“We have been excluded because we have moral opinions based on our faith and we feel sidelined because we are Christians with normal, mainstream, Christian views on sexual ethics.

“We are prepared to love and accept any child. All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing.”

Although I disagree with this couple’s outlook on homosexuality and interpretation of Christianity, should merely holding a conservative opinion be sufficient cause to deem them unfit to parent? It is hardly as if their disapproval of homosexuality as a practice (their qualification) is abusive in and of itself, nor do they state any unwillingness to care for gay children, work with gay caseworkers, etc. In all likelihood, they disapprove just as ardently of straight sexual practices beyond the confines of marriage. Will we next bar parents who don’t endorse pre-marital sex?

It strikes me as hypocritical to champion a diverse society, and then seek to alienate any diversity that non-violently dissents from our liberal worldview. Mine increasingly strikes me as the ”I am tolerant…of those who agree with me” generation.

You might be thinking: What if they care for a child who is gay; won’t they damage their sense of self? Perhaps–although that assumes a deep lack of agency on behalf of any child. On the other hand, what child has ever failed to develop qualities and behaviors which met with strong parental disapproval at some point? Like most kids raised with religion, I was informed that a lot of things I did (or wanted to do) were sinful. These objections gave me pause for self-reflection, it’s true…some twenty years later. As a teen, hearing that the old folks thought something was wrong worked on me like catnip, imbuing relatively dull activities with the luster of forbiddeness. It seems to me that, by barring these people from childcare, we are trying to create a mirage for the next generation: a world of physical diversity, but ideological unity. You have to be a true believer to think that a society’s interests are served in this way.

Lest you think this case is anomalous, or merely a byproduct of outmoded Christian morality, reimagine the same couple, but as ardent PETA activists. Transfer their moral objections to the eating and wearing of animals. One might argue against their beliefs, assert, as I would in the case of homosexuality, that human consumption of meat is a naturally occurring phenomenon and shouldn’t be discriminated against; based on their interpretation of what our moral obligations are, they would dissent.

Should the court then bar them from parenting? Would we object to their expressing moral condemnation of meat eating around their hamburger-munching charges? What if the scenario took place within a meat-hostile community?

Who should decide which controversial opinions render one unfit to parent?

As models, is there any great difference between these cases, beyond that the PETA couple would be going with the Zeitgeist whereas our Christian couple is going against it?

Past the minimum acts of violence and threats of violence; persecution and denial of liberty, and refusal of basic rights or employment, I think it is for the benefit of all that we take a cautious approach to what we label and adjudicate as ’discrimination.’ To claim that merely holding a belief, with no action beyond expressing it, is grounds for institutional exclusion should scare anyone who might someday come up against the attitude of the age.

My kid has become obsessed with Snow White. I find this movie confusing. Disney movie villains make no sense. They are always old ladies out to get young women who are then saved by a romantic interest. I don’t know what these people’s grandmas were like, nor most of the guys they dated, but based on my experience, they got it backwards.

Think about it, Snow White–a surprisingly buxom fourteen-year-old is sent out into the woods to be murdered by her stepmother (statistically improbable) comes across the all-male dwarf compound and decides to hang out there. Listen up daughters of the world: What should you do when you come across an isolated house where seven older dudes who’ve chosen to live apart from society reside? Break in, clean it and then climb into their bed? Um, no.

Beside the fact that the murderesses are always middle-aged to elderly women (in reality, over 90% of violent crime is commited by men and when women are murdered, apparently 80% of the time it’s by their husbands or boyfriends), both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty end up with men who first made out with them while they were unconscious. Wow. How romantic.

What does this tell girls? You are most attractive as a teenager in a persistent vegitative state. Date rape is, you know, apparently a pretty normal first date for you and your future husband in Disney land. It’s bad enough these chicks are so helpless, but when the hero comes along, inanimate becomes their default state.

Ugh. My hope lies in the fact that my daughter seems to think she is one of the dwarves.

I think we’ll be sticking to Bambi, Dumbo or Pinocchio from now on–although in all of those tales, once again, the mother is either dead or absent. I guess being dead is a step up from infanticide for the adult women characters, but geez. Are we implying that only boys without strong female figures around can realize their dreams? Even the more modern heroines are mom-deficient. I don’t remember moms figuring in the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast either. Perhaps a world without moms is scary, as some psychologists have suggested, perhaps the scariest of possible worlds and so a compelling plot device for little kids. But still, geez.

You know, as much pleasure as having a seventeen-year-old prostitute dancing around his palazzo must provide for Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, I find myself wondering: What about the greater pleasure of not being a total douche?

The pleasure of not being a total douche has gotten me through many an unsavory opportunity in life. Not only things like cheating on my boyfriends or with other people’s; but also things like shoving slow-walking tourists into oncoming traffic; or correcting the grammar of crapholes who correct other people’s grammar while standing around in groups at parties. (I hate those people.) The pleasure of not being a total douche has kept me from flipping off approximately 75% of the people I’ve wanted to over the years.

And here’s the funny part: Nobody gives a crap what I do. Berlusconi, on the other hand, is running an entire country while apparently missing the all-important ‘not being a total douche’ pleasure center. Publicly running around on his wife and family? Appointing showgirls to political office while highly qualified Italian women are pushed to the side?! Seriously, does he not even have the reptilian-level decency to try to hide his slutitude or to, minimally, pretend he feels bad about this first-class douchery?

Dear Berlusconi: You make me want to believe in heaven, because I think in heaven there would be a zoo designed for the entertainment of normal, intelligent, and non-morally deficient women. These are the sorts who, out of a modicum of self-respect, refuse to attach themselves to married, geriatric pimps suffering from cartoonishly prolonged midlife crises–you know, the sort you won’t have met. In this zoo you would be kept in one of those artificial habitats, in your case it would be draped with dirty sheets and populated with blow-up dolls–you know, the sort you like to appoint to office. From your cell, you would be forced to look out on the world at a sea of faces, ogling you in disbelief through fingerprint-smeared plexiglass. But no worries, you will still be serviced by a staff complete with doctors, cooks, and maids, except that now they will be selected from among a bevy of your beloved showgirls, utterly unqualified for the work, of course–but hey, what’s good enough for Italia, right? Unfortunately, they will be uninterested in you sexually, as reality dictates when you are old, orange-colored and unable to afford their affections. 

After a few years in this zoo, I think you might get a sense of what it was like to be Italy, under your governance.

The other day, sitting on a stool in our narrow kitchen, I paused at the following passage from Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”:

This was one of those rooms (so numerous that one might be tempted to say it of all rooms) which have two faces, one with a mask that they show to ignorant visitors, the other which is only revealed to those in the know, the owner in particular to whom all its squalid essence is manifest.
I had just been thinking about the twin Romes. Over the past three years, my Rome has grown down into the ground–become just another place where I crowd onto busses running behind schedule. I see the Coliseum several times a day through scratched-up plexiglass as I travel to work and back, or to meet friends to sketch (gossip) in parks and villas. I know my local grocer, Giuseppina (Pina.) Last week she offered to bring milk and eggs to my door, should the new baby leave me too tired to cross the street. My butcher, Franco, is a big elk of a man with a wide, heavy grin. He winks at me while I wait behind the nattering grandmas after their breaded fish and tripe. And then there are the sundry moms from the playground.We size-up our lives while chasing our children.

My neighborhood is overrun by nuns, hustling from one of the three or four convents nearby to mass, and back again. Some are dark and round, others pale, tiny and wizened; virtually all smile shyly from behind their habits as they pass. And there is the neighborhood patrol: grandparent couples out for their strolls, stopping me to admire Giovanni and to check that he is properly clothed. My running joke is that, were I to faint in the middle of the street while pushing a stroller, I would immediately be trampled by a pack of nonnas desperate to ensure the baby was wearing socks.
How different this Rome is from the tourist wonderland, the forced march of marble-faced must-sees downtown, dipping their eternal toes in the ever-shifting eddies of tourists. My neighborhood, the Rome I wake to—just another pastel and eggshell morning in another intimate, Italian city.
There is a Mormon compound on my block; boys in cheap suits are carted away by van to try to convert a country of Catholics with scant interest in faith. It’s a fool’s errand, and I think about them that, if your beliefs are strong enough, it’s possible to stay a tourist forever, wherever you go, yet when they stop me to sell their ideological wares, I do my best to be flattered that someone out there cares what I believe.
New Year’s Eve, outside on our mostly abandoned neighborhood street in Rome, teenagers darted from the shadows, throwing noisemakers that reverberated like gunshots off the upright carpet of brick palazzos, all swallowed in the dove dark of urban nighttime, Judas trees and bar fronts golden where the streetlights climb. You would think that in the age of the iPad, scientists might come up with a new set of noises for these fireworks (“black cats” where I’m from)—that, instead of BANGBANGBANG, they could maybe erupt in the lowing of cows or the chirp of a thousand, unified peepers, or in thunder or maybe just a foghorn.

But no, it was one blisteringly loud crack after another. We reclined in the dark, E and I, suspended in the well of involuntary intimacy that exists between a parent and small child. She rubbed my fingernail between her thumb and forefinger. I looked over the rise of her small body in its blue pajama suit. She kicked off the covers. Outside the window another BANG; she lifted her head in alarm. I smiled and told her not to worry, it was just some people being silly, thankful that this time the truth was easy, if no more comforting than usual. She crawled from the bed and began yanking at the cord that lowers the metal curtain outside the window.
I asked G if he couldn’t go downstairs and tell them to stop, they have a whole city full of insane revelry to embrace just twenty minutes away by bus, in Rome’s other life. He shrugged: “It’s tradition.”
Here, that’s almost like saying it’s law.
Well, it had been tradition for the past three days, probably since they bought the damned things and unraveled them in a fit of youthful impatience.
We had spent the night playing. E has lately become the proprietress of an ice cream store. It is made and remade of legos, staffed by a lego bunny and frequented by a lego bear and a lego Hello Kitty. Speaking for the lego bunny, I greeted her lego bear who had approached the counter:
Hi! Do you want ice cream or a cupcake?
What do you want?
Um…ok, let’s see…Oh, turns out we do have fish back here!
The transaction complete, the lego store came under attack by a plastic lion, which was in turn defeated by a plastic elephant. Then Godzilla destroyed the whole enterprise.
Christmas day was spent at the grandparents’ house—a ground flat with marble floors behind a thick wall. This is in Monte Sacro, one of the neighborhoods fanning out half an hour’s distance, by bus, from the center.
Every surface in the house is heavy with photos: Generations of Italians peer out from bureaus and shelves, born into their frames with the arrival of photography: fidgety babies swallowed  in antique baptismal gowns; men stiff in military uniforms; children assembled at campgrounds with the Mediterranean sighing in the background. As the new grandchildren arrive and hit their landmarks, these older faces sidle into corners to make way. The Buddhists teach that, behind the illusion of individuality, we are processes in an undifferentiated whole. The Italian family demonstrates this in its odd way.
It is a perfect grandparent house, a holding pen for the past, full of toys underfoot and breakables on walls and high shelves; the generous balcony hosts a garden, several plastic slides and a recently constructed play house. The kitchen cabinets and refrigerator brim with things forbidden by mommy: chocolate pudding, indestructible snack cakes enshrined in plastic, greasy prosciutto, and so forth. As far as I’m concerned, what happens at nonna’s house, stays at nonna’s house.
The holiday was a massacre of gifts. When we arrived at lunch time the formerly barren Christmas tree had blossomed in a pile of bright bags and boxes. E and her cousin A tore through the shiny parcels like happy little jackals until strips of red and green paper littered the living room in defeat. This was followed by a frenzy of overeating, the backbone of every Italian family gathering: pasta wrapped in curlicues of spinach and cheese, crepes stuffed with ham, a meat dish bypassed as we sauntered straight on to desserts: torrone, panettone, fresh fruit and walnuts.
Giulio’s mother noticed me picking the raisins out of panettone (funny how much better raisins taste when picked out of a cake) and handed me the crusted bottom where the cake had been cut away, leaving more raisins to be foraged. “She must really love you, that’s her favorite part” observed G. I felt suddenly at home.
Back at our apartment, Papa and E limped off to the bedroom for a bloated nap. The baby threw his little fists up next to his ears in the crib and joined them. I would say more about the baby, but so far he has proven to be the world’s most tranquil; he flails frantic when hungry, but is otherwise content to stare thoughtfully into this new and harried existence. My working theory is that, after all the screaming that accompanied his arrival, he is reluctant to stir the pot further.
Granted this rare reprieve, I, of course, went for a run, slogged through the damp of the park under a gray sky at the most unimpressive speed beyond walking. We all reconvened for dinner, which E was reluctant to eat. Negotiations ensued: You can watch Pipi Longstockings if you eat. If you throw that plate on the ground you will go to your room for the rest of the night. Just one bite, fortheloveofallthingsgoodintheworld JUST ONE BITE. 
E is growing up to be a stubborn girl. Every time she digs her heels in, I hear echoes of my grandmother lamenting how I was “stubborn as a mule.” At the time, I didn’t know what the problem with that was. I’m increasingly convinced that children teach us more than we teach them, generally about ourselves.
At around 9pm, G and I sat on the couch with the baby while E played with the Barbie her aunt bought her (in spite of my outspoken disapproval of that little blond tool of misogyny.) Her aunt M, G’s youngest sister, has made it her business to torture us via gifts. Last year, she presented E with a bag full of plastic musical instruments. Objects which make noise that does not resemble music, so much as it does the abuse of plastic. This year, she gave her a box full of markers and crayons. E can’t actually draw yet. She represents the family on her etch-a-sketch in angular squiggles. Daddy is a line that loops once on itself then drifts off. Mamma is an awkward v shape. Suffice it to say that daddy removed the crayons yesterday after E  decided the purpose of yet another one was to be broken and then ground underfoot into the floor tiles. Next year, I anticipate E unwrapping a set of butcher’s knives, or perhaps a flame thrower.
So there we were, enjoying a serene-ish family moment, when E set the doll down and something happened which I haven’t seen since she was a baby: Her eyes began to track a not-there in the empty air near the door. Then she pointed.
What is it? I asked.
What is it? I repeated.
G, what is she saying? I asked, thinking this was one of those Italian words I haven’t learned yet. Like “dolly” or “rutabaga.”
He shrugged: It’s not Italian.
E, where is the indecipherableword?
She pointed behind me near the door leading from our living room into the hallway.
E, what is the indecipherableword?
Il mostro. (the monster)
A monster?
Il mostro.
Where is the monster, E?
Sta arrivando. (It’s coming)
Oh, ok.
On one hand, I don’t exactly believe in monsters or haunted houses; on the other hand, I don’t not believe either. As far as I can tell, if these were knowable things, we wouldn’t spend so much time arguing about them, or discussing them around campfires. Nor would we be so eager to sniff incredulously at the inferior folk who do believe strongly. To me, it’s not a matter of having faith in science or not. Science is one of the most wondrous byproduct of our brains–given all of their unknown limits. It is very good at establishing the ground rules, but a bit clumsier when fumbling around the margins and exceptions. Plus, I lived in a house full of graduate students in science for five years and can assure you that they do not in fact know everything, including sometimes, how to throw their empties in the appropriate recycling bin.
That said, this apartment, in my unscientific opinion, has a distinctly haunted-ish vibe. Lights switch back on seconds after being turned out. Doors close of their own volition and shadows morph into figures lurking in the corners of my eyes. Last night, the clock radio awoke at an ungodly volume in an unoccupied bedroom. All explainable phenomena, it’s true: weird wiring, drafts, sleep-deprived hallucinations.
Still, Edda’s declaration gave me chills.
Ever since we became parents, I’ve had the feeling that the world is fundamentally different than I had always imagined. For one thing, it’s not for me. For another, I am just an animal, another animal aging amidst its cohort whose collective time is both peaking and passing. The children have summoned time as a fresh creature. In having these little ones, I get the sense that I am relearning life anew. She and Giovanni recall a distant tomorrow, where I had always chewed over my life as a march of yesterdays and vague, undreamt possibilities. Also, it’s a marvel to see the world from a child’s eye view. They say youth is wasted on the young. That’s a bunch of crap. I’ll never again have the fearlessness and curiosity and mostly frustration that require a child’s health and vigor. And if you imagine you still have those things in spades; it can only because you have no three-year-old in the vicinity to measure yourself against.
But we are talking about monsters. For now, Edda has her unseen monsters, but we acquire monsters like different species of flea that itch away at us throughout our lives. From what we’ve been able to determine by her pointing in the car, she associates skulls with monsters for now. In no time, fairy tales and Disney movies will hammer them into witches, dragons–women over thirty-five, mostly. Later, the bullies will come (and I desperately hope she will not be among them.) In her teens, monster will acquire authority; they will be teachers, and parents and mundane obligations. When and if she decides to have children, we will finally share all of our monsters.
For now, I am content to let her fears explode in the night, manifest in my frustrations and uncertainties. For all the rest, there will be time.

After reading a FB post by an Iranian-American acquaintance, wherein he accused a newspaper editorialist of ‘Orientalism’ for the sin of pointing out that Roman-built cities in Tunisia were more prosperous and developed, I began to reflect.

I try to apply a ‘follow the money’ approach to ideas, asking myself who profits by certain ideologies and how. With New Atheism, I find it not insignificant that it, like libertarianism, is dominated by upper-middle and upper-class white men. Similarly, the dogged proponents of Orientalism tend to be a cohort of wealthy, westernized, Middle Eastern kids and elite, urban, liberal, university students. These sorts of demographic consistencies make whole systems suspect. I find myself asking: How would someone fitting this description benefit by the dominance of this theory?

In the case of Orientalism, it is obvious; allow me to enumerate:

1. Pinning everything on the ‘West’ and colonialism is a red herring that draws attention away from the role of rigid class structures in the Arab world. After all, this is not a region known for social mobility, either pre- or post-colonialism. One of my Palestinian friends once furtively described to me how her parents, right up to the moment they were displaced, still owned slaves: poor, dark-skinned Palestinians–clearly of African origin, she added, as if this explained everything. If you are the product of the upper echelons of this socioeconomic structure, it is probably a lot easier to blame some farmer in Oklahoma for poverty in Yemen or oppression in Egypt than, say, your dad.

2. The cool factor: Think about it, as a rich Arab kid, like Edward Said, you get to travel the world, attend prep schools, go to Ivy League universites, stay in four-star hotels, and lounge in the VIP section of hip, urban lounges, but, by crying Orientalism, you can still carry the sexy, rebel chic of the persecuted underdog on your shoulder. You can have every advantage and yet, by pretending that your ancestor’s oppression was somehow historically special, you retain rights to the sublime pleasure of being the aggrieved outsider. You get a little Trump and a little James Dean at the same time. You get to snub the anglo waiter and consider him or her your persecutor all at the same time. All of the privilege and none of the guilt.

3. Think about it, interpeting Orientalism so that it can be turned into a weapon that pins the chronic illnesses of the world on Western imperialism, obliges a thinker to distort history, if this proposition is to make any sense. Imperialism, after all, has been the prerogative of the Arab and wider, Muslim world since time immemorial. From the Assyrians of early civilization, to the Persian empire, right up to the Muslim expansion from the deserts of Saudi Arabia all the way into Spain. Imperialism, and its companion cultural chauvinism, were hardly invented by Great Britain and France in the twentieth century. As mythologized as the harem and caravan is the notion of blissful, unspoilt communities which fell hapless prey to the evil and culturally specific machinations of THE WEST! In reality, the age of European imperialism in the Middle East, though modern, was relatively brief. The oppressive Middle Eastern governments that succeeded the ouster of colonial powers, while they may have employed the bureaucracies set up by imperial agencies, can hardly be said to have created greater class disparities or oppressive government policies than say,  those enacted under Muhammad Ali when he instrumentalized the populace toward his agricultural goals. Even the shape of the contemporary economy, which has favored the West for some decades by way first of modern industry and then of services, can hardly be said to have been a conspiracy of anything more intentional than timing and geography. Finally, the agents of both empire, and oppression more generally, are similarly constituted irrespective of where we find ourselves or who is in power, and the victims and subjects at the bottom, both in the East and in the West, have more in common with each other than they do with their countrymen at the top.

In other words, the typical charge of Orientalism, ironically, is the product of the same sort of rewriting of history and advantageous othering that the theory itself outlines as problematic. History is rewritten to give Western imperialism a false, cultural specificity, and Westerners, scholars and students, but also Westerners generally, have imposed upon them a sort of cultural intentionality and sameness that magically separates them from their counterparts elsewhere, but which, like the exoticized Orient of old, does not exist.

So, I just noticed that, in this follow-up article, the focus has been shifted from the murder trial of a doctor accused of birthing and then killing an unknown number of infants to the sanitary practices at his clinic.


In this piece, little by way of mention is even made of the fact that many of these “fetuses” were born alive (which would make them infants), and subsequently murdered, their spinal cords severed with scissors.

To reiterate: the killings comprise the main charges against the doctor, but instead of reporting on them, we get an article about the squalid conditions at his practice: the odor of turtle tank; the blood on the blankets; the cosmetology degree of the unlicensed anesthesiologist…all of these details merit more attention than the deaths of newborns. I suppose if the New York Times were running the country, six-month-old fetuses would only be killed in recently vacuumed rooms?

The New York Times appears to have forgotten that these poor, suffering women were also committing crimes–that by failing to abort their fetuses before these became viable, they broke a law that exists, arguably, in service of basic humanity. 

All of the focus is trained on how unpleasant/dangerous the abortions were; however, one could speculate that being born prematurely, only to have your spine snipped with shears, might be even more unpleasant, and then there’s the little matter of these infants not having chosen to forego birth control, nor having waited six or seven months to abort themselves…
One woman is quoted mentioning, by way of explanation, the fact that she had had to save up money for the procedure. Apparently, that makes it all understandable–except that it makes little sense, given that the price of her abortion nearly tripled in the matter of weeks that she waited.
The paper, of course, fails to question her on this point; instead, she, like the others, is portrayed as a helpless, insensible victim of a predatory doctor. The minority status of these women and their poverty, the article seems to imply, excuse them from the burdens of individual agency and ethical responsibility, to say nothing of legal culpability. No element of personal choice or suggestion of irresponsibility or acknowledgment that they were breaking laws is required.

So much for the empowerment of women.

In this paper’s view, being poor and black or hispanic seems to mean that you get pregnant by magic and will be too ignorant to notice you’ve been in said state for the past five or six months, but that, once you figure it out, you will suddenly become both bright enough to find a doctor who performs illegal, late-term abortions, and wealthy enough to pay the extra five hundred dollars for an expensive, dangerous, and illegal trip to see him.

You don’t have to be a poor woman of color to be insulted by that narrative. You merely have to be literate.
This is not truth; this is not straight reporting–this is propaganda.

This guy.

I submit this for consideration to those who believe humans are endowed with an inherent and wide-ranging morality. Before you protest that this is an isolated incident, I’m forced to point out that:

1. This is just another day at the office in China, for women pregnant with girls in particular–save for the bizarre collecting of body parts, in which I doubt most doctors engage. Think I exagerrate? In China (and India, and likely elsewhere) girls have been singled out for abortion to the point where a significant demographic gender disparity has been created. The sex of the fetus is usually not determined until around five months, or 21/22 weeks. Factor in the time needed to schedule a late-term abortion…and you have scores of potentially viable fetuses being dismembered and vacuumed out of the womb on a daily or monthly basis.

2. Staunch pro-choice advocates argue consistently  for fewer restrictions on late-term abortions.

Bear in mind, the only difference between the infants he murdered and a late-term abortion is that the former were first expelled from the womb and then mutilated. Does anyone really believe this distinction is significant? This is not politicized melodrama; these are simply facts; I challenge anyone to demonstrate otherwise. Or to prove that the only other option available is overpopulating the world with unwanted children.

Would a mandatory birth control policy really be more horrible than the current status quo?

Late-term abortion is a brutal procedure performed on viable fetuses–wiki it, read the methodologies, keeping always in mind that these nascent humans are old enough to survive outside the womb. If you can’t stomach it, it may be time to rethink your position and start considering that enacting viable alternatives is far superior to destroying viable fetuses.

Here’s a little reality check for those who like to conflate religiousity with being anti-science, and anti-evolution.

The headline says it all: “Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage”

In case you live in a cave, the news here is that a legitimate scientist at a legitimate research university conducted some apparently legitimate research which indicated that the subjects had some, marginal ability to predict the outcomes of events. Weirder even, it seemed to indicate that they were influenced, in turn, by outcomes which had not yet occurred.

Naturally, scientists, having faith in the ability of reproduceable experiments to demonstrate the existence of natural phenomena, were intrigued by the findings…except that many of them weren’t. Instead, as the headline suggests, they were “outraged.” Many dismissed the findings out of hand, not bothering to review the evidence–and I am not talking Billy Joe’s Creationism Museum and Snake Farm evidence, I am talking peer-reviewed-accepted-at-a-respected-journal evidence.

Now, I have read the rebuttals; many were vague, a few were downright snarky. Several authors asked why, if precognition is possible, folks don’t use it to gamble and such. Rhetorically, they asked, because there are obvious replies based on the findings at issue. For instance, the fact that the margin of correct guesses, while too large to be accidental, was too small to bank on at the tables; or that the subjects were probably unaware of any capacity, and would remain incapable, presumably, of controlling it. Nothing in his findings suggested that this ability is frequent or reliable, just that it seems to exist. In other words, we would all be just a little bit psychic, and not very good at it. Maybe just enough to correctly guess who’s on the other end of the line before answering our phones, from time to time.

There were more reasonable, if vaguely contradictory, counterarguments, documented here. (Please note that, although this feature is called “Room for Debate,” the New York Times gave no space to scientists open to the possibility that the findings might be valid; thus it is the sort of debate one finds in Egyptian presidential politics.)

The logic follows two lines:

1.Peer review and the scientific method will prove this wrong on the next go around.

Or, conversely:

2.Peer review is deeply flawed and the method often misapplied and a lot of the stuff that gets published is just wrong.

Now, my meta skeptic, skeptical even of skepticism, which seems never to be skeptical of its own motives, wonders why she never hears this argument when new findings do not happen to undermine claims, previously made, of things being non-existent. I could see how such an odd discovery might prompt the observation that this outcome is highly unlikely and thus likely to be refuted–but the outright attacks on this Dr Pem and his work impute a deeper sentiment–a hostility to his apparent curiosity and open-mindedness. A sense of “outrage.” This might be considered a normal response to some grave offense or act of sedition, but aren’t claims of scientific superiority based in its neutrality? In reality, is it not the only to make claims of being a dissociative discipline?

Of course, most would say true neutrality is impossible. Bias emerges not just directly in the form of opinionated outbursts, but also through secondary phenomena: which professors get hired; which grad students get admitted; which papers get published, and here, which questions are “suitable” for scientific inquiry. In America, 88% of natural science students are Caucasian, the highest proportion of any discipline. I’m guessing well over half are also male–likely dominating in engineering and physics. I point this out only where it is not unreasonable to speculate that a sort of bias might be generated by these skewed demographics alone. But, even if not, it remains fair to ask ourselves on what grounds we might suggest that any theory, proposed coherently by an educated, trained scientist, which lends itself to testing, and for which funds are made available–all of which conditions were met in this case–can be deemed ‘unsuitable’? Is the notion of unsuitability itself not antithetical to that of free inquiry?

If so, what accounts for the outbursts here?

My theory is as follows:

1. Humans, as has been pointed out by neuroscientists, are not truly rational creatures, so much as we are rationalizing creatures.

2. Any social scientist can tell you that we form like-minded tribes, and American natural science, as noted above, is not a diverse cohort in the first place. I mention this only where one must take under consideration a long history of group homogeneity providing fertile soil for ideological dogmatism. I might posit, then, that the tribe of contemporary scientists, more than anything, has lately formed an identity based on materialism/atheism; the religious community, far more diverse than the scientific one, plays its imaginary foil and, increasingly, even open-mindedness to non-demonstrable entities and phenomena is its ‘other.’ The irony, of course, is that science used to play the underdog. Science, in other words, used to be the cool rebel guy. It used to work to show things people would never have believed possible under the reigning cultural dogma, were not only possible, but true: The earth was round; germs caused diseases; we ourselves were veritable universes of tiny, frantic particles…But science is the system now. It’s edge has been co-opted. It needs ideology to protect its territorial claims.

Nowadays science has become the ‘Party of No.’ Atheism is practically a requirement of its pursuit and scientists of faith are persecuted as potentially too irrational to do their jobs, as has been the case with the highly esteemed head of the NIH, Dr Francis Collins.

It is said that the slave make the harshest slavemaster. In Columbia Professor David Helfand’s comparison of Dr Pem’s findings with belief in the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (a lame analogy in its own right), I believe I hear the crack of a whip.

First, allow me to clarify that the goal of any legislation should never be to usher poor women back into alleys and the fabled arms of evil, coathanger-wielding abortionists. Instead, I suggest we keep abortion legal while making it a minor offense–for men.

After all, when all of the pro-choice rhetoric is set aside, who really profits by abortion? I, for one, question the claim that women are the great beneficiaries. In my, admittedly limited, experience it isn’t usually women in the dark, begging not to involve a condom in the matter; just as it isn’t men who have to pony up, undergo a medical procedure and suffer physically and psychologically when pregnancy does occur. 

Think about it, we have already sanctioned a number of laws penalizing people for harming themselves and putting others at risk: Anti-smoking laws, increasingly common, protect populations, whether or not they asked, even in outdoor areas (and sometimes in one’s own home); seat belt statutes require adults and children to buckle up in the majority of states, while secondary violations punish them for not doing so in the remainder (save for one); the story with motorcycle helmets is the same–only three states do not have a law requiring them in some form. With that in mind, why not enforce the wearing of what amounts to a different sort of helmet where, once again, life, death, and bodily harm are at stake? What value can we be said to place on women’s health if we do not oblige men to think twice before potentially impregnating them? Sure, a woman can voluntarily have unprotected sex, just like she can voluntarily smoke or go seatbelt free. Only in this case, the damage incurred falls on the shoulders of only one of the doers, along with the living, human product of their union.

It is a popular joke among abortion advocates that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. If this is so, it follows that were men to suffer for abortions, they might think twice before letting birth control options be determined by something more than the degree of sensation-loss required of them. I envision the creation of a new phenomenon, in the form of a split second of consideration when a dubious partners sighs: “Don’t worry; I’m on the pill.”

So, how would this work? If the state made it their business to, let’s say, fine these unwanted impregnators, we could start by requiring women who appear for abortions to relinquish the name of the ‘father’ as a condition for receiving the procedure. In cases where his identity is uncertain or contested, DNA tests could be performed on the embryo or fetus. The fines paid would be calculated to cover the potential lab costs; as well as birth control counseling for both partners, and perhaps even a temporary supply of birth control for them. Before you balk, consider that offenders with certain types of traffic violations can be compelled to take defensive driving courses. Is this really so different?

Perhaps you are thinking: Sometimes it is not the man’s fault; sometimes the condom breaks; sometimes the woman lies. True, though if you combine the failure rate of condoms, when used correctly (2%), with the number of days a month a woman is fertile (1), with the percent of pregnancies which fail to make it out of the gate (25-31%), well that’s a lot of lying breakage. But no matter, the fine should go forward, perhaps aimed at teaching the couple specifically about the 72-hour pill which can prevent pregnancies in these rare instances. The man’s obligation to the health of a woman should not be considered terminated upon climax.

I would further recommend that “repeat impregnators” be logged in a publicly searchable registry, so that women can determine, before getting involved with a man, whether he prioritizes the quality of his orgasm over the integrity of her body and mind–to say nothing of the care he shows to the life of any human hopefuls that might result. Similarly, women appearing for more than one abortion should be given the option of either paying a fine themselves, or submitting to birth control put in place via one of the current embedding options, such as the IUD, good for five years, or under-the-skin Implanon, which lasts for three. If they choose to pay the fine, this too could go to funding for birth control and free counseling.

The thing about this “debate” is that both sides have it right: Abortion ranges from morally dubious to downright grotesque (witness the 2010 case, in Italy, of a baby who survived for twenty-four hours after being legally aborted and tossed in the garbage); on the other hand, forcing women to bear unwanted children, or else risk their lives ending pregnancies, is no solution. If it is true that the world does not pay attention to problems until they effect men, why not test that theory and see if we can solve this one? Unquestioning support for abortion has never struck me as particularly feminist. Women empowered to demand protection for their bodies and minds would never elect the outcome of abortion, and since there is technically no reason they should have to, isn’t it time we asked why they still do?