Dear Skeptical Community,

I’ll keep this open letter brief, unlike most of my posts. Just three quick things, said entirely generally and not directed at anyone in particular, except, you know, the people I’m obliquely talking about.

  1. It’s all well and good to talk about being reflective and critically examining our beliefs and practices to determine whether or not they’re right and well-supported and rational. But it’s just empty words if you don’t follow through with it. As skeptics, we ought to be willing almost to the point of eagerness to be criticized, to be proven wrong with evidence, and to admit our mistakes, change, and move on. You can talk about the value of critical self-examination, but it’s worthless if you don’t actually do it.
  2. To the Don’t Be a Dick crowd: from what I’ve seen of the vast majority of you, we have a very strong disconnect regarding what it means to be a dick. I get it, Phil didn’t clarify, and so you were forced to read into his comments whatever you think is dickish behavior, and assume he was calling out the same kind of things you would in that position. Me, I think that Rorschach Test quality of his speech qualifies it for the recycling bin, but your mileage may vary. The one thing I’d caution, though: when avoiding being a dick, try not to be a douche.

    See, you have dicks, right? Dicks are pointy and kind of simple and not really much to look at. Dicks are often hard and unyielding, and they have a tendency to pop up at the most inopportune moments, and sometimes they overstay their welcome. Dicks sometimes go where they’re not wanted, and they often make a big mess. Some people really like dicks, and some people don’t, and that’s fine. Dicks are an acquired taste.

    But then you have douches. Douches go in most of the same places as dicks, but they tend to look very different. Douches are sleek and clean; they’re more flexible than dicks, and they’re a lot easier to handle. Douches smell better than dicks, and they say they just want to make everything better, to clean things up with their refreshing, summery demeanor. The problem with douches, though, is that they really aren’t adding anything. In fact, they’re generally pretty unnecessary. They thrive in large part because they’ve convinced a lot of people that they need douches, because everything has just gotten so dirty recently–mostly because of those awful dicks. Douches might look and smell nice, but ultimately they’re just cold, artificial plastic, and outside of their limited realm of actual necessity, they subsist on feelings of self-loathing and dirtiness that they’ve helped cultivate.

    In more specific terms, I don’t see how false politisse, passive-aggression, holier-than-thou moralizing, and hegemonic “ur doin it wrong” edicts are any less negative than the name-calling, screaming, and whatever else gets attached to the “dick” label. Whether or not you call them retarded, passive-aggressive bullshit like criticizing people in general terms and making veiled insults is at least as dickish as calling them out to their face and being forthright with your beef. Don keeps reminding me of this quote from “Hamlet”: “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” It’s true, and the veneer of polite discourse and moral high ground doesn’t turn passive-aggressive attacks into non-dick behavior.

    By the way, if you read between the lines there, you might have noticed that this “open letter” to a general-but-specific set of people falls under that description as well. So yes, this time, I’m intentionally being a dick. At least I’ll own up to it.

  3. Finally, I think this is the only reasonable response to the “Don’t Be” crowd–hereafter referred to as the DBs. It’s really amazing how apt this is:

Sincerely,
Tom

God dammit, CFI

I was going to write a post about the CFI’s indescribably stupid statement on the Park51 building in New York, and I still might, but Orac did it for me. Go read it.

I will repeat this exchange that I had with Don, which sums up my current feelings on the subject (not to step on Don’s “Me & Tom” series or anything):

Me: At this point, I think they ought to put a minaret on the goddamn Freedom Tower. And on it, carve “I disapprove of what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.”

Don: With a picture of that guy from Futurama whose body parts were all artificial.

Yes. Absolutely.
Another victim of the maleocentric maleocracy.

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!

Some Muslims–certainly not all of them–have made a stink now and again about depictions of their prophet Muhammad in the media. And by “stink” I mean “violent protests and death threats.” Some have caved to the pressure and fear, which seems like it sets a bad precedent. No group of people have the right to force everyone else to live by their religion’s arbitrary rules; no Hindu has the right to force me not to eat a hamburger, no Jehovah’s Witness has the right to force me not to get a blood transfusion, no Jain has the right to force me not to step on ants, and no Christian has the right to force me not to make “graven images, or any likenesses of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” And that’s true no matter how many threats of force those people might make.

So it was suggested that everyone draw Muhammad today, to make a statement about free speech, to stand against the thugs who would try to bully others into following their religious tenets, and to remind all religious believers that no belief is above or beyond criticism or ridicule.

To that end, I give you my crude drawing:

Shut up woman, get on my buraq!
If you’re not familiar, it’s based on this song (NSFW) which is better at the link, but here’s the YouTube version.


I even wrote a partial song parody:

Look at my ass, my donkey’s amazing!
Come ride with me, you’ll get seventy raisins.
Buraq is his name, he flies just like a plane,
He could take you to Spain, or he might fly us to Heaven!

Now, if only I could get a Muhammad action figure. He’d go really well with Jesus. Maybe they could rock out.

Auld Auld Auld Auld Auld Auld Auld Auld Lang Syne

So, clear your calendars. Um, your Mayan Long Count Calendars, that is. Don’t make any plans for December 21, 2012, because you’re all coming over to my residence for the world’s best New B’ak’tun’s Eve party ever!

I know it’s early, but with something like this, it’s good to have a plan. After all, something like this only comes around once every 394 1/4 years. Some of the details are still up in the air, of course, like the location and the amount of people I can fit there, but we’ll hammer those out as they become clearer. I still have to run this by the wife-to-be, of course–we’ll be celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary just a couple of days before, and there’s the various Winter holidays the week after, but I think that Friday night would be a fantastic time for a big new b’ak’tun bash. Here’s the invitation so far:

Who: You! Plus one or so.
What: Ringing in B’ak’tun 13.0.0.0.0!
Where: To be determined
When: December 21, 2012, 8-ish
Why: To eat, drink, and be merry!
How: BYOB, snacks and some drinks will be provided. Movies and video games likely (Rock Band 3?), pizza and root beer floats even likelier. 100% chance of fun! Slight possibility of armageddon (dogs & cats living together, etc.).

Please RSVP by December 7th, 2012.

We’ll get together, watch the big stone slab drop (fun fact: Dick Clark was there at the last new b’ak’tun!), toss some streamers, make some noise, and generally have a great time. I expect to see you all there, and I’ll make sure to keep you posted as details change.

In honor of Boobquake

As the world crumbles around you, due to the amazing power of cleavage, at least you can listen to some good, relevant music. Not safe for work.

I Hate Stereotypes

The only reason this is here is because I couldn't find a good shot of the Stereotypes bowling team from The Simpsons.I really do. I hate that it’s a natural impulse–in fact, a necessity of communication–to lump people together and assign characteristics to those lumps. I hate that stereotypes are almost always based around some kernel of truth, so that a legitimately true statement can be dismissed as “propagating a negative sterotype” or “[insert group here]ism.” But what I hate the most, what really rankles my hackles up, is when people act in ways that reinforce those stereotypes. I hate seeing liberals who are indignant vegan newagers. I hate seeing racist homophobic Republican NRA members driving rusty pickup trucks with Confederate Flags on the back. I hate seeing disgustingly socially inept nerds like these assholes. I hate hearing Michael Steele talk about things.

Which is why I’m upset by the reaction to Jen McCreight’s Boobquake idea. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of Boobquake, for the uninitiated: a Muslim cleric said that women dressing immodestly causes adultery, which in turn causes earthquakes. Jen reasoned that the proper response to this ridiculous (but empirically testable!) claim was to ridicule and empirically test it. So was born Boobquake: a suggestion for women to dress immodestly on a specific day (this coming Monday, April 26th), either causing worldwide earthquakes with their abundant cleavage, or falsifying the cleric’s inane hypothesis. It’s a cute idea, reminiscent of Rebecca Watson’s recent Great Apple Experiment–both taking a ridiculous claim and simultaneously giving it the (lack of) respect it deserves while also taking the opportunity to do some good science and promote skepticism.

The response has been enormous and unexpected. Most of it seems to be pretty positive. Some of it is from the “duhr hurr hurr boobies” wing of society, and some of it seems to miss the point entirely. But then there’s been a particular flavor of response from some self-described feminists talking about just how horrible this whole idea is, because it objectifies women and plays right into the patriarchy’s wishes to see see scantily-clad women. It’s “‘Girls Gone Wild’ with a cause slapped on it,” and “capitulating to Dude Nation’s fondest desire,” and “Since when did we ‘stick it to the man’ by wearing low-cut shirts or short shorts?”

This entire post will be dismissed because I used this image.And this is where I have a problem, because I don’t like it when feminists–who I agree with and would generally count myself among–reinforce the Limbaughian stereotype that they’re sex-negative humorless man-hating bluenoses. And yet, here we are.

I see two big problems with the reasoning of this position. First, there seems to be an assumption that there’s one “the man” or one “patriarchy” to fight against. I can’t imagine the cognitive dissonance which must occur to be able to hold that assumption in light of this situation. Here we have an explicit rebellion against the misogynistic rules of patriarchal fundamentalist Islam, which force women to dress in a way that hides any hint of their sexuality. Of course, in order to defy those rules, one would have to dress in a way that doesn’t hide a woman’s sexuality, and coincidentally there’s a closer-to-home patriarchy that marginalizes women for not flaunting their bodies (also, for flaunting their bodies too much–we have a very picky patriarchy). I’d think that this is clear evidence of (at least) two distinct patriarchies with different ways of marginalizing women and different sexual values, but apparently we’re all one Clan of the Dangling Penis. Even when you fight against them, you’re working for them.

The second big problem is an apparent inability to understand the difference between choice and coercion. I won’t deny that our society rewards women who fall within a certain range of body types and who dress in such a way as to walk a fine line of sexual objectification, largely ignoring those who fail to fit or comply. It’d be silly to deny that. But there’s a missing step between “society objectifies women by forcing them to dress provocatively” and “women who dress provocatively are being forced to do so by society.” To make the claim–implicitly or explicitly–ignores the fact that women have agency. A woman can choose how she dresses, regardless of what society expects of her. Women are, in fact, capable of choosing to dress provocatively, and may even be capable of doing so for reasons other than gaining male attention. When one is forced to do something, regardless of what that thing is, it breeds resentment and foments a rebellious attitude. When one chooses to do something–even if it is the same thing–there’s no reason to resent or rebel. Who would you rebel against? Yourself?

When I was a child, I was often forced to take naps. I did not enjoy it, I didn’t want to do it, and I faked sleep or read surreptitiously or did other things besides napping. Now, I frequently take naps by choice–am I therefore playing into the hands of the parents and teachers who wished me to take naps in the past? I have had jobs in the recent past where I was required to wear a tie every day. While I liked my array of ties, it was time-consuming to put them on and restricting to have them on all day, every day. The dress code at my current job is more relaxed; I still wear ties, but only when I choose to do so–and I do it because I like my ties, and I like the way they complement my shirts. I’m not vindicating my old bosses every time I spend a minute or two on a Full Windsor knot, I’m exercising control of my wardrobe through personal choice.

I quoted a bit from a Salon article above, and I’d like to examine the full quote in more detail, because I think it’s emblematic of the whole problem:

Since when did we “stick it to the man” by wearing low-cut shirts or short shorts? When women burned bras back in the day, there was a statement there, full of boldness and righteous anger. This type of happening feels like feminism lite, “cute” feminism or “male-friendly” feminism.

I like that she follows up her “we never protested by flaunting sexuality” clause with the example of burning bras (which, strangely enough, apparently never happened). Sure, bras represented the uncomfortable yoke of male expectations and enforced femininity, but is she really suggesting that there weren’t any men at the time who would have supported the idea of women without bras? I wasn’t around for those protests–but apparently, neither was Beth Mann–but I have a hard time imagining a world where no man enjoyed seeing nipples through shirts.

But again, we run into the problem of “the man.” I don’t know, if your point is to “stick it to the man,” doesn’t that depend on what “the man” wants you to do? Like, going braless was a response to “the man” enforcing certain standards of femininity (like wearing bras, and fake lashes, and makeup, and so forth). If “the man” wants you to hide your femininity under a veil and a burqa, are you still going to throw away your bra and makeup? Would that really make any sense?

The point of the protests in either case would be against the enforced standards of femininity. In one case, those standards included wearing bras and makeup, so women went braless and threw their makeup away. In the other case, the standard is extreme modesty, so wouldn’t the equivalent protest to be to throw away the burqa and veil and dress immodestly?

Finally, there’s the pejorative of “‘male-friendly’ feminism.” Yes, heaven forbid and saints preserve, the last thing any feminist should want is to be male-friendly! Why, that might make men think they could support women’s rights and feminist causes without being derided or denigrated, that they could participate in rallies and marches without others saying that they’re just there to gawk and pick up chicks, that they could call themselves feminists without worrying that they might be using the term presumptuously. Certainly, feminists would have no use for male allies–why, they’re the patriarchy, and clearly they’re all equally part of the problem, and it’s no sense being friendly to any of them so that you might actually get them to see how they might even unconsciously contribute to oppression. No, the feminists have gotten so far by being branded “man-haters,” and that term certainly isn’t ever used to dismiss what they have to say, so they should wear it with pride and continue to practice a staunch policy of borderline misandry.

I guess this is what it boils down to for me: On one hand, there’s Jen, a Ph.D. student who is responding to misogynistic religious mores by suggesting that women choose to dress immodestly for the sake of an actual scientific experiment. On the other hand, there are women who call Jen a bad feminist because her flippant academic suggestion means women will expose their femininity, which might cause men to think dirty thoughts. I don’t know about you, but I’d say the real feminist cause isn’t the one that encourages women to refrain from doing things because of what men think.

Then again, what do I know? I’m part of the problem.

It’s that time again

The only kind of tree that's ash before it's burned.
Think he's ever caught an Easter Bunny in one of those?
That'll put crosses on a lot of foreheads.
Wow, I'd forgotten about this one.
I come not to bring peace, but a chainsaw.
Happy Wednesday, everyone!

A relevant and somewhat political comic

Not to keep banging the same drum too much, but this recent Dinosaur Comic mentions something that Mike Adams somehow didn’t understand.

Yes, the water in our toilets–provided we’ve cleaned the bowl–is just the same as the water from the faucet. And you know, that is quite ridiculous. I mean, I suppose it saves on weird plumbing systems to have all water-using appliances drawing from one source as opposed to internally recycling, but the dinos really have a point here.

Truth in Advertising

So, one of Mike Adams’ wonderfully hysterical articles loaded up on my browser when I restarted Firefox. I’m not entirely sure what happened in the process, but the serendipity was delicious (the emphasis, but not the text, is mine):
Looks like the FDA is finally cracking down.
Now if only we can get “fractally wrong” and “intended for entertainment purposes only” disclaimers on there, we’ll be in business.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but…

Okay, I know we’ve all been avoiding the subject for awhile now, but things are getting dire. We can’t go on pretending like there isn’t a problem when there so clearly is. I know you’ve all noticed it, and if we don’t do something about it soon, life as we know it may be radically changed. This isn’t the time for sugarcoating the truth or trying to put a positive spin on things, so I’m just going to come right out and say what we’ve all been too afraid to mention:

The days are getting shorter.

The process has been going on for months, though I think we were all pretty slow to notice. At the start, there was plenty of daylight–I mean, we save it up every year, right?–so what’s a little time off one end or the other. Unfortunately, all those tiny little cuts have quickly added up, and suddenly there’s a lot more nighttime than there used to be. I’ve run some numbers, and it looks like tomorrow is going to be six seconds shorter than today. But that’s just a drop in the bucket, really: according to my projections, by this time next month, the day will be over half an hour shorter. And even that’s not the worst part. Check out my graph:
The darkness is falling!
That’s right: by mid-August of next year, there won’t be any daytime left.

I think it goes without saying that we’re in desperate times here. Unless we do something soon, we’re going to have to face existence without the sun. The consequences to nature and to our way of life would be tremendous: solar power will be a thing of the past; crops will cease to grow, diurnal animals will never wake from their slumber, and so forth. We must do something soon to find out what’s precipitating this quick descent into eternal darkness, before it’s too late.

What can we do in the meantime? Some of the steps are obvious. First, save daylight. Use your experience from countless “daylight savings times” to capture and store as much daylight as possible. Naturally we’ll have to ration it in the long nights ahead, but if we build up our daylight reserves, we may be able to extend normalcy for a little longer.

Second, don’t panic. Panicking won’t get us anywhere. Turn that energy and worry into thought and action. We’re going to need all the ideas we can get to adapt to a sunless world or a world of severely limited daylight. The more minds we have working on this problem, the more chances we have of coming up with viable solutions.

Finally, and this may sound crazy, but stick with me: celebrate. I know, I know, it’s strange advice, but here’s my reasoning: we don’t know what’s causing this problem; it’s possible that there’s some kind of intelligence or awareness behind it. A large, worldwide celebration would demonstrate that we’re not afraid, and just like the way that a small cat puffs up its fur and makes a lot of noise to frighten away a larger dog, our loud, bold celebration might scare off the encroaching darkness. On the other hand, it’s possible that the problem lies elsewhere, in which case our celebration might alert the sun or the source of the daylight of our appreciation for it and desire for its return. Besides, in times of crisis like this, it’s best to band together and enjoy what may be the last few weeks of normal life we have left.

Humans are a smart, adaptable species, and I have confidence that we’ll be able to either solve this problem or make the changes and sacrifices necessary to survive it. But we won’t get anywhere by pretending the problem doesn’t exist, and we need to take action now.