Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Behind a Veil of Ignorance

So, as per usual, I've been translating wikipedia articles into English, and I've been learning about John Rawls. So far he seems awesome (but dead).

Those of you who adore The West Wing may recall that the less-handsome replacement for Sam Seaborne mentioned to his unpaid, inexperienced writing staff something about a "veil of ignorance".

John Rawls came up with that.

Essentially, the principles and laws for a just society should be constructed from The Original Position, behind a Veil of Ignorance. Everyone would naturally want to set up a system where the king gets everything and then make himself the king. But the original position and veil of ignorance say that you don't know what position you'd be born into. You don't know your social class or economic status. You don't know what sort of abilities or talents you might have. You don't get to choose to be king.

Rawls argues that, from behind the veil of ignorance, everyone would instead set up a fair society based on two principles:

1) Everyone has access to the same extensive liberty, with that liberty being conditional on everyone else also having access to that liberty (that is to say, rights and liberties will always come into conflict and have to be balanced).
2) a) Any inequalities must be structured to give the greatest benefit to the least advantaged. (the principle of difference; for example, progressive income tax at the higher income brackets balanced with a negative income tax [or a tax credit] at the lowest brackets)
2) b) Everyone must have access to positions, offices, and opportunities (equality of opportunity)

Legislators and others in power should be guided by the original position and veil of ignorance in that they should set aside their own positions and privileges and structure society so as to accrue the greatest benefit to the least advantaged.

This just seems so darn sensible. How is it that not everyone is a socialist?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Migraine Story

I'm afraid of bread. Not all bread. Just some bread. I'm pretty sure it was the bread that caused it. I had the worst migraine of my life the other day.

I've had migraines before, but this one was special. It was very bad. How bad? I honestly couldn't say. Literally. I wasn't able to speak. It's called aphasia. On a side note, doesn't that just sound like the prettiest name for a girl ever?

You can see what I normally write like; I can bang this out in about five seconds flat. This is how I was writing the other day:

Very bad., nno0t sure hadio thingk don't knowk very bad migran 

think getting better geting better 

I think my hands are getting better. Very unpleasnt. My brain is like jellos. BUt not painfully anim ore. 

This is worst ever.

That took about five minutes of intense struggle. The reference to my hands was probably because, in addition to the trouble seeing and the inability to speak, read, or write, my hands and feet were tingling and somewhat numb.

Migraines can come with a wealth of symptoms. Mine always start with an aura, a halo in the middle of my right eye that makes it difficult to read or focus, that gets progressively larger. After an hour or so I'm in intense pain and it's best if I just crawl in bed and die for an hour. This time I also had the not speaking and the hands, and nausea, and a general malaise. I felt like an intense bag of crap. I also wasn't thinking very clearly. I'm glad I made it home safe (I was working at the library when it hit, and not anticipating how very bad it was going to get, I picked up a few things at the store on the way home. On the way out, the cashier expressed some concern about my well-being.).

In the end, I managed to sleep for quite a bit yesterday and took it easy today. Sneezing only made it feel like half my head was going to explode, not too much more.

Ever have wicked bad headaches and sensitivity to light/noise? Oddly sick for no reason with some mood swings? Take a quick look at migraines.  And maybe be kind to people who suffer them. They can be, as that quoted text above shows, debilitating even before the crippling pain starts.

Interesting thing: For years now I've been convinced that the episode that made me quit drinking was a series of seizures brought on by advancing problems of daily cycles of withdrawal/binge (because only an alcoholic drinks during the day...). I'm now convinced that it was just1 a migraine, and that I didn't notice all the other symptoms because of all the problems brought on by daily cycles of withdrawal/binge. Well, after that day, just withdrawal, slowly fading.

Remind me to tell how much fun withdrawal and addiction are some time.

Still, plus side; I'm sober.

Oh, and about the bread. Sometimes food triggers migraines. I once had a few very bad days because of a kind of tomato-basil flavored potato chip.

1 - "Just". Right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Is Faith Harmless?

Short answer: No.

If you'll allow me to steal from Peter Boghossian, faith is a broken epistemology, it's a way of pretending you know something you don't really know.

Epistemology is the way you know things. Faith allows people to claim to know things they don't. Faith is the buttress for claims from the mild to the asinine, from the irritating to the debilitating, to deadly. It is the exact same process that Catholics use to believe a cracker becomes the actual, physical body of the risen savior that Jews use to justify mutilating infant genitalia, that Muslims use to bomb churches. There is no difference.

Many have argued that secularists, humanists, antitheists should spend their time on the latter two and ignore the former as harmless. They definitely have a point that shouldn't be ignored. We are a minority and we only have so much time, money, and energy. We're also nowhere near as united as the forces of irrationality that give credence to faith. We need to invest our efforts where they're most valuable.

However, I don't think we should ignore the crackers. PZ Myers desecrated a communion wafer that he received from a student who smuggled it out of a service for him. Both Myers and the student received death threats, as well as Myers's university was flooded with letters demanding he be fired. Clearly, this isn't a small issue for the Catholic League.

With this example, I wish to demonstrate two things:

  1. Clearly, this is the same faith. Myers's minor act of desecration against a minor tenet of faith received a response out of all proportion. His university was flooded with letters and even now, five years later, they're still receiving mail about the incident. Through the lens of faith, there is no difference between this and the more "serious" acts of faith.
  2. I believe that there is a more practical connection between these. The "minor" acts of faith give legitimacy to the more ridiculous tenets. That no one really cares to question the small things that don't matter, but this means that, with faith allowed a leg to stand on, the more absurd beliefs can point to those and say, "See? These are fine!" And then they turn around with Matthew 23:24
You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

The smaller faiths give legitimacy to the larger, which turn around and give legitimacy to the smaller. The edifice demands you dismantle the entirety all at once, bootstrapping itself on nothingness all the while.

In answer to the argument from practicality, that we have bigger fish to fry, I offer this: the smaller faith takes less time and energy to ridicule. Spend a few moments ridiculing their weekly ritual cannibalism, point out that they believe not simply absurdities, but foolish, childish absurdities:

Every week you go to a sing-song and promise yourself in slavery to a cosmic zombie because a rib-woman was convinced to eat a magic fruit by a talking snake, which broke the universe, and then God needed blood to fix the universe, but only his own blood had enough magic so he raped a virgin to give himself a body and killed it. 

All faith is bad. All faith is equal. All faith is equally harmful. Some particular instances of faith just happen not to be harming people at this particular moment. 500 years ago those angry Catholics wouldn't have stopped at threatening to kill PZ Myers. He'd be rather horrifically dead.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

400 Years Under a Peculiar Institution

This is a lecture by Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow", about the disenfranchisement of felons under the penal system since the 1980s.

This is a lecture by Angela Davis, about the Prison-Industrial Complex, a system of profit begun under the United States, but only massively expanded in recent years and now being exported around the globe.

This is a lecture by Tim Wise, in which he mentions that this system developed following 1965. Prior to 1965, the prison system was 2/3rds white, and afterward 2/3rds black. This was not an accident.

This is the documentary "Slavery by Another Name", also a book, by Douglas A Blackmon, detailing how the system of slavery mutated radically after the Civil War. It became far more horrifying and far more profitable.

These are not separate institutions. Slavery began as the bondage of non-Christians in the 17th century. It rapidly evolved into a racist system, the permanent bondage of blacks. The Civil War was followed by Reconstruction, a period in which the North occupied the South, and white Southerners responded with a hostile terrorist insurgency, the likes of which has only been seen every time the United States has tried to occupy foreign soil and impose justice and democracy on an unwilling, hateful, fundamentalist people.

Following the failure of Reconstruction, permanent chattel slavery became more horrible as once valuable private property (black slaves) became cheap public property. The Tragedy of the Commons was played out in the most inhumane fashion imaginable, as people were kidnapped off the streets, hired for pennies, and worked to death for dollars. Profits abounded to white people all around, and black Americans kept in terror and subjugation. Those who were not worked to death in the most horrible slavery were kept in a more gentle slavery, unable to leave or change jobs without employer permission, and subject to the threat of imprisonment and slavery if, at any time, they were unable to provide proof of employment.

Blackmon is incorrect to say that the system ended with the Civil War. "Arrest the closest nigger" persisted into the mid-sixties, when it was used to radically transform the prison population of the United States. As Wise pointed out, the demographics of the prison system reversed in the aftermath of Civil Rights. People of color were forced into a cycle of imprisonment and poverty from which there was no escape, which cycle exists today.

The so-called War on Drugs was begun under President Nixon as part of his Southern Strategy in the 70s. It was a many-pronged approach to winning the votes of fearful, racist, white voters in the South. Without much subtlety, the Republican Party promised to round up "them" and get them off the streets. When crack appeared in the 80s, the Reagan Presidency saw it as a blessing from God and began a massive propaganda campaign, flooding the airwaves with messages about crack addicts and crack babies.

It is no accident that, to this day, mandatory minimums are higher for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine. It is no accident that 90% of those targeted by New York City's infamous Stop and Frisk program are people of color, even though white people are at least as likely to carry, use, and sell drugs. It is no accident that 80% of routine traffic stops are people of color, even though white people are 80% of drivers.

The War on Drugs is a lie. It's the War on Blacks. The war on the Brown. This is a system that has been put in place to subjugate, imprison, to terrorize those who frighten the residents of Leave-it-to-Beaverville. Americans of African decent, of hispanic decent, of native decent. Native Americans have more people imprisoned per capita than any other population in the US.  And once you've been imprisoned, you cannot leave.

Once you have been convicted of a felony, you're unemployable. You can't even work at McDonalds. Any employer who does hire you holds a palpable threat over your head. You can be fired at any time, or accused at any time of a crime and no court will ever be on your side.

Once you have been convicted of a felony, you're homeless. It is legal to discriminate on the basis of conviction. A felon must beg for housing from anyone with a room to spare, and no one is obliged to give it to him.

Once you have been convicted of a felony, you're starving. Unemployed and homeless, felons are ineligible for food stamps.

Unemployed, unhoused, unfed, what can a felon do? What desperate choice? You're not rejected by the system, you're a victim of the system. Once convicted you are forever caught in a trap made all the worse by the fact that you are expected to pay of thousands of dollars in fines and fees. You're expected to pay rent for your time in prison. And you're expected to work while in prison.

Is it any wonder that privatized American prisons are traded on the New York Stock Exchange? Is it any wonder that this system of abuse and exploitation is being exported around the world?

Is there any hope?

Angela Davis argues movingly for the elimination of the prison system, and she tells you to reject the question, "What will you replace it with?" What would you have replaced slavery with?

There are those who need to be removed from society for being a danger to others. Rapists, murderers, unrepentant psychopaths. But our penal system is not the answer to that question. Our penal system is designed, and always has been, to create, sustain, and control a slave caste, a caste composed primarily of people of color. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on New Year's Day, 1863; 150 years ago, but slavery never died.

We need a new call for abolition. We need a new birth of freedom. We need an end to this Peculiar Institution, 400 years in the making.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Trigger Warnings: What, Where, When, and Why

Warning: as a discussion of triggers and warnings, I'll be discussing things that can trigger.

Someone sits down to play a video game. As is usually the case, the game introduces various game mechanics one at time. This is how you jump, climb, fight, chat. Look! It's a quick-time event! Press X To Not Die! The player presses X. Then A. Then X. Then screws up and presses B instead of Y and has to start over. And screws up again. And again. Pretty soon she's weeping uncontrollably and can hardly see the screen. It's not because she a girl, and it's not because it's particularly frustrating, and it's not because she just hates that particular mechanic.

It's because she's a rape survivor and she's playing the new Tomb Raider. She's being told, over and over, Press X To Not Be Raped, and she's failing.


Now we can imagine different ways she arrived at this scenario. In one world, she's the girlfriend of a regular gamer who never really got into video games herself, and he decided to share his hobby with her by buying her a game with a woman hero! He's aware of her history but didn't really follow the game's development, so he never made the connection.

In another world she's a gamer herself and is aware of the controversy, and sat down to play it, fully aware of the pain she was about to experience.

The latter scenario is akin to pulling off a band-aid1. The former is emotional mugging.


A trigger is a small thing that leads to a big reaction. On a gun, the trigger is a small lever that, when pulled, causes a violent chemical reaction that propels a lethal projectile. In a human being, a trigger is instead a small event that leads to a large emotional response.

What can trigger a person depends on xir personal history. For a rape survivor, it can be a graphic story or video depicting rape, or it can be getting stuck in an elevator with a large stranger, or it can be standing too close at a party. For a person of color, it can be a relatively innocuous comment that nevertheless comes freighted with racist baggage. For a bisexual, it can be a room full of supposed allies actively denying that bisexuals even exist. The nature of the trigger varies.

The response varies, too. Sometimes it's anger, sometimes a panic attack. Sometimes it's a visceral response, or a headache. People with triggers learn to avoid situations that can trigger them.


But you can't live in a bubble; you have to venture out into the world. Or on the internet, as the case may be. And when someone decides to share something, people who live with triggers have to live with the possibility that following a link may lead to danger. The video might be a dog pooping on a baby, or it might be eight minutes of police brutality. That's why trigger warnings are helpful.

On the evening news, the anchor might say "The following footage may be shocking to some viewers; those with small children may wish to change the channel." That's a trigger warning.

On the internet, it often takes the form of "Trigger Warning: What follows is a graphic description of years of sexual abuse by my father". Where space is more limited, it may be "TW: {Blank}" where {Blank} can be racism, ableism, sexism, erasure, violence, rape, or anything.


Some regions of the internet are awash with trigger warnings. It depends on where you go, what you discuss, and who you're talking to. A forum for rape survivors is going to be very good about putting up warnings about rape, for example. 

So when should you use them? That depends. It's generally a good idea to provide a warning for the most obvious trigger, violence. Particularly sexual violence. This is true even if you're linking to a video named "Racist Cops Beat the Everlovin' Crap Out of a Black Guy for Looking at Them Funny". Sometimes people follow a link without thinking, without reading it, but at TW will be enough to make them pause. If you start relating an anecdote or talking about such things, a warning is generally a good idea.

My understanding is that warnings are especially useful on services like twitter. People can set up filters so that anything with a particular warning in it won't show up in their feed, and they don't even have to worry about seeing the descriptor.

In the end, you have to use your judgment and compare the item your sharing with your audience. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and include a warning. 


The anecdote I opened with wasn't my own. Unfortunately, my google-fu isn't strong enough to find the article where I originally read it, so I'll instead have to regale you with my recollection.

In fact the gamer knew what she was getting into and sat down prepared for it. The process was very difficult for her, and she did fail multiple times. Eventually, she managed to gut through it and succeed, achieving what she described as an incredibly powerful moment of catharsis. 

1 - A band-aid brand adhesive bandage, that is. Man, their commercials suck, now.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So... Nutella is Awesome

So nutella is pretty tasty. So I decided to experiment with it. A peanut butter and nutella sandwich. You never know, right?

Have I perhaps made a mistake? Did I ruin my pony?
Did I use too many monkeys?
A moment of clarity.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bring Back the Werepeople!

The above is from the box art for Doctor Who, the complete second series.

I'll admit, the above picture is disingenuous. I'm not actually talking about werepeople. Not weretigers1 nor werewolves nor yet werejackals2.

Rather, I'm asking if we can come up with gender neutral pronouns and nouns. Once upon a time, gender neutral terms abounded. In fact, there are gender-neutral terms in a lot of languages, and even English used to have them. Once, as I understand it, "man" was actually neutral, and was used to refer to women and men with equal ease, as in David Brin's Uplift Series3. The old Germanic term for male men was actually "were" or "vir". Hence "werewolf" meant "man-wolf" or "wolf-man".

The thing is that there are multiple different systems floating around out there attempting to fill in the gap needed by transgender and agendered people. There are many people out there who don't fit into the neat binary for whom "he" and "she" don't really work particularly well. For example there's ze/xe to fill in where one would use he/she, and "hir" to replace "his/her". Those work fairly well, I think. So far, though, I haven't seen a good, neutral, one-syllable term that can be tossed out. I think that's part of why "human" and "person" and "people" seem so awkward when we try to slot them in. They sound awkward.

Of course, it's not always necessary to slot in "person" or something. I had to roll my eyes early on in the excellent show Once Upon A Time when the main character, Emma, repeatedly corrected people referring to her as a "bail bondsman" that she was a "bail bondsperson". Stupid. Why not "bounty hunter"? That's cool (replacing "mailman" with "letter carrier" simply doesn't add a cool factor).

But in general, why not use 'were'? That would certainly make things cool. Mailman? Nope, mailwere. Badass. Bondsman? Bondswere. Physicist? Physicswere!

Okay, sometimes it's never necessary because the common term is in fact gender neutral, but come on! Who wouldn't want to be a physicswere? Or a physiwere. Whatevs.

From now on, I'm a blogwere. More seriously, if you don't know the gender of a person, why not refer to hir as a were? I know that "they" works and was the default before it was replaced by "he" in the 18th/19th centuries, but I don't like it just because it's plural. From now on, all of y'all are weres. Deal with it.


1 - Whereas in European folklore, werecats were people who could turn into domestic cats, albeit sometimes giant, in India they could become tigers.

2 - Common in Africa and India, but other cultures have other kinds of weredogs.

3 - Reading through it the first time, it was strange for me to have no one blink an eye at a young girl say "I had to be in charge because I'm a man." meaning that, unlike the chimps and gorillas at the uplift center her parents worked at, she was a human being, and therefore was in charge of the people of their client races.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Is Transhumanism Religious?

The buraq; the flying horse woman thing that carried Muhammad to Jerusalem before his death.
Disney didn't invent this. It's actually a lot older. Like three years older.
The reason for the mattresses? Because soon enough they'll come back down.
Yes, it's a trick. What you might not be able to see is precisely how it works. There's a reason for the cane, the carpet, and the baggy clothes.
He can fly so hard even his snakey stick can fly!
Half Jesus, half Moses, all American.

Clearly flying strikes a chord in human beings. Like transcending death and being able to have the most awesome sex forever, flying is one of those things we all kinda wish we could do. It's not surprising, then, that it crops up sometimes in transhumanism.

First, what is transhumanism? The belief that the singularity cometh! Soon technology will enable us to overcome all human limitations and we will live forever! Because science!

To that end, something as simple as braces is transhumanism. Artificial limbs and eyeglasses are transhumanism. It's just that, unlike most of the promises transhumanism makes, we've actually already got those.

On the more sci-fi end, transhumanism is also cryonic preservation so that at some point in the future scientists can discover the cure for whatever killed you, unthaw you, cure you, and then you can go on your merry way, futuring it up in the science.

Transhumanism is the ability to upload your brain into a computer and wile away the eons until the heat death of the universe.

Transhumanism is the ability to upload your brain into a computer on a space ship and explore the universe forever. I told you there'd be flying.

Transhumanism is the ability to genetically modify yourself so you can grow wings and fly in a more prosaic way.

Transhumanism promises that all of this is just around the corner.


In the 19th century, a French cartoonist was commissioned to show what things would be like at the end of the following century (nowish). He showed a room full of students with collanders on their heads getting their lessons transmitted directly to their brains via the electrical fluid.

As the twentieth century progressed and knowledge did the same, our dreams didn't really change. People still assumed that technology would increase human lifespans and make everything that was difficult easy. The promise was always fifty to one hundred years down the road, but soon, science will make it so you can know and do anything, even live forever. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the promise always seemed to be that all of this would happen by the end of the century.

Of course, by the time the 70s and 80s rolled around, the end of the century was a little too close for that to be plausible, so the end point for when science would turn to magic kept getting pushed forward. These days, the magic date seems to be 2045.

Sound a little like religion? Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, never jam today.


The common link in transhumanism, going back to the 19th century and the French cartoons I mentioned (how I wish I could find them), is that the transhumanists look at the wonderful discoveries made by science and assume that something truly wonderful is just over the horizon. It's far enough away that no one will be able to call them on it when their prediction doesn't work out, but close enough that most people alive today have a reasonable hope of living that long. They always assume that somehow the discoveries of today will lead to some discoveries that will make all our dreams come true... but they never specify what those discoveries will be, not even what they might look like. It's just a nebulous "something".

I really don't think anyone in the transhumanist movement is being deliberately deceptive. Well, perhaps some are milking it for profit, selling books and the like, but the vast majority are probably just engaging in wishful thinking and self-deception. They're just very hopeful that all the things that make life difficult will be magicked away by science. And I'm using "magic" deliberately here.

I think this self-deception and wishful thinking is illustrative of the religious impulse. We don't need to posit some ill-begotten motive or deliberate design to explain the origins of religion. All we need is the ability to imagine that things be not difficult, and the wish that it be so. The frailties of an evolved mind will fill in the blanks with rationalizations and generalizations as needed.

Somewhere in this playlist is an instructive lecture on transhumanism. I wish I could be more precise than a window of 20 hours of video, but it's been a few weeks since I watched them. I'm pretty sure it's in one of the first six, not the last four.


Oh, and here's the explanation for the photographs (as contrasted with the drawings) above. It's very difficult to do, but you can jump in the lotus position. Take a picture in mid-jump and you have the appearance of someone placidly meditating in mid-air. That photo's good because it shows someone who achieved that in the middle of the picture and two who rather badly failed, one at either end. You can see that they've jumped.

As for the dude sitting in mid-air with his hand resting on a cane above a square of carpet; that's a rather common trick. It's even more impressive when you see one man apparently sitting comfortably above the head of another. Either way the trick is the same; the carpet hides the base of the stand, the baggy clothes hide the seat, and the cane or bamboo staff is the connection between the two. Notice the baggy cloth of the individual sitting "in mid air". Notice the baggy sleeves of the man sitting on the street. Wouldn't it be nice if you could levitate? All you have to do is give the guy some money and he'll teach you how...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

That Jedi Bullshit

Bioware's Jade Empire will be illustrative, I think. Like most of Bioware's RPGs, the game works with a morality system, the Open Palm vs the Closed Fist. Unfortunately, they explain it rather poorly at the beginning and you might not realize what the two are supposed to represent. They look an awful look like the Light Side/Dark Side options of Bioware's KoTOR games, and that's not really a coincidence. They're presented as simple moral options, good on the one side and bad on the other (and that's more or less what it boils down to), but the way of the closed fist is presented badly, as being about personal strength and challenging your station in life. Those both sound like good things, right? But it mostly comes down to being a massive jerk for personal gain.

What the two paths are really about is daoism. Daoism is all about following the dao, the path or way, about aligning yourself with the order of the universe, following the mandate of heaven1, putting yourself in harmony with the way things are supposed to be. This is the way of the open palm. The closed fist, we now see, when talking about turmoil and "challenging your station" means putting yourself in opposition to that harmony. Thus you create turmoil and chaos, which are opposed to the harmony of the dao. This reaches its dumbest expression with Bladed Thesis, a spirit of a teacher of the Closed Fist.

He asks you to look at a river and describe what you see. The correct answer is, "I see trees tearing and water churning at the rocks, and I see time destroying all of this because it is weak." That answer doesn't mesh with personal strength or just being evil. If you squint right it can look like opposition to the order of the universe... right? Because those natural changes are part of the dao and? No, it's just kind of stupid.

However, the expressions of the way of the closed fist as being in opposition to the dao and the open palm being in harmony with it reach their ultimate expression in the final choice of the game. [spoilers, highlight to reveal]You either restore the harmony destroyed by the emperors by freeing the water dragon, or you further disrupt the harmony by slaughtering her and taking her power for yourself.[/spoilers] The way of the closed fist is disharmony, and challenging your station means challenging the order of the cosmos. Daoism really does its job at keeping the peasants in their place. The game didn't really make it clear at the time, but it really was espousing daoism, harmony with the way of things.

And so does Star Wars. And here's what I actually want to talk about: what is the Jedi Religion? This isn't just pontificating over some fictional philosophy; thousands of people follow the Jedi religion in reality, or claim to, and of course it's based on real religions that millions definitely follow.

A lot of people don't really seem to get what Lucas was trying to put together with his philosophy. Perhaps the greatest confusion was over the prophecy Anakin was supposed to be fulfilling in the prequel trilogy, which said that he would bring balance to the force. A lot of people thought that the end of the third movie was him bringing balance to the force by reducing the light side followers to a bare handful in equality with the bare handful of dark side followers. However, that's not the balance Lucas meant; he was talking about being in balance with the will of the Force (the dao), being in harmony with the order of the cosmos. in Lucas's cosmology, the Sith, the followers of the dark side, are out of harmony; the dark side is opposition to the harmony of the universe. The light side, by contrast, is all about aligning yourself with the harmony of the cosmos and allowing it to act through you. So Anakin didn't fulfill the prophecy until the end of Return of the Jedi when he killed the emperor, turned to the light, and then died; having eliminated the Sith, he had eliminated the imbalance in the force. He had restored harmony.

We also see daoism in the disdain for passion. The Jedi remove all emotion; they meditate and bring themselves in peaceful harmony with the force.
There is no emotion... There is peace.
There is no ignorance... There is knowledge.
There is no passion... There is Serenity.
There is no chaos... There is harmony.
There is no death... There is the Force.

The Sith revel in passions, focusing on, channeling, encouraging strong emotions: hatred, anger, fear, love.

Peace is a lie. There is only Passion.
Through passion, I gain Strength.
Through strength, I gain Power.
Through power, I gain Victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.

Wait, love? What? Yeah, Lucas thinks love and marriage are bad, and that peace and harmony cannot be gained if you fall in love. Love, like other passions, leads to disharmony. Jedi are free to bang, but not to love. Anakin's fall to the dark side was precipitated by falling in love with Padme. He became a slave to passion, and thus disharmony.

Daoism, like Buddhism, believes passion to be an impediment to achieving oneness with the cosmos, as Stephen Sawyer puts it,

What is essential to this state is that the Taoists are removing the false constructs of desire, prejudice and passion, and in this way integrating the forces within the body. It is the Taoists' goal to accomplish "oneness" throughout the body, mind and spirit. Thus at this stage they are en route to realizing the "one" within the self.

At the end of the day, the Jedi religion is just Space Daoism and, like all religions. It's based on faith. Faith is nothing more than a broken epistemology, a bad way of knowing things. It leads to false beliefs. Jedi, space daoism, is as unconnected with reality as any other religion. Like Christianity and Islam, it simply fails as a way of connecting with the world. Even worse, it fails at connecting even with the fictional world of Star Wars. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Lucas's philosophy is the Star Wars Extended Universe, the collection of novels, cartoons, comics, and video games that others have written for the Star Wars franchise.

Perhaps Lucas should have exerted more control over the EU, since the many authors who explored his fictional reality were more than happy to also explore the consequences of the Jedi philosophy. One of the things they realized was that the philosophy is ultimately incoherent. The Jedi and Sith philosophies are absolutely opposed, yet both allow you to control the Force, which is supposed to be the very substance of the cosmos... if the essence of harmony itself can be controlled by deliberately invoking disharmony, there must be something wrong with the philosophy. I believe this reaches its apotheosis with Knights of the Old Republic II, which manages simultaneously to deconstruct computer role playing games at the same time it picks apart Lucas's crackpot religion.

The game, despite being rushed and put on shelves incomplete, is an excellent and absorbing game. Perhaps its best feature is that it points out that Lucas's philosophy makes no damn sense and simply does not work, even in the framework of his fictional universe. It's bad enough that supernaturalism is incoherent, but Space Daoism is incoherent even when the very fabric of reality has been defined around it.

1 - The Chinese word "Tian" or "T'ien" is usually translated as "heaven", but it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes it's heavenly worlds (Buddhism) and sometimes it's a god or gods, and sometimes it's the cosmos or blue sky,as opposed to the earthly realm, (daoism). It serves as a higher realm/being/perfect way and provides the order to the world and divine mandates in almost all cases.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Kind of Atheist Are You?

A team of researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has completed some preliminary research into the nature of the Nones.

One of the fastest growing groups in the United States, the nones are those who put themselves down as having no religion on surveys. One popular statistic is the "thirty under thirty", referring to the fact that the younger you are, the more likely you are to have no religious affiliation, as demonstrated by Pew Research. As you can see by following the link, roughly 30% of those aged 18-29 (the Millennials) have no religious affiliation. Just as important, they aren't looking for one. This is one of many reasons why Dan Dennett said at Imagine No Religion 3 that evangelical christianity is in the midst of a serious crisis in the US, and that within a generation will have collapsed and/or transformed drastically.

However, a question remains: who exactly are the nones?

Not quite, but I like her style. If you're not at work, I recommend you do a quick search for "satanic nun".

Getting non-believers to agree on who and what they are is... difficult. There are so many damned labels: freethinker, atheist, agnostic, humanist, apatheist, antitheist, skeptic, humanistic freethinker, Bright, and more. And they don't even all agree on what the labels even mean. Go on, ask a group of atheists whether being an atheist means you believe there is no god. Bring a chair and some popcorn; you'll be there for a while, as they throw around labels like "dictionary atheist" and "dogmatic antireligionist".

So these researchers did what they admit is preliminary research to try and get the rather monolithic "none" or "no religion" tickbox to be a bit more nuanced. They hope this can form the basis for further research, elucidating further characteristics, further subtypes. I also don't see any indicators here as to race, gender, sexuality, or parents' religion. Then again, this was only an interview of 59 people. Hence the label "preliminary". They identified six kinds of atheists. Follow the link above for more complete descriptions, but here's my brief synopsis:

  • Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (IAA) - A reader, a debater, a discusser. Primarily engaged in atheism as an intellectual exercise; continues own education through a variety of formats and seeks out others who do the same.
  • Activist (AAA) - More socially pro-active than the IAA. Seeks out other social agendas, such as feminism or anti-racism (list not exclusive), and acts socially and politically. Such acts can range from educating friends and acquaintances, petitioning, boycotting, marching, or promoting legal action.
  • Seeker Agnostic (SA) - Embraces scientific, spiritual, ideological, and epistemological uncertainty. Aware of the limitations of methods of knowledge and experience, deliberately seeks out both for fulfillment and pleasure. Values the opinion and experience of religious, spiritual, and antitheist positions without holding to them.
  • Anti-Theist - What may be viewed as the "aggressive atheist", sometimes attacked as the "dogmatic atheist". Views religion as fallacious, outdated, and detrimental. Some seek to undermine, weaken, or fight institutions and standards of religions through social and political activism, some through individual discussion and debate.
  • Non-Theist - Apathetic or disinterested in religion. Does not concern hirself with religious opinions, statements, or discussions. Is not concerned with the religious, agnostic, or antireligious views or positions. Doesn't seek out further information.
  • Ritual Atheist/Agnostic - Unbelievers, open about it, who see utility in tradition and ritual. Religious practices and spaces aren't paths to perfection or enlightenment, but to human flourishing and happiness on earth. May attend ceremonies, may express respect for symbolism and tradition. Often confused with "spiritual", called "An atheist but...". Likely to identify as a cultural or racial member of a religious group while disavowing belief, ie. a non-practicing Jew.

It depends on how I'm feeling, but I'm mostly an Activist, who when lazy falls back on Intellectual, but my basic opinions are those of the Anti-theist. How about you? And where do you think this kind of research should be aimed?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Science is a Hologram

A hologram is a really cool thing where you can produce a three dimensional image. It's not just a two-dimensional representation of a 3D image, the image actually is 3D. When you move around it, you get the parallax effect of different elements passing in front of and behind it.

Another aspect of a hologram, and the one more important to my analogy is that each piece of the holographic image actually contains the entire image. Look at just a small part of the hologram and you'll see the same picture, but at worse resolution (like zooming in on a picture and seeing more pixels). If you include more elements of the hologram, the picture resolution improves.

Every piece of scientific research improves the whole picture. It may be hard to see it, but a lepidopterist publishing a paper on the genitalia of the female Large Chequered Skipper is actually advancing the cause of all science. The paper improves knowledge of the Large Chequered Skipper biology, of the biology of all hesperiidae, of all lepidoptera, of all insects, of all animals, of all life; it improves the knowledge of the evolution of genitalia, of butterflies, of insects, of animals; it improves the knowledge of chemistry and physics; it improves the study of biology, of science. At all levels, in increasingly small ways, every bit of study improves our knowledge and understanding of increasingly broad methods.

In the other direction, each act of science contains the whole of science. The scientific method is iterations of1:

  1. Define a question
  2. Gather information and resources (observe)
  3. Form an explanatory hypothesis
  4. Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
  7. Publish results
  8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

And every time someone goes out and sciences, they're performing part of that process. Each bit of science contains in itself the behavior of the whole institution, the epistemology of the verfication of observable knowledge and the construction of theories therefrom. Every piece contains the whole, and every piece is part of the whole. Science is a hologram.

1 - Stolen, without shame, from wikipedia.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Cat, The Cat, and the Ghost Cat

This is my cat.

She is the best cat. She is the most awesome and wonderful and pretty cat. No other cat will ever be as awesome or wonderful or pretty. She is the best cat.

This is my cat.

She is the best cat. She is the most awesome and wonderful and pretty cat. No other cat will ever be as awesome or wonderful or pretty. She is the best cat.

This is my ghost cat.

She is the best cat. She is the most awesome and wonderful and pretty cat. No other cat will ever be as awesome or wonderful or pretty. She is everywhere all at once and is the essence of cat. She is the best cat.

This is what people sound like when they talk about the trinity. Seriously, it's a stupid concept.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Atheist at a Megachurch

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, had a conversation with a pastor at a megachurch. It's a nice little talk, about half an hour. Worth your time.

At the end the pastor asks what it would take to get Hemant to believe and Hemant basically replies that it would be nothing less than a personal revelation. Others' miracles or revelations, nor scripture just don't cut it. The pastor then tells the audience, paraphrased, "Hemant's not asking you to pray for him, but if that's what you want to do, then that's what you should pray for." I don't really understand why their god needs for them to pray before he understands that that's what Hemant would need, after all Hemant just said that, and I thought we were talking about a superior being of some kind? Whatever; that's not actually what I want to talk about.

I disagree with Hemant. I don't think that personal revelation would cut it. Even if I had the sort of joyous, numinous, soul-shatteringly awesome revelation of personal contact with the almighty... that wouldn't be good enough. Simply put, consistency demands that I not accept that as evidence of the divine. It's not good enough for me if someone else has that experience, and I can't claim that they have not, so it can't be good enough for me that I have that experience. Even though I would have experienced something amazing, it wouldn't count as evidence. Because it's not evident; it's not verifiable, it can't be checked, it can't be examined in any way. That's what "evidence" means, "that which is seen". It means "out in the open". That's why personal revelations, whatever they are and whoever receives and whoever they may be from, simply don't count as evidence. Since I don't accept such from other people as evidence for their deities, I couldn't accept it even if it was my own experience, rather than someone else's. It's important to me that I be consistent in my beliefs and behaviors; my desire for personal integrity means that if I were to be visited by the holy spirit and fall to me knees in awe... I would have to get up and walk away saying, "That was incredible, but it's not good enough."

And I think that may be why atheism can be such a bitter pill for the faithful to swallow. Part of the reason, anyway. It's because they relate one of the most amazing, wonderful, defining experiences of their life, and my response is to shrug and say "That means nothing. It may be very meaningful to you, but it's worthless to me." I don't, and wouldn't, say exactly that, but that's what my position boils down to. One of the central dogmas of any religion, even a semiatheist one like Buddhism, is that that wonderful experience is the ... hell, it's not merely the central dogma, I think it may be the defining fact. The ecstasy of worship why people come back, it's why they believe. The rest of it is just the floating rationalizations, the political dander, the shell of ritual. That ecstasy is what makes religion convincing. They're directly experiencing the divine.

Or so they believe. Some research may indicate that it's all in your head, a heightened emotional response triggered by religious stimulation. To put it another way, a braingasm. Even if that's completely off base, though, even if that research is shown to be a complete misinterpretation, there's still no evidence to indicate that the ecstasy of worship is in any way related to an extant being. It's simply not evidence of anything beyond the fact that some people experience that response to worship. And it wouldn't be evidence even if it happened to me.

So what would it take for me? I don't know for sure. What I do know is that, AntiCitizenX put it on Youtube, if an object exists, then there is some action A that would yield some result B where A wouldn't result in B if that object did not exist. So to convince me your god exists you would have to first define action A, show how your god's existence would result in B (whatever B is), and prove that B wouldn't result from some other cause. If B could result from another cause, you'd have to show first how often, so that could be taken into account, like taring a scale. In short, if your god exists, you'll have the burden of proof to demonstrate that some event is best explained only by your god. Otherwise...

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Google Science

At Google Science, we do what we must because we can.

What does Google have in common with Aperture Science? Bear with me here, I'm not talking about this part of Aperture:

Okay, actually, I am. Ignoring the hideously malformed ethics of what was actually common among ... well, let's not go into it, but let's just say that once upon a time some people thought it was okay to inject other people with syphilis, and then watch them and their families slowly die. For science!

But that's not what I want to accuse Google of. They've not been perfect, but it seems that Google actually does want to live up to the company motto of "Don't Be Evil."

So instead I want to associate Google with the following, clearly related, but without the outright corporate villainy:

I'll be honest, we're just throwing science at a wall here to see what sticks; no idea what it'll do. Probably nothing. Best case scenario: you might get some super powers.

I think this is Google's actual strategy in a lot of cases. Just come up with something and throw it out there, let the world play with it and come up with things to do, ways to use it, ways to break it. This is explicitly what they're doing with Google Glass. They've developed the functionality, and now they've thrown it out there to let people come up with uses and apps. After all, there are a few thousand people at Google, but there are billions of people in the world. They'll play with it and come up with stuff Google never could've.

They're doing the same thing, I think, with Google+. They've rolled out a new social tool and they're letting people use it while they experiment with it, find out what works and what doesn't, what people love and hate, and so on. It's a bit rough on the users (there are some things about it I despise; that frickin' header...), but constantly tinkering with it means that it can evolve rapidly and respond to the users in a way that facebook simply doesn't. That sort of thing, when implemented well, can make the best sort of stuff. In the end... that's science. Or at least, that's a critical component of science.

Peer review is the social network/crowdsourcing of science. You put your ideas out in public and the public beats the everlovin' crap out of them. The end result is that only good ideas thrive. Everything else falls by the wayside. In the last few centuries, science has climbed from height to height; let's see how this works for Aperture Google.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Apologies Part 2

No, this hasn't been a really terrible time for apologies. No more so than usual, anyway.

However, there've been some other apologies out there.

This one is from Exodus International. EI takes its name from the Bible, which should tell you a lot. It won't tell you what they're apologizing for, because the Bible is full of vile monstrosity from end to end. What in particular does EI have to apologize for? Being vile and monstrous specifically toward gays. EI was a group that promised to pray the gay away. Now they realize that that doesn't work and just fills people with self-loathing such that they're more likely to kill themselves.

Oh, wait, that doesn't seem to be what they're saying...

Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.

The author, president of Exodus International Alan Chambers, makes it clear that in spite of his own closeted homosexuality, his empathy for his fellows is strictly limited.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek.

And of course, it's hard to see that he's really serious when he opens his apology proper by talking about the instances of misconduct, rather than the deliberate, intentional harm his organization caused in the name of "curing" homosexuality.

In the end, I don't doubt the sincerity of his apology, but it doesn't seem like he's really doing it for the right reasons. I'm just glad EI is no more.

In a more direct follow-up to the first part, we have an apology from Ron Lindsay.

It has been a few weeks since I have said anything in public about the controversy over my remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. As CFI announced via Twitter, this pause was to enable the board to have time to consider the matter. The board has issued its statement. It is now an appropriate time for me to make some remarks.

I am sorry that I caused offense with my talk. I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome as a result of my talk. From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.

I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.

Please accept my apologies.

This is definitely better than the piece of crap CFI released. Even though he avoids specifics, at least it's not a notpology. To quote pretty much everyone else who's looked at this, "It's a good start." Now how about a commitment to Women in Secularism 3?

Neither of these apologies seems as full-hearted or as comprehending as Mike Krahulik's or Kickstarter's. They both seem to really miss the point. Chambers basically promises to stop telling people they're going to hell, and Lindsay... just apologizes, though at least he didn't say "I'm sorry you felt bad" and in fact apologized for fucking up.

Is definite action required for an apology? Strictly speaking, no, but it's what we call proof. Kickstarter took action and made a donation. Mike Krahulik made a $20,000 donation. Chambers apologized and shuttered EI. Lindsay just apologized. I'm glad EI is done for, but I'm still waiting on Lindsay and CFI to take the next step.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Diet and Exercise Don't Work

I'll admit straight off: that's a disingenuous title. In fact, diet and exercise do work, but probably not the way you want them to.

Let's suppose you're normal. One day you wake up and you're thirty. How the hell did that happen? One day your body can handle 200 consecutive meals of cardboard and styrofoam, the next you're embarrassed to have sex with the lights on. Also, you hate your job.

Maybe I'll start a fight club.

So you decide that you can make yourself happier by losing about ten pounds. After all, it sucks to wheeze going up a flight of stairs, and you used to call your abs "The Dictionary"1. So you cut out the burgers and you stop taking the elevator and after a month you've lost five pounds and you feel better about yourself. So you stop cutting out the burgers and start taking the elevator and ... oops.

I'm trying really hard not to see this as a metaphor. Maybe I'll hook up with my girlfriend's mom.

The point is that you can't fix a long-term problem with a short-term solution. If you weigh 190 pounds and want to weigh 170 pounds, then you can't just struggle for a few weeks and leave it at that. You ended up where you are because of the way you live your life. You're eating too much and exercising too little; you weigh 190 because you're living the life of a 190-pound man2. If you want to weigh less, you need to live the life of a person who weighs less.

I'm so deep. Maybe I'll become a Buddhist.

That is to say, if you're not happy with something about your life, whether that's your job or your health or your sex life, you can't just change that thing. You need to focus on what led to the condition that made you unhappy. If you weigh more than you think you should, then why is that? Is it because you're not sleeping enough and so you get home from work and just fall down on the couch exhausted? Or is it because you've been bombarded with unrealistic images your whole life and don't realize that your perfectly normal body is actually perfectly okay.

Feel bad. Then give me money. Maybe I'll buy a really cool car.

Maybe you really are unhealthily overweight, maybe you really do like your job and everything and are adequately healthy but wish you were a few pounds lighter. That's fine. In the end it's better to do things for the right reasons, and to tackle the source of whatever's bugging you, but it doesn't have to be some deep, life-altering experience. Dropping everything and going to Tibet isn't actually a solution; it's just a fancier way to run away.

Maybe next time I'll bring toilet paper.

So why don't diet and exercise work? Well, they do, but only for as long as you keep them up. If you want to see a permanent change, you need a permanent revolution. If you want to weigh less, you need to live the life of a person who weighs less. Your weight will catch up before too long. The same is true of other things. If you want to be happy, identify the source of your unhappiness, the real source, and kill it with an ax work it out of your life. Permanently. For weight loss, that means going to the gym, or playing basketball every day, or hiking, will be a part of your life for the rest of your life, not just for the next two months.

1 - Because they were so well defined.

2 - These numbers make sense for a ~6 foot man. So, for women... 140 & 130? I dunno.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Public Actions: Mistakes and Apologies

There have been several incidents recently where public figures have made a mistake. Following very public discussions of their mistake, they apologized. Well, some of them did.

If you're a public figure, life is difficult, but there's a surprisingly simple rubric to follow:

  1. Don't fuck up.
  2. If you do fuck up, stop fucking up.
  3. Whether you manage to stop fucking up or not, apologize.

There, isn't that simple? Now, no one said it would be easy, but if life were easy, we'd all remain children forever.

The three incidents I'll be talking about were mistakes made by Kickstarter, by Mike Krahulik, and by Ron Lindsey. I'll strive for brevity.

The mistake made by Kickstarter is the most forgivable, in my eyes. A rather sleazy guide on how to pick up women was about to be funded. Someone followed the links and found that it wasn't merely sleazy, but also included advice on how to initiate and attempt to get away with sexual assault. That's right, a how-to guide for rapists in the bud. When I say "about to be funded", I mean that Kickstarter was told about the additional information with two hours left. In those two hours, they failed to cancel the project. That was Wednesday. On Friday, they issued an apology, in which they explained the nature and reason for their failure, and that they were altering their rules to prevent such an incident from occurring in the future.

In my eyes, Kickstarter did everything right. Their system relies on users to police one another (like Youtube or any other large, public forum), they had only a brief window in which to act, and their system has always been biased toward creator freedom. After the project closed, successfully funded, there was nothing they could do to prevent its creator from receiving those funds, but they did remove it from their site and changed the rules so that they could more definitely and quickly act in the future. And theirs was a sincere apology.

Kickstarter: a not-huge mistake followed swiftly by sincere apology and real action for change. This is how you do it, people.

Mike Krahulik, the artist at webcomic Penny Arcade engaged in a discussion on Twitter that quickly got bad. From defending an insensitive panel ("The panels are submitted by the public and we try to give everyone a space to speak") it turned into an argument which quickly came to center on Krahulik's lack of knowledge or understanding about transgender issues and language. He was called a bigot and he responded angrily. He had an email conversation with former PAR writer Sophie Prell, in which she said she was hurt by his comments and he apologized, but demonstrated some further lack of understanding. Yesterday, Saturday, Mike apologized.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to apologize to people I hurt. I’ve been doing it via email and I’ve given out my phone number a lot. I realize I was wrong and I’m genuinely sorry. I also realize I can’t possibly apologize on the phone to each and every person I hurt. I’m going to keep trying, but I’ve also decided to personally make a donation to the Trevor Project of $20,000.00. I also plan to keep interacting with people on a personal level and I understand that will be an ongoing process. In the meantime I’m hoping this donation will do some real good for a group that desperately needs it.

In short, Mike made a mistake and, when confronted, he responded rather naturally and defensively, which only served to compound that error. He then spent a lot of time learning about the issue and personally apologizing to people. Feeling that wasn't enough, he issued a public apology and also made a donation of $20,000 to an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth. No, money isn't everything, but $20,000 is a hell of a statement. This is not a half-assed weasel. I have no doubts about the sincerity of his contrition. He didn't do everything right, but he's a hell of a long way from wrong.

Finally, we have Ron Lindsey. Lindsey is the CEO of CFI, the Center for Inquiry, an organization whose mission is "to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values." Last year they hosted the Women in Secularism conference, and this year hosted Women in Secularism 2. The significance is that the atheist, skeptic, humanist, secular, etc. organizations of the United States have for the last two years been dealing with a controversy: some have called for social justice issues (such as race, gender, and sexuality) to have more prominence in these communities and for minorities to have more prominence as speakers and leaders, while others have said, "No, we're fine the way we are. Shut up." WIS2, for example, was subject to an unceasing campaign of harassment on twitter that has since died down (more than a month after the conference). Threats and harassment; this is what women, gays, racial minorities, and others advocating social justice can expect in the atheist and secular communities. Not from everyone, of course, but from a large portion of the community.

Ron Lindsey, as CEO of the organization hosting Women in Secularism, gave the opening remarks. Ordinarily you would expect a warm welcome, some excitement about what's to come, and some requests for donations. Lindsey decided to take things in another direction. Instead of welcoming his guests, he made it a point not to do so. Then he decided to chide a room full of feminists about how feminism silences men. Some took exception to Lindsey's ham-handed "what about teh menz?!" statements and the ignorance/arrogance of speaking to a room full of experts about their subject when you yourself aren't an expert.

In the month that followed, there was silence from Lindsey and the Center for Inquiry. Meanwhile, feminists and allies called for an apology from either1. MRAs called for a parade. Finally, entitled white men have a voice! This past Monday, CFI finally issued an apology. I can quote it in full:

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.

That's it. They're unhappy about the controversy. There's no mention of the fact that it was their CEO's statements that caused the controversy, that he attacked his guests, that he and they have been silent for a month about this. This isn't an apology; it's not even a notpology. There's no hint of contrition.

I'm sorry... that you're all so Jewish.

CFI and Ron Lindsey are good example of how to do it exactly wrong. Lindsey screwed up, then he got defensive and angry and made it worse. Then he and CFI did nothing for a month. Then they issued this... this namby-pamby milquetoast excuse of an apology. Needless to say, people are upset. Many prominent bloggers and organizations have withdrawn their support of CFI, cancelling speaking engagements, and refusing their sponsorship. As PZ Myers said, they can't even buy friends at this point.

There you have it. Two examples of doing it right, and one of doing it very, very wrong. No one expects anyone to be perfect. We just expect you to own up to your mistakes and promise to try and do better in the future. Kickstarter and Mike Krahulik are fekin' awesome. CFI and Ron Lindsey not so much.

1 - Not, as some MRAs (Men's Rights Activists; think of a white guy agitating for white rights, it's like that) have had it, Lindsey's firing. They wouldn't be upset if Lindsey were asked to resign, but that's not what they're calling for. An apology would suffice.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

More on Scandal

Because my friend is really in to Scandal, I went ahead and kept watching.

The thing is, the show is really, really good. Except some of my objections still stand. I'm about halfway through the second season and I still want to kick President Edward right in the face. With a heavy boot.

Wait, isn't his name President Fitzgerald "Fitz" Thomas Grant III? Yes, but I decided to name him after the most popular abusive boyfriend of our generation because Oh My God.

I love you so much it hurts. You. It hurts you.

Seriously, Fitz is a controlling, abusive asshole. He sees the woman he loves talking with her ex-boyfriend a... wait. He sees a picture someone took of his property former mistress and decided they needed to talk. So he had his agents pick her up and drag her out into the middle of nowhere without saying anything to her, where she finds him holding a gun and obviously angry. If that weren't enough, because they kidnapped her off the streets of the capital, her shoes were inappropriate for an impromptu hunting jaunt in the woods so he ties her shoes onto her feet for her.

Yeah, the supercapable woman who is the center of this show is reduced by the president to the level of a child so he can scream at her while holding a gun.

Seriously, the only way this show has a happy ending is if President Edward's administration ends with his disgraced resignation. Because fuck that guy.

President wants. Gimme.
Seriously, she says "Don't touch me". He touches her. With his mouth. And hands. And probably groin.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Scandal" Makes Me Uncomfortable

A friend recently waxed rhapsodic about how awesome the show Scandal is, so when it popped up on Netflix, I decided to give it a try.

The very first thing I noticed was that the show has an awesome cast. I mean, even before you know anything about them, the simple fact is that of the six main characters, half are people of color and half are women (two white women, a white man, a black woman, a black man, and a latin man). That's just ridiculously awesome. Consider Friends, which spent ten years convincing America that New York City is all white and half Jewish1.

But then over the course of a few episodes, I was made a little uncomfortable. In the first episode alone, "main" character Olivia Pope goes from being an awesome badass lawyer whose name makes New Girl Lawyer stop in her tracks and immediately accept a job to having women's intuition and being sexually assaulted in the oval office. Women's intuition? That just means, "Women aren't actually expert at anything, they just get lucky". And how on earth is President Rapist!Bill Clinton supposed to be a sympathetic character who's apparently still in the show in the second season? After that incident, how is he not the Big Bad that Olivia's supposed to realize was her greatest failure who she's supposed to drive out of office with her awesomeness? He continues his policy of sleazy harassment in the episodes that follow and Olivia continues her policy of putting up with it for some reason.

Then there's the problem that we don't seem to learn anything about Olivia. She has no family, no life, nothing but her job. Every episode seems to routinely fail to actually involve her as a character, and instead revolve around some white guy. In the first, the Greatest Hero Ever gets to come out as gay. In the second, Olivia totally saves the career of a potential Supreme Court Justice. At least by the third a white guy is allowed to be a villain, even as Olivia gets called a whore and is escorted from the White House because a white guy wants to save another white guy from the dangerous black woman.

Meanwhile, New Girl Lawyer gets to be totally excited and flustered about dating Pretty White Reporter Guy, with some help from Ambiguously Dressed Latin Guy (because women can't do things?). British Guy gets to propose to his fiance, and Castle's Ex-Wife gets totally upset about his having consorted with prostitutes because she's secretly in love with him. Three episodes in and her staff all get characterization, but Olivia's just a two-faced cipher. Outside the White House she's the unapproachable, unflappable awesomeness, but inside the White House she's The President's Whore, hence why the sexual assault was apparently not a problem.

Not wanting to base judgment of the show entirely on those three episodes, I did some digging. Apparently President Sleazetastic is still in office (and a Republican) and on the show through the second season, and we've met his entire family, even the in-laws, but still know nothing about Olivia Pope, the alleged main character.

So, yeah. The fact that network television has a show starring a black woman is a massive victory for feminism and antiracism, but the fact that she's not actually the main character is troubling. Also the fact, and I'm going to keep harping on this, that the Leader of the Free World (apparently he loves that title) gets to commit sexual assault and that's totally fine. I'm gonna call this two steps forward, one step back, and elect not to watch the show.

1 - In reality NYC is less than half white and less than one fifth Jewish. Wikipedia for the win.