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Saturday, June 25, 2016

We need better super heroes

by John MacBeath Watkins

Why are the superpowers of comic book characters so useless? How many of your own problems could be solved by being able to hit someone very hard, or shoot a powerful beam from your eyes that can take out a wall?

I propose some superheroes with really useful talents:

Smarty Pants: Once she dons her magic underwear, her intelligence allows her to solve previously intractable engineering problems, like how to render nuclear waste inert.

The Waiter: Patience is his superpower. No matter how long you need to make up your mind, he will wait patiently and cheerfully. Particularly adept at dealing with bureaucracy, he can accomplish things without blowing up the buildings where the red tape resides.

The Compromiser: No matter how much two sides hate each other, he can devise a solution that benefits everyone.

The Comforter: She can take you to a new plateau of peace and contentment, no matter what trauma you've experienced.:

Any others to suggest?


Monday, June 13, 2016

Homosexual panic and the Pulse atrocity

by John MacBeath Watkins

On Sunday, June 12, at about 2 a.m., Omar Mateen entered a crowded gay nightclub and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53 before being fatally shot by police. He claimed to be an Islamic terrorist, but his father said the incident that set him off was seeing two men kissing.

The L.A. Times went with a headline Monday that noted the shooter had claimed allegiance to Hezbollah, a Shiite terror organization. CNN and some other outlets went with headlines saying he had claimed allegiance to Islamic State, a Sunni terror organization which is currently fighting Hezbollah in Syria.

As it happens, both were right, at different times Mateen had claimed allegiance to both organizations. The one he chose the night of his attack was Islamic State. His claims to be aligned with terror organizations was incoherent, probably a cover for what was really going on.

His claims fit nicely with standard narratives about how Islamic terrorists are a threat to America, and the conservative political correctness that insists on the term "Islamic terrorist" to describe them, even when much more precise terms are available.

But his father said the incident had nothing to do with religion. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Mateen's father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told NBC News he did not believe the killings had to do with religion and said his son was angered recently when he saw two gay men kissing in Miami. 
"They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, 'Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that,' " the father said. "And then we were in the men's bathroom and men were kissing each other."

And a man who claims allegiance to organizations that are sworn enemies and currently actively shooting at each other doesn't know much about those organizations.

There is a term of art in psychology and law called a homosexual panic, which describes the anxiety and conflicted feelings of a person who is faced with his (this is usually a male phenomenon) repressed homosexual desires. It has been used as a legal defense in assault and murder cases, with lawyers claiming that a defendant panicked when they received a homosexual advance and were temporarily insane.

That sounds a bit like claiming not to be culpable for a crime because one is bigot, at least to the modern ear. Homosexual panic has fallen out of favor as a psychological diagnosis, as well as a legal defense. But I think it describes something that happens in people who are culturally conditioned to hate homosexuality and repress it in themselves.

Even those of us who grew up in a society where most homosexuals were closeted didn't have the kind of visceral reaction Mateen did  As I recall, the first time I saw two men kissing (not just Frenchmen greeting each other, but an obvious couple,) I found it unusual, but didn't see it as my problem. Living in a major city, I no longer consider it unusual.

And talking to other men, some felt a little uncomfortable the first time they saw men kissing, but anger was not the usual response.

Studies have shown that homophobes often have unresolved homosexual feelings. This is outlined in a study that was conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara. The research was published the April, 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

From Science Daily:
What I'm talking about here is not a sudden onset of temporary madness, but a slow-burning lump of sulfur in the soul, a sense of panic that won't let go for years and years. Mateen must have known he would die when he went on his rampage. He was killing himself, and killing others who personified the part of himself he wanted dead.

This is the price of a culture that does not allow people to be themselves. We've had a long series of anti-gay lawmakers eventually turn out to be gay. Such men must have a grinding sense of panic for most of their adult lives, slowly wearing away at their souls while they try to demonstrate their loyalty to traditional sex roles by hounding people who express the sexuality they don't have the courage to reveal.

Moral cowardice and cruelty are close companions in this hellish world of repressed desire and displaced self-hatred. Mateen tried to portray himself as an Islamic martyr be claiming allegiance to Islamic State during his murderous night at the Pulse, but his father is probably right. This wasn't about religion.

Edited to add:

I thought I was kind of out on a limb with this one, but Gawker published something that seems to confirm it. Mateen was a regular at Pulse, and engaged in the un-Islamic practice of getting sloppy drunk on a regular basis.

http://gawker.com/orlando-shooter-was-reportedly-a-regular-at-pulse-and-h-1781920316

He also used a gay messaging ap, according to Gawker.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

When Democrats attack

by John MacBeath Watkins

Now that Hillary Clinton has enough delegates to be the presumptive nominee for president, the question is, how will she and her allies in the Democratic Party attack Donald Trump?

One possible answer came with the release of an ad by Priorities USA, a political action committee that sides with Clinton. The ad, called "Grace," features the parents of a disabled child discussing the birth of their child and how they felt when they saw Donald Trump ridiculing a journalist for his disability. The journalist, Serge Kovaleski, had done some digging into Trump's claim that Muslims were celebrating in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and found nothing that supported Trump's claim.

Unable to support his claim about the celebration, or refute Kovaleski's reporting, Trump made fun of how arthrogryposis limits the journalist's movements.

Here's the "Grace" ad:


Now, Republican candidates tried attacking Trump in a variety of ways, only to fail. The problem is, there are so many things wrong with him as a candidate, what do you go after? It has to resonate on an emotional level with voters, and it has to make sense of the aspects of Trump that make voters uncomfortable.

Well, Trump is clearly a bully. He's also a candidate who is trying to persuade voters, with some success, that he cares about their problems.

One of the standard polling questions is which candidate is better described by the phrase "cares about people like me." One reason Mitt Romney lost to President Obama is that he could never close that empathy gap.

It's all very well to tell people that Trump's economic proposals would make a shambles of the American economy, that deporting 3 percent of the population (yes, there are that many undocumented aliens in the country) would create enormous problems and enormous costs, that banning all Muslims from coming to America would be a betrayal of everything America stands for, but these things don't really resonate on an emotional level.

But if you portray him as a cruel man who cares only about himself, who habitually punches down at those less powerful, you give people a narrative that puts all his proposals in perspective. Do you really want to put someone who abuses people less powerful than himself in power over you?

That's an emotionally resonant answer that gets to the truth of the man's character. Eduardo "Ted" Cruz could not effectively make that argument because he's not exactly Mr. Empathy himself.

Trump triumphed in the primaries by presenting himself as someone who would bully the people his supporters blame for their problems. Being that guy is how he got this far. Attacking his lack of empathy is a way of attacking his strength. It's a bit of electoral judo that turns his strength against himself.

Will it work? We'll see.