how gay is gay enough?

North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliancenews of a peculiar lawsuit caught my attention this afternoon. according to the article:

Three bisexual men are suing a national gay-athletic organization, saying they were discriminated against during the Gay Softball World Series held in the Seattle area two years ago.

The three Bay Area men say the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance in essence deemed them not gay enough to participate in the series.

the problem is that the league is set up for gay athletes. banning non-gay athletes from the league is a form of discrimination based upon sexual preference. while the league does allow for two straight players to play on each team, the limitation of players based upon sexual preference appears to be a curb against teams who might recruit ‘ringers,’ that is, players who are exceptionally skilled at softball, but who may have no other affiliation with the group. (this happens a lot in church softball leagues, where teams will field a team full of exceptional softball players who may have never set foot in the sponsoring church, but there’s really no way to stop it. do league officials or members of the other team ask their opponents to quote bible verses to prove that they are actually christians? and does the ability to quote scripture make one a christian? church leagues usually leave the enforcement of team membership to each team. but i digress…)

there is really no way to stop a straight ringer from saying, ‘yep, i’m gay’ and then playing on the team. so, to prevent teams from fielding teams of ringers, and to preserve the gay nature of the league, the league put a limit on the number of straight players a team can have. i am guessing that the allowance for any straight players at all was itself a concession to avoid accusations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation while gay advocacy groups are lobbying hard for same-sex marriage around the country.

but this raises another question: how does one test for appropriate level of ‘homosexuality’? is not a man having sexual encounters with another man (among other encounters with women) homosexual and therefore gay? and how does one test for gayness? apparently, the league had a way. according to the article:

Each of the three plaintiffs was called into a conference room in front of more than 25 people, and was asked “personal and intrusive questions” about his sexual attractions and desires, purportedly to determine if the player was heterosexual or gay, the lawsuit alleges.

Gay softballouch. i can just see the right latching onto this as an example of a gay organization using a litmus test to determine one’s level of gayness, so that one can either be granted or denied benefits and access to something. sound familiar? it’s the very this that gay advocacy groups are arguing against in states with pending same-sex marriage legislation.

the lawsuit is even more interesting because it is not three straight players attempting to play in the league, but three bisexual players. three bisexual men were apparently prohibited from playing because as bisexuals, they apparently weren’t gay enough. i’m not sure if ucla’s lesbian gay bisexual transgender (lgbt) campus resource center would buy that argument. while some draw a distinction between the two, most consider bisexual to be at least a subset of homosexual. ask the question: how is bisexual not gay? if the definition of bisexual is a person who has sexual attraction to or sexual encounters with members of both sexes, and a homosexual is a person that has sexual attraction to or sexual encounters with members of the same sex, then by definition, bisexuals should be considered gay. all squares are also rectangles, etc.

so, as ridiculous as this lawsuit may sound at first, it will actually be a problem for the league, as well as for gay advocacy groups. again, how does one determine if one is gay? and why should sexual orientation be a determining factor for eligibility in a softball league?

the plaintifs realize the absurdity of the league’s rules and are therefore challenging them. they wanted to travel and play in the tournament, but couldn’t because of their sexual orientation. even if the league is a private league, they will lose because the league take’s advertising and solicit sponsorships. besides, imagine a ‘straights only’ softball league. would that stand up in court? would there be protests?

here’s what will happen: the plaintiffs will win this case. the north american gay amateur athletic alliance should immediately settle this case, apologize, fly the three men to wherever they want to go, let them play, and change their rules. in a world where even gender is being challenged (girls can now play little league and boys can play softball), and where the olympics and women’s sports leagues are encountering issues of transgender and hermaphroditic/intersexual competitors, it seems a ‘gay’ softball league will lose in court every time.

this lawsuit is bigger than softball: same-sex marriage equality is at stake and this case will be used to argue against allowing gay marriage. this case could cause irreparable damage to legitimate efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. opponents of same-sex marriage will tout this case as discrimination against others by homosexuals, and this will not help the cause.

the leagues rules are bad. settle the case, change the rules, apologize, and move on. besides, why not let straight men show support for gay rights by playing in a gay softball league? if straight men are willing to play in a ‘gay softball league,’ then let them. it’s a form of support for the cause and a sign of the straight man’s comfort with his own masculinity. if men who neither have breasts or cancer can walk in a breast cancer walk, why not let straight men play in a gay softball league?

here’s fox news’ attempt at being funny.

israeli-palestinian peace process during the first decade of the 2000s: an assessment

the following is the text of comments i made as a part of a march 10, 2010 panel discussion at pepeprdine university on the israel-palestine peace process during the first decade of the 2000s. the symposium was sponsored by the middle eastern peace and awareness (mepa) student group at pepperdine. other panelists included pepperdine faculty members david simonowitz, visiting assistant professor of middle eastern studies, and milton shatzer,  assistant dean of teaching and director of the center for teaching excellence, and loyola marymount’s najwa al-qattan.


Middle East Peace in the First Decade of the 2000s
March 10, 2010

My thanks to MEPA and the organizing panel for the invitation to speak to you tonight.

I am actually an archaeologist digging and researching in Israel, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. We work with and rent from Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Muslim, Druze, Christians, agnostics, and even good ol’ American Pepperdiners—everyone. And we did so happily and successfully. We respect and learn the languages and cultures of all of these peoples and I and my archaeological colleagues demonstrate how foreigners, namely we Americans, can work with and invest in the people of Israel and Palestine peacefully.

I shall be teaching a course on the History of Jerusalem at UCLA beginning at the end of this month. If you are interested in taking this course, fear not. Because I still love Pepperdine and remember dearly my time teaching here before moving to UCLA, I am making the course lectures available for free on iTunesU. Go to iTunes, go to UCLA, click on Jerusalem the Holy City, and watch or download for free.

~~~

The celebration of the Oslo Accords in 1993 raised the hopes of Israelis, Palestinians, and many around the world for a final resolution between Palestinians and Israel leading to a lasting peace in the Middle East. But while the turn of the millennium saw some opportunities for peace, the first decade of the 2000s will be remembered by most as a lost decade in the struggle for peace.

No sooner had Israel withdrawn from Southern Lebanon in 2000 under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, some Arab groups, namely the Shi’a militant group Hizbullah, began to arm themselves for potential conflict, against the wishes of many Lebanese Christians, Muslims, and Druze, Palestinian Arabs and Christians, as well as most Israelis.

Simultaneously, Israel took advantage politically of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City and couched all armed resistance or attacks on Israel as terrorism, and rightly so. However, the U.S. was compromised politically with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict because the U.S. could not rightly tell the Israelis not to respond to Palestinian armed conflict, while the U.S. was engaged in conflict with not one, but two entire countries-Afghanistan and Iraq-in response to the September 11th attacks. As long as the U.S. was on the attack against terrorists, Israel had political cover to attack what it believed to be Palestinian terrorists.

During this time of a war on terror, Israel continued to permit and build Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and in 2002 began the construction of a border wall between Israel and the West Bank in order to delineate between the two territories and did so using a rhetoric of preventing terrorist attacks in Israel launched from Palestinian territories. Some saw this as a positive step towards the permanent recognition of a Palestinian state on the part of Israel, but many Palestinians saw the wall as an attempted land grab and have disputed the location and route of this border wall. Others have decried the logistical limitations the wall creates for Palestinians attempting to get to work at jobs inside Israeli territory.

In 2004, Israel, responding to mounting pressure and repeated calls for disengagement from U.S., Palestinian, and International communities, announced a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2004, which was enacted in 2005, against the protests of many Jewish settlers in Gaza. Just as it had in southern Lebanon in 2000, Israel withdrew all Jewish settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip and relocated, forcibly at times, its own people to new settlements within Israel.

Despite some expected disagreement, a two-state solution and a realization of a secure Israel existing side-by-side to a permanent Palestinian state was begging to take shape, granted on many of Israel’s terms. But while the average Palestinian and the typical Jewish Israeli welcomed these gestures toward peace, many leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian, who derive their power and position from discord between the two peoples, and who regularly sabotage peace and incite conflict by playing on old wounds and religious animosity in an effort continue the conflict, began to oppose the march toward peace. These representatives attain and maintain power from chaos.

Following the death of Palestinian National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2004, and accusations and revelations of widespread fraud on the part of Arafat’s Fatah administration, Palestinian militants stepped up their activity in an effort to stall a peace with Israel, which they felt had given away too much.

Tension escalated with the kidnap of two Israeli soldiers in Northern Israel, which led to Israeli retaliation and a full-blown war in July 2006, a war that I witnessed first hand from the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. The Israeli-Hizbullah War brought widespread destruction to much of southern Lebanon and terrified Israeli civilians in the exchange of Hizbullah Katyusha and Qassam rockets and Israel’s devastating retaliation. The war ended with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire, which called for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the withdraw of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Hamas shocked the world when it scored surprise victories in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Hamas quickly drew international condemnation, and its administration was quickly placed under widespread international sanctions for its continued refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist in contradiction of the earlier Oslo accords, which Hamas did not recognize as legitimate. With Palestinians suffering, especially in the Gaza Strip, and with Jewish settlers no longer present in the West bank to blame, Palestine broke into a Civil War in December of 2006, with the Fatah military fighting armed Hamas factions. The Palestinian Civil War, called by many Palestinians the Wakseh, meaning “embarrassment” to Palestinians because of the self-inflicted, self-destructive damage, resulted in Hamas driving Fatah out of the Gaza, leaving Fatah in control of the West Bank, while Hamas exercised control in Gaza.

Unable to govern effectively in Gaza both because of an inept administration and due to crippling international sanctions because of their stance against peace with Israel, Hamas militants began to provoke a war with Israel by firing Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel’s response was immediate and severe, with some calling it a grossly disproportionate exercise of retaliation. In a military response dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” Israel responded in the winter of 2008-2009 with a devastating response to the Hamas hostilities. Many reports credit Israel’s crushing success to several Fatah and Egyptian informants, who actually wanted Israel to disable and destroy Hamas. Reports say that these Palestinian and Arab informants provided the Israeli military with the exact locations of Hamas rocket installations and smuggling tunnels. Israel soon declared a unilateral ceasefire in response to international calls for mercy against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, who were the unfortunate causalities of the Gaza War. However, Operation Cast Lead differed from previous armed conflicts in that the International Community did not decry Israel’s response to Hamas to the degree that was expected because of the international community’s disagreement with the provocative actions of Hamas. While many other countries did not like Israel’s military actions, they seemed at least somewhat justified on this particular occasion because of Hamas’ provocations.

With the recent election, again, of Likkud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel changed directions and began brazenly to announce once again the building of new settlements in the West Bank. This policy of Jewish settlement reached an embarrassing new climax for the Israelis only yesterday [March 9, 2010] when the Israeli government announced the permitting and construction of 1,600 new housing units in the West Bank while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel calling for a cessation of these very expansions. The Israeli government apologized for the timing of the announcement, but did not apologize for or rescind the decision to build new Jewish settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

This is the legacy of the first decade of the 2000s: conflict. Some argue that this is a step backward in the march towards peace. Others-both Israelis and Palestinians-argue that the Palestinian civil unrest is a tragic, but necessary and inevitable part of the evolution of the Palestinian National Authority from an organization relying too heavily on violence, intimidation, and mob or gang-like rule, to a responsible government accountable to its people and seeking peace and prosperity for its people and with other nations. We may be witnessing a step backward away from peace, or, we may be witnessing the necessary growing pains of two nations-Israel and Palestine-toward a lasting peace of mature nations.

Or, perhaps, we may be seeing the end of the struggle for a forced, two-state solution, and we may be witnessing the beginnings of a much more natural three-state solution, which I support. A three-state solution would formally separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, isolating Hamas from Fatah, and freeing the Fatah-controlled West Bank to make a much desired peace with Israel. While some West Bank Palestinians may initially oppose a secession from Gaza out of solidarity for the Palestinian people as a whole, many Palestinians realize that the fracture has become so deep between Fatah-leaning West Bank residents who are looking to make peace with Israel and tomove forward and Hamas-leaning Gaza Strip residents looking to undo much of what has been done, many West Bank Palestinians are ready to cut their losses with both Gaza and Hamas, and make peace with Israel on their own, which would place tremendous pressure on Israel to stop their settlement program in East Jerusalem.

Only time will tell. Insha’Allah, there will be peace. Until then, we must work hard for peaceful, fair, and just solutions to both sides, and we must continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Thank you.


update:
looks like somebody was listening: “Palestinian Authority To Hold Elections Without Gaza” by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR)

in honor of earth day 2010

Recycle Logomost of you know i’m an advocate for the environment. i recycle my coffee grounds, use my organic npr cotton tote bags when i go to trader joe’s, drive an original, pre-hatchback toyota prius (175,000+ miles), advocate for the voter-approved super train from la to the central valley, want desperately a metro train in los angeles, grow my own vegetables and herbs, and belong to several environmental organizations including the national geographic society, global green usa, ducks unlimited, sierra club, and santa monica mountain trails council inc. (yes, i believe i’m the only living member of du and the the sierra club.) so, i can safely say that i take the environment fairly seriously.

that said, i don’t like militants, obnoxious nutjobs, or people who yell for any reason. replanting trees is just as much an environmental exercise as is eating what you kill when you hunt. humans eating other animals is just as ‘natural’ as when other animals do it. and as for research and testing on animals, as long as it is done as humanely as possible, i’m all for it; that’s all part of being a natural animal on the top of the food chain, and it’s how we evolved to be where we are as a species. thus, as much as i am an advocate for the environment, i cannot stand environmental militants. to me, they are just as disdainful as religious or political militants.

therefore, in honor of earth day, i offer to you what is without exception the single greatest environmental protest fail video ever. enjoy!

watch ancient aliens on history channel

Ancient Aliens

Ancient Aliens appears Tuesday evenings on History Channel beginning April 20, 2010.

if you’re looking for something to watch this evening before lost, check out ancient aliens: the series. i should appear occasionally as a debunker, that is, a scholar whose job it is to say ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ really loudly a lot of times. i do not accept/believe that aliens are responsible for technological advances throughout history. i am on the show to explain why.

here’s the ad:

Ancient Aliens: The Series
Episode 1 – “Ancient Aliens: The Evidence” Premieres – TUES. April 20 8pm.

If ancient aliens visited Earth, what was their legacy, and did they leave behind clues that exist in plain sight such as sophisticated aircraft, complex electrical grids, and intricate construction machinery? Indian Sanskrit texts, dating back to 6000 B.C., describe in varying but vivid detail flying machines called Vimanas. Megalithic stone structures in Egypt reveal evidence of precision saw work. Interpretations of the Jewish Zohar writings offer depictions of a life-sustaining manna machine, eerily similar to chlorella algae processing systems today. Are these examples of modern technology, or is there evidence that these incredible mechanisms existed on Earth thousands of years ago?

Check your local listings for times. Ancient Aliens will air every Tuesday on History for the next 5 weeks.

enjoy!

was jesus ‘hanged’ or ‘hung’ on the cross?

now this story is hard to pass up.

the english language can be quite difficult. for instance, many people have particular difficulty with the past tense of the verb ‘to hang.’ the general rule of thumb is that objects are ‘hung,’ as in, ‘we hung the ornaments on the christmas tree.’ however, human beings are ‘hanged,’ as in, ‘the bandit was hanged by the neck until dead.’ then, of course, there is the slang term ‘he is hung’ meaning a man is particularly well endowed.

well, one church in warr acres, oklahoma wants to take all the confusion out of the word by combining all three forms into one glorious painting.

imagine if you will a painting of jesus hanging on the cross. imagine that painting is the famed san damiano cross from the san damiano chapel in asisi, italy, which according to legend, is the very cross that spoke to st. francis of asisi in the year 1205. remember that st. francis of asisi was famous for his acts of poverty, humility and charity to the world. now, imagine a local church, st. charles church in warr acres, oklahoma, commissions a local artist, janet jaime, to produce a replica of the famed painting, seen below in various forms. now imagine that the artist forgets a brush stroke or two. the result is the painting below on the bottom right.

San Damiano's Crucifix San Damiano Crucifix
San Damiano's Crucifix San Damiano's Crucifix

jesus either works out a lot or is really happy to see you in church. i’m not saying that it’s obvious… but, well… who am i kidding? of course it’s obvious! look at that. honestly! how hard is it to draw abs that don’t look like a crotch rocket? seriously. of all the crosses that could have spoken to and inspired st. francis, this is the one?

the presence of this oversized painting in a house of worship is hard to swallow for some and resistance has stiffened. recently, some parishioners of the church where this painting was erected have left because of the prolonged controversy. and can you blame them? how can one worship with that hanging over the altar?

it seems, however, this crisis of faith will soon come to an end. reports today are that the head of the congregation has asked the local artist who was commissioned to paint the crucifix, to add a few strokes to the masterpiece in order to delineate jesus’ six-pack abs. that way, no one will be offended, but christians throughout warr acres, oklahoma can still proudly proclaim that jesus was indeed hung on a cross.

i promise you this: this is the last time i model for a painting!

(with thanx and a hat tip to scott bailey.)

update on bruce waltke’s departure from reformed theological seminary

Bruce Waltkethe society of biblical literature’s website has posted a letter from dr. bruce waltke explaining his departure from reformed theological seminary in oviedo, fl. scott jaschik of inside higher ed ran a story last week that i blogged here.

in the letter, waltke apologizes to rts president robert (ric) c. cannada, jr. for ‘unwittingly involving’ them in a discussion about the issue of evolution and creation in genesis 1-3. why dr. waltke would want to exclude a seminary from a discussion about genesis 1-3 is beyond me, but i’m sure he has his reasons.

dr. waltke goes on to say in the letter that it was, in fact, he who resigned from rts, but did not elaborate on the circumstances, although waltke did acknowledge that he has received letters from many condemning rts president cannada for his action. dr. waltke goes on to state that he finds, ‘no fault with the rts administration; in fact, i think they did the right thing.’ (i discuss in a comment on my former post how many confessional schools get around having to ‘fire’ professors who don’t say what the school wants by not offering tenure to full-time faculty.)

dr. waltke then goes on to rattle off a list of things he would have edited about the video of his lecture on issues of evolution and creation that was posted on the biologos foundation’s website. these include:

  • altering the title to say why the church should accept creation by process of evolution (instead of must)

ok, fine.

  • deleting his title as a professor at rts since he was ‘speaking as an individual’

‘speaking as an individual’ makes no difference. each and every thing one says ‘as a professor’ is also said ‘as an individual.’ likewise, each thing a scholar says ‘as an individual’ reflects upon his or her university. i recall paul’s attempt at delineating between what he says and what the lord commands in 1 corinthians 7. methinks it’s safe to say that the early church always saw paul as a spokesperson for the lord, and included that which paul said ‘as an individual’ as authoritative as well.

and, may i ask, would ‘speaking as an individual’ have made a difference? would the rts administration have said, ‘he said the church should accept evolution??  oh, but he said it as an individual and not as an rts professor, despite the fact he works for us?  oh, ok then, that’s ok.’ i think not.

  • clarifying that he defines evolution as ‘theistic’ evolution as opposed to ‘naturalistic’ evolution.

i again must ask, is there a difference? if evolution is occurring (which it is) and we can’t prove or disprove the existence of god (which we can’t), what’s the difference? evolution is evolution. natural selection is natural selection. gravity is gravity. they all exist and take place whether one believes in them or not, whether one believes in god or not, and whether one believes god is responsible for them or not. what is at issue is the acceptance or denial of a six-day creation (literal or otherwise). i am guessing that many confessional institutions that place on their website a confession including language stating that the bible is “verbally inspired by almighty god and therefore without error” is not going to accept any explanation of creation as a process of evolution whatsoever, whether it be theistic, naturalistic, or otherwise.

  • surrounding himself with earlier advocates of theistic evolution

granted, this may have helped soften the impact. however, is that what dr. waltke wanted? to soften the impact of his message? i am not sure that waltke’s surrounding himself with ‘a cloud of theistic evolutionary witnesses’ would have appeased rts.

in all, i can understand dr. waltke’s desire to spare rts any further embarrassment. from what i am told, dr. waltke is a kind and congenial man. i certainly understand the notion of walking away and not burning bridges, despite the fact one has fundamental disagreements with what is being taught at a religious school. it is appropriate at times simply to walk away and speak kindly of one’s former school in a professional manner, even if it means not stating how one really feels.

that said, part of me wishes dr. waltke wouldn’t have let rts off the hook so easily. again, there may be underlying factors (financial or otherwise) that caused both parties to part ways amicably and speak favorably of one another. but once again we are left with yet another example of  an evangelical seminary teaching fundamentalist interpretations of the bible, where, when a faculty member dares speak against the confession (despite the fact that all evidence says that he is correct), said faculty member ends up conveniently ‘resigning.’ rts comes off once again as the bully winner, where those who dare speak against what they’ve preordained to be the truth will be (as they say in my hometown) ‘disappeared.’

still, it is my hope that dr. waltke finds another job at a place (perhaps knox?) with far less dogmatic views, where critical scholarship is valued and promoted, and where dr. waltke can continue his career. hiring dr. waltke will be a benefit for any school that wants to demonstrate its relevance to the modern world.

an endorsement of genetic transplant research

Mitochondrion

A mitochondrion, the energy source in cells.

fascinating. newcastle university researchers are perfecting a procedure that will help prevent birth defects and other ailments in the womb using a dna transplant from egg and sperm cells with suspect mitochondrial dna to healthy cells with healthy mitochondria.

the nuclear material of the sperm and egg is from the parents, but the mitochondrial dna is someone else’s. the researchers say it’s like changing the battery on a laptop: the hard disk (brain) is the same, but the powerhouse is different. it’s more like a heart transplant, where the core of the person remains the same, but the ‘powerhouse’ is changed, only at an embryonic level.

i favor the research. this is the future of medicine. some anti-abortion and fundamentalist religion groups will protest, but this procedure does not result in the cessation of life, but rather the encouragement of it. call it designer babies if you want, but procedures like this will save lives and prevent birth defects. i don’t see a problem with using a woman’s own eggs to do this, nor utilizing the mitochondrial remains and cell membranes of cells that were harvested during the in vitro fertilization of another, which would otherwise be discarded. this is encouraging life from life.

the only potential problem will come far in the future. i can see a potential class struggle between those humans who were born naturally (the old fashioned way) and those that were genetically engineered using gene therapy or some other sort of genetic transplant. this will take generations, but make no mistake, opponents will use this hypothetical construct to argue against the procedure. however, the wise will counter by arguing it’s no different than those with access to healthcare today and those without; there is a definite scientific advantage for the group with access to scientifically based health care.

we all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. we know that early diagnosis and treatment of potential diseases can mean the difference between life (or at least a full, healthy, meaningful life in the eyes of the afflicted) and death. this procedure will assist in curing diseases before they develop, and i encourage and endorse this kind of life-giving research.

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