Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Of shirts and comets.

It's been a week since the European Space Agency landed their probe on the surface of a comet for the first time ever in human history.  A proud day for the Agency, a proud day for Europe and a milestone for human space flight.

Which will forever be tainted by the image of a team member wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt emblazoned with images of scantily clad women while being interviewed by the international media.

Almost instantly, social media picked up that image and noted its inappropriate nature, criticizing the man for his insensitivity.  Within a day, the scientist, Dr. Matt Taylor, had apologized profusely, even breaking down in tears on camera.  For many people, that ended the incident.  

But not for the apologists.

Social media exploded with apologies for his behavior, some even going to far as to weigh in with their opinions as to how innocent that shirt was, because the depictions of women were cartoonish instead of photography.  They opined that feminists were overblowing the incident, eclipsing the accomplishments of Dr. Taylor and his team.

And so today, a week after he appeared on camera, the argument still rages on social media.

More and more, louder and louder, the argument rages.  But, wait!  That loud sound you hear?  That roar?  The one that sounds like a hundred airliners going over?

That's not a fleet of 747's.  That is the sound of the entire point missing your heads.

Yesterday, a comment was made on a post on Facebook I have been following.  Here's the important part of it:

The only thing that strikes me as sexist in this is the fact that men don't seem to be expected to consider the implications of what they wear to the office, while women have to take the rest of the office into consideration.  Take a look at your company policy on dress and lateness.

This.  This is the point.  Somehow, someway, Matt Taylor managed to appear in front of a major media outlet's camera wearing a shirt that should have been considered inappropriate in any professional setting.  And yet, EVERYBODY, from his fellow team members to his team leader, to the head of the ESA (and don't fool yourself, that control room was literally crawling with management before those cameras ever got in the room.) completely missed the fact that he was wearing it.

Even at the last minute, somebody could have tossed the guy a lab coat to cover up The Shirt.  It would have been that easy.

Instead, the ESA missed numerous opportunities to notice The Shirt.  His team leader.  His team leader's boss.  HIS boss.  The ESA Public Relations Office.  Upper management on that morning's walk through.

So, what does that say about the ESA and its policies towards professionalism, given that literally nobody even noticed?  Anybody want to bet how quickly a female team member would have been counseled on her dress if she'd tried to wear something even mildly provocative on camera?  At the very least, she'd have been forced to wear that lab coat.

But not DOCTOR Taylor.  No, apparently The Shirt is so much a part of the environment in that team's space that nobody thought it was important.  That millions of women around the world would be put off by it, and that it might send a message to girls everywhere considering a career in the European Space Agency that sexism is such a normal part of life that a team member can appear on camera, representing the ENTIRE Agency, wearing The Shirt and nobody cares enough to even make him wear a lab coat. 

This isn't just a problem with Dr. Matt Taylor.  It isn't just a problem with the ESA. It is a problem within the entire world of science, wherever this kind of thing can happen.  It is pervasive and part of the culture, so much so that an entire chain of management can miss something that simple.

This very public conversation we are having is important.  You apologists out there, pay attention.

We aren't blaming the good Doctor.  Not now, he apologized and is moving on.

It's the rest of us who need to understand that the issue isn't just an ugly shirt.  The issue is an environment where that ugly shirt is allowed on a guy, ON CAMERA, while women are still judged by the clothing they wear and not on their professional abilities.

That needs to change.  Not only do we need to be more aware of things like The Shirt, but we need to change the atmosphere where men aren't judged by their clothing but women are.  We need for people to see how corrosive sexism can be and just how invisibly invasive it can get.

How unnoticed.  So badly unnoticed that a man can get away with representing his team and his Agency on camera while wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt and it takes someone from outside to see it.

We've got a lot of work to do. This conversation is important, which is why we are having it a week later.

Got the message?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why Democrats might lose this election, and why they shouldn't.

If the Democrats lose this election, I'm going to be pissed.

Not at Republicans, they're doing what any stupid animal does - what comes naturally.

No, I'm going to be pissed at the Democratic Party, because this (and every election going forward from now) are theirs to lose.  The Republican Party is so reactionary, so blindly stupidly conservative, pushing so many of the fear buttons, you've got to be an idiot not to notice.  They've managed to piss off so many different voting blocks, it's a wonder even white males are willing to vote for them.

Unless you've been propagandized, like so many Americans have.  The Republicans may not be able to govern their way out of a wet paper bag, but they are masters at obfuscating the truth and making everybody think up is down and right is left.

Along those lines, there is one truth about the Republicans' long and well trod road over the last 40 years nobody can argue against - they've managed to make the word "liberal" into a cuss word.  They've made everybody think that government is incompetent and constantly conspiring against us, both at the same time, all the while convincing us that it should be small enough to drown in a bathtub, and that it SHOULD be drowned in a bathtub.

How they've managed to claim that government is incompetent by gaining power in government and PROVING it is without the entire population of this country noticing that it has been Republicans' incompetence and not that of Democrats, I'll never know.

Republicans have managed to make almost every liberal position seem like evil incarnate.  Socialism is now a dirty word even though most Americans wouldn't know a Socialist if one bit them on the ass, and have almost no clue what they stand for.

If we lose this election, it will be because The Democratic Party has given up.

They have not even tried to call Republicans out on their stupidity or their lies or even the obvious hypocrisy on display almost every time a Republican politician opens his/her mouth.

Most egregiously, they have failed utterly to defend liberal, progressive ideas and principles.  They have stood by silently while the Republican Party and conservative Democrats have dragged the political discourse in this country so far to the right that there isn't so much as a dogcatcher who can be elected on a true liberal ticket.

Every single time Obama has managed to get a law passed in his Administration, you'll notice that they all were originally proposed by conservative Think Tanks!  Even the ACA, Obama's signature accomplishment, is based on the Massachusetts law, which came straight out of the Heritage Foundation!

Ya wanna know why the Democrats are losing?

Because liberals are staying home.  In droves, because there isn't a single solitary politician who is representing the true liberal position and principles in this country.

Not one.  Even Independent Senator Barney Sanders of Vermont can't manage to defend liberalism, no matter how hard he tries.

It is time to stop letting the Republicans set the agenda.  To stop letting them define who liberals are and what liberalism is.  It is time to explain to the American public what liberals stand for and why.

It is time for LIBERALS to set the talking agenda.  It is time for Liberals to define Republicans so that America and the world can see what they truly are and what they truly stand for.

Politicians today are afraid to stand up and defend their principles.  Poor things, they might lose and have to sit out a few years away from Washington!


Stand up!  Defend yourself, defend your principles.  DEFINE yourself, DEFINE the principles you stand for, the values you love.  Do it passionately, do it with feeling.  Shake your fist, pound the table,  rouse the crowd with passionate, earth rattling rhetoric!

Emotions are the key, and Republicans know that.  They are masters of the fear signal.  They can push their constituents' fear buttons and get the reaction they want immediately.

But passion and excitement can overcome fear.  Talk about the future!  Extol our scientific advances! paint visions of the very real utopia we can advance towards, if only we can give up our addiction to war and violence.  Describe the world we can build together if only we can cooperate together, and bring every American up to a better standard of living.  How much growth we can bring to our country by educating ALL of our children, and making this country a leader in science and industry again.

There is a lot to defend, and a lot to look forward to, if only we will get together and COMMUNICATE these things to our fellow Americans, who are sick and tired of hearing the negative and the fearful.   People want to hear about the positive things, the good things we can do, so let's tap into that and help them see what a wonderful future we can bring to this country together!

The Party which can bring a positive vision of the future can and will win.  Let's stop enabling the Republicans in their sick, negative picture of America.  Let's show America and the world what LIBERALS can do to bring us a bright and shining future!

The first step is for every liberal and every independent who cares for this country to get out and vote.  VOTE BLUE!  VOTE DEMOCRAT!

I mean, hey, it's only the welfare of our kids and grandkids at stake.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

But which core values? Yours, or...yours?

Hermant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, had a fascinating take on an incident that occurred a while back.  It seems that in a recent debate, a young man, Chad, challenged Mr. Marcellino (the Christian debater) about the fate of people who do not know Christ.

You know, the question of Hell, and god sending those unfortunates straight there for eternity.

First, though, Mr. Clifton had asserted earlier in the debate that he didn't think Hell was forever.

Then, later, he admitted, at Chad's questioning, that he is a believer that the bible is literally true.

Chad followed that up by questioning Marcellino’s claim from earlier in the debate that Hell wasn’t really forever — doesn’t the Bible say it is? 
Marcellino: … Forever doesn’t really mean forever.Chad: … you said it was all literally true.Marcellino: Well, yeah, it’s not literally English true. It’s Hebrew and Greek. So you have to get into the Hebrew and Greek.
Apparently, Chad has done this before, challenging Christian debaters and flummoxing them into stumbling and making idiots out of themselves.  The Friendly Atheist has covered these debates, so if you want to actually see the video, go to the link above and watch.  It's cool!

Go, Chad!

Great stuff!

But that's not exactly what this post is about, though it did spark the old noggin a bit.

I've seen a lot of debate lately about whether the Progressive agenda, including Atheism, is really progressing (pardon the pun), or whether the right wing backlash has got us on the run.  Certainly, the narrow polls in this election are cause for concern, as there is a very real possibility the Republicans could win the Senate.

Or so the pundits say.  I do remember that the last election surprised a lot of pundits and pollsters alike.  Anybody remember the epic meltdown of Carl Rove on Fox?  It was, truly, something to watch!

I am, quite naturally, an optimist, even though I do take the engineer's position about that proverbial glass of water - I still insist the damn thing is just not the right size... but I digress.

One needs to take the long view in these things.  Cultural changes do not take place overnight, even though we did manage to upend things in the 60's pretty quickly.  Today's backlash is a direct result of the 60's, and it is a doozy!  But, it isn't the end of the struggle.  Not by a long shot.

227 years ago, the United States Constitution was ratified.  That is, arguably, the greatest success for the men of the day in their struggle for the spread and the social acceptance of the principles of The Enlightenment.  But the road leading to that day was long and bloody.  Historically, the enlightenment began with the Crusades, believe it or not.

Before that time, Europeans were pretty much (except for merchants, mostly) confined to Europe, and didn't do much traveling.  Travel was hard, dirty, and dangerous, and getting anywhere really interesting took months, and often years.  The nobility of Europe were mostly interested in warfare, politics and religion, pretty much in that order.  Few of them were literate, as most of their time was spent in the practice of martial arts, if not actively engaged in real fighting.  The rest was often politics and such.  There was a day when learning to read was actually discouraged for the nobility, as it was considered beneath their position.  That's why they hired monks and learned priests to do their paperwork.

Much of that was the Church's fault, because really, they wanted the ability to read strictly in their purview, which allowed them to interpret Scripture.  If you couldn't read, you had to take the priest's word for what was even written there!  In fact, in the earlier centuries of what we call the Dark Ages, learning to read was actually forbidden by the church.

But when the nobles who answered the Pope's call for the Crusades got to the Holy Land, they didn't find barbarous savages as the Church taught, but very learned Muslim nobility, who had safeguarded many ancient writings over the centuries.  Documents in Greek and Latin, often predating the Church, many of which were long lost writings of Greek philosophers.  Histories, too, in both Greek and Latin;  a lot of these men learned those languages, and took some of these documents to Europe when they went home.

The principles they learned, the ideas the Greeks had struggled over and debated about changed European thought and culture forever.

Looking at European history since those times, one can clearly see the slow but long term steady change from a society dominated by the Church and theocratic rule to one ruled by secular authorities which eventually denied the Church any secular authority at all.

Today, Europe is even more secular than the US, with some countries boasting fewer than 20% of their populations claiming religious belief.

I am not going to dive into the whys and the wherefores of how this took place, I'm not an historian.  But it is sufficient to this discussion that it HAS taken place, and the progression of western culture from the conservative and the intolerant to a newer more liberal set of principles is easy to see.

It wasn't an easy road, and it wasn't a straight one.  There was much backsliding and a lot of blood was spilled along the way.

But as of today, the culture wars (as Ed Brayton puts it) are still slowly and jerkily moving us forward, even if it is like clawing your way up a steep hill in the mud, fighting gravity every inch of the way.

American culture has moved through the 18th and 19th centuries, forging a new set of unique values. Values built on the movement of millions of Americans across this continent which has cemented our belief in the worth of the individual.  Past migrations across places like Asia were based on mass population movement.  Entire cultures were displaced and forced to move into other parts of the world, but they moved as a people, in groups.

In the US, we did it often as individual families or small groups.  Sometimes one by one, these brave people made names for themselves and the stories of their travels are legend.  They depended, though, on each other.  On the frontier, the old traditions of breaking bread together around a fire were rediscovered, and the ideals of helping those in trouble were there to ensure that everybody had help when they needed it.

Individualism tempered by tolerance and charitable assistance where trouble struck has always been an American value.  We are, therefor, a proud people.  We pride ourselves on being independent.  On not being led around like sheep.  The watchword for early America was Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware.

We have a sense of fairness, of balance.  American frontier justice was swift, but fair, mostly.  It had to be.  Early communities depended on that.  Religion was an individual thing.  Preachers were rare, priests even more so.  With so few to preach at them and so much to do simply to survive, religion just wasn't very important in large part, until civilization caught up.

But by then, the principles were set, spread by the media and popular books and newspapers, extolling the "Manifest Destiny" of this country to spread west.  The exploits of the pioneers were read voraciously throughout the US and even overseas.  The principles of individualism and their liberty from authoritarianism were well set by the middle of the 19th century.

So, you say, just what does all this have to do with a young man named Chad and an embarrassed Christian debater?


The modern American Evangelistic movement likes to pretend it is a monolithic movement, spreading like wildfire and taking souls from Satan daily.

But it isn't.  There are at least three types of evangelicals.

The Fundies - committed believers.  Literal bible believers, they are the soul, if you will, of that movement.  They set the tone.

The Moderates - they talk the talk, but rarely walk that walk.  They make all the right noises, but really?  All they do is check the right boxes on those national polls, so jesus will win.  But they either stay at home Sunday or just pretend.

Then you've got The Cognitively Screwed.  Guys like the debater, Mr. Marcellino.  He knows the Scriptures by heart, he is admired by his peers and his fellow congregants.  He talks with Jesus!

But, deep in his heart, he is still imbued with those core American values.  The sense of fairness, the core belief in an individual's rights to his own mind, without being forced into a mold.  He is, in short, uncomfortable with the idea that anybody should be tortured forever for a short term sin.   Particularly if they never knew what a sin was!

His values aren't biblical.  His values are informed by The Enlightenment, as formulated by the American Revolution and forged in the heat of the American Frontier.

But he can't admit it.  He is also an Evangelical.  He MUST believe in the infallibility of the Scripture.  It is pounded into his mind every Sunday, but his American values are in his mother's milk.  His culture insists that America is the greatest country in the world, with the greatest values.

But those American values conflict with his Evangelical values.

So, when he gets confronted by someone like Chad, his mind cannot deal with that conflict.

There are millions of people like Mr. Marcellino.  Hard core fundies, until their core values are conflicted with their religion.  Then, they are confounded as to where to turn, what to think.

To me, that is encouraging.  The more we see people who are supposed to be very religious being confronted and failing to even reconcile basic beliefs, the more we will see those reconciliations being resolved in a way we will think of as favorable.  Many people doubt their religion.

It is our job to confront them and help them resolve those conflicts reasonably.  That way, Progressivism WILL win.

Just don't expect it to be overnight.