Notes and Comment Blog


Feb 18th, 2013 3:40 pm | By

Ben Radford is playing silly buggers again. Check out the title of his new post.

‘Over It’ Follow-Up: Why Would Anyone Criticize an Anti-Rape Poem?

He cites PZ’s post.

In response, PZ Myers wrote a blog titled, “You don’t get to be ‘over’ rape,” telling me (and, by extension, Eve Ensler) that “you don’t get to be ‘over’ rape.” I may disagree with Ensler’s statistics and methods (while agreeing with her goals), but I would never question her motivations, nor tell Ensler that she doesn’t “get to be ‘over rape’.” I am “over rape” in exactly the same way Ensler is “over rape.”

Why PZ Myers (or anyone else) would presume to criticize an anti-rape poem (of all things) by a prominent feminist is beyond me, but at least one of us is terribly, terribly confused.

Actually when he first wrote the post he said Melody wrote the post, then later corrected the mistake without saying he was correcting it. That’s not good practice (to put it tactfully).

But look at PZ’s post. It’s short, it won’t take long. He doesn’t say what Radford says he said.

He doesn’t say what Radford says he said.

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

The sacred right to shun

Feb 18th, 2013 3:22 pm | By

I find that there’s a right I can have that I didn’t even know I could have. There’s a right to not see gay people. I did not ever know that. A conservative talk show host called Janet Mefferd says there is such a right.

Conservative talk show host Janet Mefferd this week waded into the controversy about an Indiana high school where a group of students wanted to organize a separate prom that would specifically prevent gay and lesbian students from attending.

After lamenting that “public schools are morally bankrupt,” Mefferd asserted that proms which allow all students — gay or straight — to attend actually violate the rights of Christian students who disapprove of homosexuality.

What right in particular, you might ask?

According to Mefferd, apparently the right of students not to even see gay people!

All right, let’s take a look at this group of high school students trying to organize a shunning of gay students.

Several parents, students, and others who believe gays should be banned from the Sullivan High School prom met Sunday at the Sullivan First Christian Church.

“We don’t agree with it and it’s offensive to us,” said Diana Medley.

Their idea is to create their own separate traditional prom. Students say there are several others from their high school who agree, but are afraid to take a stand.

“If we can get a good prom then we can convince more people to come and follow what they believe,” said student Kynon Johnson.

And now they want everyone to know where they stand.

“We want to make the public see that we love the homosexuals, but we don’t think it’s right nor should it be accepted,” said a local student.

So they want to shun them, because Jesus. Very nice.

Janet Mefferd explained.

 I feel for these Christian kids who are in a prom or kids who are at this high school who say, ‘you know something, do we have to go down this road?’ Whether the homosexual activists like it or not, and I know this isn’t politically correct to say this, but not everybody wants to see that. I know that that’s offensive to the activist crowd, they want us all to see it, they want us all to approve of it, they want us all to call it blessed and okay and rejoice and have parties and throw confetti in the air over this whole thing. But the fact of the matter is it’s a moral issue. You will always have Christians who will disagree with this and why should the rights of the activists trump the rights of Christians?

Throw confetti in the air? (She sounds a little like Ben Radford. “Feminists say all men are rapists!” “Teh gaze want us to throw confetti in the air!”) No, not confetti in the air. Not shunning. That’s different. Not organizing to attempt to shut some students out of their own prom.

And the fact of the matter is not it’s a moral issue. It doesn’t become a moral issue just because someone says it is. Shunning people because of unreasonable feelings of ick is much more of a moral issue than being gay is.

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

Goldacre reveals a terrifying mess

Feb 18th, 2013 1:48 pm | By

Dagnabbit. Ben Goldacre is in town, and doing a talk at Town Hall tonight, but I didn’t know about it and now I can’t rearrange things so that I can go. Drat!

Ben Goldacre’s earlier bestseller Bad Science hilariously exposed the tricks that quacks and journalists use to distort science; now Goldacre puts the multibillion-dollar global pharmaceutical industry under the microscope—and reveals a terrifying mess. Doctors and patients need good scientific evidence to make informed decisions, says the author of Bad Pharma, but instead, companies run bad trials on their own drugs, which distort and exaggerate the benefits. When these trials produce unflattering results, the data are simply buried—and all of this is perfectly legal. It’s a world so fractured, Goldacre says, that medics and nurses are educated by the drug industry—and patients are harmed.

Wanna go. Can’t. Phooey.

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

What is a moral good?

Feb 18th, 2013 10:48 am | By

Massimo has responded to Shermer’s post responding to him, by annotating the post.

…I begin with a Principle of Moral Good: Always act with someone else’s moral good in mind, and never act in a way that leads to someone else’s moral loss…

Well, that sounds good (and mighty close to Kant’s famous categorical imperative), except for the significant degree of begging the question hidden in Michael’s principle (but not in Kant’s). What is a moral good? Reading the principle as it stands I would have pretty much no idea of how to actually act, or whether my acting would lead to someone else’s moral good or loss.

Shermer in italics, Pigliucci below. That’s basically the problem I had, except that I (being an amateur) called it jumping to the middle as opposed to begging the question. Shermer doesn’t begin at the beginning by spelling out what’s in play, but instead simply assumes the very thing he’s supposedly elucidating, and jumps ahead to talk about it before he’s spelled it out.

Most men, for example, are much more receptive toward unsolicited offers of sex than are women.

This is just a parenthetical observation, Michael, but that study has been debunked, together with a lot of the other questionable “science” about gender we get from a certain brand of evolutionary psychology…
Oh no! Is Massimo one of them there “radfem” types who hate all brands of evolutionary psychology because they say all men are rapists?!
I kid.

The survival and flourishing of the individual is the foundation for establishing values and morals, and so determining the conditions by which humans best survive and flourish ought to be the goal of a science of morality.


Natural selection has everything to do with survival (and reproduction), but pretty much nothing to do with flourishing. The latter, in turn, is an inherently cultural concept, that is difficult to articulate and whose specifics vary with time and geography. Which means that Michael’s “smooth transition” between is and ought is anything but smooth.

Massimo expands on that point toward the end of the post.

Michael keeps talking about survival and flourishing in a single breadth, invoking natural selection as working to increase both. This is absolutely wrong. Natural selection increases survival, and even that only insofar as it assures reproduction (after that, good luck to you, my friend!). Selection has nothing whatsoever to do with flourishing, the realization of which completely breaks any evolutionarily based “smooth transition” between is and ought. Not to mention, of course, that Michael should know that natural selection likely also produced a number of nasty behavioral patterns in humans (e.g., xenophobia), which we have been trying  — in good part through philosophizing about them! — to get rid of throughout the past couple of millennia.So, again, science — or more broadly, factual evidence — most certainly has a place at the high table of any meaningful discussion about how to achieve human goals and fulfill human desires. But philosophical reflection remains central to ethics because ethics is about reasoning on the implications of and conflicts generated by those goals and desires.

Natural selection isn’t moral. It’s the opposite of moral. Darwin said this in the “Devil’s chaplain” letter.

What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!

Dawkins wrote a wonderful essay on the subject. Natural selection is an absolute shit. Without it we wouldn’t be here, but that doesn’t make it not a shit.



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

Churchland on morality and science

Feb 18th, 2013 9:16 am | By

The first few pages of Patricia Churchland’s Braintrust make an excellent antidote to Shermer’s amateurish and arrogant attempt to set everyone straight about morality. (It’s rude to call it amateurish, but perhaps not as rude as it would be if I were not an amateur myself. I am an amateur, and that’s why I want to get moral philosophy from philosophers rather than non-philosophers, and why I wouldn’t myself try to set everyone straight about morality.)

Churchland starts with her own amateur thinking about morality when she was in school and confronted with the unfairness of medieval trial by ordeal. Her history teacher tried to put the practice in context, to discourage the too-easy sense of moral superiority, but the unfairness still stood out.

So what is it to be fair? How do we know what to count as fair? Why do we regard trial by ordeal as wrong? Thus opens the door into the vast tangled forest of questions about right and wrong, good and evil, virtues and vices. For most of my adult life as a philosopher, I shied away from plunging unreservedly into these sorts of questions about morality. This was largely because I could not see a systematic way through that tangled forest, and because a lot of contemporary moral philosophy, though venerated in academic halls, was completely untethered to the “hard and fast”: that is, it had no strong connection to evolution or to the brain, and hence was in peril of floating on a sea of mere, albeit confident, opinion. And no doubt the medieval clerics were every bit as confident. [p 2]

See? I find that one paragraph more clear, more explanatory, more orienting,  more useful, than Shermer’s whole post, long as it is. There are a lot of questions; they are difficult and complicated, not easy and simple; it is hard to find a systematic way to answer them; confidence does not equal success. The questions need to be tethered to evolution and the brain, but that too is not easy or quick.

It did seem likely that Aristotle, Hume, and Darwin were right: we are social by nature. But what does that actually mean in terms of our brains and our genes? To make progress beyond the broad hunches about our nature, we need something solid to attach the claim to. [pp 2-3]

So she got a second PhD, this time in neuroscience.

She discusses the way this combination is apt to draw accusations of “scientism,” and explains why they are often mistaken but also what the accusation can get right.

In the present case, the claim is not that science will wade in and tell us for every dilemma what is right or wrong. Rather, the point is that a deeper understanding of what it is that makes humans and other animals social, and what it is that disposes us to care about others, may lead to greater understanding of how to cope with social problems. [p 4]

Shermer, and Harris before him, simply skipped over that part. They rush to the middle and start there, while Churchland starts at the beginning: we are social animals, we are disposed to care about others. Better, you see?

Then the is-ought problem. What’s the point of it?

…precisely because he was a naturalist, Hume had to make it clear that the sophisticated naturalist has no truck with simple, sloppy inferences going from what is to what ought to be. He challenged those who took moral understanding to be the preserve of the elite, especially the clergy, who tended to make dimwitted inferences between descriptions and prescriptions. For example, it might be said (my examples, not Hume’s), “Husbands are stronger than their wives, so wives ought to obey their husbands,” or “We have a tradition that little boys work as chimney sweeps, therefore we ought to have little boys work as chimney sweeps.” [p 8]

Clear instead of muddled.

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

Women the global majority

Feb 17th, 2013 4:29 pm | By

It’s interesting how being the global majority doesn’t do women much good, isn’t it.

Well that’s not so surprising. Elites and oppressors generally are a minority, after all. A few thousand knights living off a population of peasants: that sums up much of human history.

What do the global majority get for their lot in life?

Well, there’s female genital mutilation.

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of  newborn deaths.
  • About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
  • In Africa an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

There’s very early marriage.

Every year, an estimated 10 million girls aged under 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter. That’s more than 25,000 girls every day, or 19 every minute. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday and some child brides are as young as eight or nine.

Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.

There’s one of the products of very early marriage for girls, fistula.

Each year between 50 000 to 100 000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal. The development of obstetric fistula is directly linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality: obstructed labour.

Women who experience obstetric fistula suffer constant incontinence, shame, social segregation and health problems. It is estimated that more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

There’s being forbidden to get an education. Take Pakistan, for instance.

The situation is the most critical in NWFP and Baluchistan, where the female literacy rate stands between 3 per cent and 8 per cent. Some government organizations and non-governmental organizations have tried to open formal and informal schools in these areas, but the local landlords, even when they have little or nothing to do with religion or religious parties, oppose such measures, apparently out of fear that people who become literate will cease to follow them with blind faith. Unfortunately, the government has not so far taken any steps to promote literacy or girls= education in these areas. It is even reluctant to help NGOs or other small political or religious parties do the job, because in order to maintain control, it needs the support of these landlords and chieftains who, as members of the two major political parties, are regularly elected to the national assembly.

“I want to go to school to learn but I cannot because my parents do not allow me to do so,” said 9-year old Palwasha, who has visited the biggest city of Pakistan, Karachi, with her parents and seen girls like herself going to school. She lives in a village located in Dir district (NWFP), where education for girls does not exist.

There are more items one could list – violence; rape including gang rape; women punished for being raped while their rapists go free; unequal laws and rights; forced prostitution; street harassment and “Eve teasing”; employment discrimination; workplace harassment; witch hunts.

Half the sky, but more than half the misery.






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


Feb 17th, 2013 1:14 pm | By

Taslima gives a howl of rage and grief about Bangladesh and the murder of Ahmed Rahjib.

Rajib Haider Shuvo, a 26 years old  architect and talented young atheist blogger was brutally killed by the Islamists last night. He  criticized Islam the way I used to  criticize  Islam 26 years ago when I was living in Bangladesh.  He wrote  blogs under the pen name thaba baba. I wrote the same things in late  80′s using my real name. Thaba baba was killed. I survived but I was forced to leave Bangladesh 20 years ago. I would surely get killed like  Rajib if I lived in that country. I was on the top of the  hit list made by Islamic terrorists.

Bangladesh is a hopelessly pathetic country. A pure fucked-up country. The country has been  controlled by the Islamists. The society has been rottened  by the Islamists. The people have been manipulated by the Islamists. Atheists get killed. A few weeks ago, another Bengali atheist blogger, Asif Mohiuddin, was brutally stabbed by the Islamists. He quite brilliantly mocked Allah and Islam. Asif is fighting for his life. No doubt, Bangladesh sucks.

Islamization has wrecked one country after another. It merits every howl of rage and grief we can muster.

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

The National Stalking Clinic

Feb 17th, 2013 11:29 am | By

There’s a new clinic in the UK to repair stalkers.

When forensic psychiatrist Frank Farnham first meets a stalker, he doesn’t judge. Some of his clients have done awful things. They have intimidated, pursued and terrified their victims. They have sent harassing emails to ex-partners or followed work colleagues home from the office. They have developed harmful fixations on people who have no intention of returning their attentions. All of them will have run the risk of being sent to jail.

Farnham is the co-founder of the UK’s first-ever National Stalking Clinic, based at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, north London.

…According to 2012 Home Office statistics, almost a fifth of women in the UK and 10% of men aged 16-59 say they have been affected by stalking, yet conviction rates remain low: only 20 stalkers a year are jailed for more than 12 months, while others get shortened or community sentences. Farnham and his colleagues are offering an alternative to ineffective prison terms.

Almost a fifth of women – lordy. That’s a lot. It’s self-reporting, so who knows how accurate it is, but still.

The treatment takes the form of joint psychiatric and psychological assessment which, says Farnham, “looks at the cycles and patterns of behaviour. What gets you into this situation where you’re offending? Let’s unpack that. Usually the perpetrator turns up and he’s very disparaging about the victim. It’s all about how the perpetrator sees things… So it’s, ‘OK, how can we stop this stalker going back into prison?’ Over time, they’ll start looking at the victim and the impact it’s having on them.”

That’s familiar.

“Hey, stop harassing me; leave me alone.”

“No!!! You’re a terrible person. I have to punish you because you’re so terrible.”

“Um…you have a very exaggerated idea of my terribleness. You also have no business punishing people. Leave me alone.”

“No!!! You’re terrible!!!!! You’re more terrible than anyone anywhere; you’re the worst person ever.”

You may laugh, but I’ve seen people say exactly that. Not often, but a couple of times (and of course I see only a tiny percentage of what there is, because I don’t enjoy looking at it). Literally “the worst person” anywhere ever. Literally.

The types of stalkers Farnham sees are 80% male and can be divided into five broad categories: the rejected stalker, who has had a relationship with the victim and often seeks revenge, the intimate stalker who often becomes deluded that the object of their attentions is a willing romantic partner, the incompetent stalker who usually has underlying learning disabilities or mental-health issues, the resentful stalker who does it to frighten and distress and finally, the predatory stalker who is preparing a sexual attack.

It’s four. Mine (and ours) is four. The resentful.

A 2004 report, conducted by two criminal psychologists in the UK, America and Australia, found that nearly half of all offenders turned violent, while 40% of victims were forced to move home or job. Typically, stalking situations last a year or two, although a substantial number carry on for up to five years and some even for decades.

With broadened access to the internet, instances of cyber-stalking (which can include email hacking, threatening messages left on social networking sites and identity theft) have also increased dramatically – the 2010 British Crime Survey estimates that around 2.1 million people experience online stalking each year.

A new branch of human creativity. I predict great things for it in the future.

Claire Waxman, 37, a complementary therapist who was stalked by Elliot Fogel, a Sky Sports television producer she first met at school, says that when she reported it, she was met with “a very flippant reaction. The policeman laughed it off and said something like, ‘Aren’t you lucky, having an admirer?’”

Claire says one of the difficulties in getting the relevant authorities to take stalking seriously is that the impact is often psychological and hard to prove. “As stalking victims, we’ve not been beaten up, you can’t see the physical injury,” she explains. “The problem is that the actions in isolation can look pretty meaningless but when you live on a day- to-day basis with something that is invading your family and work life, you feel infected by this person.

“There’s no place you can turn where they’re not watching. You know you’re being watched and you have that feeling, that animal instinct, all the time… it’s not flattering in any way whatsoever.”

Not even if you’re a notorious Professional Victim and Attention Whore who Stirs Up Drama only for The Blog Hits?

No; not even then.

The reporter, Elizabeth Day, tells the nightmare story of one woman.

How, I wonder, does she find the strength to talk so openly about her case when it has cost her so much? “Someone once told me the safest thing to do was tell everyone,” she says. “I have to speak out. That’s what keeps me sane. A lot of people feel shame or they feel embarrassed. I don’t feel ashamed. I feel outraged.”

Speaking out does help to keep us sane.

Thank you for listening.

H/t Barry Pearson

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

Another book on science and morality

Feb 16th, 2013 5:58 pm | By

Michael Shermer is writing a book on science and morality, and he’s written a preview or summary or overture at Massimo Pigliucci’s blog.

It looks as if he’s just doing Sam Harris’s project all over again, which seems superfluous, but who knows. A sample from the preview or summary:

Given that moral principles must be founded on something natural instead of supernatural, and that science is the best tool we have devised for understanding the natural world, applying evolutionary theory to not only the origins of morality but to its ultimate foundation as well, it seems to me that the individual is a reasonable starting point because, (1) the individual is the primary target of natural selection in evolution, and (2) it is the individual who is most effected by moral and immoral acts. Thus:

The survival and flourishing of the individual is the foundation for establishing values and morals, and so determining the conditions by which humans best survive and flourish ought to be the goal of a science of morality.
Here we find a smooth transition from the way nature is (the individual struggling to survive and flourish in an evolutionary context) to the way it ought to be (given a choice, it is more moral to act in a way that enhances the survival and flourishing of other individuals).
He wants to know what people think.
Note to my readers: What I am outlining here is the basis for my next book, The
Moral Arc of Science, which I am researching and writing now, so I ask you to
post your critiques here or email me your constructive criticisms (
My role model is Charles Darwin, who solicited criticisms of his theory of
evolution and included them in a chapter entitled “Difficulties on Theory” in
On the Origin of Species. Of course, if you agree with me, and/or think
of additional examples in support of my theory, then I would appreciate hearing
those as well!
So tell him what you think.

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

Torture in PNG

Feb 16th, 2013 5:47 pm | By

A long, horrific article about attacks on “witches” in Papua New Guinea.

One excerpt. Trigger warning.

Angela was naked, staked-out, spread-eagled on a rough frame before them, a blindfold tied over her eyes, a fire burning in a nearby drum. Being unable to see can only have inflated her terror, her sense of powerlessness and the menace around her; breathing the smoke and feeling the heat of the fire where the irons being used to burn her were warmed until they glowed. Would she be cooked, on that fire? She must have known it had happened to others before — and would soon infamously happen again, the pictures finding their way around the world.

The photographs witnesses took of Angela’s torture are shocking, both for the cruelty of the attackers and the torpid body-language of the spectators. Stone-faced     men and women and wide-eyed children huddle under umbrellas, sheltering from the drenched highlands air as Angela writhes against the tethers at her wrists and ankles, twisting her body away from the length of hot iron which a young man aims at her genitals.

There are more horrors, but a nun named Sister Gaudentia managed to save Angela and her mother in the end. Other women are not saved.



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

Sock puppet harasser heads to prison

Feb 16th, 2013 3:58 pm | By

Another dip into the archives. This time our voyage in Time’s charabanc takes us to November 2010. The post was Tragic end of a sock puppet.

A sock puppet goes to jail.

A lawyer was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail after being convicted of an ultramodern crime that was all about antiquity: using online aliases to harass people in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Oh gosh, who would use online aliases to harass people in an academic debate? I never heard of such a thing.

Prosecutors said Golb crossed the line between discourse and crime by using fake e-mail accounts and writing blog posts under assumed names to discredit detractors of his father, a scholar. Golb said the writings amounted to pointed parody and academic whistle-blowing that he felt were protected by free-speech rights.

The New York Times now revisits.

“This has nothing to do with scholarly debate,” said Lawrence H. Schiffman, vice provost of Yeshiva University and a widely published authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who became the prime target of Mr. Golb’s online activities. “It has to do with criminal activity.

“Fraud, impersonation and harassment are criminal matters,” he continued. “This was actually designed to literally end my career.”

Using free speech, which is totally ok. Or not.

He started a blog; then another and another, each under a different name. The aliases begot other aliases, known on the Internet as sock puppets: 20, 40, 60, 80. The sock puppets debated with other posters, each time linking to other sock puppets to support their arguments, creating the impression of an army of engaged scholars espousing Norman Golb’s ideas. Using the alias Charles Gadda (from the Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda), Raphael Golb published articles on the citizen news Web site NowPublic and linked to them in comments and blog posts written under other aliases. The writings all championed Norman Golb as an honest scholar bucking a well-financed, self-serving conspiracy.

Fraud, in other words. Is that protected free speech? I don’t know, but I have a hard time thinking it should be. I’ve been arguing about this for years, because I think actual falsification shouldn’t be protected free speech, but there are those who think it should. I’m not saying it should get jail time, but should it be grounds for firing for instance? Yes. If David Irving had had an academic job, his falsification of history should have been grounds for firing. Raphael Golb doesn’t have an academic job, but what he was doing was fraudulent as hell.

One of Mr. Golb’s targets was a graduate student named Robert R. Cargill, who created a virtual tour of Qumran for the San Diego museum.

Norman Golb posted an article on the Web site of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago complaining that the film’s script ignored his theory.

Raphael Golb went further, sending pseudonymous e-mails to Mr. Cargill’s professors at U.C.L.A.

“I said this person should be compelled to answer the published criticisms of his work at his Ph.D. defense,” Raphael Golb said. Some of the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.

Mr. Cargill, who is now 39 and an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, remembered Mr. Golb’s campaign as a frontal assault meant to thwart his career.

“Any time someone hears the name Robert Cargill, they hear, he’s anti-Semitic,” Mr. Cargill said. “Let’s say I’m applying for a job and I’m in a pool of 10 finalists. When they do background checking, they see this Cargill looks like he’s being criticized as anti-Semitic. We don’t know if it’s legitimate, but it’s safer to go with someone else.”

This is what people are trying to do to all of us: put enough garbage out there that some of it will stick no matter how fraudulent it is.

Cargill traced Golb’s emails to his IP address. Golb pretends that is harassment.

Ronald Kuby, a lawyer for Raphael Golb, last week disputed Mr. Cargill’s characterization of himself as an innocent victim, writing in an e-mail message that “he played a vile role in this case. Among other things, Cargill spend hundreds of hours obsessively tracking down ‘Charles Gadda’ because of the latter’s online criticisms, engaged in his own sock puppetry while concealing it and condemning Golb for the same thing.” Mr. Kuby added, “Cargill is probably a lot of fun to chat with, but he is more than capable of using his hurt puppy persona to manipulate the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Golb put it this way: “Cargill was stalking me.”

Omigod. Yes, the way I “stalk” my harassers to correct their lies and protest their harassment. It’s not the same thing. At least the New York prosecutors get that.

There was this guy Schiffman the Golbs were mad at.

This time, in addition to using sock puppets, Raphael Golb said, he created an e-mail account with the address of, and wrote to Dr. Schiffman’s employers, colleagues and students at N.Y.U., “confessing” to having plagiarized Norman Golb in developing his own ideas about the scrolls.

“Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago,” one e-mail read. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments, and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man, I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” The e-mail was signed, “Lawrence Schiffman, professor.”

Sitting among stacks of papers, books, conga drums, assorted sneakers and other clutter in his Greenwich Village apartment, a stone’s throw from N.Y.U., Raphael Golb said he had intended the e-mails as obvious parody — that no sentient person would believe a professor would write such things, or sign his missive “professor.” The distinction was important, Mr. Golb said, because the First Amendment protects parody. “I didn’t realize I was dealing with idiots,” Mr. Golb said.

Oh pu-leeze. No, that is not parody, any more than those two Twitter accounts that send tweets under my real name are parody. Parody would not use my real name; parody would not use Schiffman’s real name.

But people did believe the e-mails were real, Dr. Schiffman said. “I was walking out of my office and a graduate student says to me, ‘I got your e-mail from last night.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, what e-mail?’ ”

Dr. Schiffman went to the F.B.I., contacting an agent he had advised on a prior case. “You know how the F.B.I. says, ‘once you’re one of ours, you’re always one of ours?’ ” he said. “It’s totally true. They told me the assistant D.A. to call. ‘Tell him you spoke to us.’ ”

Raphael Golb was naked and asleep when police officers came to his apartment early on the morning of March 5, 2009, arresting him on 51 charges of identity theft, aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, forgery and unauthorized use of the computers in an N.Y.U. library. He had been up all of the previous night writing comments or blog posts under his various aliases. The officers seized Mr. Golb’s computers and led him handcuffed from his building. Waiving his rights to a lawyer and to remain silent, Mr. Gold denied sending any bogus e-mail messages, telling the investigators that Dr. Schiffman had filed a false complaint “out of maliciousness toward my father.”

[pauses to gaze dreamily into the distance for several minutes]

Mr. Golb remains disappointed that First Amendment advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, have declined to support him, though they were asked. “I’m astonished at their silence,” he said. “I don’t want to inflate myself, but the consequences of this are obvious. When we start to allow prosecutors to act on behalf of resentful professors to whom no harm was done at all, it’s frightening.” Harm was done, you piece of shit. I hope your prison food is full of weevils.

The district attorney’s office declined to speak on the record about a pending case, but in a statement after the verdict in 2010, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney, said, “Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster,” adding: “It is true that the vast majority of identity thieves seek to steal their victims’ money, but in some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.”

Weevils and the feces of weevils.



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

Unmeasured vituperation on the side of the prevailing opinion

Feb 16th, 2013 12:37 pm | By

Whither civility, eh? Dan Fincke has his Pledge. (His what? His pledge? What is he, Louisa May Alcott?) Chris Clarke has his sarcastic pledge. I like Chris Clarke’s better.

I pledge to keep a sense of perspective. Tossing basic civil rights under the bus in order to maintain a jury-rigged superficial peace in a single-issue movement is a bad bargain.

That. Fincke’s pledge (his pledge?) is all too reminiscent of Lee Moore’s attempt to jury-rig peace between harassers and the people they are harassing.

Fincke’s “civility” has resulted in mildew people posting lies about me in his comments, which are still sitting there uncontradicted because Fincke has wandered off somewhere, and new comments are held in moderation. I posted a correction yesterday morning – some 30 hours ago – and it still hasn’t appeared. Civil? Not so much.

“Pitchguest” – safe behind the mask – posted the lies. “Commander Tuvok” – safe behind the mask – repeated them.

Or if we should continue, why not Ophelia Benson, who called an AVfM contributor a ‘stupid bitch’ (despite how she doesn’t use such epithets)

No I didn’t. I called myself that, ironically, in a tweet. I’ve posted that correction before, and we all know “Pitchguest” and the rest of them have seen it because we know they leave nothing of mine unread unmonitored unstalked. They know they’re lying, but they go on lying, and Fincke doesn’t even curate his own comments responsibly. “Civil” ha.

Comments on Chris’s post took me back to one from March 2008. Gosh those were the days. Sheril Kirshenbaum ordering PZ to mind his manners. That in turn reminded me of one at ur-B&W from 2009, citing G Felis (the philosophical primate) quoting Mill.

So have some Mill again, courtesy of Bartleby.

Mill wrote in an age when paragraphs were long – our acquaintance Mr Paden would feel more at home there – and his paragraphs were long even for that age. I’ve made paragraphs where there were no paragraphs. Begging your pardon, Mr Mill.

Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take some notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent.

But this, though an important consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure. But the principal offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion.


Skipping ahead a little.

With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions.

Punching down, in other words.

In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and justice, it is far more important to restrain this employment of vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity, than on religion.

And, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on feminism, than on ideological sexism.

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


Feb 16th, 2013 10:44 am | By

There’s a nice atheist/freethinkers/humanist con coming up: Apostacon: A Midwest Freethought Conference, in Omaha, September 20-22. Omaha! The heart of the midwest. A place in need of more and more apostates and freethinkers.

A couple of thoughts though. One, not nearly enough women. Four out of nineteen. Not.e.nough.

Two, they forgot to get Vyckie Garrison to speak. Midwest freethinkers and apostates! You’re missing a trick! Vyckie is just up the road from you. Vyckie is No Longer Quivering. You need Vyckie.

Vyckie’s talk at Eschaton 2012 was dynamite. I can’t wait for the video to come out so that you can see for yourselves. She has fascinating material – life as a Quiverfull woman, and what it did to her and her children and her husband, and how much better things are now that she and her children have escaped. She has fascinating material, and she presents it well – not least, she’s damn funny.

They need her.

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

He is over the

Feb 15th, 2013 6:53 pm | By

Ben Radford has been exposed to some straw feminists, and he wants us to know he’s over them.

I am over the male bashing often inherent in feminist writings and slogans; “All men are rapists” is neither true nor fair nor helpful.

“Often inherent in feminist writings and slogans”? What does that even mean? He must mean “inherent in many feminist writings and slogans.” But then what does he mean “inherent”? That’s a very odd word to choose. It’s not “inherent” in anything; it’s either put in by the writer or it’s not. Maybe he means “inherently illiberal” or something like that. It’s a pity he’s not more inherently careful when writing.

And then, he’s right about the silly slogan he quotes, but is that a claim you see a lot? It’s a claim I see never, except from people who just hate feminism, period. He presents it as if it’s a commonplace, but…it isn’t. Not even close.

I am over the wanton slinging of labels like “misogynist” and “sexist” and “sister hater” and “gender traitor” and “rape apologist” to people who dare criticize feminists.

What “wanton slinging”? And notice the list, cited as if they’re all on a level. Notice that the last three are nouns for people but the first two can be adjectives as well as nouns. Notice that calling a claim or a remark “sexist” is not the same thing as calling the person who makes the remark a sexist. Notice the generality; notice that we can’t be sure what people he has in mind; notice the sloppy lazy angry…well, wanton slinging.

I am over social activists, including those whose causes I support, who value emotion and anecdote over truth, facts, and critical thinking.

Uh huh. Like for instance?

I’m beginning to get the picture though. He’s really mad at some people – some people he thinks of as feminists, or feminisssssssts, to be specific – and he’s having a good old rage about them, but he can’t be bothered to be specific, so he just froths generally. That’s truth, facts and critical thinking as opposed to emotion and anecdote, I guess. Good that he values truth over emotion.

I am over thin-skinned “feminists” who blithely and intentionally confuse legitimate questions and criticism of their facts or claims with misogyny and sexism; it is insulting to real victims of misogyny and sexism.

Who are these people? Are they the horribly large and menacing women he dreams about every night?

I can do this. I am over lazy feminist-haters who blithely and intentionally pile up straw feminist after straw feminist without even a stab at trying to back up what they’re claiming. Only I’ll go Radford one better: I have an example in mind: it’s Ben Radford.

I am over blaming TV, movies, magazines, and video games for real-life violence-including violence against women. Just as sexy clothes do not cause rape, violent and sexual images do not cause rape; rapists cause rape.

Wo, I did not know that. I totally thought violent images could actually rape people. I’ve been so confused.

Ok, I’m finished. What’s his problem? Has the whole pink toys blowup festered in his mind that long and that deeply? Did a feminist eat all the ice cream that one time? Does he have a toothache?

Whatevs. But what an unargued and sloppy outburst.




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

God put them into that situation

Feb 15th, 2013 5:55 pm | By

Mary Ellen boiled down the irony of the pope’s retirement very neatly on Monday, but unfortunately in the rush of various flying missiles I didn’t get to it until today.

Guest post by Mary Ellen Foley

Somebody gets into a situation in which their health begins to fail, and if they stay in that situation, it might kill them.  They believe that God himself put them into that situation, but they just don’t feel that they can see it through — the strain is just physically too much.  And anyway, they’d prefer a quiet life, and they want to spend their time studying.

So if this person is a pregnant woman whose pregnancy is life-threatening, the Pope says she has to go through with it even if it kills her.

If this person is the Pope himself, however, he gets to retire.

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

Poverty is caused by poor people

Feb 15th, 2013 3:52 pm | By

The Tories want to re-describe poverty as being not to do with a lack of money. Next project: re-describe hypothermia as being not to do with lack of heat.

The government’s desire to alter the official definition of child poverty risks deliberately downplaying the importance of money just as a series of government policies will reduce the incomes of poor families, a group of senior academics warn in a letter to the Guardian.

Let’s define it as a lack of initiative, shall we? A shortage of grit and determination and ambition? A refusal to get up at 5 a.m.? A habit of eating three pieces of pie every evening?

A consultation on how to measure child poverty more accurately that was launched last November, seeking input from charities and experts into “better measures of child poverty”, comes to an end on Friday. The government believes that a wider definition of what constitutes poverty will give a better picture of what it means to “grow up experiencing deep disadvantage“.

A better picture, eh? So that they can hang it next to the Van Dyke in the library?

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, the lead consultant on the UK’s contribution to Unicef’s Child Well-Being report, said he believed that the government was “trying to move the goalposts” at a time when child poverty was increasing rapidly.

He described the consultation document as the worst paper setting down government policy direction he had ever read, questioned whether it was written by civil servants and said it read more like it had been “plagiarised from a right-wing thinktank tract”.

He said civil servants had been working for the past 40 years on developing accurate poverty measures, but the document had ignored previous work by the department on the subject as well as ignoring work by academics in the field. The new approach would not work because it attempted to “combine all sorts of things that are the consequence of poverty or may be even be the causes of poverty, but are not a measure of child poverty”.

That’s the best wheeze of all: treating the consequences of poverty as the causes of poverty. That way you get to stop spending money on it, and you get to sneer and judge at the same time. Look at you, you dirty peasant, you never went to school; no wonder you’re poor!

In a speech to launch the consultation, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, outlined his theory that other factors aside from money caused poverty, highlighting his concern about children growing up in “dysfunctional families”.

He argued: “It cannot be right that experiences so vital to childhood, like seeing a parent go out to work or growing up in a stable family, are not reflected in our understanding of child poverty.” He was critical of the Labour government’s focus on “income as the significant cause and solution”.

Sure enough…

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

Threatened frequently by Islamists

Feb 15th, 2013 3:33 pm | By

More on Ahmed Rajib and the context of his murder.

A blogger who had been critical of Bangladesh’s Islamist groups was killed in the capital late Friday, police said, a day after he attended a big rally against leaders of the country’s largest Islamic party.

Police found the body of Ahmed Rajib, 35 — better known by his online identity Thaba Baba — near his home in Dhaka’s Pallabi suburb, with his head hacked apart with a machete.

“We recovered the machete. It is clear the attacker wanted to murder him. They did not touch his laptop or other valuable objects,” police official Sheikh Motiur Rahman told AFP.

Police have not commented on a possible motive for the killing, but Rahman, citing Rajib’s relatives, said the blogger played a large role in organising the anti-Islamist protests.

Rajib’s brother, who declined to be named, told AFP his sibling had been “threatened frequently” by Islamists angry at his role in the protests and his writings against the religion.

He isn’t the first.

The killing late Friday was the second fatal attack in Dhaka against a blogger critical of Islamist groups in less than a month, after the stabbing death of a self-styled online “militant atheist” by three unidentified men near his office in the upscale Uttara district.

Taslima doesn’t live in Bangladesh any more. Tasneem doesn’t live in Bangladesh any more.

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

Dublin in June

Feb 15th, 2013 12:08 pm | By

Another upcoming event, this time in Dublin. Atheist Ireland is doing a conference called Empowering Women Through Secularism the weekend of 29-30 June 2013. I will be there.

Everybody should go to this! It will be fantastic.

Speakers will include

Fantastic, I tell you.

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

Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh

Feb 15th, 2013 11:25 am | By

An activist blogger was murdered in Dhaka today.

A blogger and online activist, who was active in the Shahbagh movement, was killed in the capital’s Pallabi area Friday night, prompting the Shahbagh protesters to return to their 24-hour demonstration.

Police recovered the body of 30-year-old Ahmed Rajib Haider, full with indiscriminate stab injuries, from near his Kalshi residence in Mirpur.

I know nothing about the Shahbagh movement, but if he was killed for being an activist, I know something about the movement’s enemies, and thus a little about the movement by inference.

Pallabi police also confirmed that Rajib was an active participant of Shahbag movement.

Rajib used to write a Bangla blog nicknamed ‘Thaba Baba’.

He had also written many blog on the country’s Liberation War and Jamaat-e-Islami’s wicked activities.

About eight hours before his assassination, Rajib posted a status on Facebook calling upon mass people to boycott Jamaat’s media houses, coaching centers, cultural organisations and commercial institutions.

Ah. He was an opponent of Jamaat. Now he’s full of stab wounds, and dead.

Thanks to Tasneem Khalil for alerting me.

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

Brave hero and the impersonation-of-me Twitter accounts

Feb 14th, 2013 4:14 pm | By

Brave hero JREF Saviour ElevatorGATE storifies an “exchange” between two Twitter accounts that use my real name as their handles. No harassment here folks! Public figure! Freeze peach!

Conversation with @OPHELlABENSON and @OpheIiaBenson

  1. ACHTUNG! send us donations to annoy zee haterz ! zend us all the moneys now! #ftbullies#opheliabenson
  2. @OPHELlABENSON who ist dast femfuhrer? You ist dast femfuhrer! Hail thinky femfuhrer Ophitler!

Ain’t that funny? Tim Minchin, look to your laurels.

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