Stereotype Threat

It’s a testament to how massively atheism has penetrated our culture’s imagination that the body of anti-atheist memes has grown as large as it has.  Whether ancient slur against specific non-Christians or new insinuation from a “modern” thinker, atheists face an assortment of stereotypes and libels that form the core of why 50% of the United States finds us “threatening.”  And that’s WITH hardly anyone thinking we actually eat babies.

But if there’s one invective that raises my atheist scientist hackles until I might be mistaken for some sort of heathen Australian dragon, it’s the idea that evolution is responsible for “societal decline.”

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Stereotype Threat

Shifty Lines: Russia

Russia is really big.

Russia is twice as large as the next-largest country even after shedding 14 smaller countries from its periphery.  Russia is the largest country in Europe and Asia even without counting the parts on the other continent.  Russia spans nine time zones.

It’s difficult to imagine, but Russia spent a great deal of its early history as “the empire without a coastline.”  The original, ancestral homeland of the people who would become the Russians is the general vicinity of Moscow.  While the East Slavs were still coalescing as a people, they bordered the West Slavs on the west, the Karelians and other Finno-Ugric peoples to the north, the Khanate of Kazan to the east, and the Nogai Horde to the south.  To reach a coastline and the massive economic advantages that come with access to the sea, the Russians had to conquer their way there.  And conquer they did, until they dominated much of the Arctic Ocean, Baltic Sea, and Black Sea boundaries and all of the peoples living therein.  Russia is smaller now, but its enormous expanse still contains numerous groups of people who do not see themselves as Russians and which the Russian state is assiduously trying to destroy.  We have already met the Caucasus peoples and their finely granulated quests for national self-determination.  Russia’s imperial designs have spanned much farther than these ongoing altercations, and tell a very familiar story.

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Shifty Lines: Russia

Between a Gun and a Hard Place

Guns freak me out.

I’ve never handled an actual firearm.  I found it uncomfortable to even use a BB gun at a target-shooting booth at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition. The closest I’ve ever been to a real gun was when my grandfather retrieved the old wooden box where he keeps a 40+-year-old revolver and showed it to us on the front porch.  I don’t know why he retrieved the box that day, but the show did not involve removing the unloaded gun from it, and I don’t remember even seeing ammunition.  I and my siblings were intrigued, as we weren’t familiar with the design, but the rest of the family seemed to regard the whole spectacle as uncouth and unhealthy and wanted the ancient device returned to hiding as soon as possible.

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Between a Gun and a Hard Place

And now for just $24.99 you too can have your own pet uterus!

If one watches the forced birth / “pro-life” talking heads long enough, one starts to notice something a little strange.

Get them on the subject of women seeking out and receiving medical procedures, and they bray and stamp about “unborn children” and the horror that such sacrosanct beings are being killed for something so prosaic as parasitizing a woman’s body against her will.

Get them on the subject of people of any sex using contraceptives…and they bray and stamp about sluts and their slutty ways, demeaning themselves with sex for pleasure.

Which is kind of odd, since contraceptive availability is the most effective prophylactic against abortions at the societal level.  One would think that the “pro-life” crowd would be the most obsessively enthusiastic promoters of birth control by far, dumping truckloads of condoms and pamphlets about pills and IUDs everywhere they imagine semen might encounter a cervix to make absolutely sure that every zygote that comes to be does so intentionally.

But that’s not what we get.

One would imagine that people who define themselves by wanting to reduce the number of embryos that aren’t brought to term would be passionate opponents of rape, harping on consent and demanding that rapists be prosecuted aggressively in the name of making every fetus wanted.

But that’s not what we get.

One would imagine that people who want to restrict women’s bodily autonomy in the name of protecting children would want to make the world a more welcoming place for children, by advocating for healthcare availability, child-care services, maternity and paternity leave, assistance for low-income households with children, and funding for education at all levels.

We get the exact opposite of that.  We get “pro-life” speakers and politicians who demonize contraception with the same energy that they point at something they wrongly assert is the same as murder.  We get politicians who rail against comprehensive sexual education that would help people avoid making unwanted fetuses.   We get religious leaders who encourage women to marry as young as possible so that their sex can have their god’s imprimatur.  We get people who think that sexually transmitted infections are God’s wrath and vaccines against them are sacrilege.

We get clergy who promote the idea that women who assent to unmarried sex are shameful sluts and harlots who have “defiled” and “disrespected” themselves.  We get loud, politically powerful cults that encourage their daughters to get married as young as possible and sometimes even pick their husbands for them, and tell them that objecting to any of this is a condemnation to eternal torment.  We get schools of law that hold that a marriage contract is a writ of consent to any and every sexual urge a woman’s husband might ever have and that it’s not possible for him to rape her no matter what he does or what she wants or doesn’t want. For she is an unclean, sinful monster if she assents to sex before she’s married or if she is raped (for bringing it on herself, clearly) and no longer has the option to not assent after she is married.

We get a media establishment and legal system that spend exorbitant amounts of time telling men that they can rape whoever they want if they say that the victim inflamed their lust by dressing “provocatively” or wearing makeup or being out at night or drinking or not being a virgin at the time.  We get public figures and online “rights” movements that maintain that most women who report rapes are lying about consensual encounters.  We get military procedures that tell women who are under sexual attack to lie back and take itto avoid injury.  We get cases where a rapist can sue to try to stop his victim from getting an abortion and, failing that, can sue for joint custody of the resulting child.

All by itself, one could almost find something laudable in the “pro-life” stance, framed as trying to protect “children” from harm.

But that’s not what we get.  Instead, a very different picture emerges.  They are not pro-life.  They are pro-forced birth.

The anti-abortion position is part of a spectrum of stances that, all together, point at a movement that could not possibly care less about children.  They don’t care about preventing unwanted pregnancy, or making sure that every fetus is a wanted fetus.  No, they have a different agenda.

The anti-abortion position seeks a world where a uterus-bearer has no say in whether they give birth after they get pregnant, no say in whether they get pregnant after they have sex, and no say in when they have sex.

The anti-abortion fantasy is a world where women have no sexual agency whatsoever, and every part of a woman’s biology is given over to the task of carrying and bearing children.  But not her children—his.  Nothing is hers—not her body, not her mind, not her life.  Nothing but the burden of carrying out the sexual and reproductive will of those who would look upon her with desire.

The anti-abortion vision is a world of men and ambulatory uteruses to be acquired and put to use.

It is in this context, and this context only, that the pro-forced-birth position makes sense.  These are their objectives.  Only when the whole package is viewed at once does the true picture emerge.

It’s not about fetuses, not about babies, not about death or murder or morality.

It’s about destroying the very idea that women have a place in this world that isn’t on the shelf next to the other appliances.

It’s about destroying the idea that women are people.

Never forget that.
And now for just $24.99 you too can have your own pet uterus!

Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 3

In my previous two installments of Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, I looked at general advice about setting up and maintaining an aquarium and at common fish-stocking situations and principles.  This third and final visit to skeptical aquakeeping looks at some more specific situations that an insufficiently skeptical aquarist might encounter.
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Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 3

Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 2

The second part of my run-down of common situations where knowledge and skepticism lead one to greater success at the aquarist’s hobby focuses on the biggest and most rewarding task the hobby has to offer: picking your fish.  This area in particular is where pet-store employees are particularly likely to lead one astray, since they rarely caution people against buying fish that they really shouldn’t be buying.  And with bony fish being at least as speciose as every other category of vertebrate put together, there are a LOT of ways to get bad advice.
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Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 2

Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 1

Earlier this year, I gave a presentation at Ottawa Skepticamp 2013 titled “Skepticism in the Aquarium Store.”  It definitely got some smiles out of people, not least the radio host who interviewed one of the organizers about Skepticamp and spied the unusual title.  My presentation took the axiom that skepticism is vital to virtually every human endeavor and brought it to one of my dearest hobbies: aquarium keeping.  And now I’m bringing that to you.

I like fish.  Fish provide a truly astounding variety of shapes, sizes, and behaviors to observe, comparable only to insects.  Their diversity puts more conventional pets to shame, and they have the added perks of being confined to specific places in people’s homes, being hypoallergenic, and providing relaxing waterfall background noise.  There’s an artistic and collection-building aspect to fishkeeping that isn’t present with other pets, which appeals to me.

One other thing that differentiates fishkeeping from many other pet-related hobbies is that there isn’t really a fishy equivalent to a dog rescue.  Sure, one can pick through Craigslist and Kijiji for people giving away their kits or their animals, but that’s a time-consuming and risky method.  For better or for worse, fishkeepers are stuck with pet stores, and that means getting stuck with a lot of bad advice.  Like car dealers and the slimy cads who sell people fancy audio cables, the underpaid and often unprepared sales associates who staff the fish section often have priorities other than the best life for their livestock.

Aquakeeping, like car sales, treating disease, and politics, is an endeavor that requires a little background and a lot of…skepticism.  And it starts right at the beginning.

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Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 1