Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Annals of dismissive contempt

Sep 12th, 2014 11:46 am | By

Oh, god, here we go. Again.

Richard Dawkins subtweets about the Oppenheimer article:

“Officer, it’s not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk.”

Let’s see, now, what was published a few hours before that tweet? Oh yes…Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

…one of the biggest draws [at TAM] was Michael Shermer, a swaggering historian of science who, after an earlier career as an ultra-long-distance bicyclist, founded Skeptic magazine.

He now contributes columns to Scientific American, speaks all over the world, and writes popular books like Why People Believe Weird Things, which are just what you should give to a friend who needs to be deprogrammed from a belief in fundamentalist Christianity, alien abduction, or bogus homeopathic remedies. He is a freethought celebrity, an exciting person for a young activist like Alison Smith to bump up against — which she did, at an after-party on the first night.

“I ran into Shermer in the hallway,” Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. “He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.” At the party, they began downing drinks. “At some point,” Smith said, “I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me.”

On their way from Caesars to the Flamingo, where they were both staying, she chatted briefly with a friend on her mobile phone, she told me. They got to the Flamingo. “He offered to walk me back to my room, but walked me to his instead. I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. I know we had sex.” She remembers calling a friend from an elevator after leaving his room. “I was in the elevator, but didn’t know what hotel.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Hardly an exception

Sep 11th, 2014 8:04 pm | By

This has now been published. Mark Oppenheimer asks Will misogyny bring down the atheist movement?

Yet Shermer remains a leader in freethought — arguably the leader. And in his attitudes, he is hardly an exception. Hitchens, the best-selling author of God Is Not Great, who died in 2011, wrote a notorious Vanity Fair article called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Richard Dawkins, another author whose books have brought atheism to the masses, has alienated many women — and men — by belittling accusations of sexism in the movement; he seems to go out of his way to antagonize feminists generally, and just this past July 29 hetweeted, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” And Penn Jillette, the talking half of the Penn and Teller duo, famously revels in using words like “cunt.”

That’s just one small part.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

D’Souza and his background

Sep 11th, 2014 6:11 pm | By

Ken at Popehat finds my and others’ reaction to Michael Shermer’s letter requesting lenient sentencing for Dinesh D’Souza depressing.

D’Souza’s attorneys are asking the court to exercise its discretion to go below the Guidelines and impose a non-custodial sentence — not to send him to jail, in other words. That’s not even a little surprising. I would do the same thing. So would any competent defense attorney. Given D’Souza’s lack of record and his background, it’s a reasonable and achievable goal. It’s no sure thing, but many judges would do it. (If anything D’Souza’s privileges work against him on this issue — the “rich and famous people shouldn’t get special treatment” narrative will be powerful. With some judges he’d have a better shot at the break if he were an obscure middle manager.)

Well, the “and his background” clause is an issue, isn’t it. “And his background” could mean “with his background he should know better” or “with his background he has less excuse for fucking up” or similar thoughts along those lines. There’s also the fact that with his background, he was and will continue to be in a position to do more harm than most people can.

What bothers me is the reaction to a letter written to the judge in D’Souza’s favor by Michael Shermer, a prominent skeptic.

Shermer, who has debated D’Souza, says he has known him for twenty years and finds him forthright, honest, polite, and courteous. Shermer expresses his admiration and respect for D’Souza. To anyone who practices federal law, there’s nothing at all remarkable about the letter.

I get that, but on the other hand…again, there’s some privilege-deployment here. D’Souza can call on some Names for these letters. He has advantages, and that’s one of them. The whole setup seems less than impartial. It may all be very normal and routine, but that’s not the same as okie doke and harmless.

But the mild letter has provoked outrage, because of Shermer’s and D’Souza’s opposite ideological positions. This blogger screams “TRAITOR.” Ophelia Benson characterizes it as “Important Guys gotta stick together.” ““WTF?” asks P.Z. Myers. “Let D’Souza’s fellow Christians and conservatives defend him. Shermer by doing this has betrayed most of the skeptical community,” says someone on Twitter. “No one deserving of the title ‘skeptic’ could possibly believe that D’Souza is forthright and honest, or that he is an ‘important voice in our national conversation,'” says skeptic Ed Brayton. I’ll spare you the quotes from Twitter.

Is it really wrong to think that professional skeptics shouldn’t go to bat for convicted frauds?

The reaction to Shermer’s letter disappoints me. It depresses me. It doesn’t make me feel that way because of how I feel about D’Souza. It makes me feel that way as a defense lawyer, and as a citizen. This scorn for appeals for mercy is an old story; I’ve condemned it before when someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum was sentenced. But it troubles me every time it repeats. It would be a better nation if people could recognize the good qualities of people they vehemently oppose. It would be a better nation if we were wary of the justice system no matter what the ideology of today’s defendant.

No I really don’t think it’s ideology. The issue is the attitude to truth, not the ideology.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Ambiguity absent

Sep 11th, 2014 5:43 pm | By

PZ had a slightly different take (from Michael Shermer’s) on being invited to debate with Dinesh D’Souza.

It’s short and to the point.

Strangely, I just got two requests for participation in discussions: one from an Intelligent Design creationist apologist, Jason Rennie, and another to join in a debate this weekend from Dinesh D’Souza. I just thought I’d test whether these guys actually pay attention to what I write by putting the answer here.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A what blogger?

Sep 11th, 2014 1:59 pm | By

What exactly is a “rage blogger”? I see the epithet thrown around a lot, but it’s almost always by people who are raging about the putative “rage bloggers,” so I can never get a good handle on exactly what they mean by the label.

PZ has the same problem with some “rage blogger” accusations by Barbara Drescher, a former employee of the James Randi Foundation.

What’s it all about, with this passive-aggressive veiled insinuation that someone is ‘lining their pockets’ and ‘puffing up their egos’? It turns out that she’s a bit peevish because Phil Plait wrote a nice post praising Amy Roth’s activism, specifically her art installation, “A Woman’s Room Online”, which illustrates the harassment women receive on the internet.

It’s one of the more petty complaints I’ve seen from the hardcore skeptic weirdos. She is unhappy because someone said something nice about someone else. She is aggrieved because Amy Roth has creatively documented the dreadful activity that Drescher wants to believe doesn’t exist. And I suspect she’s at least vaguely aware that she’s being childish and stupid because of her fear that someone might notice her behavior.

That doesn’t stop her from doubling down. In addition to her petty resentment and her mindless lashing out at “rage bloggers”, she goes on to accuse Amy of bilking people for personal profit. This art installation is something Amy assembled at her own expense, and which she is exhibiting with free admission, and Drescher is somehow arguing that she’s doing it solely for personal gain, and that Phil Plait is gullibly colluding with her to con all those people who might sympathize with her cause.

And yet it’s other people, according to Drescher, who are the “rage bloggers.” It’s mystifying.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

For additional savings

Sep 11th, 2014 1:37 pm | By

Clever Walmart – it’s imposed a new “dress code” on its workers associates workers that the workers have to pay for themselves and guess where they can buy the clothes – why, right there at Walmart! How convenient, right?

They have until September 29 to purchase clothes that adhere to Walmart’s new dress code of white or blue collared shirts and khaki or black bottoms. Simone suggests employees shop for their new uniforms at, you guessed it, Walmart. She cheerfully reminds workers to apply their 10 percent associate discount “for additional savings.”

Such a brilliant scheme for moving product – force the employees to buy it!

Making Change at Walmart, a campaign anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers pushing to improve working conditions at the corporation, found that Walmart may make tens of millions in sales from the dress code change. Making Change at Walmart used a photo of the new uniforms’ prices that were on display in an Alabama Walmart store’s break room. They calculated that if one million of the 1.3 million American Walmart employees bought three uniform sets at the prices listed in the photo with their 10 percent employee discount, Walmart would gain $51-$78 million in sales, depending on if employees purchased the low-end or high-end uniforms.

And the best thing is, it’s totally legal.

Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project told the Huffington Post that “Walmart was very smart” in picking its dress code, because it is legal to make employees pay for work clothes—as long as they are not branded and can be worn outside of work. Walmart, for example, has to pay for the new Walmart-branded vests they will be requiring workers to wear.

Well if they don’t like working at Walmart they should just go out and get jobs as football stars instead.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Michael has known Dinesh for two decades

Sep 11th, 2014 12:33 pm | By

Hey guess what – it turns out that Twitter isn’t some magically unreal part of the real world where nothing you say actually means anything or can come back to bite you in the ass. Behold the case of Dinesh D’Souza.

Offering a chilling reminder to the world that the first rule of Twitter is to never tweet, federal prosecutors on Wednesday rejected conservative filmmaker and campaign finance fraudster Dinesh D’Souza’s plea for a reduced sentence, and pointed to his recent behavior online — particularly his insinuations that his prosecution is politically motivated — as evidence that his claim to be “ashamed and contrite” was insincere.

No fair! Of course he’s not going to be ashamed and contrite when he’s talking to people away from the courtroom! No fair prosecutors paying attention to what he says outside.

To defend their choice, federal officials noted that D’Souza turned himself in at “the last possible moment” before trial, and since the indictment has repeatedly claimed during appearances on TV and through the Internet that he is a political target and had little choice but to offer a guilty plea. ”Based on the defendant’s own post-plea statements,” prosecutors’ filing reads, “the court should reject the defendant’s claims of contrition on the eve of sentencing.”

Well jeez. So if you’re contrite you’re supposed to be contrite the whole time? That seems kind of unconstitutional, doesn’t it? Free speech?

Meanwhile though, Michael Shermer wrote to the court to plead for leniency for D’Souza.

Embedded image permalink

Important Guys gotta stick together.

H/t Adam Lee

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The New York Democrat did not name the offenders

Sep 11th, 2014 11:23 am | By

Well this is an ugly item: Ashe Schow at the Washington Examiner passive-aggressively trashing Kirsten Gillibrand for talking about harassment without naming names.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced bills to combat sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. An important emphasis of her legislation has been to encourage the victims of these crimes to come forward and report them.

But when it comes to sexual harassment in her own life, the New York senator sings a different tune.

Gillibrand disclosed in her new book, Off the Sidelines, that she has often been sexually harassed in the U.S. Senate. She said that one male colleague called her “porky,” and another told her not to lose weight because he likes “my girls chubby.” He told her this while squeezing her waist from behind.

The New York Democrat did not name the offenders in her book, and she still refuses to name them when asked. On Tuesday morning, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski asked Gillibrand on “Morning Joe” why she wouldn’t “name names.”

“The reason why I used these examples is to illustrate the broader point,” Gillibrand said.

Hey, you notice what that first quoted paragraph says about her legislation? An important emphasis of her legislation has been to encourage the victims of these crimes to come forward and report them. Emphasis mine. To encourage them, not to force them.

You know something? Naming offenders can make life hell for the namers. It’s not the business of other people to get censorious about it.

How did I see this? Guess.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · Sep 9
How odd that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will not name harassers whose behavior she says “devastated” her.

How odd that Sommers spends so much time trashing feminism.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Reach for the sky, then pour out the tea

Sep 10th, 2014 5:50 pm | By

Another piece about gender-policing. A little girl goes to school with an Avengers backpack with four Avenger guys on it, avenging. A little boy asks her if it’s her brother’s backpack.

Back-to-school shopping is one of those moments in which the power of consumer-culture to shape our ideas about gender springs into focus. As parents, with or without our kids’ input, we make choices that shape their entry into new social contexts. We tell them what is “normal.” We set them up to fit in or stand out. And the choices, for parents and children alike, can be overwhelming.

This year, my daughter got an Avengers’ backpack featuring four male superheroes. There was no option with Black Widow, the lone female Avenger in the recent movie, which is pretty typical of the way comic-book companies fail to display gender diversity in their merchandising. Still, it’s a pretty awesome backpack, and she loves it. While we didn’t pick it for Ellie, we did try to subtly influence her away from the stereotypical girlie choices. Here’s why.

Michael isn’t a bad kid. He’s just unconsciously projecting our society’s gender norms onto his classmate, my daughter. Given enough time and unchallenged exposure to this kind of sentiment, it’s possible that Ellie would do the same thing. The cultural pressures to promote a rigid separation of genders start at birth, when a newborn gets a pink or blue hat. They continue for life. The toys, clothes and decorations designed for boys promote action, sports and often violent heroism. Boys are doers, they imply. Baby girls are to be looked at.

I had a lot of “boy” toys as a kid, because I asked for them. I also had (because I asked for them) dolls, a little tea set, a toy stove. I don’t remember ever mashing them up though. That would have been quite good – having a dolls’ tea party with guns and cowboy hats. I wasn’t imaginative enough…



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Butterflies or tractors?

Sep 10th, 2014 4:42 pm | By

The quandaries of gender and gender norms and gender policing…Erika Kleinman’s three-year-old daughter wanted her hair cut very short, really short Mom. It took three tries for Kleinman to cut it as short as her daughter wanted it, and she wondered why she found it so difficult.

When I was in the fifth month of my pregnancy with my first child, everyone wanted to know the sex. “Boy or girl?” When I said, “Surprise,” they were openly horrified. “No one is going to know what to get the baby!” Pink or blue? Cupcakes or puppy dogs? Butterflies or tractors? These conversations annoyed me. I have a foot in my spleen and no bladder capacity and you want to know pink or blue?

Even without the key information of my baby’s sex, people sounded off on how different boys and girls are. Boys are so bold, so daring. Girls are so sweet, such good listeners. Many of these people were college educated, where they ostensibly took one class which addressed binary gender constructs. One lesbian mother described her son as “all boy.” What does that even mean? I don’t hold gay people to a higher standard when it comes to questioning gender roles, but it is testimony of how deep these perceptions of girls and boys run in this culture.

It’s tricky. I’ve been taught by a couple of generations of skeptics not to cling to the starry-eyed aka delusional idea that gender is totally constructed and totally fluid. Ok, but it’s clearly not totally inborn, either, because if it were, why would all the god damn policing be necessary?

That’s one thing that men get a lot worse than women do, as far as I can tell. Depressingly, that’s because being girly or womany when you’re that other gender is such a disgrace, while it’s not so disgraceful in the other direction.

What would happen if we gave up on the idea that boys and girls are so different? As the director of my child’s preschool pointed out, “It can be more effective to highlight our similarities. Instead of putting people into separate corners, it pulls us into one community.” She suggested that when Phoebe says she is a boy, we could say: “Yes, and we’re all human!” What a radical idea.

And what would it be like if instead of describing our children as “all boy” or “just so girly,” we talked about how much our kids love being in charge, how they love to draw, and swim, and have picnics in the park? How they spend hours in the bath, and how much they want to know how things work? How they like being the center of attention or maybe how they take their time to get to know someone? Instead of trotting out the same old stereotypes about what girls and boys are like, we could talk about what our children do; how they move through the world. We could talk about all the ways they are human, and how great it is just to be a part of it.

I wish we could do that. I see no sign of it whatsoever, though – if anything American culture has gotten more macho over the past few decades rather than less so.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

When we turn a blind eye

Sep 10th, 2014 3:36 pm | By

The RDF has posted an article by Leo Igwe about Helen Ukpabio’s lawsuit and the wider trend in African Christianity that she is only a small part of.

[T]here is an emerging poisonous trend in African Christianity which if not nipped in the bud risks returning Britain to a growth in practices last widely witnessed in the dark ages. The signs are clear. The recent cases of witchcraft related abuse of children in Black communities can be traced back to the practice of this brand of Christianity. So this must be opposed and those who peddle this religious barbarism and who wish to import or encourage it in the UK must be stopped.

This Africanized Christianity contradicts human rights, and civilized values. It contains forms and currents of Christian practice which Western Christianity had abandoned decades and centuries ago. It seeks to turn back the clock on the evolution of a more ‘enlightened religion’ and of the recognition of broadly secular values in UK society. British humanists must resist this vicious brand of Christianity. British humanists should mobilize and come out strongly, critically and vociferously against such dark age Christianity.

Leo says there’s a movement of African pastors to re-introduce Christianity back to the West, the idea being that the West has lost the plot and no longer does Christianity properly, i.e. it does it without all the homophobia and witch-hunting and other reactionary baggage, and the African pastors can nudge the West back into doing it the right way.

But they also do it for the cha-ching.

In April, Ukpabio was in the UK to promote her witch finding ministry. She desperately wants to connect her witchcraft market with the European religious market. She has attempted to establish branches of her churches in the US. But Ukpabio is not the only African pastor scheming to re-Christianize the West. Other Christian clerics are already part of this reverse missionary process. Early this year, Nigerian homophobic pastor and the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Rev Enoch Adeboye toured Australia and New Zealand to inaugurate branches of his church.

In August, the UK authorities denied entry to another witch hunting pastor David Oyedepo. Oyedepo is the owner of Winners Chapel. He is known to be the richest pastor in Africa, owning several private jets. During a deliverance session in Nigeria he slapped a girl whom he accused of being a witch. In Cameroon a nine year old girl collapsed and died after a pastor at a branch of Winners Chapel accused her of being possessed by numerous demons and started conducting a ritual exorcism.

There’s money in witch-hunting – money for the pastors, and misery and death for the victims. Speak up and resist, Leo says.

Churches that promote these abusive practices have no place in contemporary Britain. Pastors who own these churches should be told clearly that they are not welcome; that their brand of Christianity is unacceptable and particularly so in modern day Britain. We cannot realize a secular country when we allow African Pentecostal pastors to come and spread their gospel of hate and violence. When we turn a blind eye or tolerate the induction of witchcraft narratives into black migrant or diasporic communities we insult the memory of Kristy Bamu, Victoria Climbié and other child victims of witchcraft related abuse.

So let’s do the opposite of turning a blind eye.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Football and its character-building properties

Sep 10th, 2014 11:24 am | By

Originally a comment by screechymonkey on Stand by your man.

Note: the comment is quite embedded in the discussion where it was posted, which is usually not ideal for a guest post, but it makes a lot of the general points about why it matters when “role model” celebrity male athletes beat up women, and I want to see them made.

Kevin, for a guy who’s not trying to defend Rice, you’re getting awfully heated about your position here, and not engaging in fair discussion.

For example,

So you are saying there’s a double standard — one for football players and another for the rest of the world. Because “role model”. And because “making an example” of Rice will instantly solve all domestic abuse problems everywhere and always.

Got it.

Quixote never said that punishing Rice “will instantly solve all domestic abuse problems everywhere and always,” or anything remotely like it. I fail to see why you’re engaging in this kind of hyperbole. Quixote didn’t claim it, and surely you’re not claiming that this is the relevant standard? That we don’t take any action to punish someone unless it will instantly solve all such crimes everywhere and always? No point in jailing one murderer, then, unless it will stop all murders everywhere and forever!

As to the bit about “role models,” yes. The NFL has already taken it upon itself to enforce the off-field, not-strictly-related-to-employment behavior of its players, as has every professional sports league I can think of. Standard player contracts have morals clauses. The league has fined or suspended players for racist or other inappropriate comments on social media or elsewhere (e.g. Riley Cooper), and for criminal behavior that the criminal justice system declined to punish (e.g. Ben Roethlisberger).

None of us just woke up recently and decided to impose this “role model” higher standard on NFL players starting with Ray Rice. The NFL has imposed it on them for quite some time, and Commissioner Goodell made it a point of emphasis when he took the job. The NFL and other sports leagues market themselves, their athletes, and their sport generally based on its character-building properties. We’re just asking the league to be consistent and treat domestic violence like the violent crime it is.

And as to the question of the victim: what does she want? She wants to be left alone. And she doesn’t want her life or his to be ruined by this incident. Why are you diminishing her agency by demanding something on her behalf that she doesn’t herself demand?

The victim’s wishes are not the determining factor in most systems of justice. They can and should be taken into account, but they aren’t dispositive. The criminal justice system doesn’t require the victim’s permission or approval to prosecute someone (though it may be difficult as a practical matter to prosecute without cooperation). A school principal who declined to punish a bully because the victims said not to would be doing a poor job. An employer who kept a violent employee around just because the victim had forgiven him or her would be making a dumb decision.

Basically what you’re saying is, “why should the rest of us care if Janay Rice decides to stay with an abusive man?” I think society has an interest in punishing violent assholes without waiting for them to assault someone other than their partner, or for them to finally assault their partner in a way that the partner won’t forgive (or can’t, because they’re dead). And while I don’t pretend to understand the complex reasons why victims stay with their abusers, I don’t think that it’s the kind of decision that we need to give 100% deference to. I’m not a hard-core libertarian — I’m ok with a little “paternalism” in the form of punishing abusers without the abused’s sign-off.

Again, I have no problem criticizing Rice and no problem with the court system dealing with him. It’s this blood-lust over-the-top fury that has me puzzled. Why? Because it was videotaped? So the lesson really is to “take the stairs”? Because people would be way less upset over this if there were no video.

I agree that the video probably shouldn’t make as much difference as it has. But we’re talking about human beings here, and there’s something visceral about images, and especially video, that provokes a stronger reaction.

But I think the more important factor here is that the video took away most of the excuses. Far too many people — including those in charge at the NFL and the Ravens — seemed to have more empathy for Ray than Janay. They saw the initial, post-elevator video, and immediately their minds turn to constructing scenarios under which Ray’s actions are justifiable or at least excusable in some way: “well, maybe she was viciously attacking him and he was just defending himself,” “well, maybe he just shoved her slightly and she lost her balance and hit her head,” “well, maybe she ran into his fist.”

It’s the same way that so many people reacted to the prospect of harassment policies at conferences by constructing scenarios where they were the accused harasser, or why referring to a man’s advances as “creepy” sets off all sorts of rationalizing among some people (“Maybe he’s just socially awkward!” “Maybe he has Asperger’s” “I bet she would have been fine with it if he looked like Tom Brady!”)

The inside the elevator video forced all of these people, who had been trying so hard to put themselves in Ray’s shoes, to ask themselves whether they could see themselves throwing that punch. And, as shitty as many people can be on domestic violence issues, most of them don’t really condone someone who is no physical danger just throwing a left hook to the jaw of a much smaller partner. So suddenly the speculation and the scenario-spinning screeched to a halt and almost everyone was forced to admit that, yeah, this was a barbaric act.

In addition, certain sports reporters (Peter King, Adam Shefter) passed along reports from “sources” that the league had seen the inside-the-elevator video and that it provided some mitigation that justified the league’s mild punishment of Rice. So suddenly people who were puzzled by the league’s decision but were trusting that the league had access to additional information that justified it, had their position cut out from under them.

So that’s why the video matters. For many people, it eliminated the doubt, the uncertainty, the gosh-who-knows-what-really-happened agnosticism and forced them to confront the cold hard facts that the rest of us were pretty confident in all along.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The best disinfectant

Sep 10th, 2014 11:08 am | By

Phil Plait writes about Surly Amy’s art installation at CFI-Los Angeles in Slate today.

For having the temerity to say that women should have equal rights, opportunities, and treatment as men, she gets a tsunami of hatred, venom, death threats, rape threats, and more. It would be enough to break down hardened people, and it has. But not Amy. She manages to not only deal with this horrifying onslaught but also turn it into art.

I mean that literally. With the help of several other atheist and skeptical women, Amy has created an exhibit called A Woman’s Room Online: a free-standing 8×10 foot room that is being installed in the L.A. Center for Inquiry office. It will look superficially much like any office in which a woman might work, with the usual accoutrements.

But each object will be covered with messages these women have received on Twitter, Facebook, and email. Real messages, actual things sent to them that are the vilest, most hateful examples of the worst humanity has to offer.

I was invited to contribute to the exhibit but I didn’t, for various reasons, but it’s a brilliant idea.

Phil has seen some of the pieces, and been horrified by them.

The words are hard to read, so difficult to imagine an actual human sending them to another human. They run the range from self-satisfied and arrogant to graphic and explicit threats against body and life. Sexism and misogyny had been brewing in the atheist and skeptical movements for some time but exploded when Rebecca Watson brought attention to them, and people were further polarized after Richard Dawkins made his “Muslima” comments in response. That was years ago, and things are no better … as we’ve also seen in so many other online communities as well.

Perhaps sunlight is the best disinfectant, and art has a way of focusing that light. Over at Skepchick, Amy herself wrote a description of her installation, and I strongly encourage you to read it.

I think this is an important piece of art. I suspect a lot of people really don’t have any idea just how much filth women (not only feminists, but just women on the Internet guilty of Posting While Female) have to slog through every day just to exist online. It’s horrifying—and sadly, used as a way to shut women up; read Amanda Marcotte’s recent post about this.

The more sunlight the better.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Kansas City here she comes

Sep 9th, 2014 4:51 pm | By

Well it sounds like something from the Onion, but the Standard is a real paper. A flight from LA to NY had to make an unscheduled landing in Kansas City in order to boot off a passenger who wouldn’t stop singing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Well, yeah. Five hours of that? That would be baaaaaaaaaaaad.

The domestic service from Los Angeles to New York was diverted to Kansas City so marshals could remove the woman from the plane because she kept singing the song repeatedly.

The singing began shortly after the flight took off, but around halfway through it became too much for fellow passengers and staff to bear.

The woman was filmed being escorted from the plane, in handcuffs, still belting out the 1992 number one hit.

It would be too much to bear, definitely.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It’s time to change the outlook

Sep 9th, 2014 4:09 pm | By

The Detroit Free Press reports on the protest in support of Barbara Webb.

More than 100 people attended Sunday’s nearly two-hour rally.

“We value human diversity,” said Amanda Ruud McVety, 29, of Birmingham, a 2002 Marian graduate who helped organize the rally to coincide with morning masses at nearby St. Regis Catholic Church. “It’s time to show that — through actions and through words. It’s time we look at (homosexuals) as equals and not shame them for who they are.”

Another Marian alum, 2001 graduate Rachel Chapman Kopera, started the Facebook page, “I Stand With Barb Webb,” which had more than 3,300 members as of Sunday afternoon. A petition on also asks for Marian administration to support LGBT students and staff.

McVety said the firing of Webb goes against the social-justice teachings instilled in Marian students.

I wonder if the administration of the school is more liberal (and more feminist) than the local bishop, and felt it had to fire Webb to avoid surveillance and intrusion by the reactionary male hierarchy.

Amber Mazza Cunnings, a 2001 Marian graduate, said the movement is about bringing light to a social injustice she said the school teaches its students to confront.

“Marian teaches us about social justice in profound ways,” said Mazza Cunnings of Farmington Hills. “This is a human rights issue. There’s a mother and a child involved. (Standing up for them) is what we were taught to do.”

Brigid Johnson, 17, a senior at Marian, said the teacher’s absence was not explained to students. Teachers have told students they are forbidden to speak about it, she said.

How’s that working out for them?

Webb told the Free Press last week that her termination letter did not give a reason for her dismissal, but previous conversations with administrators pointed to a morality clause allowing firing over public conduct of “lifestyle or actions directly contradictory to the Catholic faith.”

She said she found out she was pregnant in June and told the administration in July. She said the school’s administration gave her the choice in August between resigning with health insurance benefits that would continue into the spring, as long as she did not discuss what happened or being fired.

She said she chose to be fired.

On Sunday morning, she said she was overwhelmed with the support she has received from the community, and is hopeful the students at Marian benefit from the situation.

“It’s not about me anymore,” she said. “Really, it never was. It’s time for the students at Marian to have an outlet. There’s no (Gay-Straight Alliance) club for students to express themselves. It’s time to change the outlook for the future.”

I’m Facebook friends with her now so I’ve been looking at her wall, and it’s full of really quite beautiful stuff – friends and relatives rallying round, little nephews and nieces around a table making posters for the protest, former students saying what a great teacher she was. A great bunch of people; the school will obviously be the loser here.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Unfire that pregnant teacher

Sep 9th, 2014 3:23 pm | By

There’s a petition you can sign urging Marian High School to unfire Barbara Webb.

STAND WITH BARB WEBB! We demand that Marian High School rethinks its policies and support LGBT staff and students

Barb Webb was recently forced to resign as a teacher at Marian High School in Michigan because she is pregnant and starting a family with her female partner. Webb was a well-loved teacher at the school – having been a chemistry teacher and volley ball coach for 9 years. There has been outrage from students, parents and alumni at a school that prides itself in ‘enabling young women to value human diversity and live responsible lives and inspiring its students to ‘Empower, Explore, Excel’

Webb told school officials that she was pregnant and hoped to work out some kind of maternity leave arrangement (or leave of absence) as her contract prohibited her from being public with anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine. Marian denied her the request for leave. She was asked to resign or her employment would be terminated.

We call on Marian High School and Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) to rethink their policies and start supporting LGBT staff and students.

Love is Love in all its forms – at a time when Barb Webb should be preparing for motherhood and the beautiful journey starting a family – we want to show our support and solidarity and ask Marian High School to never make this mistake again. Help Marian make the right decision. This is a human rights issue and every act of justice that we take can collectively get us one step closer to equality!

Pope Francis: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person. September 2013.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

How to ask rape survey questions

Sep 9th, 2014 12:41 pm | By

The deniers and minimizers are starting to succeed in training me to see deniers and minimizers where they aren’t. Like in this tweet from The New Republic:

The numbers on how many women are raped each year might be off by more than 88%:

I assumed they meant what Sommers would mean by tweeting that. Wrong. By “off” they meant too low, while Sommers of course always means too high.

The article by Claire Groden:

The recent CDC report, based on surveys conducted in 2011, found that almost one in five women (and 1.7 percent of men) have been raped in their lifetimes. In a single year, 1.6 percent of women reported experiences that are considered rapealmost two million cases. But the NCVS report recorded just 243,800 cases of rape or sexual assault in that year, 12 percent of the CDC findings. Meanwhile, a report compiled by the FBI, which only documents cases that were brought to police, shows only 83,425 rapes that year.

Why the big disparities? Different goals, and different kinds of questions.

This difference made the CDC’s survey broader, especially in the case of victims who were under the influence during the attack. The CDC counted alcohol- and drug-facilitated rape, asking if the respondents had ever experienced various sex acts while “drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.” But, as Scott Berkowitz at RAINN, the Rape and Incest Abuse National Network, pointed out, not all of those 1.2 million cases in 2011 would be considered rape by the Department of Justice. Due to the survey question’s phrasing, a person who had been drunkbut still considered herself capable of giving consentmight have answered yes to that question. A CDC spokesperson clarified that being unable to consent is key to the CDC’s definition of rape. 

That’s confusing. There’s a note at the end of the article saying a clarification by the CDC had been added, and that last sentence must be the clarification, which seems to be saying the opposite of what the previous sentence says. The interpolated “but still considered herself capable of giving consent” confuses the issue. Anyway…Groden seems to be saying that the CDC survey includes women who maybe sort of consented but were drunk or high.

Still, the CDC numbers are a reminder of how many sexual assaults and rapes go unreported. The total number of rapes reported to police in 2011 was 83,425far lower than either the NCVS or CDC numbers. If the 2011 CDC estimatealmost two million people casesall fit the legal definition of rape, that would mean only 4 percent were reported to the police. Even excluding alcohol- and drug-facilitated rapes, the 716,000 counts of completed or attempted penetration recorded by the CDC still add up to more than eight times the cases recorded by the FBI and almost three times as many as the Department of Justice. While finding an indisputable number of rape victims seems to be a Holy Grail, the CDC report certainly reveals that the most widely accepted estimates aren’t high enough.

Many rapes don’t get reported; many rapes don’t get counted. Imagine my lack of surprise.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

An effort to put women back in their “place”

Sep 9th, 2014 12:18 pm | By

Soraya Chemaly explains some reasons Cathy Young is wrong to say that men get harassed online more than women do.

In addition to the difficulty of comparing data sets of varying size and depth, however, comparing male versus female online “harassment” is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Young points out, women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history. The study pointed out that the harassment targeted at men is not because they are men, as is clearly more frequently the case with women. It’s defining because a lot of harassment is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their “place.”

It seems silly having to explain this. People who have a better spot on the hierarchy ladder are not as harmed by harassment as people who have a worse spot are, because harassment is itself a power move – a ladder spot enforcer.

For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.

Rape and death threats made by strangers are also common, however. They coexist online with violent sexist, racist commentary on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and the sharing of gifs, images, jokes and memes depicting gross violence against women as “humor.” The “humor” can sometimes spill over into aggressive cyber mob attacks, which, as Citron explains in her book, disproportionately target women and people of color. These mobs include hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, systematically harassing their targets. #Slanegirl, a trending global public shaming of a teenage girl filmed performing fellatio is one example. Attacks on public figures like Anita Sarkeesian or Caroline Criado-Perez can take on surreal qualities whose effects can’t be underestimated—either on the individual attacked or on the environment.

Well actually they can be underestimated, by people like Cathy Young and Christina Hoff Sommers (who enthusiastically hyped Young’s article), but they shouldn’t be.

The harassment men experience also lacks broader, resonant symbolism. Women are more frequently targeted with gendered slurs and pornographic photo manipulation because the objectification and dehumanization of women is central to normalizing violence against us. Philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Rae Langton describe in detail how this works: women are thought of and portrayed as things for the use of others. Interchangeable; violable; silent and lacking in agency.

Women take online harassment more seriously not because we are hysterics, but because we reasonably have to. There is no gender equivalence in terms of the denigrating, hostile and sometimes exceedingly dangerous environmental effect that misogyny has, online or off. It has a long history and cannot be isolated from actual violence that we adapt to avoiding every day. The fact that that violence has always suppressed women’s free speech is only now becoming too obvious to ignore.

Despite the best efforts of the Cathy Youngs of the world.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Stand by your man

Sep 9th, 2014 10:38 am | By

So now Janay Rice is saying she’s pissed off at all these meddling people who got her husband kicked out of the NFL. She did a post on Instagram saying so:

I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!

Well, of course it has – that’s a lot of money thrown away.

Sorry, but it can’t be helped. The law can’t give big athletic guys an exemption so that they can keep drawing those big salaries for playing football, and football teams and their league absolutely should not turn a blind eye to domestic violence so that they can keep the talented players. Nope nope nope.

Imagine if it were their daughter he’d punched in the head – should the NFL just ignore that and try to cover it up when reporters ask about it? No it should not.

The guy did what he did. That’s not the public’s fault, it’s not journalism’s fault, it’s not his wife’s fault.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Women and girls, regardless of background

Sep 9th, 2014 9:44 am | By

Irshad Manji made a meme out of a sentence from that statement by British Muslims for Secular Democracy that a group of supporters (including me) signed last week, and that the Independent published.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)