This just sucks!

Two more infants have been infected with herpes following mouth-to-penis circumcision rites

BOTH the New York infant boys are believed to have contracted the disease following metzitzah b’peh, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish ritual in which the circumciser places his lips on the infant’s penis to suction blood from the circumcision wound.

But despite warnings issued by health authorities after similar cases – two of them fatal – had occurred in the past, ultra-Orthodox groups insist that MBP is safe and many circumcisers (mohels) refuse to comply with a regulation that forced mohels to get written consent from parents before performing the rite.

Since 2000, 16 infants in New York City are suspected of contracting herpes following MBP. Two of those babies died and at least two others suffered brain damage.

In the first of the newest cases reported in an alert issued by the New York City Department of Health , the baby had pustular lesions on the penis and genital area. He tested positive for herpes and was admitted to hospital for intravenous treatment.

In the second case, the baby developed lesions on his penis, thigh, and foot. The health alert did not say how the baby’s symptoms were treated.

The alert stated that both cases were consistent with transmission of herpes:

During direct contact between the mouth of the ritual circumciser and the newly circumcised infant penis.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has tried to warn parents of the risks of MBP, which is particularly prevalent among the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jews.

In January, 2013, the city instituted a regulation that forced mohels to get written consent from parents, but  since the regulation was enforced, four infants have contracted the disease.

Hat tip: Ivan Bailey

BOOKS: “UK Book Exchange”

Booksh/t: Casper Rigsby

Corgin: ‘The kids rule, the kids always rule, the kids win, and they should’

Epic words from the head of the Smashing Pumpkins recently receiving the Alternative Press vanguard award. And here is another gem:

The kids should always kick motherfuckers like me out of the way. And I mean that.

Indeed, and I don’t doubt for a second that he believes that. Here’s the full acceptance speech:

CM Punk referenced one of his favorite Pumpkins songs, Cherub Rock, which is unmatched:

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NFL’s cognitive dissonance

Steve Gorman made a good point today on his radio show about NFL penalties facing Ray Rice, with the Baltimore Ravens, and Josh Gordon, with the Cleveland Browns. Rice allegedly knocked his then-girlfriend unconscious back in February at a hotel, and Gordon got caught pot. In one incident, pot was found in Gordon’s car and in another, he was arrested and charged with DWI. He also failed a drug test this offseason.

Rice faces a two-game suspension for his domestic issues, while Gordon could be forced to sit out a year for his offenses. Rice and his girlfriend have since got married — go figure — and Rice has claimed that counseling has helped in their relationship, which is precisely what he has to say in order to get back into good graces with the NFL suits.

But as Gorman pointed out, what kind of message does this send to children and teenagers, many of whom are obviously fans of the NFL, that smoking pot is somehow worse than physically abusing another human being, a woman no less? The NFL should have zero tolerance for civil violence period, much less violence against women. As more and more states continue legalizing pot or medical marijuana, the drug will most likely be available everywhere sooner than later. That’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of how long it takes. People want it, the health risks of smoking pot are relatively low compared with other drugs and as soon as it’s legalized and distributed, it will be as commonplace as alcohol and cigarettes. The ethical difference between smoking pot in this day and age and hitting women isn’t even close, yet Gordon faces a year, and Rice essentially gets a slap on the wrist. I like the NFL, but the message this sends to their fans is shameful.

I like Gorman’s idea for the NFL:

They might as well put out a billboard that says we’d rather have you punch a woman than smoke pot.



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Is Ted Nugent still a darling of the Republican party?

I knew Ted Nugent was a nasty piece of work, but this…can he possibly be a bit more blatantly racist? He’s had a couple of shows cancelled at Indian casinos — first by the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho, and most recently by the Puyallups in Washington — and I guess it made Nugent a mite testy.

“The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has always been about human rights — for decades, we have worked individually and as a Tribe to make sure that each and every person is treated equally and with respect and dignity,” said a statement from the tribe.

A spokesperson for the casino said that the company didn’t want to provide a platform for the “racist attitudes and views that Ted Nugent espouses.”

Nugent responded to the cancelation by calling the Coeur d’Alene Tribe unclean vermin.

By all indicators, I don’t think they actually qualify as people, but there has always been a lunatic fringe of hateful, rotten, dishonest people that hate happy, successful people, he continued. I believe raising hell and demanding accountability from our elected employees is Job One for every American. I am simply doing my job.

Brilliant: fired for racist remarks, so he calls the whole tribe “vermin” and questioning their status as humans, perfectly confirming the accusation.

Arizona, pugs, possible proctalgia fugax, etc. And justice.

They killed a man in Arizona yesterday. By ‘they’ I mean me and you. He gasped like a beached carp for nearly two hours. I have no huge emotion about this, to tell the truth. Last night I came out of the train into the hot night and thought once again how amazing I should feel life is, but I didn't really feel that. I was once again mostly devoid of feeling. But maybe I've gotten it wrong all this time. Maybe feeling isn't what I had supposed it to be. All this time.

On a more amusing note, I had what my research suggests might be proctalgia fugax (or, ass cramping) the other day right when I got home from work. That happens sometimes when I’m postponing a shit. Hurts like a motherfucker! I got down to the toilet in my basement (which is where my bed is now) in time to pinch it out while my pug regarded me with that perpetually concerned expression of all pugs. My dog gets to watch me doing things that I would never let any human being see. My reasoning here is that my dog a) doesn't understand the significance of my actions and, b) can’t discuss them with others, anyway. So yeah, he gets to watch me shit.

So that guy they snuffed was a murderer. On CNN they showed a relative of his victims reminding us that he is a heap of putrefying offal, undeserving of our concern and pity. I can kinda go along with that, I guess. It just seems weird that we get the whole state geared up and a guy trained up and some injection equipment all arranged and shit; and I’m sure there were meetings and discussions and training sessions & shit galore. And then we get some guy carping all spastic (like my ass!) on some gurney somewhere for almost the length of the average feature film. It does not inspire confidence, you know? I mean, if you can’t even reliably x-out dudes without ‘em flopping around like dying seafood, do I really want to trust you with, oh, I don’t know… justice?

Just sayin'.

It never occurred to me: Food Pantry Edition.

I've blogged a lot in the past about food pantries, what you get there, and the problems related to the food in the pantries.   Today I took the morning out of class to go to the pantries with my children.  The idea is that a pantry says they're giving you food that should last a week for your household.  The problem is that most of what they consider a healthy diet consists of various carbs.

The morning started out with a 6am drive through: one of the only food pantries that the average working poor can get food at.  You get a bag handed to you through the window: Two artisan breads, a dozen eggs, a can of peas, two potatoes, and some pasta noodles.   It's one of the few places you can get a protein.  For me it's tough, because I am allergic to the antibiotics they use to clean eggs and to feed many of the hens in most eggs, and they don't appreciate you asking for organic.

Because I'm low on food, I decided to risk the eggs this week, and one of the little breads.  Because of my sugar issues (I'm hypoglycemic, and can't use a lot of starches because my body doesn't moderate blood sugar well) I passed on the noodles and one of the potatoes.

The next pantry was also a little rough.  They often package up fruits and veggies in a white plastic bag.  You can't see what's in each bag, and it varies.  Today there were bananas and onions in all the bags (I can eat a banana on occasion) as well as apples (that I can't eat ... which is a shame because I LOVE apples and berries) and a lime (which I'll use in cooking) and more potatoes.  Next was bread... and while they had flat breads and low carb tortillas, they didn't have a lot this week, while they had table after table of other breads made by local bakeries... most of which are too many carbs for me.  Then the sweets table (which was very small this week, which is very unusual) which I also passed on.  I picked up something highly unusual (this week was a WIN when it came to pantries) a can of Trader Joe's Chicken Chili.

Then another grab bag, which varies week to week, this week a WIN:  peanut butter, a can of peaches, and two cans of chicken breast meat.

and the last pantry had meat (unusual) but I haven't thawed it yet... about 80% of meat I get at pantries is spoiled.   I also got some wraps/tortillas... but they were moldy... so I'm not sure if anything from that pantry is edible... except the two onions.

So I was pretty happy I'd gotten some proteins, a couple veggies, and I took a chance on some small quantities of bread, fruit, and the possibly anti-biotic laden eggs (which I promise to be very careful when I eat) and I headed to school...

... where I met up with a friend who had often worked the food pantry distributer.  At some point I'd mentioned that Tay was often concerned about the pasta, which is never in a sealed bag, but is always repackaged... and she was shocked.  When she donates or works, everything has to be sealed.  I explained to her that cereal, rice, beans, lentils, pasta, and sometimes baked goods are repackaged into plain clear plastic bags with twist ties.

It never occurred to me that people donating these items didn't know that what they donate gets broken up and repackaged.

She also was surprised that we could get pasta but no sauce, since she always donated those items together.

So she asked me about other items.  She donated boxed mac and cheese.  I let her know that many people had to make it with water, because although it's meant to be made with milk and butter, and generally those things aren't available to those picking up food at the pantry... and if they're out of money or food stamps, they aren't likely to be buying those things.

And it never occurred to me that people who donate food don't know about the condition the food is distributed in... that much of the fruit is distributed moldy or rotten... that the pasta and beans are in unsealed bags after being repackaged, that you have to be very careful about bread mold.  There's one pantry in town... which I'll no longer go to... that had everyone sign a release that said if we got sick eating the food from there that we couldn't sue them, and that we were aware that they couldn't guarantee that safe food handling protocols had been used with any of the foods.

So here's (once again) some information on how to donate food that is usable and given to the clients in the original packaging (a list of items that are both)

  • vacuum packed quart cartons of milk
  • mac and cheese that has canned our pouched cheese sauce
  • complete box meals (with canned meat if the recipe has a meat product)
  • cans of soup, chili, or pasta, or beans
  • peanut butter (a staple at most pantries!)
  • dry milk, egg, or meat substitute
  • single serve rice or flavored rice, cereal, and pouches of instant potatoes
  • Things pantries always have enough or too much of:
  • bread
  • sweets.

  • Many people think they're giving poor children something "special" by donating baked goods, but supermarkets donate massive quantities of baked goods (not just breads but pies, cookies, cakes, pastries, doughnuts... anything that's left over from the "day old"rack), and many pantries have more carbs and sweets than any other food (I went to a pantry in Clearwater that, for a long time, gave out nothing but carbs and sweets).

    There are times I've gone to pantries and come away with nothing edible (or unspoiled) but a can of beans.  There are times I have to throw out large quantities of rotten or moldy veggies and fruits.  There is NEVER a time when I've gone to a food pantry and been able to eat everything I've been given.  

    Other things you can do to help:

    There are a large number of people at the food pantries who have health issues... I'm not alone.  There are people who are gluten intolerant, diabetic, have food allergies... and having foods available to them would be an amazing gift.  Consider donating gluten free or sugar free or lactose free products.   Hopefully it will become a movement among those who are helping... and more people with health issues will find the kinds of foods they can eat at these pantries, rather than risking their health eating whatever they can get.

    The Volcano


    Imagine standing on the edge of a 200 metre precipice of sandy black ash and rock, looking down while below you all the furies of hell are roiling in a tumult of noise and light, occasional red embers float up, seemingly in slow motion out from the pit. The ground rumbles, and smoke billows forward from the hole. A flash and a bang and suddenly orange molten rocks are spat out, the earth gushing hundreds of metres into the air with the an almighty force like you’ve never seen, the air screaming with the tormented howls of a banshee. Up and up and up the rocks fly, hundreds of metres above your head, and for a brief moment, time stands still as each rock reaches the apex of its flight, to come crashing down all around with huge thuds, revealing the size of the molten rocks being thrown out. Some are as small as tennis balls, while others must be the size of a bus. The bang, the crash, the terror, a noise you’ve never before heard, a thousand jetliners taking off simultaneously, and the earth being rent asunder by forces beyond comprehension. Then all is relatively quiet again, save for the earth breathing slowly below. On the far side of the ravine, almost silently, the crater spews up huge clouds of noxious black smoke which shoot upward like a geyser, blocking out the sun and the sky, choking the earth with its sulfurous stench. You feel the ash falling on you, volcanic ash, black sand gets in your eyes, your ears, your mouth. The wind has shifted, it’s time to move.

    Up on the high point of the crater, the view is almost directly down into the lava pit. The sun has just set, the blackness of the smoke becomes impenetrable to the eye. The pit to hell has come to life again, this time screaming with a devilish chorus, demons and ghouls in unison sing the song of the damned. And with that, the crater begins its terrible danse macabre all over again, this time shooting tonnes of molten debris upward, the sounds and sights melding into a spectacle of light and sound, giving just a glimpse of the dangers that lurk below. The dangers you face are real, this thing is completely unpredictable.


    On Friday July 18 2014 I was fortunate enough to visit a live volcano on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, along with my partner Hayley, my brother Paul and his partner Sam. While the description above may overly verbose, it is difficult to describe the sheer magnitude and awe of the experience without lapsing into poetics. The volcano, Mount Yasur, is on the east side of the island, some hour and a half’s drive from the settlements on the west coast of Tanna. The island is home to one of six active volcanoes in the Collection of more than 80 islands that make up the country of Vanuatu, and one of the most consistently active and easily accessible of the six volcanoes. The road is treacherous, and can only be reached by four-wheel-drive, and having a guide for the journey is a must. The trip to the volcano from our lodgings at Tanna Lodge took an hour and a half, through mountains of trees and forests, over fords and dry river beds. The soil changed from white and sandy to black and ashen. From the lush jungles of Vanuatu, suddenly we emerged into what resembled a lunar landscape, all signs of life were gone, and we were standing at the base of the 400 metre monster, Mount Yasur.


    While the highlight of the journey, as described above, is viewing the active volcano, the journey itself was in some ways scarier and seemingly more dangerous then standing on the edge of such a destructive force as an untamable pit of lava. It involved driving through dense jungle, where the road at times degrade to nothing but deep furrows in the black volcanic dirt. It also involved driving at 120kph across the barren ash plains below the volcano, hurtling headlong into the darkness with the headlights of the 4WD only illuminating a few metres in front of the vehicle. (At times like this you simply have to put your trust in your driver, and hope that he knows what he is doing.)

    We arrived at the volcano shortly before the sun set. The 4WD was left below the lip of the crater, and we made our way up the path that led to the edge of the volcano, about a 100m walk. As we neared the lip, the sounds of the volcano were the first thing we noticed. A deep rumbling and crackling, sounding like huge stones being thrown against each other. Not much was visible at this stage, except smoke and the occasional lava rock being thrown up. For the real show, we’d have to wait until after dusk. This is not to say that what we were witnessing wasn’t spectacular. The ground grumbled, and as the light faded, our eyes (and cameras) were able to better make out the orange glow of the lava and the rocks that were being launched into the air. On a couple of occasions, a huge boom was heard, followed by a massive launching of white ash into the air, so powerful you could actually see the shockwave move across the crater, the displaced air fluttering through our clothing. One of these shockwaves was actually so powerful it literally knocked me off of my feet. (I should say, the shockwave hit me and I tripped over a rock, a combination of me being startled by the suddenness of the almighty bang and a bad placement of my feet while standing on the edge of the crevice.)


    As mentioned above, a secondary vent was off to the side of the crater, occasionally spewing forth  a black toxic smoke, filled with black sandy volcanic ash and smaller rocks. Before the wind shifted, the black ash came perilously close to engulfing us, but once it shifted properly, and after I had been knocked over, we decided to move around to the higher vantage point on the upper edge of the crater from which we could see much deeper into the main crater. Best to be upwind of the volcano than downwind, as the lava rocks only need a little help from the breeze to change their upward/downward trajectories into sideward trajectories. The sun was setting now, and the crater took on an eerie orange glow.


    In this day of portable digital video technology, every person there was filming this spectacle. There was even a crew of three or four people who had a remote control drone, fitted with a GoPro camera, which they maneuvered around the ash cloud about 200 metres away. The footage they captured must have been amazing, being able to get right above the volcano and look straight down into it. But it was spectacular enough just sitting on the rim of the crater, as my video shows below.

    It really is difficult to imagine just how big the explosions were, how high the lava went, the size of the rocks being projected outward, and the weightiness of these rocks as they landed around the crater’s edges. The dangers of the volcano are very real; just one look around at the crater’s edge and the amounts of ash and rock deposited served as a real reminder that sometimes, if the conditions are right, the volcano is capable of shooting rocks and lava well beyond the perceived safety of the crater’s rim. Some of these rocks were the size of couches. Some were the size of a minibus.


    In the dim evening light, our sensitivity to the crashes and booms waned somewhat, and our mood shifted from trepidatious caution to a kind of giant fireside reverie. Staring into the volcano, the only light around, was like sitting at the side of a huge bonfire, watching it boil away, reminding us occasionally that it was in fact a volcano by exploding with a fierce expulsion of magma and molten rock. At this point, most cameras were lowered, and we sat and watched as the volcano did its thing. Finally, our guide told us it was time to leave, to which we answered “One more, one more!”, just as children do when watching fireworks.


    And we weren’t disappointed. As if understanding us, the volcano flew into action giving us the best display of sound and lava and rock we had seen, huge molten snakes of magma twisting high up into the sky like slow motion streamers.

    Vanuatu is perched on the western edge of the so called “Ring of Fire“, a region of unstable plate tectonics that circles the Pacific Ocean, from California and South America on the east, to Japan and the South Pacific islands on the west. Vanuatu’s unstable position is apparent to all who live there, and no part of the island group is immune from the dangers that lurk below. Only days before we arrived, the capital city of Port Vila was shaken by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, with surprisingly no casualties and no accompanying tsunami warning. And this is commonplace, with 27 earthquakes being reported from the region in the past 12 months. But volcanic and seismic activity like this is relatively small compared to the magnitude of some of the other recent activities elsewhere on earth.


    Take for example the sudden and devastating explosion of Mount St Helens in 1980 which killed 58 people and dislodged 1 cubic kilometer of earth instantly, or the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which halted air traffic in Europe and threatened to engulf the whole region in ash. Not to mention the huge cataclysmic 1883 explosion on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, or the devastation following the eruption of the largest recorded eruption in history, that of Mount Tambora in 1816, dislodging 80 cubic kilometers of ash and soil into the atmosphere. But perhaps the most chilling of seismic and volcanic activity is the case of Yellowstone National Park.

    The Yellowstone caldera measures 55km by 72km in area and is an active volcano head. Some predict that if this were to explode that it would wipe out all life on earth, covering the planet in a dense cloud of gas and smoke, and choking the planet’s biosphere. The book “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy takes place in a fictional setting after an unknown holocaust, inspired among other things by the possible explosion of the Yellowstone caldera, and not necessarily as popular belief would have it, after a nuclear war. His book presents a bleak future for what a post Yellowstone era might look like, and what is perhaps most worrying about this is that the Yellowstone caldera will one day explode. Who knows how far into the future this is, but when it happens, it will be devastating.

    What the visit to Yasur volcano conjures most powerfully, apart from imagining the birthplaces of myths and religions, is that we as earthbound citizens sit on the outside of a volatile molten planet, constantly shifting and readjusting. The planet cares not for us, and it is not capable of such a thing, for the planet does what it does whether we like it or not. If the pressures within build to the right levels in the right areas, and when the next big explosion happens, there is no asking for forgiveness from the planet.

    Here’s a short video I took at Yasur when we visited (the really good bit is at around 30 seconds).

    Watching a volcano in action is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It inspired belief in gods long before the anthropomorphised gods of today were invented, gods of the earth, angry with wrath at the misdoings of the small humans below. It’s no wonder, in times when plate tectonics and geological discoveries were unknown, that the people of this island named this mountain Yasur, the home of the gods. I am fortunate to have been able to visit and appreciate the beauty and terror that lies just under the earth’s fragile crust. It is something that I think, given the chance, every person should see. It certainly was a trip of a lifetime for me, and gives my tiny existence on this planet a sense of proportion.

    All photos and videos in the post are Copyright Martin S Pribble under Creative Commons Licensing.

    The post The Volcano appeared first on Martin S Pribble.

    A nice quote from Harry Harrison

    Via Daz:

    Stated very simply, I face reality and admit that not only isn’t there anyone at home upstairs, there isn’t even any upstairs. I have one life and I intend to make the most of it. Therefore it follows naturally that if I firmly believe this, why then I cannot deprive another person of their turn at existence. Only the very self-assured political and religious zealots kill people in order to save them.

    It takes a real shallow thinker to claim that atheism has no consequences. It actually says that there is no escaping the consequences — you aren’t going to get a lollipop in heaven if you say the right words on your deathbed. You have one life and you have to live with it, and then you die, and there are no take-backs or resurrections or rewards or punishments.

    Debunking Four Myths About Polyamory

    This is a guest post written by Miri Mogilevsky. Miri is a graduate student in social work and the author of the blog Brute Reason, which covers psychology, mental health, and social justice from a secular perspective.

    Polyamory — the practice of having multiple sexual/romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved — is currently going through that stage that all “alternative” lifestyle practices must go through: the one where journalists discover their existence and have a field day.

    Luckily for them, more and more people are willing to openly talk about their open relationships as the stigma of being non-monogamous diminishes. Journalist Olga Khazan interviewed quite a few of them in this article for The Atlantic. While the article is well-researched, balanced, and accurate overall, it (probably unintentionally) repeats and propagates a few tropes about polyamory that aren’t always accurate.

    Note that I said “not always”; tropes are tropes for a reason. There are plenty of people whose polyamorous lives resemble them, and I mean it when I say that there’s nothing wrong with that (as long as it’s all consensual!). But I think that the (presumably non-poly) audience these articles are aimed at might benefit from seeing a wider variety of poly experiences and opinions, so I wanted to add my own voice.

    With that in mind, here are a few dominant narratives about polyamory that aren’t always true, but that crop up very often in articles about polyamory.

    1. Polyamorous people don’t feel jealousy.

    It’s right there in the title, “Multiple Lovers, Without Jealousy.” Although the article does later go more in-depth about the ways some poly couples experience and manage jealousy, the headline perpetuates the common myth that polyamory is for a special breed of human (or superhuman, perhaps) who just “doesn’t do” jealousy.

    Some do, some don’t. For some poly folks, jealousy is a non-issue. For others, it’s an annoyance to be ignored as much as possible. For still others, it’s a normal, natural emotion to be worked through and shared with one’s partners. There are as many ways to deal with jealousy as there are to be polyamorous — and there are many.

    The reason this matters is because framing jealousy as a thing poly people just don’t experience drastically reduces the number of people who think they could ever be poly. I’ve had lots of people say to me, “Oh, polyamory sounds cool, but can’t do it because I’d be jealous.” Of course, dealing with jealousy isn’t worth it for everyone, so I completely respect anyone’s decision to stick with monogamy because of that. But I think it’s important to let people know that you can experience jealousy — even strong and painful jealousy — and still find polyamory fulfilling and completely worthwhile.

    2. Bisexual people try polyamory because it’s not fulfilling to only date a person of one gender.

    Some do, yes. But this also ties into an unfortunate, harmful, and inaccurate myth about bisexual people: that they will inevitably cheat on you because they “need” to be with someone of another gender. Myths like these, in turn, contribute to prejudice and discrimination against bisexual people, who may face such hurtful attitudes both from the straight majority and from gays and lesbians.

    For many bisexual people, the gender of their partner isn’t nearly as essential a factor as others seem to think it is. We may notice it, sure, but we don’t sit around thinking, “I’m very glad that I’m dating both Suzie and Tom because Suzie is a girl and Tom is a boy!” It’s just like you can be attracted to blondes, brunettes, and redheads, without necessarily feeling stifled and unfulfilled if you’re only dating brunettes at a given point in time.

    3. Polyamory involves multiple serious, committed, capital-R Relationships.

    Poly folks themselves sometimes repeat this trope to counter the assumption that polyamory is just about wild, carefree, casual sex with as many people as possible. However, the fact that that assumption is usually made with a negative connotation by monogamous people doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with doing non-monogamy that way.

    There’s also nothing wrong with doing something in between — meaningful, often-close partnerships with people that don’t necessarily involve long-term commitment, cohabitation, or marriage. Some people call this “solo polyamory,” because the emphasis is not on any central couple(s), but on the individual. People who practice solo polyamory tend to value independence and often reject the idea of labeling their partners “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” or other terms that suggest commitment.

    But that doesn’t mean that solo poly relationships are “casual” or “meaningless,” either. Some experience them as very close friendships that also happen to involve sex. Others have romantic feelings towards their partners, but aren’t interested in the “relationship escalator” of constantly increasing intimacy and commitment.

    Many people who practice solo polyamory find that their experiences and issues aren’t much-discussed in the poly community, which is focused more on couples and the challenges and triumphs that they may experience within open relationships. This could be a reflection of the fact that many people come to polyamory after having been monogamous for their entire adult lives up until then, and the couple unit can seem more comfortable and easier to manage. For some, it is, and it’s completely worth it. For others, that aspect of traditional relationships just doesn’t appeal.

    4. People choose polyamory so that they can get something from one partner that they can’t get from another.

    Think of this as the general case of the bisexuality trope I mentioned earlier. Many people think that polyamory happens when a monogamous couple discovers that they can’t provide something for each other (kinky sex, frequent-enough sex, being of a certain gender) and realizes that they need to find other partners to provide for the missing needs.

    As with the other tropes, this is certainly true sometimes, and more power to people who are able to maintain a healthy and happy relationship rather than breaking up because they decided to try polyamory. However, for other poly people, it’s less about getting particular needs met than about… well, we fall for multiple people. I can’t necessarily point to certain things that certain partners of mine provide that others can’t. I didn’t start seeing them because they met a previously unmet need. I just met them and we clicked.

    Poly people sometimes say, “You can’t fix a broken relationship by adding more people.” I’ve found this to be true, and that’s a danger when you believe that other partners can provide what your existing partner(s) cannot. Some people find, much to their disappointment, that it’s not just that they wanted kinky sex or dates that involve skydiving — they wanted those things with that particular partner, and if they can’t have it, they can’t be happy in the relationship.

    Overall, Khazan’s article is a comprehensive and interesting introduction to the history, culture, and practice of polyamory. My only serious quarrel with it is the inclusion of some dubious evolutionary psychology. She cites a researcher and uncritically claims that “most people aren’t biologically predisposed to share their lovers,” because, you know, it’s not like the cavemen did it.

    What I’ve found from studying psychology in general is that evolutionary psychology in particular is rarely good science. Its hypotheses are rarely falsifiable, and it allows any researcher with sufficient creativity to invent a plausible-sounding explanation for just about any phenomenon in human behavior. Many studies from evolutionary psychologists merely show that a phenomenon exists, and then assume that that phenomenon has an evolutionary origin. In fact, most of our behavior is probably caused by an interplay of genetics, socialization, culture, and other factors that are too complex to distill into a statement like “most people aren’t biologically predisposed to share their lovers.”

    However, most polyamorous people probably don’t care very much whether or not our relationships go against our “hard-wiring.” We enjoy them, they’re fulfilling, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    (Image via Shutterstock)

    A Note from the SCA Board of Directors

    < !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> A Note from the SCA Board of Directors
    A note from the Secular Coalition Board of Directors. 
    View this email in your browser
    July 24, 2014 

    Dear <<First Name>>,

    To say that it has been an eventful spring and summer for the Secular Coalition for America would be an understatement. We’ve had our most successful Lobby Day and Secular Summit ever, with four members of Congress attending and addressing our group, and we’ve undergone significant changes as our organization has transitioned under new bylaws and a new Board of Directors. Moreover, if you follow the SCA closely, you may be aware that we’ve had our share of turbulence this year as well. For reasons that will be described below, we have been relatively silent to date about most of the matters underlying that turbulence, even as some others have been quite publicly vocal about it, but at this time we’d like to address some of the main issues that have been raised.
    While we could never address the myriad issues that have been the subject of public chatter, we want to address those that would seem to be of most concern to our supporters. Our intent is not to respond to every representation that has been made publicly, nor is it to win any public debates or arguments, but instead it is to clarify the record as best we can for our supporters, coalition member groups, and others whose goal is to advance the secular movement. As is often the case with online buzz, information that is inaccurate or misleading sometimes gains traction, and our goal here is to deliver accurate and relevant information.
    The main issue that we will address is the departure of our Executive Director, Edwina Rogers. At the outset, we must point out that not only is this a personnel matter, but it is a personnel matter in which there is no departure agreement between the exiting employee and the SCA. For this reason, we are simply not in a position to comment much about the personnel decision, beyond saying that the decision was well within the legal discretion of the SCA. The employment in question was “at will,” and the SCA Board of Directors unanimously concluded that a change in leadership was in order.
    To understand how this situation has developed, it is important to understand the turn of events that occurred. Shortly after the SCA Board voted to make the personnel change, a The New York Times reporter started trying to contact board members, and apparently contacted Ms. Rogers. The SCA does not know how the reporter learned that events were unfolding – we can only say that the SCA did not contact the Times, nor did the SCA authorize any leak, nor would the SCA have had anything to gain from doing so. In fact, the Times involvement created a significant disruption. Subsequent to the Times contact, SCA’s attempted discussions with Ms. Rogers were severely hampered. We offered a severance with the aim of reaching a departure agreement wherein the parties could move forward amicably, and even scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue further. Ms. Rogers did not attend the scheduled meeting.
    What did occur soon thereafter, however, is that two individuals (former SCA donors) suddenly demonstrated an extraordinary level of interest in the personnel matter, to the point of disseminating scathing emails regarding the SCA Board. Most of these communications related to the personnel matter. Our responses – which merely stated that because the underlying matter involved personnel issues, we were not in a position to talk about it in detail with the public or with donors – only seemed to enrage these individuals further. Accusations of secrecy and lack of transparency (not understanding that we cannot be publicly “transparent” about a personnel issue) were made frequently, often daily. Still, we were adamant that we would not publicly discuss the personnel matter, even as the criticism became public and threatening.
    The fact that the Board felt new leadership was needed to take the SCA in a different direction, and has been unable to comment much beyond that, has done nothing to appease the aforementioned critics, and the accusations have continued. We are very disappointed to have lost their support, even as we are puzzled by the intensity of their reaction and the depth of their interest in this personnel matter.
    Some illustration is necessary to explain the nature of this criticism. We have repeatedly been questioned, for example, not just about the personnel decision itself, but its timing, coming shortly before Lobby Day. This, we were told, was evidence of our poor decision-making. However, the Lobby Day event was a smashing success, with a record number of members of Congress attending. Along with these allegations come others that are similarly aimed at questioning the wisdom of the Board’s personnel decision, such as suggestions that a donation of an art collection was lost due to our actions. Without even discussing the accuracy of these claims (since the details would prolong the letter even further), we would simply point out that the SCA member groups, which elect Board members, are free to take the legitimacy of such claims into consideration as Board members come up for reelection. Suffice it to say that none of these member groups has expressed concern about the art to date.
    One thing we did say at the outset when this matter became public, just so the record was clear, was that Ms. Rogers was never a suspect in connection with a scheme in which two other employees misappropriated about $78,000 in SCA assets in 2013. Since the theft of SCA assets is something that is relevant to donors, and since it has been mentioned by the aforementioned critics, we will address it here, though we emphasize that it is unrelated to the personnel matter. What we can say is that the two perpetrators were terminated in January, and that a criminal investigation by the District of Columbia police is ongoing. Of course, employee malfeasance can occur in virtually any business enterprise, particularly when the perpetrator is in a position of trust (as was the case here). SCA is extremely disappointed that this embezzlement occurred.  We note, however, that since the discovery we have ordered a forensic accounting, and we have implemented all precautionary steps suggested by the accountants.
    Claims have also been made that the SCA is involved in litigation or regulatory action.  However, we have not been informed of any actual litigation or regulatory action.  SCA is committed to complying with all federal, state and local laws, rules, regulations and reporting requirements.
    One more issue that has been raised publicly – again mainly by the aforementioned donors – has been criticism of the fact that SCA’s President, Amanda Metskas, has shown interest in the Executive Director position, and in fact has stepped in as Acting Chief Executive while a search is conducted. To this criticism, we simply point out that the SCA has hired a professional search firm to vet prospective candidates and present a slate of finalists to the Board. Our Board will make its decision regarding the next Executive Director based on relevant facts and information, in what we feel is the best interest of SCA. We are grateful to Amanda for stepping in during this difficult time of transition, but we have also made it clear to her that we are conducting a full and thorough search. Donors are free to convey opinions on such matters, but of course we would expect them to allow the Board to exercise its discretion when it comes to final decisions. During the time that Amanda is serving as Acting Chief Executive, the Board is being chaired by Vice President Patty Guzikowski.
    The secular movement is vibrant and active, and the SCA is a vital part of it – a coalition of the nation’s largest and most active secular groups, joined together for the purpose of lobbying in the nation’s capital, raising the profile of secular Americans. We are committed to our mission, most appreciative of your support, and hope that you will continue to put your trust in us.
    We hope that this correspondence has answered some of the questions that you may have. 

    Feel free to contact us if you feel that we can be of any assistance, though please understand that we do not intend to address the personnel matter described herein any further, publicly or with supporters, for reasons explained.

    Yours in secularity,
    The Secular Coalition for America Board of Directors

    Copyright © 2014 Secular Coalition for America, All rights reserved.

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    No, an Ohio State Class Did Not Teach That Christians Are Dumber Than Atheists

    According to an article on the conservative site Campus Reform, a recent online quiz for a Psychology 1100 class at The Ohio State University asked students:

    Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125. Which of the following statements [would] you expect to be true?

    - Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.
    - Aine earns less money than Theo.
    - Theo is more liberal than Aine.
    - Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian.

    Correct answer? Aine (with a higher IQ) is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.

    Assuming nothing here is doctored, it just strikes me as a horribly written, too-simplified-to-be-useful question.

    It’s true that a research paper published last fall said there’s a negative correlation between religiosity and IQ — the higher your IQ, the less religious you were — but even the researchers didn’t jump to the conclusion that the quiz question suggests:

    But [psychologist Miron] Zuckerman is careful to point out that his work — known as a “meta-study” because it examines a range of other studies — does not mean only dumb people believe in God.

    Rather, he said, it shows only that more intelligent people may have less need for religion.

    “It is truly the wrong message to take from here that if I believe in God I must be stupid,” he said. “I would not want to bet any money on that because I would have a very good chance of losing a lot of money.”

    “We say it is possible that having a high level of intelligence provides similar functions to what religion provides” for people who adhere to a religion, Zuckerman said.

    It’s also true that countries that are more atheistic tend to have higher average IQs. However, averages say very little about individuals and the quiz question simplifies the data so much that it becomes flat-out weird. (What do we really know about Theo and Aine? Next to nothing.)

    Each dot represents a country’s (lack of) religiosity and the national average IQ

    Kaitlyn Schallhorn at Campus Reform says that the quiz may have been created by a teaching assistant, not the professor, and an unnamed employee in the psychology department told her students concerned about their grade could talk to someone in the department.

    Here’s a simpler solution: Toss the question and have a discussion in class about how to properly interpret studies. There’s no evidence of anything nefarious going on, and it’s telling that Schallhorn never tells us what the textbook or professor actually said about the subject in question.

    Still, she suggests there’s discrimination at play:

    OSU explicitly prohibits discrimination on campus against any individual based on “age, ancestry, color, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic information, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, HIV status, or veteran status,” according to the university’s policy.

    “Colleges will tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity,” the OSU student [who took the quiz] said. “If colleges really want to give everyone a fair shot, they should stay away from making comments about any religion.”

    That has absolutely nothing to do with it. This isn’t about colleges being “liberal” or against religion. But no one tell University of North Carolina professor Dr. Mike Adams. He’s too busy auditioning for Fox News:

    “So would it be permissible to force blacks to take a class teaching that blacks would have a lower IQ than white people?” he said in an interview with Campus Reform.

    (How did this guy become a professor…?)

    Look, a psychology or sociology class is a great place to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of religion. If there’s evidence of religion hurting us as a society, then we should talk about it. A college classroom is the perfect environment in which to challenge your beliefs, whatever they are. And if there’s reason to believe skin color affects your IQ, yes, it should be discussed, even in a required class. (Spoiler: Skin color doesn’t affect your IQ. But many other factors, like access to a quality education, do.)

    None of that excuses the bad quiz question. But it’s not worth the big fuss. It’s a one-off question that should be simple to correct, so let the professor correct it (or get rid of it altogether). There’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that it’s somehow evidence of anti-Christian discrimination.

    Well Played, Mexican Nativity Scene

    Nice touch with the black Jesús.

    (via Reddit. Thanks to Brian for the link)

    Rainbow Explosion

    Over the weekend my daughters and I bought some chain at a local farm-supply store in town. The store is not necessarily cheaper than Home Depot, but it is a fifth the distance, and the people who work there are amicable enough; even when confronted by some of my more bizarre answers to “what are you going to do with this stuff?” The chain and cold forged links were for a rather mundane task of hanging a heavy bag in my garage so the checker’s banter turned to more interesting possibilities.

    “Who you going to chain up with that?” She asked.

    “I had not really thought about chaining anyone up… Perhaps it would help keep my daughters in line!?” I replied while turning to them implying the question.

    “I wish I had chained up my son” The checker added. “He got drunk and started fighting up at Country Explosion. Now he is in jail. I guess that will keep him out of trouble.”

    Monday morning saw the last steady trickle of camper-trailers leaking out of what had, over the weekend, been “Country Explosion”. Organizers of the three-day music festival claim to have brought “thousands” to Tooele for “Utah’s largest music festival”.

    It is hard to find coverage of any problems associated with the participants of “Country Explosion”. Fights, shots fired, at least one death, and a woman with severe head injuries who leapt out of a car that was traveling at 40 mph. Local law enforcement is quoted as saying that “There is always 10 percent who make trouble”, which would make for a couple hundred offenders given the reported number of participants. There appears to be no desire to publically catalog the offenses, or to identify the offenders.

    Facebook is awash with “Country Explosion” pictures of duck faced girls boasting large cans of beer, but the duck-faced selfie is not a legal crime.

    About two weeks ago a similar trickle of trailers was passing through Heber; another small rural Utah town. Every news channel in the state had been providing nightly coverage of the event leading up to that exodus. The Rainbow Family of Peace and Light had been gathering in the Uinta foothills outside of Heber. One local station even created a mosaic picture comprised of a couple dozen mugshots they had gathered from local police. Police spoke with concern about potentially overflowing jails in interviews.

    There were problems. There was a fight a few days before the event started that involved a knife, and one person died of “Natural Causes”, and several marijuana possession citations.

    Overall the number of criminal problems with the Rainbow Family gathering appears to have been  similar to, or less than, the Country Explosion gathering just two weeks later. The level of media coverage of the problems was very different.

    Facebook also suffered a tide of pictures from the Rainbow Family gathering. Instead of girls and boys posing with beer in the hopes of appearing to be underage drinkers the Rainbow Family pictures feature people from many generations who appear to smile at nothing in particular. I saw several pictures featuring people with wind teased hair smiling right out of the pictures at me; they could have been mouthing the words “welcome home”.

    I had wanted to take my daughters to the Rainbow Family gathering. Unfortunately the media did its job, and scared me off. I was afraid of open drug use, and what tales of open drug use might do to the strained parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ mother. Some days I feel like I have a huge custodial parent target painted on my chest at which is aimed any number of threadbare accusations of misconduct. I second-and third- guess the spontaneity out of most days.

    I did, however, get myself a new pair of sandals.

    Sandals that I may or may not wear with socks.

    Rainbow-striped socks.

    Kids raised without religion have easier time with fact vs fiction

    A couple studies were done recently to check how believable 5 and 6 year olds find stories that stretch the imagination.

    In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion.

    The abstract briefly touches on the reasons for that. Kids without exposure to religion treated the religious stories as fictional tales about fictional people. Children from church-going families/religiously educated believed them all to be true.

    Upbringing also played a role in the studies in terms of fantasy and magic and how easily each group of kids would buy into them.

    Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.

    Ideally I’d be reading the studies rather than reporting on an abstract but some of this feels like “duh!” research. Then again, anecdotes aren’t science whereas now there is data to support any claims that religious upbringing can impede a person’s ability to tell fact from fiction.

    I may have told this story previously but back in my university days I was friends with a woman who was from a very religious family. My secular lifestyle bothered her enough to try the witnessing business and offers to attend church and the like and, to be social, I did do some of that. It was a different time, before I ever heard the term Freethinkers let alone thought of myself in terms of unabashedly atheist, though I was.

    I was also a fan of Star Trek and enjoyed reading the books based on it, too. One day we were near a particular used book store I’d been frequenting and she waited around in there while I browsed the shelves a bit and picked a couple things to buy. When we got outside my friend stopped me on the sidewalk and pretty much begged for me never to set foot in there again because she felt the devil in there.

    Turned out she’d seen the wall of Dungeons and Dragons stuff and assumed the biblical worst about the place.

    That’s upbringing for you. She was clearly fed some malarky about the dangers of role playing games on the soul and feared eternal damnation for herself and me simply by being in a room with the stuff. She probably prayed for me after.

    These days it looks like opinion on D&D is divided. There are Christians playing Dungeons and Dragons:

    Fantasy Magic is not Real World Magic

    The magic that we are forbidden to practice in the Bible comes from one source – Satan. God and Satan are here in the real world with us. Fantasy stories take place in other worlds, in other realities that never have happened and never will.

    It goes on to say that if the game takes place in a fantasy realm where magic is simply a tool they use like we use electricity, then it’s totally okay. (But notice that the writer does believe there’s really a Satan that can provide magic to those who want it in the real world.)

    there is nothing in the description of this spell or any other spell in the D&D manuals that will instruct you how to cast it for “real”.

    Here it reassures the reader that the manuals used in the game don’t translate into a real life magic books. If you want to set something on fire, you’ll need to use a match or lighter. You can’t wave your fingers and gabble about in some nonsense tongue made up by a writer and have that work.

    Killing people is clearly wrong but killing an evil, nasty, slimy monster with 16 eyeballs in a fantasy game is great fun. However, you have a choice, and actions have consequences just like in real life. If you take your party and slaughter a village of innocents, word will get around about what you did and good characters will come after you. In fact, I have often found D&D contains lessons in morality.

    I think any serious gamers would agree that there are lessons available to learn by playing the game be it lessons on strategy, game theory, or the power to win friends and influence people. Real applicable to the real world lessons on how to deal with problems effectively, how to get along with others, how to cope when the shit hits the fan.

    But then there’s this guy, William Schnoebelen, and his anti-D&D article from 1989 when the D&D controversies were really on the public’s mind. He claims he’d been a witch high priest and a Satanist back in the 1970s-80s near the company where the game was created (somehow that matters).

    In the late 1970′s, a couple of the game writers actually came to my wife and I as prominent “sorcerers” in the community. They wanted to make certain the rituals were authentic. For the most part, they are.

    These two guys sat in our living room and took copious notes from us on how to make sure the rituals were truly right “from the book,” (this meaning that they actually came from magic grimoires or workbooks). They seemed satisfied with what they got and left us thankfully.

    He doesn’t share the story of how he went from witchcraft and Satanism into hardcore bible quoting, unfortunately, but does go into detail about what he feels are the more unsavoury aspects of the game and its design for players and their roles. He also provides a list of people rumoured to have died because they played the game and let the violence of it dictate their fate.

    Wikipedia offers another take on that controversy and the end result, futher noting that research into games of this nature and suicide risk is unfounded and any documentation from groups stating otherwise had poor research techniques and heavy bias.

    So, back to the studies. If you’re already primed to believe magic is a real thing, that Satan is a real being, then anything remotely mystical and hand wavingly magical that you come across in a story is going to be a bit more legitimized than it would be for a person who hasn’t had the “magic is real!” exposure.


    Filed under: culture, In the Media, religiosity, skepticism Tagged: atheism, Dungeons and Dragons, evil, faith, games, magic, religion, Satan, secularism, skepticism

    Two More New York Infants Given Herpes in Jewish Mouth-to-Penis Ritual

    The Hebrew term metzitzah b’peh (MBP) describes a ritual practiced by some ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcisers in which they orally suck the blood away from an infant’s penis after cutting away his foreskin. The practice, which we previously covered here and here, is exactly as unhygienic and indefensible as it sounds, frequently resulting in the transmission of communicable diseases, and sometimes even in brain damage and death.

    Two additional Jewish infants just received more than a circumcision — the mohels who sucked them off suctioned away the blood with their mouths gave them a case of full-blown herpes.

    Reports New York City’s Department of Health:

    In July 2014, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene received reports of two new cases of HSV [herpes simplex virus] infection in newborn male infants following direct orogenital suction. Since 2000, a total of 16 laboratory-confirmed cases of HSV-infection attributable to direct orogenital suction have been reported to the Health Department; three of these cases were reported in 2014 alone. Two  of the 16 infants died, and at least two others suffered brain damage.

    In both of the cases reported in July, the infant boys were born to mothers with full-term pregnancies, had normal vaginal deliveries, and underwent ritual Jewish circumcision including direct orogenital suction on day of life 8.

    The Jewish Daily Forward adds that

    The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has tried to warn parents of the risks of MBP, which is particularly prevalent among the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jews. In January, 2013, the city instituted a regulation that forced mohels to get written consent from parents before performing the rite.

    But ultra-Orthodox groups say that MBP is safe and many mohels refuse to comply with the regulation.

    Since the regulation was enforced, four infants have contracted the disease.

    ‘Cause why bother following common sense, the Hippocratic Oath, or the law when your God commands you to place your mouth on an infant’s bleeding penis?

    It seems that to these believers, infecting babies — and sometimes killing them — is a small price to pay for obeisance to your 4,000-year-old superstitions.