Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Perverse Incentives of Obamacare

The Obama administration carefully crafted a piece of legislation that is meant to destroy private insurance and health care over the long-run. Consider how they have created a system of incentives that rewards you for canceling any health insurance you are currently paying for. Yes, that's right, the Obama "reform" makes you better off if you cancel your health insurance.

In normal insurance markets your incentive is to buy insurance before you are ill because pre-existing conditions are not covered. You pay $X per month for protection against conditions that may develop in the future. There is a very strong incentive to purchase insurance prior to such a condition developing.

Obama ends that incentive. Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to exclude pre-existing conditions. So why buy insurance?

Obamacare puts in penalties if you don't have insurance. But the penalties will be lower than the cost of the insurance itself. The money you will save on insurance will not be eaten by the penalties so you win. And, if you do get sick, no insurance company can turn you down for a policy and you're covered again.

Most of the time we aren't sick. Most of the time we pay for care we aren't using as an investment for when we will need it. But under Obamacare you can pay much less now, and still get the rewards later.

Companies that stop providing insurance will pay a penalty for doing so, but again under the cost of providing the care, especially as private rates increase. What alternative exists for Obamacare then? Obviously it will have to get more heavy-handed in punishing people. So the iron boots of government will have to be put on to deal with people who actually act according to the perverse incentives of Obamacare.

It should also be noted that some of the bad consequences of Obamacare have already materialized.

Publicly traded companies are supposed to announce any significant moves in their value. As the Wall Street Journal noted: "Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden."

And that is what some companies have done. They announced the anticipated effect of Obamacare on their company. While Obama was claiming the measure would bring down health-care costs the companies that would be paying the bill said their costs would go up. According to the Journal: "AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of such corporate losses." But AT&T wasn't alone:
On top of AT&T's $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.

The Democrats were hoping for some more time to pass before they were discovered to have lied to the public about costs. So they are hopping mad. Democrats "announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment 'appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs.'" Of course, we can all get more for less. Well, that was the promise.

The Journal asks: "Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don't like what their bill is going in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet."

The Journal notes precisely what the Democrats were trying to do:

Gradually introduce a health-care entitlement by hiding the true costs, hook the middle class on new subsidies until they become unrepealable, but try to delay the adverse consequences and major new tax hikes so voters don't make the connection between their policy and the economic wreckage. But their bill was such a shoddy, jerry-rigged piece of work that the damage is coming sooner than even some critics expected.
Nobel laureate Gary Becker called the Obama legislation "a bad bill" which actually doesn't address any of the real weaknesses of American health care but "adds taxation and regulation. It's going to increase health costs—not contain them." But Becker thinks it will become difficult to repeal this bad legislation because "interest groups group up around it."

Politicians, especially Democrats, are quite capable of setting up systems of perverse incentives. It has happened repeatedly. Of course, when things get screwed up the politicians claim it was caused by private business, not by their actions. They are blameless, always, because they are looking out for our interests. If you believe that,let me know, I have a bridge I want to sell real cheap.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

"You Ain't No Son:" The Music and the Reality

Former Dixie Chics and sisters, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, have released a new song You Ain't No Son. Emily says the inspiration was a television show about teenagers who were thrown out of their homes because they are gay. She said: "That idea, how can you have kids and love them so much and one day decide not to—it just boggled my mind."

The first stanza is the son saying to his father: "I've got something to say / I'm scared and so afraid / Can you take me as I am / Come what may our blood is all the same / I'm still your little man."

The rest of the song is the angry father denouncing his son. "You ain't no son to me / Eight pound baby boy I bounced on my knee / No, you ain't no son of mine / You ain't no son of mine."

The father tells his son that he can't come home "til you walk the straight line / You'll be out on your own."

The release of that song coincidentally coincided with three other stories currently taking place. I will first turn to the MTV show The Real World DC. In the reality show one of the house members, Mike Manning, comes out as gay. His family comes to visit and is quite accepting. Mike then invites ex-boyfriend Tanner to come see him because he realizes it was a mistake to end their relationship. Tanner does come out and the two reunite happily. Tanner goes home and tells his family only to find nothing but rejection.

Tanner said to his mother that he was in love and afraid to tell her. Her reply was that it "better be" a girl and that she didn't care what kind of girl. His father said that he couldn't live with a gay son. As the episode ended Tanner was on the phone telling Mike that he was driving home with some friends following him because he expected his parents to take away his truck because he's gay.

Next we move to Cochran, Georgia. And I have never expected anything good to come out of Georgia. Derrick Martin is a senior at Bleckley High School. In January he asked the school if would be allowed to attend his own senior prom with his date, Richard Goodman. (Photo: Derrick, left; Richard, right.)

Because Richard is from a different county permission had to be secured, according to school rules. The school panicked and went to the school board. The board investigated the matter and discovered that there was no policy forbidding it and that if they tried to forbid it they would probably lose legally. So the board issued a public statement about the matter.

The statement came right up to the border of being downright insulting. It said that the school was not endorsing a "lifestyle" and that the legal realities required it to respect Derrick's rights. Clearly they didn't want to do so and clearly they have contempt for Derrick. Once the board issued the statement all hell broke loose.

Derrick's father, Ray, is a teacher at Bleckley High School and was named teacher of the year. There is an obvious reason he was not parent of the year instead.

When Derrick's family learned he was gay they responded by taking away his cell phone and his computer so he couldn't contact anyone he was dating. That didn't work.

Derrick and Richard had met on Facebook, through a mutual friend. Richard is a high school senior in Tifton, 83 miles away. Oddly the media has ignored Richard while reporting on Derrick. In one message to friends on Facebook Richard referred to himself as "just the boyfriend" as if he had no identity to anyone, even though his Facebook page says he is in a relationship with Derrick Martin. Richard obviously had a journey coming home to himself since he has a two-year-old son. He and Derrick have been dating for nine months.

After the school board, in order to let the bigots know they weren't to blame, released their press statement the story grew legs. And as the media started paying attention things changed for Derrick. His father and mother told him they didn't like the publicity so he had to leave home even though he is still in high school. Teacher of the year??? I can think of a few awards I'd give the man, but that isn't one of them.

Derrick is staying with a girl he knows and her family. Last year he took her to the dance and they are best friends. So far Richard is having a better time of things.

Parents in Cochran tried to rally students against Derrick. One parent, Bobby Duskin, organized a rally and put his daughter, Amber out in front of the cameras. They whined that were upset the whole prom matter was getting publicity—which explains why they held a public rally and invited the media to the attend—because they don't like the publicity. Amber's solipsistic complaint was that it was her prom and how dare Derrick bring a date that caused her to be unhappy. He ruined her prom and she wants her ticket refunded. Of course, it wasn't Derrick's prom as well, just poor litle Amber's. Only about a dozen students felt motivated enough to join the protest. Derrick said: "The girl who organized the rally told me she didn't want to be associated with people like me. She didn't want any more gays to come to Bleckley County ( CLS: as if they aren't born there). She told me I wasn't a Christian. She said she didn't want to go to prom."

There are other gay students at Bleckley, of course. But they seem too afraid to attend the prom themselves.

Derrick says that the good Christian people of Cochran routinely insulted him, even before this story broke. But that now his life has been threatened. "Someone told me I should watch where I'm going when I ride around town, because they would be riding around with a gun. I'm looking into private security between now and prom, and I have an off-duty deputy that said he would go to prom with me [as security, not his date]. For now, in terms of security, I do things like drive home a different way every day."

Asked if there were any event that inspired him in this matter Derrick answered simply: "I just wanted to go to prom."

Earlier this month a woman wrote on Daily Kos about the drama in her own Southern family. Her 18-year-old nephew was being raised by fundamentalist nutters who had sent him to a Christian school. The principal called the boy in and demanded to know if he was gay. He said he was and was kicked out of school, just weeks before his graduation. When the boy returned him his parents confronted with religious nonsense about being cured and told him he had to meet with counselors who would cure him. He walked out and drove to his aunt's home, 12 hours away.

The aunt was told by the mother to refuse to help the boy. The aunt said her sister "commanded me to tell her son to go to a Tampa church that can "cure" him. I told her he didn't need to be cured and she hung up on me."

The aunt was required to return the boy's car to his parents, since it was in their name. She drove the 12 hours to return it because she wanted to pick up her nephew's belongings for him. He was now living with her and finishing school in her town. When she arrived at her sister's home it was filled with fundamentalists in collective mourning. All the photos of the boy were missing, save one siting prominently with a lit candle by it. "If I didn't know better, I would've thought he had died in a tragic accident," said the aunt.

The aunt sat with her hysterical sister and listened as church members pontificated on the evils of being gay. "One of the people from their church suggested that homosexuality could be caused by mental illness, or a chemical imbalance." Others said the boy was too athletic and good looking to be gay so he must be faking it in order to upset his parents. Others suggested he demonically possessed. The aunt ignored the mumbo-jumbo from the Dark Ages and said she would like to pick up the boy's belongings.

When she went to his room she found it empty. The parents decided their son needed to be punished for being gay and gave away everything he owned and wouldn't say where it was. All they left him was his birth certificate, his passport, a Bible, Christian CDs and Christian books on how he could be cured of being gay—which their church supplied. The aunt was upset. She had planned to rent a U-haul to takes the boy's belongings to him and said that now she only needed a flight home and asked to use a computer to book one.

She went to room of another nephew, a 15-year-old younger brother who was upset with his parents for what they had done. He begged his aunt to allow him to speak to his brother. The aunt called her husband who put the older brother on the phone. When the mother walked in she was furious. She said that they had forbidden the younger boy to speak to his brother as a means of punishing the older boy for being gay—she said he had to understand that being gay would mean he would lose everything in his life. That would force him to change into an heterosexual. This is what fundamentalist think is Christian love—does anyone wonder why I hold them in such contempt?

The younger brother found a family on the street who, knowing of the situation, will allow him to use their phone so he can call the older boy. The aunt says he she "honestly cannot understand my own family... I was witnessing my family turn on their own son. ...It is seriously beyond me that people can actually do this to their own flesh and blood." With faith anything is possible. And it takes a lot of faith to be this cruel.

Unfortunately this is common for Christian fundamentalists, who will engage in their own personal jihad to make their children miserable for being gay. And if they will do this to their own children, what would they do to people who are not their children?

I too find it mind boggling that parents can reject their children.

Many years ago Nathaniel Branden said something I will never forget. He was commenting on the biblical injunction to honor your mother and father. Dr. Branden said he thought it ought to say: Parents, honor your children. He said more harm has been done to children by parents than ever done to parents by children. I concur.

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The other side of Obamacare: Bend over and take it.

The Obama Administration and the Democrats pumped the health deform legislation as a god-send. To do so they had to cook the books in way that would make Enron envious. They intentionally low-balled the costs, pretended it would create jobs (like their other fake job creation bills) and even went so far as to claim it would create revenue and bring down the deficit.

Let's look at some of the distortions about this bill. I say some, since no one really knows what is in this encyclopedic size piece of legislation. Certainly not a single Congressvermin who voted for the bill actually read it. These days bad politicians like Bush and Obama push through massive laws with intricate clauses, publish them at the last minute, push them through under "urgency" and pretty much guarantee that no one knows precisely what they are voting for. Obama promised transparency in legislation but then Obama made all sorts of promises that reneged on almost immediately.

First, consider the claim that 32 million uninsured Americans will get insurance. How will this be done? The government is making it illegal for you to not purchase insurance. This is not the old carrot and the stick routine—it is pure stick and the person being beaten up is anyone who makes the decision to not have health insurance. Government will fine individuals who do not have health care. People will be punished for not purchasing a product that they don't want, for one reason or another. Never before has the federal government forced people to directly buy a product against their will.

A second feature is that insurance companies will not be allowed to "discriminate" on the basis of pre-existing conditions. This basically destroys the fundamental nature of insurance. Insurance is risk based and Obama says risk can't be considered. So people who are already ill will be able to go buy hospital insurance covering their illness. It will be huge losses for insurance companies. They don't worry so much, for the time being, because those costs will be passed on to everyone else who is being forced to buy their product.

What will this mean? For most people it will mean much higher health insurance costs. The big lie from the Democrats was that their policies will reduce health care costs. That is bullshit. By bringing in 32 million people to the system, some of very expensive health care required, the Democrats are imposing huge costs on the insurance system. And that can only mean higher premiums for everyone.

The people most hurt by that will be the young. Young people tend to be poorer but much healthier than average. In a risk based system they would pay much smaller premiums. Older people, who tend to wealthier and less healthy, pay higher premiums. In the Obama system the young people, who often rationally decide to forgo health insurance due to their low risk and low wealth status, are forced to pay for it. Their premiums are used to help subsidize the risk of the older, wealthier, less healthy individuals. It is a transfer of income from poorer individuals to wealthier individuals.

Short term the insurance companies will have millions of extra, unwilling customers, who are coerced into buying policies they don't want. If they wanted the policies they were free to buy them already. And the costs of pre-existing conditions pushed into the system will be passed on to all individuals holding policies. So, in the short term it means higher profits for insurance companies. Who would be wise to take that money and invest it in non-insurance related businesses because long-term it is a destructive policy.

Why is that? Remember that the costs of health insurance for everyone will be forced up by Obamacare. The very poor will be given care by the government, as they are today. But with health insurance rates driven up artificially by the law it will be pushed out of reach of millions more Americans, who nonetheless, will be fined if they don't buy it. The political pressure will be to expand the definition of low-income to cover more and more Americans.

In other words, the increased costs will force more people out of the private insurance and onto the state roles. Politicians will heed the demands for expanding Obamacare to include wealthier people simply because Obamacare will push up health insurance costs so significantly that people who can afford insurance today won't be able to afford it tomorrow.

Over the long term the numbers who are privately insured will diminish and the numbers on state programs will increase. As that happens the risks will be spread over a smaller and smaller number of policy holders, pushing up private insurance rates even further. And the vicious cycle of Obamacare begins. Private rates are pushed up, which makes it unaffordable to more people who, being penalized for not buying it, demand an expanded state system to include them. The Democrats will continue scapegoating insurance companies and will pander to these demands in the name of compassion—compassion for career politicians who want to be reelected to cushy, overpaid positions. This double-blow forces more and more Americans to demand fully state-controlled health-care, but that is what it was intended to do. Obama has not hidden the fact that he wants state control of health care from cradle to grave.

Private businesses were told that their rates will go down. This is false and true depending on dynamics that no one can predict. Businesses that pay for health care for employees will be forced to pay for the pre-existing conditions of non-employees as well, via the increased rates for insurance. So for them, health insurance will be come more expensive. No worries to Obama, that is what he wants. It will force more and more business to line up behind state health care. Some business might see costs reduced as more of their workers end up with state provided health care instead. Of course the savings are illusionary: insurance premiums might go down to be replaced with taxes that will go up.

In the phase where they are paying high insurance costs it means the cost per employee has gone up. That will slow down any hoped-for recovery as employers will be less likely to expand the work force. Increased taxes will further reduce employment—the welfare state/tax system is one one reason Europe has been plagued by perpetually high unemployment rates.

Obama, appealing to the envy of many, said not to worry as some of these extra costs will be obtained by heavily taxing insurance companies. And how does Mr. Obama think the insurance companies will recoup those costs? Blank out. Of course, they will be recouped through higher premiums which will again push more people into the state-controlled system. The insurance companies will reap higher profits for as long as they can, before the system collapses because Obama intentionally made private insurance too expensive for the masses. Then everyone will be forced into the state-run system that was his original goal.

In addition to heavily taxing insurance companies Obama promised to impose heavier taxes on pharmaceutical companies. Again, how will those costs be recouped? By forcing up the prices of pharmaceuticals—that's how. Heavy taxation in many European companies forced pharmaceutical developers to the United States. Apparently Mr. Obama believes they will sit here and take what they wouldn't sit still for in Europe.

I spoke with a friend and regular reader of this blog who is working for a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. She was thinking of coming out to spend a couple of weeks visiting me and we were looking at going up to the Bay Area because the company she works for has bought out a major research company in Silicon Valley. We talk every weekend and she told me that the company is already looking to move significant sections of their acquisition out of the United States completely. If I were advising pharmaceutical companies I would be urging them to move as much of their company outside the reach of Obama as possible.

Of course, they already know this, whether I had advised them or not. So in those fields jobs will be destroyed. No doubt the Obamacare will create jobs for government bureaucrats who will do half the work as their private counterparts at twice the pay. I imagine Obama will call that economic stimulus.

In a nutshell I predict the following:
• Higher health insurance rates for everyone, with the young hit by the steepest increases.
• With involuntary customers forced by Obama to buy insurance the insurance companies will see short term profit increases.

• Because they know they are short-term they will pump the customer for as much as possible to maximize profits before the long-term negative impact is felt.
• As insurance rates increase more and more individuals will be forced to abandon private insurance plans.

• Facing penalties for not having insurance these people will lobby to be included in the "low-income" category for government provided care.
• Politicians will heed those calls and expand the "low-income" category on a steady basis.

• As more people are forced into the state system fewer private policy holders are left paying the bills forcing even higher rates starting the cycle over again.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Student sues over forbidden study.

Colin Carlson is a sophomore at the University of Connecticut working on a bachelor's with a double major in ecology and evolutionary biology. So it made some sense that he signed up for a class on the flora and fauna of South Africa. (Watch out for the gogga, bokkie.) The university refused to allow it and Colin's gatvol over it.

He's halfway through university and complains: "They're upsetting the framework of one of my majors." And they are. It's either this year or next and it's unlikely they will allow Colin to take the course next year either. It isn't that there is no space on the course. The issue is that it requires field work in South Africa over the summer and the school won't let Colin go. Almost any other student on campus is allowed to go, provided they are not on probation and have at least a "C" average. Colin is not on probation and has a 3.9 GPA, which is bascially an "A+" average. The school says it is because he is 13-years-old.

Colin says that is age discrimination and is suing.

Colin started taking university classes when he was 9 even though he only finished the Stanford University Online High School until the advanced age of 11. That was when he enrolled at UConn full-time. He taught himself to read when he was 2 and had finished and was deep into the Harry Potter series by the age of 4.

Colin's mother, Jessica Offir, has offered to sign any legal documents needed to remove all legal responsibility from the university, if they allow Colin to take the course. She has even offered to fly there with her son as an escort, at her own expense.

Colin is upset because the course was critical for his particular interests and said that his ban from the class has forced him to change plans for his thesis. He does have a trip to South Africa planned anyway, wieth a National Science Foundation-funded research group.

The university says it is because they are concerned about his safety. Ah, that desire to Nanny others and protect them from themself.

Colin didn't want to sue, but says he was offered no choice. "When people are drawing lines in the sand, you're going to have to cross them. I'm not going back."

I am a bit disappointed with UConn myself. They seemed amazingly flexible as an institution in the past, they allowed me to design my own major. There were only four or five of us on campus allowed to do this, but we determined the course of our studies provided we had a professor acting as our mentor. My mentor taught sociology with an emphasis on criminology and eventually became a libertarian—which pleased me as you might expect.

The reality is that "adolescents" are far more capable than we ever give them credit for. This was well outlined in The Case Against Adolescence. As I see it, adults treat adolescents as if they are children and then can't understand why they are frustrated, angry and moody. Ninety percent of the time problems can be solved with a simple explanation. Ah, but parents don't explain. Why? Because they can't. Too often parents lay down arbitrary, inconsistent rules and when their teen asks them, "Why?" they can't give a rational answer. So the resort to the answer of the bully: "Because I said so."

Instead of using such times to teach reason and logic, too many parents try to teach blind obedience to authority and respect for the ability to use force. I have more confidence in the teens than I do in the adults of this country. Why? Simple: the adults have already proven they are incompetent and capable of screwing things up.

So I applaud Colin for pursuing his dream and his education and applaud him for standing up for himself in the face of UConn's policy. If want teens to act like adults we have to stop treating them like children.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mennonite school caves in to nationalism.

Back when I was in the Midwest I worked with a peer-counseling group that was Christian in nature——this was obviously before I became a godless, heathen. I met a small group of students from Goshen College who drove some distance to join us for our monthly dinner.

I always had a bit of admiration for the Mennonites because they were pacifists and not nationalists. Their emphasis on peace appealed to me. I never was, and am not now, a pacifist. But peace has always been the foundation of my ethical and political beliefs. Peace is the absence of force, it is the cooperative, voluntary interaction of people. That is why I believe in free, depoliticized markets, they are cooperative, voluntary transactions where force and fraud are banished. I just felt one should not initiate force against others but did not think that the use of force, in defense against an aggressor was forbidden.

As part of their pacifist tradition the Mennonites didn't participate in things like national anthems, especially one glorifying "bombs bursting in air." Prior to sporting events at Goshen no national anthem played. Apparently some Right-wing radio host, obviously looking to boost his ratings, started a campaign against the school. And good Christians who have no problems with war and violence started harassing the school. So now the college has decided to start playing the national anthem before events. That disappoints me.

Nationalism, or patriotism, are emotions I don't share. I find them on par with racism: the belief that one is inherently superior on the basis of the involuntary membership to some collective body. I also think that nationalism and patriotism are inherently against the fundamental principles that our nation was founded upon.

The Founding Fathers didn't teach patriotism and obedience to government. They were rebels who deposed the government of the day. What they believed in was liberty. Patriotism is a cheap substitute for the real principles of the Founders. Patriotism demands loyalty to a place, not to any set of principles. An American patriot would be loyal to his country——which means to his government——regardless of what that country did. This neglects the fact that a government can itself be guilty of treason to the founding principles of the nation.

We need not go back far in human history to a time when patriot soldiers marched to war on the orders of their government. They were loyal to their state. They followed orders to defend their way of life. That their way of life required the rounding up of Jews and their deaths in miserable concentration camps was ignored. They were, after all, patriots.

A small band of students——Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and a few others——formed an underground group that they called the White Rose. Using non-violent means they protested the actions of the Nazi government. They printed leaflets which they distributed challenging the morality of obedience to a corrupt and evil government. In their first message they wrote:
Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?
For this treason they were arrested and executed by being beheaded by the Nazi government. Most the German people chose to be compliant, good citizens and obeyed their government. Today those good citizens are reviled and the White Rose stand out as heroes.

I am proud of the ideals on which our nation was founded and ashamed of how most Americans treat those ideals. "We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal..." What a beautiful ideal. But the great "patriots" of the nation vote for inequality of rights before the law. The principle is right, the patriots are wrong.

We were told that we are created with "certain inalienable rights" and that, because of these rights, "governments are instituted amongst men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Now we are governed by individuals who do not believe that rights pre-exist governments that owe their justification to the protection of rights. Instead they believe that government IS the source of our rights and we owe the State thanks for what freedom it grants us. This is the precise opposite of the values that inspired Jefferson to write his immortal words.

Patriotism is blind. It is intentionally blind. It ignores the sins of the nation and demands obedience to authority.

We once prided ourselves in rejecting the use of torture, unlike the cruel regimes that we historically opposed. Now the "patriots" defend the use of torture. We once opposed regimes sending armed forces into other nations to build a global military presence. Today so many tell us that our international imperialism is the highest form of patriotism.

Because patriotism appeals to blind loyalty it allows the growth of a government totally at odds with the principles upon which our country was founded. Paradoxically, if you consider those principles to the be core of our nation, they patriotism is best seen as a form of treason.

There comes a time, in the history of all nations, when adherence to common principles of morality requires one to be a traitor to the government under which they live. Governments are nothing but tools created to protect the rights of individuals. As Jefferson wrote" That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...."

Jefferson warned that we should not do so for "light and transient causes." If the Founders were willing to commit treason against their governing classes, in the name of abstract principles like justice, equality of rights and individual liberty, do you really think they would be proud of the blind emotion of patriotism and nationalism?

America did not become great because it had a flag, or people said a "pledge" to that flag, or even because people obeyed the government. America became a great nation because the people were free to prosper. Freedom is the core principle of the nation and when we have a political class, working insidiously to remove that freedom, obedience to the state is not loyalty to the Founding principles of American, but treason.

What we should take pride in is not the name of America, or a red, white and blue piece of cloth. It is not "dying for the country" either, it is living for freedom and defending, not government, but individual rights.

Those people who call themselves patriots rarely are loyal to the American principles. We saw self-proclaimed patriots stripping African-Americans of their rights before the law. That is treason to the principles of our nation, even if it took our nation generations to put those principles into action. Arresting people, on the basis of their ideologies, as we did in the Red Scare of the 1920s and the McCarthy era, was not based on loyalty to the principles of freedom of speech and assocation, guarateed by our Bill of Rights.

In the 1920s, when FDR helped lead a campaign to entrap and arrest gay men in Newport, Rhode Island, that was in violation of the principle of equality of rights. When the Religious Right does it today in the form of Prop 8 or so-called "pro-family" legislation they are not being loyal to our principles but betraying them. Again that it has taken us generations to start to get it right is no excuse for refusing to acknowledge that "all men are created equal."

Too many people are allowing patriotism to blind them. They use it as an excuse to betray some core principle. The Founders were far from perfect but the core values that they tried to embrace, quite unsuccessfully in many cases, are still good values. Loyalty to those values inspire me—not anthems, flags, or bombs bursting in air.

I am saddened that Goshen College surrendered a bit of their heritage to pressure of blind patriotism. Their acquiesence to the raw nationalistic urges of the masses has made our nation a little less than what it was before. It helps in the process of putting blind loyalty, and not adhreence to universal, moral principles, at the center of our national identity. When patriotism has fully replaced those principles then what the Founder's called "these united states of America" would be nothing more than a hollow shell. It would be signify nothing. It would stand for nothing. And whether it retains the name and symbols of its history won't matter because the principles themselves would be dead.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gleefully funny

I had heard the ruckus about the TV show Glee but didn't make an effort to watch. But one night, looking for some noise in the background while I was on the computer, I stumbled across the show and was hooked. It isn't intellectual comedy but it makes me laugh——the "Single Woman" football team dance routine had me holding my side with laughter. Actress Jane Lynch superbly plays the perfectly awful Sue Sylvester, the show's villain and the cheerleading coach. She is so marvelously evil that you can't help but want to see her in action. Sue convinced a local TV news program to allow to give weekly editorials and here is an example of Sue Sylvester at work. It's worth a laugh or two.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Worthy of a listen.

I just stumbled across this singer, Spencer Day. I like what I hear. His voice is fantastic and I have to agree with the sentiments of this song. There has to be a better way. He doesn't even seem to have a Wikipedia entry yet.

He was born in Utah but his mother took him and left for rural Arizona, for what he said was an all-Mormon town. Interviews with him brought up the role of the Mormon sect in pushing Proposition 8. Spencer said that it divided his family with "my brothers and sisters mostly on my side of the fence, and vehemently opposed to it." He says he thinks Mormons were "coming from a place of fear." He says he went back to Arizona to try and convince relatives to stop their support for the measure. I guess he was on one of these television talent shows but I never saw it.

Day says that music was an escape for him as a child. He says he was not happy as a child: "But that's the thing... if you go to Bali Hai's in South Pacific, it was always sunny."

He says his mother sang opera and really good but his father "in typical Mormon fashion, was not so keen on the woman making more money than he did, so she got regimented to canning tomatoes and baking. That may explain his mother leaving her husband and taking her kids to Arizona to live.

I have to say I like his style. And I will be interested in hearing more of the songs he has composed himself. Here is an interview with Spencer and some more samples of his music.

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Good for Randi, and good for the kids as well.

Via the gossip line called the internet I learned something. First, some site which I can't remember referred to me to a piece that Cory Doctrow, author of the fun novel Little Brother, wrote. I went there to find he got his information from Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The New Generation and Stand By Me fame, who got it from reading it on James Randi's website. An interesting chain in and of itself.

James Randi has always been one of my favorite people. He has worked hard, in the tradition of Houdini, to debunk mystics and charlatans. For instance, Randi, along with a group of people including my old friend Bob Steiner, exposed the bogus "faith healer" (yes, I repeat myself) Peter Popoff. Even more wonderfully they set up Popoff so that he "healed" a woman of ovarian cancer on his television show, through revelations from God. Apparently God didn't realize the woman was actually a man in drag. Neither God nor Popoff had comments for the media after that fiasco.

Randi also exposed that con man Uri Geller who uses cheap parlor tricks and pretends he has psychic powers. I heard Randi lecture some years ago and followed his career ever since. His view on religion and the supernatural corresponds pretty close to my own. Now in his 80s Randi has publicly stated that he is a gay man. I am not surprised. Certainly my gaydar ticked in regards to Randi for many years. I never said anything since he never said anything. Nor did I particularly care if he was or wasn't. That was entirely his own business and would have zero impact on my view of the man. I admire him for what he has done not because of his sexual orientation. Pretty much as I loathe certain people because of what they have done, not because of their sexual orientation. When it comes down to it, I have zero interest in the sexual predilections of others (unless I see them as a potential bedmate) . But I am entirely interested in what they do and how they act toward others.

Everything about James Randi has told me that he's a good guy. His announcement is worthy of applause for the same reason that truth is important. It is true. Randi, being quite elderly now, had a hard time of it. Much harder than young people today have. Randi's statement reflects the era he grew up in. He wrote: "From some seventy years of personal experiences, I can tell you that there's not much 'gay' about being homosexual." He says: "For the first twenty years of my life, I had to live in the shadows, in a culture that was—at least outwardly—totally hostile to any hint of that variation of life-style." That set the tone for Randi's life in general.

But he says that he has "perceived around me" a change in attitudes and "presently I find that there has emerged a distinctly healthy acceptance of different social styles of living—except, of course, in cultures that live in constant and abject fear of divine retribution for infractions found in various Holy Books." He also believes that he is confident that "young people will find themselves in a vastly improved atmosphere of acceptance." Amen! More on that in a moment.

Randi says he recently watched the film, Milk, about Harvey Milk and that prompted him to come out of the closet. Harvey would be proud. I made sure I sent a copy of Randi's state to Harvey's old friend and ally, Carol Ruth Silver. I have previously said that I think that film will have a long term impact on people and it is showing to do just that. I suspect many a parent has had kids come to them and say: "Mon, Dad, I'm gay," because they saw the film and realized that honesty is valuable and important.

Randi is right, things have changed. It has changed far more than he perhaps has realized. I first became aware of the change because of a young friend of mine, David. We met at a restaurant that he worked at. He was 18 and I was having dinner and doing business with the owner, who doing advertising in a publication I owned. Later I was at shindig that the restaurant sponsored and David sat at my table for dinner. We became friends and I became David's father confessor, his confidant whenever he had drama in his life. David told me how he started going to gay clubs when he was 16. I was shocked by it. I couldn't conceive that happening at the time.

More recently a nephew came out. Again this was no surprise. I told family members that the boy was gay when he was 10-years-old. It was never discussed with him but I always assumed it would be the case. He lives halfway around the world, so I haven't seen him in years, but he was out to his family and had a boy friend by the time he was 18.

I remember reading a New York Times magazine article about gay teens around the country who organize their own dances for gay youth. The article astounded me. It told the story of 13-year-old Austin, from Sandy Springs, Oklahoma who was talking about the gay dance he was going to and how much he regretted that his boy friend, 14-years-old and an athlete at school, couldn't go with him because: "He has the strictest, scariest dad ever."

Because Austin's mother was away at the time, a family friend drove him to the dance in Tulsa—Oral Roberts is no doubt spinning in his grave and probably asking for donations as well.

On the porch of the dance they meet 14-year-old Nick who came out to his parents when he was twelve. He's never dated or kissed a boy but he says "I don't have to have sex with a girl to know I'm not interested." At the dance were 130 other gay teens. Nick told the Times: "When I first realized I was gay, I just assumed I would hide it and be miserable for the rest of my life. But then I said, 'O.K., wait, I don't want to hide this and be miserable my whole life." He was 11-years-old when he made that decision.

One of the funniest moments in the report was when the reporter interviewed Sayre, 12-years-old, who is openly gay at his school:
I asked Sayre if he was interested in any boys at the school. “I like this one guy over there,” he said, pointing toward classmates playing soccer on a grass field, “but I think he’s straight, so that’s probably not going to happen.” A few minutes later, Sayre added that he was in no rush to start dating. “It’s not like I have a lot of options anyway,” he said, echoing what I would go on to hear from many gay middle-schoolers. “I like guys who are nice and caring and don’t act like jerks to everyone. But this is middle school, where guys think it’s funny to pick their nose and fart really loud and laugh.”

This isn't to say it's a bed of roses for these kids. There is no shortage of good Christians willing to torment them. A 2007 survey of gay middle-schoolers found that 81 percent reported being harassed and 39 percent said they were assaulted. Worse yet a majority of them who said they reported it said the school took no action against the bullies picking on them.

But still, this is amazing progress. Certainly when I went to school there simply were no gay students officially. I did accidentally stumble across two junior high students have a go at it in during school hours in a men's room closest to my hygiene class but far from most other classes. I merely walked past them, having caught an eyeful, and sat down in the toilet to go about my business, while leaving them to hastily retreat in fear of being reported—which I never would have done, even then.

The culture has changed. Part of this is due to the bigger shift I have been speaking of, about a post-Christian America. As Christianity, especially orthodox Christianity, loses its power bigotry of all kinds will decline. But even within the Church itself attitudes are shifting. Even a large percentage of evangelical youths no longer support the anti-gay agenda of their parents.

By the time I was in college there were open gay people on campus. Sure it was still worthy of articles in the student newspapers but it was not unheard of. There were gay dances on campus and lots of students attended. Quite a few students had gay friends. But back then that only started in college. Now we have students in middle school coming out to their fellow students. Kids are growing up, who have had gay friends, since before puberty. For these kids, being gay is no surprise.

If there is a public face for that generation it would have to be Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame. The boy wizard who seems to have pushed through puberty before our very eyes , and in what appears to be a matter of days, works with a project called the Trevor Project. It is a counseling service for gay youth. Radcliffe, who has made millions from his role as Potter, has given substantial donations to gay causes, even though he is heterosexual. He said he grew up around gay men and has always known gay people. It was only when he was in school that "for the first time I came across homophobia. I had never encountered it before. It shocked me." Radcliffe says: "I have always hated anybody who is not tolerant of gay men or lesbians or bisexuals. Now I am in the fortunate position where I can actually help or do something about it."

But Radcliffe is not alone. Lots of young people feel the same way. So many have growing up, always knowing someone who was gay, that the idea of intolerance is what they find shocking. Polls have repeatedly shown that if marriage laws were based on the wishes of young people that gay marriage would be legal today. The young already are tolerant, it's the old farts who hold act as the brakes on tolerance. And they won't be around much longer. Anti-gay bigotry is literally dying out. And the number of new bigots is insufficient to stop the change. In conclusion, allow me to point to one fascinating example of this change—the photo below.

What you have here is two demonstrations outside the Dutchtown High School in Dutchtown, Louisiana. Keep that in mind, this isn't New York, Massachusetts or California, but in the heart of the Bible belt. The high school was producing a version of The Laramie Project, the heart-wrenching docu-play on the murder of Matthew Shepard.

The infamous bigots from the Westboro Baptist Church announced they were going to hold an anti-gay picket at the high school. The announcement went out but the people from Westboro were nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately for Anthony Battaglia, a local Baptist, he didn't get the word. He went to join the anti-gay protest. On one side of the divide was Battaglia, holding up the anti-gay side, and across from him were some 500 students and locals protesting the protest. One of the students, who was acting in the play, told the local media the protest outside was not a distraction but served as motivation. One student had a clever sign I thought. It said: "Jesus had two dads. Why can't I?"

The morons from Westboro Baptist Church regularly announce pickets at high schools. And every single protest I've read about is the same story. On one side, at most, are a handful of the Westboro cult members. Across from them are hundreds of students and people from the area in counter protest. At Lincoln Southwest Hight School, Omaha, Nebraska, the school asked students to ignore the anti-gay protest from the Westboro crowd. They didn't, instead "several hundred students poured out of the building at the end of the school day with signs, chants and arguments of their own." Some stood there holding hands with same-sex friends as a sign of their support for gay equality.

At Lexington High School, in Massachusetts, the Westboro bigots showed up. They were met by 400 students and residents in the counter-protest, "one by one the 400 counter-protesters held hands and turned around, revealing stickers on their backs that read, 'The Power of Silence.'"

At Long Beach Wilson High School, California, the Westboro group was meet by thousands of students who dissented from their bigotry. Co-principal Sandy Blazer said, "It was a nice, peaceful day considering we had 4,500 kids out here. I knew they would protest hate in a respectful way."

We have reached the tipping-point. Bigotry is no longer the assumed norm. More and more kids will just find it the most natural thing in the world to disclose to their parents and friends that they are gay. And no one will bat an eye. It is precisely because we have junior high students coming out that is safe for someone who is is 82-years-old (Randi) to finally say: "Hey world, I am what I am."

Below is video from the Long Beach protest. At this point the police lost control of the street and hundreds of students surrounded the tiny band of Baptists. This unnerved the police who ordered everyone to leave. It remained peaceful, however. In this video you will periodically catch glimpses of the size of the crowd which was mainly on the other side of the street and stretched in both directions. I have more faith in the young than I do in the adults of the world.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Despicable Obama Plan Rammed Through

I have long thought Dubya the worst president in recent American history, perhaps the worst ever. That honor now belongs to the vile Obama. Using every bribe possible to buy off votes they have pushed through a bill that is not wanted by most Americans and which will harm health care. The purpose of the bill is to destroy private insurance and ultimately force everyone into a federal health system, a system controlled by politicians for the benefit of politicians.

As destructive as this action will be, long-term to health care, the short-term results will be pretty damn awful as well. All the cheerleaders on the far left, who thought this was the salvation they yearned for, will not be happy when the Democrats are slaughtered at the polls this November.

There will be a lot of rage aimed directly at the cowardly Democrats who surrendered to the intimidation of Obama and his cronies.

While I do applaud the deserved defeat of the Democrats I mourn the fact that the Republicans will surge because of it. The Republican Party will not deserve this resurgence. They have yet to cast out the knuckle-draggers from the Religious Right.

What the American public faces, is a "choice" between Big Government advocates with a moralistic agenda and Big Government advoctates with a socialistic agenda. It's enough to make one vomit.

The one thing I know, I will never forgive Obama and Pelosi for the disaster they are imposing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fuel for the soul.

In a world where the news is, at best, depressing, and at worst, frightening, one can always take refuge in the arts. That is why I love film so much, a good film is fuel for the soul; it revives one’s spirit.

Noticing that Laissez Faire was selling copies of Franco Zeffirelli’s film Tea with Mussolini, I dug out a copy of it and refreshed my fuel supply. It is a lovely film, with a great message, subtly but eloquently stated.

The film follows the journey of a group of women—mainly English—in Florence, from just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War until the end of the war.

The stellar cast is a collection of some of the most fascinating females in modern film—at least by my standards. We are first introduced to Joan Plowright, playing Mary Wallace. Mary works for an Italian businessman who has fathered a child with his mistress, who is deceased. The son from that relationship is basically abandoned by his father and Mary, with the help of her circle of English friends, known as the Scorpioni, take him in.

The boy Luca, learns to appreciate art from the women but his father intervenes and sends him off to Austria. Smelling the shift in Italian politics he has fired Mary and sent his boy to a German school in Austria. As he tells Mary at her dismissal, the future of Italy is now with Germany, not with England.

Among the Scorpioni we met Maggie Smith as Lady Hester Random, the widow of a former British Ambassador to Italy. There is also Judi Dench, a failed artist who has a passion for preserving the great art of Italy. Rounding out the circle of main characters is Cher as the flamboyant, brash American art collector, Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Almerson, and Lily Tomlin, as the lesbian archeologist Georgie Rockwell.

The film shows the rising power of the Fascists. Ominous black shirts become increasingly violent. The Scorpioni are horrified but Lady Hester assures them that Mussolini is a gentleman. She arranges to meet Il Duce who assures them that they are under his personal protection—a lie that Lady Hester wishes to believe. But when war breaks out the Englishwomen are placed under custody.

Luca, now a young man, played charmingly by Baird Wallace, (who is now in IT work), returns to find Mary just as she and the Scorpioni are being moved. As Arabella (Dench) is being pushed into the bus for relocation the Fascist guards take her faithful dog from her. Mary yells to Luca “Take the dog please, look after her”. Luca snatches the dog up yelling, “Of course I will, we were puppies together.” He and a friend then follow the bus to find that the women are being put in custody in the Tuscan town of San Gimignano, famed for its ancient towers.

Elsa and Georgie, as Americans, are still free. Elsa gives Luca some money to make sure the women are housed at a small hotel, instead of in the barracks where the government had sent them. Lady Hester is convinced that it is her political pull with Mussolini that is responsible for this good fortune.

But it isn’t long before America enters the war and Elsa and Georgie are sent to join the women. Elsa, however, is at great risk since she is a Jew. Luca, who has begun to understand the nature of the conflict, and who had become bitter at Elsa because of a misunderstanding, joins the underground movement. Elsa had given Mary some money as a trust fund when Luca was just a boy. Luca takes his trust money and uses it instead to help fund the underground cell that he joins.

Betrayed by a lover who had conned her out of all her belongings Elsa becomes despondent. But the Gestapo has already begun arresting some Jews, precisely what Elsa’s ex-lover was counting on. Mary and Luca are unable to convince Elsa to escape, even though the underground has made passage for her to Switzerland. Lady Hester, who had always hated the brash American, learns the truth and goes to Elsa, convincing her to leave. She says they were a lot more alike than they cared to admit, they were both betrayed by bastards: Elsa by her ex-lover, and Lady Hester by Mussolini.

As the war draws to a close the Germans, in a hasty retreat, plan to blow up the towers of San Gimignano. The Scorpioni, led by Arabella, stand up to the retreating Nazis to save the towers. Outside the town, Luca finds a battalion of Scots ready to enter the town and joins them as an interpreter. As they are entering the town the commander turns to Luca and says: “I won’t be needing an interpreter for this job.” Luca asks about the job. The commander says he was told that a whole group of English ladies were kept in custody in town and that he has “orders to move them to a place of safety.” Luca, knowing what the Scots will be dealing with, says: “Actually, you might be needing an interpreter, sir.”

The commander responds: “Do you know the ladies.”
“Yes, very well, sir.”
“Don’t they understand plain English?”
“Yes, but they don’t understand orders.”

The underlying message of this film is not one that hits you over the head, but it is impossible to ignore. It is about tyranny and liberty, told through the lives of a small group of women caught up in a fascist dictatorship. The cast alone makes this film one worth watching repeatedly. And the script is witty and wonderful.

Tea with Mussolini is a charming film with a message. Often films on the dangers of authoritarianism rely upon the stark, dramatic violence and cruelty that one sees in these systems. That is easy to do. But the Scorpioni were isolated from such large dramatic events. Yet still the film portrays the darkness of the times in the lives of these women who “don’t understand orders.”

Tea with Mussolini is a film that I never tire of watching. I always leave it with a small tear in my eyes and with recharged batteries for my spirit. Get a copy and see for yourself.

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Newspapers admits their mountain was just a molehill

Recently I discussed the controversy at the University of Hawaii over a student who had used an empty classroom to film himself in a rather explicit episode of self-pleasuring. The newspaper had published an absurd paragraph in their "crime" section making unsubstantiated claims.

This blog looked at those claims and showed how absurd they were. I won't take credit for it but apparently the university newspaper now agrees fully with my analysis. They have apologized and retracted their claims completely.

About the claim that Tim, or Speedostudent, was endangering others, they now write: "There has been no such finding by the UH administration that there has been any endangerment..." Of course, even if the administration said their was, that wouldn't make it the case.

In regards to the exaggeration of this taking place in "many classrooms" they now concede that is "an inaccurate conflation of the material found on the blog, where a clear distinction between photos and a single video in one classroom is made." That is badly worded and confusing. To be precise there was one explicit video made in one classroom. There were photos of Speedostudent in a Speedo posing in other classrooms but nothing sexual was taking place.

As for their warning to not approach the student, they now admit this "represents a physical danger to other students, a claim for which the paper provided no evidence.

As for their use of terms like "sexually deviant" and "psychotic behavior" they said that they have "no medical qualifications to make such a judgment." Even if they did have the qualifications, the facts don't fit the terms.

They also apologize for something I did not realize, not being familiar with their paper. The material appeared in a section of their paper dealing entirely with criminal incidents on campus—the mere existence of such a column would clue me to avoid that campus. I was a copy editor at my university paper and we never had enough incidents of crime to warrant a regular column. The paper admits that by including this in the crime section they "suggested that a crime was committed." They now admit that is no investigation based on a criminal action involved.

In general, they have conceded all the points I made. Of course, I'm not sure that the apology is sufficient for the student they smeared.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Wanker's molehill is newspaper's mountain.

Warning: This post is not suitable for small children or conservatives. Really. You have been warned!

Allow me to play Devil’s Advocate, for there are times the Devil needs an advocate, regarding an uproar at the University of Hawaii. The student in question, who I shall identify by his first name only, Tim, enjoys showing his body off. By his own admission he is an exhibitionist. (I warned you conservatives not to enter here.) Tim uses the screen name Speedostudent for himself.

From what I have been able to discern, this self-proclaimed anarchist, is an ethical exhibitionist. That is, I know of no claims that he exhibited his sexuality in a way that forced others to watch him. He wasn’t one of those men in raincoats searching out unwilling participants to their game of show-but-don’t-tell.

Speedostudent’s exhibitionism seems to have been confined to videos of himself masturbating, which he uploaded to an adult website. Three weeks ago he filmed himself, in the act of self-love, in an empty classroom at the university. Of the five such videos he has posted, this is the only one that was filmed outside the privacy of his room, or outside the confines of his parent’s home.

From what I can tell Tim made sure that no one was there to see his performance. For his video he chose an empty room; well after classes had ended for the day. The only way anyone could see the video was by logging into an adult site dedicated to sexually explicit films and photos, many of them posted by individuals like Tim. It is a perfect, market-based solution to the voyeur/exhibitionist dilemma.

The dilemma existed because, under prior legal codes, both acts were illegal and technology did not allow the happy coordination of willing voyeurs finding willing exhibitionists. Those who wished to practice voyeurism found it difficult without resorting to peeping at unwilling performers. Those who wished to be seen equally found it difficult to illegally indulge their proclivities. Now the Internet, and video technology, allows willing exhibitionists to perform for thousands of happy voyeurs, all without involving unwilling individuals. It is a consenting, peaceful, voluntary exchange that makes everyone happy—except the moralists who seem only truly happy when they are miserable.

Tim’s situation was a bit more complicated as he chose to film his display on the campus where he is a student. Before I go into this uproar further, I need to take a detour back to the reality of college life at a fairly typical university.

I will discuss what I saw at the main university I attended as an undergraduate.

The first thing I can confirm was that students were having sex on campus all the time. I definitely know that students would, as they now say, “hook up” and engage in various sexual activities in numerous places. The fifth floor of the library was notorious as a spot where students would meet for sex. There were private study rooms that could be commandeered or some couples (sometimes more than couples) would find out-of-the-way toilets to use. Add to this the romps in cars in the parking lot, empty classrooms, dorm rooms, in the nearby wooded area and just about any other place you can think of, including various campus offices

I don’t want to leave the impression that the campus was one tangled mass of writhing, lubed bodies, as much as you might wish me to, but sex was both frequent and rather inconsequential. Many students on campus were actually glad that others were using the library, offices, empty classrooms or their cars for sex. Otherwise the common complaint was that roommates would use the dorm room instead. For many students this meant the non-participating roommate had to watch and/or listen to the amorous activities of the other roommate. Even worse was when they were asked to wait in the hall until it was over. Some ended up “locked out” all night. Of course, now and then, they got invited to participate, much to the horror of the conservatives who are still reading this in order to be horrified and titillated.

That only covered sexual acts with two or more individuals. When it came to the so-called “solitary vice” it was far more widespread. Bathroom stalls and showers were particularly chosen in these cases, as well as just about every place else as well. Having attended boarding school for several years, I was pretty much immune to being shocked by the masturbatory delights of others. I first saw such a thing in a dorm room before I even had any idea as to what it was. I was in grade school then. The swimming pool seemed to be a favorite location as were the group showers and the toilets. I will not attempt to recount how many times, in the course of daily life, such a thing would be stumbled upon. I can’t say I was ever really bothered by it. It didn’t break my leg, or pick my pocket, so I was rather blasé concerning the matter.

But someone who had come across Tim’s video did not find the matter as yawn inducing as I did. They filed complaints on campus. A female student, in her column for the campus newspaper, resorted to some pretty ugly tactics in misreporting the incident.

She claimed that Tim “has been endangering students by leaving his body fluids in many classrooms.” First, I have to chuckle that she can’t say sperm but resorts to using the euphemism “body fluids” instead. In reality there is hardly a risk to anyone from this. In medical reality this is less risky than some germ-ridden child spitting all over a birthday cake in order to blow out candles. If dried spunk were a threat to civilization, it would be illegal to shake hands with any adolescent male on the planet

The risks of disease, of any kind, are minimal. If the risk were larger, certainly the university I attended would have died off before second semester. I remember reading once that studies were done of what was found on stairway railings in various public locations. It is far more disgusting and revolting than some dried spunk—which I should note was one substance widely found on such railings. It really is best not to think of such matters, otherwise a compulsive fear may take control of you. We seem to survive fairly nice, in spite of these substances floating about us, so it’s best to forget about them. Just consider for a moment that you eat in restaurants using devices that were in the mouths of thousands of people before you—including some really disgusting people. And you really don’t know how well washed those utensils were—see what I mean, it’s best to simply not think of such things.

Also, from reading Tim’s blog, and his own comments, it is clear that there were five videos and only one was filmed in a classroom. This journalist, with all the ethics of a real journalist I might add, was exaggerating when she referred to “many classrooms.” It was one. Tim did have photos of himself taken, wearing Speedos, hence his nom-de-porn, in many classrooms. But when it came to “bodily fluids” it was one classroom and that classroom would be easily identifiable from the video—in case teams of “toxic waste specialists” are required.

Our ethically challenged journalist said that Tim “shows pictures and videos of himself masturbating in building such as [several were listed here]….and possible more.” Wrong again. There were no such pictures, taken in a classroom, posted on Tim’s blog or at the adult website. The only such photos were of him in a bathing suit and he was not doing anything to induce the flow of bodily fluids. This instigator then tells students to “take appropriate precautions like disinfecting desks and washing hands frequently.”

With this sort of exaggerated, panic-inducing comments she has a future as an environmental reporter. Maybe Al Gore will hire her as a publicist.

What was even worse was that this journalist describes Tim, fairly accurately—think Christopher Atkin’s in Blue Lagoon—and then warns students to “not attempt to approach” him. She says if anyone sees him, or anyone else who is “sexually deviant” with “psychotic behavior,” that they should call campus security.

The term sexually deviant doesn’t say much and never did. It is a moral judgment, not a clinical one. But “psychotic” has some precise meanings. And there is absolutely nothing about this young man that indicates he is psychotic. Since some symptoms of psychosis include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, I would say the student journalist is more psychotic that this kid. She was the one who hallucinated that this happened in numerous classrooms, and she was the paranoid bleating about disinfecting desks and warning students that they must not approach the young man in person.

I do not think it was a good idea for this young man to film himself in a classroom (though I do know of one such incident when I went to university). But neither do I think it was the tormenting disaster that the campus newspaper made it out to be. In one story, now deleted, they compared the young man to a pedophile. That the hysterics manage to drag that into everything and anything having to do with sex, will never cease to amaze me.

I am the first to say that the university has the right, within certain boundaries (limited because it is a state university) of regulating actions on campus. And, as long as they treat all students equally, I’m fine with that. But the rules for such things are vague and unevenly enforced. I’m not sure if it were revealed that a female student had masturbated a male student in an empty classroom, that there would have been this call for disinfecting desks and frequent washing of hands. If a university were to wish to attempt to ban all sex on campus I suggest they will end up without any students. But it also seems that Tim made an effort to prevent anyone from involuntarily witnessing his hobby.

Here is how I would have handled it, had I been a university official. I would meet with Tim and tell him that using classrooms, for his extra curricula endeavors, creates a problem. I would thank him for his cooperation in the future and suggest that if he ever markets his video that he share some of the proceeds with the university and perhaps steer him to a good porn agent in LA. I would also call in the student journalist and the newspaper editor and caution them about such hysterical, unethical distortions of the facts. According to Tim’s blog, “the student newspaper has retracted the libellous statements it made about me” and the “complaints about the video have been resolved with the school administration.” But it also clear that these reports deeply troubled and upset him.

As for another market-based solution: I might note that Tim really would like to have a career in adult entertainment, he enjoys what he does. So any producers out there might wish to cash-in (literally) on the publicity by hiring him for their next production. Those offended need not purchase it, those who wish to see it may do so and enjoy it. Tim is happy, his voyeuristic fans will be happy, the producer will be happy and a small band of moralistic types will be unhappy. It sounds like a win-win situation for everyone, even the moralists who relish every bit of “bad news” they receive.

Note: The DSM tends to define exhibitionism as a paraphilia where the individual is aroused by showing their genitals to unsuspecting strangers usually in a shocking way. This was more accurately modified later to refer to it as a psychiatric disorder ONLY if it included "acting out against others or substantial distress." In Speedostudent's case he did not act out against others and is most clearly not distressed, but actually rather pleased. I would suggest, as I did in the piece above, that much of the problem of exhibitionists "acting out against others" existed in the past because other options, for legal, consensual "acting out" did not exist. The current state of the law and technology created a more liberal atmosphere and has thus reduced the "harm" associated with this activity. Of course, I'm sure the Puritans are working hard to interfer with it, by numerous laws, all guaranteed to make matters worse for everyone.

UPDATE: The university newspaper has retracted and apologized for the remarks.
More information here.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wonderland comes to the Georgia Supreme Court

The Georgia Supreme Court is apparently stocked with imbeciles. Either that or they are simply dishonest to the core.

As I have noted before, Georgia is one of these theocratic states where the detestable sex offender registry requires people to register as sex offenders, even when they have not committed a sexually based crime. There are two cases where individuals were placed on this odious, useless, counter-productive list where no sex was involved.

I previously reported on a young man who accompanied a friend when the friend robbed a Dairy Queen. A teenager was exiting the store as the robber went in. The robber instructed the young man to lie on the ground until they finished the robbery. No physical contact with the youth took place. But the underage accomplice in the case is now listed as a registered sex offender in Georgia.

The case that these morons in robes heard was similar. One Jake Rainer, then 18, along with unnamed co-defendants, met a 17-year-old girl who said she would sell them pot. She got in their car and they drove her to a cul-de-sac where they relieved her of her marijuana, without paying. Instead of rightfully charging them with theft (something the government doesn't oppose on principle) they robbers were charged with "false imprisonment" and forced to register as sex offenders. Again no sexual contact took place, no attempt at sexual contact took place. There isn't even evidence that anyone thought about sex, let alone did anything sexual.

Now consider that the sex offender registry is itself a vicious form of perpetual punishment applied very indiscriminately, as we see in this case. Having the status of "sex offender," the closest any human even gets to eternal life, means that one is constantly penalized. Presence on that data base, no matter what the circumstances of the "crime," means that one is banned from living in most places, especially in Georgia. There are entire counties where a "sex offender" is basically banned from living there. It subjects one to constant harassment from would-be vigilantes as well as the local police. It is used to deny people seeking to better themselves, from obtaining a college education. It is used so that many on the list are incapable of finding employment. The whole purpose of the registry is to inflict unrelenting punishment on people, even if the sex was consenting and non-violent. And, as we saw here, one need not even commit a sexual crime to be on the list.

The Georgia Supreme Court was asked to rule on the list being cruel and unusual punishment. It certainly is cruel, unfortunately in these less civilized times it is not unusual. Justice Harold Melton rejected the arguments entirely because he said such registries "are regulatory, not punitive, in nature." What a butt wipe! A proper understanding of the nature of "regulatory" actions shows them to differ little from punitive actions.

Consider an area completely outside the realm of sex offenses. If a businessman uses his premises to sell drugs the government may come in and confiscate his business under Rico laws, thus putting him out of business. In truth they can do this merely by accusing him of a crime, even if they have no evidence he actually did anything illegal. The business is gone, the owner is bankrupt. Now consider the same business getting zoned out of existence, regulated into oblivion instead. What is the difference between punitive actions and regulatory actions if both can inflict the same harm?

In this case much of the harm that is inflicted eternally on these "offenders" is not just government sanctioned, but government mandated. Surely when government arrests people for living in their own home, due to sex offender zoning laws, that is punitive. There is a fine line between regulatory actions and punitive ones and the sex offender laws were intentionally created as punitive measures.

The Court ruled that "it is of no consequence whether or not one has committed an offense that is 'sexual' in nature before being required to register." No consequence! Exactly where does this justice have his brains?

Conservatives ought to be worried. This ruling basically says that a government regulation, one that is onerous and harmful, is not punitive because the government calls it a regulation instead of punishment. The court also said that the state may place people on the sex offender list, for public scrutiny and harassment, even if they have never committed a sex crime in their life. As the Justice (sic.) put it, "it is of no consequence" whether or not a sex crime was committed.

I am going to rename my cat Fido, because that will apparently, miraculously turn him into a dog, at least if the logic of the court is accurate. Calling something regulatory, instead of punitive, makes it non-punitive, no matter how much punishment is inflicted by it.

The court said that it was perfectly fine to do this because it "advances the State's legitimate goal of informing the public for purposes of protecting children from those who would harm them." Get real! In this case Rainer was within a few months of the same age of the girl he robbed. She was dealing an illegal drug and he took the drug. If the police did it they would be applauded. There is no reason to assume that Rainer is a threat to children and it is absurd to say that the girl was a child. This girl is old enough to consent to sex in Georgia, and old enough to marry. Yet if she deals drugs and is robbed her robber becomes a sex offender because the State is protecting children.

This should indicate exactly how America's sex laws are running wild, as well as contradicting common sense. The Court ruled:
There is no requirement that sexual activity be involved. Rainer’s belief that the term “sexual offender” may only apply to offenders who commit sexual offenses against minors does not change the fact that the definition provided in the statute, and not the definition that Rainer wishes to impose upon the statute, controls.
Do you get that? Rainer argued that it was wrong to call him a "sex offender" when he never committed a sexual offense. The Court refers to that reasonable definitional issue as merely a "belief" which doesn't matter because the State has redefined the term "sex offense" to include offenses that are entirely non-sexual. In Through the Looking-Glass (aka, Alice in Wonderland), Alice speaks to Humpty Dumpty who tells her: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." Of course when Lewis Caroll wrote that, he meant it as nonsense. When Justice Melton wrote something similar he thought it made perfect sense.

Melton says that Rainer's definition of sex offender is "incorrect" because the Georgia legislature has redefined the word to mean "just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." In children's fantasies this might be amusing, but in the law it is dangerous.

In related news a new study says that 20 percent of teens have sent erotic photos of themselves by cell phone. For most of these teens that means they have committed a felony, could be imprisoned, and may very likely be listed a sex offenders. Given America's tendency to see sex as evil I would assume that when 20 percent of teens admit to sexting, that the actual numbers are significantly higher. As I see it, the government may as well publish well publish a list of the names of everyone in the country, call it a "sex offenders" list and get it over with. The over-criminalization of everything continues unabashed and it is destroying lives.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The ugly history of "Christian" America.

The Religious Right likes to pant after the “good ol’ days” of “Christian America”. They are a bit imprecise as to when that was but they seem to think it was sometime around the founding of the country.

Of course, what one means by founding is important to define. I would generally place the founding of the country between the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution. Clearly after that period the nation had been founded. Prior to the Declaration there was no nation either, just separate colonies, often very dissimilar from one another.
But our Founders, those men who were key figures in the period, were not, for the most part, what one could call orthodox Christians. The term deist is often used to describe them and it is not entirely inaccurate. Perhaps “deist light” is a better term. In their view of Christianity, they did tend to be deists. But neither were they strict deists. Even Benjamin Franklin, who wrote that he was a “thorough deist,” still saw a more active god than most deists. The founders did think there was a deity who cared about people. But they didn’t think the Bible was his word, they didn’t think Jesus was god in the flesh, they tended to ridicule the virgin birth, miracles, the atonement and a host of other orthodox doctrines. These men tend to inhabit that area of religious belief between Unitarianism, deism and atheism.

Where on a religious spectrum each of them fell is open to debate. What really is not open to debate was that they were not on the Christian side of the spectrum, not if you define Christian in theological terms. Some of these men, however, defined Christianity almost wholly in moral terms. And they would use “Christian “as a label to describe their moral intuitions.

Often great confusion arises when one fails to realize that a reference to Christianity as a moral system is not a reference to Christianity as a set of doctrines. John Adams said of the Puritans, “ye will say I am no Christian,” referring to the theological doctrines of Christianity. He added, “I say Ye are no Christians,” referring to Christianity as a system of morals. Adams elucidate: “Yet I believe all the honest men among you, are Christians in my sense of the word.” Christian, in his sense of the word, was more found in how one acted toward others, and less in what doctrines one embraced.

Jefferson, like many of the founders, saw the theology of Christianity a “corruption” of the system. He wrote: “To the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.” For Christian it was the traits of “human excellence” that he saw Jesus teaching. As for the miraculous or divine realm, it was what he said that Jesus never claimed for himself. For this reason Jefferson took scissors to the Bible and cut out of the gospels, all references to the supernatural. He felt such a purge left the pure moral teachings of Jesus and said he was he was happy to embrace that, once all claims of godhood, a trinity, miracles, resurrections, etc., had been exorcised.

Between the arrival of Columbus in the West Indies and the American Revolution there were numerous colonies, which tended to differ from one another. It was during this period that Christianity, or more precisely, specific strains of Christianity, did hold political power. If ever there was a time when there was a “Christian America” this was it. It is also a time that most Americans know nothing about. Perhaps because it was a very ugly period in American history, which contradicts the rosy view of America held by most citizens today.

Consider the Pilgrims as an example. Most people heard the story that the Pilgrims came to America to enjoy religious freedom. That most certainly is not the case, not if you mean freedom for everyone. Their desire was freedom for themselves and tyrannical control over others. Puritan divine Richard Mather said the Pilgrims came to the colonies in order “to censure those who ought to be censured.” Steven Waldman, in Founding Faith, says that “it might be more precise to say most [Pilgrims] were avoiding the harassment of a government that wanted the Puritans to be more liberal. He mentions how the Puritans had banned games and amusement in areas under their control in England. Certainly when they had control of England, under Cromwell, they went so far as make Christmas illegal. Yes, the first real war on Christmas was conducted by fundamentalist Calvinists against all other Christians.

They were most unhappy, later, when King James overturned their bans and granted more liberty to the people. The liberty the Puritans sought was to be able to wield the whip in God’s name, and wield it they did. Quite literally.

This yearning for authoritarianism even inspired some Puritans to rebel against the King when the Revolution came along. Rev. James Mayhew, of Boston, said that rebellion against the King is justified when the King commits crimes against God. Since the King had allowed sports on Sunday and “encouraged papists and popishly effect clergymen,” he was against God and thus oppressing the people. For the Puritan, one reason to overthrow the throne, and seek independence from England, was in order to erect a repressive moral regime far stricter than what the lax monarch had allowed.

During the early years of colonies the Calvinists saw larger and larger percentages of the colonialists leave their church, or be excommunicated from it, which was not uncommon. In 1684 King Charles II rescinded the part of the charter for the Massachusetts colony, which restricted immigration to Puritans. He allowed Anglicans to have church services, which did not please the Puritans. He also told the Puritans to end their violent, often deadly, persecution of Quakers, something some saw the King interfering with their liberty to kill heretics.

The case of Mary Dyer illustrates Puritan authoritarianism well. Dyer believed that God spoke to individual Christians. She joined with Anne Hutchinson, to form a Bible study group. This act of religious freedom was not tolerated by the Calvinist Puritans especially since she sometimes disagreed with the local cleric. The Puritans informed Hutchinson that Bible forbade women teaching. And in 1638 she was put on trial. She was found guilty of heresy and imprisoned until she could be banished from the colony. Both Dyer and Hutchinson suffered miscarriages at the hands of their tormentors. The godly Pilgrims gloated about the miscarriages saying they showed God’s wrath on the women. Hutchinson went to Rhode Island, which did have some religious freedom.

Dyer, along with her husband, travelled to England with Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. There Dyer converted to the Quaker faith, believing it to be similar to what she and Hutchinson had believed. From England she want to Boston, where she was arrested again and expelled, this time for being a Quaker. In 1658 she was arrested again for being a Quaker. After her release she went to Massachusetts to visit two Quaker friends and was again banished from the “shining city on the hill.” Once again she traveled through Massachusetts and this time she was arrested and sentenced to death, along with two other Quakers.

Her husband, who was not a Quaker, was friends with the governor and secured a reprieve for Mary but the two Quakers arrested with her were executed. In 1660 she returned to Massachusetts to oppose the laws, which persecuted Quakers. She was arrested and refused to renounce her faith. The good Christian Puritans of Massachusetts hung her for being the wrong kind of Christian.

Under Puritan rule only members in good standing of the Congregational Church, the church of the Pilgrims, had voting rights in the colony. When one colonist suggested that this measure be repealed his suggestion was turned down and he was arrested for daring suggest it.

The Puritans dominated in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. But the Anglicans dominated Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Rhode Island was unique, in that it was founded by Roger Williams, a Baptist. Williams had been persecuted by the Pilgrims and forced into the wilderness, since being a Baptist was also considered a crime. Pennsylvania tended to be controlled by Quakers. New Amsterdam, the New York City area, was controlled by the Dutch West India Company and never got around to establishing a church, as it was more commercially motivated. But it did find time to persecute Jews and mistreat them.

In Virginia the Anglicans who controlled the colony kept out Puritan preachers, Catholics, Quakers and Jews. Jefferson wrote that "the poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England. They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom; but they found them free only for the reigning sect. As for his Virginia home he said: "If no execution [of Quakers] took place here, as did in New England, it was not owing to the moderation of the church, or spirit of the legislature... but to historical circumstances which have not been handed down to us."

Maryland, founded for Catholics, was slightly more tolerant, allowing Protestants. But it decreed the death penalty for anyone who challenged orthodox Christian beliefs. Puritans from Virginia fled to Maryland ,seeking refuge from Anglican persecution, and then helped overthrow the Catholic government that granted them refuge. Once in power the Protestants stripped Catholics of rights, sentenced Catholic priests to life imprisonment, decreed that only Anglicans could hold office and stripped Catholics of the right to vote.

During the heyday of Christian American, the one thing Christians were “at liberty” to do, was oppress one another. And this they did with great relish. The founders had lived through much of this era and were fully aware of how the combination of church and state fostered intolerance, violence, persecution, and totalitarianism. They consciously separated church and state to try to avoid such conflicts in the future.

The “Christian America,” to which the Religious Right, wishes to return, is an illusion. There was never a time when Christian sects were united in governance. Instead they each occupied areas of control and used what control they could assert to oppress, if not kill, other Christians. There is an illusionary unity amongst the Religious Right even today. The animosity that these sects hold for one another has barely lessened over the years. What they lack is the political power to inflict their intolerance on society as a whole.

The Religious Right is made up of some very distinct religious groupings, for the most part. Fundamentalist Christians believe that only those who are “born again” are true Christians. Their Catholic allies, they see as members of the sect of the Anti-Christ, while their Mormon co-conspirators are nothing more than a fraudulent cult. Orthodox Catholics believe that only those confirmed in the Roman church are members of the true Church. Mormons believe that only those who embrace the fantasies of the mountebank Joseph Smith are part of the real Christian faith.

To a large extent the only reason they are not at each other’s throats is that they agree there are other throats to slit first: gays, Muslims, and illegal immigrants, for instance. They are willing to set aside their animosity for one another only so long as a more worthy targets of their acrimony exist. If they were to succeed in wiping out the “evil” people of the nation, or at least to force them in hiding, they would soon return to conniving new means for oppressing one another. The founders knew enough about their recent history to consciously separate church and state at the federal level and begin working to separate them at the state level as well—a process that would take a bit longer to accomplish.

Illustrations: 1.) John Adams; 2.) Mary Dyer being led to her execution. The drummers were to prevent bystanders from hearing her speak.

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