Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Juxtaposition 235: Cthuluh, Jack Chick and Child Abuse

Update: Dan J, in his total awesomeness, managed to find a link to a PDF of the Cthuluh tract at the artist's web site... Thanks Dan. I would also like to heartily recommend giving his latest post a read - I can't help but be terribly pleased to find that someone else came up with a rather more "profane" rant than I did - and a very good one at that. He makes several points that I will delve into at some point in the relatively near future - I am more than a little fucking tired of this bullshit notion that we should accept dangerous behaviors and decision making from people, that we wouldn't accept under any other circumstances, simply because there is religion involved.

As Dan so eloquently puts it;
Fuck Them!!!

It is terribly amusing to me, that at the same time I managed to get into an argument with someone about Tiamat and the fact that Cthuluh is really cause for far more concern, because frankly Cthuluh wouldn't kick Tiamat's ass - h'd jst fckng eat hr, I also noted this delicious little tidbit posted at Pharyngula. I found it while perusing a few blogs that were involved in the crushing of my hopes for Canadian healthcare. I have a rather dark sense of humor, so I thought it was more than a little amusing. But when I was talking about it with my dearest Juniper, I realized that there is an element to the humor that one is likely to miss, if they never experienced Chick Tracts when they were a child. In a most unfortunate turn, it seems that the old tracts aren't available online and the new ones aren't quite on a par with the ones I was exposed to as a child, but I did find a couple that provide a decent taste. "The Beast" shows a common theme that runs through many of these tracts, providing up with a glimpse of what we can expect in these "end times." There were a lot of scenes that showed us what hell was like, showed Satan as a deceiver and even several that talked about specific demons and types of demons.

Juniper just didn't find the Cthuluh tract nearly so amusing at the end - it is, I will grant, rather disturbing. But honestly, it is not the least bit more disturbing than a lot of the Chick tracts are and were even moreso when I was growing up. And when I was four, five and six, I read Chick tracts all the time. There were scads of them at church and I happened to be rather adept at ferreting about in the sorts of places they got stored. They were comics, which are just lovely fun for a child and no one thought anything of seeing any of us kids reading these abominations. Never mind the demons and souls and brutal destruction of life and property - it was all for the greater biblical good of raising good Christian children. It was also a hell of a indoctrination tool. And it is ever so useful for a small child to get a headstart in understanding demonology.

During this same conversation, Juniper and I got to discussing my parochial school experience - it actually came up when I casually mentioned being paddled by the principle fairly regular like. It occurred to her that this was a very good expression of this concept of arationality that I have been on about, since I first noted it's use by that albino gorilla, John Wilkins. Because I think it's important to recognize that a great deal of creationist and general religious thinking falls outside the purview of the rational/irrational dichotomy - though my opinion about the value of that understanding would probably differ fairly significantly from John's. So picture a bit of my life, if you will and see just how irrational my thinking was as a child and how irrational much of my adult life has been...

Fast forward to the third grade - I have been steeped in such brilliance as those older Chick Tracts. I am firmly entrenched in the terrorizing Belief that my dad and other people I love quite dearly are bound for eternal torment in hell, unless they accept my god in their lives. I am already a "Royal Ranger," the scout group that is part of the Pentecostal, fundamentalist church my mom and I are attending. And now I am getting set to start school at the same church. Without five days a week of elementary school, I am spending the vast majority of my time in this church. I'm in the choir, I am there on Weds for Royal Rangers, I am often there on Sat, for events involving both and there are a lot of activities happening throughout the summer. And now I am going to be there for school. Where I will learn some academics - and a whole lot more of the religious nonsense - six, often seven days a fucking week.

I was rather cleverer than the average bear, no question. But all the cleverness in the world is for naught, when all that is going in is filtered through rather extreme dogma. I was, at one point, taught that intellectualism was another religion - much like evolution - a tool of Satan. I was taught that I needed to focus all of that intellectual acuity on things that fostered my faith and the faith of others. My dad ran a strong counterpoint to the notion that focusing much of my intellectual acumen on anything not within the purview of my faith was wrong. But that didn't stop me from developing some rather deep seated shame - shame that would ease up from the recesses of my mind, to make me rather frustrated with myself - possibly even ashamed of myself, whenever I allowed my intellect to be wasted on anything that didn't bring glory to my god. After all, God had given me this intellect - how dare I ever waste it on the world...

Chris Mooney wonders, in his reply to me, why the realm of moderate faith isn't a reasonable place for fundies like I was to end up - at least for a while. Why I shouldn't, in spite of my anger, recognize that this is better for that person than being a fundie. Well here's the problem with that...

I have always been an insatiably curious person - I was curious before my infant eyes could clearly view the world around me, I was curious when my brother taught me to read at two, I was curious and I was clever. I was also pervasively lied to for many years - lies made no less egregious because those inundating me with them believed the lies themselves. I was taught to be ashamed of too much curiosity, unless that curiosity was firmly focused on the dogma I was constantly and consistently hammered with - day in and day out. I was taught that the majority of the humanity that I was commanded to love, were going to suffer for all of eternity in hell, because they didn't worship the right god, didn't worship the right god properly or didn't worship any god at all. I spent subsequent decades trying to make reality fit within the confines of dogma - tried to shift the dogma to accommodate reality - became increasingly desperate to find some way to hold onto my Faith, because that was right and critically important.

Please, if you don't see it as such - please explain to me how that experience of mine wasn't child abuse that led to decades of hell. Drug abuse, self-loathing and unrelenting depths of despair, masked by extremes of sensory overload from sex, drugs, writing and music.

More importantly, why should I sit back and pretend that this moderation that Chris speaks so highly of is any better for some of those people, than it was for me. At least when I was a fundie, I was somewhat content. I wasn't desperate to make it all make sense, because it made sense - I didn't need to question, because the answers were there and beyond those answers was minutia that I could parse easily, through prayer and study. Yes, I was occasionally angry and ashamed by my inability to focus everything on my god - but it was unquestionably easier than the suffering of the last eighteen to twenty years of my life.

I am certain that there are many people who are more than happy to live in that realm of moderate faith - I don't really care. Because for many people, that moderate faith is merely fundamentalism tainted and broken by doubts. A desperate place where the reality is an increasingly desperate need to make the absolutely incompatible weave into the fresh whole cloth of a coherent worldview.

I am for helping them, helping people like me - period. If some moderates and fundies get hurt, angry or offended along the way - well honestly, I'm not even really sorry about it. Both groups and those in between and outside on the fringes foster an environment of absolutely hellish agony.

That is what I am combating and will continue to combat. And I am not going to apologize for it - no one who fostered my personal hell has, or has even shown any remorse for my experience there.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Frakking Statistics Hurt My Head

I love science, I really do. But statistics are just bloody painful - there should be easier ways to do this...Statistics are starting to make the magical thinking more attractive again.

Not really, but the least they could do is give us fucking pain killers with our statistics...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Help Vaccinate a Child...

Times are really tough - I know that about as well as one can. Though there are those who have been suffering worse financial woes than I have, having lost my family's home in Portland, I know all too well how bad things are. But there are those here in the U.S., who could really use your help - and if it helps to shame anyone into donating, I made a donation myself, even though I am a student without income.

I was shocked this afternoon, when I read over at Respectful Insolence, that Nevada has abysmal vaccination rates. Not because of the anti-vax loon brigade, but because the economy is bad there and apparently the state doesn't have enough funding to ensure that all kids get vaccines. The state recently managed to put together the funding for the actual vaccines, but not enough that they don't have to charge for the actual administration of the shots. They must charge $16 for a single vaccine or $25 for more than one.

I have been where a lot of those families are. While $25 may not seem like a hell of a lot to most people, when you are to the point where you have to ration your eating to five or six meals a week, to ensure your children get enough to eat, that works out to being a lot of meals you will miss that month. And I can also attest, trying to functionally work when you're only eating one meal, ever day or so is not easy and certainly not healthy. These are folks who cannot afford to lose a single damned dime. And so there are a lot of kids not getting the vaccines that will not only keep them safe - they keep their communities safe too.

And so as bad as things are right now, I managed to throw down $25 dollars and will sleep somewhat more soundly tonight, knowing that I just ensured that a child in Nevada who wouldn't have been vaccinated will be now. And dammit, if I can manage that, what can you manage?

Here is a link to the page where one can register for a James Randi Education Foundation event. If you scroll down the page, you will see a line that allows you to donate $16 or $25 to help vaccinate a child. I would ask you to ignore that $16 bullshit and help a child get the whole shebang. Further, I would ask that you give until it fucking hurts, because this is not just for them, it's for all of us. Here is a direct link to the $25 donation slot. Please vaccinate as many kids as you can....

On Strip-searches in Schools: What About Boys? And other questions...

I think a great many of us are aware that SCOTUS ruled the other day, on a case involving the strip search of an eighth grade girl, by school faculty.  As Ed put it, it is indeed a partial victory for sanity, given that the majority opinion explicitly stated that such a search might have been reasonable had the faculty suspected that she had illicit drugs on her person, rather than the Advil they were looking for.  Several people have weighed in on the ruling, including Greg Laden, who's blog is so very often a starting point for very interesting conversations.  So I don't feel all that compelled to throw much into the legal discussion, except to say that I strongly feel faculty should not be performing strip searches - ever.  If there is a reasonable assumption that a child has contraband secreted in their underwear, the school should call the police in to deal with it - period.  If the police don't believe there is adequate reason to search, then the search should not happen.

But I do want to weigh in on a discussion that got started over on Greg's thread - namely the question of how outraged we might be if it were a boy who was strip searched instead.  I am not at all fond of the commenter who got that ball rolling - he and I have butted heads way to harshly for that.  But he raises a very important question and one that is indicative of far more than just the implications of strip searches. 

I am going to go into a great deal more detail on this, when I don't have three tests between now and Tuesday that I really need to study for.  However, I would like to refer you to my paper on masculine social gender constructs and help-seeking in men.  And I would also pose the question to you:

How would you feel about this situation if it had been a boy who was strip searched, instead of a girl?  Would you feel any different about it?  If so, why?  And please try to be objective in your thinking and honest with yourself.  Moreover, if you are comfortable doing so, drop your answers in comments or an email.  And on this post only, I am willing to accept completely anonymous comments, because I want to know what you really think.  I figure that some people might not want to be associated with their real feelings on this and I will respect that.

And while I am asking questions, I would also be interested to hear from some skeptics who were raised without religion. Stemming from an earlier discussion about cannabis, I am inclined to think that there is some tendency amongst those who never went in for particularly pervasive forms of magical thinking, to discount their skeptical nature when it comes to certain topics they hold dear - or dare I say, sacred. The lovely Juniper and I were discussing this the other night and it occurred to me that it might be a very good topic to write about. So if you were raised a free-thinker, or at least without Faith, these are for you.

Do you believe that you are pretty much immune to magical thinking - that you have some innate ability to think rationally about anything and everything? (discounting inherently arational notions, like love) Do you feel that you don't really have to be careful about how you approach topics that you may have strong personal feelings about? Do you ever find yourself questioning the evidence for something, not because you have seen more compelling evidence to the contrary, but because you don't like the conclusions implied by the evidence you discount?

Again, please be as objective and honest as possible. And again, feel free to email me answers or leave them anon. Any emails I receive about this will remain confidential.

Seriously, these Damned Canadians!!!1!11!!!1!

Apparently get up more than a little fucking early (that, and I slept late today). So yes, my friend* Jason was proposed to online, through several blogs, by Jodi - who was until quite recently his girlfriend. Part of me was holding out hope that, in spite of neither of us being particularly gay, he might marry me so I could get access to that Canuck healthcare - but I suppose I can go off and befriend some other Canadian now...

Seriously though, congratulations Jason and Jodi and thank you for making me a small part of your odyssey march toward pre-marital bliss...

*In spite of him being one of those. You know, a Canadian.

Bloody Damned Canadian!!!1!11!!


It is something only the lousiest of canucks can provide, though.

The rumors are true - Jason did say yes...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cannabis is Magical!!1!11!!!!

Context. And more context.

Or at least seems to induce a fair amount of magical thinking.  And that would be magical thinking not a hell of a lot different than claims of magical gods, psychic phenomena or the belief that vaccines, cancer drugs and many other medicines are actually poisons being peddled to unwitting consumers by the evile of Big Pharma.  People who rightly mock conspiracy theories about 9/11 and new world order, secret governments, turn around and make the base assumption that none of the evidence showing that cannabis has more than negligible deleterious effects can be true, because there's a government conspiracy to hide the truth and scare the masses.

There is fairly exhaustive evidence that indicates the legal status of cannabis is absolutely absurd and that the scare tactics engaged by most public agencies is vastly overblown.  That is not to say that there isn't risk and evidence for harm stemming from cannabis use, on many different levels. 

There is no question that smoking anything causes respiratory damage and damages cilia in the upper throat.  Anyone who has ever cleaned a pot pipe knows that the tar left behind is impossible to clean off with water alone, unless it's boiling - this same tar mattes the cilia in the esophagus and like tobacco, coats the lungs.  While the average cannabis smoker, smokes less than the average tobacco smoker, thus lessening the overall damage of smoking it, the tar that is formed is actually worse weight to weight, than the tar from tobacco.  There is a great deal of evidence indicating that cannabis smokers who do not smoke tobacco have a higher incidence of  bronchitis and chronic bronchitis, than non-smoking populations.

No links have been found between cannabis smoking and lung cancer or emphysema - though there is evidence of proteins that are thought to be precursors to cancer in cannabis smokers, there is also evidence that cannabis use may inhibit the development of those proteins into cancer.  It is important to note however, that there is no evidence that it impacts the incidence of cancer in concurrent tobacco smokers.

Reproduced studies have indicated that the incidence of cannabis addiction in cannabis smoking populations is around fifteen percent.  Addiction being defined by the DSM IV criteria, a conjunction of pervasive use, in spite of significant personal harm.  Cut that by a third to be certain you've weeded out biased diagnosis - cannabis is magical you know - and you still have one out of every twenty cannabis smokers addicted at some point in their life.  When we look at populations that use cannabis and also have concurrent neurological issues, the percentage skyrockets.  And it is very common for people with neurological issues such as ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders to use tobacco, use cannabis and other illicit drugs. 

I could go on and on, but here are some articles that do a much better job than I.  I am way too busy at the moment and will get to more evidence - recent studies and the like, when I can.  These peer reviewed journal articles and reports are not protected by pay walls and easier to throw out there, because you can read them and I don't have to summarize anything.  I don't have the time to summarize material that is paywall protected, I'll get to it asap, but I am trying to get through a lot of credits this summer and it's more than a little stressful.

A Lancet Seminar.

The 2001 Australian study on the health effects of cannabis use.  I suggest looking at the summaries of each section and then looking at the body of each section, if you have questions.

The British Journal of Anesthesia

The British Journal of Psychiatry

This wasn't hard to find folks.  And this is just what I looked for to throw something up that isn't paywalled.  Are we to believe that there is some conspiracy that is trying to toe the usual line of most public agencies in the U.S.  Oh shit, I'm sorry but are we to believe that there is some government conspiracy to contradict the usual line of said public agencies?

Of course there is, because I just keep forgetting that cannabis is fucking magical.  Sorry, I'll try better to keep that in mind from now on.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cannabis, Links from my sidebar

Erowid - scroll down.

Erowid - again, scroll down.

Erowid - yet again...

MAPS database.

Took me less than five minutes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yes, I am alive...

It's nice to know that I'm loved...Seriously - I appreciate emails from people wondering if I'm alright - especially from people who have never actually communicated with me before. So yes, I am alive and mostly alright.

I am currently in TN with my boys for the weekend--eldest wanted me here for fathers day. I am also brutally fucking busy and will probably be too busy to get a lot written over the next few weeks. I am going to do what I can, but I have been really stressed and honestly, reading the blogs has been making it worse lately, so avoidance has been key for the last week.

I am fucking pissed at our fucking government, which I expected to be. I just didn't expect to be angry about the things that I am. I was honestly hopeful that I would be pissed because things that I happen to believe in would be done badly or halfassed. Never - never in a million fucking years did I expect to actually be considering whether we might not be better off with a president McCain, tempered by an opposition congress.

But I am.

Not even his first motherfucking SCOTUS pick is looking any better than someone that a president McCain would have picked. And given everything else that this sick fucking excuse for an administration has fucked us up the ass without lube about, that was about all I had left.

I am grateful that he has made science a priority. But that is hard to weigh against the outright destruction that this motherfucker has done to our justice system - a system already fucking broken. But hey, we really didn't need to protect the rights of suspects to be free from the pressure of law enforcement to waive their right to counsel during questioning - as long as they've been charged and are now considered a defendant.

Obama is a fucking disgrace and our circle jerk fucking congress is absolutely fucking pointless. These shit eating bastards are no better than the fucking republicans. At least the republicans actually throw their constituency more fucking bones than these fucking scumbags do...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wherein I disagree with Jason Rosenhouse

Jason Rosenhouse has posted a response to Ken Miller's take on this ongoing debate between Chris Mooney and Jerry Coyne. I tend to think that Jason's post is right on the mark, but I did take some exception to something he said in comments...
And as clever as dolphins are, I very much doubt they are dwelling much on the meaning of it all.
Now it's quite possible that I'm reading him wrong - that he is just explaining that of course dolphins aren't dwelling on the meaning of it all, because they already figured it some time ago. But as much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, the context of his statement implies something else entirely. One would almost assume that Jason doesn't realize just how much cleverer dolphins are, than humans are ever likely to be. It would seem that the problem of mathematicians spouting off about non-math related issues isn't limited to creationists and their nonsense. Because pretty much everyone knows that the reason dolphins quit on the whole "meaning of everything" focus, is because not only did they figure it out (more precisely figured out that the whole line of thinking is a waste in the face of experiencing everything), they also realized that it is much more critical to focus on how to get off this rock before humans (or a Vogon constructor fleet) manage to destroy it...

I realize this may seem like a rather small point, but come on Jason - you really should get your facts straight. I suppose next you'll be claiming that mice aren't also rather cleverer than humans...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Too Many Things!!! Too Many Things!!!

I am feeling mostly better now - still sore, but much of the pain has moved to my head - something I am at least used to. I am unfortunately, also rather cranky - both because of the headache and because this whole episode has put me behind where I wanted to be right now. But so it goes...

Unfortunately this means that I have a lot to get done and my blogging will suffer a bit. I have a few things to get posted asap, but they will be stuck in the spaces in between. I am starting my other two summer classes on Monday and Tuesday - putting my class load from Health & Wellness and Psych, to those two, plus Cultural Anthropology and Physical Geography (a science class and one that I am taking because I was wondering what the hell it is). I have a feeling that between them all, I am going to be rather insane, err, I mean insanely busy...Umm, yeah.

On top of that, I am going to see the boys next weekend - eldest really wanted me there for father's day. I am terribly excited to be going to be with them, but it also means more time crunching for me.

So today, I am going to the graduation party of one of my nieces - my brother Kevin's youngest...I really am getting fucking old - I seem to recall her being eight or nine not all that long ago...Hell, it wasn't terribly long ago that her older sister (a mother now) was pushing her rather off balance, toddling self down for being a git.

On the up side, I'm not as old as Ed...Old as I may be getting (at least my body feels that way), all my fucking siblings are older...

So I will just have to get to the G-spot video, the male stimulation video, the accommodationism responses and other incredibly fun things - including beginning the posts about human sexuality, as I can fit them in...And I will remember to get started on my first post about the psychology of magical thinking rather sooner than later.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Pain is Less Severe - DuWayne's a Bit Floatie Though...

And I get to take me a quiz here in a little bit!!! Yay me! (Update: AARRGGHH!! I am such a fucking moron!!! I only got nine out of eleven!!!)

It's only eleven points and honestly, I am well prepared for it, so it should be fine. Who knows - I took less of the meds than yesterday, but I am still a bit loopy (loopier than usual even). I am going to take my quiz after I go through my study guide again and then I will try to get at the follow-up on my accommodationism post.

In the meantime, the absolute best women ever, has crossposted her comment from my post, on her own blog and an interesting discussion has ensued...In particular, this comment was rather thought provo....Shit, I mean this comment is rather thought provoking - for my part, because it suggests a much better example for something that I wanted to incorporate into my next post.

And I would also like to point out Abby Normal's excellent advice for dealing with pain, such as the pain I am dealing with now. I can't actually take that advice, because it is seriously contraindicated by the meds I am on, but he left excellent advice in my last post...Though I will actually give my own recipe for dealing with pain - this is also effective for fighting various germie bugs as well...*

Take your favorite over-proof liquor (if you don't have one, Knob Creek is effective - though for particularly intense pain or particularly egregious germs, Bacardi 151 is more of a maximum strength version - be warned that it's flammable and can easily cause alcohol poisoning) and pour a good four ounces into a glass. Sit down and toss it back quickly. If you don't often drink, doing this in two, two ounce shots is recommended - as is having some water or ginger soda on hand to drink after...

*The FDA has not approved this as recommended treatment for either pain or germie bugs. Indeed, there is nothing in medical literature that would indicate this could be effective as a treatment for germie bugs and while the pain relieving qualities of alcohol have been noted in the literature, my suggestion isn't recommended anywhere that I've seen. Basically, I am just talking out of my ass - if you're actually looking at me as a serious source of medical advice, you're fucking nuttier than I am...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm in severe pain at the moment...

...But I do intend on addressing comments here before too long. And I will also be responding to this post by Chris Mooney. I cannot however, begin to say when. I took some stuff for the pain and it is quite possible that I will be asleep before too long, in spite of the coffee (yes Juniper, I am drinking coffee instead of Mate) - we'll just have to see.

The sad thing? I am in pain after deciding to get out of bed last night for cookies, while reading a comment from my partner. I stood up and there was a mild twinge of pain and before I made more than half a dozen steps it was a sharp, brutal pain that brought tears to my eyes.

I hate getting old...

And while we're waiting for DuWayne to quit whining...Dan J is learning to Shut up and Love the Religious Moderates...(Who knows how Kubrick feels about this - presumably nothing because he's dead)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Greg Laden is Really a Women!!!1!111!!!!!

This post of hers seems to be generating some confusion. Folks just aren't sure what to make of it - some are pissed, some are just - confused. So I thought it might help if some clarifications were made...

What that post is really explaining, is that Greg Laden is actually a women. See this, this, this, this and this post for clarity.

And make sure you click back over repeatedly, both to keep track of the unfolding drama and to support the Ituri Forest People's Fund.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Word on the Spiritualization of Sex...

I am about finished writing a review of a sex educational video on the G-spot and fortuitously discovered an excellent post by Greta Christina on a topic that is very relevant to the DVD I am reviewing right now. Because while this particular movie is an excellent instructional, it is also rather rife with sex woo (I will be reviewing some educational videos that aren't so big on the woo as well). I think the quality of instruction and also the overall format of this movie make it worthy in spite of the woo, but I definitely have some issues with the spiritualizing of sexuality.

I am in the process of organizing and will start writing a series on sex and sexuality, from a basic discussion of exploring your partner's body and into discussions about how our society in general treats sex, human sexuality outside the hetero/homo dichotomy and beyond. I will be posting fairly detailed instructional posts about the mechanics of certain sexual techniques and ways to enhance the sexual pleasure of both partners and even get into self-pleasure. I am not going to stop posting about the things I generally post about and intend for this series to be written over an extended period...And now that word about sex woo....

"Tantric Orgasms and Sacred Sex: New Age Spirituality in the Sex Community," is actually a response to some discussions of Greta's earlier post; "A Skeptic's View of Sexual Transcendence." Specifically it addresses the question of why so much of the sex-positive community is into this spiritualization of sexuality.

I am not so far out of my own Faith and spirituality. It was less than a year ago, when I finally let it all go and that, kicking and screaming (metaphorically). So it is really easy for me to miss out on the obvious and I think that Greta really hits on some issues that should be pretty obvious to someone like me, who has been there and come out the other side.

In short, her first point is that society as a generalization tends to look at religion/spiritualism as positive forces, while the generalized social perception of sex is more of a negative. Thus many in the sex positive community will equate sexuality as a spiritual experience. She also makes a couple of other important points and I highly recommend reading both of the posts I linked to, but I rather wanted to focus on this point - mainly because it is absolutely not what ever motivated me to perceive sex as a spiritual experience. In all honesty, I have never thought of sex as a bad thing, ever since that initial clumsy fumbling about with a girl I went to church with, so many years ago. Indeed, both that then girl and I both walked away from our virginity believing that sex is absolutely fucking wonderful - in spite of the fact that that first time wasn't terribly impressive - the key was that it felt really good and absolutely nothing horrible happened because of it. While I have not had contact with her in more than ten years, I would consider her a rather dear friend and am confident that she feels the same about me.

But then, most people are aware I'm something of a freak. If you weren't aware, hang around for a while and you'll get the picture. Point being, I suspect that there really is something to Greta's assertion. And because I suspect that there is something to her assertion, I feel the need to clarify how I feel about sex and more importantly, the perspective I will be approaching this topic from. I don't want people who feel some kind of spiritual connection through sex to feel that I don't respect you or that these posts are just not for you. You are absolutely welcome here and while I don't buy into the spiritualization of sex, I don't have a problem with you doing so...I would however, suggest that you really consider your feelings about sex and what might be motivating those feelings.

Obviously I think that sex is a positive thing. And now that I have gotten done telling you that I don't buy into the spiritualization of sex, I will clarify that sex can and often is a transcendent experience for me. It is one of the few activities that makes it possible for me to actually get out of my head. I get hyperfocused when I am having sex - I am not thinking about anything else, not splitting my focus at all - everything and everything is about pleasing my partner. At the same time, my partner is doing exactly the same with me and thus, we are both experiencing intense pleasures, while not being entirely cognisant of what is happening to our own bodies - it's almost like experiencing the pleasure through the person we are pleasing.

It's also what to me, defines the difference between sex and masturbation that uses someone else's body as a sex toy.

I truly and passionately believe that sex is an incredible way to connect to other human beings. I have never been huge on monogamy, because I have never been one to equate sex with love in the sense of loving a romantic partner - though that is changing as I am developing a relationship the likes of which I have never experienced before. That is not to say that I don't equate sex with love - I have loved most of the people I had sex with, on a certain level. But I have never really been one to make a solid connection between having sex and the love that I have had for the few romantic partners I've had. But I love to make that connection - the feeling of another person's body, reacting and moving - solidly connected to my body - sweaty, messy and completely, deliciously raw human interaction.

Why the fuck do we need to attach something more to something so very awesome as all that? Putting some spiritual dimension to it can't possibly add anything to the wonder that is the sexual experience. It is plenty magical enough, without adding actual magical thinking to the mix - I tend to think that such magical thinking can only be a detraction - a distraction from being so wholly consumed by this engagement with another human being. If you are focusing on some magical component, it is just that much less focus you are putting into making this sex, the very best sexual experience your partner has ever had.

Sex is truly transcendent enough, without the magical thinking and I can't help but think that it is far more transcendent when the magical thinking isn't getting in the way...

Just Who Are We Accommodating and Why Should I Participate?

I like Chris Mooney.  He's well spoken, civil and seems to truly strive to avoid being nasty to those he disagrees with - even when he disagrees voraciously and occasionally even when people he disagrees with are rather nasty to him.  Now it may seem strange to those who know me and know I am quite capable of being a raging asshole, no apologies.  But I accept that unleashing the asshole within isn't always productive and can appreciate that some people either don't have much of an inner asshole, or simply manage better than I to keep it under wraps.  Either way, I have to respect those who are polite and reasoned to a fault. 

I do however, have a problem with Chris' rhetoric about theists who accept evolution.  Put simply, he seems to think that there is a marked lack of civility on the part of the so called "new atheists," when it comes to attacking the faith component, of those who reconcile their theism with evolution and science.  He also seems to think that there are a lot of factual errors to the arguments of the new atheists and ultimately, that attacking that reconciliation is a bad strategic move.   I know more than a little about this issue of reconciling theism and science, or more accurately, theism and reality.  I am less than a year out from having finally ending my twenty some year battle to maintain my faith, in the face of science and indeed other aspects of reality that aren't strictly science related. In all honesty, I think that his problems with incivility and ultimately strategy are both ill-founded.  And while I think that the issue of factual errors is a little less clear, I tend to disagree with the accommodationist position - both from the theists themselves and the atheists who defend them.

This is not to say that I don't still believe that it is important for some voices to be heard supporting the accommodationist viewpoint.  Both because I believe that people should speak their mind, even if I think they're wrong and because I think that there are people who need to hear from people like Chris and other non-theists who accept that one can be a theist and still accept science.  But I also think it's important to have other voices clearly stating that they think the accommodation is a load of crap.  Because first and foremost, there are at least some of us who think it is and because not being critical, would leave a lot of people in a position to continue thinking that they should stick to their faith, even though they are having to commit to rather precarious epistemological assumptions.  For some, probably even most people, this isn't a problem - they simply don't care enough about any of it to really think about what they actually believe.  Then there are those who do think about it...A lot.

At it's heart, my support of those arguing that theism and faith are not nearly as compatible as many accommodationists insist they are, is the impact their arguments have had on ending my thirty year, abusive relationship with my faith.  While I have accepted evolution for roughly twenty years and accepted that homosexuals are human beings and deserving of complete equality for about the same, I spent a great deal of those intervening years trying desperately to reconcile it all.  And there have been a great many times over the years, when I have been terrified that I might be wrong, or that I was approaching the questions wrong or that the increasing doubts were enough in themselves, to relegate me to eternal damnation.  No matter how cavalier I was at times, there was always a nagging fear, an essential terror - because the stakes were so very high.  There were also times when I just accepted that if I'm wrong, I'm still right and would rather face eternal suffering, than spend eternity with a capricious, hateful and at times genocidal god.  There were times when I simply hated my god for selfishly relegating people I cared about to eternal suffering, or for allowing so much suffering to exist in his supposed creation.  And most importantly, there was almost always an underlying self-loathing that was in turns, because I was too weak in my faith or too strong in my faith.

Put simply, my faith made me a seriously fucked up mess.

And while it is impossible to actually be definitive about the number of people who have that same experience, I know that there are a lot of us out there.  I will not just sit idly by and leave it at that.  I am going to do what I can to help others who have spent immense amounts of time dealing with the same fucked up mess, that their faith has made of their heads and ultimately their lives, get past that mess and find peace in a life after faith.  But in doing that, I am going to do something that goes hard against the accommodationist grain.  I am going to challenge the notion that one can reasonably reconcile most theistic dogma, with evolution, with gay rights, with really, the vast majority of what we accept in modern society - things that even die-hard fundamentalist, Christian biblical literalists accept.  And I am not going to feel some compulsion to be nice about it either.  Because while I'm not out looking for a fight, I am not going to back down, simply because someone invokes the notion that religion/faith/spirituality is a private matter.  That these are somehow "hands off" topics.  They aren't hands off, when someone else chooses to throw their faith in my face.  They aren't hands off, when someone decides to jump into a conversation I am having with other people, to disagree with me.  They aren't hands off, simply because in the course of a discussion, someone feels that my very act of saying I believe they are wrong, offends them.  I don't throw my beliefs in the faces of others, so if they want to discuss this, they're going to have to accept that they may not like where the discussion goes.

And when they start in with what they think I need to know, to find my faith again, I am probably going to get really uncivil with them.  I give a fair warning when someone starts that line with me - after that, I am likely to get rather mean.  Or when they start with the notion that my lack of religious/spiritual belief offends them, I am quite likely to laugh in their face, in a markedly uncivil fashion.  I honestly don't give a shit if this smacks of "they started it" type rhetoric.  I am not of the opinion that simply because someone isn't being overtly rude, I need to maintain the same.  Frankly, I find the notion of pretending to be polite, when in reality one is being an asshole rather offensive.  I am pretty damned straightforward with people and expect the same in return.  I have a lot more respect for someone who calls me an asshole, or a moron, than I do for someone who says basically the same thing, pretending to be polite about it.

But there is another consideration in all of this.  Just who the hell are we actually accommodating here?  As far as real world impact, who are we actually trying to convince of what?  I sometimes get the distinct impression that the accommodationist view is somehow hoping to change the minds of the people who are fighting so hard to get creationism into public schools.  That there is some wide swath of the population that is actually fighting to get creationism into the schools, who would likely change their minds, if only atheists would be nicer to them.  I don't buy it.  Especially when the fact of the matter is, to these folks who are fighting so hard, the mere fact that I believe they are wrong and tell them that, is offensive to them.  And for the record, they are also offended by the accommodationists - theists and non-theists alike - and what they believe.  At a minimum, they believe we're all hopelessly deluded.  Theists who are liberal enough to accept even the possibility of evolution being true, are unlikely to be totally turned away, because some atheists say that the reconciliation is just a delusion within a delusion, any more than they are going to be dissuaded by theists who make the same claim.  After all, there are plenty of people out there who are theistic and who also accept evolution and other science that flies in the face of most theistic dogma.  They are either going to accept that reconciliation or they aren't.  In all honesty, I hope that they will look at the evidence supporting the science, find it compelling and also decide that they simply can't reconcile it with their faith.

The accommodationists have their goals - goals I find commendable and in some ways even support.  But I too have goals, goals that sometimes require that I use methods that contradict what accommodationists believe will forward their goals.  I even accept that in some cases they're absolutely right - my methods may well interfere with their goals.  But I'm not going to apologize for it, any more than I expect them to apologize when their methods interfere with my own goals - and they most certainly do that.  I accept that and while I wish that there was a way for both goals to move forward, without stepping on the others toes, that simply isn't possible.  There is a point where what I believe to be true and what I believe I need to do about it is going to run hard against those who reconcile faith and reality.  For those who wish that I would say my piece differently, that I would be nicer about it or just not make claims about the nature of reconciling faith with reality - please keep something very important in mind...

The only reason that I spent twenty years in an abusive, painful and sometimes debilitating relationship with Faith, is because I was constantly running into people who told me that it is possible to make the very reconciliations that you are so adamantly defending.  Were it not for Christians who accept homosexuality, were it not for Christians who accept evolution, were it not for Christians who are sex-positive, were it not for Christians who perform incredible feats of mental gymnastics and convinced me I could do the same, I would have become an atheist a very long time ago.  I would have been saved the pain, the doubts - the trauma, of fighting so desperately to make the absolutely incoherent, fit together coherently.

And were it not for the uncivil, ill-mannered "new atheists" you disagree with, I would probably still be suffering that relationship today...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

When Not To Hire A Handyman...

Every time I do something to repair the fucking bullshit my parent's old handyman did to their house, I mean to write this post. I finally am getting to it - though this most recent foray, is not quite as egregious as what this fucking moron did to their roof...

I hate to say this, given that I have spent much of my working life as a handyman and larger jobs were pretty critical to my survival. And because I know what I am capable of, I know that it's not an absolute generalization - not even close. But when you need a large scale repair done, or you need some remodeling done - do not hire a handyman.

Because for every handyman out there who can actually handle such jobs, there are probably five or six who will take the job knowing that they really can't - or thinking they can when they can't. And while general contractors, or even trade specific contractors aren't always up to snuff either, you are generally a lot more likely to get quality work. Especially if you follow a few simple rules when choosing a contractor...

1) Get at least three estimates and don't assume that because someone charges for the estimate, they must be good. Honestly, the majority of contractors who charge for bids aren't capable of covering their margins - the time spent on estimates should be part of their overhead. So if they're charging, it tends to be a red flag as far as I'm concerned.

2) Do not even consider estimates that are more than fifteen percent lower than the next lowest bid. There is a fair amount of wiggle room, but that is a huge red flag. Odds are if they can afford to knock that much off, they aren't covering critical expenses such as insurance or workman's comp. And in a lot of jurisdictions that passes the liability on to the homeowner. You are certainly within your rights to sue the contractor after the fact, but regardless of the judgment, odds are not favorable for a reasonable outcome.

3) Ask for references that will let you see work the contractor has done. This is not always possible - for example I did a lot of work for people who quite specifically wanted to keep it unique and while they were happy to give gushing recommendations, most of them weren't keen on letting potential clients see the really cool stuff I did. Volume counted at that point - that and the vast majority of my jobs were referrals - so potential clients probably have seen the work. Which brings us to...

4) Talk to friends and co-workers, look for referrals. Contractors love referrals because it provides them with security. The reverse is also true - you get a little more security knowing that your contractor did work for someone you know and it worked out well for them. Not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than the yellow pages.

5) Don't hire a contractor who isn't interested in spending the time to make sure you are getting what you want, or doesn't want to provide you with as much understanding of the problem/solution, as you want. If they aren't willing to talk about it, it is that much more likely you aren't going to be happy with the results.

6) Do not pay more than 35% up front. This is generally enough to cover materials and some of the labor, so the contractor knows that if you don't pay, they aren't left holding a massive loss. There are exceptions - times when material costs are a significantly higher percentage of total bid - if you are, for example, putting in Italian marble counter-tops, expect to pay a lot more up front. Getting a water-heater installed is probably going to be a similar issue. But when that is the case, the contractor will go over the material costs - if they don't, don't hire them. It should also be noted that for really large scale jobs, there may be a payment schedule. This is not uncommon and is quite often necessary for the contractors survival. When there is a payment schedule, it should be explicitly defined in the contract - various stages of the job will require certain payments. This should not be stated as percentages, the payments should be clearly delineated.

7) Do not hire friends, unless they have a solid reputation in the field you are hiring them for. And if you do hire friends, still get other bids so you have a very clear perspective on the job and your friends competency. Friendships are severely shaken on a regular basis, because of a variety of issues. Sometimes a friend will feel they have more leeway with you, time and even quality wise. Others will bite off more than they can chew, because they want to "take care of you." I'm not saying just don't do it - but if you do expect potential problems and accept that this may end that friendship. The same applies to family - only more so.

And finally, if the work is completed and looks like shit, or is otherwise un-satisfactory, don't pay the balance and get another contractor in to see the work as it stands. Do not be afraid to take the contractor to court if they fucked you - you won't get the money you spent back, but it can keep you from being required to cover the balance due and the contractor from putting a lien on your property.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Open thread for skeevy fucking assholes who would like to expound on a women's right to think a particular way, write or feel a certain way....

Welcome, those who are unwelcome. Feel free to comment on how someone should think about, write about or feel a certain way, but don't expect anyone to be nice to you about it. I probably won't comment, but I honestly don't care what anyone else might have to say to you.

BDSM Open Thread...

Moving the tangent here, from there...I will actually write a post in this spot when I get a chance.

I lied, I'm just going to wait until I actually get to BDSM, in a series of posts on sex and sexuality I am going to write...Sorry, I just don't want to waste the time now, when I am going to have a place for a much longer post on the topic than I can address right here and now.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I tag Jason and Dan....And fucking Tyler!!!

I didn't actually tag anyone with the whole covers meme and now I feel bad - no one tagged a couple of excellent blogger friends official like. I didn't tag anyone, because though I am willing and ended up turning the covers meme into a fairly substantive post, I really hate getting hit up with memes - I feel pressured to do it, so as not to be a spoil-sport, but it isn't always what I want to do at the time. When people hit me with stuff on facebook, I just ignore it - the only reason I do facebook at all, is because it provides an even less formal than blogs venue to talk to friends and mostly because it is a great way to contact old friends and acquaintances.

No offense, I appreciate that I have friends who think of me when this stuff goes around and I also appreciate that they want to know more about me. I just don't care for the idea of memes - it goes against my inner anarchist and anti-establishment bent. That would be why I did the fucking meme, but posted eleven songs, three of which weren't covers and didn't post a "bad" one. I actually enjoyed it, but I only enjoyed it because I did it the way I wanted to.

So I am now tagging Dan J and Jason, that fucking Canadian. And what makes it especially cool, is that they both already did it. Dan, because I tagged him in comments and Jason because being as anti-establishment as a Canadian can be, he just did it without prodding...

I'm tagging Tyler, just to be a fucking dick!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Fuck the man - and their fucking memes too!!! Power to the People!!!

Are All Men Capable of Rape?

There has been a lot of interesting discussion going on over at Greg Laden's. He has now gone to three posts (one, two, three) and the discussion is pretty heated. I really didn't have time to engage yesterday and don't have a whole lot today. But I think that there are a lot of very important points to be made about this. I'll start with my first comment on this thread and expand a bit...

My gut reaction to this is that it's total bullshit. I want it to be bullshit - almost need it to be. But I then consider the recent discussions about torture and my acceptance that while the circumstances are far-fetched (i.e. on a scale with getting struck by lightening three times, each time standing in the same spot) I can think of hypothetical situations in which I would not only condone torture, but wouldn't hesitate to engage in it myself.

Humans are quite complicated animals. Human minds are incredible and incredibly adept at rationalizing, compartmentalizing and in extreme stress, breaking. The closer humans get to the primitive mind, the more likely they are to engage in what we would consider reprehensible acts. When people are required to break their social conditioning, such as soldiers are required to do - is it any surprise that some of them will break with it more completely? And when people never receive certain types of social conditioning - acts that we find repugnant naturally happen.

There are people in the U.S. who commit egregious acts of violence every day without consideration for anyone or anything around them. They simply don't care who else might get hurt while they play their stupid little games, that carry such dire potential consequences. I believe absolutely and without reserve, that the actions of such people are immoral. But I also accept that such people do not operate with the same social conditioning that I do, nor do they exist in the same social context that I exist in. More importantly, they are not operating under the same moral frame that I operate from. While I don't believe that it excuses their behavior, I accept that just because they don't operate under the same moral framework that I do, doesn't mean or even imply that they are inherently amoral. They do have a moral frame and probably do fairly well at operating within that framework.

These are people who commit egregious and repugnant acts not because their conditioning was broken somewhere along the line, but because their conditioning allows for the behaviors that most of us find repugnant. And this is very much the case with people who commit egregious and repugnant acts such as rape, within the framework of cultures that accept rape as a matter of course. This is also the case with people who would condition children to fight as soldiers or commit acts of terrorism. All of these behaviors are repugnant and our macro-society has a responsibility to try to put an end to such behaviors. But it is important to recognize that we are not up against people who are behaving badly, according to their cultural norms. We are in fact, up against the cultural norms that accept these behaviors - it is an entirely different battle.

Now I think that the simple fact that there are cultures where these sorts of behaviors are well within social norms is adequate evidence in itself, that all men are capable of rape, that all people are as a baseline, capable of all sorts of repugnant behaviors. The bottom line is that morality is largely, if not entirely contextual. Change the context, change the development, change the cultural norms and humans are capable of all manners of atrocity. History and contemporary societies are proof of that. The fact that there are even sub-cultures in the western world that commit atrocities is proof of that.

But what about the other end of this discussion? Because the question is not; "Are all men capable of rape, if their social context is one wherein rape is a cultural norm?" The question is; "Are all men capable of rape?" which implies all men, as we exist within any social context. This is a much tougher question - not because it doesn't have a very simple answer, but because that simple answer rides atop a rather complex set of variables and because it is extremely difficult to approach this question objectively. The simple answer? Yes, all men are capable of rape, all men, regardless of the social context or cultural norms they were raised in.

But contrary to what some seemed to be saying over at Greg's blog, I think that it is important to recognize another simple concept and I believe this recognition is entirely relevant to the discussion at hand. All humans, regardless of the social context or cultural norms in which they were raised, are capable of all sorts of atrocities - given the right set of variables. It is important to recognize this, because without that added context, we're presented with the implication that the potential to contradict our social and cultural conditioning and commit acts that are contrary to our own moral framework is somehow gender specific. This is not a masculine characteristic, it is a human characteristic. Indeed rape is not just an act committed by men, women can and do, engage in acts of rape too - and for the same spectrum of reasons that men do.

So really, the question should be stated; "Are all humans capable of rape?" And we have already gotten the simple answer - but what of the reasoning behind that answer?

Being a very creative and abstract thinker, I can in fact conceive of situations in which I would torture another human being. I can also conceive of situations in which I could be driven to commit murder, including premeditated, first degree murder. I can conceive of situations that would drive me to steal and even possibly harm a completely innocent human in the process. I can also conceive of situations in which I could be driven to commit acts of terrorism, though this belongs right up there with murder and possibly even torture, in terms of likelihood. I can conceive of these not because I don't believe all of these things to be immoral, or because I am somehow morally deficient. I can only conceive of these hypothetical situations because I have an incredibly active and creative imagination.

But no matter how abstract my thinking, no matter how creative I can be, no matter how actively I try to conceive of it, I simply cannot conceive of a situation in which I would rape anyone. I don't think that most people can and I think that's a good thing. I also suspect that this is why many people get very upset at the idea that someone would tell them that they are capable of rape - or for that matter, anything that I listed above. It is important to recognize three things.

One, the fact that the potential exists, does not make anyone a bad person. It doesn't reflect on who you are as an individual, nor does it reflect on your social conditioning. More importantly, it doesn't somehow imply that you are ever going to commit such acts - most of us never do. Indeed, it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone who has been firmly socially and culturally conditioned to believe that these are horrible things to do are ever going to do them, unless there is a pathological basis for such behavior. This potential reflects on no one as an individual - rather, this potential is simply a part of what it means to be human. Being human means that we are all susceptible to being driven to commit heinous acts.

Two, being unable to conceive of a hypothetical situation in which one would be capable of committing any of these atrocities is not the result of being incapable - it is merely a failure of imagination. And as I say, there is nothing wrong with that failure of imagination. I can conceive of hypothetical situations that make my stomach churn and has, on occasion, caused me to lose a lot of sleep - something I can ill afford as a baseline insomniac. In all honesty, I would much prefer a failure of imagination under the circumstances.

Third and I think ultimately the most important. This potentiality does not reflect on one's morality. That this potential exists does not signify a breakdown in one's moral framework. But just as important, the fact that this potential is so very unlikely, does not mean that one has a firm, reasonable or even coherent moral framework. Ultimately, it is outside the realm of moral frames and is actually dependent on social and cultural conditioning. This is not to say that one's moral frame is inherently separate from the potential to commit egregious acts. Rather, the potential for committing egregious acts is not inherently dependent on one's moral frame.

I do have one last point to address, because I think that Greg is way off track. In his post; Is there a rape switch?, He makes this comment, in reference to an old term paper by one of his students:
The switch being on does not mean that rape will happen. It simply means that the man (with the switch on) is now a rapist, whether he actually rapes or not (but he probably will), and when the switch is off, he is not (so he probably won't).

Now a reasonable reading of this discussion will show that this is not something that Greg is saying as an absolute. Indeed, it is clear that he is willing to be convinced otherwise, though he strongly suspects that this is the case. I am going to answer the question in the title and respond to the idea in this quote with an emphatic and resounding; No, this is complete and absolute bullshit.

A person does not move from having the potential, to being the thing, unless they actually commit the act. The fact that a lot of people who end up fitting a similar set of variables commit acts of rape, does not mean that everyone who fits those variables is a rapist. It simply means that those who don't rape, require a different set of variables to become a rapist.

Lets look at another egregious act and a set of variables that will often cause people to commit that egregious act. A man or women is in love with someone and they get married. They have, or believe they have a very strong relationship with their partner, built on mutual trust and respect. They also have a very close friend with whom they have a different sort of relationship, but one that is also built on mutual trust and respect. One day this person comes home unexpectedly and find their partner and their best friend in their bed, having sex. This particular set of variables quite often leads the betrayed party to have a psychotic break and murder one or both of the people who have betrayed them, in a fit of rage.

Does that mean that everyone who fits those variables is a murderer, even if they don't actually kill anyone?

Not at all. It merely means that people who don't commit murder under those circumstances, require a different set of variables to become a murderer.

I'm sorry Greg, but unless and until a person actually commits the act, they only have the potential to commit the act. Until the specific variables that will cause them to act are met, they are in fact, incapable of committing the act.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Personal Growth and Evolution

I absolutely adore Jessica Palmer's art and her blog, bioephemora.  She posts some of the very sexiest art and also manages to toss in some very interesting discussions that often revolve around shifting media paradigms.  But in a recent post about a very intriguing piece of artwork, she made a rather innocuous comment that really bothered me - because I didn't actually know why she objected.  The subject of the post is an electroformed copper sculpture entitled "Evolve."  It's a depiction of a chrysalid formed in metal, which I agree is rather interesting - it is certainly the sort of notion that makes me rather happy in and of itself.  But Jessica doesn't like the title.  I misunderstood her objection to mean that she didn't like it being used to describe individual development in the manner I was reading the actual art - i.e. personal development.  Instead her objection is specifically to evolve being used to describe the individual biological development. 

This sort of misunderstanding happens to me rather often, as I tend to be an extremely abstract thinker. 

I am going ahead and posting this post anyways, because outside the context of Jessica's post, what I wrote still stands - even in regards to the notion of evolution.  While Jessica doesn't actually object to using evolution to describe non-biological processes, I have run across the objection before.  More importantly, I also bring some other words into the discussion that have been known to raise some hackles and there are a great many more words for which this discussion is relevant.  Language purity and mechanical accuracy unquestionably have their place, but there are also contexts in which both simply get in the way.  Sometimes they interfere with making a point, sometimes they they make it hard to express oneself accurately and precisely.  Other times they interfere with the creation of sculptures, paintings of words, of panoramic wordscapes that ebb and flow across and through, under and over our consciousness, melding with it's own intricate pathways and webs until we forget where the wordscape ends and our mindscape begins - blurring definitions and lines and even the grey dwindles and condenses, coalescing into a greater whole that is something completely different, but no less beautiful than it's melting into other minds.

When the guidelines interfere, throw them out the window.

I do not believe that there is any good reason to restrict the use of any word that can be used to accurately describe many processes to a singular context.  This may just be part and parcel with my very favorite medium as an artist being words and sounds, but I am all about stretching language to it's very limits and beyond.  Words have power and I have argued rather voraciously that overusing particularly powerful words just lessens that power.  However, using words accurately, outside their normal context can have the opposite effect - or more to the point can both increase their own potency and give strength to the point they're being used to make.

Language is and always should be fluid.  There are certainly situations where one must stay within very strict parameters - I am having a hell of a time learning to write formally in an academic context, for example.  But outside the context of more formal writing, I believe that English mechanics and grammar are more of a loose set of guidelines, than strict laws.  For that matter, I am all about making up words, when there isn't a word available for a given situation.  A "few" of my readers have noticed that I rather overuse commas - or a few have noticed who actually decided to mentioned it to me...A few of those have noticed that I use commas the way that I do, because rather than putting them where mechanics would dictate, I put them where I would be utilizing them, if I was actually verbalizing what I am writing - mostly people who have spent much time talking with me notice...

And evolution is a word that I actually like to use in a variety of contexts, because I think that it is a very precise word for describing concepts that would otherwise take far more words to describe.  It implies things that needn't then be explicitly stated.  And I am sure that everyone who reads what I have to say, knows how very important brevity and saving on words is to me...Ok, so I am actually rather fond of the words, but those who know me well understand that I am very keen on my language being rather concise.  And for that, evolution is a very useful word to describe processes of change over time, influenced by complex variables both internal and external - kind of like the process of slowly changing one's world view, personal moral frame, religious beliefs and even one's personality.  Not one of us is the person we were ten years ago and I think that evolution is possibly the perfect word to describe the process that changed us from the person we were then, to the person we are now. 

The example I used in comments on that thread, was my religious beliefs.  I explained that I have evolved from a fundamentalist Christian when I was young, through a rather twisted mixture of Christianity and magic (or more accurately mysticism) and eventually became the atheist I am today.  By using the word "evolved," I can avoid being specific about my journey through magical thinking, while implying that it is a lot more complicated than the vague stages I described.  I am thus able to communicate in a sentence, what could easily take a couple paragraphs, which depending on the context in which I am describing that journey, may be entirely irrelevant.  Another example where using the concept of evolution is quite handy is when describing interpersonal relationships and for that matter, extrapersonal relationships.  Or when describing changes in complex social systems. 

Though it turns out that her objection is in the context of using evolve to describe a biological process that isn't actually evolution, but rather biological development,  I run into a lot of folks in the world of psychology who, for example, strenuously object to the use of misogyny, outside the context of a pathological hatred of women, or who object to the use of addiction to describe anything that isn't actively causing the addict significant harm and in some circles anything that isn't a substance addiction.  I understand these objections to a certain point.  I would certainly question someone using misogyny in a professional setting, to describe someone who is actually just an extreme chauvinist who makes very generalized statements about the inferiority of women - or someone who described someones fondness for a particular type of music as an addiction.  In a professional context these descriptions would be entirely inappropriate. 

But in a social context I believe not only is it appropriate, there can even be a certain utility to it.  In the case of evolution, I think it is a net positive to use the concept of evolution as a pop-culture reference because it gets people used to the word - even people who in the context of science, believe evolution is an attack on their faith.  In the case of addiction, I think it's a net positive because it can only reduce destructive stigmas relating to addiction, if addiction is used more often outside the negative context of self-destructive tendencies.  Misogyny, on the other hand, is a mixed bag.  I've discussed the overuse of misogyny and misandry and the notion that using them outside of very specific contexts reduces their effectiveness.  It is a lot like accusing people of being Hitler - using them too often makes them virtually useless when it is appropriate to do so.  Ultimately the same is true of the other words I'm discussing here and many that I'm not.  But these are two that are invectives and therefore require a great deal more discretion.  But I digress...

Language is power.  Language is what we use to define, express and in a great many ways perceive reality.  So much of what we see with our eyes, smell with our noses, feel with our bodies, taste with our tongues and hear with our ears is rendered nearly meaningless without the context that language provides.  Consider for a moment what it would be like to see the elegant beauty of honeysuckle, to smell it's fragrance, to feel the soft, velvet texture of it's flowers, to hear the breeze rustle through it and to taste the sweet, slightly bitter flavor of the heart of its buds.  Now imagine all that, without language to consider it in the privacy of your own mind, much less express it outwardly.  Language is so profoundly important, beautiful - human.  Language is really what makes us human.  Limiting language, is nothing less than limiting the scope of human experience - like somehow we're human enough, we're fine the way we are and don't need to grow and expand ourselves.

When we stop growing, we start dying.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fuck Adobe and Fuck Microsoft Too!!!

My motherfucking computer just got hammered with a motherfucking virus from hell that came in through motherfucking adobe. I have just changed all my passwords online, canceled my debit card and wiped my entire fucking computer. Still not sure it's shiny, but it will do until I get it to a friend who'll shred the contents of the hard drive and install an unrestricted motherfucking linux OS. I've been running linux and had only a segregated portion of the drive with windows, because I need it for some school stuff and viewing media. But I have a converter to put all my media into an opensource format and I'll figure the school shit out.

I am so fucking done with windows and adobe.

On the upside, I only lost a couple of fairly important things I hadn't yet backed up to my external drive. And I won't be connecting that back up until I know that there isn't some vestige of that fucking virus left hiding in some dark corner of my hard drive...

This is Not the Change We Were Counting On

I am glad that we don't have a president McCain and especially glad that Palin isn't a heartbeat away from the presidency - I really am.  But I am not at all happy to have a president Obama.  While he may be the lesser evil, that is only a matter of degree and with each passing day that degree is shrinking.  I am coming to the conclusion that Obama is liar and not even trying to be subtle about his lies.  His campaign promises are repeatedly turning out to be patently false and the biggest - the one about change - that one has been beaten down the most.  Unless of course you want to count his administrations recent support for overturning Michigan v Jackson, in Montejo v Louisiana.  "Change we can count on" is turning out to be rather frightening.  One of the few times he actually has changed the status quo and it is to remove protections afforded suspects in criminal matters.  From the brief filed by the Obama administration (p10):

The Jackson rule was based on the belief that the concern about coercion in the Fifth Amendment context is also present in the Sixth Amendment context.  Jackson, 475 U.S. at 631-632.  But that assumption is unfounded. The Sixth Amendment does not protect a defendant against official compulsion; it ensures that he will have the assistance of counsel to guide him through the intricacies of the trial process and ensure that his trial is fair.

But how can a trial be fair, if the police are allowed to coerce a confession out of the suspect?  How is such interrogation not part of the intricacies of the trial through which counsel is supposed to guide the defendant through? 

This ruling gives the police carte blanche to charge a suspect, arraign said suspect and then utilize the coercion that the fifth amendment prohibits, because the suspect is no longer a suspect, but a defendant.  This is nothing less than providing the police and prosecutors an end-run around the fifth amendment.  And there are damned good reasons we put these protections in place.  Because even within the parameters of how suspects, defendants and prisoners must be treated, there is a lot of room for pushing suspects to confess to crimes they may or may not have committed.  We have ample evidence that people will confess to crimes they didn't commit, because of the pressure brought to bear by law enforcement - and that's with these rules in place.  Weakening these rules just leaves law enforcement more room in which to push people into confessions and will inevitably lead to more miscarriages of justice.

I also think that hammering Obama personally for this is entirely justified.  It's not like he is unaware of the intricacies of the law.  He's a con-law scholar and knows full well what this means.  I am sick and fucking tired of this worn out argument that Obama can't know everything that's happening - can't just micro-manage every little thing.  These are not little things.  Continuing the Bush administrations propensity for secrecy is not a little thing and the bones we've been thrown do not balance out what's missing.  He had an opportunity to intervene in the case of Charlie Lynch and refused - in spite of his vow to stop prosecuting medical marijuana. 

I am not all that keen on writing about politics.  I have simply gotten burnt out and become increasingly jaded.  But the actions of the Obama administration have become so egregious that there is no way to avoid exposing the hypocrisy and outright lies to the hard light of day.  Bush was an atrocity and as far as I'm concerned belongs in prison.  But there was little question where he stood after his first term (and arguably before).  Obama on the other hand, is becoming more of an unknown, as he proves over and over that what he said he would do bears no relation to what he's doing.  When all we have to go by is a lot of lies told to become president, it's impossible to know what he'll do next.  There are still advantages to having Obama in the oval office, instead of McCain - but those advantages are a scant few, no matter how important they might be.  And at the rate he's going, this will be his only term and gods forbid, any SCOTUS seats that open up in four years may well get filled by a fucking republican nut.

HT/Ed Brayton

OMG!!1!11! Gay Marriage Will Actually Lead to Sex With Ducks!!!11!1!!

And these two harlots are reveling in it!!!1!111!!!

Oh the inhumanity!!!1!!1111!

HT/Greg Laden...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Skepticism and How the Internets Changed My Thinking

I think that I can pretty legitimately consider myself a skeptic now. I'm not really sure where or when it became a solid facet of who I am, but the other day in my Health and Wellness class I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that where and when it happened are irrelevant - I really am a skeptic now. It happened like this...

I was sitting in class, taking my notes and generally doing what students are supposed to do, when I was stopped dead. My instructor for this class stated that nicotine - not smoking, not tobacco - nicotine will dramatically increase one's risk of heart disease. This wasn't stated with the caveat that scientists suspect this is the case, or that there is some evidence this may be the case. It was stated as an absolute and that absolute wasn't coming from my instructor, it came from the source material for the class. And the epiphany wasn't "now I can't simply trust that what I am being told in this class is the best understanding that we have, based on available evidence." It wasn't even "now I know that I can't trust that what I am being told in this class is the best understanding we have, based on available evidence, as apposed to assuming that what I am told in this class may be suspect." Because that was already how I have been approaching my education. Rather it was the realization that instead of my first thought being the former, it was the validation of my baseline skepticism and with that I realized that no matter how prone to credulity I am - to the point that I have often described myself as pathologically credulous, I am a skeptic now.

This is not to say that I am immune to the knee-jerk reaction that I have often had in the past, when I hear something that sounds good or comes from someone I trust and especially when it's something that I want to believe. I still have those momentary "this makes so much sense" kind of feelings pretty regularly. But instead of letting it go at that and getting on with my life, I don't just take it for gospel. If it is something that I care enough about to actually repeat, I do my best to make sure that it's accurate before I repeat it. At worse, I will repeat it with the caveat that I haven't verified this information yet - after all, I am not always able to verify something that may be relevant to people I care about. And of course it is always possible to verify something and still be wrong - I have done it and had the unpleasant task of then going back and admitting that I was wrong. I hate having to admit to mistakes, but instead of just pretending the mistake didn't happen, I just try very hard to make sure that I don't make mistakes. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that I'm not still occasionally prone to being a raging asshole, but I sincerely doubt that my experience on the internets is going to cure that any time soon.

Here's how it's come together for me...


I've spent most of my life finding interesting and creative ways to deal with depression, bipolar and severe ADHD. Among them has been this tendency to construct fairly elaborate perceptions of reality, in my head. I haven't really gone into detail about this before and I think that now is probably a good time to really explain how this works - in part because I think that it is probably not all that uncommon in people who are prone to certain types of magical thinking. I know that it's not uncommon among people who are trying to manage affective mood disorders and/or severe ADHD without medication - hell, even with the meds it's hard to avoid.

When one's brain is constantly running at high speed - no stopping, no slowing - constant inundation of ideas, words, pictures and music, an unrelenting deluge - one starts to relish anything and everything that will slow it down. One of the best ways of doing this is to keep your mind distracted - make sure that it is so busy with something that it can't help but slow things down. One of the ways to keep the mind busy is reading - I read a lot as a child and I am a heavy reader as an adult. And when I read as a child - and even now on the rare moments I have to read fiction - I get completely immersed in what I'm reading. I can see the characters, hear them talking and just sort of float through the landscape that the story takes place in - a passive observer. Like watching tee vee would be if the action took place all around you in 3D...But that was not enough. I, like a lot of people like me, needed more. So I created my own perception of reality.

I was a Christian, when I was a child and my Faith became an integral part of my reality. I was quite able to make my reality quite pleasant. I made my god a god who loved and wanted to have everyone bask in his glory. There were rules and those rules meant that certain things needed to happen for people to be able to do that - so I became very adept at proselytizing. The consequences to the people around me were too grim if they didn't come to believe. I also was able to compartmentalize my perception of the people I interacted with as a separate entity from people I didn't. People I knew were People, while all those other folks were people, a group that included the sort of people who would unfortunately go to hell - people who committed crimes and did bad things - hypocritical things. Those folks only existed out there - none of the People in my life were like that. And within my reality, everything was either just, or when there were wrongs, those wrongs would be righted and justice would prevail. Justice had to prevail - every time, even if it might take awhile. And of course, I would be anything and everything I wanted to be someday. It didn't matter that I wanted to be many different people, where many different hats - I didn't just think - I knew that I would be all those things and more. This made things complicated, but complicated was good. My mind was plenty busy trying to sort out inherent and irreconcilable contradictions and things slowed down a bit - sometimes more than others. Inevitably, when things were moving too fast again, I would end up thinking about how a loving god could massacre so many people, or I would work on how I was going to be an artist, a bounty hunter, a pastor/theologian and work for the army - not to mention a dozen or so other things - all at once. Impossible my ass - I knew I would figure it all out with time. My god wouldn't make me this way, with these desires and abilities, if he didn't want me to use them - right?

After I was smacked in the face with massive hypocrisy and contradictions that I simply couldn't ignore and definitely couldn't process fast enough - that reality crumbled and I started forming a new reality. I became convinced that my god wanted me to have the sex - I wanted some and god provided a partner. I was also convinced that god wanted me to smoke cannabis - I want to get high? There's a friend with some weed. And I knew for sure that god wanted me to use hallucinogens - I mean he really, really wanted me to trip, trip balls and trip often. God totally made that clear the first time I took acid. Thus, with my gods blessing - his encouragement even, I embarked upon a remarkable journey of substance abuse, sex, music - anything and everything that would contribute to total sensory overload. Didn't matter that I was basically homeless, didn't eat everyday - I was alive and I was free to wander the world, playing music, getting fucked up and having copious amounts of the sex. Meanwhile, I needed to use even more of my brain to meet the challenge of a stream of brand new contradictions needing to be reconciled. And it worked. During most of my moments of sensory overload, I didn't even need to reconcile stuff and when I was pretty straight - there was plenty to keep my mind busy. Besides, if I wasn't engaged in sensory overload, I was usually seeking it, which also took a lot of brain power and energy.

And I got into woo. Way beyond the religious woo that I was inundated and really rather extraspecially nutty with. I became convinced that plants were probably a far superior form of the medications derived from them - it helped that that was pretty much the only medicine I had access to. Wildcrafting plants that can help with problems that I have was much easier than spending hours on end in the ER, which was the only other way I could get anything and even then, would be limited to the meds they could give me through the ER. I could have left it there, but didn't. Because the same folks who were so keen on telling me about various plants, were also keen on things like magical water with memory, energy healing, Ayurvedic medicines (my favorite containing a strip of silver foil I later learned was actually silver and lead), acupuncture, acupressure - pretty much if it was magical and mystical and wonderful - I was there baby! I wanted to believe the things that these folks had to say - especially when they could reasonably connect their woo to my cultural faith, Christianity. I can't begin to express how exciting it was when I discovered a group of hedonists like myself, who, like I did, believe that their god wants them to get high and screw. I wanted to believe, because it was just more cognitive dissonance with which to douse the flames of my brain.

Then something happened on the way to the lunatic fringe. I discovered these interesting websites called blogs. Instead of just reading things that validated the woo I was inundated with - leavened with the occasional article or book that contradicted it all, I was able to interact with people who had an interest in the things that I did - but who didn't buy into all the crap. And while I had some magnificently crazy ideas, I wasn't one of those folks who developed an inherent distrust of science based medicine or "big pharma." I have always had a fascination with science and also had a pretty fundamental understanding of what science is. I didn't buy into the woo assuming that scientists were totally mistaken - rather I just felt that they were probably a little too focused on the material world. I accepted most of what I knew science has to tell us about the material world. It's just that I was ignorant of what science really had to say about certain things and assumed that science was simply incapable of ascertaining what was happening in the immaterial world that I largely inhabited. But now I had the opportunity to engage with actual scientists, to learn what science has to say about many of the things that I believed. I was able to learn a great deal by simply asking the right questions and there were a lot of great people who were willing to answer my questions.

Now anyone who knows me will assure you that I am not the most humble of people. There are probably one or two people out there who would go as far as to say that I'm actually a little bit on the arrogant side. I would be lying if I said that I haven't been this way for a very long time. But I am one for mostly being careful about my arrogance. I am only arrogant about things that I am very certain of - like I said, I really hate apologizing or otherwise admitting I was wrong, so I try very hard to be right. When I first discovered the blogs, I was pretty damned arrogant about things like creating music, repairing houses and my understanding of the human mind. I also was pretty arrogant about my understanding of Faith and a few religions. This meant that I was very keen on mostly paying attention to what people who knew a lot more than I did, had to say about a lot of topics in which I was sorely misguided. And I read the things they suggested I read, because evidence is an important key to ensuring that what one is being told is true. Or as true as we can best ascertain it to be.

I am pretty damned arrogant about a lot more these days. I am arrogant about a lot more, because I am confident that when I make an assertion, it is based on the best evidence I have available to me. My level of confidence in any assertion I make, correlates directly with my confidence in the evidence that supports it. Whatever my initial reaction to things that others assert to me is irrelevant. It's what I do with that information after that's important and what I do with that information is why I am a skeptic now.

Given my penchant for psychology and my rather vast experience with a wide variety of magical thinking, I am going to write about magical thinking fairly regularly. I tend to think that there is some value in understanding why people engage in certain behaviors, especially when those behaviors often contribute to dangerous decision making. I can't say how regular it will be, but I am hoping to write substantively on this topic at least once a month.