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.”)

Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal

Mark_foleyWell, the main thing I was going to say about the Rep. Foley teenage boy dirty text message argle-bargle, Susie Bright has already said, and better than I would have. The upshot: Congress just abolished habeas corpus and legitimized torture, and the story got buried with the department store ads (the SF Chronicle put it on Page 3). But a gay teenage sex scandal in Congress — that’s the lead story everywhere, our top story tonight, front page above the fold, and probably will be for days. (Except for the Chron. The headline story in today’s Chron was the Michelin guide giving three stars to only one Bay Area restaurant in its new Bay Area guide. You kind of have to love the Chron sometimes. Foley did make Page 1 — just not above the fold.)

So here, instead, is the other thing I want to say about the Foley scandal.

*****

SixteenI was sixteen when I first had sex. (According to how I defined it at the time, anyway.) I had it with an adult, a man in his thirties. More than once, in fact: the affair lasted roughly a month and a half.

And while I don’t think the guy covered himself with glory, I also don’t feel that I was molested. My memories of the experience aren’t stellar, but they fall into the “stupid decision/learning experience” category — not the “invasive violation/abuse of power” category. I think the guy was a schmuck, but I don’t think he was a predator, and I don’t think he was a pedophile.

CongressBefore you flip out and hit the comment button, let me be very clear — I’m not trying to defend Foley. There’s a lot of stuff Foley did that the guy I’m talking about didn’t do. As far as I know, the guy I fucked didn’t make a habit of going for teenagers on a regular basis. He wasn’t aggressive or forward about pursuing teenagers, including me. He wasn’t taking advantage of political power and status to pursue teenagers — he didn’t really have any to speak of. And, of course, he didn’t head up a Congressional caucus on protecting teenagers from people like him. Foley is a Grade A asshole, and I’m watching his fall with shameless, gleeful Schadenfreude. As Molly Ivins once said, Mama may have raised a mean child, but she didn’t raise no hypocrites.

JusticeAnd let me be very clear as well — I support the idea of age of consent laws. They’re never going to be perfect — no matter where you draw it, there are always going to be people under the line who are ready for sex, and people over the line who aren’t — but I get that that’s what laws are like. I do think age of consent laws need to be tinkered with (I personally support a three-tiered system, in which under a certain age you’re off-limits, between certain ages it’s only okay with people close to your age, and over a certain age you’re fair game), but I think the basic idea is sound.

BritneyMy point is this. When we talk about the Foley scandal, I think we need to be extremely careful about we’re getting irate about. I don’t want to reflexively join in the hysterical chorus about pedophilia and molestation and “won’t somebody please think of the children?” There’s a big difference between having a thing for 16-year-olds and having a thing for, say, 12-year-olds. Having a thing for 16-year-olds makes you a chicken-hawk — but it doesn’t make you a pedophile. (If it did, everyone who watched the Britney Spears naughty-schoolgirl video with lust in their heart is a pedophile.) In particular, lots of gay men had their first sexual experience as teenagers, with older men — and lots of those teenagers had warm, positive feelings about the experience, and continue to have those good feelings into adulthood. A good case could be made that adults having sex with 16-year-olds should be against the law, and a good case could certainly be made that it’s creepy and fucked-up — but it doesn’t make you an evil despoiler of innocent children.

No, what makes Foley evil is the hypocrisy. What makes Foley evil is that he made political hash out of Scary Disgusting Sexual Predators On The Internet Who Are Trying To Seduce Your Children… while he was using the Internet to try to seduce teenage boys.

And what makes his Republican compatriots evil — more evil than Foley, I would argue — is that they apparently knew about the Foley thing and covered it up… while they’ve been busy frothing at the mouth about those awful liberals who supposedly want to protect criminals and terrorists.

By, you know, granting them habeas corpus and stuff.

Hurricane Katrina, and What Government Is For

Whenleveesbroke_1So I’m watching “When the Levee Broke,” the Spike Lee HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina (which you all absolutely have to see, by the way), and what with that and the one-year anniversary, it seemed like a good time to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a while, about what government is — or what it should be, anyway — and about people who think government is a bad idea.

FirefighterHere’s what I think government is. Or rather, here’s what I think government should be, and what it actually is at least some of the time. I think government is/should be the structure with which a society pools some of its resources for projects and services that benefit that society, but are too big to be handled privately by individuals or small groups. And it is/should be the structure a society uses to decide how those pooled resources should be used.

ConstitutionThink roads. Sewers. Parks. Fire departments. Public health services. Law enforcement, even. God knows I have mixed feelings about law enforcement as it actually exists in our society — but as Ingrid pointed out recently, when there’s a Ted Bundy on the streets, you want there to be people whose job it is to catch them. It’s pretty much spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution, actually: “…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Katrina_1And think emergency services. For fuck’s sweet sake, think emergency services.

BushExcept we have a government — a federal government, anyway — that’s run by people who think government is a bad idea. We have a government run by people who think government should always be as small as possible, that taxes should always be as low as possible, that government is at best a necessary evil. (Or who say that’s what they think, anyway. I think they’re big fuckin’ hypocrites, but that’s a different rant.)

Katrina_peopleAnd when you see what happened a year ago in New Orleans, you see why government run by people who think government is a bad idea is a criminally bad idea.

Atom_1Because when you think about what government is — or what it should be — you realize that people who think government is a bad idea are essentially opposed to the idea of pooling resources. To oppose the very idea of government, to think of it as at best a necessary evil, is to believe in the philosophy of “Every man for himself.” It is to believe in the philosophy of “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine.” It is to believe that sharing is bad. It is to believe in the atomization of society, the breakdown of social responsibility into smaller and smaller units. To believe that government is a bad idea is to believe that society itself is a bad idea.

HalliburtonIt feels freaky to be defending the idea of government when I’m watching a documentary about its callous incompetence, its inhuman detachment, its colossal screw-up on every level. And it feels ultra-freaky to be defending the idea of government when we’re suffering through what may well go down as the worst Presidential administration in history. But in a way, that’s my point. I think that government should be run by people who think government is a good idea. People who think government is a good idea are looking for ways to make it run better. People who think government is a bad idea are cynically looking for ways they can use it to enrich themselves and their buddies.

Voting_boothThe big devil’s advocate question, of course, is why all those big social projects — roads, sewers, parks, fire departments, public health, law enforcement, etc. — can’t be handled privately, by business or charity? That brings me to the second part of my “what government should be” theory — namely, the structure a society uses to decide how its pooled resources should be used. The problem with big social projects being handled by the private sector is accountability. I want to have my roads maintained, my fires put out, my immunizations delivered — and my emergency services provided — by people I can vote for, and vote against. And I don’t want them handled by people whose top priority is not roads or fires or immunizations or emergency services, but profit. (If you want a top-notch example of why social services shouldn’t be delivered by the private sector, watch the part of the Spike Lee Katrina documentary that talks about how the insurance companies completely shafted Katrina victims.)

TaxesAre there problems with government? Fuck, yes. Massive ones. It needs to be fixed, and pronto. But it needs to be fixed by people who believe in it. So the next time someone’s running for office by promising to reduce government and cut taxes, think about whether that’s what you really want from your people in office. Because if there’s a better way for a society to pool its resources and decide how those resources should be used than a democratically elected government, I can’t think of it.

White House Caught Unaware By Sun Rising In the East

Fidel_castro

(AP) — The White House and Congress, caught unaware by Fidel Castro’s illness, prepared Wednesday for a possible showdown in Cuba as lawmakers drafted legislation that would pay millions of dollars to dissidents who fight for democratic change.

???

The handover was a surprise to the White House and Congress, one senator said.

?????

“The president’s comment was that everybody was caught by surprise, and we’ll have to wait and see” what U.S. action is necessary, said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, who discussed the developments with President Bush on Tuesday.

?!?!?!?!?

I don’t even want to talk about this legislation. I just want to say this: The Bush administration didn’t know that Fidel Castro was 79 years old, and therefore likely to get seriously ill? They weren’t prepared for this possibility, and were caught by surprise when it happened? They didn’t have a plan — even a cockamamie one — for what to do in the event that Castro got sick or died?

We are so completely fucked. I don’t even want to think about it.

North Korea, and Reason 8,624 that the War on Iraq was a Bad Idea

Kimjongil_1I’m not a 100% hardcore pacifist. I’m pretty close to it, but I’m not one. I do think there are times — not bloody many, but some — when military action is a necessary evil.

And I think that now, or soon, might just possibly be one of those times. A mentally ill, megalomaniacal dictator has been firing nuclear missiles into the Sea of Japan, with the likely intent of testing whether they can hit California. I think military action should, at the very least, be an option. It should be something we can consider. It should be a card on the table.

But it’s not.

BurningflagThanks to the war on Iraq — which we had no good reason for getting into and which has no end in sight — we have (a) no military resources, and (b) no international credibility. Our military is stretched so thin it’s accepting white supremacists to fill out its ranks. And in the field of international diplomacy and conflict, we have all the credibility and moral high ground of Tony Soprano. If a situation arises in which we do, God forbid, need the army — we are hosed. We are fucked with a chainsaw.

WiggumI’m not saying the U.S. should unilaterally attack or invade North Korea. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman. This was always one of my main arguments against the war on Iraq in the first place. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman — for the simple reason that we suck at it. As the world’s policeman, we are both corrupt and staggeringly incompetent. Our record as the world’s policeman is comparable to that of Chief Wiggum.

But if there’s an international consensus that military action is necessary — in North Korea or anywhere else on this increasingly volatile planet — we should be able to participate.

And we can’t. We expended our resources — and our respectability — to unseat a dictator who had weapons of mass destruction a decade ago, and now we have nothing left to unseat a dictator who not only has nukes, but is actually threatening to use them.

And North Korea knows it. Every megalomaniacal nutcase dictator on the planet knows it.

So this is why you don’t start pointless, unnecessary wars. It’s not just for all the obvious reasons, the misery and suffering and death and evil and children with their limbs blown off. It’s because you then don’t have the option of waging war when it isn’t pointless, when it might just possibly be necessary.

Oh, but I forgot. The war on Iraq isn’t pointless.

Oil_wellIraq has oil. And North Korea doesn’t.

Lucky for North Korea.