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Scientific illiteracy will kill us all. It's not a nuclear blast we have to fear but the blast of ignorance that characterizes the Republican Tea Party and the religious right. Scientific ignorance is the greatest threat to national security, global security and personal security. Yet, we have members of Congress celebrating such ignorance and trying to pass it off as public policy. Some of the statements coming out of politicians' mouths are so stupid, a fiction writer could hardly make them up. In recent months, Congresspersons, ex-Congresspersons and political candidates have made statements that are downright scary. Here's a sampling:
On Rape and Women's Bodies"From what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," proclaimed Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri), the 2012 Republican Senate nominee from Missouri. Thankfully, the voters in Missouri shut down Akin's bid and reelected Senator Claire McCaskill.
On Wind Energy and Climate Change"Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about." This came out of the mouth of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)
This same Congressman told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee: "I would point out that people like me who support hydrocarbon development don't deny that climate is changing. "I think you can have an honest difference of opinion of what's causing that change without automatically being either all in that's all because of mankind or it's all just natural. I think there's a divergence of evidence. . . I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy."
Jim Sensenbrenner (R=WI) called research on climate change "an international conspiracy." Sensenbrenner is on House Science Committee.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) said: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” In the same speech, Broun claimed “I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.” This shining light of knowledge is also on the House Science Committee.
Just so I don't leave you in this muddle of negativity, here's a smart comment from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Natural History, New York City.
“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
This is the season when people give lip service in talk and song to “peace on Earth,” yet we live in a society that promotes violence. From video games to the NRA, the gunslinger as hero is promoted in thousands of ways, some subtle, some blatant. On December 13, 2013, the day before the first anniversary of the massacre of 20 first-graders and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Bill Moyers interviewed Richard Slotkin, former professor at Wesleyan University and author of “The Fatal Environment,” “Regeneration Through Violence,” “Gunslinger Nation,” and his most recent book, “The Long Road to Antietam.” Discussing the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, Professor Slotkin pointed out that Lanza was obsessed with violent video games and used them, in effect, to train himself for his deadly attack on children and teachers. He also shot his mother and himself. Violent video games like “Grand Theft Auto,” -- of which there are now five versions -- can act as “training films” for criminality similar to the way the military uses video games to train soldiers. Moyers showed an excerpt from a video game that has even been developed about the Newtown massacre. The game allows the viewer to follow and actively shoot students in a classroom. Greed and exploitation know neither good taste nor compassion.
Since the Newtown massacre there have been 26 more school shootings with 200 children killed. It’s possible to look at violence as a disease epidemic in the U.S. Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2010 alone (the latest year for which the CDC has records), a total of 31,672 Americans were killed by guns; 2694 were children or teens. “We produce the lone killer . . . [who’s] trying to validate himself or herself in terms of our society,” Slotkin said. But the school shooters are all men, Moyers pointed out, asking why that is. Slotkin replied that white men “feel their position is imperiled” and turn to the “mystique of weapons.” Guns are symbols of “productive violence,” Slotkin said. Yet the only thing produced is dead bodies, heartbreak and grief.
Incredibly, following the Newtown shootings, the NRA campaigned for more guns, arming teachers, rather than accepting even the weakest, most basic, of gun control measures such as background checks. I have no quarrel with hunting. I grew up on a farm. My father and all the other farmers in our neighborhood had guns for hunting. Daddy shot rabbits and squirrels, and Mother cooked them, and we ate them. I learned to shoot but unlike my brother, was never interested in hunting. In rural environments where populations of some animals, such as deer, have exploded because they have no predators, a hunting season makes sense. But the hunting argument can’t be used to support military assault weapons in city streets. You don’t hunt deer with AK-47s. People are the only prey in urban environments.
Peace on Earth is just another dream unless we begin teaching peace as fervently as we teach war. The reality of school shootings is the nightmare we currently inhabit.
Blasting off to outer space in my rocket ship
I'm not on drugs but I'm high from the trip.
My mission is to find another place,
a planet or a moon where the human race
can start a new world when ours is destroyed
by leaders who treat lethal weapons like toys.
As I orbit the Earth, tears come to my eyes
'Cause it's the only living planet in these pitch black skies.
The only one that shines with a deep blue sea,
The only one that breathes life's chemistry,
The only one to harbor life's amazing evolution
But to keep it going, we need a revolution,
not the kind that's fought with weapons of terror
but with intelligence to admit human error.
From the windows of my ship in the vacuum of space
Earth looks as small as one human face,
And I think of all the people as one and the same,
The same human species with one human name.
Underneath the different languages and different colored skins,
We're all the same -- just women and men.
All living together on this one cosmic ball
where survival will depend on the efforts of us all.
The view is very different when you go out far.
You can see the total folly of any kind of war.
You can see our leaders acting out with their primitive brains
Ancient battles that took place on Africa's plains.
But the weapons are no longer sticks and stones.
It's high technology with nuclear bombs.
And if that's not enough hanging over our heads,
Radioactive wastes may kill us all dead.
Or destruction of the ozone can let in deadly rays
of that blazing solar furnace that lights all our days.
The dolphins are dying, and they say it's from pollution,
But the leaders of the world haven't found a solution.
Maybe they're dumb or just too lazy
Or maybe they're just downright crazy.
From my vantage point in my rocket ship,
It seems like a shame to let things slip
right out of our hands when we have the power
to protect the Earth and make it flower.
I am coming home because my mission is over.
There is nowhere to go for this interplanetary rover.
No other place in the whole Milky Way
Where human beings could possibly stay,
No other planet, no asteroid or rock
Where human beings could set up shop.
If we start anew, it will have to be down there
On our planet with water and breathable air.
I make my last orbit and tears come to my eyes
'Cause Earth's the only planet in these pitch black skies.
The only one that shines with a deep blue sea,
The only one that breathes life's chemistry.
The only one that harbors life's amazing evolution,
But to keep it going, we need a global revolution,
Not the kind fought with weapons of terror,
But with intelligence to admit human error,
A change that comes within the heart and mind,
Achieving peace for humankind.
This was written several years before 9/11.
This past weekend (Feb. 22-23, 2013) I attended Christopher Newport University’s annual Writers Conference--the 32nd, in fact. This one honored my dear friend and wonderful writer Doris Gwaltney, author of HOMEFRONT. See Doris’ Facebook page. Doris Gwaltney became coordinator of the conference in its fifth year and served in that capacity for eight years. She teaches a Lifelong Learning class in creative writing, and has been a mentor and inspiration to many local writers. She also serves on the Advisory Council for the CNU Writers Conference.
I always find this writers conference nourishing, and this year’s was no exception. Humans rights was the theme of the conference and the opening day’s panel discussed human rights issues, including rape, violence against women and children, and human trafficking in sexual and other forms of slavery.
Novelist and attorney Corban Addison gave an outstanding presentation about his novel, A WALK ACROSS THE SUN, and his involvement with international justice movements to combat human trafficking, which he called “the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.” Trafficking for sexual and other forms of slavery is not just something that happens in other countries. Addison pointed out that in the United States some 100,000 American children are trafficked every year. “It’s as easy to order a girl on the Internet as it is to order a pizza.,” he said, adding that “We spend more on military marching bands than on liberating slaves.” Globally about 2 million children are trafficked every year. The average American sex buyer is male, as are sex tourists that go to Thailand, which is known for an active sex trade in young girls. Until the grassroots rises and demands an end to this kind of slavery, “dollars will continue to fuel the trade,” Addison said. He advocated an educational campaign on human trafficking similar to drug trafficking education.
Rosemary Trible, wife of CNU President Paul Trible, talked about her book, FEAR TO FREEDOM, about her rape experience when she was in her twenties. Since then she has become an advocate for rape victims and founded the nonprofit organization, Fear 2 Freedom, which provides aid to victims of sexual abuse. “I don’t believe anybody eight-years-old says, ‘I’d like to be a prostitute when I grow up,’” Trible said.
Tina Kempin Reuter, CNU assistant professor of international politics and law, presented the policy angle on human rights, pointing out that the concept of human rights is only about 70 years old, and because of communications technology, more people than ever before are aware of human trafficking. With increased awareness, there is a greater chance that more laws against this practice will be passed and implemented.
In a panel on “The Facts about Fiction,” novelist Michael Farmer said a writer needs to know three things: the truth, the subject and the trade. A writer of Western novels, Farmer described the rigorous research that goes into each of his books and the need for authentic details to bring a story alive. Farmer is a member of the Isle of Wight, Virginia, writers group. His novel, HOMBRECITO’S WAR, was a 2006 Spur Finalist and a 2007 New Mexico Finalist for Best Historical Fiction. Other members of this panel were mystery writer Maria Hudgins and poet Nathan Richardson.
Saturday’s keynote speaker Lucinda Roy, Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech University, talked about her memoir, NO RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, about the 2007 shooting that killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Tech. Roy had taught the student, Seung-Hui Cho, who opened fire on students and faculty and then killed himself. She said she had recognized he was a troubled kid and tried to obtain some help for him but none was forthcoming. The experience, which affected her deeply, is the subject of her memoir.
Steve Watkins, author of the novels DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN (winner of the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Fiction) and WHAT COMES AFTER, presented a lively, humorous discussion on “Why Write YA.” Books for this age group -- 14 up -- find a ready market that continually renews itself as children from the middle grade readership grow up the literary ladder. Watkins pointed out that girls are the primary readers of fiction in the YA category and that they like to read books in which the protagonist is at least one year older than they are. YA novels these days deal with adult topics, including rape, pregnancy, drugs, crime, homelessness, etc., and many are read by adults.
There were many other fine panels and presenters but impossible to attend them all. It’s always refreshing to mingle with other writers, listen to accomplished authors talk about how they work and reenergize the creative batteries for the projects at hand and those on the drawing board.
Congratulations to Cindy Halliday, Conference Coordinator, poet Ann Falcone Shalaski, President of the Advisory Council for the CNU Writers Conference, Joanne Dingus, and all the other council members and those from the Lifelong Learning Society who were involved in organizing this wonderful conference.
I am honored to be featured on Morgen Bailey's wonderful Writing Blog. A great blog for writers to follow.
I made it into the Authors Show 2012 edition of 50 GREAT WRITERS YOU SHOULD BE READING. Thanks to everyone who voted for me.
Today's EXPLORING NATURE podcast was devoted to climate change. Hurricane Sandy brought this issue to the fore. There is no more urgent issue than climate change. Worry about whether Iran develops a nuclear weapon pales next to climate change, which will have devastating consequences for the entire planet if governments don't address it. The two governments that most urgently need to address climate change are the United States and China. Yet we have some politicians and the fossil fuel industries that refuse to recognize the seriousness of climate change. They are stuck in denial and in an anti-science attitude that endangers all life on Earth.
The science and signs of climate change are out there. The scientific community has been in agreement about climate change for some 40 years. The changes are accumulating rapidly, more rapidly than originally predicted. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000 to 2009 was the warmest decade ever recorded. If people keep on adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate, the average temperature around the world could increase by 4 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.
Increased temperature affects the oceans, weather patterns, snow, ice, plants and animals, including people. As the top layer of the ocean gets warmer, hurricanes and other tropical storms grow stronger with faster winds and heavier rain. That's what we saw with Sandy.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has experienced more intense single-day storms that are dumping a lot more rain or snow than usual.
In the past century, there has been about a foot of sea level rise in the New York City area, and this figured in hurricane Sandy with the storm surge added to the normal tidal surge, producing devastating flooding for New York and New Jersey.
Melting sea ice is also a factor and will continue to be a factor in the world's coastal areas where so many large cities are located. Arctic sea ice reached its lowest seasonal minimum since satellite data began to be kept in 1979.
Summer 2012 was the third hottest on record.
The trends of wilder weather and greater temperature extremes are expected to continue. Exactly what climate scientists have been predicting for more than 20 years is happening. Everyone needs to pay attention and pressure their governments to do something about it while we still can.
Rape is the topic of my latest podcast, EXPLORING NATURE. Rape is not a pretty topic. It's downright ugly and the politics of rape are uglier than I've ever seen them in my lifetime. Rape victims are under attack again. I say again because for centuries there was a blame-the-woman attitude toward rape, as if rape was not something to take seriously--just some "boys-will-be-boys" fun. Women somehow brought on rape by dressing seductively or by inviting intercourse and then lying about it to trap some poor unfortunate man. The man was the victim. When rape began to be taken seriously as a crime, it was seen as a property crime against the husband or the father. It was his property, not the woman victim, that suffered the attack. The raped woman was "damaged goods."
It took many decades for rape to be defined as a violent crime against the victim. The World Health Organization defines rape as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration--even if slight--of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object." The FBI's definition, as of 2012, is "The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."
Rape is a crime of violence but this fact seems to have been lost on a group of Republican male legislators whose goal is to deny women victims access to abortion for any cause. Displaying ignorance of women's anatomy and science, and a stunning callousness toward rape victims, these legislators are more concerned about the rapist's sperm investment than the woman's violation. They downgrade the seriousness of rape by parsing "forcible rape," "legitimate rape," and pregnancy from rape as a gift of God. But rape is rape. There is no acceptable rape and no holy rape.
Most recently, Richard Mourdock, Indiana Republican running for the Senate, made the astounding statement that pregnancy resulting from rape is, "something God intended to happen . . . a gift from God." This statement is one of the most offensive remarks about rape I have ever heard. It implies a theory of divine rape. Mr. Murdock's view would open the door for a rapist to defend himself by arguing that he was just carrying out God's will.
Then there was Todd Akin, Republican congressman from Missouri, coining the term "legitimate rape," and displaying his ignorance of science by proclaiming that a woman's body could "shut down" pregnancy resulting from rape.
Murdock and Akin are extremists but they aren't alone. Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is on the record saying rape is just another method of conception and not a reason to allow abortion. About a dozen Republican Senate candidates oppose abortion for rape, incest or to protect the health of the mother. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
There are several things to note about these efforts to turn back the clock on rape victims. First, these men constitute an anti-abortion Mafia. Their extreme view on pregnancy from rape are part and parcel of a general war on women being waged primarily by Republican men. Secondly, they don't talk about rape as a violent crime. By their statements and the bills they sponsor, they are more interested in protecting a fertilized egg than in protecting women from rape. What they end up protecting is the rapist.
Every year in the United States, between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies result from rape. Mr. Akin needs some medical instruction about women's bodies. There is no mechanism for "shutting down" pregnancy from rape. Perhaps Mr. Akin is more familiar with the bodies of some female insects than with women's bodies. Female tenebrionid beetles of the species Pterostichus Lucublandus produce a kind of chemical mace that they use not only against predators but also against unwanted males. This spray is so disabling that even after the male cleans himself, he falls into a kind of coma for several hours, giving her time to get away. Of course, the female pays a price for this defense. Until she can resynthesize her supply of defensive spray, she is vulnerable to predators.
Women are vulnerable to predatory men. The worst predators currently are the male legislators who are passing laws and sponsoring bills that have the intent of controlling women's bodies and denying women autonomy over their reproductive biology. The remarks of Mourdock, Akin and Ryan display contempt for women and should be unacceptable to any sane person.
Hear more by listening to the podcast. Also see my book, Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, which has an entire chapter on how males across the animal kingdom try to subvert female choice.
Today's podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, presents Part II of the discussion about war as the culture of death for the human species, the environment and the planet. Unlike the Stone Age, when people hurled stones at each other and had no weapons of mass destruction nor any concept of a global ecosystem, violent conflict was a local head-bashing between neighboring tribes. Today's techno-warfare with remotely controlled drones, missiles and bombs threatens all life on Earth. Yet humans use these weapons as if they were living in the Stone Age, and that is the most dangerous aspect of warfare today. The humans who promote war as the only way to resolve conflicts, who substitute bombs for brains, are using Stone Age behavior with Space Age weapons. This disconnect between behavior and technology imperils the planet and the survival of the human species. Given the awesome destructive power of modern weapons, war should be declared obsolete by all nations on Earth.
Today on my podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, I'll be talking about war in the context of environmental degradation.
Imagine the puzzlement of intelligent beings from another planet as they approach Earth. Descending through Earth’s dense atmosphere, the ship’s sophisticated sensors whirr with incoming data. The readings are bizarre: millions of acres of land littered with explosive devices; landscapes pockmarked by bomb craters; radioactive materials polluting bodies of water both large and small; toxic chemicals poisoning soils; carbon dioxide clogging the air, building up heat around the planet. Incredibly, the planet appears to be a toxic waste dump. These intelligent aliens might well wonder what kind of crazed animal wreaks such damage on an otherwise beautiful planet, one that seems so suitable for life. They might be even more surprised to learn that the damage was and continues to be done by the species considered the most intelligent on Earth – Homo sapiens.
Why does a species with such a short lifespan spend so many of its precious years making life as miserable as possible, even hastening death for so many of its own kind? One might conclude that they are possessed by such a deep hatred for life that they are willing to attack and poison the only known planet that sustains and nourishes them.
Whatever the pathology in the wiring of some human brains – inexplicably those in the heads of men likely to be leaders of countries – it has invented a monstrous self-deception that war and national security are inseparably linked. In pursuit of this illusion, governments spend most of their economic and human resources manufacturing, selling and buying weapons of destruction that not only increase insecurity but threaten all life on the planet.. Back on October 28, 2002, the first observance of the International Day for Preventing Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said: “War not only causes human suffering. It can also be devastating to the environment. Long after peace has been restored, the negative environmental impacts of conflict often remain.”
War is hell on Earth. Environmental destruction is a strategy of war. There is hardly any environment on the planet that has not been scarred, scorched, poisoned, mined, radiated or otherwise brutalized by war. The world’s armed forces are the single biggest polluters of the planet. According to the Science for Peace Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada, 10 to 30 percent of all global environmental degradation is a direct result of military actions (Ref. 1). Eleven nuclear reactors and at least 50 nuclear warheads sit on the ocean floor. Mines and unexploded ordnance lie in wait in some 90 countries. According to the International Commission of the Red Cross, 100 million land mines are scattered around the world where they kill or maim between 1,000 and 2,000 people, mostly children, every month. After more than 23 years of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, its once dense forests and much of its farmland have been destroyed, and rare species of birds and mammals, such as snow leopards, gazelles, bears, and wolves, are endangered.
In Iraq, 12 years of U.S. invasion and occupation have left that country crippled, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, homes, schools, hospitals, electrical and sanitation systems destroyed, some some 2 to 4 million refugees, depending on whose figures you use. Iraquis’ air, soil, water, blood and gene pool have been contaminated with depleted uranium, resulting in birth defects and cancers. And the environment is littered with unexploded cluster bombs.
The Vietnam war has been called “an unprecedented assault on the environment.” Ten percent of southern Vietnam’s tropical forests, including one-third of its coastal mangroves were destroyed by herbicides. Mangroves play a vital role in coastal ecology and provide a rich source of food that sustains fish populations. Over the course of 13 years, from 1961 to 1974, Vietnam was repeatedly hit by cluster bomb units (CBUs), affectionately called “bomblets,” large bombs, napam, land mines, and toxic chemicals. The country’s soils, water systems, biological diversity, and even its climate were affected. During the course of the war, the United States admitted it dropped 72 million liters of chemicals on Vietnam, most of it Agent Orange. This highly toxic agent contained the most dangerous type of dioxin called TCDD, which stands for 2, 3, 7, 8 tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin. Known to cause almost every kind of cancer, TCDD spread throughout Vietnam’s drinking water and soils and entered the food chain. From there, the toxic chemical got into the blood of animals, including humans, where it entered the germ cells, subverted DNA, the basic molecule of life, and caused mutations – babies born with two heads, fingers and toes that drop off, strange limbs, and retarded growth. Both human and environmental effects will continue long into the future.
The most devastating assault on humanity, one that launched the horror of nuclear war, occurred in August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Watching the mushroom cloud boiling up from what had been a city filled with life, Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 airplane that dropped the bomb, wrote in his journal: “My God, what have we done?” The heat, air pressure, and radiation from the explosion made it seem as if a sun had exploded. Within seconds, people, buildings, plants, and all animal life within a 1.5-mile radius was vaporized. For months and years to come, people exposed to the radiation died – more than 140,000 by the end of 1945. An estimated total of 200,000 people are believed to have died as a result of the bomb.
Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this one on the city of Nagasaki. Approximately 70,000 people died by the end of 1945 as a result of this bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man.”
One might have thought that the horror, suffering, death, and devastation caused by these two bombs would have been enough for governments to take immediate action to outlaw such weapons. Instead, it triggered a nuclear arms build-up, known as the Cold War, between the United States and the former Soviet Union that continues to threaten the entire planet even though the Cold War has ended. The activities of producing these deadly weapons and the disposal of the waste by-products have created entire areas of the planet that are now radioactive.
Learn more on the podcast.
You may think you know some weirdos, possibly a few in your own family, but chances are, these eccentrics are colorless bores next to some of the bizarre types found in the nonhuman animal kingdom. It's hard to say which is numero uno, the panda with its five fingers and so-called pseudothumb, the changeable chameleon, whose lightning-fast tongue is almost twice as long as its body, or the tuatara, which has third eyelid in the top of its head and is the only survivor of a group of reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.
Weirdness, of course, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder--or, in the case of the tuatara, in the third eye of the beholdee. It all depends on who, or what, you are. Just as there are varying degrees of beauty, so are there different levels of weirdness. Some animals and humans merely look weird; others act weird; and some look at weird as they act or vice versa. These and other animal weirdos are the topic of my EXPLORING NATURE podcast for October 1, 2012. Air time: 2-2:30 PM, ET, or listen to archived show anytime.
Today's podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, deals with female mate choice in the context of evolutionary biology. In his book, Social Evolution, biologist Robert Trivers pointed out that female choice "is not just a matter of permitting sex." In biology, female choice means more than a female showing her preference for certain males. It means more than her selecting a male for his attractiveness, more than her being receptive to sex. For female choice to be meaningful in evolutionary terms, it must also be adaptive. Her decision must enable her to produce more offspring that are better adapted to survive than if she had mated randomly. You can listen to this fascinating episode on blogtalkradio:
The September 17, 2012 edition of my podcast, EXPLORING NATURE, explains why the anti-science attitudes in the U.S. are handicapping our students and threatening national security by graduating students who do not have the knowledge to cope with the world. Never has it been more important for children to have a sound science education yet we have one political party – the Republicans — and fundamentalist religious groups that oppose scientific facts and celebrate ignorance. These attitudes hark back to a pre-scientific era when superstition took precedence over evidence. Recent statements by politicians are mind-boggling in their stupidity. Yes, stupidity is the right word. We have Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape,” and his further fake science comment that the female body can shut down pregnancy that occurs by “legitimate rape.” There’s no evidence for anything he said. During the Republican primaries, Texas governor Rick Perry dismissed evolution as “just a theory” that has “some gaps in it.” Evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences. It’s as firmly established as gravity. Media interviewers sometimes ask politicians whether they believe in evolution. But evolution isn’t a belief. It’s a firmly established fact of life on Earth. Would anybody ask whether one believes in gravity? This dangerous opposition to the teaching of evolution and the attempt to teach creationism in the science classroom confuses religion with science and leaves children uneducated in the basic science of life. Science and religion are two completely different things. Religion is faith-based. Science is evidence-based. Let’s just review what science is. Simply, science is the best system we have for gaining knowledge using observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena. The experimental method is a technique for obtaining knowledge about humans and their physical environment. Applying the experimental method involves several steps. The initial step is seeing and stating a problem in the form of a question. Then all the information that might have anything to do with the problem is used to set up hypotheses, or possible explanations. These hypotheses are tested, not once but many times. If none of the hypotheses solve the problem, alternatives are sought. In sum, the experimental method is a tool for finding, testing, and choosing among alternative solutions to physical or social problems. In this way, the method enables people to use chance, rather than be victimized by it, and to use their minds in solving problems, perhaps to a degree as yet unimagined. The significance of the experimental method is that it is a controlled way of knowing. Older ideas suggested knowledge could be obtained by psychological means—intense belief or feeling—and that such knowledge was absolute or unalterable. Such a theory of certainty acted as a strait jacket on the mind by precluding fresh inquiries and making some subjects off-limits for investigation. Experimental science’s great contribution to human development was in challenging the theory of absolute truth. According to experimental science, reality simply did not support such a theory of sbsolute truth. Nature, including human nature, constantly changes. Why shouldn’t our methods of obtaining knowledge relate to what is happening? Why should a person’s word or feelings be accepted as proof? To be useful, knowledge should be available to more than one person, and it should correspond to physical reality. Knowledge, therefore, needed a more substantial basis than a person’s word or feeling; it needed concrete, demonstrable evidence. And humans needed a way to determine when a theory could be accepted as knowledge. Controlled testing was the solution. Controlled testing is a way of placing limits on an experiment for the purpose of demonstrating whether a hypothesis corresponds to physical reality. Problems are composed of many little parts, any one of which might be significant. To reduce the risk of leaving out something that might be important, a scientist tests these parts—called variables—one by one. For example, in investigating whether humans could travel to the moon, scientists first analyzed the problem into its many components: what was the moon’s atmosphere? Its soil? What kind of clothes did space travelers need? What type of landing craft was required? How much power was needed to launch the spacecraft and, send it to the moon and then return to Earth? Had scientist tried to devise one test which would answer the large question, they might have left out something of life-saving importance. As the experimental method began to be used, subjects previously forbidden to science, such as human anatomy, were investigated. Old theories which had been accepted without question for centuries—that the Earth was flat, that the the sun revolved about the Earth, that disease caused germs rather than the other way around--were disproved after instruments were invented to observe and measure such characteristics and relationships. Some people hated to see a cherished theory disproved, and they resisted the new methods of experimental science with arguments, violence, and even with laws that censored or banned ideas which questioned the views of the people in power. Sound familiar? This is where we are right now, as the anti-science crowd tries to take us backwards by opposing the teaching of evolution and by declaring climate change a hoax despite decades of evidence to the contrary. Again I’ll go back to Texas governor Perry because he’s such a clear example of willful ignorance. Governor Perry made the astounding statement that “a substantial number of scientists . . . have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate change.” This statement is not only ignorant; it’s a lie. Decades of data support the fact that global warming, caused by human activity, is occurring at a rapidly accelerating rate. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 97 to 98 percent of researchers studying climate say that the evidence for climate change is getting stronger, not weaker. The current support for ignorance on the part of Republicans and fundamentalists make me think of the situation Galileo faced in the 1600s when he reported his observations and measurements that the sun–not the Earth--was the center of our solar system. The religion-driven opposition to a heliocentric universe was so strong that in 1633 Galileo was tried by the Roman inquisition, found guilty of heresy, and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Superstition, refusal to accept evidence, holds back the pursuit of knowledge. In our own time, we are seeing a devastating effect on science education in state after state that bans the teaching or evolution or distorts science education by confusing it with religion. Anti-science is shortsighted and can only weaken our national security by failing to give children the education they need to confront our highly technological world.
Every Monday I host a podcast called EXPLORING NATURE. Each show takes listeners into unusual, sometimes bizarre, hidden worlds of animals and plants. A lot of human behavior, sometimes political, sometimes romantic, is sprinkled in. Air time is Monday, 2-2:30 PM, ET. All shows are archived and can be heard anytime. Show topic for Monday, September 10, 2012, is confidence of paternity, which it means, and tactics both human and nonhuman males use to ensure confidence of paternity. Men's tactics to control women and ensure confidence of paternity take some of the most brutal forms found in nature. Here's the link to the upcoming show: I encourage listeners to call in with questions or comments. Thanks for listening.
Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said it loud and clear: voter suppression is “treasonous”!
Of course, you won’t hear Republican legislators calling these treasonous laws -- there are 150 of them in 37 states -- voter suppression. They’re about “election integrity” and “protecting” the election process from voter fraud. But the real fraud is these laws, and fraud stinks. “Election integrity” is a sham, a lie invented to cover up these laws’ real purpose – preventing certain Americans from exercising their right to vote.
You have to understand, these fraudulent laws don’t target just anybody. They’re highly selective, aimed at people that traditionally vote Democratic: the elderly, the young, and minorities. Red Robbin’ has replaced Jim Crow. Instead of a poll tax, these laws intimidate, discourage and block voters by requiring a government-issued photo ID, which can be difficult and costly to obtain. Other voter-extermination tactics include shortening the early voting period and making it difficult if not impossible for third-party organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register voters. Some states have even reduced the operating hours or closed offices where residents can obtain photo ID.
Once again, Florida is ground zero for fraudulently disenfranchising voters. The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state, charging that its voter purge program, which would disenfranchise up to 180,000 voters, violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Virginia’s in on the act, too. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law legislation that will make it harder for thousands of Virginians to exercise their right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice. Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) called the act “an affront to Virginians and the Constitution.”
But who cares? Republican Senator Mitch McConnell set the stage for this antidemocratic drama: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he said in an interview with the National Journal’s Major Garrett on October 29, 2010. Republicans have ruthlessly pursued that agenda since President Obama took office. Turning their backs on governing and the people who elected them, Republicans have blocked, stalled, obstructed and killed all the bills that President Obama initiated to create jobs and help the American people. Now, with voter suppression measures, they are out to kill American democracy. This is not only treasonous, it also amounts to what former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls a “quiet, slow-motion coup d’etat.” Voters are the only check on this coup. Bankrupt of ideas, candidates, and proposals to help anybody except millionaires and billionaires, Republicans are out to overthrow democracy itself. If they win, America will become a fascist, corporate country controlled by an extremely wealthy elite riding on the backs of the middle class and the poor. It would, as former President Bill Clinton said, be “calamitous for our country and the world.” It’s up to we the people to prevent the stink of a fraudulent election.
Since my last posting, I've done a couple new interviews with some terrific interviewers.
Yesterday (April 16) I was on Flora Brown's wonderful podcast, COLOR MY LIFE HAPPY. We had a good time talking about the sex lives of animals and plants from my new eBook, HOW TO HAVE SEX IF YOU'RE NOT HUMAN. The show is archived and you can listen anytime.
On April 11th, I was on SUSAN RICH TALKS: LOVE AND LIFESTYLE, talking about my favorite subjects -- animal mating habits and the role of female mate choice in evolution, from my book SEXUAL STRATEGIES: HOW FEMALES CHOOSE THEIR MATES. This show is also archived and you can listen at your convenience.
My podcasts, EXPLORING NATURE WITH MARY BATTEN, are also archived. On yesterday's podcast, I talked about trickery in nature. I'll present part II of this fascinating topic next Monday, April 23rd. Tune in.
I just did a fun interview about my eBook, HOW TO HAVE SEX IF YOU'RE NOT HUMAN, on the Radio Show, SUSAN RICH TALKS: Love and Lifestyle. Susan Rich and Annemarie Schuetz were great interviewers and we had a fun time talking about mating behavior across the animal kingdom, including humans. Also had a chance to plug my book SEXUAL STRATEGIES: HOW FEMALES CHOOSE THEIR MATES. The show is archived, so you can listen by clicking on the show link.
I'm climbing the marketing curve--the toughest challenge for an author. At least, it is for me. I've learned a lot from David Hancock, author of "Guerrilla Marketing." I was fortunate to catch David's workshop on this subject at the Christopher Newport Writers Conference last February.
My interview on the Authors Show will be online for 48 hours, April 9-10. I'll be talking about my book, SEXUAL STRATEGIES: HOW FEMALES CHOOSE THEIR MATES. Here's link to show: http://www.wnbnetworkwest.com/WnbAuthorsShow1.html
This link should take you directly to the Nonfiction page, but if it doesn't just click on Nonfiction.
Tomorrow, April 9th, will be the fifth installment of my podcast, EXPLORING NATURE WITH MARY BATTEN. Show will be live from 2 to 2:30 ET. I welcome callers. If you miss the live time slot, you can listen to the archived edition.
It’s really very simple: Anybody who opposes reproductive health services for women is unfit to hold public office in this country. Period.
These people—they are mostly Republican men, but some Democrats are also in league with them—will not admit they really hate women, but that is the only way I can read their relentless assault on reproductive choice. By their actions, they reveal a deep-seated hatred of and contempt for women.
Why else would men campaign so fiercely against clinics, such as those of Planned Parenthood, that provide a range of health services, including STD testing for men as well as women, breast cancer screening, birth-control information, pregnancy counseling and abortions?
The precedents for these efforts to control and subjugate women date back to the pre-scientific era when superstition reigned and hysterical mobs burned women who provided birth-control information as witches. Yes, there are present-day precedents, too—most notably the Taliban, whose members forbid girls to go to school and publicly stone women accused of adultery.
In the Republicans’ vicious assault on women’s health, which has been going on since Reagan’s administration, Republicans reveal themselves as right-wing zealots attempting to impose certain religious views on everyone—men as well as women.
Catholic bishops, too, are overstepping our Constitutional separation of church and state by, most recently, lobbying for a loophole in health care that would allow doctors or nurses to refuse, for religious reasons, to perform abortions, even to save a woman’s life. Besides violating separation of church and state, this position is extremely dangerous. The same argument could be made to withhold antibiotics or cancer treatment or any other life-saving medical procedure because of religious belief.
There’s a vast difference between belief and science; the former relies on faith, the latter on evidence. There’s also the gross hypocrisy of the position. The bishops’ vow of celibacy hasn’t precluded sexually abusing children and then covering it up. How dare these men, who know nothing of pregnancy, birth and child-rearing, issue dogmatic proclamations about women’s reproductive choices? This form of theological bullying is unacceptable.
During these past two years, the Republican assault on women’s health has accelerated—bills to prevent women from buying their own private health insurance to cover abortion; attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and close clinics that provide a range of reproductive health services to women; bills that would define a fertilized egg as a “person”; bills to spread ignorance and misinform women about abortion; bills to spread anti-woman poison throughout the world by cutting funds to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, the world’s foremost agency for family planning services.
In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s New Year’s gift to women was to sign the Board of Health’s so-called “emergency” regulations for abortion clinics. These medically unnecessary regulations require women’s health clinics to meet the same strict building standards as new hospital construction. Although the governor proclaims the regulations will protect women’s health, they will do just the opposite by making reproductive health services inaccessible to women. Ultimately, McDonnell and his Republican colleagues’ intent is to close abortion clinics, making it impossible for Virginia women to obtain medically safe abortions in the state.
Finally, there is the blatant hypocrisy of the right-wing zealots who decry the intrusion of big government everywhere but a woman’s uterus. It’s okay for women’s bodies to become state commodities, controlled like agricultural crops.
We have seen during these past two years, a Republican party that celebrates ignorance, rejects science, embraces superstition, and wages w
An alarming study of children's books appears in the Miller-McCune newsletter. The study, carried out by sociologist J. Allen Williams, Jr., at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that "Natural environments have all but disappeared" in children's books. This does not bode well for children's education and is particularly disturbing at a time when the leadership in one political party--Republicans--are anti-science. Without exposure to nature and books about the natural world, children will lack understanding of our ecosystem, humans' place in the animal kingdom, and our responsibility to protect and care for our planet. I view this as a dangerous trend.
By: Mary Batten
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It began with John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. The choice of this incompetent, unqualified, inexperienced, and stupid person as a vice presidential candidate called McCain’s judgment into serious question. Had the old war hero turned senile? How could he have put such a person a heartbeat from the Presidency? The mere thought of Palin in the White House was frightening. But McCain’s choice was far more than a scare—it insulted America and unleashed a wave of violence and racism that continues.
Never forget the crosshairs map Palin posted on her Facebook page. She urged her Twitter followers, “Don’t retreat, reload.” Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ face was in one of the crosshairs. On January 8, 2011, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head outside a Tucson Safeway supermarket. Fortunately she survived and is making a remarkable recovery. But America is still coping with the incivility and insults initiated by Palin and taken up by the Tea Party and Congressional Republicans.
The insults continued after President Obama was elected and took office. With exhortations to “take back our country,” the Tea Party, overwhelmingly made up of whites, spread its unsubtle racist message. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that “take back our country” meant take it back from the black guy who’s President.
Four days before the President was inaugurated, the tone was set by radio talk show bloviator Rush Limbaugh. On January 16, 2010, Linbaugh said, “I hope Obama fails.”
During the President’s first term, Congressional Republicans took up Limbaugh’s mantra, deciding to do everything in their power to destroy the Obama presidency by holding up, blocking, weakening, misrepresenting, and voting against everything the President and Democrats wanted to accomplish.
Republican senator Mitch McConnell stated the Republicans’ position quite clearly: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” McConnell told Major Garrett in an interview published in the National Review in October 2010. A month later, in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, he repeated his position: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” In another time, such a call of opposition to a sitting President would have been considered treason. But over the past two years, Republicans have, like obedient little soldiers, followed McConnell’s marching orders, turning their backs on their country and the people who elected them and abandoning their responsibility to participate in government.
Despite repeated attempts by the President to work in a bipartisan fashion, Republicans refused, becoming the “Party of No.” No to health care for all Americans. No to the President’s job creation bill. No to restoring regulations of the banks whose fraudulent practices caused the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. No to repealing the Bush tax cuts that added billions of dollars to the deficit. No to taxing millionaires and billionaires so they pay their fair share. Last summer, Republicans’ political brinksmanship with the debt ceiling resulted in the first downgrade in the national credit rating in U.S. history. In carrying out Rush Limbaugh and Mitch McConnell’s dictum to bring about failure of the Obama administration, Republicans have made Congress dysfunctional and the economic recovery slower than it might have been had they spent more time working with the President instead of working against him. That President Obama has been able to accomplish so much despite Republicans’ intransigence is a tribute to his political skill, patience and intelligence.
Now we come to this election year and the line-up of potential Republican presidential candidates who are as insultingly unqualified as Sarah Palin. All celebr
I've climbed the iMovie learning curve and created my first book trailer for my eBook, HOW TO HAVE SEX IF YOU'RE NOT HUMAN! Let's hear the cheers. Of course, I'm lucky to have an in-house composer -- my husband Ed Bland!
You can watch it on YouTube.
In case this link doesn't work, please paste the following into your browser:
Today I launched my new radio show, EXPLORING NATURE WITH MARY BATTEN, on BlogTalkRadio. Each Monday at 2 PM Eastern Daylight Savings Time, I'll talk about hidden aspects of the natural world drawn from my eBook, HOW TO HAVE SEX IF YOU'RE NOT HUMAN. The shows are archived. You can listen at: BlogTalkRadio
I'm honored to be featured in Sylvia Browder's wonderful blog for women authors.
Check it out: http://sylviabrowder.com/featured/mary-batten.html/
By: Mary Batten
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It’s easy to understand misogynist Republican men if you view them in the context of the animal kingdom. Males, from fruit flies to men, have an anatomical limitation. They cannot produce eggs, and if they’re mammals like us, they cannot get pregnant or give birth. Their only contribution to reproduction is sperm. And sperm must leave a male’s body in order to fertilize an egg. This means that in the act of mating, males lose control of their most precious biological possession, their sperm. Once sperm leave a male’s body, they are under the control of the female. She can eject them, kill them, block them or allow them to fertilize her eggs. Females are scary creatures!
Among waterfowl, where rape is common, females have evolved vaginas with dead-end sacs, a kind of internal burial ground for an unwanted male’s sperm.
The only way males can try to control their sperm investment is by controlling the recipients—females! And males—insects to humans—do anything and everything they can to exert control and subvert female choice. (Of course there are many wonderful liberated men who think with their brains instead of the instrument below their belt, but those who want to make women’s bodies property of the state are not among them.)
Subversion tactics are seen most clearly in insects. Female insects mate with several males and store sperm in their sperm-storage chamber. Scientists have discovered that female choice goes on internally in the female’s reproductive tract. It is within the changing climate of this internal environment that hidden or “cryptic” female choice takes place, perhaps at the level of the ovum itself, in determining which sperm of which male, if any, will be allowed to penetrate the egg’s membrane to achieve fertilization. Such internal female choice may be going on in women, too!
So males across species engage in sperm competition and mate guarding to ensure that only their sperm fertilize their mate’s eggs and sire her offspring. Among insects, some bizarre tactics for ensuring confidence of paternity have evolved.
One tactic is the copulatory plug, a gluey substance secreted by the male to block the female’s genital opening, preventing a rival’s sperm from getting inside. The male damselfly has a kind of scooper on the end of his penis that he uses to scoop out previously deposited sperm before mating with a female. Some male fruit flies inject toxic semen, which thwarts rivals but also hastens the female’s death.
Men don’t use genital glue or sperm scoopers but they do use religion, laws and politics to achieve the same end – controlling women’s reproductive biology. The use of mutilating genital surgery in some 28 countries of Africa and the Middle East wounds about three million young girls every year. The current profusion of ultrasound and “personhood” bills being passed by Republican male legislators across the U.S. are the human equivalent of insects’ copulatory plugs. These men are probably no more aware they are acting out such a primitive biological scenario than are insect males. They are caught up in a form of mass hysteria reminiscent of medieval witch hunts and persecution of women. Indeed, the attempt to vilify Planned Parenthood is similar to medieval persecution of women who gave advice on preventing births.
If the current misogynist movement led by Republican men were not so dangerous and harmful to women and our entire society, it would make an interesting anthropological field study. It’s unprecedented in U.S. history, to see males, primarily in one major political party, using the legal process and available medical technology to turn back the clock, prevent access to, and even ban medical advances that benefit men as well as women. Yes, many women accept their subjugation and support these efforts. But would they if they understood that from a biological perspective, these men are acting as brainless as beetles? With this difference: Male insects are ou