How can you go exploring with people who don’t trust maps?

April and I watched Behind the Curve on Netflix last night, a documentary about flat earthers and this movement that has really sprung up in just the last 4 years. There are now thousands of people who believe that the earth is flat, and the documentary interviews some of the leaders in the movement, attends their international conference in 2017, and records some of their experiments that attempted to prove the earth was flat.

Like many conspiracy theories (and for the flat earthers, calling it a conspiracy theory isn’t pejorative—they allege that there is a conspiracy perpetuated by all governments, education institutions, and scientists), there is an overlap with other conspiracies. A large number of Flat Earthers also tend to be anti-vaxxers (people who are opposed to giving kids vaccines or getting vaccines themselves), and they tend to reject any scientific finding by anyone but themselves

One segment of the documentary was of an astrophysicist meetup and a speaker was talking about how the scientific community often does a disservice to people who believe in these conspiracies. Because the people who have bought into this are often intelligent and inquisitive, and they have the potential to be great scientists. But either through miseducation, or trauma, or something else, their very healthy skepticism has been turned into a denial of science and a belief in only what they themselves can observe and measure. And even then, as the documentary highlighted, people in these movements will often reject their own measurements if those measurements don’t support their worldview.

That speaker at the meetup said that, rather than push flat earthers and anti-vaxxers and similar conspiracy theorists to the fringes, and just ignore them, we have to engage. But we shouldn’t engage argumentatively. Rather, we should recognize their intelligence and curiosity and say, “Let’s go explore together!” And in exploring together, the hope is that people will find the truth.

But that left me with the question: what do you do when the people with whom you want to go exploring:

  1. Don’t trust the map? They want to make their own map. But they also don’t trust cartography instruments or physics.
  2. Reject anything that doesn’t fit with their conspiracy? Everything you find (reality) that doesn’t fit will be rationalized away.

I thought that the documentary was actually very kind and generous. It didn’t mock, and the scientists interviewed were similarly gentle. They are all educators to one extent or another and want to help people understand the world better.

But none of them could tell us how to engage with flat earthers. Because even when the flat earthers in the documentary did some really neat science experiments, and those experiments proved the earth wasn’t flat by virtue of their own hypotheses and measurements, they then rejected the outcome and did a new experiment. Which also then proved the earth wasn’t flat. So they then invented a new rationalization for why their experiments weren’t aligning with their worldview.

How do you go exploring with someone who rejects what they see? I truly want to know. I feel that this question is central to so many challenges we are experiencing in our world today, and particularly in the USA where anti-education sentiment and science denial are resulting in deadly epidemics and people being put into positions of leadership who reject the findings of 97%+ of climate change scientists.

How do we go exploring with someone whose views on science, politics, society, and how everything works is so different? How do we not push them to the fringes? Because I don’t want to push people away. I don’t think any of us want to marginalize others. But I legitimately don’t know what else to do other than disengage.

Stepping onto the deck at night

The USA seems to be in a bad place. What we’re doing to immigrant families and their children is horrifying. I’m concerned about the trade wars that Trump is getting us into. I’m pretty well convinced that Trump has colluded with Russia to subvert our democracy, and I think the GOP is complicit and is shirking their duty to uphold the constitution and hold the President accountable.

But each evening, I step out onto the deck with Willow before bed, and I stand in the soft humidity and look up at the stars while crickets converse, and I enjoy the relative quiet. And I think, maybe it’s all terrible, but right now, here in Missouri, maybe it’s OK? Maybe…

I’m not convinced by that “maybe.” I’m still disconcerted. But I can halfway pretend. My conscience won’t let me go entirely, but I can take some solace in the night and lie to myself for just a moment about global warning, and the rising prominence of Xi Jinping, and our president’s abuse of our allies and our citizens.

I wish I could be convinced by the night sky. I wish I could accept the peace of a still, humid evening in the Ozarks and believe that the rest of the world was like this. But we know it’s not. We know that all is not well, and that our leaders are making it worse.

It’s hard to leave the deck. Even a half a morsel of peace is a relief. I wish that I could make everything better so it didn’t feel like such a lie.

Let’s get this out of the way::

I’m not entirely sure I want to blog, a word I’m using as a verb rather than a noun at the moment, and it’s mostly because I’m feeling content and happy and no particular pressure or impetus to reach beyond my immediate surroundings and speak. Except… except that there is something that needs said, and this is likely the best platform to say it from, which leaves me in a bit of a quandary.

And then, when I think about saying those things, I remember all the other things I haven’t said, and I feel like I must say those things first. So, this isn’t a rant about not blogging enough, nor is it a promise to blog more. I may blog exactly twice in the next month, including this current post. But the next post is important. This post just needs to be written so I can get it out of the way.

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The politics of natural disasters

So, apparently Friday is a challenging day for me to blog. I’ll just write twice today and that’ll make it all better, right? Right?!

The eastern seaboard is nowhere close to recovered from hurricane Sandy, but knowing our great country as I do, I suspect we’re close to done hearing about it. We lack the attention span for any one disaster, and the looming disaster of the election will take all the attention we can muster.

But before we switch focuses, I want to point out one thing. I think this is sort of the thread that ties all the controversy around Sandy together, which will probably go down in history as the second most politicised natural disaster in our history thus far. Beyond Romney buying cans of food to give to supporters to give back to him for a photo op despite the Red Cross telling him not to do any of that, and regardless of all the great press Obama has gotten from palling around with Chris Christie, there is a more theoretical criticism floating around that I want to address.

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Do you know where your Republican is?

I don’t generally get involved in our nation’s politics these days. I got overloaded on it in high school with Speech & Debate, and after graduating I quit consuming our country’s fine news and media productions (which were a far sight better back in my day) cold turkey. I vote, but I don’t campaign, I don’t picket, and I don’t generally write letters or make phone calls.

Tomorrow I will be writing and calling, because this is ridiculous. Kit Bond, what did you think you were doing? We expect you to work for your wages, my good sir, and this… this is not work.

I would like to copy the entire article from the Huffington Post below (which I saw courtesy of Brenda), just to help make sure your read all of it, but they deserve the traffic for their reporting. Go there and read the rest:

Senate Republicans fuming over the passage of health care reform are now refusing to work past 2 p.m. — a tactic they can employ by invoking a little-known Senate rule.

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee was forced to cancel a hearing as was the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted today : “Disappointed. Rs refusing to allow hearings today. Had to cancel my oversight hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan.”

Sen. Mark Udall also complained that he had to delay a hearing on the cause of Western forest fires.

Making good on Sen. John McCain’s threat to withhold all Republican cooperation from Democrats in the Senate in retribution for the majority party using reconciliation to pass health care reform, the GOP used the rule that states committees can only meet when the chamber is in session with the unanimous consent of all members. That consent has almost never been withheld — until now.

Read more…

Comment: My initial thoughts from Facebook, where I first saw this linked from Brenda:

If nothing else, one could say that the Democrats pushing the health care bill through were doing so as representatives of their constituents wishes, which is how our government is supposed to work. It seems unlikely that anyone elected a congressperson to not do their jobs. Refusing to engage in consideration, debate, and voting is failure to perform, and no one elects a person to fail.

If I were Republican, I’d be pretty pissed right now that my representatives not only failed to fully understand the parliamentary procedure in use in Congress, I’d be looking to cast my vote for someone who actually does work instead of walking out of work.

A Consideration of the Medieval Inquisition and the Insufficiencies of Structuralist and Poststructuralist Religious Theory

It is difficult to separate the word “inquisition” from the connotations given it by decades of misdirection and pop culture references. The word has become strongly tied to images of torture, fiery executions, and unjust legal proceedings. Even the satire of the Monty Python troupe, which highlights the confusion and sometimes chaotic proceedings of the Inquisition, serves to confuse matters further. ((There are instances where the comedy of Monty Python has a decent amount of relevance to scholarship—for instance, its treatment of the mythology of King Arthur in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail contains a great deal of the actual mythos of what surrounds Arthur—but the Spanish Inquisition skit is not one of these.)) For most, the Spanish Inquisition is the only inquisition remembered, but even this period in history misrepresents the dealings of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to the Inquisition; after all, the Spanish Inquisition was enacted and directed by the monarchy of Spain, not the Holy See (Roth, 72)!

Regardless, over a period of more than fifteen hundred years, the Church sought to combat heresy through a variety of methods. In addition, its shift in response over the centuries from leniency to outright war is mirrored in the approximately two hundred years of the Medieval Inquisition. This period of history saw the full gamut of Papal response to heresy, and subsequently can serve as a cross-section for examination of orthodox doctrine and dealings. The stance of the Roman Catholic Church held that its truth was the only truth, mutually exclusive to all other religious beliefs and superior to conflicting philosophical consideration. Beliefs or opinions contrary to orthodox religion, defined as heresies, were a threat to the Church in many ways. Heresies had the potential to divert believers, reduce donations, undermine control over areas and territories, and to the mind of the orthodox Catholic, threatened to destroy the bastion of good and cast the world into darkness and evil. Despite that, most heresies went largely unaddressed by the Church until the eleventh century, owing primarily to their insignificance and lack of threat to Catholicism (Deanesly, 215).

The rise of Catharism in Southern France was too great to ignore, however, prompting the Holy See to appoint inquisitors to discover from whence the heresies came, what it was the heretics believed, and to convince the unorthodox to return to the Catholic Church (Arnold, 21). In spite of the conceptualization of the Inquisition that rests at the forefronts of our mind today, its aim was simple: first, to understand why people would turn from the truth of the Church and what it was that diverted them, and second, to persuade heretics to return to the body of believers. In addition, it also served to decrease the violence of the time and instill justice where mob rule had been substituted (Shannon, 67).

The motivations and stages of the Medieval Inquisition are complex and difficult to unravel, where faith and practicality were often at tension. To gain a clearer understanding of this time, we will first review the history of the Medieval Inquisition, beginning with the rise of Catharism, the initiation of the Inquisition, the Albigensian Crusade, and the restructuring of the Inquisition. Second, by applying structuralist theory we can gain an understanding for the spiritual motivations of the pope and the other actors during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, both their internal and external stimuli. Third, we will consider the insufficiencies of structuralist theory in understanding the Medieval Inquisition and turn our attention to poststructuralism with a consideration of extra-theological factors and pressures. Last, we will assess the weaknesses of poststructuralist theory and examine the complementary nature of these two methods. Continue reading

I’ve read a bit about health care

I feel like I ought to do this right. To spend a few more days researching and reading, then a few days writing and drafting, then a day or two editing before putting up a long piece on health care. That’s not going to happen for a few reasons though. First, I’ve nothing original to say on the matter. And second, I just don’t care enough.

I care about the topic, to be certain. My novice year debate case was universal health care (as a solution to poor mental health care in the United States) and I have followed the topic ever since then. I had a pretty damn good plan (though I can’t find it and sadly don’t recall the specifics at this late date) and I’ve seen versions of it suggested over the years by congressmen and women. But I don’t care enough to spend a lot of time writing something here because it’s simply not going to change anything. People with more clout, intelligence, and wit than me have written on the subject, so I will simply nod to their fine work.

Too Poor to Make the News

I read this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (login required, but check BugMeNot for a quick fix) when it first came out, and after reading the third in this series today I went back and re-read it. This series doesn’t deal with health care. Rather, it deals with poverty.

As the author observes, while the bad economy hurts the wealthy and the middle class, it’s not as great a fall for the impoverished. “We were poor before, and we’re still poor,” one woman was quoted. That doesn’t mean things aren’t bad, or worse, for that matter–they certainly are. Those who had at least the occasional job have none, and it’s harder to get help than ever. The problem is that the poor are getting poorer, and the system is being tailored to hurt them more.

A Homespun Safety Net

Part two in the series of op-ed pieces, this article addresses welfare less than it does the social networks built by the poor to get by. The author notes the generosity of the poor, which she experienced some while researching a book several years ago, and how willing they are to help one another without question. Because “the system” treats them like criminals and discourages them from seeking state assistance, they help one another, but that safety net can’t hold under much weight. Eventually their home-made system breaks simply due to a lack of resources.

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

The last article in this series takes a look at the criminalization of poverty in the USA. The odd thing (or perhaps it isn’t) is that as poverty levels rise, more laws are put in place to target the impoverished. While some lawmakers may claim that these laws are applied equitably and fairly against both poor and rich, I don’t know who they think they’re fooling. The poor are hit hardest, and this article makes some good observations I hadn’t considered. There are some laws, and in particular some combinations or applications of laws, that just strike me as wrong.

The Cost Conundrum

Possibly the best article I have ever read (though I read a great one in Conde Nast – Economist a few months ago… I’m not much of a magazine person though, so I don’t read articles often), The Cost Conundrum is written by a doctor turned journalist and compares the health care costs of two Texas towns. Though near each other geographically with similar health statistics and income levels, one has almost double the national average cost of health care while the other is right around average.

It’s a long article and I really encourage whomever to read it, but the gist is two-fold:

  1. Doctors realized they can charge whatever they want and make tons of money, so some of them do.
  2. The current solutions proposed won’t fix anything because they only address insurers (those writing the checks) rather than the doctors (the ones writing the bills).

America has no right to speak ill of our NHS

This British op-ed piece does a fantastic job of giving a perspective from the other side of the pond. It is well-researched and well-written, and I appreciated how the author highlighted the flaws in both our current system and our current debate.

Most interesting, however, is the author’s take on the philosophy of health care, and their derision of the USA’s system being non-Christian. Particularly interesting from a Brit, where religion is on a huge decline, to a country that continues to pride itself on its Christian heritage (or, at the least, predominantly elects Christian leaders).

Matthew’s Thoughts

The last article perhaps echoes my own thoughts best. I feel we have a moral obligation, an imperative if you will, to provide health care to everyone. Not just health care, but care in general, and food and clean water, clothing, shelter, etc. I recognize the challenges to doing this worldwide, though I think it could be done. I do not think it would be challenging at all to do it in the USA if we reorganized things a bit. Admittedly, such a reorganization would almost call for a dictatorship, but solutions are possible.

That’s why I wouldn’t make a good politician. I suck at utilitarianism, and I recognize that. Politicians have to be utilitarian and they have to work within a system. Major overhauls are generally unfeasible. Minor corrections are, though, and I think we have the opportunity to correct some things.

The poor need it, and they deserve it no less than I do, or anyone else. I admit to the same mentality mentioned in A Homespun Safety Net, that the poor just need to get over it, work hard, and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I don’t believe in excuses, and while I recognize my unique set of circumstances that led to me having a good job and a comfortable lifestyle, I also recall the years of planning and work that went into reaching this point. I have been actively working towards this goal since I was nine years old, so fourteen years. I tend to suspect even a destitute, poor, uneducated person with a criminal record could get out in fourteen years if they applied themselves.

Regardless of what I think (that entire last paragraph), I know what my creator tells me to do. We’ve got to take care of people, and we’re doing a poor job of it in the USA. We can do better because other people are doing it better. If they can, so can we.

What have you been reading?

I don’t have any idea what the current debate about health care is like. We don’t have television service and I honestly don’t even glance at the news on a day-to-day basis. I rarely open up Times to see the headlines, let alone read anything.

What have you been reading, or what can you share on this topic? I’d love to read anything you can offer.

Support Stem Cell Research

I first saw this on Neil Gaiman’s blog and believed it important enough to pass along.

In short, the National Institutes of Health are running an online comment form in regards to some regulatory legislation in the works to replace the repealed guidelines on embryonic stem cell research from the Bush administration, and the majority of respondents (as of Saturday) had voiced opposition to such research. That’s not because only naysayers visit the NIH web site or because the majority of the country is actually against stem cell research. Rather, it is because the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have sent out a mass message asking followers to log in and state their disapproval.

You don’t have to agree with me, or with Neil Gaiman, or anyone else. You simply need to let your voice be heard. Go to

and post your comment(s).

As for me, I think it’s about time that we let the people attempting to cure diseases and improve humanity’s standard of living get on with it. It doesn’t kill babies, it doesn’t serve Satan, and it’s not going to be the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine). The potential is there and the chance of success is high, but we have to let the research progress.

You have through May 26 at 11 p.m. EST, so get on it. The NIH is actively reading responses and integrating those with their proposal, so if the majority are against stem cell research, there’s a good chance the legislation will be of a similar bend. Don’t let the USCCB dictate the direction of this country. If banning stem cell research is the will of the people, so be it, but it needs to be the will OF THE PEOPLE, not of the USCCB. Let your will be known. Comment now.

And if you’ve got a blog, Twitter account, or any other means of passing this along, please do so as soon as possible so everyone has a chance to comment. You can use the Share button below, copy and paste this entire blog entry, or just throw the link into emails, Tweets, what have you. Pass it on.

Russia and US Set to Re-Ignite the START Treaty

I just posted this article to my Twitter feed, but I wanted to write something about it as well to share how freaking excited this news article makes me. Next week, representatives from Russia and the United States will meet to discuss nuclear arms reductions similar to the START 1 treaty. From the Reuters journalist reporting on this subject:

The deal aims to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) and has been billed as part of an effort by Moscow and Washington to reset relations that hit a post-Cold War low under former U.S. President George W. Bush.

If these talks go through and have a positive outcome, it will vindicate the feelings I developed during the previous administration’s tenure. The world didn’t hate us for no reason, we weren’t a victim of circumstance, and everything wasn’t going to hell “just because.” Rather, our foreign relations were strained and breaking because our leader had enacted horrible foreign policies, and President Obama is improving our relationships with other countries by correcting those mistakes.

Russia doesn’t want a war with the United States, nor with anyone else. Their economy is doing well, and war is always bad for the economy in the long run. Yes, in the short term, it can help things rally, but these days all war does is rack up debt and get important manufacturing points destroyed.

So it’s not surprising to me that they’re willing to have these talks, but it does elicit a gleeful giggle in response to the conservative fundamentalists from the last eight years who said that Russia was just itching for war and that we should give them what for. We can work together to mutual benefit, we just have to have leaders who are willing to do so.

On a tangential note, the United Nations Security Countil unanimously denounced North Korea’s test launch of a missile a few weeks ago, stating that it violated a treaty and agreement. This is only remarkable because both Russia and China signed on, agreeing with the United States, Britain, and France. To have those two countries not veto this statement marks an improvement of relations between our countries.

I’m just excited to see things working how I think they should, with people talking and working together towards the peace we all desire. I was fairly certain it could be done, and it makes me thankful that President Obama won the election.