Notes and Comment Blog

Lock in the freshness!

Aug 12th, 2014 10:03 am | By

Josh Slocum takes to the Washington Post to explain to us, in his characteristically hornet-like way, what the problem is with putting dead bodies in boxes and then storing them in buildings above ground.

You’ve never heard of exploding casket syndrome (ask your mortician if it’s right for you), but funeral directors and cemetery operators have. They sell so-called “protective” or “sealer” caskets at a premium worth hundreds of dollars each, with the promise that they’ll keep out air and moisture that — they would have you believe — cause bodies to rapidly deteriorate. Like Tupperware for the dead, they “lock in the freshness!” with a rubber gasket.

Ah but if you lock it in, then…well we can see where this is going.

The caskets can explode, and the rotting goo oozes out.

There’s no way of telling how common exploding caskets are, since no official agencies are charged with tracking the problem. But as head of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, I frequently hear from families around the country who have sued cemeteries and funeral homes for exploding caskets or have caught mausoleums secretly propping open caskets to prevent a gas buildup. Whole product lines have been created to keep your relatives’ remains from tarnishing the fine establishments they inhabit. There’s Kryprotek, a plastic lining that surrounds caskets to enclose their leaky contents. Andthere’s Ensure-A-Seal, essentially a bag for a box, which recently ran this advertisement in a funeral trade magazine:

Let Nature Take Its Course

We know what happens after the crypt is sealed. Your clients do not know, or do not want to know . . .  Don’t let natural processes destroy your facility’s reputation.

At bottom, the problem is fraud. Casket-makers and funeral homes know sealer caskets don’t preserve bodies, yet too many peddle lies about the preserving powers of overpriced boxes to grieving people whose emotions are easily manipulated.

In short? Bodies decay. Expensive boxes and bags can’t prevent that. A company that tells you it can is trying to defraud you. There ain’t no effective Tupperware for the dead.


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

Blow up that one frame for a closer look

Aug 11th, 2014 6:38 pm | By

I’m still thinking about it, because the more I think about it, the worse it gets. The more I think about it the more it underlines that this is not what I want in any kind of campaign or movement, let alone a community.

Look at it again.

I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise its silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose. It doesn’t raise its head with that. It does raise its head when you’re talking about rape and pedophilia and possibly nothing else. Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Why have we allowed these two topics of rape and pedophilia to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning? We say, “Oh we don’t talk about that, that’s too sensitive.” [emphsis in original]

It does raise its head when you’re talking about rape and pedophilia. Ok, and why would that be? Let’s think about it. It would probably be because they are subjects that are personal to a great many people, and associated with terrible trauma and misery.

So, given that, it’s not very becoming for a prominent intellectual to be so censorious about it. It’s crass and unfeeling, at best, for someone like that to say what amounts to “why do people get so damn worked up about rape??!”

and possibly nothing else. Oh, no, I doubt that very much. Why would that be the case? Why wouldn’t murder, and assault, and war, and mental illness, and disability, and poverty, and injustice, have the same kind of baggage? Poor people don’t much like it when rich people make calm, cool, “rational” generalizations about poverty, in my experience. Why’s that? Because rich people aren’t harmed by poverty in the way poor people are. People who are suffering or who have suffered don’t much like to see people belittling, or even seeming to belittle, their suffering. It’s not a good cause to take up. “Damn it, General, why can’t we talk dispassionate rubbish about the war dead without a lot of widows and orphans making a big fuss?!”

Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Yes, yes we are – and why would that mean we aspire to be able to talk and think about rape or pedophilia or genocide without emotion? That’s the last thing I want. I don’t want to stamp out human fears and sympathies. That’s not what humanists should be doing.

Why have we allowed these two topics of rape and pedophilia to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning? We haven’t. Everybody gets the trivial point that “not as bad as” is not the same as “good.” Everybody. We get it. What we don’t get is what the point was of using rape and pedophilia to “provoke” people. The answer to that is not a matter of logic.

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

You don’t have to look far to see what Islamism is

Aug 11th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Maryam posted her talk at the Global Humanist Conference on her blog.

Have an excerpt to inspire you to go read the whole thing:

No religion looks favourably upon women, gay and lesbians, freethinkers, dissenters, other religions or atheists, and blasphemers, heretic and apostates… Punishing freethinkers is a long-standing and fundamental feature of all major religions. But there is something about Islam primarily because it is the banner of Islamism, a far-Right political movement, spearheading what I call an Islamic inquisition.

Islamists want the far-Right restructuring of societies – concretely this means a Caliphate or Islamic state, the implementation of Sharia law, the imposition of the burka and compulsory veiling, gender segregation, defending Hududd punishments like death by stoning, and the execution of apostates to name a few.

You don’t have to look far to see what Islamism is. The Islamic regime of Iran. The Saudi government. Boko Haram. Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb Ut Tahrir and the Taliban.

And of course the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) which has made tremendous advances over the past few days and months and which continues to shock and outrage humanity with its sheer terror and brutality.

ISIS is Islamism without its palatable wrappings often fed to people in Europe and the West where its manifestations like Sharia courts in Britain and the Law Society’s guidance on Sharia wills (which institutionalises Islamist values) – are portrayed as people’s “right to religion” even by some humanist groups.

If there’s one thing Islamism isn’t, it’s humanist.

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

Guest post: On the utility of having a full range of emotions

Aug 11th, 2014 3:56 pm | By

A post Bruce Everett wrote on Facebook and gave me permission to post here.

I find it a bit funny (not “haha funny”), all of this assuming-everyone-else-is-irrational business that’s going on amidst discussions of trauma. It’s also especially not-haha funny when people assume that I’m being overly emotional myself, when in actual fact I have a good degree of difficulty in experiencing a wide range of emotions on account of my clinical depression.

They might as well be accusing me of being in North Korea – it’s another country I can’t get to. And of course, if they’re going to accuse me of something this absurd, you know how they’re going to treat people who quite understandably have strong emotional responses to discussions of traumatizing experiences (e.g. people who have experienced trauma).

Having emotions doesn’t mean that you’re automatically compromised, and not having a healthy range of emotions can make facts about other humans harder to appreciate (i.e. facts about the genuine psychological states of other human beings).

A may = B, and you may be pissed off that A = B, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recognise that A = B or place the fact into a useful context – your emotions may very well help you put such facts into context. This seems obvious to me only because I have to constantly work at it on account of having stunted emotions – I can’t take it for granted.

I may indulge in the occasional pithy remark, or the occasional bit of sarcasm, but outside of the rare event of being triggered myself (in which case I usually get angry in a way people don’t understand, and wouldn’t want to if they did*), thinly spread pith, sarcasm and wry smiles is almost all I’ve got when it comes to emotional responses to the discussion of trauma. I don’t think this is the ideal mix of logic and emotion, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

* Unless perhaps they’re Jeff Lindsay.

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

Why oh why would rape be a sensitive subject?

Aug 11th, 2014 12:56 pm | By

Oh dear. A London-based reporter for Religion News Service, Brian Pellot, was at the Global Humanist Conference and was at Samira Ahmed’s interview with Dawkins and has a transcript. It’s rather dispiriting.

Dawkins said that his rape tweets were “absolutely not presented as provocation.” Asked if he regretted sending them, he said, “I don’t regret it as much as you want me to say I do.”

I don’t actually care whether he regrets sending them or not; I care much more about whether he sees the reasonable points many people have made. That would have been a better question, really, because asking him to express regret on stage in front of a thousand people is not likely to be fruitful. I’m not sure it’s even fair. (And why is it not fair? For reasons that have to do with emotions. It’s not a logical point, it’s a point about how people feel in certain kinds of situations.)

Anyway, judging by what he said, the upshot is that no, he doesn’t at all see the reasonable points many people have made. This is probably partly because he has lots of people telling him that everyone who has disagreed with him on this subject is a mere “rage-blogger” and can be safely and indeed virtuously ignored.

Now for the transcript:

Let’s take the first one: “Date rape is bad. Violent rape at knifepoint is worse.” The general point I was trying to make was a logical one, which was that to say that X is bad, Y is worse, should not ever be taken as an endorsement of the one that’s not so bad. You would be amazed at the number of people who take that to be an endorsement of X, to say X is OK, you can do X. That is logically absurd and it is pernicious.

Now the next point is, “why do you use rape?” rather than, somebody said, “Why don’t you say slapping someone around the face is bad, breaking their nose is worse.” I could have said that. It would have been completely pointless because it’s totally obvious and actually the general point is totally obvious. But you would be astonished at the number of people who I’ve seen on Twitter who when I say anything is bad, something else is worse, they will take it as an endorsement.

He contradicts himself there. In the first paragraph he says he was making a general logical point about X and Y. But then in the next paragraph he says making that point would have been completely pointless because it’s totally obvious.

Well quite: yes it would because yes it is. That’s one of the things we’ve been saying all along (“we” being the people who dissent from what he’s been saying on the subject for the past week). The general point is totally obvious and thus completely pointless. So that whole first paragraph? It turns out to be wrong. He’s not interested in the logic of the general point, he’s interested in the claim about rape and how to rank it on a scale of badness.

But why? Why be so interested in that? Yes, judges and juries sometimes have to be interested in it, prosecutors and defense lawyers have to be interested in it, but other than that? The need is not obvious.

I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise its silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose. It doesn’t raise its head with that. It does raise its head when you’re talking about rape and pedophilia and possibly nothing else. Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Why have we allowed these two topics of rape and pedophilia to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning? We say, “Oh we don’t talk about that, that’s too sensitive.” [emphsis in original]

Oh god. That’s so wrong. It’s so wrong and fucked up and backassward.

Why do you think?? Jesus. It’s because they are fraught, emotional subjects. They cut to the bone for a lot of people. That’s just how it is – it’s in the nature of the experience. It’s not “irrational” or “unskeptic” to find those subjects fraught. It’s robotic to refuse to understand that they are fraught.

Change the example. See how it sounds.

I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise its silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose. It doesn’t raise its head with that. It does raise its head when you’re talking about lynching and cross-burning and possibly nothing else.  Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Why have we allowed these two topics of lynching and cross-burning to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning? We say, “Oh we don’t talk about that, that’s too sensitive.”

See what I mean? That looks like an incredibly fatuous and callous thing to say, doesn’t it. It jumps out at you. I don’t think Dawkins would ever say that. Yet for some reason he keeps insisting that rape and pedophilia should be talked about as calmly and robotically as a design plan for a parking lot.

So, yeah. It’s dispiriting.

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

Pastors claiming to have cured Ebola could face jail time

Aug 11th, 2014 12:01 pm | By

How not to respond to a serious outbreak of a contagious (albeit not yet airborn-contagious) mostly-fatal disease: be a cleric and claim you can fix it. Don’t do that.

(Note this is from July 31, so facts about the outbreak will already be obsolete.)

…to tackle the dangerous and potentially deadly rumor mill, a government official in Lagos state has issued a stern warning: Pastors claiming to have cured Ebola could face jail time, according to CAJ News Africa:

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Aderemi Ibirogba, specifically advised the citizenry to be wary of the activities of alleged fraudsters who were reportedly making spurious claims about their ability to provide cure for the deadly virus.

He called on those who wanted to rip off members of the public to desist from such claims of cure or risk arrest and prosecution.

“Only medical solutions are known to be appropriate for the disease,” said Ibirogba.

That may seem obvious, but given the continued spread of the virus, it has become necessary.

Of course it has, because if there is an exploitable situation, it’s a law of nature that there will be someone to exploit it.

…in many cases, the disease spreads further when infected people avoid medical help or seek out traditional healers.

For example, earlier this week, a Nigerian pastor, Ituah Ighodalo, wrote a Facebook post that highlighted a “solution to Ebola!”

The post — which was factually incorrect — was focused on the story of a Canadian-American Pentecostal pastor and faith healer by the name of John G. Lake, who operated a ministry in Africa in the early 1900s.

“Several years ago, Ebola virus erupted in Africa, killing thousands without restrain or cure,” Ighodalo wrote. “A great man of God by the name John G Lake came to the rescue. Laying hands on infected people who were not to be touched.”

Well, not quite: As the World Health Organization helpfully notes, the Ebola virus first emerged in 1976 — 41 years after Lake’s death.

Also laying hands on people has no known power against a virus. Against isolation, fear, loneliness, it does, so in cases where it’s not ruled out for reasons to do with contagion – as with Ebola for instance – it’s a good thing if wanted. But as a cure for a virus? Nope.

While churches, healing houses and traditional healers can play a critical role by alerting public health officials to potential Ebola cases, Nigerian officials have been forced to warn them not to try healing Ebola patients themselves, according to local news reports:

Speaking at a press briefing in Lagos, Professor Abdulsalami Nasidi of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said some of the affected people with EVD in neighbouring countries might want to come to Lagos, Nigeria, where there were many healing houses that claim to have cure for diseases. …

He explained that in regions where EVD had killed many people, some of the victims had flocked to healing houses for cure, but ended up spreading the virus, with the supposed healers contracting the deadly virus.

Wow, that’s awful. Infected people might actually be drawn to Lagos because of its many “healing houses” – thus not getting medical treatment themselves, and spreading the virus to others. Lose-lose.

Not the way to respond to a contagious mostly-fatal disease outbreak.

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

The isolation ward

Aug 11th, 2014 11:13 am | By

The slow-motion genocide in progress on Mount Sinjar.

The refugees are facing extreme temperatures and have little water, let alone food.

Britain was forced to abort a second airdrop of humanitarian aid to the Yazidis on Monday, over fears about hitting the people below, a military spokesman said.

Another attempt to deliver desperately needed food and water to the refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar is likely to take place within the next 24 hours.

Never be The Wrong Kind of Person. People who are The Wrong Kind of Person may find themselves dying of dehydration on Mount Sinjar or in the New Orleans Superdome.

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

Wole Soyinka’s address to the GHC

Aug 10th, 2014 5:33 pm | By

Wole Soyinka gave a video address to the Global Humanism Conference at which he was given its International Humanist award today. The Independent gives us a summary.

Atrocities carried out by fanatics such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram show the dangers of religious belief with the “scroll of faith … indistinguishable from the roll call of death”, according to the Nobel prize-winning author Wole Soyinka.

In a video address to the World Humanist Congress, at which he will be presented with its main award today, Soyinka will argue that even moderate religious leaders may be “vicariously liable” for sectarian hatred if they have failed to argue against it.

The actions of the Islamist extremists of Boko Haram – bombing churches, killing civilians and abducting girls – are a warning to the world, Soyinka said.

“The conflict between humanists and religionists has always been one between the torch of enlightenment and the chains of enslavement,” said Soyinka. “Those chains are not merely visible, but cruelly palpable. All too often they lead directly to the gallows, beheadings, to death under a hail of stones. In parts of the world today, the scroll of faith is indistinguishable from the roll call of death.”

That’s saying it.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said the award had been given to Soyinka in recognition of his “brave advocacy for free expression, even under extreme threats to his life”.

The writer narrowly escaped a death sentence in Nigeria in 1994 when he was charged with treason by late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. Tipped off he was about to be arrested, Soyinka fled the country.

“Freedom of expression is a right. But it sometimes takes deep personal courage to stay true to its promises in the face of powerful religious ‘sensitivities’,” said Mr Copson. “We all have much to learn from Wole.”

And it was our friend Leo who accepted the award for him.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Humanist Wole Soyinka

Aug 10th, 2014 4:20 pm | By

Leo accepts the International Humanist Award on behalf of Wole Soyinka.

Photo: Accepting the International Humanist Award on behalf of Wole Soyinka

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Defining rational as “everything I already think”

Aug 10th, 2014 4:07 pm | By

Another mistake I’ve noticed in this game of I Am More Rational Than You is judging the officially correct degree of emotionality to be…oh what a coincidence: it turns out to be the degree one has oneself.

You know? As in, “I am very rational, as any fule kno, and I am not very emotional except that I get irritable a lot. Obviously that is the right amount and quality of emotion to have. Any other amount and quality is mistaken and to be reprobated.”

Well it’s a natural mistake to make. We all see things through our own eyeballs and not anyone else’s. But…at the same time, it’s part of rationality to be aware of that tendency and to try to correct for it, along with all the other solipsistic tendencies we naturally have.

Seven of Mine made a related point on PZ’s post:

they’re just assuming their argument is sound because they’re unconsciously defining rational as “everything I already think” and irrational as “everything else.”

Exactly. That kind of thing. Correct for that, or you’ll find yourself in the weeds.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Joy is haram

Aug 10th, 2014 12:46 pm | By

Outlook India reports (via a Times article that is pay-walled) that Islamist bullies are hassling people in Birmingham for doing things like dancing.

In an attempt to enforce an ISIS-style interpretation of Islamic law, a group of extremists are allegedly cracking down on street parties in Britain by equating it to devil worship.

The extremists are trying to bully and intimidate British Muslims against music and dance.

According to a report in ‘The Sunday Times’, hardliners waved a “No music” banner and chanted “God is great” in Birmingham to disrupt festivities to mark the end of Ramadan.

I have friends in Birmingham who are liberal Muslims and they are not at all happy about this kind of thing.

Extremists objecting to these “Chaand Raat” festivities — based on an Indian subcontinent tradition — said they intervened at three separate locations across the city.

In London, extremists recently confronted women travelling to a family festival to celebrate the Bangladeshi new year and warned them it was “haram”, or forbidden, for them to attend.

Others were told the BBC-sponsored event encouraged “sin”, “fornication” and “drug-taking”.

It’s just a pretext for bullying people. It’s one of humans’ favorite hobbies, which doesn’t speak well for humans.

“It’s very alarming that UK-based extremists are now seeking to import an Isis-style interpretation of Islam and impose it on British citizens,” said Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank.

“Banning music and dancing is completely unacceptable in a modern democracy and goes against all British values,” he added.

Music and dancing bring people together. We can’t have that, can we.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Logic and feeling

Aug 10th, 2014 11:45 am | By

Dawkins did an interview at the Global Humanist Conference this morning, and PZ has a report-plus-dissent on it.

Dawkins spoke at #whc2014 this morning, in an interview with Samira Ahmed. Ahmed held his feet to the fire a bit, and grilled him on the recent rape comparisons on Twitter. Unfortunately, he made the same justifications all over again. Basically, his argument was that his critics are:

  1. Irrational, incapable of grasping the lucid logic of his argument.
  2. Emotional, driven entirely by a visceral reaction to rape.
  3. Suppressive, unwilling to discuss the issues calmly. They never discuss some topics, like rape and pedophilia.

He received resounding applause from a receptive audience, and he would have deserved it if there had been any truth at all to his claims. There isn’t.

Well I’m not even sure he would have deserved resounding applause if there had been a tiny bit of truth to his claims, because the truth would be incomplete and tendentious.

For one thing – it’s just not a good approach to keep announcing that “I am being flawlessly rational and everyone who disagrees with me is being irrational.” It’s really not.

It’s not good epistemology to start with the assumption that “I am flawlessly rational” period. Humans aren’t flawlessly rational; even humans who know all about the ways humans aren’t flawlessly rational can be irrational in the same ways as everyone else, and the best of them know that and point out examples of it. Daniel Kahneman does that in Thinking Fast and Slow, and Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson do it in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).

And what he was saying wasn’t formal logic anyway. It wasn’t a syllogism. It made sense, it was reasonable, but it wasn’t a syllogism. It was a tweet but it was not a syllogism.

For the other thing, he’s just wrong in this disdain for what he calls “emotional.” Morality is an emotional subject; morality makes no sense without emotion; morality is not like a blueprint or an algorithm or a recipe. You need reason and feeling to be able to talk about it sensibly.

As many many many people have pointed out, he knows that himself – he said he chose a provocative subject on purpose. Well quite! If you’re going to choose a provocative subject, it’s no good then rejecting all the provoked responses on the grounds that they are provoked.

It’s not rational to think you can discuss inherently emotive subjects like rape “calmly” and with pure logic. I suspect he would be able to see this with no problem if the subjects were different. Imagine one of those BBC round-table discussions, in which an Islamist guy very calmly and logically explained why it’s haram for a woman to participate in public life. Would Dawkins frown on a feminist ex-Muslim woman who responded with heat as well as reason? I doubt it.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Tipping the world

Aug 10th, 2014 10:59 am | By

Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2014 International Humanist Award yesterday evening.

I don’t know why they chose such a vertiginous photo, but they did. Zany humanists.

Photo: What a good day it was, had a wonderful panel in morning, elected as General Secretary of IHEYO (International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation) in afternoon, then shared Gala Dinner Table with Richard Dawkins and in evening was given the award "2014 International Humanist Award!

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Taslima at the Sheldonian

Aug 10th, 2014 10:44 am | By

Taslima gives the closing address at the Global Humanism Conference.

Photo: "Doors of my own country shut at me because of religious bigotry" Tasleema Nasreen at #whc2014
Photo Gulalai Ismail

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Outraged in Sevenoaks

Aug 9th, 2014 6:18 pm | By

Avery at Gravity’s Wings has a good post about outraged exclamations about a putative “outrage culture” which are actually about ordinary, common-or-garden criticism directed at something the exclaimers consider Their Territory. We all know what those look like!

Three days ago, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist decided to create a book, called “God is an Abusive Boyfriend (and you should break up).” This was, all things considered, a pretty bad idea, and was criticized in many places. Chris Stedman wrote a column about it, and quoted posts by Sarah Moglia and Sarah Jones that also made criticisms. People left comments on his blog, and criticized him on Twitter. Shortly after, Mehta decided to cancel the project, saying that his “execution was poor and it upset a lot of good people.”

Cue the outrage about outrage that wasn’t even outrage.

DJ Grothe complained about “outrage culture” on his wall, and plenty of commenters agreed, because apparently criticizing tasteless and offensive jokes is “outrage culture” now. One person mentioned that she was sad that the “outrage culture” won, even though she’s glad the project was cancelled. In other words, even when she agrees with us* she’s against us!

On Dave Muscato’s wall, Grothe continued to rail against “Soap Opera Atheism”:


And Ed Clint joined in and on it went, as it does.

None of this is new. These are just a couple of examples, but people like Grothe and Clint have spent years attacking people in the movement who dare to offer criticism of offensive ideas. To them, the slightest criticism of people within the movement is “perpetually outraged overreach,” no matter how mild or respectful that criticism is. Telling someone that they had a bad idea is considered “vociferously bully[ing]… into submission,” which is “horrible.”

There are some trigger-happy people around, of course, but not all criticism is Soap Opera Atheism or outrage culture or call-out culture or any of the rest of the jargon. Plenty of criticism is just criticism. And it’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? None of these people are pillars of the Status Quo Community. They’re all reformers themselves, so what do they even mean by it? I suppose they mean “I say I say, excuse me, that’s my ox you’re goring, and I’d rather you didn’t.”

As Avery very neatly says.

It’s also interesting how none of these people have a problem with outrage over, say, school sponsored prayer, or nativity scenes on public property. They’re probably fine with being “perpetually outraged” about discrimination of nonreligious people, or about creationism and pseudoscience being taught in schools. They’re completely fine with this kind of outrage, because it benefits them and is directed at other people. But as soon as that outrage (or simple criticism, in many cases) is directed at them, they’re quick to cry “outrage culture.” Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.

These people are invested in seeing hostility where none exists. They wildly exaggerate claims of outrage, or even invent them out of whole cloth, in order to have something to complain about. It’s also a useful tool to avoid thinking about the subject, because if they can reframe legitimate criticism as “outrage culture” they have an excuse to ignore it. And so they continue to attack overblown misrepresentations of their enemies instead of listening and paying attention to reasonable criticism.

Read the whole thing.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife”

Aug 9th, 2014 5:27 pm | By

This is one reason I’ve never liked Sam Harris’s writing, even before he wrote the wretched The Moral Landscape.

He does that throughout The End of Faith, and it’s maddening. You see it, right? Starting with “a Christian” and then saying “his” – as if “a Christian” is automatically a man, as if male is the default sex, as if male is normal and female is weird. That’s a bad, clumsy, confusing way to write, even if you’re indifferent to the politics of it. It’s his wife, it’s making a man invisible; it’s his his his he he he – throughout the book, every time.

There’s also of course the threadbare and suspect choice of “that his wife is cheating on him” with all its unpleasant undertones – that “his wife” is his property, that what she does is something done to him, that wives are probably sluts, all that. A good writer doesn’t do that. A good writer stops to think of an example that isn’t threadbare and loaded with nasty baggage. A good writer thinks more carefully about the words.

That’s why.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog


Aug 9th, 2014 4:28 pm | By

Leo Igwe at the Global Humanist Conference with a couple of other great and useful humanists.

The other humanist is Hemley Gonzales of Responsible Charity, a humanist charity providing education to children in slum communities and villages in India and empowering women and men to overcome poverty.

And here he is with Peter Tatchell.

Photo: With Peter Tatchell in Oxford

I think y’all know who Peter is.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

When the I isn’t the I

Aug 9th, 2014 12:33 pm | By

I saw some friends on Twitter harshing on a story by Malcolm Gladwell in the Guardian, so I was curious enough to read it. I’m not a fan of Gladwell’s shtick, so I wanted to see if this was more reason to think he’s too pleased with himself.

But by the time I read the third paragraph, I smelled a rat. See what you think:

Many years ago I ruined a beautiful friendship, and it was over a song, which sounds like a strange thing to ruin a friendship over. And what makes it even stranger is that the song was sung with the utmost love and affection.

My friend’s name was Craig, and I met him at college. We both went to a place called Trinity at the University of Toronto, and it’s this weird little place.

We would wear long black academic gowns, and jackets and ties to all meals, and we would say Latin grace before we ate. We didn’t really have jocks because we weren’t large enough, and we didn’t really have a party culture because we were too nerdy for that. All we really ever did was sit around and make fun of each other. We did this to an extraordinary extent, and the person who was best at that game of making fun of everyone was my friend Craig.

Craig was this tall, incredibly handsome guy, and he had this extraordinary charisma. Women flocked to him. He was just this sort of legend with the ladies. He had this sense of humour that was something that I had never encountered before. And he really kind of led us like the Pied Piper.

That’s only the start of the third paragraph, but it’s the place where I put on the brakes and reread those first five sentences of the third paragraph.

Ok that’s not Gladwell talking as himself. Not possible. He writes for the New Yorker. He wouldn’t be writing for his local free weekly if that were his real way of writing. It’s a parody of some sort, with a highly unreliable narrator. Adults don’t write “this tall, incredibly handsome guy” and “he had this extraordinary charisma” right on top of each other like that. They don’t write it at all. The first person in this piece is not Malcolm Gladwell at all, just as Holden Caulfield wasn’t J D Salinger and Huckleberry Finn wasn’t Samuel Clemens.

It’s a story of the kind Ring Lardner was such a genius at, in which a rather horrible narrator reveals how horrible he (it usually was a he) is without ever realizing it himself.

I can’t say I think it’s very good, because it’s too unsubtle, but it at least isn’t bad in the sense that it reveals Gladwell to be like the narrator.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

More meetings

Aug 9th, 2014 11:57 am | By

The Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin received an award at the Global Humanist Conference today. He also met some people. He met Richard for instance.

I’ve been disagreeing with some of Richard’s Twitter-claims recently, but fair play – he gives much-needed moral support to people like Asif.

Asif also met Taslima and PZ in Blackwell’s.

A lot of excellent people gathered in one place.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

The methane bubbles were reaching the surface

Aug 9th, 2014 11:25 am | By

This is alarming.

This week, scientists made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor,” as the Stockholm University put it in a release disclosing the observations. The plume of methane—a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide, the chief driver of climate change—was unsettling to the scientists.

But it was even more unnerving to Dr. Jason Box, a widely published climatologist who had been following the expedition.

Dr. Jason Box’s view of the consequences “if even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere” is that we’re fucked. He’s an expert on the subject, and that’s his view of it. He tweeted that view of it.

I called the scientist at his office in Copenhagen, and he talked frankly and emphatically about the new threat, and about the specter of climate change in general. He also swore like a sailor, which I’ve often wondered how climatologists refrain from doing, given the urgency of the problem—it’s certainly an entirely accurate way to communicate the climate plight.

First of all, I asked Box if he stood by that tweet. He did. He’d revise it a bit, to include surface carbon—methane locked in the permafrost that’s also beginning to leak out—because if we loose enough of either, we’re in trouble.

“Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked,” he told me. What alarmed him was that “the methane bubbles were reaching the surface. That was something new in my survey of methane bubbles,” he said.

Hotter faster. Not good.

It’s especially worrying because the Arctic is warming faster than nearly anywhere else on Earth. Now, along with melting sea ice and thawing permafrost, we have to add to our list of ‘feedback loop’ concerns that warming Arctic oceans may be releasing fonts of methane. That is, the warmer the ocean gets, the more methane gets spewed out of those stores on the continental shelf, and the warmer the ocean gets, ad infinitum.

Ad infinitum doesn’t work for us. We didn’t evolve in ad infinitum. Not at all at all. We evolved in a particular climate, which is apparently being boiled away like water in a hot skillet. Humans won’t do well in a hot skillet.

“We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it,” he said. “We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place.”

It was refreshing to hear a climatologist pull no punches, while still eloquently and accurately summarizing the science—even though an increasing number are becoming proactive, like the paleoclimatologist Dr. Michael Mann, and top climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, climate scientists are still learning how to engage the public in a manner that’s forceful and compelling. Like Dr. Hansen, Box has a deeply personal reason to sound the alarm.

“I may escape a lot of this,” he said, “but my daughter might not. She’s 3 years old.” Climate change may not destabilize the globe in our lifetime, or even his daughter’s—but the fact that feedback loops like methane release could rapidly accelerate the warming means that there’s a chance rapid climate transformation—and the social and economic catastrophes that would likely accompany it—could strike sooner.

Not good.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog