Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year


By now you’ve heard that the Advocate has named Pope Francis its person of the year. In perhaps one of the most cringingly apologetic and sycophantic pieces published about the Supreme Pontiff, Lucas Grindley reaches to draw the barest scraps of meaning out of the most innocuous of statements. In fact, reading this piece, you’ll notice that most of the article is Grindley doing little more than repeating himself or explaining why other people deserve the praise more. I almost feel as if the editorial board made the decision, and poor Lucas was tasked with writing it up. But let’s examine this article to see if we can divine the thinking that makes what appears to be pandering to pop culture lionization into a legitimate choice.

As I mentioned, the first six paragraphs are about how other people should have been given this honor. Grindley focuses especially on Edie Windsor, the brave woman whose case got a part of DOMA thrown out in court. It’s followed by this remarkably cop out


Thus begins my new piece for Queereka. Read the whole article on that site.

Man Divorced From Reality Running For Sheriff

Mark Kessler, a man who doesn’t let reality get in the way of his simplistic worldview and violent hatred of people not like him, has decided since it’s likely that he will be fired as police chief of Gilberton, PA, that he will run a write in campaign for county sheriff.

The parade of ridiculous is amusing and frightening, like Halloween Horror Nights with fewer strobes, but pay attention to the bolded part from this Facebook post (emphasis mine) :

when your back is against the wall, when the odds are almost impossible to overcome, that my friends is when we the people finally stand up and say , ENOUGH! so all I can say is this!, BRING IT YOU PACK OF SCUM SUCKING SHIT BAG POLITICIANS, i’m not politically correct , damn proud of that I must say! I don’t come with a smile and a bag of bullshit every four or two years, NEVER HAVE NEVER WILL!, I don’t need to suck the so called elected elites ass cracks to run for anything, or get the stamp of approval from the so called elected elites! I’m an AMERICAN, nothing more nothing less, I love my country, I honor our military who honor their oath, I honor all American Patriots, and all those who shed their blood of gave the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom whether on the field of battle or not! as for you scum sucking politicians from the left & right, WE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE COMING AND YES WE ARE PISSED OFF! so NOVEMBER 5TH 2013 WRITE IN MARK KESSLER FOR SCHUYLKILL COUNTY SHERIFF, one true american patriot! and lets give this CURRENT thuggery regime here in Schuylkill county & across the nation THE BOOT!

I’m going to do a favor to everyone who has ever claimed not to be politically correct and recommend that you stop making that claim. When you say, “I’m not politically correct,”  you think you’re saying, “I’m a bold warrior for free speech.” What you are actually saying is, “Other people? Who gives a shit about them? Why should they stand in the way of my saying any bizarre or ridiculous thing that comes into my head the moment I think of it and suffer no social consequences for it?”

You see, another phrase that means the same thing as being “politically correct” is “being nice.” If you sincerely believe that there are people who, due to any given difference from you, don’t deserve at least a modicum of respect or kindness as the default behavior, then you should not be proud of that. You should be ashamed and start immediately watching re-runs of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

People who rail against political correctness either don’t understand what it means, or they’re looking for an excuse to be gigantic assholes and feel morally superior for it. Nobody is buying it, though. You want to be a douche of epic proportions, you go right ahead, but don’t expect me to praise your honesty. If your honest opinion is, like the thoroughly unhinged and armed Kessler that people who disagree with him are “fucking cocksuckers” who ought to be shot, then you are a seriously sick individual and I hope you’ll limit your contact with human beings.

If you reject kindness as some sort of unfair burden on your liberty and attempt to martyr yourself because people didn’t like that you’re a jerk, then it’s time to re-evaluate your behavior. There is nothing noble about being “not politically correct.” It is no more a virtue than being uninformed and claiming that that gives you a completely unbiased perspective. In both cases you are glorifying ignorance.

Why Do We Keep Listening to Dawkins?

Seriously. I know he has been incredibly important to the atheist movement, but let’s take a step back and ask if it’s worth listening to somebody who apparently thinks that we can’t judge pedophiles before a certain arbitrary date because they didn’t know any better.

In a recent interview with the Times of London, Dawkins described his own early schooling and pointed out that he was molested as a child by a master at his boarding school.

Professor Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, describes in a new autobiography how a master at his Salisbury prep school “pulled me on to his knee and put his hand inside my shorts”. He writes that the episode was “extremely disagreeable” and that other boys were molested by the same teacher, but concludes: “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage.”

He also describes this as “mild paedophilia” and says that you can’t judge people in the past by your own moral standard.

“Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

Ok, first of all, how the fuck would Richard Dawkins know if any of his schoolmates who were also molested by this creepy schoolmaster suffered “lasting damage?” As Greta Christina points out, he can speak for himself, not for them. Considering his demonstrable disdain for the the science of human behavior, he probably wouldn’t accept the opinions of people who say that molestation can and does inflict lasting damage on many, many children.

Secondly, in exactly what year did it become no longer ok to touch children’s genitals for sexual pleasure? I’m really kind of curious. PZ touched on this as well, but I would like to point out that one of the many arguments that atheists use to counter the “the New Testament got rid of all that Old Testament stuff” is that the Old Testament stuff was never moral to begin with. The premise of the argument is that a perfect god would never have ordered the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people, or the capture and rape of young girls, or the stoning of any number of people, including those who had the audacity to gather firewood on the Sabbath. A perfect god would have outlawed those things to begin with rather than wait a few thousand years and then correct that error. Just saying, “Well, things were different back then, cultural context, it was the only way to protect them, blah, blah, blahty, blah,” doesn’t actually make any of those things ever a good or moral thing to do. It’s an effective tactic because the person making the argument must either admit that god wrote those things, but is not perfectly moral, or that men wrote them in the cultural context in which they lived and as they grew more enlightened, they started to correct their self-serving, barbaric behavior by claiming that a perfect deity changed its mind.

So to hear Dawkins say that there was a time when child molestation was a-ok basically undermines the argument that immoral behavior remains immoral whether or not the pervading opinions of the time hold it to be so. In other words, I damn well do hold the racism of the 18th and 19th century against the people holding those opinions. I may recognize that they were not in possession of the wealth of thought that I have available to me to formulate the conclusion that race is a bullshit idea with no bearing on a person’s potential except inasmuch as they must deal with racism, but that doesn’t mean that I will blithely excuse their terrible opinions or wave them off as insignificant. It means that I will engage their racism as I do with any of their other arguments and demonstrate why its wrong, even if that person may be right about other things.

Knowing Dawkins, he will spend the next couple of days on Twitter trying to explain how everybody just doesn’t understand the nuances of what he was saying, then trying to describe those nuances in 140 characters or less, but I sincerely hope that maybe he surprises us and actually learns from this that there are no degrees of pedophilia, that you absolutely can and must judge the past by the new information we have today, and that he doesn’t get to tell us whether his schoolmates suffered because of what happened to them.

UPDATE: Dawkins has clarified his statements and apologized for his presumption about his classmates’ reactions or experiences. I am, frankly, surprised, and while there’s a lot in there that suggests that it’s our fault for not getting it, he seems contrite on the important points, and that seems reasonable.

Link Parade 6/30/13

Here’s a collection of things I wanted to talk about but don’t have a full post in me for.

1. Apparently, Ohio is also passing an abortion ban, presumably to create the jobs they keep saying is their priority. Miri has the details and is encouraging people to call John Kaisich and tell him to line-item veto that provision from the budget bill. I encourage you to go over there and get the details on how. I just did, and I don’t even think modern Republicans ever give a shit about public opinion, but it didn’t hurt me. The part that gets me, however, is this bit:

Doctors must inform patients seeking abortions exactly how much money the clinic made from abortions within the past year, and how much money the clinic stands to lose if the patient chooses not to get an abortion. In case it’s unclear, the point of this is to warn patients that there is a “conflict of interest” involved in providing abortions because clinics can make money from them. This is ridiculous because any medical procedure can make money for doctors and hospitals.

You’ll notice that with the advent of 501(c)4s and the GOP’s favorite Court ruling, Citizen’s United, that the opposite is true of them. If I were a principled Democrat in Ohio, every bill will have a proposed amendment that you cannot submit a bill in the state legislature without it saying how much you have received from the relevant special interest group and how much you stand to lose in campaign donations if the bill doesn’t pass.

2.Will Wilkinson talks about why Republicans would bother standing against immigration reform when it’s clear that even 86% of Republican voters think a “pathway to citizenship” is a good idea. And the answer is that they have a hard core base that really is dedicated to identity politics.

The energetic ideological base of the Republican Party is a nationalist, identity-politics movement for relatively well-to-do older white Americans known as the “tea party”. The tea party is interested in bald eagles, American flags, the founding fathers, Jesus Christ, fighter jets, empty libertarian rhetoric, and other markers of “authentic” American identity and supremacy. That America is “a nation of immigrants” is a stock piece of American identity politics, but the immigrants that made America America were, well, not Mexican, and spoke English, or at least Pennsylvania Dutch. Sorry Mexicans! Even if each element of immigration reform, taken in isolation, is agreed to be a good idea by a solid majority of Republican voters, Republican politicians must nevertheless avoid too-enthusiastically supporting this package of good ideas, lest they fail to project sufficient appreciation for the importance of keeping America American and putting Americans first.

This is where I think there is an element of cognitive dissonance present in a lot of GOP voters. They don’t think of themselves as hurting immigrants, they don’t want to hurt anybody, but they also want to feel more authentic, more American than somebody, and immigrants are a traditional target. They prioritize their desire to feel superior, better than, over their desire to help people who may have been raised in this country, entirely unaware that their parents brought them here illegally as babies. They aren’t entirely unfeeling toward other people, which is why they support parts of the bill, but a whole bill threatens their feeling of supremacy and that cannot happen.

3. This is the boy I wish I was when I was 13. In fact, this is the boy I wished I was when I was 13. Will Phillips has been a social justice activist since he was 10 years old. Matt Barber has questioned his motivations and suggested he’s been “brainwashed” (which is wingnut speak for “taught that other people matter”). He initially got famous for refusing to say the Pledge because he didn’t feel that we did have “liberty and justice for all.” Most recently, he spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade. This kid is amazing and has a bright future ahead of him. Go read about him now.

4. TW: cults, murder, homophobia. “Lord” Pete Moses is the leader of a Judaism-based cult. And he has just been found guilty of murdering two of his followers, one of which was a 4-year-old boy who was killed because Moses thought he was gay. At the very least he will be going to jail, the sick fuck. Sentencing is next Friday.

5. If you have small children, you should fill out this form saying you would be interested in getting them this awesome toy to teach your youngsters about evolution. Even if you don’t have kids you should fill it out. This is not buying the product, they are gauging interest in it, and filling out the initial form will not ask you for credit card information, but will give you an opportunity to give comments.

6. If you remember me talking about Joe Klein and how he apparently doesn’t understand that atheists help people, there have been multiple updates. First, Klein himself tried to weasel his way out of his comments by claiming that he only meant organized atheist groups, which is still incorrect. Now Time has come out with its own statement, and basically they’re supporting Klein, which is why I highly suggest that you contact Time and let them know that this is utterly unacceptable, that inaccurate reporting has no excuse, and that you intend to cancel your subscription if you have one.

On a side note, I was helping my friend with her baby yesterday. Funny how Joe Klein wasn’t there to help.

7. This baby duck was born with a deformed leg. So, rather than give him a peg leg or letting him suffer, science has found a solution. Using a 3D printer, people made a mold for a silicone prosthetic leg and foot for Buttercup. All the feels for this one.

8. I was torn about this for a whole 3 seconds before recognizing the problems with it. Basically, it’s a website that is encouraging a movement for “Christian Domestic Discipline” which we are told is a consensual arrangement that includes male domination and punishments like spanking.

Christian Domestic Discipline is not BDSM. It is not a game. While we do not deny its sometimes erotic nature, it is ultimately not for erotic purposes. It is often much different than the domestic discipline you will find outside of the Christian faith.

The thing is, it sounds a lot like BDSM. However, my experience has taught me that I can’t trust that Christianists aren’t lying when they say stuff like “consensual”, and there is a question of whether a lifetime’s worth of being told that this is the natural order of things leaves a person in a position to meaningfully consent or not. However, giving the women involved in this the benefit of the doubt, I see nothing on their website about wives who want to exit this “consensual” arrangement, or merely drop that aspect of it without getting a divorce. I also see no mention of safe words and very little in the way of safety instructions to keep husbands from going too far (I suppose god will stop them?), which means it is very, very, very not BDSM. Essentially, as a Dom/sub relationship with a religious play component, this could be really hot. As a lifestyle with no escape routes, no safety instructions, and no apparent care for the lives of women who get into this other than value paternalistic nonsense, it sounds both dangerous and abusive, despite claims that it is not (because saying that something is not abusive/racist/homophobic/otherwise awful totes makes it true).

9. #4 on this Fred Clark link list. Just go read it.

I think that’s everything for now. Oh, if you haven’t, please go vote on my new tagline. It’ll only take a second and be really helpful.

Klein Both Dishonest and Insulting

It should come as no surprise that Joe Klein of Time Magazine is a dishonest hack. He has never, in the course of his career, allowed facts to get in the way of a story or, more often, a pitiful insult to bolster his ever-ravenous ego. I can think of very few people so vile in the mainstream press as Joe Klein, a man who thinks that as long as it isn’t his children getting killed by drones, then it’s ok (fairly typical conservative belief, though most are smart enough not to say it on TV). This is a man who likes to write at length about things he doesn’t understand. A man who will say anything in service to his preferred narrative. He has made outrageous claims about members of the military with no factual backing, and he has strawmaned liberal bloggers.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that in a piece he writes for the cover of Time magazine about how volunteering can help with PTSD, he takes a cheap shot at atheists.

… there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon.

Fuck you, Joe. Hemant does the work of actually linking to many of the atheists that were out there helping, so I will just refer you to him, but I would like to point out that on top of that, you had Christian groups that refused to work with the godless, showing how much they care about helping people instead of being perceived by gullible cretins like Klein as doing so.

Which leaves us to ask, what should we do? Well, for one, signal boost the hell out of this story. Let people know that hacks like Klein are liars, frauds, or far too lazy to be trusted in the capacity of a purveyor or analyst of news. Also, write to Time and let them know this is unacceptable. I have included my letter below. Be polite, but firm.


I have to ask what your editorial board could have been thinking in the last cover story, allowing Joe Klein to take a cheap and petty shot at atheists, accusing us of never helping after disasters? While it would be bad enough if this were accurate, the fact of the matter is that many secular humanist groups were present and helping. In some cases, they were more willing willing to work with Christian groups than the reverse was true. It seems that Klein’s faith has made him no more honest than the average person, or at the very least no more than a hack journalist, willing to slander an entire group of people without doing the most basic Google search.

Both Klein and Time should issue an immediate apology, as well as take a serious look at the apparent lax standards in your editorial and fact checking departments.

Punish the Girl First

Very few things frustrate me more than one person having to suffer for the crimes of others. Part of the reason why I have a problem with Christianity is that it is based, primarily, on the idea that one person can suffer in exchange for another and, further, that this is good.

In this case, the person suffering is 12-year-old Maddy Blythe who was previously allowed to play football on her middle school team. However, administrators at Strong Rock Christian School seem to be very afraid of her magical girl powers to create “lustful thoughts” in the boys on the team. So instead of the boys having to control themselves, she has been cut from the team.

Now, keep in mind, I am not really entirely on board with the “teach the boys to control themselves” idea in this case since the concern isn’t even for their behavior, it’s for their thoughts. Yes, they should learn about how not to give into those thoughts on an unwilling person, but this bullshit thought-policing does nothing but cause these boys to be steeped in shame on an incredibly regular basis since it doesn’t take a whole lot to give a 12 year old lustful thoughts. But, as Darrel Ray points out quite often, sexual control leads to control in other aspects of life, and religious organizations like Strong Rock love to control people. Make them afraid of their entirely natural and uncontrollable thoughts, then give them a cure for the made up disease in the form of obedience.

There is nothing good about this situation. All you see is kids being abused for being in the first case a girl, and then in the boys for being on the edge of puberty. When I first read this I was angry, but the more I think about the enforcing of purity myths and the inevitable pain that will be suffered by any child who buys into this claptrap, the more nauseated I get.

Strong Rock Christian School is harming children with this policy. They’re taking one girl who not only enjoys football, but is reportedly very good at it, and telling her that she must be the one to be punished because the administration can’t trust the boys. The boys on the team are being told that they can’t be trusted because they might be thinking things that haven’t been approved by Jesus, and their very thoughts can send them spiraling into the very depths of hell. On top of that, they are being told that if they do have a problem, it’s not their job to fix it, it’s somebody else’s job to make things easier for them.

There are no good lessons here. There is no hidden meaning that makes this anything other than fanatical devotion to absurdity and unthinking obedience to social structures that undoubtedly give all or most power to the people making these decisions. It’s sick, it’s sad, and I feel for these kids. I recommend going to the Let Her Play Facebook page and showing your support.

CFI Shows Zero Backbone

I’m a liberal Democrat, so I’m rather used to the leaders that ostensibly support the things I care about backing down in the face of a fight. It’s frustrating as all hell, but you eventually come to expect it, at least politically.

Still, I am fairly new to the wider atheist/skeptical movement, and I’m still getting used to which groups hold the same values that I do. I remember when the Secular Coalition of America (what I call the “other SCA”) hired a Republican lobbyist who basically spent her career up to that point getting people elected that stood against everything the other SCA does to run the organization…and that hasn’t turned out horrible.

CFI originally attracted me because I thought that Melody Hensley and Debbie Goddard were pretty damn awesome. Michael De Dora does a really tough job as well, and so do many of the other staffers who work there. In fact, though people will say otherwise, there has been very little blowback against the Center for Inquiry since its CEO, Ron Lindsay, decided to lecture a bunch of feminists on what feminism is and isn’t.

That is until they released the result of their discussion on the matter which is…less than stellar.

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

I’m sorry, but this is a fucking joke. Seriously, what could have possibly been going through the heads of the board of directors when they drafted this? Did they think that it would be accepted?

The fact of the matter is that they are making it perfectly clear that they have no interest in maintaining the confidence of the social justice-minded among the atheist movement. This is a shame since Women in Secularism is a great idea and one that can really do a lot of good for the movement, but not if it seems as if they’re doing this to check off a box. I believe that members of the staff are passionate about getting women involved in secularism, but it seems like the leadership sees it as a nuisance.

Greta Christina and Rebecca Watson have both pulled their support from the organization, which probably means very little to those in charge. We’ve also started to see the emergence of the predictable distortions, such as this signable open letter which reads in part

We are aware that the silencing tactics, accusations, shaming and/or smearing campaigns employed by influential representatives of the Atheism Plus movement – particularly certain bloggers and speakers associated with Skepchick and Freethought Blogs – have included calls to interfere with the careers and personal lives of valuable contributors to the secular/atheist/skeptic movement. We are witnessing an effort to purge supposed undesirables from the movement, based on personal and political agenda. We do not condone this. Some of us have been directly targeted by these tactics, and others of us are afraid to use our real names online, let alone attend conferences, because we fear we may be targeted next.

We are aware of a campaign, headed by Amanda Marcotte and others, to remove Ronald A. Lindsay from his position as CEO of the Center for Inquiry. We do not support this effort.

Where? Where has anybody, Amanda Marcotte or otherwise, lead a “campaign” for Ron Lindsay to be fired? Everybody I have read has asked for an apology, either from him or on his behalf. And who is calling to interfere with the careers of people? This is completely made up nonsense, a collection of hyperbolic ghost stories told by anti-feminists to justify their harassment tactics. The point of this letter is just to tell the world that the undersigned don’t have any problems with people treating others horribly. They’re fine, so why should they give a shit about anybody else?

Basically, this is weapons grade projection.

The thing is, I am entirely unsurprised by this. Seriously, I’ve already seen how this mythology is built. First the statement comes from CFI that is so ambiguous that it says absolutely nothing but tries to shift blame away from itself and its CEO, then people pretend that there is some horrible campaign to get people fired (that they will refuse to support or support with comments on blogs that go against the things the blogger has said), then it’s all about how hateful we A+ers are because we’re stifling free inquiry and a false equivalence is made between the right to free speech and the fictional right to be given a platform.

This is an old script. We have new elements (let’s see how long it takes the Vacula to get Ron Lindsay on his radio show), but ultimately it’s the same thing. Anti-feminists will pretend that they care about free speech so long as you’re loud enough to yell over them and embellish the truth because that’s how good skeptics win arguments, apparently.

*sigh* At least there’s still American Atheists. Dave Muscato and Dave Silverman seem to understand that just because something doesn’t make you personally uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean you should stand by and let other people be harassed. That’s really what this boils down to: CFI has stated clearly that they’re good, so what does it benefit them to be concerned with somebody else? That’s a sad attitude to have.

A Lady Doctor and Trans* People

As we all know, at least the people who have heard of both the internet and have no fewer than one Whovian friend, Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who. I am disappointed like so many others, but I have learned that as a Doctor Who fan, I need to roll with the regenerations. I remember being a kid and watching the switch from John Pertwee to Tom Baker in reruns on PBS and being very, very disappointed. So disappointed I ran over to my dialup modem, put it on the cradle, and hit every local BBS until I found one with somebody who knew what the fuck just happened. Did I mention I’m old?

However, I believe this presents a good chance. Let’s get a female Doctor.

Seriously, it wouldn’t be any less strange than anything else on the show, and there is precedent for it with both Romana (that there are Time Ladies, at least), and also with the non-canonical and absolutely hilarious The Curse of Fatal Death where the Doctor at the end is played by Joanna Lumley.

But I was being foolish. As Aiofe over at the Tea Cozy points out, Russell T. Davies himself, though no longer running the show, came up with the hitch in this plan.

While I think kids will not have a problem with a female Doctor, I think fathers will have a problem with it.

That’s because they will then imagine they will have to describe sex changes to their children.

How did I not think of that! Fathers (not mothers) will have to explain to kids about sex changes!

Obviously, this fails on a number of levels, and I will give Davies some credit that his wording implies that fathers are not justified in this opinion, merely that some will “imagine” this to be the case. But let’s look at these fails as if this is the case and some dads are this delusional.

The first is one that Aoife points out: we went through this 20 years ago with another character. Her name was Jadzia Dax and she was on the masterful Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. To quote Aoife,

Dax- or Jadzia Dax, as she is when we meet her- is a joined Trill. Trills are a species who, in their joined state (most Trills aren’t joined) are composed of two parts- a humanoid host who lives and dies like other humanoids, and a wormlike symbiont who can live for many centuries and who holds and preserves the memories of its hosts. When a host dies, the symbiont is transferred into a new host to begin another life. A joined Trill individual is therefore a blend of the current host, their symbiont, and all of their past lives. Trippy, eh? Where the Doctor rarely refers to the past, Dax doesn’t have that luxury. Jazdia Dax lives and works among people who knew her when she was an old man. Her boss, closest friend, mentor and mentee (life is complicated when you’re a twentysomething with a centuries old mind) calls her “Old Man” and reminisces about old times. She encounters people of many species who she knew in past lives, deftly negotiating complex terrains of age and gender, owning both who she is and all of the other people that she was. She’s also, by the way, a badass science officer, wicked smart, and manages to gamble with the Ferengi and win.

DS9 is my favorite Star Trek series. I remember very clearly laying on the floor of my family room with two uncles, two cousins, my grandmother, and my parents all sitting around together watching the premiere of the show. We didn’t always watch it as a big family, but my father and I have seen it several times all the way through together. We quote Garek to one another often as an inside joke. Mine is no casual fandom, and neither is my dad’s, which is why I also remember asking him once why Dax is referred to as “Old Man”.

And I remember my father explaining to me that she has a symbiont inside of her that is passed from host to host, some of them are men, some are women. And that was it, because I was 11 years old and “that’s how Trills work” was perfectly acceptable. No discussion of sex or gender required.

And you know when else we didn’t discuss sex or gender? During the episode Facets when Jadzia has her friends embody the personalities of her previous hosts as part of a Trill ritual and has Quark embody one of the female hosts without telling him. Yes, violation of his consent, misplaced femininity played for laughs, but it was at least mildly funny and in no way required my father to explain that some people legitimately feel that way all the time and can take a number of steps to correct the problem. You know why? Because I was less concerned about why there was a woman inside of Quark and more concerned with whether Nog will pass the practical test to get into Starfleet Academy because priorities.

The other part of this fail to has to with why this is a problem in the first place. Trans* people exist, so why is it so difficult to explain that some people change their gender in a variety of ways and to a variety of degrees? This is not a difficult thing to explain, and it shouldn’t be held to a special level of scrutiny because fathers might not be comfortable with it.

And that leads me to the point that I think is most important.

I don’t give a fuck what you tell your kids.

Seriously, why the fuck is it my responsibility, or the BBC’s, or Steven Moffat’s to avoid certain topics? Trans* people exist. If your desire is to prevent your children from realizing that, that’s your prerogative, but nobody else is under any obligation to help shelter your children from reality. In fact, I will outright say that my objective is to introduce your children to reality if you are trying to deny it to them, because your child deserves to be able to handle the actual world around them when they are no longer under your thumb.

Also, hi kids of parents who don’t want you to know things! Hope you’re enjoying reading my blog with all the dirty words and talk about TV shows!

On a related note, Mike Huckabee shares with us his incredible sad that he has to actually see gay people on TV. This was his example of how downtrodden and oppressed Christians like him are: they might have to change the channel or accept that gay people exist someplace. This was prompted by Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America saying that conservatives on college campuses were “bullied” and had a hard time expressing their views on issues like same-sex marriage, completely ignoring that they have that trouble because their views are horrendous and there is no good way to phrase them.

And I have basically the same reactions: I don’t give a single fuck. Before the 5th century CE you couldn’t accurately represent how many fucks I give because the number zero hadn’t fully developed yet, and all of those fucks were merely a placeholder or deciphered from context.

Also, the Doctor is not LGBT. And if he regenerated into a female presenting body, she may or may not be LGBT, but not because of that. The Doctor is Gallifreyan. Thought we should clear that up.

There is a perception from people, especially on the right, that it is the responsibility of the wider world to raise their kids for them, or at least don’t put them in a position where they might have to talk about something that makes them uncomfortable. And you know what? It sucks to be them because this is the world that their kids live in, and they really need to get used to it young, or those kids will grow up as stunted and ignorant as their parents, bewildered by the very thought of some people’s mere existence and afraid that they might turn on the TV and actually see some of them.

So, with that objection out of the way, can we maybe look at a possible Lady Doctor this time around? And perhaps even get more than one female writer while we’re at it? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

UPDATE: More from the “don’t mention gay people” news. Apparently the Duma  just passed a bill, unanimously, to make it illegal to even mention that gay people exist. And Mike Huckabee secretly pines to be in Mother Russia.

Various and Whateverthehell

Since I’ve been so busy, it’s time to just have a quick link roundup to cover everything I’ve wanted to talk about.

Miss America Chavez (designed by Jamie McKelvie, personal work 2013)

Absolutely beautiful comic about somebody who’s girlfriend is transitioning. For only a few panels with a bunny and a frog and a bear, this is really touching.

– More from the annals of “Feminism is already working on men’s rights issues.”

– A young man in Toronto is sexually assaulted by four women, and Rosie DiManno of The Star insults him. This lowlife seems to think that most men would love to be non-consensually ganged up on by four women. Look also for the fat shaming, slut shaming, and homophobia embedded in her assumptions about the perpetrators.

– A Christian school has decided that a married lesbian couple needs to get a divorce in order for their child to keep going to that school. Why they would want to send their kid to such a backward place, I have no idea, but since this is in Mpumalanga, South Africa, I’m sure there are other factors involved.

– Speaking of schools being the absolute worst, a Polk County high school (which is less than an hour from me) has expelled a student for a science experiment that created a small bang and some smoke but didn’t hurt anyone. JT writes about it and suggests how you can write a polite and well considered email to the school administrator explaining why this is an overreaction. Also read the comments in which they ask whether the school’s football players are expelled for breaking the school’s policy against hitting other students every time they tackle somebody.

“Angering the pope” should be an euphemism for masturbation now. Like “choking the bishop”, really.

– Researchers at IBM have made a movie by manipulating atoms on a copper surface and filming it. This is really, really awesome.

Ok, enough procrastinating. Back to work.

Quantum Palaver

I spend a lot of time ranting here about the religious right and their absurd ideas about the universe, but make no mistake, I am just as hard on the new age left when they try to pull those sorts of stunts. It’s only that they have little to no power to affect the lives of others (or even themselves) that keeps them out of my writing. That being said, sometimes something so profoundly stupid is said, I have no choice but to respond.

Several days ago, a number of pseudoscientific frauds, including Deepak Chopra, wrote a letter to TED complaining that they’re being censored, something about freedom of ideas, upset that what they do isn’t considered real science, etc. The reason for this is that  TEDx talks by Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock, two people who have done legitimate work early in their careers but somewhere along the way abjured science for endless “what if” games, we not posted on the main TEDx site, but rather on a site for talks that don’t really meet the criteria of advancing legitimate ideas for real discussion that TED tries to promote.

For the most part, Jerry Coyne has fun reveling in the fact that such a celebrated con artist as Chopra is upset by the militant atheist bloggers like himself who helped convince TED that they didn’t want to be involved with parapsychologists and people who spend their time searching for mythological items. I can’t blame him, that’s a pretty high honor. How many people must be trying to point out that Chopra and his ilk are full of shit on a daily basis? It would be like Timmy Dolan complaining about attractive, young, long-haired bloggers making life difficult for him.

But here’s the part where I lost it.

The reason becomes clear when you discover that non-local consciousness means the possibility that there is mind outside the human brain or even outside material reality, that a conscious mind is in some way intrinsic to the quantum universe, and that we all are quantum entangled.

Ok, stop right there. No. No, no, no. That’s not what that means. At all.

Which is why we’re going to discuss a little quantum physics. Don’t worry, I’ll try to make it as simple as possible.

“Quantum physics” does not mean “mind over matter.” That is the first thing that we need to understand before moving forward. You will hear a lot from new agers about how quantum physics suggests that good, happy, fuzzy feelings make the world an objectively better place by altering the fabric of existence with your mind. But let’s examine what they mean.

To start with, this is going to be difficult because while both sides of this debate use the terms of quantum physics, only one side actually employs the math of quantum physics, so I can’t show you where Chopra and Co. (which would be a great name for a rock band) got their math wrong. They have no math. And I struggle with math, so I wouldn’t be the best person to find their mistakes. But at least we can look at claims and see what they really mean. There will be a Tl;dr summary at the end of the big section, for those who don’t love physics.

Heisenberg and the Observer Effect

The first thing that you will notice about the claims of people like Chopra is that much of their nonsense stems from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says that we can never know the exact position and velocity of an electron at the same time, and the Observer Effect, which says that the act of measuring something that exists in a quantum state (one that is undetermined) will actually make it deterministic. Here’s a good explanation of what quantum is examining:

In quantum mechanics we learn that the behavior of the very smallest objects (like electrons, for example) is very unlike the behavior of everyday things like baseballs. When we throw a baseball at a wall, we can predict where it will be during its flight, where it will hit the wall, how it will bounce, and what it will do afterward.

When we fire an electron at a plate with two closely spaced slits in it, and detect the electron on a screen behind these slits, the behavior of the electron is the same as that of a wave in that it can actually go though both holes at once. This may seem odd, but its true. If we repeat this experiment lots of times with lots of electrons, we see that some positions on the screen will have been hit by many electrons and some will have been hit by none. The observed “interference pattern” for these electrons is evidence of their dual wave-particle nature, and is well described by thinking of each electron as a superposition of two “states”, one that goes through one slit, one that goes through the other.

Chopra argues that because we can’t know where electrons are and where they’re going at the same time, and because the act of observation seems to make it so that one “state” is “chosen” over the other, then that means that we can choose the direction of electrons and, if we observe really, really hard, get enough electrons to go our way and therefore change the whole universe.

The problem with this is so manifold I hardly know where to begin. The first is that, as was pointed out in the quote, electrons don’t behave the same way as larger objects. Just because larger objects have electrons in them does not mean that making a bunch of electrons move in a certain way makes the object do that, and even if you could control the direction of large objects via their electrons, that doesn’t mean that the universe can be bent to your will.

The second problem is that there is no way to “choose” a direction for an electron to go. Ideas like The Secret try to push this idea that just expecting something to be true will make it true by “magnetically” pulling what you want to you via the concept of “like attracts like.” They even got Fred Alan Wolf, an actually physicist, to throw his support to this notion, but as is the case with most woo-ish nonsense, Wolf lends his pHD to those pushing the “quantum means like attracts like” crowd to make ridiculous and unsupported statements, then hides behind the training he isn’t using to come to those conclusions. If a medical doctor did the stuff Wolf does, they would be sued for malpractice.

Finally, even if it meant something to determine the direction of electrons, and even if we could specifically determine what direction they would go in, most of us have no way of doing so. This is where the woomeisters really try to pull a fast one. This is the informal logical fallacy known as Equivocation, which is using a word with two definitions to mean one thing when you actually mean the other. In this case, the word is “observer.”

The “Observer Effect” does not mean that when you look at an electron, it goes from being in multiple, quantum states to only being in one state. If that were the case, we wouldn’t know they were even in multiple, quantum states to begin with. What “observe” means, in this case, is to take scientific measurements of, not just to look at. The reason why electrons go from being in multiple states to just one is that the act of measuring forces that to happen.

Think of it like this: imagine you have a large bowl of water with a bullet vibe on the bottom. The surface of the water is calm, but you know that if that vibe is going, the water could be shaking like crazy down at the bottom, and you want to know whether the vibe is on or not. So you, like the good scientist you are, get some measuring tools to put into the water to see if it’s moving. However, by putting the measuring tools into the water, you’re disturbing the water, making sure that it’s moving. Whether the bullet vibe was on or not, the water is now in motion because of your attempt to measure. Before that, however, we couldn’t know whether it was in motion or not, and no amount of staring at it would have changed that.

Wave Function Collapse

Another thing that you’ll hear from Chopra is that “consciousness is a series of wave function collapses”. Basically, the argument seems to be that since there seems to be no physical “seat of the soul” or observable (using the scientific definition) evidence of a spirit or consciousness, that that clearly means they exist in a state of being that is superimposed on the material world and the act of looking around us makes the infinitely possible state of the universe collapse into a single one that we see via the above-mentioned observer effect. This is known as “quantum consciousness”, I believe, but it’s hard to tell for certain as people like Chopra excel at saying absolutely nothing at length.

Let’s do some math.

 | \psi \rangle = \sum_i c_i | \phi_i \rangle .

That equation above represents a wave function. I know it looks complicated, but it’s not that bad. The phi i at the end there represents all of the possible “alternative” states, which could be denoted as phi 1, phi 2, phi 3, etc. These each represent a different eigenstate, which basically is just the value around which other things change. For the math to work, an observable aspect of any given eigenstate is picked (either position or momentum, remember Heisenberg) and assigned an eiganvalue, ei, of the system.

So, what we have here is a bunch of possibilities and an equation to describe (not predict) them. We also have a hypothesis that if an electron is at a specific place, it will match at least one of the observations that we gave an eiganvalue to. So now we can test to see which one it is. The problem is that when we test it, we jostle and shake those electrons in the process, so like the slit experiment quoted above, we take something that behaves like a wave (going through both slits at once), and “collapsing” it so that it only behaves like a particle (goes through one slit in the metal or the other).

None of that has anything to do with consciousness. The “consciousness” bit was tacked on by a man named Roger Penrose who suggested that since the brain runs on electrical impulses, then it must exist in a probabilistic fashion like other electrons do. Therefore…somehow this means that consciousness exists in some superposition to our perceived position because of reasons. As a result, there is a whole cottage industry of people who push the “quantum consciousness” idea and extrapolate it to mean things it doesn’t.


Tl;dr Summary

We’ve gone into a lot of detail here, and there is so much more that we could go into, but the basic argument of Chopra and Co. is that because the brains are run on electricity, and because electrons behave as waves before they’re observed, then start acting like particles, that means that consciousness exists outside of the body and by thinking at things really hard, you change the way the electrons move, which means you can CONTROL THE UNIVERSE WITH YOUR MIND!

This belief rests mostly on misunderstanding what certain words mean and making logical leaps that aren’t supported by the evidence.

The reason why what Chopra and his gang does isn’t considered real science is because the only way it works is by assuming a very specific spiritual component to everything (i.e. they “know” there’s a soul, but there’s no physical evidence in the body, so clearly this quantum stuff explains where it is because where else could it be?). It makes no predictions that can be tested via experiment, it plays word games to sell books to people who really wish they could alter the universe with their thoughts (which, to be fair, is almost everybody) and think that there’s some secret that con artists like Chopra have because they’re calm and use big words.

I am remarkably happy that TED has decided that woomeisters shouldn’t be a part of the discussion that they’re trying to have. At least, they shouldn’t be taken seriously until such time as they can produce ideas that stand up to legitimate scrutiny. In much the same way that when theology tries to make scientific claims (age of the Earth, whether resurrection is possible, whether humanity as we know it could have descended from a single family, etc.) it should answer them scientifically, when new agers make scientific claims, they should also have to answer them scientifically. Word games and vague associations don’t count as evidence in a scientific context any more than Roberto Benigni’s 1998 Oscar acceptance speech is evidence that he wants to sleep with me (and you).

Literary criticism is very good at playing word games, because authors often play word games. I love doing it because I can tease out meaning from diction and syntax. However, scientists do not use diction and syntax to implant meaning into their work. They are concerned with observation and the implications of what they see. Chopra and Co. keep wanting to find hidden meaning that simply does not exist, and TED has no obligation to continue to allow them to embarrass themselves in front of audiences that know better.