize that they will be forced to conduct gay weddings in the middle of one of their tent revivals. That concern is about as legitimate as their theology—in other words, it is just more paranoid lunacy from the fringe.

If this "religious license" excludes gay couples then there is a problem. A marriage license never requires a specific church to perform the marriage. Baptist churches don't have to marry Jews, Episcopalians, etc. There is a false view, pushed by the fundamentalist Right, that no churches will perform gay marriages. In truth there are churches that have been conducting such ceremonies for decades. If this religious license forbids churches from conducting such marriages by denying them same-sex couples a license then it violates the religious freedom of the churches that reject fundamentalist dogma.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New poll shows opinion shift is strong and consistent.

There is more evidence that the “controversy” over same-sex marriage is dying rapidly. I have argued that we know the end of this debate and it won’t go the way that the Religious Rights wants it to go. The more they try to get traction on the issue the more they end up falling on their face.

The New York Times and CBS News recently polled Americans on various issues, as they have been jointly doing for some years. Their newest poll shows how attitudes have shifted rapidly in favor of marriage equality. They find that support for same-sex marriage has increased to 42 percent, while 25 percent support civil unions and only 28 percent want to deny all legal recognition to gay couples.

If we go back to 2004 we see how dramatically attitudes have changed in a very short period of time. At that time 22 percent said they would support full marriage equality, while 33 percent said they supported civil unions. Those opposing all legal recognition were 40 percent of the public.

It is clear that virtually all the shift in opinion is moving in the direction of marriage equality. The numbers supporting gay marriage has almost doubled in just a few years. While support for civil unions is down that is because individuals who previously were supportive of civil unions now endorse full marriage rights. That they are not shifting to the “Christian” view on the matter is shown by the decline in the percentage wanting to deny all legal rights to same-sex couples, down from 40 percent to 28 percent.

My guess is that most the shift can be explained this way: previous opponents to all rights for same-sex couples have shifted over to supporting civil unions while those who previously supported civil unions now support full marriage equality.

All indications are that this significant shift in opinion is going to continue. There are two demographic groups where anti-equality sentiment is strongest: those are the elderly and among conservative Christians. In truth, that is practically one group. The Religious Right today is primarily elderly as well. Fundamentalism in America has become the religion of the old. The obvious problem is that any demographic group that is heavily elderly will see their numbers collapse in a relatively short period of time. Young voters are overwhelmingly supportive of their gay friends marrying.

As older, Christian voters die off the opposition to gay marriage, what there is of it today, will die off as well.

The move to have constitutional amendments was always a rear guard action meant to delay any progress. The Right knew that opinions were shifting and knew that laws are easier to change than constitutions. So they enshrined their hatred in constitutions while public support was with them as a means of preventing legal changes when they lost the opinion wars.

I predict the total collapse of the anti-equality movement within the next five to ten years. It relies primarily on foot soldiers provided by fundamentalist churches (combined with Mormon funding). But fundamentalism is in its death throes. As I noted elsewhere, the numbers of Americans saying they are evangelical Christians has dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent in just two years. Without young members to replace the elderly this cultural backwater is going to decline rapidly and the backbone of the anti-equality movement will disappear.

Mormon money will not be able to substitute for a lack of voters. The dishonest, vicious attacks used by the Mormon-funded “Yes on 8” campaign can only work so often. Eventually people figure out that the fear-mongering advertisements are blatantly dishonest. The hysterical fear campaigns of old women like Maggie Gallagher and Jenny Morse will play to smaller and smaller audiences.

With five states already allowing gay marriage, and with 18,000 married same-sex couples in California, the public will be able to watch this “social experiment.” What they will see will repudiate the fear-mongers and bigots. In Massachusetts, opposition to marriage equality was highest the day it passed and has shrunk significantly since then. It shrinks because the anti-equality campaign exaggerated and lied to the public. Even if there were negative consequences—and there is no convincing evidence to show there is—the fear campaign has been so extreme that it needs very explicit, very dire consequences in order to appear credible. Anything short of social Armageddon will discredit them.

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Truth in advertising?

You can't say that the Catholic Church was guilty of false advertising. Apparently the logo attached here was used in 1973 for a Archdiocesan Youth Commission. In some of the numerous legal cases the church faces they might wish to present this logo as a warning to the public and argue that ought to reduce any cash compensation since clearly there was an assumed risk in allowing children around priests.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's now boring news.

Several journalists have noted that when Iowa's Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality there was hardly a ruckus from the Right. A few whined and cried but it was mostly quiet. It was almost as if America yawned.

Vermont then voted to legalize same-sex marriage and.... well, nothing. A Mormon front group ran an absurd ad around the country about a storm of gays coming and scaring people. The ad was so funny that it spawned dozens of satirical remakes on the web.

Now the Connecticut state legislature has voted for marriage rights for gay couples. The state Senate voted 28 to 7 to legalize same-sex marriage. The Connecticut House voted 100 to 44 for the same thing. Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, said she will sign the bill.

New York Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation there to legalize same-sex marriage. One prominent Democrat, who is a fundamentalis preacher, is holding up the legislation. If it doesn't pass this year it will pass. This is just a holding measure by one religious fanatic who happens to have power.

Anyway you look at it, there are now four states with marriage equality, a fifth that just passed it and only needs a signature to make it legal and a sixth will come shortly. In addition to New York, Maine is currently considering the issue and the House has already approved the measure.

Criticism is not censorship

It is astounding the amount of bullshit being spread around over Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean and her befuddling, confused answer regarding gay marriage. Prejean, who has no claim to fame other then coming in second in a contest showing off her mammary glands, is milking the issue (pardon that unintended pun) for all it worth. She was a nobody with hopes of becoming a somebody, who failed. Now, the way to seek fame for herself, is to play the victim card and run around rallying Right-wing crazies and religious fanatics to proclaim her as some sort of saint. I can’t wait until they produce the little plastic statue for my dashboard—Saint Carrie of Bigotry.

Let us try to put some sense into this debate by looking at the silly claims that are being made and debunking them. The prime one that ought to concern freedom-lovers is the matter of freedom of speech. Larry Norton, at OregonLive, says that the Prejean controversy somehow deals with the “core value” of freedom of speech. He argues that the question she was asked shouldn’t have been asked—though he offers no reason whatsoever for that. And then he says: “There should have been no wrong answer.” Yes, of course, there are no “wrong” answers anymore, just opinions, just feelings, just damn irrational whims that have nothing to do with reality.

Norton’s opinion piece never comes close to explaining what “freedom of speech” issue was involved here. The closest he comes is when he says: “The fact that someone’s views are not yours is not the basis for ‘punishing’ that person." What he means by punishing is left unstated.

Of course, another person’s opinions are an absolutely valid reason for “punishing” them in one sense of the word, but not in another. If the term refers to denying them their rights, then it is invalid. If it means other forms of “punishment” there is nothing to say about the matter as public policy. For instance, let us assume that you are dating Miss Prejean and she opens her mouth and spews out some other form of ignorance. You thank her for the date and tell her you won’t be calling again. You just “punished” her but you haven’t violated her rights. She has no right to date you.

Let us assume that Miss USA judges decided that the comments Prejean made were “wrong” enough that she shouldn’t represent the pageant in public. Assume they vote her down in the judging in that area and that tips the scales in favor of another contestant. What right was violated? None. Prejean doesn’t have the right to represent the pageant anymore than she has the right date people who don’t like her opinions.

Miss USA represents the pageant, not herself. As such the pageant can decide whether or not she meets their criteria as their spokeswoman. Clearly several of the judges felt that Prejean would be a bad spokeswoman for this pageant. That is what the judges are supposed to do, that is within the pageant’s rights to do, and Prejean never suffered any diminution of her rights.

Apparently what the Right is doing is confusing consequences of actions with violations of rights. Mel Gibson went into an anti-Semitic rant not long ago, entirely consistent with the pro-Nazi viewpoints of his father. Numerous Jews said they would no longer work with Gibson—and I don’t blame them. Gibson suffered consequences due to his bigoted, drunken rant, but his rights were untouched. The idea that there should be no consequences to actions is a bizarre notion. If someone takes cocaine consistently and finds they lose their job due to their lack of attention, their rights are intact but they have suffered consequences. Removing consequences from people’s actions is a very dangerous thing to do—it encourages bad decisions and subsidizes destructive actions.

Carrie Prejean has the right to be biblically bigoted, if she wants to be. But she has no right to assume others will like it, and no right to assume that others can then be forced to work with her against their will.

Of course, it is possible to “censor” someone but she was not censored at all. That is evident from the fact that she is doing the interview circuit pumping herself up like crazy. At this point I suggest her “hurt” is just a PR tactic to get more publicity for the loser of a beauty queen pageant. At no point was her speech impeded. What she lost was the opportunity to represent a pageant as their winner. But no one has that right to begin with. It is a voluntary contract. In this case the pageant hires judges to decide which contestant will be given the position. They chose someone else instead. That is not infringing Carrie’s freedom of speech, that is exercising freedom of association.

Censorship requires force. It may be government forcibly preventing an opinion from being expressed or punishing people, through law, for expressing said opinion. Or, it may be a private person using force against another person to prevent them from expressing an opinion. But that is it. Other consequences to opinions are not censorship and not free speech issues. If I kick you out of my house, because you are a racist that is not censorship but property rights. If I refuse to hire you because you are racist that is not censorship, but freedom of contract. However, if I were to kick you out of your house that is censorship. If I were to forcibly prevent you from printing a book, that is censorship. But if I refuse to cooperate with you, in order for you to print your book, that is not censorship.

Roland Martin, a fundamentalist Christian, wrote on CNN as if Prejean was being crucified for her sins. He says she was “savagely attacked," by which he means she was criticized. I find it interesting how these fundamentalists downplay gay bashings when they happen yet describe criticism of themselves as “savage.” Martin claims that Prejean is “being torn to shreds” for her answer. Martin says: “The day we condemn folks for speaking honestly is the day we become a bland society.” Martin's piece was headlined "thanks for the honesty." I wonder if Mr. Martin, who is black, would thank David Duke for his honesty in regards to the rights of black people?

Odd that we have a Christian writer now demanding that we not condemn people for their comments. Mr. Norton says Prejean “stood up for her principles—quite refreshing.”

But those comments are rubbish. People stand up for principles all the time. And it is proper for us to judge those principles and laud them or condemn them as we seek fit. It is not proper to prevent people from airing such opinions however, but that never happened.

What is refreshing about Prejean expressing a bigoted opinion based on her religious beliefs? That sort of thing happens all the time. Consider the Christian Identity folk who say that God made the White race his chosen people, that blacks are inferiors, and that Jews are the spawn of Satan. Would it be “refreshing” to listen to them spout their hate? The Christian fundamentalists I grew up with taught that blacks were punished by God under the “curse of Ham” and that they were condemned to a life of servitude to white people. They used Old Testament verses to allegedly prove this.

There are lots of religious opinions that people hold that can be petty, bigoted, uniformed and wrong. Are we really supposed to stop judging such comments? Have we reached the stage where there are now only subjective opinions? Are we to restrain condemnation of religiously motivated suicide bombers merely because they are religious?

Christians have the right to morally condemn gays if they want. Prejean has the right to damn gays to hell but no right to try to send them there1 prematurely. She has the right to disassociate from people she thinks of as sinners, just like the Miss USA pageant has the right to move away from her and not give her the beauty crown. Nor is there anything wrong with condemning Prejean’s opinions.

I suspect that if Miss Prejean had been asked about the Middle East instead, and then gave a rambling answer about how Jews are evil people, and how this belief is confirmed in her own family, no one would be defending her today—except perhaps the American Nazi Party or the Klan. No would be calling an anti-Semitic answer “refreshing.”

What it comes down to is two things. One is that Prejean used religion as her excuse for denying equality of rights. Lots of people think that religiously-motivate opinions should never be judged scrutinized or condemned. Apparently, if you wish to deny rights to Jews, based on the words in Mein Kampf, you can be called a bigot and criticized. If you wish to deny rights to gays, based on the words in the Old Testament, you are immune from criticism and your opinions need not be justified or rational. Yet, there is no reason that religiously-motivated speech must be held to a lower standard of criticism.

The second issue is that lots of people, particularly those who are steeped in religious mythology, are bigoted against gays. Apparently, if enough number of people share your bigotry, then it doesn’t count as bigotry, but is merely “a difference of opinion.” Of course, it is much more than that.

If I condemn fundamentalism as a social evil that is an opinion. If I deny fundamentalists their rights as human beings that is much, much more than just an opinion. That is an assault. We all have the right to voice approval, or disapproval, of the values of others. None of us have the right to deny others their equal rights merely because we dislike what they do with those rights.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Her she comes, Miss Bubblehead.

I really tried to avoid commenting on the controversy about Miss California, Carrie Prejean. There are several reasons to avoid the topic. First and foremost, ditzy beauty queens are of absolutely zero interest. I expect them to say stupid things. Miss Prejean, being some sort of fundamentalist Christian (albeit one with little hesitation to flash her breasts in skimpy outfits) is thus doubly expected to say something stupid. And she did.

But, being intellectually challenged Prejean doesn’t know when to shut her trap. She is now convinced that she is a victim because she ought to be Miss America instead of the second-place loser. Prejean is utterly misrepresenting the facts of the case to play the victim card.

Basically one of the more contemptuous people around, in my opinion, Perez Hilton, asked Prejean what she thought about gay marriage. Prejean totally bumbled the answer. To be clear, I don’t mean that she took the wrong position, though I think she did. I mean that her answer was incoherent, muddled and incredibly badly articulated. She came across like a brainless bimbo, caught in the headlights, who had no idea what to do so she panicked. She put her mouth in gear long, long before she took her brain out of neutral. Her answer so was badly done that she’s lucky they didn’t take out back and put her out of our misery.

If you look at Prejean’s statement you will see precisely how incoherent and muddled it was. Prejean first headed off in one direction by speaking about how she was proud that America was a country where people could choose. Her exact words: “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage….”

Her first state of fact is wrong. America is not a country where people may choose same-sex marriage. Forty-six states ban same-sex marriage. To pretend that Americans have this choice is absurd. Next, instead of referring to heterosexual marriage she comes up with the strange label of “opposite marriage.”

So, after misstating the facts and then coining an awkward and somewhat incoherent label she plows forward: “You know what, in my country and my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

That sentence is so badly worded that I’m not precisely sure what she means. I get that she thinks only straight couples should have the right to marry. But this phrase about “in my country” seems to contradict her previous sentence about how people can choose one or the other. Or, is she saying that she can take this position in her country and her family? Is her country and family taking the position? What does this woman mean?

She also says, “that’s how I was raised and those how I think it should be between a man and a woman.” With her previous comment about how in her family that was what she believed, and then her comment about how she was raised, you’d think she was saying that her family also thought this way. Yet in subsequent interviews she says her sister supports gay couples marrying and said she wasn’t speaking for her mother either, though apparently her father agrees with her.

While it appears she is telling you this was how she was raised her later interviews implied that her family, with the exception of her father, doesn’t hold those beliefs. S claimed her sister is an “advocate” for gay rights, though she was very, very quick to point out that her sister is not gay. So what was she saying?

The purpose of hard questions is to see if the woman in question is composed and articulate, that she can explain in a reasonable way, precisely what she thinks. Regardless of the position that Prejean took she made a dog’s breakfast out her answer. The muddle, inarticulate, somewhat confusing answer that she gave was sufficient reason to mark her down for the interview section of the contest. And, if she was in a close race with the winner, it could be enough to warrant putting her into second.

But fundamentalists have a victim complex; they always have, even though no one has ever voted to strip them of a right. Prejean was petty and nasty after her loss and told the press: “I feel like I won. I feel like I’m the winner, I really do” And she claimed that the only reason she lost was because she was sticking up for God. It is so nice that bubble-headed beauty queens (anyone remember Anita Bryant) have direct contact with the Almighty and speak on his behalf down here. But then she also says God was testing her with the question. So was God testing her or was she speaking for God?

What surprises me is that she claims that she “studied” to answer that question. She said: “Out of all the topics I studied up on, I dreaded that one, I prayed I would not be asked about gay marriage. If I had any other question, I know I would have won.”

If she studied that question then her muddled answer clearly indicates she was not the right person to win. Apparently if she was praying about this, then God was listening to her or he decided she should lose. If the former, that poses problems for her religious beliefs, if the latter, it removes her excuse to whine. Apparently her losing was God’s will so she really ought to shut up about it.

One other comment that just doesn’t ring true is her claim that her “gay rights advocate” sister told came to her and told her that there was nothing wrong with her answer “because you stood up for what was right.” If, as Prejean has claimed, her sister supports gay marriage then precisely would the sister applaud her to standing up “for what was right?” Clearly, if the sister advocates gay marriage she doesn’t believe her sister is right. If she believes her sister is right then she can’t believe in gay marriage. Once again Miss Bubblehead has given us two sentences that appear contradictory. I know she’s a fundamentalist, and thus not bothered by irrational contradictions being held simultaneously.

But, since the winner of Miss America has to at least make an effort at being coherent and logical in her answers, Prejean really shouldn’t whine that she lost. She deserved to lose because logic, reason and the clear articulation of her views (no matter how wrong) are a necessary component of Miss America and Prejean fell far short of the ideal.

Photo: Miss Prejean showing her Christian morality by flaunting her mammary glands to millions of television viewers. Apparently that is what would Jesus would do.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Secession or not?

Rasmussen polls has asked the American public what they think of the right of states to secede from the union and whether they would support their state doing so. I was a bit surprised, to be honest. Support for secession was higher than I had anticipated——although it was still relatively low.

Eleven percent of the public said they would support their state leaving the union. I wonder what percentage would support other states leaving the union? One of my regrets about Norther victory in the Civil War is that it kept the Southern states in the union. In my opinion, looking at history since the end of the war to today, the American nation would have been much better off without the South. Historically it has been an economic drag. It has been a hot-bed of oppression and a cultural wasteland. Certainly it has been the main center against extending equality of rights to the various races, to women and to gay people. On balance I think the rest of the union would have been better off without the South dragging the country down in almost every sense of the word. (None of which means I have any admiration for Lincoln, I don't.)

Of course, six percent of the public has no idea what they think. And 83 percent say they would support secession.

Whether or not I'd support secession depends entirely on which state I'm living in. For my current state of abode I would support secession. Getting out of the US would be a good thing here. If I lived in the American South (God forbid!) I would oppose it. The union civilizes the South. Left to its own devices it would be a theocratic cesspool.

Texas were more supportive of secession with 18 percent wanted to leave the union. In light of the silly theocratic laws the Southern Baptists have inflicted on Texas, and in light of their contributions of Lydon Johnson and George W. Bush, Jr. to the White House, I regret them ever joining the union.

But then I think that the growth of the United States, into the gigantic country it has become, has been one of the main reasons that government has become so intrusive and oppressive. The more distant government becomes from the people the worse off we are. Ever since the Progressives rigged the Constitution with the 17th Amendment power has become more and more centralized in Washington—and that has been almost wholly a negative.

My guess would be that we'd be better off with around ten or twelve separate nations provided they had a free trade zone. I personally think Texas, California and Alaska would be best off as independent nations, and Hawaii as well. Places like Oregon, Washington and Idaho might be better off together. The rest of the West might make a good separate nation though I'm not sure what to do with Utah. The idea of having a border crossing making it harder for Mormons to spread around does have some appeal.

The Midwest would make sense as their own nation though I suspect that places like Minnesota and Wisconsin may merge separately having their own rather unique political views over the years. New England would be a separate nation in my world but without New York State. If they allowed New York in they would be dominated completely and New York would use its power to plunder the other states for their benefit.

Generally I think each individual nation would have been freer than they are today with the probably exception of the South, which clearly would be more oppressive. It is hard to judge what Texas would be like. The main detrimental influence in Texas is the moronic Southern Baptist Church which gained influence in Texas because of the migration of Southerners to Texas. Had Texas retained independent status it is hard to predict whether Southerners would have migrated there as easily.

California, I suspect, would not be freer than today, but then neither do I think it would be any more oppressive. It would probably be pretty similar to what it is now. But, in general, I think most regions would be better off in terms of individual rights, economic freedom and limited government.

The most libertarian regions, I suspect, would be New England and the Western region. Alaska would probably be fairly free as well. Texas, absent the negative influence of fundamentalism, would probably be quite free. But if they had become infested with the born again crowd then chances are fairly good it would be socially oppressive.

I personally doubt that there would have been a culture war had the US developed in several nations instead of one monolithic monstrosity. Most the culture war was American fundamentalist versus everybody else and fundamentalism was primarily a Southern phenomenon. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the poverty in the South forced many of these fundamentalist yokels into migrating to the civilized parts of the nation to seek employment and prosperity. To the detriment of everyone else and liberty, they brought their backwater religious values with them.

While 11 percent of the public prefers that their state secede from the union the numbers who believe states have that right is even higher (22 percent). What is interesting is that political independents are more pro-secession than Republicans and Democrats. Democrats love centralized power, 72 percent say "states do not have the right leave the United States" while only 54 percent of Republicans are so imperialistic. Among independents 50% are so inclined.

This continues an interesting trend that I have noticed. Independent voters seem to be more libertarian inclined than either Democrats or Republicans. The Democrats would destroy economic freedom while Republicans never met a civil liberty that they didn't despise. Independents seem to do better across the board. Ninety percent of Democrats would support their state staying in the union while 83 percent of Republicans would and 72 percent of independents would.

Meanwhile, concern about the growth of the Federal Leviathan is growing rapidly. Rasmussen also found that 52 percent of all Americans feel the federal government is doing too much. Rasmussen says this is "up from 50% a month ago and 43% in mid-February." Those who think the government will do too little stands at 31 percent.

I should mention one previous Rasmussen poll which showed support for capitalism, as being better than socialism, at only 53 percent. An amazing 27 percent of the public had no opinion. Rasmussen, however, notes that previous surveys they have done show much higher support (70 percent) for free markets. I can understand this completely. State capitalism is not about free markets but about regulated markets to redistribute wealth to the businesses associated with the political class. Libertarians have been noting the evil alliance of big business and the political classes for a very, very long time. Amazingly socialists still quite stupidly refer to libertarianism as being the philosophy of big business -- when in practice big business has embraced regulated markets, as pushed by the socialists, repeatedly.

Rasmussen says that their polls show "skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets." They write:

Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors. Only 15 percent prefer "a government-managed economy."

I am convinced that there is a much stronger sentiment for libertarianism among the American public than at any time in recent history. Unfortunately the Libertarian Party is almost totally useless at taping that sentiment and the political system is rigged against them. Ron Paul almost tapped into that sentiment. He'd attract people with his libertarian ideas and then run off into loony land with his John Birch Society conspiracy theories and obsessions. That turned off a lot of people who found him attractive. And if that wasn't enough, then Paul would leap into his anti-libertarian positions on social issues to complete the turn-off process. Even those Rondroids who stayed with Paul to the bitter end tended to be more libertarian than their guru.

I also suspect that the party faithful within the Democrats and Republicans are more libertarian than either of their parties. The Republican Party leadership is beholden to the American Taliban while the Democratic Party is controlled by people who are practically fascists in economic theory. One party promises to plunder your wallet and the other to police your bedroom. Each of those parties is dominated hard-core statists with anti-freedom agendas and their idea of choice is picking between a theocracy and socialism. No wonder record numbers of Americas don't affiliate with either party.

The Libertarians still have options but I suspect the LP is too dominated by closet conservatives to be of any fucking use at all. The recruiting of Bob Barr and Wayne Allen Root into the party shows how strong the anti-libertarian caucus of the Libertarian Party is. The so-called moderates in the party thought that gutting the platform would be the solution for the party, all it did was make it easier for the likes of Barr and Root to infest libertarianism with another version of right-wing populism.

I believe that a Democratic candidate who pushes hard for things like gay marriage and legalization of marijuana, while supporting cutting taxes and flattening the tax system, could go far. I believe the same is true for a Republican doing the same thing. I doubt that voters are ready for a candidate who tries to market a pure libertarian platform but candidates who push in that direction, and can do so without looking like religious-lunatics or Bircher crazies, would go a lot farther than they think.

For Democrats who think in pro-freedom direction I would recommend Freedom Democrats. For libertarian inclined Republicans, I'm not so sure. So-called "libertarian" Republicans tend to be conservatives not libertarians. I'm not sure the Republican Party has any hope as long as they remained chained to the Theopublican Right.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Just for the pure joy of it.

More than 200 dancers were performing their version of "Do Re Mi", in the Central Station of Antwerp. with just 2 rehearsals they created this amazing stunt! Those 4 fantastic minutes started the 23 of march 2009, 08:00 AM. It is a promotion stunt for a Belgian television program, where they are looking for someone to play the leading role, in the musical of The Sound of Music.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

just some Colbert humor.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

You may remember our posting the hilariously bad ad from Maggie Gallaghers National Organization for Marriage. Here is Colbert's amusing take on the same commercial along with one he made as well. The one thing I will miss when the Religious Right figures out they have lost and go back to their tent revivals is the pure entertainment value of their very serious positions.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Will liberty replace Christianity in post-Christian America?

In the realm of religion I have made two points several times, which I consider important. One is that the influence of evangelicalism in American politics is plummeting. The second point is that we are entering a post-Christian phase in the country. Both of these trends I consider very positive.

I first used the term “post-Christian” to describe the trend in 2007. It is nice to see that Newsweek recently caught up with the blog. They quoted R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as saying, upon reading the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey as saying that “a post-Christian narrative… is animating large portions of this society. Newsweek gets is slight wrong. Jon Meacham, the author of the Newsweek article, says: Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian.” But post-Christian doesn’t mean that Christians disappear. It means the society itself is officially non-religious and religion remains in the private sphere.

It doesn’t mean there is no Christian presence, or that Christians are hidden away. It merely means that Christianity, or any religion for that matter, is not the motivating force in the public arena. It is total separation of church and state. Public policy debates will take place primarily in the realm of reason, resting on evidence, not promoted because of the theological opinions of some televangelist. Newsweek offered some evidence of the post-Christian trend. In 1994, 64 percent of Americans said that “faith” could help answer the nation’s problems. In the most recent poll they found that this was down to 48 percent. In 1957, 82 percent said religion answered problems.

In 2005, 71 percent of the public said America was a Christian nation. Last year it was 69 percent, and the recent poll puts it at 62 percent. According to 68 percent of the public, religion is declining in influence. In 2000 58 percent agreed, in 1984 it was 39 percent, and in 1962 it was 32 percent while in 1957 it was 15 percent.

Evangelicals themselves are now realizing they have problems. A poll of evangelicals shows that the overwhelming majority of them believe that evangelicalism is either struggling or dying (63 percent). Only 12 percent thought it was thriving while 25 percent believed it was merely holding its own. Evangelical Christian writet, Michael Spencer is predicting a “major collapse of evangelical Christianity” within the next ten years. OneNewsNow reports that Spencer believes this will be due to evangelicalism’s “emphasis on the culture war and affiliation with the Republican Party.” They say that Spencer “expects half of evangelical churches will die off in the next 25 to 30 years due to generational reasons or because their members become more attracted to [a] secular version of life.” The reality is that evangelicals and fundamentalists have driven away their own young. The damage done there is not yet visible because many of these young people are not old enough to walk away on their own. A very high percentage of them will leave the church and leave Christianity entirely.

A minister friend of this blogger writes that he was in Nevada for Easter and “went to one of the local mega-church Bible churches” and was surprised it was half to two-thirds full especially after they had “placed a big colourful ad in the weekend Vegas newspaper on page 1.” His conclusion: “I think their deeds are catching up with them.”

Newsweek’s poll asked Americans to describe their religious affiliation and what they showed is interesting. In 2007 35 percent of Americans described themselves as Evangelical Protestants. But this year it had dropped to 29 percent. Where 2 percent said they were Mormon in 2007 it was one percent this year. One Christian missionary organization quotes a Barna poll stating: “America’s secularization has gone from only 15% in the 1950s up to 40% in 2001; and headed for 60% by 2010!” They describe secularism as “basing the decisions of one’s life on a secular humanist, relativist moral world view.”

This latter statistic, if correct, is actually rather important. The fact that some people privately believe in a deity of some sort doesn’t mean that they aren’t secularists when it comes to how they make moral decisions. Only around 15% to 20% of the pubic are nonbelievers yet well over double that base their morality on secularism not on religion.

Allow me to quote Mr. Spencer in depth since I agree with his analysis completely though we disagree strongly on the benefits of this decline (he’s unhappy with it).
I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.” The party is almost over for evangelicals; a party that’s been going strong since the beginning of the “Protestant” 20th century. We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious.
Of course, like a typical fundamentalist type Spencer is über-paranoid and predicts that this decline heralds “an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian west” with “intolerance of Christianity” rising. Odd how these evangelicals automatically assume that non-believers will treat them as badly as Christians treated atheists and gays. Spencer projects that large numbers of evangelicals will simply up and leave the church. He says: “Many of our children and grandchildren are going to abandon ship, and many will do so saying ‘good riddance.’” (Well, as one who left and said just that, I can see the reasons for it.)

Spencer writes that: “The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses.” Spencer says that Christian schooling won’t stop the decline either. “Millions of Christian school graduates are going to walk away from the faith and the church.” Hmm, you mean graduating from a Christian high school didn’t stop me from becoming an atheist? Actually I know of several graduates of my Christian school who are now non-believers.

Will something replace this decline in religion? What “belief” system will dominate American culture when Christian disappears? The most interesting speculation on that comes from the Newsweek article.
If we apply an Augustinian test of nationhood to ourselves, we find that liberty, not religion, is what holds us together. In "The City of God," Augustine —converted sinner and bishop of Hippo—said that a nation should be defined as "a multitude of rational beings in common agreement as to the objects of their love." What we value most highly—what we collectively love most—is thus the central test of the social contract.

Judging from the broad shape of American life in the first decade of the 21st century, we value individual freedom and free (or largely free) enterprise, and tend to lean toward libertarianism on issues of personal morality. The foundational documents are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, not the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (though there are undeniable connections between them). This way of life is far different from what many overtly conservative Christians would like. But that is the power of the republican system engineered by James Madison at the end of the 18th century: that America would survive in direct relation to its ability to check extremism and preserve maximum personal liberty. Religious believers should welcome this; freedom for one sect means freedom for all sects.
I am not so optimistic as to think that a belief in libertarianism or freedom will necessarily dominate our emerging post-Christian culture. But it certainly gladdens my heart that someone at Newsweek thinks that likely. Surely, if an atheist prayed, this would be high on my list.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Pastor attacked by travel Nazis for invoking Constitution

The thugs associated with Homeland Security and its various departments hate the Constitution because it limits their powers. Here is an example.

Pastor Steven Anderson is about as far away from what I believe as one can get. He's a fundamentalist Christian and one silly enough to think that only the King James version of the Bible is the right one. From reading his wife's blog I conclude they are nuts on lots of issues. But here is one issue where they are not nuts.

Anderson was driving from San Diego to Phoenix. In the middle of nowhere, far from the border, our border Nazis stop his car. They demand he answer questions which he is not legally obligated to answer. They demand he consent to a car search when they have no probably cause. He refuses on both counts—which is his constitutional right to do. The border Nazis then bring out a dog and claim it sniffed drugs—that was a lie. Then they smash the windows of the car, drag the pastor out of his car and push his face into the broken glass.

I had almost the same thing happen to me once though not quite this bad. I was driving through California and border Nazis stopped us about an hour north of San Diego. I spent the weekend in San Diego and had a small suitcase in the back seat. The border Nazi said he was going to search the suitcase. His only reason for searching it was he could see it. I asked him what his probably cause was. I asked calmly and made no sudden moves of any kind. I sat very, very still when asking. He went ballistic and started screaming. He literally became unhinged and dragged me from the car and threw me to the ground cutting my face. I had him push my face into the gravel with his boot as he shreiked: "You have no right to question me. You have no right to question me."

Pastor Anderson may be a fundamentalist nutter but he has rights like anyone else. In this video Anderson wants to know why things like this can happen in America. Based on past exeperience I would guess that one reason could be found the next time he looks in the mirror.

Listen carefully to Anderson's account of this violent attack by Border thugs. The excuses used are that the "dog" allegedly indicated that a person or drugs were in Anderson's car. Does Pastor Anderson support efforts to "round up" illegal migrant workers? Does he support drug prohibition? Those were the justifications given.

When you demand that government harass "illegals" and stop people from using drugs then you can't bitch when they use the powers necessary to accomplish their goals. In fact, the border thugs haven't gone nearly far enough as they having little impact on either goal. When you demand government wage war on specific groups of people then don't cry when there is collateral damage.

Perhaps Pastor Anderson would end the war on immigrants. Perhaps he would end the war on drugs. If so he would be a very unusual fundamentalist—in fact he would be only one I know taking that position.

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Cricket and the gay marriage debate

Cricket has got to be the most boring sport ever invented by mankind. I wouldn’t advise watching it but if you happen to see a match you immediately notice that the spectators aren’t doing much “spectating. “They tend to read books, have picnics on the grass or even take naps – something unheard of when it comes to baseball, rugby or football (either American or not). Cricket tends to linger on and on and on. It seems that games that began in 1923 are still being played with the great, great grandchildren of the original players substituting.

One reason for the boredom of cricket, in my uninformed opinion, is that one team can play for hours before their opponents get a turn. It is entirely possible, that after the first team has finished playing, the outcome of the game is pretty much known. The team that plays second could well come into the game facing insurmountable odds and knowing it. (A Test game can linger on for five days.)

That brings me to something our friends at Reason magazine said regarding the gay marriage debate. They describe an article by Cathy Young as saying “we are in for another long and bloody chapter in America’s culture wars.”

With all due respect, I say poppycock! Let us take the prime example of the culture war: abortion. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion, the public opinion polls were split. That split has hardly budged over the years. If you look at the chart below, it shows how Gallup measured support over a thirty-year period. With just slight variations, there has been hardly any change.

What we are seeing in the gay marriage debate is something quite different—quite unique. There has been a relatively large shift in public opinion in a very short period of time. The Pew survey found that there has been a 10-point shift from 1996 to 2007. Those opposing gay marriage dropped from 65% to 55% (and even that is deceptive). Those supporting gay marriage increased from 27% to 36%. I say the former is deceptive because support for gay civil unions is considerably higher. Pew found that in 2003 45% supported civil unions, but by 2006 54% did, while 42% opposed them. But some of the 42% opposing civil unions do so because they support gay marriage.

One of the most dishonest tactics used by gay-marriage opponents is that they quote “opposition” to marriage as being equivalent to supporting the position that gays should have no legal status equal to—or similar to—marriage. In fact, only one-third of the public agrees with them, while two-thirds support some sort of legal status for gay couples. In this debate, it is far easier to convert a supporter of civil unions to marriage than to convince them to go the other way.

Consider the demographics of the opposition. The most anti-equality groups are old people and evangelicals. The opinions of the elderly show past trends, not current ones. Evangelicalism may be the bastion of opposition, but one in seven support gay marriage and about one-third would support civil unions. It gets even worse for the anti-equality crowd when the trend among evangelicals is investigated.
According to experts, there is a notable generational difference at play between how younger and older evangelicals approach the controversial issues of abortion or gay marriage. For [Paul] Froese, the reason is simple: exposure.
"I've been to so many churches where a preacher will say something about homosexuality, and all these young people will get upset about it," said Brandon Rhodes, a 22-year-old evangelical from Portland, Ore. "We have a much more nuanced and compassionate view. When your sister or your friend is out of the closet, you can't just say, 'Oh you sinner.'"
According to "The New Gay Teenager," a book published by Harvard University Press last year, the average gay person now comes out just before or after graduating high school.
The chances of a young evangelical making it through their teens or their early 20s without befriending someone of a different religious background or sexual orientation are getting remarkably small -- and, experts agree, this new reality is beginning to change a generation's approach to these issues.
According to preliminary studies by The Barna Group, "18-29-year-old, born-again Christians are some 15 percent more likely to find homosexuality morally acceptable than their religious elders.
Baylor University exemplifies the split within evangelicalism. While Baylor is a Baptist university, the student newspaper editorialized in favor of gay marriage. The student editors voted 5 to 2 in support of gay marriage. Older Baptists, who control the university, had fits and came down heavy on those editors. But harsh discipline and condemnation is hardly likely to change the trend. The fact is, younger evangelicals are not buying into the antigay agenda of their parents.

This is not just a problem for the anti-equality movement in general, but for evangelicalism itself. One result of the heavy-handed pressure seen at Baylor, and the Christian obsession with gay people, is that evangelical youth are becoming more and more disillusioned with their own religion. The Barna Group, which surveys opinion trends about evangelicalism, wrote: just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
A good deal of this was due entirely to evangelicalism’s role in legally bashing the rights of gays. Barna says 91% of non-churchgoers felt that Christianity was too anti-gay. But what was disconcerting was that 80% of young evangelicals said the same thing. Religion & Ethics conducted a poll of political attitudes among evangelicals contrasting the views of those under 30 to those over 30. The results are rather dramatic on gay marriage. This poll showed that among older evangelicals support for gay marriage was limited to 9%—though I think one out of ten is better than one could hope for. Among evangelicals 18-29, the percentage triples to 26%. Another 32% of young evangelicals support civil unions. This means a majority of young evangelicals (58%) support either marriage or civil unions for gay couples. This is not far off the national polls numbers of 66% supporting one or the other of these options.

Even this stronghold of anti-gay attitudes has a significant fifth column, their own young people, who want the church to change its values. Surely, this means that as older evangelicals go to their final reward, evangelicals who don’t share their prejudices will replace them. In addition, the numbers of Americans who consider themselves affiliated with these conservative sects has either stagnated or declined, depending on the denomination. For instance, the percentage of Americas self-identified as Baptists, declined from 19.3% in 1990 to 15.8% in 2008. Those described generically as Pentecostal hardly budged, from 1.8% to 2.4% over the same period, while the Assemblies of God, Church of God, Jehovah’s Witesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons stagnated over that period.

When it comes to the four main regions of the county, a plurality (or even majority), support civil unions for gays in all but the South. Even in the South 46% of the population supports civil unions while 50% oppose them. In the East 62% are supportive, but the most support is in the more libertarian West where 66% are supportive.

Another important trend is that anti-equality forces can’t rely on the closet being their ally. As mentioned above, gay people are admitting their sexuality at younger and younger ages. In addition, more gay people are being open about their sexuality than at any time in the past. A Pew Survey found that 40% of Americans now say they have a friend or relative who is gay. The percentage is highest among women, young people, college graduates, liberals and mainline Christians and lower amongst men, conservatives, the elderly and Republicans. One predictable result is: “People who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage….”

It doesn’t make sense to argue that homosexuals are less prevalent in conservative families than in liberal families. Yet 59% of liberal Democrats know gay people while only 33% of conservative Republicans do. While 47% of mainstream Protestants know a gay individual, only 31% of evangelicals do. This indicates there are still a large number of closeted gay people in those demographic groups where opposition to marriage equality is highest. These individuals are like “gay marriage landmines” waiting to explode. The Pew survey shows that if someone knows a gay person they are twice as likely to support gay marriage: 55% to 25%.

A unfortunate incident, that perhaps could have come out differently, occurred when the US Supreme Court was considering sodomy laws, in 1986, in the Bowers v. Hardwick case. Justice Powell, considered a swing vote on the matter, was being fed anti-gay material by his one law clerk, Michael Mosman, a hard-core Mormon. Powell mentioned to another clerk, Cabell Chinnis, “I don’t believe I’ve ever met a homosexual.” Chinnes weakly replied: “Certainly you have, but you just don’t know that they are.” Chinnes was referring to himself and to several previous law clerks in Powell’s office. But when Powell voted with the majority (since overturned in Lawrence v. Texas) he did so believing he had never known a gay person. Could the same be said of anyone appointed to the bench these days? If anything, the trend in the courts, especially given existing precedents, will be more strongly toward equality of rights. (For the record Mosman was later appointed to the U.S. District Court by Bush the Lesser. Mosman briefly stopped Oregon’s civil union legislation for same-sex couples from taking effect.)

As more gay people admit their sexuality, support for gay marriage increases. The higher rate of closeted gays in anti-gay circles indicates that as fewer and fewer gays remain closeted, the greatest shift in support for gay marriage is likely to come from those people who today are most inclined to oppose it. Certainly, as younger evangelicals are more supportive of gay people, the trend in those circles will be for more honesty in regards to sexual orientation. Homosexuality, being a natural phenomenon, doesn’t bypass conservative Christianity. A more supportive culture around evangelicalism means that gays within evangelicalism will be more likely to come out as well. Already, gay evangelicals are challenging their own religious culture with groups like SoulForce actively confronting young evangelicals at Christian colleges across the country.

SoulForce shows the divide among evangelicals quite clearly. At campus after campus, students wanted to dialogue and talk. Campus officials tended to respond by demanding that the gay evangelical visitors be forcibly expelled or arrested. Even at the ultra-fundamentalist Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, a large number of students left the campus to talk to the SoulForce students who had come for dialogue. One SoulForce student wrote that a student brought two other students from campus for discussion with her: “I could see his heart opening and his mind growing as he and his friends questioned the ideas that their school told them were the inarguable words of God…. At one point, one of these students even apologized for his own past closed mindedness.”

When all these trends are looked at, I can’t see the “culture war” on gay marriage being nearly as long and bloody as Cathy Young apparently thinks. For me, the entire “battle” is like one of those cricket games where the final outcome is known well in advance. Now and then something might happen that gets a lot of attention, but none of it is likely to change the outcome. And, of the many issues currently being debated, this is one of the very few which I think will be decided in a way consistent with libertarian principles. For me, the gay marriage debate is no longer a battle, but an island of hope in a sea of despair. It is one issue I can point to and say, “Well, at least that is a battle we’re winning.” Actually, I’d go much further. It is a battle that has been won already; the rest is mop-up.

The marriage “war” is not between social conservatives and social liberals as much as it is a war between our society and our government. Society has already changed. Equality rights for gay relationships is largely accepted among all groups of Americans. What we have is a political system that is trailing behind social attitudes. Unlike the debate on interracial marriage, where the law changed before social attitudes did, gay marriage is a case where social attitudes have preceded legal change. In is really a case of society evolving faster than the political process can accommodate. We are just waiting for politicians to catch up with the rest of us.

Photo: No that's not a crowd at a cricket match. This is a photo of members of SoulForce meeting outside campus limits at Falwell's Liberty University with students wishing to talk with them.

UPDATE: As an indication of the shift in the public's view note that the Houston Chronicle recently reported that 43 percent of residents of the Houston area "believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual ones—up from 32 percent just two years ago." It becomes harder and harder for conservatives to label marriage equality as "San Francisco values" when almost half the residents of Houston, Texas line up in favor of those values.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two kids find porn online, may be convicted as felons.

I remember the first time I heard the word "pornography." The concept of porn was something I had previously understood. I just didn't know the word for it. I certainly remember finding some sexually explicit newspapers in a field when I was a kid. I probably found them as interesting as any other kid my age. I just didn't label the material.

But I do remember a special session that was called at my school. This was an all-male school of around 240 students in total. So everyone was called into the auditorium at the same time. Our principal gave stern lecture on the evils of pornography and how this evil thing had been discovered on campus. Not connecting this warning with the images I had seen some years earlier, my mind was trying to figure out what it was we were being warned about. Based on the Principal's utter hysteria and hyperbole I concluded that "pornography" was a dangerous drug and something akin to shooting heroin.

I never would have imagined his concern was over the sort of harmless erotica that I had discovered one day in the field near my home. I suspect that if I had put the term together with the reality I would have had a difficult time avoiding laughing at his relative panic. I never did find out what material was making its way around campus but I was relieved to later discover that it wasn't some mind-altering, addictive drug. I should note that within a year or two I stopped taking the principle seriously altogether. Having a mother who worked in the local emergency room meant I heard certain medical facts. And apparently our very staid and proper Principal had been rushed into emergency with a sexual self-pleasuring device (and you thought I'd say dildo) inserted well into his bottom. Apparently he didn't leave enough out to remove said item and needed medical assistance.

Certainly the kids in my neighborhood were rather interested in sexual matters. Certainly erotic material made the rounds. Now and then some kid was caught, got his bottom smacked, spent some time "grounded" and the matter ended. The school's policy was to discipline the miscreant with a few swats, confiscate the material and threaten to tell the boy's parents. Worse yet, when word got out the boy's friends who had not seen the material, gave him a hard time for being stingy and not sharing. That was pretty much the end of it. Material would still make the rounds, boys would try to be more careful in their hiding of the material and the adults would try to figure out the new hiding places. The boys frequently assumed the adults confiscated said material merely to avoid having to pay for any themselves. All in all, with the exception of that one lecture, it was not a major issue.

Today, it is a major crisis mandating the presence of government agents and officials. Consider the case of two 11-year-old boys who managed to bypass their school's filtering system and pull up some porn on a computer. Of course, they instantly became very popular as other kids flocked to take a look at the material in question. In a rational world this transgression would bring about a suspension and the the school reconsidering their filtering program. But politics is involved and politics is rarely rational. Instead, the two boys "likely face" felony charges on top of their suspension.
Police say the kids will more than likely face the felony charge. "It's serious for the kids, but you also have to look at the other side of this. Some of the kids who were brought over there, at least one of them, I believe, is having some trouble shaking that image from his mind," said American Fork police Lt. Darren Falslev.
Felony charges! The report says these kids have "never been in trouble before." Like a huge percentage of kids that age they are very, very curious about sex. Living in Utah, they are also unlikely to get much information to satisfy that curiosity so they go looking for it. And the best way to understand sex is to see exactly what it is. So they looked and other kids looked. Now these boys have been turned into serious criminals for their curiosity.

It is also possible, given the nature of their "sex offense," that they could be required to join the so-called "sex offenders registry." Once again, the normal sexual curiosity of kids has turned those kids into serious "offenders" who may face a lifetime of grief and harassment. I also have to question the reasoning powers of this police officer. Any boy, just entering puberty, has trouble shaking sexual images from his head. The only difference between the boy in question, and most, is that the image may be more accurate.

In all the reading I've done on censorship issues I can't say I've seen one well-done study explaining the alleged harm of exposure to porn. There are lots of theories, usually driven by feminist views or religious values, but very little in the way of hard data indicating that we have anything to worry about. Certainly the older material said that sex offenders (and this was back when sex offender actually meant something of substance) were more conservative in their values, saw porn later in life than the average, and saw less of it. Based on those findings I wondered why they weren't handing the stuff out.

The main effect of porn, on the young, seems to be that it encourages masturbation—not that encouragement is needed, so perhaps the better term is "helps facilitate" masturbation. Religious types, who generally oppose sexual pleasure, will find that troubling. Certain feminists argue that it "objectifies" women and inhibits the ability of young men to place such activities in a "proper context." What upsets them it that it portrays women as willing partners. Of course, if women are portrayed as unwilling partners they get even more upset.

Porn portrays lots of things and willing participation in sex is one of them. So what? Whether young people are unable to put it all in proper context doesn't strike me as a problem. It might be true if all they knew was pornography but certainly we are surrounded by far more pervasive images about human relationships. Even a regular consumer of porn would find it impossible to not face all the other views of sexuality that permeate our culture. It strikes me as hard to believe that even an adolescent boy doesn't notice his the relationship of his parents, the male-female relationships portrayed on television and in films, etc. It would be damn difficult to not place porn into a more proper perspective with all those competing images getting the vast majority of air play inside the heads of kids.

Certainly if there is some dire consequence to being exposed to sexually explicit material the would-be censors have, so far, failed to produce it. One doesn't have to go back very far in history to find periods where the average child, much younger than those arrested in this case, was well aware of the intricacies of sexuality. Not only were they most likely raised in a rural environment with barnyard couplings routines but many shared the same sleeping room as their parents, and often the same bed. Apparently this early exposure to sexuality didn't hamper the evolution of civilization.

Without such bedroom exposure, and since few of us live around barnyards, the young of today have few outlets for satisfying their curiosity. I might add that of the outlets they do have many of them are actually considered serious crimes today.

The Vermont legislature, however, is at least looking at the absurdity of turning teens in sex criminals over adolescent sexuality. In recent years many teens have been arrested, and forced onto sex registry lists, for the crime of "sextin." This is where a teen usually takes an erotic photo of them self and sends it to another teen. The Vermont Senate passed a bill decriminalizing such actions for teens provided they are between the ages of 13 and 18. The House is considering the matter. Proponents say, that while teens ought not engage in such activity, turning the teens into criminals only makes matters worse.

I think the law a step in the right direction. However, instead of hard fast ages, as done here, I would prefer to see a spread. Instead of setting the limits as 13 to 18 why not set the minimum age at 13 with a five year spread. My concern is that, under the current law, a teenage couple could engage in this practice for years without consequences and then, one day, wake up and find it illegal. Assume a 13 year old "sexts" a 14-year-old. The couple does so regularly for several years. The older of the two reaches the magic older age while the younger one is still under 18. At this point, the activity they could have engage in legally for five years, suddenly becomes a crime. What is even more bizarre is it becomes a crime precisely at the time that the younger of the two is about to gain all legal rights as an adult but legal when the younger teen is just 13.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Politician and priest, you know that's bad news.

Fernando Lugo is the president of Paraguay. He also recently fathered a child with his long-term mistress, Viviana Carrillo. When I say long-term, I mean 10 years. Ms. Carrillo is now just 26. You do the math.

In addition to Mr. Lugo having had this affair with a teen-age girl it should be noted that when the relationship started he was a Catholic bishop.

Since I never take moral guidance from priests or politicians I can't say I'm disappointed. And since I know too much about both classes of individuals I can't say I'm surprised either.

Pope Benedict IX was known to have sex with women, men and animals and filled the Vatican with prostitutes. He organized bisexual orgies. Pope Alexander VI was said to have had prostitutes dance naked for him and engage in sex acts in front of him. Pope John XII was murdered by a jealous husband who caught him in bed with his wife. Pope Innocent VIII had eight illegitimate sons but Pople Pius II allegedly had 12 such children. Pople Sixtus IV only had six illegitimate sons himself but one was with his sister. Pope Clement VII had a fondness for young boys. as did Pope Julius II. Julius III had a fondness for boys. He picked up a good-looking 14-year-old boy, Innocenzo Del Monte, on the streets as his companion and made the boy a cardinal three years later. Pope Paul II had a similar fondness and was rumored to have died while having sex with a boy. Pope Sergius III, however, preferred underaged girls while Pope Anacletus supposedly preferred his sister. Pope Paul III had a relationship with his daughter.


Defending the right to be wrong.

The most difficult right to respect, and this is true for both the Right and the Left, is the right to be wrong. Everyone believes in the right to be right. Very few believe in the right to be wrong. And let me be clear as to what I mean by wrong. I mean an action that may well be destructive or counter-productive to the self, but which does not violate the life, liberty or property of others. Actions that violate the sovereign realm of other people are crimes. It is true that an action can harm others and also harm oneself. It can be both wrong and a crime. However, an action that harms only the self is wrong but not a crime, in liberal thinking at least.

Invariably it is when people make wrong choices that the inner statist is released. Conservatives, who feign a love for freedom, withdraw their affection for “individual rights” when humans act in “wrong” ways. At that point, conservatives become mean. I have long suspected that there is a cruel psychology underneath political conservatism. It is, perhaps, acceptable or warranted, when it comes to actions that clearly are criminal: that is actions that violate the rights of others. However, this cruelty is found in all actions that the conservative finds distasteful or wrong, even those that violate the rights of no one.

I suspect this explains the conservative’s fondness for corporal punishment in dealing with children as well as his almost pathological need to see bad people executed. He is obsessed with “moral” issues and when people step outside the very strict boundaries of his moral world his immediate reaction is to call for swift, hard, punishment. It isn’t that using drugs are bad for you but that you must be punished for doing so. It isn’t just that being gay “is immoral” but that gays must be accorded inferior legal status, and that only because it isn’t likely that more stringent punishments can be inflicted.

The conservative impulse, which is strong in fundamentalist Christianity, doesn’t just want to “save” the alcoholic but to ban alcohol and inflict suffering on those who violate prohibition. The conservative doesn’t just wish to promote “family values” but outlaw all practices and actions which he finds contrary to those values. At the bottom of this is the deep desire to prevent people from doing what is “wrong.” The conservative mind sees punishment, fear, pain and suffering as the only method to secure “right decisions” from people.

I suspect that this temperament comes from the doctrine of original sin within Christian theology. Calvinists, who have strongly influenced conservative thinking, go much further. They preach the total depravity of man. Very few people in the world hold lower views of humanity than do the Calvinists. Because man is totally depraved and utterly sinful, the only reason that he acts decently, so they think, is fear: if not the fear of God, which the utterly depraved would not experience anyway, then the fear of government. The conservative wants a government that is a reflection of his God. The state must carry a bloody sword for the same reason that God must cast sinners into the fire to be burned. Without such we’d be surrounded by rape, murder, plunder, violence and depravity.

The Progressives and state socialists also wish to deny man the right to make mistakes. They just worry about other kinds of errors. Unlike the conservatives, who worry about man’s personal values, the socialists worry about his economic values. They fear man will act badly in the material realm. Instead of clubbing people over a dirty magazine they want to use the state to prevent you from taking a job at a wage they consider inappropriate.

These Progressives tend to treat those around them like small children in need of mother’s care. Their desire is to Nanny the world, to require that others make the “right” choices. This is preferable to the need to punish others. But psychologically it is torture for any rational adult to be treated like a child by those who have power over him. The Progressives are well meaning. But then, so are the conservatives. Both want the “right” outcome. Neither wishes to leave man free.

There is also a theology behind Progressive thinking though the obvious connections have long been lost. The Progressive Left clings to concepts of the social gospel that was born within Unitarianism and universalism. Here God is the father of all and all men are brothers. Salvation belongs, not just to the choice elect, as in Calvin’s dark world, but to all men. The Kingdom of God is for everyone equally. While the Progressives lost their theology they didn’t lose their desire to create the kingdom of God. Instead of offering it in the world to come, they transferred it to this life. Their goal is the establishment of God’s kingdom in this world.

Where the conservative obsesses with lust the progressive obsessed with greed. The two wings of modern politics merely have a different hierarchy of sin that must be addressed by force.

Ayn Rand once observed that each is willing to grant freedom only in the realm of man’s existence that they don’t value. The conservative, who believes spiritual values are critical, will regulate the spiritual realm of man’s life but leave him free in the material, economic realm. The Progressive, who believes that material existence is critical, will chain down man’s choices in the economic world while leaving his spiritual life (love, values, reading, etc) free.

I think she touched on an important point there. Conservatives don’t believe in free markets because free markets are inherently good but because they aren’t important. Your eternal soul doesn’t depend on material prosperity so you may be free in that realm. What really matters are your moral values, your spiritual beliefs, you willingness to obey the laws of God. So those realms have to be tightly controlled.

The Socialist tends to downplay those spiritual values and emphasizes material existence: who has the wealth, how it is distributed, and what goods and services people will share. Who you sleep with is unimportant to the socialist so he will grant you freedom in the bedroom, which his counterparts on the Right will deny. But he does believe your economic life is important so that must be tightly regulated and controlled.

If this is true, and it seems true to me, then neither Left nor Right have a particular fondness for human freedom. The conservative’s acceptance of free markets (not so obvious in recent years) is only an indication of his contempt for “worldly” wealth and material existence. It is the things of the next world, and the soul, which are really important. The Socialist’s willingness to allow same-sex couples to wed, or their reluctance to ban erotica, is not because they embrace social freedom but because such spiritual matters are unimportant to them. Each side controls that which they value and only grants freedom in the realms they consider unimportant.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I love technology

In April of 1986, Chris Biblis was a very scared 16-year-old facing the reality of his own mortality. He was diagnosed with leukemia and about to undergo radiotherapy. The doctors told him that the treatment would leave him sterile. The physicians told him that if he ever wanted to become a father he would need to freeze his sperm before the treatment. Chris did.

Fast forward to June 2008, 22 years later. The sperm was thawed out Chris was married and his wife Melodie had an egg removed. The sperm was carefully inserted into the egg and then implante into Meoldie's uterus.

Fast forward again to 2009 and celebrate the birth of Stella Biblis.

Five remaining eggs have been fertilized and are now frozen for possible use by the couple in the future, if they wish to have more children.

I know a lot of people would recommend to Chris and Melodie that they "pray for a miracle." Not me. I say go make a miracle happen. Technology did. And to think, if the Pope, and others so theologically-inclined had their way, this technology, that has brought so much joy to this couple, would be illegal.