Advice from the Wrong People

Let’s say you have a problem with your car – there’s this odd sound coming from the transmission and now and then it feels as if you’re driving through a wall of lime Jell-O, and then it doesn’t. Something is wrong. But, as your warranty has expired, you know the dealer will charge you an arm and leg to find out what that is, and then do other things you’ll be told must be done or you’ll surely die, and then maybe fix the original problem. You just don’t trust the guys who sold you the damned car. And you know they’ll end up telling you that given all the major work that they see needs to be done, and that you’re too untrained to see, it’s time to trade in the thing for a brand new car, and they have just the one you’d love, on sale this week. That’s not what you want – you want the car you have to run right. So that’s out.

Of course there are all these independent repair shops all over, many run by some pretty dubious people – you’ve seen the local news stories, the exposés about the rip-offs, the work actually not done or even started, or repairs made with paperclips and duct tape then hidden and so on. You’ve noted Honest Alex’s down on the corner, but you find the name a red flag – it’s a bit defensive, probably for a reason. You’d rather not chance it. Having someone charge you nine hundred dollars to pour a bit of sawdust and Elmer’s Glue-All in your transmission seems like a bad idea. And you’d rather not be interviewed on Eyewitness News at eleven about it.

But you’re not going to fix the car yourself – there’s no way you’re going to drop the transmission and rebuild it, and you don’t know quite what’s wrong anyway. You need some expert advice, and then an expert. Of course you could wait for the weekend and call the two NPR car guys in Boston – they’re cool, but you might not be one of the few callers that get through. You could ask your cousin Lenny, the one who’s a wiz at plumbing repair and light carpentry, what he thinks might be going on, but that seems absurd. General handiness is not what you’re looking for. He might get it just right, by analogy, but that’s a long shot. Still it’s better than asking the guy with the placard who’s always up on the corner on Hollywood Boulevard – he’ll stare straight in your eyes and tell you Satan has been licking your brain. You’re pretty sure that’s not the problem.

Of course you could get on Google and look for information – others must have had this problem, and others may have found a good repair shop. But on the net everyone says they’re an expert, and everyone says they know just the right guy for the job. But there are no flags for who’s actually an expert and who’s just blowing smoke, or massively self-deluded. Can you tell which is which? And recommendations for any goods and services are often plants by someone trying to drum up business by pretending to be an anonymous average Joe, and then average Jane, and then average Bob, and dropping in the comments only now and then, so it doesn’t look suspicious. When all the glowing reviews tend to sound alike, and sometimes have the same spelling errors, you’ve come to the wrong place. You could try Facebook, where you know the parties, or think you do – but everyone is playing Farmville or working on scoring points, to show they’re not the nerd they used to be or that they’re still the sexpot they never really were. And they don’t know about the intricacies of automobile transmission any more than you do – that’s why they’re your friends.

So you’re stuck. You eventually take a shot in the dark or a leap of faith or whatever – maybe it’s Honest Alex, in spite of the name. It might work out just fine, at low cost. It might not. And that’s just life. You end up relying on the expertise of someone who’s said they’re an expert. They could be. You never know. But you don’t have much choice in the matter. Something must be done.

Yes, you can generalize from this. The neoconservative National Review Online (NRO) recently posted this article by Kevin Hassett of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. The item argues that the fact that the recession has been worse for minorities “suggests that discrimination may well still be a factor in the American labor market.”

That’s not one of those things you say in a room full of old white men with a grudge and a checkbook. They know better – there is no discrimination any longer, the world is run on merit and those without merit are pathetic losers – cased closed.

So the National Review Online decided in was time for an online symposium for “some economics and civil-rights analysts to share their thoughts on the topic.” They needed to tamp down this nonsense, quickly. And their panel of economics and civil-rights analysts was, of course, all white. Their conclusion was this – “Discrimination is an insufficient explanation for black unemployment.” No one is discriminating, so it must be something about those black folks themselves. At least that’s how the all-white panel saw it.

The black blogger Oliver Willis comments:

The thing is, there’s no law or rule that only black people can talk about issues affecting black people, or the same for white, Latino, Asian people, etc.

But considering the way the conservative movement insists that it is diverse, they couldn’t find one black person for their symposium? Not one?

The National Review’s Daniel Foster responded to Willis on Twitter – “We don’t do quotas. But there’s this Thomas Sowell guy who writes for us a lot. Pretty sure he’s an economist.”

Yep, Sowell is an economist and conservative and black – and he writes for them now and then. But they didn’t ask him to join in. Race and the American labor market are best explained by the white folks, who look like this. And, no doubt, on the side they diagnose automatic transmission problems.

But to be fair, they were all academic big guns who had written about race and economics. Of course, as with the net and Google, lots of people write about lots of things, saying they have the answers to it all – what to do in the remote area of Afghanistan next week, or how to regulate the informal trade in credit default swaps, or beat the Lakers in the playoffs. It seems being there doesn’t matter any longer.

But sometimes it matters. In the Nation, see Katha Pollitt on the Catholic child abuse scandal:

The moral authority granted the Catholic Church in the secular world is for me the most repellent aspect of the current crisis. In the succinct words of Jodi Jacobson, editor of, “Why is a pedophilia-ridden, pedophilia-hiding, child-abusing Church allowed to write laws controlling women’s rights?” To which one might add: what gives a church in which celibacy is equated with holiness, in which males have almost all the power, the right to a place at the table where laws are made about women’s bodies? The same institution that has dealt so indulgently with its ordained pedophiles had no problem excommunicating a Brazilian mother who sought an abortion for her 9-year-old daughter, raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather, or pushing for laws in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile banning abortion even to save the woman’s life.

Now that’s interesting. If you were a concert violinist who needed advice on bow technique for some strange new atonal concerto, you might not seek advice from LeBron James, even if James is one hell of a basketball player. This is kind of like that. Why is anyone listening to these guys? And they are all guys – no women allowed. And some of them may well stare in your eyes and tell you Satan has been licking your brain.

And there’s this:

There isn’t much that non-Catholics can do to force the church to abandon its 2,000-year-old misogynistic ways. We can’t force it to ordain women and married men, or value a woman’s life over a fertilized egg, or see homosexuality as something other than, in Pope John Paul II’s memorable words, “intrinsic moral evil.” Catholics themselves will have to do that, whether by leaving the church in numbers large enough to get the bishops’ attention or by organizing within it, like Catholics for Choice, Women-Church Convergence or the international group We Are Church.

But certainly the rest of us can demand that the Obama administration, Congress and government generally stop catering to the Vatican. The bishops can’t even make their own flock obey their outmoded and cruel rules and regulations, so why should they exercise power over the entire country? The United States should not have an ambassador to the Holy See in Rome any more than it has an ambassador to the Diocese of Canterbury or the Satmars of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And if the church wants to interfere with the making of laws, it should lose its tax-exempt status.

The church wants to interfere with the making of laws?

Yes they do, and the nature of that bears repeating. The Supreme Court chose not to block DC’s gay marriage law – gay marriage is now legal in DC, and the world didn’t end. The court decided to punt on the issue – let it be, or wait for a specific suit where someone claims real damages. But the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which had threatened to abandon their contracts for providing social services in DC if gay marriage became law, ended its foster care program as a first step in withholding services for the poor and needy until the law is changed back to what it should be. And starting immediately, Catholic Charities no longer provide benefits to spouses of new employees or those who are not currently enrolled in a health care plan – if they have to provide benefits to gay couples they’ll just not provide healthcare benefits to anyone at all. The healthcare needs of their own employee’s families will not be met – period. And of course it was Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who inserted the Catholic Church into the 2004 election by ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters, including candidate John Kerry.

But why is anyone listening to them? But eventually you take a shot in the dark or a leap of faith or whatever – maybe it’s Honest Alex, or the Pope. If your spiritual transmission is slipping gears you seek expert advice. But it’s always wise to watch Eyewitness News at eleven, for the exposé of the week. Pollitt says you should have known better all along.

And then there’s Bill Donohue – current president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights – concerned with the defamation of and the civil rights of Catholics in particular and Christians in general. He’s an independent – not part of the Church, just defending it, and the Pope these days, with comments like this:

I think a lot of these people are gold-diggers looking to get money from the Catholic Church and it’s only the Catholic Church as an institution that is singled out.

Don’t even try to figure out how that would work. He’s just demonstrating his anger, which is supposed to impress you, like his full-page newspaper ad in the evil New York Times that started all this:

The Times continues to editorialize about the ‘pedophilia crisis,’ when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.

But pedophilia has nothing to do with homosexuality, and there’s data:

For much of the past decade it has been an article of faith for many, bolstered by the testimony of thousands of victims, that the Catholic priesthood is a haven for child molesters and that the Catholic bishops have been particularly guilty of covering up for those abusers. But preliminary results from a sweeping study of sexual abuse in the priesthood show that the Catholic Church has been much like the rest of society in terms of the incidence of abuse and the response by its institutional leaders.

The data, which was presented to the U.S. hierarchy on the second day of their annual meeting here, also appears to contradict the widely held view that homosexuals in the priesthood were largely responsible for the abuse.

“What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse,” said Margaret Smith, a researcher from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which is conducting an independent study of sexual abuse in the priesthood from 1950 up to 2002. “At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and an increased likelihood of sexual abuse.”

A second researcher, Karen Terry, also cautioned the bishops against making a correlation between homosexuality in the priesthood and the high incidence of abuse by priests against boys rather than girls – a ratio found to be about 80-20.

“It’s important to separate the sexual identity and the behavior,” Terry said. “Someone can commit sexual acts that might be of a homosexual nature but not have a homosexual identity.” Terry said factors such as greater access to boys is one reason for the skewed ratio. Smith also raised the analogy of prison populations where homosexual behavior is common even though the prisoners are not necessarily homosexuals, or cultures where men are rigidly segregated from women until adulthood, and homosexual activity is accepted and then ceases after marriage.

And there’s much more there.

But you could ask an expert, a gay Catholic man, like Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s Donohue’s valid point. In some of the reports on the sex abuse crisis, the impression is sometimes given that all the offenses are against children in the classic pedophile sense – pre-pubescent. The John Jay Report found that 22 percent of the cases of abuse in America were with children under the age of ten, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 15 percent were aged 16 or older. Eighty percent were same-sex abuse. So you can see how you can say that the majority of the cases were same-sex acts between men and male teens who were sexually past puberty. Hence, in Donohue’s blinkered eyes, the gays did it. And if we get rid of all the gays, we may be unfair to many of them, but at least we can get rid of the abuse.

But then listen to the expert:

First, the critical issue is abuse, not orientation. The abuse of a young or teenage boy is no different in its nature than the abuse of a young or teenage girl. The sin is the abuse of power, and the use of religious authority to subject the defenseless to an adult’s sexual gratification. It’s about the power differential, and the still fragile nature of a developing psyche and sexuality. The sexual orientation of the perpetrator is, strictly speaking, irrelevant to the matter at hand: an institution that sought to cover up, and protect rapists and molesters of minors. If we were talking about adult sexual relationships here, we could have a discussion about sexual orientation. But we’re not. We’re talking about abuse.

Secondly, and obviously, homosexuality is not abuse. It is an orientation that for the overwhelming majority involves consensual sex with adults. Some obvious attraction for teenage boys is as prevalent among gays as the obvious attraction for teenage girls for straight men. But there is no reason to correlate homosexuality with abuse, pederasty or pedophilia.

The real question is: what kind of gay man molests children and young teens? Just as: what kind of straight man molests children and young teens? What leads to this kind of behavior which is far from the norm among homosexuals and heterosexuals? And why does the Catholic Church priesthood seem such a magnet for child rapists and molesters? Why has it seemed to attract so many gay men who are psychologically disturbed or sick when it comes to their sexual orientation?

And then Sullivan says, Bill, you had to be there:

The church teaches first of all that all gay men are “objectively disordered:” deeply sick in their deepest soul and longing for love and intimacy. A young Catholic who finds out he’s gay therefore simultaneously finds out that his church regards him as sick and inherently evil, for something he doesn’t experience as a choice. That’s a distorting and deeply, deeply damaging psychic wound. Young Catholic gay boys, tormented by this seemingly ineradicable sinfulness, often seek religious authority as a way to cope with the despair and loneliness their sexual orientation can create. (Trust me on this; it was my life). So this self-loathing kid both abstracts himself from sexual relationships with peers, idolizes those “normal” peers he sees as he reaches post-pubescence, and is simultaneously terrified by these desires and so seeks both solace and cover for not getting married by entering the priesthood.

None of this is conceivable without the shame and distortion of the closet, or the church’s hideously misinformed and distorted view of homosexual orientation. And look at the age at which you are most likely to enter total sexual panic and arrest: exactly the age of the young teens these priests remain attracted to and abuse.

That’s the age when the shame deepens into despair; that’s when sexuality is arrested; that’s where the psyche gets stunted. In some ways, I suspect, these molesters feel as if they are playing with equals – because emotionally they remain in the early teens. I’m not excusing this in any way; just trying to understand how such evil can be committed.

So he asks Donohue to think about it in a way Donohue might understand:

Ask yourself: how many openly gay and adjusted priests have been found to have abused minors? Or ask yourself another question: if straight men were forbidden to marry women, had their sexual and emotional development truncated at the age of 13, and were forced into institutions where they were treated by teenage girls as gods, and given untrammeled private access to them, how much sexual abuse do you think would occur there? Please. This is not that hard to understand.

So he sees the current problem as “a symptom of a much deeper failure of the church to come to terms with sexuality, sexual orientation and the warping, psychologically distorting impact of compulsory celibacy in the priesthood.”

Hey – if you want something fixed, ask an expert. The problem is, as always, how to find one. But it can be done. And you don’t even have to be black or gay. That’s why there are experts, after all.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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