2010: FTSOS in review, October to December

This is the fourth and final installment in the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the other three here and here and here.

The most important post I think I have ever made was the one about Tyler Clementi. He was the Rutgers student who was outed as gay by his roommate. As a result – and as a result of a bigoted society – he killed himself. His death was an unnecessary tragedy that ought to bring shame to anyone who has ever voted against civil rights for gays or anyone who has ever made one moment of a gay person’s life more difficult directly because that person was gay.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it was disconcerting to read that a few high school refs were being threatened with punishment for trying to support breast cancer research. They wore some pink whistles during football playoff games in order to raise awareness; they were later told they were in violation of some petty dress code and therefore may be facing suspension – including suspension of the pay they had planned to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. After the blogosphere erupted, the organization that oversees refs in that area (Washington state) backed down.

I also went to some length to explain a few basic things about religion that conflict with science. Miracles, directed evolution, intercessory prayer, and the belief that faith is a virtue are all things which science rejects. It simply isn’t possible for someone to hold belief in any of those things and also logically claim he has no conflict with science.

This was the month the board which oversees local quack Christopher Maloney agreed with me that by not referring to himself as a naturopathic doctor, he was creating confusion; people might think of him as a real doctor. Except for when he insists on putting himself in the spotlight or when there is a special occasion (such as this), I consider the issue he created to be done. He lost.

In this month I used the Socratic Method to explain our likely basis for morality. I largely pointed to our common ancestry and the obvious survival benefits that cooperation offers. I also talked about why we ought to act certain ways. We all use ultimately subjective reasoning, and that’s okay: Most of us share a number of values inherent in our nature. We use these values as our common basis for saying what is right or wrong. It’s sort of like a stand-in for objectivity. And we all have it.

I also used Edwin Hubble’s calculations for the age of the Universe to demonstrate a key point about science. One of the most enduring and annoying criticisms of science by people poorly versed in the sciences is that the practice has a history of being wrong. If it has been wrong about so many things in the past, why should anyone believe it now? Except science really doesn’t have the history everyone seems to think it does. The issue is with poor or limited data (such as what Hubble had). The scientific method actually has no limitations in and of itself. The limits come from our own minds.

I also discussed a paper from Nature which a number of creationists butchered. My focus was a particular creationist familiar to FTSOS readers, but a quick search at the time showed that a whole slew of creationists had fundamentally misunderstood the paper. This is understandable since it is unlikely any of them even read the paper (not that they would be able to understand most of it anyway), merely taking their cues from other creationists. In short, the paper was a study of how alleles become fixed in asexual populations versus sexually reproducing populations . In the former, alleles, if they are particularly advantageous, tend to spread through populations rapidly, quickly becoming fixed. But in drosophila, researchers found that for alleles to spread and become important, fixation was not necessarily required. Alleles act in much more complicated systems in sexually reproducing populations than in asexual organisms, so the way their frequency rises or falls is also more complicated.

Since I mentioned FTSOS hitting the arbitrary number of 100,000 hits in an earlier installment of this review, I suppose I will also mention that it hit 200,000 hits in December. There isn’t much more to add to this, though, is there?

In a more significant post, I pointed out that the Catholic Church thinks (probably without realizing it) that Double Effect is wrong. The Church stripped a hospital in Arizona of its affiliation because the hospital made the correct choice to save a woman’s life at the expense of the not-a-human-being fetus she was carrying. This is pretty much the example textbooks give in order to illustrate the very concept of Double Effect.

I also wrote about a local (real) doctor who supports some quackery. Dustin Sulak is from Hallowell, Maine and he has been making a living making out marijuana prescriptions. That’s all fine and dandy (and I’m sure he is being responsible with his power), but he also supports Reiki. That whole ‘field’ is just a bunch of malarkey that has no place in medicine. I find it unfortunate that a perfectly qualified medical professional would lend credence to something so obviously made-up like that.

Finally, I lamented the fact that Republicans were holding up three extremely important bills this month. All three – the repeal of DADT, the New START treaty, and the 9/11 First Responders health care bill – were eventually passed or ratified. The whole hub-bub was a political creation: the Republicans want to embarrass the President, not get anything done. I don’t think the Democrats are by any means wonderful, but at least they tend to be at least half-way pragmatic. And they want 9/11 First Responders to have fucking health care.

So this concludes my review of FTSOS for 2010. Hopefully the next dozen months will be even better.

I (heart) boobies!

Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez are suing their school, Easton Area Middle School, for suspending them for wearing breast cancer awareness bracelets which read “I (heart) boobies!” It’s another case of out-of-touch old people who are doing no good with their misplaced fear.

The girls were suspended for what the school considered “disruption, defiance and disrespect” — although they were previously told they had violated the school dress code. According to the school district, the bracelets prompted at least two boys to try to touch girls inappropriately.

“Do you think boys would have a natural attraction to girls’ breasts?” school district lawyer John E. Freund III asked Hawk in one of the day’s more awkward moments.

For real? That’s the issue? Two boys were “prompted” by what the girls were wearing? Didn’t we all learn in Common Fucking Sense 101 that sexual harassment is the fault of the harasser, not the harassed? Besides that, the two boys are in middle school. This is a good teaching moment, as they say.

Schools from Florida to California also have tried to ban the bracelets. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Pennsylvania girls on free-speech grounds and described them as good students, successfully intervened without filing suit in a few other districts.

I hate these arguments. I do not care if the girls were straight F students. That is not the point.

The judge plans to hear oral arguments in the case early next year before ruling. She asked the school’s principal for seventh and eighth grades, Angela DiVietro, if the bracelets had caused distractions before the ban was announced in late October.

DiVietro replied that teachers were concerned the bracelets would start to become “a disruption in the classroom.”

What is this, a humanities course? These mamby-pamby answers absolutely do not cut it. DiVietro was asked if the bracelets had caused a distraction, not if teachers were concerned that they could. She continues:

“They were concerned they were making a mockery out of the breast cancer awareness campaign, and some of the kids were wearing it just to wear it,” she said. “It was a fad. It was cute. It was more appealing to that age group.”

The correct, proper, mature, adult, intelligent, developed, sophisticated, effective response would be to hold a school-wide gathering that addressed these concerns with the students, making them aware of what the bracelets mean, what it means to have breast cancer, what is means to know someone with breast cancer, and all the other issues that come with not squashing obvious free speech rights because a couple old fogies are uncomfortable with a little word. If anyone is making a mockery of breast cancer awareness, it’s DiVietro and her crew; by engaging in a misguided attempt at censorship, they’re blocking out an important message, belittling the entire reason behind the creation of the bracelets.

The Keep A Breast Foundation aims to raise young people’s awareness about breast cancer through art exhibits, a pilot school program and outreach at music and skateboard festivals, marketing manager Kimmy McAtee testified.

“I see no sexual message in the ‘I love boobies’ campaign,” McAtee testified.

Crazy, huh? It’s almost like the whole point of the campaign is to raise awareness of breast cancer – especially among kids. I guess the Keep A Breast Foundation thinks it’s sort of an important issue.

Refs not to be punished

Those high school refs who wore pink whistles to support breast cancer research have won the day. Todd Stordahl, former Internet villain, has made the situation right.

“The WOA did not have nor continues to have any intention to fine, take away games or deny pay checks to any member due to wearing a pink whistle,” Stordahl said in a message on the WOA website.

He said the WOA “completely supports” many worthy causes, such as breast- and prostate-cancer awareness, but added there is “a process to follow.” Representatives from the two organizations will discus that process at an upcoming meeting.

“The last thing we want is to be at odds with each other,” Stordahl said.

High school refs may be punished for supporting cancer research

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month right now and a lot of people are doing a lot of good things to support research. One example comes from Washington where a group of high school refs decided to donate their playoff paychecks to breast cancer research – while using pink whistles. Unfortunately, Todd Stordahl, chair of the Washington Officials Association, wants to be a stupid prick.

The chair of the WOA, Todd Stordahl, told KING 5 News and MyNorthwest.com he has little choice but to discipline officials who used colored whistles. He claims that letting them continue without punishment would send the wrong message to student athletes.

“They chose not to ask for permission, not to go the right route,” Stordahl told KING 5. “It sends the wrong message to kids that are playing the game. ‘If they broke the rules why can’t I do the same.'”

Though no discipline has been decided upon, Stordahl indicated it was likely that pink whistle-blowing officials would be suspended for two playoff games. That would not only keep the referees from working at the annual pinnacle of their sport, but also cost them two game checks.

Ha. The wrong message? The wrong message?! How about this message, Stordahl:

Your mundane, stupid, silly, trivial, unimportant, meaningless rules don’t fucking matter. You’re taking money away from breast cancer research. How about you ask all those high school athletes with relatives with breast cancer if this is what they want? Ask them in 25 years if they feel they learned a valuable lesson from an asshole like you.

Fortunately, the refs aren’t backing down:

Meanwhile, MyNorthwest.com is reporting the PNFOA (Pacific Northwest Football Officials Association) is arguing the dress code for officials does not technically specify that only black whistles be used, which means any suspensions would be unwarranted. That follows a Tuesday PNFOA meeting in which the group’s president, Mike Livingston, said the board voted unanimously to use the colored whistles, regardless of penalty.

The officials themselves seem to be on board with the PNFOA decision, due to a commitment the referees felt to both breast cancer awareness and each other. There’s little indication that the threat that came Thursday night from the WOA will keep them from using the pink whistles they intended.

“A lot of the guys in the association have been touched by breast cancer in some way,” referee Jeff Mattson told MyNorthwest.com. “So we decided to take on the Susan G. Komen Foundation.”

It’s plainly sad that it’s actually necessary for anyone to delve into the legal minutiae in order to win this argument against that scumbag Todd Stordahl. We’re talking about human lives. I hope Stordahl gets fired.

Stordahl’s email: tstordahl@woa-officials.com

A plea worth repeating

This letter appeared in today’s Kennebec Journal.

Research in cancer has come a long way but still has a long way to go. There was an article out that there may be a vaccine for breast cancer in as little as a year. Hopefully that is true. But more needs to happen. Just recently lost a wonderful co-worker to cancer. Another is going through breast cancer. She had both her breasts removed and will soon be going through chemo and radiation. We need to do something.

There has been enough suffering. I will be working on a Total Cancer Awareness Dinner. I will also be having my head shaved and donate my hair for wigs for those who have lost their hair.

It will be for everyone who has passed on, those who currently suffer from cancer and any future cancer patients. This terrible affliction needs to stop.

It is possible to beat this. Imagine a life without cancer!

Jesse Burgess

South Gardiner

I haven’t heard anything of a vaccine that soon, but one researcher who is struggling for funding has had success in preventing the disease in mice.