Thursday, November 27, 2008

Slandr: ur doin it rong.

From the Toxic Venomous Traditional Values Coalition:

President-Elect Obama appears to be keeping his campaign promise to homosexual activist groups to make their agenda part of his in the new administration. His wife, Michelle, outlined his homosexual agenda in a meeting with Democratic Convention delegates earlier this year.

If someone is openly pro-gay rights*, then I’m pretty sure that stops from promoting a secret “agenda.”

Demonisation of opponent: FAIL.

*which, for the record, Obama is not. Lunatic far-Right paranoia: SUCCESS.

**UPDATE 25/01/09**

Oops. Sorry, Mr. B. My bad.

The Hitler-Wallace Test.

Godwin's Law. The longer an internet conversation develops, the more likely somebody's going to be compared to Hitler.

Reductio ad Hitlerum. The logical fallacy that if Hitler supported something, then that something is inherently bad. An example is vegetarianisn; Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore it's bad.

Loosely based on these ideas, I've created the Hitler test. It's simple. If you think a person's beliefs genuinely emulate elements of Nazism, replace the subject of the said person's controversial beliefs with Judaism. Then, you will see what their beliefs are like.

Naturally, there are exceptions to these cases-in which you supply proper evidence. For example, I would state that Hitler and Phelps (leader of the Westboro Baptist Church) are extremely similar, in part because Phelps advocates the genocide of gays. Therefore, the two are genuinely similar. The same applies for cultures. I would argue that the Taliban and al Qaeda, and neo-Nazism share a number of common characteristics; a love of violence, extreme misogyny and an unwavering belief in their own supremacism (whether religious or racial). Hence, the Hitler test doesn't need to be applied to these groups.

But in other cases, the Hitler test is required. Take, for example, the Victorian CDP

Arch Bevis says the Coalition is confused over national security, where Muslims are concerned. Labor is as confused – and as naïve. Terrorism is not always violent. Often it is quite ‘soft’ and politically subtle.

While most Muslims are peaceful and decent people, they are still Muslims. Their culture is alien to ours. It is totalitarian and imperialistic. For that reason they will agitate for sharia-compliant laws to be introduced and condoned, as British Labor has done in the UK.

This is ‘soft’ terrorism. It seeks a dual law system, permitting them to ‘do their own thing.’ The situation in Europe is similar, if not worse.

Western society is profoundly challenged, not by hard, violent terrorism, but soft, political terrorism. This demands that host countries must adapt to Islamic ways, not Islam to Western culture. It’s about time Australia recognised that the clash of civilisations has reached our shores. Australia needs a moratorium on Muslim immigration, rather than African, in order to evaluate where Australia is going.

And to Hitlerise the text:

Arch Bevis says the Coalition is confused over national security, where Jews are concerned. Labor is as confused – and as naïve. Terrorism is not always violent. Often it is quite ‘soft’ and politically subtle.

While most Jews are peaceful and decent people, they are still Jews. Their culture is alien to ours. It is totalitarian and imperialistic. For that reason they will agitate for Torah-compliant laws to be introduced and condoned, as British Labor has done in the UK.

This is ‘soft’ terrorism. It seeks a dual law system, permitting them to ‘do their own thing.’ The situation in Europe is similar, if not worse.

Western society is profoundly challenged, not by hard, violent terrorism, but soft, political terrorism. This demands that host countries must adapt to Jewish ways, not Judaism to Western culture. It’s about time Australia recognised that the clash of civilisations has reached our shores. Australia needs a moratorium on Jewish immigration, rather than Middle-Eastern, in order to evaluate where Australia is going.

Sounds eerily familiar, no? If you don't like that, I've also created the Wallace test, named after one of America's most infamous segregationists (to be fair though, he did recant his racist views). Instead of replacing certain minority words with "Jew", the Wallace test uses the terms 'Negro', 'Communist' and 'race-mixer.' This is because Lefties, African-Americans and interracial couples were strongest in campaigning against segregation and Jim Crow laws. The Wallace test is more complex, as you have to correctly use the aforementioned words properly. I used the Wallace test in a previous post to compare FOTF's hatred of gays to past views on racial integration.

So there we have it. Next time you see something that sound just a little harsh against a particular group (most commonly Muslims or gays), try using the Hitler or Wallace tests, and see how they sound. Because as much as people try to justify their bigotry*-if it looks like hate and it sounds like hate, then chances are, it's hate.

*Usually by the justifications of "it's traditional," "my religion says I can do it" or "I'm being persecuted otherwise."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Abortion debate settled!

The long-awaited conclusion to this epic trilogy (parts one and two here and here) has arrived.

One problem of the abortion debate is neither conservatives nor liberals state whether they are debating opposition/support against/or abortion or abortion rights. On the surface, the two may be the same, but they are in fact two different subjects entirely. An abortion is a deliberate termination of a pregnancy, resulting in the destruction of a fetus. Abortion rights is the right for a woman to have legal access to having an abortion. Hence, someone might be personally opposed to abortion, but may still recognise and accept abortion rights. For this argument, I will focus on abortion rights.

But what is the argument against abortion rights? Namely:

Abortion is murder and therefore should be illegal. The reasons being that:

- fetus have souls and therefore are human.
- fetuses have human DNA, therefore killing them is murder.

However, each reason is fallacious. The soul argument is the easiest to debunk: namely, there is no evidence for their existence. Therefore, we can assume that until some observable evidence does develop, then souls don't exist, discounting the entire argument. Another problem is that the soul argument is theocratic and not democratic. It is theocratic because outlawing abortion based on the soul argument is to base the opposition of abortion rights on religion. If this country were Iran or Saudi Arabia, that argument might stand up. However, this Australia, a democratic country-we don't base laws on religion.

The 'human DNA' argument is also wrong, because more then DNA is required to make a human a human. Yes, the genetic code helps define us as humans and not other mammals. But if DNA were all that's needed, then my body is composed of billions of little people because my body is composed of billions of cells. A cell is not a human because billions of them are required to create a human-it's like saying that a tree is in fact a forest.

OK, we have established that killing a zygote or an early-stage foetus isn't murder (under a secular, legal perspective). However, the lines start to blur as the foetus develops into a baby, in which it is effectively a human. So at what stage can you call the flesh-sack a baby and therefore a human? Personally, I'd say that when the foetus no longer requires the mother to live, then it's a baby. It can breath, digest and perform all physiological functions on its own without any external aid (no electronics or machinery either), which is pretty much what it can do outside the womb. According to In the Womb, the foetus can live outside the mother at 26 weeks. Therefore, we can say that at 26 weeks (from a scientific point of view), the foetus has become a human and, with exceptions (such as the threat of physical or mental deformities, or birth being a threat to either the mother's or child's health), abortions post-26 weeks should be illegal.

But above all else, the reason for abortion rights is because illegalising abortion does nothing to stop it. Rather, it forces abortion underground. It happened with prohibition, it happens with illegal drugs, and every time a country illegalises abortion, they are committing genocide against women.

Bay of Fundie does a better job here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why don't we learn from the past?

Focus on the 19th century Family has produced a new ad to expose teh gay agenda. You can view it here. That link also contains the transcript:

It could happen to your town.

Man: They've come out of the closet.

AFA presents a look at how a handful of homosexual activists infiltrated the Eureka Springs, Arkansas government and changed the very moral fiber of the city.

Man 2: They're taking over a place that has been known for its Christianity.

Man 1: They branded us as fundamentalists, as Christian hate bigots -

Man 2: Once homosexual activists get into power, they're not too tolerant toward other people.

Learn the strategies used by gay activists and don't let this happen to your city. This DVD is a must-teaching tool - watch, and learn how to fight a well-organized gay agenda to take over the cities of America, one city at a time.

Man 3: If it hasn't happened in your town, get ready, because it is going to happen.

Hmmmm. Why does that feel so familiar? Wait-it feel so familiar because it's the type of rhetoric George Wallace used in his pro-segregation campaigns. The "[insert minority group] are gonna take over your town!!1!" fear card has been used extensively-from Pauline "Asian Invasion" Hanson, to Wallace, to the KKK, to Elizabeth Dole. Those constituencies have all kept taking the bait.

Whatsay we give it a Wallace-style makeover:

It could happen to your town.

Man: They've come from their ours.

AFA presents a look at how a handful of Negro and Communist activists infiltrated the Eureka Springs, Arkansas government and changed the very moral fiber of the city.

Man 2: They're taking over a place that was once a haven for been white Christians.

Man 1: They branded us as fundamentalists, as Christian hate bigots -

Man 2: Once Negros and Communists get into power, they're not too tolerant toward other people.

Learn the strategies used by anti-white activists and don't let this happen to your city. This DVD is a must-teaching tool - watch, and learn how to fight a well-organized pro-Negro agenda to take over the cities of America, one city at a time.

Man 3: If it hasn't happened in your town, get ready, because it is going to happen.

Sounds just like it came out of the 1950s/60s. Also here's the AFA ad:

Now, to Wallacise the text:

Residents of the small Arkansas town of Eureka Springs noticed the Negro community was growing. But they felt no threat. They went about their business as usual. Then, one day, they woke up to discover that their beloved Eureka Springs, a community which was known far and wide as a center for white entertainment--had changed. The City Council had been taken over by a small group of pro-Negro Communist activists.

The Eureka Springs they knew is gone. It is now a national hub for Negros, Communists and race mixers. Eureka Springs is becoming the San Francisco of Arkansas. The story of how this happened is told in the new AFA DVD “They’re Coming To Your Town.”

One of the first actions of the Communist-controlled City Council was to offer a “registry” where race-mixers could register their unofficial “marriage.” City Council member Joyce Zeller said the city will now be promoted, not as a safe, white Christian resort, but a city “selling peace, relaxation, history and sex.”

AFA’s “They’re Coming ToYour Town” documents the story of how and why this happened. And how Communists and race-mixing activists plan to do the same in other towns.

Order a copy of “They’re Coming To Your Town.” Watch it. Then take the 28-minute DVD and share it with your Sunday School class and local church. This is a story the liberal media will never tell, but one you need to know.
As the title suggests, I'm wondering just how anybody could look at AFA's video and conclude anything other then "WTF?!" it really is depressingly spectacular how people can fall to fear campaigns, and not learn how to avoid it. We've seen this in the suffragette movement, the McCarthy era, black civil rights, gay rights...and everytime we hear the same arguments: "But it goes against the voices in my head God's law!" "It's not traditional!" "It'll destroy the family!" "Think of the children!" And for some reason, we keep falling for it, never learning from our past mistakes. Why else would Prop 8 pass?

Jebus. For all of humanity's strengths, we're pretty slow learners.

Also, TIME has an article on fear here, published in 1968.

I can has victory?

Shocking weather for the latest battle today. The weather would randomly alternate between light drizzle, no rain and epic downpour, the latter preventing General Debbie from using the microphone. However, nothing boosts morale like a rhyming slogan about abortion being decriminalised. Even better, I was able to sell plenty of charity chocolate Fredos-both on the train there and back, and at the rally. Only a few people can sell 50 chocolates within a day. I'm one of the few.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pro-death by coathanger rammed up uterus movement shows what it really thinks.

The pro-illegal abortion movement (ironically calling themselves 'pro-life') have officially shown where they stand in the reproductive rights and health culture war.

From the Washington Post:
Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.
Reread those final two lines. Then reread the whole paragraph. The religious right is now trying to support women though economic assistance as a last resort. These people haven't seen supporting women as a priority. All they've been trying to do is ban abortion, rather then actually helping women.
The new effort is causing a fissure in the antiabortion movement, with traditional groups viewing the activists as traitors to their cause.
Totally. What were those libruls thinking-actually supporting pregnant women? What ever happened to good ol' demonisation and ostracism?
"It's a sellout, as far as we are concerned," said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. "We don't think it's really genuine. You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions."
So Scheidler opposes abortion. But he also opposes programs to support pregnant women and therefore cut down on abortion. Does anybody else see some doublethink at work?
"We are not compromising our values, but at the same time we are finding a way we can all accomplish our agenda, or at least a piece of our agenda, together," said Hunter, pastor of Northland in Longwood, Fla., one of the nation's largest churches, and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals. "There's got to be a way we can take some of these hot-button issues and cooperate, rather than simply keep fighting and becoming gridlocked in this hostility of the culture wars."
Given that you guys oppose abortion but also oppose contraception and sex education, I can't see any cooperation occuring any time soon.

A study sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good cited recent research that found that the abortion rate among women living below the poverty line is more than four times that of women above 300 percent of the poverty level. The authors of the study found that social and economic supports, such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families, have contributed significantly to reducing abortions in the United States over the past two decades.

"Clearly, poverty impacts the abortion rate," said Alexia Kelley, the group's executive director.

Well, obviously. Poor women are unable to support any children. Therefore, they destroy the few cells in the womb before those few cells become a malnourished, poorly supported child. But naturally, supporting women rather then turning them into criminals really pisses off the true Jesus-freaks.
But established abortion opponents dispute that approach. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said last week during a meeting of the conference that social-service spending is no substitute for legal protections for the unborn. He also questioned research showing that improvements in areas such as employment and health care can reduce the likelihood that a woman will want to end her pregnancy. "It's still to be proven what the connection is between poverty and abortion," he said.
Asides from what's already been proven, of course.
Those bills are largely opposed by antiabortion groups. "You don't work to limit the murder of innocent victims," said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. "You work to stop it."
You wanna tell me what that silver bullet to stop all abortions is? There is, obviously, no such thing. No matter what happens, no what civilisation we build, abortions will always occur. However, what our society can do is reduce them and improve their safety. The only way to make an abortion safe is to legalise it; otherwise...well, we all know how much of a roaring success prohibition was. But this time, we're not playing with alcohol. We're playing with women's lives here-lives that will be cut very short if they have a failed illegal abortion (given that the alternative is prison).
The ways to reduce the needs for abortions are, to your eternal horror, sex education and contraception. Which you would never allow.

If I were as ideologically as twisted as you were, I'd wish that you'd have to suffer an illegal abortion and nearly die before being imprisoned for the crime. Thankfully for you, I'm one of the peacemakers.

Cross-posted here and here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TIME kicks ass

Fantastic article from TIME magazine:

What Makes Us Moral

If the entire human species were a single individual, that person would long ago have been declared mad. The insanity would not lie in the anger and darkness of the human mind—though it can be a black and raging place indeed. And it certainly wouldn't lie in the transcendent goodness of that mind—one so sublime, we fold it into a larger "soul." The madness would lie instead in the fact that both of those qualities, the savage and the splendid, can exist in one creature, one person, often in one instant.
We're a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness. We nurse one another, romance one another, weep for one another. Ever since science taught us how, we willingly tear the very organs from our bodies and give them to one another. And at the same time, we slaughter one another. The past 15 years of human history are the temporal equivalent of those subatomic particles that are created in accelerators and vanish in a trillionth of a second, but in that fleeting instant, we've visited untold horrors on ourselves—in Mogadishu, Rwanda, Chechnya, Darfur, Beslan, Baghdad, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Lebanon, Israel, New York City, Abu Ghraib, Oklahoma City, an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania—all of the crimes committed by the highest, wisest, most principled species the planet has produced. That we're also the lowest, cruelest, most blood-drenched species is our shame—and our paradox.
The deeper that science drills into the substrata of behavior, the harder it becomes to preserve the vanity that we are unique among Earth's creatures. We're the only species with language, we told ourselves—until gorillas and chimps mastered sign language. We're the only one that uses tools then—but that's if you don't count otters smashing mollusks with rocks or apes stripping leaves from twigs and using them to fish for termites.
What does, or ought to, separate us then is our highly developed sense of morality, a primal understanding of good and bad, of right and wrong, of what it means to suffer not only our own pain—something anything with a rudimentary nervous system can do—but also the pain of others. That quality is the distilled essence of what it means to be human. Why it's an essence that so often spoils, no one can say.
Morality may be a hard concept to grasp, but we acquire it fast. A preschooler will learn that it's not all right to eat in the classroom, because the teacher says it's not. If the rule is lifted and eating is approved, the child will happily comply. But if the same teacher says it's also O.K. to push another student off a chair, the child hesitates. "He'll respond, 'No, the teacher shouldn't say that,'" says psychologist Michael Schulman, co-author of Bringing Up a Moral Child. In both cases, somebody taught the child a rule, but the rule against pushing has a stickiness about it, one that resists coming unstuck even if someone in authority countenances it. That's the difference between a matter of morality and one of mere social convention, and Schulman and others believe kids feel it innately.
Of course, the fact is, that child will sometimes hit and won't feel particularly bad about it either—unless he's caught. The same is true for people who steal or despots who slaughter. "Moral judgment is pretty consistent from person to person," says Marc Hauser, professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of Moral Minds. "Moral behavior, however, is scattered all over the chart." The rules we know, even the ones we intuitively feel, are by no means the rules we always follow.
Where do those intuitions come from? And why are we so inconsistent about following where they lead us? Scientists can't yet answer those questions, but that hasn't stopped them from looking. Brain scans are providing clues. Animal studies are providing more. Investigations of tribal behavior are providing still more. None of this research may make us behave better, not right away at least. But all of it can help us understand ourselves—a small step up from savagery perhaps, but an important one.
The Moral Ape
The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you. And human ego notwithstanding, it's a quality other species share.
It's not surprising that animals far less complex than we are would display a trait that's as generous of spirit as empathy, particularly if you decide there's no spirit involved in it at all. Behaviorists often reduce what we call empathy to a mercantile business known as reciprocal altruism. A favor done today—food offered, shelter given—brings a return favor tomorrow. If a colony of animals practices that give-and-take well, the group thrives.
But even in animals, there's something richer going on. One of the first and most poignant observations of empathy in nonhumans was made by Russian primatologist Nadia Kohts, who studied nonhuman cognition in the first half of the 20th century and raised a young chimpanzee in her home. When the chimp would make his way to the roof of the house, ordinary strategies for bringing him down—calling, scolding, offers of food—would rarely work. But if Kohts sat down and pretended to cry, the chimp would go to her immediately. "He runs around me as if looking for the offender," she wrote. "He tenderly takes my chin in his palm ... as if trying to understand what is happening."
You hardly have to go back to the early part of the past century to find such accounts. Even cynics went soft at the story of Binta Jua, the gorilla who in 1996 rescued a 3-year-old boy who had tumbled into her zoo enclosure, rocking him gently in her arms and carrying him to a door where trainers could enter and collect him. "The capacity of empathy is multilayered," says primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University, author of Our Inner Ape. "We share a core with lots of animals."
While it's impossible to directly measure empathy in animals, in humans it's another matter. Hauser cites a study in which spouses or unmarried couples underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they were subjected to mild pain. They were warned before each time the painful stimulus was administered, and their brains lit up in a characteristic way signaling mild dread. They were then told that they were not going to feel the discomfort but that their partner was. Even when they couldn't see their partner, the brains of the subjects lit up precisely as if they were about to experience the pain themselves. "This is very much an 'I feel your pain' experience," says Hauser.
The brain works harder when the threat gets more complicated. A favorite scenario that morality researchers study is the trolley dilemma. You're standing near a track as an out-of-control train hurtles toward five unsuspecting people. There's a switch nearby that would let you divert the train onto a siding. Would you do it? Of course. You save five lives at no cost. Suppose a single unsuspecting man was on the siding? Now the mortality score is 5 to 1. Could you kill him to save the others? What if the innocent man was on a bridge over the trolley and you had to push him onto the track to stop the train?
Pose these dilemmas to people while they're in an fMRI, and the brain scans get messy. Using a switch to divert the train toward one person instead of five increases activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—the place where cool, utilitarian choices are made. Complicate things with the idea of pushing the innocent victim, and the medial frontal cortex—an area associated with emotion—lights up. As these two regions do battle, we may make irrational decisions. In a recent survey, 85% of subjects who were asked about the trolley scenarios said they would not push the innocent man onto the tracks—even though they knew they had just sent five people to their hypothetical death. "What's going on in our heads?" asks Joshua Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University. "Why do we say it's O.K. to trade one life for five in one case and not others?"
How We Stay Good
Merely being equipped with moral programming does not mean we practice moral behavior. Something still has to boot up that software and configure it properly, and that something is the community. Hauser believes that all of us carry what he calls a sense of moral grammar—the ethical equivalent of the basic grasp of speech that most linguists believe is with us from birth. But just as syntax is nothing until words are built upon it, so too is a sense of right and wrong useless until someone teaches you how to apply it.
It's the people around us who do that teaching—often quite well. Once again, however, humans aren't the ones who dreamed up such a mentoring system. At the Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands, de Waal was struck by how vigorously apes enforced group norms one evening when the zookeepers were calling their chimpanzees in for dinner. The keepers' rule at Arnhem was that no chimps would eat until the entire community was present, but two adolescents grew willful, staying outside the building. The hours it took to coax them inside caused the mood in the hungry colony to turn surly. That night the keepers put the delinquents to bed in a separate area—a sort of protective custody to shield them from reprisals. But the next day the adolescents were on their own, and the troop made its feelings plain, administering a sound beating. The chastened chimps were the first to come in that evening. Animals have what de Waal calls "oughts"—rules that the group must follow—and the community enforces them.
Human communities impose their own oughts, but they can vary radically from culture to culture. Take the phenomenon of Good Samaritan laws that require passersby to assist someone in peril. Our species has a very conflicted sense of when we ought to help someone else and when we ought not, and the general rule is, Help those close to home and ignore those far away. That's in part because the plight of a person you can see will always feel more real than the problems of someone whose suffering is merely described to you. But part of it is also rooted in you from a time when the welfare of your tribe was essential for your survival but the welfare of an opposing tribe was not—and might even be a threat.
In the 21st century, we retain a powerful remnant of that primal dichotomy, which is what impels us to step in and help a mugging victim—or, in the astonishing case of Wesley Autrey, New York City's so-called Subway Samaritan, jump onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train to rescue a sick stranger—but allows us to decline to send a small contribution to help the people of Darfur. "The idea that you can save the life of a stranger on the other side of the world by making a modest material sacrifice is not the kind of situation our social brains are prepared for," says Greene.
Throughout most of the world, you're still not required to aid a stranger, but in France and elsewhere, laws now make it a crime for passersby not to provide at least the up-close-and-personal aid we're good at giving. In most of the U.S., we make a distinction between an action and an omission to act. Says Hauser: "In France they've done away with that difference."
But you don't need a state to create a moral code. The group does it too. One of the most powerful tools for enforcing group morals is the practice of shunning. If membership in a tribe is the way you ensure yourself food, family and protection from predators, being blackballed can be a terrifying thing. Religious believers as diverse as Roman Catholics, Mennonites and Jehovah's Witnesses have practiced their own forms of shunning—though the banishments may go by names like excommunication or disfellowshipping. Clubs, social groups and fraternities expel undesirable members, and the U.S. military retains the threat of discharge as a disciplinary tool, even grading the punishment as "other than honorable" or "dishonorable," darkening the mark a former service person must carry for life.
Sometimes shunning emerges spontaneously when a society of millions recoils at a single member's acts. O.J. Simpson's 1995 acquittal may have outraged people, but it did make the morality tale surrounding him much richer, as the culture as a whole turned its back on him, denying him work, expelling him from his country club, refusing him service in a restaurant. In November his erstwhile publisher, who was fired in the wake of her and Simpson's disastrous attempt to publish a book about the killings, sued her ex-employer, alleging that she had been "shunned" and "humiliated." That, her former bosses might well respond, was precisely the point.
"Human beings were small, defenseless and vulnerable to predators," says Barbara J. King, biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary and author of Evolving God. "Avoiding banishment would be important to us."
Why We Turn Bad
With so many redundant moral systems to keep us in line, why do we so often fall out of ranks? Sometimes we can't help it, as when we're suffering from clinical insanity and behavior slips the grip of reason. Criminal courts are stingy about finding such exculpatory madness, requiring a disability so severe, the defendant didn't even know the crime was wrong. That's a very high bar that prevents all but a few from proving the necessary moral numbness.
Things are different in the case of the cool and deliberate serial killer, who knows the criminality of his deeds yet continues to commit them. For neuroscientists, the iciness of the acts calls to mind the case of Phineas Gage, the Vermont railway worker who in 1848 was injured when an explosion caused a tamping iron to be driven through his prefrontal cortex. Improbably, he survived, but he exhibited stark behavioral changes—becoming detached and irreverent, though never criminal. Ever since, scientists have looked for the roots of serial murder in the brain's physical state.
A study published last year in the journal NeuroImage may have helped provide some answers. Researchers working through the National Institute of Mental Health scanned the brains of 20 healthy volunteers, watching their reactions as they were presented with various legal and illegal scenarios. The brain activity that most closely tracked the hypothetical crimes—rising and falling with the severity of the scenarios—occurred in the amygdala, a deep structure that helps us make the connection between bad acts and punishments. As in the trolley studies, there was also activity in the frontal cortex. The fact that the subjects themselves had no sociopathic tendencies limits the value of the findings. But knowing how the brain functions when things work well is one good way of knowing where to look when things break down.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of us never run off the moral rails in remotely as awful a way as serial killers do, but we do come untracked in smaller ways. We face our biggest challenges not when we're called on to behave ourselves within our family, community or workplace but when we have to apply the same moral care to people outside our tribe.
The notion of the "other" is a tough one for Homo sapiens. Sociobiology has been criticized as one of the most reductive of sciences, ascribing the behavior of all living things—humans included—as nothing more than an effort to get as many genes as possible into the next generation. The idea makes sense, and all creatures can be forgiven for favoring their troop over others. But such bias turns dark fast.
Schulman, the psychologist and author, works with delinquent adolescents at a residential treatment center in Yonkers, New York, and was struck one day by the outrage that swept through the place when the residents learned that three of the boys had mugged an elderly woman. "I wouldn't mug an old lady. That could be my grandmother," one said. Schulman asked whom it would be O.K. to mug. The boy answered, "A Chinese delivery guy." Explains Schulman: "The old lady is someone they could empathize with. The Chinese delivery guy is alien, literally and figuratively, to them."
This kind of brutal line between insiders and outsiders is evident everywhere—mobsters, say, who kill promiscuously yet go on rhapsodically about "family." But it has its most terrible expression in wars, in which the dehumanization of the outsider is essential for wholesale slaughter to occur. Volumes have been written about what goes on in the collective mind of a place like Nazi Germany or the collapsing Yugoslavia. While killers like Adolf Hitler or Slobodan Milosevic can never be put on the couch, it's possible to understand the xenophobic strings they play in their people.
"Yugoslavia is the great modern example of manipulating tribal sentiments to create mass murder," says Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. "You saw it in Rwanda and Nazi Germany too. In most cases of genocide, you have a moral entrepreneur who exploits tribalism for evil purposes."
That, of course, does not take the stain of responsibility off the people who follow those leaders—a case that war-crimes prosecutors famously argued at the Nuremberg trials and a point courageous people have made throughout history as they sheltered Jews during World War II or refuse to murder their Sunni neighbor even if a militia leader tells them to.
For grossly imperfect creatures like us, morality may be the steepest of all developmental mountains. Our opposable thumbs and big brains gave us the tools to dominate the planet, but wisdom comes more slowly than physical hardware. We surely have a lot of killing and savagery ahead of us before we fully civilize ourselves. The hope—a realistic one, perhaps—is that the struggles still to come are fewer than those left behind.
—With reporting by Tiffany Sharples and Alexandra Silver / New York

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another groupthinker in the fold.

As if on cue to Captain Lefty's lamenting the internet death of a local Leftist blogger, long-time commenter Dam Buster of Preston has started up his own blog. I must say, about frickin' time. So, on behalf of the GrodsCorp Military Force, I would like to welcome Dam into our socialist, environazi, terrorist-loving, death-worshiping culture brigade.

Appreciate the free advertising, Mr. Preston. Most blogs (not naming any names) would kill their hypothetical first-born for this publicity*.

*Assuming that anyone actually ever visits this place.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

44th President currently meeting humble GrodsSoldier's to-do list

It seems that President-elect Obama (it's gonna be a while before I get tired of hearing that) has heeded my suggestions and has made ending the global gag rule a high priority.

From the Feministe:

I think that most of us were hoping for this already, but like Jessica I just really want to give the fact that Barack Obama is expected to swiftly overturn the Global Gag Rule its own post.

The new president is also expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City policy, but Bush reimposed it.

“We have been communicating with his transition staff” almost daily, Richards said. “We expect to see a real change.”

The Global Gag Rule literally kills thousands and thousands of women every year by putting already over-stretched clinics in an impossible position. They must generally choose between either having no money to provide life-saving care, or providing care while breaking doctor-patient trust and actively doing harm by deceit. What the hell do you choose?

Different organizations have different answers, but the fact is that it shouldn’t be a question. Doctors should be able to answer their patients’ inquiries honestly. Abortion should be treated as the routine and sometimes life-saving medical procedure that it is. And women deserve quality reproductive health care, whatever their needs. No woman should die because “pro-life” organizations on another continent have a superiority complex and think their tax dollars should only go to providing care for women they deem worthy enough.

Repealing the Global Gag Rule is only a start, but it’s a huge first step towards a real culture of life — one that respects and cares for the lives of women. And it’s absolutely at the very top of my list of things President Obama can do quickly and decisvely to make the world a better place within his first hours in the Oval Office. If he intends to live up to his campaign promises to protect women’s health and show the world that we’re more than a bunch of self-absorbed ideological assholes, he absolutely must do it. And I eagerly look forward to the moment when he does, because it will not come a moment too soon.

How the Republicans can be pro-capital punishment, pro-war, pro-illegal abortions and pro-global gag rule whilst claiming any semblance of being 'pro-life' is totally beyond me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On Californian equal marriage

Marital Discord: Why Prop 8 Won

By Richard Kim

This article appeared in the November 24, 2008 edition of The Nation.

November 5, 2008

Amid the honks and cheers of joy in the Castro and West Hollywood, there are quiet signs of anxiety and, as state election results come in, a growing sense of anguish. Something is not right in the Golden State. Even as Californians gave 61 percent of their vote to Barack Obama, a majority of them, 52 percent, voted to discriminate against another kind of minority--gays and lesbians. For a brief window that began in the bridal month of June, California queers had the right to marry, thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling, and some 18,000 same-sex couples said "I do." Proposition 8--a ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman--now says "You can't!"

As I write, the results for the second most expensive campaign in the country after the presidency are not official. According to the No on 8 campaign, as many as 3 million to 4 million absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, and gay activists are rightly refusing to concede until they are. But there is little reason to expect that those votes will tip the scales.

Other numbers paint an even grimmer picture. If exit polls are to be believed, some 70 percent of African-Americans voted Yes on 8, as did 52 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of Asians; each of these demographics went heavily for Obama, blacks by a 94-to-6 margin. Los Angeles County, heavily minority, went 50-50 on Prop 8. These results have shocked gay activists, who knew from earlier polls that black voters favored Prop 8, but they were seeing much smaller margins, closer to 50 percent.

The easy, dangerous explanation for this gap, and one already tossed around by some white gay liberals in the bitter aftermath, is that people of color are not so secretly homophobic. But a more complicated reckoning--one that takes into account both the organizing successes of the Christian right and the failures of the gay movement--will have to take place if activists want a different result next time. First, there's the matter of the Yes on 8 coalition's staggering disinformation campaign. Ad after ad told voters that without Prop 8, their churches would be forced to perform same-sex unions and be stripped of their tax-exempt status; that schools would teach their children to practice homosexuality; and, perhaps most effective, that a smiling Barack Obama had said, "I'm not in favor of gay marriage." This last bit went out in a flier by the Yes on 8 campaign, targeting black households.

Obama indeed does not favor gay marriage, as he said during the primary, but he also came out emphatically against Prop 8, as a late TV ad by the No on 8 campaign emphasized. Mainstream outlets like the Los Angeles Times meticulously countered the other lies as well, but too little, too late. They had taken root in many communities of color, and once lodged, proved difficult to dislodge.

This was always the intent of the Yes on 8 campaign. For years, the California Christian-right apparatus, long hampered by nativism and racism, had been unable to make inroads into the state's brown, yellow and black populations--a demographic gold mine in a state that is more than 50 percent minority and growing. Prop 8 may prove to be their gold rush. From the beginning they bought up ad space in Chinese, black, Spanish and Korean media; they hosted massive rallies for ethnic Christians. The Sunday before election day, I went to Los Angeles City Hall for the most celebratory, most diverse rally I have ever attended; it was organized by Yes on 8 Chinese advocates.

But it's only in an organizing vacuum that bald lies and racial pandering find room to thrive. Gay activists, by most accounts, were simply outmaneuvered. Andrea Shorter, a black lesbian volunteer for the No on 8 campaign, told me that the outreach to the African-American community began in earnest a week ago. "What's happened is that there's been an outcry from communities of color, including African-American communities, who say, 'Include us!' Now there's a GOTV strategy, but for some it seems last minute," she said in an interview before the election. Another No on 8 activist, Karin Wang, told me at the City Hall rally that when Asian Pacific Islander groups went to buy ads in Chinese and Korean newspapers, they were informed that Yes on 8 had been renting space for weeks.

Many gay leaders, especially those less central to the No on 8 efforts, told me that such disorder was endemic to gay efforts. "The campaign doesn't seem to have got its act together until a few weeks ago. It wasn't clicking. It wasn't raising money. It didn't have good ads on the air," says Rafael Mandelman of the San Francisco Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. He laments, in particular, the absence of gay couples in No on 8 materials, which mainly depicted straight celebrities and elected officials. That's a choice that was strangely mirrored by the Yes on 8 campaign, which put not antigay hate but heterosexual love--its sanctity and the threat to it--at the center of its message. At the City Hall rally on Sunday, the loudest cheers were for a young, straight Chinese couple who had exchanged their vows in front of the crowd. Their marriage, they hoped, would be made "safe" by Prop 8. It certainly was celebrated.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A day of greatness and horror

Although America is celebrating a well-deserved victory for Barack, we have once again seen obsessive bigots trying interfere with other people's lives win. I am, of course, referring to gay marriage in California and Florida being re-illegalised. How was it done? Through a popular vote. No, I am not joking. These states left the rights of a minority group in the hands of the majority. To the people who thought this was a good idea...

SINCE WHEN HAVE THE MAJORITY EVER SUPPORTED THE MINORITY'S RIGHTS? Can you imagine if America left Brown v. Board of Education up to a vote? Would it have passed? Would American schools still have been desegregated?

Hell no. I have no doubt that if the American populace could legally overturn Supreme Court decisions, then the American people (ie at least 51%) would have staunchly refused to accept any form of racial integration: because human beings, more often then not, are afraid of change. They are afraid that if a group of people (whether it's women, blacks or gays) are given rights, then the rights of the majority are less*. Thankfully, there is a significany minority of people who recognise that giving a certain community the same rights doesn't lessen the significance of those rights for the people who already have them. The women's suffrage movement didn't lessen the importance of men's voting rights. Blacks using the same shops, carriages and education as whites didn't lessen whites' rights. And gays marrying doesn't reduce the significance of marriage for straight marriages.

That's why a democratic country should have an independent Court and leave the people out of it. Because people have nasty tendency to want to take away other people's rights. You can't leave civil rights up to a vote, because as we've seen, more often then not the majority will keep the status quo.

And just a final message-both Barack and Joe won't support equal marriage.

Cross posted here and here.

*Don't blame me for this. I didn't create this warped logic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President XLIV*

Wow. Barack really has won it. He will become the 44th President of the United States of America. Today, we can end our fears of Bush/Cheney '08. We can end our fear of Sarah "Psychopath Barbie" Palin's trigger-happy finger entheusiastically hovering over the button whenever international friction develops. We can end our fear of more 'trickle down' ecomonics, and see for the first time American tax cuts for those who need them. We can end our fear of war as a first resort, instead of a last. And, hopefully, we can see an end to the genocide-creating global gag rule (that I'll be watching for).

This is also the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. This makes Obama's victory is more powerful and symbolic then Rudd's Sorry speech and the flag in Iwo Jima combined.

However, as Captain Lefty cynically yet accurately points out, this is not the messianic end all and be all that people believe. Even so, I'm dusting off The Audacity of Hope from the bookshelf.

And given that this is the first (and probably last) post mentioning Palin, I thought I'd share an under-used photo from the Kos.*that's 44, BTW.