Notes and Comment Blog

He promised to do so

Sep 2nd, 2014 11:15 am | By

Well this is one possible reason – Maria Berglund at Skepchick Sweden.

Last year D.J, who was booked as a speaker at the European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm, simply didn’t show up. The group that organized the congress were quite surprised, since he hadn’t contacted us for a cancellation. They managed, at the last minute, to throw in another speaker to take his place.

When I got in contact with him, he sounded quite surprised and claimed that he absolutely had cancelled recently. I then asked him to let us know who he had communicated with, and he promised to do so. He didn’t, however, and when I kept asking him for it he kept telling me that he would get back to me about this when he was by his computer. He never did.

He also promised the Swedish Skeptics to pay us the money for the hotel room, but never did. Both of these facts I double checked a while ago with the current board.

And I’ve heard other stories of that kind, from people who are, like Maria, in a position to know.

This could of course be just misunderstandings and innocent mistakes, but that seemed less likely when I started to hear a bunch of similar stories from other people and organizations – D.J. not showing up, not keeping promises and not paying people money. The biggest problem was not him being a no-show and not paying for a hotel room, the biggest problem was that the boss of JREF seemed to be lying to us and that this appeared to be a pattern.

Exactly; see above.

Here’s one such similar story, from an Australian blogger at TAM Australia in 2010, that I found quite easily by googling.

The next talk was sensational. It was Dr Pamela Gay‘s (AstronomyCast, Slacker Astronomy & SIU faculty), talk on Citizen Science, during which she presented on the wonderful contributions made by amateurs in the field of astronomy…

I found Dr Gay’s talk as enthusiastic and inspiring as ever, as she is truly a gifted and entertaining presenter. Even though Pamela was a late ring-in due to JREF President DJ Grothe‘s late withdrawal from the conference due to an unforeseen scheduling clash, her presentation was one of the highlights for me, and was loudly applauded by an appreciative audience, which seemed to surprise her somewhat.

See it? The JREF President’s late withdrawal from a talk at his own organization’s conference due to an unforeseen scheduling clash??? A what? How could there be such a “scheduling clash”? What engagement could bump that engagement? It would be like Obama withdrawing from the State of the Union to cut the ribbon on a new supermarket in Tulsa. And even if there were such a scheduling clash, how exactly could it be unforeseen?

So, yeah. One possible reason.


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

Knowingly or unknowingly

Sep 2nd, 2014 10:32 am | By

Sanal Edamaruku posted a photo of a chilling ad from an Indian newspaper on his Facebook page, with a comment.

Freedom of thought and expression are guaranteed as fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Promotion of critical inquiry, scientific temper and spirit of reform are fundamental duties.

Resist all attempts to take India back to medieval times. The picture given is an advertisement by Karnataka state government in a prominent Indian newspaper.

Photo: Is India going the Iran way? Criticism of religion or faith can be taken as an offence now. </p>
<p>Freedom of thought and expression are guaranteed as fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Promotion of critical inquiry, scientific temper and spirit of reform are fundamental duties. </p>
<p>Resist all attempts to take India back to medieval times. The picture given is an advertisement by Karnataka state government in a prominent Indian newspaper.

That’s a hell of a sweeping prohibition – note the “with a view to hurt religious sentiments knowingly or unknowingly.” Emphasis mine. Don’t do it on purpose and don’t do it by accident either! So the only way to be sure not to do it is just to…do nothing.

And if you do do it, on purpose or accidentally, the citizens are encouraged to call the cops on you.

And that’s why Sanal no longer lives in India.

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

Terrified of what Zimmy would do

Sep 2nd, 2014 9:41 am | By

A guest post at Left Foot Forward by “Helen” who tells a story of being groomed at age 16 by her “boyfriend” age 24.

I met Zimmy through Zamir, who I truly believed to be a “friend”, although since friends tend not to take you round to their uncle’s and offer you for sex in exchange for heroin, I can see now that he most definitely was not.

Zimmy was Zamir’s dealer and didn’t hesitate in asking me out, although like “friend”, “out” meant sitting in his Audi smoking a drug I thought was weed but that he later told me was heroin. Being such a good ‘boyfriend’, he also later introduced me to crack.

It was 1996. Looking back I was stupid, but at the time it was an escape from the misery of my family life and I thought everything would be fine. Over the next few weeks Zimmy showered me with gifts, money and drugs, but also started to tell tales of torturing his drug rivals and threatening me and my family:

“If you leave me I’ll burn your house down and only rescue you”; “You know too much about me now so if you leave me I’ll have to kill you”; “If you ever leave I’ll shoot you and leave you on the side of the M40”; “You are going to leave your family, and I’ll give you a nice flat in Reading”.

Hmmyeah, not the best boyfriend ever. She started trying to get away from him.

It all came to a head one night when I was in a café and he came in and demanded I left with him. The café was full of Pakistani men, I was there with a “friend”- I didn’t like going home at night. I was terrified of what Zimmy would do to me, I told him I wouldn’t go, but no-one at all stood up for me and I was asked to leave.

As soon as I got in his car I asked him not to leave our town, but he left and started driving toward Heathrow on the M40. I knew he was going to shoot me – I knew too much about his businesses, so I acted as bubbly and friendly as I could. I thought that if I showed fear, he’d act accordingly and kill me.

He pulled over to the side of the motorway, and made me get out, and made me kneel on the side of the road. I waited, and then he drove off and left, and I never saw him again. I think he just wanted to scare me.

So she’s disgusted by the news that’s come out of Rotherham.

The Left has a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our society.To stand against abuse and against bigotry. But this is not what has happened.

We learn that there may have been a culture of silence within Labour over this issue, and that a House of Commons Committee is going to investigate exactly what they knew and why they didn’t act more aggressively.

Denis McShane says he was forced into making a ‘grovelling climb down’ after he raised these issues out of fear of them affecting ‘community cohesion’. And herein lays the tragic irony. By sweeping the issue under the carpet, the Left actually damaged community cohesion and betrayed the girls who were being victimised. Ann Cryer says she was shunned by parts of Labour for raising the matter of grooming gangs.

Why is it always so easy to sweep the concerns and needs of women and girls aside?



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

Press release from JREF

Sep 1st, 2014 3:45 pm | By

Los Angeles Office Closed

In order to achieve cost-savings and greater efficiency, the Los Angeles office of the JREF has closed effective September 1, 2014. All operations have been moved to Falls Church, Virginia.

DJ Grothe is no longer with the JREF. James Randi has taken over as acting President.

This restructuring is part of an enhanced educational agenda aimed at inspiring an investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers by engaging children and their parents, as well as educators and the general public, in how to think about the many extraordinary claims we hear every day.

Contact the JREF at:
James Randi Educational Foundation
2941 Fairview Park Drive, Suite 105
Falls Church, VA 22042

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

The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing

Sep 1st, 2014 12:48 pm | By

Roxane Gay at Comment is Free on the misogyny underlying this trick of stealing and publishing photos of women.

What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.

The racy images of these nubile bodies are the biggest story on the internet, and every site that refuses to reprint the images has already left itself absolved while leaving a prurient trail of breadcrumbs. The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing. These leaked images are instantly widely available and they always will be. The images will be downloaded and viewed and shared. These women’s lives and their private choices will be dissected. They are women, so they must be judged.

Revealing nonconsensual nudes of the famous female body is not new. In 1983, Vanessa L Williams was the first black woman crowned as Miss America. She had little time to enjoy her achievement, however, because Penthouse published naked pictures of her, and she was forced to relinquish the crown. Williams has gone on to a successful career in film and television, but her biography will always have this footnote. She will always be reminded of the time someone decided to put her in her place because she had the audacity, as a woman, to rise too far.

Nor is this exploitative exposure of women’s naked bodies an issue that only famous women must deal with. Celebrities are just like us after all. This practice is so pervasive that it even has its own name –revenge porn, nude photos and explicit videos unleashed on the internet, most often by disgruntled ex-lovers. There are websites and online forums dedicated to this pernicious genre. Lives have been, if not ruined, irreparably harmed, because we are a culture that thrives on the hatred of women…

I think a few years ago I might have thought that was overstating it a little. Now? I don’t.

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

Mother of three

Sep 1st, 2014 12:40 pm | By

Hadley Freeman in the Guardian on the fun new trend of stealing photos of women to publish on the internet.

I think we know that the biggest fashion trend, really, for women – now and always – is no clothes at all: it’s having stolen naked photos of yourself leaked all over the internet. It’s like the story of the emperor’s new clothes all over again, if the emperor was harassed by sex pests and thieves and humiliated on an international level.

How strange it is to be a woman, in a world where everyone seems to be obsessed with what you do with your vagina: who are you letting into it, what children are you expelling from it, whether you’re trying to stop having children come out of it, who are you offering it up to. The older I get, the more I marvel at this vaginal obsession.

For example, no matter what achievements you notch up, the most important thing about you is your childbearing history. This weekend the very accomplished Rona Fairhead, former FT chief executive and now the government’s choice to be the new chair of the BBC Trust, was described namelessly in a Telegraph headline as “mother of three.”

That would never happen here in the US.

Here she would be called a “mom” of three.

It was decidedly reminiscent of that Sunday Times front page headline in April, “Grandmother, 71, tackles slave traffickers for the Pope”, sparking condescending mental images of a sweet little ol’ granny pummelling evil-doers with her cane. In fact this “grandmother, 71” was Margaret Archer, distinguished sociologist and the most senior woman in the Vatican. Surely, you might think, the headline should have read “Grandmother, 71, tackles slave traffickers, for childless old man, 77.” You might think that, but you would be wrong, because the Pope is a man, and therefore more than the sum of his age and his childbearing history.

It’s relentless, that kind of thing. “Grandmother robbed / killed / given the Nobel Peace Prize” – as if “grandmother” actually told you something, and as if it were deeply weird for a “grandmother” to do anything at all, even be murdered – as if women all seal themselves into boxes the instant their first grandchild pops out.

The only time naked photos of men get leaked onto the internet is when they ham-fistedly leak them themselves, as happens with various priapic male politicians like Anthony Weiner, and the general response is laughter and mockery. With women, that leaking happens when others steal the images from their phones, and the response here is darker, sexual, triumphal. Neither response is good, but the one in regards to women is definitely more threatening.There is no difference between the leaking of stolen naked photos from a female celebrity’s phone and so-called “revenge porn”, when a man leaks photos of an ex-partner. It’s a means of exuding power over someone who thought they were, if not powerful, at least independent. This narrative is now so well known that even Richard Curtis can see how pathetic it is, as proven by the plotline in Notting Hill, when naked photos of Julia Roberts’ character are leaked to the tabloids. And this is Richard Curtis, the man who also wrote some of the most reductive portrayals of women in film of all time in his following film, Love Actually.

Right? God that movie is shit. Remember the bit where Hugh Grant – oh ugh I can’t even type it. [shudder]

There will always be saddo hackers out there and there will, for some reason, always be people out there who marvel that famous women have naked bodies, just like everyone else. But when I am queen of the world, I will make it the law that every time a naked photo of a woman is leaked onto the internet, I will project into the sky an image of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World (look it up, it’s amazing.) Because that’s all you’re looking at people: bodies, with biological functions. Jesus, grow up, world.

I wish.


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


Sep 1st, 2014 12:11 pm | By

The Mirror has an appropriately angry piece about how women can avoid what happened to Jennifer Lawrence. (It’s by someone who goes by “Fleet Street Fox”…)

A total of 101 female celebrities are thought to have been targeted by someone who hacked the Apple photo storage service iCloud and published them in return for money.

In an extra layer of creepy weirdness, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead said the photos taken with her husband years earlier had been deleted – so iCloud had kept a copy, and the hacker had to hunt for it.

There are no leaked photos of naked male celebrities.

It’s more fun to do it to people who won’t enjoy it, FSF says.

So here’s what you should do: don’t be like Jennifer Lawrence. Tell your daughters, FSF says.

Tell them not to be beautiful, because then it’s inevitable that strangers will think of you as nothing but a meatsack.

Tell them not to be intelligent. Maths, sciences, arts, humanities – being clever is useless if you’re still female underneath.

Tell your daughters there is no point in being an Oscar winner. To achieve success in your chosen trade or profession, and to be recognised for it, cannot cure the disability of your sex.

Just ask Rona Fairhead, the new chairman of the BBC Trust. A man nominated for the job would have his qualifications discussed; but the headlines about Rona have concentrated on her gender, because a womb cancels out achievement.

(A woman at the BBC! Imagine!)

Don’t do anything someone else might not like. Anything.

Tell them not to be athletes, or their bodies will be derided by men. Tell them not to be actresses, ballet dancers or models, or their bodies will be derided by men. Tell them not to walk down the street, or their bodies will be derided by men.

Tell them not to work, not to try, and not to hope that they will only ever meet those men who treat them better than that.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful, moral, bright, pleasant or useful you are. If you are female, you will have trouble every day of your life.

Have a nice day.


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

Ukpabio sues BHA and WHRIN

Sep 1st, 2014 8:18 am | By

Helen Ukpabio is suing the British Humanist Association and the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network for £500,000,000.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) are being sued by the wealthy evangelical preacher and ‘witch hunter’ Helen Ukpabio who has dubbed herself a ‘Lady Apostle’. Mrs Ukpabio claims to have expertise in identifying children and adults who are possessed with witchcraft spirits and in how they can be ‘delivered’ from those spirits. Her lawyers have informed the BHA and WHRIN that she is launching a legal case against them due to their criticism of her teachings and methods.

Claiming to be a former witch herself, the Nigerian founder of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries has been accused of exploiting superstitious beliefs around demonic possession, which can and often does result in the endangering of vulnerable children. The BHA has called for Ukpabio and others like her to be banned from coming to the UK on the grounds that they are a threat to child welfare and their practices are not conducive to the public good.

It’s a SLAPP suit.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘Given her baseless identification of features of “possessed children” and her dangerous and irresponsible teachings we feel a strong moral duty to point this out and will not be deflected by libel suits from wealthy “witch-finders”.

‘The fact that she is threatening to launch a legal claim for half a billion pounds over an alleged distinction between being accused of exorcising “Satan” or “Vampires” tells you all you need to know about Mrs Ukpabio. Threats of legal action like this are blatant attempts to silence critics of the harms done by these religious and superstitious beliefs and rituals. Rather than entertaining her vexatious claims in the courts, we believe the UK should be ensuring that Mrs Ukpabio and her ilk are denied entry to our country to protect children from their degrading practices.’

Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN, commented, ‘This court case is the latest in a long line of unsuccessful legal actions that Helen Ukpabio has pursued against me and other human rights activists. Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court. I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria. Of course, the real question here is whether our Government should allow hate preachers such as Helen Ukpabio to enter the UK. Since her teachings have been scrutinised by the UN and various other bodies it would appear that this may not be in the public interest. This case also therefore provides the Home Secretary and the National Working Group to Tackle Child Abuse linked to Faith and Belief with a great opportunity to condemn the practices of such pastors, take concrete action and ensure that justice is served.’

Let’s hope the suit is thrown out quickly, before the BHA and WHRIN have to spend a ton of money defending against it.



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

Harm rising to the level of persecution

Aug 31st, 2014 6:15 pm | By

Well this is huge.

In a ruling that advocates described as a historic victory for Central American refugees, a federal immigration board said Tuesday that a married woman fleeing domestic violence in Guatemala, where authorities could not or would not protect her, can seek political asylum in the United States.

A woman who has been brutally beaten by her husband, who tried to prevent her from leaving, has suffered “harm rising to the level of persecution,” said the Board of Immigration Appeals, which oversees the Justice Department‘s immigration courts.

Observing that Guatemala “has a culture of machismo and family violence,” the board said a married woman there who flees an abusive relationship can be considered a member of a “particular social group” – a crucial qualification for asylum eligibility.


Monday’s case, from an unidentified Midwestern state, involved a mother and three children who entered the United States in 2005. The immigration board said the woman’s husband beat her weekly, burned her with paint thinner and raped her. Police told her they would not interfere in a marital relationship, and her husband then threatened to kill her if she contacted authorities again, the board said.

After she and her children applied for asylum, an immigration judge ruled she had been the victim of criminal acts, not persecution. But the board said a woman’s inability to leave a violent marriage, or get help from her government, can be evidence of persecution that is grounds for asylum.

The board ordered the immigration judge to review the case and determine whether the woman would face renewed persecution if deported to Guatemala. If so, she and her children would be eligible for asylum.

Well unless her husband has gone to join the choir invisible, it seems a pretty safe bet she would be.

Another win for Emma Lazarus.

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

You don’t mean to say they were naked!

Aug 31st, 2014 5:29 pm | By

Another nice thing – a bunch of women have had naked pictures of themselves stolen and posted online. Punishing women for existing just never gets old, does it.

A hacker has reportedly obtained nude photos of a slew of female celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence.

The anonymous source, according to The Hollywood Gossip, has 60 images of the 24-year-old The Hunger Games star in various states of undress and has posted them on an online bulletin board. The photos of Lawrence, some of which are topless, have since appeared on photo sharing site Imgur.

Because obviously women have no right to be left alone, because they’re women – they’re public property.

Reports in the US suggest the phones and computers of celebrities were hacked over the weekend as a form of extortion as the photos are available for sale in exchange for Bitcoins.

Authorities have been cracking down on hacking and phone tapping, especially in Hollywood. A man in Florida was arrested recently after he released nude images of Scarlett Johannson and Mila Kunis after hacking a number of celebrity email accounts for more than a year.

International Business Times seems to think it’s the women in the photos who did something wrong, not the hackers who stole them and made them public. Wtf? How could it possibly be the women in the photos who did a bad thing?! If they were photos of women murdering people, then yes, but being naked?

It’s not the first time Justice has fallen victim to a nude photo scandal. Semi-nude pictures of the star were leaked in April 2013 and she issued a statement, saying stealing and hacking is “not cool.”

“Hacking & stealing is NOT COOL. #RespectPeoplesPersonalProperty #Karma,” the “Victorious” star tweeted after the risqué images were released in 2013.

Scandal-risqué nothing. Mind your own business. The scandal is that some bullying thief stole the pictures.

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

For the sake of abstract future benefits

Aug 31st, 2014 3:45 pm | By

I’m reading a piece by Paul Bloom in the Boston Review arguing that empathy is a bad thing. I say it in the present tense because I haven’t finished yet; I stopped to argue with something he said, before finishing the whole thing, because I feel like it. If I were reading it offline I would do the same thing in a notebook. (So it will probably turn out that he answers the question, but I want to say anyway.)

Most people see the benefits of empathy as akin to the evils of racism: too obvious to require justification. I think this is a mistake. I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data.

As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Laboratory studies find that we really do care more about the one than about the mass, so long as we have personal information about the one.

In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside. Our policies are improved when we appreciate that a hundred deaths are worse than one, even if we know the name of the one, and when we acknowledge that the life of someone in a faraway country is worth as much as the life a neighbor, even if our emotions pull us in a different direction.

No I don’t think so; I think without empathy we don’t care for the one death or the hundred deaths; we don’t care about any. Empathy is the building block for caring about any. It’s not enough by itself; you do need more; but if you have zero you just don’t give a rat’s ass. You extrapolate from close up and personal empathy to a kind of (admittedly attenuated) empathy for the distant millions.

Without empathy, we are better able to grasp the importance of vaccinating children and responding to climate change. These acts impose costs on real people in the here and now for the sake of abstract future benefits, so tackling them may require overriding empathetic responses that favor the comfort and well being of individuals today. We can rethink humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system, choosing to draw on a reasoned, even counter-empathetic, analysis of moral obligation and likely consequences.

That’s just not very convincing. The future benefits aren’t really abstract; they are about the suffering or rescue from suffering of future people. Remember those videos about pertussis? Remember watching that poor infant gasping and choking for breath? Made us all feel super-passionate about vaccination, didn’t it? Because without it you risk people gasping and choking. A whole bunch of people who had had a bout with pertussis told their stories of it right here. And I think a rethink of humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system that’s completely stripped of empathy would be a dud of a rethink. Here in the US we’ve already got a criminal justice system that’s damn short on empathy, and it’s a fucking disgrace.



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

I knew it all along

Aug 31st, 2014 12:32 pm | By

Uh oh.

Photo: A cat at the right place on the right moment.


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

Talented mediocrity

Aug 31st, 2014 12:08 pm | By

Will Self says Orwell was a talented mediocrity.

The curious thing is that while during the post-war period we’ve had many political leaders, we’ve got by with just a single Supreme Mediocrity – George Orwell.

I don’t doubt characterising Orwell as a talented mediocrity will put noses out of joint. Not Orwell, surely! Orwell the tireless campaigner for social justice and economic equality; Orwell the prophetic voice, crying out in the wartime wilderness against the dangers of totalitarianism and the rise of the surveillance state; Orwell, who nobly took up arms in the cause of Spanish democracy, then, equally nobly, exposed the cause’s subversion by Soviet realpolitik; Orwell, who lived in saintly penury and preached the solid virtues of homespun Englishness; Orwell, who died prematurely, his last gift to the people he so admired being a list of suspected Soviet agents he sent to MI5.

Orwell who wrote decent, readable, but far from brilliant prose. Yes, that Orwell.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Orwell’s writing as much as the next talented mediocrity. I’ve read the great bulk of his output – at least that which originally appeared in hard covers, and some of his books I’ve read many times over – in particular The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London, the long pieces of quasi-reportage that made his name in the 1930s.

Same here, but I have also realized that his writing is not as good as I used to think it.

As for the essays, they can be returned to again and again, if not for their substance alone, certainly for their unadorned Anglo-Saxon style.

It’s this prose style that has made Orwell the Supreme Mediocrity – and like all long-lasting leaders, he has an ideology to justify his rule. Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, is frequently cited as a manifesto of plainspoken common sense – a principled assault upon all the jargon, obfuscation, and pretentiously Frenchified folderol that deforms our noble tongue. Orwell – it’s said by these disciples – established once and for all in this essay that anything worth saying in English can be set down with perfect clarity such that it’s comprehensible to all averagely intelligent English readers.

And that’s bullshit. It’s not true. Much of what he says in “Politics and the English Language” is not true, and is anti-intellectual and anti-a good many other things that matter.

The Beeb helpfully provides Orwell’s List O’Rules, so that we can see how wrong some of them are.

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Two, three and five in particular are terrible “rules” – and he didn’t even obey them himself. (Never use a long word where a short one will do? You’ve got to be kidding. A short one will always “do”; but good writers want words that more than just “do”.)

Those are ok rules for a newspaper that wants the largest possible audience and thus wants to be very careful that might be over the heads of some of the potential audience, but for anyone else, they’re instructions on how to be dull.

I said some of this back in 2005 on the ur-B&W.

I’ve been reading a little Orwell lately – prompted partly by my offhand comment in an email to Norm that Orwell was good but Hitchens is better – which itself was prompted by Philip Dodd’s introduction of Hitchens on ‘Night Waves’ in which he quoted someone (someone unnamed, I think) as writing in a review that Hitchens is as good as Orwell, or almost as good as Orwell, or some such. That annoyed me. It is my considered opinion – despite the offhandedness of the comment alluded to above – that Orwell is over-rated as a writer. Really quite seriously over-rated. That his language is very often decidedly tired and uninspired, even banal, and that there is a lot of commonplace thought in it. Phrases like ‘dirty little scoundrel’ come to mind.

But when Harry at Crooked Timber did a post about Fascinating Hitchens in which he quoted Norm quoting me there was a lot of disagreement (along with some agreement) with my relative estimation of the two – which is why I got Orwell off the shelf to check my impression again. And – I still agree with myself. He’s good, he’s interesting, he’s definitely worth reading, but he is not a great writer or stylist or thinker. He’s not as good as Dwight Macdonald, for instance.

That’s just a flat assertion, obviously. It would take extensive quotation to make my case – because he is good, so I can’t just quote a terrible sentence and leave it at that. But if you read a good chunk of him, the flatness and uninspiredness become increasingly noticeable.

I don’t like flatness in writing. “Politics and the English Language” gets way too close to telling people to write flatly.



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

It was finally time to “do the right thing”

Aug 31st, 2014 11:27 am | By

The BBC News Magazine has a longish piece by Shaimaa Khalil about not wearing hijab then wearing it then not wearing it and now wearing it again – in which, bizarrely, she never mentions the actual (and obvious) gender politics of it. It’s just a religious requirement or duty that she either accepts or doesn’t accept, but the content of the requirement/duty is left out.

She talks about photos from the 50s and 60s that speak volumes about social change in Egypt.

There they are in short-sleeved dresses, impeccably cinched at the waist. The dresses of some of the younger ones actually stopped well above the knee. And the hair!

The beautiful and complicated hairdos that my aunties and their friends pulled off just to go shopping or to their universities looked like something out of a vintage glamour magazine.

But times change. In the 1980s and 90s the strict Wahhabi version of Islam was arriving in Egypt – brought back by the millions of Egyptians who’d gone to work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Political Islamic movements were gaining ground too, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon all the adult women in my family were wearing the headscarf or the hijab.

She says it’s a long and complicated debate, whether or not hijab is “an Islamic obligation for women” – but she doesn’t ask why it should be an obligation for women alone.

I didn’t start wearing the headscarf until I was in my 20s – and I wasn’t forced to do it – despite several years of pressure from my mother.

“What are you waiting for?” she’d ask. “What if something happens to you? Will you meet God looking like this?” she would say, pointing at my trousers or T-shirt.

Sometimes I would nod, smile and walk away. On other occasions I’d fight and argue.

But deep down it was becoming ingrained in me that wearing the headscarf was the right thing to do. So, towards, the end of 2002 I decided it was finally time to “do the right thing”.

But why? “The right thing” how, and for what reasons? Why was it becoming ingrained deep down? What was the substance of those arguments? Why resist, then why give in?

She doesn’t say. She started wearing it; she moved to London and worked for the BBC.

Then, last year, I went through a very personal and private journey of questioning many things about my religion: about practice and belief, what was I doing out of conviction and what out of habit?

How much of my faith did I want to exhibit? Would I, I asked finally and crucially, be any less Muslim if I took off the headscarf?

The final answer was no.

So, after months of indecision, the day came when I’d decided to remove it. It took me hours to get dressed and when the time came when I’d normally put the headscarf on, I just didn’t.

But why? Why didn’t she? She doesn’t say. The whole thing is weirdly emptied of content and discussed solely as an external.

Now she’s going to Pakistan as the BBC’s correspondent there, so she’ll have to wear it again. But since we don’t know why she cares either way, the irony doesn’t amount to much.

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

Frowned upon by the bien-pensants

Aug 30th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

I love this Jesus and Mo:


Author’s caption:

I’m a cultural imperialist. I believe in universal human rights.

Mo perches his steaming hot tea on the arm of the couch. Risky.

Author’s Patreon is here.

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

Different rules for different f00ts

Aug 30th, 2014 5:11 pm | By

Oh looky here, what do you know – Phil “Thunderf00t” Mason who thinks Anita Sarkeesian is lying about getting threats for the sake of “PR” – that Phil Mason posting in October 2011 about threats he gets.

October 8 for instance.

So here I am at the Texas Freethought convention, where I’ve met for the first time Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience, and been having a great time with folks such as Aronra (also met in person for the first time) and many others when I get email from the infamous ‘crying muslim’ (dawahfilms).  He STILL seems to be operating under the delusion that universities base their hiring and firing policies based on how much a v. whiney pussy complains about how someone explained to him that his religion made him both behave like an ass, and why his religion was evidently stupid.  The baffling thing is he seems to think that I will be intimidated by his delusions.

And October 11.

YES Dawahfilms, giving away my docs to people who ask is doc dropping, and you were doing this, not only to me, but to at least one other member of my family.  What’s even more pathetic is that EVEN NOW, after you have been caught, dropping my docs, you insist on trying to use weasel words to try and define your way out of this.  Not just in your latest video (thunderfoot, lies vs truth), where you state:

“none of my VIDEOS doc dropped” -Dawahfilms

but in the email you wrote to me:

 Im also pissed still at your “Dawahfilms doc dropped me” accusation, which is bullshit. You know as well as I do this info has been around for awhile. The fact that you had to pin it on me is nonsense.  -Dawahfilms

I mean really, you expect to be this comically frugal with the truth to my face and expect me not to notice IMMEDIATELY?  All that ‘belief in god’ had addled your brain with unrealistic wishful thinking.

And October 17.

Recently I wrote a blog post highlighting the wonderful irony of dawahfilms, the notorious moderate ‘death threating/ I hunt you down and destroy your career’ Muslim claiming that everyone should be held accountable for their youtube activity.  Ironically, this man who claims that he wants to be a future public educator is also advising people to kill themselves.

Lots of screen shots.

Clearly I was not alone as evidently many others could not distinguish these options.  So I propose ‘Dawahs Law’.  When an individual is such a professional jerk, that it is impossible to distinguish them from a troll pretending to be an utter jerk merely by what they say.  Dawahs Law, the professional jerks answer to the Poe!

He talked about his threats; why is Sarkeesian supposed to shut up about hers?


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

All things that do not please god

Aug 30th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

Here’s a terrible thing you can look at.

It’s a compilation of bits from training videos by The Good News Club, so you can see what absurd frightening wrong things they tell children…on school property.



The first one quotes Romans saying there is no one who is right with god, no not one. The instructor says no one is right with god because sin. What is sin? It’s anything you think, say, or do that does not please god. She says it twice, to make sure it sticks and frightens the children. Then she lists some of those things – disobeying your parents or teachers, lying so you don’t get caught, or taking something that doesn’t belong to you, are all things that do not please god.

You know what she doesn’t say? How she knows. How does she know disobeying the teacher does not please god? Hey what if the teacher tells the child to disobey her parents? What pleases god then?

Then she says god say sin must be punished. The punishment (breathlessly) is to be separated from god.

Sounds good to me!

It’s basic fundy bullshit, the small fraction I’ve been able to make myself watch so far. Just mindless rule-reciting and pretending it all comes from god and that the people saying this actually know it when they don’t know it at all. But it’s an outrage that they’re shoving it at children. (And much of the material, I know from Katherine Stewart, is much worse than this.)

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

Bing swear-generator

Aug 30th, 2014 3:17 pm | By

A friend of Simon Davis’s commented on a Facebook post of his in Greek.

Ουφ, με τρόμαξες

Bing offered to translate and for once I accepted the offer.

Ouf, with tromaxes.

That’s my new favorite swear. Do admit.


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

Guest post: Percept and its related concepts

Aug 30th, 2014 3:03 pm | By

Originally a comment by Brony on We’re adept at masking inconsistencies from ourselves.

percepts [the object of perception]

That word. Percept and its related concepts have been invaluable to me in getting an understanding of how brains and minds unify with respect to human behavior. When I consider that word a whirlwind of brain anatomy, journal articles, psychology and sociology stream through my thoughts. It’s so relevant to unifying how emotion, reason, logic, what is in perception, and resulting system one and two responses operate in a functional, real-world sense. The picture is not complete but so many useful pieces are already there.

The precept is the world that exists in your perception. Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, position of your parts relative to each other and objects, direction of motion and gravity. All of those break down into a fascinating array of sensors that are combined in a hierarchical assembly of what you experience.

I wish could easily, and conveniently describe how all of that functionally assembles reality here, but the resulting picture and how it works functionally is another matter. In this picture once you assemble an image and identify components, you start classifying and ordering pieces based on emotional tags attached to previous percepts due to past experience. Think about the emotional resonance of a swastika, a recognized logical fallacy, a “dog whistle” like the word feminism that means totally different things to different people, or a kitten.

Once you have assigned meaning to what you perceive, you prioritize what should do based on the content (in positive/negative, or good/bad terms. sometimes neutral terms). What you interact with first or interact with at all, how you choose to implicitly and explicitly portray what you see to yourself and others, what perspective you choose to apply, whether how or what you choose to attack defend or obfuscate about, or if you choose to neutrally understand and reason.

Reason and logic are like “apps” here. They are learned analysis tools that are compatible with the learning machinery that are applied by implicit or explicit choices and those choices are driven by emotional signatures like the puffs of gas from a spaceship’s maneuvering thrusters. They are targeting systems (I wish I remember who made that analogy). The emotion drives you down paths of actions and the amount self-awareness that you have about the whole process is a learned thing as well. We do not tend to choose to use logical fallacies (I leave room for people that do for dishonest usefulness), we are driven to use them because they work in a social sense based on past experience and like a martial artist learning a form, one has to gain an awareness of the forms of “primate chess” that drive social interaction like we see in sociopolitical conflicts.

Here is where our routines create the inconsistencies that blind us to how we treat others differently for social convenience. It’s unconscious strategy on a group level. We don’t do it on purpose, but neither do we just “do it” in a way that removes personal responsibility. One reasons many are resistant to accepting knowledge is because it ALWAYS comes with a price. One you know what you are doing you are responsible in a way that can be stark and unpleasant. Catharsis sucks, but driving another to one has it’s uses.

The logic of the system is a reality that can be used for wonderful or terrible purposes. But make no mistake we are all using it or letting it use us. However greater understanding of it can make a person an angel or a demon, so don’t think that the moral and ethical worries will all disappear with self-awareness. There are many paths to psychopathy, and empathy.

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

Smart marketing, good business

Aug 30th, 2014 12:47 pm | By

Dave Futrelle is getting death threats for blogging about the death threats sent to Anita Sarkeesian. Meta-death threats. Second order death threats. Death threats to punish exposure of death threats.

And if this is what my inbox looks like for merely writing about Sarkeesian, I can only imagine what her inbox looks like. I suspect she gets threats like these all the time; the reason she called the police about several of the threats she got this week is that the threateners posted her personal information as well.

But, according to some observers, it’s your own fault, and her own fault. You should both shut up about them, because.


thunderf00t ‏@thunderf00t Aug 29
the first advice the FBI gave me (which I knew already) is never respond to real death threats. @femfreq goes straight to twitter and blogs!

D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe Aug 29
@thunderf00t Just like Watson. I certainly have never publicized death threats I’ve received over the years, tho it may have gotten me PR.

@thunderf00t A “Page-o-Hate” is smart marketing, good business. But bad if you want less hate (“don’t feed the trolls,” etc.).

That’s impressive, isn’t it? Phil Mason thinks Sarkeesian should keep her threats a secret – and he insinuates that they’re not “real.”

That’s an interesting idea, isn’t it. No threats are “real” until they’re carried out. But guess what – nobody knows ahead of time which ones are going to be carried out and which ones aren’t. It’s really not up to random onlookers to say “oh that’s not a real threat” about threats that are sent to other people.

But Grothe’s contribution is even more disgusting, if only because Phil Mason, fortunately, is not the head of a big skeptics’ organization, while Grothe is. It’s not becoming for Grothe to belittle threats sent to Rebecca Watson. It’s even less becoming for him to say she does it as a marketing ploy.

But hey, maybe the threats are real. Or maybe not. Who knows, who knows.


thunderf00t ‏@thunderf00t Aug 29
@DJGrothe IF they were credible threats I would have told no one but FBI. Else u just undermine any possible investigation. I think its PR!

D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe Aug 29
@thunderf00t Maybe so, who knows. With things like that, I say just err on the side of caution: report to authorities, full stop.

“Maybe so, who knows.”


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