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.

Got a brioche?

Sep 16th, 2014 6:36 pm | By

PZ has a terrific guest post by Marcus Ranum on the nasty undertones of the bullshit about “click bait.” I was going to quote from it when it was a comment, but when I got around to it it had graduated to being a post.

I automatically despise people who use the “clickbait” “to make money” argument. And here is why: it never seems to come from someone who is enduring economic hardship, and it implies that the person supposedly doing it is so desperate that they need the extra fractions of a cent they might get. If you’re a bestselling author and lecturer with an international stature with an estimated net worth of over $100 million, claiming that your detractors are pushing click bait amounts to asking “why don’t they eat cake?” (“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”) yes in the internet era there is money to be made with click bait, but it requires huge volumes such as that driven by celebrity selfie leaks and sex tapes. From the sound of it, bloggers such as those on FTb and Patheos make vastly less blogging than someone of Dawkins’ stature commands from a single speaking engagement.

Vastly less. A fraction. It’s ludicrous that they think otherwise.

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

Representing the totality

Sep 16th, 2014 4:32 pm | By

My friend Muhammad Syed, co-founder and ED of EXMNA, has an open letter to Yale Humanists and Muslim Students Association at Hemant’s blog.

As an activist and an ex-Muslim, I have witnessed many attempts to prevent direly-needed conversations by those threatened by the voices of others. I am saddened to see this trend continue — namely, the letter signed by several student organizations at Yale in order to prevent Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking at their university.

I believe the Yale Muslim Students Association should be ashamed of their attempt to silence Hirsi Ali, and the Yale Humanists should be ashamed for being complicit in the effort.

There is no doubt that Hirsi Ali has made comments that are often deemed inflammatory to Muslims. Although I find myself often disagreeing with her stances, I admire her courage and stamina. No one has shed light on the barbaric practices continued in the name of Islam as forcefully as she has. The fact that she is one of the only ex-Muslims speaking out about these kinds of practices is not evidence that the abuse is rare or confined to small fundamentalist communities. Rather, it is evidence of the censure and targeting of those who are willing to speak frankly about Islam and demand change in the Muslim world.

In the letter, it is claimed that Hirsi Ali should not speak on Islam due to the fact that “she does not hold the credentials” to do so, and when she was given the opportunity to speak in the past, she “overlooked the complexity of sociopolitical issues in Muslim-majority countries and has purported that Islam promotes a number of violent and inhumane practices.”

To any liberal-minded person, this reasoning will sound weak at best and intolerant at worst. According to these Yale student organizations, only one who has the right “credentials” (a term that is not defined) and purports a positive view of Islam should be allowed to speak at their university.

It does seem like a very high bar, even if you agree that she’s said some very unpleasant things.

Although this behavior is regrettably expected from the Muslim Students Association (MSA), I’m shocked that the Yale Humanists have joined such an effort. In addition to co-signing the MSA’s letter, the Yale Humanists added that they don’t believe she represents the “totality of the ex-Muslim experience” in their own statement.

Which begs the question: Who, exactly, does represent a “totality” of an experience? Which ex-Muslim voice is “valid” enough or has the right credentials to critique Islam? Do Muslims need special “credentials” when speaking positively of Islam? Or is that requirement reserved only for those who do not believe that all religious traditions are the same and wonderful end-to-end? Do I have to believe (as Muslims do) that Islam is ultimately a peaceful religion or that Muhammad was a role-model for mankind before I’m deemed credible enough to speak about the faith?

Short answer? Yes.

…as a courageous Somali woman, Hirsi Ali’s existence alone is an inspiration to many, including one of our young Somali members who stated:

“I hate her views on current events and the statements she puts forth, she can be biased and too personal in her views, but there’s a place in my heart for her only because before, I literally thought it was impossible to be a female, Somali ex-Muslim so to deny her and being ‘offended’ by her visit, denies my existence socially from being known and accepted”.

As a former Muslim with friends and loved ones who are Muslim, I am disappointed with the behavior of the Muslim Students Association. There’s a pattern of silencing dissent that runs through the Muslim world both today and throughout much of its history, which we all need to work together to end. That effort should include all the signatories of the letter, including the Yale MSA, a group that I believe should lead the fight against fundamentalism and work towards fostering an open and honest dialogue.

But some members of the MSA perhaps think that stifling dissent is a core value of their religion…

You have the ability to help improve the lives of apostates, LGBTQ members of your community, and subjugated women. You can lobby to pass legislation on eliminating forced marriages and raise funds to help those who need to escape abusive situations instead of pretending as if it doesn’t happen in Muslim households. You can act as watchdogs and condemn those religious leaders who encourage women to stay with abusive families. You can encourage Muslim women to seek civil divorce instead of going through a patriarchal religious authority who, too often, denies them agency. You can both celebrate World Hijab Day and defend the right of women to reject modesty codes without facing social or legal repercussions. You can do so much more to better the state of Muslims and Muslim society, but instead you spend your time silencing criticism.

There are a million ways in which you can transform the world, but if you want a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that is clearly within your grasp, it requires moral and intellectual courage as well as honesty. That change will not come if Muslims refuse to accept criticism and their allies defend them, even at the cost of sacrificing the liberal values they hold dear.

Its a bad idea to defend allies at the cost of sacrificing the liberal values. A bad, bad, bad idea.

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

Guest post: And now they’re stuck

Sep 16th, 2014 3:43 pm | By

Originally a comment by =8)-DX on The cavalry has arrived.

I’m just going to try to give a really accommodating interpretation of the events:

James Randi, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins: all agree women are human beings and should be treated as such. But in their specific, biased, tribal, personal, ordinary, everyday, exploitative, non-sexist!, clearheaded, logical, rational, fun-loving, emotional situations a crack has appeared. This is the crack through which feminist thought, language, experience, evaluations seeps through.

And they don’t know what the fuck to do. They’re not equipped for it. Because in the past three years they decided to ignore the rising tide of feminist voices. That wasn’t important, that couldn’t happen, they didn’t do it. And now they’re stuck.

When my favourite atheist YouTuber said “guys, don’t do that”, I thought I’d learned something new. But I was wholy ignorant of reality: atheist emancipation, feminist thought, equality, secularism and skepticism, can’t take place on a backburner of slow, incremental progress. I had to take into account the gender of each participant, I had to take into accout the legion of bigots who at every turn need to express a reluctance to change.

“If only people could get together, sit down and sort things out.” doesn’t work when most (90%?!) are operating on prejudice alone, expounding confirmation bias and have no problem shouting their ignorance to the world.

People: you’ve always helped me in my ignorance, by taking me to task. Why don’t the big names understand this? Because equal rights are not just a word, but a whole field of inquiry that takes years of research and listening to grasp.

Shutting up now.

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

Provoking outrage

Sep 16th, 2014 12:44 pm | By

I made another attempt to talk reason. I’m absurdly optimistic, aren’t I.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 13h
Can it be true, some bloggers are paid by the click, and consequently fake outrage, or play the bully, in order to attract clicks? Hope not.

Answer to my question seems to be yes, and on-line newspapers may be worst offenders – deliberately touting for clicks by provoking outrage.

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson
.@RichardDawkins What about you, Richard? 2 million TGD sold, yes? Outrages many, yes? So…what is your point? You good we bad? That’s it?

@RichardDawkins Haven’t you been – often laudably – provoking outrage for years now? Why rebuke other provokers? Are you being consistent?

@RichardDawkins I heard you provoking outrage on Seattle public radio 1996. Loved it, & nipped off to your reading at U bookstore.

@RichardDawkins Your voice was gone, so Lalla did the reading. Small group, but lively. Inspired me to be more vocal about my atheism.

@RichardDawkins So WHY are you treating “outrage” as a bad thing now, just because you don’t share it? Not fair or consistent.

@RichardDawkins Ok, you don’t like it when we criticise your friends. But do you really think that’s a good reason to fight dirty?

@RichardDawkins I do “outrage” posts all the time – about FGM, honor killings, the death of Savita Halappanavar, the pope, the bishops…

@RichardDawkins …abortion clinics closing all over the US, prayer in school, Boko Haram, witch-hunting (the real kind) in Nigeria…

@RichardDawkins …poverty, inequality, the massive rise in incarceration in the US, Ebola, “blasphemy” charges in Pakistan…

@RichardDawkins …and I doubt that you frown on any of that. Why now?

There’s been no reply. I don’t suppose he’ll ever reply. I don’t understand his thinking here.

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

Can it be true?

Sep 16th, 2014 11:01 am | By

So now Dawkins is going full-on sleaze, by talking like any random troll about bloggers “faking outrage” or “playing the bully” in order to make thousands of dollars per post.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 11h
Can it be true, some bloggers are paid by the click, and consequently fake outrage, or play the bully, in order to attract clicks? Hope not.

I pointed out (in a tweet that I now can’t find, don’t ask me why) that he is paid per book, so should we assume he “fakes outrage” in his books in order to sell copies?

Updating, because I figured out why. (Forgot to hit “tweets & replies,” like a chump.)

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson · 4h
@RichardDawkins Did you “fake outrage” or “play the bully” 2 attract royalties for TGD? No, I don’t think so – you wrote what you wanted to.

@RichardDawkins So how about assuming other people do the same unless you have VERY good reason to think otherwise?

Then I said no, we shouldn’t, so neither should he.

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson
.@RichardDawkins In other words, no. We don’t “fake” anything. That’s a ridiculous & unworthy accusation.

I guess I should have included another item in the joint statement.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

I should have added “no invidious surmises about hidden motivations without a very good reason.”

Dawkins has no good reason to surmise and then announce (or pretend to “ask if”) we have corrupt motivations. None. It makes no more sense to assume we’re “faking outrage” about sexist claims about women than it does to assume he’s “faking outrage” about theism and godbothering.

Stephanie has his worst tweets over the last few hours in a post.

This is probably the prize-winner:

Richard Dawkins ✔ @RichardDawkins

Follow @CHSommers. You may not agree with her but she’s brave, & the Feedingfrenzy Thoughtpolice Bullies have got away with it for too long.
12:28 AM – 16 Sep 2014

Got away with what? Disputing our betters?

They really do think we’re lèsing their majesté.

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

The cavalry has arrived

Sep 15th, 2014 4:35 pm | By

Shoulder to shoulder the Thought Leaders stand, resisting the barbarian hordes of witch-hunting thought-police feministas.


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 17m
I wonder, is it best, @SamHarrisOrg, to just ignore the Outrage Junkies & Offence Junkies? Don’t feed their craving? …

Sam Harris, witch of the week, talks sense as ever. Probably won’t satisfy the Thought Police. …


Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Steve Zara @sjzara · 14m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg I agree Richard, that it’s best to ignore. Engagement is seen by them as a victory.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Daniel Sidnell @DanielSidnell · 14m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Indeed. Being “offended” makes them feel all warm and fuzzy. Loved Sam’s blog though.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Jeremy Stangroom @PhilosophyExp · 16m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Yes! There’s absolutely no point in directly engaging. It just gives them credibility. (Same as creationists!)


Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Finch @AlinaFinch · 46m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg no point in engaging. It makes them feels like their point is worth arguing about

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
David Galiel @davidgaliel · 47m
@richarddawkins YES! Don’t give them the oxygen they crave. @samharrisorg

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Chloe Newsom @ChloesThinking · 47m
@DanielSidnell @RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Stephen Fry’s go-to response to the phrase “I’m offended” is, “Well. So fucking what?”


Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Almonds @spartannik · 44m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Definetely ignore, these people don’t want equality they simply want attention.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Michael Noone @MichaelNoone4 · 44m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg engagement=vindication. Ignoring them leaves them sat there boiling

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Sean Aitken @SeanAAitken · 45m
@ChloesThinking @RichardDawkins @DanielSidnell @SamHarrisOrg Or Hitchens’ “I’m still waiting to hear what your point is”


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 38m
.@joshuapaling @SamHarrisOrg Yes, that’s the opposite argument I often put myself (eg whether to debate creationists). I can’t decide.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Musycks @Musycks · 42m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Pointless engagement. You and Sam are genuinely inquiring, seeking answers, they are seeking conflict.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Jonathan Anatrella @The_Uchi_Mata · 44m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg They’re outraged nobody listens to their opinions, and rightfully so- they’re looking for excuses to be angry.

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

More than one factor

Sep 15th, 2014 2:24 pm | By

A couple of more notes on Harris’s pig piece, for thoroughness, just because they’re nagging at me. I was short on time when I did the first post so I rushed it.

I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women.

Nobody said they were. It was Harris who tried to answer the question about why so few women in your audiences as if innate differences were the only factors. It was Harris who gave the simplistic one-factor explanation, not the pesky PC feminists.

For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families?

Good grief – can he really think those two are mutually exclusive? The fact that women have to make disproportionate sacrifices to have families is partly due to sexism.

Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

But hardly anyone does think that. It’s Harris who’s not thinking very deeply here. (Go away and learn how to think, is it?)

[H]aving been raised by a single mother since the age of two, I have always had a very visceral sense that men have a responsibility not to be evil jerks. And when they are, they should be sorted out—physically, if need be—by good men. Call me old-fashioned.

Well no, I’m afraid I’m just going to call you sexist again. When the sorting out doesn’t need to be physical, then why on earth can’t women (also) do it? Why specify men? Women and men both need to be able to teach men who are being evil jerks to stop being that.

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

Not the sexist pig

Sep 15th, 2014 10:57 am | By

Sam Harris has posted his response to objections to his claims about women in atheism.

He doesn’t start well. The title is not propitious.

I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For

Not good. Why assume we’re “looking for” sexism? Why dismiss our objections from the outset by assuming that we wanted to find them, for some evil purpose? And then the pig part is outdated, and dismissive. He’ll be complaining about political correctness next.

Also? He illustrated it.


But onward. What did he say? He recaps what he said and then comments.

“I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

Oh look, he actually does talk about political correctness! I thought I was kidding.

He says the reporter pretty much set him up, which may be true. Allowances for that.

Let me be clear about what I was trying to say (and actually do believe):
1. I started by claiming that my readership seems more male than female. And when I shifted to speaking about atheists as a group, I was referring to active atheists—that is, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity. I was not talking about everyone on Earth who doesn’t believe in God.

Oh. Right. Exactly what Michael Shermer said, then – he’s not saying the kind of atheists who just passively sit in chairs and listen are mostly men, no no, he’s saying the active ones, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity, are mostly men. So that’s way less insulting and patronizing.

2. Although I share the common perception that there is a gender imbalance among active atheists, I don’t actually know whether this is the case. I used to joke that my average “groupie” was a 75-year-old man. Happily, my audiences are now filled with young people, but I still encounter many more men than women. I wouldn’t be surprised if the split were 70/30. I would be very surprised if it were 50/50. Again, I am talking about active atheists. I have no idea whether there are more male unbelievers than female.

You know, I can think of an explanation for that that’s nothing to do with Our Essential Womanly Natures. It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.

Then he goes on to repeat what he said, at more length, as if we hadn’t understood. Men in the aggregate like pugnacious commentary, and women in the aggregate don’t. Yes, we got that; we understood that that’s what he was saying.

And then he quotes an exchange he had with a woman after the interview.

She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.

She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.
Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.
She: No. You’re just totally unaware of how sexist you are.

Me: Listen, I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.

Etc etc etc.

I remain unconvinced that he’s not at all sexist.


Oh zing.


Retweeted by D.J. Grothe
Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 30m
.@OpheliaBenson The problem, Ophelia, is that you seem not to know the difference between being critical and being unfair.

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

Sowing strife

Sep 15th, 2014 10:11 am | By

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti doesn’t like Islamic State and al Qaeda. He thinks they’re just big ol’ heretic factional cultist splitter types.

But Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly a paradise of liberal tolerance itself, as you may have noticed.

The arch conservatives Abdulrahman al-Barrak and Nasser al-Omar, who has more than a million followers on Twitter, have accused Shi’ites of sowing “strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims”.

Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan was sacked as judiciary head in 2008 for saying owners of media that broadcast depravity have forsaken their faith, a crime punishable in Sharia law by death, but he remains a member of the kingdom’s top Muslim council.

Abdulaziz al-Fawzan, a professor of Islamic law and frequent guest on the popular al-Majd religious television channel, has accused the West of being behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, saying “these criminals want to take control over the world”.

Such opinions, which echo the views of militants in Iraq, are not unusual in Saudi Arabia, which applies Sharia Muslim law, has beheaded 20 people in the past month, and where clerics oversee a lavish state-funded religious infrastructure.

The problem with IS isn’t so much all the killing and enslaving; it’s the attempting to move in on the territory.

Saudi authorities point to the influence of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in developing modern jihadi thinking, but play down Riyadh’s decades of support for Islamists around the world as a counterweight to anti-royal leftist ideology.

The government’s inability or reluctance to crack down on expressions of intolerance towards non-Sunnis has led some Saudi liberals and foreign analysts to ask if the kingdom is committed to tackling radicalism’s roots, or only its symptoms.

“It’s their definition of extremism we may not agree with. It is still very mainstream to call Shi’ites infidels. That’s not seen as extremist,” said Stephane Lacroix, author of Awakening Islam, a book about Islamism in Saudi Arabia.

Whereas in secular democracies, “infidel” isn’t even a category.

I like our way better.

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

Always under

Sep 15th, 2014 9:38 am | By

Finally, says Patricia Miller at Religion Dispatches, an unvarnished pro-patriarchy argument in all its glory.

Republican State legislator Paul Wieland filed suit requesting that he and his wife be allowed to opt out of the requirement under his coverage in the state health plan because it “violates their religious beliefs as Catholics and parents of three daughters,” says the National Catholic Reporter.

Wieland’s lawyer argues that if a closely held corporation like Hobby Lobby is allowed to opt out of the mandate, so too should individuals with objections to contraception. “If the corporations don’t have to do this for their employees, certainly Mom and Dad don’t have to do it for their daughters,” said Timothy Belz of the Thomas More Society.

Because Daddy is paying for it, you know! Gummint can’t make him pay for contraception for his daughters because he’s Daddy.

These groups simply don’t want any woman who works for them to get contraception through any kind of scheme linked to their insurance—even if they have nothing to do with it—because it undercuts their moral authority as men to regulate the reproductive behavior of women under their purview.

Women who can do that for themselves are made into sluts. Good women are always under the control and protection of a man. They’re too feeble and too slutty to manage without it.

According to social anthologist Jack Goody in his book The Development of Marriage and Family, the church’s insistence on policing the sexual morality of everyone in the society around it goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. From its founding as a sect within Judaism until well into the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church imposed it rules regarding sex and marriage on society in order to weaken pagan practices and t0 capture inheritances (that would have otherwise gone to family members) in order to strengthen the church. “By insinuating itself into the very fabric of domestic life, of heirship and marriage, the Church gained great control over the grass roots of society itself,” he argues.

Well of course it did. So would I, if I could do that, but I’m not a church, so I can’t.

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

Guest post: Change always inspires reactionary backlash

Sep 14th, 2014 5:59 pm | By

Originally a comment by thephilosophicalprimate on I’d love to agree, but…

Change always inspires reactionary backlash. Indirectly, the increasingly crude, loud, shouty open misogyny is evidence that feminism is winning. Actually dominant social views don’t need to resort to such open methods: Their very omnipresence makes them subtle and hard to focus on, like the air. What we’re seeing is the flailing, spastic death throes of dying attitudes, lashing out in desperate hope of fighting off the forces of change that are killing them — but it’s ineffective thrashing, and it’s only deepening the wounds. As Penny argues, their antics aren’t winning them friends and influence, but rather the opposite.

The open racism of the Tea Party — which is ultimately indistinguishable from the Republican “base” that the Southern Strategy worked on for years, even in the North — has much the same character. Racist attitudes are also mortally afflicted by cultural change and brute demographic facts, but by Gawd they’re going to go down screaming and flailing for all they’re worth!

In the end, though, I suspect that reactionary sexist and racist backlash is mostly sound and fury, signifying much less than it may appear. It’s an inevitable response to real change, but it doesn’t have any real potency to STOP the change. If anything, exposing its poisonous ugliness to the light of day only accelerates the pace of change.

Or at least, that’s what I think on my more optimistic days.

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

I’d love to agree, but…

Sep 14th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

Laurie Penny says we’re winning.

There’s a culture war happening right now. It’s happening in games, in film, in journalism, in television, in fiction, in fandom. It’s happening online, everywhere. And everywhere, sexists, recreational misogynists and bigots are losing.

They are losing, and they don’t know why.

I don’t think they are losing – unless by “losing” she means “failing to drive all the women, especially the feminist women, out.”

I don’t think they’re going to drive all of us out, but I don’t think they’re going to admit defeat and stop trying, either. I think we’re stuck with this mess. Too many people are having too much fun being shitty.

The routine, the arguments, have become far too familiar. A woman or a handful of women are selected for destruction; our ‘credibility’ and ‘professionalism’ are attacked in the same breath as we are called ugly, slut-shamed for dismissed either as stupid little girls or bitter old women or, in some cases, both. The medium is modern, but the logic is Victorian, and make no mistake, the problem is not what we do and say and build and create.

The problem is that women are doing it. That’s why the naked selfies, the slut-shaming, is not just incidental to the argument – it is the argument. Underneath it all, you’re just a woman, just a body. You can be reduced to flesh. You are less. You are an object. You are other. LOL, boobs.

Or LOL, no boobs. One of those. But either way it’s something a lot of people enjoy doing – just like gaming! – and I don’t see any reason to think they’ll stop.

They can’t understand why their arguments aren’t working. They can’t understand why game designers, industry leaders, writers, public figures are lining up to disown their ideas and pledge to do better by women and girls in the future. They can’t understand why, just for example, when my friend, the games critic and consultant Leigh Alexander, was abused and ‘called out’ as an unprofessional slut, a lying cunt, morally and personally corrupt, just for speaking truthfully and beautifully about all of this, it was Alexander who was invited to write her first piece for Time magazine, Alexander who got to define the agenda for the mainstream, who received praise and recognition, whilst her abusers’ words will be lost in a howling vortex of comment threads and subreddits and, eventually, forgotten.

But that doesn’t happen to every woman who is ‘called out’ as an unprofessional slut, a lying cunt, morally and personally corrupt, and blah blah blah – most of us get neither an invitation to write a piece for Time nor any other kind of prize or win. And for every public figure lining up to pledge to do better by women and girls in the future, there’s a Dawkins shouting his incredulity at claims that a friend of his is a harasser and praising the “feminism” of Christina Hoff Sommers as opposed to that pesky other kind that takes sexual harassment seriously.

They can’t understand why the new reaction to nude selfie leaks isn’t ‘you asked for it, you whore’, but ‘everyone does it, stop slut shaming.’ They can’t understand the logic of a world where ‘Social Justice Warrior’ just doesn’t work as an insult, because a great many people care quite a lot about social justice and are proud to fight for it.

They can’t understand why they look ridiculous.

This is a culture war. The right side is winning, at great cost. At great personal costs to people like Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn and even Jennifer Lawrence, and countless others who are on the frontlines of creating new worlds for women, for girls, for everyone who believes that stories matter and there are too many still untold. We are winning. We are winning because we are more resourceful, more compassionate, more culturally aware. We’re winning because we know what it’s like to fight through adversity, through shame and pain and constant reminders of our own worthlessness, and come up punching. We know we’re winning because the terrified rage of a million mouthbreathing manchild misogynists is thick as nerve gas in the air right now.

Yes but we thought that 40 years ago, too. We thought all that then. And we were right, up to a point, but…sexism and misogyny are in some ways worse than ever. No, I don’t think we’re winning.

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

I’m right, you’re wrong, and she’s a feminist detractor

Sep 14th, 2014 12:28 pm | By

Good news – Sam Harris is ready to rock & roll.


Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 21m
I have a draft of my response to my feminist detractors. Just going to run it by my wife, my mother, and Martha, my copy editor.

Fabulous start. We’re not colleagues, we’re not people with reasoned disagreements – no, we’re his “feminist detractors.” I guess he’s so important and correct that there’s no such thing as reasoned disagreement with him, there’s only detraction.

But at least he knows lots of women, so that’s reassuring. He has a wife, a mother, and a copy editor.

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

Blowy Jesus

Sep 14th, 2014 11:22 am | By

A Pennsylvania kid age 14 poses for a photo in which a statue of Jesus appears to be giving him a blow job, and posts the photo on Facebook (as one does).

Not the best fake blow job photo ever taken – but apparently that’s not why he’s been charged with a crime.

According to The Smoking Gun, police have invoked a rarely enforced Pennsylvania law that makes “Desecration of a Venerated Object” criminal. Violation of this law could land the teen in juvenile detention for two years.

Two years is a harsh sentence for juvenile shenanigans. Especially, when upon closer inspection, the teen’s actions don’t really fit the definition of the law. The formal charge is classified as a second degree misdemeanor. The violation is defined as “…desecration, theft or sale of a venerated object.” Pennsylvania law defines desecration as, “defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities” of people who learn of or discover the action.

Except he didn’t do any of those things – unless “otherwise physically mistreating” covers “taking a picture with.” He did touch the statue, but it looks durable enough that he probably didn’t chip the hairdo. (It’s one hell of an ugly statue, I must say. Donatello it’s not.)

But they seriously want to throw him in jail for two years for this.

Bill Higgins, Bedford County District Attorney, who said of the teen, “He bragged about it — he was proud of it. He put it on his Facebook page and now he’s going to be held accountable for it.”

Jail. Two years. He’s fourteen.

This country is terrible sometimes.

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

A shoddy and dishonest claim

Sep 13th, 2014 6:45 pm | By

Christina Hoff Sommers is bragging about being at the top of Amanda Marcotte’s list of seven anti-feminist women in Salon.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 10h
Cathy Young & I at top of SALON enemy list. We are both pro-choice, pro-LGBT,libertarian-leaning feminists. Our crime? We check feminist facts.

No, that’s not it. If she just did that I’d be all for it. Fact-checking is good. She does much more than that. Amanda summarizes a little of it:

A lot of people assume the term “female misogynist” is an oxymoron. How can a woman be opposed to the fight to help women achieve equality? The sad fact of the matter is, as long as there has been feminism, there have been women who find it personally advantageous to reject feminism and instead argue for continuing social systems that perpetuate women’s inequality, male dominance, and even violence against women. (There were even plenty of women who were willing to argue against women’s suffrage back in the day.) Here is a list of nine* women who have made a career out of opposing women’s struggle for social, political and economic equality.

1. Christina Hoff Sommers. Sommers is a pioneer in the art of arguing that it’s men who are actually the oppressed class in modern society. Her 2000 book The War Against Boys tried to argue, falsely, that feminists are ruining young men’s lives by oppressing them through the educational system. (Somehow those distressed young men continue to graduate and go on to have better job opportunities and make more money than their female peers.) She was most recently spotted offering her support to an organized online campaign to harass a young video game developer over her sex life.

That link? It goes here. [whistles casually]

2. Cathy Young. While Christina Hoff Sommers specializes in facetious claims about imaginary feminist oppressors, Young focuses on minimizing the problems of sexual abuse and harassment of women. Recently, she made a shoddy and dishonest claim that men get harassed more than women online, a claim that necessarily leads to the conclusion that women’s greater stress over harassment must be the result of their inferior constitution. Young also objects to the new movement to pass laws requiring men only to have sex with women who want the sex, on the grounds that men can’t be expected to handle something as simple as reciprocity.

That first link? It goes to Stephanie’s blog. [jazz hands]

I didn’t know all of this about Janet Bloomfield:

5. Janet Bloomfield. Bloomfield is supposedly the PR representative for the anti-feminist website A Voice For Men, but her take on public relations is much different than the way most people understand the term, as she spends most of her time harassing and abusing other women online. Indeed, her Twitter harassment got so bad Twitter actually banned her account, though she immediately started a new one and began her harassment anew. Bloomfield’s hatred of feminists has also led to her making up fake quotes she attributes to feminists in order to make it look like feminists hate men. Despite this unhinged behavior, she has a lot of status in the misogynist movement, because she provides cover for men who want to deny they hate women.

Definitely not just fact-checking. In fact, check your facts, Christina Hoff Sommers.

*It’s actually seven.

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


Sep 13th, 2014 6:05 pm | By

It’s good that Sam Harris isn’t at all smug or condescending.


Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 5h
Alright, fans of pointless controversy, you win. My next blog post will address my alleged sexism and misogyny. #EstrogenVibe

God forbid he should just look at what he’s quoted as saying, and think about it, and realize the implications of it for half of all human beings, and do something other than sneering at people who object. Hell no. Listen up, peons: he had a best-seller, so he is better than you. End of story.

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

Epistemology 101

Sep 13th, 2014 5:35 pm | By

Here’s an explanation for the hard of thinking.

There’s a difference between taking a claim seriously and asserting that it’s true.

There’s a difference between not expressing incredulity about a claim and asserting that it’s true.

There’s a difference between finding claims credible and asserting that they’re true.

There’s a difference between doubting the denials of claims and asserting that the claims are true.

There’s a difference between finding it more likely that a claim is true than it is that a denial of the claim is true, and asserting that the claim is true.

In short there are many possible views about a particular claim that are well short of 1. assuming that they’re true, let alone 2. asserting that they’re true.

I don’t know that the claims about Michael Shermer are true. I know that I don’t know they’re true. I’m not under any illusion that I know they’re true. I know that I can’t know that they’re true, because I’m not in a position to know.

But that doesn’t mean that I know they’re false. I don’t know that. I know that I don’t know that. I know that I can’t know that, because I’m not in a position to know.

But I think it’s more likely that they’re true than it is that they’re false. There are too many of them to think otherwise. James Randi said as much himself, in Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

Randi is no longer involved in his foundation’s daily operations, but he remains its chair, and he is a legend of the movement, famously not fooled by anybody. He seems not to be naïve about Shermer — although he’s not so troubled by him, either.

“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.

“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Never mind for the moment the multi-layered horribleness of that passage; here I’m just talking about it as a reason to find the claims about Shermer more likely to be true than Shermer’s denials of them. There are reasons to think the claims are true, and fewer reasons to think they’re not.

Another reason is that the women making the claims have nothing to gain from making them, and in fact were very reluctant. Shermer of course has a lot to gain from making his denials. That doesn’t demonstrate that his denials are false, obviously, but it does mean it’s pretty silly for people to say “Shermer says he didn’t!” As Mandy Rice-Davies said, well he would say that, wouldn’t he.

I hope that clears that up. I’ve never said I know, and I’ve never asserted that the claims are true. That’s a bullshit accusation.

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

Lots of it

Sep 13th, 2014 4:45 pm | By

This is the kind of thing (and maybe the actual thing) Jessica Meier must have been seeing, to think there’s ” too much money to be made playing the victim”:


Barbara A. Drescher As far as wanting it to stop, the attention and money (yes, there is money involved in appearing to be a victim–lots of it) must be pretty attractive, not to mention the addictive sense of outrage.

Isn’t she supposed to be some kind of skeptic? I know she used to work for the JREF until she…stopped working there. What on earth would make a skeptic credulous enough to think there is lots of money in “appearing to be a victim”? What money?

It’s just batshit, that kind of thing. No, there is not Lots of Money in talking about sexual harassment and the assholes who defend it. There really really isn’t.

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

Yale’s turn

Sep 13th, 2014 12:49 pm | By

There’s the new chapter of the long-running serial “University invites Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak and then…Tune in next Thursday to find out what happens.” This time it’s Yale, and its William F. Buckley, Jr. Program.

Hemant brings us up to speed.

Her speech is titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West”

Sigh. That’s not a good start.

It’s a jumble of categories. “Islam” is not a “civilization” and neither is “the West.” Both categories are too big and sloppy to mean very much. If you’re going to be provocative, it helps to be careful with your terminology.

But the point is that there’s the usual fuss, only more so.

More than 35 groups — including, to my disappointment, the Yale Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics — have signed on to an open letter expressing their disappointment in the invitation. It goes beyond just a harmless scolding, though. The Buckley Foundation said a representative from the Muslim Students Association specifically called for them to rescind her invitation.

In doing that, they start by saying they totally sympathize with what nasty experiences she had with Islam, but hey, all that was just misunderstanding of Islam, which itself is limpidly perfect and without flaw.

Our concern is that Ms. Hirsi Ali is being invited to speak as an authority on Islam despite the fact that she does not hold the credentials to do so.

Now that is ridiculous. You don’t need “credentials” to say what your experience was under an oppressive system that oppressed you. Arguably in fact she does have “credentials,” in the same sort of way Maajid Nawaz does: like him, she was herself an Islamist for awhile, so she in fact does know what it’s like to believe in the most reactionary version of Islam.

The comments Ms. Hirsi Ali has made on Islam have been classified as hate speech and have been considered unprotected libel and slander.

By whom? By people who dislike what she has to say, no doubt. That tells us nothing. We know that Islamists love nothing better than to “classify” all criticism of Islam as hate speech, and to tell anyone who will listen that they “consider” such criticism unprotected libel and slander. That’s a very clueless and ignorant thing to say, by the way, since comments on Islam can’t possibly be any kind of libel and slander (and it’s one or the other, not both). There’s no such thing as libel of a religion in the US.

Now about the Yale AHA – I suppose its decision to join in that open letter is not unrelated to the fact that Chris Stedman is its chaplain. I’ve learned to see his point about a lot of things lately, but – if that is the case – I disagree with him on this one.

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


Sep 13th, 2014 10:45 am | By

So the approach is going to be to pretend that talking about sexual harassment is exactly the same thing as making a formal, criminal accusation of rape – is that it?

That seems to be Dawkins’s approach as of today at least.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 10h
Raping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.”

One, that isn’t the sole prosecution evidence. But two, who is talking about jailing anyway? What people are talking about, as far as I know, is in-house, organizational stuff – better harassment policies, better enforcement, and above all less secrecy protecting serial harassers. But jailing? Not that I’ve seen.

Dawkins seems really convinced by his story though.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 11h
.@faufcb Yes. And there’s also a presumption of innocence till proved guilty. Too drunk to REMEMBER is evidence to put someone in JAIL?

What do you mean JAIL, Richard? Who said anything about JAIL?

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