Category Archives: skepticism

A Tower Of Babel

Mt, Wilson observatory, iPhone photo from the trail. 14 miles up and down, 4,700 ft elevation gain.

Politics is the art of articulating control and some voices have more profound global impact. Our modern age has given us dogma in legal language codified as legislation that was born of cowardice, forged in privilege, and wielded against the marginalized.

The “Tower Of Babel” is a great Judeo-Christian story of incredible relevance here. This was the story that made me doubt the existence of god but also awoke a kind of panic about authority within me. The Book of Genesis, in general, turned me off from the idea of God because it reminded me too much of Stargate. As a text the Judeo-Christian Bible does pick up quite a bit with all kinds of great philosophy and tremendous insight. But as a child I could not get behind the fascist god of genesis. The story of the “Tower of Babel” presented us with a humanity that came to gather after god’s genocide with the flood. Now, ostensibly, you might think this was the lesson of the flood–to learn how to love one another again, to work beside one another, to share a common language.

I have always interpreted this to mean sharing the language of love. This sounds hippie-dippie but stay with me: think of the time a stranger went out of their way to help you out with something simple. Maybe you were a little lost and in need of directions, maybe it was a quick freebie snack, maybe it was someone who didn’t make you feel like shit when you had to mention a boundary about personal space and genuinely accommodated the situation with humor. That was a time when you shared the language of love with someone and it does let you peek into a view of what those from “Shinar” experienced.

When people are taking the time to be present one another as individuals with a different contexts that require calibration for full communication they tend to get a lot of shit done. This is why you may have been subjected to work retreats even though that’s an industry in and of itself that has forgotten the purpose of the exercise. Another quick glance into the extent of empathy would be those rare and precious moments when you feel uncertain where your body stops and your lover’s begins.

The people worked together to build a tower to God because they shared a language, a purpose, and a plan to accomplish it and they were getting shit done. “A tower to god” is a symbol from my understanding. Perhaps, though, it was a tower. I look to our space programs and global space stations, I see the beginnings of a Tower of Babel. When you get to such heights you stop splitting so many hairs about the differences between individual humans because you’re united as earthlings exploring the cosmos. That’s the dream we seem to come back to across the ages, at least.

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Filed under activism, censorship, community, culture, feminisms, opinion, religion, skepticism

Viagra: The Thrill That “Was”

The NY Times Fashion and Style section has officially declared that old people hugging is the new old people fucking in an article titled “Viagra: The Thrill That Was.” Citing the 5% drop in prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs in America after a steady 1% growth over 4 years, the NY Times considers options while pointing out the shaky claim that “the drop seems all the more significant given that the population is aging, so there are surely more men who potentially need the drug.”

The article starts out with some famous older men and then their penchant for younger women, child rearing at a later stage of life, or getting to bone without the problem of erectile dysfunction. For some reason, Osama Bin Laden was added into the mix because herbal Viagra was discovered in his compound. The first third of the essay creates a world in which we are bombarded with the message that old people are fucking. The article is skeptical of this claim and immediately presents us with some facts to consider: a drop in the number of E.D. drug prescriptions, a lack of refills among those distributed, and the absence of a Viagra fueled population bump. The information presented is faulty and riddled with logical gaps but it was written for the fashion and style section.

Nevertheless, let us consider the facts. It’s more than likely that the novelty and the newness of the drug has worn off quite a bit in the 11 years that the drug has been on the market but the article is focuses on the 5% drop in prescriptions. Prescriptions are not the only source of this drug and so this number is unreliable for actual use and consumption.

I don’t know about you, but I get an influx of spam emails advertising cheap E.D. drugs every single day. I have to beat back offers for cheap and quickly delivered erectile dysfunction drugs back with a shovel.

Ordering the little blue bill or any of its variations is infinitely easier to do illegally from your own computer than it is to do legally. The paradigm of DRUGS as inebriating substances psychological eases the transaction. We don’t think of Viagra as a DRUG, we think of it as a tool. A tool that is kind of a pain in the ass to get a hold of legally in comparison to the ease and reduced cost of an online transaction.  You don’t have to leave your home, you don’t have to speak to anyone face to face, and it is delivered to your doorstep. I’m more surprised that the number of prescriptions only dropped 5%.

I was also troubled by the casual speculation made by the expert source in regards to a lack of refills. “Another number is perhaps more telling: doctors widely observe that 40 to 50 percent of men who are given a first prescription do not end up refilling it. Perhaps the mentality is, as Dr. Kaminetsky suggested: “Having that blue pill is sort of like when they were kids but they walked around with a condom in their wallet: they may never have sex but they were ready.”

That’s a nice theory, it might be true, but were any patients asked why they did not refill their prescription?

One of the great things about Viagra is the fact that for many men, it works just as well from their medicine cabinet as it does in their bloodstream. America has total confidence in Viagra’s ability to make a dick hard. We have faith in Viagra. We know that even in the worst case scenario, if a man wants to have some sexy times but the whole world is falling to pieces around him, he can always reach for that pill and his dick will get hard.

Viagra in the medicine cabinet is an ace up the sleeve. Viagra allowed many men to stop freaking out about whether or not they were going to have an erection before sex. It normalized the fact that sometimes dicks don’t get hard when you want them to get hard. When the topic of boners entered the mainstream, we were able to acknowledge that the presence-or absence-of an erection is not a total assessment of relative sexiness. This was reassuring to more than cisgender men, however. It was also a reassurance to partners of all genders that the lack of an erection didn’t mean that they were less desireable, less loved, or less sexually skilled.

It’s far more likely that those Viagra scripts never got a refill because they were doing their job from the medicine cabinet.

It’s exceptionally patronizing to speculate that the reason why these scripts aren’t being refilled can be chalked up to the fact that people are not getting laid. I’m very troubled by Dr. Kaminetsky’s comparison of Viagra scripts to teenage boys always carrying a condom in their pocket and never really getting laid for many reasons. First and foremost, the article as a whole carries a heteronormative tone. An article about Viagra is inherently phallocentric but there is more than one place to put a hard dick. That aside, the biggest problem about teens carrying a condom around in their pocket for an extended period of time is the fact that they tend to use them eventually and at that point they can become more of a hazard than a helpful tool.

How many people can we realistically say walked to their medicine cabinet and saw a bottle of 2 year old Viagra that they totally forgot they had and then decided that since they weren’t using it, they might as well throw it out and then proceeded to do so? No fucking way. I would no sooner throw away all of the weird and esoteric screwdriver attachments that came with my toolkit than I would throw away my “instant boner” pills. As part of a public safety campaign, Americans are always reminded of the importance of having an emergency kit in their houses. We like to have useful things tucked away, even if they’re out of sight, because we feel better knowing that they are there and we are always grateful to have them when shit hits the fan and we really need them.

What I’m saying is, I have a level of concern with the fact that we aren’t asking people follow up questions about prescribed medications that can significantly alter blood pressure. This goes double for people who are in the prime demographic for taking other kinds of heart or blood pressure medications that can interact negatively with Viagra. It is not safe to assume, as a medical doctor prescribing medication, that the reason why your patient has not refilled their script because they’re just not fucking. It indicates a total lack of follow-up questions hinged on the notion that boys will be boys, always looking for sex and girls will be girls, always avoiding it. There’s also the heteronormative tone of the article is set by its sole focus on heterosexual relationships and of course reproduction.

The article points out the absence of a Viagra fueled population bump. If men of all ages can get an erection whenever they want, why don’t we have more Viagra babies to show for it? It would be obviously silly to assume that men in the 65+ and bin laden set would be interested in having sex with women who were over the age of 45. The immediate assumption by the author that men would automatically start competing with Hugh Heffner is ridiculous to people of all genders and all sexual orientations.

Then the article presents us with anecdotes about failed viagra experiments and ends on the romantic note of a couple who discovered that they had just been having Viagra sex to please each as a modern day “Gift of the Magi” story to demonstrate that Viagra is totally passe for today’s 65+ and bin laden crowd.

It isn’t just people in the 65+ and Osama Bin Laden set who use Viagra. An article about the fact that sex is not always what makes a relationship romantic or intimate for all people would be awesome. In spite of the exposure and access to this “wonder drug” there are more couples who connected over other ways to express love and affection would be awesome. There’s also the whole “penis in vagina is not the only sex act around” angle but I’m radical like that. I’m just curious as to why this article was written in the fashion and style section which is primarily concerned with the latest and greatest in cosmetics, the fashion runways, artisan cocktails, all the hottest parties, and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

The article reads like a strange reassurance against something that isn’t actually troubling. To reiterate, there is no set amount of fucking that is “right.” It’s just a confusing article with a guest appearance by Osama Bin Laden that uses speculation to “prove” that fucking just isn’t as popular among the 65+ set as, seemingly, the media would have you believe. It jumps to conclusions where more questions should be asked and creates an open and shut case about something much more rich and complex. It’s an article is satisfied with easy answers and no curiosity about the alleyways of its logic. It’s in a hurry to point out that not everyone 65 years of age is fucking their brains out, but why?

 

 

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The Life Zone and Kenneth Del Vecchio

Right off the bat, since I have absolutely no regard for this film whatsoever I’m just going to go ahead and pass along the spoilers. Read at your own risk.

The writer of the film Kenneth DelVecchio is running for the state senate in New Jersey. He is very open about his pro-life stance. This movie is his baby. If you’re reading this in New Jersey I strongly urge you to take this post into consideration as you cast your ballot.

So here’s the plot twist: the three women all died on the operating table of their abortions in the first trimester. They are in purgatory and given another chance to make the right choice, atone for their sin, and enter the gates of heaven. The adamantly pro-choice victim deliberately attempts to miscarry at 7mos and experiences the joy of motherhood with twins. The other women also give birth after having accepted the notion of abortion as sin and ascend into heaven. The pro-choice victim is condemned to an eternity of pregnancy and childbirth without ever actually getting to be with her children. The other twist: the pro life doctor is actually a woman who committed suicide after her husband left her for a more fertile woman when she was unable to conceive. She’s being condemned to an eternity of midwifery.

So first off, we are still left with this image that the all-knowing, all-loving, merciful God is in fact, Jigsaw.

Not only is God judging you for your sins, he’s also setting you up. That’s right, the author of the universe is just fucking with you. God is incredibly sadistic and hateful to women it seems. Haha, you’re insecure about the infertility that I gave you? It drove you to despair and you chose suicide- now you will be delivering babies in the afterlife FOREVER! And you, little miss choosey, since all women will inevitably feel unimaginable joy when they deliver, even by force, a baby- you will be pregnant and delivering babies FOREVER! Babies that will be taken away from you!

Here’s the part that makes me really antsy. I noticed this comment left on the movie: “Hello all. I am one of the producers of this film and have read all of your comments. All I will say at this time is that this movie is a collaboration among people on all sides of the abortion issue, and people should see the movie before jumping to any conclusions. While the writer of the movie is a staunch pro-lifer, many of us who worked on this film are pro-choice and the arguments on both sides of the abortion issue are clearly and intelligently laid out in the film.” – Nace Naumoski.

Well, thing of it is Nace, the very format of this film makes it totally impossible to clearly and intelligently lay out any kind of pro-choice argument.

First off, you have to accept the idea that deaths during abortions are somehow common or at least an understandable premise. They aren’t. The very premise is fear mongering and a strategy of the pro-life movement. If you want to talk about risk of death, take a glance at maternal mortality rates.

Second problem: “It’ll be a 7 month abortion think tank.” Right, because the place we really ought to be having this debate is with pregnant women kidnapped from an abortion procedure and forced against their will by their captors to continue their pregnancy. You bring out the rational side of the debate with a pastor who calls himself “the jailer.” I’m no sociologist but I have to question whether or not Stockholm Syndrome might skew the findings there just a little bit.

Third problem: Suicide is considered to be a sin equal to abortion. There’s a lot to unpack in a statement like that. To address the mental health paradigm, this reiterates the idea that people choose suicide because they are weak. That’s total fucking bullshit. There is all kinds of stuff happening with mental health. All we know is how little we know. We’re all scratching our heads at the statistics showing us that placebos are more effective against depression than either prozac or prayer. The cultural paradigm that people choose suicide or that depression is a weakness of the soul is killing people. So we have a message that if you’re suffering from depression, you have fallen from God’s grace which is pretty damn archaic or the modern version in which you are advised to “talk to your pastor” about what you’re experiencing.

Religious authority figures generally come out of schools of divinity or schools of theology. These degrees are generally offered in the graduate and doctorate levels. Thing of it is, would anyone advise someone experiencing depression to call up a professor with a PhD in anthropology or history or literature to discuss the issues they are having with their mental health? There certainly are religious figures in all denominations who do have training and certification in counseling. It’s not, however, part of the packaged deal in the curriculum for an advanced degree in a study of religion. It’s just something to consider before blindly advising anyone that their religious authority figures are totally trained and prepared for mental health issues. If you want a therapist who comes from your religious background, you can find that. You can also find kink/poly/sex work aware professionals. You want to find a therapist that meets your needs, but you need to start with the “therapist” part of that sentence.

To get back to the point, considering this film to be somehow even-handed in the debate because the pro-life character is also condemned to an eternity in hell is a bizarre denial of reality. Killing off a character (or condemning them to hell, whatever) doesn’t change the debate about abortion itself. Especially not when the debate has already allowed stereotypes, generalizations, and information into the debate as legitimate arguments.

The most compelling argument about abortion for me has been this: I would no sooner force someone to surrender their body for the development of another human being than I would force someone who was a direct match for someone in need of organs or blood to donate them. For as long as I was allowed by the Red Cross standards for blood donors, I donated blood. I donated all the time. My driver’s license says “organ donor.” I believe that if you can, you should. I do not believe that you must. I believe you own your own body. Pregnancy and childbirth are exponentially more complex both physically and socially. Nevertheless, at no point should the government start mandating that everyone with an O- blood type line up at their nearest hospital because the patients have a right to life and need more blood to survive.

I’m really not kidding. There are way more people dying than there are people on organ donor lists, so if you’re a “right to life” sign waving motherfucker you should be trotting your sanctimonious assess down to the donor registry. If you believe that being capable of physically sustaining life with your own body mandates that you do so, you better be on a first name basis with the red cross phlebotomists.

This isn’t just a crappy movie and its problems number more than 3. The problem is that you cannot come up with any legislative reason why abortion should not be legal in the United States. Ultimately it comes down to a fuzzy intangible thing like faith but that cannot be the basis for law. Political ideology born out of morality is dangerous. If The Life Zone were an anomaly or just a shitty movie, it wouldn’t be an assessment of whether or not they would be a good politician. Just because someone makes shitty horror films does not automatically make them a bad politician. Most politicians don’t even know the first thing about making a horror film. Kenneth Del Vecchio is up front about his beliefs. They’re part of his campaign.  Here’s another one of his fine contributions to cinema:

Did you all see that? Now here’s this:

This begs the question: does anyone have a cocktail recipe for a drink that is mixed with tears of bitterness?

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Filed under activism, atheism, culture, feminisms, politics, sexuality, skepticism, slut shaming

Gender And Atheism

I am an atheist. I have been since about the 6th grade. When I started tweeting about atheism in regards to the recent failed rapture, I noticed that my feed was full of people proclaiming loudly that “loudmouthed atheists are just as bad as loudmouth Christians” which was a bit of a surprise to me. Really? I’m just as bad for speaking out about the fact that American constitution calls for a separation of church and state, for fighting back against legislation of all stripes and sizes that is rooted from someone’s interpretation of magic stories in utter defiance of science and objective, proven facts? I’m just as bad for articulating my beliefs? When I’m being a loudmouth about sexual freedom, reproductive rights, the freedom of speech, etc people are willing to pull up a chair but once I state out loud that I do not believe in an author to the universe, everyone wants me to shut the fuck up and “stop being so arrogant.”

At this point in time, I’m fairly accustomed to people telling me to shut the fuck up. I’ve been told on porn sets that I shouldn’t “sound too smart” or no one will want to watch me get fucked. I’ve been advised not to write about academic or theoretical ideas on my blog because it won’t “help me sell myself as a porn star.” I’ve been told I shouldn’t be talking about sex worker rights in feminist spaces and that I should “shut the fuck up.” I’ve been told that I shouldn’t even be talking about sex at all and that I should just “shut up.”

I’m not good at shutting up but the only trophy at the end of that race is losing your rights. I don’t want to win the blue ribbon for silent stoicism in the face of bullshit.

I’ve always been very open about the fact that I am an atheist but I never actually engaged in formal free thought activism before because I always saw my understanding of the origin of the universe as being irrelevant to the activism I was engaged with for real and tangible social justice in the world. I never wrote about my beliefs here on my blog under the advice of many people that it would be a bad idea but recently I had an epiphany: it was my atheism, skepticism, and anti-authority free thinking attitude that compelled me to become an activist in the first place.

When I talk about my atheism, I’m not angry or pissed off that some people believe in unprovable things so much as I am enraged by the fact that these beliefs are held as normal, natural, and right for our country. Facts have become largely irrelevant to the governance of my country and this concerns me greatly, especially as someone involved in porn. We’ve had two major (and expensive) presidentially commissioned studies and reports on the effects of pornography and both came to the same conclusion that porn is not evil and does not have quantifiable negative effects on society. Despite these reports that originated from a sex-negative and anti-porn bias they have been ignored. My country is in a panic about sex addiction which is loosely defined as any amount of porn viewing that concerns anyone who knows about it. People are trotting faulty studies about sex trafficking before the UN, Congress, and the House demanding laws to prevent this thing that they feel very emotional about. We can’t make up laws around feelings and every time we do I start to develop some strongly negative ones myself.

When I talk about my atheism, I am talking about the fact the 1st Amendment is not a fucking loophole. I am not “getting away” with making pornography by “taking advantage” of the US Constitution. I have the right to my speech and my (lack of religious) beliefs. “Pissing people off” is not my motivation for making and producing pornography nor is it my impetus for labeling myself with the word atheist. The fact that other people don’t like these choices is a painful side effect, not a cause.

I decided that I needed to jump into formal atheist/free thought activism because of how intersectional and relevant it is to my life. The “rapture” predicted for this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to jump in not because I wanted to make a million jokes about people who genuinely believe that God created this earth for the express purposes of destroying it all but because I saw train wreck of human confusion and suffering. From my vantage point, the capacity to celebrate and laud total worldly destruction indicates fear and desperation. The economy is not doing well, people are out of work, and their homes are being taken from them by the banks, and we are at war without any clear end. I could not, for the life of me, understand how people who interpret a magic book differently than David Camping would take the opportunity to run to any media outlet to clearly define why this magic belief is not the “true” magic belief rather than reaching out to people who can see no other answer than an end to all life on earth as we know it. I was genuinely shocked by the fact that most Christians opted for the public relations angle rather than with the compassion that they preach.

There were a lot of awesome parties scheduled for “rapture” weekend but what I wanted to spend my time doing was untangling this mess of faith and public policy by removing the veil of religion that encompasses my country. I decided to attend the American Atheists Rapture RAM in Oakland because it was local and because it was an atheist/skeptic/free thought conference that I could actually afford.

I have never felt so welcome as a sex worker at a non-sexual event as I did at the Rapture RAM. Yes, there is still a problem with diversity in the atheist movement and I will definitely discuss this at length but I received nothing but positive and supportive reactions from every single individual I disclosed my career to over the weekend. When I engage in activism outside of an explicitly sex-positive context, most people would prefer that I shut the hell up about the fact that I have no shame about what I do for a living. More often than not, I am actively discouraged from being open about who I am as a porn performer. No one wants a pervert representing their cause to the media but everyone I encountered made it a point to welcome me not in spite of who I am but because of who I am.

These conversations took on different flavors, of course. The overwhelming majority of people responded to my disclosure about making porn enthusiastically because it indicated that was dedicated to the freedom of speech by putting my ass on the line (literally) for it. I also ran into a few people who had subtle differences in their tone that indicated to me that I was welcome because atheism “needs more hot chicks.” At times it could feel confusing to navigate because my business is centered around inspiring lust and I think that lust and sexuality are awesome. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be relegated to the post of being a sexy parrot reiterating the “great ideas of atheist men.” The development of my atheist ideology did not come from Hitchens or Dawkins or any other source outside of the bible that I was being instructed to read in Catholic school. It wasn’t until much, much later in life that I ever picked up any explicitly atheist literature to help me hone and frame the conclusions I was already making on my own.

This wasn’t just an issue that I ran into; one of the awesome speakers at the conference, Jen McCreight of BlagHag, had to contend with people who were still tingling in their naughty bits about the popular Boobquake event that she created. When another speaker made a regrettable off-hand comment about a female atheist video blogger during his talk, Jen spoke up to counter it. Although the speaker fumbled the apology at the podium he did make it a point to go to her blog and formally apologize and it’s evident that he figured out what happened. Conference drama is inevitable. I’ve seen and been a part of arguments at conferences before where people walked away without ever speaking to one another again. If anything, it is encouraging to watch a screw-up and to see some form of clarity come from it. I’m going to have my own fuck-ups; I watch the mistakes of others knowing that at some point I’m going to be the one who made a mistake in front of an audience and I hope that someone will empathize with me through my embarrassment.

Perspective and experience is a funny thing. Over time, I have become increasingly skilled with defusing situations in which I have been sexualized without my consent because it is something I contend with all the time because of what I do for a living. When I’m in the middle of a conversation about evolution, for example, I’ll respond to an out of place comment about my tits by immediately making a comment about their sexual anatomy and I will be just as explicit if not more than they were about my body and in most cases this tactic works extraordinarily well. That said, no one should have to stop their train of thought to take on the role of an aggressive phone sex operator in the middle of a conversation to fend off an inappropriate and irrelevant comment about their body.

Moreover, I’m not exactly thrilled about the fact that I have had to develop this skill at all and it is not a one-size-fits-all strategy that I endorse for everyone. When someone diminishes everything that I have just contributed to an intellectual conversation by interjecting with a comment about my sexual anatomy and I fire back with something twice as lewd about their body and go immediately back to what I was just saying I am using the best tool that I have for my own context in my own defense. Most people are not coming from a context like mine and my reaction to these challenges is not “the right way to handle the situation,” because the situation should never have occurred in the first place and there is an endless list of reasons why this could be destructive to someone else.

This is also a case of “better is not best.” I felt very much at ease with the occasional rude comment thrown my way because it was such a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of what I am accustomed to experiencing in other circles. At no point did someone look me up and down and say, “So Maggie, when are you and I going to hook up?” solely because they know that I’m publicly kinky and a member of the same kinky organization as they are. That doesn’t make the fact that towards the end of the conference I missed major portions of speaker talks because people kept asking me to pose for pictures after noticing that someone else had taken my picture because I did porn any less frustrating or annoying. I’m grateful for the fact I had brought my audio recorder to the conference with me and left it on throughout the duration of the entire conference because I paid money to hear those people speak.

I do want to repeat that I had a blast at the conference as a whole. I was able to chat with Greta Christina who is totally rad and I got to have the pleasure or engaging in a silly “de-baptism” ritual where the holy waters were blow dried away. As you can see from the photos, special attention was paid to my boots. (Photos taken by Justin Stolle.) Mr. Diety was hilarious. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick slam dunked a talk on reproductive rights. There were some amazing activists from the Secular Student Alliance. There were a lot of great talks and I am grateful to have my recordings from all of the talks and the Q&A periods.

I left the conference exhausted but positive. (9AM start times on the Sunday after a failed rapture? The coffee table was like a peer-review breakout session on hangovers.) I met so many amazing people and I will be talking a lot more about skepticism and secularism around these here parts so brace yourself. I suppose it didn’t hurt that I won a limerick contest at the close of the conference and won some jewelry depicting one of Feynman’s famous diagrams. I had lots of great conversations and I did make some new friends. There’s no such thing as a community that is 100% perfect; as soon as there are more than a few people in the picture there are going to be issues of one sort or another. I really liked converging with other non-believers for the same reasons that believers like to converge with other believers. It’s nice to talk with people who share a similar world view. It was nicer still that not one person told me to shut up.

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