Sunday, March 15, 2015

Running the Government Like a Business

This is what it looks like (via):
Western militaries are experimenting with having future drone pilots command up to four aircraft at once, adding new potential challenges even as a top-secret U.S. drone’s crash in Iran exposed the risks of flying unmanned aircraft thousands of miles away.
And why?
To save money and make unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) less reliant on massive ground support crews, weapons manufacturers are working with military officials to develop more autonomous control systems and improve networking among planes.
At the moment, it can take hundreds of support staff on the ground to run a single drone for 24 hours, adding cost and complications at a time when budget-cutters are looking for billions of dollars of program cuts.
As emptywheel writes, what could possibly go wrong? Especially now that drones are going to be used in the US.

[Another post that had been languishing in the drafts folder for longer than I want to admit.  But it's still relevant, I think.]

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Passion of the Moral Mind

Yo, Is This Racist? suddenly erupted onto my Facebook feed recently,* for the first time in months.
Anonymous asked: I came across this libertarian who said she didn't believe in women's rights but individual rights.  Is it safe to say she's a bigot?

Bigots, always think they’ve found some kind of rhetorical loophole that allows them to ignore the obvious nature of existing inequality, that the reason people who aren’t total pieces of shit support “women’s rights” or “black rights” or whatever, is because those groups of people (and others) have fewer rights than the people who control everything, and that allows them to pretend that people who want more equality in the world are over-reacting, or even that we need “men’s rights” or “white pride” or whatever.

It’s telling, however, that if someone only espouses any rhetoric about equality in support of the PEOPLE WHO ALREADY HAVE FUCKING POWER, they miiiiiiiiight just be complete piece of shit bigots, or, I guess, if you want to be nice, so fucking stupid and clueless that they’ve been fooled by this pathetic argument. Could be either, I guess.
It occurs to me that I haven't mentioned a book I read lately that I found really useful: The Tactical Uses of Passion: An Essay on Power, Reason, and Reality,** by the anthropologist F. G. Bailey.  I hope to read some more of his work, but what I want to bring from The Tactical Use of Passion is Bailey's distinction between what he calls "the moral mind" and "the civic mind":
The moral self excludes, we argued, ideas of right and duty.  But it is evident that such phrases as “not oneself” and “above oneself” make sense only if we measure performance against the rights and duties expected of the person.  In some of these cases displays of emotion (for example, being “beside oneself”) indicate a flaw in the self, an inadequacy.  A person who is beside himself is unable to undertake the responsibilities that normally attach to his status.  Often the judgment means that he is absolved from guilt: “He could not help it.”  Evidently this self, unlike the moral self, is validated by accounting procedures.  It is the “civic” self and it includes an element that is apart from emotions, either dominating them as a control or standing as a rival for the use of available avenues of expression.  In other words, the “civic” self signals that a mind is at work.  Let us look at situations in which this idea of the self controlling emotion (rather than being revealed in displays of emotion) appears [51].

... What reasons could be advanced to justify such an image of the weakness of rationality and the strength of passion?  First the moral self carries its own defenses in that it is rooted in the passions and is therefore immune to rational arguments.  It has a facility for twisting and rendering unintelligible negative messages from outside the relationship: a jamming device, so to speak.  This, too, is a kind of fa├žade: a pretense that the real world can be left to go its own way.  It is also a shield keeping away what Weber calls” the cold skeletal hands of rational orders” and “the banality of everyday routine” [77] ...
I hope it will be fairly clear why Andrew Ti's outburst brought Bailey's discussion to mind.  Bailey doesn't consider the "the moral mind" to be bad; it's one way to organize and prepare for action.  "The civic mind" comes on the job when goals and directions have been decided by "moral" means, and it's time to figure out how to get to the goal.

The thing is, in a narrow technical sense, that Libertarian Lady was correct.  Civil Rights, for example, are rights of the individual, not rights of a group.  But facts should never get in the way of a good ragegasm.

So I take Ti to be exercising his moral mind, waxing passionate for Righteousness.  But my civic mind is at work now, and I'm reminded of some of Sartre's remarks on anti-Semitism and irrationality:
I mentioned awhile back some remarks by anti-Semites, all of them absurd: "I hate Jews because they make servants insubordinate, because a Jewish furrier robbed me, etc."  Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies.  They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge.  But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.  The anti-Semites have the right to play.  They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors.  They delight in act­ing in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.  If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.  It is not that they are afraid of being convinced.  They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.
I recognize the syndrome Sartre was writing about here, and I think this applies to Ti no less than to the "libertarian" he's discussing.

* To be honest, not all that recently.  I'm trying to clear out some posts from my backlog from the Drafts folder.

** Cornell University Press, 1983.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Woman's Place Is in the Lab

In recognition of International Women's Day, the science-cultist Facebook page I Fucking Love Science posted a lot of memes about women scientists.  One of my friends reposted the one above.

It's certainly interesting, so I decided to look Noether up in Margaret Wertheim's useful book Pythagoras' Trousers (Norton, 1997).

This meme gives the false impression that Noether remained in Germany under the Nazis. In fact, says Wertheim, she "soon found herself desperately seeking a post abroad. Unlike Einstein and Hermann Weyl, who had been installed at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Noether was unable to obtain a research position. In the end she took a post teaching undergraduates at the women's college Bryn Mawr, but it was clear to everyone that she needed a place where she could continue her advanced work. In 1935, just as it seemed the Institute for Advanced Study was on the verge of appointing her, Emmy Noether died as a result of complications from an operation to remove an ovarian cyst." So, although at least she didn't have to dodge Brownshirts in the US, she didn't receive the recognition she deserved here either, and got shunted off to the side while her male colleagues were taken better care of. As Wertheim observes, "Whatever resistance Einstein himself had faced from the ivory towers of academe pales by comparison with the treatment they [Noether and Lise Meitner, q.v.] encountered" (190).

It's good that women scientists are getting this coverage, but it seems not only tokenistic but somewhat dishonest and evasive, since it overlooks the fierce resistance that women in science faced, not from religious nuts, but from their male scientific colleagues -- or from "science," as IFLS calls them -- right down to the present.

Oh, and P.S.: Einstein's condescending remark about her, quoted in the meme, is interesting too, when you consider that "When Einstein was battling with the mathematics of general relativity, she was one of the people recruited to help him" (ibid.).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Didn't I Say That on the Other Side of the Record?

The advice columnist Dan Savage "called out" antigay bigot Ben Carson last week for saying on CNN that being gay was a "choice."  Carson had pointed to people who "go into prison straight and come out gay."  Savage challenged Carson to prove his claim by choosing to become gay himself, by sucking Savage's dick.

I've said before that one reason I'm finding it hard to write this blog is that I feel like I'm repeating myself.  But then, so is Dan Savage: he said the same thing to another antigay bigot a few years ago, and I can't add much to what I wrote about him at the time.  Since then, however, he's shown his moral superiority to bigots by calling some high school students "pansy-assed" because they walked out on one of his personal appearances, using a homophobic epithet to try to shame them; and by saying that he sometimes thinks about "fucking the shit out" of the antigay bigot Rick Santorum, again using the homophobic trope that fucking another man degrades him.  As I wrote of Savage's remarks about Santorum, Savage is indulging in homophobic abuse that no one should be allowed to get away with, using sex as a metaphor for debasement and humiliation. He's tapping into the same reservoir of male violence that drives queerbashers and rapists.  And, of course, he's also revealing his own hangups about being gay himself.  So why listen to Ben Carson when you can get your daily dose of antigay bigotry from Dan Savage?

Carson backed down and apologized, but also "criticized CNN for airing the comments he'd made in an interview and said he won't be addressing gay rights issues for the duration of his presidential campaign."  Hahahahah, I'm sure he won't.  If he's going to be a presidential candidate, he'd better get used to the comments he makes during interviews (!) being aired and otherwise published.  I doubt his candidacy will get very far, though, since like other Republican hopefuls he's prone to making stupid gaffes that will entertain his hardcore supporters but put off everybody else.

On the other hand, Carson said something true: that "up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality."  Maybe his medical training has paid off after all!  But if he really cared about factual accuracy, he wouldn't make any statements at all about the etiology of sexual orientation, and he certainly wouldn't have said what he said about the effects of prison on sexual orientation.  Nor would he claim, as he continues to do, that homosexuality is a choice.  But he seems to be driven to make a fool of himself, so even in the apology he posted on Facebook he said that "we are always born male and female", which as a scientist he should know is oversimple, and that he thinks "marriage is a religious institution"; if he really believed that, he'd reject civil marriage, the interference of the State in a religious institution.

It's interesting how far Carson (like other religious bigots) has surrendered to the Politically Correct Gay Agenda.  Does he want homosexuals to be executed, as Scripture commands?  Does he want to reinstate sodomy laws, or Don't Ask Don't Tell?  Does he want same-sex couples to be outside of all legal recognition and protection?  No, he does not:
I support human rights and Constitutional protections for gay people, and I have done so for many years. I support civil unions for gay couples, and I have done so for many years. I support the right of individual states to sanction gay marriage, and I support the right of individual states to deny gay marriage in their respective jurisdictions.
That's not a Bible-believing Christian talking, not one who stands firm against the moral erosion of American society.  That's a flaming liberal.  Even when he says that marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman, he's agreeing with the liberals that polygamy -- a Biblical and traditional value, mind you -- is wrong.  Someone really should ask him, though: since he thinks marriage should be defined and sanctioned by states rather than the Federal government, does he think that Loving v. Virginia, which overturned state laws against "interracial" marriage, should be overturned?  And if he really believes that permitting legal same-sex marriage is an illegitimate redefinition of marriage, why is he willing to let states do it?

"I am not a politician," Carson concluded.  As a presidential hopeful, he is a politician.  But he won't be one for long, the way he's going.

Ah there, you see?  I've said all this before, though sometimes about different people.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Special Rights" for Me, But Not for Thee

You know what's funny about this?
Columnist Cal Thomas, radio host Dana Loesch, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins took part in a CPAC panel on religious freedom Saturday, and they pronounced that times were dire for followers of Jesus Christ.

“I feel like it’s time to make Christians a protected class,” Dana Loesch said, as the discussion reached a fevered pitch of self-pity.
This is what's funny about it, from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, emphasis added:
SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
In other words, Christians are already a "protected class." And as apologists for bigotry have been saying for fifty years, if your civil rights are now guaranteed by law, you have nothing to complain about anymore, so shut up shut up shut up.

Of course, there's a catch. The Act doesn't specify which religions you can't discriminate against. Christianity is just one, and the Act refers to all of them. (There are Christians who would consider this persecution in itself, since they insist that Christianity is not a religion but a 'relationship with God', something like that.  So it's a hate crime to say that discrimination against Christians is discrimination based on religion, because Christianity should be singled out by name as a protected class of its own.)  Which means that Christians can't persecute members of other religions, or that right-wing Christians can't persecute other Christians -- and that, of course, they regard as persecution, a "dictatorship of relativism" as a noted Bavarian theologian called it. (Nor are they alone in this: the ultraorthodox Jewish Israeli men who got their jollies by spitting on and vilifying as whores eight-year-old Orthodox girls complained, when they were compelled by other Israeli Jews to stop doing so, that they were being persecuted, just like in Nazi Germany. Yes, really, they did.)

So, when the clowns at CPAC claim that Christians are being persecuted, what they mean is that some Christians -- their kind -- are being persecuted, because they aren't allowed to persecute others for their beliefs. Their kind of Christian isn't exactly a marginal, fringe sect -- there are quite a lot of them -- but they aren't all Christians and they don't speak for Christianity as a whole. But then, NO CHRISTIAN DOES. That includes liberal Christians, who also would like you to believe that they are the True Christians. They aren't. There is no true pure core of Christianity, or of Judaism or of Islam or of any other religion. Which is why the current fuss over whether ISIS is 'really' Islamic annoys me. Of course Isis is Muslim; so are the Muslims who repudiate them. But that's another issue.

Of course civil rights legislation doesn't address all the kinds of discrimination that people can suffer from.  But there is a lot of confusion over what "civil rights" are and what the law cover.  As I've noted before, a lot of people seem to believe that "civil rights" means specifically, the rights of black people.  One indication of this confusion is terminology like "the gay rights movement," which encourages gays and straights alike to believe that adding "sexual orientation" to civil rights laws will protect only gays and not heterosexuals or bisexuals.  (For the same reason, I suspect that there will be some unwelcome consequences as "gender identity" and related language is added to civil rights laws to protect transpeople.  These provisions will also protect cis people.  I can't think offhand of what cis people will need protection from, but as with "sexual orientation," I suspect we'll find out soon enough.)

P.S. While I'm on the subject of unforeseen consequences of legislation, I should mention the Equal Access Act of 1984, which I've seen mentioned in a couple of different books on gay youth that I've read lately.  Christian groups lobbied for the bill to force public schools to allow student religious clubs to meet in school buildings and use school resources, and it was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.  According to Melinda Miceli in Standing Out, Standing Together (Routledge, 2005) her book on gay-straight alliances,
... in the hearings leading up to the passage of the EAA, the point was raised that passing the act would also permit school clubs (such as a club for gay and lesbian students) that the religious leaders lobbying for the act did not approve of to meet on school property.  Passage of the EAA was so important to its advocates’ goal of fighting what they viewed as discrimination against religious speech in public schools that they were not dissuaded by this possibility. ... The EAA is now, perhaps, the single most important tool available to students who wish to start GSA clubs, especially after the Salt Lake City case made national headlines for over two years [39].
The EAA was probably intended to get the theocratic camel's nose into the tent, but it had consequences its advocates preferred not to consider.  No doubt they believed that, with Reagan in the White House, they could use the EAA to advance their agenda but no one else could.  But Reagan served his two terms and went back to private life, and imposing reactionary Christianity on the nation has proved more difficult than its adherents expected.  Not only GSAs but student groups espousing non-Christian religions -- or no religion at all -- have found the EAA a useful tool.  I love such little ironies.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pride and Prejudice

Someone I know passed along this meme, and since I didn't have commenter privilege on that post I shared it, with my commentary, and then checked out the proximate source.  The comments there were a mixed bag, though it was clear that for many people who liked the meme, antigay bigotry was a significant factor in their opinion.

There are many things I could say, but I think it's best to address this idea directly.  First off, I am not surprised that many Homo-Americans have sunk to the level of our worst enemies in reacting to this meme and the whole notion of "straight pride."  (One commenter wrote: "Are you Christian? Kill yourself".  That's showing your moral superiority!)  Haven't we been saying for decades that we're just like straight people except for whom we love?  Well, unfortunately, it's true.

I considered pointing out that an analogous "white pride" meme would also go down like a Zeppelin, but then I remembered that people who say they need to celebrate straight pride are likely to be the same people who ask peevishly why there isn't a white history month, so never mind.

However.  I'm all in favor of straight pride manifestations. We've had a few "straight pride" events here at IU over the years, though not recently.  They were all organized by right-wing groups who were known to embrace antigay bigotry, but since they were not known for thoughtfulness or more than minimal intelligence, this didn't bother me; they were too dull to understand what they were proposing.  Again, not all that different from many of my fellow homosexuals, unfortunately.

I love my straight friends and relatives; I don't look down on them, because I know they can't help themselves; they deserve pity and sympathy, not censure. Love the sinner and hate the sin! So whenever I encounter someone talking about "straight pride" events, I tell them that, and I offer to help them organize the "gay allies" contingent. Just as gay pride celebrations routinely include straight allies, often with straight allies as parade marshals, a straight pride celebration should welcome the support of gay allies. I haven't received a very welcoming response when I've made this offer, for some reason.  I think it's long past time to organize the first branch of Parents and Friends of Straight People. It sounds like they really need the support!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Mote and the Beam

There's a post (via) at the "progressive Christian" blog slactivist which deals with an interesting religious-freedom case that came before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The plaintiff was an evangelical Christian who refused to submit to "biometric hand scanning for time and attendance taking" at his job with an coal and energy company, because he saw the scan as a fulfillment of Revelation 13:16-17:
16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
The complainant's employer refused to make a reasonable accommodation with his religious belief, and the EEOC ruled in his favor.  As the blogger points out, this resolution has the effect of disproving, to some extent, the complainant's belief that those who refuse to wear the mark of the Beast will be persecuted.

Fine with me.  What I want to address, however, are the following remarks by the blogger.
Religious liberty, if it is ever to mean anything at all, must include the freedom to be wrong. It cannot matter, legally, whether or not a religious belief is orthodox, or coherent, or part of a longstanding established tradition. Protecting religious liberty means protecting the right to believe in the implausible, the idiosyncratic, the offensive, the stupid, the factually insupportable, the demonstrably false. Otherwise we’d wind up putting the state in the position of adjudicating between legitimate and illegitimate religious beliefs.

And that, we should have learned by now, never ends well. That’s a recipe for inquisitions and for sectarian violence. That reduces religious liberty from an inviolable human right to a privilege contingent on the religious perspective of the current regime.
Again, fine with me.  This is the basic rationale for freedom of religion as it's conceived in the US.  But I was struck by the irony of a Christian writer mocking another Christian's beliefs as implausible, idiosyncratic, offensive, stupid, factually insupportable, and so on.  It's possible that that string of adjectives is merely rhetorical, and that the writer doesn't necessarily mean them to refer to the EEOC plaintiff's beliefs.  However, elsewhere in the piece Clark calls the man's beliefs "ludicrous," "absurd," "weird, Barnum-esque folklore," and refers to him as "a devotee of the pseudo-Christian folklore promoted by the likes of Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and Jack Impe."  

Leave aside the fact that most New Testament scholars today would agree that Jesus himself taught precisely such weird, Barnum-esque folklore, and that it permeates most of the New Testament.  (Ironically, it is fundamentalist scholars who try the hardest to argue that Jesus didn't mean that the End was near, or that he would return on clouds of glory before the generation of his first followers passed away.)  There's a great deal of resistance to admitting this, and has been ever since Albert Schweitzer made the classic case for Jesus as an end-times preacher more than a century ago.  Laymen of all stripes try to evade it, first through ignorance of the scholarship, and second by displacing the embarrassing doctrine onto the book of Revelation alone.  They also try to forget that Jesus, far from being a cool, hip Enlightenment philosopher, is depicted in the gospels as a wandering faith healer, exorcist, and hellfire preacher, quite apart from his end-times teaching.

But as I say, leave that aside.  I don't know the details of this blogger's Christian beliefs, but since he is a Christian it is reasonably certain that he holds some absurd, factually insupportable, idiosyncratic, etc. beliefs himself, either in terms of what he believes about Jesus or how he evades the problematic parts of Jesus' teachings.  But he feels free to jeer at the beliefs of other Christians with different absurd beliefs.  Whatever else can be said about this, it flouts one of the few teachings of Jesus that I respect -- the one about attending to the log in your own eye before you complain about the speck in your brother's.

A few years ago a Christian minister named Barbara R. Rossing published a book called The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Westview Press, 2004).  With considerable Christian love she attacked evangelicals who believed in the Rapture.  It got a fair amount of attention and praise from people, Christian and otherwise, who didn't know much about the New Testament or Christian history, but knew what they liked.  I read it a decade ago and found Rossing's scholarship wanting, to put it politely.  That matters because Rossing is not merely a minister but professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  Ever since then I've been meaning to reread her book and take more notes than I did the first time; maybe I'll finally get around to that this year.  But two things still stand out in memory for me.  One is Rossing's mean-spiritedness as she pointed out the speck in her brothers' and sisters' eyes.  Soon after reading The Rapture Exposed, I read a couple of other books that Rossing had cited, though she was unenthusiastic about them because their authors, though critical of their subjects, were less sure than she that Rapture-believing Christians were not really Christians: Heather Hendershot's Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (Chicago, 2004) and Amy Johnson Frykholm's Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford, 2004).  The other thing I remember is that Rossing herself declared explicitly that she believes that Christ will return, just as he promised to do in the gospels and in the book of Revelation.  Since Jesus promised to return within a generation, that belief falls under the absurd, factually insupportable, stupid, and demonstrably false headings -- but it didn't seem to bother the people who trumpeted Rossing's book, like this writer whose post appeared at the same site, Patheos, as slacktivist.  And why should it?  Many of them probably had not actually read the book, just heard that Rossing put the bad fundamentalists in their place.

Do I include myself in these strictures?  Of course I do.  As an atheist and a homosexual of my generation, I know how important the principle of freedom of belief and expression is.  The gay movement relied on it for a long time.  There was a time, not really so long ago, when the idea that homosexuality was not a criminal aberration but a valid variation of human sexual expression, was counted absurd, factually insupportable, offensive, demonstrably false.  In this sense I'm a liberal, as Paul Feyerabend described the type:
A liberal is not a mealymouthed wishy-washy nobody who understands nothing and forgives everything, he is a man or a woman with occasionally quite strong and dogmatic beliefs among them the belief that ideas must not be removed by institutional means. Thus, being a liberal, I do not have to admit that Puritans have a chance of finding truth. All I am required to do is to let them have their say and not to stop them by institutional means. But of course I may write pamphlets against them and ridicule them for their strange opinions.
I'm also used to being dismissed in slactivist's terms by liberals and conservatives alike, who don't know what's wrong with my statements but are sure they're crazy.  As long as I can rebut them, without having to worry about being penalized by the state for doing so, I'm fine.  I don't need for everyone to agree with me.  So when one Christian attacks another Christian for holding absurd beliefs, what can I do but giggle and point and make rude noises?

Jesus himself didn't claim to be reasonable; he recognized that he wasn't, and blessed those who were not scandalized by him.  Paul exulted in the offensiveness of a crucified Messiah, a scandal to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.  Whatever the slactivist blogger's personal, idiosyncratic version of Christian belief, I doubt he regards Jesus or Paul as marginal figures.  Nor do I, but luckily I'm not a Christian, so I can freely regard their teachings as absurd, factually insupportable, and so on.