Notes and Comment Blog

Epistemology 101

Sep 13th, 2014 5:35 pm | By

Here’s an explanation for the hard of thinking.

There’s a difference between taking a claim seriously and asserting that it’s true.

There’s a difference between not expressing incredulity about a claim and asserting that it’s true.

There’s a difference between finding claims credible and asserting that they’re true.

There’s a difference between doubting the denials of claims and asserting that the claims are true.

There’s a difference between finding it more likely that a claim is true than it is that a denial of the claim is true, and asserting that the claim is true.

In short there are many possible views about a particular claim that are well short of 1. assuming that they’re true, let alone 2. asserting that they’re true.

I don’t know that the claims about Michael Shermer are true. I know that I don’t know they’re true. I’m not under any illusion that I know they’re true. I know that I can’t know that they’re true, because I’m not in a position to know.

But that doesn’t mean that I know they’re false. I don’t know that. I know that I don’t know that. I know that I can’t know that, because I’m not in a position to know.

But I think it’s more likely that they’re true than it is that they’re false. There are too many of them to think otherwise. James Randi said as much himself, in Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

Randi is no longer involved in his foundation’s daily operations, but he remains its chair, and he is a legend of the movement, famously not fooled by anybody. He seems not to be naïve about Shermer — although he’s not so troubled by him, either.

“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.

“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Never mind for the moment the multi-layered horribleness of that passage; here I’m just talking about it as a reason to find the claims about Shermer more likely to be true than Shermer’s denials of them. There are reasons to think the claims are true, and fewer reasons to think they’re not.

Another reason is that the women making the claims have nothing to gain from making them, and in fact were very reluctant. Shermer of course has a lot to gain from making his denials. That doesn’t demonstrate that his denials are false, obviously, but it does mean it’s pretty silly for people to say “Shermer says he didn’t!” As Mandy Rice-Davies said, well he would say that, wouldn’t he.

I hope that clears that up. I’ve never said I know, and I’ve never asserted that the claims are true. That’s a bullshit accusation.

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

Lots of it

Sep 13th, 2014 4:45 pm | By

This is the kind of thing (and maybe the actual thing) Jessica Meier must have been seeing, to think there’s ” too much money to be made playing the victim”:


Barbara A. Drescher As far as wanting it to stop, the attention and money (yes, there is money involved in appearing to be a victim–lots of it) must be pretty attractive, not to mention the addictive sense of outrage.

Isn’t she supposed to be some kind of skeptic? I know she used to work for the JREF until she…stopped working there. What on earth would make a skeptic credulous enough to think there is lots of money in “appearing to be a victim”? What money?

It’s just batshit, that kind of thing. No, there is not Lots of Money in talking about sexual harassment and the assholes who defend it. There really really isn’t.

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

Yale’s turn

Sep 13th, 2014 12:49 pm | By

There’s the new chapter of the long-running serial “University invites Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak and then…Tune in next Thursday to find out what happens.” This time it’s Yale, and its William F. Buckley, Jr. Program.

Hemant brings us up to speed.

Her speech is titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West”

Sigh. That’s not a good start.

It’s a jumble of categories. “Islam” is not a “civilization” and neither is “the West.” Both categories are too big and sloppy to mean very much. If you’re going to be provocative, it helps to be careful with your terminology.

But the point is that there’s the usual fuss, only more so.

More than 35 groups — including, to my disappointment, the Yale Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics — have signed on to an open letter expressing their disappointment in the invitation. It goes beyond just a harmless scolding, though. The Buckley Foundation said a representative from the Muslim Students Association specifically called for them to rescind her invitation.

In doing that, they start by saying they totally sympathize with what nasty experiences she had with Islam, but hey, all that was just misunderstanding of Islam, which itself is limpidly perfect and without flaw.

Our concern is that Ms. Hirsi Ali is being invited to speak as an authority on Islam despite the fact that she does not hold the credentials to do so.

Now that is ridiculous. You don’t need “credentials” to say what your experience was under an oppressive system that oppressed you. Arguably in fact she does have “credentials,” in the same sort of way Maajid Nawaz does: like him, she was herself an Islamist for awhile, so she in fact does know what it’s like to believe in the most reactionary version of Islam.

The comments Ms. Hirsi Ali has made on Islam have been classified as hate speech and have been considered unprotected libel and slander.

By whom? By people who dislike what she has to say, no doubt. That tells us nothing. We know that Islamists love nothing better than to “classify” all criticism of Islam as hate speech, and to tell anyone who will listen that they “consider” such criticism unprotected libel and slander. That’s a very clueless and ignorant thing to say, by the way, since comments on Islam can’t possibly be any kind of libel and slander (and it’s one or the other, not both). There’s no such thing as libel of a religion in the US.

Now about the Yale AHA – I suppose its decision to join in that open letter is not unrelated to the fact that Chris Stedman is its chaplain. I’ve learned to see his point about a lot of things lately, but – if that is the case – I disagree with him on this one.

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


Sep 13th, 2014 10:45 am | By

So the approach is going to be to pretend that talking about sexual harassment is exactly the same thing as making a formal, criminal accusation of rape – is that it?

That seems to be Dawkins’s approach as of today at least.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 10h
Raping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.”

One, that isn’t the sole prosecution evidence. But two, who is talking about jailing anyway? What people are talking about, as far as I know, is in-house, organizational stuff – better harassment policies, better enforcement, and above all less secrecy protecting serial harassers. But jailing? Not that I’ve seen.

Dawkins seems really convinced by his story though.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 11h
.@faufcb Yes. And there’s also a presumption of innocence till proved guilty. Too drunk to REMEMBER is evidence to put someone in JAIL?

What do you mean JAIL, Richard? Who said anything about JAIL?

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

A critical point for many people

Sep 12th, 2014 6:57 pm | By

This is great. It starts with a powerful, inspirational talk by Dawkins in 2006, that changed a lot of minds about religion and related subjects.

That speech was a critical point for a great many people, spurring them to read TGD and other atheist books, to reevaluate their beliefs and to ask questions they’d not asked before – to seek answers they mightn’t have even known were possible to find. Perspectives were changed, as was the social landscape of the internet, not to mention many “real” communities: homes, towns, perhaps countries.

Now, the blogger says, Dawkins needs that kind of experience himself.

First, he needs to talk to educated people about what comprises “real” feminism and stop assaulting this invented (or at least overblown) “radical” kind other people (chiefly anti-feminists, oddly enough – hardly unbiased sources) appear to be telling him is dominated by shrieking anti-sex harpies (I say “other people are telling him” because he certainly doesn’t seem to be applying his own intellect or investigative skills to the issue). Dawkins is well-acquainted with hysterical accusations of militancy and stridency just for having the audacity to be publicly critical of religion and its effects; he should try to empathise with feminists who receive precisely the same type of mistreatment from his ostensible brothers and sisters in atheist advocacy.

That would be nice. That would be such an excellent change.

Second, Dawkins needs to ask himself “What if I’m wrong?”. What if he’s wrong about feminism, about rape culture, about the at-least very creepy behaviour of skeptic luminary Michael Shermer, about poster-child for misogynist fear and loathing, Rebecca Watson (her “page-o-hate” hasn’t been updated since May ’13 but rest assured the loathing hasn’t stopped; just check her twitter mentions) and about pretty much everything he’s tweeted about regarding feminism since “Dear Muslima” (which he did apologise for)? And he needs to ask properly, the same way he would if he was investigating some scientific phenomenon he didn’t understand – because it’s very likely he does not understand either feminism or the nature of the complaints against atheist/skeptic culture’s obvious woman problem right now.

Dawkins is already on public record with Ophelia Benson decrying threatening and abusive language and behaviour between atheists and secularists. This is of course a good (and long overdue) thing, but it’s not only a no-brainer to oppose that kind of incandescent hatred, it’s addressing the very pointiest and most extreme example of the sexist and misogynist treatment that feminist atheists and skeptics experience every day, online and in person, in many forms and at varying intensities. Dawkins should converse further with Ophelia and other atheist feminists about the real nature of the sexism problem within organised skepticism (not to mention the further problem of delayed, insufficient, flippant, insulting, rank-closing organisational and leadership responses to it).

That would, indeed, be good. I don’t see it happening now, because he seems way too dug in, but it would be good.

Basically I guess I just think the whole project is broken, permanently. The feminists hate the anti-feminists and vice versa, and we’re stuck with it.

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

That critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male

Sep 12th, 2014 4:53 pm | By

Well I’ve thought of Sam Harris as both sexist and smug right from the beginning, i.e. when The End of Faith came out. But one can think of people that way and still be startled when they demonstrate it with underlining and italics and asterisks and ALL CAPS.

Michelle Boorstein interviewed him for a CFI-DC event the other day. At the end she asks him a question we’re well familiar with.

I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists — and many of those who buy his books — are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative.

It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.

If only he’d left it at that.

“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

In other words, it’s more of a guy thing.

By which I mean –

No. And fuck you. You know what that amounts to saying? It amounts to saying what Michael Shermer did say – that “it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.” It’s saying that women can’t do sophisticated thinking of any kind, because they’re too estrogen-y and nurturing. If taking a critical posture and being very critical of bad ideas is “instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women” then women are fucked; we’re consigned to domestic work and nurturing work and nothing else.

As I said about Shermer’s version – imagine saying that with “guys” replaced with “whites” and “women” replaced with “blacks” – imagine Sam Harris blurting out that stupid shit then.

I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically white and more attractive to whites than to blacks,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many blacks as whites.

Doesn’t sound good, does it. Sounds so bad that it seems pretty obvious he would censor it before it got anywhere near his mouth. But to say it about women? Oh that’s just fine. Women are soppy slushy sentimental fools who can’t stand to be critical of bad ideas, and guys are the clever rational critical people who do the intellectual heavy lifting.


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

Are all reports of sexual predation false?

Sep 12th, 2014 4:04 pm | By

Another ploy is to say it’s all just smears. Never mind the several people reporting their own experiences, never mind the fact that Randi corroborated that there have been several reports, never mind that sexual predation isn’t actually as rare or astonishing as Bigfoot or Nessie – never mind all that, just say it’s smears.


EllenBeth Wachs ‏@BlameEllenBeth
@sjzara @michaelshermer I am so disgusted and fed up with smear campaigns. The only people that should be shunned are them.

@SIN_Notung @toxicpath @sjzara They just want MS shunned, period. I pick him over the #FTBullies

So the same applies to all those people – a lot more men than women, I believe – who have reported they were raped or groped or otherwise sexually abused as children by Catholic priests? That’s just a smear campaign, is it? The bishops would certainly like to think so, and some of them sometimes claim that it is. Are they right? Is it just automatically the case that reports of sexually predatory behavior are untrue, and are just smear campaigns? That would save a lot of trouble and money.

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

The REAL Rape Culture

Sep 12th, 2014 1:14 pm | By

Stephanie has a screen grab of another helpful Dawkins tweet, this time one that he deleted. Too far even for him?

View image on Twitter

It’s just great having our putative Leader of Atheism making sneery jokes about rape, isn’t it. It’s like having Fred Phelps as our spokesdude.

It’s also great having him decide what kind of feminism is the good kind and what is the other thing. He helps out that way in reply to a concerned fan warning him of feminist outrage.

With a certain kind of feminist, of course. Not with feminists who truly respect women instead of patronising them as victims.

So the right kind of feminist is one who does not think there is any kind of disadvantage that goes with being a woman, and so does not point out such disadvantages and try to get them eradicated. The right kind of feminist “respects” women by insisting that everything is already perfect for women. The way to “respect” women is to deny that there is such a thing as sexism or sexist behavior or sexist stereotypes.

PZ has a post urging Dawkins to get a clue about what feminism actually is and why it’s needed instead of just listening to the anti-feminist crowd.

Who are these mysterious patronizing feminists? They don’t actually exist. You are echoing a strategy of denial: you approve of feminists, but not the ones who actually point out sexist problems in our culture, or fight against discrimination, or point out that they’ve been raped, or abused, or cheated in the workplace, or any of the other realities of a sexist culture. This is what anti-feminists say: be quiet about the problems. If you mention the problems, you are perpetuating the sisterhood of oppression, you are playing the martyr, you are being a pathetic victim who must be treated with contempt.

But if no woman speaks out about the problems, how will we ever know to correct them? If we shame every victim for being a victim and daring to reveal her victimhood, it becomes very easy to pretend that there is no oppression.



And “radical” in this context means what, exactly?

PZ comments:

Just a suggestion: read Amanda Marcotte’s take on “radical feminism”.

There is no such thing as a “radical feminist” anymore.

Don’t get me wrong! There was. In the 60s and 70s, there were radical feminists who were distinguishing themselves from liberal feminists. Radical feminists agreed with liberal feminists that we should change the laws to recognize women’s equality, but they also believed that we needed to change the culture. It was not enough to pass the ERA or legalize abortion, they believed, but we should also talk about cultural issues, such as misogyny, objectification, rape, and domestic violence.

In other words, what was once “radical” feminism is now mainstream feminism.

Read that second paragraph carefully. Is there anything you disagree with in that? If not, then welcome, you’re a radical feminist, too. And could you please stop supporting reactionary anti-feminists? Thanks.

What does the “radical” part mean? It means wanting to change attitudes and stereotypes as well as laws and contracts. That’s what it means. It goes back well before the 60s and 70s – John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women is very much about wanting to change attitudes and stereotypes, much more so than it is about wanting to change laws and contracts. Of course it’s mainstream feminism, and always has been.

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

Annals of dismissive contempt

Sep 12th, 2014 11:46 am | By

Oh, god, here we go. Again.

Richard Dawkins subtweets about the Oppenheimer article:

“Officer, it’s not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk.”

Let’s see, now, what was published a few hours before that tweet? Oh yes…Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

…one of the biggest draws [at TAM] was Michael Shermer, a swaggering historian of science who, after an earlier career as an ultra-long-distance bicyclist, founded Skeptic magazine.

He now contributes columns to Scientific American, speaks all over the world, and writes popular books like Why People Believe Weird Things, which are just what you should give to a friend who needs to be deprogrammed from a belief in fundamentalist Christianity, alien abduction, or bogus homeopathic remedies. He is a freethought celebrity, an exciting person for a young activist like Alison Smith to bump up against — which she did, at an after-party on the first night.

“I ran into Shermer in the hallway,” Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. “He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.” At the party, they began downing drinks. “At some point,” Smith said, “I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me.”

On their way from Caesars to the Flamingo, where they were both staying, she chatted briefly with a friend on her mobile phone, she told me. They got to the Flamingo. “He offered to walk me back to my room, but walked me to his instead. I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. I know we had sex.” She remembers calling a friend from an elevator after leaving his room. “I was in the elevator, but didn’t know what hotel.”


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

Hardly an exception

Sep 11th, 2014 8:04 pm | By

This has now been published. Mark Oppenheimer asks Will misogyny bring down the atheist movement?

Yet Shermer remains a leader in freethought — arguably the leader. And in his attitudes, he is hardly an exception. Hitchens, the best-selling author of God Is Not Great, who died in 2011, wrote a notorious Vanity Fair article called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Richard Dawkins, another author whose books have brought atheism to the masses, has alienated many women — and men — by belittling accusations of sexism in the movement; he seems to go out of his way to antagonize feminists generally, and just this past July 29 hetweeted, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” And Penn Jillette, the talking half of the Penn and Teller duo, famously revels in using words like “cunt.”

That’s just one small part.



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

D’Souza and his background

Sep 11th, 2014 6:11 pm | By

Ken at Popehat finds my and others’ reaction to Michael Shermer’s letter requesting lenient sentencing for Dinesh D’Souza depressing.

D’Souza’s attorneys are asking the court to exercise its discretion to go below the Guidelines and impose a non-custodial sentence — not to send him to jail, in other words. That’s not even a little surprising. I would do the same thing. So would any competent defense attorney. Given D’Souza’s lack of record and his background, it’s a reasonable and achievable goal. It’s no sure thing, but many judges would do it. (If anything D’Souza’s privileges work against him on this issue — the “rich and famous people shouldn’t get special treatment” narrative will be powerful. With some judges he’d have a better shot at the break if he were an obscure middle manager.)

Well, the “and his background” clause is an issue, isn’t it. “And his background” could mean “with his background he should know better” or “with his background he has less excuse for fucking up” or similar thoughts along those lines. There’s also the fact that with his background, he was and will continue to be in a position to do more harm than most people can.

What bothers me is the reaction to a letter written to the judge in D’Souza’s favor by Michael Shermer, a prominent skeptic.

Shermer, who has debated D’Souza, says he has known him for twenty years and finds him forthright, honest, polite, and courteous. Shermer expresses his admiration and respect for D’Souza. To anyone who practices federal law, there’s nothing at all remarkable about the letter.

I get that, but on the other hand…again, there’s some privilege-deployment here. D’Souza can call on some Names for these letters. He has advantages, and that’s one of them. The whole setup seems less than impartial. It may all be very normal and routine, but that’s not the same as okie doke and harmless.

But the mild letter has provoked outrage, because of Shermer’s and D’Souza’s opposite ideological positions. This blogger screams “TRAITOR.” Ophelia Benson characterizes it as “Important Guys gotta stick together.” ““WTF?” asks P.Z. Myers. “Let D’Souza’s fellow Christians and conservatives defend him. Shermer by doing this has betrayed most of the skeptical community,” says someone on Twitter. “No one deserving of the title ‘skeptic’ could possibly believe that D’Souza is forthright and honest, or that he is an ‘important voice in our national conversation,'” says skeptic Ed Brayton. I’ll spare you the quotes from Twitter.

Is it really wrong to think that professional skeptics shouldn’t go to bat for convicted frauds?

The reaction to Shermer’s letter disappoints me. It depresses me. It doesn’t make me feel that way because of how I feel about D’Souza. It makes me feel that way as a defense lawyer, and as a citizen. This scorn for appeals for mercy is an old story; I’ve condemned it before when someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum was sentenced. But it troubles me every time it repeats. It would be a better nation if people could recognize the good qualities of people they vehemently oppose. It would be a better nation if we were wary of the justice system no matter what the ideology of today’s defendant.

No I really don’t think it’s ideology. The issue is the attitude to truth, not the ideology.


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

Ambiguity absent

Sep 11th, 2014 5:43 pm | By

PZ had a slightly different take (from Michael Shermer’s) on being invited to debate with Dinesh D’Souza.

It’s short and to the point.

Strangely, I just got two requests for participation in discussions: one from an Intelligent Design creationist apologist, Jason Rennie, and another to join in a debate this weekend from Dinesh D’Souza. I just thought I’d test whether these guys actually pay attention to what I write by putting the answer here.


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

A what blogger?

Sep 11th, 2014 1:59 pm | By

What exactly is a “rage blogger”? I see the epithet thrown around a lot, but it’s almost always by people who are raging about the putative “rage bloggers,” so I can never get a good handle on exactly what they mean by the label.

PZ has the same problem with some “rage blogger” accusations by Barbara Drescher, a former employee of the James Randi Foundation.

What’s it all about, with this passive-aggressive veiled insinuation that someone is ‘lining their pockets’ and ‘puffing up their egos’? It turns out that she’s a bit peevish because Phil Plait wrote a nice post praising Amy Roth’s activism, specifically her art installation, “A Woman’s Room Online”, which illustrates the harassment women receive on the internet.

It’s one of the more petty complaints I’ve seen from the hardcore skeptic weirdos. She is unhappy because someone said something nice about someone else. She is aggrieved because Amy Roth has creatively documented the dreadful activity that Drescher wants to believe doesn’t exist. And I suspect she’s at least vaguely aware that she’s being childish and stupid because of her fear that someone might notice her behavior.

That doesn’t stop her from doubling down. In addition to her petty resentment and her mindless lashing out at “rage bloggers”, she goes on to accuse Amy of bilking people for personal profit. This art installation is something Amy assembled at her own expense, and which she is exhibiting with free admission, and Drescher is somehow arguing that she’s doing it solely for personal gain, and that Phil Plait is gullibly colluding with her to con all those people who might sympathize with her cause.

And yet it’s other people, according to Drescher, who are the “rage bloggers.” It’s mystifying.


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

For additional savings

Sep 11th, 2014 1:37 pm | By

Clever Walmart – it’s imposed a new “dress code” on its workers associates workers that the workers have to pay for themselves and guess where they can buy the clothes – why, right there at Walmart! How convenient, right?

They have until September 29 to purchase clothes that adhere to Walmart’s new dress code of white or blue collared shirts and khaki or black bottoms. Simone suggests employees shop for their new uniforms at, you guessed it, Walmart. She cheerfully reminds workers to apply their 10 percent associate discount “for additional savings.”

Such a brilliant scheme for moving product – force the employees to buy it!

Making Change at Walmart, a campaign anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers pushing to improve working conditions at the corporation, found that Walmart may make tens of millions in sales from the dress code change. Making Change at Walmart used a photo of the new uniforms’ prices that were on display in an Alabama Walmart store’s break room. They calculated that if one million of the 1.3 million American Walmart employees bought three uniform sets at the prices listed in the photo with their 10 percent employee discount, Walmart would gain $51-$78 million in sales, depending on if employees purchased the low-end or high-end uniforms.

And the best thing is, it’s totally legal.

Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project told the Huffington Post that “Walmart was very smart” in picking its dress code, because it is legal to make employees pay for work clothes—as long as they are not branded and can be worn outside of work. Walmart, for example, has to pay for the new Walmart-branded vests they will be requiring workers to wear.

Well if they don’t like working at Walmart they should just go out and get jobs as football stars instead.

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

Michael has known Dinesh for two decades

Sep 11th, 2014 12:33 pm | By

Hey guess what – it turns out that Twitter isn’t some magically unreal part of the real world where nothing you say actually means anything or can come back to bite you in the ass. Behold the case of Dinesh D’Souza.

Offering a chilling reminder to the world that the first rule of Twitter is to never tweet, federal prosecutors on Wednesday rejected conservative filmmaker and campaign finance fraudster Dinesh D’Souza’s plea for a reduced sentence, and pointed to his recent behavior online — particularly his insinuations that his prosecution is politically motivated — as evidence that his claim to be “ashamed and contrite” was insincere.

No fair! Of course he’s not going to be ashamed and contrite when he’s talking to people away from the courtroom! No fair prosecutors paying attention to what he says outside.

To defend their choice, federal officials noted that D’Souza turned himself in at “the last possible moment” before trial, and since the indictment has repeatedly claimed during appearances on TV and through the Internet that he is a political target and had little choice but to offer a guilty plea. ”Based on the defendant’s own post-plea statements,” prosecutors’ filing reads, “the court should reject the defendant’s claims of contrition on the eve of sentencing.”

Well jeez. So if you’re contrite you’re supposed to be contrite the whole time? That seems kind of unconstitutional, doesn’t it? Free speech?

Meanwhile though, Michael Shermer wrote to the court to plead for leniency for D’Souza.

Embedded image permalink

Important Guys gotta stick together.

H/t Adam Lee

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

The New York Democrat did not name the offenders

Sep 11th, 2014 11:23 am | By

Well this is an ugly item: Ashe Schow at the Washington Examiner passive-aggressively trashing Kirsten Gillibrand for talking about harassment without naming names.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced bills to combat sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. An important emphasis of her legislation has been to encourage the victims of these crimes to come forward and report them.

But when it comes to sexual harassment in her own life, the New York senator sings a different tune.

Gillibrand disclosed in her new book, Off the Sidelines, that she has often been sexually harassed in the U.S. Senate. She said that one male colleague called her “porky,” and another told her not to lose weight because he likes “my girls chubby.” He told her this while squeezing her waist from behind.

The New York Democrat did not name the offenders in her book, and she still refuses to name them when asked. On Tuesday morning, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski asked Gillibrand on “Morning Joe” why she wouldn’t “name names.”

“The reason why I used these examples is to illustrate the broader point,” Gillibrand said.

Hey, you notice what that first quoted paragraph says about her legislation? An important emphasis of her legislation has been to encourage the victims of these crimes to come forward and report them. Emphasis mine. To encourage them, not to force them.

You know something? Naming offenders can make life hell for the namers. It’s not the business of other people to get censorious about it.

How did I see this? Guess.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · Sep 9
How odd that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will not name harassers whose behavior she says “devastated” her.

How odd that Sommers spends so much time trashing feminism.

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

Reach for the sky, then pour out the tea

Sep 10th, 2014 5:50 pm | By

Another piece about gender-policing. A little girl goes to school with an Avengers backpack with four Avenger guys on it, avenging. A little boy asks her if it’s her brother’s backpack.

Back-to-school shopping is one of those moments in which the power of consumer-culture to shape our ideas about gender springs into focus. As parents, with or without our kids’ input, we make choices that shape their entry into new social contexts. We tell them what is “normal.” We set them up to fit in or stand out. And the choices, for parents and children alike, can be overwhelming.

This year, my daughter got an Avengers’ backpack featuring four male superheroes. There was no option with Black Widow, the lone female Avenger in the recent movie, which is pretty typical of the way comic-book companies fail to display gender diversity in their merchandising. Still, it’s a pretty awesome backpack, and she loves it. While we didn’t pick it for Ellie, we did try to subtly influence her away from the stereotypical girlie choices. Here’s why.

Michael isn’t a bad kid. He’s just unconsciously projecting our society’s gender norms onto his classmate, my daughter. Given enough time and unchallenged exposure to this kind of sentiment, it’s possible that Ellie would do the same thing. The cultural pressures to promote a rigid separation of genders start at birth, when a newborn gets a pink or blue hat. They continue for life. The toys, clothes and decorations designed for boys promote action, sports and often violent heroism. Boys are doers, they imply. Baby girls are to be looked at.

I had a lot of “boy” toys as a kid, because I asked for them. I also had (because I asked for them) dolls, a little tea set, a toy stove. I don’t remember ever mashing them up though. That would have been quite good – having a dolls’ tea party with guns and cowboy hats. I wasn’t imaginative enough…



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

Butterflies or tractors?

Sep 10th, 2014 4:42 pm | By

The quandaries of gender and gender norms and gender policing…Erika Kleinman’s three-year-old daughter wanted her hair cut very short, really short Mom. It took three tries for Kleinman to cut it as short as her daughter wanted it, and she wondered why she found it so difficult.

When I was in the fifth month of my pregnancy with my first child, everyone wanted to know the sex. “Boy or girl?” When I said, “Surprise,” they were openly horrified. “No one is going to know what to get the baby!” Pink or blue? Cupcakes or puppy dogs? Butterflies or tractors? These conversations annoyed me. I have a foot in my spleen and no bladder capacity and you want to know pink or blue?

Even without the key information of my baby’s sex, people sounded off on how different boys and girls are. Boys are so bold, so daring. Girls are so sweet, such good listeners. Many of these people were college educated, where they ostensibly took one class which addressed binary gender constructs. One lesbian mother described her son as “all boy.” What does that even mean? I don’t hold gay people to a higher standard when it comes to questioning gender roles, but it is testimony of how deep these perceptions of girls and boys run in this culture.

It’s tricky. I’ve been taught by a couple of generations of skeptics not to cling to the starry-eyed aka delusional idea that gender is totally constructed and totally fluid. Ok, but it’s clearly not totally inborn, either, because if it were, why would all the god damn policing be necessary?

That’s one thing that men get a lot worse than women do, as far as I can tell. Depressingly, that’s because being girly or womany when you’re that other gender is such a disgrace, while it’s not so disgraceful in the other direction.

What would happen if we gave up on the idea that boys and girls are so different? As the director of my child’s preschool pointed out, “It can be more effective to highlight our similarities. Instead of putting people into separate corners, it pulls us into one community.” She suggested that when Phoebe says she is a boy, we could say: “Yes, and we’re all human!” What a radical idea.

And what would it be like if instead of describing our children as “all boy” or “just so girly,” we talked about how much our kids love being in charge, how they love to draw, and swim, and have picnics in the park? How they spend hours in the bath, and how much they want to know how things work? How they like being the center of attention or maybe how they take their time to get to know someone? Instead of trotting out the same old stereotypes about what girls and boys are like, we could talk about what our children do; how they move through the world. We could talk about all the ways they are human, and how great it is just to be a part of it.

I wish we could do that. I see no sign of it whatsoever, though – if anything American culture has gotten more macho over the past few decades rather than less so.



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

When we turn a blind eye

Sep 10th, 2014 3:36 pm | By

The RDF has posted an article by Leo Igwe about Helen Ukpabio’s lawsuit and the wider trend in African Christianity that she is only a small part of.

[T]here is an emerging poisonous trend in African Christianity which if not nipped in the bud risks returning Britain to a growth in practices last widely witnessed in the dark ages. The signs are clear. The recent cases of witchcraft related abuse of children in Black communities can be traced back to the practice of this brand of Christianity. So this must be opposed and those who peddle this religious barbarism and who wish to import or encourage it in the UK must be stopped.

This Africanized Christianity contradicts human rights, and civilized values. It contains forms and currents of Christian practice which Western Christianity had abandoned decades and centuries ago. It seeks to turn back the clock on the evolution of a more ‘enlightened religion’ and of the recognition of broadly secular values in UK society. British humanists must resist this vicious brand of Christianity. British humanists should mobilize and come out strongly, critically and vociferously against such dark age Christianity.

Leo says there’s a movement of African pastors to re-introduce Christianity back to the West, the idea being that the West has lost the plot and no longer does Christianity properly, i.e. it does it without all the homophobia and witch-hunting and other reactionary baggage, and the African pastors can nudge the West back into doing it the right way.

But they also do it for the cha-ching.

In April, Ukpabio was in the UK to promote her witch finding ministry. She desperately wants to connect her witchcraft market with the European religious market. She has attempted to establish branches of her churches in the US. But Ukpabio is not the only African pastor scheming to re-Christianize the West. Other Christian clerics are already part of this reverse missionary process. Early this year, Nigerian homophobic pastor and the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Rev Enoch Adeboye toured Australia and New Zealand to inaugurate branches of his church.

In August, the UK authorities denied entry to another witch hunting pastor David Oyedepo. Oyedepo is the owner of Winners Chapel. He is known to be the richest pastor in Africa, owning several private jets. During a deliverance session in Nigeria he slapped a girl whom he accused of being a witch. In Cameroon a nine year old girl collapsed and died after a pastor at a branch of Winners Chapel accused her of being possessed by numerous demons and started conducting a ritual exorcism.

There’s money in witch-hunting – money for the pastors, and misery and death for the victims. Speak up and resist, Leo says.

Churches that promote these abusive practices have no place in contemporary Britain. Pastors who own these churches should be told clearly that they are not welcome; that their brand of Christianity is unacceptable and particularly so in modern day Britain. We cannot realize a secular country when we allow African Pentecostal pastors to come and spread their gospel of hate and violence. When we turn a blind eye or tolerate the induction of witchcraft narratives into black migrant or diasporic communities we insult the memory of Kristy Bamu, Victoria Climbié and other child victims of witchcraft related abuse.

So let’s do the opposite of turning a blind eye.

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

Guest post: Football and its character-building properties

Sep 10th, 2014 11:24 am | By

Originally a comment by screechymonkey on Stand by your man.

Note: the comment is quite embedded in the discussion where it was posted, which is usually not ideal for a guest post, but it makes a lot of the general points about why it matters when “role model” celebrity male athletes beat up women, and I want to see them made.

Kevin, for a guy who’s not trying to defend Rice, you’re getting awfully heated about your position here, and not engaging in fair discussion.

For example,

So you are saying there’s a double standard — one for football players and another for the rest of the world. Because “role model”. And because “making an example” of Rice will instantly solve all domestic abuse problems everywhere and always.

Got it.

Quixote never said that punishing Rice “will instantly solve all domestic abuse problems everywhere and always,” or anything remotely like it. I fail to see why you’re engaging in this kind of hyperbole. Quixote didn’t claim it, and surely you’re not claiming that this is the relevant standard? That we don’t take any action to punish someone unless it will instantly solve all such crimes everywhere and always? No point in jailing one murderer, then, unless it will stop all murders everywhere and forever!

As to the bit about “role models,” yes. The NFL has already taken it upon itself to enforce the off-field, not-strictly-related-to-employment behavior of its players, as has every professional sports league I can think of. Standard player contracts have morals clauses. The league has fined or suspended players for racist or other inappropriate comments on social media or elsewhere (e.g. Riley Cooper), and for criminal behavior that the criminal justice system declined to punish (e.g. Ben Roethlisberger).

None of us just woke up recently and decided to impose this “role model” higher standard on NFL players starting with Ray Rice. The NFL has imposed it on them for quite some time, and Commissioner Goodell made it a point of emphasis when he took the job. The NFL and other sports leagues market themselves, their athletes, and their sport generally based on its character-building properties. We’re just asking the league to be consistent and treat domestic violence like the violent crime it is.

And as to the question of the victim: what does she want? She wants to be left alone. And she doesn’t want her life or his to be ruined by this incident. Why are you diminishing her agency by demanding something on her behalf that she doesn’t herself demand?

The victim’s wishes are not the determining factor in most systems of justice. They can and should be taken into account, but they aren’t dispositive. The criminal justice system doesn’t require the victim’s permission or approval to prosecute someone (though it may be difficult as a practical matter to prosecute without cooperation). A school principal who declined to punish a bully because the victims said not to would be doing a poor job. An employer who kept a violent employee around just because the victim had forgiven him or her would be making a dumb decision.

Basically what you’re saying is, “why should the rest of us care if Janay Rice decides to stay with an abusive man?” I think society has an interest in punishing violent assholes without waiting for them to assault someone other than their partner, or for them to finally assault their partner in a way that the partner won’t forgive (or can’t, because they’re dead). And while I don’t pretend to understand the complex reasons why victims stay with their abusers, I don’t think that it’s the kind of decision that we need to give 100% deference to. I’m not a hard-core libertarian — I’m ok with a little “paternalism” in the form of punishing abusers without the abused’s sign-off.

Again, I have no problem criticizing Rice and no problem with the court system dealing with him. It’s this blood-lust over-the-top fury that has me puzzled. Why? Because it was videotaped? So the lesson really is to “take the stairs”? Because people would be way less upset over this if there were no video.

I agree that the video probably shouldn’t make as much difference as it has. But we’re talking about human beings here, and there’s something visceral about images, and especially video, that provokes a stronger reaction.

But I think the more important factor here is that the video took away most of the excuses. Far too many people — including those in charge at the NFL and the Ravens — seemed to have more empathy for Ray than Janay. They saw the initial, post-elevator video, and immediately their minds turn to constructing scenarios under which Ray’s actions are justifiable or at least excusable in some way: “well, maybe she was viciously attacking him and he was just defending himself,” “well, maybe he just shoved her slightly and she lost her balance and hit her head,” “well, maybe she ran into his fist.”

It’s the same way that so many people reacted to the prospect of harassment policies at conferences by constructing scenarios where they were the accused harasser, or why referring to a man’s advances as “creepy” sets off all sorts of rationalizing among some people (“Maybe he’s just socially awkward!” “Maybe he has Asperger’s” “I bet she would have been fine with it if he looked like Tom Brady!”)

The inside the elevator video forced all of these people, who had been trying so hard to put themselves in Ray’s shoes, to ask themselves whether they could see themselves throwing that punch. And, as shitty as many people can be on domestic violence issues, most of them don’t really condone someone who is no physical danger just throwing a left hook to the jaw of a much smaller partner. So suddenly the speculation and the scenario-spinning screeched to a halt and almost everyone was forced to admit that, yeah, this was a barbaric act.

In addition, certain sports reporters (Peter King, Adam Shefter) passed along reports from “sources” that the league had seen the inside-the-elevator video and that it provided some mitigation that justified the league’s mild punishment of Rice. So suddenly people who were puzzled by the league’s decision but were trusting that the league had access to additional information that justified it, had their position cut out from under them.

So that’s why the video matters. For many people, it eliminated the doubt, the uncertainty, the gosh-who-knows-what-really-happened agnosticism and forced them to confront the cold hard facts that the rest of us were pretty confident in all along.

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