Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Jesse was temporarily kicked off facebook.

Hi everyone that I haven't been able to talk to, comment on, share dialog with, RSVP to your events, etc. In case you were wondering about my absence, (I might be flattering myself there), I tried to log in to facebook the other day, only to be told that one of my comments had been flagged as inappropriate, and I was banned from facebook until further notice. I was then given a list of community standards, so that while I was in time-out, I could think about what it is I've done.

The list of community standards lays out a very reasonable list of things that are forbidden on facebook. They include things such as threats, violence, hate speech, threats of self-harm, harassment, and the like, things that any social network should take seriously.

So what did I do? Did I threaten someone? Did I relentlessly harass them? What evils hath I unleashed upon the Face of the Book?

Wait for it...


I said that women don't deserve to be raped.

That's right! For shame! For violent-threatening-harassing-hate-speechy-shame!

More specifically, I responded to a woman, (whom I will not name and did not know), on the public page of a celebrity who recently ignited controversy with her rape-blamey comments later printed in the New York Times. This was the first and ONLY comment that I made amongst the barrage of similar conversations happening on the page.

The woman in question, who I will henceforth refer to as Albus, (for no other reason that it was the first name that popped in to my head), was explaining how she could sympathize with the celebrity in question, because when young girls out drinking in the presence of boys get raped, society has only the parents of the girl to blame. She also referenced several “shameful” things that women do to make themselves less worthy of respect, including but not limited to making sex tapes.

Here's Facebook, reminding me and telling you what my ONLY comment in its entirety was.

Yep, this is what got me banned. Thanks, facebook!

Now, let me clarify something real quick: this is NOT the first comment in this discussion that brings up rape or mentions the word “rape.” This was the ENTIRE FOCUS OF THE DISCUSSION. There is nothing in this comment that could possibly have been interpreted as offensive or controversial that was not also in the comment I was replying to.

So, let's take one more look at the criteria for being banned from Facebook, and see which rule was being violated. Was any part of this comment threatening? No. In fact, there are no negative implications toward Albus in this comment at all, unless you count saying that she's wrong, which isn't something one can ban, last time I checked. This is dealing entirely with the argument at hand; at no point here do I come close to being threatening, harassing, or verbally abusive. Was any part of this comment explicit or graphic? No. Even if the mention of rape would make someone uncomfortable – again, this was the entire focus of the conversation before I made this comment. In fact, as far as I know, no other facebook users in this conversation were banned (including, by the way, the people who were praising the rape-defenders). Could any part of this be interpreted as hate speech? No, unless saying “women don't deserved to be raped” is somehow some sort of hate speech I didn't know about, in which case there are even more bizarre problems at work here.

Any objection to my comment could only be political in nature. Let's be clear here: somebody has been allowed the authority to successfully block me from facebook, simply because this person did not agree with what I was saying.

There are obviously a couple of things that are very messed up about this. First of all, it is frustrating and disturbing that the moderators of facebook would not even bother to read the comment in question to make sure that I've actually committed the offense I'm being accused of. It is frustrating and disturbing to realize that, at any point, a person could immediately and without warning lose access to his/her most frequently used tool for communication, event planning, etc. It goes without saying that facebook is a pretty essential part of having a social life for most twenty-somethings living in Kansas City, and (not to make it sound too much like a first world problem) it is unfair that this could be taken away at any moment, with no opportunity to challenge the decision.

And that's the other thing that's really messed up about this - during the initial process there is no system in place to challenge or question the reasoning behind being banned. Even after the initial period of not being able to access facebook at all, there has been an extended period of time during which I could log in to facebook but not post or comment on anything. (The stage I am still currently in.) And while I was finally allowed, at this stage, to send a message to the Facebook staff expressing my complaints, there was STILL no explanation or deadline in place to tell me how long this period of banishment would last.

There are number of things that facebook needs to fix here. It is unreasonable that this could happen in the first place because of a political disagreement, and that there was apparently no step in the process during which the moderators actually checked on the validity of the complaints being made against me. It is also unreasonable that this could happen without warning and with no opportunity to challenge it.

And most disturbing of all, is that this could happen to you. Or you. OR EVEN YOU!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Happy 4/20!

Hi there!  Did you miss me?  What?  You didn't even notice I was gone?  Really?  Well, fuck you too, buddy.

Anyway, happy 4/20!  In honor of the holiday I'd like to talk a little bit about, yes, pot.  Specifically, I want to address the following question:

"Can Pot Treat Cancer Without The Devastating Effects Of Chemotherapy?"

This is the title of a multi-page handout someone gave to me a while ago.  After only glancing at the contents, my pro-legalizing-marijuana instincts kicked in and I thought only about how neat it was that somebody was recognizing the important medical potential of marijuana.  After reading the contents more closely, I realized a couple of disturbing things.  First of all, the majority of the article was copied and pasted from this book excerpt without giving the author, Martin A. Lee, any credit - the last half-page of the handout is the only part that the "author" (who identifies as "Green Angel") seems to have actually written.  Secondly, whoever this "Green Angel" person is, he/she has committed one of my worst pet peeves: taken actual, legitimate scientific research and used it to reach a TERRIBLE conclusion for the purpose of a political agenda.  

What that terrible conclusion is, I'll get to in a minute.  First, let me quote the actual sciencey part.  Pay attention to the various stages of source material, and how, much like a game of telephone, the original message becomes more and more distorted depending on who is relaying it:

"Animal experiments conducted by Manuel Guzmán at Madrid’s Complutense University in the late 1990s revealed that a synthetic cannabinoid injected directly into a malignant brain tumor could eradicate it. Reported in Nature Medicine, this remarkable finding prompted additional studies in Spain and elsewhere that confirmed the anticancer properties of marijuana-derived compounds."

This is all true, as far as I have gathered… and yes, it's pretty awesome.  The idea that the drug you use to make Dark Side of the Moon a more enjoyable listening experience is the same drug that could, potentially, be used as a serious method for treating cancer is an exciting prospect for pretty much anyone.  But note the word potentially.  As is almost always the case with medical breakthroughs, the actual results boil down to about 10% "this looks promising!" and 90% "here's what we still need to do before we know this for sure, and before our findings will be of any practical use."  In Manuel Guzmán's own words, from the original report:

"The fair safety profile of THC, together with its possible antiproliferative action on tumor cells, may set the basis for future trials aimed at evaluating the potential antitumoral activity of cannabinoids."

 Sure, phrases like "future trials" and "possible antiproliferative action" aren't quite as sexy as "pot cures cancer!" but legitimate science has an annoying tendency to be, you know, honest.

Anyway, the book excerpt goes on (this is still the part that was written by Martin A. Lee from his book "Smoke Signals") to compare Guzmán's findings to current chemotherapy drugs:

"Guzmán and his colleagues found that THC and its synthetic emulators selectively killed tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. No Big Pharma chemotherapy drugs could induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells without trashing the whole body. Up to 90 percent of advanced cancer patients suffer cognitive dysfunction from “chemo brain,” a common side effect of corporate cancer meds that indiscriminately destroy brain matter, whereas cannabinoids are free-radical scavengers that protect brain tissue and stimulate brain cell growth."

Fair enough, although the use of the phrase "Big Pharma" suggests that we're drifting slightly away from pure scientific analysis and slightly towards a more politicized discussion, but there's nothing wrong with that.  Lee then goes on to list similar studies from other scientists, who have found cannabinoid compounds to be useful in treating prostate cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, leukemia, stomach cancer, lung cancer, and more.  For each item on the list, he only briefly mentions the country or university of the scientists and provides a half-sentence description on what each study supposedly found.  I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that all of these studies are legitimate, partially because the online excerpt doesn't provide a convenient way to track down each individual source.

But then, the book excerpt ends, and I can't help but notice that there is a slight transition in tone:

"How do you get cannabis oil?  We all have "that" friend we know is a believer in the power of pot!  Ask!  Medical Cannabis is legal in 17 States and many countries- In Missouri and Kansas it IS NOT!!! This may be your first venture 'outside' the law but this YOUR BODY, YOUR LOVED ONE! YOUR LIFE-"

So, yes, clearly a different author now, and this suddenly sounds less like a scientific analysis and more like a sales pitch for cannabis oil.  But it gets better - 

"The latest studies show that chemo and radiation treatments accelerate and cause cancer cells to grow!"

And here's where I have some big, big problems.  Praising the medical benefits of marijuana is fine, as long as you're honest, but trying to convince cancer patients not to use chemotherapy is just fucking abhorrent.  Yes, chemo usually sucks, and unfortunately it's not always effective, but in its current form marijuana is still not an adequate substitute (and neither, I suspect, is "cannabis oil.")  By the way, the only source I found for the "study" showing that chemo causes cancer cells to grow is from this web site, which also urges you to not get vaccinated.  So, yeah, I'm not sure I'm going to buy this one.

After providing links to a few youtube videos (which I'm not going to duplicate here for the author's benefit, because I tried watching those videos and they're just… embarrassing) the author then goes on to mention that "cannabis oil" (again with the sales pitch!) can aid in treating diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, PTSD, and even skin cancer when applied topically.  No links, sources, or scientific studies are provided for this, of course, but we are assured that there are "mountains of evidence."

And then the author closes with this:

"I will say a prayer and a meditation for you on your journey to good health.  Good Luck and God Speed!"

So there you have it.  How many degrees of separation does it take to get from legit science to pure horseshit?  In this case, just one.  Let this be a valuable lesson to us, on this most sacred of holidays: always be skeptical of claims that sound too good to be true, even when they support causes that you agree with.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Youtube Friday: My Favorite Nostalgia Critic Reviews!

This may seem like an odd thing to say, but I really think Nostalgia Critic is one of the finest skeptics on youtube.  "But wait," you say, "how is this guy a skeptic?  All he does is rant about movies that we watched when we were kids and utterly obliterate all the fond, nostalgic memories we have of those films."  To which I would respond: yes, exactly.  Skepticism is the act of recognizing your own biases and evaluating something based on rationality, and disregarding all the things you want to be true that may be clouding your judgement.  And I definitely think that nostalgia is one of the most common ways that our perceptions of things gets skewered.  So, yes, I do think that skepticism plays a big part in Nostalgia Critic's reviews, and if you take the time to watch some of his videos (which are HILARIOUS), I think you might agree.  Here are three of my favorites:

Monday, March 25, 2013

I Feel So Sorry For Those Poor Bigots.

If you happened to read the most recent weekend edition of USA today, you probably noticed a cover story called "The Voices Against Gay Marriage."  It's not an opinion piece, so the author doesn't make any attempt to express his own views on gay marriage one way or the other.  But the article does make an obvious attempt to cast a sympathetic light on the various people and organizations that are still (what year is it? 2013??) against gay marriage.  Which is fine.  It's just not very convincing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Youtube Friday: The Best of Skepticon!

So, if you've never been to the annual skeptic conference in Springfield, MO, you are missing out.  Always a plethora of great speakers delivering incredible speeches.  Every year, though, there's usually one speech that REALLY blows everyone away.  So, I'm gonna share what I think are the highlights of the past three years of skepticon:

And JT's famous talk from Skepticon 3, "Dear Christian", is split into multiple videos.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How Sexism Harms Men (And How It Doesn't)

There is a curious conundrum for men who identify as pro-feminist and want to talk about "men's rights."  There is a lot of unfair sexism towards men, and for anyone who genuinely cares about building a society with true gender equality, these issues are worth talking about.  But, as I'm sure you have noticed, there is a general tendency among people who talk about "men's rights" and who align themselves with men's rights "activists" to be TOTAL FUCKING DICKBAGS.  Especially when these people have access to a computer and have just found the comments section of any blog/video/podcast that has the nerve to say something positive about *gasp!* feminism.

But, again, there are a few ways in which men are actually the victims of social inequality.  But getting back to that conundrum: I have noticed that a lot of feminist men who should talk about these issues often ignore them or focus their attention elsewhere, likely because they (understandably) don't want to be seen as one of those raving misogynist assholes that seem to be poisoning the internet these days.

I am here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way; you can talk about sexism towards men without being an asshole.  And the first, most important step is identifying which issues are legitimate concerns, and which issues are blatant fabrications from anti-feminists who are convinced that women are the privileged gender and men are the real victims.  

I am going to address a few specific examples, but first, I'd like to share what I think are a few basic rules of thumb for determining whether a "men's issue" is valid or bullshit:

1. If it's based on some guy's personal experiences with some women at a bar, and nothing else, it's probably bullshit.  If there are actual statistics and sources to back up the claim, you may want to keep listening - but be skeptical.  Keep in mind how easily, and how frequently, people with an agenda can misrepresent the facts.

2. If the claim is itself based on sexist generalizations of how men and women are "supposed" to act, or if the claim does nothing more than lament a general "loss of masculinity," then you can be certain it is bullshit.  My favorite example of this category is when men try to excuse or legitimize rape because the woman was being too seductive, and the man just "couldn't help himself."  (Epic.  Facepalm.)  You know you're just hurting your cause by perpetuating stereotypes, don't you?  And regarding the "loss of masculinity" thing - I hate to break it to you, but there is nothing wrong about the fact that your ten-year-old son doesn't idolize Chuck Norris the same way you did.  

If, on the other hand, the claim is pointing out these sexist stereotypes without endorsing them, and if there are plenty of real-world examples that show how these stereotypes play out in detrimental ways, then you may want to keep listening.

3. If the claim views something that is inherently gender-neutral as discrimination towards men, it is definitely bullshit.  It still amazes me how often men will whine about women who strive for equal representation in movies, video games, etc. with no sense of irony whatsoever.  To these people, anything that dares to point out sexism towards women is somehow marginalizing men, and any attempt to level the playing field for women is somehow interpreted as being inherently discriminatory towards men.  It is eerily similar to conservative christians who view any legislation allowing gay people to marry as discrimination towards the catholic church.

If, on the other hand, the claim is actually focusing on ways in which men are misrepresented or marginalized, and doesn't need to waste time whining about those damn feminazis, you may want to keep listening.  

Having said all of that, let's move on to some more specific examples.  (This list is in no way comprehensive, by the way - it's just addressing some of the most common claims of men's rights activists.) 

Men have a severe disadvantage in child custody and divorce cases.  This actually is, I think, pretty legitimate.  Fathers tend to be drastically under-accounted for in child custody, and a lot of this has to do with the lame stereotype that women are inherently better than men at raising children.  (You could maybe argue that men being more likely to become alcoholics has some part in it too, though I'll admit I am still a little skeptical about that study.)  

One of the best ways to counter this, guys, is to combat the stereotype that men are incompetent and irresponsible, and promote the idea that single men can be good fathers.  One of the worst ways to counter this is to blame it on the feminists, who are in fact trying to get rid of the sexism that is putting you at a disadvantage.  Moving on…

The U.S. military draft is unfair towards men.  Again, I think this is pretty legitimate.  And, again, this is based on a number of ridiculous sexist stereotypes - not only that men are automatically better fighters than women (we have drones for that shit these days, anyway), but also, that it is honorable and chivalrous for men to risk and sacrifice their lives for the womenfolk, and that any decent man would gladly join the military if his country needs him.  This is all very clearly bullshit, and I don't know any men who actually think this.  

There have been many attempts to make the draft a legal requirement for women as well.  Really though, I don't just don't think there is any need for compulsory military conscription in the United States, so if you ask me, the best solution for this would be to eliminate the possibility of a draft altogether.

Violence / rape against men is drastically underrepresented and underreported.  I think this is mostly legitimate (with a very important addendum I will get to in a second).  It is true that men tend to be less likely to report instances when they have been abused, either physically or sexually, and this is largely the result of a couple of sexist stereotypes (you beginning to see a pattern here?), the first being that men should be the ones who are physically dominant, and thus any man who "let himself" be physically abused is considered weak.  An equally absurd stereotype that does a lot of harm to men is the idea that straight men always want to have sex, and thus could never really be raped by a woman.

BUT - and this is a very important "but" - it is important to note that instances of men who face physical and sexual abuse from women, while underrepresented, still occur much less frequently than women who face physical and sexual abuse from men.  So while it is a good thing to shed light on the issue of abuse towards men, I would reeeeeally hesitate to call it a "men's issue" since it's really much more of a "hey everyone, don't be an abusive douchebag" issue.  If you are a "men's rights" activist and you care about this issue when it applies to men, and yet don't care whatsoever about abuse towards women (or your response is, "those feminists are just exaggerating!") then you are, quite simply, an asshole.  What's more, you are an asshole who is hilariously and disturbingly oblivious to your own hypocrisy.

Men are too often portrayed in films and television as being stupid, lazy, horny animals.  This is sort of legitimate, but really, let's face it, men still rule the world of entertainment, and any complaint about sexist representations of men on the screen falls flat if you honesty try to argue that men are at a disadvantage to women in this area.  For every incompetent and immature man-child on your favorite weekday sitcom, there are about five movies coming out that week starring Everybody's Favorite Action Dude in another installment of I Have A Penis, Let's Kick Some Ass.  And for every film centered around a strong, badass female protagonist, there are about fifteen other films where the most prominent female character has the honor of being the love interest for Everybody's Favorite Action Dude, and almost certainly spending her seventeen minutes of screen time either being captured or killed so the hero can avenge her.

So while I definitely agree that there are some ugly stereotypes about men being dumb, lazy, and incompetent - and I would definitely like to see less of these caricatures in film and television - this really is no contest here.

Boys have lost "masculine" role models and education has been "feminized."  I'm calling bullshit on this one.  The people who think boys need exclusively "masculine" role models are simply reinforcing sexist stereotypes, not combating them.  Yet this is one of the most common complaints you'll here from the contemporary "men's rights" movement, making it a classic example of how "men's rights" is actually sexist towards men.

Men who are accused of rape have to suffer so much!  Oh boy, doesn't this sound uncomfortably familiar.  Look, here's the thing - I can definitely feel some sympathy towards anyone who has to live with being known as a "sex offender."  Really, I can.  I know it can't be easy.  But you know who I feel much more sympathy towards?  The person who was actually raped.  And, sorry, but the argument of "accusations of rape will ruin a man's entire career!" falls flat once you look at the alarming number of athletes and celebrities who have been convicted of rape, yet still seem to have decent careers.  Yes, I'm sure it's a hard life being a convicted rapist, but if that sort of thing is necessary to help prevent more rapes… well, sorry rapists, this is one thing we may have to agree to disagree on.

Marital rape laws are unfair!  Wait.  Seriously?  This, well, um.  Wow.  Okay, I honestly find it really fucked up that one of the most prominent arguments of men's rights activists is that marital rape shouldn't be criminalized.  Maybe I'm missing something here, but I guess I never realized that once a man and a woman are married, "rape" can't actually happen, because apparently any kind of sex at any time is automatically consensual.  Or something.

Men should give consent before a woman can legally get an abortion!  Okay, I'm pretty sure the men's rights group is just trolling us now.  Right?  I mean, yes, of course it's a good idea for a happy lovely couple of discuss their options once the woman becomes pregnant, but to make it a legal requirement that a man has to consent to what a woman does to her own freaking body… oh wait.  So this is really about men trying to have some amount of control over women's bodies?  Hmm.  Why does this sound so familiar?  

Anyway, looking back at this handful of examples, have you noticed any patterns here?  How many claims are made about sexism towards men that conveniently ignore the reciprocal sexism towards women that is just as bad, if not worse?  How many of these claims are sympathetic towards male rapists but don't give a flying shit about women who are actually raped?  And, also, how many of these claims actually point out some legitimately fucked up sexism, yet in a masterful stroke of overwhelming irony and hypocrisy, put all the blame on the feminists who are trying to help?!

The bottom line is this: yes, there is absolutely some unfair sexism towards men.  Plenty of it.  But if you really care about fighting it, and you honestly want to help create a society that treats both genders equally, you shouldn't fool yourself into joining the men's rights movement, and you shouldn't blame it all on the feminists.  You should be a feminist.

…one other thing I should point out: I am not an expert.  I think I'm pretty smart, but I'm not going to pretend that I am an authoritative source of wisdom on this issue.  If I say something wrong, or if you disagree with any statement I make, please tell me, and I'll do my best to correct myself. (…If I agree with you, that is.  If I think you're full of shit, tough noodles.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

If you've never read Natalie Reed's blog... you should.

So yeah, you may have noticed I haven't written anything new for about a week... and while I don't have anything of blind-blowing substance ready right now, I will say this: if you've never read Natalie Reed's blog, you should go do that, right now.

First of all, because her writing is awesome, and secondly, because she's leaving Freethought Blogs and  I honestly have no idea how much longer her writing will be up.

Which is unfortunate, because I only just discovered her amazing blog about a week ago, and in that short time I've found myself reading her stuff compulsively - partially because it's just good, substantive writing, and partially because... well, honestly, a week ago I didn't know a goddamn thing about transfeminism, or transgenderism in general, or the long, embarrassing conflict between the trans community and a lot of second-wave feminists, including the facepalm-worthy transphobic comments of a couple of famous british feminists just a couple of months ago, or the equally facepalm-inducing talk of an "alliance" between the "men's rights" movement and certain trans people.  And now - heck, I still don't know much about any of that, but at the very least I've become aware of just how much I don't know, which is of course the first step towards learning more.

And that's occasionally a refreshing and necessary thing to be made aware of.  I can't really speak for other people, but me, I often find myself reading and re-reading books and articles that are well-written, informative, substantial... and ultimately just confirm ideas and ideologies I'm already familiar with so I can pat myself on the back and remind myself how smart I am, and how correct my opinions are.  It's a nice feeling, and it is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking you're learning something when you're really just experiencing the sweet, sweet rush of confirmation bias.

But it's also a really nice feeling, in a completely different way, to suddenly find out how much you don't know, and how much of your ideology might potentially be wrong, and to force yourself to find out more and to rethink things.  This is sort of what I had to do when I first started reading Natalie Reed a week ago and was suddenly introduced to transfeminism.  I had thought that I understood all the essentials of feminism more or less completely, and had never thought much about how compatible feminism was (or wasn't) with transgenderism because I had never bothered to learn about transgenderism.  And no, I didn't suddenly find a neat, perfect answer to this question because it's not as if feminists or trans people have reached some sort of universal consensus.  (The idea behind transfeminism is that they are compatible, and actually strive for very similar goals, but not all feminists or trans people subscribe to this.)

Natalie Reed, however, does an admirable job of explaining transfeminism and calling out the flawed logic behind some of the more sexist tropes found in trans philosophy, as well as some of the (embarrassing) transphobic remarks from certain feminists.  And while I'm still not sure if I agree with, or even completely understand, everything on Natalie Reed's blog, it is absolutely worth reading... especially if, like me, there's a lot you still have to learn about transgenderism.  I'm not going to attempt to parrot any of it here, because being a straight cis male I would do a terrible job, so you should just go read her blog now (this might be a good place to start; then read this and this), and then read as much of it as you can, before they take it down.

I'll just leave my favorite quote here:
"What gender you “are”, whether or not you “are” trans (or “really” trans), your “gender identity”, your “brain sex”, your socialization, your genitals, your chromosomes and your doubts can all go fuck themselves if they’re not making you happy."