May 19, 2004

Being a vote-getter in the South does not make it right

Posted by Curt at 07:52 PM | permalink | 16 comments

As the unimaginable tide of idiocy surrounding this gay marriage debate swells to ever-higher levels, this article provides a pretty good example of this closeted thinking which blinders even many of the supporters of gay marriage. I should say first of all that I absolutely agree with the first point that the author makes, which is that the slippery-slope argument against gay marriage is a total sham. I particularly like this formulation:

“Since few opponents of homosexual unions are brave enough to admit that gay weddings just freak them out, they hide behind the claim that it’s an inexorable slide from legalizing gay marriage to having sex with penguins outside JC Penny’s.”

Completely true, as far as I can tell from my dealings with opponents of gay marriage. At the same time, the author, admittedly well-meaning, attempts to prove that it is not necessarily a slippery slope from gay marriage to bestiality. This point in and of itself is perfectly valid: there need not be any such thing as a slippery slope if each case is considered under its own merits. If people find gay marriage to be socially acceptable but not bestiality, there is no inexorable law which dictates that they most accept both. Then she tries to demonstrate that bestiality, incest with children, pedophilia, etc. are not valid extensions of the principle behind allowing gay marriage. Again, mostly valid. But then she also claims that there is no slippery slope leading from gay marriage to polygamy, incest, polyamory, etc., and in so doing violates my first axiom of political and social philosophy:

Fully morally independent beings should, provided that they do not violate the wishes of another or cause them harm, be allowed to do whatever the fuck they want to do.

In the case of bestiality, pedophilia, I think it’s pretty clear why the idea of marriage is inapplicable: children and animals are not fully morally independent beings, so a union involving them could not really be consensual. These would always, then, be implicitly coercive and hence illegitimate. That seems like a sufficient fundamental principle to rule out these practices, though I am not persuaded that there are compelling “health reasons” why bestiality, for example, should be forbidden.

But in the case of polygamy or incest, she attempts to claim, for example, that polygamy could not be accepted as a form of marriage, even though gay marriage could, because “The desire of a group of seven people to marry simply does not intuitively fit into that binary sphere of intimacy.” But does it occur to her that this argument from the properties of marriage is exactly the basis for the opposition to gay marriage? She thinks that the fundamental quality of marriage is that it is “binary”; opponents of gay marriage think that it is that it is only between a man and a woman. That argument is unwinnable. But it also totally misses the point. The point is the freedom of morally independent people to do what they want. Why the hell should polygamists not be allowed to get married, provided they are all consenting adults? If they, or gay people, or transvestites or whoever else want to get married and can find a church or some other such institution which is willing to approve it, why should we stop them? And as for those arguments that marriage is meant to encourage healthy and stable families rather than simply satisfying the desires of the participants? Please. I will believe that argument when married couples are required by law to have children and divorce is made illegal. As it is, pretty much any man and woman can get married under any circumstances, stable, healthy family or no. They can choose to be a childless, loveless couple if they so choose, which just proves how bankrupt the argument is.

Now I am aware that the government sanctioning marriage is more than just allowing people to do what they want: it is to some extent a symbol of the approval of the government. Fair enough. But again, given that the consent and volition of the participants is basically the only determining factor in approving heterosexual marriages, I cannot think of any compelling reason why this should not also be the standard when it comes to gays, transgendereds, kissing cousins and whoever else, other than the fact that it is icky to think about.

Of course, this is not really an argument for why gay marriage, polygamous marriage, etc. should be legal, simply for why gays and all the rest should be treated equally to straight people. Therefore, there are two alternatives, as I see it:

1. Recognize anyone as married who wants to be married (if they are adult, morally independent, etc.).

2. Don’t recognize any marriages.

As far as I am concerned, both of these alternatives are equally valid, at least logically, and the second even has the advantage that it implicitly makes clear that the strength of a union of love does not depend on the government’s stamp of approval. However, aware that this alternative would probably be even less popular than recognizing bestial marriages, as a practical matter the first alternative should be the position of conscientious, freedom-loving souls.

p.s. It would appear, based on my summary perusal of Reason magazine, that the libertarians are falling for the totally vacuous it-shouldn’t-be-allowed-because-it-goes-against-tradition argument, but I will not be able to confirm or deny that until I have read the article more thoroughly.

p.p.s. I know that some people think that gay marriage, in addition to being a violation of the concept of marriage and leading the way to even more perverse sexual practices, will also somehow undermine heterosexual marriage, I suppose either by making straight people give up their marriages in a huff over having to share their legal privileges with gay people, or by convincing them to abandon their families and start gay marriages. In the case of the first, (a) I can’t imagine anyone actually doing this and (b) I also can’t imagine why we should make special accomodations for a selfishness that pure and invidious. As the for the second, as far as I can tell, it can only arise from that archaic-yet-persistent belief that homosexuality is voluntary rather than genetic. Of course, even if you believe that homosexuality is chosen, I am not sure which aspect of the gay lifestyle you think proves more attractive to straight people: the social stigma or the constant threat of contracting AIDS. Of course, I think we all know deep within ourselves that the real threats to marriage and healthy families are alcoholism, divorce and over- or under-investing oneself in one’s children, among other things, so perhaps people should concern themselves with solving those problems rather than worrying about the marginal effect of the few married closet homosexuals who might decide that it is finally safe to come out into the open.

May 07, 2004

Girls with guns

Posted by shonk at 02:38 AM | permalink | 7 comments

Girls with Guns Target Breast Cancer

No, that’s not the No Treason daily pic (though it would make a good one, if someone could find a larger version). Instead, some female police officers from Guelph, Ontario decided to dress up and pose with some of their favorite weaponry in a poster titled “Girls with Guns Target Breast Cancer” in order to raise the $2000 entry fee for the Princess Margaret Hospital’s Weekend to End Breast Cancer walk in Toronto this fall. Some tight-asses were not amused:

“There they are sporting guns as if it’s a fun thing to do,” said Dawn Reynolds, a family therapist in Guelph who is offended by the poster.

“Guns are what kill women. They are not a good thing. I regret hugely that this was done, especially for such a worthy cause as breast cancer.”

First of all, they’re not “sporting guns as if it’s a fun thing to do”. They’re sporting guns as if it’s something that will sell a lot of posters, the proceeds of which are intended to help fight breast cancer. Second, I hate to parrot the NRA, but guns don’t kill people (no, not even women). If you want to get super-pedantic about it, bullets kill people. If you want to look at the broader scope of things, both guns and bullets are tools used by people, occasionally to kill other people. We don’t put weaponry on trial for first-degree murder, we put people on trial. Why? Because it takes a person, a human being, to commit a murder (now, I admit, in the case of accidents, it can be true that a gun kills someone, but, then again, so do bandsaws and cars, yet nobody would have complained too vigorously if these women had posed with a Ferrari). And, remarkably enough, a lack of guns does not prevent people from killing people. Knives, baseball bats, poisons and various other implements can also be useful in this regard.

My point is this: yes, people use guns to kill people; yes, that’s a tragedy; yes, it would be nice if they didn’t. But the irrational fear of guns displayed by so many people is really disconcerting. If you go into shrieking hysterics at the mere depiction of a fancy piece of twisted metal in a poster, you’ve got problems.

Okay, back to the article. Sue Richards, Guelph entrepreneur and creator of the Breast of Canada calendar:

“It’s a very unusual image. It’s not obvious these are police officers for starters, and they are not showing breasts — they’re showing guns,” she said.

“I do see a sexual tone to it. To me it is provocative. Personally, I would have preferred to see them in police uniforms. Then the guns are in context.”

Personally, I would probably be more alarmed by a depiction of cops with guns drawn than I am by the poster as it actually is (which wouldn’t, I admit, take much, since I’m not at all alarmed by the poster). But then, I have been accused of having some unusual political opinions. Nonetheless, a cop with a gun drawn is usually a sign that bad things are happening (whether those bad things are being done by the cop or by someone else depends, of course, on the context).

As for the “[t]o me it is provocative” comment: no shit! Of course it’s provocative. Provocative sells. And that is, of course, the point. To sell the posters. And what “context”, exactly, does a police uniform give? That Big Brother and the JBTs will get your ass if you step out of line? Apparently, a strong, independent woman isn’t strong and independent enough to handle the responsibility of owning and handling a firearm unless she’s on the force, thereby demonstrating that she’s not too intelligent or strong-minded (in this context, let’s not forget the DEA agent who managed to shoot himself in the leg while giving a gun safety talk to a bunch of kids; also, see John Venlet’s post).

And, finally, I should point out that Richards’ calendar doesn’t seem to mind sexualizing weaponry, so I find it a little hypocritical of her to criticize these women for doing the same.

Returning to the article (I’m almost done, I swear), we have Sly Castaldi, acting executive director of Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis, who, after making a predictably disparaging remark about the use of the word “girls”, adds the following:

“Twenty years ago we were the only agency speaking out about domestic violence and women’s rights. Now people are making those connections on their own.

“It’s good when the community can do critical thinking on issues like this.”

Say what?!? Where does domestic violence come into this picture?

First, let me just point out how irresponsible it is of the reporter to add this quote to the article. Castaldi is obviously pushing her own agenda, as a crisis center director, rather than addressing the issue purportedly being discussed in the article. I can see no good reason for giving her the soapbox other than to underhandedly insinuate that guns = domestic violence.

Now, as for the domestic violence quip itself. My only response is this: the only relevance that guns have to domestic violence (at least as characterized by men beating the crap out of women) is as a deterrent. If more women had guns and knew how to use them, we might see a goodly drop in the rate of domestic violence. After all, it’s one thing to slap the old lady around a bit or work her over with a baseball bat, but I think even the most reckless woman-beater might think twice about beating up a woman pointing a .45 at him. And hey, if he wants to give it a shot anyway, BANG, one less woman-beater in this world. Good riddance, I say.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that this is the solution to domestic violence and other related issues. That whole realm of (sub-)human behavior is way too complicated and fucked-up for me to deal with. All I’m saying is, instead of cowering in fear at the mere suggestion of some non-officially-recognized someone holding one of those fancy twisted pieces of metal, why not say “hey, maybe that’s a tool that might come in handy in certain situations”? Because that’s all a gun is. A tool. And, like any other tool, it can be used both for good and for ill.

March 26, 2004

Aye, Comrade, loading Slide 2...

Posted by Curt at 07:17 PM | permalink | 3 comments

Sigh. And, once again, two of my favorite peeves: PowerPoint and arguments about the Establishment Clause.

March 03, 2004

Why skepticism is good

Posted by shonk at 01:52 AM | permalink | 3 comments

Getting linked at a furious pace around the blogosphere (getting Slashdotted helps) is an article at Alex Jones’ site claiming that the new twenty has an RFID tag in it. At first glance, the article was alarming to me, but my skepticism quickly overtook my alarm. The EU is planning to put RFIDs in the Euro, but, even though they’ve tried to keep it relatively quiet, it’s gotten a fair amount of publicity. So it seems unlikely that the US Treasury Dept. could slip this one by. Also, it’s a little suspicious that these people microwaved $1000 worth of twenties right off the bat, instead of nuking just one to see what would happen first.

Far be it from me, though, to dismiss an easily testable contention without trying it myself. I’ve got a couple of new twenties in my wallet, so I pulled them out and had a look. Nothing visible embedded under Jackson’s right eye in either one. Now, RFIDs can be small, but even the smallest are at least as big as a grain of sand, which should be visible when the bill is held up to the light. I did an extensive inspection of the new twenty when it first came out, and didn’t see anything that could have been construed as an RFID then, either. Still, there’s no reason not to try microwaving, even though I already had one major mishap in the kitchen today. So I microwaved both twenties on high for a minute, which is more than enough time to fry the electronics in an RFID. The result: nothing.

Now, I’m not claiming that these people’s twenties didn’t catch on fire, but it seems to me, based on all of the above, that there are no RFIDs in the new twenty. More likely is that a piece of metal got adhered to one of them and caught fire in the microwave; since the twenties were stacked, this would cause all of the twenties to be burned in approximately the same place.

In other words, while it’s not a bad idea to get concerned about RFIDs, I’m pretty sure they’re not in the new twenty.

For more on RFIDs in general, check out the CASPIAN RFID FAQ (enough caps for you?)

February 26, 2004

Jesu Cristo!

Posted by Curt at 01:03 PM | permalink | 11 comments

I haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ yet, nor do I plan to, but I think I can fairly safely conclude that any film depiction of the Gospels which insists on playing to American audiences exclusively in Aramaic and Latin for purposes of “authenticity” (evidently even the English subtitles were only grudgingly included) was conceived in a clumsy, enormously literalistic spirit. And yet it is not this species of Renanian pedantry which evidently has provoked the contempt and argument of so many, but this fathomlessly stupid (and endlessly revived) debate about Jewish guilt in the death of Jesus. Of course, I could simply refer everyone once again to Bill Hicks, commenting on the phony controversies surrounding films of dubious merit (“don’t get caught up in the phony hysteria surrounding this piece of shit film”) but this particular debate casts once again into focus the blank denial of realty at the heart of our particular American ideology of victimhood.

What I mean by that is this: whether or not Mel Gibson has it in for the Jews, the contention that the Jews called for the crucifixtion of Christ and essentially forced his execution by threat of rebellion can, by itself, hardly be considered anything other than a literal regurgitation of the Gospels. If Gibson is being condemned for following the Gospels in this respect, then the Gospel writers cannot possibly be exculpated of anti-Semitism and Gibson condemned, because this tacit accusation of the Jews is undeniably present in all of their accounts. Not having seen the film, I cannot say whether he deviates from the Gospels in any important respects, but I get the impression that most of these complaining activists, not having the courage to actually call the Gospels anti-Semitic and illegitimately prejudiced, are simply fixating on this film as a proxy and a scapegoat.

Of course, this activist demand to change the historical record has not been motivated by any actual evidence that Jews were not principally responsible for the death of Jesus, but simply by the unyielding victimist ideology which states that Jews, as a traditionally oppressed and discriminated-against minority, cannot be held guilty of any actions if such judgment could invite further oppression of and discrimination against them. Of course, no moral culpability should connect group actions in the distant past with living members: even if certain Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, Jews living today should no more be held resonsible for that deed than I, despite my ancestral origins in the Rhine valley, should be held responsible for the massacres of the Jews there during the Crusades. Moral responsibility is personal, and is by definition enclosed within a single lifetime.

Were Jewish leaders to acknowledge the possibility of Jewish complicity in the death of Jesus and then demand to know what difference that should make today, I think such a response would expose the basic hollowness and superficiality of any fundamentalist Christian desire to condemn living Jews because of it. And I think more generally that should all of humanity face up to the real truth of the many actions in the past which have led to the current state of the world, neither denying nor hiding the truth, then the injustices of the past could be accepted and learned from without providing incitement to future vengeance. Of course, in the present case, sadly, such openness probably would invite on all Jews a certain degree of malice from at least a few fanatical Christians. But then again, reasonableness is always vulnerable to fundamentalism—that should never be a reason to indulge in an equally irrational dogmatism.

February 08, 2004

Rhetorical Question

Posted by shonk at 09:39 PM | permalink | comment

How soon before a lawsuit is filed against American Airlines?

February 07, 2004

Around the Web Today

Posted by shonk at 01:59 AM | permalink | 1 comment

In the news

  • Great taste, less privacy — the magnetic strip on the back of your driver’s license contains more data than you might like. And bars and restaurants see this as a great source for marketing data. As if this should surprise anyone.

Other interesting links

  • The Sound…Of Silence — there are at least nine different tracks of utter silence available on the iTunes Music Store. At 99 cents a pop. Disappointing to note that John Cage’s 4’33” is not, apparently, among them.

January 31, 2004

Speech Codes

Posted by shonk at 12:44 AM | permalink | comment

Ah, speech codes. Gotta love ‘em. The one at Illinois State, for example, is so restrictive with regards to drugs and alcohol that a “Just Say No to Drugs” poster would be verboten:

The school’s response was that the University Housing Services policy prohibits (among other things) any “references to alcohol, tobacco and/or illicit drugs,” and the picture of a marijuana leaf and the title “Hempfest” violates this policy. (The e-mail that I quote above quotes another policy, which — according to the school — the flyer also violated.) Obviously, such a policy would literally prohibit a “Just Say No to Drugs” event, since that’s a reference to illicit drugs; likewise, as the group’s legal argument (available at the site cited above) points out, for a support group for alcoholics. And if the policy isn’t applied to such events, that would only show that in reality the policy is viewpoint-based — messages that drugs are bad would be OK, but messages that drugs really aren’t so bad wouldn’t be.

Of course, it hardly even needs be said, but I’ll quote Volokh’s conclusion anyway: “This is quite likely unconstitutional, and pretty clearly a violation of students’ academic freedom.”

December 29, 2003

Serial killers revisited

Posted by Curt at 04:36 PM | permalink | comment

Just one final thougt on the topic of serial killers. I go to school at Kenyon College, about an hour from Columbus, Ohio, where in late November and early December a sniper was targeting cars driving along the interstate. Many of you may not have heard about this, because evidently the officials made a conscious effort, unlike in the case of the D.C. snipers, to limit press coverage of it so as not to allow the sniper to indulge himself in the national media spotlight. In any case, this sparked an interesting conversation with the mother of one of my friends at school, who had recently moved to Columbus from D.C. and hence was understandably perplexed about having to deal with her second sniper scare in two years. I concluded (aside from the obvious point that these “threats” can either be blown up into huge spectacles or entirely quashed by the media) that, although mass murder may be as old as our species, serial killing, the use of murder as a means of self-expression, seems to me to be basically a (principally American) cultural phenomenon. While I don’t doubt the pathology behind it, I take serial killing to be essentially a development of the artistic pshychology, in which the inherent amorality and egotism of the artistic temperament becomes not merely heterogenous with any sort of moral framework but in fact directly opposed to it.

December 27, 2003

And now for a lighter topic-serial killers!

Posted by Curt at 03:52 AM | permalink | 1 comment

Two new movies have just been released about various aspects of the life of the convicted serial killer Aileen Wournos, who was executed in Florida last year, have just been released. One of them, Monster is a fictionalized Hollywood treatment. The other one, Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, is a documentary about the filmmaker’s ordeal last year while testifying during Wournos’ final appeal. Not having seen either film, I can’t really comment on them as films, but they do raise yet again the legal, social and yes, perhaps moral issue of the death penalty.

I promise this will be my only contribution to the death-penalty debate, but I was spurred to it by the rather perplexing attitude of at least one reviewer of the films, who at least affected to be flabbergasted that Gov. Jeb Bush would have consented to the execution of this clearly insane woman, who apparently in the documentary spouts off an endless litany of psychotic paranoid theories about her situation shortly before her death. Now nobody could be surprised that a governor who was elected partly on a pro-death penalty platform would allow the insane to be executed. But a very large number of people, not just a single movie reviewer, seem to be very appalled by this. I’m no fan of any of the Bushes, but I don’t entirely understand this furor over the execution of the mentally impaired (as opposed to executing the sane).

I have not formulated a firm attitude towards the death penalty myself, but in my mind the only possible justification for it is as the human equivalent of shooting a mad dog, i.e. as the only possible means of dealing with individuals who are simply too psychotic and dangerous to exist in society. Now I am not sure that this is true of anyone, which is why my feelings on the matter remain ambiguous, but in any case, if is true of any person, their relative sanity is pretty irrelevant. In fact, insanity would actually make it more likely that they could not be dealt with in any way other than execution.

But these people that believe that only the mentally capable that are aware of the moral significance of their actions should be eligible for execution clearly have a different conception of the point of the judicial system than I do. I have no faith in the idea of retributive justice, mainly because, as I have said before, I don’t believe that moral concerns have anything to do with the motives of the judicial system (even if they did, I don’t understand what could give judges or juries moral authority over our lives, but that is a different issue). But I can only conclude that those who support the death penalty only for the sane must have a retributive idea of justice. Why else would the relative moral culpability of the perpetrator make any difference?

Well, I suppose there is one other possibility. Some people may believe that all insane people can be cured through psychotherapy, while those who decide to murder calculatedly are beyond redemption. But this seems to me not only stupid but also perserve. Even putting aside what the actual boundary between sanity and insanity is when one is talking about mass murder, isn’t the very concept of sanity, as opposed to insanity, the idea that the sane person is reasonable, i.e. amenable to reason, capable of being reasoned with, while the insane person is not? So who is more likely to be “cured,” the sane person or the insane? It is apparent what a ludicrous debate this would be, and how filled with hubris. Which brings me back to my original premise: judges and juries have no God-like insight into other people’s psyches, hence they have no right or ability to decide upon relative moral goodness and then dispense punishment accordingly. There are some people in the world, like suicide bombers and those who train and prepare them, who I have difficulty imagining as being anything other than enormous menaces to the world for the duration of their lives. For ones such as them, I can at least see a valid argument being made for their execution, though I would not go so far as affirm it at present. But as for this phony, sniveling pseudo-moral sanctimony, enough with it!

December 12, 2003

In the News

Posted by shonk at 06:40 PM | permalink | comment

Disturbing, but not totally surprising:

Take No Prisoners

French panel favors ban on head scarves

October 17, 2003

Airline Scare

Posted by shonk at 07:53 PM | permalink | comment

I was going to talk about the boxcutters found on two Southwest planes, but Andy beat me to it. What's weird about this is that, less than a week ago, I was (rather incoherently) telling Petya that it might be possible to sneak weapons onto a plane via maintenance or catering workers, which would seem the most likely way that these boxcutters got onboard.