Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The price of silence

I'm going to make a bold statement here: in any modern society, the single most critical thing for fostering intellectual advancement is freedom of speech.  Nothing else -- whether the country is run by liberals or conservatives, whether it is predominantly religious or secular, whether it's a democracy or monarchy or some other form of government -- really matters.

Freedom of speech also trumps considerations of politeness and offense.  I'm all for being compassionate and kind, and think that "don't be a dick" is a pretty good starting point for morality.  That said, it is more important that you be allowed to say what you think than it is for me to be happy about it.

It's like the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  My general opinion was that as satire goes, Charlie Hebdo was juvenile and not particularly funny.  Their crude lampooning of... well, everything... didn't even reach Mad magazine standards for humor.  But you know what?  That is entirely irrelevant.  The fact that I, or anyone else, might be offended by what they publish leaves us the easy option of not reading it.

[Nota bene:  I'm not considering true hate speech, here -- when someone makes credible material threats against someone else based on ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, or religion.  But I think the distinction is clear enough that the point hardly needed to be made.]

The whole topic comes up because of the deaths in the past months of eight Bangladeshi bloggers, journalists, and writers, hacked to death with machetes because they had, in the minds of conservative Muslims, "insulted Islam."  The government has been reluctant to pursue the attackers, because this puts them in the awkward position of supporting people who are being critical of the state religion -- or who are simply outspoken atheists.

It would be unsurprising if this had the effect of silencing the remaining secular writers in the country.  Who could blame people for going into hiding if there's a very real danger that they'll be butchered if they keep speaking out?  Amazingly, there are three bloggers who have refused to be intimidated.  They were asked to make a statement to CNN, and offered the possibility of anonymity.

All three gave statements, and refused to do so anonymously.

Their statements are profiles in courage.  I want you to go back and read the original post (linked above), but the words they wrote are so inspiring, and so germane to what I discuss here on a daily basis, that I have to excerpt them.

From Imran H. Sarker, founder of the Bangladeshi Bloggers and Online Activist Network:
With the killing of one blogger after another, we seem to be heading towards total oblivion. As the world progresses under the banner of freedom of expression, we seem to be hurtling backwards. Our freedom is being silenced by the serial murder of bloggers and publishers.
From Maruf Rosul, writer for the Mukto-Mona human rights blog:
Freedom of expression in my country is dying...   Right now, our beloved Bangladesh is bleeding ceaselessly.  The land is torn asunder by the fanatics.  There is no way to disagree with the establishment or to ask questions about anything, even though freedom of speech is our constitutional right.
From Arif Jebtik, secular blogger and writer:
As they continue to tally their votes in order to hold power and influence, our mainstream politicians are the ones who are creating the debacles our country is currently facing right now. It is they who are silently broadening the path for radicalized murderers and extremists.
It's very easy, over here in the United States, to feel nothing but helpless rage at the murderers who are trying to squelch free speech.  What can we do, other than stand by and watch as secular writers are intimidated, injured, or killed?

First, visit their websites (linked above).  Show them support.  If it's possible, contribute financially.  The extremists' goal is not only directly to harm secular bloggers, but to fragment and intimidate their allies.  These people are continuing to speak out, at the risk of their lives, in order to maintain the standard of free speech that is the hallmark of civilized society.

On a personal note, as a blogger who often writes on controversial topics, I can't imagine being in that situation myself.  Would I have the courage to do what Sarker, Rosul, and Jebtik are doing, knowing that I could be ambushed and murdered in the street simply for voicing my opinion?  I don't know.  I'd like to think I would, but am profoundly grateful that I don't have to live with that threat.  However, one thing is certain: there is nothing to be gained by silence.  The price of silence is the loss of one of the most important freedoms we have.  If the extremists stop the dissenting voices, they will truly have won.

Monday, May 2, 2016

I'll see you on the dark side of the moon

When I first started writing here at Skeptophilia, back in October of 2010, one of the first people to show up in a post was one Richard C. Hoagland.

Hoagland is well known in woo-woo circles, especially anything having to do with aliens and conspiracies.  He apparently thinks that The X Files was a series of historical documentaries, and his idea of "evidence" is apparently "whatever stuff NASA comes up with that I don't understand."  Back in 2010 what brought him to my attention was his commentary on a mysterious hexagonal pattern that showed up on Saturn (it turned out to be patterns of turbulence that were replicable in the laboratory), and that Hoagland said was the result of "the same phenomenon that causes crop circles."

So it amused me no end to run across his name again, this time in an article in Inquisitr that claims that we finally have a smoking gun with regards to (what else?) aliens.  Not on Saturn, but closer to home, right up there on the Moon.  We have all of the features of an evil NASA coverup (and/or an episode of The X Files); a fired NASA database manager, allegations that Neil Armstrong himself had seen alien bases on the Moon, and a film clip of something moving in one of the craters on the far side.

[image courtesy of photographer Luc Viatour and the Wikimedia Commons]

Now, I'm as excited about the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life as the next science nerd, but watching this film clip (which you should also do -- it's only a minute long) left me singularly unimpressed.  The narrator, however, waxes rhapsodic; he says "it may go down in the history books as one of the clearest indications that there is current -- mind you, current -- activity [on the Moon]."

Myself, I thought it looked like a video processing glitch.  All you see is a highly magnified, and thus blurry/pixillated, blob in the middle of the darkly-shadowed crater.   But the aliens and UFOs crowd don't seem to mind this; in fact, the worse the evidence, the grainier the data, the more they can write upon it whatever explanation they want.  Too much detail, and people will see that it's not what they're claiming it is.

So, grayish smudge = highly advanced alien base, apparently.  Over at Inquisitr, they certainly sound like that was enough for them:
Since then, more conspiracy theorists have investigated activity on the moon and many have found what looks to be alien cities.  The most recent coverage showing “something” emerging from a crater on the moon is surely making headlines...  Do you think this is proof that aliens exist and are living on the moon?  It certainly looks like something “living” is making itself known to the world.
I especially like the use of quotation marks around the word "living," given the fact that quotation marks are often used to indicate doubt.  It brings to mind a local restaurant that had the following dubious recommendation in an advertisement:
You'll "never forget" the meals you have here at Upstate New York's "Favorite" Family Restaurant!  
Which would be enough to discourage me.  I've had a few meals before that I've *air quotes* never forgotten, and it certainly hasn't made me want to repeat the experience.

But I digress.

So yes, Hoagland et al. are at it again, this time claiming that NASA has discovered alien life, and instead of doing what space science research agencies do (i.e. research interesting stuff), they've chosen to cover it all up.  Because that's how you get funding -- make sure that if you make cool discoveries, nobody ever finds out about it.

It's kind of discouraging, honestly, that I'm still fighting the same lunatics that I started out fighting six years ago.  You'd think that at least they could come up with a few new tropes.  I mean, the crop circles on Saturn thing at least was one I hadn't seen before.  The fact that we've returned to alien bases on the Moon just seems to indicate that the woo-woos aren't trying all that hard any more.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tactical assault weasel

So the Large Hadron Collider is having problems again, this time because a weasel chewed through a power cord and shut down the whole operation.

I am not making this up.  Nor is this the first time that an animal has wrought havoc with the world's largest particle accelerator.  In 2009, a gull dropped a baguette on "critical electrical systems," and shorted the whole thing out, causing damage that required several months to repair.

These sorts of things have caused an immediate bout of eyebrow-raising amongst the woo-woos, who tend to have the belief that nothing happens by accident.  If oddball problems arise, then it is not simply because the world is a bizarre and chaotic place (an observation that in my opinion explains a good 90% of the weird events that happen).  It is an indication of a conspiracy, or a bad omen at the very least.

And the fact that twice, animals have shut down the LHC?  That can't be happenstance.

And as I predicted, already the wingnuts are beginning to ferment with speculation regarding the possible explanations for the recent Weasel Attack.  Here are a few selected comments from online news sources that carried the story:
  • What would make a weasle [sic] eat a power cord?  There's something they're not telling us.
  • This isn't the only time this has happened.  A few years ago a seagull damaged the Large Hardon [sic] collider and now its [sic] happened again.  Nature and God are trying to tell us something that we are not supposed to be doing this.  What happens when its [sic] fixed and started up and something goes wrong?  We should take this to mean that the Large Hardon [sic] collider should be shut down permanently.
  • Some scientists believe that this is happening because in the future CERN has created a black hole or something else bad, and they're sending us messages back in time to stop us.  We better listen.
  • We sink billions of dollars into something a weasel can destroy.  How fucking stupid are we?
  • Once was a weird thing to happen.  Twice is too much to be a coincidence.
Okay, let me address a few of these points.
  • Why does a weasel eating a power cord mean there's "something they're not telling us?"  As far as I can see, all it means is "a weasel ate a power cord."
  • I'm sorry, but the mental image I get whenever someone writes CERN's facility as "the Large Hardon Collider" is so hilarious that I can't even stay serious long enough to consider anything else they might say.  I may have a juvenile sense of humor, but there you are.
  • As far as how fucking stupid we are, as a species, I think you can find a whole lot of pieces of evidence along those lines other than building a piece of expensive and fragile equipment.  There are far better examples to choose from of how fucking stupid we are.
  • When one weird thing happens, it can't be a coincidence, because a "coincidence" is when two similar events coincide.  Thus the name.
  • If CERN created a black hole in the future, my guess is that there wouldn't be an Earth around at that point, much less scientists to send a Tactical Assault Weasel back in time to stop it from happening.
Doesn't this have the look of a time-traveling vandal from the future?  [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Be that as it may, Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, has said that the repairs will only take a couple of weeks.  The Large Hadron [note the spelling] Collider should be back online, and ready to smash atoms and/or end the universe as we know it, by mid-May.

Unless the scientists in the future send some other animal emissary back in time to wreck it again.  Maybe this time with a highly-trained Military Attack Wombat with a strategic banana peel.  You can see how effective that would  be.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Educating your way out of superstition

One of the trends I find the most discouraging is the increase in superstition and religious fanaticism in other parts of the world.

Not that we don't have it here in the United States, mind you.  But I like to tell myself that it's on the wane, whether that's wishful thinking or not.  In a lot of places, however, it's undeniable that violent religious mania is on the rise, and I'm not just thinking about Muslim extremists in the Middle East.  Equally worrying is the explosion in religious-motivated violence in west and central Africa, where the Christians and the Muslims seem to be trying to outdo each other in who can cause the most havoc.

We have Boko Haram in Nigeria and Chad, a Muslim extremist sect specializing in capturing young girls and selling them into what amounts to slavery.  Because that's evidently not spreading misery around effectively enough, Nigerian Christians are also being encouraged by religious leaders to seek out, harass, and kill "witches" -- some of them mere children.

The same sort of thing has been reported from Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Gambia, Uganda, and elsewhere -- and those are only the cases that made the news.  Hundreds, possibly thousands, of similar cases undoubtedly never get reported.

So it was with tremendous pleasure that I found out that there is an orphanage in Uganda that was founded specifically to combat such practices -- where orphaned children are not only given care, they are raised to respect reason and logic over fear and superstition.

Called BiZoHa, the orphanage is in Kasese District in southwestern Uganda.  It was an outgrowth of the Kasese United Humanist Association, led by humanist leader Bwambale Robert Musubaho, who has spent his whole adult life fighting the zealotry that is commonplace in his country.  "I’m so concerned with how there is massive indoctrination and dogmatism and a brainwashing of the minds of children in orphanages," Musubaho said in an interview with Inverse.  "My goal here is offer an alternative, so that when these children grow up they are in the position to think freely, to be critical of everything.  One of the reasons I was motivated to open this orphanage was to send a message to the people of Muhokya and the world that we people of non-belief also care about the well being of others, especially children."

Which is about as refreshing a message as any I can imagine.  My experience is that if you can train children to use reason to understand the universe, they are set up to approach their whole lives that way.

It hasn't been easy.  Uganda is a staunchly religious country where there is a presumption of religiosity.  Musubaho considers himself an atheist, a stance that most Ugandans cannot even imagine.  "The religious conservatives continue to wonder how one can live without a belief in a god," he said.  "I am not shy when telling them who I am as a person, and I am always proud to call myself a non-believer.  This has given me a platform to tell them that you don’t have to believe in a god or gods to be a good person."

Which, I have found, is an uphill battle even in a country where there isn't an automatic assumption that you belong to a religion.  "How can you be a moral person?" is one of the most common questions I'm asked when people find out I'm an atheist.

As if the only thing restraining people from stealing, raping, and murdering is being under threat from a deity.  Myself, I hope you're refraining from murdering me not solely on that basis.

So as always, the important thing is mutual understanding, and Musubaho is approaching the whole thing the right way.  I strongly urge you, if you are able to afford it, to contribute to BiZoHa.  This is a place where your contributions can make a direct difference for children, and foster a humanist message in a country that is in sore need of it.

And their message is spot-on.  Right in their mission statement are the words, "Rely on Reason, Logic, and Science to understand the universe and to solve life’s problems."  Which is a standard that should be followed everywhere.

Equally poignant is the sign at the entrance to BiZoHa that reads:  "Education is the Progressive Discovery of Our Own Ignorance."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A panacea for aging

As a relatively healthy 55 year old, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about aging.  I've got creaky knees sometimes, but still run regularly.  I have a few minor issues -- mild high blood pressure that is completely in check with meds, eyesight that used to be better than it is now, a little bit of tinnitus.  But I'm well aware that I've been lucky.

It might be that luck that makes me avoid thinking of things like knee replacement surgery, cataract surgery, heart valve replacements, prostate enlargement.  Worse still, dementia, strokes, cancer.

So put simply: I don't mind aging, I just hate all the stuff that can come with it.

[image courtesy of photographer Chalmers Butterfield and the Wikimedia Commons]

That's why I've watched with interest the research regarding anti-aging therapies.  What we know of the mechanisms of aging has been expanding exponentially; we now have a lot of understanding of the role of telomeres (caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten as you age, providing a sort of biological molecular clock), apoptosis (pre-programmed tissue death), and oxidative stress (chemical damage from diet and naturally-produced toxic byproducts in the body).  Of these, the telomeres have received the most attention, especially when it was found that reactivating telomerase -- the enzyme that in the young prevents degradation of the telomeres -- doesn't simply halt aging, it can reverse it.

So it was with considerable interest that I read an article that was sent to me by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia yesterday.  Entitled, "First Gene Therapy Successful Against Human Aging," it tells us about a researcher who has performed the first trial of a genetically-based anti-aging therapy -- by testing it on herself.

Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of the gene tech firm BioViva USA, injected herself in September 2015 with two of her company's experimental anti-aging compounds.  One was designed to slow down muscle mass loss, the other to reverse the stem cell depletion that is connected with a whole host of age-related disorders.  The test was ostensibly to demonstrate the safety of the procedure.  But when Parrish was tested in March 2016, it was found that her telomeres had lengthened an amount corresponding with a reversal of aging of about twenty years.

I had to read that part twice, just to make sure I'd read it right.

Parrish, understandably, was elated.  If these results check out, she could well end up a multi-millionaire, if she doesn't end up with a Nobel Prize in Physiology.  "Current therapeutics offer only marginal benefits for people suffering from diseases of aging," Parrish said in a statement. "Additionally, lifestyle modification has limited impact for treating these diseases.  Advances in biotechnology is the best solution, and if these results are anywhere near accurate, we've made history."

Indeed.  Of course, anti-aging therapies open up a whole new realm of ethical problems.  First, how much will they cost?  If the precedents set by the pharmaceuticals industry are any indication, they'll be out of the reach of any but the 1%.  Will they be paid for by insurance?  Unlikely; as much as one could argue that reversing again would, in the long run, save insurance companies money, insurers have not exactly been at the forefront of preventative medicine.  I remember vividly being more than a little outraged when I was preparing for a trip to Southeast Asia, and was told that my health insurance wouldn't cover anti-malarials.  The drugs themselves weren't that expensive -- the issue for me wasn't really the money.  "Don't they see," I fumed, "that paying thirty bucks for a bunch of anti-malaria pills is smarter and far cheaper than paying for combatting an actual case of malaria for the rest of my life?"

But no.  Apparently they didn't see that.  So there's no way, at least at first, that insurance companies are going to spring for anti-aging therapies.

Also, let's suppose that we could slow down aging, to the extent that human life expectancy would be doubled.  From what we know about the mechanisms of aging, what that would mean is that we could expect a much longer period of virtual stasis -- a 120 year old might well look more or less the same as he did at 40.  If this sort of thing became widespread, it'd likely have a serious effect on the world population -- especially when you consider that although women would probably still go through menopause in their forties (the mechanisms of menopause are probably not related to the other factors involved in aging), men would stay fertile for much, much longer.  Unless something went wrong with the plumbing, a 130-year-old guy could well still be fathering offspring.

Then, there's the problem of the economic impact.  What about retirement?  If I at 55 still felt like I did when I was 25, I probably wouldn't be ready to retire from the work world.  But to spend the next sixty years still teaching the same thing in the same school?  I love my job, but for me that falls into the category of "Just shoot me now."  So people would probably have multiple careers, not to mention be much more likely to go back to school to be retrained to do something completely different.

And we'd have to.  No way could the retirement and social security systems, in the United States at least, support a whole bunch of retiring 60-year-olds for the last eighty-odd years of their lives.

There are some upsides.  When an expert individual dies -- a scientist, doctor, researcher, teacher, historian, musician, artist, writer -- that represents an irretrievable loss of information.  People who were making unique contributions to society could do so for much longer, and have much longer to train the next generation.

So the whole thing would turn society upside down.  On a personal level, I won't lie; it's tremendously appealing.  I figure that sooner or later, my luck's bound to run out, and I'll end up with some sort of age-related nonsense to deal with.  We all do, eventually.  But if I could forestall that by another hundred years -- well, all I can say is, sign me up, ethical issues be damned.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Message in a bottle

The possibility of communicating with an alien race has been a mesmerizing idea for decades.  Even if the science fiction movies of the 1950s mostly depicted aliens as bug-eyed dudes with rubber masks who were intent on destroying civilization as we knew it, the fact that there were so many such movies indicates the level of fascination we had even back then.

Then came the 60s, and Lost in Space, which was so abysmally bad as to be comical, but which had one episode in the first season called "The Sky is Falling" that transcended the idea of extraterrestrial-as-monster; it featured a family of silent aliens (who, to save on makeup and costumes, looked like humans in vaguely Ancient Greek clothing) who were thought to be hostile -- until it turned out that all they wanted was to keep their family members safe, and to meet friendship with friendship.  It was a unique approach back then, and stands out in my mind as one of the best episodes they ever did (not that there was all that much competition in that regard).

Although we've had other horrific concepts of creatures from other planets -- Starship Troopers, Alien, and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to name three -- they're counterbalanced by stories like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, most strikingly, Star Trek: First Contact, which featured a scene that still strikes me as one of the coolest visual images ever -- the first time a human, physicist Zefram Cochrane, shakes hands with a Vulcan:

My thought, when I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out, was, "This would be the coolest thing ever."

Unfortunately, given the distances involved, it's unlikely that we'll ever be visited -- or that we'll ever visit another star system ourselves.  That doesn't mean we can't communicate, though; all it means is that we have to do it a different way.

The idea of sending a message to the stars is near and dear to the heart of journalist Jon Lomberg, who helped Carl Sagan in the design of the golden disks that were sent up on the Voyager missions in 1977.

This time, though, Lomberg wants to go one step further -- he wants to send a detailed digital message from Earth to the New Horizons probe, currently somewhere out past the orbit of Pluto, with the idea that the probe will then carry the message into space.  Where it is possible that it could be intercepted by an intelligent race of extraterrestrials, and the message decoded.

Lomberg wants contributions of what to say -- so he started a site called One Earth: New Horizons Message where people can submit what they'd say to an intelligent alien if they were in Zefram Cochrane's shoes.  "This will be a message from and to the Earth," Lomberg said.  "The very act of creating it will be a powerful reminder that we all share the same, small planet.  We are truly one Earth."

Which is just immensely cool.  I don't know if I'll submit anything -- I don't know that I can come up with anything profound enough to warrant saying to an alien race, and honestly, in Cochrane's place, I'd probably have been so gobsmacked that I would not have been able to get out anything more articulate than "Ub... ub... ub... ub... ub."  But I encourage you to go to the site if you can think of something better than that.  Maybe your submission will be chosen for transmission to New Horizons, where it will then be stored in memory more or less indefinitely.

And perhaps, one day, the probe will be picked up by a passing spaceship, and the message in a bottle decoded.  You have to hope it'll work out better in the end than it did for the alien race in one of the all-time best episodes that Star Trek: The Next Generation ever did, "The Inner Light."  (I've seen this one several times and still cry like a little girl at the end every single time.  If you've seen it, don't lie -- you do, too.)

So that's today's cool science stuff.  If you decide to submit something, post it here in the comments.  Not only are the aliens eagerly awaiting your message, I have to admit to some curiosity, myself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

License to hate

I know that social media lends itself to vitriol, but for sheer ugly invective I don't think I've ever seen anything like the posts regarding the controversy over who gets to use the restroom in North Carolina.

House Bill 2, titled the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory in March.  The bill prohibits transgender individuals from using the restroom for the gender they identify with; they have to use their restroom based on what genitalia they have.

Notwithstanding the fact that it's gonna be hard to enforce -- what are they going to do, have an armed guard outside the restroom making everyone drop trou before they let them in? -- supporters of the bill laud it as preventing "perverts" from going into the "wrong bathroom."  "One of the biggest issues was about privacy," North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said.  "The way the ordinance was written by City Council in Charlotte, it would have allowed a man to go into a bathroom, locker or any changing facility, where women are -- even if he was a man.  We were concerned.  Obviously there is the security risk of a sexual predator, but there is the issue of privacy."

So the issue of safety for transgender individuals is not a concern?

I'm sorry, gender is not as simple as what equipment you were born with.  There are at least four different biological constructs related to gender -- anatomy, chromosome makeup (XX or XY), sexual orientation, and brain wiring (i.e. what gender you feel yourself to be).  These don't line up the way you'd expect a considerable amount of the time, and that's not even considering the fact that some of these are a spectrum (i.e. bisexuality).  So looking at gender as a black and white, either/or situation is simply ignoring the reality.

The whole thing has been cast as a way of keeping sexual deviants out the bathroom -- i.e., as a way of protecting innocent cisgender people.  The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of people who commit sexual crimes are cisgender; a study by the Human Rights Campaign last year was unable to find a single substantiated case of a sexual crime committed by a transgender person.

What is equally unequivocal is the suicide attempt rate by transgender individuals.  A study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide, compared to 4.6% for the rest of us.

Wonder why that is?  Maybe it's being on the receiving end of bigoted legislation, not to mention vicious slander in the press every single day, you think?

But none of that seems to matter.  Hype, prejudice, hatred, and invective are the order of the day on this issue.  Just yesterday, Liberty Council President Anita Staver posted a tweet saying that because of the uproar over transgender people using the bathroom, she was planning on bringing her Glock .45 into the ladies' room with her, because it's her "bodyguard."

Odd, isn't it, that the Liberty Council's mission statement "is to preserve religious liberty and help create and maintain a society in which everyone will have the opportunity to discover the truth that will give true freedom."

Except, apparently, if you were born different.  In that case, you can get shot just for looking for a quiet place to pee.

What points out even more starkly the hypocrisy of this stance is that when a high-profile right winger -- former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert -- is accused of sexually abusing four boys, there has been a rush by his colleagues to defend him.   Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said about Hastert that he is "a good, godly man with very few flaws and who doesn’t deserve what he is going through."

So this isn't about preventing sexual crimes.  Just like the Jim Crow laws in the Deep South were never about water fountains.  This is about finding a license to hate people who aren't like you -- and, as DeLay shows, making any number of undeserved excuses for the ones who are.

The vitriol continues.  Just yesterday I unfriended someone on Facebook who posted a meme threatening violence against any transgender person who went into "the wrong bathroom."  I try to be tolerant -- I have friends of various religions (and no religion at all), of all places on the political spectrum, and with just about every ethnic background you can think of.  So as you can imagine, I see lots of things in my Facebook feed that I disagree with.

Which is entirely fine by me.  Liking you doesn't mean always agreeing with you.  But if you imply that you have the right to harass or physically injure someone who isn't exactly like you, that crosses a line in our relationship beyond anything I'm interested in repairing.

For those of you who are still on the fence about the whole "bathroom bill" issue, I have a suggestion.  Find some people in your community who are transgender, and talk to them.  I have had three students who are transgender and who have opened up to me about it, and I can say honestly that I learned more from hearing about their experiences than I could have learned from any number of news articles.  Do you doubt that transgender is real?  Go to a local center for LGBT equity -- most communities have one.  Walk in with an open mind, and get to know real people who deal with this prejudice every single day of their lives.

And until you have the courage to do that, stop posting inflammatory memes on social media.  First, you don't know what you're talking about.  Second, you come off sounding like just as big an asshole as the "separate but equal" bigots did back in the 50s and 60s.

And third, you're missing out on learning about the experiences of people who are not like you.  Which is about as critical a lesson in personal growth as anyone can have.