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Undo! Undo! April 13, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in drama, food, politics, religion, technology.
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Every self-respecting publication has a retractions section. Bluejay is nothing if not self-respecting (which I guess makes it nothing) and so here is the inaugural retractions section.

Several hours ago I posted about the Catholic Church’s new harder stance against sex-offending priests. That led to a comment about Stephanie Ragusa. And a short-ish rant about the lack of a double standard in statutory rape laws. My view was, there should be a double standard—currently there doesn’t appear to be one—because young boys are less psychologically damaged by sex with older women than young girls by consensual sex with older men. Well, I thought it over on the drive home. And I retract. That’s a knee-jerk, narrow view that smells of David Lee Roth’s (no relation) “Hot for Teacher.” Stealing is stealing, whether it’s stealing from rich people or poor people. And statutory is statutory, whether you’re “Hot for Teacher” or not. On the web—as in life—there is no undo. There is only strike through. And so I am striking through rather than deleting the retracted part of the previous post.

Also heard and pondered on the drive home, this entry’s post-scripts are brought to you by WHYY, Philadelphia and NPR. National. Public. Radio.

P.S. Big round for Family man Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for making Congress eat dogfood. For the urban-dictionary-impaired: eating dogfood means playing by the same rules you set for other people.

P.P.S. As it turns out, there is a new weed out there that is resistant to each and every herbicide approved for use in the US. Farmers have had to resort to weeding by hand! Ha! Take that! How exactly did this super-weed develop? Apparently because of overuse of Roundup. And why is Roundup overused? Apparently because of the proliferation of Roundup-resistant genetically modified crops! Evolution, evidently, is not only a bitch, she’s a bitch with a sense of irony.

P.P.P.S. Twitter is going to start advertising. In other news, toilet paper is going to start advertising.


Catholic Church Going Hard? It’s About Time! April 13, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in crime, religion, sex, society.
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A few weeks ago, I posted an entry with the title “Catholic Church Going Soft?” in which I wrote about A-West (the Archbishop of Westminster) talking about softening the church’s stance of contraception and family planning as a temporary measure to deal with the overpopulation crisis in Africa. Someone actually made a long comment on that post—yes, there have been comments, 9 of them to be precise—about the church and its sex scandals. I wasn’t even going to go there, but I will after the Vatican announced today that it is instituting “sex abuse reform.” Reformation 2.0!

The church hasn’t provided any details about this reform. Although presumably, it is going to take a harder stance on sex abuse by its own rank and file. Hence, the inter-post punny title. I’m nothing if not punny. Actually, this is a serious topic and so let me get all of the puns out of the way now. When I first read the words “sex abuse reform”, I thought of things like “the church will institute a sex abuse mandate which will kick in in 2014”, “priests will be able to abuse their parishioners, but there will also be a public option”, “starting in 90 days priests will no longer be able to deny abuse to children with pre-existing conditions”, and so on. If you think that’s not funny, I apologize. I personally don’t think it’s funny either. Nor do I think it is funny when someone compares the “persecution” the church is receiving over this scandal to anti-semitism. Really. I hadn’t realized that bad press is roughly equal to the Holocaust. Or that Jewish clergy molested young children.

Anyways, I am Jewish and I don’t go to church. I don’t even go to synagogue much. And so I don’t care whether abusive priests are defrocked or remain frocked. What I do care about is that they go to prison. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t child molestation a felony? For god’s sakes, even consensual sex with a minor is a felony. Just ask Stephanie Ragusa. By the way, here’s a good MTV top 50 countdown—Stephanie is number 7. Steph is going to do 10 years—well, probably 5—for consensual sex with two 14 year old boys. Why is the church hemming and hawing about defrocking? Forget church internal matters. The first call should be to the local police. The church can deal with the offending priest when he gets out of prison, where presumably he can have as much male sex as he wants. Maybe even more than he wants. Okay, I promised I won’t pun and that was the last one. Really, I don’t understand why the church doesn’t take the hardest line possible against this. Isn’t moral high ground essentially their only currency? How can they continue to devalue it like this? Even the NFL, lenient as it is (see Stallworth, Donte) is not this lenient (see Jones, Adam “Pacman”). By the way, would Adam Jones’ wife go by “Mrs. Pacman”? Would his son go by “Pacman Jr.”? Ooops, I did it again!

Speaking of sex-abuse reform, statutory rape, and Stephanie Ragusa. I don’t know, but the fact that male-by-female statutory rape is treated symmetrically to female-by-male statutory rape (forget male-by-male and female-by-female for now) seems a little disingenuous to me. I understand that there is gender-based double-standard for non-statutory rape. People tend to look at male-by-female rape as a novelty or curiosity more than as a crime. And that may not be right, but it’s understandable given the fact that male-by-female rape is rare—or maybe it’s common but even more under-reported than female-by-male rape, although I doubt it given that it’s probably much more difficult to pull off given usual ratios of strength and the mechanics of intercourse—and given common understanding of the roles played by males and females during sex.

But why isn’t there a similar double standard for statutory rape? I understand the whole adult taking advantage of child argument, but the same sexual mechanics argument still applies, the strength ratio argument also largely applies, and the fact is that sex to men is not the same thing as it is to women. Did you know that the area of the brain devoted to thinking about sex is three times larger in men than it is in women? Maybe not in Stephanie Ragusa, but in general? I don’t know anything about this, but I would venture to guess that male victims of statutory rape are psychologically wounded to a lesser degree than female victims (I tried Googling, but couldn’t find anything). And if that is the case, then male-by-female statutory rape should be downgraded to something less than it is. Not to nothing. Stephanie Ragusa, Mary Kay LeTourneau, and their ilk are predators. And they should not be allowed near children. But on the ground, the harm they cause is probably less than people think, and this means that the punishment is probably disproportionate.

Maybe I am completely off-base on this. This is just stuff that came to me as I was scanning today’s NYT, CNN, and BBC. And if it comes to me, it’s probably coming to PhillyBluejay. Either way, it’s posts like these that make me happy that I have a readership of five.

P.S. Whatever sentence Stephanie deserves, this lady deserves a longer one.

P.P.S. And still on the subject of sex-abuse reform … Thanks for sparing us, Hef. And way to play the sympathetic figure, Kate. Really, ever since the last episode of Jon and Kate plus eight plus Jon’s girlfriend plus Kate’s lawyer minus Jon, it’s hard to tell who has become the biggest loser. Kate, you are currently in the “lead.”

P.P.P.S. Climate change denial, evolution denial, quantum mechanics denial, 2nd law of thermodynamics denial, and gravity denial are all just micro-symptoms of a more general science denial.

All In The Family April 12, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in politics, religion.
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(gravel tenor) Boy the way Glen Miller played. (impossible soprano) Songs that made the hit parade. (gravel tenor) Guys like us we had it made. (both) Those were the days.

Indeed. I remember watching “All In The Family” with my parents as a young kid. We lived in Israel then and didn’t understand English so I read the subtitles. I still remember some of the classic refrains though. “He’s a good boy, Archie!” “He’s a meathead!” And the opening song “Those were the days.” In college, one of my roommates and I occasionally butchered that song. He could do a great Edith. I have to admit I never knew what the first line of the song was until a few minutes ago. As a kid, I could never make it out, and in college … well, we didn’t have Google … and we only sang it when we were drunk.

Anyways, for the past hour or so, I’ve been Googling and reading up on “The Family” (here’s one piece from NPR) and am tempted to order Jeff Sharlet’s book from Amazon (except it will end up going on the end of a long queue and never getting read). The Family is an invisible (i.e., secret) religious society that is currently in the news because of a certain C street house and rental subsidies to Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and representative Zack Wamp (R-Tennessee), both members. I first heard about The Family about a year ago during John Ensign (R-Nevada) staffer-gate. I read a little bit back then and found out that The Fam has many members in high politics including about ten Senators, a bunch of Reps, and even former chief justice William Rehnquist. But at the time, I didn’t dig deeply into their charter or their operations (not that you can dig deeply into these things because members operate under an effective gag order and there is no paper trail). Now? Maybe I better stop reading, because the more I read the more creeped out I get.

The Family is part fundamentalist religious prayer group, part secret society, part Republican sub-party (not the centrist part either), part cabal, part mafia, all creepy.

In 1948, a group of Senate staffers met to discuss ways that the Family’s “cell and leadership groups” could recruit elites unwilling to participate in the “mass meeting approach” of populist fundamentalism. Two years later, the Family declared that with democracy inadequate to the fight against godlessness, such cells should function to produce political “atomic energy”; that is, deals and alliances that could not be achieved through the clumsy machinations of legislative debate would instead radiate quietly out of political cells. [from the NPR story]

They recruit politicians, businessmen, and other “key figures”–the former using rent-subsidized C street apartments with maid service–to push their agenda. TFam operates under a bunch of different names and through various fronts–like the Fellowship Foundation and International Christian Leadership–and it provides “spiritual guidance” for countless other foundations, charities, and non-profits. Some of TFam’s operations have multi-million dollar annual budgets, and generally speaking large sums of money flow both through TFam and between its members, but everything is apparently in non-sequential unmarked bills–everything is under the table, by gentleman’s agreement, and untraceable. You won’t find their financial statements on GuideStar.org.

The Family surfaces for one morning a year, the “National” “Prayer” “Breakfast”, which gathers 3,000 plus at the Washington Hilton for prayer, muffins, seminars, and networking sessions that lead to all sorts of hush-hush national–and international–government and corporate deals. Evidently, TF was responsible for Richard Nixon’s political pardon, the Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt, and averting full-scale civil war in South Africa. But they also count as members and associate with so many shady figures–including foreign dictators and generals–that these good works are likely balanced, or maybe even outweighed, by self-serving malfeasance. One hates to conjecture what other things TF had a hand in. A safe bet may be … everything. I’m sure TF knows where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, who masterminded the JFK assassination, and what is in area 51.

Even with a Democratic White House and Congress, TFam is still doing its thing. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) is a member. And both Hillary Clinton and Al Gore often consult with TFam leadership–an inconvenient truth of another kind. We bitch and moan about the ineffectiveness of Congress, partisan gridlock, and the influence of corporate money. But all of this may be less relevant than we think. Or at least less directly relevant. Maybe our focus needs to shift deeper underground. Maybe we need to root out The Family and shine a little daylight on it. We are certain to be surprised at what we find. And we may also be surprised at how differently governments and corporations begin to operate. On the other hand, do we really want to know? And do we really want to see a government without The Family behind it? After all, we haven’t had one since 1935!

One nation under God, indeed. It may be one world under God. Or one world under Doug Coe.

P.S. My condolences to the entire country of Poland. Can you imagine if this happened in the US?

P.P.S. The new sports media.

P.P.P.S. A woman with an interesting resume.

P.P.P.P.S. Ironically, the first two lines of the last verse of “Those Were the Days” are “Didn’t need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight.” Hmmm…

Catholic Church Going Soft? It’s About Time! April 2, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in Africa, population control, religion, sustainability.
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Kudos, Archbishop of Westminster! (henceforth, A-West, like a rapper). Kudos A-West for understanding that vicious cycle of over-population, poverty, ignorance, and death that is happening in many areas of the third world (especially Africa) and daring to propose that contraception may be a temporary part of the solution. Benedict XVI, are you listening? By the way, don’t you love the fact that the only things still numbered using Roman numerals are popes, Superbowls, and Hollywood films?

I understand where Catholicism gets its anti-abortion view, but not where it gets its anti-contraception view. Is it from Meaning of Life? I mean, can’t contraception be viewed as an extension of abstinence? You are not killing a zygote, after all. And you are killing a potential zygote in the same way as you would by abstaining, or by sitting in a hot tub, or by masturbating, or by taking a bad-hop grounder to the loins. John Rock, the inventor of the birth control pill, was a devout Catholic. He thought the pill was “Kosher” (sorry to mix my religious metaphors there) because it worked by natural means–the body’s own hormones. By the way, you should really read this article. Not only because you should read anything by Malcolm Gladwell, but because it’s a fascinating scientific story. Evidently, there may be a healthier birth control pill coming around soon, one that works not by convincing the female body that it’s a little bit pregnant and should menstruate regularly, but by convincing it that it is menopausal and should not menstruate at all! Fascinating.

But back to our story. In the developed world, an unwanted child is somewhere between “financial burden” and “blessed surprise.” In the developing world, an unwanted child is a tragedy. That child is usually doomed to a short life of poverty and his or her presence further degrades the conditions and prospects of his siblings and parents. Family planning is a cornerstone of every liberated society that thinks of its women as contributors rather than as concubines, and of every progressive society with the slightest clue about economics and future planning. Unchecked population growth is a scourge on any nation, but especially a poor one. As population grows, limited food, health, and education resources have to get spread out of more and more people, leaving each individual less prosperous and productive. With unproductive individuals, the economy can’t grow to keep pace with the population, sending the country into a spiral of poverty that usually ends in violence and sometimes in state failure. King George the 43rd made many stupid and retrospectively disastrous decisions, but one of the most damaging was his decision to stop all family planning aid to developing nations. By doing so, he helped to foster runaway population growth in sub-Saharan Africa–not to mention the spread of AIDS–and, indirectly, the conflicts in Sudan and Rwanda. Poor nations cannot handle excessive population growth. We can help them confront this problem using education and birth control to help reduce their birth rates. Or we can sit back and watch what’s happening now, which is an increase in their death rates. If you phrase the moral question that way, the answer is pretty clear.

P.S. I hope my three readers (yes, I am up to three) don’t get the impression that I am anti-Catholicism in particular or anti-religion in general. I am not. I am only against 2000 year old dogma that runs counter to the realities of the modern world. By the way, I myself am Jewish, although like my idol Allen Iverson, I rarely practice.

P.P.S. “Want want want want want want want Google PowerMeter” -Allison Roth

P.P.P.S. In other news, this may not actually be as bad as it looks, but it certainly looks bad!