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Sexuality

A Pardon For Alan Turing

60 Years Late is Better Than Never(?)

It’s good to see that Queen Elizabeth II has announced a pardon for the great mathematician and cypher, Alan Turing. After all, his only crime was being gay.

It may be a good sign that we’ve cut the shelf life for ignorance and bigotry down to a mere 60 years.

Read the post on Alan Turing written last year for his 100th birthday.

Remembering Alan Turing


So You Want to be a Model?

Just Hit the Genetic Lottery!


The Sociology of Gay Marriage and Children

A Response to Justice Antonin Scalia

 

I was camping for a few days and unable to blog, but upon returning from vacation and getting caught up on current events the first thing to really catch my attention was Justice Scalia’s claim that there was “considerable disagreement” among sociologists with regard to the harm done to the children of same-sex couples.

If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must — you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s -there’s considerable disagreement among – among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a — in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not.

 

Perhaps Justice Scalia should have read the amicus brief filed by the American Sociological Association for the very case he was hearing, Hollingsworth v. Perry. The brief states clearly and unambiguously, “When the social science evidence is exhaustively examined—which the ASA has done—the facts demonstrate that children fare just as well when raised by same-sex parents.” The brief declared that this is the “the clear and consistent consensus in the social science profession.”

 

This statement is a confirmation of the same position taken by the American Psychological Association in 2004. “There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation (Armesto, 2002; Patterson, 2000; Tasker & Golombok, 1997). On the contrary, results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.”

 

That’s not to claim that there are no differential effects of same-sex parenting as compared to heterosexual parenting. Research published in the American Sociological Review by Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz indicates that there are differences between children of same-sex couples distinct from children of traditional marriages. Such differences include a greater lesser likelihood to embrace sex and gender stereotypes, and higher toleration of sex and gender differences. These differences include “greater capacity to express feelings [and] more empathy for social diversity. Hardly harmful side effects in themselves.

 

Any negative consequences of same-sex parenting, are mostly related to the stigma associated with homosexuality rather than the real nature of same-sex marriages in and of themselves. “Because lesbigay parents do not enjoy the same rights, respect, and recognition as heterosexual parents, their children contend with the burdens of vicarious social stigma.” The research predicts that, with greater acceptance of same-sex relationships, this stigma should “wither away.”

 

Intriguingly, Stacey and Biblarz predict that “Granting legal rights and respect to gay parents and their children should lessen the stigma that they now suffer and might reduce the high rates of depression and suicide reported among closeted gay youth living with heterosexual parents.”

 

Every day I read or watch examples of people like Justice Scalia making completely false social science claims to validate their own prejudices. When public officials do this, they make the assumption that the general public, or perhaps “their” public, will not fact check them.

 

 

 


Remembering Alan Turing

All of Him!

Google was right to pay homage to Alan Turing on the hundredth anniversary of his birth with a “Doodle” of the famous Turing Machine. Indeed, without Turing, it is likely that Google would not exist, at least in its current manifestation. The life and work of Alan Turing made the icons of computer advancement, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. possible. Add on top of that the thousands of lives and countless contributions made by those saved by Turing’s efforts during World War II. It could be said that Alan Turing is one of the most underappreciated contributors to history.

Alan was born in England on June 23, 1912. Even as a youth, he demonstrated passion for science and mathematics, often to the distraction of his mother. He attended King’s College, at Cambridge where he was influenced by the works of John Von Neumann and enthralled by the new and mathematically tumultuous universe of quantum mechanics. He was also inspired by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s masterwork in mathematical logic, the Principia Mathematica.

The Principia Mathematica was an attempt to amalgamate all of the rules of mathematics into one, complete, logical method. It was Russell’s and Whitehead’s belief that all of mathematics could be understood through logical axioms. The Principia remains one of the most important works of logic and mathematics in history, but fell short of its lofty goals. Two theorems of “incompleteness” developed by Kurt Gödel shattered the aspirations of admittedly exhausted Russell and Whitehead. Gödel challenged the possibility of a complete logic of mathematics by positing a logical statement, “statement x cannot be proven.” If statement x can be proven, then it is inherently incorrect, but if the statement cannot be proven, then though the statement is correct, it demonstrates the incompleteness of the system. This awkward logic then led to Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem, that no mathematical system can be used to prove its own consistency.

Now the above may only be interesting to fans of logic, and largely alien to the rest of us, but it was an important conundrum to Turing. He became interested in determining whether or not there was a method by which a mathematician or logician could prove if a given axiom was provable. He determined that such a method would be excruciatingly tedious to a human “computer.” Was there a way to mechanize the process of computing, however? This thought experiment became known as the famous Turing Machine, an algorithm-making device that could perform endless calculations. Through this mind experiment, Turing proved Gödel’s inconsistencies to be correct. No such complete device could be created, thus no such method could exist.

However, the possibilities of such a machine became a focus of Turing’s work. Yes, perhaps a computing machine had logical limitations, but at the same time it had a virtually limitless potential. The Turing Machine became the conceptual bedrock of modern computing on which all of modern society depends, including the very process of writing and presenting this blog.

Turing continued his contributions to modern computing, designing actual computing machines, though never fully developed, and creating the first programming language, the Abbreviated Code Instructions. His boundless imagination set upon the potential “intelligence” of these calculating machines. Is the human brain simply another kind of Turing Machine? If so, at what point might a human-made computer machine be considered intelligent? Turing imagined computing machines that could perform complex tasks like playing chess, but also were capable of learning. His work in this area is foundational in the modern pursuit of artificial intelligence.

He even created the famous “Turing Test” for determining if a machine was intelligent. The test is simple. Allow a person to question both a computer and a human, without being able to see either. If, based solely on the responses of each, the inquisitor is unable to differentiate the computer respondent from the human respondent, then the computer has achieved intelligence, not just computational power.

Turing was also the first mathematician to use a computer in his theoretical work, in this case, to help him understand the mathematics of genetics. Before Watson and Crick, Turing wrote The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis in an attempt to compute the very algorithms of life. There was no limit to the directionality of Turing’s probing mind.

As incredible and life advancing as the above contributions were, Turing could also be described as a war hero. In 1939 Turing, a lifelong fan of ciphers, joined the ranks of British intelligence at the famous Bletchly Park. The primary mission at Bletchly was to break the notorious German Enigma code. These coded communications were key to breaking Hitler’s U-Boat stranglehold over the North Atlantic. England’s brave stand against tyranny in the Battle of Britain rested on successfully deciphering these communications. With Turing’s help, the Enigma Code was broken. The first electronic deciphering machines were developed. These would ultimately become the first computers. Shortly after breaking the Enigma Code, the United States and Britain gained control of the North Atlantic and were free to prepare the invasions of Nazi occupied Europe.

Turing remained an active member of Britain’s intelligence community for a number of years after the war. This is where Turing’s noteworthy life turns tragic, however.

Alan Turing was gay.

Turing’s sexuality was a rather open secret. During the war, his value to the war effort was the best blinder to the certainty of his homosexuality. After the war a peculiar brand of homophobia developed. Because of his sexuality, Turing was considered a national security threat. He lost his top-secret clearance, an action that hurt him deeply.

But the post-war Puritans were not done. Turing was put on trial for his homosexuality in 1952. The most damning attribute of his “crime” was the fact that he offered no defense for his actions. Indeed, he saw nothing wrong with his sincere desires and affections. For this, he was coerced by the court to undergo therapy for his deviance and invasive hormonal treatments to diminish his libido. These invasions against his person, his privacy, his social standing proved too much for this great mind.

He committed suicide in 1954.¹

Alan Turing’s life was important in many ways. Consider, for a moment, all of the lives that were enriched if not saved by the products of his vivacious mind. This is not only true with regard to Turing’s service during World War II, but also with regard to the technological fruits of his conceptual labor. Think of the medical innovations alone that could not have been created had it not been for the “Turing Machine.”

It is, however, contingent upon us to acknowledge the injustice of his death if we are to celebrate the contributions of his life. The fruits of one’s mind, one’s contributions to history and society, is not enough to offer protection against the pervasiveness of bigotry and ignorance.

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¹ Turing committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide, a very painful way to die. It is said that the Apple logo, an apple with a bite missing, is a secret homage to Alan Turing. I have not been able to confirm the validity of this claim. To paraphrase Roscoe Lee Brown in the movie Cowboys, if it’s not true, it ought to be.


On A Congressman’s Bad Behavior and the Image of Congress

One can’t bring shame to a shameless institution

 

This blog has never taken a position on the many meandering sexual mores of our politicians. This post will not be an exception to that rule. As far as this blog is concerned, the sex lives of politicians are private matters even under the unfortunate circumstances when sexual impropriety enters the public spotlight. Even if they lie. Even if they try to cover it up. Even if they are hypocritical over it. So long as the sex is consensual and does not constitute a conflict of interest then it is a matter between the politician, the spouse, the lover, escort service, the guy in the next stall, and/or any other direct actor who may or may not have shared space and/or bodily fluids. That is the policy of the Journal of a Mad Sociologist and will remain the policy so long as glass houses exist.

After all, if a history on bad penile decisions (BPDs) made by people in authority was written no shelf could support its weight. If there is a locus of bad decisions with more gravity than sex, I’d like to know what it is. Few are the men I know who, when a discussion of BPDs comes up, are at a loss for stories. This writer is no exception. And how many such BPDs are covered up with lies and denials. This is not specific to Anthony Weiner or John Ensign or David Vitter. So should Anthony Weiner resign? Has he lost the public trust? These are questions best left to his constituents and to the Democratic Party as an institution. This journal has no position on the topic.

When these peccadillos come to light, the political posturing and gamesmanship is on. Of course the Republicans want Weiner to resign. They want all Democrats to resign, just as all Democrats want Republicans to resign and will respond accordingly when a member of that party slips into the sexual abyss. Some are able to weather the political fire-storm, a la Ted Kennedy, a la Barney Frank. In the meantime, however, the opposing party will descend like jackals on the fallen. All’s the better if it is a politician with a reputation for high moral standards and deep “family values.” SCORE! That is the game, and every politician knows the rules before they send those scandalous Twitters, or call that escort service, or hire a rentboy, or tap that shoe under the stall. Just because that is the name of the game, however, does not mean that this site has to participate.

In the name of this political game, however, the claim is often made that the offending congressman has somehow brought shame to Congress as an institution. When I heard this about Anthony Weiner I winced. How could Weiner, or any other libidinous member of Congress bring shame to an institution that is so blatantly shameless? Let’s be clear, a middle aged man making an ass of himself to get the attention of women half his age may be creepy and uncouth, but it certainly isn’t enough to bring shame to an institution like Congress. None of the wide stances, acts of adultery, patronage of prostitutes, call girls, lesbian bondage clubs, rentboys and all of the hypocrisy that goes along with them brings shame to Congress.

What brings shame to Congress is its demonstrated inability or unwillingness to govern. It is a comatose and atrophied institution where good ideas go to rot and bad ideas thrive so long as they serve the corporate interest. This is what brings shame to Congress as an institution. How wonderful it would be if our only concern regarding our legislative branch were the sex lives of our representatives.

Mid-life crisis, yielding to temptation, repressed and hidden desire, these are nothing more than relatively common human foibles. Lying about these human foibles is what human’s do, because revealing our foibles is embarrassing. Ultimately, however, Weiner’s actions are not “unforgivable” and are certainly not the reason why Congress is less popular than Brussels Sprouts.

Legislative gridlock, partisan posturing, representatives bought and paid for by the highest bidders, pandering to corporate interests while ignoring constituents…these bring shame to Congress. One party dedicates itself solely to the undoing of the other, even if that means hurting the citizens in the process. After all, a bad economy increases the chances of the minority party. Legislation can’t get through the Senate without sixty votes. One Senator, in the pocket of corporate interests, can put a hold on popular and necessary bills and not even give his name. By the time a bill gets to the President’s desk it’s been watered down and smothered in legislative verbiage to the point of irrelevance. The original intention of the bill, even with the best intentions, is weighted with crippling riders and amendments. The only piece of legislation for which we can predict easy passage is, of course, the Congressional pay raise.

Unemployment. Health care. Foreclosures. Recession. Corporate corruption. War. Fossil Fuel Addiction. Global Warming. Environmental degradation. Floundering education. Tattered infrastructure. Trade imbalances. Rising deficits. Pollution. Homelessness. Poverty. Congress is impotent…the laughing stock of the free world. How much more shame could there be?

Frankly, licentious Tweets to a coed are less shameful than a luncheon with an oil lobbyist. Being on an escort service rolodex is not nearly as dishonorable as being on a corporate mailing list. Perhaps if Congress actually dedicated itself to meaningful legislation it could legitimately admonish the sexual transgressions of its members. When it comes to shame, however, Congress has more serious concerns.


Call Girl Barbie!

NOTE: The picture below is not the original. Somehow, many of my images on this site were corrupted (one of the reasons a switched to the new site and format). The original was a Barbie in a very low cut evening gown. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far to reproduce a suitable image. I simply clicked on a major retailer website and selected four images. You see that though the image is not quite the same, the message and the insinuations about sexuality remain. 

This is a picture from the cell phone of one of my wife’s friends.  Believe it or not this was a Barbie (or Barbie like doll, I don’t want to step on any name brands) that was being sold in the toy section of the store.  Notice the low cut top and the obviously, surgically enhanced…um…cleavage.

 

call girl barbie

If a picture says a thousand words, just how much is this doll saying to our children, especially our little girls?


Curing Homosexuality? Why?

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Above is a classic interview conducted by Rachel Maddow with Richard Cohen. Cohen believes that homosexuality can be “cured” if you follow his methods. Rachel does a fantastic job of destroying his logic. My only criticism is that I wish Rachel had asked Cohen why homosexuality should be cured. Why should what amounts to a variation of desire, normal desire, be subject to “treatment” thus defined as an illness? That gay people should be subject to the kinds of stigma that convinces them that their love and desires should be subject to treatment is an abuse of the very concept of “therapy.”

To be an illness, a phenomenon must inhibit an individual’s ability, or those who share their lives with said individuals, to live a long and satisfying life. Many homosexuals, including Maddow, demonstrate that whom one desires and how one expresses that desire in no way impacts one’s health as defined above. Nor does it impact the health of others who share their lives with homosexuals. The truth is that there’s nothing pathological about being gay. Social stigma is the only motivation for defining homosexuality as pathological. And it must be remembered that the pathologization of sexuality is…profitable. It’s especially profitable for folks like Cohen who have a line of products for sale by which to “cure” what is, in essence, everybody else’s problem.

By playing against a socially constructed stigma, playing against a socialized sense of inadequacy by convincing people that they are flawed, in need of help, people like Cohen do nothing more than contribute to hatred and prejudice. This is true regardless of their so called prescriptions of love and understanding. By virtue of the fact that they define a variation of sexual/emotional desire as something that needs treatment they are defining those who desire and feel in a certain way as being sick, pathological–inferior.