2010: FTSOS in review, January to March

Yes, this is one of those lists. And there are going to be four parts. Deal.

January:
There was some good stories from this month, but I can only focus on a couple. One of my favorites was the discovery that pushed tetrapod evolution back 18 million years. This was a quantitative change – not a qualitative one. That means that the discovery did nothing to change the relations scientists have constructed for species at and around that time (397 million years ago); it only increased the time frame in which we recognize tetrapods to have lived.

This was also the month when I was attacked by a bunch of caricature feminists. The whole issue arose over my position that a picture of two fat women on CNN was an objectification of fat people (because it accompanied an article about fat women). The caricature feminists took this to mean that I hate women, don’t think they should have any rights, and as I recently saw in an unrelated thread on an unrelated blog 11 months after the fact, that apparently I’m also racist.

And then there was the first threat of the Maloney Mess. It is not clear how the maker of that threat knows Maloney, but she apparently knows him well enough to be aware of the profession of his wife. (Everyone now knows she’s a lawyer since she amateurishly issued a cease-and-desist request, but that happened only recently.)

February:
The big hubbub during this month was the suspension of FTSOS. The reason had to do with Andreas Moritz and Christopher Maloney. I hardly need to go into great detail at this point, but briefly: I made a post criticizing Moritz nearly a year earlier. I later made a post criticizing Maloney. The two got in contact with each other as a direct result. Moritz emailed WordPress with information provided to him by Maloney. The claim was that Maloney was a doctor (not true) and I said he was not a doctor (true). Since there was a threat of a lawsuit, WordPress demanded I change or delete my statement. I did. But I was suspended anyway. As it turns out, Maloney is a naturopathic doctor, not a real doctor, so I was always in the right. But that wasn’t important to anyone at the time. Well, except Simon Singh, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and a number of other defenders of real science who helped publicize the censorship. And presto, I am back.

This was also the month when FTSOS hit the arbitrary mark of 100,000 views. I have always been open about the fact that I am fortunate to have images show up in Google Image, but the vast majority of views come from posts with substance. And really, that has always been the trick: Put up content that interests people and they will read it.

One of the biggest non-Moritz/Maloney posts was the one about circumcision. I always feel the reactions to these sort of posts end up very skewed because much of the absurdly vehement opposition is just that – absurd and vehement. It is a vocal minority being vocal. But they do have legitimate concerns. In fact, I suspect if I wrote that article again, it would go through some significant revision. But I do not see myself ever sharing the inane passion against circumcision that the anti-snip crowd displays.

March:
My favorite post from this month was the one on mitochondria and microsatellites. I wrote about the difference between how the two are utilized in studies on populations and evolution. Mitochondria is good for the long-term, but microsatellites can be very useful over short periods, perhaps over a few thousands generations. In the post I cited one study on the spatial and temporal structures of populations of Atlantic cod off the coast of Canada and Maine, extending to Nantucket Shoals.

There was also the heartbreaking story of Constance McMillen. Her bigoted southern school would not allow her to attend her prom with her girlfriend because, well, it was a bigoted school. A judge ruled as much, but the school then encouraged parents to create a private prom to which Constance would not be invited. Constance has since moved on, receiving scholarships from celebrities and others who respect her for being a human being who matters.

Another heartbreaker comes from the post about Kelly Glossip. Kelly was in a relationship with Dennis Engelhard, a police officer who died while on duty. And even though they had long shared their lives together, Kelly was not allowed to receive any sort of survivor benefits because the two were legally prevented from entering a same-sex marriage. I think if more people bothered to realize how their anti-gay, pro-bigot stances hurt real human beings, we would start to see a lot less opposition to equality.

Finally, I have to break with the short-lived tradition of only featuring three posts per month because I just have to mention my article about the reasonableness of absolute uncertainty. I wanted to explain what atheists mean when they say “There’s probably no God” since so many people seem to think atheism is the same as certainty. It is not.

Expect April to June tomorrow.

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Kelly Glossip

Every so often I will get a comment on a post from a person I’ve specifically discussed or who is specifically involved in the topic at hand. Sometimes those posts are inane. Other times they are worthwhile and concise. Then there are the times when they deserve to be highlighted for the sake of their sincerity, meaning, and even application to bigger social issues (even if that application has no bearing on what the commenter would say one way or the other).

So Dennis is shown gratitude for giving his life while he was working for the state of Missouri by leaving his entire debt onto his life partner. It just doesn’t seem like the state appreciated his life. This simply makes me sad; because he loved his job and loved helping others. Yet to show their gratitude for his life; the person that Dennis loved more than anyone (and yes I have the documentation to prove it, he kept a journal in his handwriting) he often states that I was his one and only and the person of his dreams. I’m thankful for Dennis giving his life for the safety of others, for that I will pay off his debt on my own. Because I unconditionally loved him and that is what love is.–May the Peace of the Lord be always with you and your family.

Written by Kelly Glossip, this was in response to my post about Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard. Engelhard was a Missouri patrolman who died in a traffic accident while on duty last Christmas. Under Missouri’s anti-equality laws, his partner, Glossip, is not entitled to any of the benefits upon death that would be awarded to married couples. Missouri has failed to make any steps forward in granting protections to such couples, instead forcing them to feel like they mean nothing, both socially and morally, not to mention economically and as productive members of society; of these four examples of forced demonization and degradation, the moral matter is the most important. However, given the nature of the concern over the loss of benefits upon death in the original article, the economic impact cannot be ignored. Glossip and Engelhard shared a home. Whether they jointly owned or not it is unclear (and Glossip need not clarify, both because my point can be made without further information and for his own privacy), but if the two are homeowners, it’s entirely plausible that the loss of one of them could result in the loss of a home. For those who make the disingenuous economic arguments against same-sex marriage (“What’s the benefit to the prosperity of the government?!?!”), this is one convincing reason to abandon such inane stances.

Of course, it has never been about the triviality of economic welfare.

Second-class citizenry

Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard was hit by a vehicle that lost control in the snow on Christmas day. His partner will not see anything from the state.

Under the rules of the state pension system that covers the Missouri Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation workers, if a trooper dies in the line of duty, his or her spouse is eligible for lifetime survivor benefits.

The yearly benefit is equal to half of the officer’s average salary during the officer’s highest-paid three years as a trooper. For Engelhard, the benefit would have been $28,138 a year.

Engelhard’s partner, Kelly Glossip, was at the hospital when Engelhard was pronounced dead. He mourned with the other troopers – just as they would have mourned for their own wives. The difference is that Missouri condones bigotry, so Glossip will not see any of that pension.

“I’d take 100 Dennis Engelhards. He was an outstanding trooper,” said Capt. Ronald Johnson, head of the Highway Patrol troop that covers St. Louis and surrounding counties. “His lifestyle had no bearing on his career.”