Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween: ghoulish, yes, but what do we have to fear? Nothing

The sun has now set on Halloween 2009. This means it is time to
be afraid . . .
Be VERY afraid!!!

Yet, in reality, what do we have to be afraid of? In reality – absolutely nothing. How can this be?

Do we need to fear the past? Unless you are a casual criminal with a conscience that frets about past actions, it is illogical to fear the past. Why? That which is past continues to trouble your mind only if you allow it. Some years ago I developed an analogy that helped me begin recovering from my own past. Briefly, I visualized past memories as cups of colored water, which I then poured off the east side of the Golden Gate Bridge. As soon as they were dumped, I moved to the west side of the bridge, to spot them in the bay water flowing out into the pacific.

Guess what? By the time their water had merged with the greater stream of water flowing under the bridge, their color had disappeared so that the added water was indistinguishable from the main stream. In other words, they effectively no longer existed, so they no longer needed to bother me. To me, this adds meaning to the old saw about “water under the bridge.”

Do we need to fear the present? As long as Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now provides a guiding influence to one’s life, fear will not enter the picture because, in each now we only take on that which we can easily handle. Everything else is left for a future now when we will again have the tools, strength and insight we will need.

Carefully controlling exposure to mainstream media, whether print, electronic or Internet, helps control or eliminate fear. Sadly, mainstream media (and Fox News in particular) is increasingly political agenda and profit-driven. This is increasingly leaving them beholden to the needs and opinions of their corporate advertisers. As a result, news reports and opinions that might be seen as critical of their advertisers are suppressed.

As long as net neutrality exists, so that the Internet is openly accessible by everyone without governmentally-imposed restrictions, there will be a variety of alternative news sources on the net. The challenge becomes that of identifying the websites that feel “right” to you, then hanging on to them. I have found several, including The Huffington Post and that I endorse.

At the same time, for me, the Buddha’s teaching “all is impermanent” significantly blocks fear of the present. Whenever something crops up that my mind is unsure whether it can handle it or not, this teaching defuses the inner tension by reminding me that the uncertainty will not last indefinitely. Since making this teaching an essential part of my being, quite a bit of fear and anxiety have been defused by recalling it to my conscious mind.

Do we need to fear the future? Humanly, not fearing the future is far from easy, because of this fear’s roots in the fear of the unknown. This primal fear may have developed in humankind at the time of the fall from the Garden of Eden. The challenge faced in rising above fearing the future is in developing the discernment needed to recognize future events that are worthy of fear and those that are not.

Once again, Eckhart Tolle’s teachings help with this discernment’s development. By focusing on living only in a segment of the Now that supplies manageable bits of life to be dealt with, the future largely takes care of itself. The fact is that virtually everything the human mind fears about the future either turns out to be far more trivial than the mind envisioned, or never comes to pass. As to the rest, living only in the Now guarantees that when those events (or things) arrive, they will be at least relatively easy to deal with.

The power of the Law of Attraction also is useful in dispelling fears of the future. Instead of focusing thought energy on what might go wrong in the future, focus it on what can go right. This increases the likelihood that future events will be much more positive than negative. As those who teach this law stress, “what you think about the most, manifests the most.” Focus on that which you fear, and that is what the future will present to you. Focus on that which you will be able to handle, and that is what you will encounter in future Nows.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is finally law

Earlier this afternoon, in a well attended White House ceremony, President Barack Obama signed the Defense Authorization bill into law. Included as an attachment to this bill is The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. With President Obama’s historic signature on the larger bill, the first Federal law to explicitly extend protections to all transsexuals is now law.

I agree with National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling’s observation that this is a powerful day as the United States government, for the first time, stands up and declares that violence against transgender people is wrong and will not be tolerated in our country," Many people who are unfamiliar with the transgender community and its social milieu cannot fully grasp the palpable fear too many community members must live with on a daily basis. This fear starts with the fear of becoming a violent crime victim because of who they are. It them extends to the all-too-real risk of extended periods of unemployment and forced homelessness, again because of who they are. This law will make adequate prosecution of violent criminal acts committed because of “how they pray, who they love or who they are” as President Obama observed before signing the bill into law.

One point cannot be stressed enough: this hate crimes law extension addresses violent criminal acts exclusively. It does not render illegal acts of hate speech. So the claims from the deluded right that this law erodes (or repeals) both freedom of speech and freedom of religion by restricting what can be said from the pulpit are flat out wrong.

I continue to struggle with understanding how those who identify themselves as Christians can condone deliberate acts of violence against their fellow man. I grew up in a Christian family, have embraced the Faith in the past, and have read the Bible many times. The impression I have always had is that Christianity is a faith deeply rooted in love and tolerance. This is best seen in Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In all of the years of meditatively reading the New Testament, I have never seen any list of allowable exemptions from this commandment. So where is all of this Christian Right hatred coming from?

As the NCTE e-mail announcing this law’s signing stresses, the new law adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to existing law. With specific regard to the transsexuals, the new law:
will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it;
will help provide federal expertise and resources when they are needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement; and
will help educate the public that violence against anyone, including transgender people, is unacceptable and illegal.
All of these aspects of the law are positive steps forward for the transgender community, as well as the larger GLBT and disabled communities.

Joe Solomonese of the Human Rights Campaign also has issued an e-mail celebrating this historic milestone. He points out that this milestone has been reached only as a result of constant efforts over the last decade by literally countless concerned citizens. These efforts have been spearheaded by Matthew Shepard’s parents, who were able to attend the signing ceremony. In his opening remarks, President Obama recognized their efforts and stated that during an earlier meeting with them in the Oval Office he “promised them that this day would come.”

Now that Federal law finally protects the GLBT community instead of supporting various forms of discrimination, the real work needs to begin. Next up are the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bars employment-related discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Bills that would bring this protection into begin have been introduced in the House of Representatives. Only through concerted grass-roots lobbying by those of us who support it will it have any chance of becoming law.

But ENDA isn’t the only pressing issue on Congress’ plate. Equally important are repeal of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA) that may have made sense at one time, but increasingly has grown into an irritating relic of a less enlightened era. Likewise the Military’s ill-advised “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that effectively closes off military service to the entire GLBT community needs to be repealed sooner rather than later.

So, while tonight is a time for celebrating today’s historic accomplishment, in reality the work is just beginning.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Unrecognized American Epidemic: Animal Cruelty, Part II -- Do domesticated animals have souls?

Hovering in the background of any discussion of animal cruelty is the question about animals and eternal souls. Conventional Christian wisdom holds that they do not, that the presence of an in-dwelling eternal soul is what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Perhaps, however, I am not entirely convinced about this. The innate ability of certain, but not all, animals – dogs and cats in particular – to become companions for humans, and to largely need humans for survival gives me pause.

If the possibility of some animals possessing an innate eternal soul did not exist, then how could specific species of animals become domesticated over a period of time? This question is particularly pertinent for canines and felines (i.e. dogs and cats). Wouldn’t all animals remain wild and inherently unsafe for humans to be around, like lions, hippopotamuses, etc are today? Yet through the years there have been many reports of family pet dogs, cats, horses, even other animals enriching or saving people’s lives in one way or another.

I have heard people opine that a dog who alerts family members to the presence of a fire in the family home thus getting everyone outside in time is merely seeking to be let out for itself. In other words that it is incapable of any form of altruistic thinking or behavior. I disagree. If dogs lack the capacity for altruistic thinking, then how are seeing eye and hearing ear dogs explained?

I have heard many people express the view that animals have no concept of death and are incapable of feeling emotion, hence have no feelings. Plus, since they cannot understand human language, it is perfectly ok to make snide, cutting remarks about them in their presence. Again, I disagree, and for the same reason. I have seen contradictory behavioral evidence with my own eyes.

When I was a child my family’s life was greatly enriched by Tiger, a purebred male seal point siamese cat that we acquired as a very young kitten. Because the breeder also had a couple of very friendly, outgoing dogs, Tiger lacked the typical feline inability to coexist with dogs. Our net door neighbors had both a poodle named Kukla and an older female siamese cat. It did not take very long for Tiger and Kukla to become very good friends. When Kukla passed away Tiger very clearly went through his own mourning process. It is true that cats lack tear glands so they really can’t shed tears the way humans can, but all other outward signs of being in mourning can be expressed by cats.

Another piece of evidence in favor of some animals having souls lies in their ability to both give and feel love. For people struggling to overcome some mental illnesses – depression, in particular – therapy cats frequently provide the companionship and affection (not to mention attention) the person needs. By providing the person with the same benefits yielded by psychoactive medications, a therapy cat is significantly healthier for the patient.

There are numerous reports over time of dogs or cats becoming separated from their families during long-distance moves. The families, naturally, assume that they will never again see their beloved pet (since pets, presumably, can’t read change of address cards), so they begin to mourn the loss. Then, after a variable period of time, the missing pet turns up at their new doorstep ready for a very long nap. If animals lack the capacity for an eternal soul, then how is this behavior explained? More pertinently, how do the animals find the correct address?

To shift gears slightly, for many years I have been skeptical of the contention that cats have no souls. For one thing, a middle ages Pope drew on his own feelings about cats (he clearly hated them) and denounced them as the spawn of the devil. While this seemingly was rooted in black cats being linked with witchcraft and with this claim that ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, his denunciation has never made sense to me. In particular, the long-running claim that ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, based only on the discovery of numerous pictographs of cats in Egyptian temples, has never been confirmed through other uncovered records, to the best of my knowledge.

For another thing, on many afternoons (or mornings) when sunlight is streaming through the windows I have observed many (mostly) younger cats contentedly (and intensely) watching something moving around in mid air, something only they can see. Whatever this entity is, its presence clearly is a source of great joy for them. If these occurrences aren’t spiritual in nature, what are they?

I am no theologian, and am largely estranged from Christianity, so I will leave the debate over what the Christian Bible says about animal souls to those more knowledgeable about such matters. In 2007 Gary Kurz wrote a brief, very informative and well-reasoned article on this issue titled The Souls of Animals. There may be some Christian Fundamentalists who disagree with his conclusions. However, his analysis does make a lot a sense to me.

Additional insightful points are made by Stacy Mantle in an essay posted at's Veterinary Medicine section entitled Do Animals Have Souls? Her points bear repeating: animals simply do not treat humans the way humans mistreat animals. I have never heard of a cat drenching a human with a flammable liquid, then striking a match. I have never read any accounts of dogs locking their human companions in their back yard without adequate food, water or shelter, then moving. Nor have I ever heard of a dog putting two humans in a ring where they are allowed to fight until one is too injured to continue, or is dead.

In reflecting on the importance of animals to humans, I find myself wondering. Would God create this ability to form loving bonds with animals if they did not possess souls? In light of this, shouldn’t abusive treatment of animals be seen as morally wrong as abusing either young children or vulnerable adults? If people can accept that murder of other humans is morally wrong, then why can’t they accept that the deliberate killing of ferrets, dogs, cats and other companionate animals is also morally wrong?

Finally, Congress Got it right: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is headed for the President’s Desk

Yesterday (October 22), the U S Senate passed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Once it is signed by President Obama, it will become the first Federal law to explicitly include all GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered) individuals inside the protective umbrella of federal law. This represents a sharp reversal from earlier Federal legislation that explicitly excluded the transgendered from its provisions.

Specifically, in the 1990's, when Congress codified the military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, it legitimized the practice of barring all GLBT individuals from military service. When Congress enacted the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, the legislation explicitly excluded transsexuals from its protective provisions. None of the federal laws addressing either employment or housing discrimination provide protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA, for short) excludes same-sex couples from federal protections and benefits. Many states use this law to justify legally declining to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in another state.

This new law adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to Federal hate (or bias motivated) crimes protection. In addition, local authorities who are unable or unwilling to deal with hate crimes will now be allowed to seek federal assistance. On this point, this new law represents a valuable step forward because there are many law enforcement departments that simply lack either the resources or the expertise to properly deal with crimes of this nature. More troubling are the Prosecuting Attorneys who decline to add hate crime charges to crimes that meet the definition. Perhaps that situation will now improve.

One point needs to be emphasized. Unlike claims still being made by right wing authors and commentators, this new law does not address hate speech. Thus, it does not muzzle deeply conservative churches who have divorced themselves from bedrock Christianity. Its provisions apply only when an individual is physically attacked because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability.

Thus, it will still be legal to write and talk about hate-driven topics, so right-wing radio and television talk shows are free to continue their spew of verbal diarrhea uninterrupted. However, it will now be legally not ok to physically act out on that warped rhetoric.

This is as it should be, and I applaud Congress for showing this rare use of statutory restraint. Some radical group likely will try to challenge this new law on First Amendment grounds. By explicitly excluding all forms of speech from its provisions, passing constitutional muster in the courts should be more easily achieved.

It will be interesting to observe the response to this law here in Idaho. Idaho law does recognize freedom from discrimination as a civil right. However, this recognition excludes discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. I suspect its impact in this state will be minimal for quite a while.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Unrecognized American Epidemic: Animal Cruelty, Part I: Why the ASPCA’s mission grows more urgent on a daily basis

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we have moved from summer into fall, in preparation for winter’s inevitable onset. More and more prevalent in the media are stories about this year’s H1N1 swine flue season and its impact on various population components. This, however, is not about this potential epidemic. Rather, it is about a much longer-running American epidemic whose effects are more insidious, and in the long-run more deadly. This is the epidemic of acts of animal cruelty in all 50 states.

This issue came back into my attention this week via an e-mail from the valuable activism organization, In this e-mail they told all I needed to know about the latest outrage that surfaced in the news this past Tuesday. The horror tale broke my heart, and has left me feeling sad ever since. In the e-mail, the lead drew on a news story that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News about a six week old brown tabby kitten dubbed “Cuddles.”

In the Philadelphia suburb of Chester last week, a group of men attacked the kitten, first by stoning it, then by pouring lighter fluid on it, and igniting it. Cuddles’ screams of agony drew the attention of Animal Control officers, who tried to rescue her.

When one of the Animal Control officers picked her up, and tried to hug him. In the midst of her unimaginable agony, she recognized a difference between the men who tormented her, and the heroes who tried to save her. All she wanted was a little love, a little friendly attention. For that she was tortured . . . and lost her life.

This is not the first incidence of animal cruelty in the Philadelphia area this year. Philadelphia is no worse (or no better) than any other part of the country. Nor is its urban nature necessarily making it more abusive toward animals. Rural parts of the country, on a per capita basis, are even more abusive toward animals, especially when the abusive practices of the livestock, poultry and swine industries are factored in.

A number of years ago the jack rabbit population in eastern Idaho mushroomed to problematical levers. During the winter the rabbits angered and frustrated ranchers by eating the winter forage their cattle herds partially depended on for food. Then, after stripping the land of forage, the rabbits literally moved into haystacks, further depleting winter food stocks intended for their livestock.

After considering a variety of responses, some rather expensive, the ranchers and state officials came up with a cheap solution, dubbed Rabbit Baseball. On a specified Saturday, everyone (teenagers and children as well) interested in participating gathered in a staging area and then set out across the desert to club to death as many rabbits as they could using whatever weapon at their disposal. Some participants actually did try to play rudimentary games of baseball, using (presumably) dazed, but still alive rabbits in place of baseballs. All of these actions occurred with the approval of the State of Idaho.

As a nation, why should we care about animal cruelty? After all, some would argue, animals aren’t human because they don’t have eternal souls. When they die, that’s it for them, unlike us. Not so fast.

One very pertinent reason for caring is the clear link between childhood animal cruelty for personal enjoyment and later homicidal behavior toward human beings. Indeed, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer all tortured or killed animals as children. Dahmer, as an example, moved from dismembering animals as a child to dismembering humans as an adult.

While it is true that many childhood animal abusers do not go on to become serials killers, still this behavior needs to be recognized as a warning of deeper psychological problems in the youth. In 2002 the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law reported that "A history of animal cruelty during childhood was significantly associated with APD [Antisocial Personality Disorder], antisocial personality traits, and polysubstance abuse. Mental retardation, psychotic disorders, and alcohol abuse showed no such association." (J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 30:257?65, 2002)

The United States is known worldwide for its extremely high violence levels in society. Including deaths from all causes, at least 30,000 people die from firearm wounds. Thus, in two years firearms kill more people in the US than died during the entire twelve year Vietnam War. This is simply unacceptable and should be seen as unsustainable if American civilization is to survive over the long term.

Mahatma Ghandi made the connection virtually every American ignores: "the greatness of a nation, and its moral progress is measured by the way its animals are treated." When viewed through this examining lens, it Is easy to see that the United States clearly is deficient in terms of its moral growth and maturation. All too often how adults treat animals mirrors how they treat children and vulnerable adults. Given that animals (especially dogs) are described as having the intelligence level of a very young child, this connection does make sense. Besides, just as young children are vulnerable, incapable of adult understanding and reasoning hence need the protection of adults, so too do domesticated animals.

With animal cruelty already at epidemic levels in the United States, and on the rise in terms of frequency of incidents occurring, should we be worried? Absolutely. There is no reliable way (that I am aware of) to determine the number of criminal acts against humans that are first practiced, and perfected, on animals. However, it is a slippery, rather steep slope between abusing an animal, abusing a child, and abusing other adults. Similarly, the slope is steep between believing it is ok to kill “dumb” animals because they aren’t behaving in the “right” way and believing it is ok to kill “dumb” humans because they aren’t conforming to the “right” expectations.

It is time for those Americans capable of caring about anything other than their own back account balance and forcing their code of morality on everyone else to step up, speak up and demand significant improvements in three things. First, state and local animal cruelty laws need to be strengthened through tougher penalties that carry real consequences. Second, the ability of local prosecutors to routinely reduce felony violations to essentially meaningless misdemeanors needs to be barred by new statutory stipulations. Third, in most areas of the country, local law enforcement needs to be encouraged to make animal cruelty investigations a priority, not a “when we catch up on other cases, then, maybe . . .” issue. These changes will happen only when the caring citizenry bands together and demand these changes.

At the same time, worthwhile groups need to be better supported (in terms of both membership and financial contributions) so they, too, can be more active in bringing about these changes. Chief among these worthwhile organizations is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA. This organization, which I am embarrassed to admit I am not yet involved with (but will be – soon) works tirelessly for the protection and compassionate treatment of all animals.

In more enlightened parts of the country (New York City in particular), in conjunction with their local animal shelter operation, ASPCA investigators are sworn law enforcement officers as well, and are authorized to arrest animal abusers on their own. This empowerment needs to spread nationwide. Over time this empowerment can spread to other parts of the country, but only as states modernize their laws and more concerned citizens support both the idea and the organization behind it.

One concluding question to be pondered: is there any real difference between a group of teenagers clubbing an innocent, loving animal to death and a similar group beating Gwen Araujo to death (because “no one would be that stupid”)? Is there any real difference between a guy clubbing a sweet, loving cat to death in order to “prove his virility” and a guy beating his talented, beautiful transsexual girlfriend senseless, then leaving her to die alone in order to “save face with his buds” as happened to Angie Zapata in 2008?

In Part II of this post, I will examine this issue of animal cruelty from a different angle by addressing the question of whether some animals have inner spirits (or souls) or not.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Asexuality: What Is It?

Nicole Prause and Cynthia Graham conducted a research project a few years ago seeking to develop a reliable means of classifying asexuality in humans. Their research methodology, results and conclusion appeared in their article Asexuality: Classification and Clarification, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Research (2007) 36:341-356. For readers interested in consulting this article but who lack access to a library that subscribes to it, it can be accessed through the ProQuest Central periodicals database as a PDF file. Your local Public Library should have information on accessing the ProQuest databases.

This article acknowledges a significant problem that needs to be addressed by academia: the extant published research literature on asexuality is scant. Prause and Graham accurately describe the situation in their conclusion, where they refer to the “paucity of research concerning asexuality.” As a result, reliably accurate information on asexuality is difficult to find. Why is this so?

Well, for openers, asexuals are invisible within the general society within which they live. One generally accepted estimate places the proportion of asexuals as about 1% of the total population. Social science research dollars rarely are spent on studies focusing on populations that are this small. Thus few people outside the asexual community know very much about it, which strikes me as unfortunate and sad.

At the outset, the question asked in this post’s title needs to be addressed. One problem with developing a description of asexuality is that there is no one commonly accepted definition of the term. To some, it describes a total lack of interest in, or desire for, sexual relations with another human being. To others, it describes a lack of pleasure in sex, or a lack of a feeling of enjoyment in sexual relations. This is where it becomes confusing and, frankly, murky.

Is asexuality the same as celibacy? No, because celibacy is a conscious decision to completely abstain from sex, often for religious reasons. Asexuality, on the other hand, is more a subconscious behavioral trait. Even that comparative description leaves a lot to be desired because of the wide variation in human beings.

So if asexuality is so difficult to define or wrap one’s mind around, what, exactly, does the term say about a person who so identifies? Some would say that the person is admitting that she is an abnormal freak, and undoubtedly using it to deny their underlying homosexuality. This view is simply wrong because there is no connection between the two orientations.

Others, perhaps most others, would respond along the lines of “huh? What?”

At this point I wish to move from taking a stab a developing a clinical-sounding description to embedding a personal essay in this post. Bear with me for the two are intimately connected. This topic is of definite interest to me for I, myself, am asexual. No, I am not embarrassed, or ashamed, to admit it.

For me, being asexual feels blissful because it takes all of the pressure off of my life that sexuals (i.e. non-asexuals) feel. When I am cruising around my local grocery store, for example, I notice that other shoppers – especially those younger than middle age – tend to focus primarily on the other shoppers while obsessing about buying the “right” foods. By not feeling that constant need to “score” I am free to stretch my food budget as far as possible by focusing on sales and other favorable priced alternatives. By not feeling pressured to focus on the other shoppers AND the shopping, like most shoppers, it looks to me like I experience grocery shopping as far less stressful than others.

At a more subtle level, asexuality is advantageous in another direction. To make a long autobiographical story short, my desire for bringing the next generation into the world has always been nonexistent. Running through the generations on both sides of my family tree are a number of hereditary conditions, some mild, others potentially life threatening. I developed the perspective years ago that the best legacy I could leave for future generations is to not have kids, thereby allowing my weak portion of the human genome to die out. By being asexual, this barrenness does not bother me at all. Instead, to me, it is a relief.

A valid question is: how far back in my life can my asexuality be traced? Surprisingly far. It is possible that my asexuality has been with me since puberty, or possibly a little after. In high school I noticed that the sexual innuendo and jokes quite commonly floating around the student body (not to mention the constant flirting) actually disgusted me. Did I feel driven to try to “score” at least once during high school? No, it simply never occurred to me.

In college, I lived in a co-ed dorm for the last five regular semesters of my stay. Good ‘ol Morrison Hall was built in the early 1950's. its residents were arranged in 8 person suites, with six of us living in single rooms. Around campus we had a reputation as “oh, that dorm. We’re not too sure about them.” Anyway, the entire time I lived there I never once felt the desire to “do it.” At the time I chalked this up to the problems from within my family I was perpetually wrestling with, but now, I wonder. Do I regret never sleeping with anyone in college? Not at all.

This raises the pertinent question of causation. What precipitated the genesis of my asexuality? I cannot point to any one event as its trigger. In the minimal amount of scholarly research I have been able to unearth on asexuality, one probable cause that turns up is religiosity. It is true that my childhood environment was steeped in bedrock Christianity of a rather rigid style. In addition, my dad’s entire life was adversely affected by traumatic events from his childhood. These traumas left him with a negative attitude toward sex, even within the bonds of marriage. In retrospect, occasionally I wonder if he was actually asexual but couldn’t express it.

Now just a minute, I can hear some of you saying. First you say that an asexual is someone who sees sex as “just not important”. Then you speculate about your own father. Which is it? The answer is complex because some asexuals actually do engage in sexual relations. However, those who do usually do so because it is seen as expected of them. Put another way: they do it because they feel they have to do it, not because they necessarily want to.

There is one complicating aspect to my asexuality that I am omitting from this discussion because it is its own extended discussion, and it complicates the picture. This is my parallel transsexuality, which I was, in fact, born with.

At the outset of this post, I mentioned the dearth of scholarly research on asexuality. This is a hole that needs to be filled in, provided the research is balanced and open minded. In particularly, there appears to be no existing research on root causes of asexuality. In particular, I see early childhood influences and family religious activity as very pertinant areas to explore. Likewise, whether it is a permanent aspect of the person’s being, or whether it can be temporary, appears to have not been examined by researchers.

There are three questions that inevitably will come up, so I will conclude by addressing them here. First, are asexuals gay? Not necessarily. The two states of being independently assort, as do heterosexuality and asexuality. This means that there are multiple possible orientation combinations. (Thus asexuality shares this characteristic with transsexuality.)

Second, are asexuals transgendered? No, because the two conditions are completely unrelated. Transgender is strictly connected to one’s gender identity and does not directly address sexuality, sex drives or related aspects of being human. Asexuality refers only to one’s disinclination toward maintaining a strong sexual urge, and does not address matters of gender at all.

Third, are asexuals mentally ill? NO!!! It is generally asserted that some condition qualifies as a mental illness only if it causes the person distress or hinders normal daily function in some way. Since asexuals generally do not feel distressed by the condition, and it does not interfere with the person’s ability to hold down employment, maintain an apartment, keep their bills paid, etc, clearly it does not qualify as a mental illness.

Finally, are there any reliable sources of information about asexuality on the Internet? Fortunately, there are. Easily the best source of more information on asexuality is AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. I am a registered member of this site, and I have found it to be very helpful and loaded with accurate, useful information. For anyone looking for accurate information on asexuality (or, especially, anyone who is wondering about themselves), this is the best place to turn to. For those warped individuals who might be looking for an opportunity to troll for people to criticize, harass or threaten: do us all a favor and go elsewhere. Yes, AVEN has a very active forum posting community. However, these forums are moderated, and trolls are NOT welcome.
Lifetime’s Army Wives: Now that is how to conclude a season finale

I just finished watching the season finale of Army Wives on the Lifetime Television Network. Clearly there is going to be a fourth season, beginning next summer (presumably) to answer the questions posed by the finale’s hooks. What questions?

Did Lt. Col. Joan Burton survive an ambush on patrol in Iraq shortly after meeting with the local tribal sheik? (In her final scene, she is seen helping another soldier move a wounded member of her unit to safety. Then an insurgent fired a shoulder launched mortar round (I think – I’m no military munitions expert) at a nearby jeep, which explodes).

Did PFC Jeremy Sherwood (troubled son of Major Sherwood and his wife, Denise) commit suicide right when they returned home in the evening after attending Brig. General Holden’s promotion ceremony and following festivities?

Is Pamela’s marriage to Chase permanently over? (It’s clear that she does not understand the nature of Delta Force and its effect on its members. I don’t either, so I am clueless about the accuracy of this sub-lot.)

Will Roxy be able to keep the Hump Bar open now that it is in an off-base area that has been declared off limits to all soldiers for the next year. The reason? The night before a high-level staff meeting, Jeremy (who, at 19 was both drunk and under age) appeared to provoke a fight there, and broke the nose of the son of a local City Council woman. This while a three star general is visiting Fort Marshall.

Near the end of Season Three (this year), Fort Marshall’s commander, Brigadier General (and, at season’s end, Major General) learns that Fort Marshall is on the Pentagon’s short list for the next round of base closings within 18 months. Will Fort Marshall survive?

Season Three has been well populated with surprising plot twists and satisfying developments. Chief among the former was the single vehicle accident involving Denise and Claudia Joy (Claudia Joy was driving). Both were dinged up, but survived. During routine post accident blood work, the medical staff discovers that Claudia Joy is a type 2 diabetic. This is a valuable plot twist because it helps illustrate the all too often overlooked fact that it is possible to be in top physical condition, to be following a program of regular exercise and still be diabetic.

Perhaps the major satisfying development arose out of the almost completed divorce between Denise and Major Sherwood. Right at the last moment, he realizes that he is still deeply in love with her, and that they are about to make a terrible mistake. So he does not sign or file the final divorce papers, thereby saving their marriage. While home from Iraq to deal with this matter (and oversee a war game simulation at the base), General Holden seizes the opportunity and appoints him as the permanent replacement for Lt. Col. Burton, who is shipping out with her battalion to Iraq. Through the rest of Season Three, a softer, more well-rounded side to newly promoted Lt. Col. Sherwood emerges.

I’ll admit it – I have been hooked on Army Wives ever since I caught up to Season One on DVD courtesy of Netflix. Now begins my season of impatience – I can’t wait for next June to arrive, along with the premier of Season Four.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Obama is scheduled to speak to the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington, DC; here is what I wish he would say

Saturday evening, October 10, the largest GLBT advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, holds its annual black tie see and be seen dinner in Washington, DC. President Obama is scheduled to speak to those in attendance while a peaceful demonstration occurs outside. This time, however, the HRC is not the target of the protest. Rather, it is the Obama Administration’s lack of progress on improving gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the US.

As the Huffington Post excellently documents this week, this speech is being widely billed as “Obama’s big gay speech.” Many groups and individuals will be watching it closely to see just what he does say. Several Huffington Post bloggers have posted brief suggestions of what they would like the President to say. All of them contain very excellent suggestions. However, as near as I can tell, none of them are making suggestions from the perspective of one who is a member of the GLBT community.

In this blog, I join this chorus of “armchair speech writers” for the President. Here I write from the perspective of what I likely would write if I were fortunate enough to be one of the President’s speech writers. In light of Friday’s stunning announcement that President Obama is the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, these hypothetical remarks have been revised to reflect that status change (from President to President AND Nobel Laureate).

I wish to be a bit blunt tonight. There is no denying it: economically and socially the United States is in bad shape. The two cannot be separated. Sustainable economic recovery will occur only after significant improvement occurs in this country’s social conditions. As long as one group of American citizens cannot enjoy true freedom because of prejudice, then all Americans are victims of the same prejudicial attitudes and laws.

What improvement am I talking about? For openers, America’s churches and religious groups need to return to their New Testament roots. They need to return to focusing on their congregations spiritual needs to the exclusion of political activism. America’s employers, and corporations in particular, need to recognize the critical importance of the family to community life by abandoning the idea that an employee’s job is more important than her family or her God.

But the traditional definition of family needs to be brought into the 21st century. Two key changes are urgently needed. First, the traditional definition of a family needs to change to make it socially acceptable for couples to remain childless. Second, the definition of a family must expand to include two men or two women who choose to live together as a couple. Regardless of what extremist groups are saying, gay civil unions and marriages do not threaten the institution of marriage in any way.

In accord with these views, next week I will sign three Executive Orders. The first will suspend the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, pending its complete repeal by Congress before I give my 2010 State of The Union Address next year. The second will eliminate the military’s “Don’s Ask, Don’t Tell” policy thereby opening up military service as an option for all American citizens. The third will immediately extend full benefits to the domestic partners of Federal employees.

At the same time, beginning next week I will begin pushing Congress to finally pass two long overdue pieces of legislation. The first is the Matthew Shephard Act, also known as the Federal hate crimes law. The second is ENDA, or the Employment Nondiscrimination Act that outlaws employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This fall health care reform is very much in the news. Clearly, given the number of competing bills introduced in both houses of Congress, compromises will be needed to produce the final bill to emerge from Congress. I will not sign any health care reform bill that lacks a viable public option the states cannot opt out of, nor will I sign any bill that delays full implementation of its provisions beyond June 30, 2010. At the same time, I call on Congress to include provisions barring insurance carriers from denying benefits to any policy holder based on pre-existing conditions, sexual orientation or gender identity.

With these bills I have mentioned, much work remains to be done to secure their passage. As President, I can only do so much. The rest is up to you. Success never occurs in a vacuum. There is a lot of truth in the acronym formed from the word TEAM. It is true: together everyone achieves more. With the combined and coordinated talents at grassroots organizing represented by the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups, we will achieve significant, lasting change that benefits everyone.

In conclusion, prejudice is like a cancer that eats away at the social fabric of any nation. This is why Jimmy Valvano’s immortal plea in his final public appearance echoes through my thoughts tonight. Indeed, it is the plea I have for those who favor freedom and civil dialogue over extremist rants: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Oslo Surprise: President Barack Obama wins the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Early this morning, US time, an Oslo, Norway press conference announced President Barack Obama as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient. One report noted that the announcement was met with an audible gasp from the assembled members of the fourth estate.

When CBS News contacted the White House Press Secretary about the announcement, his sole comment was “wow.” Now that is the perfect White House response to breaking developments: short and definitive.

World-wide, the response to the news has been widely varied and immediate. Reports are that the widely held opinion on Twitter is that he won for not being George Bush. Perhaps there is an element of truth to that.

One frequent response, both domestically and abroad, is that the award is being bestowed prematurely, that it might have been better to wait a year or two (or more) to better judge the long-term results of his efforts and words. I am somewhat inclined to agree, given that he has yet to finish his first year in office and Afghanistan remains an unresolved political and military mess. One question that several have raised asks if this is Europe’s way of asking him to not commit more forces to the Afghanistan conflict. Those who ask this do have a point: is escalating a war that appears to have no exit strategy an action a Nobel Peace Laureate would do?

In Washington, D.C., U.S. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele naturally was dismissive of the honor. This puts him on the same page as Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman and Zabihullah Majahid, spokesman for the Taliban, speaking from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

Former US Vice President Al Gore, the 2007 peace prize recipient, feels it will take some time for him to assemble all of the pieces of his foreign policy together. This is where the prematurity of this award becomes the most easily seen. In light of his U.N. speech calling for an end to nuclear weapons and his decision against deploying a missile shield system in Eastern Europe, the US itself needs to be seen to be following his lofty words. The world will not even begin to be nuke free until the US is nuke free. As long as this country possesses even one nuclear warhead, the rest of the world cannot be asked to complete their nuclear disarmaments.

I do agree with 1983 Nobel Peace Laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa, whose response was "So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act."This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres. Let's give him time to act."

Unlike the Afghani Taliban, the Iraqi government welcomed the award. In Bagdad, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Sunni Muslim lawmaker, told Reuters: "Obama succeeded in making a real change in the policy of the United States -- a change from a policy that was exporting evil to the world to a policy exporting peace and stability to the world."

Similarly, Masdar Mas’udi, deputy head of Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization praised the award when he said "I think it's appropriate because he is the only American president who has reached out to us in peace. On the issues of race, religion, skin colour, he has an open attitude."

These positive Muslim reactions to the news are, in themselves, welcome signs. Clearly, more and more leaders are seeing a significant change in the face the United States is showing other countries. In this way, the Obama Administration is succeeding at its effort to distance itself from its predecessor. Indeed, I see Mr. Mas’udi’s remarks as a direct barb at former President Bush, whose attitude consistently seemed to be “if you’re Muslim, you’re a terrorist.”

Whether President Obama deserves this honor, and whether it is being awarded prematurely, are issues I do not feel qualified to definitively opine upon. Indeed, debate on this point will continue for possibly many months to come because the international situation will remain unsettled into 2010 and, most likely, beyond.

Undetermined at this point in time, but of definite concern to many, is the domestic fall out from this award. In all likelihood it will embolden the Conservative Republicans to resist his domestic agenda proposals with increased fervor. In particular, there is a chance that this honor could actually doom the public option in health care reform simply because the President favors it. I hope it doesn’t. However, American politics can be perverse in that way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Newly released US Federal Trade Commission rule affecting bloggers and celebrities makes sense

Earlier today the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a Press Release announcing new rules concerning advertising endorsements and testimonials. This new “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” updates the current version, last updated in 1980. Thus, when these Guides were last modernized, Cable TV was in its infancy, and the modern PC had not been invented yet. Thus, this update is badly overdue. This provides an interesting look at the ease with which American media spins virtually every story.

I first crossed paths with this story at a news aggregating and summarizing site called that I am a definite fan of. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a registered member of the Newser community. At the same time, I receive no compensation of any kind from them.

This news report can easily be spun to make it sound like the new rules only target those who provide “reviews” of any product on blogs, Facebook or Twitter. Those who fail to disclose their lack of independence could face a fine of $11,000. Starting from this conclusion it is easy for commentators to digress into rants about the big, bad US Government picking on the little guy.

However, an examination of the pending Federal Register announcement shows that these new rules are entirely fair, reasonable and place new accountability expectations on advertisers as well. As the real-world examples included in the new rules show, advertisers are the major focus of these new rules. One provision makes it clear that advertisers are equally responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules, and are liable for any false or misleading statements made by either consumer or celebrity endorsers. This last provision is, in my opinion, very badly needed.

There will be those who will whine about the “unfair repressiveness” of these new rules, and how they are undermining the independence of the Internet and other new media. Such a response is inaccurate. From my perspective, the ethical approach to any product commentary starts with a revelation of the extent of any relationship between the spokesperson and the business supplying the product or service. If no financial or other relationship between the blogger and business exists, I feel the spokesperson needs to make this clear as well.

Why do I feel this way? Through the years, I have observed that voluntary product comments are far more accurate and reliable than those that are paid for. In the latter cases, there is a definite pressure to say only positive things about the product (or service) under discussion. As an example, say a nationwide network of weight loss clinics pays a reasonably well known musician to promote their services. Naturally the musician’s public comments will closely follow the sample text provided by the clinics. Further, if the “before and after” photos of the musician don’t exactly match the images desired by the clinics, well, hey, there’s always Photoshop (or some other photo manipulation software.)

Voluntarily provided comments by those who actually use – and genuinely like -- the products they are endorsing tend to be much better. As an example, consider the currently running “Mac vs PC” ad campaign on US television. To me these ads lack a sense of being genuine, of being heavily slanted either in the direction of the Mac or the PC. A far more effective approach would be for an ad agency to seek out unsolicited testimonials by actual Mac and PC users, in which they compare experiences they have actually had. This latter approach would provide more useful “food for thought” insights for potential purchasers to benefit from.

As a more concrete (and more personal) example, consider the following. Airing as I write these lines is yet one more ad for Lipitor, one of the newer Statin drugs for lowering cholesterol. In it is this supposedly older gentleman extolling its virtues and going on at some length about the positive difference it has made in his life. Crestor follows a similar theme, like all Statins.

I take issue with these claims because they aren’t always true. In 2003 my physician prescribed Crestor for me because he felt my cholesterol was slightly elevated. The PDR write-up on it acknowledges severe muscle pain as a common reaction/side effect. What the manufacturer-supplied information failed to disclose (and all Direct to Consumer advertising continues to fail to disclose) is that Crestor can cause serious heart problems, potentially leading to premature heart attacks.

I found it necessary to discontinue taking the drug after less than a week on it. As I later told my physician, before Crestor came along, when the weather was decent and I was in the mood, I thought nothing of walking from downtown to my favorite store a couple of miles away (one way) just to go shopping, and then walk another two miles (or so) back home. After less than three days on the Crestor, I could not walk more than two blocks without having to stop to regenerate enough stamina to traverse the next two blocks. This stark change happened factually over night, and its after effects lasted for several years.

Thus, were I to formally “review” Crestor, that review would be both negative and scathing in tone because I would delve in depth into my own experience, while stressing that my reaction must not be considered to be typical of everyone who takes it. Rather the represent a cautionary tale worth taking into account. Obviously such brutal honesty is possible only when no underlying financial (or other) relationship exists.

I applaud this very well written update (it is available as a PDF document in a link to the Press Release at the FTC’s website). Now, I really wish the FTC would do something about restoring sanity (and reality) to automobile advertising.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Once again it is banned Books Week in the U.S.

For the 27th year, the American Library Association, in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association and others is sponsoring Banned Book Week activities and observances during the week of September 27 to October 3. The point to this week is to increase awareness of way too many attempts to either restrict the availability of books in libraries (or their inclusion in school curricula) or force their permanent removal from the shelves.

Many of these attempts are started by parents who are concerned about what reading materials their children have access to. On this point, the parents should not be criticized because part of successful parenting is instilling in the next generation the healthy values seemingly in short supply these days.

Activist parents, however, need to be faulted for their determination to impose their views on all of society. To me, this is where they shift from being good parents teaching healthy values and choices to their children to being bad parents in two ways. First, they are teaching their kids that it is ok to force their opinions down other people’s throats in order to bend society to their will. Instead of this, they should be using these opportunities to teach their kids how to engage in rational discourse with others. Instead of teaching civility, they are teaching the incivility we have too much of in society.

Second, instead of wasting time creating chaos with their attempts at restricting or banning books they don’t like, they could be investing the time appropriately by teaching their children how to recognize reading materials that are appropriate, and how to choose healthy, positive materials. Virtually all children are, by nature, inquisitive about the world around them. That is, after all, how they learn. So part of the role of parents is to shape this inquisitiveness while providing some direction to it.

In perusing the lists of books that have been challenged in past years, two impressions stand out to me. First, there are common themes used to justify banning/restricting activities. Invariably, the reasons given revolve around questionable language, inappropriate sexual actions or references, “anti-Christian” messages, or, increasingly, references to homosexuality, the homosexual lifestyle, or the occult. This leaves me wondering: just what kind of cocoon are parents trying to keep their children in?

Second, book challengers have not actually read the books they oppose. Rather, they have skimmed the books, looking for reasons to be offended by its text. This becomes obvious by the number of cited reasons that are taken completely out of context.

An excellent example of this “skimming to be offended” approach is provided by the American classic novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Frequently it is described as being too racist and coarse (because of the frequent use of the “n-word.” What is overlooked with regard to this novel is that it quite accurately portrays rural life in the states adjoining the Mississippi River in the years before the US Civil War. This all of its language needs to be placed in its historical context when deciding whether it is, or is not, a.cceptable. By extension, the various plot components need to be placed in their historical context as well. Only then can the degree of unacceptableness can be determined.

At the same time, there is one aspect of the entire book challenging process that those who mount the challenges seemingly overlook. By making a public issue of the suitability of a particular book for a given library, those who want it suppressed to one degree or another draw attention to it. This attention, in turn, can magnify public interest in the book, thereby putting the library in a difficult position.

Last year, for example the book The Joy of Sex was challenged by one of the appointed Public Library board members in a small city in southwest Idaho. His goal was to remove it from the circulating collection and place it behind the front check out counter so those who wished to check it out would have to ask for it in person. News of this effort naturally reached the general media, some of whom really pursued the story. As a result, the book’s popularity with patrons skyrocketed to the point that the book would stay checked out for many months. As news spread outside the area, the library began receiving Interlibrary Loan Requests from all over the state(and probably from neighboring states as well.) As a result, instead of the objectionable book quietly disappearing (the desired outcome), it rapidly became the most talked about book in town (an undesired outcome.)

While Banned Books Week focuses on books, I wonder when the list of movies challenged in various libraries will grow long enough to warrant a Banned Movies Week?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Memoriam: Rev. Forrest Church (1948 - 2009)

I learned of the passing away last week of the Rev. Forrest Church, senior minister to the All Souls congregation in New York City. He had faced the challenges of apparently inoperable esophageal cancer since 2006, when he was told he only had months to live. It appeared that he had undergone a successful operation for the cancer, however, the cancer returned two years later and spread to his liver and lungs. Finally, last week, cancer’s demon won and claimed him in his prime. He was 61.

One might wonder how a life-long Idaho resident could feel a sense of personal loss when a New York minister and author dies. However, when I read a very nice tribute piece on the Idaho Statesman website, the deeper into the story I read, the more freely the tears flowed. Even as I write this Blog Post, I feel myself trying to choke up.

There are some reasons for this visceral reaction. For one thing, in the 1970's I met Forrest on at least a couple of occasions while a campaign volunteer for his father, US Sen. Frank Church. He impressed me as very warm, caring and easy to converse with. Had I been living in the New York City area, I really feel I would have become a member of his congregation, in part because he was so down to earth, and in part the Unitarian Universalist Church is one whose values and beliefs I generally agree with.

But there is a more personal reason for feeling this loss. Like me, Forrest and his brother, Chase, are natives of Idaho’s capitol city, Boise. In the 1950's their pediatrician was my paternal grandfather.

The Idaho Statesman article cited a frequent comment of his that I feel really helps me, so it will live on within my life. “Do what you can, want what you have, and be who you are.” Simple. Eloquent. Empowering. Indeed, the embodiment of this perspective truly is universal.

My heart and compassion very definitely extend outward to his own family, his brother, Chase and his mother, Bethene. I also wish to extend my sincere condolences to the All Souls congregation as they seek to deal with their sense of loss.