Category Archives: politics

Thoughts, Feelings, And (Dire) Predictions For The Future Of Abortion (And Many Other Rights)

Let me start by saying I had a sinking feeling I would have to write about this a while back when Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. I also want to make clear that I am very hesitant to give my opinions and feelings on topics like abortion and not just because I’m a man who will never know what it’s like to be pregnant.

However, I think this moment in history is worth talking about. It may very well mark a turning point for the United States and the western world in general with regard to abortion rights and human rights in general. And it’s a bad turning point, at that. That much, I am willing to say.

But there’s no getting around it anymore. Last week, the Supreme Court made it official. Roe vs. Wade is overturned and abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right in America. It is hard to overstate what a big deal this is for women, men, and children of every age. I honestly don’t think I can put into words what a monumental shift this is.

That’s why I gave myself a few days to process it before writing about it or mentioning it in any meaningful capacity. Like many others, I certainly had a knee-jerk response when the news came down. Even though I wasn’t surprised, it still had an impact once it became official. And it’s hard to know where we’ll go from here.

Even with that extra time, I do find myself settling into a certain resignation to what this means for the near and immediate future. And it’s here where I want to share some of my sentiments.

First off, let me just start by saying my usual hope and optimism that I’ve discussed in the past is pretty much dead. I made an effort to cling to hope and some general idea that the good of humanity will overcome the bad. Well, now I’m willing to say it outright.

I was wrong.

I still believe there are good people in this world and they vastly outnumber the bad people. But the bad people are the ones with the money, power, and influence. They’re the ones who spent years working behind the scenes, exploiting the system, and lying when they had to in order to make this happen.

You can’t appeal to their humanity.

You can’t reason with them.

You can’t even call them out on their hypocrisy and expect that to change anything.

These politicians, judges, religious zealots, and advocates are as bad as they come. But that doesn’t matter. Don’t expect them to lose a wink of sleep over any outrage or suffering this decision causes. They knew what they were doing. They just didn’t care. And there’s nothing anyone can do to make them feel guilty about it.

Secondly, I also want to make clear that I have no more respect for religious convictions. Usually, when I talk about religion, I make it a point to say I respect the sincerely held beliefs of others. I even acknowledge I have religious people in my family.

Well, I still love and respect those people. But I have absolutely no respect for their religious convictions anymore.

More than anything else, this ruling has proven once and for all that religiously motivated morality is dangerous, detrimental, and regressive. It’s not a coincidence that those on the Supreme Court who made this ruling are devout Catholics, a sect of Christianity that has always been vehemently anti-abortion.

Never mind the fact that the Catholic Church has been behind some pretty horrific crimes.

Never mind the fact that the Catholic Church is run by celibate priests who will never need abortions.

This brand of religiously-motivated morality had driven the anti-abortion movement since the rise of the religious right. They claim they’re trying to save babies, but the end result is micromanaging and criminalizing female sexual behavior. If you need any proof of this, just look at how the anti-abortion crowd criticizes contraception.

It’s not hypocrisy.

It’s just a means to an end.

It’s also why this ruling is just a first step.

Make no mistake. This same court and these same politicians will go after birth control next. They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. They want an America where getting contraception is a crime, where any kind of pre-marital or extramarital sex is dangerous, and where women’s bodies can be controlled and managed by the state. Abortion and contraception are just obstacles and they’re going to keep attacking.

And lastly, here’s the final point I want to make.

These assholes are going to succeed.

I sincerely hope this post ages poorly, but give it another four years. I promise you that contraception is going to be the next thing on the chopping block. It won’t happen all at once, but it will happen. These people, who have ample access to oil money, religious organizations that don’t pay taxes, and a voting bloc that will never vote for another party, will keep pushing and they will push non-stop.

I’m sorry if that sounds dire or pessimistic, but this is where my broken spirit is right now. My faith in the future and in humanity’s ability to come together was already hit hard by COVID-19. Now, this is the final nail in the coffin.

It’s over now.

Evil didn’t win. Lying, cheating, power-hungry assholes won. And honestly, that’s worse.

Now, that they’re emboldened, they’re going to go after more rights. Losing a right like abortion and contraception access is just the beginning. It won’t be long before things like same-sex marriage, porn access, and voting rights are targeted. Yes, people will protest and voice their outrage. But that’s not going to change anything.

And here’s here where I’m going to make a few predictions. Granted, they’re very dire predictions and I hope I’m wrong about all of them. But having seen so many distressing trends in my adult life as an American, I think I’ve gotten a good feel for how our politics trend. So, this is what I expect to happen.

For the weeks and months after the ruling, there will be outrage and protests. It will garner quite a bit of media coverage. Abortion rights advocates will vehemently and passionately attempt to rally support.

But it won’t change a damn thing.

That’s because the people who make these laws and enforce them aren’t going to change their minds on anything unless it directly benefits them. Remember, they’re assholes. The most protests can do is mildly inconvenience them. Sure, you can try and commit to vote the anti-abortion people out of office, but because of gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, that’s not going to do much.

One way or another, these same politicians that fought to end abortion rights will keep winning elections. It’s not a matter of getting out the vote. It’s just a matter of them gaming the flaws in our election system to gain power and stay in power.

And don’t bother threatening them either. That’ll just get you arrested and allow them to paint your side as the violent radicals.

That’s no just me making an anti-violence disclaimer. Violence of any kind really won’t change anything with this issue either. The government has the soldiers, the guns, the military, and the drones. No matter how dedicated you are to fighting for abortion rights, anything you do to any authority figure will only mild inconvenience them and give them a perfect reason to put you in jail or worse.

With or without violence, the result will be the same. People will get bored of meaningless protesting and move on. Some other crazy news story will happen to draw everyone’s attention away from this issue, be it a celebrity scandal or some other political upheaval. And once the protests stop, it’s back to politics as usual.

By that, I mean that when November comes around, the republicans will win big because the democrats didn’t solve all the problems in America for the brief two years they had power. And once republicans get back into power, they will do anything and everything to ensure they can’t lose it ever again.

That means more restrictive voting laws and more efforts to ensure that their opponents can’t do anything to help anyone, ensuring they can paint them as ineffective in the next election.

Eventually, whether it’s in 2024 or 2028, there will be a situation where republicans control Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. When that happens, expect their control to be complete.

They won’t just take control. They’ll ensure that they never lose it again. That means they’ll be able to pass any law they want to end abortion access nationwide, ban all the books they don’t like, and make sure that everyone strives to live a life taken right out of a bland, boring 50s sitcom.

It’ll be a boring, repressive future in which women, minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community suffer horribly. But that’s where we’re heading. Baring a massive upheaval or an alien invasion, I don’t see this changing.

Again, I hope I’m wrong about all this. But this ruling has pretty much ended my remaining optimism for the future of America, the world, and human rights in general. This was just the first step towards a much larger regression. I wish I could say it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

But honestly, I don’t see that happening. Last week was a bad week, but make no mistake. The worst is yet to come.

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Filed under abortion, Current Events, politics, religion

A Brief Message To Those Protesting Disney For Supporting LGBTQ+ Rights

In general, I try not to react too strongly to news that pisses me off or makes me question my faith in humanity. I know that’s not easy these days. Everyone has a news feed. It’s generally not hard to come across a news story that just enrages you to no end or find some grifter political type saying something incredibly stupid.

I have written about certain issues and infuriating people in the past. I even admit that sometimes, that does help me process the stupidity and frustration. However, there are just certain stories, trends, and political talking points that can never compute for anyone with a single shred of decency or critical thinking skills. Those are the topics I usually avoid discussing.

This time, though, it’s just too stupid to ignore.

That’s because it involves misguided, right-wing habitual whiners going after Disney.

Seriously, they’re going after Disney. It’s not even because they have a long history of treating their workers like shit and manipulating copyright laws for their own benefit. They’re protesting their stance on Florida’s stupid “Don’t Say Gay” bill and claiming that Disney is “grooming” children for sexual exploitation.

Now, I don’t want to get into the many reasons why this effort is a textbook example weapons grade stupidity. I also don’t want to get into why the “Don’t Say Gay” bill should be opposed, both by major corporations like Disney and ordinary people who just have a shred of compassion. Plenty of people smarter than me can explain the issue and highlight why it’s so damaging to LGBTQ youth.

The most I’ll say is that it’s just a dick move in general, preventing teachers from mentioning important things like sexual orientation and sexual identity. Some may argue that these are topics that are not appropriate for children. I would argue that’s bullshit. LGBTQ people exist. They have families and children of their own. Ignoring it isn’t just absurd. It’s just an overall dick move to a vulnerable minority.

Haven’t we done enough of that crap over the course of human history?

Aren’t the lists of massacres and long-running traditions of discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation long enough?

Seriously, what or who does it threaten? How does teaching children that gay, queer, and transgender people exist harm them in any meaningful way? Being informed is not the same as being groomed.

That brings me back to the protesters. These misguided whiners are harping heavily on that aspect of Disney’s stance. They claim that Disney taking a position on a grossly anti-LGBTQ+ bill is part of an agenda to groom children for exploitation.

I sincerely hope I don’t have to explain just how dumb that is. Yes, I realize many of these protesters are probably radicalized from right-wing media bubbles and Qanon supporters. That shit is basically a cult at this point. They’re now in a mindset that assumes anyone who opposes them is somehow a child predator. I wish there was something I could say to convince these people how misguided that is, but I know there isn’t. If I tried, they’d probably just claim I’m part of the conspiracy.

Now, having said all that, I’d still like to send a message to all those whining about Disney, their stance on LGBTQ+ issues, and organizations that exploit children. I promise it’s not an attempt to convince them that they’re in a cult and they’re being brainwashed by grifters, politicians, and internet trolls fishing for clicks. It’s just a simple note that I hope they take into account.

You’re being assholes.

Seriously, you’re not helping kids, parents, or anyone for that matter. You’re just being assholes, preventing kids and their families from enjoying their time at Disney World. How is that stopping the exploitation of children? How is that going to make Disney any less “woke” in your eyes?

If you were in a real Disney movie, you’d be the villain. You’d be the bad guys. You’d be the ones making children cry, especially those who belong to vulnerable minorities.

I’ll say it again. You are being assholes and you actually are harming children. I don’t care if being an asshole is your twisted idea of fun or if you genuinely believe you’re doing the right thing. You’re making kids and their families miserable. I don’t care what you’re agenda is. It’s a dick move, plain and simple.

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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, politics

A Brief Message About The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill In Florida (And Those Being Proposed By Other States)

In general, I try to avoid talking politics. It just turns too many otherwise decent people into assholes and friends into enemies. I know I’ve touched on sensitive issues on this site and I’m very reluctant to bring that to my YouTube channel. I just feel like, most of the time, talking politics on the internet or even in person is just not a productive use of anyone’s time.

That being said, I still feel compelled to say something about the recent controversy surrounding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which has already inspired many other states to craft similar bills. I understand there have been plenty of discussions on this bill, but little in terms of substance. I also understand that the nature of this bill isn’t about stopping people from saying the word “gay.” It’s intended to prohibit teachers from discussing sexuality to young students.

I mean, it’s not like refusing to talk to students about certain topics makes them less curious about those topics.

In addition, it’s not like there’s something like the internet that allows kids to look up information on all sorts of things their parents don’t want them to know about.

I mean seriously. When has trying to prohibit discussion about a sexual issues ever had negative consequences?

That excess sarcasm aside, I do want to say something else about this topic that I do think is worth saying. So, in the interest of adding to the debate, here it is.

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Thank you. I hope I’ve made my point.

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Filed under LGBTQ, politics

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” Brilliant Breakdown On Sex Work

I know it’s been a while since I’ve discussed topics like sex work on this site. It’s something I’ve touched on regularly, from why our current laws about it badly need reform to why it’s wrongly conflated with the evils of human trafficking. It’s also an issue I think is still subject to many taboos, plenty of which bring out the worst on both ends of the political spectrum. It’s one of the few issues you’ll find radical feminists being on the same page as right wing religious conservatives.

I get that talking about it isn’t easy. I’m certainly not qualified to do so and I doubt I’ve changed anyone’s opinion on the issue with the arguments that I’ve made, which is disappointing since so few pundits or news media talk about it. Thankfully, that changed recently with John Oliver on his show “Last Week Tonight.” He actually dedicated an entire segment of his show to discussing the issue, why it should be decriminalized, and why our current approach is so flawed.

Now, I have my share of criticisms of John Oliver. I’ve even referenced them a few times before. In general, though, he does a pretty good job of breaking down complicated issues in a way that makes sense for everyone, regardless of their political persuasion. If you’re at all curious or in need of greater understanding on the issue, I highly recommend you watch this clip.

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Filed under health, human nature, politics, prostitution, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, television

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s not just another national holiday. It’s an opportunity to remember just how far we’ve come as a nation reconciling with its unjust past and how much further we have to go in realizing one man’s dream. Regardless of your politics or attitude, take advantage of that opportunity today. The past cannot be changed, but the future can be molded.

In that spirit, please take a moment to re-listen to Dr. King’s legendary speech, if only to keep that dream alive.

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How To Tell If You’re In A Cult With The B.I.T.E. Model

5 Cult Leaders With Murderous Intentions – AmongMen

Like it or not, religion is a big part of many peoples’ lives. Whether you’re an ardent atheist or an impassioned believer, there’s no getting around it. There are still millions of religious people all over the world, living their lives and practicing their faith. Even though religion, in general, has been in decline in recent decades, it’s still a powerful force in many communities.

By and large, most religious people are every bit as ordinary and decent as non-religious people. They live their lives, love their families, and generally go about their business. For some, their religion generally enriches their lives and that’s a good thing. I know plenty of people like that.

However, this is not about them.

This is about those who take religious ideology to a dangerous and damaging extreme.

I’ve talked about this kind of extremism before. It has led to some legitimately harmful trends. In some cases, it has the potential to be an existential threat to the world at large. While any ideology can be taken to a harmful extreme, religion can be uniquely damaging because it deals in abstracts, beliefs, and spirituality.

There are things you can’t touch, measure, or quantify. As a result, they’re incredibly difficult to contest and argue against. You can give someone all the irrefutable evidence in the world. If their preferred holy book or cult leader says the world is made of cheese, that’s what they’ll believe and they’ll cling to that belief with all their might.

This sort of thing manifests most prominently in cults. Now, not every cult is religious in nature, but religion is often a powerful driving force in many. Most of the cults that make the news for all the wrong reasons were religious in nature.

How people end up in these cults varies. You can listen to former cult members from all walks of life and get a different perspective for how they fell into it, how they got out, and why they became so captivated. These stories are quite harrowing and I encourage everyone to seek them out. They have many lessons to offer.

Following these stories may also make you wonder what sets a cult apart from a traditional religion. Like I said before, most religious people don’t conduct themselves in the way cult members do. On top of that, those who are in a cult probably don’t think they are. To them, this is their normal, skewed as it might be.

Given how diverse cults can be, it’s not easy to determine when a certain religion or ideology has crosses that threshold. Some argue that certain Christian denominations and political movements are cults, but usually as a means of insult or denigration.

Thankfully, people far smarter than me have given this subject much more thought and study. There’s one particular model out there that I find to be quite useful in discerning cults from ordinary religious activity.

It’s called the B.I.T.E model. Developed by Steven Hassan, a mental health professional who has studied behavioral control tactics, it’s a handy tool for assessing the cult-like structure of both religious and political ideologies.

The model and the name are an acronym for four general patterns of behavior that tend to manifest in cults. They are as follows:

Behavior Control: Involves regulation and micromanagement of peoples’ behavior from how they dress, how they eat, and what they do with their time.

Information Control: Involves organized efforts to withhold, distort, or manage the information people see in terms of knowledge, news, and education.

Thought Control: Involves organized efforts to shape opinions and worldviews of everything from their moral code to the language they use. The ultimate goal is to instill a warped view of reality.

Emotion Control: Involves manipulating and channeling a wide range of feelings, both positive and negative. The result is often involves instilling fear of outsiders and any differing opinions, as well as a sense of worthlessness that only the organization can help them resolve.

It’s not a perfect model, but it’s one of the simplest and most comprehensive to date. The model is structured in a way to include both religious and non-religious ideologies. If you were to apply this model to organizations like NXVIM or basic personality cults, it would check the same boxes as any religious cult.

At the same time, it also helps highlight how certain religious and political ideologies do not count as cults. Some may fit certain parts of the model, but not all. For something to really be a full-fledged cult, it needs to check all four bases and in a meaningful way. That also helps sift through instances where someone tries to call something a cult as an insult.

With this model in mind, I encourage everyone to use it to evaluate their own religious or political affiliation. That may not be easy. Like I said, people in cults usually don’t think they’re in a cult. Many don’t even realize how deep they were into it until they leave.

That makes self-assessment of your beliefs and affiliations that much more critical. The B.I.T.E model might not be perfect, but it is both useful and insightful. We all need to be critical of our beliefs. Given how dangerous certain cults can be, it’s important we know the signs before it’s too late.

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Why We’ll Never (Fully) Get Rid Of Misinformation

How Private Information Helps Fake News Hoodwink the Public

Being informed is important. In some cases, it is literally a matter of life and death. That’s a big reason why I’ve made multiple posts urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It could literally save your life. It’s also free, by the way. How many other things that could save your life are also free?

Seriously, people, get vaccinated. I’ll belabor that as much as I have to.

However, this isn’t only about vaccines or the idiots who refuse to get them. It’s about the “information” that these people are using to justify their choices. I put “information” in quotes because calling some of this stuff information is a poor use of the term.

Information, by definition, is supposed to inform. It’s supposed to make you more aware and educated about the world around you. Lies, propaganda, and misinformation do none of that. That sort of thing makes you dumber, more vulnerable, and more easy to manipulate by those willing to do so.

It happens in politics, religion, pop culture, business, and even shady marketing schemes. Much of these endeavors don’t have facts, truth, or verifiable information on their side. As a result, they require that people buy into whatever misinformation they feed them. It’s dishonest, disgraceful, and should be condemned to the utmost.

The problem is that people still buy into it.

Moreover, some people actively seek for this kind of information.

This is something I think many people have experience with, either directly or indirectly. I also suspect it has become a lot more relevant lately, given the rise of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theories. This sort of mentality was always present. The problem is that the internet and social media have made it disturbingly easy to spread.

Now, it’s easy and tempting to blame big tech companies for this phenomenon. Make no mistake. Big tech companies are certainly at fault to some degree. Many of these same companies also have done some incredibly shady things, to say the least.

However, I’m still of the opinion that, no matter how disreputable big tech companies can be, it still ultimately falls on the users to control what information they seek. Whether it’s Google, Facebook, or TikTok, these systems don’t operate in a vacuum. They simply respond to user input. We are, to some extent, responsible for the information we seek.

I’m certainly guilty of seeking out information that isn’t exactly reputable. There have been times, including a few very recent instances, where I find myself seeking information that turned out to be less than truthful. Even if it was for something as innocent as comic book news or NFL trade rumors, it’s still misinformation as best and outright lies at worst.

That may not do much harm if the information you’re seeking is only damaging to your Fantasy Football team, but if that information involved politics or your health, then that’s where the real damage can occur. I’ve already seen it manifest with friends who fell down some very dark internet rabbit holes. Some of that might have just been by accident, but I also don’t doubt it was intentional in some cases.

In recent years, I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to seek accurate, truthful information. I haven’t always succeeded, but I genuinely try to find true and accurate information, even if it’s something I don’t like. The fact it takes so much effort has me worried.

On top of that, it has led me to believe that it might not be possible to avoid misinformation. Even without the internet, it will find you. Propaganda and lies did exist before the digital age. It’ll likely always exist to some extent, so long as human brains are wired a certain way. Since we can’t change that anytime soon, despite the best efforts of Elon Musk, we’re likely stuck with misinformation.

This has me genuinely concerned because, even as some tech companies are making greater efforts to combat misinformation, it’s still relatively easy to find. On top of that, there are people out there working for nefarious organizations who are actively engaged in creating, spreading, and supplementing misinformation. Even if you shut them all down tomorrow, others will just spring up to replace them.

In some respects, it’s a lot like the war on drugs. You could arrest every single drug dealer in the world this morning, but by dusk a bunch of new dealers will emerge to take their place. Like it or not, there’s still a demand and there’s money, influence, and power to be gained.

Misinformation may not be the same as heroin or pot, but is subject to the same incentives. People actively seek it. Taking it in makes them feel special, important, and smarter than their neighbor. Today, it’s misinformation about vaccines, liberals, and gaming culture. Tomorrow, it might be about something else entirely.

It all comes back to how we’re wired. Our brains are not designed to seek truth or accurate information. They’re designed to keep us alive. Misinformation might be damaging in the long run, but it can make us feel better in the short-term, which is sadly more than enough incentive for some, even if it proves deadly in the long run.

I seriously wish I could end this on an uplifting note. I genuinely tried to find some way of putting a positive spin on this struggle. Unfortunately, the best I could come up with is to simply urge everyone to try harder to seek true and accurate information. If these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that bad information can cause a lot of harm.

We can never get rid of it, so long as our brains operate as they do.

We can and should still do our part. Truth and accuracy matters. You may not like it, but it may very well save your life in the long run.

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Climate Change Is Real And I’m Old Enough To Feel Its Impact

Rising U.S. concern about climate change is mostly among Democrats | Pew  Research Center

Science is a long, laborious, and often tedious process. That’s to be expected. It is, by far, the most effective tool that humanity has in terms of gaining greater knowledge and understanding the world around us.

It’s not always intuitive. There are times when science has revealed just how wrong we were. It’s not that we were all stupid beforehand. We just didn’t have all the data. We could only assume as much as our current understanding allowed.

That’s fine.

That doesn’t make anyone a bad or ignorant person for having held those assumptions.

Science, by its nature, is a self-correcting process. It doesn’t assume anything. It’s always taking in new information, running more tests, and expanding on previous hypotheses. Most of the time, it affirms what we already suspected. Sometimes, though, it completely defies everything we thought we knew.

For that reason, some people just love pointing out all the times science was supposedly wrong to cling to dogmatic assumptions like creationism and Flat-Eartherism. These people really are idiots and they’re often asshole grifters who don’t deserve the slightest bit of sympathy.

Then, there are the climate change deniers. They’re not just skeptics, which I can understand to some extent. They’re outright deniers in that they work under the assumption that the whole study of climate change is a hoax or some environmentalist conspiracy.

Now, not everyone in that camp is a stupid asshole grifter who probably leans conservative and has connections to oil companies. Those people are certainly there and they deserve plenty of scorn. At the same time, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to some who just can’t see the forest from the trees.

To the latter, I’d like to share my own personal testimony that I hope will improve your understanding of the topic. Whether you believe it or not, climate change is a serious issue that could have serious consequences for billions of people all over the world. We can and should do something about it while we still have time.

I say that as someone who has been hearing about these environmental for most of his life. When I was a kid, I grew up watching cartoons that often threw in a few pro-environment messages. There were even shows that presented global warming as a serious issue and I’m not just talking about “Captain Planet.”

As a kid, I didn’t understand much of the science. Even most of the adults I talked to didn’t understand it. Some showed concern, but most weren’t inclined to give it much credence. Some even thought it was all just environmentalist propaganda.

It didn’t help that many of them lived in parts of the country where the weather didn’t change considerably from season to season. Many lived in the southern United States where they rarely got snow or cold temperatures of any kind. If the Earth was getting warmer, they weren’t going to notice.

The same could be said for the family I had living in the north. Some lived in areas that got a lot of snow. Talk to them about global warming and they’d be more likely to welcome it, often joking about how they wouldn’t mind shoveling less snow every winter.

Again, both these perspectives miss the forest from the trees. Climate, by definition, doesn’t focus on weather from day to day or even year to year. It tracks temperatures and conditions over a long span of time. For people who don’t pay attention or live in areas with relatively bland weather, it can be hard to sense.

For where I live, however, that’s not the case. I live in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States. It’s an area that sees a wide range of conditions between winter and summer. I’ve lived through summers where it has been over 100 degrees for weeks on end. I’ve also lived through winters that have had multiple blizzards. I’ve experienced both extremes.

As a result, I take notice when those extreme change considerably. It doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes, it’s subtle to the point where you don’t realize it until years later. Now, given my age and how long I’ve been living in this area, I can safely say that I have felt the affects of climate change.

It has only become obvious to me over the past few years. In that time, I’ve really taken note of how mild every winter has been lately. It used to be things got pretty brisk in mid-October. In the weeks before Halloween, I had to stop wearing shorts and keep a sweatshirt handy. For the past couple years, it only seems to get chilly for a couple of days. Then, it’s up over 70 degrees again.

The winter months have been even more noticeable. When I was a kid, it rarely snowed in December, outside a few rare occasions. However, it was still usually cold, so much so that I had to wear a heavy coat for most days. These days, it has rarely gotten overly cold. I can go almost the entire month of December without having to wear more than a sweatshirt.

It’s still January and February that have been the most noticeable. For so many years, right up until 2015, I could usually count on at least two significant snowstorms. They were rarely full-blown blizzards, but it was still common to see some snow on the ground for the majority of the month.

That has changed considerably in recent years. In my area, there hasn’t been a significant snowstorm in over five years. The most we’ve gotten is, at most, four inches in a single storm. It usually turns to rain and melts within a day.

It’s a hell of a contrast to the winters I remember. Add that to summers that feel hotter and more humid for longer stretches of time and there’s no getting around it.

Climate change is real.

I’ve felt it. I’ve witnessed it. I’m seeing it happen within my lifetime.

I understand that climate involves weather patterns over a long period of time, often exceeding that of a typical human lifetime. However, even if it is anecdotal, I’ve still felt it. That’s deeply concerning to me. Even if it means I don’t have to shovel snow quite as often, it’s still cause for concern.

If the climate is changing that much in this span of time, then I think that’s going to be a bigger problem as time goes on. Moreover, it’s a problem we shouldn’t ignore or underscore. Regardless of your politics, you’re going to be affected by the weather, whether you like it or not.

Much of our civilization depends on weather patterns that are stable and consistent. Climate change will disrupt that stability. We might be able to adapt to some extent, but not if it happens all at once. In that instance, it could lead to a lot of upheaval and suffering. At that point, it’ll be too late.

Now, I’m not qualified to know what the best solutions are. I know they do exist and we need to invest in them because if we don’t, it could end up costing us much more in the future and not just in terms of money.

Regardless of how you feel about modern science, at least consider this personal testimony. Climate change is real. It’s happening. It could potentially lead to some serious problems down the line. Now is not the time to whine about the shortcomings of science. We all live on this planet together. Let’s do what we can to keep it comfortable.

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Filed under Current Events, Environment, history, politics, real stories

A New COVID-19 Variant Is Emerging (So Get Vaccinated!)

White House imposes travel restrictions for Africa amid new COVID-19 variant  - Kansas Reflector

I’m so sick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion at this point. It’s been almost two years of lockdowns, protocols, testing, and panic. In that time, millions have gotten sick and thousands have died. It’s hard to wrap our heads around that kind of loss. We can’t hope to understand what it’s like for those suffering this terrible illness or the pain their families feel when they lose someone.

It doesn’t matter what you’re politics are or how much you hate mask requirements. This pandemic has been a disaster wrapped with multiple layers of tragedy. Even though we have better treatments and multiple vaccines, it’s still raging. It’s unavoidable that more people will suffer and die.

To make matters worse, we were on the path to ending this pandemic. There was a brief period during the summer when it looked like it was over. We had beaten this virus and everything could go back to normal. Then, a variant emerged and the disease came roaring back. It certainly didn’t help that assholes, frauds, grifters, and liars got people killed by convincing one too many people to not get the vaccine.

We’re all getting a painful lesson in biology and evolution. Sadly, some of the idiots and assholes who are behind the denialism and conspiracy theories don’t even believe in evolution. That’s a problem because it’s still very real, especially in viruses.

From an evolutionary perspective, the old saying of what kills you makes you stronger is bullshit, at least with respect to viruses. It would be more accurate to say that what doesn’t kill you mutates, adapts, and tris again. Give it one too many opportunities and it will succeed. Viruses don’t care about your politics, your beliefs, or your nationality. They’re just microscopic terminators whose sole purpose is to infect and propagate.

Now, thanks to all the hesitancy and the undermining of public health, the COVID-19 virus is getting way more opportunities than it should’ve. It mutated once before to become more infectious. Recently, we learned that it has mutated again into a new variant. It’s called the Omicron Variant. It’s no a Transformer. It’s potentially a very dangerous turn for this disease that has already caused so much suffering.

While a part of me is tempted to panic, I think it’s important to maintain a balanced perspective. It’s not helpful to assume the worst or the best. Hell, that’s a big part of what made this pandemic so devastating in the first place. At most, we should be concerned about this new variant.

I’m certainly no expert and I have no business predicting how bad this new variant will be. I’m also aware that there are many mixed messages coming from various media outlets, many of which are not reliable. So, in the interest of offering some information with as little bias as possible, here is a brief piece about what we currently know about this variant from NPR.

NPR: What to know about omicron, the new COVID variant

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it deems this strain, B.1.1.529, a variant of concern, and has named it omicron. It’s the first new variant of concern since delta.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday night that no cases of omicron have been identified to date in the U.S., but that the agency has surveillance systems in place and it expects the variant will be identified quickly if it emerges in the U.S.

Here’s what we know so far about the new variant — and what we don’t.

The omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges have been, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants.

The WHO says that the detection of the variant in South Africa coincided with a steep increase in cases there and that its prevalence is increasing in almost all provinces of the country. The variant has caused a particularly sharp rise in cases in the city of Pretoria, where it went from being essentially undetectable several weeks ago to now dominating the outbreak in a major city. Cases have also cropped up in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel during a relatively short period of time.

Why is it spreading so fast?

Scientists don’t know yet, but they believe it has to do with the variant’s mutations. “This variant has a large number of mutations. And those mutations have some worrying characteristics,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove with the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, in a video statement. Scientists say the variant has a number of mutations that are known to boost transmissibility and others that can help the virus infect cells more easily.

Still, scientists caution that there isn’t enough data yet to know for sure whether that’s the case.

What about the vaccines? Are there any signs the vaccine will be less effective against this variant?

There are hints in the virus’s genes that vaccines could be less effective against it and that there there could be a higher risk of reinfections.

But in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said: “Let me be clear, there is no data at the present time to indicate that the current vaccines would not work.”

The concern here is based on the fact that some of omicron’s mutations are ones that are already known to help the virus evade the immune system — to resist antibodies and avoid detection by some of the body’s front-line defenders.

But again, scientists don’t have enough data to say for sure.

I bolded that last sentence. That’s an important detail to remember. We just don’t know all the facts yet about this variant. As a result, people are going to make assumptions and asshole grifters will try to fill in those gaps with their agenda. I know it’s tempting to latch onto whatever information feels right, but that’s exactly why you should make the effort.

Don’t make too many assumptions.

Don’t get sucked into conspiracies, hashtags, and social media trends.

Wait for people who actually study viruses for a living to provide accurate information. Then, you can decide for yourself how much or how little you should worry.

In the meantime, and I’ll keep belaboring this for as long as I have to, get vaccinated! It’s because not enough people have gotten vaccinated that we’re in this situation. The longer we hesitate, the more opportunities we’ll give to this virus. Eventually, it’ll evolve to a point where we can’t fight it and we’ll be right back at square one or worse.

I don’t want that.

You don’t want that.

Nobody wants that.

This world has suffered enough from this pandemic. The best thing you can do is not make crazy assumptions before we know more about this variant and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. We can still end this pandemic, but only if we’re willing to adapt.

If we don’t, then the virus will. That is the only assumption we can safely make.

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An Unholy Way To Handle Claims Of Sexual Assault (According To Liberty University)

Scandal at Liberty University: How a Christian college dismisses students'  reports of sexual assault | Salon.com

Every now and then, we encounter a story in the news that is outright egregious, but not the least bit shocking. There’s no question the details are awful. No matter how cynical or jaded you are, there are real injustices in this world. Innocent people are victimized in horrible crimes. A part of us wants to be outraged, but it’s just too unsurprising to get worked up.

I feel like we’ve had a lot of those stories over the past two years. I get the sense that a lot of people have just become so numb to horrible news.

Even so, we should still take notice when a terrible injustice is exposed, even if it doesn’t surprise us. That means that when another high-profile religious institution is found to be culpable in some egregious misdeeds involving sexual assault, we should still try and take interest.

Now, organized religion and egregious sex crimes aren’t new. They aren’t even that shocking anymore. Even if you consider yourself religious and strongly value your faith, it’s hard to miss the headlines that expose heinous crimes of sexual abuse and efforts to cover them up. It’s become so common and belabored that “South Parkdoes jokes about it.

It’s still serious and egregious. There are still real-life victims who suffer this abuse, but cannot get justice because the abusers hide behind religion and religious institutions. Regardless of your affiliation, I hope that upsets you, even if it doesn’t shock you.

For that reason, I also hope we can all share in the dismay and disgust regarding the recent revelations from Pro Publica about how Liberty University failed victims of sexual assault. If you haven’t read this recent report, I highly recommend doing so, but on an empty stomach. Some of the details are a bit graphic, but they’re still worth reading.

It’s a lengthy report that follows how multiple women who attended Liberty University, one of the most prominent Christian private schools in the United States, were sexually assaulted and the school failed to help them. In some cases, they were punished and shamed for the egregious sin of being victimized. It’s even more egregious than it sounds.

I won’t highlight every detail. Again, I encourage everyone to actually read the report. However, I will cite one excerpt that nicely sums up the environment that Liberty University created for victims of sexual assault.

Ten more former students told me they chose not to report their rapes to campus officials amid fear of being punished. “I knew I would face the blame for putting myself in that situation,” said Chelsea Andrews, a Liberty alum who said she was assaulted by a Liberty graduate student.

I hope it goes without saying that this is abhorrent. I also hope most reasonable people agree that we should be careful, understanding, and diligent when it comes to addressing accusations of sexual assault. I’ve said in the past that this can be tricky because sex crimes are difficult to prove and false accusations do happen, even if they’re rare.

In any case, lives can be ruined. People can be scarred for years because of what happened to them. We should definitely make an effort to improve how we handle these sorts of issues, but we should also actively work to not make things worse.

After reading this report, I won’t hide my underlying sentiment. By nearly every measure, Liberty University offers a case study in how not to handle claims of sexual assault. The fact it’s a religious school that touts conservative Christian values only makes it worse, not to mention hypocritical.

That also makes it unsurprising because, as we’ve seen, hypocrisy from organized religion is not that hard to find. However, this is a bit more personal for me because I actually know people who’ve gone to Liberty University. I’ve visited the area around Lynchburg, Virginia where the campus is based and have spent some extended time there.

That school is a big deal in that region. It’s hard to explain to people who have never traveled to that part of Virginia how big a presence they have. They’re not just another college within a college town. This is a university that is closely aligned with all things conservative and Christian.

It was founded by Jerry Falwell, a man who basically spent his entire adult life advocating for a Christian theocracy in America. That’s not hyperbole. Falwell and many like him actively promoted an ideology that sought to impose their brand of Christianity on every domain of American society.

That, in and of itself, should concern everyone who doesn’t want to live in a world devoid of fun, freedom, and anything remotely sexy. However, I’ve already touched on that thorny issue, so I won’t belabor it.

All you need to know is that Liberty University espouses an ultra-conservative brand of Christianity. That also means they impose strict codes of conduct on their students and faculty. I’m not just talking about rules against drinking, smoking, mini-skirts, and premarital sex. This is a school that forbids cursing, extended hugging, and R-rated movies.

Basically, it’s the antithesis of a party school. People go here to be educated in conservative Christian traditions. That’s why they’ve often been closely aligned with the religious right in America.

Now, that’s not to say everyone who goes to that school is some uptight carbon copy of Kirk Cameron. Some of the people I know went to that school found ways to drink, smoke, and get laid while attending. They just had to be extra careful than usual.

After reading this story, I find myself wondering how many gross misdeeds happened in the shadows that never came to light. That same code of conduct I just mentioned made it next to impossible to responsibly address matters involving sexual assault. You could go so far as to say it demonstrates the worst possible way to handle such issues.

Think of it in terms of both context and theology. Here is this very conservative school that is extremely anti-sex in any way that doesn’t result married people producing more Christians. That means any sex act, be it consensual or forced, is a gross violation of that code of conduct they hold so dear.

Then, imagine being someone who was sexually assaulted. You can try to report it, but in doing so, you just admitted to having sex. Even if it was forced on you, neither the code nor the theology seems to take that into account. They might not be able to prove the accuser assaulted you, but they already can prove that you had sex.

That gives them two options. They have to spend time, money, and resources investigating the incident, not knowing whether they’ll be able to find enough proof to warrant prosecution. The other option is to just focus on the fact that someone admitted to having sex, assume they were somehow responsible, and make whatever excuses are necessary to close the case.

One requires a lot of work and investigation.

One just requires assumptions and reinforcing time-tested traditions about blaming the victim.

That’s why investigations at places like Liberty will often focus on what the victim was wearing, what they were doing at the time, and why they put themselves in that position. It’s cruel on a level that defies description, but for religious schools, there are plenty of unfortunate precedents.

For those working these cases at Liberty, they had every incentive to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy to just shame someone who had sex. It’s a lot harder to actually prosecute a crime. That same process also requires that the institute admit some form of responsibility for not protecting people.

If nothing else, this Pro Publica report only confirms what we’ve seen with plenty of other religious organizations. When it comes down to doing the right thing by the people they’ve failed or protecting their power/influence/tax free status, these institutions will do whatever allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.

It doesn’t matter if their preferred holy book gives strict guidelines on what is right and what is wrong.

It doesn’t even matter if basic human decency is enough to surmise that this way of doing things is a gross disservice to victims.

All that matters is protecting the institution and the power it wields. I definitely felt that when I visited Lynchburg. You could say a lot of things about politics and Christianity, but you could not say certain things about Liberty University. That’s just what happens to an institution that is given that much prestige.

Sadly, I doubt these revelations will change that. Liberty University already dealt with some bad press regarding some acts of sordid adultery and some financial scandals. However, this school will still find a way to keep doing what it’s doing. Not enough people care and the school just has too much influence, both on the region and on the nation.

At the very least, this story is out there and that could help inform anyone who is thinking of sending their children to this school. Even if you’re a devout conservative Christian, I hope the knowledge that this is how they handle matters of sexual assault gives you pause.

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