How many lesbians are actually men?

A blog entitled “A Gay Girl in Damascus” by an Arab-American lesbian named Amina Arraf attracted quite a bit of attention with her accounts of living in the oppressive and dangerous society of Syria, chronicling too  the “Arab Spring” of the populace rising up to demand freedom.  The blog especially made headlines when a contributor claimed that Amina had been arrested by Syrian authorities.  But now it turns out that the whole blog was a hoax and that the lesbian Arab was really a married man from Georgia named Tom McMaster.

The gay community, of course, was outraged.  The lesbian blog Lez Get Real was especially indignant.  But now it turns out that the woman who has been running that blog for 8 years is herself a man, Bill Graber, a 58-year-old married construction worker from Ohio.

via Paula Brooks, editor of lesbian site Lez Get Real, is really a man named Bill Graber – The Washington Post.

I mean, men have a lot in common with lesbians–they are both attracted to women–but what is going on here?

Microbes that control your mind

A mash-up of weird biology and invasion of the body-snatchers:

Last month, three insect and plant disease researchers in the University of California system reported a discovery about the tomato spotted wilt virus. As its name suggests, this virus infects and damages tomato plants. It’s harmless to people.

To jump from plant to plant, the virus relies on insects known as thrips. A thrip feeds by sticking its oral probe into a plant’s cells and sucking out the contents. If a cell happens to contain the virus, the thrip sucks it up, too.

Scientists already knew that virus-infected tomato plants are more appealing to thrips than uninfected plants. The California researchers discovered something else: Once a thrip consumes the virus, its behavior changes. It spends more time feeding, and it licks more plant cells in the process, coating the next tomato plant with the virus.

The virus’s goal (if viruses had goals) isn’t to mess with the thrip. It only manipulates the insect to get to the next plant. By doing so, the virus is taking away some measure of the thrip’s self-determination. It’s like a fleeing bank robber who commandeers and then abandons a bystander’s vehicle. Car theft wasn’t the criminal’s objective, but the bystander is still deprived.

Scientists have also discovered infections that alter behavior in mammals, including humans. For example, the deadly hantavirus, a distant relative of the tomato spotted wilt virus, causes infected rats to become more aggressive. Rabies, meanwhile, renders its victims crazed and unable to swallow. So rabid bats and canines are more likely to bite and spread the saliva-transmitted virus. In fact, rabies may have provided inspiration for legends of vampires and werewolves. Rabies-infected people don’t tend to bite, but they may foam at the mouth and act belligerently in the infection’s terminal stages.

Not all microbes are so obvious about influencing our behavior. If the effect is subtle, it could be hard to tell whether a behavior is coming from the person or from the thing inside them. Cold viruses, for instance, were recently found to make people friendlier, especially during the period before symptoms appear but when the soon-to-be-sick person is highly infectious to others. Evolutionarily, that helps the virus survive, because a gregarious host is a host who’s likely to spread the illness. Advanced syphilis has been reported to sometimes trigger behavioral changes including an exaggerated desire for sex.

The freakiest of the behavior-warping microbes may be Toxoplasma gondii , the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. It can live in cats, rodents, people, livestock and other warm-blooded animals, but it reproduces only inside the feline intestinal tract. So the parasite manipulates infected rats, making them attracted to the scent of cat urine when normally they would be repulsed and terrified by it, and causing them to run toward cats instead of away from them. End of rodent. New beginning for parasite.

In some countries, up to about three-quarters of the human population carries toxoplasmosis, which can be acquired by touching cat feces or contaminated soil or by consuming undercooked meat. Normally, only pregnant women and immune-suppressed people get sick. Others develop lifelong “latent” infections, which are symptom-free. Or so it was once thought.

Research in recent years has identified several personality traits that appear to be associated with latent toxoplasmosis. Infected men are more willing to disregard social norms, for example, and are more jealous and dogmatic. Infected women are more conscientious, warm, easygoing and attentive to others. Both sexes, when infected, are more apprehensive and insecure.

One prominent researcher speculated that toxoplasmosis indirectly kills a million drivers and pedestrians a year worldwide.

Another researcher summed up the personality patterns by saying that infected men are alley cats — in other words, loners and scrappy fighters — and infected women are sex kittens. A third scientist has hypothesized that the high prevalence of toxoplasmosis in certain countries, including France and Brazil, may influence cultural stereotypes about those nations.

via The bacteria (or virus or parasite) made me do it – The Washington Post.

 

 

The Republican candidates’ debate

I watched the New Hampshire debate between the Republican presidential candidates.

Pawlenty is articulate; Bachman sounds like a good campaigner; Paul makes a lot of sense; Gingrich is a fountain of ideas; Santorum seems solid; Cain sounds like a good guy; Romney sounds more conservative than he has seemed.

Pawlenty opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and the mother’s health (a huge loophole)?  Santorum takes a very strong pro-life stance, as does Bachman.

Notice that the alleged extreme Republicans, the Tea Party caucus’s Bachman and the libertarian Paul, are the peace candidates, opposing America’s involvement in the multiplying number of wars we are engaged in.  Peace-leaning Democrats should give the Tea Party credit for being more anti-war than their president.

On the whole, though, the candidates seem to be mostly agreeing with each other rather than distinguishing themselves from the others.  That’s what voters need at this point.

But do any of them seem as if they could be president?  I suspect that most American voters these days are influenced not so much about what candidates believe or what they would do as about whether they (1) like them  (2) have an image that seems presidential.  Yes, Americans are basically conservative, but they won’t vote for someone who comes across as angry.  They will vote for a Reagan, an optimistic, cheerful conservative.  Another important factor is “presence.”  Reagan had it; Obama has it.  I’m not sure that any of these candidates do.

An even bigger reason why Obamacare is unconstitutional

So far the main argument why the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is unconstitutional is that it forces individuals to buy health insurance.  But there is a much bigger constitutional issue at stake, as George Will points out:

The point of PPACA is cost containment. This supposedly depends on the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB, which is a perfect expression of the progressive mind, is to be composed of 15 presidential appointees empowered to reduce Medicare spending — which is 13 percent of federal spending — to certain stipulated targets. IPAB is to do this by making “proposals” or “recommendations” to limit costs by limiting reimbursements to doctors. This, inevitably, will limit available treatments — and access to care when physicians leave the Medicare system.

The PPACA repeatedly refers to any IPAB proposal as a “legislative proposal” and speaks of “the legislation introduced” by the IPAB. Each proposal automatically becomes law unless Congress passes — with a three-fifths supermajority required in the Senate — a measure cutting medical spending as much as the IPAB proposal would.

This is a travesty of constitutional lawmaking: An executive branch agency makes laws unless Congress enacts legislation to achieve the executive agency’s aim.

And it gets worse. Any resolution to abolish the IPAB must pass both houses of Congress. And no such resolution can be introduced before 2017 or after Feb. 1, 2017, and must be enacted by Aug. 15 of that year. And if passed, it cannot take effect until 2020. Defenders of all this audaciously call it a “fast track” process for considering termination of IPAB. It is, however, transparently designed to permanently entrench IPAB — never mind the principle that one Congress cannot by statute bind another Congress from altering that statute. . . .

Diane Cohen, the [Goldwater] institute’s senior attorney [a group filing suit on this issue], demonstrates that the IPAB is doubly anti-constitutional. It derogates the powers of Congress. And it ignores the principle of separation of powers: It is an executive agency, its members appointed by the president, exercising legislative powers over which neither Congress nor the judiciary can exercise proper control.

via Government by the ‘experts’ – The Washington Post.

The Bilderberg Conspiracy

Did any of you get your invitation?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, naturally, isn’t attending this year, and his likely successor Christine Lagarde is in China, but the Bilderberg Conference which kicks off in the Swiss resort of St. Moritz on Thursday retains its conspiratorial chic and pulling power.

The attendee list of Bilderberg is still pretty much the only thing that is not a closely guarded secret, as 120 of the world’s richest and most powerful people meet behind closed doors, this time at the Suvretta House hotel in Switzerland, a venue which not only boasts a “fairytale castle” design, but also its own “Teddy World.” . . .

The first Bilderberg meeting in 1954 was an attempt to stamp out post-war anti-Americanism in Europe, bringing together senior U.S. and European figures to meet and discuss the international challenges of the day.

Since then, the rich and powerful have continued to meet. The 2010 event, in Sitges, Spain, included on its agenda “The Growing Influence of Cyber Technology,” “Security in a Proliferated World,” “Promises of Medical Science,” and “Can We Feed the World.” according to its official website.

Its secrecy only serves to add fuel to the innumerate conspiracy theories that circulate around the event, with Internet message boards often channelling Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and putting the “club” in the same bracket as the Freemasons and “Illuminati.”

The 120 participants attend in a private capacity and, officially, they do not forge agreements over global economic policy.

“Bilderberg is a small, flexible, informal and off-the-record international forum in which different viewpoints can be expressed and mutual understanding enhanced. Bilderberg’s only activity is its annual conference. At the meetings, no resolutions are proposed, no votes taken, and no policy statements issued,” the official Bilderberg website says.

In which case, you might ask, what is the point of Bilderberg?

Andrew Kakabadse is professor of international management development at Cranfield University. For his recent book “Bilderberg People,” co-authored with Nada Kakabadse and Ian Richardson, Kakabadse interviewed a number of past attendees in order to understand how the network of global influence works.

“It’s a meeting. It’s not an organization. It’s not an official summit,” he told CNBC.com. “It’s basically a meeting of friends.

“The Bilderbergs are probably the most influential global network of all time. It’s an honor to be invited, it’s a tremendous honor. Part of it is recognition for work done and part of it is for contribution to enabling world affairs.

“The people we talked to are quite genuine. Mostly they don’t understand the conspiracy bit, because they say when you go there what you find is people of all sorts of varying views. But the fact that they’ve been invited is indicative of the position that they’ve reached in life,” he saidNevertheless, Bilderberg is where ideas are shared and a transatlantic, capitalist consensus view of the world comes together.

“You do get the impression that what is happening is a shaping of ideas and the shaping of a way forward does take place,” Kakabadse said.

“The name we’d put to this is smart power or shaping, but it is definitely not doing something definite, like ‘we’re going to go and make that investment or conspire against them.’ It’s more about getting a consensus around a position that then infiltrates itself into society.”

via Friends in High Places: Bilderberg 2011 Kicks Off – CNBC.

I can see the Left saying, “See!  The world is being run by the big corporations!”  And I can see the Right saying, “See!  The world is being run by a secret cabal!”  But is this more likely  just a pretentious social club?  Isn’t the world too complicated for anyone to, you know, run it?

Here is the attendance list. Sounds like the same old Trilateral Commission to me.

HT:  Grace

Pentecost questions

Yesterday was Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church.  In celebration and contemplation of the day and the new season of the church year that we will be in for awhile, I would like to pose a couple questions:

(1)  At the first Pentecost, those upon whom the Holy Spirit descended spoke in tongues.  But why is this associated with the charismatic practice of glossolalia?  Wasn’t what the disciples did the opposite of that?  The whole point is that their languages were understood.   People from every nation, speaking many different languages, were all hearing the apostles preach “the mighty works of God” in their own language.  Isn’t Pentecost fulfilled even today as people all over the world are hearing the apostolic testimony recorded in the Word of God, which has been translated into so many of the world’s languages?

Speaking in  tongues that no one can understand is referred to in the epistles to the Corinthians, so I’m not totally discounting the phenomenon.  But I’m just saying that the Pentecost account is describing something very different.

(2)  Some theological traditions think of the Holy Spirit as coming to us from the outside (for example, through God’s Word); others as coming from the inside (inspiring us through inner voices or impulses).  And yet both perspectives speak of the Holy Spirit guiding us.  Is that just a matter of reading the Bible to see what the Holy Spirit tells us?  Or do you think–and I’m especially addressing those who stress the external work of the Holy Spirit–that He guides us in other ways?  If so, how does that work?  For those of you who stress the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, how can you discern what inner senses are  from the Spirit and what isn’t?

I don’t particularly want to provoke a bitter theological debate about the charismatic movement.  I’d just like to hear from different people on how they perceive the Holy Spirit in their lives.


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