Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why do the religious right think homosexuality is bad?

I have often been puzzled by the notion held by the religious right wing that homosexual sex is evil.  I understand that somewhere in the bible it says homosexuality is a sin, but the bible also says that if a bride is not a virgin then she is to be taken to the village square and stoned to death by the men of the village (a pretty Freudian punishment isn’t it?).  Even though they still seem to do that in some Islamist countries, no one in the religious right in the West is pushing to stone non-virgin brides, so why are they so dedicated to punishing homosexuality?

I think underneath it are old Puritanical sensibilities about sex that sees "dirty" sex as so abominable.  Why the Puritans, and Islamists for that matter, think that sex in inherently sinful except in the context of making babies is an underlying question.  

I think it has to do with the conflating willpower and virtue, and seeing sex outside of the purpose of procreation as a weak giving in to pleasure, i.e. the Sins of the Flesh, as sinful and against God's purpose for sex, and demonstrating a lack of virtuous willpower.  I think the underlying belief and attitude in Puritanism and Islmamism is that sex is for procreation, not for pleasure, and that seeking sex for pleasure is the devil's road to debauchery and erosion of the holy masculine virtue of willpower.

I think that the masculine virtue of willpower is a wonderful virtue.  But it’s not the only virtue. 

In the Catholic Church, it was considered (back many decades ago when I was still a Catholic) that birth control using the virtuous masculine energy of willpower was good.  It was called the Rhythm method.  Only have sex with your wife when she was less likely to be fertile.  Didn’t work too well.  But to use another wonderful gift from God, intelligence, to develop contraception and abortion as a means of controlling a woman’s reproductive life was considered a sin.  Why is willpower more virtuous than intelligence?  I don’t think it is. 

And, of course, I believe there is a wonderful positive time to use willpower to avoid sex and that is not to commit adultery.  Cheating on a spouse is just a dumb thing to do.  It erodes the love in the marriage.  It’s not that exercising willpower is in itself such a virtuous act, although it counts, but the consequences of cheating harms your own marriage and the marriage of the partner.  Its consequences are destructive.  I think that is the reason it is one of the Ten Commandments, it’s dumb and harmful, not that it’s a virtuous exercise of willpower.

I think God’s purposes for sex are pretty easy to understand.  They are the functions of sex.  I think sex is for reproduction, for love, and for pleasure.  All of these are part of nature and thus part of God’s intentions.  Or so it seems to me.

So, to me, homosexual sex is perfectly in keeping with God’s intentions.  It is a means of pleasure and of love.  Just like hetrosexual sex.  The fact that it doesn’t lead to procreation is incidental.

I am very glad to see our country move more in the direction of dropping its shunning of homosexual men and women.  More to go, and more to come, I am sure.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Far Right has a bad day

The Far Right had a pretty bad day today, but I believe that America had a pretty good one.  

I think it is interesting to observe that people who consider themselves to be a part of a political movement can only see the world in terms of the movement's ideological framework.  Cause-conservatives seem to think it is still 2010, when they had a bold victory in an off year election.  But, the world has turned and the energies in place are quite different.

Cause-conservatives lost their bid to declare gay marriage illegal.  Their anti-gay bigotry has been rightly ruled to be discrimination and unconstitutional - a bitter pill for the religious right wing who seem to think that God is in the business of punishing countries for the "terrible sin" of loving people of the same gender. I think any problems that America encounters in the future will be man made, not punishment from God.

In Texas, a state senator, Democrat Wendy Davis, staged a 13 hour filibuster and killed an extreme anti-abortion bill which would have stopped abortions after 20 weeks.  She had some remarkable support from the gallery to shout down the Republican tricks to end the filibuster.  (Although, it looks like Governor Perry is calling a special session to jam the bill through after all, but I think he does so at the peril of hurting the Republican Party in the eyes of the nation as a whole.)

And, oh yes, affirmative action was reduced some but survived.

Cause-conservatives seem to think that the world is in step with them in their obsessions, but only cause-conservatives are in step with cause-conservatives.  They repel the rest of us and hurt their cause but are incapable of seeing that. 

Cause-conservatives have very clearly branded themselves as opposed to gay love, opposed to women's right to choose and control their reproductive lives, supporting anything they can think of to reduce the turnout at the polls of non-white voters.  And, oh yes, they want to drag the country into another civil war in the Middle East.  I don't think those are winning political positions in any place other than the right wing ideological bubble.

As long as cause-conservatives limit their sources of information to right wing talk radio, Fox News, and other right wing sources, they will continue to think they are leading a charge into a more pure right wing world, featuring evangelical moralities, libertarian sensibilities, and hawkish eagerness for Middle Eastern wars.  But they only seem to be leading themselves off the cliff into the land of marginal political outrage and ineffectiveness, or so it seems to me. 

They could try tuning into moderate center left sources like NPR,, the New York Times, or the Washington Post and start seeing the world as it exists outside of the right wing bubble.  Who knows, they might start to come up with some helpful ideas of governance based in reality rather than continue to feed themselves the dogma within their ideological bubble and continue to march along the path of self destruction.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Stay out of Syria's civil war

Fareed Zakaria is one of my favorite commentators.  He has illuminated the situation in Syria in a way that I haven’t heard before.  It is a video, so I can’t cut and paste his quotes into this post, but I can give it a brief summary.

His first point is that after WWI, the European powers divided up the Middle East and they installed three minority powers in three of the countries.  That is, they installed leaders of a minority group in charge of each of the countries.  Maybe this was to make the new rulers dependent on outside help from Europe?  Maybe as a way to protect the minorities from slaughter by the majorities?  

At any rate, all three of those countries have had the rest of the country rise up in revolution against their minority governments.

First was Lebanon.  The country went into civil war in the ‘70s against the minority Christians put in place after WWI.  It took fifteen years.  Reagan smartly stayed out of Lebanon’s civil war.

Second was Iraq.  Bush foolishly kicked off that civil war by invading in the ‘00s and the Sunni Muslims were ousted.  It has been going on for 10 years.

Now the third is Syria.  The minority Alawite Muslims are being thrown out of power.  They have no choice but to fight to the death, because if and when they lose they will be massacred, and most will likely flee.  Obama is smartly staying out of Syria.  It will last at least 10 years.

It seems humanitarian to try to help the “good Muslim rebels” overthrow the savage dictator, Assad.  But, as Fareed pointed out, even the massive presence of U. S. troops in Iraq didn’t prevent the slaughters of their civil war, which is still ongoing to some extent.

Stay out of other country’s civil wars.  It looks like the various Muslim sects do not get along, and are intent on killing each other.  U.S. intervention doesn’t keep that from happening, kills lots of Americans, and just annoys the Muslims we are trying to “help.”  

The notion that we have to intervene to keep the West safe is a false one, or so I now believe.  At the beginning of our intervention in Iraq, I thought it was about creating a Middle East that wouldn’t be a breeding ground for al Qaeda.  But now I think this whole thing was always about the Muslim wars, including the attack on 9/11/2001, which was really about driving the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.  

Personally, I have no problem with the U.S., and Europe, getting out of the Middle East.  Leave them to their wars.  We’ll buy their oil, at least until we don’t need it anymore, which inevitably is going to happen (natural gas, green energies, efficiencies of operation, environmental sensitivities, etc.)  

We can offer humanitarian assistance with refugee camps in surrounding countries, but stay out of those civil wars.  No need to add Americans to the casualty lists.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bored with politics

I have been posting less about politics and current events recently because I am pretty bored by them. If there was anything interesting going on in Washington I would have written about it.  But,  to me, it has been mostly just more partisan wars to no real import other than scoring points by one side against the other.  Dull, dull, dull.

OK, so what about the scandals of the administration?  To me, they are less than meets the eye.

First, the IRS singling out Tea Party political groups claiming to be humanitarian groups in order to qualify for tax-exempt and donor-revealing exempt status.  It was wrong, of course, for the IRS of a Democratic administration to focus on conservative political organizations for extra scrutiny and harassment.  But I just don't believe it was directed by Obama or the White House.  I think it was local decisions.  However, I do think that the White House set the moral tone that permeated the local IRS. By that, I mean that Obama personally did all he could to signal his administration that he thought the law that created special ways for huge political contributions from corporations and multi-billionaires via the Supreme Courts decision on Citizen's United was a bad law and should be overturned.  So, I guess it was no surprise that some in his administration saw that law as not one to be very careful in enforcing.  Bad on them, and bad on the president.

That being said, I think the law is stupid as well.  Indeed, I think that all tax exemptions for political organizations should be eliminated.  The notion that organizations with Tea Party identifiers on the right, or Socialist activist monikers on the left for that matter, should be tax exempt is ridiculous.  Tax them all.  Make them all reveal their donors.  All of their donors.  Citizen's United just gives power to a shadow government of super wealthy oligarchs.  It is fundamentally undemocratic and should be unconstitutional.  While we're at it, tax religious organizations too.  I'm sick of tax exemptions to wealthy organizations that have to be picked up by the middle class.

Next, the Big Brother scandals of the National Security Agency's monitoring of electronic communications in search of terrorists.  Although the potential for abuse is profound, I think that Obama's use of it is understandable and acceptable, just as I thought Bush's use of it was understandable and acceptable when the New York Times exposed his data mining back in his term.  The Dems erupted in outrage when the target was Bush, and now some Reps want to erupt now that they can see a way to target Obama.  As far as I can tell there are a number of checks on the powers of data mining and narrow focusing in on terrorists.  The point is to find people who are, by definition, trying not to be found until after they kill Americans.  It is the job of the NSA and the administration to find them before they kill.  Good job.  Keep it up.

As to Benghazi, give it up.  The administration made a pretty big mistake in not protecting its embassies.  Let's hope it is a lesson learned and will be done better in the future.  Trying to turn this into some kind of impeachable offense is just stupid, as far as I'm concerned.  Trying to use this as a way to destroy Clinton's chances at a presidential run in '16 is just politics as usual, annoying, distracting, and forgettable.  Move on.

I think it is time for the government to govern.  Do the Reps really think all they have to do is vote to overturn Obamacare 37 times that they are governing?  or that all they have to do is hate and oppose Obama and that is the ticket to their future victories?

Clearly, Obama has given up on the idea of finding bi-partisan solutions in Washington.  He has appointed three judges to the D.C. District Court, appointed Susan Rice to be his National Security advisor, and Samantha Powers to be U.N. Ambassador.  He is surrounding himself with more and more like minded people and given up on the "team of rivals" concept that he modeled after Lincoln's administration.  The Reps have only themselves to blame.  Their only goal for the last five years has been to demonize Obama.  They have taken themselves off the political map by offering only negatives rather than visions.  They need a vision, or better yet, a visionary.  But as long as they are in the clutches of talk radio, conspiracy theories, the Washington Times, and the Tea Party, they are lost in a wilderness of their own creation.  I don't know how they survive.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fuel cells and artificial leaves

When I first learned about fuel cells some years ago, I had a vision that the days of a centralized power stations delivering power to homes and businesses via a huge grid infrastructure would become obsolete, and it should be possible for fuel cells to create a new paradigm for energy - that of each home or business having its own power source rather than buying power from the grid and paying the large utilities for the power.  

I saw a future where we each generate our own power rather than get it from a centralized source, which is run by some combination of gigantic corporations and gigantic governments.

I saw a home as having a furnace, and air conditioner, and a fuel cell that produced the power needed to run the home.  The fuel cells seem to work just fine, but the problem has been how to get hydrogen to the fuel cells.  Now, perhaps, there is a way for this to become real before too long.

Daniel Nocera, MIT chemistry professor, has come up with what he calls the "Artificial Leaf."  He points out that plants store energy in order to live by gathering energy from the sun and via the process of photosynthesis.  Nocera mimics that to some degree and has come up with a way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using earth abundant materials, in a glass of water, at room temperature, using a catalyst.  Designing the catalyst is the key, and he seems to be well on the way of doing just that.

So, his plan is to use solar panels during the sunlight to power your house, and send the extra energy to the catalyst which breaks out the hydrogen and oxygen, store them, and run the fuel cell to generate power for the home at night.  The hydrogen and oxygen get recombined in a fuel cell which powers your home when the sun doesn't shine.  Viola, no more need for a power grid for your home.  Or your office building.

It could be that a vision of mine of the last twenty years or so is actually possible.  I like it.