When I first moved to San Francisco the bedroom window of my apartment looked out at Star of the Sea. The city's Ninth Avenue library was kind of a no-man's land between us. You had to plan your visits to the library at times other than after school.
This story sounds as if someone in the diocese screwed up.
A San Francisco Catholic school has really figured out how to seed guilt over sexuality as early as possible in its youngest students. The Star of the Sea School is under fire this week after a parish priest passed out a pamphlet to elementary schoolers without the school’s approval, asking a series of questions regarding sexual behavior such as masturbation and contraception, as well as abortion. The pamphlet was given students in second through sixth grades just before confession, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
They asked questions such as, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?” and, “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?” as well as, “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?”
Riley Brooks, an 11-year-old student at the school, explained how he and his sixth-grade classmates responded to the material: they were “really grossed out.” “There was something about masturbation,” Brooks told the Chronicle. “Pretty sure abortion was on there, but I can’t remember. And sodomy. I don’t know what that means.”
Ah, right, he doesn’t know what sodomy is — because he’s 11. Which makes it likely that he, and all of his younger peers who also received the questionable pamphlet, probably haven’t had or advised anyone to have an abortion lately, and probably haven’t considered whether they might prefer a hormonal IUD to the pill.
Brooks’ mother, Christy, told the Chronicle that she anticipated her child would learn about sexuality and sexual morality from a Catholic perspective eventually, as that is typically what happens at Catholic schools. She just didn’t expect it to happen so soon — or in such an inherently contradictory way.
“There’s something on there saying, ‘Did I deliberately look at impure television or Internet,’ and I feel like they have actually given my children impure content,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for children and anybody who thinks otherwise doesn’t belong around children.”
A Salvadorean nun gave birth to a baby boy in the small Italian city of Reiti—and named him Francis, apparently a tribute to the pope. The 31-year-old called an ambulance Wednesday morning, reporting abdominal pains, which she believed were stomach cramps, according to the BBC. Until the very end the nun insisted she was unaware of her pregnancy. "It's not possible, I'm a nun," she told doctors, according to Italian press reports cited by the Telegraph. But it appears her fellow nuns aren’t quite buying that it could have been a virgin birth. “It seems she was not able to resist temptation,” said the convent's mother superior, Sister Erminia.
Regardless of how she got pregnant, some seem willing to believe she had no idea she was pregnant. "I guess she's telling the truth when she says she arrived at the hospital unaware of the pregnancy,” a local pastor, Don Fabrizio Borrello, told journalsits, noting the nun plans to keep the baby. The nun, whose name wasn’t released, belongs to the “Little Disciples of Jesus” convent, which is in charge of managing an old people’s home, notes the AFP. She likely won’t be there for long. "It would be preferable that she now lead a secular life with her baby, away from religious institutions," said a spokesman for Delio Lucarelli, bishop of Rieti.
Last year, the British Medical Journal published a long-term study on reproductive health that found almost 1 percent of young women in a U.S. study claimed they got pregnant despite never having sex nor using assisted reproductive technologies. Of the 5,340 women who reported pregnancy, 45—or 0.8 percent—reported a virgin pregnancy.
Centuries of economic theory have been based on one simple premise: when given a choice between two items, people make the rational decision and select the one they value more. But as with many simple premises, this one has a flaw in that it is demonstrably untrue.
The fields of psychology and behavioral economics have experimentally identified a laundry list of common biases that cause people to act against their own apparent interests. One of these biases -- the mere fact of possessing something raises its value to its owner -- is known as the "endowment effect."
A new interdisciplinary study from the University of Pennsylvania has delved into whether this bias is truly universal, and whether it might have been present in humanity's evolutionary past.
The study was led by Coren Apicella, an assistant professor in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychology, and Eduardo Azevedo, an assistant professor in Wharton's Department of Business Economics and Public Policy. They collaborated with Yale's Nicholas Christakis and the University of California, San Diego's James Fowler.
It will be published in the American Economic Review.
A classic endowment effect experiments involves giving participants one of two items, such as a chocolate bar and a mug, and then asking whether they would like to trade for the other. As the starting item is selected at random, there should be a 50 percent chance that participants initially receive the item they like best and thus a 50 percent chance that they will trade.
"What we see, however, is that people trade only about 10 percent of the time," Azevedo said. "Simply telling someone they own something makes them value it more. That is, the way you ask the question changes what item people prefer, unlike what you would expect from rational economic behavior."
One problem with these experiments is that they generally involve participants from so-called "WEIRD" -- western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic -- societies. Apicella drew on her decade-long study of the Hadza people of Tanzania to provide a new perspective. The Hadza are one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on Earth, living in small, nomadic camps that communally share nearly all their possessions.
"We wanted to examine whether the endowment effect was something that occurs in non-WEIRD societies, since they represent the vast majority of human populations that have ever existed," Apicella said. "Even if it's not a perfect window into our past, it's at least a different perspective than what you get when you study your average college student. The fact that the Hadza remain relatively isolated from Western culture, media and ideals makes them a good group with which to investigate the history and universality of biases like the endowment effect."
The history of the endowment effect is of particular interest to evolutionary psychologists, as experiments to test its presence in non-human primates, such as orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas, has been met with mixed results. That some non-human primates exhibit the bias could mean that it was present in the last common ancestor between them and humans, but it could also mean that they learned the behavior by participating in other reward-based studies.
The area of North Tanzania where the Hadza live provided a natural way to further investigate the role of culture in transmitting this bias, as a large lake separates some, but not all, of the camps from a nearby village. People living in the camps on the near side of the lake have much more frequent interactions with tourists and commerce, often buying items from stores in the village, or selling bows and arrows to visitors.
The researchers conducted versions of the endowment effect experiment in several different camps, and compared the results.
In order to avoid bias from items that might be more or less valuable in the environment the Hadza live in, the researchers constructed the experiments so that participants chose between items that had only cosmetic differences. Participants would be given either a package of cookies, with the option to trade it for a different flavor, or given a lighter, with the option to trade it for a different color. They also ensured that the participant knew that the variety he or she received at the start was a random choice, and varied whether the participant got to physically hold the item before given the option to trade it for another variety.
"We wanted to use both food and tools, as experiments with non-human primates show an endowment effect for the former but not the latter," Apicella said. "However, we saw that it didn't make a difference whether a person was choosing between cookies or lighters. The difference-maker was their relative level of isolation from modern life."
"The more isolated Hadza traded about 50 percent of the time -- which is what rational people should do," Azevedo said. People near the village traded about 25 percent of the time, which is much closer to the 10 percent we see with Western students."
"To make sure this wasn't a case of the more capitalistic people moving closer to the village, we also asked the people about their social networks," Azevedo said. "The percentage of people who named someone in a distant camp was very small. Quantitatively, it seems impossible that the difference in endowment effect between two camps could be explained by migration."
With that potential caveat accounted for, one explanation for the apparent lack of an endowment effect in the more isolated camps is that the bias is a learned behavior that comes with exposure to capitalistic societies. However, an alternative explanation could be that both groups experience the effect, but it is suppressed in the more communal groups by social pressures.
"We need to study this further to see which explanation holds," Apicella said. "Either way the results suggest that these isolated hunter-gatherers are more rational than the average western consumer when it comes to economic decisions."
Social selection plays the same role in the social sciences which the natural selection plays in the biological sciences: it selects the traits, norms and values which are most beneficial to the host culture. Seen from this angle, social diversity is a desirable quality for social progress since when diverse customs and value-systems compete with each other, they take the best and reject the worst from each.
A decentralized and unorganized religion, like Sufism, engenders diverse strains of beliefs and thoughts which compete with one another in gaining social acceptance. A heavily centralized and tightly organized religion, on the other hand, depends more on authority and dogma, than value and utility. A centralized religion is also more ossified and less adaptive.
When we look at religious extremism and the consequent militancy and terrorism, in Pakistan in particular and the Islamic world in general, in the natural evolution of religion, some deleterious mutation must have occurred somewhere, which has infected the whole of Islamic world.
Most Pakistani political scientists blame the Pakistani military establishment for a deliberate promotion of religious extremism to create a jihadi narrative which suits the institutional interests and strategic objectives of the Pakistani military. There is no denying this obvious fact but it is only one factor in a multifactorial equation. The phenomenon of religious extremism is not limited to Pakistan, the whole of Islamic world from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria to Indonesia, Malaysia and even the Muslim minorities of Thailand, China and Philippines bear witness to it.
The real culprit for the rise of religious extremism and terrorism in the Islamic world is Saudi Arabia. The Aal-e-Saud (descendants of Saud) have no hereditary claim to the Throne of Mecca since they are not the descendants of the prophet, nor even from the Quresh. They were the most primitive marauding nomadic tribesmen of Najd who defeated the Sharifs of Mecca violently after the collapse of the Ottomans in World War I. Their title to the throne of Saudi Arabia is de facto, not de jure, since neither do they have a hereditary claim nor do they hold elections to ascertain the will of the Saudi people. Thus they are the illegitimate rulers of Saudi Arabia and they feel insecure because of that; which explains their heavy-handed tactics is dealing with any kind of dissent, opposition or movement for reform.
Religious extremism all over the Islamic world is directly linked to the Wahhabi-Salafi madrassas which are sponsored by the Saudi and Gulf petrodollars. These madrassas attract children from the most poorest backgrounds in Islamic countries because they offer the kind of incentives and facilities which government-sponsored public schools cannot provide: free boarding and lodging, no tuition fee at all, and free books and stationery.
Aside from madrassas, another factor that promotes Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in the Islamic world is the ritual of the Hajj and Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina). Every year millions of Muslims travel from all over the Islamic world to perform the ritual and wash their sins. When they return to their native countries, after spending a month or two in Saudi Arabia, along with clean hearts and souls, dates and zamzam, they also bring along the tales of Saudi hospitality and their true puritanical version of Islam, which some, especially rural-tribal folk, find attractive.
Authority plays an important role in any thought system; the educated people accept the authority of the specialists in their respective fields; the lay people accept the authority of the theologians and clerics in the interpretation of religion and scriptures. Aside from authority, certain other factors also play a part in individual psyches: loyalty, purity or the concept of sacred, and originality and authenticity as in a concept of being close to an authentic ideal.
Just like modern naturalists, who prefer organic food and natural habits and lifestyle because of their belief in the goodness of nature or their disillusionment from manufactured fuss, religious folks prefer a true version of Islam which is closer to the putative authentic Islam as practiced in Mecca and Medina: the Gold Standard of Petro-Islam.
Yet another factor contributing to the rise of Salafism throughout the Islamic world is immigration. Millions of Muslim men, women and families from the Third World Islamic countries live and work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman. Most are on temporary work permits.
Just like the pilgrims, when they come back to their native villages and towns, they bring the alluring perception of having an Oxbridge degree and an attractive English accent. Not literally but figuratively. Spending time in Arab countries entitles one to pass authoritative judgments on religious matters; and having a cursory understanding of the language of Quran makes you an equivalent of a Qazi (judge) among the illiterate village people. And they just reproduce the customs and attitudes of the Arabs as an authentic version of Islam to their compatriots.
Shi'ite Muslims have their Imams and Marjahs (religious authorities) but it is generally believed that Sunni Islam discourages the authority of the clergy. In this sense, Sunni Islam is closer to Protestantism, theoretically, because it promotes an individual and personal interpretation of scriptures and religion. It might be true about the Hanafies and other educated schools of thought in Islam; but on a popular level, the House of Saud plays the same role in Islam that the Pope plays in Catholicism. By virtue of their physical possession of the holy places of Islam – Mecca and Medina – they are the ex officio Caliphs of Islam. The title of the Saudi King, Khadim-ul-Haramain-al-Shareefain (Servant of the House of God), makes him a vice-regent of God on Earth. And the title of the Caliph of Islam is not limited to a nation-state, he wields enormous influence and clout throughout the Commonwealth of Islam: the Muslim Ummah.
Now, when we hear slogan like “No democracy, just Islam” on the streets of Third World Islamic countries, one wonders what kind of an imbecile would forgo his right to choose his ruler through a democratic process? It is partly due to the fact that the masses often conflate democracy with liberalism; without realizing that democracy is only a political process of choosing one’s representatives and legislators through an election process, while liberalism is a cultural mindset which may or may not be suitable in a native Third World society, depending on its existing level of social progress in an evolutionary perspective - which prefers a bottom-up, gradual and incremental changes over a top-down, sudden and radical approach.
One feels dumbfounded, however, when even educated Muslims argue that democracy is un-Islamic and an ideal Islamic system of governance is a Caliphate. An ideal Caliphate could be some Umayyad/Abbasid model that they conjure up in their heads; but in practice the only beneficiaries of such an anti-democratic approach are the illegitimate tyrants of the Arab World. They claim to be the Caliphs of Islam albeit indirectly and in a nuanced manner: the Servants of the House of God and the Keepers of the Holy places of Islam.
The illegitimate, hence insecure, tyrants adopt different strategies to maintain their hold on power. They heed to the pragmatic advice of Machiavelli: “Invent enemies and then slay them in order to control your subjects.” The virulently anti-Shi'ite rhetoric of the Salafis and Takfiris is a Machiavellian approach. The Salafis and Takfiris cannot construct a positive narrative that specifies their achievements; that’s why they construct a negative narrative that casts the Evil Other in a negative light.
The Sunni-Shi'ite conflict is essentially political and economic but is presented to the lay Muslim in a veneer of religiosity. Since Saudi Arabia produces 10 to 15 million barrels of oil per day (equivalent to 15% to 20% of global oil production) it can single-handedly bring down the price of a barrel of oil to US$50 or single-handedly raise it to $200, a nightmare for the global industrialized economies. With 90% of the Saudi oil installations situated along the Persian Gulf, this sparsely populated region comprises the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and its Shi'ite majority. Any separatist tendency is accordingly met with sternest possible reaction. Saudi Arabia sent its own battalions to help the Bahraini regime quell the Shi'ite minority rebellion in Bahrain, which is also geographically very close to the Eastern Province.
Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism is a threat to the Western countries; but the Islamic countries are encountering a much bigger threat of inter-sectarian terrorism. For centuries the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims lived peacefully side by side; but now vested interests are provoking inter-sectarian strife to distract attention away from the popular movements for democracy throughout the Middle East and North Africa region.
The ultimate goal of the Arab Spring is to overthrow the illegitimate House of Saud, and this tide will not subside until its objective is achieved. There are ebbs and flows in any grassroots political and social movement. It ebbed in Egypt but it will rise again to flood the whole of region. What’s unfortunate is the fact, that the so-called champions of democracy can’t even lend a moral support, let alone the material support; because their interests always outweigh their principles and ideals.
Secularists and skeptics Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker appeared on Capitol Hill on Monday to argue on behalf of support for science in the U.S. and a cultural move away from religious myths. The two men appeared on behalf of the Secular Coalition for America.
A reporter asked Dawkins about the fact that more than 40 percent of Americans believe the Christian creation myth, that God created the world in seven days.
“This country is, without a doubt, the leading scientific nation in the world, beyond the shadow of a doubt,” Dawkins replied. “I can’t help wondering how much more advanced this country would be if you were not held back by this astonishing burden of 40 percent of the people who literally think the world, the universe is less than 10,000 years old.”
“I mean,” he said, “that is a staggering piece of ignorance. It’s a scandal.”
Believing that the world is less than 10,000 years old, Dawkins said, “is not a small error. It’s a gigantic, ridiculous error.”
The problem, he said, is based in part on the fact that school boards are elected in local elections, and that “in particular districts, it may be that the electors are electing ignoramuses.”
A Christian TV host this week called on God to consider a “military takeover” of President Barack Obama’s government because it could be the only way to save the country from tyranny.
On his Monday Internet broadcast, Morning Star TV’s Rick Joyner predicted that democracy was “doomed” unless the Lord imposed martial law.
“The balance of powers in the legislative and judicial branches were supposed to balance and keep in check, hold in check, the potential tyranny from the executive branch overstepping their bounds,” Joyner explained. “The people are not always right, it depends on what people they are. And another thing the founders warned about is this thing will only work for a moral and a religious people. You remove morality, you remove the religious influence, and it cannot work.”
“We’re headed for serious tyranny, a terrible tyranny right now,” he continued. “But guess what? The kingdom is coming, the Kingdom of God is coming. And America is not the Kingdom of God. I think we have been used in some wonderful and powerful ways by God, we’ve been one of the most generous nations in history. We’ve done so much good.”
“That’s why I appeal to the Lord: Don’t let us be totally destroyed, please raise up those who will save us. And as I’ve been telling friends for a long time, no election is going to get the right person in there because the system is so broken.”
Joyner added that the “only hope is a military takeover, martial law.”
“And that the most crucial element of that is who to the martial [sic] is going to be,” he said. “I believe there are noble leaders in our military that love the republic and love everything we stand for. And they could seize the government.”
There used to be a thing called treason. People used to go to jail for advocating the violent overthrow of the government. Maybe you get a pass if you are praying to God to overthrow the government.
When you think that creationists wandering the backwaters of the US couldn't be topped, there's always a Saudi cleric.
A Saudi cleric sparked a wave of mockery online when he warned women that driving would affect their ovaries and bring “clinical disorders” upon their children.
The warning came ahead of an October 26 initiative to defy a longstanding driving ban on women in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
“Physiological science” has found that driving “automatically affects the ovaries and pushes up the pelvis,” Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaydan warned women in remarks to local news website Sabq.org.
“This is why we find that children born to most women who continuously drive suffer from clinical disorders of varying degrees,” he said.
His comments prompted criticism on Twitter, which has become a rare platform for Saudis to voice their opinions in the absolute monarchy.
“What a mentality we have. People went to space and you still ban women from driving. Idiots,” said one comment.
“When idiocy marries dogma in the chapel of medieval traditions, this is their prodigal child,” wrote a female tweeter.
Luhaydan, a member of the senior Ulema (Muslim scholars) Commission and former head of the Supreme Judicial Council, said that “evidence from the Quran and Sunna (the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed) completely prohibit (women’s driving) on moral and social background.”
An online petition titled “Oct 26th, driving for women” amassed nearly 12,000 signatures, while access to it was blocked in the kingdom on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are banned from driving.
Activists declared a day of defiance against the ban on June 17, 2011, but few women answered the call to drive. Some of those who did were stopped by police and forced to sign a pledge not to take to the wheel again.
Saudi Arabia imposes other restrictions on women, including a requirement to cover themselves from head to toe when in public.
The 2011 call, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.
A local cake shop refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. In Oregon you can't refuse service based on sexual orientation, so we've got a violation of law. The owners claim it's because of their religious beliefs. They shut down their shop rather than violate the Bible. Except that they'll violate the Bible in every way except gay.
Sugar, flour, eggs and water are now munitions in America’s culture war. Or so you’d think from two Oregon bakeries that recently got national attention for declining to make cakes for same-sex weddings.
The first incident, in February, involved Gresham’s Sweet Cakes by Melissa, whose owner told a lesbian couple that “we don’t do same-sex marriages.” Earlier this month, Pam Regentin, who operates Fleur Cakes out of her home in the Hood River area, also refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding.
Both bakeries cited their religious beliefs as the reason they would not make the cakes. Both describe themselves as Christian.
Jesus, of course, never commented on gay people, but did tell his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead, the widely cited Bible verse condemning homosexuality comes from Leviticus, a book that also prohibits getting tattooed or eating rabbit.
“I believe I have the liberty to live by my principles,” Regentin told KATU in a May 15 newscast.
By law, that may not be true. Oregon statute makes it illegal for businesses to turn away customers based on race, religion or sexual orientation. A lawyer for the couple turned away by Sweet Cakes says they are exploring their options.
We wondered what other requests these cakemakers would decline to honor. So last week fiveWW reporters called these two bakeries anonymously to get price quotes for other occasions frowned upon by some Christians. Surprisingly, the people who answered the phone at each bakery were quite willing to provide baked goods for celebrations of divorces, unmarried parents, stem-cell research, non-kosher barbecues and pagan solstice parties.
We later contacted both bakeries to ask about these inconsistencies. Regentin declined to comment beyond asking whether she had been taped (she had not).
Sweet Cakes owners Melissa and Aaron Klein were upset that we “would even try to entrap a business” and contacted conservative talk-show host Lars Larson.
Baby Out of Wedlock
WW Asks - I’m shopping around for a nice baby shower cake for my friend. It’s her second baby with her boyfriend so I’m not looking for anything too big or fancy—probably enough to serve 15 to 20 people.
Sweet Cake says - “We have a sheet cake that will feed 30, or a 10-inch cake that would feed 30 people. The 10-inch cake is $50 and the sheet cake is $52. Or we have an 8-inch cake that would feed 15 for $40.”
Fleur says - Prices vary based on decoration and frosting, but a basic cake is $3 per serving.
WW Asks - My friend is getting divorced and we’d like to throw her a little party to mark the start of her new life. Do you ever write messages on those—we’d want it to say “congratulations!”—and how much would it be for a cake that could serve about eight people?
Sweet Cake says - “A 10-inch is $29.99. That should probably do it....We can definitely do something like that.”
Fleur says - “The price for a 10-inch cheesecake is $36 and up. So it’ll be between $36 and $45, but you’re going to have to call in advance because my schedule for June and July is very busy.”
WW Asks - I was wondering if you could do two little cakes. My friend is a researcher at OHSU and she just got a grant for cloning human stem cells, so I thought I’d get her two identical cakes—basically, two little clone cakes. How much would they cost?
Sweet Cake says - “Ha. All right. When are you looking to do it? It’ll be $25.99 each, so about $50 to start.”
Fleur says - Did not pick up phone or return messages. Acknowledged receiving requests by email but refused to comment.
WW Asks - I’m looking to get a special cake for a barbecue we’re having next week. Our cow just died of old age and we’re planning to grill some steaks along with lobster and pulled-pork sandwiches—what size would we need for 10 people and how much would it be?
Sweet Cake says - “A 6-inch cake serves about eight to 10 people at $25.99. The apple goes really good with pork, and the caramel will complement the lobster. For a barbecue, it’s all really good.”
Fleur says - Did not pick up phone or return messages. Acknowledged receiving requests by email but refused to comment.
Pagan Solstice Party
WW Asks - I was calling to get a quote on a cake for a midsummer solstice party. My coven is celebrating on Friday, June 21. The decoration would be very simple: just a green pentagram. We’d like to pick it up sometime that afternoon, before the bonfire. It’ll be for about 30 people.
Sweet Cake says - “For 30 poeople we have a couple options... We have two kind of cakes you could have. About the diagram you want on the cake, I’m not sure how much extra that would be.”
Fleur says - Did not pick up phone or return messages. Acknowledged receiving requests by email but refused to comment.