Thursday, August 1, 2013

Would it matter if Homosexuality was a choice?

People make the argument arguing for gay rights that homosexuality isn't a choice. There are some clever ways to address this point including asking heterosexuals: when did you choose to be straight. There is solid logic in that argument that no heterosexual choose to be straight then it follows that homosexuals probably aren't choosing that either. But the question of whether or not homosexuality is a choice is as simple (it isn't) as it is useless.

The is a simple way to show it is the wrong question and it is by asking this question: is pedophilia or attraction to children sexually a choice. I don't care whether or not that is a choice because sexually molesting a child is morally abhorrent. So the question about homosexuality really should be: 'do we find homosexuality to be morally abhorrent'.

If you base all of your morality from religious texts written greater than 1500 years ago then you are inclined to think of homosexuality as immoral or as an 'abomination'. I've written previously that not everyone who believes this is a bigot (although many bigots pretend to be christian to avoid having to own up to bigotry).

What if you don't get all of your moral views from Church on Sunday? What if you try and come up with your own moral understanding of the world? Other than quoting scripture I've never found a logical explanation for why two people loving each other and having a life together is a beautiful and wonderful thing except if they happen to have the same genitalia (and then it's an abomination).

Conservatives are right to denounce the collapse of the family unit over the last 100 years. The percentage of children born out of wedlock is discouraging. But scape goating gays for the lack of a coherent family unit (which is often brought on by absentee fathers) borders on the delusional.

The real question comes down to liberty. Should two consenting adults be able to enter into a legally binding contract (marriage) with each other so long as it doesn't harm anyone else. The liberty loving answer says yes, people should have the freedom to do things, even stupid things (like smoke). Republicans that seek to minimize gay freedoms and rights do so by attacking liberty and freedom, things conservatism is suppose to stand for. We ought to be standing for freedom and we ought to be reflecting on these moral questions.

So let's ask ourselves again: is homosexuality a choice? No. Would it matter if it were? No

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Gays Should be Allowed to Marry: One Republican's View

I'm a Republican that whole heartily supports gay marriage. Given the dearth of elected Republicans that support gay marriage many people will be shocked to find out that I as a Republican support gay marriage. The fact is that a lot of republicans I know and associate with support gay marriage. We consider ourselves to be Rockefeller, Goldwater or Eisenhower  (or more modernly Jon Huntsman) Republicans that want smaller government that doesn't intrude on people's lives.

The biggest reason I want gays to be able to get married is this: I don't care what other people do if it doesn't affect me.  I have yet to hear a good argument for how gay marriage will ever affect another person's marriage. And now that we've been letting gay people marry it is obvious that all the arguments against it were invalid. The sky hasn't fallen in Massachusetts, California or Iowa. Gays got married and people just went about living their lives totally unaffected.

Normally I try and think deeply about issues and reflect on them. But this one is so painfully simple to me. As a conservative I apply my general principles of: A) people should be able to do what they want if it doesn't hurt other people and B) I don't like the government interfering with people's lives. A plus B equals gay marriage is okay with me.  Any questions?

The Supreme Court Decisions on DOMA, the VRA and a Call for Critical Thinking

This week the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Many people were excited about the decision on DOMA and terribly disappointed that the court struck down the VRA. In all of that emotion many people fail to comment on the legal reasoning applied in the cases they are just angry that the court 'gutted the voting rights act' and proud that the court 'stood up for gay rights'.

The reason people feel this way is based on how they view the court: that the Supreme Court is a moral arbiter weighing in on key issues. Ideally I would like to quickly point out how the function of the Supreme Court is to weigh in on specific cases and determine constitutionality of those cases that are brought before it. Historically that has been the purpose of the Supreme Court but people today (mostly liberals but some religious conservatives too) often just want the court to make 'the right' ruling instead of constraining itself with constitutionality.

Antonin Scalia makes a pretty convincing case that Justice Ginsberg is doing just this in her opinion on DOMA. He argues that the Court should not make a ruling because the plaintiff has no standing in the case because she won in a lower court and that without standing the Supreme Court should not rule. He chides Justice Ginsberg for stating that the Court may rule whenever they think it is 'prudent' or as he puts it 'a good idea' even though this means ignoring Article III of the Constitution.

Sadly this idea of ignoring the Constitution to do what we believe to be 'morally right' and expedient is an idea that is popular with the people; so long as those rulings themselves are popular with the people. As a result we have seen cases since the New Deal that redefined what the constitution meant and gave broad almost unlimited powers to congress that were not there before.

In Wickard vs. Filburn the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the government could regulate the amount of wheat grown on an individuals farm even if he was not selling it to anyone under the 'interstate commerce' clause of the constitution. By redefining interstate commerce to mean 'all commerce' the Supreme Court has handed Congress a near blank check to regulate all business any way that it sees fit. 60 years later when a man grew medicinal marijuana on his own property for his own consumption his plants were destroyed and the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales vs. Raich that once again the commerce clause of the constitution gives Congress that authority.

What I sincerely hope people would do with this week in light of the major rulings by the Supreme Court is to read them (or at least their summaries) and engage in some real critical thinking about how our court should function, and what legal principles do we want our court to apply. Do we want our court to constrain themselves to the constitution and apply it the best they can or do we want them to be moral arbiters ruling in favor of 'what they feel best' and having to contort constitutionally to justify themselves.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Affirmative Action: Sexism and Appearances Versus Reality

I recently finished Medical School and was talking with a classmate (I'll call him Bart) about where people would end up and careers they would have. Our conversation touched on the topic of medical graduates who were unable to secure a training residency and what the future held for them. Finally we pivoted to our most distinguished colleagues: members of Alpha Omega Alpha honor society (or AOA).

Most medical schools in the US have a chapter of AOA at their school. It is a very prestigious honor to be a member of AOA as it denotes that you were in the top tier of grades as well as being reputable members of the community. Bart was explaining to me that new members were elected each year and that active members were a part of the selection process. This meant that classmates that were selected in the first two years of medical school to be a member of AOA were a part of the committee to determine who would be allowed to join in the third and fourth years.

Bart was invited to join AOA after his second year of medical school so he was one of the leaders of the selection committee. They made it through one cycle of candidates and it turned out that every single person they admitted to AOA was a women. During the next round of admitting people a woman in the crowd spoke up and asked "should we be thinking about getting more guys in?"
Bart answered "No, we're not doing that. I'm not playing that game. We're going to go with the best people." A couple of the women in the room (also on the selection committee) let out a couple of 'you go Bart'.

As it turned out a clear majority of women from my medical school class earned the AOA honors. This is even more pronounced when women make up only 40% of the student body (they make up roughly 40% of the applicant pool to medical school as well). In earning a greater proportional share of AOA honors the women in my medical school class collectively out performed the men in my class (at the top anyway). The women in my medical school class played by the same rules and kicked our butts.

Why the question to include more men?

This would be an entirely reasonable question if the selection committee was looking at recruiting people from the general public. When looking to fill a management position from the general public and all of the applicants are of a certain ethnicity or gender it is reasonable to ask if there isn't an inherent bias in your process of recruitment. This is why binders full of women is good policy as it ensures that qualified women are considered for employment positions.

But there was no recruitment of applicants to a job for AOA. There was a field from which the committee was obligated to choose from so there can be no possibility of recruitment bias by the AOA committee.

The reason the question was asked is that we have become a society so obsessed with appearances that we are willing to embrace sexism so that there isn't the appearance of sexism. That sounds crazy because it is, but that is the implication of the question 'should we try to include more men?'. The question reflects a fear that the group looked biased (by selecting mostly women) even though it wasn't biased in favor of women but had instead selected a group of high achievers in medical school based on objective information. 

This has become the new normal. We act sexist and racist to avoid the appearance of racism or sexism. We lower the standards in education for one group so that they are not underrepresented by having two separate and fundamentally unequal sets of admissions. Oddly enough men are more likely to to benefit from affirmative action in university admissions now because women have starting out performing men.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mass Shootings: Victims that matter, Mother Jones and Middle America

With the recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora Colorado the debate over gun control has been thrust into the fore front once again. Mother Jones compiled a list of mass shootings from the past 30 years. Their numbers seem to be showing that mass shootings have been on the rise in recent years thus logically prompting a call to action.

 However their database is rather selective as it excludes: gang related violence, shootings where the primary motive was armed robbery and shootings that involved more than one shooter (although they decided to make two exceptions for school shootings). If you don't make the exclusions Mother Jones did you end up with a graph from FBI data that shows mass shootings to be nearly constant since 1976 with wild peaks and troughs of number of victims. Why the discrepancy in the data?

Some people will conclude that Mother Jones' data collection reflects their support of gun control so they came up with a data set to support an issue because Mother Jones is a liberal magazine. But Mother Jones' data is an accurate representation of mass shootings against 'victims that matter'.

I will take a moment to explain what I mean by 'victims that matter'. It is a concept that we are all familiar with. If a black teenage male shoots another black teenage male in a poor neighborhood he may be mentioned on the local news for 15 to 30 seconds. If you are a white female like Natalee Holloway you may very well generate a media firestorm by disappearing while on a vacation.

So while Newtown Connecticut is a national tragedy that deserves to be mourned because 20 school age children were murdered it is worth noting that nearly every year more Chicago school age children are killed than were killed in Connecticut. And while there are some crucial differences like the mass shooting in Connecticut happening all at once, smaller shootings in the 90s such as those that took place in Oregon and Arkansas got tremendous media coverage as well.

The difference is best described by David Dennis in his recent article in the guardian where he said
"American tragedies occur where middle America frequents every day: airplanes, business offices, marathons. Where there persists a tangible fear that this could happen to any of us. And rightfully so. Deaths and mayhem anywhere are tragic. That should always be the case. The story here is where American tragedies don't occur.

American tragedies don't occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don't occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a 10-year old's birthday party in New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News. These are where the forgotten tragedies happen and the cities are left to persevere on their own."

So Mother Jones includes 'real american tragedies' because they are filled with 'victims that matter' and exclude the poor urban blacks (who are about 50% of all homicide victims) because the readers of Mother Jones care about their own chances of being a victim of a crime but are not concerned about the murders in the inner cities. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Political Correctness: Redskins, Rob Parker and the politically correct tango

I had a good discussion with my friend after Daniel Snyder said that he'd "never going to change the name of the Redskins". I argued that there is a reasonable debate to be had about whether or not the name Redskins is appropriate. Does the nickname honor native americans by denoting how brave they are? Paying homage to a noble people by stating that we use their name to strike fear in our opponents because they are a fierce an mighty warrior. Or does the name denigrate a group of people by stating that they are thought of as mascots and therefore sub-human? I hoped that the media would focus that issue instead of asking whether or not 'Redskin' is politically correct.

My friend then asked me: what is the difference between 'politically correct' versus just plain correct or 'morally correct'. The easiest definition is to define something that is 'politically incorrect' and that is something that is true but offensive to someone or some group of people. When Bill Cosby ranted about how poor black families were not bringing up their end of the bargain and were not properly valuing education few attacked the substance of what he said. No one said that he was wrong or not properly conveying the truth but instead that it was 'harsh' and 'offensive'. Had Cosby's words been aired by anyone other than an African American he would have been labeled a racist.

The three step process of responding to someone saying something 'political incorrect' is to 1) be offended 2) call the person a bigot (a racist, a homophobe, a sexist) 3) call on the person to apologize and if necessary 4) pressure the person's livelihood until the apologize. It is the politically incorrect tango, a simple four step that is easy to learn. What is missing from those four steps is any real discussion of truth or values or any meaningful discussion at all.

When Rob Parker of ESPN mentioned that some people in the black community questioned the Washington Redskin quarterback's blackness (Robert Griffin III or RGIII) because he is rumored to be a republican and is dating a white girl Parker referred to RGIII as a 'cornball' brother he sparked a controversy because he had said something that was not politically correct. The four step politically correct tango then followed as his comments were labeled 'offensive' and 'small minded' he was called on to apologize (which he did) and pressure was put on ESPN who opted not to renew his contract.

Well many people who were a part of the outrage machine patted themselves on the back for a 'job well done' Rob Parker had been fired and all was right with the world. They neglect to notice that real issue in this case was never discussed in any meaningful way. The incredibly important issue is the subject of 'acting white' or that some how blackness is something that you have to be and act out instead of something that you are. This horrible belief leads black children to be labeled as sellouts and 'acting white' when they apply themselves in school and try and get an education.

Next time someone says something that is 'offensive' or isn't 'politically correct' maybe instead of doing the politically correct tango we can try and have an honest discussion about the issue. And maybe the next time something is labeled 'offensive' we can ask... is it true?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Opposing Gay Marriage: Religion or Bigotry?

There has been a lot of progress on the movement of gay rights but even with more states approving same sex marriage there are still millions of Americans who oppose it. Often liberals who support gay marriage will paint with a broad brush and call anyone who does not support marriage equality as 'intolerant' or as 'bigots'. These sort of insults on people serves no purpose other than to make people hide their beliefs but it certainly does not move them towards changing them. There is a big difference between people who oppose gay marriage for religious reasons and those who oppose gay marriage due to bigotry but claim that it is for religious reasons.

1. Those who oppose for religious reasons.

There is a large segment of the population who opposes gay marriage due to strongly held religious beliefs. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin and these people of faith do not want to endorse something (by making gay marriage legal) that they find to be immoral.

The people that have these views tend to be soft spoken and extremely polite. Often times people are surprised when someone that 'seems so nice' opposes gay marriage. The reason that this comes as a shock to people is that religious people who oppose gay marriage don't hate gay people. They don't harbor ill will towards gay people. You won't hear them use slurs like 'faggot' 'fag' 'homo' or 'queer' nor would you witness them mistreating gay people (being rude, etc). That is because the bible commands them to be good people and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

There really is no use arguing with them about whether or not homosexuality is a sin in the bible. It is pretty clear in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. What is not clear is what the implications of that are in a society. The Bible never states how Christians are suppose to behave when they are ruling a society. This is based on when the Bible was written.

There are some reasonable discussions/arguments to be made with these people like how the new testament pretty clearly states that men are superior to women or that there are a bunch of rules in that no one follows (like having a women's head covered and men growing beards).

But these people shouldn't be labeled as bigots nor should they be screamed at that they should practice tolerance. There are two things fundamentally wrong with the tolerance movement. The first is that people aren't looking for tolerance they are looking for acceptance. I tolerate a screaming baby on an airplane but what gay people are looking for is acceptance as equal members of society with an equal ability to marry whomever they want.
The second problem with the tolerance movement is that it has no answer for people that they perceive to be intolerant. People will argue that religious people need to 'be tolerant' of gay people, while at the same time ridiculing their beliefs.

2.  Pseudo-religious/bigots

This is a group that does not like gay people, they don't feel comfortable around gay people and they don't want anything to do with gay people. This group often isn't particularly religious but will often harbor their feelings of resentment towards homosexuals as being religious in nature. That is because they don't want to own up to the fact that they don't like gay people and want to use something to deflect that.

It is in fact relatively easy to distinguish people in this group from the people who are actually religious for a couple of reasons. The first is that you will hear slurs about homosexuals in this group. The seconds is that they aren't particularly religious so they will have a hard time quoting multiple Bible passages and are easily stumped about where their belief in homosexuality being immoral comes from (unlike the actual religious group who will be quoting enough Bible passages that you'll have to go look them up). These individuals may be rude to homosexuals or make snide remarks either around a gay person they interact with or behind their back.