The Baying of the Dickwolf

Cosplay is not Consent

At some point, and in the not-so-distant past, people lost their ever-loving minds. Collectively, we’ve gone a bit daft, at least as it relates to how we treat women. Being a bit behind in my news reading, I’ve just stumbled across the “Cosplay is Consent” story from PAX East (I read the piece written by Jill Pantozzi on The Mary SueI follow them, you should too). The first line of the article struck a chord with me, particularly the beginning: “Convention harassment is just an off-shoot of regular, old harassment but seeing it invade your ‘safe space’ can be tough to stomach.”

Cosplay is not Consent

So does the way these women dress give you the right to assault them?

 

It made me think about the recent events in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school football players were recently convicted of sexually assaulting (read: RAPING) a fellow female student. At first glance, you might wonder how I could compare two wildly different events. After all, the ladies at PAX East were merely dressed as Lara Croft, not drunk and unconscious at a party. The cosplayers weren’t physically assaulted like the young lady in Steubenville either. But I believe the root cause is the same – the notion that the victims somehow invited their attacks.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this trying to find the point in time when we decided, as a people, that women were responsible for how men act. We joke about it constantly – lots of comedians have made the “detachable penis” joke, and some even carry it into “my wife keeps my dick in her purse”. And to a certain extent, a man’s behavior is affected by the woman in his life, because men and women think differently, and he has to adjust his thinking to suit her needs. But that door swings both ways, and I think as a society, we ignore that. We place an inordinate amount of responsibility on women to act a certain way – with the idea that if they do, men will also act a certain way. When some men invariably fail, our society has been trained to find what happened; who was at fault, how did this seemingly moral person fall into deprivation  Those girls dressed as a sexy video game character, well they should know that dressing sexy makes men lustful and when men are lustful, the stop thinking with the heads up top, right?

That’s so offensive to me as a man, that I can’t accurately convey it.

Back to the research – as I was reading, I kept seeing the same themes over and over again: women as corruptors and men as mindless. The funny thing is, that even in societies where women were considered property, they were still revered and protected, and rarely reviled. One major root of our perception seems to be firmly planted in our Judeo-Christian foundations. In the Bible, God created Adam first, and then created Eve by removing one of Adam’s ribs. In Hebrew, the word “woman” is אישה or ishah literally means “from man” (the Hebrew for “man” is אִישׁ or ish). This concept is not universal, though. In most Indo-European languages, the words for Man and Woman are completely different (German: Mann and Frau; French: Homme and Femme; Greek: Anthropos and Gynaika; Hungarian: Férfi and – even the non-IE language shares the concept). Even in other Semitic languages, the words are different (Arabic: Rájul and Imrá’a). The Hebrews specifically looked at woman as being derived from man.

Now remember, Eve was tricked by the Serpent into eating the Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which is itself telling, since when they realized they were naked, they felt it was wrong…yeah…) and she in turn fed the fruit to Adam. When they were discovered, Adam didn’t say he was sorry, he said “She made me do it.” Similarly, in the Greco-Roman creation myth, man was created by Prometheus, but woman was created by the gods (sounds nice but  wait for it)… as a punishment for accepting fire from the Titan who created them. Her name was Pandora, and she was sent to men bearing a gift of a large jar (or box) which she later opened, releasing all the woes and ills into the world. In fact, Epimethius (her husband) and she had the first marital spat as a result. The Romans used the same story. SO as you can see, while they viewed women as a gift, they also saw them as the source for all the wickedness, strife and problems in the world.

So we are faced with two archaic concepts from our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman background that are working in tandem against us: woman are derivative from men, and thus lesser, and women are the source of wickedness and hardship. Hardly seems fair.

So back to the case in point – this “journalist” at PAX. I use quotes because being a good writer doesn’t make you a journalist. With the exception of tabloid media outlets, generally there is an accepted decorum involved between journalists and their subjects. I think it would have been a little different if this guy had just written his opinions into his piece. Sure there would have been some backlash, as there should be, but he could at least hide behind his right to share his own opinions, as ill-formed as they may be. However, when you actually approach and speak to someone, with the intent of publishing that response, you need to have some respect for the individual. The best display of the dichotomy involved is that Meagan Marie, the individual who confronted the offending “journalist”, has opted not to give his name, or the name of the publication which he represented (both were asked to leave the convention). She knew that the online community would rally to the call, as would the “dickwolves” (to borrow from imagery from Penny Arcade), and the shitstorm would ensue. Even still, enough is getting said to unsettle me (and make me want to write this).

So if you’ve read about the incident, you’ll know that the offending individual continued making negative comments along the lines of “they were asking for it by dressing that way”, and that’s where the parallel lies with Steubenville. The Defense wanted to call into question the young lady’s past, probably to build off the idea that she somehow went into the party with the expectation of having sex. But really what they were saying was, “she asked for it” by acting or dressing a certain way. And that brings us back to the “Dickwolves”.

Men, this part is for you. You should be offended by the idea that you have no innate control over your sexual urges. You should be insulted at the notion that a woman has such control over you that seeing any amount of flesh turns you into a sex crazed lunatic. You should speak out against the concept that our base state is that of a rapist.

Women, this part is for you. Be who you are. If you want to dress like Wonder Girl, or Lara Croft, or anyone else, then by god, do it. And do it with the knowledge that while there are some seriously damaged people who will revile you for it, the rest of us love you, and sit in awe of your beauty and skill.

And if you see someone assaulting or being abusive to a cosplayer of either sex: step in, interrupt and ask them if they’d like an escort to an volunteer. And remember boys:

Cosplay is not Consent

I think the sign says it all.

Separate But Equal… But Not Really…

Pride Flag

Normally I try not to get too political or religious on my blog. I have a lot of friends and family on opposing sides of a lot of issues, and I try my best to respect everyone’s beliefs, regardless of how I feel about them. We are, after all, supposed to be a society where we are free to believe whatever we choose. Supposed to be, at least. Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard two cases, back to back, that could define, once and for all, how we view marriage as a society. Those of you that know me outside of cyberspace know where I stand on this issue, but I’m going to take a moment to make a stand here as well. Why? Because I don’t think I speak loudly enough.

Pride Flag

One Nation, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice FOR ALL

Some quick background first. I am from the Midwest. My family history is a bit convoluted, but suffice it to say that my mother and father have both been married multiple times. I went to a Catholic Elementary School and High School and I graduated in the early 90’s. I served in the military under Bill Clinton and since then have made my way in the world as an open-minded and free-thinking quasi-Christian (that’s a discussion for another day). I grew up in a politically and socially conservative world.

So with that said, allow me to be perfectly clear – I am FOR same-sex marriage and I will vehemently oppose any who stand against it. With all my being.

You’re probably wondering why, though. Everyone always asks, “why”. An easy answer is that I have homosexual people in my life, friends for many years, that don’t enjoy the same freedoms and rights I do. That should be reason enough, but there are so many more. Growing up when I did, homosexuality was still very closeted. As kids, we always picked on the effeminate boys and the masculine girls (well not to their faces, those girls knew we had testicles and they knew how to hit them) and we bandied about words like “gay” and “faggot” to mean “stupid” and “wimp”. I’d like to think that back then, had I known someone who was openly gay, that I would have accepted them, but I know that isn’t true. Because our culture just doesn’t accept it, and even though I wasn’t actively taught that being gay was bad, I “knew” that there was just something inherently wrong with it.

Of course, as an adult, I know that isn’t true. I felt that way because I felt that way about everything foreign or different from the norm in my life. I remember in Basic Training, there was a particularly effeminate guy in the element (read: row of beds) across from me. We all assumed he was gay, but when we realized that he wasn’t trying to look at our dicks in the shower, it became irrelevant. He was damn good at his job in the barracks (as I recall, it was his job, like mine, to make sure that the shoes were lined up properly – yes, we had to do that) and that’s all we really cared about. Of course the Air Force isn’t known for being particularly macho, but there it is. During my time, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was instituted, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Being open about being gay meant an immediate discharge (as always), but so did asking, so we didn’t.

Once I moved back home, I became suddenly aware that homosexuals existed. And once the floodgates were opened, boy were they opened. People I never could picture as homosexual were so gay that seeing women naked made them feel the way I did when I saw men naked. And some of them liked baseball, and football, and some were just geeks. Some liked cars and others were into computers. And some of them were even religious. It was nothing at all like I expected. Every stereotype was blown out of my head, even if they tend to hold them as sacrosanct. That’s not to say that I don’t know some queens – Lord do I know some – but I was trained to expect ALL homosexual men to be that way. The media presents them that way. Even “Will” from Will and Grace had some easily identifiable homosexual “traits”. It made me a little uncomfortable knowing that I couldn’t just pick a gay guy out of the crowd. And then it happened.

I saw two men kissing.

And not just kissing. I mean really making out. Like they were really into each other. The way I want to make out with Christina Hendricks.

And it didn’t bother me. Not one ounce. Them being in love and making out didn’t threaten me in any way, shape, or form. My happiness and well-being was not affected by their kiss at all. That’s when I realized that homosexuality was completely normal.

Now I told you all of that so that you understand why this is important to me. I’m a firm believer in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and equality in the eyes of the law. I’m also a firm believer in the Freedom of Religion and the Separation of Church and State. I’ve been thinking about this a long time now, and I’ve seen all the interviews and read all the articles. It seems apparent that the reasoning behind denying same-sex couples the right to marry is that it will somehow devalue traditional marriage; a thought based almost completely on the Judeo-Christian idea that homosexuality is a choice and inherently immoral.

Using that chain of reasoning, I wanted to point out a few things. If we’re going to take the religious moral high ground, why are we picking and choosing? Matthew 5:27-30 makes it pretty clear that married men don’t have to sleep with another woman to commit adultery – just looking is sufficient. And further that you should gouge your eye out because it’s better to be half blind than a sinner.

So why aren’t we making adultery illegal? Or better, why isn’t the Christian right picketing to make it illegal for known adulterers to get married again. Hell, half of Washington would be sleeping in twin beds.

Let’s look at another one. In the same sermon (the Sermon on the Mound) Jesus adds that divorce is not only wrong – which contradicted the law of Moses – but that marrying after you divorced, or marrying a divorced person was adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). That’s right, according to “The Man”, sexual immorality was the only just cause for divorce (which was very limited compared to the law of Moses). Granted, Jesus didn’t actually define what was “sexually immoral”, but I imagine the audience to which he was speaking had a good idea what he meant, or at least they thought they did. To the Hebrews, sexual immorality covered things like homosexuality, adultery, prostitution, incest, rape (but only if she was married – otherwise you got to marry your victim)… oh yeah, having sex while menstruating. Yep, that there was a sin to the Hebrews. Still is to some of them. The penalties ranged from shunning (sex while menstruating) all the way up to death (incest, rape of a married woman, and homosexuality).

So why aren’t the people picketing to prevent divorcees from marrying?  Seriously, unless your wife was cheating on your, or whoring herself out, you didn’t have a real reason to divorce her. I mean who cares if she’s an alcoholic that constantly endangers your children or steals from you. Does it really matter if your husband abuses you mentally and emotionally? I mean after all, you belong to him (1 Corintians 11:7-9, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, Titus 2:5… I could go on… Paul didn’t seem to think very highly of women). I think the point was that the Hebrews could get divorced for a number of reasons, and the law favored men. Christ’s point was that a marriage wasn’t just a legal dealing, it was the joining of two souls.

It should be noted that at no point in the Scripture did Christ himself say that a union between people of the same sex was immoral or wrong. Logically, one could assume he thought so since he was raised Hebrew, but much of his time was spent telling the Hebrews that their interpretation of God’s will was warped. In the New Testament, it was Paul who said it, not Jesus, also reinforcing the Hebrew principle. But Jesus didn’t mention it. Not even in passing. Why not? I mean he laid it down so simply: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as you would love yourself. That’s it. That’s the secret handshake, guys. There’s nothing more. Why are we over-complicating this with doctrine and dogma and law?

And further, what the hell does any of that have to do with the legal institution of marriage? I mean the Egyptians and the Hittites and the Babylonians and the Chinese were all getting married before the Hebrews even knew how to write. Because sharing a soul also means sharing property, the civil institution of marriage is as old as the religious concept of marriage. So, let’s consider that marriage is legal and matrimony is spiritual. Why wouldn’t you let anyone get married that wanted to? Trying to defend the sanctity of your sacrament? Why? They aren’t getting married in your church. No one is forcing any church to perform marriages on people they don’t want. I mean, I can’t sue the Catholic Church for not letting me get married by a priest if I’m not Catholic. I’d get laughed out of the courtroom. So why the big deal?

“We’re protecting the children,” they say. From who? The gays? Are you seriously afraid that making gay marriage legal would suddenly mean  that every boy and girl will suddenly turn gay. Do you have any idea how preposterous that sounds? Or are you afraid that you’ll have to explain your antiquated and outmoded ideals to your child in a way that doesn’t sound bigoted and ridiculous. “Yes that’s right, Jimmy, the blacks and Asians are OK, but stay away from the Gays, they might be contagious…”

It’s time to face facts. The only reason a person wouldn’t want same-sex marriage is because they are are bigots. It’s that simple. “But they have civil unions – and that’s really just the same thing.” Separate but equal. Gay marriage has become the Jim Crow of the new generation.

The time has come for us to recognize the simple truth – we can’t call ourselves a nation of freedom when we actively seek to discriminate against ANYONE. Keep your beliefs in your church and let people marry who they want. It doesn’t hurt you. It doesn’t affect you any more than your marriage affects them. Homosexuality isn’t contagious and it isn’t abnormal.

Marrying a car is abnormal – and yet totally legal.

From Whence We Came…

Bad Science

This is not going to be a popular post. You’ll see why in a moment. I’ve mentioned before a discussion that my closest friend and I had during GenCon this past summer. It revolved mostly around belief and religion, and during it, he mentioned his feeling that when people truly believe a thing, they stop thinking about that thing. The actual processes in the brain change when dealing with that subject. One could say that we are hard wired to accept things on faith – probably because even in science, some things just have to be “given”. It’s an idea that goes along with another favorite maxim of mine, The Wizard’s First Rule – People are stupid.

On Facebook, I follow a number of science-themed pages. Deep down, I like to think of myself as a scientist, even though I don’t have any “formal” training. I suppose I like to live in a world that can be tested and quantified, even if only a small fraction of it. Science is real. Science can be tested and it can be proven. Basically, Science is the opposite of Religion. Religion can’t be tested or proven. It doesn’t have a process or system that builds on data or facts. It is built on faith, which is as strong as fact – arguably stronger.

I told you that this wasn’t going to be a popular post.

Bad Science

This. This is what I’m talking about. This is supposed to be science.

Now, this isn’t going to be a diatribe on what’s right or wrong with Religion, or a commentary on Religious thought versus Scientific analysis. Science and Religion both have their niches – they both do good things for humanity. It bothers me when people on both sides of the aisle begin to berate and belittle each other. What really torques me off, though, is when they try to invalidate the other, or worse, one tries to masquerade as the other.

Every day, I see or hear someone say something that just makes me shake my head in disbelief. I’m a firm believer in having a secular government, mainly because theocracies throughout the ages have been oppressive and generally bad for people. In fact, most Americans are against the concept wholly – unless the religion in charge is Christian… because Christians never oppress anyone, right? I won’t get into that little piece of hypocrisy here, but the other main culprit in the head-shaking is Creationism. For those that don’t know, Creationism is the concept that the account of the Creation of the universe as presented in the Bible is a factual and true account, to the point that they try to present it as an alternative to a scientific version of Creation. That is to say that they Creationists try to present their view scientifically.

Of course, that’s ludicrous.

Listen, let’s forget for a moment that answering the question, “why do you believe the Bible,” with, “because the Bible says it’s true,” completely invalidates itself scientifically. The current Creationist stance is literally this, “Since we know the Bible is 100% true and accurate, the science must be wrong, so let us find our own science.” To that end, they’ve spent a lot of money and time trying to disprove the other theory. What they don’t seem to understand is that the whole point of science is to disprove hypotheses, and since we don’t have time machines, evolution can’t be disproven. So what they’ve done is try to discredit any of the supporting evidence for evolution. Their primary target to this end is radiometric dating.

So, another quick lesson. Radiometric dating (the most common of which is Carbon-14 Dating), is the process by which known radioactive isotopes are measured in a given object. Because the half-life of radioactive elements is a known figure. detecting how much of a given element is in an object is a good indicator of age. Of course, there are variables to consider here, like what the material you’re testing has been exposed to and where it came from. This is why scientists cross-reference and check each others work. That’s what science is all about.

This is where our friends, the Creationists, diverge from the scientific path. Let’s start with the hypothesis, “The Earth is only 6,000 years old.” To prove or disprove this, you would have to find a way to age items you find that are old. In this case, the common process is the aforementioned Radiometric Dating. However, those tests show the Earth to be really old. We’ve entered the danger zone. It’s very easy to fall into “bad science” here because, as humans, when we believe something in our heart of hearts, it’s difficult for us to look at it with a critical eye, the kind of eye science requires. So now, instead of re-evaluating their hypothesis, they instead try to discredit the data that disproves it. To this end, the Creationists have created a sort of side-theory.

When radioactive elements decay, they produce particles (alpha and beta) and energy (gamma rays and heat). Alpha particles (basically Helium), which are commonly released by the heaviest elements, like Uranium, would be a common by product of the Uranium-Lead decay process. So, given the known rate of decay, the hypothesis being put into practice is that a specific amount of elemental and nuclear Helium should be present. When they didn’t find the amount they expected, they released a finding – that the materials tested previously and aged at millions of years, were, in fact, only thousands of years old based on the amount of Helium present. Do you see what they did there? They actually reverse-engineered their hypothesis out of the result. A normal scientist would that the result of lower amount of Helium as an indication that their original hypothesis was possibly wrong and either find other scientists to verify the result, or find another way to prove the hypothesis. In this case, they did neither. They are assuming that their hypothesis is actually absolute (meaning that in their theory, the rate of Helium generation and retention in a material is a known figure), and using the disparity as proof that radiometric dating is flawed. This is why it’s bad science.

Listen, I’m all for believing in something. I believe in God. I like to use the Moon as my “proof”. Because on our planet, and no other in the Solar System, and maybe even in the galaxy, we can have a perfect solar eclipse. Sure it’s probably coincidence – that’s the easier explanation – but like to think someone or something is watching over us. But that said, I don’t try to pass off my belief as science and for other people to accept it as such. Keep your faith in your church and teach it to your children there. Stop trying to pass if off as science and force it on my children.

By the way, I’d like to share something ironic with you as well. You know, the most rabid Creationists tend to be Evangelical Protestants. If you were to go up to one ans ask them if they believe in the infallibility of the Pope, some might laugh, some might punch you, invariably, though, the answer would be, “No!” What they fail to realize, and what cracks me up, is that the ONLY reason they think the Bible is the unerring and unfailing word of God is because a Pope said it was.

I love irony.

It’s in the Genes

A worker poses for a photograph in the anti-doping laboratory which will analyze samples from athletes during the London 2012 Olympic Games, in Harlow

***UPDATE***
Normally, I don’t update my posts in this fashion, but the relevance of the Lance Armstrong controversy demanded that I do so.

In a week that also saw the loss of the first man to walk on the moon, I saw it quipped that “it wasn’t a good week to named Armstrong”. And while I am more saddened about the loss of Neil, I think that Lance Armstrong’s issue will have farther reaching implications. And I’m adding it here because the relevance this situation has to the subject matter.

On Friday, August 24th, it was reported that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the organization charged with managing all doping tests for U.S. athletes participating in Olympic and Pan-American sports, has banned Lance Armstrong for life and stripped him of his record since August 1, 1998, essentially wiping out a career that has helped to bring his sport back into the main stream. Like I said… far reaching implications.

There’s a lot going on here, more than I think is being fully reported. Lance has been in the news for a while now about these allegations, and I think he’s finally giving up. And base on what I’ve read, probably because he feels there’s no way he’ll get a fair hearing if the same people who are accusing him are the ones who make the decisions (and they are). Any why would they think he’s been blood doping and taking synthetic EPO and testosterone? Because the evidence is not even circumstantial – it doesn’t exist. Armstrong has never failed a doping test, yet his accusers have been. Odd.

The USADA based it’s entire decision on “witness” testimony, which, honestly, considering the nature of competitive sports, seems short-sighted. This is probably why the UIC, the international body that governs the Tour de France, a contest Lance won a staggering seven times – in a row – is holding judgement until they see the entirety of the USADA’s case against Armstrong. The sad thing is that it is unlikely that the  UIC will counter the judgement because it would create a division in the sport at an international level.

What bothers me about this is that it seems like there’s a personal vendetta at work here. When Armstrong tried to bring suit against the USADA, it was thrown out on the grounds that his contracts stipulated that he must arbitrate with the USADA. However, the presiding judge was worried about the striking conflict of interest involved and the fact that Armstrong was never allowed to see any of the evidence being brought against him. Worse yet, they are destroying the reputation and legacy of a man who has done so much good. The USADA is only worried about their own reputation – they don’t see the larger picture. Who wins if Lance Armstrong is disgraced? Cycling? Dope-free sports?

It certainly isn’t Cancer Research…

***ORIGINAL POST***
This past Sunday (8/12/12) marked the end of the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Whether you watched or not, you cannot deny the impact the Olympics has on our society. Olympians are venerated and scrutinized in way that other celebrities aren’t – I’m reminded of the incident where a photo of Michael Phelps taking a hit off a bong, something a lot of people his age do, turning into a media circus – and the expectation to perform is higher than that of even paid athletes. This is why there is so much testing for “performance enhancing” drugs, though they test for other “illicit” drugs, like marijuana, as well. And despite this well-known policy, and the IOC’s well-documented record of stripping medals and sending participants home on the first jet out, people STILL do it.

A worker poses for a photograph in the anti-doping laboratory which will analyze samples from athletes during the London 2012 Olympic Games, in Harlow

That’s how high the pressure is. And you can see how far the events themselves have come, just based a comparison of modern competitors with those from the same events in the past. There’s a GIF making the rounds that compares the vaults from McKayla Maroney (her vault from the Team All-Around competition in which the American team won gold) and Larisa Latynina(from a 1956 performance – she won gold in the All-Around, Team All-Around and Vault that year, so it could have been from any of those competitions – She was the most decorated Olympian until 2012, when Michael Phelps passed her 18 medals with his 22). When you see the difference, it’s not just striking, its like comparing a beginner to an expert.

This animation shows gold medal vaults from Larissa Latynina (top – 1956; All Around, Team All Around – I don’t know which this shows) and McKayla Maroney (bottom – 2012; Team All Around).

With the constant pressure to improve upon what’s been the accepted standard in the past, I can see why athletes would feel the need to “juice”. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so as the major governing bodies have banned practically everything, even if it doesn’t improve performance (I can’t imagine anyone who’s smoking marijuana performing better because of it – unless it just mellows them out so they don’t over-stress – honestly, if you can smoke and still win the gold, you deserve it).

So what else is there? It’s obvious: gene doping. That’s right, genetic manipulation through virus injection is very real and very plausible. How does it work? Well, I won’t go into all the details here, but Alexis Madrigal wrote a great article for The Atlantic on this topic. In it he describe the process of how viruses are “defanged” (i.e. made inert) and inserted with DNA that is designed to produce a desired effect. In the example of Erythropoietin, or EPO, (which increases red blood cell counts, and thus performance – there are synthetic drugs that do this now and for which can be tested) the body can be tricked into producing more of this hormone. Current EPO dopers use synthetic EPO, which can now be detected (earlier tests used a hemocrit percentage, but unless tests are done immediately, they can be wrong). The allure of gene doping is that since your body produces EPO anyway, and you’re just finding a way to have it make more, it’s natural and not doping at all. It should be noted that the use of  EPO also falls into the category “blood doping”, and is very common with endurance athletes.

Of course, this is just one example. You could, conceivably, create a vector (a virus carrying DNA) to do lots of things, since they can be used to create hormones. Maybe you want one that increases muscle mass or metabolism. The danger here, aside from the obvious illicit aspect, is that our bodies are incredibly efficient machines as it is. And one could argue that this is even more true for Olympians and Professional athletes. Messing with the source code, as it were, only seems like it would increase the likelihood of dropping dead. The use of synthetic EPO has been linked to dozens of deaths over the years (mainly because it thickens the blood, which, as you know, can be dangerous), and that’s just one example. But as the pressure to perform increases, and the penalty for doping increases, I think we’re going to see more and more examples of this.

It doesn’t help when you have powerhouses in a field, like the Jamaicans were with the running events this year. Amazingly, genetics seems to be involved, at least somewhat, when you look at what countries do well in what events. West Africans (and their descendants it seems) do well in the short distance running while East Africans excel at the longer events. It seems to dispute the Tabula Rasa theory that dominated sports philosophy for so long (which is to say that each person is a “blank slate” and there is no inherent talent – anybody can be trained to do anything well – and that personal drive means more than genetics). Is there a way to ethically reproduce what Usain Bolt has genetically and pass it on to other runners to give them a chance to compete?

Science Fiction has approached this subject to a certain extent, but not so much from the stance of athletics, but more the stance of soldiering, which makes more sense in that venue. The Farscape episode, “Throne for a Loss”, covers the idea of soldiers being enhanced, and ultimately dependent upon a drug injected by a weaponized gauntlet. The drug is powerful enough to cause near immediate addiction, and makes the wearers (usually the Tavleks) incredibly powerful and difficult to reason with. They aren’t genetically dependent upon the drug, and it doesn’t alter them genetically, but it’s worth mentioning because, to me, it’s one of the rare occassions with Science Fiction addresses performance enhancement in a realistic sense. Another well-known treatment is from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After encountering a Jem’Hadar newborn, it is discovered that they are genetically dependent on a drug that makes them compliant and enhances their physical abilities. In their case, they are bred to be dependent on the drug and will eventually die without it.

It wasn’t difficult see a world where this could happen. We’re already indoctrinating our children at extremely young ages so that they can compete at this level. Female gymnasts are usually below adult age as an average, and Michael Phelps is retiring at the ripe old age of 27. I won’t argue that sports shouldn’t be the province of the young, I’m saying that at 27, Michael Phelps was expected to perform as well as he did at 23, which most of us realize isn’t realistic. It’s worse for gymnasts.

And if you don’t think they aren’t “selectively breeding” and training children beyond their abilities, I want you to think about this: the Chinese woman who won the gold in the 400 meter individual medley, Ye Shiwen, ran the last 50 meters faster than the men’s champion (Ryan Lochte, who is 28) in that event (there are some who say that isn’t unusual, and I get that, but his overall time was 25 seconds faster – there’s no reason she should be faster on the last 50 meters, even if she was behind) and she’s only 16. She broke the World Record for women in that race. I’m not accusing her of doping, I’m only pointing out that an incredible performance by a 16 year old has set the bar for everyone, including her, for years to come. There will be pressure to match or beat that performance, and the athletes will do whatever it takes to get there.

Who knows, maybe she’s half mermaid.

As I Understand It

This has to be one of the most profound things I've seen on this topic. And it scares the crap out of me to know that we have a capitol filled with people who "Believe".

As you know, I normally don’t wax political in these posts. Just once in the past have I focused an entire article on the concept and this post isn’t specifically about politics. However, it was inspired by events in the political arena. And I have a feeling it’s going to piss a few people off. But I think there are some things that need to be said, and some questions that need to be asked, and I’m tired of seeing this side or that side make wide-sweeping comments that seem to apply to anyone. So since no one is being objective – I will. Next article will be lighthearted, I promise.

So, my question is: when did science become opinion?

This has to be one of the most profound things I’ve seen on this topic. And it scares the crap out of me to know that we have a capitol filled with people who “Believe”.

Seriously. Twice in the past week, my good sense has been attacked by politicians, who in an attempt to pander to the base of their party, made comments that have no basis in reality. Not only were they scientifically inaccurate, but they were presented as being factual, and in both cases, buffered by the concept of “personal understanding”. It’s as if saying “the way I understand it” automatically gives credence to what’s said, and that it should be accepted as factual rather than opined. The way I see it, saying “the way I understand it” has become media code for “I’m an idiot, I have no respect for actual facts, and I’ll say anything to justify my archaic and uninformed stance”.

Rep. Todd Akin actually said, in response to a question about abortion in the case of rape, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” You can’t make this stuff up. This man honestly believes that a woman can willfully shit down her body in a way that can prevent pregnancy when she’s raped. I’m not sure what qualifies as “rare”, but it’s estimated that about 5% of rapes end in a pregnancy, and that women who are raped are actually more likely to conceive because they can’t choose not to copulate during a fertile period, and younger women in the peak of fecundity are more likely to be raped (credit ERIKA CHRISTAKIS – Todd Akin Fallout: Rape, Abortion and the Dark History of Qualifying Violence Against Women). This smacks of a man using his religious belief to justify a political stance. He’s since recanted a bit, and even said that he misspoke (he meant to say “forcible” instead of “legitimate” – as if there were “non-forcible” rape), but even after repeated attempts to ask him to step aside, as of this writing, he’s refused “on principle”.

Then just today (Wed. 8/21), State Senator Stacey Campfield of TN said, “Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community. It was one guy screwing a monkey and then having sex with men. It was an airline pilot if I recall…My understanding is that it is virtually — not completely, but virtually — impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex.” I wonder who he means by “most people”, because no one I know realized this. I thought we covered this in the late 80’s. AIDS is an indiscriminate disease. It is just as likely to proliferate among heterosexuals as homosexuals, when they aren’t protecting themselves. It’s just that heterosexuals are more likely to use prophylactics to prevent pregnancy – which as we have been told isn’t a concern among the homosexual set. As a result, AIDS rates have tended to be higher in the gay community. That doesn’t mean that you can only get AIDS from a gay partner. That’s ill-informed and downright wrong. And don’t even get me started on the first half of that statement. While we know that HIV (the precursor virus that leads to AIDS) originated as SIV in apes, there is no evidence that “screwing a monkey” is how it jumped species. It’s far more likely to have come from eating poorly prepared monkey innards and brains, since organ meat is a great way to spread disease (I’m not saying this is how it happened – just that it’s a far more likely scenario). Further, I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to try to have sex with an animal that can rip off my limbs without even trying. Apes aren’t always friendly when it comes it sex, and they have a nasty habit of biting off the genitals of their enemies. Not sure I’d want to risk that just to get off… especially when I still have my hands.

Now, I’m not discussing this to get into the specifics on the statements themselves. I’m really more interested in the reason the statements were made. During a lapse of activity on the last day of Gen Con, my friend and I were discussing the problem with trying to insert a religious code into the political system. He said something very profound and I’ll do my best to relate it back to you. He said that human brains are basically unreliable things. We think we know things, we can be sure of it to our core, and be totally wrong. And the danger in that is that when we believe something in our heart of hearts, we stop thinking and accept what our (or someone else’s) unreliable brain says is the truth. Science is basically just people knowing that their brains actually suck, and relying on one another to fact check what said brains come up with.

One of my favorite writers, Terry Goodkind, put it another way. In his book, Wizard’s First Rule, he addresses this concept in singular fashion. The namesake rule is as follows: “People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.”

Now THIS is a Presidential Ticket I can get behind. Because I’m positive they know the difference between actually understanding something and just believing.

There is a culture of anti-intellectualism building in our nation. At some point, these people, all of us really, are going to have to face the unpleasant reality that we don’t really know everything. And what we think we know is highly suspect. Faith is good, but you can’t ignore facts because they disagree with what you think you know. I’m not anti-religion, I’m anti-ignorance. And for God’s sake, if you think women who were raped were “asking for it”, or you think that an airline pilot had unprotected sex with a monkey because gay people do that sort of thing, or you think the Earth is flat, keep your damn mouth shut and stay away from my Congress.

No, seriously. Stay. Away.

 

Cinco de What?

Now before I get a billion replies of “Cinco de Mayo, fool”, I want to clarify. I know that today is May 5th, and I know that in Spanish, that’s Cinco de Mayo. I also know that it’s a holiday originating in Mexico. I’ll even up the ante and tell you that I know that it’s a voluntary holiday (akin to Columbus Day here north of the border), and that outside of the State of Puebla (which is where the Battle of Puebla which the day commemorates took place), no one really celebrates it. What I don’t really know, or understand, is why we care in America.

Now if we can only get them to give us the day off. Who wants a drink?

I get that it started as a commercial gimmick, and that the Mexican Restaurants took the chance to do what the Irish Pubs have been doing for years; cash in on an otherwise meaningless holiday. Case in point, there is a Mexican Restaurant across the street from where I work. I asked them, in passing, about the holiday, and the guy said none of them celibrate it. They just push it because people drink more and that’s where the money is. I can’t argue with that logic.

What I can argue with is the idea that we, as Americans, even need to celebrate this moderately obscure holiday. Now, without looking it up on Google, how many of you can tell me what happened at the Battle of Puebla? Who fought who? Who won? Why did it matter?…

Anyone?

That’s what I thought. At least I know WHY people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. He’s the patron saint of Ireland. I also know that because there was a notion that the Irish liked to drink, we ALL drink on that day. But we don’t celebrate Bastille Day… well most of us don’t. Some weird French expatriates and some “sister cities” do, but we certainly don’t make a big deal. I’ve never been told to have a “Happy Bastille Day”. We don’t care about May Day, or Lammas Day (another 10 points if you can tell me what that is). Why Cinco de Mayo? Why do we care when most Mexicans don’t even care.

Some people say that it’s a celebration of Mexican Culture, but I don’t see how going to a Mexican Restaurant after work to get drunk is celebrating anything other than the brewing process (or the fact that they figured out how to make liquor from cacti). Further, how is that relevant to me in Ohio. I would get it if there were loads of celebrations in the places that have large Mexican-American populations, but Ohio? I think it’s just another way that certain groups in this country are de-culturalizing America. We have our own holidays of national importance. We don’t need another excuse to get sauced. And if we did… for Christ’s sake put it in AUGUST. We don’t have any other holidays in August. It’s lonely.

Seriously, though, this just comes off as another attempt to force Americans into accepting Latin American culture as our own. As it stands now, Spanish is offered as a language option just about everywhere, mainly because we don’t have the backbone to force people to learn the language. My great grandparents.. ALL of them (except the Native American ones) came from overseas. All of them HAD to learn the language to function. My Italian great-grandmother learned English so that she could speak it in the home to her children that were born here. NONE of my grandparents ever spoke to me in their parents native tongue. To me, this is what it would be to be American. If I went to live in Mexico, how easily could I function, day-to-day, without learning the language? Especially if it were outside of a major city. I suppose this is a hot button for me because of the heat given to the guy in Alabama for wanting people to speak English in his state.

For the record, learning English would not strip these people of their cultural identities. However, forcing me to deal with people who can’t speak my language, or shoving their language down my throat does strip me of mine.