Monday, October 8, 2012

Walking Home

I've been more conscious than usual lately of the steps that I take to avoid assault. While walking to my car recently around 9:00pm I passed a man on the sidewalk. I was careful not to make eye contact with him. I watched his shadow as he passed me so I would have some warning if he made any sudden moves. After a few seconds I glanced behind me to make sure he hadn't changed direction and started following me. Did this man warrant this level of concern and apprehension? Probably not. All he did was be a man that I encountered while I was alone, walking to my car at night.

When I made it to the parking garage there was a group of young men, hanging out by their cars. It seemed like they were listening to music and taking advantage of the extra space to work on a dance routine. I'm not totally sure, because being in an enclosed space at night with a group of strange men scared me enough to make a beeline for my car without looking up or otherwise drawing attention to myself. Again, these guys probably didn't deserve my mistrust. But as a woman I was acutely aware that if they decided to do something inappropriate there was precious little I could do to stop them...and they'd most likely get away with it. The best thing I could do was to not give them time to think about it.

I've been talking with a few of my guy friends about respecting women's space and their choices, and this concept can be kind of hard to get across. Guys just don't experience the kind of fear that women do, for the most part. The fear of assault doesn't follow them wherever they go. You try and tell a guy something like 'don't walk up to a woman who is alone at night or in an enclosed space unless you know her' and it hurts their feelings. They get all defensive, like you're accusing them of being a rapist. What I'm really trying to do is get across to them that women will be put on edge by that behavior...regardless of your intentions and through no fault of your own, as I have demonstrated.

The point is how your behavior makes other women feel. Of course you didn't realize what you were doing, these aren't feelings or concerns men generally have. But when I tell you about it, you are officially informed. You then have to choose if you are going to modify your behavior based on this information, or double-down and insist that my feelings are wrong. That assuming all men are rapists is sexist or that gender isn't relevant to these situations because men get assaulted and raped too. I'm not denying that reality. I am telling you how women actually feel everyday, and asking you to be aware of it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chatting With Marcy

I don't get into many arguments with deeply religious people on Facebook...probably because if I was ever friends with anyone deeply religious, they unfriended me long ago or I stopped following their news feed for the sake of my own sanity. However, a friend of mine has recently gotten involved with politics. The poor thing is starting to understand how completely fucked up the Republican party really is, and has been posting a lot of articles to that effect. And oh my, does she have some religiously conservative friends and relatives. Wow. I really feel for her - not only is she dealing with the devastatingly messed up political process, she is being faced with the reality of how many people out there have bought what the GOP is selling. That is a lot of uncomfortable truths for one person to deal with.

Anyway, my friend posted a link to this story, where a Republican legislator got caught saying something appalling about how God was punishing children with disabilities because of abortion. You know there's a problem when you can't tell the politicians from extreme fundamentalists. The resulting conversation went like this:

Angel: Keep in mind that 2/3 of human conceptions are spontaneously aborted by nature in the first trimester.

Marcy: All I know is God is not for abortion.
And here we meet Marcy! Her comment struck me as particularly inappropriate in this context. She does nothing to protest the extreme and awful things being spouted by the individual in question, and in fact comes across as supporting him (if not outright agreeing). Whatever her views on abortion, it takes a particularly shallow and self-absorbed viewpoint to think this was an appropriate time to share them. I just couldn't let it slide.

BW: How do you know that, Marcy?

Marcy: Because the Bible says so, and I believe the Bible is the infalable word of God.

Yeah, she went there...and she couldn't even spell it correctly. It was on.

BW: I didn't think abortion was mentioned in the Bible. Can you tell me where you read that?

Eileen: Citation sorely needed for the initial assertion! WTF?!?
Oh and AFAIK, "abortion" per se isn't mentioned at all. Without hauling out a concordance, I'm fairly sure there i
sn't even an allusion to it in the NT. The only thing that can possibly be construed as an unnatural termination of pregnancy is in Leviticus, but that's even in the context of a pregnant woman who is injured, causing a miscarriage, and the restitution that is required by the responsible party is much less than what is required if the pregnant woman is slain. Hmmm...

BW: Thanks for clearing that up, Eileen. I certainly didn't remember it being mentioned. So if the Bible is silent about abortion, how do you know God's opinion on it, Marcy? Now if it is simply your opinion we are talking about then that is all well and good, you are absolutely entitled to it. But it's a little unreasonable to claim that God's opinion just happens to coincide with your own when the Bible is silent on the matter. 
I'm going pretty easy on our friend Marcy, here. It's pretty clear to me that she is someone who has just never really thought that much about her beliefs. She was probably raised Christian, grew up surrounded by Christians and has never had those beliefs challenged. She certainly wasn't going to go looking for evidence that contradicted what she had been told.

Marcy: Abortion, the modern word given to the meaning of killing an unborn baby is not in the Bible. We can, however, get God's 'heart' what he thinks about killing unborn babies. In Exodus 21:22 God does talk about what is to happen if an unborn baby is killed or injured. This shows God believes in the sanctity of human life, it is not a good thing to have killed an unborn baby. (this passage may have been what you thought was in Leviticus). Also, in Proverbs 6:16-19 it says "There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush to evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers." Killing unborn babies is shedding innocent blood. As a Christian, I believe God is telling us in these passages that killing unborn babies is not good, he does not like it. As a Christian I believe my God. Psalm 139:13-16 is beautiful, on how God knew each one of us before we were even born, and the days He ordained for us before they even happen. Its beautiful!
 Ye-ouch. That is one tangle of false-equivalencies and Biblical literalism (except when it's not literal 'cause Jesus). Again, Marcy has probably never had to justify her beliefs before. She's probably never thought about how many versions of the Bible and how many sects of Christianity there are, or wondered how they all came to such different conclusions from the same original text. 

BW: I'm sure it's lovely, Marcy, but is it a basis for making medical decisions? Also, I just googled Exodus 21:22 and found a couple different versions. One says '22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows'', while a second version says 'And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.' It seems to me that these two passages mean completely different things. How do you know which version is the version God supports? If this is the only mention of anything even close to abortion in the Bible, is that really enough to base your decision on? Should your personal interpretation of what the Bible says be applied to anyone other than yourself?

Marcy: No, the lovely verse is just lovely, it is not connected to the killing of unborn babies. Just that God knows what every baby will do someday, if not killed. With the Exodus verse, the point is God's 'heart' in the matter of killing and unborn baby, it is clear God does not support killing his babies, He values their lives. The verse says that if the baby is harmed or killed there are consequences. Point being God clearly puts a value on all babies lives, as the Psalms 139:13-19 verse states. (if you have read it). And no, It is not the only mention of killing babies in the Bible, you did not comment on the Proverbs verse 6:16-19. I am appling this to my life because I am a Christian. I have no control of what someone else does. We all will have to give and account to God for what we do here on earth, and not being 'for' killing babies is a choice I can be proud of at the judgement seat of Christ.
 Ah, the logical fallacies! The insistence that her version of the Bible be treated as a window into the mind of God, because of course her version is the TRUE version! The...continued refusal to actually answer my questions? The rampant mis-characterization of abortion as 'baby murder'... Yeah, I can maybe let that slide once or twice, but damn. There is so much going on here that I would have to devote a serious chunk of my time to explain all of the ways that Marcy is wrong so far...and I have better things to do. You have to pick your battles within your battles sometimes.

BW: What it seems like you are doing here, Marcy, is explaining your interpretation of the Bible. What I am trying to do is demonstrate that your interpretation is one of many possible interpretations. You have shown that some parts of the Bible suggest that killing or hurting babies is bad. I think that for most people that goes without saying, which is probably why it is only mentioned tangentially. You have chosen to interpret 'killing or hurting babies is bad' to mean 'God is against abortion'. That is a significant jump in logic that, as I think we have demonstrated, is not based on much actual evidence. As I said before, you are absolutely entitled to your own interpretation of the Bible and to make your own moral choices. But it is not reasonable for you to assert that your interpretation is God's opinion. I am not calling your holiness or morality into question, only the reasonableness of what you are saying. It is also misleading for you to describe abortion as 'the killing of unborn babies', but that may be a different discussion.

Marcy: It seems clear to me, not much left to interpretation, but alright. Do you think God is ok with killing babies? How is calling abortion, 'killing unborn babies' misleading? Isn't that what happens to the baby during an abortion? Are you a Christian Amanda?
 This comment absolutely floored me. Throughout our conversation Marcy has been talking about 'knowing God's heart' and explaining the meaning of scripture...without recognizing that in doing so she was interpreting that scripture. Her version of the Bible is literally the only one she can conceive of, in spite of my earlier example of how a single word change between editions completely changes the meaning of the passage. Also, fetus /=/ baby. Seriously. It is the definition of the word. 

Also, Oh Noes! My cover is blown! Don't you love how most Christians assume everyone thinks the way they do until proven otherwise? And how when that assumption is called into question they become immediately hostile? I am hesitant to bust out the 'A' word with Marcy. Somehow I get the impression that she thinks atheists eat babies for breakfast or something, which is just is far too rich a meal for breakfast. 

BW: No, Marcy, 'killing unborn babies' is not what happens during an abortion. To begin with, a fetus is not at all equivalent to a baby, medically speaking. Legal abortions also take place long before most metrics would ascribe the quality of 'life' to the fetus. Neither 'killing' nor 'baby' are correct terms to use and are therefore misleading and inflammatory. Is my religion somehow relevant to the quality of my arguments?

Marcy: Amanda, to say that an abortion does not kill and unborn baby is a lie. That is what an abortion does. 'Baby' and 'killing' are most certainly correct terms to use. The word 'abortion' is used to mitigate the truth of what is happening. What I see happening here is, I look at what God says, to make my choices in life because as a Christian I want to make choices that are pleasing to God (I understand, you are not belittleing my morality or holiness) I, unlike you, am not looking at science/the medical community or what man says. Psalm 139:13-16 is the verse I named earlier (the one you were sure was lovely but probably did not look up) that would just expose the tip of the iceburg on how God created each one of us in the womb and the plans he has for our lives. Not a plan to be killed in the womb. A person either wants to know God's good and perfect will (I have a verse for that too, but you probably won't look it up, let me know it you want it) OR they don't care what God says, they want to do what is right in their own eyes, and whatever they want, and will look for ways around what God's word is clear about. (I have verses for all these points, I did not just make them up, but I get the feeling you are not interested in what God says so I did not include the citation) I feel at this point I am "casting my pearls before swines" Matthew 7:6, I do not think I will be able to continue this conversation much longer if at all. You ask "Is my religion somehow relevant to the quality of my arguments" I don't know Amanda, is it?
 Aaand...I'm done. The fact that someone would be so condescending in response to, you know, reality...not to mention that she's calling me a liar and insisting that the Bible (The Real One, which happens to be hers) is superior to reality as a basis for making complex moral decisions. I have gone from viewing Marcy as someone who has never had her beliefs challenged to someone who is unwilling even to questions them herself. 'Applying your beliefs in this way isn't very reasonable' and 'here's what actually happens in reality' is just too much for poor Marcy to handle.

BW: I have been patient and respectful throughout this discussion. I have not criticized or judged you or your beliefs, I have suggested that the way you are applying them is unreasonable. Not only have you ignored or dismissed my direct questions and comments, it would seem that taking the modern medical and scientific understanding of human development more seriously than your interpretation of the Bible is deserving of condescension. You presume to judge me and my arguments based on how closely my interpretation of the Bible aligns with yours. I find this behavior to be appalling and disrespectful. And yes Marcy, your version is only one interpretation out of many. Taking ‘God knew you in the womb’ to mean that God literally knows everything about you and has planned your life out before the cortex is even functional, for example. That is definitely an extrapolation that goes far beyond what is written, and has some very disturbing implications…especially considering Angel’s earlier point about two-thirds of fertilized zygotes miscarrying naturally. You are filling in the gaps with your own beliefs and opinions, to the point where you are ignoring both our current understanding of fetal development and what words actually mean. This may speak well to your faith as a Christian, but it speaks very poorly to your reasonableness as a human being. Frankly, if you are not willing to entertain discussion perhaps you should refrain from posting such opinions in a forum where they might be challenged.
Marcy has no idea how easily she got off. How much of her nonsense I forgave or ignored for the sake of getting across the importance of reasonableness in applying interpretations of the Bible to real-life situations. I doubt I even got that across. But hey, that's why you do this publicly...not to convince the person making an ass of themselves, but to reach whomever might be silently following along. Reason is important, and it does not come naturally. Marcy is an excellent example of how often we simply don't question or challenge our own beliefs without provocation. Let us learn from her!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

So I was a little bit wrong in my response to the Chick-Fil-A kerfuffle

Update: I was wrong again! Or right in the first place, depending on how you want to look at it. No actual CFA permits have been denied by politicians, said politicians have simply directly and publicly expressed to CFA that they are not particularly welcome in their district. Which is much more like expressing an opinion than being discriminatory. If anyone understands the legal workings of this situation better than me, please chime in!


I admit it! In my initial reaction to the swirl of news surrounding Dan Cathy coming out of the anti-gay closet, I responded very positively to news of politicians blocking Chick-Fil-A from constructing new stores in their respective districts. I was excited at the prospect of CFA experiencing significant social consequences and potential profit loss for their hateful stance. After reading more about the situation and considering it more carefully however, I realize that I was wrong. This is a Very Bad Thing. A politician's personal views should not be used to determine what businesses get permits or are allowed to open stores in the regions those politicians represent, even if they are personal views I agree with. It sets a terrible precedent and is honestly discriminatory. I would not want anti-equality politicians blocking gay-friendly businesses from opening, and I do not get to have it both ways. My bad.

There have been other consequences of the CFA Kerfuffle that I find completely confusing, though. And rage-inducing. Let me establish a bit of background here so we can fully appreciate how ridiculous some of these reactions have been.

First, I realize that not eating at CFA is a very, very small thing. But I do it because it is a small thing that matters to me and doesn't hurt anyone. I can't boycott every company that supports causes I disagree with...either because I don't know about it, or because it isn't financially feasible for me.  In this case, I do know and I can act so that is what I choose to do. I don't think that people who eat at CFA who don't really know or care what happens to their money are bad people. We just have different priorities. But recently there have been a lot of people out there who, directly in response to Dan Cathy and his remarks that highlighted his company's investments in bigotry, are rallying behind CFA in solidarity. These are not the aforementioned customers who just aren't interested. They have learned of CFA's misdeeds and the outrage they have generated and they are choosing the wrong side.

CFA is not being bullied by people who have decided to take their business elsewhere and are speaking out about that decision. Dan Cathy's right to free speech is not being attacked when people say they don't agree with him and explain why or when they pledge not to support his business or when they report about what CFA's charitable contributions are used for. If you think that is the case, you really need to remind yourself what 'bullying' and 'free speech' actually mean.

This whole 'support Chick-Fil-A on August 1st' nonsense? All of you assholes posting pictures of yourselves eating CFA sandwiches on Twitter? What you are doing is proudly supporting an organization that you know for a goddamned fact supports bigotry, and you are doing it because the company admitted publicly to supporting bigotry! One guess what that makes you. Think real hard.

This prideful support of a company's right to dedicate millions of dollars to making a whole section of the human population miserable should be embarrassing. You should not be able to get away with demonstrating that level of callousness and selfishness publicly without being overwhelmed by condemnation from your peers. You should be dripping from the social shame regurgitated all over you by outraged passersby. Because gay people, the people who actually have to deal with the consequences of CFA's 'charitable donations'? They see you doing this. They see where your priorities lie and where their rights fall in relation to them, and placing more value on a chicken sandwich than on someone's rights as a human being is a shitty thing to do.

So while I must admit my own error in judgement in thinking that it was appropriate for politicians to be the source of social consequences for CFA's behavior, I loudly maintain that social consequences should exist and that they should be enforced by those of us who give a damn. Don't give them your money, and don't let these assholes supporting CFA get away with treating your friends and loved ones like they matter less than a chicken sandwich.

Superhero Squad is Awesome...and a Little Bit Sexist

The Boyfriend and I have recently discovered something amazing on Netflix. Superhero Squad, an animated amalgam of Marvel heroes and villains, follows the epic struggles of the titular Squaddies as they battle against Doctor Doom and his Baddies for possession of the Mcguffin of the Week. Which has so far involved such memorable moments as Fing Fang Foom sitting on top of Mole Man and farting him into unconsciousness, Loki and Thor getting into a slap fight, Wolverine as Captain Canada, the Human Torch blowing up the Baxter Building because 'Reed will just fix it like he always does', and the team being trapped inside of a quesadilla and nearly eaten by the Hulk.

Did I mention the target audience for this show is young children? There are fart jokes and booger jokes and heroes pulling pranks on each other. The characters are simplified and treated with delightful irreverence. The plots and motivations are downright silly while surprisingly entertaining. It seems that no one in the Marvel Universe is off-limits either, with cameos aplenty and many recognizable voice actors. Even Stan Lee shows up a few times to lend his voice to the Mayor of Superhero City.

I think my favorite character in the series is MODOK, Doom's head lackey, who has been re-envisioned for the series as a tiny, big-headed version of Starscream. He's always secretly hoping to overthrow, Doctor Doom I mean...and claim all of the power and respect for himself despite being completely ineffectual. Honestly, seeing classic Marvel heroes and villains portrayed in a light-hearted and irreverent manner is my favorite part of the series. Mole Man has flatulence powers. Doctor Doom has no indoor voice. The Silver Surfer is a spaced-out beach bum. It's wonderful.

The main team consists of Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Falcon and Reptil. Falcon and Reptil are minority characters while Surfer and Thor are aliens, so it's nice to see a culturally diverse team roster. There is a rather glaring lack of female characters, though. At first it seemed that Ms. Marvel would be a regular character, seeing as how she runs the SHIELD Helicarrier the Squad operates out of...but she only ever shows up to nag the Squad about cleaning the Helicarrier, even to the exclusion of world-saving. The only women who have gotten any significant screen time so far are Wasp, whom Falcon was constantly trying to protect from being squished, and Black Widow, who instantly turned the entire Squad into lovesick puppies by being female and hot.

The Helicarrier itself is like a giant, flying bachelor pad. The Squad members are constantly trashing the place, burping and making fart jokes, pranking each other and trimming their toe nails in the living room. The more I watched, the more I realized...this wasn't a show aimed at children. It was a show aimed at boys. And while I still find the show delightful, I couldn't help but be a little peeved by that realization.

You see, 'the media' has certain ideas about what boys and young men want in their entertainment. One of the most pervasive of these ideas is that males cannot relate to female leads or powerful women. You would think the huge success of cartoons like Avatar or movies like Aliens and Resident Evil or games like Metroid and Tomb Raider would have done something to dispel this myth, but it has been thoroughly demonstrated that the decision-makers in popular media are slow on the uptake and extremely hesitant to take risks with what they insist is a 'tried-and-true' formula.

So not only is it expected for young boys to only be able to relate to female characters as nagging mothers or love interests, nothing more is ever asked of them. I don't know why more men aren't outraged by how this reflects on them. Who really thinks that boys are too simple and shallow to relate to girls or like girl characters? Does anyone seriously believe that putting female characters on par with male characters will strain their little brains so much that they dislike an otherwise awesome show? Then why do we insist on sheltering boys from half the population in media aimed at them?

A single regular female character would solve just about every problem this show has, and it's not like there aren't any good ones to choose from. Besides...Falcon and Reptil? Raise your hand if you have any idea who those characters are. Ok, I see a couple hardcore fans in the back. Good for you. Now...Ms. Marvel? Wasp? The Scarlet Witch? Storm? Rogue? Black Widow? Psylocke? Emma Frost? Shadowcat? Yeah, that's what I thought.

I am loving this cartoon. It is my newest guilty pleasure and I fully intend to watch each of the 52 episodes available on Netflix Instant. But it frustrates me to no end to know that from a very early age boys are confronted with the expectation that they cannot relate to girls. That girls are only good for telling you what to do or having crushes on them, not that they are peers and equals. Popular media has created it's own self-fulfilling prophecy and is determined to maintain it, even if broadening their appeal is more likely to attract female fans than it is to alienate men.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Living Spaces

I have a living room again! Huzzah!

It's the simple things you miss, amirite? Since I moved in with The Boyfriend a few months ago, unexpectedly and in something of a rush, the two of us have been somewhat short on space. Over the weekend we finally rearranged the apartment enough that I was able to move my bed out of the living room space and into my very own room!

This is about the time when, as I am explaining this situation to my friends, they generally express shock, concern or disbelief about the fact that my bed was set up in the living room to begin with.

"Heh, like you need your own bed. Wait, you don't sleep in the same room? Why not? Are you guys doing ok? You're acting like a couple of old people who don't like each other anymore, is something wrong?"

During which I, having heard this a dozen times or so at this point, do my best not to cringe or facepalm too hard.

The Boyfriend and I have an awesome relationship. We also do not sleep in the same bed and have separate rooms...a fact to which I attribute at least some of our success as a couple. So! For the edification and benefit of my dear friends who seem to have gotten their ideas about how a couple ought to behave from romantic comedies and sitcoms, I have compiled a list of reasons you and your significant other should seriously think about giving each other a little more space.

First of all, people sleep differently. Personally, I roll around a bit while sleeping and like to have my cats in bed with me. The Boyfriend is allergic to cats and snores sometimes, plus he likes to stretch out while sleeping. Sleeping in the same bed for us is counter-productive to, you know, sleep. Seriously guys, being well-rested is incredibly important to your relationship. If you aren't getting enough sleep you will be crabby, short-tempered and you will have less energy to do fun things. Over time, you may also grow to resent your significant other for always waking you up or stealing the covers when it really isn't their fault. People can't control the way they sleep. So if you have the space, get your own damn bed.

Better yet, get your own room because people have different standards of cleanliness. When two people share the same space, whomever has the higher standard for what is acceptably clean will end up either doing more cleaning or more nagging, and both paths lead to resentment. Let me make it very clear that there is nothing inherently morally or ethically superior about having higher standards of cleanliness, but if you like things clean it stresses you out to be in a space that is dirty. Personally, if my space is a mess my options are either clean it immediately or be very uncomfortable until I do. If you don't care about mess and are sharing a space with someone who does, it still stresses you out to have to do extra work to please someone else's arbitrary standard. Having my own room means I can be exactly as clean as I care to be without enforcing those standards on someone else, and vice versa.

The extra space comes in handy too, because people like different things. I did not lose interest in crafting, costuming, writing or volunteering because I moved in with someone who does not share those interests. I still need someplace where I can shut the door, put on some loud music and make something. If I want to wake up early on Saturday morning to volunteer at the Natural History Museum, I do not want to also wake up The Boyfriend when he really just wants to sleep until noon on his day off. Neither one of our desires or lifestyles trumps the other.

And that's the real point. People in relationships are still individuals. You can love someone while not wanting to deal with their snoring or be a part of all their hobbies. Being a couple does not mean merging into a single unit. The media likes to portray relationships as an endless stream of compromises, where couples argue with each other over chores and feel obligated to participate in things they hate to make someone else happy. Yet they always resolve those differences because they are SO IN LOVE and fall asleep holding each other. FYI, no one likes having their wants and needs deemed 'less important' than someone else's and that is an extremely uncomfortable way to sleep.

I'm not saying that couples should never compromise. It is a relationship, after all. But I am not willing to compromise my ability to sleep or deal with the stress of living in a messy space because it is generally accepted that people who are in love sleep in the same room, and I wouldn't expect The Boyfriend to make that compromise either. We both want space for our things and hobbies that can be decorated and maintained however we like. Because we are individuals, not two halves of a couple.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beer Snobbery

I have recently been made aware of a personal prejudice. While walking to the parking garage after work last week I came across a discarded beer bottle. Such an affront to civilized society could not be tolerated by one so urbane and genteel as myself, so of course I remedied the situation...garnering no shortage of strange looks from passersby as I carried a bottle of beer across the University of Florida campus. The things I endure for my environment.

This particular beer bottle had at one point contained Sam Adams Summer Ale...a fact which caught me quite by surprise. This was good beer. What kind of sot would enjoy such a fine product and then proceed to dump the emptied container on the ground? I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been Bud Light or Natural Ice...but the fact that someone with such excellent taste in alcoholic beverages had sullied the brand by littering! It was unthinkable.

Of course, it didn't take more than a moment or two of introspection to realize that was something of an unreasonable double standard...yet, there it was. I was unsurprised that someone who drank shitty beer would behave in a shitty fashion, while expecting better from someone who drank good beer.

I love beer, and do not hesitate to identify myself as a beer snob. I wouldn't drink Bud Light if it were free, but I will happily pay far too much money for a decent Belgian-style wheat ale or a German Hefeweizen. I am quite familiar with my local brewers and know where to find the good stuff in local specialty and liquor stores. And I will tell you all about it if you give me an opening, because I am a nerd who wants people to like the things that I like so we can gush about them together.

But I did not realize that my beer snobbery had extended beyond judging the quality of beer to judging the quality of the people enjoying the beer. It is true that most of the awesome people I know have excellent taste in beer. It is also true that many of the jackasses I have encountered in life would happily guzzle down watery piss packaged in longneck bottles. But that is how prejudice starts...we take our personal experiences and apply them universally. I am sure there are plenty of downright decent people that drink shitty beer....and, as difficult as it is to admit, people with good taste in beer can do shitty things.

My point is fairly obvious. You should judge people by their actions, not based on the things they like. But more than that, it's important to be aware of the subtle ways in which we judge others so we can avoid dismissing them unfairly or excusing their bad behavior. So while it may be difficult for me not to wince when I see you drinking Natty Light, I will do my best not to think less of you as a person for it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ups and Downs

I have been delighted by the responses to Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy and his proud and publicly-stated homophobia and bigotry. In case you missed it somehow, Cathy came out "guilty as charged" when asked about his company's position on marriage equality. Many people, myself included, were already pretty annoyed with Chick-Fil-A because of the millions of dollars they have donated over the years to anti-gay groups. But actually coming out publicly and stating, with no room for equivocation, that you oppose marriage equality and support the Biblical definition of family? There's no more room for ambiguity and no getting around it: supporting Chick-Fil-A means supporting an anti-gay, anti-equality company that funnels a portion of its profits into hate groups.

And you know what? People are pissed. People with money and influence. The Jim Henson Company, who was producing kid's meal toys for Chick-Fil-A, completely severed their ties with the company and donated the payments they had already received to GLAAD. The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, is refusing Chick-Fil-A's requests for a new restaurant site in no uncertain terms. Chicago Alderman Moreno is blocking similar plans in his district. The message is clear: we don't want to be associated with your hate.

Yes, Cathy has every right to his opinion and he can run his private company however he chooses (as long as he isn't doing anything illegal). And the rest of us have the right to express our outrage and disagreement. The photoshopped images making the rounds are fabulous. One of the coolest musicians of all time, Adam WarRock, released a free track responding to Cathy's remarks. It rocks. Internet chef Hilah Johnson re-created the Chick-Fil-A recipe for you, hate free!

Apart from some rather self-serving (and primarily Christian) reports painting Chick-Fil-A as the beleaguered victim being unfairly targeted because of their strong religious ethics, public opinion is coming out strongly against Cathy because of his remarks. This signifies something very important to me, because nothing about Chick-Fil-A or their policies has changed. They've been donating to hate groups for years. What they did wrong was to admit to their bigotry out loud. Our society is finally getting to the point where homophobia and hate is embarrassing and shameful. Voicing those opinions, which used to be fairly ubiquitous and normal, is now something only your crazy uncle does when he's had too much to drink at the family reunion. And Cathy? You are that crazy uncle. You should be ashamed. Now go watch the football game or something and leave the rest of us alone.

Of course, my elation with the public outcry against Chick-Fil-A was tempered a bit by Mitt Romney making an ass of himself. Again, I mean. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away recently. Romney commented publicly on the loss, calling Ride a 'hero' and an 'inspiration'. What Romney probably didn't realize at the time was that Sally Ride was gay, and thanks to policies like DOMA that dear Mittens proudly supports, her partner of 27 years will receive no federal benefits.

This has only served to highlight the inequality rampant in our government. At the federal level alone there are over a thousand rights and protections that are only granted to 'married' couples. Sates that don't recognize any form of same-sex union are even worse. A Twitter campaign emphasizing the irony in Romney's willingness to honor Sally Ride while simultaneously denying her the right to marry her partner is in full swing, but it' know...a Twitter campaign. Sometimes I just feel completely powerless to make a difference or get through to people. I mean...people are actually voting for this guy while he keeps shitting all over women, gays and the Establishment Clause.

It's enough to give me whiplash. Can we please have more stories like the Muppets sticking it to bigots and less examples of Mittens being an asshole? kthxbai

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Science Fiction Fails at Immunology

Update: The final version is live at SiMF as of 7/23/2012!

This is the first draft of an article I'm working on for Science in My Fiction, a speculative science fiction blog. I'm not quite satisfied with it and would appreciate any constructive comments. I think I need to re-write some bits to emphasize how accurately portraying the immune system, or at least acknowledging it more directly, opens up new and exciting ways to tell a story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Solving the Problem of Research Funding

I may have stumbled upon the solution to one of modern society's greatest dilemmas...acquiring reliable and substantial funding for scientific research.

What, you didn't know that was a problem? Well, it is! Just ask anyone who has ever tried to get a grant funded. The National Institutes of Health, the primary funding source for biomedical research in the US, has been getting less and less federal money to support science in recent years. The Budget Control Act, passed last year, is currently threatening to cut the NIH budget by an additional 11%. The National Science Foundation isn't doing much better, either. NSF had it's budget cut by $162 million last year. Research takes money, and not being able to get the funding you need is the most frustrating part of being a scientist.

But you know what the second most frustrating thing is about being a scientist? The rampant abuse of science and the scientific machinery. The misrepresentation of data. The cherry-picking. The sensationalized results. The manipulation of science to legitimize absurd claims and generate false controversies. The Andrew Wakefields and Ken Hams of the world.

So I got to thinking...what if we could turn these problems against each other? What if every time someone abused science for profit or in an official capacity, we could slap them with a huge fine and put the money right back into research?

Imagine it. We could create a new scientific organization and empower it to police how science is  represented in the media and used politically. It could be called 'Scientists Thwarting Fraudulence United'.

Is FOX News giving conspiracy theorists and climate change deniers equal footing with scientific experts again, legitimizing their absurd claims and creating a controversy where none exists?
STFU! Slap them with a fine!

Some rampant pro-life advocate manage to get their bias published, legitimizing their ignorance and generating more propoganda against women's rights?
Looks like a job for STFU!

Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents cherry-picking your work and using it to 'disprove' evolution or the geological age of the Earth, even when it contradicts your conclusions?
Who you gonna call? STFU!

Is your local government trying to legislate how scientists are allowed to measure reality because they don't like what they see?
Ohemgee, STFU!

You see where I'm going with this, I'm sure. It's a Xanatos Gambit. We would either generate enough revenue to dramatically improve science funding in the US, or people would have to actually inform themselves and accurately represent and interpret scientific findings. Experts would be valued. Quacks would cost more money than the ratings are worth. You couldn't get away with outright lying about what 'the science' says. It would be glorious.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science Outreach

The Center for Precollegiate Education and Training here at UF has a program they do every Summer called Science Quest. It's a pretty cool program where 10th graders are introduced to various careers in science fields. Most of them come in thinking that the only job you can get with a science degree is a doctor or an engineer, so it's a great opportunity for the kids to experience what it's really like to work in STEM fields and learn what kind of options are out there.

This year I volunteered to be a part of this project by giving groups of teenagers a tour of my lab and talking to them about my research. I love science outreach, but I've never done this before because...well, I work in a Microbiology lab. Everything interesting is microscopic. Would you be excited about taking turns to look in a microscope at a gram stain?

But this year the program was really short on volunteers, so I figured I could at least give it a shot. I gave two tours yesterday, which were about a half an hour long. I showed the kids around the lab, explained some of the equipment, let them look at some human cells I had growing under the microscope and showed them some pictures of microscopy experiments I had done in the past. All in all, it went way better than expected. The kids were genuinely interested and asked lots of questions. Some of them took pictures. One even wanted to read a poster of mine and seemed really interested in protein crystallography. Another really wanted to know what RNA was and how it worked, which was complicated because she hadn't studied DNA replication yet, but I think I did all right explaining it to her.

I learned a few things from this experience. One is that I have completely lost my ability to gauge how old someone is. It's weird...anyone from 13 to 21 just looks like a kid. Anyone 22-45 looks 'about my age', and everyone else is 'older than me'. I cannot distinguish beyond that.

I was also reminded how much I love science outreach. I really love talking to people about how cool science is. I volunteer as a science fair judge every year so I get to indulge myself a bit, but not nearly enough. And I should, because science is incredibly important while simultaneously being incredibly misunderstood and undervalued. Science education in the US is woeful, with science curriculum constantly under attack by revisionists who would prefer that children were forced to learn their personal philosophy rather than actual facts about how the world works. Curriculum is being rewritten to introduce controversy about human-caused climate change and evolution in particular...despite nearly unanimous agreement among experts about the reality of these 'controversies'. Despite mountains of strong, enduring evidence from every related field, going back nearly two hundred years, all supporting evolution, 40% of Americans still don't 'believe' that it is real.

This is a problem, not just because it is pure and utter bullshit, but because science first and foremost is a tool for understanding the world. It teaches us how to ask questions and figure out the best way to answer them. It teaches us to ask how other people know the things they know, why some evidence is convincing and some is not, and that sometimes new information means changing your mind. That crucial skill is being ignored or co-opted in order to promote individual agendas, and that is unacceptable. We need people who can think critically just as much as we need to inspire the next generation of scientists. We need people who will raise hell when politicians try to legislate reality and who will ask you to cite your sources when you claim 'the science' says gay people shouldn't be able to adopt or you shouldn't vaccinate children.

If kids are interested in science and understand how scientists work, critical thinking follows. So yeah, science outreach is important to me. I was reminded yesterday just how important it was, and I'm taking some steps to increase my involvement. If you want to help reach kids about science, consider volunteering at your local museums, Universities and science fairs. Here in Gainesville, you can reach out to the Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Florida or Pamela Fitzgerald (, Science Fair Coordinator for Alachua County.