So Christopher Hitchens Walks Into A Bar…

Susie_brightYou know, there are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin.

“This” being Christopher Hitchens’s recent piece in Vanity Fair about why women aren’t as funny as men. The key sentence: “For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing.” Because we bear and raise children, women are both more nurturing and take life more seriously than men, and thus lack both the mean-spiritedness and the frivolousness required of humor. That’s a gross over-generalization of Hitchens’s piece; but then, Hitchens’s piece is pretty gross, so I guess it’s appropriate.

Ellen_forneyI don’t even know where to start. And no, I’m not going to start with the absurdity of “For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing.” I have better things to do than shoot that particularly slow and stupid fish in that exceptionally small barrel.

Rosalind_russellSo I guess I should start with the obvious: It isn’t true. Flat out, plain, R-O-N-G Rong. Other bloggers have been busily coming up with lists of counterexamples, so I’m not going to bother. (Google it yourself if you like; I’m putting some of my personal favorites in my illustrations.) Instead, I’ll just say: He obviously hasn’t met my friends. Or my co-workers. Or my family. Or my girlfriend. Or the commenters on this blog. Or… well, you get the drift. It’s as if Hitchens spent 2700 words carefully pondering the question of why birds don’t fly.

Alison_bechdelAnd of course, there is the slow, stupid fish in the tiny tiny barrel — the assumption that all women are focused on baby-making above all other forms of human endeavor, a focus that drives everything that might interfere with it clean out of our pretty little heads. (And that no men are like that at all.)

Florence_kingBut what really kills me is the assumption that we are all — women and men alike — either completely nurturing or completely mean-spirited; utterly serious or utterly frivolous. You have to be one or the other — you can’t be both. You can’t make chicken soup for your sick girlfriend and then make mean-spirited snarky jokes on the Internet; you can’t spend all week taking care of mentally ill homeless people with AIDS and then spend an hour and half on Saturday night getting dressed up to go to a drag show. Nope. One or the other, please. Pick now, all of you. NOW, dammit!

Marilyn_monroeThis is the thing that irritates me most about this sort of simplistic “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” gender analysis. It’s the ham-handed division of the human race into two easily distinguishable camps, with everyone in one camp having A, B, and C qualities in unadulterated proportions, and everyone in the other camp having X, Y, and Z qualities in an equally pure form.

Sarah_vowellThe reality is that, whatever gender-differentiated behavior trait you can think of — aggressiveness, competitiveness, co-operation, empathy, whatever — we all of us have all of them to at least some degree, and there’s an enormous amount of overlap between the genders. Even in the areas where women’s and men’s behavior is pretty demonstrably different — the tendency to get into physical fights, for instance — it’s not as if all women are lumped from 1 to 5 and all men are lumped from 6 to 10. It’s more like we’re on overlapping bell curves — with women bell-curving from, say, 1 to 8, and men bell-curving from 3 to 10. (I’m literally and physically pulling those numbers out of my ass as we speak, by the way. But I’ll bet you that my science analysis is still better than Hitchens’s. A small Russet potato could analyze the science in this story better than Hitchens did.) And leaning towards the male end of one particular spectrum (spatial relations, say) is no guarantee that you’ll lean towards the male end of any other spectrum (like verbal ability).

Julia_sweeneyAnd maybe more to the point: I’ve seen studies that show that people — both women and men — who aren’t rigidly gender-typed, people who have lots of typical characteristics of both genders, tend to be happier and better-adjusted and more satisfied with themselves and their lives than people who adhere to rigid gender roles and expect others to do the same.

And I bet we’re funnier, too.

Our No. 1 Crime Fighter: Alberto Gonzales, and What Government Is For

GonzalesThere’s a piece by Tony Mauro over on Law.com: an interview with Daniel Metcalfe, a former senior attorney at the Department of Justice who retired in January, about Alberto Gonzales’s term of office as Attorney General. And it absolutely gives me the chills. (Found it via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

The gist of it: The Justice Department under Gonzales hasn’t just been among the most corrupt and politicized in American history. It’s also been one of the most incompetent.

The quote that jumped out at me: “Most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it.” (Emphasis mine.)

KatrinaThis is exactly what I was talking about in Hurricane Katrina, and What Government Is For. When government is run — and staffed — by people who think government is a bad idea and hold it in contempt, then that government fails in even its most basic, obvious obligations.

I mean — the Attorney General’s office. The Department of Justice. That’s the central agency for enforcement of federal laws. That’s the people whose job it is to prosecute people who violate federal crime, from fraud to terrorism to, you know, things like kidnapping and murder. That’s the law and order stuff that conservatives are supposed to be all excited about.

GeorgebushAnd the man in charge of it, the man who staffed it with people whose “inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it”… this is the man George Bush calls “our No. 1 crime fighter”.

I think I’m going to be sick.

Oh, the other quote that jumped out at me: “I used to think that they (John Mitchell and Ed Meese) had politicized the department more than anyone could or should. But nothing compares to the past two years under Alberto Gonzales.”

Worse than John Mitchell and Ed Meese. That’s actually an amazing accomplishment.

Time to be sick again. How long is it until November 2008?

Credibility and the Duke Rape Case Fiasco

DukeI was going to chime in on the weird fucked-up-edness of the whole Duke University rape case fiasco. But the SmackDog Chronicles already said pretty much what I wanted to say about it. So I’m just going to point you to his blog instead. The quotes that really struck me:

But what really saddens and angers me about this case is that it simply reimposes all the usual memes and biases about sexually proactive women and women who do sex work voluntarily; in effect, if you are overtly sexual and happen to be violated in any way, you can expect to have no support or sympathy from the general public and damn near little or no support from the “feminist community”
especially if you happen to be a person of color, poor, or a sex worker or sex entertainer. And especially if your perpetrator just so happens to be either White or a person of privilege who has the full weight of his privilege behind him.

and

All of this makes my duty as a sex radical, a radical Black man, a feminist sympathizer/supporter, and a sex-positive activist that much tougher
but also that much more important. If there ever was a time for a sex-positive Left perspective, it is now.

Rainbow_fistAll this is reminding me of the Lynn Griffiths case. (I tried to find a link about it, but it happened in the pre-Internet days, and I couldn’t find anything on the Web.) Back in the ’90s in San Francisco, there was a very public, all-over-the-news incident of a lesbian named Lynn Griffiths who had been badly queer-bashed. The gay community and the gay press was all over it, in a “See, this is what homophobia looks like, this is what we have to be afraid of” way. And when the police started commenting that there were holes in her story, the community got irate about police insensitivity.

CrazypersonExcept it turned out that there were holes in her story. Because it didn’t happen. She turned out to be kind of a nutjob — she injured herself, and claimed she was gay-bashed to get attention. When the holes in her story started getting impossible to ignore, she actually did the same thing a second time — and then, in the face of increasing anger and incredulity, fled the state.

Which just made it harder for everybody. Because it’s not as if queer-bashing didn’t — doesn’t — happen. But after this incident, everyone who really did get queer-bashed — or who fought against anti-gay violence — suddenly found themselves a little less credible.

And it’s not as if African-American women, and sex workers, and African-American sex workers, don’t get raped by privileged white guys. But now the ones who do are going to have a much harder time of it. There are thousands of times that this happens, and it never makes the papers — but this is the case that people are going to remember.

But… oh, just go read the piece on the SmackDog blog. He says it better than I can. And it’s a really good blog generally, and worth checking out.

John McCain on AIDS: “Gee, I Never Thought About That!”

Mccain1Over on Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton has an excellent piece about a recent interview with John McCain on his “Straight Talk Express” tour bus, where he was asked whether the U.S. should fund condom distribution in Africa and elsewhere around the world to help prevent AIDS. You can read the whole transcript (much of which is appalling) on Ed’s blog, or on the New York Times blog he was citing. I just want to point out the comments that really jumped out at me:

“I never got a question about it before.”

“You’ve stumped me.”

“I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

So let me get this straight.

Act_upHe’s been in Congress since 1982. He’s been in the Senate since 1986. He ran for President in 2000. In other words, his national political career dovetails almost perfectly with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in this country.

And this is the first time he’s considered the question of what the U.S. government should and should not do to help stop the spread of HIV?

That, just by itself, makes him grotesquely unqualified to be President. Heck, it makes him grotesquely unqualified to be in the Senate.

Baptizing_of_americaOf course, I don’t think that’s really what’s going on. I don’t think this is the first time he’s considered this question. I just think it’s the first time he’s considered this question since he decided that, if he wants to be President, he has to start sucking the dick of the religious right. (The more I read about McCain, the more I realize that the whole “free-thinking maverick who’ll fight for the little guy” schtick is one of the most successful snow jobs in the history of American politics. You can read more about him in the Culture Wars archives and on Making Light.)

Mccain2But look at it this way. The very fact that he thinks “Gee, I never really thought about this before” is a remotely valid response to the question “What should the U.S. government do to help stop the spread of HIV?” — that, just by itself, proves beyond any doubt that he is not qualified to be dogcatcher… much less a Senator, and much, much less a President.

Well, It Beats A Nice Hot Bath: Ted Haggard and the Straight Man’s Cure for Stress

Ted_haggard_1So of course I’m all over the “Ted Haggard now says he’s straight” story. But what I’m really interested in is how many people are getting it wrong.

If I read the pertinent quote correctly, then despite what you may have read or heard, Haggard isn’t saying that his homosexuality has been cured, and that after three weeks (!) of intensive therapy, he has now become heterosexual.

No. What he said (or what his church overseer the Rev. Tim Ralph said on his behalf) is, if possible, even more preposterous.

What he said was that he’s always been straight. He didn’t become heterosexual in therapy — he “discovered” his heterosexuality.

Ted_haggard_3“He is completely heterosexual,” Ralph said. “That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place.”

Right. Because straight men “act out” by sucking cock all the time.

No, really. It’s a natural stress response. Long hours, money problems, illness in the family, trouble at home? Every straight guy I know would be running to the nearest male prostitute to suck his cock. It’s a perfectly normal reaction. Very common.

My question: Just exactly how stupid do these people think we are?

Dan_savageBTW: My favorite writing so far about the Ted Haggard kerfuffle has been by sex columnist Dan Savage, who pointed out that the Haggard story competely gives the lie to ex-gay movement. The pertinent passage:

“Describing a lifelong battle against temptations that were contrary to his teachings,” says the Denver Post, “[Haggard] had sought assistance ‘in a variety of ways,’ and while he had stretches of ‘freedom,’ nothing proved effective. ‘There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life,’ Haggard wrote.”

If you believe that Jesus Christ can change the sexual orientation of a believer, why on earth did he refuse to cure Haggard? He founded a church that has 14,000 members! Thousands were brought to Christ by Haggard’s preaching. Mixed in with Ted’s meth-fueled gay sex romps and hypocritical gay bashings were, without a doubt, thousands of good works.

JesusDid Jesus help Haggard out? No. Haggard tried to battle off his “dark” desires, but nothing proved effective. There was no cure for Haggard, no miracle. No matter how long he struggled, no matter how much faith he had, Haggard’s sexual orientation remained unchanged. Nothing helped.

If giving his heart to Jesus couldn’t cure Haggard, what hope is there for the likes of me? If Jesus can’t be bothered to work a miracle for the most powerful evangelical minister in the country, what “hope” is there for the average dyke?

Oh, and in case you haven’t seen it yet: Here’s a video clip of Richard Dawkins interviewing Ted Haggard (pre-kerfuffle, of course), in which Haggard admonishes Dawkins “don’t be arrogant.” (The clip is all good, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole six minutes, the really good stuff comes about three minutes in. Video below the fold.)

[Read more…]

Please Think of the Children: Sex Offender Hysteria

Snidely_whiplashI don’t normally expect to get interesting sex news from the Skeptical Inquirer. But they had a recent article about sex offenders and sex offender hysteria — a fascinating and important article, with info that surprised even me.

BillboardNow, some of the stuff here is just obvious — or should be. You’ve seen those billboards about how 1 out of every 5 children/teenagers will be approached online by a sexual predator? My first reaction to them wasn’t, “Oh how terrible, won’t someone save the children?” My first reaction was, “That can’t possibly be right. How exactly are they defining ‘approached by a sexual predator’? Are they including every piece of Viagra and porno spam that lands in the kids’ mailboxes?”

Teenager_onlineTurns out my instincts were pretty much dead-on. No, they didn’t get the “1 out of 5″ figure by counting Viagra spam. They got it, among other things, by counting unwanted requests for sex or sexual information that teenagers got — FROM OTHER TEENAGERS. In other words, if you’re 16, and your 16-year-old best friend emails you asking if your honey has ever gone down on you, and you think it’s none of their business — that counts as an act of online sexual predation. The pertinent quote: “When the study examined the type of Internet ‘solicitation’ parents are most concerned about (e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), the number drops from ‘one in five’ to just 3 percent.”

Sex_offender_signSome of the article’s other revelations are also not entirely surprising — although it’s fascinating to see these myths ripped up in such vivid detail. There’s a lot of stuff about how many of the sex offender laws — notification laws, sex offender registries, laws banning sex offenders from living in certain areas, etc. — bear no relevance to the reality of how sex crimes are committed and by whom, and are almost entirely ineffective in preventing further sex crimes. And the article has a marvelously clear-eyed analysis of how both politicians and the news media have taken people’s real fears about sex crimes and run with them screaming into the night — all the way to the bank. Pertinent quote: “Nobody really wants to go on the record saying, ‘It turns out this really isn’t a big problem.'”

TrackingAnd the article’s most crucial conclusion — that sex predator hysteria diverts attention and resources away from efforts that might actually be effective — while it’s extremely important, is also not entirely surprising. Pertinent quote: “The resources allocated to tracking ex-felons who are unlikely to re-offend could be much more effectively spent on preventing child abuse in the home and hiring more social workers.”

But this article doesn’t just confirm the obvious (or what should be obvious). There are some very commonly-held myths about sex offenders that turn out to be total bullshit — myths that I believed myself until I read this piece.

And the one that surprised me most was the one about repeat offenders.

Repeat_offenderIf you’ve watched any crime shows ever (fiction or non-), you “know” that sex offenders are more likely than any other type of criminal to repeat their crimes. This “fact” is what’s used to defend practices like monitoring and registering sex offenders. And it is apparently completely untrue. Pertinent quote #1: “In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals.” Pertinent quote #2: “A study released in 2003 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within three years, (only) 3.3 percent of the released child molesters were arrested again for committing another sex crime against a child.”

I really need to stop getting my legal information from “Law and Order.”

There’s just one important piece of information missing from this article. It has to do with how “sex offender” is defined in the first place — and in my opinion, it’s central to this discussion.

WoodstockHere’s the thing. When you see statistics on how many sex offenders there are, or what percentage of people will be victimized by one, you should know this: In many states, including California, “sex offender” statistics include people who have committed consensual sex crimes. Depending on the state you’re in, it can include prostitutes, johns, gay men arrested for cruising in public parks, teenagers arrested for having consensual sex with other teenagers, etc.: folks who are totally not what people picture when they’re getting freaked out about how the streets are crawling with sex offenders. (An old friend of mine is very likely being counted in sex offender statistics due to a public indecency arrest — not from flashing women in dark deserted streets, not even from getting a blowjob in an alley, but from a midnight skinny-dipping adventure with friends when they were in college.)

So when you see statistics in the paper about how many convicted sex offenders there are, or how likely it is that there’s one in your neighborhood, remember that they’re not just talking about rapists and child molesters. They’re also talking about people like you and me.

Of course we should be upset about rape, child molestation, and other violent, invasive, actual sex crimes. But let’s aim our anger and fear in a direction that makes sense, reflects reality, and might actually make a difference.

The Science of Cow Farts: My Letter to Debra Saunders

Cow_fart_1Debra J. Saunders — a conservative commentator for the SF Chronicle, who occasionally used to be smart and snarky and worth paying attention to but is now mostly stupid and snarky — just wrote this column about global warming that I had to respond to. The gist of it is that (a) a few scientists don’t agree with the human-caused global warming theory, therefore there is no scientific consensus about it; and (b) cow flatulence creates more greenhouse gases than auto emissions, therefore we don’t have to worry about reducing auto emissions.

Cow_fart_5I wrote a letter to the editor in response, but they didn’t run it. I’m not annoyed — I know they get a zillion letters, and in fact the response they did run (third from the top on the Letters page) was a good one. But my letter was good too, dammit, and I thought y’all would like to see it. So here it is. Enjoy!

*****

Cow_fart_3Editor:

Debra Saunders’ column about global warming (12/12/06) makes it clear that she has no idea what science is, or how it works. The fact that a handful of scientists don’t believe in human-caused global warming doesn’t undercut the theory — any more than the handful of AIDS denialists undercuts the theory that HIV causes AIDS. Serious disagreement within the scientific community is not the same as an overwhelming scientific consensus disputed by a handful of cranks.

Cow_fart_4And her argument about cows is just silly. The meat industry is as much a product of human civilization as the auto industry. If cow flatulence creates more greenhouse gases than auto emissions, it’s hardly an argument against reducing auto emissions. If anything, it’s an argument for reducing the consumption of beef.

-Greta Christina

*****

Cow_fart_2One final note: I would just like to point out that a Google image search for “cow fart” yielded 87 results. An additional 20 for “cow flatulence.” Impressive. Not as startling as the 453 results I got from “sexy fishing” (see The Aging Slut), but not bad.

Grand Theft Auto: Jerusalem

Left_behind_2Sometimes the Christian Right surprises even me.

There’s this Christian video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” in which players try to convert people to Christianity — and if nonbelievers won’t convert, players have to kill them. (It’s in the news because non-psychotic Christian groups are asking Wal-Mart to stop carrying the game, on the grounds that it’s, you know, monumentally fucked-up.)

Left_behind_1I’m not going to get into the hypocrisy of this, the complete violation of actual Christian values. I’m not even going to get into the disingenuous, “we don’t understand why everyone’s so upset” attitude of the company’s president. I can only shoot fish in a barrel for so long, and these are exceptionally slow, stupid fish.

What I want to say is this: If there were a video game being sold in Iran and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in which Islamic fundamentalist characters won by converting or killing non-Muslims, people in the U.S. would be having nineteen kinds of hysterics. The Christian right especially.

So… okay, fine. I guess I am getting into the hypocrisy of it. So sue me.

Rod_and_todd(P.S. Because everything I needed to know I saw on the Simpsons, I have to mention the Christian video game Rod and Todd Flanders play, a “shoot to convert” game very similar to the “Left Behind” one. Bart’s playing the game with Rod and Todd: he excitedly shouts, “Ooh, full conversion!” and Rod says, “No, you just winged him and made him a Unitarian.”)