seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


War on Contraception

I just can't shake the feeling that many of the people most crusading against abortions would actually oppose living in a world where sex education and available effective contraceptives dramatically decrease the number of abortions. Many of these people are simply opposed to other people having sex (especially anything that might be considered deviant, dear me!) for reasons I simply do not understand.

As an example, take this article from Mother Jones on an innovative and successful program in Colorado that has reduced the number of abortions without limiting the freedom of women to control their own bodies.

Seven years later, the program has been, by most measures, a huge success. Teen birthrates are dropping across the country, but Colorado's has fallen faster than the nationwide average, allowing it to leapfrog 11 spots in the national rankings. Between 2010 and 2012, the state estimates, 4,300 to 9,700 births to women on the state's Medicaid program that would have otherwise occurred did not—saving Medicaid between $49 million and $111 million. The state's abortion rate has also cratered, falling 42 percent among women ages 15 to 19 and 18 percent among women ages 20 to 24 between 2009 and 2012.

But some have decided that IUD use is basically an abortion. That this is contrary to the scientific understanding of how IUDs work isn't the point - we are certainly used to people refusing to listen to science. I'm in the midst of reading the excellent book How We Got to Now and the history of doctors refusing to wash their hands prior to delivering babies was jaw-dropping. No one likes changing their mind about how things work.

The larger problem I have with opposing IUDs because they supposedly cause an abortion (which they do not) is the idea that in balancing the rights of a human adult (or in some cases teen) woman against a collection of a few hundred cells, society should side with the thing that has more in common with an amoeba than a human. It gives you a sense of just how much these people value women... and yes, I know that many of them are women. Doesn't change how little they value women.

If those who opposed abortions cared first and foremost about stopping abortions, they would be doing everything possible to minimize potential pregnancy among those who are not ready to be parents (or do not wish to have additional children). But most of them are not, and in fact, a stunning majority of them actually encourage abstinence-only education, which has been shown to lead to higher numbers of unwanted pregnancies. But this isn't really about abortion, it is about how great it feels to engage in a holier-than-thou righteous crusade. And that seems to be a very human characteristic.

Real Men Don't Blame Women

When I think about what defines a real man, or the qualities that I think men should aspire to, self-control is toward the top of the list. So when I am reminded that many, often religiously inspired, view the ideal man as not needing self-control, I am unimpressed.

I was reminded of this in recent articles both about many who call themselves Muslims and also many who call themselves Christians. Both are quick to blame women for various forms of sexual assault and harassment. It is the women who are blamed, often for dressing indecently and tempting men - who are therefore acknowledged to be weak and unable to demonstrate self-control.

When I lived in the Middle East for four months, it was impossible to escape these beliefs. The most religious Jewish neighborhoods had instances of men throwing things at women (often tourists) believed to be dressed too immodestly for their streets.

If I were to subscribe to a religion, it would have to be on that requires adherents to take responsibility for their actions. However, I suspect that for a religion to survive for more than 100 years, it may be necessary for it to place blame on others rather than elevating self-control. We have tribal brains - some things are very difficult to overcome (and there I go, placing blame?).

The article that really got thinking along these lines outlines cases of rape or sexual harassment at a well-regarded Christian school near DC. It is "Sexual Assault at Patrick Henry College."

It is a disgusting story - a reminder of how the world really works.

Reading these quotes, I find it amazing that any man would be proud of believing that he would be powerless in the face of bare female shoulders or ankles. But then, they really don't believe that, do they? Perhaps superficially at best. Rather, they recognize it as a convenient excuse to do whatever the hell they want without having to take responsibility for it. It is the woman's fault, or maybe the devil's.

The self-policing that courtship culture requires, however, is not egalitarian. Responsibility falls disproportionately to women, who are taught to protect their “purity” and to never “tempt” their brothers in Christ to “stumble” with immodest behavior. “The lack of men’s responsibility or culpability for their own actions and the acceptance of male ‘urges’ as irresistible forces of nature is the understructure of Christian modesty movements and their secular counterpart,” the journalist Kathryn Joyce wrote in Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. These movements, she noted, see “women’s bodies as almost supernaturally perverse and corrupting.”


In 2012, Representative Todd Akin, running for Senate in Missouri, sparked a national outrage by speaking of what he called “legitimate rape”—a category, he implied, that did not actually apply to many rape cases. Patrick Henry College has sponsored similar ideas on sexual assault. Last September, the school chose Dr. Stephen Baskerville, a professor of government, to deliver a speech that the entire student body was required to attend. He argued that feminism and liberalism have transformed the government into “a matriarchal leviathan.” The result, he said, according to a copy of the speech, was a society plagued by politically motivated “witch hunts” against men—while “the seductress who lures men into a ‘honeytrap’ ” was really to blame.


Afterward, Claire agonized over why she hadn’t “fought him” off. “I was afraid that it had something to do with my sinful nature,” she says. In the Christian world Claire had been brought up in, men only do bad things to impure women who have tempted them. She blamed herself, tried to act normal, and told no one.


When she met with Corbitt to show her the e-mail, the student remembers the dean saying, “The choices you make and the people you choose to associate with, the way you try to portray yourself, will affect how people treat you.” In subsequent meetings, the student says Corbitt told her to think about her clothing and “the kinds of ideas it puts in men’s minds.”

I would be embarrassed to believe men should be this weak. Pathetic.

The Struggle Within Islam

Following up on my recent post, "Muslim Terrorists are Rare... and Stupid," I just read a good article in the September Smithsonian. The "Struggle Within Islam" explores how most Muslims react to the actions of the minority that commit acts of horrible terror.

“Today, Al Qaeda is as significant to the Islamic world as the Ku Klux Klan is to the Americans—not much at all,” Ghada Shahbender, an Egyptian poet and activist, told me recently. “They’re violent, ugly, operate underground and are unacceptable to the majority of Muslims. They exist, but they’re freaks.

“Do I look at the Ku Klux Klan and draw conclusions about America from their behavior? Of course not,” she went on. “The KKK hasn’t been a story for many years for Americans. Al Qaeda is still a story, but it is headed in the same direction as the Klan.”

Muslim Terrorists Are Rare... and Stupid

Fantastic article in Foreign Policy - "Why is it so hard to find a Suicide Bomber These Days?"

I have been making this point in arguments for years. To those who argue that all Muslims support terrorists or want to kill us (due to our freedom, no doubt), I have asked why there are so few terrorist attacks then. With over a billion Muslims, one would think we would see more than the occasional attempt (often blundered).

The reality is that just as most Christians really don't want to lift a finger to do anything Jesus actually encouraged them to do, most Muslims don't believe the scary passages in the Qu'ran that give license to kill the infidels. Everyone reads what they want to read and ignores the inconvenient parts (though for many, the inconvenient parts are the ones encouraging peace, love, and hippy stuff).

At any rate, Kurzman's article is first rate and fun to read. A sample where he offers five answers to the question posed by the title:

The first and most obvious answer is that most Muslims oppose terrorist violence. According to surveys by Gallup and the Pew Global Attitudes Project, support for attacks on civilians is a minority position in almost every Muslim community. (By way of comparison, a 2006 survey found that 24 percent of Americans consider attacks on civilians to be justified.) But even if only 10 percent of the world's billion Muslims supported terrorism, we would still expect to see far more terrorist activity than we do.

Get Off Your Knees - Time to Stand

Once again, I am blown away by Leon Wieseltier on the back page of The New Republic. I hadn't read TNR in awhile because they charge so much for the subscription I had let it lapse - but they brought me back with a short term deal.

Good timing - Rick Perry seems to want to turn the US into some form of supposedly Christian Nation - not in the sense of taking care of our neighbors (one of many positive Christian values rarely embraced by those most loudly proclaiming their Christianity) but in the sense of parading faith and using it to beat on anyone who doesn't share it.

Wieseltier has a stunning repudiation of Rick Perry's public pronouncements but it is buried behind a pay wall. Pity. A couple of powerful snippets:

There is a man half-running for president in the United States who has adopted Joel’s plan. He is Rick Perry, the suave and shallow governor of Texas. He has issued “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis,” which he calls The Response. He proposes to fill a stadium in Houston—Reliant Stadium, it is charmingly called—with contrite Americans, and thereby change the course of our country.


"There is hope for America,” Perry preaches. “It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.” He likes the sentence so much that he gives it twice. I dislike it hugely. This country was not built by people on their knees. It was built by people on their feet, with their hands as they were guided by their minds. They acted as if hope for America lay in themselves. There was nothing insolent about this. They were not godless people, except for some in our recent history; but their religion was compatible with, or even inclined them to, the modern concept of historical agency. The United States of America is a monument to that concept. It represents a revolution in human affairs not least because of its faith in the power of human action.

Papa Bear's Religious Convictions

Bill O' Reilly believes in God because he doesn't know how things work. Hilarious.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bill O'Reilly Proves God's Existence - Neil deGrasse Tyson
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive

A Year of Living Biblically

Funny 20 minute presentation that explores some of the ways in which it is impossible to take the Bible literally. Everyone picks and chooses what they feel is important.

Mormons Vs. Human Rights

If you had to guess what side the famously polygamous (though the Church officially frowns upon it now, it seems) Mormons were on in the fight to "save" marriage, what side would you guess? If you guessed that they are pouring hateful dollar after hateful dollar into campaigns to deny this human right to gay and lesbian couples, then give yourself a gold star!

An issue of Mother Jones earlier this year offers fascinating insights into the campaigns Mormons have secretly funded across the country to "protect" marriage. Aside from being yet another perversion of Jesus' message, this outrage should result in the loss of their tax exempt status. The idea that they don't have to pay taxes why focusing so intently on government policy is unjustifiable.

Tim Tebow Don't Know Jesus

Would Jesus spend $3 million on a thirty second spot to preach to millions? Well, I'm no expert but I don't think it jives with the Gospel of Matthew at least.

Nonetheless, Tim Tebow is putting on the ad, and if you are a facebook friend of mine, you know that I have noted several interesting takes on it (it is just too easy to paste on Twitter/Facebook, so I do it more often than I post here). But I think this article from NPR's "Only a Game" show nails the subject.

I'm looking forward to my Mom posting in the comments on this issue - she is apparently now a fan of Mike and Mike on ESPN so I'm sure she has been thinking about it!

Update:Slate has a great take on this by Will Saletan:

Being dead is just the first problem with dying in pregnancy. Another problem is that the fetus you were trying to save dies with you. A third problem is that your existing kids lose their mother. A fourth problem is that if you had aborted the pregnancy, you might have gotten pregnant again and brought a new baby into the world, but now you can't. And now the Tebows have exposed a fifth problem: You can't make a TV ad.

Top Thinkers - al Qaeda's Dissident

Foreign Policy magazine has a special end of year issue chronicling the top 2009 global thinkers - someof whom did not necessarily have "good" ideas (says me). Nonetheless, I was intrigued by a short feature on Sayyid Imam al-Sharif:

How the prison writings of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of al Qaeda's founders now labeled a turn coat, are doing more to expose the terrorist group's hypocrisy than anyone else.

This dude is now in prison in Egypt - after first writing books justifying al-Qaeda's butcherous activities, he suddenly decided it might not be in the best interests of God to kill everyone with which they disagree:

He claims he came to realize that the haphazard use of violence by Islamist groups causes more harm than good with respect to Islamic law, an idea he had been pondering since he left terrorism in the early 1990s.

So long as al-Qaeda keeps killing other Muslims, I think we can expect support for them to continue plummeting amongst those who used to support them as a check against the power of the West.

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