“But it’s not really adultery!”

My old friend Karen Swallow Prior has some interesting observations about the excuses of both Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner and their underlying gnostic assumptions.  The good news is that the public is no longer buying it:

Media coverage of the story and the public’s reaction seems to indicate that we’ve come a long way in our professed sexual ethics since the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, circa 1998. At that time, then-President Bill Clinton insisted that oral sex did not constitute actual sex, and that he had therefore not committed adultery. Although 87 percent of Americans disagreed with Mr. Clinton then, much public discussion at that time centered on the exact definition of adultery, and which particular sex acts crossed the line (fellatio?) and which ones didn’t (cigars?).

However, with Weinergate (as the case, naturally, has been dubbed), the discussion is a bit more morally sophisticated. For the moral debate swirling around this scandal, besides whether or not Weiner should resign, centers not on the merely technical definition of adultery but on the more holistic, and even more biblical, idea of fidelity. If the Clinton sex scandal focused on the letter of the law, the Weiner situation seems to be more centered on the spirit of the law.

Neither the public nor the proliferating experts and bloggers seem to be buying into a bright line between actual physical contact (which Weiner denies) and online liaisons, despite Weiner’s attempt to cop that plea in his confession. In fact, a quick poll done by the Associated Press in the wake of his Monday confession found that many Americans say that it doesn’t have to be physical to be cheating. In another poll, “60 percent considered sending lewd photos over the Internet ‘to people other than your partner’ to be cheating.”

Like the public, experts, rather than being concerned with one specific sexual act, have been discussing the larger context of marital fidelity, one describing Weiner’s online behavior as “foreplay for an affair,” stating simply that “cheating is lying [to] and betraying your spouse.” Over and over, the experts are wisely identifying the litmus test for infidelity as the question, “Would you do this in front of your partner?” Many say the congressman’s conduct does constitute adultery or, at the very least, an “emotional affair.”

Both national sex scandals — first Clinton’s and now Anthony Weiner’s, with oodles more in between — reveal at work the old mind-body dualism that Christian tradition has worked hard to overcome. This dualism sees the human being not as an integrated whole self, but as a composite of warring elements, material vs. immaterial, physical vs. spiritual, and, in this brave new world of technology, “real” vs. “virtual.” The Clinton scandal emphasized the physical aspect, such as which kinds of bodily contact are considered adultery. Weiner, on the other hand, parses his transgressions according to this body-mind split: he acknowledges virtual liaisons, but suggests that his alleged lack of physical contact constitutes a difference in kind not degree.

In the space of a decade and a half, these two cases reflect a subtle transition of our cultural mindset away from a modernist way of thinking, one based in black and white classifications and definitions rooted in a scientific worldview, to a more nuanced (some would say postmodern) way of thinking that focuses more on the relationships and contexts that transcend the old categories.

via Her.meneutics: Anthony Weiner, Gnostic.

Are politicians allowed to change their minds?

More political madness that prevents good government:  We don’t allow our politicians to change their minds, even though they often need to.   A politician who is open to persuasion is condemned as a flip-flopper.   So observes Kathleen Parker:

A politician may be able to survive cavorting with prostitutes, sexting with coeds and commingling with interns, but heaven forbid he should change his mind — the transgression that trumps all compassion.

Or thinking.

After all, thinking can lead to that most dangerous territory for a politician — doubt — and, inevitably, the implication that dare not be expressed: “I could be wrong.”

via A defense of flip-floppery – The Washington Post.

Of course there are true flip-flops, the changing of a position simply because of shifts in the political wind, a sign of cynical relativism and lack of conviction.  And yet it’s the sign of a rational mind to be open to better reasoning and honest persuasion.   How can we voters tell the difference?

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.


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