Monday, March 31, 2008

Homophobes Aroused by Homoeroticism

From the Department of Unsurprising Findings.

The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.

Shocking. Next thing you know, they'll be telling us that people who think homosexuality is a choice are more likely to have homosexual feelings.

(Disclaimers: small sample size. Also, the set of people willing to submit to an experiment that measures change in penile circumference can not be a representative sample! Although if you are skeptical, go replay that clip of Haggard preaching before he got outed. Or go listen to two minutes of Michael Savage, who has not been outed, ranting about gays.)

Via Ed Brayton.

Update: I was curious, so I googled the "Index of Homophobia:"

This questionnaire is designed to measure the way you feel about working or association with homosexuals. This is not a test, so there are no wrong answers. Answer each item as carefully and accurately as you can by placing a number beside each one as follows:

1 (Strongly Agree)
2 (Agree)
3 (Neutral)
4 (Disagree)
5 (Strongly Disagree)

____ 1.) I would feel comfortable working closely with a gay man.
____ 2.) I would enjoy attending social functions at which queer people were present.
____ 3.) I would feel uncomfortable if I learned that my neighbor was queer.
____ 4.) If a member of my sex made a sexual advance towards me, I would
feel angry.
____ 5.) I would feel comfortable knowing I was attractive to members of my gender.
____ 6.) I would feel uncomfortable being seen in a gay bar.
____ 7.) I would feel uncomfortable if a member of my sex made an advance
towards me.
____ 8.) I would be comfortable if I found myself attracted to a member of my sex.
____ 9.) I would feel disappointed if I learned that my child was queer.
____ 10.) I would feel nervous being in a group of queers.
____ 11.) I would feel comfortable knowing that my clergy person was queer.
____ 12.) I would be upset if I learned that my sibling was queer.
____ 13.) I would feel that I had failed as a parent if I learned that my child was gay.
____ 14.) If I saw two men holding hands in public, I would feel disgusted.
____ 15.) If a member of my gender made an advance towards me, I would be
____ 16.) I would feel comfortable if I learned that my daughter’s teacher was a
____ 17.) I would feel uncomfortable if I learned that my spouse or partner was
attracted to a member of his/her gender.
____ 18.) I would feel at ease talking with a queer at a party.
____ 19.) I would feel uncomfortable if I learned that my boss was queer.
____ 20.) It would not bother me to walk through a predominantly gay section of town
____ 21.) It would disturb me to find out that my doctor was queer.
____ 22.) I would feel comfortable if I learned that my best friend of my gender was
____ 23.) If a member of my gender made an advance towards me, I would feel
____ 24.) I would feel uncomfortable knowing that my son’s teacher was queer.
____ 25.) I would feel comfortable working closely with a lesbian.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Religion Improves Group Cooperation

Several econ blogs linked to this interesting piece in The Economist.

To test whether religion might have emerged as a way of improving group co-operation while reducing the need to keep an eye out for free-riders, Dr Sosis drew on a catalogue of 19th-century American communes published in 1988 by Yaacov Oved of Tel Aviv University. Dr Sosis picked 200 of these for his analysis; 88 were religious and 112 were secular. Dr Oved's data include the span of each commune's existence and Dr Sosis found that communes whose ideology was secular were up to four times as likely as religious ones to dissolve in any given year.

A follow-up study that Dr Sosis conducted in collaboration with Eric Bressler of McMaster University in Canada focused on 83 of these communes (30 religious, 53 secular) to see if the amount of time they survived correlated with the strictures and expectations they imposed on the behaviour of their members. The two researchers examined things like food consumption, attitudes to material possessions, rules about communication, rituals and taboos, and rules about marriage and sexual relationships.

As they expected, they found that the more constraints a religious commune placed on its members, the longer it lasted (one is still going, at the grand old age of 149). But the same did not hold true of secular communes, where the oldest was 40. Dr Sosis therefore concludes that ritual constraints are not by themselves enough to sustain co-operation in a community—what is needed in addition is a belief that those constraints are sanctified.

Dr Sosis has also studied modern secular and religious kibbutzim in Israel. Because a kibbutz, by its nature, depends on group co-operation, the principal difference between the two is the use of religious ritual. Within religious communities, men are expected to pray three times daily in groups of at least ten, while women are not. It should, therefore, be possible to observe whether group rituals do improve co-operation, based on the behaviour of men and women.

To do so, Dr Sosis teamed up with Bradley Ruffle, an economist at Ben-Gurion University, in Israel. They devised a game to be played by two members of a kibbutz. This was a variant of what is known to economists as the common-pool-resource dilemma, which involves two people trying to divide a pot of money without knowing how much the other is asking for. In the version of the game devised by Dr Sosis and Dr Ruffle, each participant was told that there was an envelope with 100 shekels in it (between 1/6th and 1/8th of normal monthly income). Both players could request money from the envelope, but if the sum of their requests exceeded its contents, neither got any cash. If, however, their request equalled, or was less than, the 100 shekels, not only did they keep the money, but the amount left was increased by 50% and split between them.

Dr Sosis and Dr Ruffle picked the common-pool-resource dilemma because the communal lives of kibbutz members mean they often face similar dilemmas over things such as communal food, power and cars. The researchers' hypothesis was that in religious kibbutzim men would be better collaborators (and thus would take less) than women, while in secular kibbutzim men and women would take about the same. And that was exactly what happened.

It'd be interesting to look at intergroup cooperation -- I wonder if religious groups would be less cooperative with other groups than secular ones.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Predatory Lending: Why Conservative Economics Doesn't Work

It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money. --Canada Bill Jones

Latina's Loss in Va. Epitomizes Mortgage Crisis
Looking back, Glenda Ortiz can see she did everything wrong when she bought her house in 2005. In fact, to understand the housing crisis that has swept the country, one need only listen to the tale of the Ortiz family.

She looked at only one house and paid too much for it: $430,000 for a run-down, one-story duplex in Alexandria, triple what the house had sold for the year before, and $5,000 more than the asking price, according to real estate records.

She agreed to a high-interest loan that would cost her more than $3,000 a month, more than 70 percent of the $4,200 that she and her husband brought home monthly.

She signed papers in English that she didn't understand. One said she was married to a man she didn't know.

She placed her financial future in the hands of a woman she barely knew who sold cosmetics and jewelry door to door. She sought no one else's advice.

Her loan application sailed through an originator and was accepted by a mortgage company, both specializing in customers with "less than ideal" credit.

And so, in August 2005, Glenda Ortiz, a cook at a Best Western who lived in a cramped apartment in Arlington County, became a homeowner. By last March, the home was in foreclosure. The loan originator and mortgage company had gone out of business. And Ortiz was headed to court.

Now in conservative economics, this is all her fault. Mrs. Ortiz should have been more responsible. She deserves what she got. Now she'll know for the future.

But there are millions of people like Mrs. Ortiz -- people who maybe aren't really smart enough to understand what's going on in financial discussions, people who don't have a good support system to keep them out of trouble, people who are maybe pretty lousy at math, and may not even really understand English. Are we really going to say that it's okay for companies to give such people high-interest loans that they obviously cannot afford? (Her mortgage payments were more than 70% of their combined monthly income!)

"It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money." Is that America's motto now?

Loans need to be regulated. Just because you can find someone stupid enough or ignorant enough or even just irresponsible enough to fall for your predation doesn't mean that you have a right to prey on them.

A perfectly free market is an ugly one, "red in tooth and claw." This kind of predatory lending is just plain immoral, and it should be illegal, too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Israel and Iraq: Cognitive Dissonance

There was recently an astounding poll of Palestinians which showed that 84% of them support the recent terrorist attack at a yeshiva in Israel. (Previously.) (The poll also found, although right-wing sources conveniently omit this, "66 percent favoring normalized relations with Israel if it returned all land won in 1967 and a Palestinian state was established.")

I've more or less given up hope on any significant improvement in Israel in the near future. Pretty much anything Israel does just makes the situation worse, and the Palestinians certainly aren't showing any signs of working towards peace.

This sounds a bit like what's going on in Iraq, doesn't it? (I'm speaking tactically/strategically, not morally.) But for some reason, with respect to Iraq, the American hawks get all starry-eyed and think that if we just stay a few more years, the Iraqi factions will suddenly renounce their violent and hateful ways and decide to live in peace and harmony, blossoming into a democracy that will transform the entire middle east. Suggest that relative peace is possible in Israel/Palestine via tough negotiations and an eventual two-state solution, and they'll laugh bitterly. Suggest that peace is possible in Iraq even without a multiple-state solution and they'll call you a genius. Something does not compute.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama, Wright, and the Republican Debate: Double Standards Watch

Did you know that at this year's Republican Values Voters Debate, they had a choir sing a song, in front of all the candidates, that started like this:

Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back
On everything that made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sin and heal our land

Watch the whole thing:

I didn't know that either. One wonders why the media loops Obama's pastor saying "We should say 'God damn America'" but never mentioned the above incident.

Can you imagine if, at a Democratic debate, they had sung a similar song, to the same tune, saying things like, "Why should God bless America when we let the poor go hungry?" Cable news would be wall-to-wall outrage.

"Why should God bless America? God have mercy on America/Forgive her sin and heal her land." No, no double standard at all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Charles Murray on Obama's Speech

Charles Murray himself, co-author of The Bell Curve, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, hero to right-wing "race realists" like Steve Sailer and Half Sigma, had this to say about Obama's speech:
I read the various posts here on "The Corner," mostly pretty ho-hum or critical about Obama's speech. Then I figured I'd better read the text (I tried to find a video of it, but couldn't). I've just finished. Has any other major American politician ever made a speech on race that comes even close to this one? As far as I'm concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we're used to from our pols.... But you know me. Starry-eyed Obama groupie.

Obama and Wright, Part 3: The Short Version

Some people were not convinced by my previous two posts. I thought it might be helpful to simplify.

Here are things I believe:

1. Obama does not believe the hateful and/or ignorant things Wright said.

2. The nuts on the religious left are not currently as dangerous as the nuts on the religious right, because they do not have and never have had the same degree of power and influence. If Obama is elected, there is approximately a zero percent chance that he will do anything hateful or crazy because Wright said so.

3. Although I strongly disagree with Wright, I understand where's he's coming from. (Remember, to understand is not to condone.) He grew up in a country where white America really was out to get him and people like him. There really was segregation. There really were lynchings and all kinds of discrimination. The federal government really did purposely let blacks die of infectious diseases when he was growing up. Obama appears to understand and recognize this as well, which is why he says he's willing to look past it. That makes sense to me.

I thought one of the most surprising and interesting parts of the speech was when Obama made a parallel to angry blue-collar white men, who have the same kind of legitimate anger that Wright has but also the same kind of incorrect direction of that anger. I wish the media had picked up more on that angle.

4. All that said, it's not a deal-breaker for me that Obama chose Wright and stuck with him all these years.

5. Regarding the charge that I have a double standard, I wouldn't disqualify McCain for his cozying up to the religious right, either. That doesn't mean I like it, of course, any more than I like the fact that Obama is super-religious. But I think McCain, like Obama, doesn't believe in the hateful things that the religious leaders in their lives say. (Here's McCain's "spiritual guide," for the record.)

For those who are angry with me or just disagree, please be precise. Do you think Obama agrees with those awful and stupid things Wright has said? Or do you think that Obama's willingness to look past them should disqualify him from the presidency? If so, why? And would you hold every candidate up to that standard, from McCain to Joseph Lieberman? And what's the worst thing your spiritual leader has ever said?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama and Wright, Part II: In His Own Words

Read the complete transcript or watch the video.

Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.


Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

Obama and Wright

Much has been made in recent days about the crazy remarks made by Obama's pastor and "spiritual leader," Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ron Paul, and many others, Wright blamed 9/11 on the U.S. Then he gave a speech, in 2003, with the following quote:
The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people...God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

He also accused the government of lying about creating HIV "as a means of genocide against people of color." (If I believed that, I'd be saying God damn America, too!)

I think there are two questions here. First, do these moments offer a representative sample of Wright's body of work? And second, what does it say about Obama that he looks up to and supports such a man?

To answer the first question, I'd say they don't. Obama's critics have used the fact that he adapted the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope, from one of Wright's sermons to demonstrate how strongly Obama has been influenced by Wright. But if you actually read Wright's "Audacity to Hope" sermon, you'll find nothing like the inflammatory comments I mentioned above. It's all about hope and prayer and God and family.

(I wrote about my feelings regarding Obama's religiosity here, for all those wondering why this Jewish Atheist supports someone as profoundly Christian as Obama.)

Now to the more important question. What can we learn about Obama from his association with Wright? First, does Obama agree with Wright's inflammatory statements? All evidence is that he doesn't. For longer than he's been a national politician, he's eloquently and passionately pushed for understanding and unity rather than the sort of racial divisiveness endorsed by Wright. He's strongly denounced Wright's comments on several occasions. And everything about his tone and message is exactly the opposite of Wright's, when Wright is on his craziness.

So what's the deal with his supporting Wright? He's continued to be a member of his church, continued to call him his spiritual adviser, and continued to donate money to the church of this guy who is at least partly crazy and divisive.

I think the answer lies in Obama's most unique quality -- his ability to see the good in everybody and everything. This is the man who implores us to understand our political opponents, the man who preaches unity and an end to divisiveness, the man who constantly seeks common ground, the man who has won over the unlikeliest of opponents on several bills (e.g. his bill requiring the taping of police questioning in Illinois.)

I think that Obama took what he liked from Wright -- the inspiration, the message of hope -- and simply set aside the rest. Recently, he has described Wright as "like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," and that strikes me as perfect. Who here doesn't have a racist parent or grandparent or uncle that they generally look up to and want to be like, other than that whole racism thing, and maybe their views on gays? How many of my Orthodox readers look up to rabbis, past and present, who believe things as offensive (racism, homophobia) and crazy (young-Earth creationism) as Wright does?

Simply put, there is no evidence that Obama agrees with any of Wright's craziness, and lots of evidence that he does not. That he can support such a character and draw so much from their friendship and spiritual relationship while so fundamentally disagreeing on such important issues speaks to his unique ability to understand and form meaningful relationships with people he doesn't see completely eye-to-eye with.

Many of us, especially many of us bloggers, prefer not to associate with people that say things we strongly disagree with. I know I couldn't attend a group whose leader said the kind of things Wright does. In general, I'd be pretty wary of people who did. People like us tend to be either blind followers (like many of my religious readers and Dawkinsites) or else ideological loners (like me and a few others that haven't found a box they could wholly subscribe to.) We've had far too many blind followers in positions of power, and people like me couldn't get elected because we aren't comfortable being part of a group we don't completely agree with, and it shows. Obama is the rare kind of person who can both be of a community and apart from it. I think that's exactly the kind of person that America needs right now as president.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Leaving Religion: "What Choice?"

Judge: May I tell you a story?

Matt Damon: Please.

Judge: For generations, men of my family have been rabbis. In Israel, before that in Europe. It was to be my calling. I was quite a prodigy. The pride of my yeshiva. The elders said I had a 40-year-old's understanding of the midrash by the time I was 12. But by the time I was 13, I knew I could never be a rabbi.

Damon: Why not?

Judge: Because for all I understood of the Talmud, I never saw God there.

Damon: You couldn't lie to yourself.

Judge: I tried. Tried like crazy. I mean, people were counting on me.

Damon: But yours is a respectable profession.

Judge: Not to my family. My parents were destroyed, devastated by my decision. My father sent me away to New York to live with distant cousins. Eventually, l... I found my place, my life's work.

Damon: What then?

Judge: I immersed myself fully, I studied the minutiae, I learned everything I could about the law. I mean, I felt deeply inside that it was what I was born to do.

Damon: And did your parents get over it?

Judge: No. I always hoped that I would find some way to change their minds, but... They were inconsolable. My father never spoke to me again.

Damon: If you had to do it all over again, would you make the same choices?

Judge: What choice?

The last thing I took away from the yeshiva is this... We can't run from who we are. Our destiny chooses us. Hey. L'chayim.

From Rounders.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hasidic Rabbis Bully Hasidic Actor

Abe Karpen, 25, a married father of three, was cast as [Natalie] Portman's husband in "New York I Love You," a film composed of 12 short stories about love in the five boroughs.

"I am backing out of the movie," said Karpen, a kitchen cabinet salesman. "It's not acceptable in my community. It's a lot of pressure I am getting. They [the rabbis] didn't like the idea of a Hasidic guy playing in Hollywood.

"I have my kids in religious schools and the rabbi called me over yesterday and said in order for me to keep my kids in the school I have to do what they tell me and back out," Karpen said.

While news of Karpen's withdrawal sent waves of disappointment through the movie set, the Hasidic community was up in arms over Karpen's acting gig - forcing him to flee for the weekend, a friend said.


Just Wednesday, Karpen was strolling along the Fulton Ferry State Park under the Brooklyn Bridge alongside Portman, 26, who sported a dark head-covering and a coat.

"They wanted me to hold her hand, but I said 'no way,'" said Karpen, who proudly stood his ground. "It's against our religion. You can't even hold your wife's hand on the street."

Then came the howls of protest about his unorthodox job.

"This is when I woke up and saw that I made a big mistake. My kids mean everything to me and my community where I live means everything to me," said Karpen, who comes from a prominent Williamsburg, Brooklyn, family.

His longtime friend Levi Okunov said the Karpens had to flee the city for the weekend. "The community wants to kill him," he said.

Hasidic community activist Isaac Weinberger said Karpen should have known better.

"We don't watch television. We don't go to the movies, so to be in a movie is the worst thing. It's a shame for any Hasid," he said.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Yesterday's Terrorist Attack in Israel

I've got nothing intelligent to say. An attack on a yeshiva like the one I went to hits close to home. These are people like me that were murdered. These are younger versions of my old classmates.

Ezzie has a moving post.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Atheist Attrition Rate

In response to my post about Orthodox attrition, Orthoprax asked about atheist attrition.

The answer, at least as far as the GSS goes, is that 51.3% of people who had no religion ("none") at 16 still had none when they took the survey. This number appears to be lower than the major religions' retention rate but higher than Orthodox Judaism's at 27.3%.

An Agnostic Bar Mitzvah and the Fraud of Orthodox Judaism

I was moved by this:

I am so sad that I didn't have a community as nurturing as this boy's. I can't imagine the crowd I had at my bar mitzvah reacting with appreciative laughter if I'd been able to be as honest as this kid. What do you think would be the reaction in an Orthodox shul? Would he be booed and interrupted? Would the Rabbi have launched into a stinging condemnation afterwards? That'd be my guess, although I can't know for sure.

How can your religion be authentic if people can't be honest about their doubts and beliefs? The way every Orthodox bar mitzvah speech is wholly accepting of Orthodox dogma reminds me of when Saddam Hussein won 100% of the vote in his last "election." Total B.S., and for the same reason. They can't handle the truth.

Children should be encouraged to seek honestly for the truth, not pressured and censored into being the perfect little ditto-heads that Orthodox kids are, at least publicly. Can you imagine a bar-mitzvah boy getting up there and saying that he doesn't know if God exists or whether Moshe "really" split the sea? I can't see an Orthodox boy even saying "I couldn't really relate to this parsha." What does it say about your religion that there is so little room for honesty and openness?

(Via Random Good Stuff.)

Orthodox Attrition: Some Data

Of the 60 people who answered in the General Social Survey that they had been Orthodox Jews at age 16, more than 70% identified as non-Orthodox at the time of the survey. For all the talk about Conservative and Reform attrition, it looks like Orthodox attrition is higher, although they no doubt make up for it by increased birth rate.

I can think of any number of reasons why people who are still Orthodox Jews are underrepresented in this study, and it's a shame that N is so small, but I've had a hard time finding good data on this subject. I think it's interesting stuff.