NASA Can No Longer Afford Public Outreach

One of the most poignant and lasting memories of my childhood self was my obsession with space. This is nothing new, really. Lots of kids like space. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The thing is, it may be common, but a love of space never feels common. On the contrary, it feels special and grand. Sure, there are millions of other people who share that love, maybe billions, but compared to the universe, that’s still a pretty exclusive club.

So is just being from Earth.

While I may have found out that space is one of the most fascinating things (or combination of things) ever on my own, the catalyst for this revelation in me was when my school was visited by an astronaut. I don’t even remember his name, but I remember him talking about going up on the shuttle, doing experiments you can’t do on Earth, how we can one day start exploring again.

Unfortunately, more kids will not have the same opportunity I did. Due to the Sequester, NASA is having to cut all of their public outreach. No more school visits and informational websites, no more videos, no more attempts to promote work in STEM fields. All gone in an instant.

I cannot describe how much rage that inspires in me. Remember, the Sequester is dumb on purpose. It’s supposed to hurt. But it doesn’t have to happen at all.

Congress can repeal the Sequester and put in cuts that make sense. It would require that the troglodytes that are cheering it on because, you know, cuts, be worked around and shamed within an inch of their careers, but it can be done.

So call your representatives and senators. Let them know that science outreach means something. If we are to continue to advance our knowledge and remain competitive with the rest of the world, we need to embrace and promote STEM education, not feed it to the relatively small mass of ignorant trolls and their huckster leaders who have convinced them that science is a waste of money, a collection of opinions based on faith, rather than our best hope of building a better humanity that will one day spread to the stars.

What I Missed

CN: Rape, Catholicism

Been gone for over a week now. If I have the time, I might also post about my trip, which was amazing, and will interest almost three of you.

The world stopped spinning in the interim, right? No noteworthy events I need to worry about? No? Some things did happen? Guess we should talk about those, then.

Steubenville rape convictions

The two football players who raped a girl, then posted all of the evidence online, have been convicted of rape.Which means that we now have a bunch of rape apologia to wade through, from Candy Crowley’s bemoaning the loss of such promising lives that the rapists could have had if they weren’t busy assaulting passed out girls, to Breitbart.com’s predictable “blame the media” gambit.

The worst responses, I think, are coming from Ma’lik Richmond’s family members, though, who are understandably trying to blame anybody other than their family member. One has been arrested for threatening Jane Doe online for “[ripping her] family apart.” I kinda feel sad on this one, since she really is incapable of recognizing that her rapist cousin is the one at fault, not the person who turned in her rapist cousin.

The saddest, though, is Richmond’s father who has sad, “I told Ma’lik to put all his trust in God. God will see him through this.” It’s a shame that God didn’t decide to see Ma’lik through to not raping somebody. I can’t understand this reliance on an all-powerful super being that wants the best for us only after dropping the ball on making sure the worst doesn’t happen in the first place. I would much rather that Richmond and Mays learn the value of other human beings, especially women, than put their trust in a man in the sky that isn’t historically known for treating women with respect or dignity.

I will admit that my first reaction to all of this was to revel in the schadenfreude. I didn’t much care that the defendants broke into tears after the verdict was read. They’re rapists, they deserve that sort of misery at least. However, I will also admit that my enjoyment of their sorrow was tamped down by Ashley Miller’s post calling for a middle ground that does recognize that rapists are still people without also requiring that they be forgiven or let off the hook.

Dehumanizing rapists has the effect of distancing ourselves from the chilling reality that people who have raped aren’t uncommon, making them just monsters makes it that much harder for us to accept that “normal” people who are accused may well be guilty.

Thanks for the perspective, Ashley. Trying to make them “monsters” contributes to the idea that “regular, nice” people can’t be rapists, and that makes it more difficult to combat rape.

New pope

We now have a new Pope, and already people are praising him for his “humility” and how he’s a “reformer.” The fact is, he’s almost as much of an asshole as the last one (thanks to Aoife at the Tea Cozy for collecting that research), he just doesn’t like to remind people of it. That he lives in an apartment doesn’t mean that the Church didn’t spend millions maintaining the opulent residence that he eschewed back in Buenos Aries, it just meant he wasted all of that money that could have been used to help real people.

Also, he still considers me to be basically a tool of the Boogeyman…er, Satan, and my (as well as your) female friends to be incubators, even when they were raped. Also, while he feels that people who support bodily autonomy for women and same-sex marriage should be denied communion, he has no problem personally administering the sacrament to brutal dictators that kidnap political opponents and, much like the Church itself, steal babies to place in more acceptable households.

Let’s be fair to Pope Frankie, though. In order to get to that level of power within the Vatican, you kind of have to be an asshole. It’s very rare that you get real reformers in the Holy See because a) they were appointed by their predecessor, usually, and b) this is the party line. John XXIII was an aberration, and even then the reforms he made were mostly about making the same old stuff more accessible. The really radical stuff from Vatican II has been ignored by conservative popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI who have been clear that they consider it all meaningless and heretical. So it’s not like Frances can walk into office and say that the Church is now pro-gay.

There are things he can do, however. He can demand that the order of nuns that ran the Magdaline Laundries stop working with the Irish government to run similar social welfare programs today. He can actually do something about people who covered up child abuse in the Church. He can go to Africa and say that condoms don’t spread AIDS, they reduce it.

But he won’t. And you’ll have people like commenter Emmet at WWJTD who wax on about the “depth and richness of the faith“, as if pomp and circumstance make up for the cruelty and victimization. Much like there are not enough soup kitchens in the world that somebody can start to make up for a single raped child, there is no amount of gold brocade dresses and gem-encrusted slippers that can do the same.

Growth and Opportunity Project

The GOP has unveiled their “Growth and Opportunity Project,” the plan on how to start winning elections without mucking with voting laws again. And, unsurprisingly, it’s basically just the same thing they’ve always believed, but not shouted as loudly.

The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.

That, according to RNC chair Reince Priebus. The problem, of course, is that there is nothing to be proud of with those principles. It’s a stunted ideology that prizes nothing but the desire to slit the throats of anybody standing in the way of everything you want. The GOP won’t be able to get young people on board so long as they are still the party of homophobia, racism, and misogyny, even if they are quieter about it.

That’s why I have trouble giving full credit to Rob Portman, a conservative Senator who has come out in favor of same-sex marriage because he has a gay son. First, I wonder how often in the past two years Portman has tried to convince his son to get help, that he’s not really gay, but that’s speculation. Secondly, while I appreciate his new stance, he didn’t come to it out of a sense of justice, but because it affected him personally. Matt Yglesias calls it “the politics of narcissism.”

Rob Portman doesn’t have a son with a pre-existing medical condition who’s locked out of the health insurance market. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son engaged in peasant agriculture whose livelihood is likely to be wiped out by climate change. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son who’ll be malnourished if SNAP benefits are cut. So Rob Portman doesn’t care.

Those of us in the atheosphere often talk about the problem with doing good things for bad reasons, usually in response to “Well, if that person’s belief in Jesus/Ahura Mazda/Whatever gets them to be kinder and more charitable, then what’s the big deal if they’re right or not?” And this issue with Portman is a great example. Without a solid, foundational basis in material reality, then a person’s goodness and empathy become highly specialized, and they stop pursuing justice because it’s just, and rather do so because specific action items benefit them.

Also, faith-based goodness is too easy to turn on its head, a phenomenon best illustrated by Greta Christina’s (really Brownian’s) Hair Dryer analogy. Whether you’re shooting redheads or volunteering at soup kitchens because your hair dryer is telling you doesn’t matter because you’re still listening to your hair dryer which could presumably change its mind at any point. If Rob Portman’s son decides he doesn’t want to get married, Portman’s newfound love of SSM will evaporate as quickly as it materialized and he will quietly start following the Growth and Opportunity Project plan of opposing equality, but in a way that doesn’t turn off young straight voters.

The Amazing Atheist again demonstrates that he’s an entitled jackwagon

Before I left, I posted Anita Sarkeesian’s first Tropes vs Women video (which was awesome). Unsurprisingly, she turned off comments on it because she’s capable of learning and that it would just be a place where mouth breathing MRAs masturbate themselves into a frenzy complaining about how the video doesn’t meet whatever standard they’ve suddenly decided was the most important thing in the world ever.

And one stands out. The Amazing Atheist hasn’t figured out that making a ten minute video about how someone isn’t letting you critique them is hilarious for those of us possessed of self-awareness. More “not being able to abuse people wherever I feel like violates my rights” bullshit. No need to dwell further.

“Sincerely Held Beliefs” rears its ugly head again

Miri points out that if your beliefs keep you from doing a job, find another one. Tennessee has started the process of passing a law (just got voted out of committee) that allows bigots who want to be counselors to be able to express their bigotry.

Personally, I find this sort of thing highly ironic coming from the Christian Right, for whom it is literally an element of faith that they will be persecuted and discriminated against. However, they go to incredible lengths to make sure that they never have to suffer the most minor inconvenience for their faith. I suppose the way they get the third nail in is to just claim that it’s there.

The thing is, I don’t want people to suffer, for their faith or for any reason. Suffering sucks. But if you’re going to tell me over and over again that my pointing out your bigotry means I’m oppressing you, then stop making yourself a liar and actually be oppressed. You can’t have it both ways.

Also, I really hate the phrase “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The fact that you really, really believe something awful doesn’t make it less awful. The strength of your faith in cruelty makes it no less cruel. The weight you place on your commitment to stupidity makes it no less stupid.

Malala goes back to school!

Going to wrap up with some positive notes. I Facebooked about this on the road yesterday because I was so excited, but Malala Yousafzai has started going back to school again in Birmingham. She is safe in England where she can attend classes without having to worry as much about being shot in the head for it. She’s, without a question, my favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize this year and somebody I truly admire. I hope she continues to do amazing things with her life.

Finally, some videos
A dad altered his daughter’s Donkey Kong game so that Pauline is the playable character rescuing Jumpman

Via Emma Wolf

Somebody wrote a musical interpretation of Pi based on numbering the notes in the scale and using the numbers for chords. In the mood for interesting musical things. Heard an original piece last week that did something really clever with the Cantus Firma (will only go into detail on request here), so playing with theory is my current mood. Either way, this sounds good.

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Elective Bible Studies

Via the Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn that North Carolina has just had a bill proposed that would allow for an elective Bible class (or, more accurately, potentially three, one in each Testament and one that combines them) in public schools. Let’s take a look at some of the stuff being proposed.

(g4) Bible Study Elective. – Local boards of education may offer to students in grades 7 nine through 12 elective courses for crediton the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) , the New Testament, or a combination of the two subject matters. A student shall not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament approved by the local board of education or the principal of the student’s school.

OK, so it’s an elective course, which is a step in the right direction. That a specific translation isn’t used helps as well, though it could pose a problem in that translations can be vastly different, not include the same verses, and often say drastically different things. When I was in college and taking a Chaucer class, we studied Troilus and Criseyde which was, of course, written in Middle English. Thinking I was clever (I wasn’t), instead of buying the book with the translation that the teacher assigned, I got it online for free. And I was so damn lost! That’s Middle English, which is still pretty close to modern English (though nothing like Modern English), not Greek and Hebrew.

The problem is, of course, that the law is too narrowly defined. In order to pass First Amendment muster, it cannot just allow for Bible classes. It has to offer the option of a full Talmudic survey, an in depth look at the Bhagavad Gita, a hard hitting examination of the Tripitakas, and even, FSM protect me in your saucy embrace, a deep study of the Quran! In order to not show favoritism to any one faith in public schools, not only must a school allow the possibility of elective classes in all religions and no religion, they must also demonstrate that the law will not favor any particular religion in practice. I don’t see that happening in North Carolina.

This bit of the law is what really jumped out at me, though. Emphasis by the Curmudgeon.

(1) Knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratories, and public policies.

Actually…that’s kind of true. Over Christmas when I had a problem with one of our guests, a family friend who is a fundamentalist with all that entails, said friend was trying to feel me out about possibly being a True Believer because of my knowledge of the Bible. I didn’t mention that atheists tend to know his holy book better than most Christians, but I did mention that when I got my English degree, it came with an unofficial certification in Biblical scholarship, since Biblical allusion is among the most common literary techniques in Western literature. If you don’t know your Bible, you’re missing out on a lot of the subtext in the vast, vast majority of the literary canon. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m really glad I have that background since it makes literature much more rich for me, adding dimensions to the texts that aren’t clear on the surface and regularly improve them greatly.

For example, without knowing the parallels that he’s trying to make, Steinbeck is depressing and largely unreadable. Sorry, but he comes from the “everybody suffers in the end or it’s not art” school of writing. However, knowing and understanding the Biblical references he’s making in most of his work gives the story scope and context, transforming his works from singular sad tales to a larger, more human commentary. They’re still depressing, and I still don’t really like them, but they are significantly improved.

That being said, that’s what literature class is for. Understanding the religious underpinnings to war should be covered in history class. I’m not sure where we would address religion in math courses, and it has no place in science courses, but the point is that another elective class is not necessary to create a sense of the impact of the Bible on our culture.

The biggest problem with this is that it’s very, very difficult to teach about a specific religion without running into First Amendment issues. It’s one thing in English class to point out the parallels with between John Casey and Jesus, quite another to have to avoid every passage in the Bible that proclaims its absolute and uncontested truth. Plus, there is the high likelihood that teachers who instruct these classes will use the opportunity to preach.

So, yea, I see what Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, is trying to do, giving him the most charitable interpretation of his actions, but it’s not going to work. It’s a waste of time and resources that will inevitably be brought to court and lose. If his concern is actually teaching about the religious underpinnings of Western art and culture, then there are ways to accomplish that. The first is the pay teachers better so you can get better teachers with advanced degrees who know this stuff. The next is to encourage school boards to discuss these things as they relate to specific areas of study, not as a stand alone project.

In other words, there are eight churches in downtown Davidson, NC alone. Surely one of them offers a Bible study on the weekends. Let them handle the Biblical instruction and don’t waste time and money on a law that will ultimately fail.

Hit Parade of Stupid

It’s not always easy to keep up with every idiotic thing that gets said these days, but sometimes it’s important to take a moment and reflect on what passes for dialogue this day and age. I want to remind everybody that the people I am quoting are either elected officials, or wield enormous influence.

Shall we begin?

The first on our list is Indiana Right to Life legislative director Sue Swayze who, responding to the Indiana bill that would have legally forced doctors to rape their patients with machines at the behest of the state (it has since been reduced to only one state-mandated rape), sees no problem with sticking ultrasound wands into unwilling women because they’ve clearly had something up there before.

I got pregnant vaginally.  Something else could come in my vagina for a medical test that wouldn’t be that intrusive to me.  So I find that argument a little ridiculous.

Wow. Where to start, where to start…? Well, first of all, Swayze has basically decided that anything that doesn’t bother her shouldn’t bother anyone else. Ok, two can play at that game. I have had a number of medical procedures that weren’t strictly necessary over the years, so I don’t see why somebody else getting one should bother Sue Swayze. Well, since I have no problem with it, guess Sue Swayze can’t either.

Secondly, it’s kind of subtle, but did you catch the slut shaming? Since women have had something up their vagina previously, then that means that they have no right to later say they don’t want something else up their vagina. I mean, what’s the big deal? They’ll have a penis up there, but not an ultrasound wand? Why not? Doesn’t having something up there once, consensual or not, grant communal consent for all of time?

Next on our list is the American Family Association, hate group and purveyors of some of the dumbest and most consistently offensive opinions currently available on the internet. In this case, it’s all about conspiracy theories and spiritual corn storage. (emphasis mine)

The thing that prompted me Bryan is the four groups that are actively working to secularize and destroy America: humanists; atheists; militant homosexuals; and Muslims. All four of these groups got major momentum beginning in the ’60s and ’70s but they dug in their heels and they said: ‘we’re going to work forty years and we’re going to mainstream atheism; we’re going to mainstream militant homosexuality; dare we say it we’re going to see gay marriage legitimized.’ Why can’t God’s people dig in their heels and say: ‘we’re in it for the duration and America will not die on our watch.’
That was AFA radio host Alex McFarland discussing his Project 2026. Just take a look at those four groups, though: humanists, atheists, militant homosexuals, and Muslims. I have two responses to that.
1. Hey! I’m, like two and a half out of four of those! Uh….go me?
2. You forgot feminists, Alex. You’re seriously slipping, man.
This one is endlessly amusing to me since basically he’s saying that in order to combat the shift in culture that’s been happening when people realized how awful the views of people like the AFA are, the AFA needs to be more vocally awful for the next 15 years.
Go ahead and dig in your heels, Alex. That totes won’t turn even more people away.
Oh, spiritual corn, almost forgot. Turns out that earlier generations who were more religious built up good will for us with god, and we’ve been blowing through that by not listening to the mad raving of Bryan Fischer and Alex McFarland. So says Fischer:
So succeeding generations, without even realizing that they are consuming the spiritual seed corn that was accumulated by generations that came before them, have been consuming that moral and spiritual capital and it looks to me Alex like we’re at a place where virtually all of that seed corn is gone and if we don’t once again begin to rebuild that moral and spiritual capital America could be finished.
But it gets worse from there. New Hampshire rep Mark Warden voted yesterday to reduce the punishment for domestic assault in certain cases. Here’s his reasoning:
Some people could make the argument that a lot of people like being in abusive relationships. It’s a love-hate relationship. It’s very, very common for people to stick around with somebody they love who also abuses him or her. … Is the solution to those kind of dysfunctional relationships going to be more government, another law? I’d say no. People are always free to leave.
Yes, because they always have someplace to go and no children to worry about and no fear that their partner will hurt or kill them before they can leave. Mark Warner has no idea what an abuse victim goes through, nor has he ever taken the time to try and imagine it. The world is a simple place to him, and the complex factors that prevent people from leaving abusive relationships are too much brain work for a human defective like him.
Pro-tip: if somebody calls the police about a situation, they are likely displeased by the situation.
Today he apologized, but made it worse.
It was never my intention to minimize the trauma of domestic abuse or in any way demean the victims…how the state gets involved in people’s personal lives is a topic that requires thoughtful debate and should not be reduced to sound bites.
No. No. Fuck you. There is no room for “debate” over whether we should make efforts to stop people from being abused. This kind of libertarian bullshit pisses me off to no end. Another example was Rand Paul who was in favor of blowing up our gas line workers until he realized he was surrounded by moochers who see actual value in human life for some reason, even though it’s not backed by gold or anything.
The problem with people like Paul and Warner is that they have the same view of principle: standing up for what you believe in means letting other people suffer and die for your beliefs.
Finally, in our roundup of stupid, we have Alabama Federation of Republican Women president Elois Zeanah. I saved the best for last. Thanks to Friendly Atheist for transcribing this beauty. Emphasis theirs, but perfect.

Your child or grandchildren won’t be able to escape Common Core materials that are anti-Christian, anti-capitalism, and anti-America. Or that are pro-homosexuality, illegal immigration, unions, environmentalism, gun control, feminism and social justice.

 

Do you see what’s happening? The Obama administration and progressives have found a way to take away choices from parents and to get rid of competition in education. And to add insult to injury, they’re gonna force us to pay to indoctrinate our own kids.

 

This is not a novel like 1994. It’s Common Core.

I’m really not sure where to begin? That she addresses what she considers to be a problem by going through the entire right-wing checklist (she didn’t forget feminism, Alex)? Or that she is arguing against education standards by demonstrating that she doesn’t know what the novel 1984 is?

I think I can leave this one on its own. Sort of stands pretty well without me getting in the way.

The thing I need to remind people of at this point is that each of these people, maybe with the exception of Zeanah, holds an incredible amount of power. The only way we can stop people who clearly know nothing about what they’re talking about is to point out when they’re full of shit, don’t let them off the hook, and make sure that they know that what they said and did was wrong. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and all that.

Why is Jennifer Rubin Still at WaPo?

Jennifer Rubin is the token conservative at the Washington Post. I hate to put it like that, but it really is the case. The issue is, I’m not sure whether this is the WaPo trying to maintain some level of “balance” by hiring somebody so dramatically against everything the rest of the paper stands for (i.e. honest reporting and commentary), or whether this is some sort of demonstration of their liberal bias in that they skipped over a number of intelligent, thoughtful conservative voices in favor of the most clownish possible figure, channeling Voltaire.

Today’s latest bit of pointless outrage comes in an article where she rages against the Hagel confirmation yesterday, which she is sure (like many of her colleagues) is a portent of certain doom that has split the world into two convenient, easy to understand camps.

Let’s be clear: We have two parties: the Hagel Democrats and the pro-Israel Republicans. Only one party considers national security serious enough to place it  above loyalty to the White House. One can hardly wait for the Hagel Democrats to appear at the impotent AIPAC’s conference next month to express their support for robust Israel-U.S. relations.

That’s right, Jennifer. Everybody who disagrees with you is a) pro-Hagel, b) anti-Israel, and c) a Democrat. Because those are all really the same thing in Jennifer Rubin’s world, a simplistic place where all things are black and white: either you are on her team about everything, or you are the enemy.

She also makes the effort to talk to a few people about the confirmation. The first group she turns to is the National Jewish Democratic Committee, who had unsurprisingly positive things to say about Hagel’s confirmation. While I consider this somewhat lazy reporting in that she went to a source that she could pretty much get the expected result from (it has “Democratic” in the name), at least they are part of the “Jewish lobby” that Hagel commented on and those like Rubin have taken upon themselves to be offended on their behalf.

However, if speaking to a specifically Democratic group to get a predictably supportive quote is lazy, the next source is sinfully slothful. Rubin goes to get a quote from Concerned Women for America, the radically right-wing group started by Tim LaHaye’s wife (who travels around the country trying to talk women into staying home) that are primarily an anti-abortion lobby.

Was Glenn Beck not available for comment? Did the Family Research Counsel not have a statement? Perhaps Mrs. Betty Bowers would have had something to say?

Or, more likely, Rubin couldn’t find anything significantly inflammatory enough to match the rage burning inside of her among actual Jewish groups, so she went to a reliably batshit source to give a reliably batshit statement that matched with her reliably batshit worldview.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic does a good job of indexing all of Rubin’s reassurances leading up to this confirmation that it wouldn’t happen, and of course it did. But it’s funny to see how often she skewed or simply invented “facts” in an effort to convince her readers (and possibly herself) that the thing they want is totes likely. It reminds me of when she admitted to lying about the campaign to give the impression that Romney was winning, even when she knew he wasn’t.

That’s ultimately the reason why it’s so baffling that the WaPo keeps a buffoon like Rubin on it’s staff. They know that she has a recorded habit of aggressively denying realities that don’t break her way, and when she inevitably turns out to be wrong, she sets her hair on fire and runs around screaming about the end of the world.

This is not me calling for the Washington Post to fire Rubin. This is me asking what responsible news outlet wouldn’t have already?

We Beat the Bigots in Orlando

I’m sure many of you would like to know what happened at last night’s school board meeting. Well, it was an eight hour ordeal and I spent a lot of time alternately rolling my eyes or clenching my jaw, but the short answer is that we won, the non-discrimination policy was changed for both teachers and students to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The vote was 6 to 2 on both measures (one for students, one for staff), and one of the votes against was because the board member in question was sworn into the position last week and didn’t feel comfortable voting for something she hadn’t studied, so I’ll give her a pass.

Long answer:

I got there feeling remarkably out of place, mostly because I rolled up behind a bunch of people with blue shirts, Bibles, and a whole lot of muttering about “special rights” and “god’s word.” Wasn’t until I got inside the meeting room that I saw others wearing red like I was and felt a little more comfortable. Introduced myself, signed up to speak, and had a seat.

The meeting started with a moment of silence (not a prayer!) and the Pledge of Allegiance, which I can live with. We sat down, the board, being smart, got all of its non-controversial stuff out of the way despite being lower on the itinerary, and then started to hear the 70 people who wanted to speak on this.

This is about the time when Kristycat came and I finally got to meet her amazing 5 month old, Suzannah. For five months, little girl has already been to a number of events and protests, and mommy and daughter were wearing matching rainbow bracelets made by the GSA at Kristycat’s old high school.

One of the things that the opposition (they were opposed to changing the policy, not just me) had were “Protect Children” stickers. Being smartasses, we redshirts asked for a few and re-appropriated them. Many of us added things to the bottom (e.g. “from bigotry,” “against hate,” etc.). You can’t really see in this picture, but I added “From Superstition” to mine.

It's a sticker that says, "Protect Children" with "From Superstition" below itThe public comments were about what you would expect. Here are my thoughts in bullet form.

– Every single person objecting made some reference to why not discriminating against LGBT people was against their faith. Lots of “nobody likes discrimination,” but plenty of trying to protect it.

– Fundies are obsessed with other people’s bodily functions. Seriously, I heard “what about bathrooms” more last night than I ever have in my life. Whether it’s ejaculation or urination, there’s some Christianist who needs to know exactly how you’re going about it and approve or they scream that they’re being discriminated against.

– Had a wide cross section of nutjobs. One guy spent his three minutes regurgitating David Barton and pretending that fake quotes from the Founding Fathers were real. One person talked about how unfair it is to be called a bigot for being bigoted. Several discussed god removing his hand of protection from our nation. At least one person talked about how the majority of people in the room would have wanted a prayer instead of a moment of silence. My favorite was the crazy lady who said that the presence of people in suits proved that this was an attempt by the UN to usher in the One World Government (somebody took video of that and I will post it when I get a copy).

– Of the 70 speakers, 28 of them were pastors or ministers, and only two of those were on the right side of the issue. The two not bigoted ones were a Unitarian and a UCC minister and both made entirely secular arguments. Otherwise, I came to expect that if “Reverend” was in front of a name, or their comments start with “I’m a pastor at…” they were going to be the most egregious liars in the room and probably say something horrendous.

– Heard one of the most original arguments for the adoption of the policy yet. Essentially, federal non-discrimination laws as well as city and county ones already require this for other employers, so OCPS is at a hiring disadvantage and may be missing out on great talent because those people don’t want to worry that they’ll be fired for being gay.

– There must be a right wing legal industry, since lots of people claimed to have gotten legal advice that said that no court has ever supported gender identity as a protected trait, including the Constitutional lawyer from Jacksonville that spoke and apparently has somehow never heard of Glenn v Brumby. They have law books published by Wallbuilders and A Beka that remove references to any cases that don’t support their faith.

– There was so much whining and complaining from the blueshirts about how “this is being secreted through” and “nobody informed us of this change.” There was a public notice in the paper for three months. There were two other meetings about this, including the workshop that were noticed. It was posted on the school board website. It’s physically posted on a piece of paper at the front of the building. Every time I heard somebody say they weren’t told about the meeting, all I heard was, “I don’t care about anything besides making gay people suffer, and you should know I want an engraved invitation to do so!” If you gave a damn about school board proceedings, you would pay attention to where they’re posted. They shouldn’t have to go out of their way because you don’t normally give a damn.

I tried to get video of my comments, but technical difficulties prevented it. Here’s a transcript, though, for those who care. Otherwise, just skip the quoted section and move on to my thoughts on all the board members and their votes.

We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric tonight about protecting children, but the opponents of this measure fail to define what they’re protecting children from. To protect something, you must have something you fear will hurt them, so what do they fear?

I suggest that opponents of this measure are afraid of the inspirational teacher that also happens to tell stories about his husband the way my female teachers did when I was growing up. They are afraid of the kind guidance counselor who might be seen at the mall with her girlfriend. They’re afraid of the transgender student who just wants to use the bathroom between classes without getting beaten up. They are afraid that evidence that LGBT people are not miserable and abnormal will reach their children, and undermine their assurances that that is the case.

I have heard tonight opponents say both that they recognize the humanity of LGBT people…and that they’re like drug addicts. They they respect the dignity of LGBT people and that they’re abnormal. One person stood up here saying that she doesn’t like being called a fearmonger. Shortly thereafter, somebody compared homosexuality to rape.

These are not compatible opinions.

What opponents of this idea are protecting is not children, but an idea. It’s a bad idea. It’s an idea that dehumanizes and demonizes. It’s an idea that convinces otherwise good people that secular institutions like a school board should be used to enforce their faith.

And their fear is that this idea will not continue for another generation. That fear is justified.

But that fear is not sufficient reason not to pass this measure. On the contrary, it’s the reason why this change is vital.

Kristycat and Suse also spoke, I have video of that one, but won’t post it without her express permission.

Now, on to the actual votes.

Bill Sublette (Chairman ) – Voted for an amendment that didn’t pass that would have struck gender identity and gender expression from the proposed changes, and also voted for both measures to adopt the full language. He was one of the people who originally pushed for this language to be adopted. His vote to try to remove gender identity and expression, he explained, was because those were already protected by federal law and it might make opponents of this change feel better and not cause so much of a ruckus. I think Sublette, for all his good intentions, is horrendously naive and doesn’t know the religious right very well. They would have continued to agitate for the removal of sexual orientation and to try and remove him from the board come election time. There is no placating these people, so you really ought to fight them.

District 1 Joie Cadle – Ended up voting against the amendment to remove gender ID and expression and for both measures. She was quiet through most of the meeting, had no questions or comments until the end. This is apparently rare for her. But when she did speak, she spoke passionately about her job and her family and her responsibilities. Very impressive.

District 2 Daryl Flynn – Miss Flynn was the board member who had the most impact in making this a reality. When we redshirts had a group picture when all was said and done, we invited her to join us. She had a lot of pointed questions meant to address the bogus legal “concerns” of the opposition and spoke well in favor of these measures.

District 3 Rick Roach – Voted against the amendment and for both measures. I had a hard time pinning this guy down at first. He seconded the amendment as proposed by Christine Moore, but was clear that he was doing it because nobody else was willing and he wanted to hear what she had to say. He then spoke very eloquently about how often he had been told that people had to wait to be treated well, and how it never sat right with him. His opinion was that this is how things should be, it’s how things will be, and we should just do it now rather than put it off. I was very impressed with him.

District 4 Pam Gould – Mrs. Gould is the newest member of the board and was just sworn in, so her votes were uniformly against change. This was not an ideological stance on her part, but rather because she missed all of the prep work that went into this and didn’t feel informed enough to approve. I can respect that: she had a week to catch up on three months of debate and information. I’ll give her a pass.

District 5 Kathleen Gordon – Mrs. Gordon was a formidable woman. Confident, unafraid to speak out. I was worried when she said she wore red because it was Christmas and “for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and discussed how her daughter was “born a girl, it’s on her birth certificate” and how she has gay people in her family. It was all very confusing. But in the end, she spoke very powerfully about justice and equality and supported both measures.

District 6 Nancy Robbinson – Mrs. Robbinson is difficult to pinpoint. She was vocal in her stand with equality, very open about her opinions, but the description of her thinking process leads me to believe that this is not a progressivism born of habit, but of careful deliberation. I’d like to see more of her work.

District 7 Christine Moore – Mrs. Moore was the only person who walked into the meeting having made a public statement that she was against this measure. In an incredibly unprofessional move, she wore an Apopka high baseball jersey rather than a suit or business attire so she would be wearing blue in opposition to the policy change. She was the one that proposed that gender identity and expression be struck from the change. When it was clear that the proposal was going to pass, she tried to stall for time by asking that the board look for statistics on bullying of LGBT students and all sorts of other information. Kat Gordon asked why, in the last three months of discussion of this change and during the workshop to figure out the wording, didn’t she already ask for or get this information. The Dread Lord of Bakery pointed out this morning that that also means that she admits that she’s opposing this measure with essentially no data to back up her opposition. She snuck out of the chambers as soon as the meeting was adjourned while everybody else stayed to talk to constituents.

And that’s where that little day ends. It was exhausting. I’m trying to get copies of pictures since my phone died on me UPDATE: Here’s one of them, and that’s me kneeling in front in the red button down and black t-shirt).  But it was worth it, if for no other reason than to hear John Stemburger, the local head of Liberty Council and a world-class liar, impotently holding court with the few true believers still left and ranting about how, “That bathroom thing, they just created a new right in there!” I live on the tears of the Liberty Council.

Now, back to work. Lots more to write about, lots more to do, lots of fights to be fought. Thank you, everybody, for your support, especially if you called, wrote letters, or showed up. Issues like this do divide us, but they divide us into the just and the unjust, and that is a division we need to embrace.

Help Me Fight Bigots in Orlando

Will you be in the Orlando area tomorrow evening? If so, your help is needed!

Tomorrow, the Orange County Public School Board will be debating expanding their non-discrimination policy to ensure that LGBT (yes, this includes trans* as well) teachers cannot be fired because of their orientation or gender identity. Not just teachers: this includes all staff of the OCPS.

However, the local branch of the hate group Liberty Council has been organizing to get their merry band of bigots and homophobes there, all wearing blue, in an effort to prevent the school board from taking away their right to fire anybody who isn’t straight and cisgender. Remember: this is just the public schools, their private hate factories can continue to treat people as sub-human.

If you don’t know the Liberty Council, they are a hate group that includes the horrendous Matt Barber, a vile creature that says the most despicable things on a regular basis. They just released this little Facebook meme that they’re hoping will spread in which the equate being LGBT to being a drug addict and explain how they’re really just concerned for us queer people who are hurting ourselves and society because…well, because of debunked studies by the equally loathsome Paul Cameron.

We believe that those involved in homosexuality are created in the image of God and, because of that, deserve respect. However, their actions are damaging both to themselves and society as a whole. Just like smoking or drug addiction, this behavior should not be encouraged or promoted by our government. We believe that those involved in homosexuality are complete personalities who should not be confined to a label because of a sexual act. To do so is to label an adulterous wife or husband for life because of a sexual act. These actions are seeking the same love, validation, and acceptance all of us seek, yet and answer will not be found in repeated unhealthy interactions or societal and governmental approval of these actions. We believe this deep hunger can and will only be satisfied in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Just believing that people who aren’t exactly like you are destined to suffer eternally at the hands of your loving sky pixie does not qualify this is not hate or not lies.

We believe that those involved in homosexuality are created in the image of God and, because of that, deserve respect. However, their actions are damaging both to themselves and society as a whole. Just like smoking or drug addiction, this behavior should not be encouraged or promoted by our government. We believe that those involved in homosexuality are complete personalities who should not be confined to a label because of a sexual act. To do so is to label an adulterous wife or husband for life because of a sexual act. These actions are seeking the same love, validation, and acceptance all of us seek, yet and answer will not be found in repeated unhealthy interactions or societal and governmental approval of these actions. We believe this deep hunger can and will only be satisfied in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

So what can you do? Come with me to the school board meeting! Wear red to show your support to expanding the nondiscrimination policy. The meeting is taking place Tuesday, December 11th at 5:30 PM at the Orange County School Board building located at 445 W. Amelia Street (near to where the old Amway Arena was located).

What else can you do? Call or email the board members and urge them to stand with equality.

Bill Sublette (Chairman )– 407-426-8551    William.Sublette@ocps.net
District 1 Joie Cadle – cell 407-376-0191    joie.cadle@ocps.net
District 2 Daryl Flynn407-317-3236    daryl.flynn@ocps.net
District 3 Rick Roach407-317-3236     rick.roach@ocps.net
District 4 Pam Gould407-317-3236      pamela.gould@ocps.net
District 5 Kathleen Gordon407-716-6861      kathleen.gordon@ocps.net
District 6 Nancy Robbinson – cell 407-310-9194        nancy.robbinson@ocps.net
District 7 Christine Moore  – 407-317-3236         christine.moore1@ocps.net

Christine Moore has already stated publicly that she’s against protecting the jobs of LGBT employees. Don’t let her hold that opinion comfortably, and let her know (politely and with respect) that she ought to change her mind and stand with her teachers and staff.

Again, please be respectful, but also please let these board members know that the days of discrimination without consequence are behind us. It is no longer politically neutral to exclude people who are different.

If you happen to know any skeptic groups in the area that will be there, let me know and I’ll seek them out. Otherwise, I’m joining the loudest group in red and making a stand for equality.

Buddhist Economics?

There are times when news outlets and websites are so amazingly desperate for a new angle on a story that they will go to great lengths to find some previously buried lede that everyone else missed that might get some attention. Addictinginfo is rather incredible at this, mostly by their audacity.

Here we have one example about a video that has gone viral recently in which a guy accuses anyone who has signed the Norquist pledge of committing treason. Addictinginfo’s original approach: he’s a Buddhist scholar.

Given the critical mass of this, well, critical mass, it becomes imperative to stir some new voices into the mix, hopefully to add perspective we might not have considered or a fresh viewpoint that bears attention. One such voice is that of Professor Robert Thurman: Buddhist scholar, prolific author, respected academician, and “one of the 25 most influential people” chosen by Time in 1997. Perhaps his most unique feature is his position at Columbia University, where he is the Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, “holding the first endowed chair in this field of study in the United States.” [Wikipedia] According to his website, Professor Thurman is also the co-founder  and President of Tibet House US, has been a personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, and writes and lectures frequently on the topics of Buddhism, Asian history, and critical philosophy. In other words, a learned and accomplished man whose opinion merits our open minds.

OK…why? No, seriously, it’s not that I think not being a qualified expert in a given field means you can’t opine or even give vital perspective on an issue. This whole damn blog is me opining and trying to give vital perspective on issues of which I am not a certified expert. But I fail to see how Prof. Thurman’s credentials as a scholar of Buddhism, Asian history, or critical philosophy means that his opinion on economics somehow carries more weight. Does his close, personal, and long-standing friendship with the Dalai Lama somehow imbue him with a great knowledge of Constitutional law?

If you listen to the video, clearly the answer is “no.”

95% of the congressmen and Republican senators have sworn a written oath to someone called Grover Norquist and an organization called American For Tax Reform; that they will under no circumstances, and for no reason, raise taxes of any kind on anyone. And therefore they have taken an oath to an outside organization which is not supported by the U.S. Constitution – which gives Congress the right to levy taxes, to do the work of the people through the government –but this is a non governmental organization, not elected by anybody and supported by big money people who are making money by not having to pay taxes.

And…? I hate to break it to Thurman, but people swear seemingly contradictory oaths all the time. My uncle used to annoy Jehovah’s Witnesses who would come to his door and ask to pray with him. He would agree to pray with them…but first everyone must say the Pledge of Allegiance. Since it was a violation of their faith to do so, swearing an oath of allegiance to anything that isn’t god (idolatry), then they were forced to grumble off and my uncle stopped getting Saturday morning door knocks.

You know what? It’s just as silly an argument as what Thurman is making.

Members of the government promise to do all sorts of things, they sign all sorts of pledges, and I’m not feeling cynical enough to believe that at least some of them don’t mean every single one. But governing is a matter of prioritizing and, to a lesser extent, to developing a certain view of the world. Let’s continue and I’ll elaborate.

It’s actually a kind of seditious oath, a treasonous oath. People who take that oath cannot actually serve in the government with good conscience, because their real role is to act as a mole to destroy the government; they are “starving the beast.”

Here we have Thurman confusing rhetoric for reality. Does he also take everybody who misuses the word “literally” at face value (e.g. “I literally peed myself,” “I literally jumped out of my skin,” etc.)? While AFTA and libertarian types are basically anarchists in rhetoric, they want a government just as big as anybody else, but they want that big government to leave them alone and restrict other people. Nobody is trying to “destroy the government,” they’re trying to create fifty smaller tyrannies rather than what they perceive to be one big one (except in matters of marriage or abortion). This has no more validity than every conservative asshole who thinks liberals are Communists and traitors because that’s what they call everything they don’t like.

The people who sign Norquist’s pledge tend to really think that tax cuts create prosperity for all and that the government is overgrown and a hindrance to liberty. They’re wrong, but they have no “mental reservation or purpose of evasion” because they are entirely confident and unintentionally evading. They believe something stupid, which isn’t treasonous by any given definition.

Feel free to watch Thurman’s every terrible argument yourself:

This is not to say I like the Norquist pledge. I think it’s stupid and short-sighted and based on something Norquist came up with when he was 12. There are plenty of great arguments against it. But none of them involve “the people who signed it are traitors!” They’re not. They agreed to a non-binding pledge that happens to line up with their poor ideas of how macro-economics works, or their very good ideas about how to make more money for themselves and their friends.

Back to the original point though, we see that this eminent scholar of Buddhism with so many accolades produces nothing more than red meat for liberals, a WND-style stretch of the meaning of words to create an emotional appeal free from facts. That’s why theologians and the like are not necessarily more worth considering on subjects not related to their field (I’m talking to you, USCCB, with your medical guidelines). Thurman, for all his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, makes plainly miserable arguments about Constitutional law. And I have no idea why I should take his opinion seriously.

Topless Carwash Owner Doesn’t Understand Federalism

Derrick Belcher has a mad. He’s been nursing a grudge against the government since 2001 when he believes the federal government shut down his topless carwash due to obscenity laws. The laws were designed to shut down strip clubs, and other business owners who had sex-oriented businesses were assured that they would be fine. Turns out they weren’t, and the government shut him down.

Belcher is now part of the inordinately silly very serious and patriotic secessionist movement in Alabama. He wants to get away from that evil federal government that took away his business because he’s a libertarian and people should be free! Ya, liberty! Freedom! Stuff (but not government stuff)!

You’re waiting for the punchline, aren’t you? I bet some of you already know.

Belcher was shut down due to an Alabama state law enacted in 1998.

That’s right. The evil federal government had nothing to do with his business. Instead, it was the state legislature, huffing Jesus and “think of the children” rubbish, that took away his precious business. The state legislature he wants to give even more power over himself.

Part of the irony is that Belcher considers himself a Libertarian. Now, this wouldn’t be strange if Libertarians didn’t want to consistently give states the rights to make these sorts of decisions, with the notable exception of Loretta Nall who held a sex toy drive to send to the state’s attorney general at the time.

Belcher wants to give more power to a state that upheld a $10,000 fine for selling dildos. And seems completely unaware of the fact that the majority of people around him want to further limit his freedom and only the federal government stands in their way.

Well, let’s be honest, not his freedom. Just women, brown people, and gay people. But occasionally, they might keep him from selling tickets to see wet, topless women, and then he might be regretting this whole “secession” thing.

That Was Quick

Remember how I wrote about Lindsey Graham a week ago? And how he said, “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough”?

Turns out he’s planning to help filibuster Susan Rice’s nomination for Secretary of State if the president nominates her.

Self-reflection isn’t the problem. It’s that actually acting on the self-reflection seems beyond the GOP, who consider every situation an exception to the “let’s try to be moderate” rule.

Still, a whole week has to be some sort of record…