New Jersey, Tennessee, and emotional distress

New Jersey passed an excellent law earlier this year in partial response to the bullying-caused death of Tyler Clementi. (The process of developing the law began prior to Clementi’s tragic death.) Primarily directed at the junior high and high school levels, the law provides administrators easier ways of dealing with bullies. This follows from the basic premise that harassment is not okay, even between minors.

I mention New Jersey’s law for two reasons. First, it bears relevance to a recent law passed in Tennessee:

A new Tennessee law makes it a crime to “transmit or display an image” online that is likely to “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to someone who sees it. Violations can get you almost a year in jail time or up to $2500 in fines…

The new legislation adds images to the list of communications that can trigger criminal liability. But for image postings, the “emotionally distressed” individual need not be the intended recipient. Anyone who sees the image is a potential victim. If a court decides you “should have known” that an image you posted would be upsetting to someone who sees it, you could face months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

I say this bears relevance to the law in New Jersey because of the second reason I’m posting this. Some random scrotebag on a friend’s Facebook wall thinks the two laws are equally or nearly as bad as each other. It’s obvious this person is an idiot. The law in New Jersey protects individuals from systematic harassment. The law in Tennessee prevents people from posting offensive images. There really is no comparison. Opposition to one is a macho-bullshit exercise in chest-thumping for the small dicked whereas opposition to the other is premised in the U.S. constitution:

If you’re posting…say, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group [then you’ve violated this law]…Pretty clearly unconstitutional, it seems to me.

It’s inane to me that people who can’t make such simple distinctions manage to dress themselves in the morning.

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.

October:
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.

November:
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.

December:
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.

Almost sorry

There is an excellent post over at The Stranger by Dan Savage. A listener to his radio show wrote him complaining of the way he placed responsibility on bigots for what happened to Tyler Clementi.

As someone who loves the Lord and does not support gay marriage I can honestly say I was heartbroken to hear about the young man that took his own life after being humiliated by people who should have known better. I think you need to be aware of your own prejuduces and how they might play into your thinking. At best I think your comments were hypocritical.

If your message is that we should not judge people based on their sexual preferance, how do you justify judging entire groups of people for any other reason (including their faith)?

I’ll get to Savage’s response in a second, but he didn’t directly address the listener’s question, so I want to tackle that first.

What is the difference between judging a group based on sexual orientation and judging a group based on any other reason? That question is a non-starter since it’s so incoherent, but the listener does give the specific example of faith. So how is that different? This isn’t that hard. Even though people probably adhere to the same religion as their parents, people do have a choice in their religion. They do choose to have faith, the idea that belief without evidence is a virtue. They choose to base their lives on certain doctrine and dogma. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is entirely different. That same level of choosing simply does not exist. I can choose to be gay no more than a gay woman can choose to prefer men.

But I like Savage’s response better:

I’m sorry your feelings were hurt by my comments.

No, wait. I’m not. Gay kids are dying. So let’s try to keep things in perspective: fuck your feelings.

Being told that they’re sinful and that their love offends God, and being told that their relationships are unworthy of the civil right that is marriage (not the religious rite that some people use to solemnize their civil marriages), can eat away at the souls of gay kids. It makes them feel like they’re not valued, that their lives are not worth living. And if one of your children is unlucky enough to be gay, the anti-gay bigotry you espouse makes them doubt that their parents truly love them—to say nothing of the gentle “savior” they’ve heard so much about, a gentle and loving father who will condemn them to hell for the sin of falling in love with the wrong person.

I wish we could see a lot more of this in the political realm. Of course, that would require honesty.

Tyler Clementi

It would be disingenuous and misguided of me to pretend like I can at all relate to what happened to Tyler Clementi. I’m a white male whose biggest claim to having anything remotely close to a hardship is being an atheist. The stigma that surrounds my lack of belief is trivial in comparison to what gays and other minorities go through. And there’s a significant difference: I choose to be an atheist. Tyler Clementi didn’t choose to be gay, no more than one chooses to be black or white. That was his identity – and he was forced to keep it in the ‘closet’. We have society to blame for that.

Minorities have been held down and ostracized and mocked ever since early humans began to notice the superficial differences we have between us. But how many minorities have been forced to stay silent on who they were? Blacks have historically been kicked, but they haven’t been forced to hide the physical color of their skin as a routine matter. The same goes for all racial minorities. This doesn’t make their plight any less significant or less important than any other plight, but it does make the discrimination gays face a unique beast. Gays are in the unique position where they can disguise who they are. The horribly hateful bigots out there take advantage of this, proclaiming the existence of some fairytale ‘homosexual agenda’, suggesting homosexuals want to teach gay sex to children, among all the other ugly lies we hear every day. This forces many gays to keep a major defining aspect of their lives a complete secret; fear drives them to hide who they are.

That’s why Tyler Clementi killed himself. If society accepted who he was because, damn it, he’s a human being and deserves at least as much, he would still be alive. He would graduate in three and a half years from Rutgers University, ready to contribute as much as he could to society, to his family, to his friends, to his own well-being. Instead we’re left with an unnecessary and permanent absence because that very society to which Tyler Clementi would have contributed so much is so immersed in a dark, dark hate.