Dragon*Con! Friend me on the App!

I am packing for Dragon*Con as we speak and trying to finish (read: create) my speech for Saturday morning (10 AM, come see me).  Of course, I am up against the parade, so I might be speaking to an empty room.

Regardless, I have the D*C app and if you do too, we should be friends.  We should all be friends!

My e-mail address just put your friend code there or put it here in the comments.

Here is a code for whoever gets to it first!

711-016

PS I WILL BE IN COSTUME BITCHES

Westinghouse > Tesla > Edison

Hired female engineers, paid living wages, and he has that super fine mustache? Come on!

Why, in all this Tesla > Edison stuff, does no one ever mention the late great Westinghouse?!??!?  Don’t get me wrong, Tesla was a super cool dude and being played by David Bowie automatically gives you serious awesome points, but for all of his awesomeness, it wasn’t Tesla that got shit done.  And it definitely wasn’t Tesla who made sure people got treated right.  No, that distinction belongs to this BAMF who always gets left out of *his* story: George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse is why there even *is* a Tesla.  FFS people!!  Y’all should listen up because Westinghouse was a baller for reals.  And by that I mean he ensured that every one of his employees made a living wage and was well-treated, even when the rest of the industry refused to do so.

A brief intro to Westinghouse:

The son of a New York agricultural machinery maker, the 21-year-old inventor came to Pittsburgh in 1868 in search of steel for a new tool he designed to guide derailed train cars back onto the track. Before he died 46 years later, he gave the world safer rail transportation, steam turbines, gas lighting and heating, and, of course, electricity.

Westinghouse didn’t invent alternating current; he acquired the patent rights from two European scientists. He had a knack for spotting good ideas and people and bringing them into his fold. And he knew AC was a good idea.

In his lifetime, he received 361 patents for his inventions, and founded 60 companies.

To critics who questioned his management acumen, George Westinghouse would say: “Look at all these jobs I created. Does that mean I’m a bad manager?”

He paid Tesla an absurd amount of money for Tesla’s design for an A/C motor.  Westinghouse was already running A/C power long-distance and had A/C generators that worked.  In fact, it took them years to make Tesla’s motor work.  Tesla, genius that he was, was not great at practical application.  I’m not saying that to knock Tesla, but to point out that Westinghouse had to put in a lot of work to make that Tesla invention actually work, yet Tesla gets all the credit.

Westinghouse was also just a good guy, for real:

Westinghouse Air Brake, now called Wabtec (WAB), was among the first companies to offer pensions to employees. And when the worker died, the pension went to the employee’s spouse and orphans — an uncommon practice in the 1880s.

Westinghouse was one of the first to hire female engineers. And Saturdays were half-days at his firm when most workers toiled six days a week.

The War of the Currents

Empires of Light Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jones is both a history of the rise of electricity in the US and a character study of three of the men responsible for that rise.  The story is a fascinating one, not least of all because it examines the same forces that still dominate the market today.  Innovation and creating new markets for those innovations are the keys to technological advances in society, but innovations do not always come with the market.  A market without the innovation is not as successful as one with it.  Another key aspect of success seems to be marketing, but marketing cannot change the fundamentals of the economic landscape.  The better product may not win, but the most convenient product probably will.  The final lesson is that losing or winning a battle over one product, however important, does not dictate the future success or failure of the companies or inventors.

The three men who are profiled in the book demonstrate this perfectly and compellingly. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla were a trio of self-made, intelligent, inventive, entrepreneurial, and incredibly hard working men, but their personalities and approach to the market were completely different.  Tesla was a genius immigrant who was meticulous about his fashion and probably autistic; he was not a businessman and had no interest in being one, he simply wanted enough money to do his research.  Edison, like Tesla, had a gift for invention, but his gift came less from theoretical work than from simply trying everything he could think of until a best solution appeared and “borrowing” other people’s ideas and improving them.

Edison also felt that the market side of things was incredibly important and took an active role in creating and running his companies.  His lab was considered the invention of the modern research and development lab.  Westinghouse started as an inventor, but his real gift was in finding other people’s innovations and creating the market for them.  He would buy patents and then find ways to make them commercially viable.  Unlike Edison, he was not personally invested in the inventions, just in their implementation and profits.

It is incredible the role that personality plays in the success of an invention.  Though Tesla was undoubtedly the most visionary and honest of the three men, he was not commercially minded.  This allowed him to be taken advantage of and to fail to be recognized for his many contributions.  Innovation is not enough, someone has to create the market – this is an important lesson, regardless of the century.

Tesla was a bit of a mad genius with no real interest in commercial viability or practicality, he was only a player in the game thanks to Westinghouse buying his patent.  The real useful comparison in terms of market creation and implementation, and the rivalry that was the primary focus of the book, was Westinghouse and Edison.  They were two men with very different ethics and very different goals.

Westinghouse insisted on paying his men high wages and paying people for their inventions.  He was ridiculed for being too generous.  On the other hand, he was incredibly tenacious and litigious, fighting any perceived patent infringement with as much force as he could muster. Edison was much more pragmatic.  He did not pay his men well and refused to negotiate when they had a strike and would not allow a union.  He did not give recognition to those who invented for him and he was also very litigious, even in fights he could not win.  He could afford more lawsuits than any small competitor could.

Edison refused to use other people’s inventions but Westinghouse was very quick to buy patents and rights as soon as something was invented.  Although Edison had created the initial market, he ceased to introduce new, practical innovations.  This allowed Westinghouse to take over the market completely through Tesla’s new generator and the ability to send electricity over long distances.  Edison stubbornly held onto DC even when it was failing, and it would ultimately cost him his electric company.

This brings the second lesson, having a market is not enough, you have to continue to innovate in order to stay competitive.  Had Edison pursued AC power, he would have completely controlled the market.  Tesla came to him first but was mistreated and Edison refused to take any interest in AC power.  Edison was hugely popular and an excellent marketer, which allowed him to stay somewhat competitive for a few years, but his stubborn denial of forward progress lead inevitably to the failure of his company.

The primary difference between AC and DC power is that DC offers much less power and therefore is less dangerous but is also much more difficult to send long distance.  AC power is much more convenient because it can be generated miles from the user and, from one centralized location, it will distribute power to many people.  It was clear almost immediately that AC was the only practical solution, but Edison fought desperately against this.  Edison held demonstrations where animals were electrocuted to death and his company invented the electric chair to execute prisoners in order to make AC power look dangerous.  He lobbied to have the electric chair introduced as a method of state execution in New York.  He made AC power out to be horrific and, because of his fame and fortune and favorable media coverage, it slowed progress of AC, but not for very long.

Westinghouse was just as proactive on the marketing front and took the lead on powering Chicago’s World Fair and the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls by bidding lower than Edison for the contracts, knowing that the publicity would be better than any advertising he could buy.  Edison’s company should have easily won those contests, being the only established electrical company at the time, but they acted as though they had a monopoly on power and therefore bid far higher than they needed to.  In both cases, Edison’s was the company that was approached first and, because they gave such outrageous estimates, bidding from other contractors was sought.  Here again we see that having the market does not make you a success when others are able to be more competitive and innovative.

Westinghouse ultimately won the war of the currents and AC is now what powers America.  Edison, because of his obstinacy, lost not only that war but also control over his electric company to J.P. Morgan.  Tesla continued to run experiments, funded by J.P. Morgan.  These immediate fates, however, did not dictate their futures.  Tesla, in particular, soon found himself low on funding and interest from others because he was not pursuing commercial ideas.  He did not even have the money to file a patent lawsuit when Marconi stole his radio design.

As for Westinghouse and Edison’s companies, ultimately Edison ended up winning.  After he took control, J.P. Morgan merged Edison’s company with another electric company to form General Electric, which became the powerhouse in electricity.  Edison lost the war of currents, but the company he started ultimately had market dominance and the money he made from this company would fund his research for the rest of his life.  He left electricity behind and created the motion picture industry with great success.  Westinghouse, on the other hand, ultimately lost control of his business when it went bankrupt and new shareholders, who did not share his vision, ran it for the rest of his life.  The market is constantly moving; a successful innovation depends on companies that move with it, which means either new companies or flexibility from old ones.

PS Help build a goddamn Tesla museum.

Death Threats and other signs of Christian love

American Atheists caused a bit of a stir by putting up billboards criticizing religion up in Charlotte, NC, where the DNC convention is going to be held.

But there is good news for hateful bigots who use their religion to bludgeon other people with fear and loathing: all of the death threats and hate speech have worked.  Out of fear for safety, the billboard company and the American Atheists have both agreed that the billboards need to be taken down immediately.

“No subject, no idea should be above scrutiny—and this includes religion in all forms,” Ms. Knief said. “We are saddened that by choosing to express our rights as atheists through questioning the religious beliefs of the men who want to be our president that our fellow citizens have responded with vitriol, threats, and hate speech against our staff, volunteers, and Adams Outdoor Advertising.”

Teresa MacBain, American Atheists’ Public Relations Director said, “It saddens me to think that our country is not a safe place for all people to publicly question religious belief. How can we grow as a nation when such censorship exists from our own citizens?”

I really hope that the American Atheists are in touch with the FBI, because this is incredibly uncool.  Even though I’m very disappointed that they have caved to the pressure of the threats, having been on the receiving end of death and rape threats, I can’t say that I blame them.  It just makes me angry.

These Christian assholes who claim moral superiority to the rest of the world and especially to atheists get so upset when someone questions their religious beliefs in public that they freak out and threaten to kill them.  Are you ready for the best part?  This is what the billboard said:

Christianity: Sadistic God, Useless Savior… Promotes hate, calls it love

I think it should be slightly amended:

Christianity: Sadistic followers promote hate, call it love

 

The difference between “atheism+” and humanism

I am an atheist.  I am also a humanist.  Being a humanist is actually far more important to my worldview than being an atheist is.  In fact, the reason I care about religion and atheism is because I am a humanist.  In my opinion, organized religion is responsible for many evils in the world, a lot of which come down to human nature and the nature of large organizations, but many of which are made far worse by the nature of religion itself.  I support gay rights, I am a feminist, I am against the drug war, I am for social support systems and changing the way the world treats the poor — all of these things I am because I live my life from a humanist perspective.  Imperfectly, no doubt, but that is where I am coming from.

And yet, if asked how I define myself, I say “atheist” rather than “humanist”.  Why would I choose to define myself as part of this newly christened “atheist+” movement rather than the “humanist” movement?

It’s a completely legitimate question – if you go look at the American Humanist Association, you’ll see a group that does almost everything I could want a movement to do (and I support the AHA gladly and whole-heartedly).  It’s just that it doesn’t do one thing that is really important to me: make it clear that I am an atheist.

I guess it could be a small thing for some people, but it’s not for me, because where I am from, being an atheist is not really OK.  People face serious discrimination, people in my local atheist groups fear for their jobs if they come out.  The emails from the local atheist billboard campaign were truly horrific.  And what many atheists face from their families, even families who aren’t extremely religious, it painful and can lead to lifelong rifts.

As a longtime participant in the gay rights movement, I have been taught that self-definition is incredibly important; it matters a great deal that you should be able to label yourself as gay or straight, male or female, somewhere in between, or to eschew labels altogether.  When those labels automatically mean you are going to be treated badly, it becomes an important political act to stand up and insist that you are not undeserving of equal treatment just because you don’t identify with a different label.  I am an atheist because I don’t believe in gods, but I call myself an atheist because being an atheist means I get treated like shit by some people and that is not OK.

The desire to hold on to “atheism” rather than use the term “humanism” isn’t from a fundamental difference of goals and beliefs, but from a difference of self-definition. I personally like “atheism+” because it’s more confrontational, embraces a minority position that is loathed by many, and it is more transparent about the belief that religion is one of the root causes of many social injustices.  My humanism is more than just secular, it is anti-religion.

Beyond that, the social justice issues that “atheism+” care about include issues specifically about atheists as a group.  We are committed to is the pursuit of equality for atheists, a public acknowledgement of our existence, and a political voice for the godless. It’s not that humanism doesn’t believe in equality for atheists, of course it does, but that’s not the focus.  “Atheism+” is not my favorite of titles, I’d have gone with Atheist Humanism, but I don’t think that humanism, secular humanism, and “atheism+” are the same thing. Huge overlaps? Yes, absolutely.  But so long as I’m going to be treated as a social pariah for being a non-believer, I feel it is important for me to not be afraid to be out of the closet and loud about that label.

There is a difference between a self-defined humanist doing something good for mankind and a self-defined atheist doing it, simply because of the massive amount of stigma associated with atheism.  Proving that atheists care about other people and making the world a better place is important.  I think that “atheism+” is a way to bring the philosophy of humanism more strongly to the fight for atheist equality, and vice versa.

Calling myself part of the atheist — +, humanist, or otherwise — movement is a meaningful political act, and one not worth dropping to join something incredibly similar, but different.

Todd Akin and how the Christian Right’s delusion of an all-powerful God hurts people

I am about as far from the Christian Right as you can get, religiously and politically, and it’s not always apparent how closely that religious fervor is related to what I think of as the most cruel and stupid of the beliefs that the right-wing clings to.

Todd Akin, current representative and Senate nominee, said one of the most offensively stupid things I’ve ever heard.  Admittedly, I am as far from him on the abortion debate as one can get, but I do have some sympathy for people who think abortion is murder without exception.  I happen to think that it doesn’t matter whether it is murder or not — in all other circumstances, people have the right to use any means necessary to protect their own body from unwanted invaders and harm, I don’t see pregnancy as different.

Regardless, his scientifically illiterate justification for allowing no exceptions for rape is rather astonishing:

People always try to make that one of those things, ‘Oh, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question.’  It seems to me, first of all, what I understand from doctors is that’s really where—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Todd Akin’s absurd claim that people who are “legitimately” raped can’t get pregnant is symptomatic of the larger problem of the Christian Right. When you think that there is an all-powerful God overlooking everything, it’s difficult to cope with the cognitive dissonance that bad things happen to good people and that most solutions to problems are imperfect.

The problem of evil in the world is nothing new, but it is much easier to ignore if you blame all bad things on bad actions on the part of victims rather than societal problems or true injustice.  It would be too cruel for someone to get pregnant from a rape, so she must have not been raped, not really raped, only kind of raped.  They aren’t saying these things to justify their positions, they genuinely believe them because not to would be so difficult to all of their other beliefs.

There can’t be systematic injustice — God wouldn’t allow it, so women and black people and poor people are all simply reaping what they’ve sewn or playing their appropriate role, not being hurt by unnecessary prejudice and cruelty.  Women can’t be raped, they are always asking for it.  People on welfare must be bad people, that’s why they deserve to be poor.  They are different from us.  That’s why when Rush Limbaugh takes government handouts, it is OK, because he’s really a good person, but when some black welfare queen takes it, it is not OK, because she’s really a bad person.  Limbaugh doing drugs is someone who needs counseling, inner city kids doing drugs are criminals.  Why should there be social safety nets for bad people?  Because in the mind of a Christian, the world can be broken into the good people and the bad people.  Somehow they miss that almost everyone is just a people people, not particularly good or bad.

To be a Christian, you must believe that God is all-powerful and good, and so you’re forced to believe that people have asked for their bad fates and that solutions to problems are simple, otherwise you have to start questioning the God hypothesis and admitting that the responsibility for making to world a better place for your fellow man is yours.

Temporarily Broken

I am sorry I haven’t posted this week. I’ve been put on some new medication that’s absolutely knocked me out, I’m barely functioning.  It is also making my feel hyper emotional about not being able to get stuff done.  Double thumbs up.  If I was not so exhausted, I’d be in hysterics now, so… I guess there are positives?

On top of this, I have a big research paper I’m trying to finish. So… blog, I will get back to you soon as I function better. Promise.

Also, I will be speaking at Dragon*Con and you should go cuz it’s gonna be hella bitchin’.*

*”hello bitchin’” Seriously, I am not functioning correctly.

Thunderf00t: Stealing people’s private information is a major violation

All emails sent to this list are confidential and private. Revealing information contained in any email sent to the list to anyone not on the list without permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

I have tried to stay as far away from this Thunderf00t drama as possible.  Unfortunately, Thunderf00t’s vendetta against PZ Myers and feminism at large has now turned into an all out personal attack against anyone who has anything to do with FtB.

Thunderf00t has hacked, repeatedly, into the FtB private emails, stolen them, and forwarded private, confidential information to other people.  He is using this to hurt people.  Some of the bloggers here do so anonymously for reasons of personal safety and his actions have threatened their anonymity and the safety of themselves and their loved ones.

I am absolutely sick over this.  The information he has about me is not nearly as worrisome as the information he has about other people.  I blog as myself, after all, and though there are things I said under the protection of confidentiality that I would vastly prefer not to be brought up, I can live if they are.  The information he has about other people, however, and the things he has done to try to hurt them by forwarding information to others and, after telling people he has backchannel information, lying about what has been said… that worries me a lot.

I didn’t really care about Thunderf00t before this.  It is clear now that he is a cruel man out to destroy anyone he thinks he can, either out of spite or out of a total disregard for collateral damage in his hatred for PZ.  There are not words for how violated I feel, how heartsick I am for those who are worried about personal details being shared, and how grotesque Thunderf00t’s behavior is.

He will undoubtedly crow about how clever and weaselly he is, but just remember that he has hurt many people and deeply damaged relationships and trust.  He has done something that I would not wish on my worst enemies and he has done it, apparently, just to be mean.  I could not be more disappointed that he is an “ally” in the atheist movement and, even worse, that there are those who will surely laugh at his cruelty along with him.

Mostly, I am just sad.

Marriage Equality is an issue with no valid middle ground

This could also be titled “how to get unfriended on Facebook”.  Always beware of someone asking “genuine, non-rhetorical questions” they want answers to from the opposing side.  Sometimes they don’t like your answer.  My former FB friend posted the following, in reference to an article by Michael Rowe:

I truly hope this opinion from one man doesn’t reflect the consensus of those who oppose Chick-Fil-A. Is there no room for nuanced or civilized debate that doesn’t resort to character assassination?

Here’s just a sample of how the Chick-Fil-A supporters who showed up on Wednesday are labeled: “(they are) a pageant of banal, cheerful deep-fried American hate, unified in bigotry and detestation of a group of their fellow Americans who were different from them.”

It gets worse when describing Dan Cathy, the owner of Chick-Fil-A: “He’s actually making millions from it, and he’s done it cynically, and at the expense of other human beings, then sharing that blood money with others like him, whose mandate isn’t holiness, but hatred, violence, division, and ostracism.”

Now here’s a genuine, non-rhetorical question I’m hoping to get answered by those who oppose Chick-Fil-A. Do you believe it’s possible for someone to oppose same-sex marriage and not be a hateful bigot? Do you believe that all who oppose same-sex marriage follow a mandate of “hatred, violence, division, and ostracism” that trumps the dictates of Christian behavior?

I am not for redefining marriage, but I also have several gay friends who I love dearly and whose honor I would defend (physically if necessary) if I ever witnessed them being bullied or harassed because of their orientation or for any other reason. Is this love I feel for my friends automatically phony because I oppose same-sex marriage? Do I have deep hatred that’s even hidden from myself? I think not. Christ’s command to love is far too important for me to not take seriously as a dedicated Christian. God loves all his children unconditionally, and woe is any Christian who finds any reason not to love a person whom God loves.

Michael Rowe also makes a point to say that basically those who oppose same sex marriage are not practicing true Christianity. I don’t know if Rowe is a Christian himself, but biblically-based Christianity (Catholic or Protestant) has never supported the idea of same-sex marriage.

So Christians who actually believe in what is almost universally taught are labeled as bigots and phonies. Rowe has no authority to redefine beliefs systems about gender and sexuality and then declare them to be more Christian than what’s been traditionally the case.

Then let’s be clear. Anyone is free to disagree with, or even hate, Christianity if they feel so inclined. And as a lover of liberty I will fight to defend your legal right to smear Christianity six ways from Sunday. But if you think I am a bad Christian (or specifically bad Catholic), because I follow what my church teaches, you are simply wrong.

I know this country is deeply divided ideologically. But if we are to make any progress in bridging the divide it must start with a commitment to cast aside examples of false polarization. Between legalizing gay marriage and keeping it as the status quo is an entire spectrum of thoughtful and valuable opinion that doesn’t automatically involve degrees of ignorance, hatred, or bigotry.

But nuance doesn’t make for good sound bytes.

My answer that got me unfriended:

“Do you believe it’s possible for someone to oppose same-sex marriage and not be a hateful bigot?”

I do not believe it is possible for someone to oppose same-sex marriage and not be a bigot. The denial of rights is inherently hateful. Saying I am better than you is hateful. Saying you aren’t quite a fully deserving human, but a lower caste member deserving of second-class citizenship is hateful. Saying my religion tells me to do this so I don’t care what your religion says, I’m going to make you follow my religion’s rules is inherently hateful. Saying love is wrong is hateful.

“Do you believe that all who oppose same-sex marriage follow a mandate of “hatred, violence, division, and ostracism” that trumps the dictates of Christian behavior?”

As I have seen many Christians who endorse that sort of behavior, I’m not sure I can say that they’re going against their dictates. I do not think they are necessarily violent, but telling a group of people their love is worth less than yours is, again, inherently hateful, divisive, and ostracizing.

“Is this love I feel for my friends automatically phony because I oppose same-sex marriage?”

If a white man has a lot of black friends who he loves dearly but flips his shit when his daughter dates a black man and thinks interracial marriage should be illegal, is his “love for his friends” automatically phony. No. It’s just really fucked up.

To those of us who support marriage equality, what Chick-fil-A and their supporters look like are people who protested integration of schools and the civil rights acts and allowing black people at the lunch counter. And in addition to discriminating against them for who they are, you are punishing them for having the most wonderful thing that a person can have: love.

If your religion wants to be cruel, fine, but don’t enshrine it in law. If you’re mad at invective, just remember how heartbroken those of us who think of gay people as fully human and deserving of happiness are to see them treated so badly. It’s so hard to watch every day, and it’s so hard to watch people get so excited and mean about it, it’s so hard to hear the word faggot and dyke thrown with such invective at people who are fundamentally decent, it’s so hard to see children whose parents aren’t allowed to marry or jointly adopt the child they are raising, it’s so hard to see people deported because their partner is of the same-sex and therefore they cannot get citizenship through marriage, it’s hard to see people say that these wonderful people are destroying America. It’s really hard. And if you really have a heart and can look at these people and say that that’s OK, well, you must not think they’re really people.

So yeah, people called Dan Cathy a bigot — but hey, at least they aren’t calling him a cocksucking faggot who will destroy America just because he is in love with the wrong person.

Addendum to that answer for the blog:

“Between legalizing gay marriage and keeping it as the status quo is an entire spectrum of thoughtful and valuable opinion that doesn’t automatically involve degrees of ignorance, hatred, or bigotry.”

There is no middle ground on the question of whether gays should have equal rights under the law.  There may be a middle ground in the debate Christians have over how bad gay people are, but that’s a separate question.  I’m sorry to be so blunt, but how you justify your bigotry isn’t thoughtful or valuable to anyone but other bigots.

I’d also add that the gentleman in question is a *good* Catholic, and that’s his problem — sometimes being a good Christian makes you a bad person.  It’s a shame, because he’s not a bad person, but he’s wrong and being wrong on this issue causes harm.

TIL: Cheerios are flammable and McKayla Maroney is awesome

I’m sick and I have a ton of work, schoolwork and job work, so here are some random things.  First up, man protests the fact that General Mills supports marriage equality by setting a bunch of Cheerios on fire.

And they’re so sparkly when they burn!  Totally gay, if you ask me.  “Queerios”

Second, McKayla Maroney is basically the best vaulter on the planet and she messed it up badly, winning only silver in the event.  Let us stop for a moment and see that she is so good that landing on her butt after a vault put her in *second* still.  Anyway, as announcers always do with the gymnasts, they made her frustration with herself be about how she was such a bitch.

McKayla is not a bitch — she’s an amazing athlete who was pissed at herself for losing what was probably her only opportunity to win an individual gold at the Olympics.  She’s the best in the world and she fucked it up.  Why is anyone surprised or calling her a bitch for being unhappy with her performance?  It’s completely absurd.

Go watch how amazing she normally is: http://deadspin.com/5930714/relive-mckayla-maroneys-phenomenal-vault-in-super+slow-motion

That’s all.