Where to See Me in March

I managed to cluster three speaking gigs in March. If you’re in Minnesota, come find me at one of them!

Tomorrow night and March 29, I’m taking part in Dakota County Library’s Religion and Faith Series.

Explore and gain a new understanding of Atheist, Baha’i, and Unitarian Universalist traditions by discussing their history and beliefs with our guest panelists. Find out how their traditions and beliefs impact their understanding of citizenship and role in the community and how they feel they are perceived. Audience participation is welcome. Attend one or all four program topics. Presented
in partnership with the St. Paul Interfaith Network.

A Minnesota Legacy program sponsored by Minnesota’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

Discover some of the varying views of atheists living in our area and how this worldview impacts their day-to-day actions. Hear how panelists find community and purpose within the larger world.

Thursday, March 8, 6–8 p.m.

Interfaith Dialogue
Interact with people of diverse faiths, religions and beliefs living in our communities. Gain knowledge of other traditions to understand difficult events in our modern world. Join our series panelists in discussing basic questions about how to live together peacefully and equitably in our diverse society.

Robert Trail
Thursday, March 29, 6–8 p.m.

Then, on Sunday March 18, I’m speaking at the Minnesota Atheists public meeting. My talk is titled, “What Do You Mean Science Is Racist?!”

When someone says that science is racist, many of us take it as an affront to our worldview. Science can’t be racist! It’s how we come to an objective understanding of the world. Unfortunately, when we’re affronted, we stop listening. We never find out why people call science racist, never evaluate whether they may be right, never find out what change they’re asking for. We simply stay upset that anyone’s saying this at all.

The problem, of course, is that science is still a human endeavor. With that comes all the biases that plague humanity. While we may eventually manage to purge those biases, it’s a long process, and there are forces working against it.

So what do people mean when they say science is racist? Come find out. Take a tour of science’s racist past, learn how it’s improving, and find out where some of the major challenges still lie.

I’m sure it will be in no way controversial. The talk is at 2 p.m. at the Brookdale Library.

Where to See Me in March

Mock the Movie: How Desperate Edition

What would it take for you to embrace Christianity? Would you do it for blandly pleasant looks, poor acting, and over-the-top judgment from the people around you? Of course you would, just like the heroine of Christian Mingle.

Wait. What?

This one is available on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: How Desperate Edition”

Mock the Movie: How Desperate Edition

Scientific Racism and the Validity of Racial Categorization

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The following is based partly on posts previously published in 2008 and 2012. It’s been consolidated and revised to be accessible to audiences new to this discussion. Images used in the post are mine taken at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s exhibit on race, developed by the American Anthropological Association, first mounted in 2008, and revived in 2017.

“Scientific racism” refers to the attempt to justify racist beliefs and policies through the use of scientific studies. Proponents of scientific racism, unsurprisingly, prefer to use less-loaded terms like “race realism” or “human biodiversity”, but even “scientific racism” can lend an unfortunate patina of validity to the arguments they make. It suggests–reinforced by many of those sympathetic to the claims involved–that the arguments we’re all having over race are merely political. It says those of us who fight scientific racism object to the policies promoted, to the racism, but that the whole enterprise is sadly, regrettably, unavoidably scientific.

However, this simply isn’t true. While scientific racism is decidedly racist and particularly anti-Black, it fails to be scientific. How badly does it fail? The very concept of “race” as used by scientific racists isn’t scientifically valid.

Photo of fake street signs at the intersection of Privilege Place and Race Road.
This isn’t to say that race is never a valid scientific concept. You’ll sometimes see people say, “Race is a social construct”, as though this invalidated the concept. It doesn’t. Race is a social construct, but it’s been a durable and very powerful construct. We have scads of documentation of how race has been defined, redefined, and enforced over time. People have lived and died en masse over race. Governments have been organized around the concept of race. Race is not only valid but critical in studying social and societal dynamics.

That isn’t how scientific racists use “race”, though. A socially constructed conception of “race” doesn’t support their arguments. In fact, it’s more likely to expose their racism than justify it.

No, scientific racists are using a more essentialist concept of race. Given the age of much of the research they cite, this may not explicitly be a concept based in genetics. Even their modern research often doesn’t refer directly to genetics (studies that do tend to fall out of favor for reasons I’ll get to), but the implication is that the qualities studied are fixed and inherent to the racial categories being used. We know this requires a shared genetics even if this is never said.

The problem for scientific racism is that race is not a valid concept within human population genetics. Continue reading “Scientific Racism and the Validity of Racial Categorization”

Scientific Racism and the Validity of Racial Categorization

Mock the Movie: Nice Hair Edition

Finally! At last! This month we shall return to the great continuity that is the Dungeons & Dragons movies with The Book of Vile Darkness. [gratuitous sound effects] I know it’s been a long time, but hopefully we can all remember what happened in the first two thrilling installments so as not to dull our enjo—


Nothing to do with each other?

Oh, all right then.

This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Nice Hair Edition”

Mock the Movie: Nice Hair Edition

How to Criticize Something You Like

David Smalley asked a question on Twitter last night:

I’m not sure “How do I criticize without being subject to criticism myself” is quite the right frame of mind for the question, but there’s a decent question in there. So, assuming he actually meant to ask, “How do I make it clear that I’m in favor of something while criticizing its abuse?”, here are some tips drawn from my prior writing on giving criticism.

These may seem a bit general, but the point of criticizing something you like should be to improve it. That means you want to make your criticism constructive. How?

Those are the basics. I hope they help, David.

How to Criticize Something You Like

The Unwanted Strength of Women

I did it once. I fought my way out of one of those “bad dates”. I physically pushed myself away from the guy trying to hold me down when I was done kissing him. It wasn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

I pushed. He held tight. I pushed harder. He held on with the strength of someone in military condition. I felt something slip inside my head and begged him not to make me hurt him. He let go.

No one lauded me for being strong. No one has ever held me up as an example of a woman who did it right. No one has said, “Yes! Like that! That’s what we told you to do!”

No, that still wasn’t “real strength”, no matter what they say all those women who’ve dared to complain should have done. That wasn’t rescuing myself from a bad situation. That wasn’t what they wanted.

I was overreacting. You see, he let me go, so I was never in danger. I was threatening a nice guy. He let me go, so he couldn’t have meant anything bad by it. I was crazy. He let me go, so I was just some crazy chick seeing rape everywhere.

No matter how much direct, unambiguous physical strength I applied in that situation, that wasn’t what they meant when they say women need to be stronger. No matter how much direct, unambiguous language I used to tell him to let me go, that wasn’t what they meant. No matter how much restraint and tact I used to “fix” a situation of his making, that wasn’t what they meant.

The only strength these people want from me is my silence. They don’t want me to fight my way out and talk about it later. They don’t want me to talk my way out and talk about it later. As long as I talk about it, whatever strength I displayed is recast as weakness.

They only want the strength of saints. They want us to keep our eyes turned upward and silently, sweetly accept whatever fates are rained down on us. They want the strength of martyrs.

But suffering isn’t my kink. Men aren’t my religion. So I’ll complain when there’s something to complain about. I’ll push and I’ll threaten as long as someone tries to hold me down, though you know that if you know me. Silence isn’t my strength.

The Unwanted Strength of Women

Hammers, Nails, and Memory of Trauma

This post is brought to you courtesy of Patreon. If you want to support more work like this, you can sign up here.

There were recently a pair of bad articles on rape and sexual harassment published in Skeptic Magazine. The first was on the #metoo movement, written by Carol Tavris. H.J. Hornbeck has a series of three posts on this that’s pretty good. I don’t agree with all his interpretations of the points Tavris was trying to make, but he provides a lot of background on the social phenomena and scientific points Tavris invokes.

The second article is a book review on the Sandusky child rape case. The book is written by Mark Pendergrast, whose qualification on the subject is being the author of Memory Warp; The Repressed Memory Epidemic and Victims of Memory. It was published by a small press, which isn’t what you’d expect for a book meant to overturn everything we think we know about an event which received a remarkable amount of press coverage.

I’d recommend this post by Christopher Tevuk on why and how the book fails to do what it set out to do. The short version is that the thesis of the book has already been examined and rejected by the courts.

So why would a skeptic publisher post both of these articles? Why would people who pride themselves on rational thought and examining the evidence promote it? Continue reading “Hammers, Nails, and Memory of Trauma”

Hammers, Nails, and Memory of Trauma

A Year of Tired

This post is brought to you courtesy of Patreon. If you want to support more work like this, you can sign up here.

I try not to define my years by a theme. I know they’re arbitrary time periods. I know they’re more complex than that. I know persistent themes are more likely to stretch over much more of my life than one year.

Still, knowing all that, I can’t help but feel 2017 is the year of tired.

Some of that tired is entirely literal. Something, probably perimenopause, has been messing with my ability to stay asleep most mornings. Given my nighttime insomnia, that’s meant highly disrupted sleep. Add in thermal dysregulation that falls just short of hot flashes, and I started the year as a zombie. Make that a mentally ill zombie whose coping strategies have long relied on thinking my way through trouble but was now too tired to think.

Photo of kitten with particularly fluffy ears sleeping on top of its paw and a crocheted comforter.
“Built in Pillow” by Lisa Zins, CC BY 2.0

Trying to treat all this made things worse, at least for a while. In 2017, I tripled the classes of drugs that have pushed me into narcolepsy. A few years ago, I lost a summer to a tricyclic antidepressant that was supposed to help with my migraines. This year, I lost about six months to SNRIs and SSRIs that were supposed to help perimenopause issues, including the worsening mental health. I still have no idea whether any of those drugs did what they were supposed to. I spent too much time napping or in withdrawal to find out.

That made 2017 the year of the sleep study too. Well, the year of the first sleep study, the one that didn’t contain the differential test for narcolepsy. You see, I’m overweight and I’ve been known to snore when I fall asleep somewhere other than my bed and I only experience a full range of narcolepsy symptoms when I’m on a drug that can treat anxiety, so my problem is obviously apnea. Only I don’t have apnea. I do have a pattern of REM sleep that could indicate narcolepsy, though.

So there will be a second sleep study when I’m up for telling the clinic I really don’t want to try a CPAP for my lack of apnea. As it turns out, advocacy is also harder when one is tired, even after one has become thoroughly tired of bullshit.

I did a lot of being tired of bullshit in 2017. Continue reading “A Year of Tired”

A Year of Tired

Resolutions for a Better World

Here we are, three days into the new year. Still looking for a good resolution or two? I don’t do mine on the holiday for a number of reasons, but the following are all things I’ve worked to do myself.

  • Consider not saying anything. What do you want your words to do for the people you’re communicating to? If whatever you were about to say is there to show off your knowledge or experience, talk about how good a human being you are, or change the subject to something you like better, maybe don’t. If they require someone else to be ignorant in order to be useful, maybe don’t. And if they’re violating someone’s boundaries, yeah, just don’t.
  • Take care of the caretakers. We can fall into social roles without meaning to. Some people become the designated adult in their interactions, the mom friend (whatever their actual gender). Turn that relationship on its head sometimes. Ask them how they’re doing or what they need.
  • Credit creators. Like Sarah Andersen‘s work? Share it from her website or social media accounts. Same for other artists. Don’t share tweets or quotes with the creators’ names cropped off. Google the phrase you liked best and reshare if you have to. Quote people instead of restating their points. Tell the world which analysts and academics inform your worldviews. Link to them.
  • Don’t harsh the squee. (Thanks to Lynne M. Thomas for the phrasing.) Challenge media that harms people, but give up the idea that your aesthetic preferences are a guide to a better world. Art is complex, and the smallest part of the whole may be exactly the thing that gives a patron life. Pleasures shouldn’t have to be guilty because they’re not universal.
  • Think about what you want. Before you point out yet again that Trump admitted to sexual assault and still sits in the Oval Office, figure out what you’re looking for. Do you want to feel less alone with that knowledge? Then it would be nice to offer some sympathy yourself as you share. Do you think there’s something your social media followers can effectively do about that? Consider sharing your secret with them. Are you just “raising awareness”? Ask yourself whether you know anyone who isn’t already painfully aware.
  • Sweat the small stuff sometimes. The world’s political problems are…huge. They’re beyond me right now. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have the magic button that will fix things either. You do probably have a few messes that are in your power to clean up, though, be they personal or very, very literal. They’re not unimportant. Your role as the person who can take care of them isn’t unimportant. The improvements they’ll make to your life aren’t unimportant. When the big picture is too big, go ahead and think small.
  • Contemplate your own conservatism. It’s easy to think our most extreme conservatives have a lock on the stuff. The truth is, though, that we all have our ruts. We have our received wisdom that may be older than it is sound. We have our resistance to change. We have our shortages of imagination. That isn’t wrong. It’s human. But knowing where we are conservative can help keep us from making asses of ourselves insisting our unexamined intuitions are progressive truth.

Feel free to steal any of my resolutions. Suggest your own to make the world a better place.

Resolutions for a Better World

Mock the Movie: Lowest Common Denominator Edition

You know how, if you were raised on fantasy but not Tolkien and you come to read it as an adult, it’s a collection of all the oldest, most tired, embarrassingly racist and sexist tropes you could imagine? Yeah, well, Tolkien was at least literally a product of his times. He built something strong enough that people have spent most of the last century making it better.

Bright doesn’t have that excuse. Urban fantasy has been its own genre for 30 years. It’s been dealing with racism as a theme all that time, reacting to Tolkien and others in dialogue with him the entire time, learning (sometimes) from its own mistakes. This movie came out in 2017, with the shiny, fresh take of “Wait. No, no, get this. What if there were racism—actual racism, because it oppresses a real race? Huh? Huh?!”

At least it leaves a full field of mistakes to made and mocked?

This one is available on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Lowest Common Denominator Edition”

Mock the Movie: Lowest Common Denominator Edition