Saturday, April 30, 2011

The sexual-orientation binarism: is it dissolving?

In 1869 the Austro-Hungarian writer K. M. Kertbeny introduced the term "homosexual." Although the term "heterosexual" was introduced a little later, the stage was set for the spread of an almost mandatory sexual-orientation dichotomy, a dichotomy encapsulated in the demotic question: are you gay or are you straight?

Many of my contemporaries who grew up in the middle of the previous century reported that this choice reflected their experience. Their consciousness either told them that they belonged with the heterosexual majority, or that they would need to negotiate the complex trajectory of affirming a homosexual identity. One could not simply be a "humansexual."

Interestingly enough, a challenge to this binary system was proffered by Alfred Kinsey and his associates at the very same period (beginning in 1948, in fact). Kinsey proposed a spectrum of sexual experience, ranging from O (completely directed to the other sex) to 6 (directed exclusively to one's own sex). Kinsey believed that the terms "heterosexual" and "homosexual" should never be used as nouns, only as adjectives and adverbs. While the Kinsey publications had a beneficial effect in showing how varied the sexual experiences of Americans were, this evidence did not, by and large, succeed in overturning the binary model.

To be sure, the concept of bisexuality came into play. Yet many doubted the fact that this was a genuine orientation, pointing out that many who start out in youth as bi tend to gravitate in later life to one or the other pole, straight or gay. At all events, recognizing the autonomy of the bisexual orientation would merely substitute a trichotomy for the dichotomy, leaving no real conceptual space for the more fluid Kinsey model to take hold.

Recently, though, there are indications that the sense of rigid separation of orientations may be breaking down. This evidence comes from a world that many would prefer not to admit having any knowledge of (but are mostly actually lying), that is, the world of pornography.

This development has been highlighted by the latest version of a popular MTV series, the Real World, a sort of reality series in which a group of young people are filmed interacting in a large apartment that they share. One of the current young men, Dustin Zito, is a 24 year-old Louisiana native with an embarrassing background. It seems that he had appeared in public before at a gay website called FratPad. Although I have not visited this site, it seems that the young Dustin performed as both the penetrator and penetratee in acts of anal sodomy. Now it seems he has a girl friend. Was he gay first, and now has turned straight? Or did he just do it for the money? Well, there is money too, more of it, with MTV. It might be, though, that he fits the pattern of of the elusive "humansexual" type.

Recently a friend gave me a DVD entitled "Broke Straight Boys," adapted from a website of the same name. The formula is always the same: two young men, who ostensibly have never had any homosexual experience, are invited to take a "screen test." They quickly get naked and, in exchange for a relatively small amount of $$, do the most unusual things. In all likelihood, most had "tried" such experiences before. But does this mean that these actors are just gay men pretending to be straight? I don't think so.

Reports are that in the main branch of the gay porno industry, where feature films are made, many of the actors are straight. After a hard day at work, they go home to their wives and girlfriends, who are in many cases happy that their guys are not seeing another woman.

All of this suggests that men--and surely women too--are much more versatile in their sexual choices than the old binary (or even ternary) models had stipulated. Stay tuned, as they say, while these matters develop further.

UPDATE. I am reproducing the interesting comments of Thomas Kramer, which for some reason did not appear in the Comments section as they should have.

"I also noticed that the comments of the MTV "Real World" show cast members strictly assumed that any past homosexual behavior by Dustin made him "not straight" or at best "bisexual." it seems that to be a heterosexual today, you must meet a purity test of having never had a gay thought.

"I doubt individual humans will ever break their biased habit of categorizing others into being straight or gay, and the categories of the male or female sex. However, I agree that there will be a growing acceptance for the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are continuous variables, which include bisexuals as well as gender variant or intersex individuals. (Of course, these continuous variables are not evenly distributed and they have clusters at either end of their statistical distributions. -- Statisticians would call them a bimodal or multi-modal distribution.)

"Kinsey was a good scientist who carefully stated that his data applied only to "homosexual behavior" and not homosexual orientation or identity. This is why Kinsey intentionally included the words "Sexual Behavior" in his book title.

"A careful reading of Kinsey also reveals that he identified about 2 percent of humans who report asexual behavior. Corroborating this data is a recent "gay sheep" research study at Oregon State University that also found a similar percentage of asexual sheep in the flock.

"I've become interested in why the socially constructed concept of bisexual humans is universally acknowledged, but the concept of an asexual orientation is rarely accepted. This is probably because most people think that an asexual orientation is impossible. (I thought this also until a personal experience convinced me that asexuality, not being sexually aroused by anything, is not the same thing as impotence, which is the inability to perform sexually and orgasm.)

"Kinsey likewise carefully avoided the conflation of homosexual behavior with gender behavior, such as limp wrists or wearing makeup and dresses. We all know heterosexual drag queens that are similar to the straight "gay for pay" porn boys. Kinsey did not fully address the other false dichotomy of male versus female sex and gender identity because gender identity and intersex conditions were not well studied until decades later.

"I have more thoughts and links to video of this MTV Real World show in my blog post:

Thomas Kraemer, "MTV Real World 'gay for pay' cast member comes out," posted Apr. 29, 2010."

The reaction by some hostile individuals to Zito's early performance to the effect that he must be gay reflects that common perception that two or three same-sex experiences prove that a person is gay. This is akin to the old racist notion that a "single drop of African blood" made one black. Curiously enough, a version of this concept seems to have been adopted by some, beginning with the redoubtable Peter Thatcher, that Malcolm X must have been gay. In fact, Manning Marable's new biography confirms that in his early years Malcolm probably assisted a wealthy white businessman to achieve sexual relief by pouring talcum powder on his naked body. Apparently, there was no touching. This hardly made Malcolm gay. I suppose the claim might be more persuasive had Malcolm X sought the experience, but in fact it was the other way around. This tendency shows a curious convergence between the homophobic position and the gay-advocacy one, both holding that one or two experiences "prove" that one is homosexual.

That said, there is some evidence, as seen in the Down Low phenomenon, that some black men are more sexually malleable than white men in general.

Or perhaps white men are now following suit. If one enjoys the experience of being fellated, does it really matter whether the fellator is a a man or woman? All that should be important is whether the performer does it well. For some straight men, though, it still does matter, as seen by the episodes in the Baitbus internet series.

At one time, I subscribed to the "gay for pay" thesis--that is, that these men were just opportunists doing it for the money (broke straight boys). Now I am less sure, for it may be that some who "get sucked into it" in this fashion may find that it is not so bad after all, and be willing to repeat. To be sure, we are a long way from the utopia posited by Woody Allen, who is alleged to have observed that bisexuality is great because it doubles your chances of getting a date on Saturday nigh.

In jails and prisons, men who were previously heterosexual adapt to a gay lifestyle--of a sort. The conventional wisdom is that after these dudes are released they become wholly straight again. There is evidence that not all of them do, however. In a few cases they have reunited with their hook-up partners inside.


Those wonderful fifties, NOT

Much admired in some sectors of the US left (what remains of it), the columnist Paul Krugman has fallen back on nostalgia, romanticizing growing up in a town on Long Island in the late fifties and sixties. Jim Manzi, a conservative agrees with him on this.

However Megan McArdle has introduced a welcome note of sanity. "Maybe it's because I grew up later than either Manzi or Krugman; maybe it's because I grew up in Manhattan; or maybe it's because I'm a woman. Whatever the reason, what I notice about their idyll is how dependent it was on women being home. Home production looks very similar no matter who is doing it; one family may be having meatloaf, and another filet mignon, but the family meals still have the same basic rhythm of Mom in the kitchen for hours until the family comes to dinner.

"Families only need one car because Mom, who doesn't herself work, is available to drive Dad to work every morning before she heads to the grocery store. And the kids can play unsupervised because, of course, in this neighborhood--in all neighborhoods--there is a network of constantly watching eyes. Meanwhile, the poor people and minorities are somewhere comfortably distant, allowing young Paul and Jim to experience a world without want. I can tell you where all the inequality and fear and crime was; it was in the neighborhood where I grew up, and the neighborhoods elsewhere in the city that were much poorer and more dangerous."

I remember other things that were wrong about that purportedly halcyon era. Above all, it was an era of conformity, accompanied by a crushing sense of alienation for anyone who did not fit the prevailing standards of white heteronormativity. Most of the gay men I knew as I was growing in California were eventually arrested for engaging in deviant sex.

Things were so bad that I twice attempted to expatriate myself. I only came back to the US in the late 1960s when the civil rights movement, together with other long-overdue efforts at social change, were at last taking hold.

Today the United States is a much better place than it was during those supposed halcyon days--as recalled by privileged white hetero males like Krugman and Manzi.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Knowledge and counterknowledge

For some years I have been interested in the problem of the collision of bodies of knowledge and bodies of counterknowledge. This is generally thought to be a nonproblem, as in the case of the contrast between the round-earth theory and the flat-earth theory. In such cases, the answer is obvious.

Over the centuries, though, the pattern has not been so clear. When introduced, Copernicus geocentric theory was though by most authorities to be bizarre and improbable. Similarly, several centuries later, the germ theory of the etiology of disease.

Still, it seems fairly clear that the birther theory--that Barack Obama was not born in the United States--is absurd. But some Tea Party figures continue to assert it.

In the New Yorker, Hendrick Hertzberg, a well-known liberal journalist, compares birtherism to skepticism about global warming. This muddies the issue, because clearly the issue of climate change is complex: there are several points to chose from along the spectrum. That is not true about the birth of Barack Obama: either he was born in the territory of the US or he was not.

I would ask parenthetically, though, why was John McCain allowed to run for president? He was born in the Canal Zone, which does not send representatives to Congress and was never part of the United States--any more than the Suez Canal was part of Britain. But I digress..

Working out a typology of these various forms of counterknowledge is a complex challenge. One must set aside, I think, urban legends, such as the idea that President Kennedy did not die at Dallas in 1963, but survived for some years as a kind of vegetable in a darkened room in San Francisco. (This matter is quite separate from the controversy regarding the assassination itself.) Similarly, we had the claims about Hitler in Argentina, or the Elvis sightings.

As a teenager I was introduced to a more complex set of beliefs known as the Shaver Mystery. In 1943, one Richard Shaver wrote a letter to Amazing Stories magazine. He claimed to have discovered an ancient language he called "Mantong," a sort of Proto-World language which was the source of all Earthly languages. In Mantong, each sound had a hidden meaning. By applying this formula to any word in any language, one could discover a secret meaning inherent in any word, name or phrase.

According to the magazine's editor, Ray Palmer, he wrote Shaver back, asking how he had learned of Mantong. Shaver responded with a 10,000 word document entitled "A Warning to Future Man." Shaver described advanced prehistoric races who had built cavern cities inside the Earth before abandoning Earth for another planet due to damaging radiation from the Sun. Yet those ancients left behind some of their own offspring here, a minority of whom remained noble and human "Teros," while most degenerated over time into a population of mentaly impaired sadists known as Deros—-short for "detrimental robots." Shaver's robots" were not mechanical constrivances, but were were robotic due to their savage behavior.

According to Shaver, these Deros still lived in cave cities, kidnapping surface-dwelling people by the thousands for meat or torture. With sophisticated ray machinery that their ancient forebears had left behind, they spied on human beings, projecting tormenting thoughts and voices into our minds. Deros were to blame for nearly all misfortunes, from minor "accidental" injuries or illnesses to airplane crashes and catastrophic natural disasters. Women especially were singled out for brutal treatment, including rape.

Though generally confined to their caves, Shaver claimed that the Deros sometimes traveled by spaceships or rockets, and had dealings with equally evil extraterrestrial beings. Shaver claimed first-hand knowledge of the Deros and their caves, insisting he had been their prisoner for several years.

Palmer edited and rewrote the manuscript, increasing the length to 31,000 words. Palmer insisted that he did not alter the main elements of Shaver's story, but that he only added an exciting plot so the story would not read "like a dull recitation."

Retitled "I Remember Lemuria!" it was published in the March 1945 issue of Amazing. The issue sold out, generating a huge response. Between 1945 and 1949, thousands of letters arrived attesting to the truth of Shaver's claims. The correspondents claimed that they, too, had heard strange voices or encountered denizens of the Hollow Earth. One of the letters to Amazing was from a woman who claimed to have gone into a deep subbasement of a Parisian building via a secret elevator. After months of rape and other kinds of torture, the woman was freed by a benevolent Teros "Shaver Mystery Club" societies were created in several cities. The controversy gained some notice in the mainstream press at the time, including a mention in a 1951 issue of Life magazine.

Gratified by the increase of circulation, the magazine featured the Shaver Mystery for several years. Gradually, however, interest declined, and many felt free to declare the idea a hoax. The magazine dropped the subject once it became evident that it was not bringing in new readers.

Yet the contribution of science-fiction magazines to the vast realm of counterknowledge had not ended. In fact it was to move into high gear, for L. Ron Hubbard introduced Dianetics to the general public in the article "Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science" in the May 1950 issue of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. This article was in fact a kind of trailer for Hubbard's book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Allegedly, he completed the manuscript of the 180,000-word book in six weeks.

The success of selling Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health brought in a flood of money, which Hubbard used to establish Dianetics foundations in six major American cities. The scientific and medical communities were far less enthusiastic about Dianetics, viewing it with bemusement, concern, or outright derision.

Hubbard blamed the hostile press coverage in particular on a plot by the American Communist Party. In later years, Hubbard decided that the psychiatric profession was the origin of all of the criticism of Dianetics, as he believed it secretly controlled most of the world's governments.

In due course Dianetics morphed into Scientology, which is still flourishing today, despite many efforts to discredit it.

Why then did one form of counterknowledge, Scientology, take hold (at least among its followers) while the other, the Shaver Mystery, dwindled away? The answer seems to be that Scientology claimed to be therapeutic, while Shaverism seemed simply paranoiac. Not that there weren't paranoid elements in Scientology, but to most of its adepts the therapeutic benefits, or so they are perceived, outweigh this.

The upshot is that counterknowledge genres have different valences. Until a representative sample is assembled and analyzed it would be hazardous to propose a general theory.

More (possibly) later.


Thursday, April 21, 2011


Citing just a few examples off-hand, this piece asks if there is a connection between same-sex experience and the protagonists of national liberation movements.

Elsewhere I have commented on the case of Mohandas Gandhi, adducing also that of Kemal Ataturk. The biography of Malcolm X by the late Manning Marable presents credible evidence for one homosexual encounter--perhaps not a very consequential one, but there may have been others.

Some will recall the instance of Ben Bella, an early Algerian leader forced out by allegations of homosexuality. These allegations certainly seem valid for Arafat, the founder of Palestinian liberation, who almost certainly died of AIDS.

Now I understand that the Boston gay scholar Charley Shively, who is now gravely ill, had been gathering information on same-sex behavior by Ho Chi Minh. It is hoped that this evidence may be published.

As some remark these days: "I'm just saying."


The high-speed rail hoax

High-speed trains, operating at 150 mph or more, are a holy icon of our liberal politicians and pundits. As part of his campaign for “investments,” President Obama has repeatedly called for multi-billion dollar expenditures on these projects. Supposedly these trains will save vast amounts of petroleum in an scenario in which millions of people renounce the use of their gas-guzzling cars.

The high-speed trains are ostensibly needed to “compete” with Western Europe and Japan, where, however, geography and demographics are vastly different. The notion that high-speed trains can cover our own nation is clearly an illusion. If they are built at all, they will only carry a few elite travelers from one fashionable destination to another. "We're gonna be taking cars off of congested highways and reducing carbon emissions," says Vice President Joe Biden, an ardent rail booster. Yet most traffic jams are urban, not inter-city, so high-speed rail between metro areas will have no real effect on one’s daily commute.

Even in a moderate scenario, the expense is staggering. A low-ball estimate from CNN is that delivering on the plan could cost well over $500 billion and take decades to build, all while failing to cover much of the country at all.

And of course there is the Amtrak precedent. Since its founding in 1971, the nation's passenger rail system has sucked up almost $35 billion in subsidies. According to Robert J. Samuelson, writing in the Washington Post, "a typical trip is subsidized by about $50." Even so, Amtrak is increasingly unaffordable. Following a recent visit to Washington DC, I was told that a train ticket back to NYC would cost an appalling $110. I took a bus instead--for $25.

About 140 million Americans trek to work every day, while Amtrak carries just 78,000 passengers. There's no reason to think that high-speed rail will pump up those numbers. Yet there is every reason to believe its costs will grow and grow.

One such train, from Disney World to the west coast of Florida has wisely been canceled by the governor.

After a fashion, things or going forward in California, where initial funding for a high-speed rail project was approved by the voters on November 4, 2008. The start-up allocation was a measly $9.95 billion. Ultimately the line would stretch, or so it is claimed, from San Francisco to San Diego, passing through the state’s Central Valley. There is no indication that the system would connect with any similar high-speed rail in a neighboring state.

At the end of last year construction began on the first 54 miles of the system, starting just south of Madera at Borden, to continue on through downtown Fresno to Corcoran. In other words (with all due respect to the citizens of those places) it is a trip from nowhere to nowhere.

September 2008 saw the appearance of a report "The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report," sponsored by the Reason Foundation and several other watchdog groups. The report projected that the final cost for the complete high-speed rail system would be $65 to $81 billion. This is significantly higher than earlier estimates. In fact experience has shown that vast cost overruns are almost inevitable in boondoggles of this type. The report also projected fewer riders by 2030 than officially estimated: 23-31 million riders a year instead of the 65-96 million forecast by the sponsoring authority. The report stated that no existing high-speed rail train currently meets the proposed speed and safety goals, although the safety systems have not been fully specified, and that the reduction in CO2 emissions would be inconsequential. The time required to reach the proposed speeds, the distances between stops, and the fact that for part of the route the high speed trains will travel on regular freight train tracks rather than upgraded high speed rail tracks indicates that attaining the proposed speeds would be difficult between the majority of stops.

It may be that the dire condition of the country’s finances will put a stop to such extravagance. Yet our money problems have not prevented us from staying in Afghanistan at a cost of two billion dollars a week, and attacking yet another Muslim country, Libya.

Eventually, the high-speed rail fantasies will end--but not without a great deal of waste and useless construction.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The end of Fanonism

The question is not whether Ghaddafi and his criminal, kleptocratic gang will go, but when. This change will mark the end of an era, characterized by the pervasiveness of an illusion I term Fanonism.

Frantz Fanon (1926-1961) was a French psychiatrist and political thinker. A man of color (born in Martinique), Fanon is best known for his book the Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre, 1961), in which he preached the redemptive vitues of violence for people in the Third World who were seeking to free themselves from the shackles of colonialism.

Fanon has had an immense influence on anti-colonial and national liberation movements in many parts of the world. Some examples include Ali Shariati in Iran, Steve Biko in South Africa, Malcolm X in the United States, and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba. For Shariati and Biko the main interest in Fanon was "the new man" and "black consciousness" respectively. As these two examples show, Fanon's influence was both general and specific to the emergence of black consciousness. His work was a key influence on Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, as well. Barack Obama references Fanon in his book, Dreams from My Father.

Of course Fanon enthusiasm developed in the larger context of the rise of new leaders like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania. At the outsets such leaders were idealistic seeking to guide their countries to a better future. However, they often viewed this in the light of Socialist ideals which they had imbibed in the London School of Economics and other Western educational institutions. All too often, these Socialist policies, accompanied by liberal doses of foreign aid, served only to impoverish the people they were ostensibly intended to help.

Before long these idealistic leaders were succeeded by others, whose sole aim was to enrich themselves and their families. In some cases, as in the so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Egypt, they conducted their raids on the treasury with the complicity of the US. Others, however, sought to defy the US--as in North Korea, Syria, and Libya. In his last years, to be sure, Qaddafi sought to make nice with the US and other Western powers. It must be remembered, though, that the original basis of his regime was ostensibly Arab Socialism, in defiance of the "imperialist powers." But this supposed orientation turned out just to be a cloak for the empowerment and enrichment of his family. Like Fidel Castro and many others, Qaddafi had assumed the powers of an absolute monarch, though not the name. From his position of dominance, he sought to confirm his family in power for the indefinite future.

That dream is now ending. So too, it is to be hoped, the illusions of Fanonism and Third World Socialism.

UPDATE (May 4, 2011). It is usual to ascribe the violent behavior of the late Osama bin Laden simply to Islamic sources. Certainly there is plenty of precedent in the Qur'an and in the history of Muslim expansion. Could it be, though, that he was also influenced by Frantz Fanon? As far as I can tell, this topic has not been carefully investigated. It should be.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Denial and chicanery in Washington

Today the New York Times repeats the fable that the budget passed yesterday (April 13) cuts 38 billion dollars. Yet most of the supposed reductions, such as 6.2 billion for a census that is not taking place this year, are phony, simple accounting tricks. Defenders of the budget say that the reductions will kick in during the "out years." When might that be?

The shocking truth is that the real reduction are only a little more than $300 m i l l i o n--that is, one percent of the amount claimed.

For his part President Obama has called for the Pentagon to slice $400 billion in projected spending "through the 2023 fiscal year." Yet analysts point out that the Pentagon could save that much money just by limiting its future spending increases to the rate of inflation projected by the White House. In other words, there will be no reduction in military spending at all.

To me it is glaringly obvious that three things must be done: 1) abolish the Bush tax cuts for e v e r y o n e, not just the rich. This supposed radical step would simply restore the situation to that of the Clinton years, our last secure era of prosperity; 2) make deep, serious, and lasting cuts in the military budget; and 3) restrict the growth of entitlements in Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

The Republicans only want to do no. 3, while they are dead set against nos. 1 and 2. Democrats will not tolerate reducing no. 3. In principle they are in favor of 1 and 2, but so far have not shown the requisite intestinal fortitude.

This absurd situation is a sure prescription for national decline.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where have all the demonstrations gone?

The era of public demonstrations to make social points began (arguably) with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964. With growing opposition to the Vietnam War, they went national at the end of the decade.

A few years ago I was glad to participate in demonstrations against Bush's deplorable war in Iraq. Unfortunately, that trend fizzled out. Yes, there are demonstrations by union members in Madison WI, but it remains to be seen whether that model will go national. Somewhat bizarrely, the closest we have seen to a national counterpart was the aggressive Tea Party gatherings of two years ago. Maybe the two trends will meld as the economy gets worse, but I doubt it.

The paradox is the the new social media--Facebook and Twitter especially--played a major role in galvanizing street protests in the Arab spring. In the US, though, they seem to have the opposite effect, enhancing physical isolation. Why go out in the streets when one can assemble a little group on Facebook?

As a personal confession, I should say that although I subscribe to Facebook, I do not post on it: there is too much noise and trivia.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Funding our penchants

According to a recent news item, a Washington State legislator has proposed an intriguing amendment to a bill that would expand the state's medical marijuana law.

Rep. Glenn Anderson (F-Fall City) has proposed an amendment requiring the state to reimburse medical marijuana patients for pizza they eat while legally high. The amendment specifies that the state would not reimburse for more than three toppings, or for tips to pizza delivery drivers.

"The entire subject is rather cheesy," Seattle Hempfest organizer Vivian McPeak noted. "All I am saying is give pizza a chance."

Well, why not? Last night I saw the irrepressible Bill Maher defend government funding for gang members who want to have facial tattoos removed so that they can get jobs. What happens, though, if they have the tattoos removed and still won't get a job--a legal one, that is? Do they have to reimburse the government?

For many years I have suffered from bibliomania. As a result of this passion I have some 14,000 books stashed away in my apartment, some quite expensive items. Had I been able to secure government grants for this meritorious activity, I could have many more books.

The larger point is that there are all sorts of legal activities that we pursue at our own expense--beer drinking, going to fancy restaurants, bird watching, attending rock concerts, subscribing to the New York Times, and so on ad infinitum.

Yet lobbyists have managed to get some activities of this kind subsidized by the government, that is, with our tax money. Why should this be happening?

That would seem to be case with National Public Radio, which can survive without the fairly paltry federal support it receives. In fact, NPR would probably be in better shape if it got off the dole.

Doubtless to the annoyance of some readers, I favor applying this principle to abortion. Whatever one's feelings about this controversial procedure, it is legal. That remains so, despite efforts by opponents to chip away at it.

But why should government money be used for this purpose? There are plenty of rich liberals who can come forward (and probably are coming forward) to support abortions for poor women.

Despite all the weaseling and denial currently on display in Washington DC, it is clear that the looming financial crisis will require cutting all sorts of programs. Why not start the process of excision by eliminating subsidies for legal forms of behavior than can easily continue without such assistance?


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Was the "gay caveman" a shaman?

Since the pioneering field work of Waldemar Bogoras more than a hundred years ago, ethnologists have been aware that the shamanism of Siberia and adjacent regions sometimes had a homosexual component. Shamans are “magicians of the sacred” who claim to have out of the body experiences.

Some Siberian shamans who are gender transformative start as men and then adopt a feminized identity; others begin as women who similarly cross gender boundaries. There are analogies with the Two-spirit people (berdache) of the Americas. All these phenomena are, in their turn, part of the broad phenomenon of same-sex behavior that relies on gender-differentiation as its defining feature.

This cultural complex may underly a fascinating new archaeological find, reported in The Telegraph (UK) on April 6, 2011 ( and relayed by a number of other papers.

The article is headed “Archaeologists have unearthed the 5,000-year-old remains of what they believe may have been the world's oldest known gay caveman”--seemingly a “transsexual” or 'third-gender grave” in the Czech Republic.

Here are some details as reported in the article:

The male body--thought to date back to between 2900-2500 BCE--was discovered buried in a way normally reserved only for women of the Corded Ware culture in the Copper Age. The burial was found in a Prague suburb with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves.

"From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," said lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova. "Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual," she added.

In the Corded Ware culture (beginning in the late Stone Age and culminating in the Bronze Age) men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their heads pointing towards the west, and women on their left sides with their heads pointing towards the east. The corpses of both sexes would be placed in a crouching position.

The men would be buried alongside weapons, hammers, and flint knives as well as portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other world. Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.

"What we see here doesn't add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms. The grave in Terronska Street in Prague Six is interred on its left side with the head facing the West. An oval, egg-shaped container usually associated with female burials was also found at the feet of the skeleton. None of the objects that usually accompany male burials, such as weapons, stone battle axes and flint knives, were found in the grave. "We believe this is one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a 'transsexual' or 'third gender grave' in the Czech Republic," archaeologist Katerina Semradova told a press conference on Tuesday.

She said that archaeologists had uncovered an earlier case dating from the Mesolithic period where a female warrior was buried as a man. She added that Siberian shamans were also buried in this way but with richer funeral accessories to appropriate to their elevated position in society. "But this later discovery was neither of those, leading us to believe the man was probably homosexual or transsexual," Semeradova said.


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Interventionists on a roll

In the making of public policy those who stand together in a united front generally prevail over those who are diffident and divided--even when the numbers would suggest otherwise. A familiar example is the Israel Lobby, which continues to show extraordinary potency.

If I recall correctly, Michelangelo included a Libyan Sibyl in his Sistine Chapel frescoes. Two groups are not at all sibylline in their Libyan imperative: the neocons and the liberal interventionists. The former consist of the usual suspect together with Senators McCain and Lieberman. One might have expected liberal Democrats to be more skeptical, but a recent study shows that after Obama's election their support for the antiwar cause evaporated. It seems that liberal critics, who achieved some prominence a few years ago, are only opposed to Republican wars. Currently, Hillary Clinton is heading this faction, but it has a long history of intransigent interventionism going back to the time of Woodrow Wilson.

Both groups--the neocons and the neo-Wilsonians--fervently believe that we must continue to act as the world's policeman. Even where this activity consists only of the appallingly named surgical strikes, it costs a lot of dough--money we do not have. One might have thought the the Tea Partyites, with their concern about our spending, would be opposed, but they don't seem to be, at least not very much. For their part, libertarians are divided, though Judge Andrew Napolitano (whose TV show is a must-see) has been putting up a good fight against our war in Libya. The hard left, what remains of it, is also divided

It is my sad duty to report that the views of that grinning jackal, Bill Kristol, who thinks that Obama has joined the neocons, are telling (see, eg, his /

Some are speaking of George W. Bush's third term. With good reason, I fear.

POSTSCRIPT. Yesterday Andrew Sullivan caustically noted:

"The important thing in Washington . . . is to maintain total amnesia about the recent past for fear it might impede people's careers and credibility. Remember: this is a town where the advocates for the Iraq fiasco have paid no political price and ignored every significant lesson. This is a town where Paul Wolfowitz is as respected as ever, where Bill Kristol remains influential, and where no senior former officials [read: war criminals--WRD] ever acknowledge a single mistake (see the autobiographies of Bush and Rumsfeld)."

The resurfacing of the horrendous Paul Wolfowitz ("Man is Wolfowitz to man.") is one the most disturbing things that has occurred in recent days.