Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four More Years!

In the words of Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait:

Monday, September 17, 2012

45. Starving the Beast

Austerity. Grover Norquist. The merging of investment and commercial banking. A major party's insistence that shifting the nation's tax burden away from "job creators" and onto the poor and middle class is the only way out, despite the fact that tax cuts for the wealthy do nothing at all to spur economic growth.

 It reads like a paranoid conspiracy theory. Only it isn't. It's the story of how we came to our current place of deficits, income inequality, and economic instability. And you don't need a degree in economics to understand it. (A plus!)

Interested closet members can read more in this article, written by Tim Dickenson for the November 24, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. You'll be glad you did.

Then again, maybe you'll just want to flee to Canada.

Economist Paul Krugman on economic morality.
(Click here to view an interactive timeline of the Global Economic Crisis, courtesy of the non-partisan, non-profit Council on Foreign Relations.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

44. "The story of unwavering hope, grounded in unyielding struggle..."

In case you missed our First Lady's speech at the DNC:

Speech Highlights

 "Like so many American families, our families weren't asking for much.

...They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that, even if you don't start out with much, if you work hard and do what you're supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.

That's how they raised us. That's what we learned from their example.

We learned about dignity and decency – that how hard you work matters more than how much you make, that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself.

We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters, that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules, and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square.

We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean…and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect.


Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it. And he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love.

And he believes that when you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.


... Change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once.

But eventually we get there, we always do.

We get there because of folks like my Dad, folks like Barack's grandmother, men and women who said to themselves, "I may not have a chance to fulfill my dreams, but maybe my children will, maybe my grandchildren will."

So many of us stand here tonight because of their sacrifice, and longing, and steadfast love. Because time and again, they swallowed their fears and doubts and did what was hard.

So today, when the challenges we face start to seem overwhelming – or even impossible – let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation. It's who we are as Americans. It's how this country was built.

And if our parents and grandparents could toil and struggle for us, if they could raise beams of steel to the sky, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with the touch of a button, then surely we can keep on sacrificing and building for our own kids and grandkids.

And if so many brave men and women could wear our country's uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights, then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights, surely, we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on Election Day.

If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire, if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores, if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote, if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time, if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream, and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.

Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.

...If I truly want to leave a better world for my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, if we want to give all our children a foundation for their dreams and opportunities worthy of their promise, if we want to give them that sense of limitless possibility – that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you're willing to work for it -- then we must work like never before. And we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward -- my husband, our President, President Barack Obama."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

43. An Atheist's Defense of the 9/11 Cross

(Alternate Title: How to Alienate the Tiny Handful of People Who Still Listen to You*)

The world knows what happened on 9/11. I don't need to recount the tragedy in order for you to remember the hours and days spent staring at the television through teary eyes as you agonized over every word, every image. Maybe you even remember this one.

I do. It was discovered in the rubble two days after the towers fell. One of the few things left standing, albeit barely. As the men and women of the FDNY, NYPD, and other brave responders labored beneath it, those with access reportedly deferred to the steel crossbeams when their burden became too much to bear. When the public could reach it, they adorned it with flowers, photos, and messages for lost loved ones, wreathing it in their hope as well as their heartache. It mattered to them. In more ways than I, as a person separated as much by geography as by ideology, could ever put into words.

Ten years later, the cross was submitted for placement in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. While the move was opposed by the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, the American Atheists organization went above and beyond by responding with a lawsuit. The suit stated, "Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to require those responsible for the September 11 Memorial and Museum to remove a 20-foot cross from the Memorial and Museum or to provide equal space to memorials from other beliefs. That either the cross be removed from the museum, or symbols representing all religious and nonreligious groups be displayed alongside the cross."

Far from being well-received (as no one thought it would be...), the demand was immediately characterized as a shrieking expression of hatred for the religious. Atheist though I am, I don't hate the cross. I don't hate anything. But, when my haphazardly-donned title is represented on the national stage by a seemingly knee-jerk suit like this one, where the symbol is targeted for bringing honor to some and zero dishonor to anyone, it's easy to understand why people might think I do.

"We're talking about public lands. We're talking about public funds... We're talking about an eighteen-foot memorial," said American Atheists president David Silverman, who believes the cross is an endorsement of Christianity by the government, in violation of the separation of church and state. "It does not represent Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or atheists."

I don't disagree. In fact, were this any other suit, where the object in question had been planned, contracted, and displayed with the intent to memorialize some to the exclusion of others, this post would read very differently. But in this? Let them have it.

No one carved this cross. No one paid for it, and no one picked up a welding torch under the belief that their religion was the only one worthy of recognition. This was a leftover remnant from a building swallowed by terror. It was a real thing that brought real comfort to many.

And I want them to be comforted.

I want the pain of my fellow Americans -- responders, survivors, and family members who underwent an appalling experience -- to be alleviated in any way that it can. So let them bless the tower's skeleton. Let them see in it a joy that is uniquely theirs. Let them lean on it and use it to shoulder weight of their grief so that they might move forward. I may not share in it. I may not understand it. But I can honor these steel beams for doing what I could not as I sat on the other side of the country, staring at the television through teary eyes. It gave them an outlet. It gave them peace.

Let them have it.

Above and beyond anything, I believe in a balance between reason and compassion. According to Silverman, “What we seek is any remedy that honors everyone equally, be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist. This can either be done with a totally neutral memorial that concentrates on the tragedy and not religion, or one that allows everyone to put up a display of equal size and prominence. In the latter case, we have offered to pay for a display ourselves. If everyone is provided equal treatment, we will drop our lawsuit because fair is fair.” Under this premise, the suit may indeed be reasonable, but it defies compassion. If I'd the power, I would ask them to choose another cause, on another battlefield, one that desperately needs their heartfelt fervor, as well as their funds. I would ask them to give blood, or donate to the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation. I would ask them to preserve the integrity of reasonableness and decency alike. Because, as much as I respect the struggle to bring equality to everyone whose contributions have been silenced or ignored by religion, in this case, I can't help but feel that no one stopped to remind themselves of the simplest of adages:

It takes nothing away from you to be kind.

*This is me, crossing my fingers, hoping I'm wrong!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

42. Geeks run the world. Religion should update its marketing strategy.

You know the problem with Jesus? He's Galilean. If he were Gallifreyan, I'd be more inclined to worship him.

That is all.

Monday, March 26, 2012

41. This is what "militant atheism" sounds like.

Brace yourself and watch with caution. This is some pretty terrifying stuff. Especially the parts about "understanding viewpoints" and "taking care of each other in times of need." Can't you just feel the moral fabric of society crumbling away as he talks about loving one another? This is evil, folks. Pure, unadulterated evil...

(Don't tell anyone... but I also believe that every tool houses a hammer. Is that an atheist thing, or just a geek thing?)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

40. Santorum and Other (Very) Dirty Words

*** Let the reader beware: While I believe strongly in the courtesy of honest discourse and in making statements that remain open to the conversation, in writing this post I found it difficult to be remotely lenient in my outrage, or tolerant of the subject. Know in advance that the Closet's typical snarky jabs and lighthearted quips were left on the cutting room floor on this one. Because the writer of this blog is a woman. And she pays attention. Ergo, she is VERY pissed off. ***

It's more than rare for me to vote republican in any election. Believe it or not, though, it has happened. Small town races are a surprising haven for old-school members of the Grand Old Party who genuinely believe in the core tenets of personal liberty, low taxes, and limited government. These people do not believe that money equals speech. They have no national aspirations, no desire to impose their religious agendas, world views, or other private musings on their neighbors. They happily recognize the importance of a separation of church and state, because your business is none of theirs.

A glance at today's political playing field will tell you that these people are a dying breed. In fact, if the general air of this election is to be believed, the GOP clown car has become so crowded with absurdity that a candidate's only method of owning the spotlight is to out-crazy the veritably insane. In watching this atrocity unfold, I've gone from appalled to amused and back again with such frequency that the mere idea of watching another debate, political ad, or "you'll never guess what they're saying now" headline is enough to make me dizzy. Like most of you, I breathed a sigh of relief when Bachmann and Perry were left by the side of the trail, only to realize that Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich were still riding it. They each promised campaigns focused on the economy, restoring lost jobs, and protecting the middle class from impending extinction. Now I suppose it is possible that, along the way, they simply became disoriented and found themselves stumbling into the uteri of America's stickless second class by accident. It seems rather more likely, however, that these would-be moral dictators lifted their heads from the fray long enough to realize their party's economic track record was damned terrible on a favorable day, and that the only way to bend a voting ear was to change the rhetoric to something involving a bit more bullshit and a little less math. So it was with complete disregard for the sparse value of alliteration that they turned to waging a war on women.

First target, Planned Parenthood. (Because, c'mon... parenthood isn't something folks have any business planning for.) Perhaps sensing a dearth of enthusiasm, party leaders pressed hard on the anti-choice leanings of their conservative base in the hopes of starting something akin to a fire in the interest for their collective campaigns. Planned Parenthood, they said, is a revolving door for the sexually depraved seeking weekly abortive procedures. And they're using your tax dollars to do it. *Cue incensed torch lighting.*
Never mind the pesky fact that this organization is a vital source of women's healthcare. Or that abortive procedures make up less than 4% of their services. It is naturally the duty of any pro-life individual to protest this nilly-willy dispersal of life-saving cancer screenings, life-saving STD treatments, and pregnancy-preventing contraception (the most effective means of ensuring low abortion rates) in order to prove how pro-life they really are. Now, this argument is nothing new. But it is a disturbing reflection of republican intensity when their political motives place such insidious and negative pressure on private, pro-women organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation -- whose nonprofit efforts to defeat breast cancer were a renowned and hopeful beacon to millions -- that they deprive the very women they claim to serve of desperately-needed funding.

Second target, Virginians. In a move that leaves me wondering whether they might have mistaken the State's name for a premarital description of its inhabitants, conservatives passed a measure that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before abortive procedures could be considered. Since most unwanted pregnancies are terminated in the first few weeks, that ultrasound would have to be performed trans-vaginally... (To quote Greg Behrendt, "I'm gonna say that again because I feel you're not takin' the journey with me.") Trans. Vaginally. What these lawmakers are saying is not simply that women are incapable of making their own decisions where reproductive matters are concerned, but that they should, as a standard matter of public procedure, consent to having a sterile probe pointlessly shoved into the most intimate parts of their bodies in order for their medical choices to even be deemed worthy of standing. And if they don't consent? Well then, tough cookies. Maybe they don't understand that many women find these procedures so mentally and physically damaging that they must be sedated beforehand and heavily medicated afterward. Maybe they just don't care. Sadly, the latter seems most likely. Because the most degrading fact in all of this is that these embarrassing examples of the twenty-first century are standing between women and their doctors to say that they must endure an unnecessary, invasive, humiliating, and often-painful procedure -- not as a "moral imperative" -- but as a political ploy to generate votes from ill-informed extremists. I have difficulty even wrapping my mind around the level of disregard this shows for women's health, women's privacy, and women's ability to trust in the safety and security of their own bodies.

To the few in support of this mandate, to those who believe that life begins at conception and that failure to recognize this is more heinous than forcible penetration, to those who think women who become pregnant as a result of rape should "accept the gift that God has given them" (Rick Santorum) and graciously surrender their reproductive rights to their attackers by raising their unsolicited children, I have one thing to say....

This is Lina Medina. At the time this photo was taken, Lina was five years old and seven months pregnant. She is only one of hundreds of children under the age of 10 (see HERE for a full list of documented cases) who've been forced to carry pregnancies to term in the last century. This is not a recent phenomenon, and this is not an isolated incident. THIS is the result of an anti-choice mindset. THIS is what it looks like when women's health is undervalued, subverted, and otherwise ignored by those who've sworn to safeguard the well-being of those without a voice. THIS is suffering at its most unethical. Anyone who can honestly look at this child and say that legal abortion is more of an abomination than the nine months of pain, confusion, and body distortion that she was forced to experience DOES NOT derive their morals from any source worth noting.

Moving on.

For their third target, which seems inappropriately comical by comparison, the GOP turned to their current standby, healthcare reform. This time citing oppression of religious freedom when church-affiliated institutions like hospitals and universities were required to provide coverage for women's services. Michelle Bachmann seized on this opportunity to resurface, claiming that the GOP's recent obsession with regulating the gentler sex is not a sign that those fine fellows at the top are running on a rich, white slogan of inexcusable misogyny, it's merely a symptom of their outrage over Obamacare. I'll fight the urge to titter 'liar, liar, pants on fire' and instead applaud them for taking their frustrations out on women, as any secure man would naturally do. As for the core complaint, far be it for anyone to expect equality from a religious organization, even where insurance is concerned. But the hypocrisy of denying reproductive care to women while happily dispersing viagra and vasectomies can only be topped by stacking your discussion panel on women's health solely with abstinent men and barring any actual women from testifying.

Oh wait, they did that. (Yes, really.)

And all of this before the three-ring circus jumped the shark. For their fourth and most intellectually-defying play, the GOP unleashed Santorum (hell yes, you should Google it) on the world, armed and ready for the fight against America's greatest enemy... birth control.

*As an aside to the candidate in question...* Ahem. Hey, Rick? Can I call you 'Rick?' Look, man, I get that you're stupidly devoted to an archaic religion that bills sex as an awful, scary thing - be it premarital, homosexual, masturbatory, inter-species, or the consensual sort that doesn't result in procreation. (Did I get them all? 'Cause your faith seems to have a LOT to say about sex. Seriously, it seems downright obsessed with it.) But here's the thing, Rick: having a personal belief that my business is somehow any of your business doesn't actually make my business any of your business. As many as 1 in 6 women taking birth control medications are doing so to treat non-related issues. Many, like my sister, use oral contraceptives to combat polycystic ovarian syndrome. Still others use it to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or to regulate erratic cycles. Some women take it because, hell, it keeps their skin clear. And NONE of these women should, or ever will, have to answer to YOU.

It is an irony of the most degrading sort that a party whose primary complaints against the current administration have cited efforts to "insert government into our private medical decisions" are now championing an all-out war against women by demanding that government insert itself into their private medical decisions.

I've no doubt that many will dismiss this post as the ramblings of an angry feminist. They won't be entirely wrong. I am angry, as you should be. And I am a feminist. As you should be.

Because what those people do not understand is that feminism is not a dirty word.

Feminism is not an ideology of rage, or a euphemism for jilted chicks with nothing better to do.

Feminism is not the demand that everyone who has a penis apologize immediately and at length to everyone who doesn't.

Feminism IS the recognition that women are people -- just like 100-cell zygotes and heartless corporations. Funny that they have the concern and protection of the republican party, where we do not.

To speak out against these, and other atrocious examples of the republican war on women, visit MoveOn.org or join the National Protest Against the War on Women on Facebook to add your name to the list of people demanding equality.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

39. It's Seasons Greetings Giggle Time!

(To the tune of Peanut Butter Jelly... ah, never mind.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

"And even dragons have their ending..."

You could see it in his eyes at one point in nearly every debate. That glance, over the glasses or through the omnipresent cigarette smoke, that simply and openly said "you're a fucking twit." His well-stocked mouth would often state very much the same, but through such eloquently-spoken prose that his opponent could easily have mistaken his slander for a compliment or, at the very worst, a mild suggestion that their lacking knowledge of subjects A, B, C, and D was something of an unfortunate oversight that, perhaps, if they wished to spare themselves further embarrassment, they'd do well to keep to themselves. It is with no small amount of jealousy that I say words came unfailingly easy to Christopher Hitchens. He was a rhetorician of the master class whose intimidating presence had become an expected, if not necessary, component to honest discourse about... well, anything. People loved him, and people hated him. But everybody respected him. And when he spoke, people listened.

Today, the secular movement is far from alone in its grief. Hitchens' death, much like his life, leaves a mark on too many facets of intellectualism, philosophy, and ferocious human wit for those of us in the atheistic sphere to claim his loss as uniquely ours. He was a giant. The world will miss his voice. And, as Hitch would say, "... anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass."

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

38. This administration is, like, just... so evil. *Sqee!*

Alright, so I'm just thieving and regurgitating information for this post. But this is historic stuff, right here, so you won't begrudge me a little cut-n-paste action, will you?

Highlights from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent speech to the United Nations:

"Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same...

"Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights...

"It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

"[Possibly]... the most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn't cultural; it's criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

"In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing...

"Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do...

"...To LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

37. Letter to an Anti-Gay Teen

Hey you. How's things? Lemme guess, someone sent you here, right? It's okay. If you don't want to stick around for a chat, I'll understand. These interwebs are chock full of lolcats and DYAC posts just waiting to waste your time.

I'm not gonna do that.

In fact, should you stay, I'm going to do what maybe no one else in your life is bothering to do -- not at this very moment, anyway. I'm going to square with you. Without patronizing or condemning. I'll even spare you the metaphors.

I can't presume to know you as an individual. My teenage years are now further behind me than all the years that came before. (Isn't that a scary thought?) I'm a middle-aged, middle-class mom who's often too caught up in her own sincerity to bother writing anything worth reading. And you? Well, no one can answer that question just yet. Not even you, am I right? I remember that part, at least. It was the question that kept me up at night and bled through into every action. If I didn't know who I was, society was going to have a hell of a time figuring it out. What would happen to my place in the world then? Would I even have one? With the high value our culture places on individualism, it's kinda the most important first hurdle to be conquered on the road to becoming YOU.

I broke the metaphor rule, didn't I? My apologies.

Everyone has their own means of sussing out these answers for themselves. Luckily, I was never prone to the social displays of dominance that kids so often grow to regret, when they become men and women with full identities and realize that life is about owning oneself, not controlling others. At the time, I didn't recognize any proclivity for using cultural norms as a template to be mimicked, a script to be followed, though that is certainly what was taking place, however unconsciously. Sure, I could adapt and become whomever I wished to be, but only within the confines of those social boundaries, the ones that had been laid out for me by an older, wiser, more prudish and labor-obsessed generation. I also remember how, when someone dared to defy those invisible lines, it spotlighted my already-precarious position in the world. They threatened my stability simply be being themselves. How dare they?

Ready for a really lousy comparison? The same patterns of behavior can be seen in packs of wild dogs. When one pup strays from the norm, the others will attack it, viciously, until it falls back in line. Quite often, the violence never ends. Once the instinct has been triggered, and the target marked, the mutts become relentless with tooth and claw and persecution. The Omega dog is still a part of the pack, but only barely. It is an oddity. And oddities of any sort are a threat to their very survival. In order for the pack to flourish, they rely on the hierarchy, the consistency of interaction and engagement, set and stable rules -- so they whip out the savage traits and toe the company line for the very same reason that kids bully one another today: instinctual security.

I was "picked on" a great deal as a kid. We didn't call it bullying then. As the quiet, weird girl in hand-me-downs, one of the poorest members of an already poor community, I made for a pretty easy target, if I do say so myself. But none of that matters now. In fact, it's rather difficult to recall. The incident that most stands out in my memory is of a stint on the other side of that social dynamic. It was middle school and my small circle of friends were discussing some ridiculous version of ass-kickery. The conversation somehow morphed into the idea that I was to kick another girl, a longtime friend, in the ass. They were kidding, of course. But I did it anyway. I kicked her square in the ass. Hard. It was a joke taken too far, but when she called me out on it, I wasn't big enough to admit it. I was in that transition from quiet little girl to standoffish teenager, where people were still more than willing to pick on me, but only when my back was turned. I felt like an idiot. Like Mr. Magoo falling on his face and taking the nearest person down with him. So I did what social-preserving instinct told me to do: I turned it around on her. She was asking for it. She deserved it. I wasn't so much being a bully as I was... being a bitch, on accident. She certainly wasn't sent packing as a result. Truth be told, the witnesses were all on her side, they just never admitted as much. No, she retreated, of her own accord, and I was viewed as the dominant one. Bully for me. (Different kind of bully. I still haven't gotten over the fact that I'm not British.)

This is where instinct, like that of a skunk which stops in the center of the road to spray an oncoming vehicle, totally backfires. You see, animalistic tendencies don't take all those pesky human emotions into account. Not even those of the insidious, haunting sort. And there are none more insidious than regret. Here I am, decades later, still haunted, still held hostage by one fluke moment, one stupid decision, one asinine act. It's the car. I'm the skunk. Do the math.

There I go with the metaphors again...

If I were looking for a scapegoat, it would be easy enough to blame a younger version of today's media for my knee-jerk reaction. Just as the golden generation was influenced by images of maids in black-face, my television shows were riddled with women desperate to make the on-screen transition from subservient housewife to respected individual, and they did so by being... well... bitchy. The cultural template offered for me confused strength with callousness, trading a kitchen apron for a cold shoulder and a bitter word. Still, it seems a piss poor excuse. And I had it easier than you, I think. Your media is electronic, immediate, and all-encompassing. You're getting it from every side, at every hour. Worse still, online interactions are often brief and cruel, and don't offer a proper template for social reality. Media of every kind is teeming with questions regarding the morality of homosexuality, marking it as a threat to society, a thing to be despised... the Omega dog on the outskirts of the pack. If you were to listen to even a handful of these voices, it would seem a pretty concrete "bad idea" as aberrations go, wouldn't it?

Are you listening to them?

If so, I'm going to overstep my bounds both as a blogger and as a parent to let you in on a secret about the pundits, parents, and peers who decry homosexuality as a cultural evil.

They're wrong.

Point blank. Period. They're wrong... and we're not animals. We've thrived as a species because we alone have the ability to sort through our instincts and realize that many of them are quite simply awful. Terrible flaws in logic that hold us back or, worse, lead us to sabotaging not only our lives, but the lives of those around us. When we see a car on the blacktop, we get the hell out of the way. When one wanderer beaches himself, we know better than to follow. And when a pup dares to step across what we see as the social norm, we alter our views regarding the social norm. We do it because we can. We alone. It is what makes us human.

According to the Dalai Lama, "People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road, doesn't mean they've gotten lost." Whether you realize it or not, you're on your own path right now -- or will be, sooner than you know. As is the kid in the hall, the one you don't understand, the one whose immoral actions threaten the very fabric of society. (Sarcasm, just to clarify. The sheer weight of data countering the idea that homosexuality is in any way harmful would crush an airliner.) But this was never about that, was it? Deep down, you probably don't have a moral objection to them, to their thoughts or feelings, to whom they love or whom they don't. It's about maintaining a social order wherein you can see yourself as relevant. And when the social dynamic swings the way of persecution, it may not occur to you that the strongest thing you can possibly do is to stop it, to change your mind -- or, stronger still, to change the minds of those around you. Nothing could make you more relevant, in a more lasting way, than that.

You want to know the biggest secret of them all?

You don't need a hierarchy to have a place in this world. It's here, and whole, and waiting for you as you are. Whatever mistakes you make, whatever wounds you sustain or dole out on your road to meet it, it will still be here, waiting, watching, hoping. There will be many things about it that you cannot change. And many things that you can. Sometimes, you may not know the difference. All I can say is that you owe it to yourself to try, because the kid following his or her own path deserves no less than you. And regret's a bitch.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

36. Letter to a Gay Teen: Get a Straight Apology Here

Do you know how an incandescent light bulb works? Of course you do, because you're clever. I can tell. ("You must be, or you wouldn't be here," said the cat.) You're also kind, so you'll forgive a layman's meager description anyway, won't you?

Unsuspecting electrons truck along the wiring of your house in a continuous flow, transferring from atom to atom. Small and simple as you like, minding their own business, they run into resistance in our chosen metaphor: the light bulb. There, for the briefest instant, they find themselves faced with a most inhospitable metal, tungsten. Tungsten is made of stern stuff, at least in this sense. It doesn't want to break down, it doesn't want to give in, and its sole purpose in the bulb is to hold the line and make life miserable for that poor current, which had so happily kept to itself prior to their meeting. Tungsten is the Man, keeping the current down. The bastard. Amazingly, despite the opposition, these little electrons keep right on going, and those of us in the room reap the benefits in the form of heat and - voila! - light.

In case you hadn't sussed it out for yourself (which, of course, you did, because you're clever), the tungsten opposition represents all those who stand in your way. The filaments are the assholes of your town, your country, and the world at large.

And this is where I apologize to you on behalf of all the filaments in your life.

The religious who condemn you without cause beyond archaic verse. The "straights" who cling to superiority with phrases like "unnatural" and "subversive," blaming you for their own failed relationships because it's easier than facing up to their own inadequacies. The men who decry a blurring of the gender lines for fear that it will compromise their ability to oppress, or that they themselves might become victims -- treated no better than they would treat women. The wives and mothers who haven't stood up on your behalf, believing that they can somehow gain status by begrudging you the very thing they lack: empowerment. For all the bullies you've ever met, or ever will meet... I. Am. Sorry.

I am so sorry.

You are not a sin. You are not an abomination. And you are not alone. You have done NOTHING to deserve ridicule, harassment, or condemnation. Anyone who would project their weaknesses upon you is small and fearful, their judgment skewed. You are beautiful because you are unique. The only you that has ever been, and the only you that will ever be. What a wonderment is that!

Life is conflict, as you know. Probably all too well. But so too is it change -- and often that change is for the better. When a bulb burns out, it is the filament that breaks, not the current. The current simply steps back and waits for a new path, knowing that resistance offers what the easy road can't: a chance to shine. A chance to be the light for that other teen, the one just like you, who will tomorrow wonder whether the world is as dark and lonely as it sometimes feels. They will reach out, whether at school, in confidence, or in cyberspace, and you will be there to tell them that this cause does not need martyrs, it has enough of those. It needs real people -- with breath and life, compassion and conviction -- to brighten the world by doing the most courageous thing they'll ever do.

To keep on trucking, despite the opposition.

Hold your head up. Tell your story. Either here, or in one of the many active and supportive communities of your choosing. We've got your back. In fact, we'll still be standing with you long after the last filament breaks. Can't blame me for sticking with the metaphor, can you? Of course not. Because you aren't just clever. You're brilliant.

It Gets Better.
WipeOut Homophobia on Facebook.
WHOF Suicide Helpline.
The Trevor Project.

Friday, July 29, 2011

35. Fallacious Arguments, Not as Dirty as They Sound.

Then again, maybe they're dirtier. It depends on your definition.

Seriously, though, it's starting to look like High School Debate and First-Year Logic courses aren't holding up their end of the deal when it comes to separating our young-uns from their logical fallacies. (See "Dude, Where's My Edukashun?" for more ranting on our educational failures.) They crop up a little too frequently where ideologies of any sort are concerned.

A few of the less-than-proud, but often used... (For a full list, click here.)

Argument From Adverse Consequences, Scare Tactics: X has to be wrong, because if it isn't, bad and terrible things will happen. And that's scary. So we're assuming the correctness of Y, which has more rainbows and fewer sharp edges.

Burden Of Proof: Demanding that a statement must be perceived as true if it cannot be proven false is fallacious. Likewise, demanding that something is unquestionably false if it cannot be proven true is also insufficient, depending on the position of the positive claim. The burden of proof lies with whomever is making the positive assertion.

Appeal To Force: Agree with me, or else.

Tautology, Circular Logic: A is true because B. B is true because C. And C is true because A. 'Round and 'round the mulberry bush. Monkey or weasel, you're still on unstable ground.

Appeal To Widespread Belief: Everyone else believes it. Join the bandwagon! Consensus gentium, and all that.

Slippery Slope: Let the camel's nose into the tent, and pretty soon you'll have the whole creature in your bed. A is wrong because it's way too close to B, which is so close to C that D will be on you before you know it, and by god, E is right around the corner! Ahhhh!

Argument By Pigheadedness: The absolute refusal to accept a proven statement, regardless of evidence or reason. This often leads to emotional adamancy. A principle taught to aspiring lawyers: If you have the facts, pound on the facts. If you have the evidence, pound on the evidence. If you have neither, pound on the table.

Argument By Selective Observation: Cherry picking isn't just for fruit. This is touting only that evidence which supports your argument, while ignoring the facts that do not. Francis Bacon referred to it as "counting the hits and forgetting the misses."

Statement Of Conversion: I once believed X, I now believe Y. Therefore, Y is a superior belief. Adamancy is often a factor in this one as well.

Non Sequitur: When "ergo" goes awry. An umbrella term for any assumption that does not logically follow from the base assertion.

Argument By Slogan: Politicians LOVE this one. Putting beliefs in advertising form and pointing to them as evidence.

Error Of Fact: Bogus statements, usually made as a result of ignorance. "No one knows how we came to be here." Biologists do. "No one knows how the pyramids were constructed." Historians do. "No one will ever know how long this tree has been here." I'm pretty sure an arborist could figure that one out.

Argument From Personal Astonishment: A form of Fact-Error, this is stating opinion in place of fact. (The speaker's thought process being "I don't see how this is possible, so it isn't.")

Outdated Information: Fairly self-explanatory, this is quoting information that is no longer viewed as viable, or even accurate. A subset of Cherry Picking.

Least-Plausible Hypothesis: The foe of Occam's Razor, where the most outrageous explanation is regarded as the right one. Hearing hoof-beats and pointing to unicorns as the culprit.

Appeal To Complexity: "I don't understand it. So, no one else does either. My opinions are tantamount to those given by any expert."

Argument By Uninformed Opinion: "I don't know anything at all about the topic, and I don't want to. But I have an opinion, and my opinion matters."

False Compromise: Commonly, when arguers (or spectators to the argument) cannot come to a resolution, they assume that the truth must lie somewhere in between the two opinions. It is more than possible for one side, even for BOTH sides, to be quite simply wrong. In either case, no compromise need be granted.

Having the ability to recognize these failures of logic, in yourself as much as your debate opponent, is important. But please don't spend hours and days typing these basic terms into forums and comments as rebuttals in and of themselves. It just makes you look like an ass.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

34. Basic Decency: Stuck in the Interwebz, or Just Old-Fashioned?

"You're almost as fake as your tan." My pink tee proclaims in bold white letters as I peruse the aisles at a certain home improvement store. I wear the shirt as much for its handy illustration of the difference between a contraction and a possessive pronoun as for any amusement I find in the words themselves. Admittedly, as someone with screaming Scotch-Irish blood (my skin is practically translucent) and a dogmatic devotion to 'what you see is what you get' honesty, I really do find them painfully amusing. But, somewhere between the overpriced light fixtures and the overly-expressive outlet covers, I all but bump into that girl. The one whose head-to-toe bling so exactly matches the color of her smartphone that I wonder for a moment whether she purchased two of them... and then smashed one of them with a sledge hammer so she could wear it. The one who's two sessions shy of curing into leather.

I pass her... and I cringe.

Not for fear that she'll throw down, mind you. Worst-case scenario, I can run faster in sensible shoes and pressed slacks than she can in a miniskirt and four-inch heels. No, I cringe with concern that my silly sense of humor may have offended this idle passerby, about whom I know absolutely nothing -- certainly not enough to imply that her personality is described solely by her appearance.

I'd like to think that this little jab from Jiminy Cricket's umbrella is a normal sensation, shared by everyone. But, with the proliferation of social networking and online-only interaction -- with screen-names and pixels standing in as emotionless substitutes for the responsiveness of an actual human face, capable not only of being wounded, but of showing it -- I'm not so sure.

Nothing illustrates this quite so well as the copy-n-paste status updates on sites like Facebook and Myspace (that one's still a thing, right?), where all manner of ill-advised, careless generalizations are haphazardly thrown back and forth as though members were playing Hot Potato with bigotry. Most of them fall under the category of "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Then there are the other kind. The non-starters. The "less interested in offering a topic for conversation, more interested in earning a belligerent HOORAH! from the fringes of the audience" kind. These are the insults boldly and defiantly stated in a forum where posters feel as safe as though they'd whispered the offense only in the privacy of their own minds... and detached enough that they don't care whom they hurt in the process.

Most commonly, these regurgitated statements are deeply religious, deeply political, or a measured combination of the two. No doubt you have, likely on more than one occasion, found yourself on the targeted end. Yeah... me too. And what an education I've received as a result. For one, I've learned that my secularist mentality is the source of society's every ill. That morality is a supernatural endowment, not a natural evolutionary mechanism of a social species. That my front door will be smashed in any minute now by outlaws with guns, because guns have been outlawed, and I'll deserve whatever outlaw-gunning I receive as payment for being a gun-outlaw-er. That lynching is suitable punishment for having the audacity to support the LGBT equality movement. I've also learned, to my astonishment, that I'd do well to avoid the homes of several dear friends, as they have an oh-so-hysterical habit of siccing their dogs on drug-selling illegal immigrants, flag burners, and... democrats? Not that I personally identify with a political party, but I guess anyone who doesn't sit on the far right side of the aisle is in the same anti-American category, worthy of violent ousting.

Watching friends and relatives climb on a stolen soap box to play a pre-recorded speech... counting off the "likes" as approving comments roll beneath like the credits to a really shitty movie... it's like watching a mob form.

I'm not sure when it was that we as a nation went from a melting pot, rich in culture and ideals, to a group of people collectively agreeing to opt out of diversity. From the Angry Deconstructionists of the Mindless Conservatives to the Namby Pamby Party of Bleeding Heart Liberals, like flocking to like, until we're so bemired in mundane extremism that we literally have nothing left to talk about... absent that moronic out-group of atrocious individuals on the other side of the line. Aren't they terrible? Anyone not exactly like us is a Jonah, plain and simple. And by god, we'll mutiny if they're not thrown off-ship soon.

Social media hardly shoulders the blame for the divisiveness of our generation. The reasons behind that are complex and historied. But will it be the straw that broke the camel's ability to cringe at displays of in-group morality, callousness, and contempt?

It's rare that I offer myself up to the mob in these situations. My social network is small, limited to those people with whom I have an actual affiliation, here in the really real world. I care about these people, so I've little to no desire to ruffle any feathers by taking rapid offense. But it happens. And when it does, the results are invariably the same.

"It's okay," they tell me, "Because you're part of my group."

"Sure," I respond. "But I'm also a part of that other group. You know... the one you hate with every fiber of your being."

Monday, June 6, 2011

33. "Well then, what DO you believe in?"

"You ended that sentence with a preposition. Bastard." ~ Colonel Jack O'Neill (With two ells!)

Ask this of someone who doesn't believe in ghosts or fire-breathing kettle monsters and they'd look at you as though you'd inquired after their lack of a third nostril. It would be a nonsensical question, and it would be treated as such. If, on the other hand, you count yourself among those who don't believe in talking snakes or the magical properties of foreskins, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that this question will be among the first to spill from anyone and everyone who discovers your absence of faith.

I don't know if, like me, you find this baffling. It dresses like something of a demand: You must believe in some form of the supernatural. While I still have yet to figure out the basis for this line of reasoning, there are a number of not-so clever responses designed to leave the inquirer in the same befuddled state, should you find yourself in a less-than-social mood... "Vampires. I believe in vampires," is my personal favorite. Said with a serious enough face, they'll be convinced that you say your rosary to Twilight and leave you in the blessed silence your condition warrants.*

Admittedly, though, there are times when displaying my lack of wit is as trying as responding to the question with any sincerity. And since the honest answer sounds rather silly when spoken aloud, better to place it online, where my cheesy side can be immortalized.

I believe in reason and the scientific method.

I believe in the pursuit of knowledge and the integrity of critical thinking.

I believe in compassion, in treating those you encounter with kindness and with dignity, even when it is difficult -- because WE are all we have.

I believe in love.

I believe perspective is one of the hardest things to obtain, and one of the easiest to lose.

I believe in a morality driven by an honest understanding of individuals, communities, and countries; one that recognizes the urgent need to reduce suffering, the hopeful desire to promote well-being.

I believe that bigotry, contempt, and jealousy are the surest ways to poison the lives of those you love, along with those you don't.

I believe that selflessness and courage are one and the same.

I believe in our ability as a whole to overcome harmful myths and tiresome ideologies. I believe our failure in this would cause more harm than can, or should, be forgiven.

I believe life is wondrous enough without mysticism, and that no institution has the right to hold itself immune from criticism.

I believe that superstition is a product of our fears.

I believe that fear is crippling.

And for all its emptiness, despair, and drudgery, I still believe the universe is a beautiful place, worthy of investigation, awe, and reverence.

Much like the follower of any faith, I don't always live up to my beliefs. I falter. I fall short of that better version of myself. But still I try. Because among those things I cannot believe, the most prominent is this: that the legacy of my generation is to be one where individuals created strife for the sake of a theology that forced us to be less than what we truly were.

*I won't go so far as to say it's the most intolerable series ever... But it's pretty much the most intolerable series. Ever.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism