Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Demon Project

I am spending my weekend with a high-powered group of Presbyterian ministers and church officials. One of our number wanted to describe what she had done for the Doctor of Ministry degree, usually called the D. Min.

What we all heard her say, though, was "What I did for my demon project."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Upper-Middle Brow Porn

A tiny movement is afoot to create a higher class of porn.

Some Harvard undergraduates have created a new magazine, H-Bomb, which they say is a "magazine about sex" without being just pages and pages of pornography.

New Republic editor Britt Peterson wrote about "Porn with a Silver Spoon." She writes that in the "alt-porn" movement "the smut itself is becoming more upper-middle-class: urbane, ironic, self-aware, and intellectually as well as sexually titillating." As an example of this, she cites a film in which she appears as an extra, which contains a "cum blanket" scene. "The scene with the cum blanket, for example, ... exaggerates the traditional cum shot to the point of subversive absurdity."

Oh, great, just what we need.

Now, I don't think pornography ranks very high on the list of things you shouldn't do. I think it is a fair assumption that every man you know, and most of the boys, look at is from time to time. Kiddie porn, of course, is evil. Porn addiction is bad the way all addictions are bad. Mostly, though, porn is bad because it is kind of a waste of time, time spent on the most animal kind of sex that could instead be devoted to real human love.

Still, I think the attempt to create upper-middle brow porn (which is about as high as the genre can go) will fail. The market is too small and the options too limited, and the temptation to sink back into the tried and true will be too strong. Alt-porn sounds like just another temptation to liberals to think they are smarter and more sophisticated than traditional people.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Loving v. Virginia

This is the 40th anniversary of the great Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws against racially mixed marriage.

The Court made three arguments against the Virginia statute:
1) State marriage laws must comply with federal constitutional norms;
2) The statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it only prohibited mixed marriages involving white people;
3) The Due Process protection of the Constitution means that the state can only violate a basic right if state has a compelling interest in doing so. Keeping the races separate was not, the Court ruled, something Virginia was compelled to do in the basic institution of marriage.

The Loving decision was necessary -- but dangerous.

As a centrist, I welcome the federalist principle that states should make laws suited to the custom and culture of their distinctive people. This is why the federal takeover of any area of state law is dangerous.

On the other hand, I have long thought that anti-black racism is the original sin of America, and it has introduced more misery in our practice and more irrationality in our law than other mistake we ever made. If we had not had whole states that embedded anti-black racism deep in their laws, even their constitutions, we would not have had a civil war, and we would not have needed to hugely expand federal power. This is why Loving v. Virginia was necessary.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Are Men and Women Hardwired for Altruism the Same Way?

The Washington Post has a fascinating story on new brain research suggesting that our altruistic responses come from the deep old emotional centers of the brain, rather than the newer rational calculation parts.

Other well-known research has shown that women are more likely to use their whole brain in reasoning, whereas men are more likely to use one part or another. Women are more likely to incorporate their emotional responses in their reasoning, whereas men are more likely to separate "cold" reason from their emotions. And everyone knows that men are more likely to commit crimes than women are.

SO, putting these facts together, perhaps men and women have a similar altruistic emotional response to the plight of others, based on empathy. And men and women also make rational calculations about how their self-interest would be served by acting altruistically versus selfishly, even to the point of harming others for my own gain. The difference is that women are more likely to act with a response that tries to integrate the two competing responses, whereas men are more likely to choose one over another. And thus men are more likely to choose a response that suppresses their empathy for others.

Just a first theory. This research on the deep roots of altruism, though, is important and very interesting.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Silver Anniversary

Mrs. G. and I were married 25 years ago today.

I surprised her with a permanent sign over our front door.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Vote in Honor of a Veteran

I have a button that announces that I am voting in honor of a veteran -- my father. My wife has one in honor of her father. We wore them on primary day. They were created by the Secretary of State's office in a nifty program called, helpfully, Vote in Honor of a Veteran. It has been hugely popular in the commonwealth. They made 10,000 in responses to citizen requests in the first week, and the county clerks ran out. They are making more for the general election.

Honoring veterans by voting seems like a good subject to contemplate on Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

If You Don't Accept the Rules for Ministers, Don't Apply to Be One

Mission Presbytery, in San Antonio, TX, had accepted a woman as a candidate for ministry even though she told the presbytery she was a lesbian in a committed relationship. The presbytery declared that the well-known rule barring practicing homosexuals from the ordained ministry did not apply to candidates for ministry, and voted to accept her as a candidate, 169 - 111. On appeal, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, the church's top court, ruled that a practicing lesbian can't be a candidate for ordination, for the same reason that she can't eventually be ordained.

This is another case of those who disagree with the church's rule playing brinksmanship to see what they can get away with. It does not matter what the rule is, this is the wrong way to change the church.