Humanist Symposium #35 at Psychodiva’s Mutterings FCD.
Carnival of the Godless #114 at Deep Thoughts.
Skeptics’ Circle #109 at The Lay Scientist.
Carnival of the Liberals #88 at Liberal England.
And Philosopher’s Carnival #89 at Subjunctive Moods.
Humanist Symposium #35 at Psychodiva’s Mutterings FCD.
Carnival of the Godless #114 at Deep Thoughts.
Skeptics’ Circle #109 at The Lay Scientist.
Carnival of the Liberals #88 at Liberal England.
And Philosopher’s Carnival #89 at Subjunctive Moods.
“Let’s not argue and bicker about who tortured who…”
-Monty Python and the Holy Grail, paraphrased
This is the first time in the Obama administration that the President has made me deeply, blazingly angry. (Yes — way, way angrier than the Rick Warren debacle. That was essentially a symbolic act, and while I loathed its symbolism, I was willing to let it slide if Obama made it up with practical action.)
This is much worse. This is deeply serious. I need to say something about it.
* * *
I understand Obama’s desire to move forward; to look to the future and not the past; to unite the country and not divide it against itself.
But sometimes, in order to move forward, people need to know that justice has been done. In order to let go of the past, people need to know that the evils and injustices of that past have been addressed.
And perhaps even more importantly: Why should current and future military/ intelligence people not torture, not give the order to torture, not come up with grotesquely laughable legal justifications for torture… if they know that if they do and if they get caught, nothing will happen? From a purely pragmatic standpoint, that is the whole freaking idea of accountability, the whole freaking idea of justice — to show people that if they do something terrible, there will be consequences. So they, you know, are less likely to do it. How much more pragmatic can you get?
And from a moral standpoint?
Nobody else gets a free pass from the concept of justice and the hand of the law, on the principle that we should just move forward and not spend our time and energy on retribution. If I get caught robbing a liquor store, no prosecutor is going to let me walk on the principle that we need to not get caught up in a divisive blame game and should instead just look to the future.
And when representatives of the democratically elected government of the most powerful country in the world commit one of the most vile, despicable, nauseating crimes imaginable — and do it in a conscious, orchestrated way — that’s a whole lot more frakking serious than me holding up a liquor store. The fact that these crimes were politically motivated and done on behalf of the government doesn’t make it less important that we prosecute. It makes it more important. Much, much, much more important.
There’s another word for what Obama is so dismissively calling “retribution” or “laying blame.” That word is “justice.”
We’re not talking about a quibble over whose turn it was to do the dishes, or a family quarrel over hosting Christmas dinner that’s still raging twenty years later. We’re talking about war crimes, some of the worst kind of war crimes imaginable — and we’re talking about war crimes that happened as recently as last year, and that went on for years. I do not want my country’s official position on that — the thing we are saying to the world and to ourselves about that — to be, “That was months ago. Why do you keep bringing up old stuff?”
But this is a big frakking deal. This isn’t just your basic “Well, I knew he was going to do some things that would tick me off, and he is the entire country’s President and not just mine, and he can’t make everybody happy” disagreement. This is a fundamental disagreement over a fundamental issue of political morality. And I hereby say that I do not accept it. I mostly like Obama, and have mostly been willing to cut him a fair amount of slack. But I hereby say that, on this issue, President Obama does not speak for me, and I reject his ideas with every fiber of my being.
I’ve written a fair amount about why I believe in the basic idea of government. As recently as two days ago, in fact. And one of the central themes in these writings has been that, in a democratic government, it is not only the right but the responsibility of citizens to speak out when their elected representatives represent us badly. When elected representatives make indefensible decisions that are likely to have appalling consequences, it is the right and the responsibility of citizens to say No.
So this is me, saying: No.
Obama is wrong. We need to bring torturers and war criminals to justice. And we need to start doing it now.
Something from the archives today. This review was written for Alt.com. FYI: This piece includes references to my personal tastes in porn; family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please don’t read this piece.
God, I love it.
Porn aficionados may know Fatale Video as one of the first producers of “by lesbians for lesbians” video porn (and of the groundbreaking “Bend Over Boyfriend”). They were making feminist indie porn in the ’80s and ’90s, way back before it was cool. (Conflict of interest alert: I worked for Fatale and its sister company On Our Backs, well over a decade and a half ago, and I performed in one of their videos.)
Lately, Fatale has taken to distributing adult lesbian videos from other filmmakers, making indie dyke porno available to a wider audience. And this business model is being put to excellent use with their latest release, One Night Stand (Pour Une Nuit). A queer/ dyke/ tranny-boi porno from France, One Night Stand is an intense, authentic, raunchy porno, with a kinky sensibility, an emphasis on immediacy and heat, and a gritty, arty, urban feel.
The look of One Night Stand is not slick — but it’s not amateurish, either. The grainy hand-held look gives it the raunchy, entertainingly dirty feel of an amateur porno shot in someone’s basement…. but it was filmed by someone who clearly gives a shit about filmmaking and knows their way around a camera. The lighting has a tough, urban look without being harsh or shadowy. And the shaky hand-held-ness is done expertly, always in the service of capturing the eroticism and energy of the scene.
(The rest of this review contains explicit adult material. If you’re under the legal age to read adult material in your area, do not click through to read the rest of the piece.)
No, I’m not going to make cheap jokes about teabagging. Every single cheap joke that could be possibly be made about teabagging has been made on MSNBC in the last few days.
Today, instead, I want to buck this long-standing tradition.
Today, I want to speak in praise of taxes.
Look. I don’t passionately love paying taxes, either. (I’m especially cranky about it this year, since there was a miscommunication about my withholding and I had to write a big-ass check today.)
I take advantage of the things my taxes pay for. And I’m lucky enough to live in a society that is more or less democratic, where I have something that resembles a voice in how my taxes are spent. If I don’t like the way our taxes are being spent, I can vote out the people who decide how to spend them, and vote in people who’ll spend them the way I want them to.
So how, exactly, is paying taxes tyrannical, or unfair, or the hand of the government picking our pockets?
As I’ve written before: The basic idea of democratic government — what it ought to be, and what much of the time it is — is a society pooling some of its resources to provide itself with structures and services that make that society function smoothly and promote the common good. And it’s the structure a society uses to decide how those pooled resources should be used.
(Some people want government and taxes, and the services they provide, replaced with private enterprise and volunteerism. My problem with that is: Where’s the accountability? Where’s the process by which I can vote for how I want my fire extinguishing money spent… or can get rid of people who I think are spending it corruptly or stupidly? And besides, I don’t want my fires put out by people who are primarily concerned with making a profit, and are therefore doing cost-benefit analysis about whether my house fire is really worth extinguishing.)
I think Americans are all too often exactly like that. We want the bear patrol, but we don’t want to pay for it. And all too often, like Mayor Quimby, our elected officials are all too willing to pander to us. Hardly any elected official will ever run for office in the U.S. on a platform of “I’m going to raise taxes, so we can pay for services we all want and need.”
It’s commonly assumed that this state of affairs is the natural order. Human nature. It’s taken as a given that of course nobody wants to pay taxes, that of course political hash will always be made out of griping about them. And in a Springfieldian, bear-patrol way, to some extent it’s true. Of course we would all love for there to be roads and parks, fire departments and sewers, clean streets and plague-free cities… all without anyone having to pay for it. Provided by benevolent elves, perhaps.
But I also think that this is a U.S. phenomenon as much as it is human nature. Look at European countries like, say, France. In France, this reflexive anti-tax sentiment just doesn’t play. I’m sure people gripe about taxes in France, too… but most people there seem to basically get that taxes are the price you pay for living in a society and providing the things that make a society function.
And I would like to start shifting the way Americans think about it, too.
We need to remind people — and ourselves — that, at least in a democracy, “paying taxes” basically just means “society working together to make all of our lives better.” It’s socially responsible. It’s patriotic. And it’s no more tyrannical than everyone on the softball team kicking in a few bucks for pizza.
You sometimes see cute little stories in the news, about how on such and such a day of the year, you’re no longer working for the government, and from now on for the rest of the year you’re working for yourself. It’s a story based on the concept that you pay about a fourth to a third of your income in taxes, and if you break that down by year instead of by paycheck, you’ll have paid off your year’s worth of taxes on such and such a day.
But it’s a story that I do not accept.
Because when I’m working to pay taxes, I am still working for myself.
And I’m working for everyone else in the society I live in.
Please note: This piece includes some references to my personal sex life and sexual history. Family members and other who don’t want to read that, please don’t. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
This New York Times article has been making the rounds. The one about scientific research on what women really want sexually. I wrote about it myself, focusing on the more sciency aspects of the article.
Today, I want to talk about something else.
I want to talk about the myth of lesbian sexual infallibility.
And I want to talk about the fundamental flaw inherent in the very question, “What do women want?”
The Times article got me thinking about this very pervasive myth about sexuality, one that I held myself for many years. (I hate those, don’t you? I always get more cranky about misconceptions that I once believed.)
The myth is this:
Okay. So. Can anybody tell me the flaw in this myth? You, there. Making out at the back of the class. What’s the flaw?
That’s right. Gold star for you. The flaw in this myth is:
Women are not identical.
Oddly enough, different women are, you know — different. We have different sexual responses, and we like different things in bed.
So being a woman does absolutely nothing to provide us with a magical golden key to the heart of female sexuality. There is no heart of female sexuality. There are only female sexualities. And they’re all really different.
And this — incompetence? Cluelessness? No, that’s too harsh. Let’s call it temporary inexperience — doesn’t just apply to men. My own early fumbling sexual experiences with women were more than enough to demolish the myth of lesbian infallibility. The story of my first one- on- one sexual encounter with another woman would be depressing and pathetic if it weren’t so funny.
And it’d be depressing and pathetic if it didn’t have a happy ending: namely, the rest of my life, in which I’ve figured out a lot more about sex with women (and men, for that matter) than I knew in my early 20s. And in which I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable just asking my partners, “So, what do you like?”
Which is really the point here.
We aren’t born knowing how to have sex. Or at any rate, we aren’t born knowing how to have good sex. And we double certainly aren’t born knowing how to have good sex with this particular person, the one we’re having sex with right this minute.
But if you look at that research, you’ll see that the reason for this pattern isn’t that lesbians have some sort of psychic insight into what other women like. (Or ditto for gay men.) In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The research showed that same-sex couples — of both genders — were more likely to take their time. They were more likely to pay close attention to their partner’s pleasure and sexual responses, and in fact to get their own arousal from it. They were more likely to lavish attention on their partner’s whole bodies, not just their genitals. And they were much more likely to talk easily, openly, and more often about what kinds of sexual activities they did and didn’t enjoy.
There are certainly some broad differences between female and male sexual responses. I wouldn’t deny that. Women tend, on average, to take more time getting aroused than men. Women tend, on average, to take more time reaching orgasm than men. Women tend, on average, to be less likely than men to come purely from penis- in- vagina intercourse. If you believe the study reported in the Times article, women tend, on average, to have a greater disparity than men between what arouses them physically and what arouses them mentally. Etc. Male and female sex organs are different — obviously — and even if there were no psychological/ emotional/ cultural issues in how women and men are taught to feel and behave around sex, those physical differences are still, well, going to make a difference. If you’re going to be a good lover — whether you’re having sex with women or men, whether you yourself are a woman or a man — a little Sexual Anatomy 101 should definitely be on the agenda.
There is no universal “what women want.”
And in any case… women aren’t born knowing that stuff, any more than men are.
I think the myth of lesbian sexual infallibility tends to let straight men off the hook. It’s like, “How can I ever know what my lover/ wife likes in bed? I’ll never know how what sex feels like to her! I don’t even have a pussy! It’s hopeless!”
But if you really want to know what women want, I suggest you ask the one you’re in bed with.
Or the one you have bent over the kitchen table. Tied to the doorframe. Standing over you with a whip in her hand. On the floor with your face between her legs.
I’m not particular.
Is it because religion has let us down? Is it because so much traditional religion is so grotesquely homophobic? Is it because priests molest children and the Catholic Church blames it on gays; because the Mormon Church spent millions to block same-sex marriage in California; because the evangelical Christian Right has used revulsion and fear of homosexuality to advance their political agenda?
Or is there, perhaps, another reason?
Much of what she writes I agree with (I certainly don’t object to the idea of fighting against homophobia in organized religion). And some of it I take issue with, but am willing to let slide for the purposes of this post.
But this has really stuck in my craw:
Letâs also say, while we’re still here in the first paragraph, that whatever the church or its representatives did to you — whatever abuse, whatever violation of trust, whatever was said to make you believe that you were not a child of God in your whole beautiful queer self, whatever the silence in which you did not hear how infinitely and immeasurably God loves you — whatever drove you out of the church is simply inexcusable.
Okay. Deep breath. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean.
Here is the problem.
You want to know why I don’t believe that I am a child of God? You want to know why I don’t believe that God infinitely and immeasurably loves me? It’s not because I was abused or my trust was violated. It’s not because I was wounded or stunted by my religious upbringing (I didn’t have one). It’s not because so much traditional religion is so hateful and damaging to queers.
It’s because I don’t believe in God.
The idea that people become atheists because they’re angry at God or religion is one of the most insidious myths that are held about us. (In fact, it’s Number 7 on my Eleven Myths About Atheists.) It’s the kind of thing that people like Rick Warren say about us. And it’s flatly untrue. Atheists — queer, straight, whatever — aren’t angry with God, any more than we’re angry with Zeus, unicorns, or the Tooth Fairy. We don’t believe in God. That’s the whole point of being an atheist. You can’t be angry with something that you don’t believe exists.
But people who leave religious belief don’t generally leave it because they’re angry. People who are angry with religion, but who still believe? They tend to look for a different religion. Anger may be the starting point for rejecting religion… but from my observation and experience, it is rarely the final straw. People don’t leave religion because they’re angry. They leave because they’ve become convinced that religion isn’t supported by any solid evidence, and doesn’t really make any sense. They leave because they no longer believe.
You want to know how the churches have failed us? They’ve failed to provide convincing evidence for God’s existence.
You want to know what the churches can do to bring us back? Come up with some better evidence, or some better arguments.
And in the meantime, please stop treating us like sad, wounded victims, who don’t understand that God loves us.
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about the first time I ever went to an orgy; how it came about; and what I learned from the experience. The piece is called My Very First Orgy, and What I Learned There, and here’s the teaser:
There is nothing quite like walking into a dorm room with six naked people having sex together in a pile on the floor. Especially when one of them is your boyfriend. I had a brief moment of — well, “shock” is too strong a word, let’s call it “sudden adjustment” or “category error” — as the reality of the situation was rather crudely borne in on me. Then I decided, “What the fuck, this is what I’m here for,” hurriedly shucked my clothes, and joined in.
And I learned two very important life lessons: lessons that stay with me to this day.
To find out more about the pile of naked bodies on the floor and the important life lessons I learned there (no, really!), read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (Oh, and if you decide to comment on this post in this blog, would you consider cross-posting your comment on the Blowfish Blog as well? They like comments there, too.)
Liar, liar, pants on fire. Pam’s House Blend has the evidence and the links, as do about a hundred other blogs — I don’t feel a compelling need to repost them here.
So. Insert the obvious “Liar, liar, pants on fire” rant here. But that’s not actually what I want to talk about today. Here — in addition to “Liar, liar, pants on fire” — is what I want to say.
We no longer live in a world where you can say, “I never said that.”
So if you’re trying to backpedal from something you said that’s alienating people, “I never said that” is simply not an option.
Therefore, I would like to advise Rick Warren, and for that matter anyone in the public eye, to familiarize themselves with the concept of the “apology.”
The best form of apology, of course, and the one we would like to see from Rick Warren, is the genuine one. “I’m sorry that I hurt people. I said/did those things, and I’m sorry I said/did them. I was mistaken, I’ve been educated on this topic, I now understand better, and I’ve since changed my mind.”
But if that’s not feasible for whatever reason, the half-assed non-apology is always an option. The “I’m sorry people were upset by this” apology. The “I haven’t changed my mind and am not willing to admit I was wrong, but I don’t like the fact that everyone’s mad at me, and since I know I’m a nice person and yet everyone’s still mad at me they all must have misunderstood my intentions, and so I’m going to apologize because my publicist tells me I have to” apology.
So here’s what I think.
If Warren were really trying to shift the public perception of him as a bigoted, homophobic schmuck, pretending he never said those things is not going to fly. Apologizing for them is the only way to go. And he has to know that. He’s not a complete moron. A partial moron, yes, but not a complete one. And whatever else you say about the guy, you can’t accuse him of not being media-savvy.
So I don’t think he is trying to shift public perception of him as a homophobic bigot.
If he were serious about mending the rift with LGBTs and our friends and families, he’d have issued an apology. At least a half-assed non-apology. At least for the “pedophilia and incest” remark. But he’s not. He’s trying to get away with “I didn’t really say that”… which conveniently evades responsibility for saying whether he really thinks it. (At least, it would if it still worked.)
So since he hasn’t apologized — even half-assedly — I can only assume that he is perfectly happy to let his hardcore extreme right-wing base go on thinking of him as a hater like them, while trying to come across to Middle America as a nice guy who love Teh Gays but just doesn’t think we should re-define marriage away from the biblical definition of one man,
six hundred women one woman. Or at least, trying to plant sufficient doubts in Middle America’s mind about it.
I’m just saying, is all.
So if you’re a writer of erotic fiction, please read over this call to submissions, and send me your work! And if you’re not a writer of erotic fiction but you know people who are, please feel free to post this call for submissions and pass it along. This is an open call for submissions, and I’m happy for it to be sent and posted anywhere that it’s legal.
A quick note to my blog readers: Due to this gig and its demands on my time, I may be blogging slightly less often than I used to. More likely, I’ll be pulling a bit more stuff out of the archive than usual. But not to worry — I’m still passionately devoted to this blog, and will still be here almost every day with wisdom and rants about atheism, sex, politics, dreams, and whatever. And you’ll be getting my picks of erotic fiction… so on the days that I’m not here, that should help give you the strength to carry on. 🙂 (And yes, I will occasionally be publishing my own work there.)
Fishnet, the online erotic fiction magazine of Blowfish, is seeking submissions. We are looking for adult fiction that is both literate and hot: fiction that explores the human experience of sexuality, while at the same time working as fun and exciting stroke material. We want hot fiction that goes beyond a mere sex scene — give us a good story, get us inside the skin of your protagonists and show us what they find exciting about the sex they’re having. Good writing is important, as is originality. Tender or melancholy stories are fine, but we’re also not afraid of stories that push boundaries, that blur the lines of gender, propriety or even consent. Challenge our assumptions, but make our toes curl while you do it.
Payment: Fishnet pays 5 cents per word, paid on acceptance. We will need your real name, address, and a US social security number (if you have one) before we can pay you. We are happy to run pieces under pseudonyms, if you prefer.
Rights: We take first perpetual web rights, exclusive for 6 months; a non-exclusive print anthology reprint right; and non-exclusive, perpetual audio performance rights (i.e., we can podcast it). The author retains copyright and all other rights.
Length: We are ideally looking for pieces longer than 1000 words and shorter than 4,000. Shorter and longer pieces will be considered, but are less likely to be accepted. Absolute upper limit: 6,000 words. (Long pieces may be split and published in two parts.)
(Addendum on length: Please note: We can only publish a handful of longer stories, and are much more likely to say “Yes” to pieces that are 2,500 words or less.)
Content: We are open to stories about any and all genders, activities, and sexual orientations. Stories about non-consent are acceptable, but will be prefaced as such. We cannot accept stories about explicitly underage characters.
Reprints: We are strongly focused on original material. We will consider reprints if they are exceptional. Reprints will be paid less than original work.
Submission method: Send submissions and inquiries to email@example.com. Please send submissions by email, as text in the body of the email — no attachments, please, they will be rejected unread. Please include a short bio (100 words or less) with your submission. Bios may include a link to your blog or website. Please include Fiction Sub: (STORY TITLE) in the subject line, replacing (STORY TITLE) with the title of your story. Please also make sure that your submission does not contain “curly quotes” or other special characters. Please mark paragraph breaks with double line breaks, not with tabs.
Please also send a short cover letter that mentions the word count of the story enclosed and a couple of any relevant fiction sales (we also welcome first-time authors). We encourage you to send the cover letter as a separate email in case our spam filter catches the story by mistake; if we get just the cover letter, we know something happened and can contact you to fix it.
Multiple submissions: Please, no more than three submissions per author at one time. Multiple submissions should each be sent in a separate email.
If you have questions or want to submit work, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing your work.
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
So why do people do the sexual things they do?
And more to the point: If you have a theory about why people do the sexual things they do, how would you prove it?
The data everyone’s talking about, though, isn’t so much about what kinds of dirty pictures women and men like to look at. (Although that is interesting and pertinent: if the research is correct, men tend to be aroused by a fairly narrow band of imagery that clearly correlates with their sexual orientation, while women tend to be aroused by imagery that’s all over the map.) What’s getting the attention is the stuff about how hard it is determine which images women are aroused by… because women’s self- reported mental responses, and their involuntary genital responses, don’t match up.
Now. Chivers’ conclusion is that women are physically aroused by a broader range of visual stimuli because, due to evolutionary pressure, it behooves women to be physically ready for sex they don’t want. To put it more bluntly: Women get raped. If women are physically aroused by a broad range of visual stimuli, we will be physically ready for sex even if we don’t want it, and are thus less likely to be injured during rape. Thus increasing our chances of survival.
Okay. That’s the preface. Here’s what I want to talk about.
So here’s my argument.
Is Chivers’ explanation plausible?
And I’ve spent the last twenty minutes or so coming up with a whole passel of explanations that are also plausible.
It could be that women’s sexuality is more bound up with emotional attachment than men’s… and emotional attachment is more complex than simple lust, with a wider range of potential objects.
It could be that women live in a culture steeped in imagery of sexual women, a culture where women are constantly presented as objects of sexual desire, and thus even straight women learn to see other women that way.
It could be that women’s sexual desire is less gender- specific than men’s. (There’s some other data in the Times article backing up this theory.)
It could be that women are less aroused by visual erotic stimulation than other forms (such as verbal), and that showing women visual images isn’t the best way to figure out what we’re aroused by.
And it could be that women’s sexual desire is more complex and multi-factorial than men’s in many ways, with a less specific and more sweeping scope.
It could be that women are taught from birth to be disconnected from our bodies and our sexuality, so we don’t find it as easy to identify our genital sexual responses.
It could be that women are taught from birth that being sexual is dirty and bad, and so aren’t as comfortable speaking frankly about it as men. In other words, women don’t want to admit what it is that’s turning them on. (Even to themselves. See above.)
It could be that male physical arousal is easier to notice — what with the boner and all — and thus men are more likely to define “arousal” as “genital arousal,” and to self- report it as such.
It could be because of Chivers’ “surviving rape” explanation.
And it could be, again, that women’s sexuality is more complex and multi-factorial than men’s, with a stronger “purely mental” component.
To be very clear: I’m not actually advocating any of these positions. I’m coming up with them to make a point. That point:
I could do this all day.
And I’m not sure how you would test any of these theories.
And as any good skeptic knows: If a theory isn’t testable or falsifiable, it’s worthless. Whether it’s a belief in God, or a conspiracy theory, or a simple theory about the evolutionary forces driving the development of certain sexual responses… if there’s no possible data that could prove your theory incorrect, or no way to acquire further data either supporting or contradicting your theory, then your theory is useless. It has no power to explain the past or predict the future. It’s pointless. It’s not even wrong.
It’s a lot harder to come up with theories that are really supported by all the evidence; theories that explain and predict evidence that can’t be explained or predicted any other way; theories that are more than just examples of the human brain’s amazing ability to come up with explanations for stuff.
By all means, we need to be doing careful scientific research into human sexuality. I wouldn’t in a million years suggest otherwise. We just need to be very cautious, very rigorous, and very slow, about coming to conclusions about what that research means.
These ideas were developed in a comment thread on Pharyngula.