Notes and Comment Blog

Hearing from women, hearing from men

Nov 10th, 2013 10:12 am | By

First, take a look at this: a write-up of a panel of women at the National Association of Science Writers meeting on November 2, talking about sexual harassment and women in science writing.

Read it.

After the preliminary summary we get

Hearing from Women

Under that we get two paragraphs, one for the panel and one for the audience.

Among the panelists’ comments, Emily Willingham explained the concept of social privilege, which is advantage derived from a feature of a person that he or she did not create.  This reality, she said, imposes responsibilities on those who possess such features—responsibilities that the privileged often ignore.  Christie Aschwanden noted that the scandal had surprised men and not women and also described her feelings of marginalization in the world of science writing.  Maryn McKenna noted that science journalism will soon be a majority female occupation, but that won’t in itself end the marginalization of women. And Kathleen Raven, one of those who came forward to accuse Zivkovic, told of doing all she could, to no avail, to stop the harassment, including repeated warnings.  She will, she said, be much more clear about ground rules of interactions in the future.

So much for the panel. The paragraph on the women in the audience is even shorter and more perfunctory:

When Blum opened the floor to comments from the audience, women came forward to tell their own experiences of harassment and marginalization.  The special vulnerability of freelances—who generally depend on personal relationships to get assignments and rarely know publications’ anti-harassment policies or reporting procedures—was a common theme.  In addition,  Ginger Campbell, a practicing physician as well as a podcaster, brought word from the world outside science writing.  Numbers alone will not end these problems; on that point she agreed with McKenna.  The medical profession is now also heavily female, she said, but there, too, invisibility is everywhere

Then we get

Hearing from Men

Under that we get four paragraphs, all for men in the audience, and the men get whole paragraphs to themselves.

But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men.  Mike Lemonick described his astonishment at the different reactions of men and women to the revelations.  Men, he said, were amazed that harassment appeared to be common.  Women were not.  He, like many men, had simply been unaware, a situation that needs to end.  Unless men’s consciousness is raised, he said, men will continue to be unconscious.

Mitch Waldrop recalled that when he rose to a position of editorial power, he didn’t feel powerful or get any training on how to think about  or deal with power differentials that can cause innocently intended behavior to be misinterpreted.  Editors, he said, need such training.  Waldrop, an NASW board member, also mentioned that the board is taking the issue very seriously and is working on several approaches to help.

And so on.

Really. Even in a story about an all-woman panel about being a woman in a particular line of work, written by a woman, the women on the panel plus in the audience get two paragraphs while the men in the audience alone get four.

It’s mind-boggling.

Now read Emily Willingham’s post on the subject.

There were six of us who sat there, who presented, paneled, and answered questions, yet in this writeup on the session at the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference in Gainseville, Fla., where our panel convened, one of us doesn’t even get a mention. The writeup appeared at PLoS blogs on the site of NASW blogger Tabitha Powledge, but Beryl Benderly, NASW treasurer, wrote the XX panel summary.

Instead of highlighting what each of the six of us said, the post, in what I must characterize as “business as usual,” not only leaves out mention of a member of our all-women panel but also treats the standing-room only plenary session as an aside, something to roll into a longer section that talks about … life on other planets? Indeed, of the 2285 words that make up the post at PLoS, 1335 are devoted to the possibility of Earthlike planets and life elsewhere instead of the possibilities of the lives of at least half of us right here.

And of the 950 words allotted to the XX science panel at the NASW meeting, 264 were devoted to what the men in attendance at the session had to say. That stands in contrast to the 238 words given to what women on the panel and in the audience at this session on women in science writing had to say, words that trail off in the post without even an end punctuation. Not only that, but the section devoted to the men’s commentary begins with, “But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men.”

Wouldn’t you think that…oh never mind.

As a sort of coup de grace, the post tags are as follows: aliens, astronomy, Bora Zivkovic, exoplanets, intelligent life, Kepler spacecraft, Milky Way Galaxy, On Science Blogs, science blogging, science journalism, science writing, Scientific American, sexual harassment, Tabitha M. Powledge, women. Not one of the names of the women who were on the panel appears in the metadata. A summary of the post on the NASW Website focuses, like the post itself, on astronomy and gives a single line to what ought to be a major issue for a national association of science writers representing its membership.

After that series of what I can only describe as mounting offenses, the XX panel summary comes to an abrupt end, offering a segue into the bulky remainder on Earth-like planets by saying, “We Now Return You to Our Regularly Scheduled Program.”

Based on the content and emphasis and oversights of that post, it looks to me like we never left that program. The old emphasis on male voices and the attitude of “phew, that’s over” are the same old regular programming we’ve been watching and living for decades. And that, my friends, is the problem that put the six of us in front of a standing-room only crowd at NASW in Gainesville in the first place. And–I believe I can say this with certainty–not a single one of the six of us is content to return to that regular programming. There will be no sliding back into complacency this time.

We don’t want your stinkin regularly scheduled program!!



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

Deconstructing the assembly

Nov 9th, 2013 5:56 pm | By

The Sunday Assembly idea is getting a lot of mockery – at least I think it is, but maybe that’s because most of my friends on social media are the kind of people who mock things like Sunday assemblies, which they certainly are. That could be it. It could be that people who have more social media friends who sing solemn songs about Sunday assemblies or crochet scarves (from organic non-GMO fully local twice-blessed wool sheared from athletic non-smoking sheep) to wear to Sunday assemblies – it could be that people like that don’t have the impression that the Sunday Assemblies idea is getting a lot of mockery. I do though.

Melbourne has already hosted five Sunday Assemblies. Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra are next.

“Because it is a godless congregation, we don’t have a doctrine to rely on so we take reference from everything in the world,” Kathryn Murray, the Assembly’s Melbourne convenor, said.

“From the arts, from nature, from everything that we can get our hands on.”

A typical service includes inspirational talks, readings and sing-alongs and always finishes with tea and cake.

Hmm. Why does it sound so dire? Well because of the inspirational talks, readings and sing-alongs and the tea and cake. (I must be assuming the cake will be inspirational as opposed to good, because normally the idea of cake does not repel me, but the cake that would follow the inspirational talks, readings and sing-alongs does repel me. I suppose I think it must be damp and taste like shortbread.

So what should there be instead?

The things there are anyway, I guess. Third places – coffee shops, pubs, taverns, concerts, visits among friends, flea markets, farmers’ markets, bakeries, plays, movies, parks, games, marathons – lots of things. Just talking, instead of inspirational talks.

Maybe it’s this whole caper of setting out to be inspirational. I don’t hold with it. I’d rather look at a sunset instead.

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

Robin expostulating

Nov 9th, 2013 5:04 pm | By

The video of the panel on “Is science the new religion?” at QED last April is now available, so you can see Robin Ince expostulating with Brendan O’Neill. I enjoy seeing Robin Ince expostulating with Brendan O’Neill.

Tickets for QED 2014 are now on sale. Only £99!


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

Guest post by Bill Cooke: CFI combating superstition in Uganda

Nov 9th, 2013 4:09 pm | By

Bill Cooke is the International Director of the CFI’s Transnational Program. 

Fifty or so miles out of Kampala is a small town called Wobulenzi, and here CFI–Uganda runs a clinic devoted to testing the local population for HIV/AIDS and educating them how the disease is contracted. The education program is vital because, as in much of Africa, superstition and misinformation are rife.  So much of what is not understood is attributed to witchcraft and, not infrequently, whoever is identified as the witch ends up dying a horrible death. The churches and the mosques do little or nothing to prevent this superstition, and in many cases are the chief propagators. So, against huge odds, CFI–Uganda is fighting these debilitating superstitions.

2013, Uganda, CFI centre

CFI–Uganda is also helping an organization called HALEA, or Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability. HALEA works in the Kampala slums providing basic information to the people there. It might be about successful job-hunting, or about sexual hygiene and contraception. As elsewhere, there is a strong need to educate people against the prevalent superstitions. Predatory churches seek members by spreading fear and misinformation about HIV/AIDS, contraception, vaccination, education and many other things. The young slum-dwellers, almost all unemployed, are also susceptible to criminal activities, so HALEA organises recreational activities to keep them busy and off the streets.

2013, Uganda, CFI centre3

CFI recently stepped up its funding to the clinic at Wobulenzi, and has donated money for HALEA to buy a motorbike, the cheapest and quickest means of transport around Kampala. The various programs it runs are scattered around the sprawling city but now contact between them is a little bit easier. The CFI’s work in Uganda is the clearest example I know of skepticism and humanism working seamlessly together.

Editor’s note: If you want to donate to support this work, donate to CFI and earmark it for the International Program.

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

George Bush is here to set you free

Nov 9th, 2013 11:29 am | By

So what’s George Bush up to these days? I know you’re wondering. He’s up to converting the Jews, that’s what. Sarah Posner explains at Mother Jones.

Next week, former President George W. Bush is scheduled to keynote a fundraiser in Irving, Texas, for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains people in the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The organization’s goal: to “restore” Israel and the Jews and bring about the second coming of Christ.

I have to wonder how one goes about “training” people to convince other people to accept Jesus as the Messiah. I do. I wonder because training seems like a secular sort of activity, in the sense that it needs to be tethered to reality at some point in order to do the job. Training means teaching people how to do something the right way. I wonder how one goes about training people to convince other people of bullshit. I know it happens, I know people do it, I just wonder how it works – if there’s ever any wink-wink nudge-nudge “this is the best way to fool people” type of thing.

Based in Dallas, the MJBI claims that it acts like the Apostle Paul in helping to “educate Christians in their role to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and thus save some of them (Romans 11:11-14).” It has Bible schools in 12 countries, an online school of “Messianic theology,” and programs to train Messianic rabbis and pastors. Its logos feature a star of David and a menorah, and its website promotes the weekly Torah portion, a “Yiddish Mama’s Kitchen,” and links to purchase Judaica and books, such as Christ in the Old Testament. The nonprofit organization brought in approximately $1.2 million in revenue in 2011, the last year for which records are available.

At the November 14 event, which will be held at the Irving Convention Center, Bush will discuss his White House experiences, according to promotional materials. Bush, the group says, will “share his passion for setting people free.” Last year, Glenn Beck was the star of the group’s fundraiser, which was held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

That’s Bush’s idea of setting people free? Yikes.

Maybe that’s because he’s an addict. Is that it? He found Jesus helpful in getting free of addiction to alcohol, so he sees Jesus as setting people free in general? But one problem with that would be that not everyone is an addict.

At last year’s MJBI fundraiser, Beck received a “Defender of Israel” award. During Beck’s time as host of his Fox News program (which ended in 2011), hundreds of Jewish leaders denounced his on-air rhetoric as anti-Semitic—particularly his repeated invocation of Nazis and the Holocaust to demonize political adversaries and his accusation that George Soros is a “puppet master” who collaborated with the Nazis. “One of the reasons why I love Israel so much is I’m a guy who’s for the underdog,” Beck told the audience. “I’m a Mormon, which is kind of the Jew of the Christian world.”

Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, which Beck attends, introduced Beck as a “prophet” at the event. Morris told the crowd that his church has supported MJBI because “when we do this, the Bible tells us, it’s going to change the whole world. That it’s going to hasten the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s going to bring about worldwide revival.”

That’s where it gets dangerous.

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


Nov 9th, 2013 10:37 am | By

Cruelty doesn’t get enough attention. Judith Shklar pointed that out; Montaigne pointed it out.

When I drew up that quick secular 10 commandments recently I put “don’t be cruel” first. I kind of take it for granted that that’s essential…but apparently I’m not in the majority on that.

I just Googled the word and I’m a bit shocked to find that most of the first entries are for cruelty to animals, as if cruelty to humans isn’t a thing.

Cruelty to humans is a thing.

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

Everyday sadism

Nov 8th, 2013 5:23 pm | By

So that study on sadism I’ve been meaning to talk about for weeks.

Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others — when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.

So does regular interaction on the internet, and it’s very depressing. I mean really depressing. I don’t like realizing that a lot of people like to inflict pain just for the hilarity of it.

To test their hypothesis, they decided to examine everyday sadism under controlled laboratory conditions. They recruited 71 participants to take part in a study on “personality and tolerance for challenging jobs.” Participants were asked to choose among several unpleasant tasks: killing bugs, helping the experimenter kill bugs, cleaning dirty toilets, or enduring pain from ice water.

Participants who chose bug killing were shown the bug-crunching machine: a modified coffee grinder that produced a distinct crunching sound so as to maximize the gruesomeness of the task.

The machine didn’t actually do anything to the pill bugs who were put in it, but the subjects didn’t know that.

Of the 71 participants, 12.7% chose the pain-tolerance task, 33.8% chose the toilet-cleaning task, 26.8% chose to help kill bugs, and 26.8% chose to kill bugs.

Participants who chose bug killing had the highest scores on a scale measuring sadistic impulses, just as the researchers predicted. The more sadistic the participant was, the more likely he or she was to choose bug killing over the other options, even when their scores on Dark Triad measures, fear of bugs, and sensitivity to disgust were taken into account.

Participants with high levels of sadism who chose to kill bugs reported taking significantly greater pleasure in the task than those who chose another task, and their pleasure seemed to correlate with the number of bugs they killed, suggesting that sadistic behavior may hold some sort of reward value for those participants.

That creeps me out. The first day I ever worked at the zoo, as a volunteer, I learned that one of the tasks in the Reptile House (where I was volunteering) was to kill mice for the snakes to eat. It wasn’t my task, but the way the mice were killed freaked me out anyway. Later, when I got an actual job at the zoo, it sometimes was my task. I hated it.

Participants with high levels of sadism who chose to kill bugs reported taking significantly greater pleasure in the task than those who chose another task, and their pleasure seemed to correlate with the number of bugs they killed, suggesting that sadistic behavior may hold some sort of reward value for those participants.

And a second study revealed that, of the participants who rated high on one of the “dark” personality traits, only sadists chose to intensify blasts of white noise directed at an innocent opponent when they realized the opponent wouldn’t fight back. They were also the only ones willing to expend additional time and energy to be able to blast the innocent opponent with the noise.

Together, these results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost — a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.

The researchers hope that these new findings will help to broaden people’s view of sadism as an aspect of personality that manifests in everyday life, helping to dispel the notion that sadism is limited to sexual deviants and criminals.

I’m learning it. But god damn I do not like it.


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

Starting to catch up

Nov 8th, 2013 4:57 pm | By

Alison Bechdel posts on the Bechdel test in Sweden and the news flurry about same.

I have always felt ambivalent about how the Test got attached to my name and went viral. (This ancient comic strip I did in 1985 received a second life on the internet when film students started talking about it in the 2000′s.) But in recent years I’ve been trying to embrace the phenomenon. After all, the Test is about something I have dedicated my career to: the representation of women who are subjects and not objects. And I’m glad mainstream culture is starting to catch up to where lesbian-feminism was 30 years ago. But I just can’t seem to rise to the occasion of talking about this fundamental principle over and over again, as if it’s somehow new, or open to debate. Fortunately, a younger generation of women is taking up the tiresome chore. Anita Sarkeesian, in her Feminist Frequencies videos, is a most eloquent spokesperson.

It gets hard to do once you’re ancient because you can’t help thinking it shouldn’t be taking so fucking long. You know? A younger generation at least hasn’t lived through all the time it’s taking, so it’s that many decades less likely to feel too frustrated to say one more word on the subject.

H/t rrede.

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

Catch 2222222222222

Nov 8th, 2013 4:31 pm | By

So since I was reading a piece by Laura Bates I saw another piece by Laura Bates, so I read that too.

A UK tabloid, the Daily Star, is in such a lather about the urgent duty of telling Kate-who-married-William how to body that it published a story about the ghost of Diana – the mother of said William who died I think it was 16 years ago – giving Kate how to body advice. Yes really.

The Daily Star headline that should horrify us all.

Laura Bates comments:

Under a front-page headline so ridiculous I assumed it was a spoof for a couple of hours, the paper ran the “story”: Di ghost tells the duchess: You’re too thin! They labelled it an exclusive.

That’s right. Not only has the body relentlessly lauded and photographed and peddled to women everywhere as the ultimate pinnacle of ideal, unachievable, feminine thinness attracted the inevitable media backlash – but the paper in question had the gall to take body shaming to a completely new plane. The unrelenting criticism of women’s figures has gone paranormal.

That could become a trend. Joan Crawford tells Hillary Clinton how to body. Queen Victoria tells Angela Merkel how to body. Catherine the Great tells Elena Kagan how to body.

Without even going into the breathtaking insensitivity of evoking a dead woman’s memory to body-shame her son’s new wife, articles such as these pose an even more immediate and insidious threat.

As we sell our daughters birthday cards, dressing-up costumes and childhood books about becoming a beautiful princess (while our boys revel in merchandise promoting the active adventures of astronauts) the media obsession with the duchess’s every bodily inch reinforces the principle that girls should be seen and not heard. Compound that with the contradictory message that she is simultaneously perfectly, joyously slender and selfishly, irresponsibly underweight and we’re also broadcasting to our girls, loud and clear, the message of mandatory female insecurity.

The duchess’s treatment testifies that though they will forever be evaluated on the basis of their looks alone, those looks will always be cruelly attacked by somebody; there is no way they can win.

That is true. It’s something that’s been forcefully shoved on my attention in the past few years – there is no way we can win. We are targets, no matter what.



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

This is just what happens to women online

Nov 8th, 2013 3:59 pm | By

Laura Bates takes a look at online sexism. (Cue a rumble of outraged outrage in response.)

The internet is a fertile breeding ground for misogyny – you only have to look at the murky bottom waters of Reddit and 4Chan to see the true extent to which it allows violent attitudes towards women to proliferate. But, crucially, it also provides a conduit that enables many who hold those views to attack and abuse women and girls, from what they rightly perceive to be an incredibly secure position. Meanwhile, the police seem near-powerless to take action, social media sites shrug their shoulders, and women are left between a rock and a hard place – simply put up with the abuse as a part of online life, or get off the internet altogether.

These are not just nasty comments, or harsh criticisms – they are extreme, detailed and vitriolic threats of rape, torture and death. I have received messages detailing exactly how I should be disembowelled, which weapons could be used to kill me, and which parts of my body should be raped. When I ignored the threats, they intensified and proliferated, finding out information about my family members and threatening to rape them instead. They are the kind of messages that race around your head at night when you try to sleep, no matter how much you wrote them off as empty scare-mongering during the day. They make you hesitate to post online and change the way you use social media. And nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. Of the three rape threats I reported to police in recent months, two have already been dropped because the police are unable to trace the perpetrators…

Just like Sweetie and any other young girls her age venturing into shared online spaces, the answer seems to be an ambivalent shrug – this is just what happens to women online so you might as well get used to it. And woe betide you if you try to protest the apparent unfairness of that, because didn’t you know that you are threatening free speech?

If this really is just what happens to women online then women face a massive obstacle to being online, don’t we. It’s not a thing you just get used to, nor should it be. The price of participation should not be bullying and harassment, let alone threats of violence. Using harassment and threats to stop people participating is itself a threat to free speech. Which speech has the better claim to freedom? The kind that harasses women just for showing up, or the kind that objects to being harassed just for showing up?


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

How is that promoting religion?

Nov 8th, 2013 11:36 am | By

Actual, not figurative, out loud blurt of laughter. An American Legion post in North Carolina wanted to give the local schools a poster yelling “in god we trust” but the school board said no thank you, and a member of the Legion who is also a pastor has hurt feelings.

“We got an email from the school saying thank you but on advice of their legal counsel they could not accept the posters because of separation of church and state,” American Legion member Rick Cornejo told me in a telephone interview.

Cornejo, who is also a local Baptist preacher, said the decision to ban the posters has resulted in a lot of hurt feelings.

“It’s disappointing, it really is,” he said. “Educators are asking us for those posters so they can put them in their classrooms but right now they can’t do it – because the school board won’t let them.”

The 16×20 inch framed posters include the words “In God We Trust,” with an American flag in the background.

It reads: “The national motto of the United States, adopted by Congress, July 30, 1956.”

At the height of the Cold War, and wtf is a “national motto” anyway, and one of these days I really ought to stop everything else and make a concerted effort to get “ingodwetrust” off the god damn currency. But anyway.

 spokesman for the school district told the Watauga Democrat newspaper that “In God We Trust” was banned on the advice of their legal counsel. They feared someone could see the poster and construe the district was promoting religion.

Cornejo said that’s just silly.

“How is that promoting religion?” he asked me. “It doesn’t say anything about Jesus. I could understand if it was a Bible verse – but it’s ‘In God We Trust.’”

There, that’s the part that caused the noisy laughter. It’s hard to tell if they’re bullshitting or stupid when they say that kind of thing. “Ho yus the cross is not a religious symbol at all, it’s purely ceremonial, as any fule kno.” “Oh good heavens no, ‘God’ is not religious; Jesus is religious, absolutely, but God? Don’t be silly.”

How is saying “in god we trust” promoting religion? I’ll tell you, sport. It’s promoting the baseless claim that there’s an always-absent yet supremely important other-worldly but concerned-with-us SuperBoss out there somewhere (and also in here and everywhere) and that we trust it. If you genuinely don’t recognize that that’s a very large and very difference-making claim, then you should think harder about it. After that you should think harder about how anyone knows that, and why they should be shoving it on people when in fact they don’t know it.

The writer of the article, Todd Starnes, goes on to blame it on the liberals. It’s creepy.

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

We can treat the great majority of the people equally

Nov 8th, 2013 11:11 am | By

Ron Lindsay objects to the way the plaintiffs’ attorney in Greece v Galloway briskly threw the atheists under the bus.

Roberts was asking whether the concerns of atheists had to be considered in
determining whether the prayer practice is constitutional. And, incredibly, the plaintiffs’ attorney responded, “We’ve excluded the atheists.” (Transcript, p. 46.) In other words, to all atheists: Your concerns don’t matter. You’re not part of the community. You’re a special case and your constitutional rights are limited. Or, if you prefer blunter language, eat shit.

What Laycock said really is rather tooth-grinding.

We can treat the great majority of the people equally with the tradition of prayer to the almighty, the governor of the universe, the creator of the world -

Yes but you can treat all the people equally by skipping the putative tradition of prayer at a government function altogether. Treating just the great majority equally isn’t what you should be doing here.

Back to Ron’s post.

CFI, joined by other secular groups, filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court, arguing that the reasoning behind the Marsh decision is fundamentally flawed. The Marsh court assumed invocations would not be divisive. That has proven not to be the case, especially as the country has become more religiously diverse, including a growing segment of nonreligious individuals. There have been a number of protests involving various local bodies when members of minority religions have offered invocations—or when atheists were allowed the opportunity to open business with solemn secular remarks.

You know what they should start doing? Showing a film clip of the earth seen from space, with inspiring music. Let that be the invocation.

I’m serious. They want to start with solemnity and reminding everyone that this matters. Ok then, do it in a way that really is relevant to all of us.

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

The Bechdel test in Södermalm

Nov 7th, 2013 5:55 pm | By

Movie theatres in Sweden are introducing a new rating system to highlight the scarcity of women in movies. It’s a Bechdel test rating. That’s not even a joke or a figure of speech: they’re using the Bechdel test.

I love Sweden.

To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

“The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. “For some people it has been an eye-opener,” said Tejle.

It’s especially pathetic about Harry Potter, isn’t it. J. K. Rowling is after all a woman.

Beliefs about women’s roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them”, Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens,” he added.

In the hope that maybe, someday, a few centuries from now, people will at last start to realize that women aren’t quasi-human or partly human or almost human, but really actually fully human.

The A rating is the latest Swedish move to promote gender equality by addressing how women are portrayed in the public sphere.

Sweden’s advertising ombudsman watches out for sexism in that industry and reprimands companies seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes, for example by including skimpily clad women in their adverts for no apparent reason.

Since 2010, the Equalisters project has been trying to boost the number of women appearing as expert commentators in Swedish media through a Facebook page with 44,000 followers. The project has recently expanded to Finland, Norway and Italy.

So where are the people shouting about radical feminism? Oh, they’re there.

“If they want different kind of movies they should produce some themselves and not just point fingers at other people,” said Tanja Bergkvist, a physicist who writes a blog about Sweden’s “gender madness”.

Good thinking. If the culture ignores women, just make a new culture yourself and not just point fingers at other people. That’s easy enough isn’t it? Making a new culture single-handed? Producing better movies because you want better movies?

Research in the US supports the notion that women are under-represented on the screen and that little has changed in the past 60 years.

Of the  top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.

And if you don’t like it, it’s up to you as an individual to create an alternative. Your time starts now.


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

Harris and Klebold

Nov 7th, 2013 5:01 pm | By

The article I’m reading in Slate is from 2004, and it’s about what the FBI ended up concluding about why Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot up Columbine High School. It wasn’t because they were bullied; they weren’t. Klebold was depressed and suicidal, and Harris was a psychopath.

It’s not just that his private journal bristled with hatred. It was more than that.

It rages on for page after page and is repeated in his journal and in the videos he and Klebold made. But Fuselier recognized a far more revealing emotion bursting through, both fueling and overshadowing the hate. What the boy was really expressing was contempt.

He is disgusted with the morons around him. These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he’s not going to take it anymore. These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority. It may look like hate, but “It’s more about demeaning other people,” says Hare.

And those are the people who are truly frightening.

He lied a lot, often for fun. He had zero empathy.

Harris’ pattern of grandiosity, glibness, contempt, lack of empathy, and superiority read like the bullet points on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist and convinced Fuselier and the other leading psychiatrists close to the case that Harris was a psychopath.

It begins to explain Harris’ unbelievably callous behavior: his ability to shoot his classmates, then stop to taunt them while they writhed in pain, then finish them off. Because psychopaths are guided by such a different thought process than non-psychopathic humans, we tend to find their behavior inexplicable. But they’re actually much easier to predict than the rest of us once you understand them. Psychopaths follow much stricter behavior patterns than the rest of us because they are unfettered by conscience, living solely for their own aggrandizement.

That’s interesting. So non-psychopaths are less predictable, because we keep being confused and pushed off course by empathy or scruples? In-ter-esting.

None of his victims means anything to the psychopath. He recognizes other people only as means to obtain what he desires. Not only does he feel no guilt for destroying their lives, he doesn’t grasp what they feel. The truly hard-core psychopath doesn’t quite comprehend emotions like love or hate or fear, because he has never experienced them directly.

“Because of their inability to appreciate the feelings of others, some psychopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only horrific but baffling,” Hare writes. “For example, they can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.”

I’m interested in psychopathy.

Addendum: As people on Twitter reminded me, the article is by Dave Cullen who wrote a very good book on Columbine. Called Columbine.

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

Our culture

Nov 7th, 2013 4:40 pm | By

Reading an article in Slate, I see a headline in the right margin:

Ugly Celebrities Without Makeup



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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: Helen Ukpabio is at it again

Nov 7th, 2013 4:20 pm | By

Ukpabio: An Unrepentant Witch hunter Re-Launches Her Ministry

Leo Igwe

Nigeria’s notorious witch hunter ‘Lady Apostle’ Helen Ukpabio is at it again. She has just announced a witch finding and witch delivering session tagged “Ember Months Special 2013″. The program is taking place this month (November 11-17, 2013) at the headquarters of the Liberty Gospel Church in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.

The theme of the event is ‘Witches on the Run”. Ukpabio is inviting people to come for “free deliverance”. She qualified the deliverance as free just to create the impression that she won’t be charging any fee, and she would not generate income from it!

The poster has an image of a cat at the background. A cat is locally believed to be a witch’s familiar in the region. The image of this familiar invokes fears and fantasies of impending danger or misfortune in the minds of the local population.

The poster further states “Is your family sold out to witches? Are you oppressed or tormented by the witches? Are you a victim/prey/slave/servant in witchcraft coven? Are you a witch or wizard? There is a special deliverance for the possessed and the oppressed.”

In a region where people often spiritualize the cause of their problems or attribute the misfortune they suffer to malevolent supernatural and occult forces, many can easily connect and link their problems and tragic experiences to these questions.

Ukpabio has literally re-launched her witch hunting ministry which is blamed for the menace of child witchcraft allegations and human rights abuses in the region.

For some time now her ministry has been criticized locally and internationally because of its role in fueling witchcraft accusations and related abuses in Nigeria and beyond.

But she appears unrepentant, and unfazed by the criticisms.

Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch with a divine mandate and power to exorcize the spirit of witchcraft. She made witchcraft deliverance the primary mission of her Liberty Gospel Church. This time, her goal is to exploit popular fears of accidents and deaths, often entertained by Nigerians during the ‘ember months’, using witchcraft images and imaginaries.

At this event Ukpabio will instigate witchcraft insinuations and suspicion, and incite hatred and violence against children and other vulnerable members of the population often scapegoated as witches. She will spread the meme and sham of witchcraft deliverance. Deliverance may be free as advertised by Ukpabio, but the process can lead to death or permanent health damage of the person being delivered. More disturbing is that Ukpabio’s witch hunting mission is set to erode the gains made so far by state and non-state actors in combating witchcraft-related abuse in the region. Witch hunting will not end in Africa as long as witchcraft entrepreneurs like Ukpabio continue to act with impunity and the authorities refuse to bring them to justice.

In Cameroun, the government has ordered the closure of around 100 penticostal churches following the death of a 9-year old girl in a local church. The girl reportedly collapsed and died during a prayer session to cast out the ‘numerous demons’ that controlled the girl’s life.

I urge the government of Cross River to take action against the witch hunting activities of Helen Ukpabio. The Nigerian government should act now to stop this notorious woman from re-infecting the region with her virus of witch belief and deliverance.

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

Outrage that uppity girls

Nov 7th, 2013 12:34 pm | By

Ally Fogg reviews Michael Kimmel’s new book at Comment is Free.

When one looks at the horrific abuse meted out to feminist campaigners such as Caroline Criado-Perez for having the temerity to ask that a woman should feature on British banknotes, to Laura Bates for fighting back against street harassment and everyday sexism, or to Anita Sarkeesian for highlighting sexist tropes in video games, it is hard to see it as anything but aggrieved entitlement. The hate campaigns seem firmly rooted in outrage that uppity girls should be intruding upon men’s inalienable right to behave how they like, harass who they want, control culture as they wish and shape society in their own image. Like: “You’ll prise Lara Croft’s skimpy shorts from my cold, dead hands.”

It is easy, and indeed essential, to condemn such misogynistic hate campaigns. However if those attitudes are at least partially stoked by very real and profound economic and social changes that have left some men feeling disempowered, marginalised, maligned and neglected, is it enough to simply demand that they suck it up and deal with it? I’m not sure.

No, but that’s not the question. The question is, is it still reasonable to demand that they stop bullying women regardless? I am sure. Yes it is. Whatever the sources and roots and origins of your rage, they don’t entitle you to persecute other people. Period. That’s true by definition. Persecution is by definition not justified.

The gender script for women has been largely torn up – a young girl has unprecedented freedom to grow into a doctor or a nurse, a soldier or a solicitor and/or a wife and mother while men, to a large extent, are stuck with a script for a role that barely exists. To be a real man, our culture still insists, is to be the protector and provider within a society that no longer guarantees to deliver that opportunity, and where male protector-providers are not entirely necessary. It is not much of a stretch to assume that this causes immense stress and psychological conflict, which is sometimes directed inward in despair and depression, sometimes outward in anger and violence.

Hang on. A young girl has unprecedented freedom to grow into a doctor or a nurse, a soldier or a solicitor and/or a wife and mother, but she is still very likely to be punished and bullied for doing so. That gender script hasn’t been torn up at all, in fact it’s been turned into a whole Library of Congress worth of scripts.

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

The marshal’s customary plea

Nov 7th, 2013 12:07 pm | By

The AP reports on the SCOTUS discussion of Greece v Galloway yesterday.

The Supreme Court wrestled Wednesday with the appropriate role for religion in government in a case involving mainly Christian prayers at the start of a New York town’s council meetings.

The justices began their day with the marshal’s customary plea that “God save the United States and this honorable court.” They then plunged into a lively give-and-take that highlighted the sensitive nature of offering religious invocations in public proceedings that don’t appeal to everyone and governments’ efforts to police the practice.

Sigh. Why is there such a thing as the marshal’s customary plea that “God save the United States and this honorable court”? Why can’t the government and its institutions be free of this constant “customary” prodding to acknowledge a god that doesn’t exist?

The justices tried out several approaches to the issue, including one suggested by the two Greece residents who sued over the prayers to eliminate explicit references to any religion.

Justice Samuel Alito pointed to the country’s religious diversity to voice his skepticism about the call for only nonsectarian prayer. “I just don’t see how it is possible to compose anything that you could call a prayer that is acceptable to all of these groups,” Alito said.

Exactly; so don’t have a fucking prayer. Don’t have any superstitious rituals in a government setting that is not supposed to exclude people on the basis of their metaphysical beliefs. If you need to pray, do it before you get to work.

As Douglas Laycock, the University of Virginia law professor representing the residents, tried to craft an answer, Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts jumped in. “You want to pick the groups we’re going to exclude?” Scalia said. A few seconds later, Roberts chimed in, “We’ve already excluded the atheists, right?”

Right. Stop doing that.

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

That on both sides

Nov 7th, 2013 11:15 am | By

Here it is again, the fake symmetry. Let’s split the difference! You don’t believe in god, I do believe in god, it’s basically the same thing only one is no and the other is yes. Right? Right? Both are just guesses. Both are just a hunch. Both are a toss-up either way. Both are equally reasonable and equally unreasonable. Right? Right? Right? Great, let’s go have a beer.

This time it’s Francis Spufford, writing in August 2012, via the latest Jesus and Mo.

Spufford’s Dear Atheists:

Allow me to annoy you with the prospect of mutual respect between believers and atheists. The basis for it would be simple: that on both sides, we hold to positions for which by definition there cannot be any evidence. We believe there is a God. You believe there isn’t one. Meanwhile, nobody knows, nobody can know, whether He exists or not, it not being a matter susceptible to proof or disproof.

No. No no no no no no no no.

The fact that something is not susceptible to proof or disproof does not mean it is unknowable. I know some things I did yesterday, which are not susceptible to proof or disproof. I know some thoughts I had today, which are not susceptible to proof or disproof. Multiply those by infinity and you have a tiny fraction of the things that are knowable without being susceptible to proof or disproof.

Notice the jump Spufford makes, from “for which by definition there cannot be any evidence” to “it not being a matter susceptible to proof or disproof.” Evidence is not the same thing as proof.

There is a lot of evidence that there is not a god of the kind described in normal monotheistic holy books and sermons. There is precious little (if any) evidence that there is such a god.

It’s true that nobody knows for certain that a god doesn’t exist, just as nobody knows for certain that we’re not just part of a vast computer simulation run by mice. But knowing for certain isn’t the real issue. The real issue is what we have better reasons to believe as opposed to worse reasons to believe.

The wafflers need to be called out on this every damn time they say it.

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

Cut open with a rusty blade

Nov 6th, 2013 5:35 pm | By

Pamela Gay published a wrenching, heartbreaking, infuriating post early today about her struggles as a woman in science and skepticism.

With ever increasing difficulty I’ve been dealing with issues of gender related to my career. Right now, I am struggling with hearing that an event I categorized as “A drunk ass  tried to grab my boobs,” is now being discussed by witnesses as, “He tried to sexually assault her in a bar while intoxicated.” I had created a euphemism for myself, and having that euphemism striped away is making me realize that I have been hiding from myself the true degree to which I have been harmed.

I have previously tried to confront and to give voice to the harm that sexual harassment and gender discrimination can do. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly addressed many of the issues that hold women like me back: Issues of being inappropriately touched, issues of hearing workplace banter about our boobs, and the effects all this and more has on our self-esteem. I made the following point as clearly as I could: “I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

Well we know from bitter experience that we can’t expect to be believed, whether we report the believable or the unbelievable, at least not by a very large and entrenched segment of the relevant population. But more and more of us are reporting it now, and the ground seems to be shifting.

I did not give this talk lightly. I suspected I’d experience backlash for daring to admit that I too am one of those women who has been touched, who has been held back, who has suffered self-doubt related to my gender. What shocked me was the form and degree of backlash. As a result of this talk I faced threat of professional reprimand. Let me state this more clearly, because I admitted that gender related comments hurt my self esteem, there were authority figures who demanded I be punished. While my direct supervisor and the dean we report to have always made me feel respected and have supported me, there were others within my profession who demanded I publicly apologize; that I be formally punished for what I said.

I was horrified when I read that this morning. I’m not the only one. My friend (and Pamela’s friend) Brian Engler is another. So is Leonard Tramiel, whom I met and liked enormously at the CFI Summit. The news is getting around.

And then last week, the fading scars of what happened were cut open with a rusty blade.

I learned that a witnesses to an event that occurred in 2008 is discussing that event and naming names. During the event in question, a man in power who I’d previously never met made a lunge at my breasts. This is one of the events that weighed on me when I wrote my TAM talk. It weighed on me when I said, “As an astronomer, at conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science and skepticism.”

I’ve been warned this may all hit the internet. I’ve been warned the social media maybe about to explode. I’ve been warned this could be devastating to my career. Let me put this more clearly: Because someone witnessed a man in power attempt to grab my boobs, I have been warned that I need to worry about my career being actively destroyed by others.

And that is fucked up. I run a program that works to spread science education, to generate science results – we are doing good – and I have to be worried that my ability to do good is going to be limited because I have boobs someone thought would be fun to grab at.

And then that man with power – the one who staggered at my breasts at the moment of our introduction – emailed me out of the blue on Halloween, denying anything happened between us because he’s never done anything like that, and if he has never… then he never did with me. He went on to ask why I never confronted him later, why I never did many things, and I found myself explaining, “There is absolutely no way for a woman to walk up to any man, let alone a prominent man they don’t really know, and say, ‘Pardon me, while you seemed to be drunk, you did this inappropriate thing.’ Inappropriate physical contact is so common at these events as to be just part of being a woman in science and skepticism. People drink. Inappropriate things happen, remembered or not, and for the most part we just move on as though it had never happened because otherwise we could never work.”  I told him he should get help, and I dug out my own prescription for dealing with the PTSD that had me shaking. He promised he would share with no one our communications and I told him I didn’t want to communicate with him at all.

This exchange left me broken – it broke me on my favorite holiday of the year.

I am still broken.

There’s more. As I said, it’s heartbreaking.

It’s a long, long road.

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