Saturday, June 25, 2011

While We're Just Talking About It

The Mad Housers

The Mad Housers build basic shelter for people who are destitute or working people too poor to have a home. Their shelters are frequently of marginal legality but they're interested in housing, not getting attention. I love the interview with one of their clients in last year's news letter.

And here's a movie of a home being built and the clients it's being built for.

While We're Just Talking About It

Sister Mary O'Malley and Sister Maura O'Donohue of the Medical Missionaries of Mary and their work with the Global Interfaith Alliance Against Human Trafficking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On Being Disreputable

After five years of being told that what I've said is beyond the bounds of ... something, they're hardly ever specific, and that I'm just awful, I've decided to go with that.

I began blogging in 2006, during the Bush II regime trying to figure out what liberals and the left were doing wrong. Why did the side that had the facts on their side lose over and over again? That led me to raise critical questions that were bound to anger a lot of liberals and leftists even as what I said would also anger conservatives. What is wrong with liberalism is that it is an ineffective and often counterproductive response to oligarchic fascism. There, you see, I just used the "F" word, a good, NPR listening liberal would say I've just lost. Only I refuse to play by the stupidly accepted rules of propriety that govern liberal political and moral discourse. The oligarchs depend on such stupid, lazy, liberal scrupulosity.

That failure is due to the class aspirations of professional liberals and those just beneath them on the treadmill of financial reward and fame by which they are rewarded for being innocuous opponents to the stinking rich, taking up the time and attention that could go to a real opposition which could do real damage to them. That includes many of the iconic figures of official liberalism who have been a blight on the real struggle for equality and justice, it includes many of the most august of liberal institutions that produce those aristocratic icons. If you take too hard a look at them and question their obvious motives in producing liberal impotence you upset many people. I intend to upset those people. My allegiance is to the dirtiest and most distasteful of poor folks, who are the victims of the psychological soma spewed at them by the media, it is to those who have been deprived of an education and who are seen as disposable by soft-handed liberals of the kind who might get asked on TV or NPR.

Being comfortable with being a pariah, a state that comes naturally to me as a gay man from working people, I don't care that what I say is bound to be considered as not allowed. I do, though, understand there are others who aren't as comfortable with that status. So, I will not be posting a list of favorite bloggers or other sites. I certainly will not be having ads for reasons I'll detail later. I may solicit donations in the future, even the undeserving poor need to eat, we must get used to asking. I intend to be as underservingly poor as was imagined by Oscar Wilde and as outrageously insistent on facing the most inconvenient and uncomfortable reality of intentional liberal failure as Marilynne Robinson in her great, ignored essay, Mother Country.

I intend to do everything I can to upset lazy liberals, snobs, class bigots and anyone else I think deserves it as the arguments against them come to me. I will upset a lot of the people I should officially agree with because our comfortable agreement isn't the goddamned point of it, it's nothing as compared to people eating and living and having joy in their lives in a sustainable environment. Because the creation of stupid, illogical rules of thought and discourse is one of the most common venues of intentional liberal self-defeat and surrender to evil. There, did you notice, I've said the "E" word. I will be going through the entire alphabetical lexicon of forbidden thought by the time I'm done. What I won't do is surrender on total political and social equality, on economic leveling as being the goal. I won't be fair to fascists, I won't be nice to Nazis. I will not give the privileged another benefit of any doubt. They've got the elitist liberals for that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Conditional Skepticism and Sometimes Journalistic Ethics of Lindsay Beyerstine

What she left out

If you read my piece about Sugar Ray Leonard's accusation of sexual
abuse which has made me something of a pariah in so many places, the
first substantial comment I made in it was about the problem of
Leonard refusing to name the coach he was accusing.

My reasons for that were, first, that there were more than one boxing
coach who he could have been the one he was accusing and any
speculation about which one he was accusing was bound to name men who
he wasn't accusing. There was, in fact, speculation about more than
one named Olympic coach when I checked out that point. That alone
should be a requirement in accusations of this kind that, when made
public, the individual who is accused should be named unless there was
an unusually good reason given not to do that. Second that if he
named a specific man his accusation wasn't left as a finger pointed at
all gay men. And, also, that if he named the man it was possible that
there were other accounts about the man being accused that would come
out. I said:

My first problem with what he's said is that Leonard has refused to
name the man he is accusing, even though he says that the man is dead.
Not naming the man carries a number of problems. This casts suspicion
on any boxing coach in his late forties who might have been in contact
with Leonard during the Olympics and who might have had some
connection with him five years earlier. I have no idea how many of
those there are but I do know that raising suspicions of this kind
should be avoided when possible. Leonard could clear up that much by
naming the man he's accusing and ending the possibility of innocent
people being hurt. Furthermore it reinforces the picture of all gay
men as sexual predators. "A gay man" doesn't assault someone a
specific man does. If that man can be named, he should be and he
should face the consequences of his actions, those shouldn't be left
hanging as a finger pointed at all gay men. Leonard could possibly
dispel any likely doubt by naming the man and seeing what other people
could say of him. It's possible that there were other, credible,
incidents. Or it could risk none of those coming forth and casting
doubt on what he said happened.

Notice these points in what I said:

--"Leonard could clear up that much by naming the man he's accusing
and ending the possibility of innocent people being hurt."

--"Leonard could possibly dispel any likely doubt by naming the man
and seeing what other people could say of him."

-- "It's possible there were other, credible, incidents."

Even before that, just before the paragraph I just quoted, I said:

"I am having a very hard time believing it as reported".

"As reported". I never, at any point in my post said that it was
impossible that something happened, I didn't even say that what was
reported wasn't possibly true, though I did give reasons that I had a
hard time believing it happened as it was reported. I never said that
no gay man would have done what was alleged, I said that in my
experience as a gay man who lived through the time it happened, I had
never known a gay man who would have done what that coach is alleged
to have done, I doubted the incident as reported.

The longest of the many attacks made against me was a post by Lindsay
Beyerstine at The Big Think. That attack was picked up by Mary
Elizabeth Williams at Salon magazine, exposing what Beyerstine said
about me to a national audience. Lindsay Beyerstine bills herself
professionally as an investigative journalist and a quasi-professional
skeptic. Mary Elizabeth Williams also is considered to be a

You can read Lindsay Beyerstine's post and not find any mention of
what I said above. If she had led with what I did, including my point
that if he named the man he was accusing he might get other people to
corroborate his charge, she couldn't have continued to characterize
what I wrote as she did. Mary Ellen Williams, in the account she gave
at Salon, referred to my post but clearly relied on what Beyerstine
wrote about it. Her account contains several of Beyerstine's
assertions and a quote from my piece Beyerstine used. Needless to say,
she seems to have avoided reading the same points Beyerstine
unaccountably missed, though she managed to note that I said, "Leonard
has refused to name the man he is accusing, even though he says that
the man is dead." She ignored that I said he could be telling the
truth and naming the man could bring out corroboration for what he was

Having a lot of respect for good reporters I don't take someone
calling themselves one lightly. My first blog post, under my
previously used pseudonym, carried a disclaimer saying that I didn't
call myself a reporter and I made no pretense of being one. If someone
assumes that title and the enhanced credibility it carries, they have
an obligation to uphold standards of good reporting. They have a
professional obligation to accurately report the facts, supporting any
points they make about those. In writing a report about my piece, what
that piece said is the primary factual record. I don't think leaving
out the main point that disproves much of what she subsequently says
about it can be seen as anything but an obvious lapse in journalistic
practice. If she didn't promote herself as a reporter but called
herself a mere blogger I would have a lot less to say about that. I
will get to what her piece means in regard to her claim to skeptical
fame later.

What she claimed

Ignoring what I began with, Beyerstine continued with a string of
inaccurate characterizations of what I said, the replacement of
conditional statements I made with absolute statements, what looks
like inventions of quotations attributed to me and false claims about
what I said. Going through it point by point takes a long time but it
will prove what I have just said.

L.B. "McCarthy doubts Leonard's story because he thinks no coach would
be so reckless as to assault a dangerous boxer like Sugar Ray at a
pivotal moment in his career:"

Here is what I said about that, with bolding for emphisis:

His identification of a boxing coach who had been associated with him
for at least five years also gives me problems. For someone who had
been cultivating an athlete for five years, watching them climb up the
extremely steep hill to even get to the Olympics, knowing that any
upset could quash their hopes of even getting a bronze, I can't
imagine them taking the chance of coming on to their athlete during
the very weeks in which they could ruin years of investment of their
work and hopes, ruining any benefits that could be gotten from having
coached an Olympic champion. Especially if he had the chance to make
that advance for the five preceding years. I can't imagine an Olympic
coach making their first and only actual sexual advance on an athlete
in that context. I can't imagine him risking his professional
standing. In 1976 any credible rumor of an Olympic boxing coach coming
on to his unwilling athletes half his age would have been the end of
any career in sports. In the media atmosphere of the mid-70s,
especially the sports media, risking an athlete pressing charges would
have be enormous.

Three times I said "I can't imagine", not "no Olympic coach would be
so reckless as to". I’m skeptical of the idea that an Olympic coach
who had years in which to make their first, very aggressive, attempt
to have sex with Leonard would have chosen when he had attained the
level of training, the boxing skill, the record and the status for the
coach to be talking to Leonard in terms of gold medals at the upcoming
Olympics would have been likely to risk their stake in him in that
way. I wouldn’t think an Olympic coach that was in the habit of
risking that would keep their position very long, though that is
something that could become clearer if Leonard would name the man.
It’s possible he was that reckless and that the boxing world would
cover up for him. In that case, this is a far bigger story. I’m
surprised an investigative reporter wouldn’t wonder about that.

While I said I couldn’t imagine a coach risking that, I never said
that “no coach would be so reckless," I was expressing skepticism that
it was likely to have happened for the reasons I gave.

L. B. "When it comes to sex crimes, and sex in general, arguments from
the premise that "Nobody would be so reckless..." are highly suspect,
especially when the aggressor is a powerful man who is already
counting on his high status to deflect consequences."

I wasn’t addressing “sex crimes, and sex in general,” I was addressing
this specific accusation. Again, knowing who he is accusing and seeing
if other men had similar experiences with him could dispel any likely
questions. And, as seen, I didn’t say anything like “Nobody would be
so reckless...” I didn’t say that anywhere in what I wrote, why
Beyerstine would imply I had by making it appear to be a quote is
something she should address.

L. B. "The idea that Leonard is probably lying because "a gay man
would know better..." is at least as dubious as "nobody would be so

Again, I never said “nobody would be so reckless”, a phrase which
Beyerstine seems to want people reading her to believe I said, but
that in this specific case the degree of recklessness would definitely
be far, far above the ordinary level. I said that you would have to be
incredibly reckless to choose to assault Leonard in the way he
described it. We have no idea of how the coach might have described an
incident if it happened. Unless we know who he is, we have no way of
knowing if that man had a record of that kind of unusual recklessness.
I'm surprised it took so many years for it to come out if he had one.

And, again, Beyerstine makes it seem as if she is quoting what I said
when that appears no where in the post. And, in no place did I say
that Leonard was lying, as you can read in my post I said, “I am
having a very hard time believing it as reported.” Unlike many
"skeptics" I've read, I have no problem with the idea that many things
I have a hard time believing might be true.

L.B. "Sexual orientation may be innate, but knowledge of U.S. criminal
law is culturally transmitted. There weren't any openly gay Olympic
boxing coaches in the seventies. If the coach was an outwardly
straight guy who focused his sexual energies on young athletes, why
would he know any more about the "gay panic" defense than the next

In the several arguments I’ve had about this it would start with
everyone assuming, as I finally noted, that straight men aren’t prone
to reaching over, unzipping another man’s fly, groping him and
starting to put his head down in a way that would lead the man being
moved on to believe he was about to give him a blow job. Apparently,
believing that this kind of thing doesn't happen much is a huge
conclusion to jump to , but it’s one jump I’m ready to make. I’d have
to say that as the generally straight people arguing with me would the
resort to the claim that the coach was not really gay is among the
most bizarre aspects I've seen in this. Is Beyerstine saying that it’s
likely that this was the first time that the “straight” coach would
have done something like that?

I will note in passing that it is hardly unknown for straight men to
believe gay men are coming on to them, even quite repulsive men are
able to believe that. I have heard women talk about such men convinced
that women are coming on to them, at times laughing about its
improbability. My guess is that athletes might have more of a reason
to believe they're highly desirable when they might not be. But, that
would be a guess and just general speculation.

As to what a gay man approaching 50 - or even your average “straight
man with a yen for sex with men less than half his age” could have
been expected to know in the mid-70s, that would begin with knowing
that gay sex was, generally illegal and generally risky unless you
knew the man you were approaching might be open to the experience.
Most men, believing themselves to be straight, would be known would
not have welcomed having a gay pass made at them. A gay man with that
long to gain experience would know that a gay man could be assaulted
and the mere identification of the victim as a gay man would make a
prosecution of their attacker much less likely and his exposure as gay
could result in him being legally discriminated against. He could well
have heard about young men who cruised gay men and then attacked and
robbed them, he might have heard about young men who made their living
that way and others who did it for fun. What they knew could well very
go all the way to knowing that it was possible for a gay men to be
murdered and their murderers could get off by claiming an unwelcome
gay pass had been made at them. I was far younger than that and I knew
those things. I doubt I’d have been as worldly as an Olympic coach
about about twenty years older than I was.

That Beyerstine has trouble believing that level of common knowledge
among middle-aged gay men at that time could have more than a little
to do with the fact that she hadn’t been born yet. Being gay in 2011
is far different from what it was like in 1976, even in New York City
or San Francisco. Ignoring that is as willfully ignorant as pretending
Leonard being a boxer is irrelevant to evaluating what he is alleging.

L.B. "According to McCarthy's logic, no coach would ever abuse big,
strong boys as long as "gay panic" was recognized as a defense."

Again, characterizing my skepticism as saying “no coach would ever,”
as if she wanted her readers to believe I'd said that, Beyerstine
exaggerates what I said in order to put other words in my mouth. As a
point of common sense, though, any coach who knew that and did what is
described was being pretty reckless. I will take a second here to
remark that for a person in the young elite of organized “skepticism”,
Lindsay Beyerstine is mighty reluctant to apply the standards of her
ideology to this case. So far I'm supplying any skeptical analysis to

L.B. "Yet there are scandals involving male coaches and male athletes
all the time. Male coach/female athlete abuse is much more common, but
male coach/male athlete cases are hardly unknown."

Ignoring that we’re talking about boxing, as just about all the other
people commenting on what I said did, she equates it with sports that
don’t involve the science of physical attack in order to do damage.
Does she think the relationship of boxing with fighting and very
possibly severe injury would not have been something that occurred to
the boxing coach or Leonard?

L.B. "McCarthy's argument ignores the psychology acquaintance rape.
Maybe boxers are more likely to react violently to unwanted same-sex
contact than your average person. I don't know of any studies. Or,
maybe when a beloved, trusted authority figure violates without
warning, a boxer can be just as flummoxed as anyone else. Physical
strength may not even be a factor. Victims often report feeling frozen
or detached from reality during the assault. There's no reason to
assume that how someone reacts to planned, consensual violence in a
boxing ring predicts how they're likely to react to unexpected
non-consensual sex."

I will unpack this piece by piece

L.B. "McCarthy's argument ignores the psychology acquaintance rape."

I have no idea if acquaintance rape would have anything to do with
this because we don’t have enough details to know the level of
acquaintance. Though I really doubt Leonard would want anyone to think
he had the mind set of a young man on a date. More on psychology in a

L.B. "Maybe boxers are more likely to react violently to unwanted
same-sex contact than your average person. I don't know of any

I didn’t find any. I didn’t find a single other case in which an elite
boxer has made an allegation of being sexually molested by a man twice
his age. What can be assumed is that an Olympic boxer would be able to
“react violently” in a more effective manner than “your average
person” or, as I noted somewhere, a track and field athlete or a
badminton player. Which is what I said would be more obvious to a
boxing coach than it would “your average person”.

L.B. "Or, maybe when a beloved, trusted authority figure violates
without warning, a boxer can be just as flummoxed as anyone else.
Physical strength may not even be a factor. Victims often report
feeling frozen or detached from reality during the assault."

Do we know that the coach was “a beloved, trusted authority figure”?
Maybe so, in which case it would be good to know who he was in order
to not suspect other “beloved, trusted authority figures” of being
sexual predators. Or, maybe not.

In light of what Beyerstine relied on up till now, the charge made
later that I was indulging in “psychobabble” is strange. This is the
invention of far, far more narrative than I’d feel comfortable with in
an investigative reporter. I didn’t follow boxing but I don’t think
Leonard knocked out so many other elite boxers because he was prone to
“feeling frozen or detached from reality during (an) assault”. For
crying out loud, he was a champion boxer who some argue is among the
best of all time.

And all of Beyerstine's narrative misses my point, which wasn’t what
Leonard would have thought, it was what any gay man who was thinking
of making a sudden, unannounced, very likely unwelcome physical
assault on him would have known. If that boxing coach who had seen
what he could do in the ring suddenly unzipped his fly with no
previous effort to find out if it would be OK with Leonard, he would
have had to be the stupidest gay man in town that day. If he was horny
there would have been far less dangerous young men around to try to
give an impromptu blow job to. Others who would go along with it.

L.B. " McCarthy thinks that Leonard is just using the story to excuse
a lifetime of bad behavior including violence against women, and
substance abuse. You can take his claim seriously without accepting
his psychobabble."

Here is what my post said about that:

Later in the Times piece, after citing the numerous incidences of his
violence - especially against his first wife - , adultery, drug and
alcohol abuse this is said:

Greenburg speculated that it was counseling that helped him finally
come to grips with the sexual-abuse episode of his youth.

“Having to hide a situation like that made it worse, I would think,”
he said. “You have these dirty little secrets, and you feel as a man,
and one in a tough-guy world like boxing, that you can’t share it with
anyone. I would think that would probably affect every aspect of his
And later:

It seems to me that a lot of the people who I've discussed this with
seem to believe that the problems Leonard had with violence, drugs,
alcohol and other things as an adult are attributable to this one
incidence he alleges. I don't buy that at all.

A far more obvious motivation for him hitting his first wife is in his
training in systematic violence, the brutality of boxing which he
practiced professionally and for which he was lauded and which made
him a hero to millions of people.

I can't imagine that not instilling a sense of permission in at least
some elite boxers. Boxing is permitted, systematic and intended
brutality. When a boxer practices brutality outside of the ring it
should be the first thing suspected as a motivation, not an incident
which could be as much an attempt at self-exoneration as it could be a
factual account of what would be considered quite differently, by
society and the media if it had been a man doing the equivalent to a

Even if every word Leonard said about this incidence is true, that
doesn't excuse anything else he's admitted he did.
I said, twice, that other people were using the story to excuse a
lifetime of bad behavior, including the one quoted from Ross Greenburg
in the New York Times. No place in my post attributes that to Leonard.
I said that I doubted that one instance of gay groping could be the
reason for his bad behavior, Even if every word Leonard said about
this incidence is true.

Though, reading it over later, I wished I had edited an awkward use of
a word in that, I kept it because it was what was posted and being
commented on.

Beyerstine’s charge of me spouting “psychobabble" is quite ironic in
view of her scenario above, as well as baseless. Anyone who has read
much of what I’ve written would know I’m very skeptical of the
scientific standing of psychology. Considering what I said about the
psychobabble of gay panic defense and the widespread spouting of
psychobabble in mitigation of bad behavior due to one instance of gay
groping, Beyerstine’s charge of that is contradicted even by what she
has accused me of. Much as I would like to go in matters psychological
concerning this “faculty” member and her "Toolbox" colleagues, I’ll
pass that up for now.

L.B. McCarthy also thinks that Leonard is being homophobic by making
the rape allegation the centerpiece of his book.

This is entirely false. I didn’t attribute homophobia to Leonard, the
only thing I said about homophobia was “ It (“gay panic defense”)
seems to be unknown to a considerable part of the straight, liberal,
self defined non-homophobic, blogosphere. " The only thing I said
about Leonard other than known biographical fact was that he made an
accusation against an Olympic coach and that he had admitted to bad
behavior. I have no idea if Leonard is homophobic and didn’t say he
was. I will say that my background research wouldn't lead me to
suspect he is.

I did imply that a number of people, specifically many liberals who up
till a couple of days before I figured would have known better, shared
the unexpressed assumption of gay men as predators. Though that’s more
your plain old gay stereotyping than it is homophobia. I dealt with
that in the first part of this series of posts.

L.B. It's disturbing how eager McCarthy is to debunk Leonard's story
based purely on stereotypes. At best this kind of reasoning could
establish that such an event was unlikely.

As just noted, the only things I said about Leonard were facts told
about a named person, Sugar Ray Leonard. I said that he was an elite
boxer in top shape and on his way to winning a gold medal in boxing at
the Olympics. That he was an adult, which he would have been based on
what Leonard said. He amassed an amateur record of 145-5 75 KO before
he went professional. Other than that I noted his record of subsequent
bad behavior, mentioning his having hit his wife, part of the record
of his divorce from her, things he admitted to. Facts about a
specific, named person are not stereotypes. Neither was noting the
skills and abilities he would have to have to be an elite, Olympic
boxer. I’ve been struck how odd it is for many of those who criticized
what I said have presented Leonard as a powerless wimp. I doubt the
young Leonard would have welcomed that depiction of him.

Since Leonard said the boxing coach was in his late forties I observed
that a man in his late forties is at a physical disadvantage to a
boxer on his way to the Olympic, less than half his age, is so obvious
that it hardly constitutes a sterotype. If the coach hadn’t been at a
disadvantage against Sugar Ray Leonard he should have been on the
American boxing team instead of coaching it. If Leonard named the man,
any other assumption I made could be dispelled, as I said in the first
part of my commentary which Beyerstine ignored.

Beyerstine’s characterization of Leonard as being under the thumb of
this unknown coach assumes more about Leonard and the coach than I
did. Without knowing who the coach is and what can be known about
whatever power he might have had over Leonard, what she says about
that is based in stereotype instead of fact. It’s quite possible that
one or more of the possible suspects was smaller than Leonard was as
well as more than twice his age.

L.B. "I'm not saying we should reflexively accept all claims of sexual
assault at face value, I'm saying that we should jettison the
stereotype that lying about sexual assault is so much more common than
lying about other things that these claims automatically deserve
heightened scrutiny."

I made no claim that “lying about sexual assault is so much more"
anything. I addressed this one accusation in terms of what could be
known about it in the absence of a known abuser and in the context of
the experience of being a gay man in the mid-1970s. As I said in the
second post that weekend all accusations deserve scrutiny because
that’s what you do when someone accuses someone of doing something
wrong. Why she thinks Leonard’s very undetailed, very open-ended
account shouldn’t be examined is downright bizarre in someone who
promotes herself as both a “skeptic” and an investigative reporter.

What she should have disclosed

Why would Lindsay Beyerstine characterize what I wrote in the way she
did? If she disagreed with what I said, why did she ignore a major
part of that and then distort what I said, putting words and ideas
into my mouth that weren't there? Why would she engage me on comment
threads without informing me that she had written about what I wrote?

I saw the piece at Salon the Monday after I posted my piece, when I
went there to look for a piece entirely unrelated to my post. I
followed that to Lindsay Beyerstine's blog where I read what she

Now, the name "Beyerstine" related to this topic rang a bell with me.
I had read an article by Barry Beyerstine about the necessity of being
very careful when considering accusations of sexual abuse. I
remembered that article said that all accusations of sexual abuse
should be investigated. I also knew that the late Barry Beyerstine was
a prominent member of CSICOP and was well known in "skeptics" circles.
Needless to say, when I found out Lindsay Beyerstine was his daughter,
my curiosity was peaked.

I have written several posts critical of members of CSICOP and
"skeptics" which were blog mobbed, I have also been critical of them
in a number of arguments on other blogs. I did a search on Lindsay
Beyerstine's blog to see if she had written anything about what I
wrote, considering that her father was so prominent in those circles.
I found that my posts were known to her. On June 22, 2010, "Yoo Hoo
Yippie" was apparently calling out a blog mob to attack two of those

Defend yourself CSICOP fellow traveller!

I seem to be unable to locate the "e-mail Ms. Beyerstein" button, I apologize.

CSICOP is being trashed on a regular basis by Anthony McCarthy on the
"Echidne of the Snakes" blog.

The blog in question seems to reside in the
Eschaton-Pandagon-Majikthise universe, so I was hoping you could
reply. I would do it, but I am merely a poorly educated stocker of

The relevant posts can be found:

Thank you for your attention and apologies for OT-ness.
to which Lindsay Beyerstine responded:

You got me, You got me, Echinde of the Snakes falls squarely in my
sector of Blog City. I haven't been patrolling vigilantly. Arguing
with Anthony McCarthy is like arguing with a wall. falls squarely in
my sector of Blog City. I haven't been patrolling vigilantly. Arguing
with Anthony McCarthy is like arguing with a wall.

It's rare to find such clear proof that there has, actually, been
organized blog mobbing of what you wrote. I wonder who else Woo hoo
may have called out by e-mail and if this is a typical practice of the
organized skeptics. And Beyerstine's apparently finding me persistent
in an argument is interesting, to me at least, but I'm going to leave
that aside.

Looking farther into this I found that Lindsay Beyerstine is active in
the same "skeptics" circles, a "faculty" member of a CSI sponsored
workshop "The Skeptics Toolbox 2011". Ray Hyman is another "faculty"
member of it who I have criticized, albeit mildly, in his case. I've
been much more critical of other members of those groups, though never
Barry Beyerstine, who did some valuable work in the area of false
accusations of sexual abuse.

What is clear is that Lindsay Beyerstine knows I've written critically
of groups she has a quasi-professional association with. That could
very possibly be a motive to do what she did in her post.

I'm not saying that Beyerstine couldn't have legitimately written
about what I said in as critical a manner as she could, though she did
have an obligation to write accurately about it. I'm saying that she
has a clear ethical obligation to disclose that she knows I've been
critical of CSICOP, it's offshoots and some of its members and so
might not be the most disinterested reader of what I have written.

I notified Lindsay Beyerstine almost as soon as I found out about her
post, asking her to correct many of the points I noted here. I tried
to let her know that I knew about her conflict of interest and that
Barry Beyerstine had written an article that supported what I had done
before I explicitly stated either of those. Not having had the best of
experiences of engaging people I was fighting with by e-mail, I posted
that those in comments on her blog and, when she ignored what my
request for the correction and disclosure, on the comment thread at
Salon magazine. I informed her of those comments at her blog and told
her that if she didn't correct what she had written about me and
disclose her conflict, I would write about it. I gave her a lot more
notice than she gave me.

I agree with many of the things Lindsay Beyerstine writes, we are on
the same side of many issues, though there are several we are far from
agreement about, organized "skepticism", religion, pornography and,
very recently, the wisdom of "slut walks". I don't agree that the way
she wrote about what I did with its omissions and false attributions,
her engaging me on a comment thread without disclosing her intentions
and her failure to note her possible conflict of interest. I don't
agree with someone doing that presenting themselves as an
investigative reporter.

I note that her brand of "skepticism" has always seemed like a highly
selective and enforcement of rigid ideology to me. Apparently it
doesn't hold with the many articles published in its journals in
recent years about the necessity of investigating sexual abuse
accusations. That's what I was doing, expressing skepticism about
Leonard's accusation as it was reported. That's all I did.

The experience of seeing how hard it was for people to read what I
said, of having them, once again, put things I've never said or
thought in my mouth has given me some insights about writing I hadn't
had before.

In The Dark About The Only Light We Have

Towards an effective successor to liberalism, 1. Modified 6/24

In the past month or so I've developed a new pet peeve, one which can make me grit my teeth. I've noticed how often some variation on the phrase "we're hard wired to," gets said among the mid-high brow folks in the media. I've yet to start counting but my sense is that I'm hearing or reading it at least once a day in some form of media communication. That communication can turn a metaphor into a deeply entrenched habit of thought that becomes an effective and possibly damaging basis for actions.

The idea that we are "wired" is to reduce an incompressible phenomenon, our consciousness, our perception, our thought and our analyses into something that we believe we do understand, the computer. With that comes the comfort of believing we have a handle on something in service to the professional interests of the people who start off that chain of reductionist credulity. It's sustained by the desire of time-pressed and rather superficial academic and media scribblers to give their utterances a false caché of what they take to be cutting edge and exciting science. From there it goes on to be an unconsidered fashion accessory of superficial thought.

The idea that we are machines has become so widely believed and entrenched in what passes as the intelligentsia, that pointing out that the metaphorical and ideological substance of the phrase isn't backed up by anything but an ideological interpretation of extremely fuzzy science will get a pretty strong reaction.

The fact is that no one has anymore an idea of what consciousness is than they do what time is. Anyone who has tried to wade through the philosophical attempt to deal with time will inevitably confront the fact of the incomprehensibility of our consciousness, of the reality that the most basic of our our realities is undefinable and incomprehensible.

There is no reality that isn't intrinsically bound up with consciousness, "reality" is the word we use for what our consciousness perceives and understands. Time, in the only way it can have meaning to us, would seem to be intrinsically tied up with those problems but what we're doing is trying to conceive of the undefinable with something we don't know enough to even come up with the rules for doing that. We don't know how we know or what it means to know, we don't even know what it means to construct the product of our perception to create the limited image of the universe available to people. And we do construct the aspects of our sensory perceptions that we think about. Our thoughts are made by us.

I can't remember the scientist who speculated that for whatever consciousness which bacteria could have, gravity is essentially nonexistent, Brownian motion being entirely relevant to them, in its place. Of course that's all speculation. Though the idea that our perception of the universe and our place in it rules our most basic thinking about it seems to me to be the most sensible of statements. How a bacterium perceives the universe and its place in it is unavailable to us in any real way, but we can imagine how such an alien consciousness, so limited to its peculiar situation, would conceive of its existence in its habitat.* Perhaps that habit of thinking, the belief that our thinking about something like bacterial consciousness is understandable, is what's at work when we think about our own consciousness.

Computer science gives us some intellectual hold on the functioning of machine processing - which is no huge surprise since it was invented by computer science - which we use to organize and sift enormous amounts of information at great speed. The results of it, presented to our senses, seems like a form of consciousness and we are duped by that despite our knowing that human beings have done whatever was done. It tricks even some very bright people into pretending they don't know that it's a machine set into motion by very fast and very efficient but basically inert mechanics, prevented from doing some things and made to do some things by our mechanical and logical ingenuity. It doesn't reflect anything about whatever process consciousness is, about which we know nothing other than that it's there, without which no other aspect of existence is known, without which we don't exist. And we have no knowledge of what it is and where it comes from. Unlike the computer, our consciousness was not made by us to our specifications. Neither it's schematics nor its operational manual is available to us, we don't even know if it is linear or random or incomprehensibly unlimited in its ability. We don't even know if the analogies of schematics and operations are relevant to whatever consciousness is. We do know that our rational processing of information and even our most basic perception we use to think about such things is limited and that our metaphors really aren't identical to what they are used to describe.

The number of people who have an emotional reaction to pointing out that, whereas the machine is known to be he result of physical processes and phenomena brought out through our intentional design, our consciousness is not a mere tool invented with our very limited abilities, is suggestive of a habit of our thinking, in itself. The fact is we don't have any real knowledge of any actual analog of consciousness in the physical world. The vehemence of that emotional reaction leads me to conclude that it's got motives apart from the mere defense of a scientific position, which the "hard wired" one really isn't. At its foundations and throughout its use, it's an assertion of dogmatic materialism. The ideological support of ideological materialism is nowhere as obvious in science as in those would-be sciences that deal with behavior and consciousness. This has led them, time and time again, to invent a simulation of evidence out of an assertion of materialist ideology, at times using scientific theories as a Trojan horse. Most seriously misused of those theories is natural selection. I will be focusing on that in a subsequent post.

Feminism, daily and inevitably, confronts entrenched ways of thought based in the selective and self-interested view of reality on behalf of men, obviously there but almost entirely unacknowledged. Most of it happens on the same, barely thought, level that "everyone knows we are hard wired" holds in our lives.

That ur-level view defines women as being less than and other than men and that, by nature, men are the default form of humanity, if not all of life which has gender. The denial of that orthodoxy causes an extremely emotional reaction which will grasp at any straw to deny women their person hood, their intellectual integrity, their most sacred rights as a human being. And what is thought and said about and done to women can be done to any other group of people whose intrinsic rights are ignored or denied. It is what allows the obnoxious banter of the "Market Place Report" about matters that dole out death to the many and even the biosphere to be so horrifically peppy.

Taking in a panoramic view of the reductionist ideology in scientific (and in a related way, non-scientific) thought and their resultant declarations, what that ideology frequently says about women is, I believe, intrinsically related to the idea that we are machines made of meat, meat which happens to come in two varieties, based in gender. The assertion is that women are "hard wired" differently than the way men are. Instead of being a light that illuminates an infinitely more complex reality of human beings it reduces us to a lower status than is ours by right. That reduction is an opaque cover for an ideology that reduces everything to the status of inert matter. And it reduces some more than others.

I believe the way out of that is to admit the unknowability of our consciousness, about what we really are. I believe the way out of that is to fearlessly assert that we are more than objects, that we are all more than objects with a higher status than the merely physical world our limited reason defines. We are undefinable and ineffable and our experience and human history shows us more than physics or mathematics or any other science is competent to tell us what the results of our collective, experienced life mean. History proves that the results of reducing any or all people to the same category of objects leads to them being considered in terms of commerce and use and exploitation. We must demand that people be treated better than that and there is no scientific method that can find the basis of that assertion. Our human experience can't make the connection between the subatomic structure of matter and our total experience of human beings living in a community and on the Earth. We have to find the basis of a decent life elsewhere.

The level of our conscious experience is not negligible or ignorable. The convenient and professionally and ideologically opportunistic reduction of it doesn't change that it is the real, effective higher level of existence that we actually live is that by which everything we know of the lower levels of matter is known. All of that is known only by an analogy and extension of our earliest, inarticulate, conscious experience, it literally can't escape that dependence on the humblest and simplest facts of that experience. All things we talk about are only inferential, in all their impressiveness.

* Habitat is, in a fundamental way, created by the organism, the organism creates the habitat. But I won't go into that today.

Note, also, that as far as we conceive of them being removed from us and our experience, a bacterium shares a lot with us, living on the same planet, having a physical existence in the same way we do. Any attempt to conceive of a conscious life even farther removed from that would completely exhaust our attempts at imagination.

Post script. Reading this over again, I realized it was the first part of something longer I've been thinking about for a long time. I can't tell you when the next installment will be forthcoming but I will link to this when it's posted.

Without Equality Sexual Revolution Only Leads Further Into Oppression

Imagine you have a gay son. Of course some of you won't have to imagine that because you have a gay son, or, perhaps, a son who is gay and hasn't come out. Imagine your gay son is a teenager or young adult. Immediately, you know that it is very likely that your gay son is going to have sex with other gay men, if not when he's a teenager, when he's an adult. You know about AIDS and HIV, you know that it is spread through unprotected anal sex and you might know that anal sex is among the most common* sexual practices among gay men today. If you are aware of what is known about the transmission of HIV you certainly would want to encourage your son to not engage in unprotected anal sex and, if you are brave enough, you might at least make certain that he is aware of what he needs to know to lessen his chances of becoming infected. That's not easy, even for a gay uncle who is all too well aware of what AIDS is. I know this from personal experience. I would imagine it's harder for most straight parents.

One of the most important realizations about the AIDS epidemic in gay men in the 1980s and 90s was that it was largely a product of the legal oppression of gay men. Gay men hadn't been allowed to marry, they were forced to remain hidden to escape discrimination and violence. That situation prevented many gay men from forming intimate sexual relationships that were ongoing, though some did manage to have them. It also led to the phenomenon of known cruising spots where you could find other men who would have sex with you, strangers who would have sex anonymously and who you might never see again. Those places were everywhere, there were guides published of where to find anonymous sex even in the most surprising rural locations.

Even before AIDS, the practice of casual sex with strangers led to very high rates of venereal diseases among gay men including hepatitis, I remember hearing one gay man assert that having hepatitis was something of a right of passage for gay men. That hepatitis is a seriously dangerous illness, that often leads to cancer of the liver, wasn't taken seriously by a lot of gay men and most other STDs were thought of as being a minor inconvenience. Again, there were and are gay men who don't engage in casual sex with strangers, there are many.

With the identification of AIDS , even before the virus was identified, lessening the impact of the practice of anonymous sex among gay men led to the temporary decrease in new HIV infections, but only after a massive effort to change habits. And that effort was met with strong objection, especially on the part of some of the theorists of gay politics of the 70s. Anything that discouraged gay men from having casual sex with whomever, in whatever way was declared by these thinkers to be internalized oppression. They held that the liberation of sex from love was a major achievement of the gay revolution they imagined they were the bulwark of. They rejected the public health campaign that encouraged condom use and taking measure to protect gay men from the virus, in the early days of the crisis, in the most strident terms. Apparently something called “sex” was, they imagined, separable from the people who participated in it. Which goes as great thinking in some quarters.

When Gloria Steinem said “The sexual revolution was not our war,” it was a brilliant insight. The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s were mostly for the benefit of straight men, Hugh Hefner's adolescent fantasy life becoming generally available. Without equality, without both political and social equality and the rights that equality is made of, just being able to have sex without social and legal repercussions is bound to result in an extension of oppression. That has been the case extending into history when men were almost always free to rape slaves with impunity, with the approval, explicit or implied, of the law and general society**. I assert that it was also not the revolution that gay men needed either.

The dynamics of freeing sex in a culture of inequality is somewhat harder to see in gay men because even gay men aren't oppressed in the same way and to the extent that women are. But there are inequalities within gay relationships, sometimes economic, sometimes based on differences in intelligence and experience, quite often based on relative psychological vulnerabilities and not infrequently on the basis of differences in physical strength. The variations within any identified group are enough to make any general assertions about the members of that group, increasingly inaccurate.

Some people have noted that the AIDS crisis organized gay men as nothing else ever had. After the idiocy of the fashionable political cant of the 70s was overcome, to some extent, gay communities organized to try to change behavior and stop the transmission of the virus. And that was pretty successful until the idiotic assertion that “AIDS is over” was declared with the availability of drugs to suppress the virus in those who already had it. Though that was a lie, there are about 40,000 new infections in the United States every year, the drugs have major and serious side effects and are expensive and there is no guarantee that the virus won't continue to generate resistant forms that could be even more devastating than the original strains were.

And, as you know, women are infected with HIV through vaginal sex as well as through anal sex by men who are infected. Straight men are often infected through anonymous sex with women or men just as gay men are. I suspect that for many women, who have grown up with the idea that AIDS is primary a problem for gay men are at the stage gay men were in the early days before the syndrome even had a name.

Of course this is all by way of explanation for my comments on the accusations made about Julian Assange. Being a witness to the deaths of dozens of gay men I knew, knowing that just about all of them with a few exceptions, likely were infected through casual sex with someone they didn't know, knowing that women can be infected by men, all of that informs my thinking on whether or not people should be having casual sex with people they don't know in 2011. And the fact is they shouldn't. Women deserve better than they're going to get from men under those circumstances, men who have sex with men deserve better than they get from it. There is nothing liberated about being infected with HIV or hepatitis or chlamydia or any number of other infections that can injure and kill you. Having sex with someone who can persuade you to engage in sex you don't want or who can trick or force you into it is the opposite of free choice. No more than getting robbed by a conman. And there is no law you can make that will protect you from any of that which is stronger than protecting yourself. And there is nothing that is more likely to protect you than knowing who it is you're agreeing to have sex with.

Imagine that these women had sex with a man who was infected with HIV and he was enough of a con artist to convince them to engage in sex without a condom. I would find it hard to believe anyone who doesn't realize that is possible for many if not most women or gay men, especially if they are young and inexperienced. There is no law that is going to protect you from a good con man who is already in your house or in your bed.

I have nieces who I love as well as if they were my daughters, I have nephews who I feel the same way about. I don't want them to have sex with people they don't know because it is dangerous and it leads to a general cheapening of relationships and a decreased respect for other people. I don't want them to grow up feeling coerced into having dangerous and casual sex with people who they have no reason to believe will care about them and have any regard for their well being. The sexual revolution wasn't the right war. The one for equality is. Equality is the supreme political value, with it comes all other rights. Equality is valued less that liberty precisely because it comes with personal obligations to treat other people as you would want to be treated, and more so if you don't think you deserve to be treated well. Only within a culture of the personal restraints required by equality would it be safe to assume that you could engage in casual sex with strangers safely. And even within that, other, culture and with those unavailable assumptions, it would still be risky enough to be unwise if not irresponsible.

* There is a lot of evidence that anal sex wasn't the predominant form of sex among gay men in the United States until the 1970s. There is a large percentage of gay men who don't practice anal sex even today, due to personal preference and in response to HIV. Personally, I didn't and don't and am disgusted at the coercion that gay men often experienced to engage in it has, apparently, become acceptable among young straight people.

** Hagar's treatment in Genesis is pretty standard treatment for slaves. In the story Sarah even suggested it to Abraham as a means of having a son. But the idea that she might have sex with a slave, if it was Abraham who was infertile, doesn't seem to have been seen as an option.

Note: You might want to read this more recent discussion between Gloria Steinem and Suheir Hammad which discusses some of these issues.

Originally posted January 1, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blaming The Victim (part 2)

Part 1

The accusation most easily disproved of those made last weekend is the constant refrain I "blamed the victim". That would be that I somehow blamed Sugar Ray Leonard for being abused . The proof against that is, I simply didn't.

Looking at what I said in both posts, in light of that, specific, accusation, it is entirely baseless. I didn't say anything that even approaches that by mistake.

The only thing I faulted Leonard for is his refusal to name the man he was accusing in order that others wouldn't be victimized by suspicion. As I pointed out, it was something I also had said when Scott Brown said that he had been abused, only no one ever to objected when I said that. Other than that, I mentioned that he had admitted to hitting his first wife something which was in the record from their divorce.

In nothing else is the thick blanket of attributed meanings and intentions so obviously seen to not be there. The people who saw "victim blaming" in what I said were putting that into what I wrote, something that wasn't there . That might have something to do with their thinking, it has nothing to do with what I said.

I will, though, be writing about victims of false accusations in the future, the Amirault family, the Fells Acre hysteria victims, and others. My experience of the past week has shown me those cases need to be reviewed because they can happen again.