18 days and counting…

So, the semester is just about over (on Wednesday I’ll be done) and my life is calming down, which means it’s time to start hormones! Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland just got a new nurse practitioner and they have to train her on the trans health issues, so they aren’t taking any new patients at the moment. Apparently it’s causing a stir, according to a friend of mine. However, I found an endocrinologist at the Diabetes Center at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha who does hormone replacement therapy with trans patients and they were able to get me in first thing in the morning on May 18th! The main problem is getting to Omaha since I don’t have a car, but one of my friends graciously agreed to play taxi driver for me. I’m wicked excited; I can hardly wait! I’m pretty sure the anxiety will kill me before I even get my initial lab results, but oh well, it’s worth it. Stoked!


I thought there was a law against false advertising…

So this morning as I was getting ready for school and watching CNN I saw an ad for “clean” coal technology which claimed that “clean” coal technology has made a demonstrable impact on the environment. I found this a little fishy, since last I knew the earliest projected payoff from research into “clean” coal was 20-30 years from now. Granted, I haven’t done any reading on “clean” coal research since about last February, and it’s entirely possible there was a quantum leap in the technology while I was out to lunch, but I’m pretty sure one of my crazy liberal friends would have told me something about it. Anyway, it got me thinking about the real solution to the energy crisis: nuclear power!

In the nuclear business, there’s a saying that goes “the less you know the more you fear.” Essentially, the people who gripe about how horrible this truly amazing energy source is are all completely ignorant and have no right to bitch about a solution that could save the environment and create jobs. First of all, nuclear energy is more than 95% efficient, more than coal’s 90%, much more than wind’s max of 40%, and light years ahead of solar energy, which tops out at about 17%. Then there’s the footprint: the average nuclear energy facility takes up less than 1/3 of a square mile and can power an entire city. You’d need at least several hundred square miles worth of wind turbines or solar panels to get the same amount of energy. Also, for small developing communities, miniature reactors such as Toshiba’s 4S can be buried underground and maintained from a facility about the size of a city block. Then there’s the fact that it’s always on, unlike wind or solar, which require just the right conditions (I remember hearing that although wind’s peak efficiency is 40%, it usually operates around 10%, but I can’t remember the source so that may not be reliable). Also, government regulations stipulate that nuclear power facilities may not release more than 15 mrem of radiation into the surrounding area. Just to put that in perspective, the background radiation of the U.S. from radon and other naturally-occurring substances is 230-320 mrem. Breathing is a better was to get cancer than living near a nuclear facility.

But what about the risk of a major meltdown? Well, first of all, there has never been a true meltdown in more than 50 years of nuclear energy. Chernobyl was the worst nuclear incident (not counting the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obviously), and that little snaffu only happened because the USSR was didn’t know what they were doing and the Chernobyl plant was so unsafe it’s a miracle it lasted as long as it did. Every nuclear country today has strict codes which would prevent anything on the scale of Chernobyl ever happening again. In all, there are only seven nuclear incidents at energy facilities I can actually think of. In about 60 years of developing the technology. There are or have been literally thousands of nuclear plants operating these past 50-60 years, and only 7 incidents. Furthermore, France, the world’s leader in nuclear energy, has never had an incident. They get 60% of their power from nuclear and shut down their last coal-burning plant in 2004 or 2005 (I forget; it was my freshman year of college). Their emissions are among the lowest in the industrialized world. Also, they make a killing selling nuclear-produced energy to neighboring countries. So does Italy. Sounds pretty good for the economy to me. We can either sell to Canada or buy from them; which do you want it to be?

About now I’m sure some ignorati is thinking I forgot about the whole “nuclear waste” issue. While it is true that nuclear reactors produce radioactive byproducts, I don’t like to call it “waste,” mainly because most of it is reusable. The only problem is that the U.S. government, which is loaded with ignorant nuclear-haters, will not fund research into the best way to reclaim this “waste.” Nuclear could be a renewable source of energy if only the government would cut the crap and get on the side of science.

In closing, I would like to say that I have heard some radical skeptics claim that radiation from Chernobyl has never been linked to a single case of cancer or a birth defect. Technically, this is true, but only because there’s no real way to tell exactly how most cancers or birth defects come about. The cancer and birth defect rates of people living in the area at the time were actually closer to the norm than one would think, but I am pretty sure it’s going too far to claim that it didnoharm. Also, there’s the issue of the people killed in the actual explosion. However, if you’re looking for damage to the environment, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Chernobyl incident may have been the best thing to happen to the ecosystem in the area since humans first settled there. Now it is a beautiful forest absolutely thriving with wildlife, none of which seem to be suffering any ill effects from the remaining background radiation.

So, in a nutshell: coal is never clean and wind and solar are impractical. It’s time to go really green.

Dear liberals: Free Wood Post is a joke news organization

So the Twitters is a-lighting up in reaction to this Free Word Post article claiming that Santorum called Jesus a liberal. Not just that, he accused the Bible of teaching socialism! While I’m no Biblical expert, I do think Jesus was more liberal than the fundies make him out to be. However, this story of a radical believer is just too silly to take seriously. That’s when I noticed the link was to a Free Wood Post article! In case you’re not with it (or can’t read the GIANT FUCKING BANNER ACROSS THE TOP OF EVERY ARTICLE), FWP is a liberal satire website, whose slogan is “News That’s ALMOST Reliable.” They work by making the right-wing believers out to be more openly crazy than they ever would be.

Next time you're at FWP, LOOK UP!

Unfortunately, liberals are just as ignorant and un-skeptical as conservatives (they just prefer their nonsense to be of the New Age variety and all their scientific research to be done by celebrities). This leads to unfortunate snaffus in which liberals make themselves look even stupider than the conservatives. At least the conservatives can read! Since I generally fall into the “crazy radical atheist socialist” category, I tend to be more sympathetic to the lefties and don’t like it when they make themselves silly. Therefore, I urge liberals to be a little more skeptical, at least when it comes to the news. You can still visit your chiropractor for “medical” advice or have your chakras aligned or whatever, just try to know who you’re getting your news from. Take a psychology, sociology, political science, or even linguistics class! A little education in the social sciences would prevent you making an ass of yourself. Or, you can always read their banner! In case you missed it, here it is again:

Seriously, this is at the top of EVERY article!

Seriously, folks. Skeptics really do have more fun. (We laugh more, at least.)

Souls and justice

So being a good atheist, I’m celebrating Easter by writing a paper for class about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. It’s for a literacy class and I’m supposed to demonstrate public literacy by writing about a public debate and I chose the debate over whether or not atheists should hold office. 50% of Americans say no.

Anyway, for my paper I’ve interviewed a few atheists and theists about their opinions on the issue, and one person in particular really made me chuckle a little. He said that atheists are not entitled to belief in justice, because in order to believe in justice on needs to believe in equality, and the only way to believe that people are “created” equal is to believe in a soul. This raises at least on major question: what exactly is a soul?

According to my theist frienemy, a soul is the root of the intellect, emotion, and creativity. This sounds a whole lot like a mind to me, which is one of the things which has always confused me about souls. If one’s soul is simply one’s mind, what do you say about people who suffer a traumatic brain injury and undergo drastic mental or personality changes afterwards? What about folks with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s? If, however, the soul is not the mind, then what relevance does it have? If we can’t see any evidence of it, how do we know it’s actually always their, or that it’s the same soul we were born (“created”) with? How do we know my soul isn’t currently flying over into my brother’s body on the other side of the room? These are some questions you need to answer if you posit the existence of an immaterial soul.

As for the belief in justice, any good atheist–such as my friend, Tony, whom I interviewed right after this theist–will tell you that what makes people equal is not a soul but our capacity for emotions, empathy, and sensation of pain. Most people are capable of the same basic emotions as everyone else, and everyone has the same basic reactions to some of them: by definition, everyone likes pleasure and no one likes being depressed. Sure, there are rare disorders like anhedonia and congenitive analgesia which prevent people from enjoying (or suffering, in the case of CA) the whole range of human experience, but these folks–particularly folks with anhedonia–are not lesser in any way, because they can still feel other emotions. (Also, anhedonia in particular is usually just a symptom of a larger problem, which can usually be treated, so these people still have the capacity for pleasure.)

So, in a nutshell: souls are silly, and atheists believe in equality. If you doubt that latter fact, just remind yourself that Amnesty International is founded on what is essentially an atheistic philosophy. They don’t appeal to God for the good work they do: they’re just humanists helping humans.