Austin’s March For Science

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

Comments: No Comments
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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A Day Without Women

This is the official logo for the March 8 event.

Organizers of the Women’s March are calling for a “general strike” on March 8, which they have dubbed “A Day Without A Woman”. The idea is that if enough women stay home from work that day, the rest of society will see how important women are to our economy — indeed our daily lives. In reality, of course, a lot of women can’t stay home that day; they’d be fired if they did and household budgets would collapse. Also, in real life, enough women will stay on the job that the effect won’t be felt by a terrible lot of people.

But it made me wonder… What if there was actually a day — a full 24 hours — in which no women existed? If scientists could somehow get women to blink out of existence, only to return a day later. Only males and non-adult females would exist for 24 hours.

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Inside The Mind Of An Evangelical Trump-Supporter

This is a page from a Donald Trump coloring book on sale for $8 at Sam’s Club in Killeen, Texas. Remember that there are people in our country who bought this intentionally and unironically.
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

Raised in a politically conservative religious household, I typically have a good understanding of the conservative voter. But I got lost in the maze of 2016. I couldn’t figure out the pathway from “conservative and religious” to Donald Trump.

We saw typically Christian men (Huckabee, Carson, Cruz) flicker and fade during the primaries. We saw typical conservatives (Kasich, Rubio, Bush) rise a bit before disappearing beneath the Trump tsunami. At that point, I assumed that few if any of the religious conservatives I’d grown up with could stick with the out-of-control GOP crazy train. But several of them did, boggling my mind.

At least one made it clear to me that his choice was based on (1) Clinton bad, and (2) Pence good. Trump was basically irrelevant, if not slightly embarrassing. I was afraid to ask the others how they brought themselves to check the Trump box on the ballot. But I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

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Wealth And Income Inequality: What Are We Really Talking About?

Wealth inequality in Europe and the U.S., 1810-2010
(Source — .pdf, 1.2MB)

The more I learn about wealth and income inequality, the more I realize I didn’t know — and still don’t know — and the more it’s obvious that many other people don’t know. Rampant confusion reigns. In my observation, most laypersons don’t understand the terms, and further don’t understand why we’re talking about them. In the spirit of bettering myself, I’ve studied up a bit on this over the past couple of years.

Following are a few things I’ve learned and/or clarified for myself:

(Please Note: This is a very long entry.)

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The Concepts Of Property, Inheritance, Money, and Interest

While working on a much longer entry about wealth and income inequality, I came upon a question that I couldn’t answer: how did it begin?

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Million Vs. Billion

Categories: Fact Check
Comments: 7 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.12

“Million” and “billion” get thrown around a lot in science and economics. It can be difficult to grasp the difference. “Just add three more zeroes” doesn’t quite get the gist of it.

Here are a few concrete examples to keep in mind, to help picture the difference between a million and a billion:

1 million seconds = 11.57 days
1 billion seconds = 31.69 years

1 million miles = 40.1 trips around the Earth, at the equator
1 billion miles = 40,100 trips around the Earth, at the equator

1 million miles = to the Moon and back, twice
1 billion miles = to the Moon and back, 2,093 times

1 million dollars = enough to buy nine houses exactly like mine*
1 billion dollars = enough to buy 9,009 houses exactly like mine*

(* At the original, new price in 2010.)

1 million pounds = about 250 automobiles, enough to fill a high school parking lot
1 billion pounds = 250,000 automobiles — all the cars in Killeen, Texas

Mean Vs. Median

Categories: Fact Check, Finances
Comments: No Comments
Published on: 2017.02.12

Not everyone deals with math every day, and that’s fine. Most people don’t need to know the following in their day-to-day lives. However, I write this entry so I can link to it from other entries that mention “mean”, “average”, or “median”. Most of us see these terms only in news stories about the economy: “median home price in Seattle” or “average household income in South Carolina”. It’s obvious from the comments (and sometimes from the articles) that many don’t understand the difference.

“Mean” is what most people mean when they say “average”. You get the mean by adding up figures and then dividing by the number of figures. For example, add the prices of all the homes sold in your neighborhood over the past year, and then divide by the number of homes sold. The result is the mean.

“Median” is something quite different, though in many cases it will be the same as “mean”. The median is obtained by listing the values in ranked order and then selecting the middle value.

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‘Don’t Like It? Then Leave!’ — A Lot Of Derp In Five Words

This week’s Stupid Meme

This meme, or at least its general idea, has been around for a long time. I first heard the theme as a youngster, when one adult made a formal complaint to another adult about the way a church was being run. A third party commented: “If you don’t like it so much, why don’t you just leave?” Since then, I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed about businesses, schools, and — more recently — our nation.

This meme in particular refers to President Donald J. Trump, saying:

“Don’t like him? Solution… Google a country with a President you like… then pack and move there.”

Note: I want to give this particular meme-maker credit for avoiding the ALL CAPS issue from which most social media memes suffer. Further, this one appears to have no spelling errors or randomly inserted apostrophes. Amazing. I also thought it kind to give us time to pack. Most of the time, expressions of this sentiment just want you to leave.

Here’s the thing: Ur a idiot. Okay, that was a low blow, and I take it back. Kind of.

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Why Can’t We Celebrate Achievements Without Hero Worship?

Categories: History
Comments: 7 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.05

Charles Lindbergh, May 31, 1927

Yesterday (Feb. 4), I noticed that it was Charles Lindbergh‘s birthday. I noticed it because of an editorial explaining why we don’t celebrate his birthday — because he was decidedly racist and sympathetic toward Nazism, not to mention a believer in eugenics.

My immediate reaction was two-fold. First, his birthday’s not important; he isn’t known for having a birthday (because anyone can do that). He’s famous for achieving the very first solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight. If anything, there should be a holiday on May 20 or May 21 — the day he took flight and the day he landed, respectively.

Secondly, I thought, as the title says above: why can’t we celebrate achievements without hero worship? Despite his views, which many found objectionable even in the 1920s, his aviation achievement was by all measurements amazing. He took a single-seat, single-engine, fabric-covered aircraft, its forward view blocked by an extra fuel tank, and flew it 33.5 hours alone across the Atlantic Ocean (from New York to Paris) navigating only by the stars and dead reckoning though he was often blinded by fog. To save on weight, he opted to do it without a radio, sextant, or parachute. This milestone in human history is certainly worth celebrating and remembering, and doing so does not require either ignoring or embracing his objectionable views on unrelated topics.

The same holds true for other human feats that we honor.

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It’s A Mistake For Democrats To Oppose Everything On Principle

Flowchart for a rational debate
(View larger)

With Democrats nearly fading to obscurity after the 2016 elections — Republicans gained control of all three branches of the federal government, control 34 of 50 governor’s mansions, and 66 of 99 state legislative bodies — I think Democrats are mistaken to oppose everything the new regime proposes.

And it’s even more true of partisan liberal organizations and liberal citizens than it is of the Democratic Party.

As a group, we seem to have forgotten that the biggest beneficiary of any debate is the audience.

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Thank You, Readers, For Keeping This Interesting

Categories: Personal
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.01

Monthly statistics for this blog

As shown in the screenshot above, January 2017 is my top month for views on this blog, which I’ve been running for nearly 12 years. (My first entry was this one, back when this blog was hosted on Blogspot.)

More important to me, however, is the statistic at lower right: 70 comments. I think that’s the most comments in a one-month period (not counting spam; I sometimes get 50 spam comments per day). This is what I very much appreciate about the blogging experience — communicating with interested persons. Most of the comments in January were from people I’ve never met face-to-face, but I’ve known them online for years.

While I would love to think my stats are increasing because I’m getting better at this — polishing my prose, stepping up my citation game, being more careful to proofread and doublecheck, etc. — my suspicion is that it’s a simple accident of the internet. Likely the topics I’m covering lately happen to coincide with search terms people are using.

For the record, I do not have a goal of increasing readership. I don’t have any illusions about my level of prowess when it comes to discussing any of the topics here. In almost every case, my blog entries simply reflect what I’ve been thinking about, and as always, I think better when I see my thoughts visually. If blogs didn’t exist, I would be typing these words into files on my computer. If computers didn’t exist, I’d be writing these words in a paper journal. But computers and blogs do exist, so it’s an extra-special bonus that I get to put these thoughts online — for better or worse.

Every time one of you adds something to the conversation, it makes me a better person. Thank you.

Welcome , today is Tuesday, 2017.04.25