Notes and Comment Blog

Big huge net curtains?

Sep 2nd, 2013 12:07 pm | By

Hm. You would think people who design and build large buildings would know how to figure out how to do it without ending up with a lethal giant magnifying glass.

A new London skyscraper dubbed the “Walkie Talkie” has been blamed for reflecting light which melted parts of a car parked on a nearby street.

Martin Lindsay parked his Jaguar on Eastcheap, in the City of London, on Thursday afternoon.

When he returned about two hours later, he found parts of his car – including the wing mirror and badge – had melted.

Oops. So if people pause in a nearby spot to chat about the prospects for Wolverhampton Wanderers (as people do), they might burst into flames?


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

Without dodging any important issues

Sep 2nd, 2013 11:01 am | By

Sam Harris has improved his contest somewhat, in response to some of the reaction. He added an FAQ.

9. With you as the judge, how can we trust that the best attack on your thesis will see the light of day?

Having now fielded several accusations that this contest will be rigged—if not by design, then by my own ignorance and bias—I reached out to the philosopher Russell Blackford for help. Russell has been one of the most energetic critics of The Moral Landscape, and I am very happy to say that he has now agreed to judge the submissions, introduce the winning essay, and evaluate my response. I trust that everyone will consider this a hopeful development.

Of course, only I can judge whether I find the winning essay persuasive enough to trigger a change in my position (and the larger prize). But if I’m not persuaded, I’ll have to give an argument saying why not, and Russell will be there to see that I do this without dodging any important issues.

That’s good. That last clause is especially good – because I have never yet seen a response from Harris that fails to dodge all the important issues, apparently without his even being aware of it. Russell will be in a position to make him aware of it before he publishes. That’s good.

Mind you, I’d think it was even better if it were Patricia Churchland doing it, not least because she too has a PhD in neuroscience, and because her book Braintrust is what Harris should have written but didn’t. But still, this is good.



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

Sam Harris says “Please change my mind”

Sep 2nd, 2013 9:52 am | By

More on The Harris Challenge*, aka here’s a time when I agree with Russell Blackford.


Sam Harris

Please change my mind and take my money.

Russell Blackford

I doubt that anyone could put better criticisms of ethical naturalism than you’ve already seen from me in less than 1000 words


I can’t remember, have you addressed my “worst possible misery for everyone argument”?


I may not have addressed that particular para or so – but I don’t think it achieves very much. /1


In reverse order -


If it’s the worst possible misery for everyone, including me and my loved ones, I have a PRUDENTIAL reason to obviate it. /2

What if I have the choice of making myself or a loved one 3 units less miserable or someone else 5 units less miserable? /3

Am I objectively bound in the nature of things to take the second choice? I don’t see it.



In short, we have a reason to ameliorate misery insofar as we care. We are not objectively bound to in the nature of things.

Precisely. And Harris seems to be utterly blind to that, and unable to take it in when people spell it out to him.

Yet there are many people who persist in thinking his book was a bold new theory of morality, that got everything right.

*Update: previous discussion yesterday.

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

The owl’s well-being is to eat the mouse

Sep 1st, 2013 12:58 pm | By

Because of new relevance, my review of The Moral Landscape for Issue 53 of TPM. Posted at ur-B&W April 16, 2011.

Sam Harris asks an interesting question in the introduction, after laying out his central (and not really controversial) claim that questions about values are questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. “Is it possible,” he asks, “that certain people are incapable of wanting what they should want?” Of course, he answers; there are always people who get things wrong. But that question doesn’t exhaust the difficulties that arise in moral discussion, yet Harris separates it out as if it did. The really hard question, which he generally gives short shrift, asks “is it possible that there are many people who are incapable of wanting what other people want?” In other words is it possible that many people do just fine at wanting what they should want for themselves and fail only at wanting what they should want for other people? Yes it is, and this is why the world is not a happy Utopia of people adding their bliss together to make a sum of Megabliss. The owl’s well-being is to eat the mouse, and the mouse’s well-being is to dodge the owl. We have an impasse.

It is surprising that Harris doesn’t put more emphasis on competition, on rivalry and scarcity and zero-sum games and prisoners’ dilemmas, on exploitation and labour and hierarchy, on the fact that more well-being for me is not the same as more well-being for you, let alone for everyone, and that this fact by itself is enough to make morality contentious and difficult. He does address these issues eventually, but not until well into the book, and then only briefly and somewhat perfunctorily. The emphasis is all on insistence that “the well-being of conscious creatures” is pretty much all we need to consider.

He does tell us some interesting things in the process, though, such as that “neuroimaging has also shown that fairness drives reward-related activity in the brain, while accepting unfair proposals requires the regulation of negative emotion.” That is a hopeful observation – but it is vulnerable to the familiar fact that humans are brilliant at rationalization, which means among other things that we know how to understand “fairness” in such a way that it maximizes our own well-being at the expense of other people. Tax-cuts for the super-rich make a tidy example of that, since one can view both sides of the debate as defining “fairness” in their own favor. (Michael Moore performed this dialectic in one of his films: on being told that his new book had just hit the New York Times best-seller list he said, “Oh! Well now I believe in tax-cuts for the rich.”)

The depressing truth that Harris never really confronts is that no one really wants to maximize the well-being of everyone. Economies depend on not doing so: cheap labour is the engine that drives various economic miracles and tigers. Lip service is paid to the idea of eradicating poverty, but meanwhile all sorts of visible and occult mechanisms make sure that there will always be plenty of poor people around. Rich countries subsidize their own cotton farmers at the expense of desperately poor African counterparts. Where is the brain reward for the feeling of fairness then? Africans are far away, and easy to ignore, so their immiseration doesn’t interfere with the well-being of prosperous Europeans.

This isn’t an issue of not understanding that morality is about the well-being of conscious creatures. It’s an issue of not caring, of selective attention, of studied ignorance, of institutions, regulations, habits, expertise – it’s a myriad of things. It’s easy to get people to agree that well-being is good; the hard part is getting them to agree on what that implies they should do, and getting them to do it.

Harris spends most of the book hammering home the point that morality is about the well-being of conscious creatures, which means he spends far too little time considering the difficult questions that arise even if everyone agrees on that. He also frequently treats those questions as easily settled, for instance when he says, “I think there is little doubt that most of what matters to the average person – like fairness, justice, compassion, and a general awareness of terrestrial reality – will be integral to our creating a thriving global civilization and, therefore, to the greater well-being of humanity”.

Almost halfway into the book he does suddenly admit the difficulty – “population ethics is a notorious engine of paradox, and no one, to my knowledge, has come up with a way of assessing collective well-being that conserves all of our intuitions”. He then quotes Patricia Churchland saying, “no one has the slightest idea how to compare the mild headache of five million against the broken legs of two…” Quite so, and this acknowledgement should have come much earlier and been woven into the discussion throughout. Because it isn’t, the first part of the argument seems much too quick and effortless. If it were that simple, the reader keeps thinking, why wouldn’t everyone just do it?

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

Take ‘no’ for an answer

Sep 1st, 2013 12:29 pm | By

I reread this post by Skeptic Lawyer from two years ago, Miss Manners and playing the victim, and I feel like giving some elegant extracts.

There are various manifestations of these atrocious manners, but they seem (to me, at least) to boil down to an inability, on the part of certain men, to take ‘no’ for an answer. I think this is tied to participation in various ‘geek’ subcultures (both on-line and off-line, so while it may be convenient to blame the internet, blaming the internet is unfair). Participation in these varied subcultures is seen to give people something of a pass for rudeness. The justification proffered is that participation in the subculture resulted in bullying when the man in question was young, conferring victim status on him as an adult. And, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, wrapping oneself in victimhood is often a way to avoid having to take personal responsibility–for anything.

That can happen. It’s certainly a much-rehearsed claim about feminism, as we all know – Paula Kirby’s “Sisterhood of the Oppressed” appeared several months after SL’s piece (and is orders of magnitude less good). There is also a hell of a lot of claiming to be victimized by feminism and feminists.

While doing the research for this post, I found that the largest gaming convention in North America has to remind attendees to wash daily and use deodorant in its program. I’ve seen a man who a woman rejected on the basis of his online gaming hobby tell her she ‘needed a good raping’. And there was worse than that in some places, which had to be closed down on the basis that they had reached the incitement stage. Incitement, in case you didn’t know, is a crime, and I’m afraid saying ‘it was only on the internet’ will not impress any judge of my acquaintance.

Incitement is at the heart of the problem, as far as I’m concerned, and it gets ignored far too often and too easily.

Then an interesting note in a comment (also by SL):

There’s probably a fair bit of cross over between the two classifications, however I think the undesirable trends will manifest differently between the two. The former would be more likely to be the ‘respectful but awkward’ type, and the later would be more likely to be the ‘entitled/arrogant’ type as they would see the awkwardness as a cultural element they are entitled to rather than an unfortunate side effect of not being neurotypical or lacking experience (as per Adrien’s feedback loop @7).

This strikes me as quite an insight, and ties into the point a few people have been making upthread about the boundaries of ‘geekiness’ shifting of late, such that rudeness can be worn as a badge of honour, rather than worked through and around (which is what people would have done in the past).

There is also a larger problem of relativising when it comes to knowledge or achievement. Traditional geeky pursuits (like being good at maths) often enjoyed a significant occupational payoff — such as an opportunity for work in the City as a quant, and in banking generally. Other, more modern examples of ‘geekiness’ enjoy no such cachet (memorizing every episode of Buffy in order, etc). We are not good, these days, at suggesting that knowing maths is better than knowing popular culture.

Then again, knowing popular culture can also enjoy a significant occupational payoff, because somebody has to create the popular culture, and who better to do that than people saturated in it?

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


Sep 1st, 2013 11:13 am | By

Comic interlude – the best troll question I’ve seen in some time.

Kindly tell me how “The hell with you, it’s my freedom, I’ll say what I want” is whining and “Please don’t do that” isn’t.

Do admit.

Also – a profound observation on the nature of comedy.

In my opinion, the best humor is pointed at someone else and in some cases those people lower than ourselves.

You know, I’ve noticed the same thing about punching. The best punching is pointed at someone else.

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

A losing lottery ticket

Sep 1st, 2013 9:56 am | By

Oh, man, bad idea. Really bad idea.

Sam Harris has issued a challenge. Shades of the Randi challenge, right? Only Harris’s is rather different.

It has been nearly three years since The Moral Landscape was first published in English, and in that time it has been attacked by readers and nonreaders alike. Many seem to have judged from the resulting cacophony that the book’s central thesis was easily refuted. However, I have yet to encounter a substantial criticism that I feel was not adequately answered in the book itself (and in subsequent talks).

So I would like to issue a public challenge. Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $1000. If any essay actually persuades me, however, its author will receive $10,000, and I will publicly recant my view.

What a display of vanity.

He’s so clever and so right that he’ll give you TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS if you can persuade him he’s not right. He might as well have made it a billion.

I sent Patricia Churchland a Facebook DM suggesting she collect an easy ten grand. I don’t suppose she’ll bother, though.

Update: it’s now $2000 for the best response and $20,000 for the potential persuader, because a “generous reader” (aka besotted fan) matched his prize.

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

Thunderfoot shocked to learn he can’t harass believers

Aug 31st, 2013 5:21 pm | By

It’s definitely asshole Saturday.

Thunderfoot has a new video about how feminism is roooning atheism, part 5. Yes seriously, it’s part 5.

I watched almost 5 minutes of it. He gets his facts wrong. He starts by saying American Atheists “just” invited PZ to speak at the next convention, after he went and did that terrible thing by posting the email a woman sent him about Michael Shermer. Wrong. They asked him long before the post. It’s laughably easy to confirm that, because they also announced it before the post.

Mason never pauses, in the part I watched, to ask himself what if it’s true. He never pauses to consider the grapevine reports that have been circulating for years. He just rages about PZ and feminism.

And he rages at American Atheists’ harassment policy, and the fact that it says you can’t harass people based on a long list of things, one of which is religion.


Imagine someone religious attends the convention, out of interest or curiosity or whatever. (Or because she’s Amanda Knief’s mother, which was the case last March.) Nobody should harass them there! Voluntarily discuss and argue, yes, but harass, no.

Mason either is or pretends to be too dense to grasp that point.

Phil Plait did have a point, didn’t he.

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

Ways to screen out the female applicants

Aug 31st, 2013 3:34 pm | By

A comment by Leslie Brown at Pharyngula on a post about geekbro culture.

First time commenter, this issue really chaps my hide. I was really keen to work in computers when I was in my 20s, way back in 1979. I applied for a place on a government run programming course, and sat an aptitude test along with about 250 others. I found the test quite straightforward, completed it in about half the allotted 2 hours, and was eventually called for an interview. I was told that even though I’d scored exceptionally highly on the aptitude test, they couldn’t offer me one of the 12 places available, as I might have children! Despite explaining that I’d recently split from my husband, and also had no desire ever to have children (and I never did*) they didn’t waver in being discriminatory asses. They did say that because of my exceptional test score they would have to put me on the reserve list, but none of the men who got a place through positive (& I later realised unlawful) discrimination dropped out. I suppose that I’m not the only woman treated that way, and that some of those privileged men are now in charge, assumjng their innate superiority rather than that some of their positions are down to discrimination.

I got my own back later by working for our Equal Opportunities Commission and taking comfort in helping other women take cases against that government organisation.

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

Sheep this way, goats that way

Aug 31st, 2013 3:06 pm | By

So I see this post of PZ’s, We’re all bad together here…and proud of it.

Zinnia Jones is rightly resentful when a blogger who goes by the name “the atheist asshole” calls her “one of the good ones”. They’re missing the truth: while she’s all straightforward and civil and all that, she’s also one of our top bad-asses on Freethoughtblogs.

Oh, I know who that is – “the atheist asshole” – that’s Anton A Hill, the one who did a forty nineteen* minute video about me because I told him to fuck off on Twitter, and then went on and on and on and on sniping at me about it, for weeks. So I read Zinnia’s post that PZ linked.

If you’ve ever favorably contrasted me against other trans people or atheists or queer folks or anyone else like me, just because I’ve been quiet when they’ve been outspoken in the face of wrongdoing, or I was overly patient and indulgent of ignorance when they’ve been rightfully terse: fuck you.

Stop it. I don’t want your support or approval. I am not on your side. I am not one of you. I want to be like them – not like you. I don’t want to be one of your “good ones”.

Especially when the “you” in question is…well, an asshole. (Hey, that’s what he calls himself.)

I’ll define this type of situation by way of example. A few months back, I was mentioned on Anton A. Hill’s blog in a list of several people with whom he’d recently had productive conversations on issues like feminism and trans stuff. In my case, this was because I happened to be in a friendly mood when he asked me a question that involved the phrase “born w/ a peepee”.

This was just one instance of a pattern that was repeated throughout the post: his surprise that his criticism of Freethought Blogs as a whole was handled calmly by NonStampCollector, or that a member of Secular Woman “respected” his “right to disagree with her” on issues of feminism (as if how people regard a man’s opinion of feminism is in any way connected to individual rights and freedoms), or that Marisa Gallego “maintained politeness” when he “downright called her on her shit” in their discussion of trans matters.

I’ll ask you to take a moment and think about which of these people you expect I’d be more inclined to align myself with – him, or the people who graciously “maintained politeness” when addressing his “born w/ a peepee”-level views on these issues.

Reading this post made me rather suspicious of what he was aiming to convey. As I found out by the end, it was nothing good: he capped it all off with vague criticism of fellow FTBer Ophelia Benson, and how his experiences with her had led him to suspect that all our conversations would descend into a “vicious, name-calling flame war”. We were the good ones… so who were the bad ones? In his estimation, she was.

Oh yes? So of course I took a look at his post.

I have to say that with each of the above-referenced conversations, not only did I not expect anything going into them, but based on my conversation with my Best Friend and Biggest Fan (BFaBF) Ophelia Benson, I actually assumed that all conversations would end up in some kind of vicious, name-calling flame war. I’m so glad, then, that my initial fears were completely debunked and that some mutual insight developed.

Best Friend and Biggest Fan, see, first prize in the Cannes Sarcasm Festival, because his first interaction with me was to pick a fight and everything after that was to call me names for telling him to fuck off when he picked a fight with me.

Atheist assholes, confirming the theists’ worst prejudices every day.

*Update: nineteen, not forty. I must have been thinking of the subsequent podcast in which Hill told two or three of his loudmouth obnoxious dudebro friends how horrible I am. That segment added to the video would probably be close to forty, but the video was “only” nineteen. Nineteen minutes is still a lot of minutes to lavish on a brief Twitter exchange with a stranger.

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

An asshole posted

Aug 31st, 2013 2:41 pm | By

I should just title every post that way, right?

An asshole posted on the Atheist Alliance of America National Convention Facebook page:

Remember gentlemen, if a woman looks at you while you are at this convention, and you think she may be interested in you, she isn’t. She’s most likely reminiscing about the chocolate volcano she enjoyed last night at dessert. Do not approach her, or speak to her for any reason other than to inform her that she is on fire if you happen to see flames flickering from her hair or clothing. Keep your hands to yourselves. Politely decline all handshakes or hugs. Do not under any circumstances attempt to discuss any topic at all, or otherwise engage in interaction that is not first approved by an appointed sexual harassment chaperone. When moving from one fixed point in a room to another, keep your eyes on the floor and your arms tucked tightly to your sides. Before moving to another point, ensure that your destination is devoid of women for a 15 foot radius. Don’t even think about drinking alcohol, and do not as another woman if they’d like to share a drink with you. They do not. If a woman engages you in conversation, slowly back away without speaking, and shaking your head to indicate “no”. Do these things, and everyone will be able to enjoy themselves without incident. Thank you.

Yeah. Thanks. We get it. You want atheism to be like a frat party. We don’t.

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

The refreshment room at Bletchley

Aug 31st, 2013 1:50 pm | By

Which includes Ken Buddha and his inflatable knees. A smile, two bangs, and a religion.

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

Older than her chronological age

Aug 31st, 2013 12:11 pm | By

Well that’s…disturbing.

A Montana judge has apologized for comments he made about a 14-year-old female rape victim that seemed to take the “blame the victim” approach to a new level. “I don’t know what I was thinking or trying to say,” Judge G. Todd Baugh tells the Billings Gazette. “It was just stupid and wrong.” In ordering a former high school teacher to spend just 30 days in jail for raping a student, Baugh explained on Monday that she was “older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control” as teacher Stacey Rambold. The girl committed suicide with the criminal case pending.

She was as much in control…and yet she committed suicide. That doesn’t sound much like being in control.

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

The unreliable narrator

Aug 30th, 2013 5:15 pm | By

Colin McGinn is still writing blog posts.

Here’s one from a couple of weeks ago.

“I could list a great number of these one-sided diminutive romances. Some of them ended in a rich flavor of hell. It happened for instance that from my balcony I would notice a lighted window across the street and what looked like a nymphet in the act of undressing before a cooperative mirror. Thus isolated, thus removed, the vision acquired an especially keen charm that made me race with all speed toward my lone gratification. But abruptly, fiendishly, the tender pattern of nudity I had adored would be transformed into the disgusting lamp-lit bare arm of a man in his underclothes reading his paper by the open window in the hot, damp, hopeless summer night.” Lolita, V. Nabokov, p. 20.

I am that man reading his paper.


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

Rape culture Friday

Aug 30th, 2013 11:54 am | By

It’s rape culture day in the neighborhood.

There’s Alex’s Shouting arson in a crowded theatre: rape, reputations and reasonable suspicion.

The statements we have don’t warrant certainty. They may or may not meet legal standards of proof. But they do meet what standards we need to ask ourselves, ‘Should this person attend our conference?’ or ‘Should we invite them to our group?’ – and to answer these questions reasonably, if provisionally. This does not amount to pitchfork-laden mob rule; it does not amount to vigilantism; and the evidence we have, while many no doubt would welcome legal procedures, should not in my opinion be deemed wholly meaningless in the absence of court action.

The ‘Take it to court, or else’ approach – the all-or-nothing suggestion that, until and unless a trial is held and a guilty verdict reached, no statement can ever be more than idle gossip or demand concern – is profoundly naïve and illogical. We know only a tiny percentage of rapes that occur end in conviction; refusing to entertain, even hypothetically, the notion someone may at some point have raped because no court has deemed them guilty is likely, in the real world, to mean ignoring almost every instance of rape. It evokes, too, the ‘Just tell the police’ response to conference harassment.

Personally, I wouldn’t want legality to be the sole requirement for conduct at my event, and reporters of harassment don’t always want punitive action in the first place (they might just want to be listened to; they might want organisers to look out for them throughout the conference, have a private word with someone who’s bothered them or keep an eye on that person; they might want to be placed with a friendly, reliable companion or group during social hours, so as to feel less stranded). But things like expulsion from conferences do not, in any case, require criminal convictions or the standards of proof that those demand. Innocent-till-proven-guilty, with no shades of intermediate, probabilistic grey is how court systems rightly work when incarceration or registration as a sex offender is on the table; it is not how the rest of the world has to work, where degrees of reasonable suspicion exist, and the idea accusations less than perfectly watertight can never be made is a dangerous, damaging one which silences a great many victims.

There’s Jason’s A Voice For Men: willing to publish libel to “prove” points about fake rape claims – part 1, math.

Today I woke up to a lovely morning — the birds were singing, a cat clambered up onto the bed demanding affection from my wife and me, it was reasonably cool and not terribly humid, and I had a phone notification buried in amongst the pile of work server notifications that I’d received a pingback on my blog from A Voice for Men.

I’m really moving up in the world, building a genuine rogues’ gallery of people hellbent on making my life miserable. I must be a real threat to some people’s blinkered worldviews now! My name is apparently splattered across the front page of their antifeminist conclave with the epithet “confessed rapist” attached. Two days ago it was r/MensRights, now it’s the Alpha Males themselves beating their chests and beating on my reputation.

Why? Because I believe Shermer’s accusers and believe that he’s probably a lot looser with consent than he should be, possibly up to and including being willing to rape unconscious victims. And that I’m willing to believe this even despite my having personally experienced a fake rape charge at 16. Instead of becoming an angry man shouting down those uppity feminists for advocating for clear consent, I sided with the feminists, and therefore I am the enemy. Therefore I am a monster. And I must be STOPPED.

And there’s Elyse’s hair-raisingly horrific post on what it’s like to be raped and report it and be dismissed. And then to be raped again, and then another time.

I was raped. I reported it. I was raped. I didn’t report it. I was raped. I reported it but I didn’t press charges. I was raped. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I told myself that I wasn’t raped.

 But I was. I was raped.

We have these conversations about rape, conversations that always include a question of “Was the rape reported to the police?” Women are taught that when they get raped, it is our duty to report it. We are obligated to press charges. We must crusade for justice. If the rapist is a real rapist, and he raped someone, it the victim’s duty to stop him.

And we think we know what rape looks like. We know there’s bushes or drinks involved. There’s kicking and screaming… or unconsciousness… and the word “NO!” can be heard from the next room or by passersby. And there’s crying. Crying during. Crying after. So. much. crying. And there’s blood. At least SOME blood.

And we know what to do when you know you’re being raped. If there’s a weapon, you don’t fight. If there’s no weapon, you do. And you make sure you scratch him to get his DNA under your nails. And you don’t shower. And you don’t change. And you go to the hospital. Right away. You’d be irresponsible to wash away evidence.

Even though women put a lot of effort into not getting themselves raped, we already have the script written. We have a plan. We know how we’ll handle it when someone finally thwarts our attempts to get through the night un-raped.

Funny thing about rape, though, is that sometimes your rapist doesn’t match what you thought your rapist would look like. Sometimes central casting sends in dudes that don’t match the type you were already planning to get raped by. And sometimes these guys go off script, ad libbing lines and their timing is off and sometimes it’s the script is edited so much, you didn’t even recognize that this was Your Rape because NONE of the shit that just went down was part of the original plan.

So that’s the neighborhood.

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

Sarah’s leukemia is very treatable

Aug 30th, 2013 10:41 am | By

One good thing. Wait, though, no, it’s not really a good thing – it’s just the avoidance of a bad thing. I keep noticing how often a bit of good news I’m pointing out is actually just a bit of bad news reversed or prevented or stepped around. More actual good news that isn’t just the negation of previous bad news would be nice.

One bad thing avoided.

An appeals court has sided with a hospital that wants to force a 10-year-old Amish girl to resume chemotherapy after her parents decided to stop the treatments.

Yeh that’s a pretty minimal, routine thing to greet as good news. Girl with leukemia continues chemotherapy; wow.

The hospital believes Sarah’s leukemia is very treatable but says she will die without chemotherapy.

The judge in Medina County in northeast Ohio had ruled in July that Sarah’s parents had the right to make medical decisions for her.

If refusing medical treatment for a fatal disease can be called a “medical” decision at all.

Andy Hershberger, the girl’s father, said the family agreed to begin two years of treatments for Sarah last spring but stopped a second round of chemotherapy in June because it was making her extremely sick.

“It put her down for two days. She was not like her normal self,” he said. “We just thought we cannot do this to her.”

Sarah begged her parents to stop the chemotherapy and they agreed after a great deal of prayer, Hershberger said. The family, members of an insular Amish community, shuns many facets of modern life and is deeply religious.

So that could be part of the problem. Perhaps they don’t trust “modern” medical science enough to trust the doctors when they explain that the chemo will make her much sicker in the short term but has an 85% chance of success in curing her in the longer term.

It’s a sad story. Obviously watching a treatment make your child much sicker must be horrible, and the temptation to avoid the short-term misery must be overwhelming. But the Amish don’t equip themselves well to overcome that temptation.

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

Removal directions

Aug 29th, 2013 5:38 pm | By

Here we go again -

Mariama N, a lesbian from the Gambia, faces a new threat of deportation after she has twice stopped attempts to send her back to anti-gay persecution.

On 24 July Mariama stood her ground, refused to get on the Royal Air Maroc plane at Heathrow, resisted all the threats of the guards, challenged them on the policy and injustice they were implementing, and rejected their warnings of what would happen to her ‘next time’. Another flight on 13 August was cancelled. Now Mariama has been given ‘removal directions’ for Tuesday 3 September, 9.15am on Monarch Airlines flight ZB5394 from Gatwick.

Please take action to call on Monarch Airlines to refuse the flight - Tell them not to collude in sending Mariama back to persecution:

Call centre:  0871 940 5040 (open at weekends)

Holiday centre:  0871 423 8568  (open at weekends)

Monarch chartered flights dept is 08712 252 555

The Monarch Group Head Office: 0871 2250 250




Fill in Web Contact Form

 Email their press office:


 Chairman is Ian Rawlinson

Managing Director is Kevin George

 Phone/Email the Home Office: 

Quote Home Office references: Mariama S1447771/002

There is no justification in returning someone whose life is at stake, on the flimsy claim that they didn’t do enough to ‘prove’ they are gay in Home Office eyes.

Home Secretary Theresa May:  Fax: 020 7219 1145

Immigration Minister:

And copy to the following Home Office & UKBA addresses:;


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

In a gallery in Ballard

Aug 29th, 2013 5:14 pm | By

I was in Ballard yesterday afternoon, and I was walking down Ballard Avenue, which is a protected historical district with beautiful 19th century brick buildings – old hotels and shops and newspaper offices – and passed a gallery with some amazing sculptures in the windows, so I went in to look at all of them.

They’re like this:

The woman in the gallery said to me, “You know what they’re made of?” I said, “I assume paper.”

They are made of lottery tickets!

How cool is that?

The sculptor is Alex Lockwood.

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

Guest post: Josh has the ear of Vermont Public Radio, so…

Aug 29th, 2013 4:25 pm | By

Guest post by Josh, Official Spokesgay. He wrote to Vermont Public Radio to cancel his donation because of NPR’s coverage of Chelsea Manning, and then -

So I waited for five days to hear back from Vermont Public Radio, and all I got was a polite, non-committal “Thank you for your support. . bye bye” form letter confirming my cancellation. This next won’t surprise you—I sent the board and executive staff an irritated letter for their shitty donor/listener engagement. I run a nonprofit myself and my board would have my head if I blew off a longtime donor who took the time to write such detail.

That got some attention. The development director emailed me today to apologize for “dropping the ball” —I totally get making that kind of mistake, so I understand. It was a miscommunication. He wants to meet with me in town for coffee since we live practically next door to each other, and he wants to hear what I think of the Manning coverage and NPR in general.

QUESTION—What would you like me to highlight? I plan to give him a 101 in how terribly trans people are conceived of in our culture and media (the best that I can, being a cis person) and suggest that Vermont Public Radio (at least) do a series on trans issues in society, work, and media.

Those of you who are trans—I am your vessel. I’m not the person who should be speaking for you, but I don’t want to miss this opportunity. I’ll appreciate your guidance!

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

Creative destruction

Aug 29th, 2013 11:44 am | By

We hear a lot about “tearing apart” this or that – skepticism, the atheist movement, the world of skeptoatheo science-loving nerdery. Sometimes the idea is that the tearing apart is mutual, and sometimes it’s that it’s only the pesky feminists (or the mythical Atheismplussers, who are always people who aren’t in fact Atheismplussers, like PZ and Rebecca and me).

Anyway – this idea of tearing apart is interesting. It seems like an odd thing for people who see themselves as involved in a movement to object to, because being involved in a movement also tears things apart. That’s the point of being in a movement. A movement about Keeping Everything Exactly the Same needn’t bother to be a movement. It can relax.

Movements tear things apart. Movements oppose the status quo; they’re about change; they move toward change. Change tears things apart.

Ok, the defender of movement purity could reply to me. Ok, the movement is about change, but it has to unite and work together to make that change happen, so a new movement within the movement that tears the movement apart will defeat that goal.

Maybe. Then again maybe not. Maybe what it will do is change the movement in such a way that it becomes better and thus more attractive and thus bigger. Or maybe it will split into two halves, and both halves will become bigger, or one will and the other won’t, but the two combined will still be bigger. There are a lot of possibilities.

But the point is that “tearing apart” is really just another word for change, and change isn’t necessarily bad – and we all know that, or else we wouldn’t be in a movement in the first place.

Shit’s dynamic, people. Change is all the time. You can’t freeze anything at one particular moment and declare that the Platonic ideal of what it’s supposed to be. Right now the atheist movement is torn apart by battles over feminism. Well I know I’m not going to stop arguing for feminism and against noisy belligerent sexism, and I know I’m not the only one with that commitment, so there you go.

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