Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Abstinence Makes the Heart...

...grow wild with desire. Which is why abstinence only programs designed to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases aren't as effective as programs that also encourage condom use if the temptation proves too great. Uganda had a very successful program called "ABC": Abstain, Be faithful -- but use Condoms if you can't (or won't) follow the first two. The country's HIV transmission rate fell from 15% to 5% after the program was implemented.

Problem is, studies show it was C and not A or B that were most responsible for nearly all of the reduction. Bigger problem is that the US has been putting pressure on Uganda to stress the abstinence aspect of the message -- which they are doing, because much of the funding comes from us. Evangelical organizations in the country are even trying to change the C to stand for "condoms are for the condemned" or "change companions," meaning if you find yourself with someone who wants you to break your abstinence or fidelity pledge, that you should simply leave their presence. Churches seem to have a hard time understanding the realities of sexual behavior.

Perhaps if the message were reframed. Let them say, "The most important rules to follow are abstinence until marriage, and fidelity after." This lets them give top priority to their high moral ground -- it's not merely one piece of advice among equals. But let them also say, "But if you don't follow the most important rule, you had better follow the SECOND most important rule -- use a condom."

New Togs at the All-England Club

If you're watching Wimbledon, take a moment to note the new unis the club has provided for ball boys and girls, line judges and umpires, courtesy of Ralph Lauren. (Well, if you can call six million pounds "courtesy.") The umpires got the best look -- veddy veddy British.

Here's a fun read...

A blog, ostensibly written by the mother of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, as if she were running with the Hollywood crowd.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More Evidence of Biological Basis of Sexuality

After the twin studies, evidence of differences in brain structure, as well as pointers to a genetic component to sexual orientation comes this study which presents evidence that sexual orientation is determined in part by conditions in utero. Taken in conjunction with earlier twin studies (that showed that when twins are fraternal (each with their own placenta), they have a slightly higher probability of being gay than siblings born individually, that identical twins (each with their own placenta) are much more likely to share the same sexuality, but that twins that share a placenta almost invariably share the same sexuality), the scientific evidence seems quite clear that sexuality is firmly established at birth. Here is an interesting synthesis of the major research that has been done on the biological origins of sexuality.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Salman Rushdie on the First Amendment

Bill Moyers has a new series on PBS, "Faith & Reason," a topic I think is of vital importance in our current sociopolitical environment. The first show features Salman Rushdie, he of the 10-year fatwa and life in seclusion.

"In a free society, offense is not the limiting point. Because if we say that we can suppress things that upset people, then all of us are silenced...When there is a conflict between liberty of speech and the beliefs of private individuals, the liberty of speech must always take precedence, because otherwise, every other liberty -- including freedom of religious observance -- is put into question. It's no accident, I think, that freedom of religious observance and freedom of speech are jointly protected by the first amendment...In my point of view, you can't have one without the other."

Hurrah for Bill and Buffett

We already knew about Bill Gates's largesse in establishing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today it was announced by Warren Buffett, the Omaha billionaire, that he would be donating a large part of his fortune to the foundation. No 300-foot yachts for Buffett, or a line-up of rich relatives (a la the Wal-Mart clan). Instead, he's teaming up with Gates to help rid the world of malaria, river blindness and other preventable diseases. I've ragged on Bill Gates in years past (by helping Sun's Scott McNealy to mock him), but he and Buffett deserve an enormous amount of respect for attempting to turn their fortunes to the most productive work they can find. After all, don't those researching vaccines for viruses that could devastate populations deserve the money more than jewelers and Mercedes-Benz dealers?

Friday, June 23, 2006

O'Reilly Caught Lying Again

Check this out. Bill O'Reilly lies, is corrected, lies again, is caught -- but fails to take responsibility for his mendacity. Keith Olberman of MSNBC can come across as a little strident; but just watching the O'Reilly segments are almost damning enough. Once you know that O'Reilly is knowingly accusing dead American soldiers of committing a heinous war crime -- when in fact they were the victims of it -- his bald-faced dissembling becomes chilling.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Choose Your Weapon: Torture or Kindness, or, Grounds for Impeachment

Although I live an almost entirely-blessed existence, I regularly find myself despairing of life when I am reminded just how much horror and evil remains in the world. This despair comes primarily because my country has come to stand more for torture and hegemony than for freedom and opportunity.

Though I did not vote for him, I bear my tiny part of responsibility for George W. Bush's election in that I am a citizen of a nation that would place him in office. He is my President, too, though I despise how he has conducted himself. Although my responsibility for his occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is miniscule to the point nearly of invisibility, the horrific nature of the crime he has committed in this country's name -- leading a government which sanctioned and encouraged the torture and murder of fellow human beings -- is so repugnant that even that tiny whiff of guilt that wafts down to me as an individual citizen makes me feel profound shame.

At one time, as a child, I felt proud that America stood taller than the barbarous regimes of history. I know that Abu Gharaib, Hidatha and Guantanamo are not the first instances of American military cruelty, but they represent a Rubicon of sorts, in that Rumsfeld and Cheney and (likely) Bush knew and approved of it, rationalized it somehow (God knows how), so that those beneath them in the chain of command felt emboldened (and empowered) to add torture to their arsenal. That's not what America is, not to me.

This came to me as I read a piece on Howard Stringer in the June 5, 2006 issue of "The New Yorker." Stringer is currently the CEO of Sony Corporation, a Welshman who immigrated to New York at 22, intending to make this his home. Three months after his arrival, he was drafted to serve in Vietnam. Rather than return to England and avoid service, as he could easily have done, he reported for duty. The article quotes one of his letters, and it is those words that reawakened my depression: "The VC prisoners we take are stained with the mud of rice paddies...They are truly out of touch, and their reaction to medical treatment and kindness is often staggering."

"Medical treatment and kindness." Isn't that what we extend to our prisoners of war? Rather than covering them with feces, or making them feel as if they are drowning, or cramming them into a box for days at a time? For lack of a more straightforward way of saying it, aren't we better than that?

Apparently not, and now that we have proved that to the world, we have lost -- perhaps forever -- the "moral high ground." How can we now ever say that democracy, liberty and the rule of law are the best paths to social order and the common good, when we have now shown that it is capable of an evil such as the ones some of our soldiers carry out with the blessings of the Secretary of Defense and, by extension, our President.

If this betrayal of our values, in our name, is not a high crime or misdemeanor, I'm not sure I know what is.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"That's gonna be a souvenir."

As anyone who knows me well (or who has carefully read this blog) will know that I have a tiny tendency toward paranoia. Not in the sense that someone is out to get me, but in the sense that dangerous or interesting or random things will happen to or near me. That plane flying so low -- is it about to make an emergency landing and I get to see it? That guy in the movie theater who is acting crazy -- does he have a gun under his coat? Do I need to be ready to duck under my seat? As these thoughts pass through my head (they don't stay long, as I'm not certifiably insane), I wonder if I would be helped in some way should the worst happen. Since I am attuned to the crazy man's behavior, will I be one who survives his rampage because I was aware and reacted to the metallic clicks of him chambering his first round and quickly take cover?

Of course, none of these musings has ever been more than fantasy. Sometimes the delusions are of a more minor (and pleasant) nature: maybe my purchase of k.d. lang's version of "Crying" will be the billionth iTunes download and win me the big prize, or I'll show up as a single at a golf course and be paired with Alice Cooper or Samuel L. Jackson.

This mild paranoia is one reason why I try to take a baseball glove on the rare (very) occasions when I attend a major league game: I always hold out hope that a ball will come my way and I want to be ready. As Pasteur said, "chance favors the prepared mind." So as I sat last night at the Giants-Angels game at AT&T Park (I took my mom to her first game ever at the park), and I watched the foul balls flying into the stands, I tried to keep the glove on my hand and be ready.

We had great seats -- seven rows from the field, just behind the on-deck circle on the first base side. I knew any foul hit to us would either be a screaming liner, or a very high pop-up. The liner didn't worry me too much -- if I caught it, I'd be a hero, if I didn't, the crowd would forgive my not being able to handle such a hard shot, being only 60 feet or so from the plate.

No, it was the pop-up that worried me. I had this fantasy of a very high ball arcing straight to my seat (Field Club Section 110, Row G, Seat 2), giving the cameras plenty of time to find me waiting with my glove extended. Which would mean plenty of time for me to realize that I would be on TV, preparing to catch what would be in baseball parlance a "can of corn" and let nerves interfere with my ability to catch. Miss it and I'd let the whole section down and maybe end up being a humorous replay on that evening's edition of "SportsCenter." As I considered this, I thought "well, maybe now that I've had that thought, I'll be able to put it out of my mind should that actually come to pass. Maybe I've expended the nervousness now, and I'll know that since being nervous won't help me make the catch, I'll just have to make the catch."

Through the first seven innings, nothing came close. Plenty of action directly behind home plate, including one into the press box, and several balls down both the right and left field lines. Then, in the top of the eighth, just as I put the glove back on after eating some peanuts, Angels catcher Mike Napoli, with one out and a one and two count on him, popped up a ball, high and right into my section.

At first I thought "it's too far back, it's out of my reach." But then I decided that strange ricochets happen all the time, so I got my glove ready and turned toward the action. The ball came down about six rows above me, went through one fan's hands and caromed off something -- right towards me. I leaned a bit to my right, guided the ball into the glove with my right hand and closed the webbing around it -- I had it! I had the ball. I turned immediately to my mom and nonchalantly presented it to her. (I neglected to say earlier that the other part of my foul-catching fantasy was that should I make a catch I would not mug for the camera or raise my arms in the air as though I'd just pitched a three-hit shutout in game seven.)

It's not a huge deal, catching a foul ball. All I had done was to be in the right spot at the right time for a mostly random occurence. Still, I felt proud that when I got my chance, I didn't boot it, and acquitted myself with a modicum of grace. (Although I must say it was gratifying to receive the ovation and congratulations from the other fans in the section.)

When I got home last night, I immediately went to the TV and watched the play several times (including twice in slo-mo), thanks to the wonders of the DVR. When the ball left the bat, the Giants announcer said "That's gonna be a souvenir." And it was. Mom's souvenir.

If I can get the catch in a digital format, I'll post it here or on


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My Favorite New Song

Heard this on the radio the other day and it just grabbed me by the ears and would not let go. Definitely not recrementitious.

Muse, "Knights of Cydonia." Big, dramatic, energetic, romantic (in the 19th century sense of the word) -- and rather political and revolutionary. Do listen.

Oh, and crank it up.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Kissinger on Soccer

Being American, I know very little about the real strategy of soccer, or the game's complexity, and very little of its history. So I enjoyed this article by former secretary of state, Nobel Peace Prize winner and major soccer fan Henry Kissinger, in which he talks not only about his love for the game, but also gives a concise description of the modern game and its genesis in the 70s.

You can also go to and hear an audio report from Kissinger on the first week of the tournament. Ever the diplomat, he deftly avoided directly criticizing the American team after their humiliation at the hands (feet?) of the team from the Czech Republic.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


If you'v ever watched HBO's "Deadwood," you know it's the story of a mining camp in indian territory in the 1870s. Gold has been discovered, so no one really cares that the land is by treaty supposed to belong the the native Americans of the area. The tiny camp of Deadwood becomes a town where absolutely no law applies -- until it simply becomes too rich and the government steps in and annexes the camp as part of South Dakota. But not before there's a fair amount of violence and chaos.

Well, now that the Internet has become a gold camp of its own, being significantly responsible for some of the largest gains in productivity in history, as well as transforming the way people live, work and play, the government is once again stepping in. This time it's not necessarily to bring order, but to concentrate control of the Net into the hands of a few very powerful players.

Here's an article that is part of this interesting story -- that I have only just begun to become aware of. Congress (in between their attacks on gay and lesbian people) have managed to find the time to debate the possibiity of giving the major telecommunications companies control over the Internet, changing it from the loose, free, packed with liberty and opportunity environment that it is today, into a more centrally-controlled, less free, shadow of itself. In the 19th century South Dakota, an argument could be made that Deadwood needed some control and oversight to bring order to the town and make it safe for all who wanted to seek their fortune. Today's net grab is not about safety or the public good, but the concentration of power.

Interested in learning more? Enter "net neutrality" on Google News.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More on Polygamy

With the general lack of any logical reasons why same-sex civil marriage can't be permitted, the social conservatives often fall back on the slippery slope argument: "If we allow the moral depravity of gay marriage to be sanctioned, what's to stop other moral depravities such as polygamy or bestiality to be sanctioned by the state?" With HBO's "Big Love" dramatizing the challenges of living a polygamist life in modern-day Utah, the polygamy argument often steps to the fore, as witnessed by Bill Bennett's appearance on "The Daily Show" earlier this week. (See previous post.) In addition to the points I made in that post about polygamy creating a generally inequitable arrangement relative to civil marriage, the following also occurred to me.

Marriage in this country has two aspects -- civil and religious. The civil aspect is all the contract law stuff -- shared debts, inheritance, hospital visitation, child custody, etc. But it seems to me that most polygamists, certainly most in the USA, enter into plural marriages not for civil reasons, but for religious ones. They feel they are living a higher principle, one ordained by God. Since they have established their own religious institutions which permit/encourage plural marriage, there is no need for those who choose to practice polygamy to seek recognition for those unions; if they believe God sanctions these relationships, and they have their own churches in which to bless the unions, they already have all the recognition they need or desire.

What's more, since polygamy (or rather polygyny, since there are no multiple-husband marriages among the Utah/Arizona fundamental LDS crowd) is entirely heterosexual, polygamists can enter into civil unions in order to guarantee the benefits those unions offer, as least for the husband and his first wife. Therefore, there is no motivation for polygamists to seek legal recognition of their unions -- and any attempt to do so would run afoul of the 14th Amendment, as it creates a system of inequity, which same-sex marriage would not.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Jon Stewart (mostly) Skewers Bill Bennett

Last night on "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart's guest was former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett. The discussion was primarily about gay marriage, and Jon took it right to the big boy, politely presenting him with logical, common-sense responses to Bennett's parroting of conservative talking points. One of my favorite exchanges was when Stewart said something like: "So why not encourage gay people to join in that family arrangement if that provides stability to a society?" Bennett replied that gay people are already part of families, that they are sons and daughters. To which Stewart rejoinded: "So that's the gay ceiling? That's as far as they can go?"

However, when the argument got to the slippery slope of "if we let gay people marry, what's to stop polygamy?" Stewart's answer was that polygamy isn't a part of the human condition, people aren't born to be polygamists. But that's not the right answer. The right answer is that since we are talking about equal civil rights, same-sex marriage ADDS rights for all. Today, any man can marry any woman and vice versa. It was not always thus, as the Lovings (the interracial couple of the 1967 Supreme Court decision) would tell you. By expanding marriage rights, any man could marry any woman OR any man and vice versa. Rights are expanded yet remain equal.

Polygamy on the other hand sets up an inherently unequal arrangement. Those who choose to enter into polygamous arrangements now have extra rights that those in one:one relationships do not have; namely, multiple spouses who can collect on Social Security survivor benefits and other financial benefits of marriage. This is inconsistent with the equality of treatment guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

Click on the link above and watch Stewart do what he does very well. (You have to scroll down the page a bit to find the link.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Saying Yes

From Stephen Colbert's commencement address at Knox College in Illinois:

"[Y]ou have one thing that may save you, and that is your youth. This is your great strength. It is also why I hate and fear you. Hear me out. It has been said that children are our future. But does that not also mean that we are their past? You are here to replace us. I don’t understand why we’re here helping and honoring them. You do not see union workers holding benefits for robots.

But you seem nice enough, so I’ll try to give you some advice. First of all, when you go to apply for your first job, don’t wear these robes. Medieval garb does not instill confidence in future employers—unless you’re applying to be a scrivener. And if someone does offer you a job, say yes. You can always quit later. Then at least you’ll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.

So, say “yes.” In fact, say “yes” as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb. To “yes-and.” I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the “-and.” And then hopefully they “yes-and” you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.

Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”"

Staggered by the Pandering

I am absolutely horrified at the level to which President Bush and the Republican congress will take their desperate pandering for votes. Over the weekend Bush came out in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, and for three days this week, the Senate will debate the issue, which has virtually zero chance of passing. Instead of investing their valuable time and energy on dealing with immigration issues, or the war in Iraq, or the ballooning federal debt, they will be calling each other's moral convictions into question -- even though sexuality is probably the least of most senators' moral failings.

With all the words flying back and forth, however, I have yet to hear anyone precisely define the exact threat same-sex marriage poses to "traditional" marriage. Even ignoring that marriage is a matter left to the state, how could the possibility of Bob and I (or next door neighbors Gaby and Marianna) having a marriage license have any affect at all on the marriages of Joel and Alice or Richard and Jean across the street? Or on George and Laura's marriage?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Look out, Bellagio

Hard to think anyone could compare with the wonder and majesty of the waters at Bellagio, that marvel of hydro-engineering in Las Vegas. And yet, along come these mad scientists. Check it out. Just Diet Coke and Mentos.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Favorite New Word

Recrementitious. An adjective meaning "of, relating to, consisting of, or of the nature of superfluous matter separated from that which is useful."

Can you use it in a sentence?

"I mean really, don't Depeche Mode seem completely recrementitious at this point?"

Culled from the live network finals of the National Spelling Bee, which is a completely wild thing on its own. The response to pressure of these 14-year olds is heartening. With the country watching on live network television, they just step up to the mike and do the job at hand: spell the most obscure and non-intuitively spelled words. Their voices shake a bit sometimes, but mostly they seem up to the task, even if they miss the word.