Former super-babe Pamela Lee Anderson is in Israel to be a judge on their version of Dancing with the Stars.
While there, she plans to use her "powers of seduction" on ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers to get them to ban fur. Fur is a big issue for these guys because of the 200-year-old Eastern European tradition of wearing fur-trimmed hats ("streimel") that many ultra-Orthodox follow.
Good luck, little shiksa. Since they're not married to you, these guys won't shake your hand; many won't even look at you. Listen to you? I doubt it. There are Orthodox Jews right here in San Francisco who respect and admire my wife but won't shake her hand. We both know it's nothing personal, and she's OK with it, but when confronted with that kind of medieval thinking, I won't shake theirs, either.
It's part of a modesty code that I abhor. Rule one: men have to protect themselves from the existence of women--they're too distracting and tempting. Rule two: women have to hide from men--to protect men, and to honor their husbands. In fact, ultra-Orthodox Jewish women hide their hair because of a religious injunction against "wantonness;" to make it easier, many shave their heads and then wear a wig (or just a headscarf, fearing that a wig looks too much like natural hair).
What is it with the orthodox followers of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity? Regardless of the language they use (the power of women, the needs of women, the special purpose of women, the wish to honor women, the desire to protect women, the fundamental evil of women), the motivation is clear--reduce male anxiety about the existence of women.
No, that's too polite. Reduce male terror of women.
So cover their bodies, cover their hair, cover their faces. Silence their voices. Disqualify them from leadership. Don't let them read the Torah. Don't let them read, period. The Taliban mutilates women who don't cover their ankles. Fundamentalist Christians tell women that Jesus wants them to obey men, not to think--a modern form of mutilation.
If Pam Anderson is serious about making the ultra-Orthodox more humane, she can start by talking about birth control. Each man has one or two fur hats. Each man has 12 or 15 children. Those children need a lot of care, and they eat a lot of chickens. Do the math, Pam.
Meanwhile, the question remains: how does the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus feel about beauty? You'd think that oceans, sunsets, peach trees, and breasts would be proof that God really loves beauty.
But as a fundamentalist Muslim warns in the current international play The Great Game, "Don't look at the Moon--it's too beautiful, and it will take our mind off prayer."
With the recent election still echoing in everyone's ears, and pundits pundificating about how conservative the country really is, this is a good time to remember the major study done about online pornography subscriptions just 18 months ago.
As reported in the Journal of Economic Perspectives,
* The rates at which people buy pornography are not wildly different from state to state;
* States where people vote for conservative candidates buy more porn than states in which people vote for progressive candidates.
And yes, this is after adjusting for factors including broadband access, income, and population.
According to credit card receipts from a national provider of adult entertainment, eight of the top ten pornography-consuming states went Republican in the 2008 election. And the trend goes beyond voting. For example, states where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage" bought more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. The same difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior."
And of course the state with the highest per capita purchase of online pornography is. . .Utah. Of course.
To repeat: porn subscriptions don't just come from California, New York, and other Liberal-Jewish-Urban-Latte-Sipping nests of perversion. They come from every state. And they really come from states in which people claim their values make them uninterested in or resistant to porn.
One technical term for such people is liars, but let's be more compassionate, the better to understand our fellow creatures.
There are large groups of people who claim certain negative attitudes about sexuality, yet do those very same things. Porn. Prostitutes. Premarital sex. Same-gender stuff. Affairs. Adult masturbation. Wild fantasies.
What are they saying? That they reject their own sexuality. What are they feeling? Frightened, anxious, alone. Guilty, ashamed, tormented; as if, to quote a Jonny Lang song, "even God has lost track of my soul."
Progressive politics MUST address these feelings in so-called conservative people. Until we do, we're just reinforcing a phony us/them divide cooked up by politically powerful people. Talking about a sexually in-control "us" and a sexually out-of-control "them" is how the Religious Right made its fortune, and stays in business. The regulation of other people's sexuality is a theme that never gets boring--for people who are afraid of their own sexuality.
There's belief and there's science. When it comes to sexuality, American public policy is terribly prejudiced toward the first, while too often ignoring the second.
Election season invariably exaggerates this unfortunate tendency. And so, for example, people actually fear that gay soldiers will be humping while being shot at. Or that they'll seduce straight soldiers in the shower--who will be powerless to just say no. Love that close-order drill!
New data about pregnancy, contraception, and abortion were just released. While I don't expect this to influence too many decision-makers, when considered together these facts are intriguing:
* Reducing the cost of an abortion through health insurance or government coverage does NOT increase the number of abortions.
As a recent report shows, "Insurance coverage for abortion is not a significant driver of the incidence of abortion, any more than insurance coverage of pregnancy-related care drives the number of babies born each year."
This reality is already demonstrated in countries with generous coverage for abortion in their national health plans. In the Netherlands and Germany, for example, where almost all abortions are free for citizens, abortion rates are less than half of ours. And in Canada, which has 1) no national restrictions on abortion and 2) a comprehensive national health system, the abortion rate is much lower than ours.
* The highest teen birth rates in the U.S. are clustered in the South.
This isn't just a function of race or ethnicity, either. Recent data shows, for example, that Latino teen birthrates ranged from 31.1 in Maine to 188.3 in Alabama. Similarly, birthrates for white teens ranged from 4.3 per 1,000 in the District of Columbia to 54.8 births per 1,000 in Mississippi.
So what is it about the South? Religion. Guilt. More religion. And an almost complete lack of comprehensive sexuality education in school.
By contrast, in countries with serious sex education such as Holland and Sweden, their rate of unwanted teen pregnancy is dramatically lower than ours.
* * * * * * *
Ignorance and obstacles never stop people from having sex, unwanted pregnancies, or abortions. This is so well-established you'd think that more policy-makers and voters would have caught on by now. But when it comes to sex, Americans believe information is dangerous and choice invites irresponsibility. We don't trust our kids or our neighbors.
Our country expresses this mistrust by shooting itself collectively in the foot. Too many kids having sex? Tell them Jesus disapproves, so when they have sex they'll feel guilty and unable to use birth control. Too many teen pregnancies? Withhold information and support for using contraception so more kids will get pregnant. Too many abortions? Make them illegal and expensive, so people will have dangerous ones later in their pregnancies.
America's public policy around sex is completely out of touch with reality. It looks like, say, Seattle building roads engineered for a desert climate, or New York building skyscrapers without elevators.
The belief: if we just wish hard enough, things we don't like will go away (some people call this "prayer"). Teens will stop having sex, people having sex will stop getting pregnant, and pregnant people will stop getting abortions. If we just wish hard enough.
There are entire industries (led by civic "leaders") whose sole purpose is keeping Americans ignorant and superstitious. Since 1973, the Religious Right has knowingly been spreading lies about how sex education leads to sex, and abortion leads to depression and cancer. It's a dramatic example of belief triumphing over science.
Forty years after Roe v Wade, Sarah Palin and her proud clones are continuing the same lying tradition, although with a new twist. Somehow Palin's unmarried pregnant daughter (who became an unmarried mother) has been positioned as heroic--but as an exception. Other girls who get pregnant are still sluts, especially if they don't have TV contracts and millionaire parents.
If Americans valued science as much as they value a touchdown or reality TV, there wouldn't be much of a culture war. We have the world's best Constitution to help us sort out most public policy questions. A few serious public conversations with budget and other outcome data could resolve most of the rest.
Then we could rationally discuss the values on which we want to base our policies. Instead, Americans argue about what we "believe," abetted by organized religion, an Oprah-ized, feel-good psychology of entitlement, and "news" shows that ask viewers what they think. In grownup countries, that's called gossip.
Meanwhile, the people our politicians and voters imagine us to be continue to behave differently around sex than our pathetic public policy predicts. No matter how hard people pray, other people keep behaving like, well, people. And given the biology of the human brain-nervous system-reproductive scheme, ignorance and obstacles will continue to lead to outcomes everyone says they want to avoid.