6.19.2014

Redskins Trademark Outrage: A whole bunch of people on Twitter who don't understand things



6.04.2014

The Commencement Address No One Asked Me To Give

The below guest post was written by Matt Shipman, a science writer and father of three who lives in Raleigh. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @ShipLives or connect with him here on Google+.


Driving home from work recently, I heard a story on the radio about commencement addresses.

This made me wonder what sort of commencement address I would give, in the unlikely event that anyone asked me to give one. I think it would go something like this---

Greetings, graduates!

I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about whether you are special.

Some of you are probably special, or will be; most of you, by definition, aren’t. But (and here’s the thing), even if I said that none of you are special, every single one of you would think that you were the exception. See how normal you are?

Your class is also diverse: men and women of different races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, and fields of study. What on Earth can I say that’s relevant to all of you?

Here it is: don’t be an asshole.

I am entirely sincere when I say that.

It sounds obvious, yet every day an astonishing number of people fail to follow that simple advice. So allow me to suggest some useful tips.

Be kind. Say please and thank you. Do nice things for people. (But don’t expect anything in return, or get in a snit if no one thanks you – if you do those things, you’re being an asshole.)

Now, being nice can be tricky. If you start running up to strangers and offering to help them, they may assume that you are planning to mug them.

So here’s an example of something nice you can do that will rarely scare other people: if you’re ever in line at the grocery store and the person behind you has a screaming child on their hands, offer to let them go ahead of you. They may not take you up on the offer, but they’ll probably appreciate it.

That’s about it.

Oh, and you should also work hard, engage in critical thinking, appreciate the roles of innovation and scientific research in economic development, and try to understand (though not necessarily admire) the perspectives of other people.

But mostly, don’t be an asshole.

5.12.2014

One of those Inevitable Facebook Debates: Religion, Agnosticism, Time & Space

I recently had one of those inevitable FB discussions with some right-wing conservative Christians in which I was lumped in with atheists. I tried to explain that my lack of religion is no more a rejection of a deity than an independent voter's lack of party association is a rejection of government.
Here's part of that discussion in which I explain how my appreciation for the vastness of time and space tends to make it difficult for me to accept any form of religion as we know it:

Many people don't quite understand why people make a conscious decision to not identify with or follow a particular religion -- or no religion at all. Most of us did not reach this point without a great deal of contemplation. Many of us simply can't reconcile any of the existing religions with our understanding of the cosmos -- not with good conscience, anyway. We are not bad people. Morality can and does exist outside of religion.
13.8 billion years condensed into a calendar year
There have been many belief systems throughout time (and possibly throughout the cosmos by other intelligent beings millions of light years away from us), and there will be many other belief systems, possibly arising long after our likely inevitable extinction.
To discount such an acknowledgment is to deny the realities of the history of the cosmos and any and all life within it. We're a tiny blip on the timeline of the cosmos, as well as on the map of the cosmos, which contains at least 300 sextillion suns. That is a 3 followed by 23 zeros.
Perspective is a good thing.
I don't deny the existence of a deity. I simply acknowledge the reality of the vastness of time and space, and logic dictates that one religion which has only existed for a very brief sliver of time on one of billions (trillions, more?) of potential life-supporting planets, is probably not the one 'true' brand of religion. If it is, it's a very strange thing for a deity to do -- to drop a needle in an infinite haystack -- the one needle that will guarantee eternal life -- yet it is only available to the tiniest sliver of living beings (and only a portion of those, since many of them follow another religion due to geographical and historical influences, heritage, etc.), who happen to live on this one very extra-special planet (one of sextillions, likely many more) during an incredibly minuscule sliver of time -- also, let's drop this nugget on a small group of isolated desert-dwelling people who don't (can't) write things down.
If you were a deity, that would maybe be the absolute worst way possible to inform a cosmos (which you created) about your existence. It's hard to imagine that a deity, if he/she/it exists, would be that short-sighted, or that bad at marketing him/herself.
And if a deity made it possible for me to think logically about these things and it led me to being open-minded about the possibility of other paths of being a moral creature in this world, and I honestly gave it a good go for a good decade and a half, and continue to be as moral and ethical as I was then, why would he/she/it punish me eternally? Wouldn't he/she/it appreciate a well lived life of philosophical contemplation, empathy, and a determination to reduce suffering?


12.20.2013

Duck Dynasty: No, Tolerance Doesn't Have To Go Both Ways

Sorry. Duck Dynasty again. It's always the stupid shit that forces a dialogue, it seems.

There's a lot of whining going on about there being no tolerance for people of faith in America anymore.

Here's the thing about tolerance. Tolerance (which I've posted about before here) does not require that one be tolerant of social injustice. When we denounce beliefs which cause harm to others (and yes, denigrating LGBT folks and equating homosexuality with bestiality is indeed harmful), we are in no way in conflict with the concept of tolerance. Tolerance, in a global declaration by the UN, is defined as "the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments...The practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions."

When people state that they stand with Robertson because he has the right to speak freely about his faith, they're right -- he does have that right. But it begs the question -- are Christians required by their faith to malign human beings for their natural traits? (If so, that's a horribly flawed morality.) And are those who disagree required to tolerate it?

The reason why it has become "politically incorrect" to denigrate gays and lesbians is not because society no longer tolerates religious belief or family values. It's because this view of sexuality and gender is as unethical and as harmful as the Taliban belief that women should stay at home rather than go to school. It is quite simply archaic and discriminatory thinking that has no value in modern society -- thinking that is morally dubious at best. While those who embrace reason, science, and human progress are moving on and leaving behind naive and outdated views from ancient texts, others remain kicking and screaming, believing that others are being intolerant of their Bronze Age ideas about sexuality and gender (or about the origins of the cosmos and life).

If we must tolerate religious views of LGBT-condemning fundamentalist Christians, then we must also tolerate the religious views of women-stoning fundamentalist Muslims. We can't say that one is any more or less correct. They are both morally unsound and archaic views that cause harm to others.

Why aren't people tolerant of those who wish to cure epilepsy or mental illness by drilling holes in the skull? (This was a common early medical practice.) Well, mostly because we learned more about biology, realized that we were mistaken, and we changed our approach.

There is nothing about tolerance that requires someone to tolerate the mistreatment or maligning of other human beings because of their natural traits. So crying foul on this one and saying it's an attack on faith and family values is to miss the point. Because anti-LGBT sentiment is not a value. Any faith that dictates that it is, is morally flawed. Acquiescing to such ideology is not a virtue.

12.19.2013

The Duck Dynasty Thing Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With Free Speech

The creator of this image doesn't get it.
So this whole Duck Dynasty/A&E thing. I've been seeing a lot of comments in the blogosphere/Twittersphere, and petitions being passed around on Facebook, and one thing seems clear: Too many Americans have no idea what the First Amendment does and doesn't do.

Robertson has all the rights in the world to believe and say what he wants about LGBT folks. Nobody can take that right away from him. However, his employer, A&E, has no obligation whatsoever to pay him for making comments which they feel are not aligned with their values. They are in no way compelled to continue to provide a forum for a guy who has offended a significant number of their viewers.

I imagine if an employee of Fox News (or any other network) made comments on or off the air that equated Christians with swine, that individual would be suspended. And I imagine that the same people who are backing Robertson and boycotting A&E, would applaud the suspension of this employee.  And if he were to remain, I assume they would boycott the Network.

You have the right to say whatever crazy, hurtful, or morally dubious thing you want (short of hate speech, which is not protected).  You don't, however, have the right to keep your TV job after you say it.

11.18.2013

8 Things I Don't Get About Evangelicals Leaving Nasty Notes (And No Tip) For Homosexual Waitpersons

Here's what I don't get about Christians leaving nasty notes and no tip for homosexual waitpersons (see here and here for a few recent examples):

If homosexuality is a choice (as so many misinformed Evangelicals believe), and if acting upon homosexual urges is 'an abomination,' then I have a whole lot of questions:

1. How do these Evangelical diners know that their waitperson is having sex, or with whom they have having sex? Maybe their waitperson is a virgin?

2. Why are they so sure that their waitperson is gay? Did they talk about all the gay sex they're having and then list the specials for the day?

3. Do Evangelicals think about the sex that every waitperson is having? Maybe that's a problem?

4. Do they leave similar judgmental notes for seemingly straight waitpersons who might be having sex for reasons other than procreation? Or who might be divorced? Or having an affair? Or who might have a tattoo? Or who might be judgmental assholes?

5. WWJD?

6. Maybe sexual orientation is not a choice?

7. Maybe who cares if it is a choice?

8. Maybe gratuities are for services rendered and not for the display of specific human traits?

8.27.2013

MONSTERS OF THE COSMOS - Symphony of Science