Lucy Diggs Slowe

Keywords: women’s’ studies, civil rights, feminism, mea culpas

I came across Lucy Diggs Slowe in a N.Y. Times article Overlooked No More: Lucy Diggs Slowe, Scholar Who Persisted Against Racism and Sexism. From that article:

“She influenced broad campaigns for racial equality, feminism, personal freedom and peace activism. She made it a priority to create a separate women’s campus at Howard. And she developed the fortitude to take moral stands against oppressive authority. One such authority, Howard’s first Black president, was venomous in his refusal to grant her equal stature and comparable pay because of her gender. He dealt her only misery and insult.”

From Wikipedia:

“In 1922, Slowe was appointed the first Dean of Women at Howard University. She continued in that role for 15 years until her death. In addition, Slowe created and led two professional associations to support college administrators. Slowe was also a tennis champion, winning the national title of the American Tennis Association‘s first tournament in 1917, the first African-American woman to win a major sports title.”

Slowe was an awesome person that rose above the doubters, the misogynists, and the racists to demonstrate her abilities and to create ways to help other women do the same. As always, an online search provides more discussion of her.

The N.Y. Times article is “part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.” Recognizing the snub of a single person like this isn’t on the same level as acknowledging things like the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, or slavery, but this type of mea culpa is an important part of moving forward. It is difficult to change things without open recognition of the misdeeds of the past.

(There are many influential people in history that are not as well-known as they could be. Many such can arguably be said to have changed history because they doubted something and acted on that doubt. Slowe is someone I put in these categories.)

White supremacists on display in the capital

Keywords: racism, violence, white nationalism, insurrection, white identity

I am generally going to avoid politics in this blog, but this is only tangentially about politics. The storming of the Capital of the United States was not just by a mob, it was by a mob of white supremacists. FiveThirtyEight does an excellent job of discussing this in Storming The U.S. Capitol Was About Maintaining White Power In America so I don’t feel I need to add much. But, a key point is that FiveThirtyEight, being who they are, provides evidence to support their claim. This is not just an opinion. I don’t think the importance of this can be overstated.

Is there anything supernatural?

Keywords: philosophy of science, physical reality, philosophical foundations, nonphysical, god, ghosts, ch’i, chakras, soul, spirits, magic

There are lots of things that are said to be supernatural; things like ghosts, gods, and magic, to name a few. Can these things truly be supernatural?

I’m not the first to come up with or present the types of arguments I’ll give below. But this is a critical foundational aspect of science that is useful for moving beyond doubt.  I want to emphasize that this discussion does not analyze whether or not these things exist. It analyzes one particular characteristic that is often given to these things: that they are supernatural.

In order to get very far, we’ll need a better term for what we’re talking about. The word “supernatural” is arguably an oxymoron. Can there truly be something that is not natural, that is beyond – super to – nature? We might alternatively ask: Is there something in the universe that is not natural? We sometimes use the word “artificial” in the sense of “made by humans” to mean “unnatural”. But this isn’t the sense we’re talking about here. We’re not using the term to imply that gods or ghosts are made by humans. In the grander sense of the term, everything in the universe (that is, everything) is natural.

So let us change the question to whether or not there is something that is not physical instead of supernatural. This is consistent with the use of the term “incorporeal” to describe ghosts and spirits. Such things are thought of as having no body, of being immaterial.

Arguably, using the term “nonphysical” increases the variety of things under discussion. For example, when I was studying chakras, I came across a statement that chakras exist in a “nonphysical dimension.” These, along with various “life energies” or “life forces”, such as ch’i, are often associated with medicinal practices and are thus often posed as involving the body more than the supernatural. Similarly, forms of extrasensory perception (ESP) such as telepathy or telekinesis are often posed as extensions of the mind more than as supernatural abilities. (This includes some science fiction stories that provide a fictional, “scientific”, reason for their existence.) There are myriad other examples.

The next step, of course, is to have an understanding of what “physical” means. Indeed we need a clear definition of “physical.” I’ll use our bodies as a foundation for this definition. But I’ll also link the definition to my three philosophical foundations discussed in Am I a figment of your imagination?

  1. Cogito, ergo sum (I think therefore I am),
  2. Something exists besides self (objective reality),
  3. Sensory perceptions interpret, rather than capture, reality (modelism).

I hope that few people would argue that we exist only as thought. I hope that most people would admit we are beings of flesh and blood. A body of flesh and blood is a physical body – by definition. Further, our senses, being part of our physical body, are – by definition – physical senses. As physical senses they can sense nothing but physical reality – again, by definition. When we speak, our larynx and mouth modulate sound waves that propagate by physically moving air molecules. When we see something, it is via photons hitting our retinas. When necessary, we can look to biochemistry and physics to understand that our physical body and the physical world are made of molecules and atoms or, more generally, that the universe is made up of the full array of particles in the Standard Model of physics. But for the sake of this discussion, it is important to realize that the definition of “physical” is founded in our bodies and its interaction with objective reality. Particles are just experimentally based refinements to the model that this definition is a part of. It is, perhaps, also useful to realize that this definition is consistent with the definition of “physical” used by science and, in particular, by physics.

It is certainly possible for the word “physical” to be defined in other ways. And people are wont to do so; people commonly engage in what I call Whac-a-mole arguments (which are more formally referenced as moving the goal posts.) If there is a reason to do so, other definitions can be compared to my definition for elucidation. But I argue that any definition of “physical” must include the physicality of our bodies – the physicality of flesh and blood – or else it references a completely different concept then what I am talking about here.

I will likely write a post discussing measurability in more detail, but the concept is an important part of this discussion, so here are a few comments. To measure something in physical reality is to measure either a static characteristic of an object or a change of state of an object. We might measure the static volume of an object or its change of position in space. We might measure a static temperature or the change of temperature as something cools. (As part of our model, measurements always have an error and never measure reality exactly.) Our senses work by making physical measurements (although their accuracy is always in question). We hear by measuring the frequency of sound waves as they move air molecules. We see by measuring the color and intensity of photons. We also extend the range and accuracy of our senses through technological instrumentation, such as yardsticks and the Large Hadron Collider. These are extensions of our senses in that the measurements of these devices are ultimately incorporated into our minds via our physical senses.

This brings us to the definition of a physical “force.” Any force that makes a measurable change to a part of the physical world is a physical force – by definition. There is a sense in which we don’t really measure the physical forces per se; we measure the changes they produce on physical objects. We measure the force of gravity by how it affects dropped objects. We measure the electromagnetic force by its effect on electrons. Physics has identified four forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. If we happened to measure a change in a physical object that could not be accounted for by the combination of these four forces, we would have identified another physical force. There is currently no evidence of a fifth force, but for the sake of this discussion, let us assume the possibility.

We’re now ready to start addressing the question of whether something can be nonphysical.

I’ll use god as an example to illustrate the main argument. Assume god tells me something and I speak to someone about what god said. Because my speaking is a physical act, somewhere between god and my larynx, god had to have made a change in my physical body. To be clear, the assumption is that I am saying something that I would not have said, would not have known about, if god hadn’t interacted with me. For emphasis, I’ll work back along the trail. We know speech moves physical air molecules. We know that this air motion is created by our lungs and modulated by the motion of muscles in our mouth and throat. Does god have one hand on my throat and another on my lungs physically controlling my speech? Well, the assumption is that I am consciously aware of what god told me. Just as we know that the blood we bleed when we are cut has a function related to the maintenance of our body, we know that the neurons in our brain have functions related to muscle control and consciousness. So, we can work our way back along the nerves that control my mouth muscles to my brain. We know that our brains work, in part, via the firing of neurons. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the way god told me something was by controlling electrons as they moved down my neurons. For the sake of imagery, assume god has a teeny tiny little hammer and god is sitting in our brain whacking electrons as they go by. Such changes to the motions of these electrons – physical particles – would be measurably separable from the effects of other known physical forces. For emphasis: it doesn’t matter how far we have to go on our journey from the larynx, or how minute a change to my body we attribute to god, if god speaks to me, it requires a physical, measurable, change in my body. By definition this would make god a physical force.

Ghosts illustrate the concept of a supposedly incorporeal entity measurably affecting the physical world. Ghosts are purportedly seen or heard through our eyes or ears. The purported rattling and shaking produced by ghosts are physical phenomena and thus ghosts cannot be nonphysical.

This same argument applies to souls and things like animistic spirits of trees. If the soul in any way influences our physical body or a spirit inhabits and affects a tree, it would have to do so via a physical force. Similarly, if some life force animates our bodies, it would have to do so by affecting our physical bodies in some measurable way.

I’ll now move away from the image of god with a little hammer in our head by considering telekinesis (moving objects with our minds) or magic in the form of casting spells (or in the form of its cousin, prayer). These tend to be presented as something happening at a distance; that there is physical separation between the person and the object being affected. Let’s assume a person is doing something that causes an effect on some object. Let’s say, either through telekinesis or through spell casting, that a rock is lifted. On the rock side, we are back to a measurable effect that we could isolate out from gravity. But there is also the action of the person – whether it is waving their hands in a spell or just thinking really hard about lifting the rock. These are measurable actions – either the motion of the hands or neurons firing as part of a conscious act. That is, there are two measurable and linked effects involved in the lifting of the rock. This makes these abilities part of physical reality.

Let’s also discuss “dimensions” since, for example, chakras have been said to exist in a nonphysical dimension (which they can’t because they supposedly affect our physical bodies.) Various forms of string theory posit more than the four dimensions of space-time (10, 11, and 26 in particular.) So, even physicists are willing to discuss extra dimensions. But the key point here is that, if they exist (and there is currently no evidence that they do) they are physical dimensions. They would be extensions of our current four dimensional model and would have measureable affects. Sometimes the word “dimension” is used to discuss “alternate” universes or realities. Science fiction and fantasy like to use the trope of “portals,” “gates,” or “doorways” into these alternate places. But, once again, if there is a doorway, it provides a physical connection to those alternate dimensions.

Finally, I’ll discuss things that people really want to believe have transcendental origins: love and other emotions. Many people don’t want to think that love is only a physical response. Well, we’re already capable of measuring some emotions in terms of their electrochemical presence in our bodies (although not very easily and not with any level of accuracy). Even further, I’ll point out that people in love (especially newly discovered love) can sometimes be identified by sight – without fancy equipment. Many of us have looked at a couple and thought to ourselves, “They’re in love.” For another example, anger is often visibly noticeable. These, again, are physical measurements made by our physical senses. I want to emphasize that this in no way diminishes the beauty of love. Love exists and produces one of the most exquisite feelings we feel. That love is “only” electrochemical doesn’t change these facts.

In summary, anything that affects the physical world and, in particular, produces (by whatever means) a conscious awareness of its existence in our physical bodies, is necessarily a physical force or object. Otherwise it couldn’t interact with the physical world or our bodies or our minds. These facts are true by definition. Harking back to my original definition of “physical”, to deny this definition is to deny that we have flesh and blood bodies. In conclusion: there is nothing nonphysical or supernatural.

There is a technicality regarding this conclusion. It is imaginable that there is something which we cannot measure because it is not connected to the part of the universe we occupy. Perhaps we are in one isolated bubble in a multiverse sea of bubbles. Well, we will never know if this is true because if there are segments of reality that are completely, physically, disconnected from us – that our physical bodies (or current or future instruments) cannot sense– there is zero chance of knowing anything about them.

There is another concept in the category of things that might exist but are not measurable: an observer. I’ll use an observer soul as a focus. I’ve already noted that if the soul in any way controls or influences the body, it is physical. But it might be that the soul is simply an observer, an archiver of our life, something that acts as a memory storage device. (This is an important aspect of souls. If the soul does not have any memory of who I was then how is it in any way a continuation of “me?”) We often observe people without them knowing it. So, it is imaginable that there is something observing us without our knowing. (Of course, the question of mechanism comes into play. The analogy thus falls apart in that we see people via physical photons. But let’s ignore mechanism for this discussion.) This is no different than the situation of a bubble universe. If something is only an observer that in no way interacts with us in a measurable way, we, again, have zero chance of knowing anything about it.

As I said at the beginning, this argument does not address the existence of things like gods or ghosts. I will likely post other arguments against their existence, but I want to strongly emphasize that the purpose of this post is to discuss a single characteristic often attributed to these things. This post only argues that there is nothing nonphysical, nothing supernatural. That is, if gods or magic or whatever exist, then they are physical objects or forces. As physical entities, they are measurable. This means they can be analyzed by the scientific method because what science does is analyze data obtained via measurement.

Part of my reason for this emphasis is to deflect arguments of “maybe science just hasn’t detected these things yet.” Such arguments from ignorance are irrelevant here. This discussion is about “in theory” vs. “in practice.” If there is a physical affect, then in theory we could develop techniques to measure it. Whether or not we have done so in practice is not part of this discussion. Understanding that the nature of reality is fundamentally physical and measurable is necessary for understanding the nature of science. The terms “supernatural” and “nonphysical” are red herrings we can discard as we analyze what is real and what is not.

An ironic aspect of this conclusion is that I started out by saying “supernatural” doesn’t mean “artificial” in the sense of “made by humans”. Well, since there is nothing supernatural, it turns out that anything claimed to be supernatural is just an artifice of human imagination.

(Update: I realized that I forgot to include credit for the ghostly image I used. https://creativity103.com/)

Just because it’s awesome: Advances in space exploration

Over the last year there have been some awesome accomplishments in space. A few examples (there are many others):

  1. Retrieval of subsurface asteroid samples to earth by Japan’s Hayabusa2.
  2. The return of lunar samples by China’s Chang’e 5.
  3. The transport of humans to space for the first time by a non-governmental agency, Space X.
  4. An unprecedented detailed image of a sunspot by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.

There are several forms of awe I experience from thinking about these achievements.

The complexity of retrieving rocks from objects in space is mind boggling. I mean this in the relatively literal sense that no one person can understand all the theoretical and engineering details necessary to accomplish this. Any one mind would be boggled to attempt it. The sense of awe here is increased by realizing how detailed our understanding of physics has to be to do this.

The transition of access to space from government to industry creates a sea of dreams that are closer to being implemented.

The expansion of knowledge is always a thrill to me. There are currently over two dozen space probes along with numerous earth based telescopes collecting data. (On the sad side, the Arecibo Observatory closed this year.)

As much as these individual accomplishments are awesome, I also find it awesome in an odd way. These accomplishments get significantly less coverage than space adventures of old. The awesomeness is the fact that going to space is becoming normal, even expected. What an accomplishment!

Liberation of doubt

Keywords: origin of morality, religious privilege, hate, good without god

I had another letter to the editor published in the Eugene, OR Register-Guard on Dec 17. It was in response to Michael Gerson (who writes for The Washington Post.) His column, Hope doesn’t depend on us, was published in the Register-Guard on Dec 9. My letter, as submitted, is provided below. However, because such letters are limited to 200 words, it is very concise and I think it is appropriate to provide some further discussion.

In the column, Gerson states “For me, doubt is like staring into an abyss.” This is the complete opposite of my view as evidenced by this blog. Gerson also states “Without a transcendent moral order, ideas such as good and evil, noble and ignoble, are pegged in mid-air.” He adds that hope comes from “Advent” and “is a delivery from elsewhere.” There is more along these lines.

Although Gerson doesn’t use the word “god”, his comments are a variant on a common theistic belief that morality derives from god. The contrapositive of this is that there can be no morality without god; the corollary is that atheists are intrinsically immoral. I use the analogy of anti-Semitism in my letter because it is generally acknowledged as hate. Saying that atheists are immoral simply because of their beliefs is no different in kind than saying Jews are.

This is not simply a philosophical distinction. The belief that “god equals good” combined with religious privilege has done, and continuous to do, real harm in the real world. People have been killed for being atheist. There are a half dozen or so countries where atheism is a capital offense. There are states where it is still technically illegal for an atheist to be a juror. I’ve met people that have lost their entire support structure, including someone that was kicked out of their house at age 16, for coming out as atheist in religious communities. People lose their family, their friends, and even their jobs for being atheist. More generally, the promotion of the U.S. as a Christian Nation (e.g., via Project Blitz) is a blatant attempt to reduce non-Christians to second class citizenry. Recent examples of legal harm in the name of religion include the Supreme Court rulings involving Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor. The history of religion relating to indigenous peoples, blacks, women, and slavery is horrendous.

I feel a need to preempt a potential response to this post. It is not unusual for people to think that, when I say promoting “god equals good” is a form of hate speech, I am engaging in a reverse form of hate speech. The difference is that I do not claim morality comes from some single external or higher source the denial of which implies the denial of morality. There are many religious people that act morally. But I believe they are epistemologically mistaken regarding where their morality comes from. I do not claim that this mistaken belief intrinsically implies they are immoral.

As submitted (published as Liberation of doubt):

Many people view doubt as a liberation rather than as the abyss Michael Gerson does (Dec 9). Doubt frees us to question and discover the world as it is rather than as viewed through the filter of faith and dogma. Such questioning has allowed science to reduce disease and poverty. There is no need for a “transcendent moral order” to understand good and evil or for nonreligious organizations, like Doctors Without Borders and those featured in the RG (Dec 9, p3A), to help others. Organizations like Innovations for Poverty Action provide hope through science based studies.

Understanding that purpose derives from love, friends, family, helping others, and protecting the environment requires no “revolt”. The acceptance of a “meaningless universe” gives extra meaning and importance to those things around us in the here and now.

Gerson’s implication that hope and morality require delivery from Advent or some mysterious “elsewhere” is a direct attack on the morality of atheists and others who obtain these from evidence, reason, and conscience. Gerson’s comments are directed at a population other than Jews, but they are a form of hate speech born of religious privilege that should be condemned as strongly as antisemitism is.

(End of published letter.)

Innovations for Poverty Action

Keywords: fighting poverty, charities, helping people, economic divide

Innovations for Poverty Action is an organization that I support because it applies science to the reduction of poverty – and that is absolutely awesome! Here is the email I just got from them illustrating that, not only are they researching how to reduce poverty, they’re getting people to use that research. Please consider donating.

From Annie Duflo the Executive Director:

Over the past year—both before and after the pandemic began—we worked with our partners not only to generate strong evidence but also to ensure it is used to improve programs and policies to improve lives. This latter part—ensuring evidence is used—is a critical and growing component of IPA’s work. I’d like to share some of the exciting ways, large and small, that IPA’s research has translated into better programs and policies in 2020.

This past year:

Fundraiser – Eugene Solstice Banner

For the third year, I have displayed the Solstice Banner in Eugene, OR. It is on 8th Ave near Willamette. This is in direct response to the Jesus banner that is displayed annually. My and FFRF’s preference is that neither banner be displayed since we don’t think the public square is an appropriate place for religious displays. I will stop displaying mine if they stop displaying theirs. However, since a religious banner is displayed, I feel a solstice banner is needed to show support for the non-religious and to remind people that not everyone is Christian.

The cost of installation tripled this year due to the old installer retiring. I am looking to offset my costs ($637.45) via donations.

The main way of donating is through the Freedom From Religion Foundation site. In order for me to get the donations, YOU HAVE TO PUT “Eugene Solstice Banner” IN THE COMMENTS/INSTRUCTIONS BOX. This will also get you a receipt for tax deductible charitable donation. You can also mail a check to FFRF (see their website for the address) filled out to FFRF and again, indicating “Eugene Solstice Banner” on the check. If you donate through FFRF, I would appreciate you notifying me so I can keep track.

Otherwise you can donate to me the same way you have in the past. Anything sent directly to me will not receive a receipt for tax deductible charitable donation.

If I receive donations exceeding my costs, donations will be used for next years’ display.

I want to thank the City of Eugene for allowing this display without fuss. Other municipalities have had to be sued to allow secular displays. Also, secular holiday displays are sometimes vandalized. There really are people with religious privilege that actively discriminate against the non-religious. This is all the more reason for this banner.

Thanks and have a Sunny Solstice!

Maria Sibylla Merian

Keywords: caterpillars, butterflies, women’s studies, women scientists, scientific method

I first became aware of Maria Sibylla Merian decades ago at an exhibit of her artwork (in L.A.) She made meticulous and beautiful drawings of insects in their different life stages. I was more interested in her artwork at the time than her other accomplishments, but I remember that she was credited with discovering that caterpillars turn into butterflies. (A recent search on her name returned a confirming article, Maria Sibylla Merian proved caterpillars become butterflies. Then history forgot her.) Add to this the fact that she lived in the 1600s as an independent woman and she earned a place in my memory.

I thought of her recently. I’ve also recently been learning about fiber arts. In particular, I’ve started spinning silk. Since silk has been around a long time (about 6000 years), it struck me that ancient silk farmers probably understood the basic life cycle of caterpillars. With a little research I found that simply saying Merian “discovered” or “proved” the relationship between caterpillars and butterflies makes for a good sound bite (or way of storing her in my memory), but there is more to the story.

The part of the story that leads to the sound bite is that the common belief at the time was that insects were “born of mud” by spontaneous generation. Think about that. Something that is commonly taught to school children now was only recognized about 400 years ago. This is a nice reminder that science as we know it today is really not that old. Merian was born 17 years after Johannes Kepler died and was a contemporary of Isaac Newton. She lived when the scientific method was just starting to be formulated and implemented. This is also a nice reminder of the success of the scientific method. After tens of thousands of years of human existence, in only 400 years we’ve gone from thinking that insects pop out of the mud fully formed to whole-genome synthesis which allowed recreation of the coronavirus from an electronic description of its genetic code.

Merian’s contribution was that she meticulously observed and recorded insect life cycles. There were a few others that had published on the butterfly’s life cycle before her (and, of course, there were silk farmers), but the level of documentation she provided is the basis of saying that she “proved” what the life cycle is. This was done by documenting the life cycle of 186 insect species. This is the essence of the scientific method: collect meticulous data and derive general conclusions from it.

When I think about this and other examples of the history of discovering things, I sometimes feel that science can be a little arrogant. Silk farmers certainly didn’t need Merian to “prove” the connection. But, at the same time, there is a distinction between knowing something in practice (like farming) and having documented and published scientific conclusions. Meticulous analyses also weed out untruth. Just because a practitioner thinks something works a certain way, doesn’t mean it does. By putting something into the scientific record, it allows anyone to access it and question it. It allows non-experts (not everyone farms silk) to gain knowledge. This is how science progresses; how one scientist can stand on the shoulders of another.

On top of her scientific and artistic acumen, Merian is also remarkable in that she did her work at a time when woman were not exactly encouraged to engage in intellectual activities; indeed were often thought not to even be capable of such. She was also financially independent – something else that was rare for women at the time. Recognition of women’s intelligence and basic rights have come a long way since that time (albeit with a long way still to go.) But by being the accomplished person she was, Merian represents the loss to knowledge that millennia of woman’s repression has caused. This is both in the sense of women in general and her in particular since her work was forgotten. Think about how much further along we would be if the ability to advance knowledge hadn’t been limited to half the population. Perhaps we would have been prepared to fight pandemics by now.

Merian was intelligent, scientific and independent at a time when those attributes were not desired in women (and artistic to boot). She didn’t let the attitudes of her time keep her from doing great work. That’s awesome.

(There are many influential people in history that are not as well-known as they could be. Many such can arguably be said to have changed history because they doubted something and acted on that doubt. Merian is someone I put in these categories.)

Don’t touch my beard

Keywords: don’t touch my hair, intimacy, social norms, courtesy, assault

I just saw a gif meme that I think is clearly assault. A bearded person that appears to be a sports journalist is holding a microphone and speaking into the camera while standing in front of a sports venue. Another person (presumably one of the athletes) walks behind the first and, while passing by, takes a hand full of the first person’s beard. (Perhaps of note is that the second person is so much taller than the first that you never see the second person’s face.)

This is a variant of the “don’t touch my hair” problem. I first became aware of this social phenomenon from a photography exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer museum on the University of Oregon campus but it has a wider presence. This problem is most often talked about in terms of black women. Here’s a quote that summarizes the issue:

“Asking to touch a Black woman’s hair is a racial microaggression masquerading as a compliment. In a patriarchal, white-dominated society, it denies black women respect, consent and agency over their own bodies. Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” can be read as an explicit rejection of this behavior, as a simple establishment of boundaries, or as a powerful statement of personal identity.”

But this gif, and my personal (if limited) experience, shows that it goes beyond black women. I’m a white male with long wavy hair. I was at one of my uncle’s funeral when I was talking to the mother of a childhood friend. This was the first time I’d met them in decades and the first time as an adult. So, they were someone that was, for all practical purposes, a stranger to me. During our conversation they reached out and touched my hair while making a comment about how nice it was. Let me just say that, even though this happened more than a decade ago, it was creepy enough that I still have a vivid memory of it.

Why is this gif and the social attitude it represents acceptable? If the victim was female, would it have been okay for someone to rub their hand over their face? Perhaps there is a difference in degree, but how is this different in kind from pinching a person’s butt (which, again, I have a vivid memory of someone doing to me) or grabbing a woman’s pussy? Is the acceptance of this gif simply because it appears to be man-on-man and that boys will be boys?

The above quote talks about personal identity. When I turned 18 and went off to college, I stopped shaving and have not shaved, even once, in the decades since. (In general, I don’t buy into the social norm that people need to shave. I think everyone, regardless of gender, should make a conscious choice about shaving any part of their body and understand why they choose or choose not to do so.) Although there are people that alternate having and not having a beard, my beard is very much a part of who I am. I recently had a conversation that made me realize not everyone understands this. The person I was talking to is a portrait artist and thus wondered what I looked like under my beard. My response was, “A picture of me without my beard is not a portrait of me.”

Another aspect of this is that my girlfriend relishes in my beard (and hairy body in general.) Having someone touch my beard is an intimate, sensual, and sometimes sexual, experience. Why would I want a stranger, or even a casual friend, to do so?

Seriously, unless you have a close enough relationship to know otherwise, always doubt that someone wants to be touched – even their hair or beard. Asking is a simple courtesy.

If you’re not Christian, why call it Christmas?

Keywords: Solstice, secular holidays, the “nones”

Here’s a letter I had published in the Register Guard on Dec 30, 2019 with the title: Solstice is for everyone. It is an argument against the concept of a “secular Christmas”.

As a reminder, roughly 30% of the U.S. and 70% of the world’s population are not Christian. About 25% of the U.S. population does not associate with any religion. In fact, the nonreligious (often referred to as the “nones”) are the fastest growing “religion” in the U.S. I’ve seen studies that say up to 40% of the youngest generations in the U.S. are nones. I also remember a study suggesting that up to 50% of people are actually atheists even if they don’t consciously acknowledge it to themselves. Why call yourself Christian if you don’t believe in Christ as you savior?

As submitted:

Solstice instead of Christmas

I appreciate Lila Harper’s perspective in Tuesday’s Guest View and the recent reminder by a Rabbi that Christmas is about Christ. But secularism goes beyond forms of Judaism and the Rabbi doesn’t explicitly say, “If you’re not celebrating Christ, don’t call it Christmas.” Calling it so promotes a religion you don’t believe in and many Christians will assume you are Christian no matter how many denials you make. There are alternative names.

The Solstice is the natural event when daylight starts to increase. This changing of the seasons is critical to life on Earth as we know it. Most religions have attempted to replace this natural event with a supernatural one. But it was celebrated long before any portion of any bible was written. Gift giving, lights on trees, and even Santa (Saint) Claus have pre-Christian origins. There is no reason you can’t do these or any other type of celebration you want as part of Solstice.

This is not a rose which “by any other name would smell as sweet”. This is an expression of what your beliefs are. Find a name for this celebration that means something to you, rather than to other people.

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