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    The life of the mind

    Posted by Sean at 12:35, July 1st, 2005

    I don’t know whether this woman has a legal case–is freedom of religious expression usually interpreted to mean that an instructor can be punished for assigning an individual paper with some weird criterion, even at a community college?

    I do know that the instructor in question is a ninny:

    Hauf’s teacher approved her term paper topic — Religion and its Place within the Government — on one condition: Don’t use the word God. Instead of complying with VVCC adjunct instructor Michael Shefchik’s condition Hauf wrote a 10-page report for her English 101 class entitled “In God We Trust.”

    “He said it would offend others in class,” Hauf, a 34-year-old mother of four, said. “I didn’t realize God was taboo.”

    I’m an atheist, and I’m offended at the idea that a college instructor would seek to limit rather than expand his student’s inquiry into a topic he approved. Well, okay, sometimes a student tries to bite off more than she can chew and has to be encouraged to focus, but that’s a way different issue. One of Joanne Jacobs’s commenters suggested another possibility: the teacher was trying to force each student to delve more deeply into his chosen topic by leaving out a word or two that he might be inclined to overuse. The part about “offend[ing] others in class,” assuming Ms. Hauf is recalling correctly, makes that seem unlikely.

    The young smoothies

    Posted by Sean at 10:35, July 1st, 2005

    You know how some topics seem to follow you around until you’re, like, “All right, already! Uncle! Uncle!” Two of my buddies and I were talking last night. We don’t usually get around to talking about our preferred varieties of male hotness, but somehow we got on the subject of chest hair for a good 20-minute stretch. Just now, Ace Pryhill commented that a gentleman of her acquaintance once decided to feel the breeze where he’d never felt it before. The idea struck her as kind of gay, but according to Heather Havrilesky, it isn’t anymore:

    The smoothie’s interest in his “look” is more deeply felt and sincere than that, not to mention slightly misguided and disturbingly meticulous: Baseball caps are molded, painstakingly, into the perfect C-shape; stubble is trimmed into the perfect Don Johnson-style 5 o’clock shadow; “distressed” jeans, with their calculated faded patches and hemmed rips, are cleaned and pressed and tugged just below the waist; eyebrows are waxed, as is back, chest and (gasp) the family jewels to boot. The smoothie spends a lot not just on clothes and haircuts, but on highlights, spray-tans, manicures and pedicures, bodybuilding formulas, gym memberships, dry cleaning bills, man jewelry and hip-hop classes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the smoothie is like a cross between a frat boy and Britney Spears.

    Ew. Ewwwww. Ew, ew, ew. Ih-hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiwwwww.

    We should probably applaud the newfound freedom and the joy these young men take in being objectified; we should probably stand up and cheer when these shiny boy toys shake their asses and pout like Britney; we should encourage them to dress with flair and enjoy those spa treatments and dream their big Chippendale’s-style dreams.

    We should, but we can’t. Because these men might be looking for visual perfection, but we’re not. There’s just something a little bit unappealing about men who spend far more time on themselves than most women do. When the previews for next week’s “Average Joe” flashed an invasion of blond ab monkeys in matching red sports cars, flashing white teeth and spiked hair and shiny, tan six-packs, all I could think was, Where’s the variety? Who wants a bunch of pumped-up clones with the exact same body type?

    And what’s so wrong with a little chest hair, anyway? Doesn’t anyone remember Tom Selleck, with his perfect, dark hair-patches that accented his fit-but-not-too-fit barrel chest? To plenty of women and gay men, chest hair gives the bare chest a signature touch or adds a unique feature to an otherwise featureless landscape. Sure, we loved that hairless, buff body in the black-and-white Soloflex ads when we were teenagers, but that was before every third jerk on the street had one.

    Yes. Well, except for the part about “gives the bare chest a signature touch or adds a unique feature to an otherwise featureless landscape,” which sounds as if the smoothies are working their deleterious way into Ms. Havrilesky’s brain a bit more than she realizes. I think the word she’s looking for is “touchable.”

    There’s nothing wrong with being naturally smooth. But the thing is, even guys with “no chest hair” have that down you only see up close–we’re mammals, right? When it’s shaved or N’aired away, the skin left behind takes on the texture of vinyl. And I’m sorry, when you run your hand down a man’s chest, it shouldn’t skid like a Ford Explorer going into a hydroplane.

    Let’s go ahead, don’t turn around

    Posted by Sean at 23:03, June 30th, 2005

    I don’t plan to make ex-gays a running theme here–Ex-Gay Watch, whose contributors all know a lot more about various programs and theories than I ever will, usually have that stuff covered just fine. Still, the topic is obviously of more than mere passing interest to me, and in the vein of yesterday’s post about MSNBC’s blandified article about Love in Action, here is an interview with an ex-ex-gay in Bay Windows (via Gay News).

    Naturally, my sympathies are going to lie with Wade Richards, but I can’t judge how accurately he’s actually portraying people and events. One thing that he says that jibes with everything else I’ve heard and read about de-gay-ifying programs drew my attention anew, though:

    I took a break from the press stuff and was hanging out in Los Angeles and my boss’s sister was in an open relationship for 12 years with her girlfriend. We would visit her, and when my boss wasn’t around I’d ask her sister Jenny questions. She had really been in a relationship for 12 years? What? You don’t do drugs, you don’t drink, you work for a youth organization? You volunteer your time most of the time? How weird? And then I’d be in her house and see scripture verses taped up to her mirror and little inspirational things, and I was like, ‘What’s going on? I thought this doesn’t happen. Gay people aren’t in monogamous relationships.’

    Reparative (or however they style themselves) programs don’t have any ethical responsibility to give equal time to the opposition. If you’re trying to bring people out of homosexuality, of course, you’re not going to be dwelling on the fact that there are gays in stable, long-term, sustaining relationships.

    But just because people are confused and depressed doesn’t mean they’re dum-dums. If you drum into their heads that all gays are dysfunctional, the immediate effect will doubtless be to spook them away from homosexual behavior. But it simply isn’t true that we all end up in the gutter (such a dusty place, you know, and not the sort of backdrop that flatters the skin tone). Unless kept under virtual house arrest, they’re eventually going to run into some of us gays in regular old couples and start to wonder what other facts you were playing fast and loose with. Irrespective of whose goals you support, bad strategy is bad strategy. Not to mention that, in this case, it’s dishonest.

    All systems 碁

    Posted by Sean at 10:31, June 30th, 2005

    On the other hand, not all the noise this week is good. Lead story of the Nikkei evening edition that I plucked from the mailbox after a hard day at the office:

    North Korea: Pieces in place for building of nuclear facilities, production of nuclear weapons

    The DPRK has revealed that it has restarted the construction of two nuclear reactors, which was frozen after a 1994 agreement it had mapped out with the US. The move is regarded as an attempt mass-manufacture nuclear weapons; both reactors are low-velocity graphite reactors that can be used to extract weapons-grade plutonium.


    Posted by Sean at 09:58, June 30th, 2005

    This is so great!

    Not long ago, the only disturbances at Japanese shareholders meetings came from sokaiya racketeers.

    That era ended Wednesday with round after round of tongue-lashings from legitimate shareholders fed up with deceit, waste and simple incompetence of management.

    Of companies that closed their books at the end of March and are listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, 1,072, or 59.8 percent, held their shareholders meetings on Wednesday.

    It was the first time for the number to fall below 60 percent.

    Amid a series of scandals and heightened interest in corporate takeovers, there was a significant increase in the number of individual shareholders at the meetings, many of whom took management to task.

    (Nikkei version in Japanese here.)

    So, what’s your, uh, position?

    Posted by Sean at 08:44, June 30th, 2005

    I don’t know that Terry McMillan‘s marital troubles constitute a conservative case for gay marriage, but I do know that it’s a shame Ace’s old boyfriend didn’t turn out to be as gay as she is: Imagine the mileage he could’ve gotten from working the name of his employer! And as usual, Ace has good things to say about integrity.

    What are little fags made of?

    Posted by Sean at 04:55, June 30th, 2005

    Via the Washington Blade , MSNBC has this article that starts as a summary of the Love Won Out conference sponsored by Focus on the Family but ends up summarizing several of the different views of the origins and mutability of homosexuality.

    What’s fascinating is that everyone comes off looking more moderate and live-and-let-live than usual. Queer activists prone to hysterics are quoted in austere single-word bites about how “hateful” groups that advocate change are. The representative of Focus on the Family, Bill Maier, emphasizes tolerance for homosexual behavior. This isn’t to say the reporter is being disingenuous, only that the side of each party is different from what’s usually shown. You might start hallucinating that people with strong opposing opinions can live together in a free society without rancor.

    BTW, Focus on the Family’s official take (I assume, since the piece was written by James Dobson) on the origins and malleability of homosexuality is here. There’s much to agree with: gay activists do engage in propaganda, and the evidence should not be suppressed that people who are troubled by their homosexuality to the point of being non-functional are capable of and better off not acting on it.

    The narrative to explain how homosexuality ripens is internally coherent and doubtless appeals to Dobson’s constituency, but calling it “definitive” is a bit much. Even if you accept that homosexuality starts with a genetic predisposition toward certain traits plus some kind of emotional dislocation in infancy, which seems like as good an explanation as any to me at this point, that doesn’t indicate it’s still fundamentally in flux until late adolescence. Dobson calls a dawning awareness of the sensuality of one’s own body and a more-pronounced sense of difference from other boys a stage on the way to homosexuality; most of us who are out would say that we experienced it as the emergence, under the special pressures that start for everyone with puberty, of what it’s clear in retrospect had been dormant all along. Neither has been proved, but what would help the pro-change side would be evidence that a high percentage of gays change successfully.

    Unfortunately, radical gays, egregiously screechy though they be, have no monopoly on exaggeration. Dobson doesn’t screech and, in fact, comes off as sincere and humane in intent, but in his hands Robert L. Spitzer’s carefully qualified finding that some homosexuals with unusually high motivation can learn to function heterosexually mutates into the blanket statement “Change is possible.” Parents and teenagers are assured, “Prevention is effective,” without information about success rates. (After all, if Joseph Nicolosi has data to support the contention that 75 percent of boys with “untreated” gender issues become homosexual, isn’t it reasonable to figure he’d know more about those who get treatment and are thus within the ken of psychologists? I suppose that kind of information could be elsewhere in the book, but it strains credibility to figure that Dobson wouldn’t have cited it–he’s advertising preventive therapy, isn’t he?)

    And the footnotes there are are suspect: Dobson refers to gays’ “shorter lifespan” and cites William Bennett’s “Clinton, Gays and the Truth” from the Weekly Standard (not on-line, AFAIK). William Bennett has many virtues–especially with respect to the field of education–but he is not a statistician. In fact, he was working from Paul Cameron’s notorious “study” of gay life expectancy, which Walter Olson eviscerates here. Bennett himself later conceded that Cameron’s survey was not a reliable basis for generalization about the gay population.

    The average-lifespan-of-43 figure is not the crux of Dobson’s argument, I know. I bring it up because it illustrates a willingness to accept uncritically arguments with which one already sympathizes–a problem that everyone in this debate seems to have in spades but, naturally, only notices in others. It matters even on small points because anyone drawing conclusions on a murky topic like the origins of homosexuality is going to have to look at the fragmentary evidence, make a lot of judgment calls, and ask readers to trust them. Lack of rigor hurts everyone whose primary interest is the truth.

    For the foreseeable future, there are going to be a multiplicity of approaches, and we’ll all be appalled at those that go against our views. Myself, I ache for gay kids whose parents think their brains have to be rewired for their own good–if they think they were setting the children faulty gender-identification signals, shouldn’t they be signing themselves up for brainwashing, too?–but that doesn’t make “reparative therapy” programs a special kind of social emergency. Parents do all sorts of things to screw up their kids (and adults do all sorts of things to screw up their own lives) that aren’t legally punishable. Outsiders can criticize them but not interfere. What we can all do is work to strengthen our arguments as dispassionately as possible. And lead the sort of responsible, happy lives that make people want to emulate them.

    Added on 1 July: Well, sheesh. I would’ve e-mailed Mike, but I thought it was Daniel’s cage we were supposed to be rattling now. :) In any case, Ex-Gay Watch doesn’t have its own post up discussing the MSNBC piece yet, but commenters are already starting to debate its weird even-handedness at the short one linked to in the last sentence. Should be interesting; I’ll be looking forward to reading what Mike has to say, too.

    Added on 7 July: Mike Airhart’s post is up.


    Posted by Sean at 17:47, June 28th, 2005

    I saw Susanna had done this the other day, went and took the survey, and copied the button into a post; and then the kettle started whistling and I didn’t post it. Anyway, if you haven’t encountered it elsewhere, this MIT survey asks questions about blogging and blog reading in some interesting ways:

    Take the MIT Weblog Survey

    The title, BTW, is a version of the famous Japanese proverb usually translated as “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down,” which seemed appropriate for a post that jokingly refers to the bell curve.

    I’m disadvantaged, you’re disadvantaged

    Posted by Sean at 12:56, June 28th, 2005

    You’d think this kind of crap wouldn’t get me exercised by this point, but it does:

    The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce entered into an agreement this month with the Department of the Interior Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization to increase outreach to gay-owned businesses and to educate gay business owners about contract opportunities.

    “The agreement says it’s OK to be who you are,” said Justin Nelson, co-founder and co-executive director of the NGLCC. “[The Department of the Interior] wants to do business with gay firms in a public manner.”

    The federal government should be impartial; an announcement from the Department of the Interior that federal contracts are available to businesses regardless of the sexual orientation of those who run them would be great. But we all know that’s not what “outreach” means. More on that in a second.

    What really jerks my chain, naturally, is that “The agreement says it’s OK to be who you are” BS. Can we please, at least every third Thursday or so, not offload our own responsibility for self-definition on the government? Please. And anyway, how exactly does being officially defined as “disadvantaged” make what you are okay, of all things?

    The assumptions underlying the program are hardly flattering, after all:

    Nelson said that many gay-owned businesses shy away from working with the federal government, because of the perception that the Bush administration is anti-gay.

    “Our community is very apprehensive about finding out about opportunities [with federal agencies],” he said. The NGLCC wants to tell gay-owned businesses that, “there’s a separation of the policies of the administration and opportunities they should be afforded.”

    I apparently missed the speech in which the President informed America that gay-owned enterprises should be boycotted until they go out of business. I also wasn’t aware that “apprehensiveness” in an entrepreneur was a trait to be indulged rather than outgrown. Aren’t business owners supposed to be go-getters? If they want to know what kinds of contracts might be legally available to them as gays, they just need to ask one of their corporate lawyer friends. All of us coat-and-tie queers know twelve lawyers if we know one; for Pete’s sake, I sometimes feel like the only middle-class fag in the entire developed world that didn’t go to law school.

    This nettles me even more than usual because a book I just got around to buying and reading spurred me to go back and revisit some sections of Geraldine Brooks’s fascinating Nine Parts of Desire . Here’s one passage that sticks in the memory, about a family in Saudi Arabia:

    Basilah had invited a woman friend who helped her mother run a successful construction company to join us for tea. When her father died, she and her mother had expected his male relations to run the business and provide for her and her children. But they were lazy and incompetent, and it seemed that everything her father had worked for was going to be destroyed. “Finally my mother took over,” the woman explained. “She went to the Ministry of Construction with the papers that needed official approval. No woman had been in there before. The officials ordered her out. She refused to go. She sat there, and sat there, until they were forced to deal with her. She turned out to be a very good manager, and she saved the business.”

    Fine, the analogy isn’t perfect. Still and all, it does seem that if a woman in Saudi Arabia can stand up to a room full of male bureaucrats in order to do what she needs for her company (presumably against her male relatives’ wishes), free American gays who run the kinds of firms that the government contracts with could figure out how to pursue jobs without having their hands held.

    控訴 a no-go

    Posted by Sean at 11:58, June 28th, 2005

    Sometimes the rigidity of Japanese gender roles can be very darkly amusing–even multiple-murderers play along. This week, two sentences in notorious late-90s murders were upheld. One was the death sentence of the woman convicted of poisoning several acquaintances at a summer festival in 1998:

    The Osaka High Court on Tuesday dismissed a woman’s appeal against a lower court ruling that sentenced her to death for killing four people at a festival by lacing a curry stew with arsenic.

    The appeal trial focused on the credibility of Masumi Hayashi’s not-guilty plea over accusations that she put arsenic into a communal curry pot during a summer festival in Wakayama in July 1998.

    The Wakayama District Court, based on witnesses’ accounts, ruled in December 2002 that Hayashi was wearing white clothes and acted suspiciously when she opened the lid of the curry pot.

    The district court also ruled that Hayashi had known that people would die from the poison and therefore sentenced her to death.

    The Osaka High Court also found Hayashi guilty in several other attempted murder and fraud cases, supporting the Wakayama District Court’s ruling that Hayashi attempted to poison her husband and a male acquaintance for insurance benefits.

    Hayashi said that her husband and the man drank arsenic by themselves to obtain insurance money and therefore, she didn’t try to murder them.

    Homicide for the purpose of getting life insurance money is common in Japan.

    The man whose death sentence was affirmed was having none of that slow-acting, within-the-family-circle stuff:

    The Hiroshima High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court death sentence handed to a man for killing five and injuring 10 others when he went on a berserk rampage at JR Shimonoseki Station in 1999.

    Yasuaki Uwabe, 41, was convicted of driving his car into the concourse of the station in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture in September 1999, and hitting three people, killing two of them.

    Jumping out of the vehicle, Uwabe then began attacking innocent bystanders with a knife. The slashing spree left another three people dead.

    When Hayashi and Uwabe are executed, it’s likely to happen without advance warning (even to their families) and may be timed to reassure the public that the justice system is dealing effectively with crime.