Greek Man is Proud to Be a Lesbian, Will Sue Anyone Who Says Otherwise

June 10, 2008

And, in fact, he’s 100% correct: he is a total lesbian. No, really (best part is at about one minute in).

HT: Gene Expression.


Woman Marries the Berlin Wall, Then Cheats on It With Garden Fence

June 8, 2008

We can debate gay marriage: the moral merits, the social benefits, the alleged costs. But it’s time we all, everyone of us took a stand against this woman and her licentious wallism.

And lest anyone tries to blame this on gay marriage, notice that she pulled this stunt 29 years ago, in secret, and without trying to claim any civil benefit or responsibility for the union.

Is the whole story an elaborate hoax or prank played on the local media? I don’t know, but honestly, in my opinion, stuff like this is too positively insane to be a joke:

“The Great Wall of China’s attractive, but he’s too thick – my husband is sexier.”

HT: The Agitator


New Study: “Abstinence Only” Education Fails Again? Or Not.

June 8, 2008

Ed Brayton is making the case that a new study of high school students provides even more evidence that abstinence-only education has failed in its primary purpose: the reduction or delay in teen sex and disease transmission. The study, which looks to be quite good in terms of dataset and design, basically shows that the steady decline in teen sexual activity and the steady increase in condom use have both leveled off, and both changes came during the time in which abstinence-only education came into its heyday (the early and mid 2000s).

I’m no fan of abstinence-only policies, which are essentially a “pro-ignorance” approach to education. But I’m not so sure we really can take any clear policy conclusions away from this data.

The main reason is that, in the social sciences, we’d expect just about ANY trend to level off naturally whether there were other policy effects or not. Whatever the cause for the decline in teen sex since 1991, there’s only so much you can reduce teenage sexual activity in the first place before diminishing returns set in. The more you reduce teenage sexual experimentation, the harder and harder further decreases become.

This especially makes sense in terms of teens and sex. If we imagine that there is a sort of standard cohort of teens with a natural range of character traits and attitudes towards sex in each generation, then any external effect (like the AIDS scare) which reduces sexual activity is going to be more effective on some students, less effective on others. As this effect increases its influence on each cohort of kids, you’ll effect all the low hanging fruit first (the kids most scared of disease and ambivalent about sex to begin with), and the trend will be fairly large. But as you proceed, you’ve already dropped the sexual activity of many of the prudes down to 0 (and can’t go any further with them), and now what you have left to work on are the kids that are amongst the hardest to convince not to have sex in the first place. Even if the original effect increases dramatically (i.e. AIDS gets more and more scary), it still might not be enough to effect enough of the horniest kids fast enough to keep up the overall trend, year after year.

For all we know, this could be what’s going on here: major social changes in the early 1990s (AIDS, widespread contraception knowledge and availability) spent a decade spreading through the population, and now they’ve pretty much done as much as they can do. Buried underneath these larger trends, abstinence education could have had a positive effect, negative effect, or no effect at all.

All we really can say for certain, from this data, is that abstinence-only education hasn’t sparked any sort of dramatic or obvious revolution in teen prudishness. Other studies, which more directly compare the effects of abstinence-only education to other programs or no program at all, are far more relevant to the debate than this one.


Unintentionally Hilarious Republican Political Attack Ad

May 25, 2008

Over at the Agitator, when he isn’t worrying about the tiny matter of the President now having the power to send the military into a US suburb, abduct a U.S. citizen, and detain him without charges or legal rights for the rest of his life, Randy Balko is a pretty funny guy. In this case, he’s identified one of the silliest political attack ads I’ve seen in a long time.

(New Video Found)

Quips Balko:

I’m trying to figure out how the three dancers are supposed to represent “San Francisco values.” Maybe the black guy in the cowboy hat is gay? But then why is he dancing with two women? Maybe it’s because one of the women is white. But then, the white woman also has a lesbian haircut. Maybe it’s the dancing itself? Or they’re all illegal immigrants? Or they’re planning a visit to the abortion clinic after happy hour?

They should really be clearer about whom were supposed to be hating, here, and why.

Update: Someone didn’t like being made fun of: the original video seems to be gone., so I’ve tracked down another source. And this response ad has a clip of the dancing, though without the “San Fransisco Values!” voiceovers.


McCain Ally Hagee: Hitler Was Sent By God To Drive Jews to Israel

May 21, 2008

After all the hubbub about Obama’s pastor, John McCain’s chosen political allies are proving equally disturbing, though somehow without equal coverage.

Bruce Wilson from Talk2Action has uncovered yet more disturbing text and audio concerning John Hagee’s bizarre theological declarations. In addition to declaring that Jews have “dead souls” (whatever the heck THAT means!) this newfound sermon from Hagee declares that Adolf Hitler was sent by God to punish European Jews for not immediately going to found the state Israel, and then to drive the surviving remnant there afterwards.

Here’s Sam Stein summarizing the key parts of the sermon:

Going in and out of biblical verse, Hagee preached: “‘And they the hunters should hunt them,’ that will be the Jews. ‘From every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.’ If that doesn’t describe what Hitler did in the holocaust you can’t see that.”

He goes on: “Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said ‘I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.’ So few went that Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust.

“Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don’t let your heart be offended. I didn’t write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

Update: Looks like McCain has had enough of this guy: he’s now rejected Hagee’s endorsement.


Gay Marriage Today: Why Not Polygamy Tommorow? …Here’s Why

May 20, 2008

Advocates of gay marriage are often far too glib about their institutional goals. Myself included. We dismiss all sorts of slippery-slope and social fears as simply being based on bigotry (and perhaps we luck out there, because we often turn out to be right, even if it was just a knee-jerk accusation). But many of those fears do make logical sense, particularly when social changes are made by judicial rulings based on distressingly broad and unmoderated principles.

One of the most legitimate of these fears has always been that judicial rulings about gay marriage that are based on bare notions of equality and fairness would carve a path towards the legal recognition of, well, polygamy. And with a polygamist cult controversy still driving news cycles, and HBO’s Big Love back for another season, polygamy can no longer be casually dismissed as an esoteric issue.

That doesn’t mean, that it can’t be dismissed though. It just means that it’s going to take a lot of serious work and argument to do it.

And so, over at Volokh Conspiracy, Dale Carpenter has penned a must-read “Cliff’s Notes” version of some of the best arguments against the “gay marriage/polygamy” connection. Personally, I find them convincing. I’d appreciate any arguments concerning why I should not.

As to the recent California gay-marriage decision itself, I’m of two minds. It should come as no surprise that I like the result. But I also have very strong sympathies with the view that the judges in this case (most of whom were Republicans, by the way) are using methods that overstep important boundaries in our system of government.

On the other hand (again!), I have slightly less sympathy given the fact that people often write constitutional and legal language that claims to be based on lofty moral principles and language… but then whine when someone actually goes and takes those principles seriously, rather than merely conventionally. If you don’t want constitutions to be treated any differently than literal regulations and craven contracts of social convention, then don’t write them as if they were shining beacons of truth and justice.

For all the gay couples who will finally be able to codify their partnerships in the law of our society, there’s little to offer aside from congratulations.

Update: Over at Dean’s World, Dean links to law prof John Witte Jr. and his take on the issue. Among other things, though, Witte notes that one of the traditional reasons that polygamy has been verbotten in the West is that is “routinizes patriarchy.” I’m no women’s studies stooge, but that particular reason strikes me as a little implausible except as a very, very recent development.


More on the Pinker/”Dignity” Bioethics Debate, A Reponse to Patrick Lee and Robert George

May 19, 2008

That Steven Pinker article “The Stupidity of Dignity” is now out in published form, and continues to be a source of controversy. For those who detest Pinker’s tone, Russell Blackford has his own, similar, take to the concept of dignity that he penned a few years ago in response to Francis Fukuyama.

A recent commenter suggested I give my own thoughts on one of the Bioethics Council’s “dignity” essays, and I figured I’d expand my comment into a fuller review. The essay/chapter in question is Patrick Lee and Robert P. George’s “The Nature and Basis of Human Dignity.” And they start off with a definition of dignity that I find problematic right off the bat:

Read the rest of this entry »


Mitt Romney Regrets Leaving Atheists Out of His Speech

May 16, 2008

It’s sort of a moot point campaign-wise at this point, but a small kudos may be in order for Mitt Romney, who apparently now regrets not including atheists in his big speech on religious freedom. According to Coffee Stained News, during a Beckett Fund awards ceremony, Romney noted that:

upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert the following: non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.

If a society takes it upon itself to prescribe and proscribe certain streams of belief — to prohibit certain less-favored strains of conscience — it may be the non-believer who is among the first to be condemned. A coercive monopoly of belief threatens everyone, whether we are talking about those who search the philosophies of men or follow the words of God.

We are all in this together. Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from the common conviction that it is freedom, not coercion, that exalts the individual just as it raises up the nation.

I criticized Romney’s original speech way back when, and I’m not sure I see this quote as really addressing some of the intellectual ickyness that I found so distastefully confused when it comes to the role of religion and government. He doesn’t correct his own misrepresentation of the concerns of many non-believers, or even say that we recognize our stake in defending religious liberty (we do). He just says that we have one. Still, a passing mention and acknowledgment is better than merely painting atheists as boogeymen.


McCain Mispeaks, Hagee Hems and Haws

May 14, 2008

Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has gotten himself in hot water lately by toadying up to a couple of the “agents of hate” peppering the religious right. One of these is John Hagee, who believes that God destroyed Katrina because of gay dancing, called the Catholic Church “the great whore,” and is a good buddy to Israel… in the fond hope that the Second Coming will imminently roast it, and all non-Christian Jews, off the face of the Earth.

Hagee has now apologized, sort-of, for the “Great Whore” remarks.

When it comes to the comparison between Obama and his pastor’s Wright’s nutty, anti-american sermons, I think McCain comes out worse here. A church is a faith community, a family, not a magazine subscription that one cancels when someone in it, even a leader, says something you disagree with. McCain, on the other hand, actively courted these people in an explicitly political fashion: gaining their support specifically, wanting people of their views to endorse his campaign’s positions.

McCain’s response to these charges has been characteristically evasive, bristling with irritation that anyone would even bring anything critical up, and then wont to make lazily grandiose dismissals that don’t make a lick of sense. Case in point, when asked by George Stephanopoulos if seeking Hagee’s support was a mistaken, McCain replied:

“Oh, probably, sure. But I admire and respect Dr. Hagee’s leadership of the — of his church,” McCain said, later adding: “I’m glad to have his endorsement. I condemn remarks that are, in any way, viewed as anti-anything.” (emphasis added)

So McCain is anti-anti-anything? Does that mean he’s for everything? Come on. Obviously this statement is nigh incoherent, particularly for a politician who is anti-plenty of things. The sweeping nonsense of this statement comes, I think, from simple disinterest in thinking or addressing the specific controversy and his place in it. As far as I can tell, the man who once thoughtfully lambasted “agents of intolerance” in his own party no longer exists.


Anti-Evolutionary Expelled Falls Off the Radar?

May 13, 2008

4 weeks in, and Ben Stein’s anti-evolutionary expose Expelled appears to be petering out on its run. Last weekend it only took in 0.3 million from its remaining 402 theaters, bringing its total haul to a respectable $7.2M It’s still not clear how much the film actually cost to make (probably not too much), or how much it cost to promote (probably quite a lot, considering the pricey markets they bought ads in), and thus whether Premise Media will ultimately break even.

More notably, there doesn’t seem to be any signs as of yet that the film has become the sort of cultural sensation its producers had hoped: no students raising their fists in biology classes, and aside from the pre-orchestrated “academic freedom” bills (many of which seem to have lost some steam themselves), little political impact. The movie’s blog hasn’t been updated in 3 weeks.

So what more is there to say at this point? Intelligent Design has a new corporate ally on the block, and for its opening salvo, it butted heads with the mainstream media and scientists, and mostly just ended up replaying the same old battles one more time. All without anyone having much new to say or any side accomplishing much.

Other than that, I really can’t think of anything. The larger debate goes on, unabated, with yet more bad blood between the participants. C’est la vie, I suppose.


Florida Believers are Not Stupid, But the State Issuing the Liscence Plates Is

April 14, 2008

When it comes to defending science and rebutting creationist claptrap, biologist blogger PZ Myers is second to none. He’s rude, crude, and controversial, but by and large when it comes to debates over things like framing (i.e. “shut up, atheists, selling science would be easier without you”), I’m on his side. But not always. In his recent post on a proposal to offer cross-bearing “I believe” license plates in Florida, he steps over the line:

Look at it this way: the stupid people in Florida are going to be conveniently self-labeling themselves with the Mark of the Buffoon.

It almost makes me feel worse to know that if someone called him on it, he’d probably actually defend this language. I almost don’t want face how disappointing that would be.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a believer, and I spend a lot of time arguing against religious claims that I think are anything from pernicious to pathetic. But I don’t think believers are stupid: not even stupid to believe. As I argued, I’m in the skepticism game against bad ideas, bad arguments, even bad people. But belief isn’t itself an argument: it doesn’t even always claim to be supported by arguments, good or bad. So I just can’t justify the attitude of someone who runs around calling believers qua believers stupid, or saying that by wearing their belief on their sleeves that they are marking themselves as buffoons.

This isn’t about Myers inconveniently “mis-framing” some issue. He’s just wrong.

And it muddles the issue. The problem with these plates is not at all what they say, but where they say it. It’s simply yet another example of the government trying to get into the message business (and the especially dicey religious message business) when there’s simply no need or justification for it.

Citizens are perfectly capable of decorating their cars with messages about their religious convictions, political party, opinions on world peace, and attitudes towards fat chicks. They simply do not require, in any way shape or form, the aid of the government in expressing their views. Government issued materials should be strictly functional: serving some legitimate regulatory purpose and then getting out of the way. They have no business being promotional, and certainly not promotional for just one religion.

In the case of Florida, this has gotten particularly pernicious, because while there are many different plate designs to choose from, the range of messages allowed by no means open forum. Each design must be approved by the state legislature: i.e. politicians rule on what messages they like or don’t like. And the process for citizens to even nominate a design is both arduous and expensive, with a $60,000 application fee on top of market research costs and so on.

And while most of the selections are relatively banal, there’s an unavoidably political and sectarian slant to the selections. There’s the notorious “Choose Life” plate (I don’t see any corresponding pro-choice plate), and if the current lawmakers have their way, things like “In God We Trust” and the Christianity-themed “I Believe” will soon follow. The closest comeback to any of these I can see the is ambiguous John Lennon “Imagine” plate.

But even that’s sort of beside the point. If the range of plates really was wide and free enough to encompass all sorts of different messages, I’d still oppose this sort of thing. There’s just no reason for the government to play this game. Space on cars for promotional messages is hardly at a premium. Dull license plates are hardly a high price to pay for a government that knows its place, and leaves expression wholly up to the people, rather than trying to get in on the game.


Expelled! Forgets to Mention: Holocaust Was Intelligently Designed & Anti-Semitic Creationists

April 13, 2008

Two things worth covering regarding the imminent Expelled!. First off, John Pieret over at Thoughts in a Haystack notes yet another reason why the film’s driveby smear of evolution as an ideology that bears genocidal fruit doesn’t add up. As Pieret points out, one of the primary complaints from creationists, especially in the film, is that evolution explains nature without reference to any teleology or external purposing or direction. This oft cited lack of purpose supposedly leads people to moral depravity (though, in reality, this critique merely confuses scientific description with moral proscription).

But this complaint is flatly incompatible with the insistence that evolution Holocaust, eugenics, and so on are all the logical end of accepting the evolutionary description of the natural world. For eugenics and Aryan racism alike are nothing if not deeply teleological. Hitler was not interested in human fitness as determined by the natural course of human technology and culture: he sought to impose his own very specific will on it. Eugenics, the same. The Holocaust was, in fact, the directed design of an “intelligent” agent: a depraved and malicious one.

And over at Stranger Fruit, John Lynch finds something even stranger: while over in Europe bemoaning the Darwin’s “necessary but not sufficient” contribution to the Holocaust, Ben Stein hobnobs with a certain Maciej Giertych, who Lynch notes is a “professor of dendrology, right-wing member of the (Catholic) League of Polish Families, member of the European Parliament, candidate for the presidency of Poland, signatory of the DI’s “Dissent from Darwinism” statement…” You might remember him from the clip in which he sagely declares that evolutionary processes are incapable of generating “new information.” But as it turns out, Giertych is also something of an old-fashioned anti-semite:

Jews are not pioneers. They do not go conquering the wild world or overpowering the hazards of nature. They settle among other civilizations, preferably among the rich. They tend to migrate from poorer to richer lands.They do so always as a group, immediately forming their own separate community.

In other words, here’s Stein, all choked up about the extermination of Jews, nodding along with a guy celebrating the same stereotypes, rhetoric, and hatreds that spiraled out of control in post WWI Germany. Here’s more about Giertych and the philosophies he champions in Poland: including the idea that Jews and Catholics cannot live together in the same civilization.

Strange bedfellows indeed.