What Is Cultural Appropriation? And Why Is It Wrong?

Categories: Racism
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 2017.06.20

My household has been busy recently, including a vacation in Galveston, visiting new babies on both my wife’s side and my side, starting swim lessons, and having birthday parties (BWF) and dance recitals (RLF). I also wrote an introspective and melancholy Father’s Day post.

Hopefully those are good excuses for not posting on this Verily blog in a while. But I have wanted to write here, and several topics have fluttered around in my brain. One of them is “cultural appropriation”.

Three years ago, I wrote a bit about “Columbusing” — which is related to but not exactly like cultural appropriation. In that entry though I focused specifically on meat pasties because of the NPR article that had caught my attention and didn’t drive toward a discussion of cultural appropriation — which is what I want to do soon.

As with any social or political viewpoint, I can be convinced with logical explanations, evidence, and clear definitions. This happened to me on the topics global warming and climate change, progressive taxation, gay marriage, and other issues. I changed my position once I more fully understood each topic. That might happen on cultural appropriation too. (My current position is: “I don’t really understand what the fuss is about, but I plan to learn more.”)

One problem is that I haven’t found a good working definition of it — certainly not a definition that fits all the scenarios. In specific instances I do understand the problem. For example when white people adopt hair styles traditionally associated with black people, and are praised for it, while black people are still kicked out of school or denied jobs for the same hair styles — there is a problem. But that problem is systemic ubiquitous racism, at least to my mind. It’s the fact that we (as a society) still treat people differently due to perceived race/ethnicity, even when we don’t intend to.

I hope to dig more deeply soon, because I don’t want to merely “I’m not convinced” my way through something that others claim is an issue. I want to know for sure. If any of my readers have more fully formed thoughts on cultural appropriation, feel free to share them in the comments below. It might help shape my research and writing on the topic. Thanks.

Maher Should Have Known Better

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Published on: 2017.06.03

Lots of folks are dumping their two cents’ worth about Bill Maher recently. I don’t carry cash or coins anymore, but here are some of my thoughts on the recent “incident”.

Background: Friday night (June 2), Real Time host Maher used the phrase “house nigger” — referring to himself — after guest Ben Sasse (a U.S. Senator) invited him to “work in the fields with us” in Nebraska. Criticism was almost immediate, coming from several directions, and the defense flew in just as quickly. By Saturday, Maher had publicly apologized, saying: “I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive, and I regret saying it and am very sorry.”

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Unfit Hypocrites At The Church Gym

Versions of this idea have existed since I was a youth in the 1980s — long before online social media existed.


The Metaphor Fallacy
This week’s silly meme compares a church to a gym and “out of shape people” to “hypocrites”.

It says: “Not going to church because of the ‘hypocrites’ is like not going to the gym because of ‘out of shape people’.”

So much is wrong here; I’m not sure where to start. I’m also having a difficult time assigning specific logical fallacies, so perhaps someone more versed in such things can help me out. At first, I thought it was the metaphorical fallacy, the mistaken belief that a metaphor provides an adequate cognitive frame for a given abstract concept. Now, I’m leaning toward false equivalence, in which “an anecdotal similarity is pointed out as equal, but the claim of equivalence doesn’t bear because the similarity is based on oversimplification or ignorance of additional factors”. Perhaps it’s something else. There might even be a straw man thrown in there.

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The Inherent Flaw In ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws

The past several years have seen a slew of “religious freedom” laws popping up — mostly in state governments, though a few arose at the federal level.


Still In The News
The “religious freedom” laws attempted in various states are an effort to head off court cases like the one mentioned in this story, about a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple and was later sued for discrimination.

As an example, take Texas’ current attempt: at least 18 separate bills in the 2017 legislative session. These cover any number of topics, all couched as “protecting the right of Texans to hold sincere religious beliefs”. The two that made it the farthest were House Bill 3859 and Senate Bill 522. The former would allow “faith-based” foster/adoption agencies to discriminate based purely on gender and sexual orientation; the latter regards county clerks opting to refuse marriage licenses to certain people. Others are added as amendments to unrelated must-pass bills, like the amendment to HB 2950 that would allow medical professionals to discriminate without repercussion if they claimed their discrimination was based in religion.

If you have the time, read the language of these bills/amendments and note some very important things. (Or just take my word for it.)

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Are Humans A Superior Species?

Here’s a question I found in a Facebook forum recently:


Why Nature Choosed?
English almost certainly isn’t the questioner’s first language, so I’m only considering the underlying assumptions in the question(s).
Why nature choosed humans to be superior . . . ?

Why not cats, whales, or eagles to lead . . . ?

English apparently isn’t the questioner’s first language, so I didn’t reject the post outright as I often do with poorly worded social media entries. However, the question itself rests on two major assumptions, which makes the question itself invalid — unless the audience agrees with those assumptions. (In logic, this is called the “complex question fallacy” or “loaded question”. The assumptions of the question force a false choice to the responder, as in the infamous example: “When did you stop beating your wife?”)

Here, I want to address the two assumptions, both of which seem frightfully common.

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Where Do Our Rights Come From?

The title of this entry is something I’ve been thinking about for a while — in brief spurts — but haven’t had a chance to sit down and really mull it over. What spurred me to finally deal with it was a post on Facebook, in which the American Humanist Association said “Nope” in response to a quote from our president (see image below).


From God In Heaven
This image, from the American Humanist Association’s Facebook page, contains a quotation from President Donald J. Trump, expressing a very popular opinion.

In the comments below that post, several interesting assertions were made:

• “…our rights were granted by a Constitution…”
• “Our rights are most certainly not granted to us by any document or institution.”
• “Rights are inherent, they aren’t granted by the Constitution.”
• “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR with certain UNALIENABLE Rights…” (quoting the Declaration of Independence)
• “Freedom does not come from the government or a sky monster, it is inherent in being human.”

Each person was sure they knew the answer. The Constitution grants our rights. Rights are inherent, not granted. The “Creator” endowed us with rights. Reading through this thread — and searching the internet for other input, it looks like these are the three major choices: God, government, or nature.

The conclusion I eventually came to is: Everyone is wrong. More fully stated, I discovered that few of these positions are supported by evidence or reason, and none of them are well-supported. I hope you’ll follow along with me as I attempt to sort this out, and as always I hope you’ll share your own views in the comments.

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10 Bogus Explanations For Millennials’ Lack Of Religion

Christians — especially mistaken authors like “Doctor” Alex McFarland — are pretty worried about the Pew survey which shows younger U.S.ians are leaving religion in droves. Logically, for anyone concerned with the longevity of religion, there have to be two immediate goals: (1) find out what’s driving millennials away from the church, and (2) figure out how to get them back.

Interestingly, that’s exactly what McFarland tries to do in his new book, some of which he repeated in a recent column published by Fox News. Perhaps unsurprisingly, McFarland immediately engages in what we atheists call “lying for Jesus” — inventing alternate reality and claiming it’s true.

Let’s take a look at his “ten reasons”.

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Wholly Unremarkable Observations On My Music Collection

Categories: Music, Personal
Comments: 5 Comments
Published on: 2017.04.30

Backstory: Now that we own a BlueTooth-enabled new car, I determined to curate my digital music collection, hoping to store on my phone just a “few” select songs that I don’t mind listening to anywhere, any time. So I went through every album on my hard drive over the past three days.


Neverday
Close-up photo of the guitar player for Neverday, a small-time band that played a Fourth of July Festival in Seminole, Oklahoma.
(Copyright © 2006 by Wil C. Fry.)

I’ve read that the average person owns 89 music albums (150 in the UK) — this was several years ago. I don’t know how true it is, or how we would calculate it in today’s world of digital music libraries and streaming services like Spotify.

I have more than 89. Way more.

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Locus Of Control

On the radio today, I heard a man say that “everybody” has either an external or internal locus of control. He explained what it meant, which I’ll do briefly: people either believe that events in their lives are out of their control — external locus, or they believe that they alone are responsible for things that happen in their lives — internal locus (according to him).

My immediate reaction was surprise. I thought: “Clearly, both are at play in everyone’s life; who doesn’t realize this?”

But then I remembered the Facebook memes.

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Ivy Taylor Is Delusional To The Point Of Being Incompetent


Home Sweet Home
A “house” on Oliver Street in Seminole, Oklahoma, that would more properly be called a “shack”. During my nine years in Seminole, I met multiple people who lived in homes just like this, because they couldn’t afford to fix them up and couldn’t afford to move elsewhere. They couldn’t even afford to leave town to search for better jobs. And almost without exception, they were religious.
(Copyright © 2007 by Wil C. Fry.)

A year ago, I wrote about some of the stupidly negative portrayals of atheists in the news media. In case you were wondering, it hasn’t stopped. Week after week, month after month, people in positions of power — including journalists — continue to write about atheism as if it’s the root cause of all society’s ills.

This time it was Ivy Taylor, mayor of one of the largest cities in the United States. The 46-year-old Democrat, notably the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a U.S. city with more than a million people, is a graduate of Yale University and worked in several poverty-alleviating positions before running for mayor in 2015.

Now up for reelection, Taylor was asked: “What do you see as the deepest, systemic causes of generational poverty in San Antonio?” She answered, incredibly stupidly for a person of her educational attainment: “I’ll go ahead and put it out there. To me, it’s broken people… people not being in a relationship with their Creator, and therefore not being in a good relationship with their families and their communities… and not being productive members of society. I think that’s the ultimate answer.”

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Austin’s March For Science (UPDATED)


I Have Arrived
Upon my arrival at the Texas Capitol on Saturday morning, I snapped a rare selfie to document my appearance at the event.
(Copyright © 2017 by Wil C. Fry.)

On Earth Day 2017, I attended the March For Science in Austin, Texas — the closest of about 600 worldwide satellite marches (the primary march was held in Washington D.C.) To be clear, I didn’t “march”. I observed, photographed, and talked to people. I met science teachers, a couple of actual scientists, college students, a local TV camera operator (who filmed most of the footage seen here), and others.

It was encouraging to see so many — about 5,000 by my count, though some estimated the number as high as 6,000 — come out to support the sciences. One part of my brain is still stunned that in the 21st Century so many feel the need to “stand up for science”; it seems like such a 1700s thing to do. But the informed, rational part of me recognizes that there are still significant and powerful forces at work to ignore, or in some cases eradicate, science.

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One Woman Wrongly Sent 21,000 People To Prison

The next time someone is sentenced to prison for drug possession, and you’re tempted to think “they got what they deserved”, I urge you to remember Annie Dookhan. Because of her forged test results, more than 21,500 people were convicted of drug crimes. Those convictions have now been overturned en masse (sadly, it took four years for this to happen). Chances are, many of those people actually were in possession of illegal drugs, but the point here is We Just Don’t Know. And this is just one chemist in the state of Massachusetts.

Dookhan has already served two-and-a-half years for her crime and has since been released. It is impossible to calculate how many years innocent people languished in prison due to her fraud. It is impossible to calculate how many job opportunities disappeared due to felony records, how many families lost income and support, how many children lost a father or mother to the bowels of the “justice” system. Far more than 21,500 people were affected, once you add their parents, their spouses, and their children.

It is also worth considering that rehab is far less expensive than prison — even for people who actually turned out to be guilty of nonviolent drug crimes, and that education/training programs can reduce recidivism by orders of magnitude, even for violent offenders.

(Note: I cross-posted this to Facebook.)

Jeff Sessions’ Actions Are Just Another Example Of GOP Hypocrisy

“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”

The quotation (source) is from U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Note that “local control”, much like “states rights”, is a regular conservative mantra.

But only in specific circumstances.

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Mike Pence’s Apparent Marriage Eccentricities Are The Wrong Place To Attack

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Published on: 2017.03.31

There are enough things wrong with Mike Pence the politician that you’d think liberal-leaning media outlets could focus solely on those. Of course, I’m not against delving into politician’s personal affairs — after all, they suckle at the public teat and I want to know where all my money is going. And I’m certainly not against investigating possible infidelities — if the politician in question has made a name for herself or himself by claiming to be a hyper-Christian or claiming to govern via the “Will of God”. Those folks desperately need to be investigated; far too many anti-LGBTQ pols turn out to have gay porn in their browser histories and far too many “sanctity of marriage” folks are discovered in bathrooms or on Appalachian trails with illicit lovers.

But when The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and Slate (among others) team up to make fun of Pence’s pet name for his wife, or how Pence and his wife are so very close, I was taken aback.

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Why We Still Need Feminism (Short Version)

Categories: Feminism, Sexism
Comments: No Comments
Published on: 2017.03.28
This is the drastically shortened, summarized version. Click here to read the full blog entry, complete with dozens of examples and source links, not to mention illustrations.

By the time I came of age — in the late 1980s — the U.S. had already made plenty of progress on women’s rights, including the all-important rights to vote, to work, to own property, to birth control, and so on. Though I agreed with the basic tenets of feminism, I thought (and I was told) that the fight was over. But over time, it became obvious that misogyny is still rampant in our society and culture.

Mentally, I’ve organized types of sexism into categories: legal, systemic, economic/commercial, and attitudes/bias. Though the first type has been mostly eradicated, the others still exist and must be fought. From sports to paychecks, from products we buy to how we run our households, from our language to our healthcare, it’s more difficult (and often more expensive) to be a woman in the U.S., and this should not be.

For me, it comes down to very basic morality. Is it wrong that our culture goes overboard to make it more difficult to be a woman? Yes. If something is wrong, should I work toward and advocate for a solution? Yes. Since I’m a man, does it really affect me in any way? Actually, yes. Yes it does. Half the people I know are women and girls. Their lives are better today (relative to the lives of their ancestors) because of the improvements we’ve already made, and that makes my life better. My life is more enriched because my wife is educated, liberated, and employed. My life is better because my mother was educated. My life is better because my sisters got to choose their husbands, their occupations, and how many children they would have. And my life will continue to be better if my daughter has these opportunities as well.

It comes down to being a decent human being. Can we deny the problems exist? No. Will they go away if we ignore them? No. Will anyone’s mind be changed by my writing or talking on the topic? I don’t know. But I can hope.

Why We Still Need Feminism : Mansplainer Version

Note: This is a very long entry, with many dozens of examples and source links. While I would LOVE it if readers made it all the way through, I understand why they might not. If you want a short, summarized version, click here.

In 2009, SCOTUS was composed of eight men and one woman. Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the only woman justice from 2006 (O’Connor’s retirement) until 2009, when she was joined by Sandra Sotomayor.

In 2012, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg took some heat for her statement that there won’t be “enough” women on the Supreme Court until “there are nine”. Despite her explanation that “there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that”, accusations flew from all quarters.

This is exactly why feminism is still necessary.

Ginsberg was only the second woman in history to be appointed as a SCOTUS justice, and is currently one of only four who’ve ever held that position.

But the demographics of the Supreme Court represent a tiny, elitist corner of the universe. What about the rest of society?

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We Do Love Our Noise


This is a screenshot of the middle of Texas, with Dallas-Fort Worth at the top, San Antonio at lower left, and Houston at lower right. My city barely shows up at this level of zoom. (Click image to see full-size screenshot.)

So there’s a noise map now, if you need a temporary-but-fun diversion from other concerns.

NPR (here), Wired (here), and others recently covered the U.S. Department Of Transportation’s National Transportation Noise Map, which is interactive and instructive.

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Do We Need A Better Way To Address False Convictions?

As I read A Botched Trial Leads To $30 Million Judgment For Nebraska County That Can’t Pay (Washington Post), I was struck that the story sought sympathy for the county (Gage County, Nebraska) rather than for the six wrongfully convicted people who filed the lawsuit.

In short: 68-year-old Helen Wilson was murdered in 1985 by an Oklahoma man (Bruce Allen Smith, who died of AIDS in Oklahoma in 1992), later proved by DNA evidence. Long before DNA evidence was common in court, three men and three women were convicted of Wilson’s murder and served a combined 77 years in prison. All six were exonerated by DNA testing in 2008, and they filed suit the following year. One of the six died before the suit resulted in a trial. Eventually, the case concluded in 2016 with a $30 million judgment against the county, which led to the Washington Post story in my lede.

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Bigly Disappointment

My lack of impassioned political blogging over the past (particular time period) should not be mistaken for an indication that my passion is fading. It is perhaps an indication that I just don’t know what to write about it anymore.

I do know that I’m disappointed in a few contacts on social media who have begun to retreat behind the “don’t bother me with political stuff” tropes. I have continued to bother them with political stuff. I don’t understand people who think politics is somehow separate from real life. I don’t know how full-grown adults can retreat into a mental cave and convince themselves that politics is happening “over there in D.C.” and should be ignored.

Of course, I’m much more disappointed in SCROTUS, and his co-dependent enablers in Congress. Day after day, the detestable person whose name will inexplicably appear in many future history books is signing away the progress we built for years, especially on the environmental front. That’s when he’s actually doing his job. When he’s not, he’s tweeting about imaginary wire taps in the hotel (which he still profits from) and irrelevant television shows (which he still profits from).

But I’m even more disappointed by the silence of the conservatives in my circles. I don’t know whether they’re feeling buyer’s remorse yet, or if they ever will. Perhaps they quit watching the news after the election, so they’re unaware of Twitler‘s ongoing feuds with his own sanity and common decency, or his regular attempts to boost his own ego by repeatedly posting about how bigly he is. Maybe they don’t know who he’s appointed to various cabinet positions, or that the GOP-controlled Senate has confirmed every nomination so far. Yet I had held out the forlorn hope that some of them would have at least expressed some form of dismay by now, something along the lines of: “This isn’t quite what I was expecting.”

I don’t feel hypocritical in saying so. Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate I ever publicly advocated for who actually won. And I publicly noted when he went awry. In 2012, I pointed out the bungling response to the Benghazi attacks. I called him out for failing to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and for accepting Super Pac money after saying he wouldn’t. I posted in 2013 about his ACA lies (and again), and about the overall failure of the ACA to solve the root of America’s healthcare problems. I criticized Obama’s stance on Edward Snowden, which was two-faced at best. In 2014, I complained about Obama’s over-the-top prosecution of whistleblowers and his willingness to wink and shrug at Wall Street’s malfeasance. I griped about Obama appointing a political donor and former telecom lobbyist to head the FCC, despite promising that he wouldn’t. I called him out for contradicting himself on “settled law”, even though it wasn’t the biggest news of the day.

And those were just a few blog entries I could find in a quick search of my site.

But, to date, I haven’t seen anything from any GOP voter decrying 45’s hospitalization-level behavior. Not one. They all seem to be okay with this. And that’s what has me in the doldrums this weekend.

13 More Christian Questions

Categories: Evolution, Personal, Religion
Comments: 4 Comments
Published on: 2017.03.03

The definition of atheist is straightforward.

In November, I responded to “10” (turned out to be 12) questions that a Christian supposedly posed to atheists. Today, I ran across another list. In case the Christians in my life have similar questions in mind but are unwilling to ask them, I post my answers here:

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