Virtually Emotional

Last week, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo sat down with Dr. Phil to talk about his role in the Manti Te’o scandal. Those whose gaydar went off over the story have some vindication. RT created Te’o’s non-existent girlfriend, Lennay, impersonated her voice on the phone (see above), in order to  have a virtual romantic relationship with MT.  Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, the first to report on the hoax, summarize:

Tuiasosopo explained that he felt a lot of real feelings toward Te’o: When he called Manti, and a girl picked up, he got angry. The night Te’o’s grandmother died, Te’o supposedly told Lennay that he never wanted to speak to her again—that’s why Tuiasosopo killed her off that night.

Of course, one has to take a lot of this with a pinch of salt, given RT’s propensity for total delusion. And he’s obviously a young man with a lot of conflicts with his longings for love with another man:

“If you look at this situation and everything that I’ve been through, I would say yeah I’m gay. But honestly I’m so confused,” … As a devout Christian, Tuiasosopo feels he’s afflicted with a case of “the gay” and needs to “recover” from it as one would recover from a drug or alcohol problem. “It takes a lot of courage to recover from homosexuality and this type of thing and coming back to your real life. As hard of a task it is, I’m going to do all I can to live right.”

One other aspect worth mentioning – this was clearly about love, not actual sex – and virtual love at that. One lesson to glean from this is that healthy homosexuality is at core an emotional orientation before it is a sexual one. The second is that love can indeed be virtual.

MT also lied, he says, in part because he thought no one would believe he could have had a serious, meaningful relationship with someone who existed only online – hence making up meeting her afterwards. But I don’t see online interaction as easily separable from real-life human interaction any more. We spend more and more time communicating with one another virtually rather than physically. But these communications are still between human beings, with all our foibles and needs and crushes and hatreds and, if we’re lucky, wit and humor. We do not cease being human online; but we do wear a kind of mask, concealing some things, revealing others – whether on a blog or a hook-up app or a list-serv or a Facebook wall. And if you spend more hours a day communicating that way, you haven’t stopped living. You’re actually slowly becoming another person on top of your regular self. How many times have you had lunch with someone and see them pick their phone up and text someone? At that moment, they’re two people in one – playing different roles simultaneously. It’s not surprising that in some lively imaginations and young souls, things can get confusing.

This is the current reality for a lot of us. We meet many more people virtually than on the street or in our physical daily lives. We also get to know them more. The anonymity of the web can allow people not just to trash talk in a way they wouldn’t in real life but to sext and love-talk with strangers they’ve only seen pictures of. Some of this may actually be more authentic an expression of ourselves than anything we have the courage to say to someone’s face.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that the more time we live virtually, the more we will reproduce aspects of our pre-virtual life online. Including love. And this strange, amazing story was about love, not sex. It was about a panicked, conflicted young gay man knowing he would be rebuffed by his straight crush and setting up a fantasy where he could become a virtual woman to have a relationship with him.

For some generations, this is going to seem extremely weird. For younger ones, less so, I have a feeling. Increasingly, we seem to live parallel lives – as a person with a body and as an online avatar. Comedy and tragedy will doubtless ensue. That’s what masks can do.

Previous Dish on the media’s role in the Manti Te’o hoax here and here. The thread on Te’o’s role in the hoax here, here and here.

Nostra Maxima Culpa, Ctd

Michael Moynihan chats with Alex Gibney about his new documentary on the Catholic sex abuse scandal. Gibney thinks the Church’s celibacy requirement played a role:

What’s peculiar about the Roman Catholic Church is that at the heart of its doctrine is a lie—the lie of forced celibacy. One of the former priests … did a study for the church to try to understand the sex lives of priests and found that over 50 percent of priests, that he could ascertain, were not observing celibacy. So that leads to a system of secrecy and blackmail, a kind of protective quality, with anything that has to do with sexuality. So as a result, I think that predators intuitively or instinctively sought out an environment like that.

In another interview with Scott Horton, Gibney notes that Cardinal Dolan is also neck-deep in this corrupt web:

Horton: Weakland was succeeded by Timothy Dolan, who led the church’s efforts to address the problem in the Milwaukee archdiocese. He has since emerged as the church’s leading spokesman in the United States. Dolan claims to have “cleaned up” the problems in Milwaukee. Is that a fair characterization?

Gibney: No. What Dolan did was try to protect the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by taking money off its books to avoid paying abuse claims.

According to an article in the New York Times, $75 million “disappeared from the church’s investments in 2005.” Then, in 2007, Dolan moved $55 million of church funds to a cemetery trust. Dolan has claimed that he did this merely to make sure that the gravestones were properly cared for. At that price, one could assign a personal valet to every stone.

In the film, we focus on the pristine headstone of Father Murphy. Even in death, he is treated better than the survivors of his abuse.

Gibney’s view of the Pope talking to Moynihan:

I don’t see Ratzinger as a monster. I see him as a deeply flawed human being who aided and abetted criminality. I think he is offended by men who abuse their power by abusing children. He says he is disgusted by [the abuse], and I believe him. But he lives within this institution, with this group of men who exist between mortals and the angels, and he favors protecting the institution to protecting the children. That to me is his great crime. It makes him weak, and, ultimately, I think it makes him a criminal.

Me too. He has indeed instituted new guidelines and protocols and protections for children – finally. He has not been as negligent as Pope John Paul II, who refused to see evil in Maciel because the money was so good, and the theology so reactionary. What I cannot get my head around is Benedict’s profession of “shock” at these incidents in his first statements, when we know he personally authorized the transfer of a child-rapist as Archbishop in Munich and had been in charge of all the cases of sex abuse in the entire world since 2001. And he was shocked! Like Bush by Abu Ghraib!

One wonders: Can he grasp the enormity of what has happened? Does his own veneration of the priesthood and lifetime of being obeyed without question render him incapable of seeing things from the side of a raped child who has struggled to achieve some kind of sanity and healing in adulthood? This is not some ordinary person here. This is the man who represents Christ on earth. I cannot see how he can not resign, why he has not resigned – and begged for forgiveness on behalf of the entire hierarchy. I cannot see how, after a catastrophe of this proportion, we still are barred from even debating married or female priests.

At some point, obedience to authority and to an institution is not a virtue. It is a crime.

Not Giving Up

Reviewing Elie Wiesel’s latest book, Open Heart, Stefan Kanfer points to the intractable question that animates the Holocaust survivor:

[T]he essential theme of Wiesel’s 57th book is the role of theology in a secular age. If he were allowed one question to God, asks an interviewer, what would it be? Wiesel answers with one syllable: “Why?” The survivor belongs, he continues, “to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind.” And yet, “I believe that we must not give up on either.”

In essence, this means that as a Jew who has seen the worst that history has to offer—and who notes the genocidal acts that go on unabated in Africa and the Middle East—Wiesel still sees the glass as half-full. And as a writer who saw how the perversion of language could contribute to genocide, he still believes in the power of prose and poetry to redeem humanity despite its inhumanity. “I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.” The author’s choice manifests itself on every page.

On The Internet, No One Knows You’re A Catfish

Andrea Denhoed recounts the sad tale of a friend who, as a commentary on his solitary life, staged a fake wedding to a deaf Ukrainian woman on Facebook:

We all know that there are fake people on the Internet, just as we know that there are e-mail scammers, sexual predators, and virus authors, and what we envision are reptilian-looking loners sitting in basements, growing sallow by the blue light of their monitors. But maybe we should be picturing Manti Te’o, or the sweet-faced woman at the end of “Catfish.” We’re on guard against Ukrainian scammers being manipulative and mercenary when what we should be concerned about is Tim being lonely, resentful, reckless, and attention starved.

When we talk about the “dark side” of the Internet, we’re usually talking about criminal deception, or sometimes about porn, but what about the time we spend refreshing our inboxes like lab mice hoping for a pellet, or the vast unacknowledged expanses where we let our brains go stupid and set them free to graze on things like “The Ultimate Girls Fail Compilation 2012,” which currently has more than sixty-six million views on YouTube, but none of the buzz and analysis that follows “legitimate” viral videos?

The Internet is perhaps the closest thing we’ll ever have to the ring of Gyges—the invisibility charm that allows its wearer to be alone while having access to the outside world—which Plato posited as the truest test of how a person will act when freed from accountability or restraint. We might not be doing anything evil, but we’re not doing anything we want the world to see.

Meanwhile, developers have come up with Informacam, “an app that collects and analyzes the metadata stored in digital photos and video”:

Users download the app to their phones, where it integrates with the cameras. Once installed, Informacam can identify where and when a photo was taken, and even the weather at the time. “We collect more than twice the metadata of .JPEG,” says Nunez. “You actually get a trajectory of where the video or image was being taken at the time it was taken. It paints a digital environment of what was happening around you when you were filming, with a full chronology.”

Bryan Nunez, technology manager at, sees Informacam providing important legal protections for everyday civilians, too. For example, through Informacam, each edit or outright alteration of an image is meticulously recorded, as well as time- and location-stamped—the kind of metadata details that could assist even the least-savvy digital investigator unravel a Catfish style hoax.

Your Chemical Romance

Ross Andersen interviews Oxford ethicist Brian D. Earp about the morality of a “love drug” that would “boost affection between partners, whisking them back to the exquisite set of pleasures that colored their first years together”:

Imagine a couple that is thinking about breaking up or getting a divorce, but they have young children who would likely be harmed by their parents’ separation. In this situation, there are vulnerable third parties involved, and we have argued that parents have a responsibility–all else being equal–to preserve
and enhance their relationships for the sake of their children, at least until the children have matured and can take care of themselves.

One way to do this, of course, would be to attend couple’s therapy and see if the relationship problems could be meaningfully resolved through “traditional” methods. But what if this strategy isn’t working? If love drugs ever become safely and cheaply available; if they could be shown to improve love, commitment, and marital well-being–and thereby lessen the chance (or the need) for divorce; if other interventions had been tried and failed; and if side-effects or other complications could be minimized, then we think that some couples might have an obligation to
give them a try.

Home News

Yes, we are still being hosted by the Beast’s servers. But as of today, we are our own independent entity, and over the coming weekend, the site will migrate to a new URL and a newish ad-free design (our creed is “very gradual change you can believe in”). By Sunday at midnight, we should have the new meter in place – so those of you who have already signed up need only enter your username and password. If you’re worried about your bookmark, don’t be. Whatever bookmark you have – from the days of onwards – will automatically redirect to the new site.

The chances are there will be some glitches.

We have tried very hard to prep for as smooth a transition as possible, but there are unknown unknowns, as someone once noted. So please be patient as we move. I want to thank all my former colleagues at Newsweek and the Beast for their support and work in helping us transition – and for all they did for us for the last couple of years. Tina Brown made this launch possible, by giving us the resources to keep this operation afloat, adding two paid interns and one new editor, and then seeing the logic of independence and wishing us all the best. Without that, we wouldn’t have the Dish we are now launching. One personal thing: Tina was a wonderful, demanding editor, a truly class act, and a humane, sensitive person. I wish an often jealous press corps would see that truth. In the last six months at the Beast, we also saw our traffic rise to an average of 1.8 million unique readers a month. Our pageviews increased by around 40 percent in two years. That’s a hell of a ski-jump to launch off.

Chris, Patrick, and Chas have really been amazing this past month as well (though they amaze constantly). This was truly a team effort. I simply do not have the skillset to start and run a small business – but they mastered it for me. And of course, your extraordinary generosity and support drove all of this. Two words: thank you.

Selling Your Marrow

A suit was filed yesterday by The Institute for Justice over bone marrow compensation: wants to award the most needed bone marrow donors a $3,000 scholarship, housing allowance, or gift to the donor’s favorite charity. But the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), 42 U.S.C. § 274e, treats giving a scholarship to a college student for donating marrow like black-market organ-selling. This makes no sense. NOTA was enacted to criminalize markets in nonrenewable solid organs, such as kidneys. Bone marrow, however, is just immature blood and, like blood, replenishes itself after donation.

NOTA’s criminal ban, which imposes up to a five-year sentence, violates equal protection because it arbitrarily treats renewable bone marrow like nonrenewable solid organs instead of like other renewable or inexhaustible cells — such as blood, sperm, or eggs — for which compensated donation is legal. The ban also violates substantive due process because it irrationally interferes with the right to participate in safe, accepted, lifesaving, and otherwise legal medical treatment.

Megan has a good post on the suit. Virgina Postrel criticizes:

I do take issue with the idea that bone marrow should be exempt from the federal prohibition because, like blood or sperm (but not eggs), it regenerates. The same is functionally true of kidneys, where the remaining organ grows to take up the slack; liver lobes also regenerate.

Making The Case Against Kidney Donation

by Patrick Appel
Larissa MacFarquhar of The New Yorker joins the debate:

It is often assumed that at least permitting compensation for kidneys would result in more living donors, but this is not necessarily the case. Under the current system, a person who needs a kidney will usually turn to his family, and possibly his friends, for help, but if he could obtain a kidney from a stranger, paid for by his insurance, would he ask a person he loved to undertake the nuisance and risk of surgery? (Of course, this assumes that there would be enough kidney sellers to supply the need.) In Israel, where until recently the practice of transplant tourism—going abroad to receive a kidney transplant—was widely accepted, donations from living relatives were relatively rare. It seems likely, too, that the sort of person who might now donate to a stranger for altruistic reasons would not do so if the donation were a commercial proposition (one altruistic donor asks compensation proponents to consider whether an offer of cash from a boyfriend would increase the probability that the girlfriend would have sex with him)—though there are so few altruistic donors that their numbers don’t much affect the calculus.

But those in need of a kidney who have family members to ask will still ask for a kidney from a relative should a payed donor be unavailable. I also don’t understand why MacFarquhar doesn’t bring up Iran, the one country that has allowed kidney compensation and has eliminated the donor list. Matt Steinglass highlights what I take as the strongest (but still flawed) argument against allowing payment for kidney donation:

A society in which rich smokers went around buying poor people’s lungs would be contemptible. When you get to the point where market forces allow some people to take physical possession of vital, irreplaceable parts of other people’s bodies, you are entering the territory of slavery. It’s a territory in which some of the inalienable rights that underpin a liberal democratic society — and the inalienability of one’s possession of one’s own body, as in habeas corpus, is fundamental to all other rights – can disintegrate in the face of inequalities of wealth. That’s the moral basis of the anxiety over paying for organ donations in general, and it is warranted.

In fact, the case for legalizing kidney purchase hinges precisely on the fact that it is not like other organ donations: having just one kidney does not seem awfully risky to the donor’s life. (Further, one can mitigate the risk by placing the few kidney donors who subsequently develop renal disease at the top of the list for transplants, a measure that has been advocated as a non-market way to encourage donations.) As the harm to the donor goes down, tissue donations become more similar to donating blood. Donating blood has long been (slightly) financially compensated without fear of a “slippery slope” to a paid market for, say, eyes. But that’s not to say we should allow people to sell their eyes. It’s to say that perhaps donating blood and donating kidneys are special cases, and should be treated individually rather than as part of a blanket policy towards donating “organs” or “tissue”.