Strap In; We’re Going To Talk About Privilege…Again

stupidflag

Voltaire said that anything too stupid to be said is sung (or maybe it was Pierre de Beaumarchais).  I say that anything too stupid to be said or sung is put into a meme.

Take this meme, for example.  For centuries to come, experts on memes – memeologists, if you prefer – will debate about how the author could cram so much stupidity into such a small space.  How could anyone believe that white, straight, Republican, Southern gun owners have fewer freedoms than people from other demographics?

You know what this meme is really about?  Privilege.

Whoa, hey, don’t leave!  Okay, I know you’re sick to death of hearing about privilege, particularly if you have any.  But that’s one of the benefits of privilege: you can be tired of hearing about it.  You can pretend it doesn’t apply to you, or that it doesn’t even exist. (You’d be wrong, but you can pretend.)  That’s a luxury afforded only to people that have privilege.  Underprivileged people are achingly aware of the privilege that others have.  It must be the highest form of insult to an underprivileged person when somebody whom the nation bends over backwards to appease claims to be disenfranchised.

I’ve already given a name to this particular syndrome: Perceived Reverse Victimization.  I wrote about it here and here.  PRV happens when a person with privilege and power is asked to stop being such a jerk to the underprivileged, and in response, the privileged person plays the victim card.  The only right these people have lost in recent history is the right to visit unfettered abuse upon others.  If you ask me – and most other people, I think – that’s a right no one should have, but it’s the only right people with PRV can legitimately claim to have lost.  That makes this meme not only stupid, but despicable as well.  When you get down to brass tacks, this meme is essentially saying “I sure do miss the days when people who look and think like me could trample the rights of people who don’t.”

Let me be clear: white, straight, Republican, Southern gun owners are not currently being treated like second-class citizens, nor have they been at any time in recent history.  They are still near the top of the social heap.  Let’s take a few moments to look at these five (often overlapping) demographics, to assess each group’s privilege, and to consider what may have happened in recent months to make them feel (incorrectly) as if their rights are being curtailed.

White people enjoy a range of privileges so broad that when most people think of privilege, they’re thinking specifically of white privilege.  I’ve discussed white privilege before, and so have a lot of other people.  Being white ensures that you will always enjoy certain privileges, even if you don’t ask for them.  For example, when Dylann Roof was labeled a terrorist in the media for murdering nine black people during a bible study, did you hear anybody implying that all white people are terrorists?  Probably not.  But what if he had been a Middle Eastern Muslim?  The fact that Roof’s actions are not being viewed as representative of the entire white race is just one example of white privilege – a privilege that other ethnic groups are seldom afforded.

If you are white – as I am – that’s not your fault.  You didn’t ask to be born white, so you may be thinking that the unbalanced social treatment of various ethnic groups is not your responsibility.  But it is your responsibility to be aware of your privilege, and to avoid saying things as daft as “white people are not free to live as they wish”.

What could make some white people feel as if they were losing rights?  Honestly, I have no idea.  To the best of my knowledge, no laws have been implemented that unfairly diminish the rights of white people.  By any measure of legal, economic, or social privilege, white people as a group have it made.  Let’s move on.

Straight people enjoy nearly as much privilege as white people.  This is especially true if you happen to be straight and cis-gendered.  (Cis-gendered means that your gender identity and your biological sex are congruent; in other words, if you were born with a penis, you identify as a man, and if you were born with a vagina, you identify as a woman.  While sexuality and gender identity are separate aspects of a person’s self, they can play similar roles in determining how much – or how little – social privilege a person enjoys.)

If you are a heterosexual person living in the United States – particularly since Loving v. Virginia in 1967 – you have never had to worry that your state government wouldn’t permit you to marry somebody you love.  Gay people have only recently gained that right, and there are still state officials pushing back against it.  If you’re straight, you’ve probably never experienced the humiliation of being lectured by overzealous pastors about how your “lifestyle choice” is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.  When you showed up at prom with your date, your school officials did not tell you that you could not enter.  You’ve never had to worry about being brutally murdered because of your sexuality.

The recent Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriages legal across the land has certainly offended many people. (A less genteel blogger might call these people “bigots” or “homophobes”, but I try to hold myself to a higher standard.)  Is being offended the same as being stripped of your rights?  This meme seems to suggest that it is.  I contend that it is not.  If you are straight, you’ve got the same amount of rights that you have always had.  You are simply asked not to deprive others of the privileges you enjoy.

Republicans have the same rights as Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and any other political party.  In fact, Republicans currently control both houses of Congress and many, many state legislatures, which makes this particular claim especially ludicrous.  Republicans’ rights aren’t going away anytime soon.

Why would somebody think that Republicans’ rights are being shorn away?  Oh right, because a person who occupies all five points of the American star of privilege – a great percentage of whom have Republican sympathies – is also the most likely to deny that he has any privilege at all.

Gun owners have gained rights, thanks to the tireless efforts of the NRA (No Regulations Anywhere) and other gun rights lobbying groups.  Contrary to the conservative-fueled paranoid fantasies of some gun owners, President Obama and his evil cronies have not seized guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens; in fact, many states have eased restrictions on gun ownership.  Every time a mass shooting occurs, reasonable suggestions regarding gun regulations are shouted down by people who fear that they will lose their completely necessary and not at all excessive private arsenal.

Look, I don’t care if you own a gun or two – I actually do feel that it’s your right.  I also feel that there should be ample documentation about exactly what kind of guns you own and where they’re located.  While most guns will not be used in the commission of a crime, it would be nice if there existed a national database by which the guns that were used could be tracked more easily.  I know that scares some gun owners – particularly because they’ve swallowed the aforementioned nonsense about having their guns taken away – but it’s time to put aside those irrational fears and dedicate yourself to creating a safer America.  If you won’t give up your guns – and believe me, nobody with any power is asking you to do so – then at least acknowledge their destructive power and fill out a few documents.

And for crying out loud, stop claiming that your rights are being erased.  You sound ridiculous.

Southerners – oh, poor, poor, Southerners; we’ve been lied to.  Not by the Northern Aggressors, but by our fellow Southerners.  We’ve been sold an image of the Confederacy as a nation of men with noble purposes and a longing to breathe free – not as slavers hell-bent on protecting their rights to own other people.  We’ve been told that the Confederate flag – which should be a long-dead relic of a flawed philosophy – is actually a symbol of Southern pride.  We’ve been told that we are in danger of losing our rights if state legislatures finally acknowledge the Confederate flag as the symbol of hate it always has been, and take the overdue step of removing it.  We’ve been told that the decisions of private enterprises to not sell Confederate flag merchandise is somehow a violation of our personal rights as citizens.  We’ve been told that we’re the victims of censorship.

We’ve been fed a load of racist bullshit, and too many of us are swallowing it without hesitation.

I’ve lived south of the Mason-Dixon line my entire life, but I’ve never really felt like a Southerner; just an American.  Perhaps that’s why I don’t quite get this feeling of Southern Victimization.  At no point have I felt that I wasn’t enjoying the maximum amount of rights bestowed to any American citizen.  I’ve never bought into the premise that I personally suffered because of where I was born and raised.

If America lived up to its own ideals of justice and equality for all, then this meme would be, say, 50% less odious; it would still be stupid, but not necessarily hateful.  But the fact that there are still people in this nation struggling to make their voices heard above the din of a social machine telling them to know their place, makes it especially arrogant for those of us blessed with privilege to claim otherwise.

Confederate Controversy Confusion

Confederate Flag 1Confederate Flag 2

On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old man named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-American worshipers during a Bible Study at the historically-important Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  According to Roof’s own statements, the mass shooting was racially motivated; in fact, Roof apparently wanted to start a race war.

That Dylann Roof’s actions were motivated by racist bigotry should not be controversial – he told us so in unambiguous language – although, institutional racism being what it is, there are still media elements scrambling to repaint his actions as the symptoms of mental illness.  There are other aspects of the case up for debate, however.  Dylann Roof’s website contains pictures of Roof posing with a Confederate flag – much more on this in a moment – the flag often identified with the rebellion that led to the American Civil War.  The surfacing of Roof’s apparent Confederate sympathies has re-ignited a fierce debate about the lingering presence of Confederate flags in America, especially on government property.

Now before we continue, I would like to make one thing clear: take a look at the right-hand flag in the second meme above.  You’ll hear a lot of people referring to that flag as the Confederate flag, but it was never the official national flag of the Confederate States of America.  The rectangular flag sporting a blue St. Andrew’s Cross emblazoned with white stars, set against a red background, is more reminiscent of the the Second Confederate Navy Jack, used from 1863 to 1865, or the Army of Tennessee Battle Flag.  The Army of Northern Virginia used a similar battle flag, but it was square rather than rectangular.  YouTuber C.G.P. Grey has a video sorting out some of the confusion surrounding the various Confederate flags.

Still, for all the various flags that flew above the government and the armies of the Confederacy, the so-called rebel flag is what most people think of when one says Confederate flag.  Please, spare me the pedantic comments .  I know, okay?  I know.

As of this post, the Confederate battle flag still flies above government property in several states, including monuments to Confederate soldiers.  The horrific murders at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, and Dylann Roof’s connection to the flag have caused many people to question why state governments are still displaying a symbol that, to many, represents racial hatred and slavery.  Defenders of the flag say that it’s not about hatred, but about Southern pride and heritage.  People who just wish the issue would go away complain about their free speech rights being trampled upon.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the historical revisionists who insist that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery anyway and who want to know why everybody’s getting so upset about it.

I thought it would be helpful – nay, necessary – to take a look at the claims being made or implied by these memes.

  • Claim: Dylann Roof is crazy.

It seems like an open-and-shut case: anybody who would brutally murder nine innocent people must be absolutely crazy; what else could you say about him?  To tell the truth, I don’t buy it.  Crazy is a hard word to define, and even harder to apply to a person.  I submit that the only disease in Dylann Roof’s mind was intense racial hatred.

  • Claim: The Confederate flag is being banned.

This is false.  The word banned implies that you do not have a choice about whether to fly a Confederate flag on your porch, or to adorn your mud-splattered pickup truck with a Confederate flag bumper sticker.  You still have a choice.  You can still get a Confederate flag tattoo on your forehead, and you can still wear your Confederate flag swim trunks.  Nobody is telling you that you cannot adorn every square inch of your body, vehicle, and home with Confederate flags.  You probably shouldn’t do that, but you can if you want to.  Your choice.

(Just so you’re aware: if you do walk around wearing a Confederate flag tee-shirt, other people have the choice to think of you as a racist douchebag.  Freedom all around, right?)

Here’s what’s really happening, alarmist meme maker.  Several state governments are considering voluntarily removing Confederate flags from government property.  They’re doing this because they realize the flag has a long connection with slavery and racism, and it’s upsetting to many of the people they claim to represent.  In an effort to be more inclusive and representative of all Americans, these states are choosing to distance themselves from the flag and its history.

The word banned might be used in connection with many retailers’ decision to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.  In that sense, corporate headquarters are banning their outlets from selling the flag.  But the flag itself is not banned in America.  That’s an important distinction to make.

  • Claim: Stomping on the American flag shouldn’t be protected speech (or the legality of stomping on the American flag is somehow connected to state governments’ decisions about flying the Confederate flag).

I guess this is a matter of opinion.  I personally have no desire to stomp on the flag, but like Evelyn Beatrice Hall, I feel very strongly that you should have the right.  People who conflate these two issues are missing the point.  Which leads me to my next quibble…

  • Claim: This is a free speech issue.

No it isn’t.  Once again, nobody is saying that you cannot make, purchase, own, or fly a Confederate flag in any of the fifty states.  Your personal rights to expression are not being infringed upon if South Carolina finally decides to pull down the Confederate flag that flies above the State Capitol grounds.  If Wal-Mart will not sell you a Confederate flag suspender thong, I’m sure you can find somebody who will.  Your life will continue, your rights unimpeded, just as before.

Of course, these aren’t the only erroneous claims made during the recent Confederate flag controversy.  If I may, I’d like to address a few other misconceptions you may have encountered in social media or at family gatherings.

  • Claim: The Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride, not racism.  Also, the Civil War was about states’ rights and high taxes; it was never about slavery until Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Regardless of the fact that some Southerners have adopted the Confederate flag as a symbol of pride, the claim that it’s not also a racist symbol has never been true.  By its own admission, the Confederacy seceded from the Union in order to protect the institution of slavery.  The CSA committed itself from the outset to the idea that black people were inferior to white people, and that their “natural and normal condition” was to be enslaved to whites.  The Confederate battle flag waved over the army of a nation that considered slavery a “positive good“.

After the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag saw little use until it was resurrected in the 1940’s by a political party that strongly opposed desegregation.  Remind me again how it’s not a racist symbol?

The Tattooed Professor provides tons of links that brilliantly destroy Southern apologists’ arguments about the Civil War, slavery, and hate.  He also demonstrates the futility of engaging said apologists in debate.  If you have a friend or family member who peppers their Facebook wall with pro-Confederate memes, you might direct him to that post.  Don’t expect it to convince him, but at least you’ve introduced him to the truth.

  • Claim: The United States flag flew over a slave-holding nation much longer than the Confederate flag did, but you don’t see people clamoring to take that down.

Well, some people are.  But that’s not the point.

Yes it’s true: the United States of America has committed some horrible atrocities beneath the Stars and Stripes, including a prolonged period of racist slavery.  But while the Confederacy fought and died in defense of that peculiar institution, the United States as a nation matured and moved on.  The CSA is extinct; a testament to a failed philosophy based on racism and hatred.  The United States, for all its warts, lives on.  We’re not perfect – we never have been – but I think we’re trying to be.  Removing a symbol of racism and oppression from all government property would be a good step toward showing we’re committed to never returning to that dark past.

  • Claim: Northerners and black people owned slaves too, you know.

And now they don’t, at least in the United States.  How is this justification for the continued presence of the Confederate flag on government property?

  • Claim: Lincoln started the Civil War and blah blah blah I want the southern states to be justified in everything they’ve ever done: before, during, and after the Civil War.

Yeah, good luck with that.  The rest of us, including your more enlightened Southern peers, will continue to move forward without you.


 

I’ve discovered this website called Twitter.  I don’t know, it probably won’t take off.  Anyway, I’ve created an account there called @stupidbadmemes.  I have no idea what I’ll use it for, but if you’d like to find out along with me, feel free to check me out over there.

This Meme Is Pretending To Be Clever (But It’s Actually Stupid)

Caitlyn v Dolezal

This past week was a perfect storm for idiotic memes. The bizarre case of Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane, Washington, NAACP President, exploded into public view, providing fodder for stand-up comics and provoking conversation about racial identity.  It was inevitable that somebody would make the connection between Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner, who inspired similar discussions about gender identity, but the truth is that these are separate stories, and deserve to be evaluated through separate lenses.

On a much darker note, the recent murders in Charleston, South Carolina, wrought a slew of memes addressing (and usually butchering) such sensitive topics as race relations, gun control, and mental illness.  In order to avoid belittling the severity of that horrific event, I’ll address some of those memes in a separate post.

Now I feel that there’s a grain of truth to this meme, but only a grain.  Public sentiment has been, on average, much kinder to Caitlyn Jenner than it has been to Rachel Dolezal.  This meme’s sin is suggesting that the two stories are, in essence, identical, and that the varied response from the public smacks of a double standard.

That’s utter nonsense.  The Caitlyn Jenner story is very different from the Rachel Dolezal story, although I suppose the kind of person who would share this meme isn’t interested in subtle yet important distinctions. Still, let’s take a look at what makes these women so different.

You’ll remember Caitlyn Jenner as the transgender woman – formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Olympic star athlete – who revealed her new look and name on a Vanity Fair cover last month.  For anybody still struggling with the concept, here’s what it means to be a transgender woman:

  • You were born male – that is, having XY chromosomes and male sexual organs, but
  • You more strongly identify with the female gender, so
  • You might undertake certain steps, ranging from hormone therapy to gender reassignment surgery, to come more in line with how you’ve always felt (and of course you don’t have to do any of these).

For the sake of completeness, here’s what it doesn’t mean to be a transgender woman:

  • Transgender women are not mentally ill – although the stress of having to hide their gender identity from their unaccepting peers can lead to mental illnesses like depression.
  • Transgender women are not necessarily gay; they may be into men, women, both, or they may have no particular sexual interest at all.

If you meet a transgender person – male or female – it’s considered polite to refer to that person using the pronouns of his or her adopted gender.  So in the case of Caitlyn Jenner, you should say she and her.  And in case you’re wondering why you have to say she when referring to Caitlyn Jenner, it’s because she wants you to.  How about you not be a dick about it?

Now about this meme: Is Caitlyn Jenner pretending to be a woman?  Well…no.  Caitlyn Jenner self-identifies as a woman.  The way I see it, there’s a real distinction between pretending and self-identifying.  When you pretend, you know that you’re not really the thing you’re pretending to be.  For example, I can pretend to be a police officer, or an astronaut, or a doctor, but I don’t really feel like any of those things.  I can even pretend to be a woman, but I would just be pretending because I am a cisgendered male; that is, I’m quite comfortable being the gender I was given at birth.  Lucky me.  But what if I really did feel like a woman?  What if I knew I wasn’t right as a male, despite what I saw between my legs?  See, Caitlyn Jenner isn’t pretending to be a woman; she’s finally decided to stop pretending that she’s a cis male.

For most people, sex is a binary situation: you are either male (XY) or female (XX).  Gender is not binary, however; it’s a gradient.  There is a whole spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations.  By the way, this spectrum has always existed.  It’s not that we’re inventing new ways for people to be genderqueer to irritate conservatives, it’s just that we’re finally recognizing what has always been part of the human condition.  Well, some of us are.  Anyway…

What can we say about Rachel Dolezal?  Is she pretending to be black?  That’s a much trickier question, isn’t it?

Unlike sex, ethnicity is a genetic gradient.  The metrics we use to identify a person’s ethnicity – skin color, facial features, hair characteristics, etc – are really present in a wide array of beautiful variation among the human population.  It is only socially that we try to divide race into distinct categories.  What’s the difference between a white woman and a black woman?  Genetically, not much at all.  Socially – everything.

Is it possible to be transracial, in the same way that a person might be transgender?  Could a person be born to white parents and raised as white, yet always have the feeling that he or she more strongly identified as black (or Asian, or Native American, etc)?

In a sense, I think that this is possible, although the issue is frought with thorny ethical questions.  A white person transitioning to an identity as a non-white person might be accused of cultural appropriation; that is, adopting the characteristics and mannerisms of a race that has been historically oppressed.  A non-white person identifying as white might not be accepted by either race.  (In honesty, these are the same challenges faced by a transgender person.)

Honesty…that’s the key.  If you want to know why Caitlyn Jenner’s story is more acceptable than Rachel Dolezal’s, you have to examine how honest each person has been with herself and with the public.

Rachel Dolezal now says she identifies as black, but that hasn’t always been her mantra.  At various times she has claimed to be black or biracial (even lying about her parentage).  She also claims to have been the victim of numerous hate crimes; documentation and evidence of these crimes has been sparse.  And of course she advanced to a leadership role in the NAACP based on false pretenses.  There’s nothing wrong with a white person interested in black equality, even working with the NAACP – in fact, I long for the day when all people are interested in racial equality, and organizations like the NAACP are anachronistic and unnecessary – but to lie your way into a position of leadership; well that’s simply beyond the pale, regardless of your racial identity.

Caitlyn Jenner, by contrast, has been very forthcoming about her biological sex and gender dysphoria.  Although she identifies as a woman and prefers feminine pronouns, she is not trying to deceive the public into believing a falsehood.  She is not advancing through the ranks of of a feminist organization on the pretense that she is genetically female.

If you cannot see the difference between Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal, then I assert that you are not interested in seeing the difference; presumably because doing so would challenge your belief that the world is simple and everything can be judged by one set of standards.  This is false.  The world is complex.  People are complex.  Even when it seems that there is a clear analogy between two peoples’ stories, it pays to look closer; to examine the details.  You might find out that humans are richly nuanced beings with strange and wonderful and terrible motivations, and then imagine – just imagine – how much more interesting the world will seem.

Water Relief It Is

Water Relief It Is

Before we dissect this meme and its medical revelations, I have a few announcements.

First, Happy 200th Post to Stupid Bad Memes!  Why is the number 200 significant?  I don’t know!  But hooray anyway!

Second, I would like to send a shout-out and a warm thank you to Deviant Art user BlameThe1st for writing a very kind review of Stupid Bad Memes last weekend.  While BlameThe1st and I may not agree on every political issue, we share a disdain for the face-smackingly stupid memes that are this blog’s bread and butter.  So thank you, BlameThe1st.  I really appreciate that.

Now then: water.  What is it?  Is it good for you, as so many people insist?  Or is it just a passing fad, like Atkins?  Will we still be talking about water in five years?

Yes.  Water is absolutely essential – to varying degrees – for every living thing on Earth.  Without water, your days are numbered…and that number is about three, on average.

Well then, you may be thinking, I guess that’s Case Closed.  The meme is correct!

Not so fast, hypothetical gun-jumper.  Yes, water is a necessary ingredient to life as we know it, but I am skeptical (Contain your shock.) about some – nay, all of the claims in this meme.  I decided to do a little research, which I would advise for anybody that’s considering passing on a meme.  And what did I discover?  I discovered that this meme, like so many other memes bearing medical advice, contains a certain percentage (approximately 100) of incorrect information.

Before I proceed, I would like to issue this caveat: in debunking this meme’s claims, I do not mean to imply that you shouldn’t drink water.  Of course you should!  Nor will I claim that the timing of your hydration breaks is unimportant; to wit, you should always drink extra water after a heavy workout, or if you’re in the grip of a stomach bug and have been puking prolifically.  However, you should not expect that following this meme’s advice will lower your lifetime chances of high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attacks.

Let’s start at the very beginning (which, according to my sources, is a very good place to start).

Drinking 2 glasses of water in the morning helps activate internal organs.

This is meaningless drivel.  Your internal organs do not require activation in the morning because they never deactivate at night.  If they did, you wouldn’t wake up.  Each of your organs continues to work, albeit in some reduced capacity, while you sleep.  And lest you think that the word activate can be taken to mean bring up to full capacity; no.  Upon your awakening, your body will naturally restore the full functioning of your internal organs, with or without additional hydration.

Now I would like to re-emphasize that you must consume water at some point during the day in order to continue functioning normally, but if you’re in decent health it does not make much difference whether you drink it immediately after waking up or later during the day.  Your organs will “activate” just fine.

Drinking 1 glass of water before a meal will help in digestion.

This point comes the closest to being “correct”, according to my research, but it still misses the mark by a tiny amount.  You won’t get a doctor to tell you that you shouldn’t drink water before a meal, but at least one doctor (Michael F. Picco, writing for MayoClinic.org) suggests drinking during or after a meal to aid digestion.  I know, it’s picking nits to suggest that the meme is wrong for changing the order of drinking and eating, but I was unable to find any peer-reviewed research to suggest that a pre-meal glass of H2O would aid digestion more than drinking water during or after a meal.  Since the main point of the meme was to suggest that the timing of hydration was as important as the act of hydration, I give the meme no credit for this one.

Drinking 1 glass of water before a shower helps prevent high blood pressure.

This is a very peculiar claim to make.  Unless I’m reading it wrong, the meme seems to suggest that taking a shower without first drinking a glass of water will lead to an increase in blood pressure.  In fact, many doctors say that the opposite is true; a hot shower or bath actually causes your blood pressure to decrease.  The high temperature causes your blood vessels to dilate, which in turn eases the flow of blood and brings the pressure down.  But could drinking a glass of water before the shower actually accentuate this effect?

No.  Drinking water does almost nothing to change your blood pressure, because of how your body handles fluids. According to Dr Judith Airey, the misconception that drinking water reduces blood pressure stems from the fact that certain hypertension drugs are also diuretics – that is, chemicals that make you pee.  But that’s not all they do for you; in addition to making you pee more, they also eliminate sodium from your blood.  The fallacious logic goes like this: if the pee-pills work to decrease blood pressure, then drinking lots of water (which has the same effect) should work too.  Unfortunately, this isn’t true.

Simply drinking a lot of water will increase the amount of urine you produce, but not the amount of sodium that gets expelled with that urine.  Your body’s fluid control system works diligently to maintain your blood volume, which means that any excess water is simply shunted to the kidneys.  The non-water ingredients of urine get diluted, which is why drinking lots of water is likely to make your urine more clear.

Simply put, there’s no evidence that drinking water before, during, or after a shower has any additional effect on blood pressure (although the shower itself may lower your blood pressure if you have the temperature up high enough).  Shower with caution!

Drinking a glass of water before bed helps prevent strokes or heart attacks.

Doris Chung from the University of Washington labels this as a myth, for the following reason:

The American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other national health organizations, recommend several ways of decreasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. These recommendations include keeping a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating healthy, managing stress, and refraining from smoking. Drinking a glass of water before bed is not on the list. If you have to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom, Dr. Rosenfeld noted that this actually heightens your risk of heart attack and stroke because your sleep cycle is interrupted. Not getting enough sleep is linked to higher stress levels, increase in appetite, and cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods none of which are good for heart health and stroke prevention!

So there you go; contrary to the meme’s assertion, drinking a glass of water right before bedtime might actually increase your risk for stroke and heart attack (although I certainly wouldn’t publish or share a meme that makes this claim either, as I doubt the threat to public health is severe enough to warrant an anti-bedtime-water-drinking campaign).

Now I know what you’re thinking: So the meme’s claims are a bit spurious.  So what?  If people read this meme and drink more water, isn’t that a good thing?  Does it really matter if they’re mislead about the efficacy of drinking water at certain times of day?

It’s a good thing, and it’s not a good thing.  Drinking more water is probably good for everybody, but being credulous about the medical advice contained in memes is not a good thing.  This meme is a symptom of a peculiar critical thinking disorder I call Easyism – it afflicts people who believe that all of our woes can be solved by deceptively simple practices like, say, drinking water at the correct time.  Easyism also causes people to swear that baking soda can cure cancer, or that not buying gasoline on one day will cause gas prices to drop.  Easyism is embraced by people who want to see a change in the world, but who don’t want to do anything substantive to cause that change.

If you’re not living a healthy life, you’ve got to make changes – perhaps difficult changes – to get to where you want to be.  If you’re not drinking enough water, you should definitely drink more.  But…if you’re already drinking plenty of water, please don’t be fooled into thinking that something as simple as altering your hydration schedule will take you down the path to better health.  You owe it to yourself to be better informed than that.

The Non-Case of Jenner v Galloway

Caitlyn Jenner v Noah Galloway

At least the meme had the courtesy to refer to Caitlyn by her new name.  That’s about all it has going for it.

Some time ago I described a peculiar reaction that occurs in the conservative community whenever somebody of whom conservatives generally disapprove is singled out for special recognition or a reward.  I dubbed this reaction the Obama-Kyle Law: Whenever President Obama speaks favorably of somebody, the honoree will always be compared – unfavorably – to the late Chris Kyle.  Although this is a different situation, I think we’re seeing the same effect at work.  In this case, the role of President Obama is being played by ESPN, the sport-centered network that officiates the ESPY awards, of which the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is one, and the role of Chris Kyle is being played by Noah Galloway (which is not to imply that Galloway is anything like Kyle – I’m just trying to construct an analogy.)

And what of the honoree?  Who is this Caitlyn Jenner, the conservative pariah who pales in comparison to Noah Galloway?

In case you’ve been avoiding the Internet for the past month, allow me to bring you up to speed.  Caitlyn Jenner was formerly Bruce Jenner, an Olympic decathlon gold medalist in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.  In April 2015, Jenner came out as a transgender woman – that is, a person who, although being genetically male, identifies more strongly as a woman.  Jenner revealed that she had been cross-dressing and taking hormone replacement therapy for many years, but had subdued her feminine side during her marriage (which officially ended shortly prior to Caitlyn’s coming out).

In June 2015, Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new name and look in a Vanity Fair cover story – a photograph that launched a million memes.  Predictably, there were many detractors, but also many supporters.  And, lest we forget that feminism still has a long way to go in America, there were many commenting on Jenner’s physical attractiveness, as if to remind us all that a woman’s value extends only so far as her beauty.

In any case, Caitlyn Jenner is a she.  That’s the appropriate pronoun.  When referring to Jenner, you should say she and her; not he or him, and for heaven’s sake, don’t say it.  Jenner identifies herself as a woman, and frankly, that’s the only identification that matters.

Now let’s talk about the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  According to ESPN, the award is granted

to honor individuals whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action. Sometimes that courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue.

ESPN goes on to say that there are always numerous worthy candidates, but there is no such thing as a runner-up for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  This is important, so pay attention, anonymous meme-maker.  Many websites have already made this clear: there is no indication that either Galloway or any of the other athletes that the outraged Tweetosphere would have preferred instead of Jenner were ever being considered for the award.  Many people believe, for example, that Lauren Hill, the courageous 19-year-old college basketball player who recently succumbed to brain cancer, would have been a more worthy recipient.  And of course everybody is entitled to their own opinion.  For my part, I understand why Jenner was chosen: coming out as a high-profile transgender person is a very bold move, particularly in a nation that is still wrestling with its own transphobia.

Lest you think I’m bad-mouthing Noah Galloway, nothing could be further from the truth.  (Let’s be honest; anybody who thinks I’m bad-mouthing Noah Galloway probably stopped reading three paragraphs ago and has already hit the Comment button to tell me what a liberal commie pinko swine I am.)  I respect and admire Galloway.  Had Galloway been selected to receive any kind of award, I’d probably say “Good for him!” and mean it!  As much as I look up to him – as much as I wish that I had one-tenth of his courage and determination – I’m not going to let my admiration blind me to the facts.  The fact is that Caitlyn Jenner did not beat Noah Galloway to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

The confusion regarding Galloway’s faux runner-up status seems to stem from a single tweet, originally posted by Gerry Callahan.  Callahan’s tweet included the picture of Galloway shown above and the text:

Caitlyn Jenner wins Arthur Ashe Courage Award. And the runner-up is ….

Was Gerry Callahan privy to the selection process for the Courage Award when he tweeted his opinion?  Probably not, but his comment launched an uninformed firestorm on Twitter and Facebook.  His tweet had just the right mixture of conservative righteous indignation: a war vet is snubbed while a weirdo is awarded – what is our nation coming to!?!  It’s no wonder that it took off like a right-wing rocket; it provided like-minded people the ability to be angry without actually understanding what they were angry about.  In a way, Callahan’s tweet is sort of the antithesis of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award; while ESPN seeks to recognize Caitlyn Jenner for spreading understanding and acceptance of transgender people; Callahan seeks to divert attention elsewhere.  Here’s a very sarcastic Way to go! for you, Mr Callahan, and also to the people who uncritically spread your message.  You are all runners-up in my book.

Chemistry Confusion

chemquiz

Clicking the image above will take you to an 11-question quiz that purports to test your general knowledge of chemistry.  Unfortunately, the quiz is so rife with misunderstandings that you’ll only be testing your ability to decipher the intentions of the quiz-maker.  Let’s examine the quiz question by question to see where it goes wrong (and, to be fair, what it got right).


Question the First:  An atom is the smallest unit of matter. The central part of an atom is called?

  • nucleon
  • nucleus
  • neutron

You’re meant to choose nucleus, and I agree that this is the best answer  (although in the case of hydrogen-1, the nucleus is a nucleon; a proton, to be precise).  So what’s the problem?  I don’t approve of how the question is worded.   Atoms are not the smallest unit of matter, they are the smallest units of elements that still have the properties of elements.  For example, potassium atom is the smallest unit of potassium that still behaves like potassium, but there are smaller things than atoms.  A potassium atom – nay, almost any atom –  can be further divided, albeit with some difficulty, into even smaller pieces called protons, neutrons, and electrons.  Electrons appear to be elementary particles; i.e. they are not made of smaller particles.  But protons and neutrons are made of tinier particles called quarks.  So no…atoms are not the smallest units of matter.

Now you might say: “This is just a dumb Internet chemistry quiz!  What difference does it make if the author distinguishes between ‘the smallest unit of matter’ and ‘the smallest unit of an element that still has the properties of an element?'”  I’ll tell you what difference it makes, inquisitive reader: chemistry is a science of distinctions.  Chemists – and other scientists – spend their careers trying to define phenomena with ever-increasing precision.  To anybody who really understands and appreciates chemistry, these over-generalized statements simply will not do.  If my pedantry on this question offends you, you may wish to go read something else; it’s only going to get worse as the questions continue.


Question the Second: Protons and neutrons are in the center of the atom, making up the nucleus. What is it surrounding by? [sic]

  • electrons
  • nucleons
  • nuclei

While I agree with the best answer choice (electrons), I take umbrage at the poor grammar.  I know, I know: you don’t need perfect grammar to understand the finer points of chemistry; however, if you intend to write a quiz in English for an English-speaking audience, you ought to nail down the basics of English grammar, don’t you think?


Question the Third: Sodium chloride is an ionic compound with the chemical formula, NaCl. It is also known as?

  • baking powder
  • bleach
  • table salt

The correct answer is table salt.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with this question – in fact, I’m pleasantly surprised that the quiz-maker did not refer to NaCl as a molecule – so let’s move on.


Question the Fourth: All of the following are states of matter EXCEPT:

  • liquid
  • gas
  • plasma
  • solid

The quiz means for you to choose plasma, but that’s just wrong.  Plasma is a state of matter.  A plasma is a gas that has been energized to the point that its atoms have been thrashed into positive ions and electrons.  The plasma state of matter is not very common on Earth (except in high-energy events like lightning strikes) but plasmas are super common in the rest of the Universe.  Every single star is made of plasma, which means that plasma is the most common state of matter in the visible Universe by a very wide margin.


Question the Fifth: K is the chemical symbol for what element commonly found in bananas?

  • calcium
  • potassium
  • krypton

The correct answer is potassium.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with this question.  As an interesting side note, I’d like to mention that bananas contain potassium ions, not elemental potassium.  What’s the difference?  Elemental potassium atoms have 19 electrons; potassium ions, K+, have only 18 electrons.  That might not seem like a huge deal, but believe me: you would not want to eat bananas containing elemental potassium.  The video below shows what happens when elemental potassium reacts with water.

So yeah…be grateful for that lost electron.


Question the Sixth: The boiling point of water is?

  • 212º Fahrenheit
  • 100º Fahrenheit
  • 373.15º Fahrenheit

Really?  Fahrenheit questions on a modern chemistry quiz?  All right, the correct answer is 212º Fahrenheit.  100º is the boiling point of water on the Celsius scale, and 373.15 is the boiling point of water in Kelvins.

If you’ve studied chemistry, you know about the Celsius and Kelvin scales.  Either one of those would have been a more appropriate choice for this question.  I’m just saying.


Question the Seventh: Fill in the blanks: Water is a compound made by joining _____ hydrogen and ______ oxyen [sic]

  • 1 hydrogen and 2 oxygen
  • 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen
  • 3 hydrogen and 1 oxygen

The correct answer is 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen.  Spelling error aside, this question is fine.  Onward.


Question the Eighth: The pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 4 is considered to be:

  • acidic
  • neutral
  • basic

The correct answer is acidic.  My nit-pick is minor: 0 and 14 are not the absolute limits of the pH scale.  A strongly acidic solution can have a negative pH – that is, a pH less than zero – and a strongly basic solution can have a pH greater than 14.  Granted: you aren’t likely to encounter a solution whose pH is outside of the 0 to 14 range in your daily life (unless you have a career working with some really nasty chemicals).  This question could have been improved by adding the words “For most household solutions” at the start of the second sentence.


Question the Ninth: Which of the following elements is the most malleable metal of all?

  • silver
  • gold
  • iron
  • platinum

The correct answer is gold.  A material is malleable if it can be hammered or rolled into very thin sheets without breaking.  In this, gold excels.  A single gram of gold can be beaten into a sheet with an area of one square meter.  Gold leaf can be hammered thin enough to become transparent.  So I give the quiz credit for this one.  Moving on.


Question the Tenth: The first period on the periodic table is what element?

  • oxygen
  • helium
  • argon
  • hydrogen

Oh chemistry quiz: you were doing so well for the last three questions.

On the periodic table, a period is a row of elements.  The modern periodic table has seven periods, the first of which contains two elements: hydrogen and helium.  The quiz gives credit for choosing hydrogen but not for helium, which makes me think that the author meant to write “The first element on the periodic table…”  But that’s not what he wrote, so the question has two correct answers, one of which is not awarded.  For shame.


Question the Last: Laughing gas or happy gas is the world’s oldest general anesthetic. What is the chemical name of this popular dental sedative?

  • nitrous oxide
  • nitrogen peroxide
  • nitric oxide

The correct answer is nitrous oxide, but is that really the world’s oldest general anesthetic?  Not by a long shot.  This is more of a historical quibble, but it’s a quibble nonetheless.  Opium and alcohol were being used as general anesthetics long before nitrous oxide was discovered by Joseph Priestly in the 18th century.  (Its anesthetic properties were discovered by the poster child of self-experimentation, Humphry Davy.)  I’m not sure why the quiz’s author believed otherwise.

I don’t feel that this quiz does a good job of judging a person’s general chemistry knowledge, but then again, maybe it does.  Maybe you have to know so much about chemistry that you can see past the author’s obvious errors to determine what he or she was probably trying to say.  If so, that’s an interesting and sure-to-be-controversial way of assessing knowledge.  I can imagine the uproar when assessments everywhere adopt this strategy: Instead of unambiguous questions that have only one correct answer, you’ll be given grammatically-questionable puzzlers whose answer choices may or may not include a defensible answer.  If you really know the material, you’ll be able to figure out what they’re trying to say, despite the author’s best efforts to obfuscate the meaning.  If not…well, there’s always summer school.

The Burdens of Success

Successful v Unsuccessful 1

That’s a nice fantasy, isn’t it?  People who have been successful in life want others to succeed.  They cheer when others triumph, and they always pitch in and lend a helping hand, right?

As much as I’d love for it to be true, this statement is utter bunk.  First, there are plenty of successful people who have no interest in making other people successful.  We heard them griping when people started pushing for higher minimum wages.  Oh sure, they tried to disguise their discontent as concern for the lower-middle-class workers on whose backs their mansions were built.  They said things like “Increasing the minimum wage will force us to eliminate jobs.”  But we know what they were really saying, don’t we: “This hurts my bottom line, and I’m not interested in helping those who have been less fortunate than me if it eats into my profits.”

While we’re at it, I’d like to talk about the confusing and conflicting definitions of success presented in each panel of this meme:  In the left panel, the indicator of success seems to be standing on a rectangle.  In the second panel, the Schadenfreude-possessed man is clearly standing on a rectangle, and has therefore met the implied definition of success established by the left panel – and yet the meme implies that this man is not successful.  So now I’m confused: is standing on a rectangle a necessary condition for success, or isn’t it?

Successful v Unsuccessful 2

If I may offer a counter-example, Dan Rather has had a long and very successful career talking about people.  Oh sure, he has talked about ideas as well, but a large portion of his job has been sitting in front of a camera and talking about people: who they are, what rotten stuff they’re doing, and what other people are doing about it.

I get the impression that this series of memes is less concerned about making you successful, and more concerned about making you a generally decent human being.  I would have no issue with these memes if they would just come out and say that; but I’m irritated by the insinuation that being a decent person will automatically make you successful (or, by extension, that successful people are all decent).  These memes seem to say “Look, if you just wouldn’t be so terrible, you’d be successful”, which comes perilously close to poor-shaming.

Successful v Unsuccessful 3

Okay, I have a lot of problems with this one.

First: the “successful” man is going to develop back problems if he keeps sitting like that.  No amount of success is worth constant lumbar pain.  Maybe he should use his computer to search for padded office chairs.

Second:  being asleep is not synonymous with being unsuccessful.  Everybody needs to sleep, successful or otherwise.

Third: Unsuccessful people do not necessarily think they know it all.  That’s an unfair generalization.  The implication is that unsuccessful people are complacent in their ignorance; in fact, there are lots of people who haven’t met the society-approved definition of success, yet who are nevertheless working determinedly to improve themselves.  Sometimes the going is slow; sometimes they are stymied by social barriers.  Sometimes the burden of being “unsuccessful” is a vicious cycle.

Successful v Unsuccessful 4

I have heard this exact same argument being used against disadvantaged minorities; to wit, poor black people need to take responsibility for their problems instead of blaming the white man.  It’s so easy to assume that an unsuccessful person got that way because he lacks motivation, talent, and perseverance.  It’s much harder to cast aside prejudices and consider the fact that some people are systematically prevented from tasting anything like success.  If a person is poor and comes from a poor neighborhood, certain opportunities are not available to him – at least, not without an unfairly steep struggle and a liberal helping of good fortune.  When you look at two people – one who has met only minor resistance in his rise to the top, and one who has had to strive for every inch of ground gained, only to have it snatched away at the whims of the elite – you might understand why the “unsuccessful” person would become bitter.  And yet this meme seeks to punish him for his bitterness, as if it’s not right for him to be angry at constant, systemic injustice.

What a blessing – nay, what a privilege it is to say “I alone am responsible for my failures”.

If I were to make a meme depicting what successful and unsuccessful people look like, it might read like this:

  • Successful People  They generally have a strong work ethic, yes, but also an ethnicity, religion, family background, and contacts that are highly suitable for the society that nurtured them.
  • Unsuccessful People  Take away any one of those things, and you’ve got an unsuccessful person.