Geek Evolution: Let go of your anger, be a Better Nerd

by Nicholas Thurkettle

I have known Ashley for a few years now, and I think she would agree geekdom has been a foundational pillar of our friendship from the very start. And so when she started on this topic I felt like this was a conversation in which I could participate, and she has been good enough to lend me some space on her rabble-rousing e-billboard here.

I have to confess I was, for a long time, on the wrong side of the argument she describes. I used to talk about latter-day self-labeling geeks as wearing the equivalent of fake prison ink. I am part of the last generation that experienced adolescence without the Internet being a significant presence in our lives – the year I graduated from high school, 1995, was the year in which commercialization of the Internet took off with the decommissioning of the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET. At the time, I was in an economics class that played the game of investing imaginary dollars in the stock market. One of my teammates kept suggesting we throw every piece of play money at this thing called America On-Line. We didn’t listen. He’s wealthier than I am now.

But the difference I will have to describe to the younger generation from now on was that, pre-Internet, it really was possible to feel utterly alone in your geekdom. But for the two or three friends who could be talked into staying up all night to watch The Trilogy (there was only one back then), it was difficult to conceive that there was a vast world of us out there. And, even if we could rationally-accept that there was, it didn’t do our daily sense of isolation much good.

Nowadays, of course, there is this astonishing and galvanizing sense of instant community that can be created around any obsession, and Geekdom has become a powerful nation influencing affairs all over the cultural planet. And as Ashley and many others have rightly pointed out, we ought to celebrate that, and be grateful the next spawning of lovely nerds won’t share our suffering.

But until recently, I clung to the tribulational aspect of my nerd youth. It’s easy to love Doctor Who now. Hop in the TARDIS and try loving Doctor Who in 1989. That’s not for sissies.

As I reflect honestly on it, though, I really wasn’t actively bullied much in the classic sense. It was more a sense of being frozen out, and not understood. There was this pretty, glittering party of a world that the popular people were running, and my kind just didn’t fit there, and I perceived that in a million baffled looks and dead-ended conversations. But part of my maturation has been to realize that basically everyone feels left out of something; and the most successful, popular person around is, inside, probably as messed-up and uncertain about life as I am. I now realize most of the crowd ever meant any harm. And I think time grew my grievances as it can so often do.

Wasn’t it our comfort in those times that the things we prioritized – imagination and the deep commitment and knowledge that comes from loving something to a truly-geeky extent – was worth more than the fleeting goose honks that passed for What Matters among the superficial crowd? I know I believed it. The key question here is – did you really believe that when you said it or not?

Because if you do, then suffering is not intrinsic to being a nerd. We don’t have to be scorned for the way we love in order for that love to be valid. To hold on to that anger is, to an extent, to grant the vaporous and unslayable Thems of our past the premise we always claimed to reject – that to be this way is weird, wrong, and so rare and useless as to be vestigial to right society.

So I am relieved to come clean and say I was wrong. A positive definition of nerddom can emancipate us from old anger.

I do believe, though, that is still possible, and even defensible, to watch that these labels of geek and nerd, which we have reclaimed from derision, not be embraced too cheaply by too wide a crowd. Because then we risk them not having a definition at all.

I’ll use an analogy so dated as to be almost useless, except that I know the nerdiest among you will go to Wikipedia to read about it and will probably think it’s cool that you learned something today: if a hardcore Bob Dylan fan told you that you can’t call yourself a REAL Bob Dylan fan unless you own the non-commercial release versions of the Newport Bootlegs, then you might well say that person was being clannish, superior, and intentionally-obscure. What I hope we are trying is to keep geekdom at large from that status.

But if you heard someone say that they were a HUGE Bob Dylan fan, and when you asked them what they loved about him, they replied that they had just heard that “let’s get stoned” song of his on the radio and thought it was cool, I am saying you would be damn right to be irritated. Because that is not even the song’s name, and a nerd wouldn’t get something like that wrong if the word “nerd” still means anything.

I am not saying there should be barriers to entry in our big nerdy tent – anyone could be a nerd about something. But it does take at least a little bit of work, some genuine and proactive embrace of thing beyond what can be passively-digested, to earn the label.

This is not nerding, this is being a couch potato.

We do agree that what makes a nerd a nerd is that he or she is not superficial about that over which they nerd. I don’t want us to shy from that. I want to retain and recognize the right – if someone wants to refer to themselves as a nerd or a geek about something – to see them demonstrate that they have bothered to delve into it; even to watch/read/listen to/play it more than once (can we get a ruling on that, at least?) Any rock band will tell you that just buying a T-shirt so people can see you wear it doesn’t make you a real fan, and we ought to listen to wisdom like that; because in the greatest days of rock, the best rockers were massive nerds.

If your friend bought a ticket to The Avengers, saw The Avengers, and liked The Avengers, that makes your friend a movie fan, not a nerd. And that’s okay. If they call themselves a nerd based just on that, I think we nerds have earned cuffing them (good-naturedly, I now stress) over it.

Now, maybe they saw it, and felt compelled to talk to you about how they think Nick Fury is a badass. And you enthusiastically agree, but lament that movie Nick Fury didn’t have the “Steranko Gun”. Your friend wonders what that means. They do a little reading (you lend them a book or two, don’t you?) And then they come with you to the comic store for hardback collections, because they have decided that They. Love. Nick. Fury. And they Must. Know. More. Now you are serving your friend well. Graciously welcome them to Geekdom. Find out what they nerd out about, because they probably have nerded out over something in their lives before and didn’t realize that’s what they were doing. Soap opera fans? Huge nerds. Also pro wrestling fans – but I repeat myself.

We have a responsibility, in being Better Nerds, not just to let go of grievances, but to articulate what makes us nerds to begin with, and what makes that a good thing to be in this blessed time for all things nerdy. If the isolation of the positive aspects of nerddom – that commitment and attention to detail and admiration for the artists who entertain us – is what will rescue it from past traumas, it can also be what protects the label from spreading out and being commoditized to meaninglessness. It is not earned by pain. But I say it is still earned.

We have an opportunity here, what with this staggering volume of delicious geek product being served to us, to show people not just how to love something cool, but how rewarding it is to love it in the way a nerd does. Just about every woman I have dated has been a nerd of some kind, and I feel lucky for it. Truly – once you go nerd, you don’t go back to the herd. That commitment and joy in discovery makes for a great partner.

If there is some lingering irritation at the latecomers to our party, let’s decide that it is only to protect what we think makes our ways valuable, and let it be welcomingly-simple to dispatch – you don’t owe us anything. You can be a nerd too; just do as nerds do.

Nicholas Thurkettle is a member of the Writers Guild of America, and in his life has authored screenplays, stage plays, prose fiction, newspaper and magazine features, film criticism, millions of words’ worth of blog posts, corporate training videos, ghost-written office dinner party jokes, and was once nearly hired to write an erotic virtual comic book, but was passed over despite that he had a fantastic story pitch for it.  His blog can be found at NicholasThurkettle.com

Guest Post Policy: Send me an e-mail, maybe you can post an entry here too.

Video Dragon*Con 2011: Do Be a Dick

This is the talk I gave at Dragon*Con last year, which was itself an expansion on the talk I gave at TAM9.  It’s about how to use emotions to your advantage when trying to promote a cause.  I talk about Prop 8, the importance of social justice in getting people to like atheists, and how to be a dick in an effective way.

The powerpoint and notes for the presentation are here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2011/09/06/do-be-a-dick-sometimes-emotions-and-skeptics/

Stop making geek culture be about how you were bullied

Update: More thoughts here.

To my mind, being a geek is a lot like being gay or being atheist.  These are things that can be completely invisible to an outsider.  No one in high school knew I went home and wrote Hercules fanfiction.  No one knew the fathomless depths of my geekery.

Greta Christina has a wonderful post about how, as being gay has become more normal, the people who are out are also becoming more normal.  Normal, to most outcast’s minds, is a bad thing.  If there’s one thing you can comfort yourself with when you’re an outsider, it’s the feeling that you’re better than the people who are, as you see it, “insiders”.  Greta says the same thing is going to happen with atheists — we’re going to stop being statistically smart and amazing on average, and start being just sort of average.  Because what we’re working towards is acceptance, and when coming out isn’t difficult, more people come out — no bravery required, no willful pride necessary, any and all may apply.

I think that this is the same as what has happened with geek culture, and it has pissed off a lot of old geeks.  They feel that new geeks have not paid their dues to be able to call themselves that.  You weren’t bullied?  Well, then you’re not a *real* geek.  I used the term “hipster geek” in my previous post, which I basically took from John Scalzi, and while that expresses the attitude accurately in some ways, it doesn’t explain the why.

Being a geek in high school for most people is hard.  It is as hard in some places as being out and gay.  And unlike being gay, there is no nerd-jock alliance in high school.  There’s no Geek Student Alliance.  When, to be who you are, you have had to go through hell, it can be very irritating that there are people who didn’t go through hell and claim to be the same as you.

“Oh, you grew up in San Francisco with hippie parents who drove you and your same-sex partner to the movies before you could drive, well I grew up in the Deep South where coming out meant I was beaten up every day, therefore you don’t really know what it’s like to be gay.”

We all want to be understood and when you’re tortured, you want to have gotten something from it.  If you’re tortured and it doesn’t mean anything, that’s so much worse than if your torture earns you something, some sort of credibility, some part of a special club of people who overcame.  But the reality is, being bullied doesn’t earn you anything.  It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t make you higher ranked in the world of geekdom, gayness, or atheism, and it doesn’t even always give you insight into the world, though sometimes it can.  Being bullied is simply a horrible thing that happens to people.

Someone calling themselves “…” responded to my previous post about who gets to be a geek and said the following things:

Some of us paid our dues is what I’m saying. “sexism in geekdom”? When I was growing up, all – and I mean all – girls at my school would have rather been sent to Saudi Arabia than be called geeks.

And that, in a nutshell, is why geek culture is male dominated.

Anyway, my point was that there are some of us who paid our dues in that area. It’s not about being “hipster”, it’s about a certain annoyance that comes from people who would have treated you like you were carrying a radioactive strain of leprosy back in the day now finding it’s cool to like LotR. It’s irritating to say the least.

I’m fully aware that that tiny handful of geek girls who existed – and they were a tiny handful, don’t even pretend otherwise – had as rough a time as the rest of us. But I find this rapid retroactive identification with geekdom… suspicious. Yes, it’s quite astonishing how many people were geeks back then nowadays. It’s a wonder that there was any other kind of person around in the schools at all… It’s a bit like the Jewish population explosion in vichy France, isn’t it?

That’s true, but it is also true that girls were some of the most viciously anti-geek ones, and it is true that many of the blows we soaked up was because the guys in question wanted to impress the pretty girls, who were not above egging that sort of thing on.

There’s another point; yes, it sucks that girls got ostracised at times by other geeks, but being a geek meant you got ostracised by definition. And geek fratricide is hardly uknown. If you objected to one group, why didn’t you form your own? That’s what I did, and let me tell you, I didn’t get any approval or help. You talk about the community… back then there wasn’t a community. There was just what you and the tiny handful like you could put together. You scraped it together as best you could, and only for one reason, because you loved it, and if you couldn’t – tough. People would be disgusted that you even tried, let alone that you were upset when it didn’t work.

I am simply repeating, for the last time now, that there are very good reasons why geekdom is traditionally clannish and insular, and it might be nice to see that reflected. You know, just for accuracy and politeness sakes.

You read this and you can see, he is pissed off. Leaving aside his troubling loathing of women because of how he perceived the “pretty girls” in high school, he is pissed off that he had to work so damn hard at something that other people aren’t having to work hard at.  He is pissed off that some girls made fun of him in high school and made him feel bad about himself and that some girls now claim that they are geeks too.  Maybe even some of those same girls!

I think this attitude is incredibly fucked up.  I think it’s time to let go of the anger.

Most people feel like outcasts in high school, even those people the rest of us thought were cool. What the commenter is doing, and what a lot of geek guys are doing, is creating definitions of what is cool enough for them to accept you.  You have to pass their “geek” test.  As a geek, I find this border patrolling deeply embarrassing.

As it happens, when I was in high school, most of the self-described geeks I knew were girls. Monty Python club? Mostly girls. Yearbook, newspaper, lit mag, math team, academic decathlon, religion club… all of these were dominated by girls. I don’t interpret that to mean that boys are less legitimately geeky.

Was I bullied?  Sure.  At home moreso than by my peers, but both.  I was told I would always be unhappy, that I would never find a boy who would date me, that “guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”, that I was too fat even for nerds to want to date, that if I didn’t drink I wasn’t a real teenager, that playing games with my friends was going to make me die a virgin, that I would marry the first boy that would have me out of desperation, that not going to the football games or pep rallies signified a deeply troubled mind, that hanging out with my teachers instead of my fellow students was bad.

And by boys who were geeks I was told that I was too intimidating, that a girl who was better at them than a game was a problem, that a girl who knew more about movies than them was cool but not really, that I could kick their ass on Star Wars trivia was threatening.

And if a kid today can go through high school watching movies and writing fanfiction and having monty python club and participating in acadec and reading comics and no one thinks less of them for it: AWESOME. If everyone, including Joe Peacock’s “6 of 9s”, wants to embrace their inner weirdness and smartness and they can do that without it being embarrassing, fuck yeah! That’s amazing! I wish I had been so lucky, and maybe me pushing the boundaries a little helped them. Maybe I made the world a little bit better for people who like the same things I like!  Maybe the world sucks a little less now than it did then.  Or maybe now I am trying to make the bullying meaningful.

Being a geek shouldn’t be about a persecution complex.  It shouldn’t be about being better than other people.  It shouldn’t be about bullying people who want to be your friend now because of what you think they may have been like in high school.  It should be about embracing people for being themselves and being grateful that they can be themselves when they are with you.

Everyone is a geek, even the hot chicks

You simply must go read this piece from John Scalzi, it is too brilliant. Some jerk on CNN posted about how the attractive women who just go to Comic Con to dress in revealing cosplay outfits aren’t real geeks and are only there to get the attention. John Scalzi has an appropriate response, which was more intelligent than my initial, “Fuck that noise.”

Who gets to be a geek?

Anyone who wants to be, any way they want to be one.

Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it.

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

I am a geek, though I used to identify a lot more with that title than I do now.  A lot of the reason behind that is that I often felt excluded, like I had to prove my geekiness more because I was female and don’t look like one of the comic book nerds in The Simpsons.  Like I had to prove my geekiness at all.  I don’t like Magic, OK, I’m not into your card games, isn’t that fine?  Can’t I just really like to talk about Harry Potter and watch movies and read graphic novels.  Seriously, someone talk to me about Harry Potter, I can go for days.  Not even joking.  Let me link you to my old fanfiction — LOL nope.

Do I have to know how to tap mana and build roads in Settlers of Catan and know who the Cylons are?  Cuz I don’t really know any of that stuff, I probably just said all that wrong.  And I absolutely hate playing RPGs like D&D because other people are so damn slow at making decisions.  KILL ME NOW.

I’m still a geek though.  I’ve spoken at Comic Con, so I’m legit.

Geek culture is male dominated, and that’s fine, but it often means that it’s less than perfectly female friendly.  And there is a general sense of “oppression from being different” that many geeks have, a sense that normal people are bad.  Normal people are preppy or cheerleaders or cool and they’re all mean to geeks.  But somehow a lot of geeky stuff is mainstream now, and instead of being all HOLY HELL LOOK AT ALL THIS AWESOMENESS some of the “hipster geeks” are all like “well I was a geek before it was cool”.  OH BLOW ME.  Let us all be people who embrace weird shit and share our passions with one another!  Even the cheerleaders who like Twilight and the jocks who like Game of Thrones.

More awesomeness from Scalzi in the comments:

As with any culture, its aspirations are sometimes confounded by the real live people in it.

Brad R. Torgersen: “I think Joe Peacock is simply expressing despair over the fact that to be geek is now chic.”

If only he could have done it in a manner less antagonistically sexist.

Lila: “I’m curious: do people ever accuse a male of just pretending to be a geek for attention?”

I have yet to hear of such a construction.

I’m serious. I want to give this man a “fighting sexism in geekdom because it’s the right thing to do” medal.  Is that a thing?  Can it be a thing?

Bloggers defeat Nikki Haley and The State Newspaper

Today, having dropped the ball massively by spiking the story initially, The State finally released the story about Nikki Haley’s daughter being given a job under her mother’s control.

I cannot take full credit for this, not with Will Folks and Logan Smith doing admirable jobs covering the story as well, and not with people on Facebook, Freethoughtblogs, and Reddit being the ones who kept the story alive and sent people to my website.  You guys are incredible, way to use the net for good and awesome.

At least 20,000 people were informed from my site alone of The State choosing to unpublish a story because Governor Nikki Haley asked them to.  This doesn’t include all the people who saw the headline and never clicked the link, which I’m sure is a huge number as well. The state treasurer’s office got in touch with me just to reach out and say they saw the post. Just a hey, how’s it going, saw your post, we’re cool.

What does The State have to say?

A draft of this article — identified as not ready for publication — improperly was published last week on websites in Rock Hill and Charlotte, and in the printed edition of the Rock Hill newspaper. Rock Hill and Charlotte are “sister” publications to The State, operating inside a common computer system that allows each to see what the other is writing. At the time, the article was being held so The State could pursue answers to additional questions.

Weirdly enough, the last info they seem to have gotten is from a full week ago. Oh well, better late than never, right?

The good thing is that I’m not a gloater. Because if one was to gloat, I’d have to be all BAM, take that jerks!  What’s up now?  Yeah!

Chick-fil-A pretends to be a girl for PR reasons, is caught

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  H/t to George Takei for posting it.  Chick-fil-A has been horrific to gay people for a long time, I am glad that they’ve finally been outspoken enough about it to cause everyday people to start protesting.

The story is this: the founder’s son/COO said CFA money was going to fight gay marriage so Jim Henson announced they would not partner with Chick-fil-A in the future.  Chick-fil-A suddenly discovered that the Muppet toys they were giving out were defective and announced they would no longer be giving them out.  Obviously, many people think that they dropped the toys because Jim Henson called them on being homo-haters, but Chick-fil-A is sticking to its story… an making up fake Facebook accounts to do the dirty work for them.

“Abby Farle” is a FB account created by Chick-fil-A to promote the lie that the toys had been removed weeks ago.  I guess the logic being that if someone who isn’t the store makes a claim that is untrue, no one can be mad at the company for lying.

Except social media under the scrutiny of tens of thousands of people is not the best place to use easily found stock photos as your head shot or to start a profile only a few hours ahead of when you post to a company’s website.  Especially if that’s the only thing the fake account does.

So, not only did CFA create a profile to enable them to lie, they made her super Christian, and they didn’t make her convincingly.  CFA was caught in the act 2 hours after they began the lie.  The internet is sometimes a beautiful thing, but companies are sometimes incredibly stupid at what they think they can get away with.

Dear everyone, when you get caught doing something bad, just admit it, because then it won’t be a story.  This?  This is a story.

BUAHAHAHA

UPDATE: Here is screencap of the stockphoto for those who think it isn’t the same girl:

UPDATE2: Personal message to Chick-fil-A

Alexander Hamilton: Badass

I didn’t know all of this about Alexander Hamilton, this is incredible.

Writer and star of the Broadway musical In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda performs “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009. Accompanied by Alex Lacamoire.

Lyrics:

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Carribbean, by Providence impoverished, to squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father
Got a lot farther
By workin’ a lot harder
By bein’ a lot smarter
By bein’ a self-starter
By fourteen they had placed him in charge of the trade and charter
And every day while slaves were being slaughtered
And carted away across the waves
Our Hamilton kept his guard up
Inside he was longing for something to be a part of
The brother was ready to beg steal borrow or barter
Then a hurricane came and
Devastation reigned and
Our man saw his future drip drippin’ down the drain
Put a pencil to his temple
Connected it to his brain
And he wrote his first refrain
A testament to his pain
When the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man!”
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland
Getcha education, don’t forget from whence you came
And the world is gonna know your name!
What’s your name, man?

[Hook]
Alexander Hamilton. His name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things he hasn’t done
But just you wait. Just you wait

[Verse 2]
When he was 10, his father split
Full of it, debt-ridden
Two years later, see Alex and his mother, bed-ridden
Half-dead, sittin’ in their own sick
The scent thick
And Alex got better but his mother went quick
Moved in with a cousin. The cousin committed suicide
Left him with nothin’ but ruined pride
Somethin’ new inside, a voice
Saying Alex, you gotta fend for yourself
He started retreatin’
And readin’
Every treatise on the shelf
There would’ve been nothin’ left to do
For someone less astute
He would’ve been dead and destitute
Without a cent of restitution
Started workin’
Clerkin’ for his late mother’s landlord
Tradin’ sugar cane and rum and other things he can’t afford
Scannin’ for every book he can get his hands on
Plannin’ for the future, see him now
As he stands on the bow of a ship headed for a new land
In New York you can be a new man
The ship is in the harbor now
See if you can spot him
Another immigrant comin’ up from the bottom
His enemies destroyed his rep, America forgot him
And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him

[Hook]
Alexander Hamilton
We were waiting in the weeds for you
You could never back down
You always had to speak your mind
But Alexander Hamilton, we could never take your deeds from you
In our cowardice and our shame
We will try to destroy your name
The world will never be the same, Alexander!

[Outro]
Yeah, I’m the damn genius that shot him

The importance of sexual identification in AIDS rates

Gregory in Seattle left the following comment on my AIDS post yesterday and I thought it was worth reposting in its own right.

You might find this of interest: an interactive map giving the HIV infection rates in the US by county, per 100,000 population. According to the CDC, about 25% of Americans, aged 13 or older, with HIV are women. Of them, 64% are African American. Of all the people with HIV in the US, an estimated 20% do not know they have the virus.

I’m a member of the Community Advisory Board for the Seattle HIV Vaccine Trials Unit. We’ve discussed the racial and regional disparity of the pandemic in the US. Education and religion are parts, but there is also a strong element of identification. Many African American men who have sex with men do not self-identify as gay: they do not march in parades, they do not go to bath houses, they do not fall in love and build a common life with other men. Being gay is a white thing, and the popular sentiment is that only gay people get HIV.* This identification divide exists even in major cities on the coasts. Because much of the outreach over the last 20 years has focused almost exclusively on gay men and has been done through gay newspapers and through outreaches to bars and pride events, nearly all of the “Be Safe” message never reaches them.

Another huge issue is the availability of low-cost, anonymous testing resources. It is established that people who can get tested are much more likely to get tested, and that provides an opportunity for education. Tests can cost around $50 if paid for retail, and few insurance companies will cover them. Even if you have that kind of money, in much of the south getting a test means either driving a hundred miles or more to a city where you can be tested anonymously or explain to your personal physician why you think you need such a test. The result is that people just don’t get one.

So yeah, a lot needs to change before HIV rates in the black south will change.

(*) It is conveniently ignored by the people pushing the “gay = HIV” lie is that, as of the end of 2010, about 2/3rds of the people on the planet with HIV lived in sub-Saharan Africa. That in several countries in southern Africa — South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho — 15% to 28% of the adult population is HIV+. That about 10% of all people with HIV are children aged 14 or younger, and that most of those got it from infected mothers either transvaginally during birth or from the virus expressing itself in breast milk. That of all adults on the planet with HIV, 56% are women. And that since 2006, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women in their reproductive years.

It is pretty damn grim.

He also pointed me to the following collection of links from a presentation he gave for MENSA recently.

Nikki Haley censors The State Newspaper

Nikki Haley got her 14-year-old daughter a job working for the state — a thirty hour a week job that is paid for with taxpayer money.  The State Newspaper and Charlotte Observer reported this online and the governor’s office immediately made them take the story down.  Did you know that the governor could do that?

There are some, including Nikki Haley herself, who say that the children of politicians should be off-limits.  There are others who say that Nikki Haley has gotten her husband a $65,000 state job with benefits, her brother-in-law a state job at MUSC, and her chief-of-staff’s wife a $50,000 part-time state job and her forcing others to hire her family should be the subject of scrutiny. Or at least, these reporters thought it was news until they got a phone call telling them to get rid of it.  According to the Free Times:

Both papers apparently published the story before getting the memo that it had been spiked. That’s a news industry term for when a reporter’s story is killed by editors or publishers, and can sometimes come from a politician, corporation or outside entity putting pressure on a news organization to yank a piece it is planning to run.

The governor contacted officials at The State and the paper apparently agreed to kill it, but the story was still in McClatchy’s system, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. McClatchy owns The State and cross-publishes stories that appear in the Capital City daily in other out-of-town content-sharing papers.

The story was up long enough for others to see the story and see that it had been taken down.  Which led to this bit of Sarah Palin-esque hysteria from the governor, who wants to turn it into a story of the Mama Grizzly whose children have been attacked by reporters trying to figure out if Governor Haley, not her daughter, has broken any laws.

Scrutiny of me comes with the territory of being governor. I expect it. But it’s a sad day for journalism in South Carolina when The State newspaper goes after my 14 year old daughter. Public officials have a right to expect that their minor children are off limits from political opponents and even from biased media outlets like The State. Its disgusting. Shame on them.

There were some gems in the comments section though.

Wondering if the 300+ posters above actually read the article or can comprehend it??
It wasn’t about the daughter… it was about the daughter getting a job at a store run by a cabinet under DIRECT control of the Gov… No job openings were posted.. People took a cut in hours to accommodate the new employees hours…
Its about a total abuse of power by Gov. Nikki. Jeremy Mitchum

I’m glad to see Nikky Haley has found her FOURTEEN year old daughter a 30 hour a week job that is payed for with taxpayer money. With all the tax payer money Haley seems to wanna save, cutting important programs such as ones to help people with aids and ones for rape survivors (that’s a “distraction”) it seems she wouldn’t make taxpayers pay her daughters paychecks. Jimmy Dowling

I do not understand this article as an attack on your daughter. It’s an attack against you and the way you have used your office to impose nepotism on various agencies, which when I worked for the state was definitively spelled out as a big NO-NO. Shame on you again Gov Haley for using an old political trick for twisting words to lend sympathy to your out of bounds actions. BTW, you are the politician screaming ‘foul’ and trying to make your own child the object of scorn here. Shame on you again. Pat Lee-Bosworth

You got your daughter a state job and expected no backlash? That’s like calling Papa John’s not not expecting a pizza. Vic Scaricamazza

Is it a story? Not a big one in the scheme of things, less of a story than the 10% unemployment rate in the state, less of a story than Nikki Haley vetoing important spending.  But it’s also part of those stories.  And part of a new story, the story of how the governor of South Carolina controls the media a little more than I am comfortable with.  Remember, even though the Republican governor can control what the paper publishes, the mainstream media is controlled by liberals.

UPDATE: 7/26 The State has re-released the story, thanks for putting pressure on her internet!

AIDS in the South: Religion is the enemy of social justice

The South is the new epicenter of HIV transmission — half of all new infection happen here, though we have less than a third of the American population.  South Carolina is 8th in the nation for rates of HIV, but other southern states are doing poorly as well.  Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas… HIV is not going away.  And there’s more bad news, if you get HIV in the south, you’re more likely to die from it.

So why is everybody getting AIDS?  Well, you could look at our education scores, our poverty levels, our resistance to decent health care coverage, the rural populations with little access to doctors, or the Bible thumping hatred of homos that makes people terrified to get tested or admit they’ve contracted the disease.

Those making under $10,000 are three times more likely to get HIV than those making $50,000+.  People making under $10,000 a year can’t afford medicine and doctor visits, they can’t afford to be driven to where they can get tested and get treatment.

And in the south, most poor people are black.  According to the Washington Post, one in five gay black men in the south has HIV.

Researchers say that African Americans in the South are especially likely to see homosexuality as immoral. In response, gay black men in the South often live on the “down low,” leading ostensibly straight lives with girlfriends and wives while having sex with men.

“In the African American community, men who are gay are more likely to hide their sexual activity,” said Saag, who also directs a HIV clinic in Birmingham. “So it’s more common for the virus to spread from gay men to heterosexual women.”

Good work, Good Book.  Religion is also to thank for the limited sex education provided in many of the southern states.  Abstinence only education?  Not great for telling people how to use condoms when they act on hormones or get married.  Combine that approach with the Nikki Haley-esque Christian Conservative approach to healthcare, and you find a lot of people who get missed by healthcare.  25% of people with HIV in SC live in rural areas, care for people far from urban centers is difficult, even more so when your state refuses to fund or accept funding to help them.

So what can be done?  The Washington Post again:

Many who work with HIV patients including Saag, the Birmingham HIV clinic director, are trying to win over churches. Many say that churches in the South often foster HIV stigma, presenting the disease as part of a sinful gay lifestyle. Saag and others are working to persuade pastors to see HIV as a health problem rather than a moral issue. Some observers are hoping that the new Affordable Care Act will improve HIV care in the South, and elsewhere, by increasing funds for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

You know what else can be done?  Increase the stigma of being a Christian who thinks that helping the poor is bad and being gay is a sin.  Accept that if you’re not black and not gay, you’ve got a lot of privilege and need to work really hard to understand that other people have it worse than you.  We are not all given equal circumstances.  As a white woman in this state, my chances of getting HIV are incredibly small and it’s got nothing to do with my choices and everything to do with how I was born.  If I’d been born a gay black man, I’d have a 20% chance of being HIV positive, which is five hundred times my risk as a white woman.

Why am I telling you this?  Because you should care.  Because social justice issues should be important to atheists. Because religion hurts people. And we can do something about it.

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Have some stats from the glorious state of South Carolina:

Who has HIV:
04.6% are white women (34.7% of population)
19.4% are white men (33.8% of population)
25.0% are black women (14.2% of population)
46.9% are black men (14.9% of population)

Demographics of the state:
34.7% are white women
33.8% are white men
14.2% are black women
14.9% are black men
(15% of the population makes up almost half the HIV cases)

Percentage of Population w/HIV:
0.04% of white women
0.19% of white men
1.07% of black men
0.51% of black women

Or look at it this way:
1 in 100 black men
1 in 200 black women
1 in 600 white men
1 in 2500 white women

Or look at it this way:
White men are 4.3 times as likely to get HIV than white women.
Black women are 12 times more likely to get HIV than white women, and 2.7 times more likely to get HIV than white men.
Black men are 25 times more likely to get HIV than white women, 5.7 times more likely to get HIV than white men, and over twice as likely to get HIV than black women.

http://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/asrh/2011/SC-EST2011-03.html
http://www.dhec.sc.gov/health/disease/sts/docs/cntyrate_2010.pdf