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  • March 15, 2009

    Prohibition and gay rights

    Posted by: Andoni

    AAA prohibition

    History repeats itself. That is the theme in Frank Rich's wonderful Op Ed The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off in today's New York Times.

    According to Rich, we are entering a new period where the public has again tired of the anti-science, let me impose my values on you crowd. After the major economic downturn we have experienced over the past year, the culture wars are a luxury we can no longer afford. The same sort of cultural reversal happened in 1933 during The Great Depression.

    In the period leading up to the Depression fundamentalists pushed for Prohibition and anti-evolution legislation - succeeding on both counts. The Depression ended all that nonsense. In the period leading up to today's great recession, the fundamentalists peddled an anti-gay, anti-stem cell research agenda and also succeeded broadly.

    Now history is repeating itself. Anti-stem cell research was reversed last week by President Obama with only a whimper from the religious right and public opinion is showing majority support on most of the crucial gay rights issues - employment, the military, and our relationships.

    We need to take advantage of this moment in history. FDR demonstrated that a president can lead a nation to reform on cultural issues when the country's mood changes. Obama should follow that example. As the saying goes - it is his moment, it is his time.

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    August 01, 2008

    Update on solar (and wind) technology

    Posted by: Andoni


    In June I reported on the promising field of solar energy and how with a major government push, we could be using the sun for most of our energy needs within 10 years.

    Today’s New York Times brings even more good news on the topic. A major problem with wind and sun energy is that it can’t be produced 24/7. There are times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. The challenge is how to store the energy when it is generated into a usable form that can be used later, when there is no wind or it is dark.

    A group of scientists at MIT have found the answer. They have described an easy way to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, and use the hydrogen later in a fuel cell to produce the energy. It is similar to the photosynthesis that plants use to store energy. When the hydrogen is used later in the fuel cell, it recombines with the oxygen and produces water and energy.

    One fascinating side aspect of this discovery is that the technique can use sea water. The result is that as a by-product, when the hydrogen and oxygen recombine in the fuel cell to create electricity, you also generate pure drinking water.

    So in one swoop, scientists can address two major problems facing the world -- a steady supply of clean energy as well as a major new reliable source of drinking water.

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    Filed in: Science

    January 22, 2008

    Somebody cue Mike Huckabee

    Posted by: Chris

    Mikehuckabeebeforeafterpic Check out the level of cynicism in a new statement from Matt Barber and the anti-gay group Concerned Women for America, gleefully piggybacking on the media hysteria surrounding MRSA staph infections:

    Because Concerned Women for America (CWA) cares deeply for the health and well being of all Americans, CWA is sending letters inviting the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, GLAAD and Lambda Legal to put aside profound ideological differences with CWA — for the sake of the lives and health of their members — and to call for commonsense steps to help curb the spread of a potentially deadly strain of Staph infection. …

    "We're asking HRC and other groups to denounce, through word and deed, 'sex with multiple partners,' 'group sex [parties]' and to actively promote the notion that it is never okay to 'use methamphetamine and other illicit drugs,'" said Matt Barber, CWA's Policy Director for Cultural Issues.

    This is, of course, the same Matt Barber who just days ago issued a statement about MRSA that took an entirely different tone:

    The medical community has known for years that homosexual conduct, especially among males, creates a breeding ground for often deadly disease. In recent years we have seen a profound resurgence in cases of HIV/AIDS, syphilis, rectal gonorrhea and many other STDs among those who call themselves ‘gay.’…

    Well, now the dangerous and possibly deadly consequence of what occurs in those bedrooms is spilling over into the general population. It’s not only frightening, it’s infuriating.

    Citizens, especially parents, need to stand up and say, ‘No More! We will no longer sit idly by while politically correct cultural elites endanger our children and larger communities through propagandist promotion of this demonstrably deadly lifestyle.’

    Never mind that MRSA can be spread through any kind of direct skin contact, not simply sexual contact (gay or otherwise), and never mind that this drug-resistant strain of staph had already infected women, children and heterosexual males in hospitals, sports facilities and other environments before it was ever reported among gay men.

    It's easy to dismiss Barber and the CWA since their patronizing, cynical tone ultimately does their cause more harm than good. But the media ought to at least be asking GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee what he thinks about what Barber and the CWA are saying.

    It was Huckabee, after all, who called in 1992 for gay men to be quarantined because they presented a "dangerous public health threat," even though it was broadly accepted years earlier that HIV/AIDS couldn't be spread through casual contact. Now an organization from within the bowls of his evangelical base is once again perpetrating the myth that we are infectious and dangerous and the infection can, in fact, be spread through non-sexual contact.

    What does Huckabee think we should do now?


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    November 01, 2007

    AP pulls a reverse-Onion

    Posted by: Chris

    Trailblazing_3 The AP has put out a story on that study about former high school football players who dabble in man-on-man action. Funny how the wire service manages to report the results while leaving out a huge salient fact:

    A new study, which will be published in the Journal of Sex Roles, suggests that one third of former American high school football players have had sexual relations with other men.

    Sociologist Dr. Eric Anderson, who is credited with being the first openly gay high school coach during his tenure at Huntington Breach High in the early nineties, conducted research questionnaires with a small sample of ex-high school football players who said that they have had some sexual contact with other men.

    As I noted in a blog post this week, that "small sample," which is never described in greater detail by AP, was a rather select one: 

    The 47 men, aged 18-23, were all American Football players who previously played at the high school (secondary school) level but had failed to be picked for their university’s team and were now cheerleaders instead.

    No mention of "the male cheerleader factor" in the AP story. I guess that would read more like "dog bites man" than "man bites dog."

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    Filed in: Media , Science , Sex , Sports

    October 30, 2007

    Talk about your biased sample…

    Posted by: Chris

    Gay_football1 The headline from Science Daily was a real eye-grabber: "Over One-third Of Former American Football Players Had Sexual Relations With Men, Study Claims."  The magazine reports:

    In his study of homosexuality among sportsmen in the US, sociologist Dr Eric Anderson found that 19 in a sample of 47 had taken part in acts intended to sexually arouse other men, ranging from kissing to mutual masturbation and oral sex.

    But then, the fine print reads straight out of The Onion:

    The 47 men, aged 18-23, were all American Football players who previously played at the high school (secondary school) level but had failed to be picked for their university’s team and were now cheerleaders instead.

    George_bush_as_cheerleader Either the good Dr. Anderson, who hails from the University of Bath, is completely unaware of male cheerleader culture in the U.S. — George W. Bush excepted — or he was aiming to bias things from the get-go.  Nonetheless, the study's conclusions are intriguing:

    “The evidence supports my assertion that homophobia is on the rapid decline among male teamsport athletes in North America at all levels of play,” he writes in his study, entitled ‘Being masculine is not about whom you sleep with…Heterosexual athletes contesting masculinity and the one-time rule of homosexuality’ …

    “I find informants actually engage in sexual activity with other men. But this does not mean that they are gay. My informants do not feel that their same-sex sex jeopardizes their socially perceived heterosexual identities, at least within the cheerleading culture. In other words, having gay sex does not automatically make them gay in masculine peer culture.”

    Dr. Anderson may be right about declining homophobia in American sports, mirroring general cultural trends. But it's hardly justified to conclude these guys who have had sex with other men aren't gay because they are comfortably heterosexual "within the cheerleading culture."  Talk about a workplace that embraces gender non-conformity, at least among men…

    More likely, these cheerleaders in their 20s are figuring out who they are and whether they can accept being gay.  Having acted on it before graduating college, they're already ahead of me at that age.

    Next up for Dr. Anderson? I'd suggest an in-depth study on the extent of homosex among college fraternity presidents, or student body presidents, or those recent-grad fraternity employees for that matter. Three more completely unbiased peer groups. Right up there with drama majors.

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    April 23, 2007

    Sunday Survey: Bias on bias crimes?

    Posted by: Chris

    Some surprising results from last week's Sunday Survey, on the nature of sexuality among (not necessarily between!) the genders. The poll was based on the latest report on controversial sex researcher J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, who argues that men are generally straight or gay and women are mostly bisexual.

    Visitors to this blog disagree with Bailey about both genders. Given the option of saying that each gender was "generally either straight or gay," "along a spectrum from hetero to bi to gay," or "mostly bisexual," a near majority of you selected the second, along a spectrum option, for both genders: 49% thought so of men; 47.1% thought so of women.

    Bailey's view came in second for both genders: 37.3% thought men were either straight or gay, while 39.2% of you thought women were mostly bisexual. Trailing far behind were the beliefs that men are mostly bisexual (13.7%) and women are either straight or gay (3.9%).

    I say the results are "surprising" because they run counter to my own experience; so apparently I need to get out more…

    This week's survey is on hate crimes.  I'll be posting later today on the subject, since it's the piece of gay rights legislation most likely to be enacted by Congress this year, having been reintroduced last week as the Matthew Shepard Act.  Hate crime laws are controversial among conservatives and libertarians, including gay conservatives and libertarians, because they make bias, or thoughts, into a crime. 

    Some say that impinges on free speech, others say free exercise of religion. Still others argue, as the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese wrote in this week's Washington Blade, that "the hate crimes bill sends a strong message that society does not tolerate hate violence against our community."

    What do you think?  Vote in the Vizu Poll to the right, and as usual voting will not open annoying pop-ups or navigate you away from the blog.

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    April 15, 2007

    Sunday Survey: gay vs. lesbian

    Posted by: Chris

    Glaadawards It's time for a new Sunday Survey, and before I introduce a new topic, let's look at how the last poll turned out.  Well it was up for several Sundays, but it looks like almost a bare majority of you (48.8%) agree that the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation should respond to the recent criticism it's received by creating special categories for "niche media" aimed at a gay and lesbian audience. 

    I like that approach because it preserves the primary purpose for the awards (outside of raising money for GLAAD), which is to influence and recognize non-niche media to present fair and inclusive representations of gay people. At the same time, gay media — whether it's here! TV, Logo or the gay print press — can also be recognized for its outstanding work. That said, I think editors who work within gay journalism should guard against being compromised by the awards process. The watchdog role played by the gay press, including over movement organizations like GLAAD, is much more important than any award recognition.

    Coming in second in the poll at 29.3% were those of you who preferred to see gay media included in the same categories as "mainstream," non-niche media.  This is the approach called for by here! TV and others who claim they've ghetto-ized by being excluded.  Finally, 22% of you preferred to see the awards remain as they are currently, open only to non-niche media. On the one hand, that's less then one-quarter of you for the status quo; on the other hand, almost three-quarters of you accepted GLAAD's explanation of why full inclusion of gay media would conflict with the organization's mission.

    GLAAD President Neil Giuliano has said the board will be reviewing the policy after this year's awards, and I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of change is instituted.  Speaking of the awards, the Los Angeles ceremony was held this weekend and the big surprise was that "Grey's Anatomy" received honors for "outstanding episode." The show has very gay-friendly content and has been very supportive of actor T.R. Knight, who came out last fall. But GLAAD was vocal in criticizing actor Isaiah Washington after he called Knight a "faggot" during an on-set feud.

    More surprising to me was that Jennifer Aniston received the "Vanguard Award" for her work on GLBT visibility. The GLAAD website doesn't explain why, though a bit of on-site sleuthing suggests it was because of her "girl-on-girl kiss" with Winona Ryder on "Friends" and again with Courteney Cox on the TV show "Dirt."  According to Hollywood.com, "Aniston also appeared in lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge's 'I Want To Be in Love' video and was the first guest on gay comedienne Ellen DeGeneres' talk show." I'm not exactly sure all those snippets add up to a Vanguard, but it's more than Lance Bass had done before being honored by HRC.  Too bad Aniston locked lips with presenter Jake Gyllenhaal (above) at the ceremony.  Query whether either would have greeted a same-sex presenter the same way — now that would be Vanguard territory.

    OK now for this week's survey. I posted yesterday about a New York Times report on the difference between gay male and lesbian sexuality.  The article relied on the controversial research of Northwestern University psychology professor J. Michael Bailey, who concluded that men are either straight or gay, while most women are bisexual.

    What do you think? Register your answer on the poll to the right. And as usual, clicking on the poll won't take you away from the site or subject you to any annoying pop-ups.

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    April 14, 2007

    Is gay different from lesbian?

    Posted by: Chris

    Nytimesgenes Controversial sex researcher J. Michael Bailey is back, and this time it's the lesbians who'll be steamed.  The Northwestern University psychologist has already rankled many transgender activists, bisexuals and, to some extent, gay men.  It was only a matter of time until he took on our preconceptions about lesbian identity as well.

    Bailey's forum this time, as once before, is the New York Times, which published an article by science writer Nicholas Wade this week headlined, "Pas de Deux of Sexuality is Written in the Genes." The report wades through what research has to say about the genetic or biological reasons for sexual desire and the evolutionary reason for being the way we are.

    The article's thesis is that "the male brain is sexually oriented toward women as an object of desire," while male homosexuality is "evolutionary maladaptive," meaning "only" that "genes favoring homosexuality cannot be favored by evolution if fewer such genes reach the next generation." Bailey argues that the "masculinization of the brain shapes some neural circuit that makes women desirable."  The report continues:

    If so, this circuitry is wired differently in gay men. In experiments in which subjects are shown photographs of desirable men or women, straight men are aroused by women, gay men by men. Such experiments do not show the same clear divide with women.

    Whether women describe themselves as straight or lesbian, “Their sexual arousal seems to be relatively indiscriminate — they get aroused by both male and female images,” Dr. Bailey said. “I’m not even sure females have a sexual orientation. But they have sexual preferences. Women are very picky, and most choose to have sex with men.”

    Dr. Bailey believes that the systems for sexual orientation and arousal make men go out and find people to have sex with, whereas women are more focused on accepting or rejecting those who seek sex with them.

    Stop, drop and roll, Dr. Bailey. I think you may have started another fire. The gay rights movement has a few core beliefs and among these is that our sexual desire is an "orientation," not a "preference" that we can change at will. Once again, Bailey is challenging that assumption.

    Bailey The last time he did was in another New York Times report, in July 2005, provocatively headlined "Gay, Straight or Lying: Bisexuality Revisited." That article reported Bailey's research findings based on penis reaction to pornographic stimulus, that of 100 men who self-identify as bisexual, 75 percent were attracted only to gay porn, and 25 percent only to straight porn. They were all "lying" about their sexual desire, he concluded.

    The report unleashed a storm of criticism from bisexual activists and lots of quiet nodding from many gay men, many of whom self-identified as bisexual on the road to accepting they were full-fledged homosexuals. There was also criticism of his selection methods, and the idea that penis response is the end-all, be-all of sexuality, leaving out the romantic and emotional connection.

    This week's Times report cites one other researcher who agrees with Bailey, the aptly named Marc Breedlove from Michigan State University:

    “Most males are quite stubborn in their ideas about which sex they want to pursue, while women seem more flexible,” [Breedlove] said.

    Sexual orientation, at least for men, seems to be settled before birth. “I think most of the scientists working on these questions are convinced that the antecedents of sexual orientation in males are happening early in life, probably before birth,” Dr. Breedlove said, “whereas for females, some are probably born to become gay, but clearly some get there quite late in life.”

    Of course, many women who self-identify as lesbians could just as easily be described as bisexual, at least in terms of their sexual history and desire, if not in their regular gender choices in partners. We're certainly aware of high profile "lesbians" like Anne Heche and Julie Cypher who left their high profile partners (Ellen DeGeneres and Melissa Etheridge, respectively) for relationships with men.

    We also know that there are many, many more self-identified gay men — at least within the "gay community" — than there are lesbians, and perhaps this could provide a scientific explanation. If most women are bisexual, then it's not surprising that most would choose a male partner, given the societal treatment of gay people generally, not to mention the ease of starting a family.

    None of this makes being a lesbian, or a bisexual women, less "legitimate" than being a gay male. The claim for legal equality based on sexual orientation has to do with treating people's relationships equally, and fighting public and private discrimination that attempts to enforce one person's moral or religious beliefs on another.

    Those of us who lack the scientific background will have to leave it to the experts to battle out the legitimacy of the research by Bailey and Breedlove, as well as the "pro-gay" work by gay scientists Dean Hamer and Simon LeVay. In the meantime, we should let down our political guard long enough to be open to what science may teach us, lest we become fundamentalists of a different but no less intolerant sort.

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    Filed in: Science
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