Into the Heart of Darkness

You know the world is crazy when Sarah Palin is the voice of reason. The story is still developing as I write this, but it’s less interesting to me whether some whack-job preacher in Florida wants to burn a Koran than it is for me to read the comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page agreeing with him. Sarah Palin’s team naturally prunes the crazy from her Facebook comments, so I screenshotted them off and on for an hour or so this afternoon to preserve them.

It’s about a 30/40/20 split between crazy, sane and neutral. You can see them here:

So many fascinating things here:

  • Ordinarily the Internet is anonymous, so the ability to see names and click through to meet those people was freakishly spooky.
  • I’ve always known there are a lot of dumb, angry people out there but I never thought I’d be able to meet so many of them in one day.
  • Interesting to note that approximately 30% of Sarah Palin’s fanbase are bona fide savage morons.

NAMBLA Moves to Afghanistan

There’s so much to say about this report[1]. I’ve been reading Ghost Wars, the history of CIA/Afghan activities leading up to 9/11, so I’ve gotten a feel for Afghanistan’s Pashtun culture. Where previously I felt like Pashtun society and its version of Islam were obviously Medieval, I now realize they are more like Amazonian tribesmen than third-world peasants. Having seen The Kite Runner film, I was familiar with the man-boy love situation over there, but had no idea how pervasive sexual abuse was for young boys in Afghanistan.

To summarize the report, because of Islam’s requirements to cover women, and its presentation of women as “unclean”[2], and because of the limited economic and social access to women in the remote hills of Afghanistan, homosexuality is absolutely rampant among Pashtun tribesmen. And to make things even worse:

…homosexuality is indeed prohibited within Islam, warranting great shame and condemnation. However, homosexuality is then narrowly and specifically defined as the love of another man. Loving a man would therefore be unacceptable and a major sin within this cultural interpretation of Islam, but using another man for sexual gratification would be regarded as a foible.

The sex act is OK; it’s the love that’s wrong! Scarier still is the pervasiveness even in the cities like Kandahar:

Dr. Mohammed Nasem Zafar, a professor at Kandahar Medical College, estimates that about 50% of the city’s male residents have sex with men or boys at some point in their lives.

And then this:

They reminded me that one of the country’s favorite sayings is “women are for children, boys are for pleasure.”

Any hope I had for Afghan culture to begin to advance toward modernity just took several steps back. Their combination of hyper-rural isolation with restrictive religion make hillbilly Southerners look like genteel Victorians. The level of traumatic psychological damage these cultural cross-wirings are causing Pashtun children absolutely boggles the mind.

It’s interesting to me that all this loveless pseudo-homosexuality is happening as a result of purely cultural and developmental factors. This gives strong support to the concept of homosexuality as a developmental rather than genetic phenomenon. I’ve long suspected that sexual preferences are based more strongly on developmental factors rather than intrinsically genetic ones. Fortunately one side effect of all this man-boy love is that many of these Pashtuns won’t produce offspring.

I wonder if this report will make the rounds to the conservative/Christian blogs, and I wonder what effects it might have. Will it be used as ammunition against Islam as a whole? Will it motivate them to demand we leave Afghanistan?

Whatever happens, the deep well of sadness I have for Afghanistan just got a little deeper.

1.) Try your best to ignore the spellcheck-enabled typos. These sorts of reports don’t tend to be sent to proofreaders I guess.

2.) I’m fascinated by the cultural construct of “unclean” in societies whose terrain consists primarily of dirt. They are so afraid of what is right under their feet. Perhaps rightly so? If they had more flora under their feet, would they still care? Amazonians don’t seem to.

The Sermon

The aforementioned sermon is now online. Dude drops knowledge from John Carpenter’s They Live and George Orwell’s 1984. Brief synopsis: we’re all equal but we all steer clear of the ghetto. He doesn’t seem to have any understanding of cultural history or socio-economics. He says even though pride goeth before a fall, that was a different definition of pride. Definitions change over time. He goes off on a long tangent on the natural racial awareness of babies. Which, even if it were true, nevertheless leaves out that infants are also naturally selfish, shortsighted, and impatient.

The hardest part is listening to the child crying in the background. I couldn’t help but post a rebuttal on his 2/8 entry. We’ll see if he allows it to post[1].

Oh, and he says there will be a part two next week…

1.) UPDATE: He didn’t.

“If You’d Have Told Me Ten Years Ago…” has the most comprehensive list of the 2000s in review, but maybe the best way to take stock of the last ten years is to think of the list of unlikely things that have happened. To get started, I Googled the phrase “if you’d have told me ten years ago” and came up with some seriously hilarious results. Try it for yourself (be sure to use variations like “10” or “you would“).

As a side note, this great segment of Robin Williams’s recent HBO special also makes for a nice collection of unlikely recent history.

Here are just a few off the top of my head.

If you’d have told me ten years ago that…

…suicide hijackers would destroy the World Trade Center…
…we’d elect a black guy for President…
…we’d start two land wars in Asia, and still be in them as of 2010…
…we’d be debating the intricacies of what “torture” means in sneakier ways than we did the word “is” back in the Clinton era.
…Americans would be obsessed with vampire romance novels…
…Americans would be obsessed with “voting” for “musical talent” on a TV show…
…I’d be able to watch on the web just about any music video ever made…
…I’d be able to see any part of the world from the sky…
…I’d be able to get directions to anywhere in the US at the push of a button…
…I’d be watching TV on a hard drive cable box…
…I’d be renting DVDs by mail…
…I’d be able to fit my entire CD collection in the palm of my hand…
…I’d be able to stay in touch with old friends every day, no matter how far away they lived…
…I’d purchase a brand new record player, with a USB port…
…Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” would top the UK charts during Christmastime…
…the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, and the tallest basketball player is Chinese…
…Jon Stewart would be the cable news man I trust most…

…I’d have said you were crazy.

And last but not least, for myself, the realization that started this whole post:

If you’d have told me ten years ago that I’d be living in New York City, working on the 43rd floor of the American Express building in Lower Manhattan, I’d have said you were crazy.

What About Oyster Guy?

Maybe we can make this a new shorthand argument against climate change deniers: “What about oyster guy?

Megan at From the Archives explains in a post from 2008 that’s only now making the rounds thanks to Ezra Klein. She cites this guy as an example of the thousands of uncelebrated scientists-on-the-ground who gather data every day:

If it is all a conspiracy and nothing is happening, how do denialists conceive of these guys? Do they think these monotonous nerds who talk in jargon (don’t take that the wrong way. I’m sexually attracted to every one of them.) are making it up to promote the conspiracy? Like, they spend the morning thinking up esoteric ways of measuring wave energy by sand lost at different gauges around the state, and the afternoon faking their data so they can please Al Gore? They’ve done this now for ten years and they plan to make an entire career out of making up the detailed groundwork for fake climate change? All of them? On nothing? Imagine the secret conferences they must hold to synchronize their stories and settle on an allowable variance between the made-up river data, the made-up precipitation data and the made-up ocean data. Besides the groupies, WHAT FOR?

Apparently there was a specific instance of oyster research that Megan refers to that made Ezra use the term “oyster guy” for easier reference. Can we build a meme snowball? Pass it on: “What about oyster guy?”

UPDATE: If you didn’t believe Google is updating in real-time, note that my site is now #6 in Google for “What about Oyster Guy?”

My Cousin the Soccer Hooligan

I could have sworn I posted this back in July, but apparently not…

My cousin David has been quoted in a few prominent media outlets recently, namely, the New York Times and Yahoo Sports. He’s a rabid fan of the LA Galaxy soccer club, and is a regular fixture with the team’s superfans, The Riot Squad, in the southeast corner of the stadium at every game. I always kind of figured David would be famous some day, but I never in a million years thought it would be for dissing the name amongst names, David Beckham.

The David-on-David action began when cousin David and another member of the squad got into a heated exchange with Beckham after last Sunday’s game. The die hard, bleed-Galaxy-blue fans were severely miffed that Beckham has recently been on loan to an Italian team, and that Beckham may be giving up his job with the Galaxy. Foul words were exchanged. Cousin David’s associate on the squad was arrested for jumping onto the field.

You might think this would reflect poorly on my cousin, but in his defense, soccer has a unique tradition of drunken, abusive buffoonery from the crowd. Soccer hooliganism has a rich and colorful history:

In a way, he’s excelling at that particular position. Just as hockey has made fights an essential part of the action, so soccer has made hooliganism an integral part of the game, taking what should by all rights be the most boring spectator sport in the world[1], and making it into something altogether more participatory.

It’s not like he did it at a baseball, basketball or football game. That’s where it would be wholly inappropriate.

1.) And most likely is, short of golf.

The Moon Landing Was Fake

In several Internet venues (Facebook, Gothamist, Onion AV Club) I’ve seen moon landing deniers crop up. I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but I’m more fascinated by the mindset of the theorists than I am by their theories.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the moon landing was fake (or that 9/11 was an inside job, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen). Facts and evidence aside, this would require a Herculean effort on the part of hundreds of government employees and private citizens to maintain this secret. I just don’t think humans are up to that job.

Has there ever been a point in our history where dozens or hundreds of people successfully fooled millions of people in the United States? Because that’s what it would take for a hoax of this magnitude. Hundreds of people would have to know the truth, many of them civilians at NASA. I would think it an impossible task to keep that many people permanently silent on such a momentous event. NASA is not a military organization; there is no obligation to keep a secret this large, especially when it is of no importance to national security. I would think that in the last 40 years somebody who was actually there at NASA participating in the hoax would have come forward to expose the lie, or that these things would leak out as they historically have a habit of doing. If Nixon couldn’t keep a basic secret, then who can?

Humans are inquisitive by nature, and this is both the reason why so many doubt the legitimacy of the moon landing, and also why the landing has never been proven demonstrably false. For every person questioning the potentially fake broadcast, there would likely be even more individuals questioning the broadcast had it actually been faked. Possible examples: techs at CBS would question the source of the broadcast feed, astronomers would wonder why there’s a craft sitting in orbit rather than moving on to the moon, ham radio operators would have heard something different in the transmissions, and last but not least…somebody would have made millions writing a book to tell the story.

Humans also have a tendency to jump to the most exciting of possible conclusions. Seen a UFO? The answer must be aliens! Strange lights in Gurdon, Arkansas? It must be ghosts! History is littered with examples of exciting but disproven theories, but the news rarely spreads very far because the results weren’t exciting enough for anyone to care.

In general, I’ve discovered that, given a multitude of possible explanations for unexplained phenomena, the truth tends to lean toward the most boring option. The truth also tends to make its way to the people because lies have a short shelf life. Or maybe I’m just saying that because of all the Big Secrets still being kept. Somehow, I doubt it.

Twitter Love and Twitter Hate

I keep hearing people hating on the Twitter. Maureen Dowd wrote a nasty little interview with the founders (parodied here to genius levels), and my friend Mark is convinced that Twitter is the event horizon of the coming Idiocracy.

I tend to side with the cautiously optimistic. I can see the potential for a vast wasteland of irrelevancies broadcast amongst the foolish, and I can also see the value in knowing what my friends and heroes are up to in something approximating real time. Living in New York, it’s uniquely fantastic when someone like Imogen Heap tweets that she’s headed to Apple Store, so that I might have a chance to bump into her (I missed her), or when my friend Tom tells everybody the admission price to his latest show dropped to ten bucks. It’s also nice to be entertained by John Mayer, who clearly wishes he were a standup comedian.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, there’s Ashton Kutcher. He really thinks Twitter is the logical evolution of radio to telephone to TV to web to tweet, and that its founders are to be enshrined alongside the names Marconi, Farnsworth, and Bell.

Maybe. One thing I’ve noticed, though, about life-changing inventions in my lifetime is that almost none of them have individual inventors. No one person can be credited with inventing the Internet, the cell phone or the personal computer as we know it. As the Master Control Program says in Tron, “No one User wrote me. I’m worth millions of their man-years.” The real lasting value of something like Twitter will take a decade or two to determine. After all, what is Twitter but a MySpace or Facebook status update? And what will come along in 5 more years that might replace it? The Internet makes so much collaboration possible that I wonder if the next hundred years of inventions will be defined by networked team efforts rather than individual genius.

For now, we have Twitter to play with. Maybe it will go away as people get bored with it, but it seems to be of enough value that it will never truly die. Like MySpace, which nearly everyone I know as all but abandoned, persists because its vast musical platform continues to provide value for musicians. As long as it provides a service people enjoy, it will continue to exist in some shape.

Video never really killed radio. So why should MySpace or Twitter be any different?

Game Changer

I’ll admit that, like a lot of Americans, I’ve been hesitant to become outraged on the topic of torture. Mostly I’ve been watching to see how it will shake out. And then I read this statement released yesterday, from former U.S. Army psychiatrist at Guantanamo Bay, Maj. Charles Burney:

“While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

OK now I’m outraged. We weren’t just torturing detainees and enemy combatants for information, we were torturing them under false pretenses to prove the nonexistent al Qaida/Iraq link, the link that the Bush administration touted as justification for war. For a long time I’ve thought the torture issue was small potatoes compared to the crime of declaring an unjust war. Now it turns out we’ve knowingly tortured people to support our pre-existing conclusion? We literally beat people into submission to prove an Iraq/al Qaida link?

This freaks me out. I knew the Bush administration were shady and vile, but I honestly did not think they were truly Evil. They wanted a war, so they beat people into saying things to justify it. Somebody has to prosecute this.

Full story here.

The US Marriage Schism

And while we’re on the subject of marriage, I came across this terrific diagnosis of marriage in America today, from Andrew J. Cherlin:

Americans believe in two contradictory ideals. The first is the importance of marriage: we are more marriage-oriented than most other Western countries. The second is the importance of living a personally fulfilling life that allows us to grow and develop as individuals—call it individualism. Now, you can find other countries that place a high value on marriage, such as Italy where most children are born to married couples and there are fewer cohabiting relationships. And you can find countries that place a high value on individualism, such as Sweden. But only in the United States do you find both.

Read the whole interview. It’s a great spotlight on where marriage is in today’s world. It looks like the book would be a great read, especially for anyone who considers marriage to be this unchanging, immovable cultural object.