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The Importance of Protests

This past weekend millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump.  Many on the Trump side called the protesters “sore losers” or for them to “get over it” as they had won.  One called it a “hissy fit” and I saw a post that called it a “tantrum”.  All of these people obviously were just born and forgot how Obama was considered by many to be an illegitimate President.  The “not my President” was in full effect by conservatives, the same ones who say we should “get over it” cause we lost.

But snide comments by me aside, here’s the thing: All Presidents have protesters.  All of them!  The key here is that President Trump drew record crowds, just not where he wanted them.  Do people really not remember all the protesters of the Affordable Care Act?  Do people really not remember that the Tea Party was founded essentially in opposition to Obama.  The Tea Party has moved the Republican Party further to the right, and they were just protesters (with significant backing from conservative groups, but still).

Protests are an important and integral part of our democracy.  Here’s what I think protests in general, and specifically the Women’s March, accomplish:

They allow others to know they are not alone in their beliefs

More than anything the marches on Saturday were about letting women around the country know that all the effort and progress of the last 8 years was not going to be given up without a fight.  If you think women’s rights are not under attack just remember that no one is voting on men’s reproductive choices and whether or not birth control can be covered by health insurance (especially since many are prescribed birth control to regulate other things than births).  Protests let the LGBT community and Muslim Americans know that, “you are not alone”.  It let the world know that America doesn’t stand lockstep with our president.  That is an important message to send.

They give a visual to people in power

People in power or in office do not care what you tweet or post on Facebook.  They don’t really care about your moveon.org petition.  They care about votes.  That’s why it is more effective to call or write an actual letter to your representative.  Likewise, a politician who sees people mobilizing in their district, coming out in droves to speak on an issue (for example, at a town hall about health care), lets that representative know, these are voters and your constituents: you may want to listen.

The same goes for businesses.  They don’t care about a boycott that’s announced on twitter, but if you flood their phones with calls, they will.  If you flood networks with calls to stop showing their ads, they notice.  If you gather thousands of people to march outside of their headquarters, they notice.  One individual can rarely affect change, but thousands, millions, that is a voice that has trouble being silenced.

They can lead to more active participation in politics for regular people

Hopefully the people who marched will heed Obama’s message and get involved.  It can’t end with marching it must be followed up with voting and activism.  It must be followed up with new people running for office to unseat congressmen and senators.  It must be followed up with calls to representative’s offices and floods of mail.  It must be followed up with holding people to account and donating to good causes.  The Tea Party started as an opposition to Obama and the Affordable Care Act, the women’s march should have the same goal: to move Democrats further to the left and hold those accountable who don’t.  To run candidates in the primaries against those candidates who fail liberal values and elect those who will stand for liberal values.  The march is merely the beginning, but it offers hope to those who see the next four years as a roll back of progress.

Protests can do more than this, but these three things are what many hope to accomplish.  I hope to see many more protests, but more than that I hope to see a new wave of liberals running for every office from school board to Governor.

In Science I Trust

On Monday January 9th I went to the emergency room because I discovered an abscess on my leg.  I was admitted immediately because my heart rate was high and they were afraid I might be septic, I was mostly having a panic attack, but my heart rate took a week to get to normal levels.  I spent that week at St. David’s.  I was never in any serious danger of taking a negative turn (read: dying), but for my mother and father I imagine being 300 miles from your first born as they lay in a hospital bed fills them with dread.  They don’t know that I’m fine and just need the antibiotics to kill an infection (I wasn’t septic, but the infection had shown up in my blood).  When I left they still worried.

1ce0237a7a14a9a2a4dc57f3e22e00a2At times like this people thank their creator, but I’d like to thank all the scientists who made my recovery possible.  In the 1800s if I’d had this same problem there is a chance I’d lose a leg at best, at worst, I’d of died of sepsis. The reason that didn’t happen is because of the history of scientists and doctors saying to nature, “No, not on my watch”.

I was given a blood test that helped determine that, yes, I did have a slight infection. Testing blood in general has only been around for a little over a hundred years, and the ability to find infection…less than that.  So thank you to those scientists who worked to perfect, and are still working to make more perfect, that process.

To give the surgeon an idea of what they were going to have to drain from me, I was given a CT scan.  The first was invented in 1967 (according to Wikipedia) and first put into use in 1971.  Thank you Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield and Dr. Allan Cormack who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for this.

After this I was taken up to my hospital room.  I was put on IV Vancomycin (thank you Edmund Kornfeld) and Zosyn.

I stayed there for two nights and had surgery on Wednesday.  Now I’d like to thank everyone who worked hard and studied to become my doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse, tech, social worker, and case worker.  I don’t know all their names, but every single person at St. David’s was amazing and so supportive.  My surgeon was an excited young woman and you could tell the joy she derived from doing her job.  It was a little weird to have someone so excited to cut into you, but she did an amazing job and I regret that I wasn’t able to thank her afterwards.  I’d like to thank my wound care people who are ensuring that I am healed in weeks as opposed to months.  I’d like to thank the inventor of the wound vac (first put into use in 1995) which is why I’ll heal in weeks not months.  I’d also like to single out two people who made my stay amazing: my nurse Alex who made the first few days enjoyable (everyone I met there knew and liked him and was sad he left) and Megan who took my vitals and made the last days fun.  She had a great sense of humor and a great recommendation for feminist sci-fi authors.  I always love a person who can recommend a book.

I write this because there is a strong current of anti-intellectualism running through our country.  We live in a world where people deny evolution and climate change.  We don’t trust people who have spent their lives studying the things they are talking about.  If you’re one of those people, don’t go to the doctor or the hospital next time you’re sick.  If you don’t trust a climate scientist or a biologist why would you trust a doctor or surgeon?  Science is science.  Biologist, Chemist, and Physicist all use the same scientific method.  While medical studies are subject to more variation due to small sample sizes (and the lack of a control group because you can’t intentionally infect people with diseases), they still use the same scientific method.

I will be fully healed by the end of February if not sooner thanks to the work of scientists of the past and the doctors and nurses of the present who took care of me and made use of the wonderful technological and chemical advances we as intelligent, curious humans created.  When you besmirch or insult scientists you are teaching your children that intelligence is not valued.  That science is unimportant and has no impact on our lives.  But science is not just ensuring that people live longer, it is creating those phones and games that you enjoy.  Science brought you that giant flat screen television at a relatively inexpensive price because intelligent people figured out how to make things better than they used to be.  They used science.

This anti-intellectualism is what is going to cost America its place as a world leader.  If we raise children to not trust science or, worse, that science is a lie, we halt progress.  We ensure that those children will not create the next great medical device or come up with the cure for some disease.  If we teach that evolution is not true, we ensure that no child is going to discover a great anti-viral because viruses don’t care that you don’t believe in evolution they continue to evolve regardless.
Curiosity, experimentation, questioning the status quo, that is what we should be encouraging our children to do.  A little over a hundred years ago I would have died from my infection, in 2017 I was only mildly inconvenienced.  That is thanks to many people who decided to not let “nature take its course” over the intervening 100 years. Thank you to all those men and women, and to all the men and women who still work towards that cause.

You may put your faith in whatever you like, I’ll put my trust in science.

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Don’t Mourn…Organize

One of the things that has been irking me recently is that people who support Trump and even some of those who didn’t, keep talking about the many protests around the country as if they are about “whining” or being sore losers.  That is a great way to shut down their voices.  Look I’m not one of those, “he’s not my president”.  For better or worse he is the duly elected President of the United States.  I will support his agenda…as much as Republicans supported Obama’s.  Obama won Electoral and Popular votes, and Republicans stymied him every chance, so should we.  Republicans threatened to not even allow Hillary if she was elected to appoint a Supreme Court Justice, I think we should too.

Getting back to what these protests are about.  It isn’t about the fact that we lost, it is about what we stand to lose with a Trump presidency.  Already there have been hundreds of hate crimes committed.  I shared the fear that children are feeling as related to me by my sister who is a social worker at an underprivileged school.

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The point of the protests is to let Muslims, Women, the LGTBIA community, Hispanics, African-Americans, and the WORLD, know that America may have made a mistake, but there are still friends and allies in this country.  These protesters got off the sidelines to let their community know that there are still people who will defend their right to exist in this country.  That hate may have won a battle, but it will not win the war, because it never has. Trump brought the KKK out of the woodwork and into the light, and it is these protesters who are going to ensure they have no safe-haven, not through violence but through ensuring their message remains one to be ashamed of.  That can only be accomplished by making your voice loud and heard.  You know, by taking to the streets in larger numbers than them.

It is, however, not enough to just protest.  This is where Republicans constantly beat us Progressives and Liberals.  They didn’t get the election results they wanted with Obama, so they set about trying to ensure it would be harder for his supporters to vote.  Long lines at the polls is not a symbol of how great our democracy is, though it is great to see so many people willing to wait to just cast a vote, long lines are a symbol of a failure of governmental efficiency.  Sadly, it is intentional on the part of certain people.  There were more polling places closed this election year and many had shorter hours.  That was by design.  I don’t believe the election was stolen from Hillary, but I do believe there is a movement to make it harder for the poor and minorities to vote, you know supporters of Democrats.

So we as Progressives and Liberals need to go to work.  Organize and fight back.  Not with violence as they have, but with institutional change.  We must keep our elected representatives in check.  We must run for local offices.  We must motivate our community to stand with us.  We must ensure that in two years Republicans lose the House and two years after that they lose The White House. I mourn for now, but as I said in my Facebook post, I’m getting my ass off the sidelines.

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The Linus of the 2nd Amendment

I move to begin calling 2nd Amendment supporters Linus.  Hear me out.

I recently participated in the #cocksnotglocks rally.  I work for the company that supplied the dildos and warehoused others sent from supportive companies.  (Read my company’s stance here) When I first read the story, the day Jessica Jin posted the event, I immediately texted my partner Shannon and we were in touch with her before the weekend was through.  We knew we could supply the dildos and possibly drive a little business our way.  The idea of the protest was to fight absurdity with absurdity. It is absurd to freely walk around (or conceal carry) a weapon that can kill people, but if you carry a dildo out in the open…misdemeanor.  Until the company I work for, Dreamers, overturned the Sex Toy Ban you couldn’t legally sell a dildo, except by the same convoluted logic that head shops sell “water pipes”.  There is a reason all stores, and the industry as a whole, calls them novelties, because we couldn’t (and in most of the country still can’t) call them sex toys.  Marital aids is another popular euphemism.  So this absurd treatment of guns versus dildos is what the protest hoped to show in stark relief.

That point was missed by the majority of gun enthusiasts.

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Most of the responses in various comment sections (when not just being outright idiotic) centered around “why shouldn’t I be able to defend myself” or “good luck defending yourself with a dildo when some maniac begins shooting at your campus”.  Not to mention flat out threatening other people.  #notallgunlovers

This belief that at any moment you could be John McClane and need to defend Nakatomi Plaza is delusional.  I hate to use that word because of the connotations attached to it, but that is literally the definition of delusion: to believe something despite reality contradicting it.  This is the SAFEST TIME IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY to live. I encourage you to google that phrase.  Better yet, read Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker.  If you live in the United States you are seriously safe!

from factcheck.org

I’m not saying no one is in danger of dying, but ALL CRIME in the U.S. has decreased.  Almost every type of crime has decreased in Austin, including murder and aggravated assault.  In 2014, there were only 34 murders in Austin, a city that has a little over 900,000 citizens, and only 30 in 2015.  We have a lower murder rate per 100,000 citizens than Houston and way lower than places like Detroit or Baltimore.  So why so scared?

If you are a white male living in Austin you are at a higher risk of dying of nearly anything other than murder.  You have better odds of having a beer with Matthew McConaughey after which he pulls a gun and kills you. Seriously.  Texas Monthly said of Austin in their crime report when referring to how safe it is to live in Austin, “Austin is basically a fairy tale land populated by elves and hobbits..”

You’ll notice a lot of people in comments and in defense of open carry or concealed carry talk about defending themselves.  During the democratic debates Webb made a comment about Obama and Hillary having armed guards.  “Why can’t ordinary citizens defend themselves?” he asked.  Um, maybe because we’re not in constant mortal danger?  Obama and Hillary probably receive death threats on a daily basis, maybe even hourly.  If you are receiving death threats, you probably should carry a gun, or have a bodyguard, too.  That makes sense.  People threatening to kill you or posting your address on the net means your fears are not unfounded.  If you live in Austin and NO ONE has legitimately threatened your life, you have unfounded fears.  The gun makes you feel safe when you are not actually in any danger.

Which brings me to Linus.  You remember that character from Charlie Brown always walking around with the blanket.  Guns are nothing but glorified security blankets.  I’m sure you can point to someone somewhere defending themselves with a gun, but that doesn’t disprove my point.  Just because someone used a gun to defend themselves (and there is no way to know if they even needed the gun), it still doesn’t change the fact that YOUR odds of being in mortal danger have not changed.  We are ridiculously safe right now.  One of my favorite comments about Cocks Not Glocks was this one (which clearly illustrates the delusion of threat)

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If someone tries to rob me at gunpoint I’m just going to hand over my wallet (I don’t carry cash and can cancel each card within the hour) and my phone is insured.  Why would I pull a gun and escalate a situation that is already deadly and increase my chances of being shot? Why?

Also, what idiot would try to mug you with people around?  I know muggers aren’t the brainiest people, but still.

Here’s some more of the delusion.

fb post 2That second one is my favorite.  I assume he walks around with a defibrillator (735K heart attacks each year) and oxygen tank (130K stroke deaths).  Reminder murders per year: FBI data for 2014 showed 13K nationwide and again last year in Austin: 30.  You should be defending yourself against red meat rather than rogue gunmen.

Since 2013 there have been 191 campus shootings, but that stat includes every school.  There are 4,409 colleges across the country, 98,706 public schools (k-12) and 33,740 private schools.  That equates 136,855 schools and 77 MILLION students.  Which again, if all those shootings happened last year, as opposed over 3 years, colleges and schools would still be some of the safest places to be.

And I do believe it is true, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  I, however, believe that is why my tax dollars go to arm the police, FBI, CIA, and Military.  These organizations may not be perfect, but they are made up of other citizens of the United States and if you believe that some random citizen with no training is better than any of the groups I just mentioned, well that’s something to tackle in another blog.

Finally, I know it may not seem like it but I am not anti-gun.  If I had a little more disposable income I might actually own one and go to the range on weekends.  I grew up with guns and was taught to respect the weapon.  I don’t think guns should be banned and I’ve written three different times about how NO ONE WILL EVER BAN GUNS!  But I don’t think they are necessary.  That’s what this entire post has been about.  Just say you like guns and leave it at that.  Stop trying to make the patently false argument that you need it for safety.  Because unless you’re driving the safest car and also have a state of the art alarm system in both your car and house, and have your house outfitted with nearly bullet proof windows, then safety isn’t really what concerns you.

You should also ask yourself, where is this fear coming from?  Why do you need the security blanket?

There is no War on Christians in America

Look religious persecution is a real thing, and it is horrible when it happens.  However, there is no war on Christians in America.  How do I know.  Because I’m an atheist.  The problem is when you are religious you don’t notice all the little religious symbols, phrases, and themes around you.  You can’t see how pervasive things are.  America may not be a “Christian” nation officially, but it pretty much is, just ask a Jew or Muslim when the last time everyone took the day off work for a holiday that represented their faith.  At the University of Texas at Austin Good Friday generally meant a half day of classes.  Don’t see that for other religions.  Sure you can take a religious holiday off of work, but only Christmas is a federal holiday.  Also, try being atheist on Easter.  Seriously, I have to overpay for toilet paper and can’t shop at Best Buy (wait, I don’t shop at Best Buy regularly).

Also, do you realize how many places of worship there are?  I live across the street from a church, and I pass by multiple churches on my way to work.  I have a 15 minute drive and pass at least 4 christian churches.

North Austin Church Map
These are just churches in north Austin.  Every red dot is a church!

My sister once dated a guy who honestly believed that Christians in America were being persecuted.  We began to discuss it briefly in my childhood home, which is LITERALLY a stone’s throw from two churches.  I don’t mean figuratively, I mean I can literally throw a stone and hit two churches.  There is one on my block two houses down from where I lived, and if you go through my back yard and cross the neighboring property, there’s another church.  There are 11K people in my hometown and I know of at least 5 churches I’ve visited and according to churchfinder.com there at 18 Christian Churches (it probably doesn’t list the little revival churches of which there are plenty).  Even without the revival churches that’s still one church for every 600 people.  That map above shows churches in Just North Austin.  Liberal bastion of Texas, Austin! No matter which route I take home, I pass a church.  Even if you ignore the church across the street from me, I couldn’t pick a route home that kept me from passing a church.  If this is Christianity on the run I assume unchecked there would be a church in my home.

Forget Churches, how are people suppressing their religion?  The place where I buy breakfast Kolaches from plays the Christian Music Station.  For a while at the place where I would buy breakfast tacos, the woman would say, “Have a blessed day!”  I doubt she meant Mohammad should bless me.  You can’t run for political office unless you’re Christian.  Some Christians say that these politicians aren’t real Christians, but that doesn’t matter, they still have to lie and say they are to have any chance of winning office.  No President has ever been (openly) atheist.  The recent Republican debate had question that asked what God thinks of tax plans.

Bill O’Reilly and others on FOX claim there is a war on Christmas, but every year people still celebrate Christmas!  And if it is persecution to not acknowledge someone’s religious holiday…then I guess America persecutes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoist, etc.  If saying Happy Holidays is a war on Christians, then not saying Happy Hanukkah is a war on Jews.  It only follows.  Seriously, the only reason stores are decorated for the holidays is because the “holiday” is Christmas!  Also, if Christians were being persecuted, would they be allowed on television on the highest rated cable news network!

Try being an atheist for a day and see if you can avoid religious symbols.  You can’t.  I have a billboard for a theology degree that I pass every day on my way to work.  That’s some persecution if you can openly advertise for people to become experts in your religion.  I’ve been meaning to start an art project where I photograph all the religious billboards I see in Texas.

Atheist Community Center
Just one atheist center. One.

Frankly, if you think you’re being persecuted and you attend a church every Sunday with hundreds of others, you should really look up the word persecution.  When I drive around on Sunday mornings and pass these churches, they have cops directing traffic to help them exit the church.  They’re not there to protect people but to help ease the traffic caused by churchgoers leaving because there are that many of you!

So, let’s stop with this ridiculous rhetoric and save it for people who are actually persecuted.  There are people in other countries actually dying because of their faith.  There are people in this country who have their property vandalized because of their faith.  Just because someone doesn’t say Merry Christmas to you doesn’t mean you are in the same boat.

What will it take?

I haven’t written in a while, but I haven’t stopped writing in my head.  I guess I just had to get angry enough to feel the need to write and publish.  I like many people watched the video of the cop from McKinney, TX , my home state (Buzzfeed, who broke the story, has great coverage), wrestle a young girl to the ground and then sit on her.  It disgusted me.  As I watched it I knew that those on the right were going to find some way to say this was deserved.  I just hoped I wouldn’t see it since I don’t watch FOX.  I hoped if I had to see it, I would see it being made fun of on the Daily Show, so my anger would be mitigated.  Nope, saw it on my Facebook feed, then saw people who I assumed were intelligent agree with something Breitbart posted.  Seriously, Breitbart.com.  If you follow politics, you know Breitbart is not legitimate journalism.  It’s a right-wing website.  Unashamedly.  It’s anti-choice, anti-climate change, anti-Obama, anti-democrat.  Remember the ACORN “scandal”, with the ridiculously dressed “pimp”, that was Breitbart.  So, of course, they would claim this was justified, and the fault of the black teens. Continue reading “What will it take?”