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.


Some romantic victory over a single virus

Dec 25th, 2012 5:30 pm | By

Helen Epstein in the New York Review of Books says polio eradication campaigns aren’t such a good idea. Even if they weren’t mixed up with CIA spying, they wouldn’t be such a good idea, she says. They might might seem like a good idea, but…

The killings in Pakistan—which played out in a series of attacks in several different cities on December 18 and December 19—were heinous. But they also point to some serious problems with the heroic approach. For one thing, in conflict areas where the US is trying to route out insurgents with drone strikes, the UN is often not seen as neutral. But more fundamentally, the lavishly funded, multiple immunizations the polio program requires don’t always make sense—to local political leaders and warlords, or to ordinary poor people who are struggling just to keep their children alive. In order to avoid further tragedies, donors should work more closely with local people to improve the health of children in general, rather than strive for some romantic victory over a single virus alone.

Romantic?

She may have a point, but “romantic” is insulting. As she says, polio is horrible. Improve the health of children in general by all means, but also get rid of polio. Most countries in the world have done it; Pakistan and Afghanistan and Nigeria should do it too.

 

 

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



Some tropes

Dec 25th, 2012 11:44 am | By

I drew up a list of some of the anti-feminist tropes I’ve been seeing lately. (They’re not overtly anti-feminist – they’re more “this is how feminism is supposed to be done” – but they’re so crude and wrong and clueless that in fact they are anti-feminist. They’re anti everything that has been recognizable as feminism for a couple of generations now. The “feminism” they think they’re for isn’t really feminism.)

  • Heroism is better than feminism. Don’t talk about systemic problems, don’t be a “victim,” don’t “whine,” don’t say there are obstacles, don’t resist harassment. Just suck it up and be tough and succeed anyway. Anything else is an insult to women, especially to women who did suck it up and succeed anyway.
  • The struggle is over. We won. Feminism has fixed all the things already. There are no barriers, no obstacles, no issues, nothing to overcome, nothing to get rid of.
  • Women and men are different, so feminism is stupid, because it acts as if they’re not. Women are weaker and stupider than men. They like different things. They think in different ways. They shop. They fuss with their hair. They gossip. They don’t like sports or computers or gaming or cartoons or computer science or engineering or philosophy or science or logic or atheism or speaking in public or activism.
  • The way things are now is exactly how they are supposed to be. The jobs and interests and lives people have are all exactly the ones they want to have under any conditions whatsoever. People’s choices are not the least bit shaped by the surrounding culture or expectations or stereotypes or bullying or harassment or sexism or misogyny. There is no reason to ask why there are so few women in philosophy or physics or computer science. The numbers and proportions are what they are because everyone made a free choice, and that’s all there is to it.
  • There is no reason to make an extra effort to recruit women to fields and activities where they are a minority, because any time women are a minority, it is because they want to be.
  • Harassment and sexism and overt, vocal misogyny make no difference to anything. They’re all just jokes, just part of life, just haters being haters, just a tiny corner of something, just a little irritation which adults ignore.
  • The real feminism, “equality” feminism, is about formal explicit written laws, and nothing else. The laws are now all perfectly fair and egalitarian, so feminism has no work left to do, so any residual feminism is obviously crazy. Critical reflection on culture and stereotypes is “radical” feminism and it’s totally crazy and wrong. Dislike of overt, vocal misogyny is radical and crazy and wrong. Real feminists get the joke and laugh along with it.

That’s the list.

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



Santa and God have much in common

Dec 24th, 2012 5:34 pm | By

Kevin Smith (of CFI-Canada) contributes to an Ask the Experts piece on Should parents allow children to believe in Santa Claus?

It’s a short stretch of a child’s imagination to blur the legends of Santa and the Christian god. They have much in common.

That’s why allowing for a belief in the magic of Santa Claus is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their little ones at Christmas. While it may seem irrational to perpetuate a myth about a jolly old man who slides down chimneys delivering gifts, it encourages a child’s development in critical thinking.

Unless the adults block it!

Well I suppose I didn’t go on believing in Santa Claus until I was 17 or anything. But the blocking still annoyed me. It seemed like breaking an implied agreement – you don’t lie to the child when the child asks a serious question.

It’s funny in a way though, because I can’t for the life of me remember ever really believing in god. I remember tv shows from early childhood, but not early childhood mental pictures of god. Maybe tv got in the way of god – which is why idolatry is supposed to be a bad thing, isn’t it: the image or statue gets between you and the…fantasy.

Santa Claus awakened my skeptical mind. After the age of eight, I began to question how it was possible for a sleigh to carry so many presents, and why did he use the same wrapping paper as my parents?

The gift of Santa comes with a due-date. It promotes a critical assessment of the world; teaching us to seek evidence rather than accepting something on faith. Why this doesn’t extend to other supernatural super-heroes is beyond my belief.

Exactly. I argued in the other direction – I was in the back seat of the car on summer vacation, age about 5 or 6. Santa Claus is real, I told myself sagely, so maybe god could be real. You see where that would have led in a few years.

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



You have to rub your hands together like a nefarious villain

Dec 24th, 2012 2:12 pm | By

Kate Donovan reminded us of a certain transcript she did way back last June. It was that first Google+ hangout, run by PZ, with Ian and Stephanie and Dan and Rebecca and Jason and Greg and me and…Al Stefanelli. It’s why I’m always so surprised by the height and depth of his rage now – given how well concealed it was then.

Ian Cromwell: If you look at DJ’s record before this latest thing, there’s nothing to suggest he was looking for, or trying to encourage sexual harassment. In fact, my understanding is that it was quite the opposite. That he was trying his damndest to make TAM a more inclusive, diverse environment. His reaction is bad. But it is not uniquely bad. It is not atypically bad. This is what happens when you think there isn’t a problem, and people point out to you, hey look, you’ve got a bunch of problems. The first thing that anyone does is say you’re making it up, you’re exaggerating, it’s not a problem, you’re crazy. That’s a completely normal human stupidity thing to do.

Al Stefanelli: Ian, that might be normal, and I completely and totally agree with you. But we’re supposed to be men and women—people—of reason. And it doesn’t do well when one of us makes a statement, and we’ve all, at one time or another in our careers, made statements, printed things, said things, that turned out to be inaccurate, and when we were called on it, we retracted it. We came, on our blogs and our videos and our [couldn’t make it out], and said, you know, I said this, I wrote this, I was wrong, let’s move on.

Jason Thibeault: I’ve had to walk back things I’ve said that I didn’t intend the way they were said. And I’ve had to walk them back and correct them.

Al Stefanelli: Now, when you’ve got an individual who has as much influence as DJ does, when you get an individual like that, who was presented with evidence, it reminds me a lot of another demographic of our species who does the same thing, pretty much burying your head in the sand and saying ‘if I don’t say anything about it or if I ignore it, it will go away”. Problem is, we’re all skeptics. And it does not go away.

Gosh. He doesn’t sound like that now. I wonder what happened.

Al Stefanelli: Correct me if I’m wrong, Rebecca, but after DJ had said that there was no issue, or no problem, or however he stated it, didn’t he receive ample evidence or proof or accounts afterwards? That’s the point I’m was making, is that to deny that there was ever anything going on, after receiving reports… I don’t believe that there was any malice. I just think it’s poorly executed attempt to put a positive spin on something.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, DJ reported that there were—

Al Stefanelli: –acknowledge and apologize—

Stephanie Zvan: Well, he received the second report at TAM last year.

Al Stefanelli: So he knew about it prior to the fact, then, right, Stephanie?

Stephanie Zvan: Before he made these statements. He received the report last year at TAM.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah.

PZ Myers: It’s always the cover-up that gets you, isn’t it? That’s what’s happening here. You know, I don’t think any of us think that TAM is particularly awful, as far as sexual harassment. And as Rebecca mentioned, it’s always been the model convention for a lot of us as for how to handle diversity. And the problem is that here we’ve got a few incidents. They’re reported, and they’re swept under the rug and ignored, and that’s what’s bother people. Why can’t you just face up to the fact that yes, there has been a small amount of sexual harassment going on at TAM, you haven’t been very effective at treating it; we’d like to see you be better about it. That’s what we’re saying. That’s what we want. And DJ seems to be running away from this. That’s the annoying thing about it.

Rebecca Watson: Every, every conference has problems. Not just in the skeptic or atheist communities—every conference everywhere has problems. So when you tell us that there’s never any problem at this conference, first of all, that’s highly dubious. And then all these reports come in and show that it’s flat out wrong. However, there are other conferences that say yeah, things happen. Here is what we do to take care of them. Here is what’s happened in the past. Here’s how we do our best to keep you safe. That is what’s going to make people feel safe, and come out to your conferences.

Al Stefanelli: And it won’t throw up any red flags. Whenever someone says “never”, it always throws up a red flags, particularly in the skeptical community. Don’t tell us something never happens. Because somebody is going to find a report of something that happens, and they’re going to call you on it. It’s like when they find that misused comma in your blog.

But but but but I thought we were the bad guys here.

Jason Thibeault: And I think there’s a lot of misinformation going on in this entire fight, from the very get-go. Look at—first of all, DJ has been conflating TAM with the entirety, the totality, of the skeptic/atheist communities. It’s kind of ridiculous. And then come the trolls, who say that Rebecca and Stephanie are trying to ruin TAM. And there comes the troll who says Ophelia thinks TAM is like Nazi Germany. And there are so many instances where—

Ian Cromwell: Wait. Those aren’t true? [deadpan]

[everyone chuckles]

Ian Cromwell: I don’t know… I heard from a preeeeetty reliable source.

[more chuckling]

Rebecca Watson: Surely those trolls can’t think I’m trying to ruin TAM. I backed out of TAM, so I’m sure they think TAM is way better now, sooo

Jason Thibeault: Oh, but you’re trying to send women to TAM so that you can have them harassed, and then you can talk about it, and then take over the movement. That’s what I heard.

Rebecca Watson: Really? Like it’s entrapment? Oh, God.

Al Stefanelli: If you’re going to do that, you have to rub your hands together like a nefarious villain.

[more laughs. Ian and Jason recommend buying a fake mustache at the same time. Jason illustrates with his mustache. More laughing happens]

PZ Myers: So that’s it. When DJ said only 18% of the attendees were women, he wasn’t saying we need more women, he was saying we need to get rid of these women somehow.

[more laughs]

Rebecca Watson: Now it’s going to look really bad when it comes out that the uniform all of our grant attendees have to wear is just like a string bikini, and you know…

[more laughing]

Ian Cromwell: Can I get one of those?

Jason Thibeault: …uniform of the Galiban?

Al Stefanelli: I find it quite ironic that the people who are accusing The Powers That Be of trying to ruin TAM, are actually trying to make it better. Theyre trying to make it a better event. That’s disheartening to me. When people are trying to make a venue, you know, more attractive to everybody, to be accused of trying to make it worse. It’s mind-boggling.

That was then. This is now.

 

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



Santa is real!!

Dec 24th, 2012 1:57 pm | By

So what about Santa Claus, huh? Alex Gabriel has been saying on Twitter that adults shouldn’t tell children lies and Santa Claus is a lie so what about it eh? And people are unagreeing with him.

I agree with him though. I agree with him because I resented being lied to about it when I was a kid. I thought it was a dirty trick, since adults have that advantage that children tend to believe them, because they’re supposed to know better and tell the truth and all like that. You know what? I still think that.

I don’t see the point of it, in the case of people who value the truth. It seems strange not to want to begin as you mean to go on. Why not just treat Santa Claus as a fun story and ritual?

What do you think, Linda?

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



No message in the event

Dec 24th, 2012 10:43 am | By

The Washington Post takes a look at how atheist parents try to comfort their children after (our all-too-frequent) mass shootings.

As so many millions of Americans turn to clergy and prayers to help their
children sort out the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, parents like Drizin
do not. They don’t agonize over interpreting God’s will or message in the event.
They don’t seek to explain what kind of God allows suffering, and they don’t
fudge it when children ask what happens to people who die, be they Grandma or
the young victims of Newtown.

And that’s not all bad. God and heaven seem like quick and ready comfort to many people, and no doubt that’s how it works for many, but…

…they bring uncomforting problems with them, especially the what kind of god question. It’s the difference between one malevolent person, and a malevolent god who runs everything. Which is more frightening?

The Post talks to Jamila Bey.

Atheist parents describe talking about death with their children in a straightforward way, without anxiety.

“We are a science-based family. When we don’t know the answer, we say, ‘We don’t know.’ We don’t say ‘Jesus did it,’” said Jamila Bey, a 36-year-old D.C. radio host who attended Catholic churches and schools through college. Her son is 4.

Bey’s son was too young to hear about the Newtown shootings, but she said she was confronted unexpectedly with the topic of death a few months ago when he saw an episode of “Babar” in which a hunter shoots and kills the fictional elephant’s mother.

“He said, ‘Little boys shouldn’t be without their mommies, is she ever coming back?’ ”

I had to explain, ‘Honey, life is very long, but sometimes bad things happen. Not often and they hurt.’

“I said, ‘When people die, it’s just like before they were ever born. They’re not scared, they’re not hungry, they’re not cold. But the people left behind miss them.’ I didn’t fill him with ideas of celestial kingdoms where you get wings and shit.”

Ohh, I remember finding the shooting of Babar’s mother upsetting as a child. Kind of permanently upsetting – I loved the book and read it often. It’s a poignant illustration.

When Matthieu Guibert’s mother-in-law passed away this summer, his 10-year-old son heard a pastor at the grave mention a possible afterlife.

“He said it sounded weird to him, she was gone; how would we meet her again? It’s hard to grasp for a 10-year-old. I tried to tell him, ‘When you die some people think it’s part of another life, but we don’t believe it because there is no proof. We’d rather focus on this life.’ ”

Guibert was raised Catholic in France and his wife as an evangelical in the United States, and they want the boys to be informed.

“We try to emphasize religions with an ‘s.’ We tell them we don’t believe in any of it. Nothing. None,” said the 35-year-old Germantown scientist. But he said they don’t talk too much yet to the children about atheism and “try to stay neutral.”

“As far as morality and how to behave, when it comes up I say ‘You don’t have to have religion to know right from wrong.’ The golden rule is what we go by,” said Guibert, who attends a monthly parent meet-up connected with the pro-secular Center for Inquiry.

Not only do you not have to have religion to be good, but religion can (and does) very often get it wrong.

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



We are blighting the entire concept of social justice and equality

Dec 23rd, 2012 4:22 pm | By

Holy shit. Al Stefanelli has really jumped the shark.

He’s done a video to say how horrible the Bad FTBers are, and he doesn’t hold back.

He starts with a bang:

So what the hell is wrong with these people? Who? Well, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Stefanie [sic] Zvan, Rebecca Watson, to a degree Jennifer McCreight, Amy Roth, Melody Hensley, several people over at the Atheism Plus forum, a handful of others who have managed to not only drive people away from nonsectarian activism in droves, but have driven a wedge deep into what should be a unified cause. They aren’t helping, anywhere. They are radical extremists in several genres, including feminism, and are giving a bad name to several groups, several marginalized groups, including real feminists, the LGBT community, and they appear to have an incredibly unhealthy vendetta against men, as it appears, and in general against the entire Caucasian race as well.

We’re giving a bad name to real feminists? The LGBT community? We have an incredibly unhealthy vendetta against men and against the entire Caucasian race?

I don’t know any of that, and I don’t think it’s true.

But that’s comparatively mild. There’s more.

Well together they appear to be nothing other than another religious cult. They have not only become a caricature unto themselves, but they are blighting the entire concept of social justice and equality, and they are trampling on the rights of several other demographics.

 His demeanor is…unpleasant. It’s O’Reilly-like. It’s thuggish. It’s ten minutes of ragey rage, much of it quite frankly lies, and it ends with a hymn of praise for…the slyme pit.

Well Merry Christmas to you too, Al.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTpHj3HvVC4

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



What can be done to reduce stereotype threat?

Dec 23rd, 2012 12:14 pm | By

What can be done to reduce stereotype threat?

Beliefs about the nature of ability influences a host of variables including motivation and achievement in the face of challenge or difficulty. Some individuals tend to believe that intelligence is fixed, not changing over time or across contexts (an “entity theory”). Because they believe that ability is fixed, entity theorists are highly concerned with messages and outcomes that supposedly reflect their “true” abilities (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Dweck & Sorich, 1999). When facing challenges, entity theorists tend to demonstrate lowered focus and task avoidance. Others tend to view intelligence as a quality that can be developed and that it changes across contexts or over time (an “incremental theory”). Incremental theorists tend to be more focused on improving rather than proving ability to themselves or others (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). When facing challenge, incremental theorists are likely to increase effort to further learning and to overcome obstacles (Dweck & Sorich, 1999; Mueller & Dweck 1998). Although many studies have treated implicit theories of ability as individual difference variables, studies have shown that these beliefs themselves can be altered (at least on a short-term basis) by modifying how abilities are described and the specific nature of praise (e.g., by praising effort rather than ability).

The whole page is useful and relevant, but I’ll focus on that passage. A cherished trope of the anti-feminism faction is to insist, with more or less affectation of honest looking facts in the face, that the sexes really are different, and talking endlessly about the putative differences is just being scientific. Therefore…we just hafta say that women are not as logical or rational or intelligent or assertive as men, because it’s true, dude.

They’re all entity theorists.

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



A new “religion” on the rise

Dec 23rd, 2012 11:48 am | By

Eh what? Is it 2009? Rita Panahi seems to be stuck in a time warp.

THOSE on the lunatic fringe who live in fear of a Muslim invasion have a new threat to keep them up at night — and this one is real. There’s a new “religion” on the rise whose band of non-believers is becomingly increasingly bold, some would say militant, in not only pushing its own belief system but actively trying to shut down dissenting views.

New? A new religion on the rise? Calling outspoken atheism “militant” is about as new as the hula hoop.

Atheism is no longer just a quiet and personal celebration of reason, it has grown into a movement that is employing some of the tactics used by traditional religion to increase its following and influence.
Is atheism supposed to be a quiet and personal celebration of reason? Is that some kind of rule? Is it forbidden for atheists to argue for atheism? I don’t think so. Religion isn’t purely quiet and personal, theism isn’t purely quiet and personal, so why should atheism be purely quiet and personal?
The increasing secularisation of England has resulted in bans on prayers at council meetings and even court cases over people’s right to wear a cross at work.
Not exactly. That’s a misleading way of putting it. There haven’t been any court cases over a general ban on wearing a cross at work; the court cases have been about people who want exemption from rules that ban all jewelry for safety reasons. Nobody, not the most rabid atheist Cristina Odone could imagine, wants to prevent everyone from wearing a cross at work.

Atheists are particularly keen at showing their disdain for Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church. It’s easy to be critical of the sexual abuse scandals and the sheer absurdity of a Pope who has embraced social media but condemns the use of condoms in African countries riddled with AIDS.

What is not so easy is to be consistent with that criticism when considering other religions.

With a few notable exceptions, such as Harris and the courageous Ayaan Hirsi Ali, most atheists shy away from any real criticism of Islam.

Well, you know, that’s really not true. There are more than “a few” exceptions.
A rather lazy bit of Xmas boilerplate, this looks like, but it’s a lazy bit of Xmas boilerplate that re-enforces an existing stigma against a marginalized set of people. Happy solstice.
H/t Barry Duke

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



Mausoleum smashing time

Dec 23rd, 2012 11:24 am | By

The Islamists in Mali are smashing the Timbuktu mausoleums* again.

“Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu,” Abou Dardar, a leader of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, told AFP news agency.

Islamists in control of northern Mali began earlier this year to pull down shrines that they consider idolatrous.

Tourist official Sane Chirfi said four mausoleums had been razed on Sunday.

“Idolatrous” is just a flattering word for “not ours so we hate it.”

The Salafists of Ansar Dine condemn the veneration of saints.

“Allah doesn’t like it,” said Abou Dardar. “We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area.”

They don’t know what “Allah” likes or doesn’t like. They just think they do, because there’s a book, and maybe the book says something like that, kind of, somewhere. They don’t know, but they pretend they do, to justify their stupid ugly hatred and vandalism.

*I keep wanting to make that mausolea, but it seems to be non-standard.

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



If you want to give Ed Brayton a hand

Dec 23rd, 2012 10:33 am | By

Ed had open heart surgery a few days ago.

The good news is that I have health insurance, which I pay on a COBRA from my job with AINN (it runs out in six months and I’ll have to get my own insurance, which thankfully can’t be denied anymore because of the preexisting condition). But I’m still going to have some significant out-of-pocket expenses and loss of income during the recovery period (it’s going to be a couple months before I’m really back to normal). So you can certainly help out financially if you have the means to do so and it would be greatly appreciated. You can donate through Paypal (if neither of these work below, just go to Paypal.com and the email address is stcynic@gmail.com

The buttons are all over there, so if you want to help out, you can go push one of them.

The evil FTB tribal tribe is very glad to have Ed back.

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



You keep prodding and poking at them

Dec 22nd, 2012 4:07 pm | By

Oy, here we go again – the Daily Mail is reporting on Dawkins’s 2006 “fear of hell is worse than mild abuse” claim, all over again, as if it hadn’t just been beaten to death again only a month ago, and as if it hadn’t started on its career of being beaten to death way back in 2006.

Raising your children as Roman Catholics is  worse than child abuse, according to militant atheist Richard  Dawkins.

In typically incendiary style, Professor  Dawkins said the mental torment inflicted by the religion’s teachings is worse  in the long-term than any sexual abuse carried out by priests.

He said he had been told by a woman that  while being abused by a priest was a ‘yucky’ experience, being told as a child  that a Protestant friend who died would ‘roast in Hell’ was more  distressing.

Last night politicians and charities  condemned the former Oxford professor’s views as attention-seeking and  unhelpful.

For crying out loud – “typically incendiary style” yourself, Daily Mail! And no doubt one or two politicians and charities did condemn his views, once you phoned them up and asked them to.

What a cheap mindless fuckwitted excuse for journalism.

I said things about it all a month ago, saying the sexual abuse claim was a mistake and should be left out of it, especially now, but dammit he’s right about hell. That’s still what I think, lo these four weeks later – yes I still think it’s very bad to assure children that they or people they love will (or could) be tortured in hell forever.

There are a lot of tweets on the subject on his Twitter timeline at the moment. They’re powerful.

Hazlitt@iamhazlitt

@RichardDawkins as a child I had sleepless nights in tears because I was told people I couldn’t ‘save’ were going to hell. Feel free to RT

Katy McLeod@Kattyness

@RichardDawkins Friend who is kind, gentle, compassionate but catholic is convinced she will go to hell. Seen her sob, terrified, about it.

Teri Green@TeriTurtleresq

@RichardDawkins My dad was an atheist, my mom scared me so by telling me he was going to hell. I had nightmares.

AtheistNYC@AtheistNYC

@CoffeePunks@richarddawkins Remember crying everyday,as a 5 yr old, bc I couldn’t believe in Muhammed & thought I’d end up burning in hell.

morgan davies@mgdavies3

@RichardDawkins I once had a Baptist crying her eyes out describing how her own mother was burning in hell for eternity , religion sucks

Aimee Grober@ScienceIsRad

@GreenClouds4@RichardDawkins Telling a child that they were born guilty, and are going to burn for eternity in a lake of fire is abusive.

There’s also a strangely random and untrue tweet from one of the #FTBullies crowd -

Jeremy Stangroom@PhilosophyExp

Daily Mail joins FtB lot in treating Dawkins’s “child abuse” claims in hysterical fashion. http://bit.ly/UYKYpf #religion

What “FtB lot”? Who among the “FtB lot” has treated Dawkins’s “child abuse” claims in hysterical fashion? Where, when?

There’s no way of knowing, so the mud sticks to anyone the #FTBullies crowd want it to stick to. And on and on it goes.

He did explain his thinking on this subject a few hours earlier.

Jeremy Stangroom@PhilosophyExp

The good thing about many messianic types is that if you keep prodding and poking at them, they will in the end self-destruct.

Ahhhhhhh so that’s what is is. You keep prodding and poking at us because you think we are “messianic types.” That’s interesting. It justifies any old harassment and stalking and bullying, doesn’t it, because all you have to do is decide that someone is a “messianic type” and you can do anything you want to. That’s especially odd because his claim all along has been that we’re “bullies,” but what does “you keep prodding and poking at them” describe other than bullying? I would really like to know. I think “you keep prodding and poking at them” is an excellent definition of bullying.

It’s helpful to know where we are.

 

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



Prince Charles pretends to be a medical expert again

Dec 22nd, 2012 12:19 pm | By

He talks the usual holistic bollocks, which the newspapers duly solemnly repeat for him.

The Prince Of Wales called today for a health service that recognises “the core human elements of mind, body and spirit” as well as treating disease.

Charles said health professionals should develop a “healing empathy” to “listen and honour what is being said and not said by patients” so they can find their own way towards better health.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, he set out a vision of healthcare that includes “the physical and social environment, education, agriculture and architecture”.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine? How does someone with no medical or scientific training of any kind get to publish an article in a medical journal? Was it peer-reviewed?

The editor explains:

Dr Kamran Abbasi, the journal’s editor, said: “The Prince of Wales is a prominent and influential voice.

“When he sets out his vision for health, something he clearly thinks deeply about, speaking directly to medical professionals is the best way of allowing a constructive debate to flourish.

“This is an important article and The Prince’s vision for health is engaging.”

Well of course the prince is a prominent and influential voice – that’s because he’s the prince! That’s the only reason. That’s a seriously crappy reason to publish an article by him in a medical journal.

Toffy McToff doesn’t have any special wisdom merely because he was born a Windsor.

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



There are pink aisles and blue aisles

Dec 22nd, 2012 12:07 pm | By

If the New York Times notices

IMAGINE walking into the toy department and noticing several distinct aisles. In one, you find toys packaged in dark brown and black, which include the “Inner-City Street Corner” building set and a “Little Rapper” dress-up kit. In the next aisle, the toys are all in shades of brown and include farm-worker-themed play sets and a “Hotel Housekeeper” dress.

If toys were marketed solely according to racial and ethnic stereotypes, customers would be outraged, and rightfully so. Yet every day, people encounter toy departments that are rigidly segregated — not by race, but by gender. There are pink aisles, where toys revolve around beauty and domesticity, and blue aisles filled with toys related to building, action and aggression.

It’s what I keep saying (as do other people) – some things that just jump out at everyone if they’re in racial or ethnic terms, seem just normal in gender terms. Michael Shermer would never say, “it’s more of a white thing.” Lots of people who would never call anyone a “nigger” in anger think nothing of calling a woman a bitch or a cunt in anger. And yes – toys aren’t arranged by race, so why are they arranged by gender?

During my research into the role of gender in Sears catalog toy advertisements over the 20th century, I found that in 1975, very few toys were explicitly marketed according to gender, and nearly 70 percent showed no markings of gender whatsoever. In the 1970s, toy ads often defied gender stereotypes by showing girls building and playing airplane captain, and boys cooking in the kitchen.

But by 1995, the gendered advertising of toys had crept back to midcentury levels, and it’s even more extreme today. In fact, finding a toy that is not marketed either explicitly or subtly (through use of color, for example) by gender has become incredibly difficult.

It’s the Hot New Thing, policing gender. Not policing gender is so last century, so boring, so politically correct.

The ideas about gender roles embedded in toys and marketing reflect how little our beliefs have changed over time, even though they contradict modern reality: over 70 percent of mothers are in the labor force, and in most families domestic responsibilities are shared more equitably than ever before. In an era of increasingly diverse family structures, these ideas push us back toward a more unequal past.

That and all the “Real Housewives.”

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



One every three days

Dec 22nd, 2012 11:20 am | By

The Huffington Post puts numbers to what I was saying the other day about the cumulative Newtowns that don’t get the kind of attention that Newtown got.

Police reports about the final moments of Demetrius Cruz’s life include the kind of information that is at once difficult to fathom and yet somehow part of the ordinary but tragic tapestry of life in the U.S.

Cruz was riding in a car with his cousin on a Denver street Saturday when the driver of a white car started bumping, following and then chasing the teens’ car. Cruz called his aunt. He was scared. Someone in the white car fired several shots, striking and killing Cruz. He was just 15 years old. That same night in Kansas City, Mo., a bullet sliced through the body of 4-year-old Aydan Perea while he was sitting in a car with his dad. Police say Perea was the innocent and unsuspecting victim of a gang drive by. Days later, on Tuesday, Dalton Williams, 16, was killed in Pierre, S.D. with a shotgun wielded by a friend after a dispute over a paintball game.

In each case, local newspapers and television stations captured the shocking and sad details. But no national media camped outside the boys’ homes, schools or places of worship. No satellite trucks were driven in to beam the faces of these human sacrifices to America’s gun violence problem abroad. The president did not call to offer his condolences. Nor did he come to town to give a speech. And no professional athletes sent their jerseys or spoke publicly about the boys’ deaths.

That’s because 20 at a time trump 1 at a time…and, I’m sorry to say, probably because a prosperous middle-class mostly white school also draws more attention. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a battered impoverished mostly non-white school in Chicago or Houston would get just as much and the same kind of attention if 26 people were killed there…But I wonder.

Cruz, Perea and Williams are just another string of child shooting victims whose deaths somehow seem not uncommon because they happened one at a time. Together though, child shooting fatalities in the U.S. last year alone amounted to more than two dozen Sandy Hook massacres — and the country has scarcely reacted.

In 2011, guns were used to murder 8,583 people living in the U.S., according to the most recent FBI data available. Among those murdered by guns, there were 565 young people under the age of 18, and 119 children ages 12 or younger — the latter number nearly equivalent to six Newtown mass shootings. And these figures include only homicides.

Worth remembering.

 

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



Oh look there we all are

Dec 21st, 2012 5:57 pm | By

This is entertaining. I was browsing through stuff trying to recall previous disagreements with Shermer (I know I’ve had some, though only unilateral ones) and I found a post of Jerry Coyne’s from more than three years ago. It’s about Shermer as accommodationist.

Amusingly, I start by arguing that Shermer can be read as describing a view rather than endorsing it. Funny, isn’t it! Since now I’m getting shouted at for confusing the two in the case of “it’s more of a guy thing.”

Then there’s the whole pragmatism question.

 

  • Posted November 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Shermer is a bit weird on this topic. At the Beyond Belief conference a few years ago, he practically blew up at criticisms of the Templeton Foundation. I don’t think he is receiving money from them, but at the time it was striking in how loudly and angrily he reacted to complaints about an organization to which he didn’t belong.

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      He also seems to be afflicted with the one-eyed practical or ‘political’ approach that is so noticeable in Chris Mooney. He talks about what ‘works’ without pausing to say what he means by ‘works’ – apparently thinking that absolutely everything boils down to some kind of campaign. What if (at least sometimes) we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right?

How it takes me back.

But then, even more entertaining – I find myself saying yet again, or rather not again but way back then, that Shermer said what he said and not something else. I say it to, of all people, Russell Blackford. The ironies.

 

  • Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia says: “What if (at least sometimes) we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right?”

    I’m going to keep batting for Michael here, because I think this gets things a bit backwards. Michael could reply: “What if (at least sometimes) we do care about what ‘works’ as much as we care about getting it right?”

    Now, maybe we should always care more about getting it right, but that’s not the argument. I can’t speak for Michael, of course, but I doubt that he’d deny the following: “sometimes we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right”. I think he’d say, “Yes, sometimes … but not all the time. I’m talking about those other times.”

    If so, is there really that much disagreement?

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      But Russell, he said what he said. I’m arguing with what he said. Maybe he would rephrase it if you asked him, but he did say what he did say. He said “There are multiple ways [to respond to theists and/or theism], all of which work, depending on the context.” I’m saying they don’t all “work” (unless he means something very odd and idiosyncratic by “work”) and whether or not they “work” isn’t the only question to ask about them.

Do admit. That’s exactly what I’ve said about nineteen times during this dispute, when people keep saying what he could have said or what they’re sure he meant, and I keep saying he said what he said and that’s what I’m arguing with.

And the same disagreement. Let’s not pin him to exactly what he said. But why not, since he did say it?

Posted November 29, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink

But Ophelia, he does seem to think that sometimes we just plain straight out should tell the theists that their views are wrong, or are not rationally grounded, or are merely a human construction, or whatever. That’s consistent with his modus operandi in the past … and it’s a funny sort of accommodationist position. He’d probably think that this “works” approach in some sense, but presumably not in the sense of getting theists to fight global warming, etc.

I don’t think the pieces are written with the kind of rigour that justifies trying to analyse them like statutes or like poems, and they wouldn’t stand up to that sort of analysis. But to me, the question is whether Michael is telling us that religion and science “just are” compatible in some broad, sloppy sense, without all the needed caveats that you and I and Jerry like to insist on (which tend to eat up the claim itself), or whether he wants us to stop criticising religion – things like that. I can see problems in the original piece (I discuss some of these at more length over at Butterflies and Wheels) as well as in his attempt to defend it. But I don’t think he’s doing either of those things. The problems I see are quite specific (some of them are actually theological!). At this stage, they don’t add up to reason to think that Michael has gone over to the accommodationist side.

And – to everyone – I freely admit that I’m looking at these pieces charitably. But I think we should always do that until we have enough cumulative reason to do otherwise, and especially with someone who has Michael’s sort of track record of opposing irrationalism.

  • Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Russell, I don’t want to claim that Michael himself has gone over to the accommodationist side (and anyway, as I said in replying to you at B&W, even if he has he can always come back again). I just want to dispute some (much) of what he says in this particular piece.

    It’s an argumentative piece, after all, and a personal one at that – so I really don’t see why we shouldn’t take its claims at face value and disagree with them if we disagree with them.

And here it is three years later and I still don’t see why we shouldn’t take particular claims at face value and disagree with them if we disagree with them. Is this consistency or sheer bloody stubbornness?

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



A good guy with a gun

Dec 21st, 2012 3:49 pm | By

And there’s the eagerly-awaited press conference where Wayne LaPierre of the NRA explained why it’s desperately urgent that there be hundreds of millions more assault weapons in the hands of everyone.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s vice president, at a packed media event was interrupted twice by protesters demanding tougher gun controls.

No, that’s wrong. The thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, much more safely and in time, is not letting him get one in the first place.

Angry and combative, Mr. LaPierre, who has led the N.R.A.’s operations for two decades, complained that the news media had unfairly “demonized gun owners,” and he called the makers of violent video games “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.”

You know…I’m finding it hard not to start shouting about wanting LaPierre’s head on a stick.

He said that armed security guards at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 might have stopped the gunman, Adam Lanza, at the outset of his rampage. “Will you at least admit,” Mr. LaPierre said, appealing directly to members of the news media who he said had been unduly skeptical of the N.R.A., “that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?”

No, you damn fool. 26 innocent lives would have been spared that day if Adam Lanza had been no more able to obtain an assault rifle than he was to obtain a tactical nuclear weapon.

The event Friday, billed as a news conference, was odd both in tone and substance. Rather than offer the type of hedged or carefully calibrated comments that politicians and lobbyists often prefer, Mr. LaPierre let loose with a scorching attack on the N.R.A.’s accusers.

He blasted what he called “the political class here in Washington” for pursuing new gun control measures while failing, in his view, to adequately prosecute violations of existing gun laws, pay for law enforcement programs or develop a national registry of mentally ill people who might prove to be “the next Adam Lanza.”

Oh right, because “the political class here in Washington” isn’t craven enough toward the NRA.

Here’s a squalid fact for you - certain kinds of information about guns and crime are treated as secret under the law. 

Under the law, investigators cannot reveal federal firearms tracing information that shows how often a dealer sells guns that end up seized in crimes. The law effectively shields retailers from lawsuits, academic study and public scrutiny. It also keeps the spotlight off the relationship between rogue gun dealers and the black market in firearms.

Such information used to be available under a simple Freedom of Information Act request. But seven years ago, under pressure from the gun lobby, Congress blacked out the information by passing the so-called Tiahrt amendment, named for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). The law removed from the public record a government database that traces guns recovered in crimes back to the dealers.

“It was extraordinary, and the most offensive thing you can think of,” said Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group for police chiefs. “The tracing data, which is now secret, helped us see the big picture of where guns are coming from.”

Just like that. The gun lobby managed to get a law passed (a rider to a bill, to be exact) that protects gun dealers by making information secret.

Pathetic.

 

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



Not a single adult male on the school premises

Dec 21st, 2012 3:08 pm | By

The National Review Online has figured out what went wrong at Sandy Hook school. It was too feminized! There weren’t any men around!! Feminist witch hunts!!!

Charlotte Allen makes the case:

There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel — the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist” — were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers.

And men aren’t, because they’re made of bronze?

Don’t be schewpid. We’re all sitting ducks for mass murderers if they’re carrying assault rifles. That’s why we have to take away the assault rifles. The answer is not to fire all the women.

Some of the teachers managed to save all or some of their charges by rushing them into closets or bathrooms. But in general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm.

I think what Charlotte Allen is thinking of there is a civilian setting. In a civilian setting, not running around with assault rifles shooting at everyone is the norm. That’s not “helpless passivity,” it’s normal civilian life. It’s not normal to have men with assault rifles shooting everyone. Can we get that straight? That situation is abnormal, and sick. We don’t have to give up the habits of civilian life to deal with guys carrying assault weapons. We have to ban the fucking assault weapons, instead. We don’t have to insult women by announcing that they bring helpless passivity with them, we have to ban weaponized aggression.

Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak — but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel. Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.

He would have shot them. Testosterone doesn’t make you immune to bullets, and neither does playing high-school football or being “husky.”

But hey, that’s no fun. Let’s just blame women and feminism and “feminization” for all the things, no matter what.

 

 

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



The feminist witch hunt continues!

Dec 21st, 2012 10:59 am | By

Now I know why I got such an unusual number of first-time commenters on my post about Shermer on subliminal influences yesterday, all of them wrong about what I’d said. It’s because Shermer did a Facebook post about it, in which he completely missed my point.

That’s partly my fault; I didn’t spell it out. As usual, I wrote for regular readers, who would get the implications. That saves a lot of tedium for the regular readers, but it can confuse others.

Nevertheless – I think Shermer’s response is a good deal nastier than it needed to be. (I note, again, that he didn’t email me to ask for clarification. I note, again, that he has never directly communicated with me in any way. I tried to communicate directly with him a few times via Twitter, but I got no response. I suspect he doesn’t lower himself to respond to nobodies, and that his rebuke of me for not emailing him about what he said on The Point was just noise. I suspect he would have ignored me if I had emailed him.) I especially think that in view of the torrent of nasty comments his eSkeptic post attracted last week. I think a more thoughtful or attentive person would have been disturbed by that torrent, and have decided not to add more fuel to the fire. He didn’t do that. Instead he got venomous.

The feminist witch hunt continues! Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers have caught me again being a sexist: Trolling through my Scientific American columns Ophelia discovered that in my October column I report on Leonard Mlodinow’s book Subliminal, in which he reports on studies that report on people’s report of how they feel about politicians based on various subliminal cues, one of which is the pitch of the voice, lower judged as more truthful than higher (although looks matter even more). Guess what? My reporting of Leonard’s reporting of the studies’ reporting of subjects’ reports makes ME a sexist! Wiiiiiiitch. Seriously. I couldn’t make this up (note PZ’s comment on my own voice!)

No. I didn’t say that, and it’s not what I meant. (Actually you could make it up, Dr Shermer, and in fact you just did.) It’s true though that I didn’t spell out what I did mean, so now I’ll spell it out.

From his SciAm column again -

WITH THE 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION looming on the horizon in November, consider these two crucial questions: Who looks more competent, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Who has the deepest and most resonant voice? Maybe your answer is, “Who cares? I vote for candidates based on their policies and positions, not on how they look and sound!” If so, that very likely is your rational brain justifying an earlier choice that your emotional brain made based on these seemingly shallow criteria.

Before the election, I urge you to read Leonard Mlodinow’s new book, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Pantheon). You will gain insights such as that higherpitched voices are judged by subjects as more nervous and less truthful and empathetic than speakers with lower-pitched voices, and that speaking a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume leads people to judge someone to be energetic, intelligent and knowledgeable.

What he’s describing there is a disadvantage for men with higher-pitched voices and men who look less competent. But what he’s also describing there is a much bigger disadvantage for nearly all women, period. And he’s describing it in terms of non-rational, buried influences, that we don’t even realize (unless we’re told, and not always even then) have that kind of influence on us.

Well that’s how it is with stereotypes. Stereotypes are what I was talking about in my Free Inquiry column. Stereotypes are why I objected to what he said on that video. Stereotypes are why it’s not helpful to say “it’s more of a guy thing.”

The fact that he had written that column showed me that he was familiar with the whole idea of implicit associations, and that made me think he really should have been able to understand that that was what I was getting at in the column. He should even have been able to think I had a point, despite his resentment at my criticism of what he said. He should even – I think – have been able to see what was wrong with what he said, instead of reacting with outraged vanity.

He certainly should have been able to refrain from accusing me of witch-hunting.

That’s all I was saying. I wasn’t saying “Shermer is a sexist because he reported this thing about authoritative voices.” Godalmighty. I am not that stupid.

But I’m beginning to think Shermer may be gullible enough – or maybe it’s simply vain enough – to take the torrent of slymer comments on his eSkeptic post about me as fully credible and indeed authoritative. Some skeptic.

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



American Atheists goes after tax-exempt status

Dec 20th, 2012 5:16 pm | By

That’s probably why Dave Silverman is on Hannity tonight, which he is.

Anyway – yessssssssss. AA is suing the IRS.

American Atheists and two co-plaintiffs today filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky a lawsuit demanding that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stop giving preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations via the process of receiving non-profit tax-exempt status under the Internal Revue Code (IRC) procedures and definitions.

“American Atheists receives tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3),” said American Atheists President David Silverman, “but because the organization is not classified as religious it costs American Atheists, along with all other secular non-profits, significantly more money each year to keep that status. In this lawsuit, American Atheists and the other plaintiffs are  demanding that all tax-exempt organizations, including those characterized as religious by the IRS, have the same requirements to achieve tax-exempt status.”

For example, in order to qualify for nonprofit tax-exempt status, any religious or secular organization must demonstrate it exists to benefit the public. After that basic element is established, religious non- profits are almost always declared automatically tax-exempt under the current IRC rules and definitions. However, secular non-profits face a lengthy application and a fee, which can be as high as $850.

“Religious organizations and churches are treated differently from secular organizations,” explained American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin. “The exemptions are applied in a way that discriminates solely on the basis of whether an entity’s members express beliefs and practices accepted as religious. The IRS treats your organization better if you profess belief in a supernatural deity.”

It needs to stop!

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