Notes and Comment Blog

In order to use the licence fee efficiently

Aug 3rd, 2013 4:13 pm | By

The BBC sent a boilerplate response to all the complaints about the block bot and the BBC’s vile attack on the character of people the BBC never mentioned.

The report on Newsnight on 30 July which featured The Block Bot was part of an ongoing news story on the use of Twitter and its consequences, which has generated a great deal of debate across all forms of media. We received a number of contacts about this broadcast and in order to reply promptly and to use the licence fee efficiently we are sending a single response to everyone. However we would like to reassure you that your concerns about the programme were brought to the attention of Newsnight and senior BBC management.

At no stage in the Newsnight report was any individual named as being on The Block Bot’s list. The report also did not mention how the list of names might be obtained. As you are probably aware, the list of names on The Block Bot is updat…ed constantly and numbers many hundreds.

Although the script explained that The Block Bot was self-policing, and the report clearly showed on screen that The Block Bot has different levels of blocking, the report could have explained those details more clearly.

In a subsequent report on Newsnight on 31 July 31 the programme reported the ongoing debate on the use of tools like The Block Bot, including the fact that some of those who are blocked by it object to their blocking. Again, no names were mentioned.

I hope this address your concerns. Thank you for taking the time to raise them with us.”

Now kindly fuck off.

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

An “intellectual romance”

Aug 3rd, 2013 12:27 pm | By

The New York Times had a piece about Colin McGinn yesterday, and (better) about the implications for paying attention to sexism in philosophy and universities.

While the status of women in the sciences has received broad national attention, debate about sexism in philosophy has remained mostly within the confines of academia. But the revelation this summer that Colin McGinn, a star philosopher at the University of Miami, had agreed to leave his tenured post after allegations of sexual harassment brought by a graduate student, has put an unusually famous name to the problem, exposing the field to what some see as a healthy dose of sunlight.

“People are thinking, ‘Wow, he had to resign, and we know about it,’ ” said Jennifer Saul, the chairwoman of the philosophy department at the University of Sheffield in England and the editor of the blog What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?

“I think that’s unprecedented,” she added.

The case, which was first reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, has set off voluminous chatter among philosophers on blogs and social media. The discussion has been fueled partly by Mr. McGinn’s own blog, where his use of the cryptic language of analytic philosophy in attempts to defend himself seems to have backfired.

Is that what that was? The cryptic language of analytic philosophy? I didn’t recognize it! I thought it was much more the thuddingly banal language of the wannabe hipster dude who thinks he’s funny.

Two open letters, posted online in mid-July and signed by more than 100 philosophers, including a majority of Mr. McGinn’s colleagues at Miami, criticized some of the posts on his blog as “retaliation” against the student.

The first letter, at Feminist Philosophers, says this:

We are members of the philosophy profession concerned for the graduate student at the University of Miami who filed a complaint about the conduct of Dr. Colin McGinn. We are also concerned for other graduate students who may conclude from this case that, although a student pursues a complaint against a professor through the proper channels while purportedly retaining anonymity, she may have her scholarship, work performance, or conduct negatively characterized in a public forum by a powerful professor with no response or defense from her university.

We write to urge the University of Miami to protect this student from negative public assessments of her work or character by or on behalf of Dr. McGinn. Whether or not Dr. McGinn’s observations on his blog are intended to be retaliatory, they have some of the same deleterious effects as intended retaliation. We recognize Dr. McGinn’s right to free speech and his right to criticize whatever treatment he may have received by his employer, and we appreciate his stated desire to defend himself. However, the student is not in a position to defend herself publicly. We ask that her university discharge its duty to protect its students from acts that amount to de facto retaliation from professors about whom they have complained.

The second one, sent to Brian Leiter and posted on his blog, includes:

Universities have procedures and protocols in place for receiving the complaints of students in order to protect the rights and interests of those who are vulnerable. We have every reason to believe that the University of Miami investigated the matter in question carefully and judiciously. We urge those without access to all relevant details to show caution in speculating upon the situation.

As members of this department, we take the matter very seriously and support our colleague who filed the complaint. Whether or not any given complaint has merit is for the University to decide. But no student who files a complaint, regardless of whether the complaint is judged to be with merit or not, deserves retaliation and intimidation.  Such behavior serves to silence others who would come forward, and undermines the policies and procedures the University of Miami has in place to protect individuals with limited power to protect themselves.

But McGinn is still saying the same crap, apparently unabashed.

In Mr. McGinn’s telling, his relationship with the student, a first-year doctoral candidate who worked as his research assistant during the 2012 spring semester, was an unconventional mentorship gone sour.

It was “a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship,” an “intellectual romance” that never became sexual but was full of “bantering,” Mr. McGinn said in a telephone interview. The terms of his agreement with the university, he said, prevented him from saying much more. But “banter referring to sexual matters,” he added, isn’t always “sexual banter.”

The student, through intermediaries, declined to be interviewed for this article, citing concern that it might damage her academic career.

McGinn continues to babble freely while he knows that she can’t.

Amie Thomasson, a professor of philosophy at Miami, said the student, shortly after filing her complaint in September 2012, had shown her a stack of e-mails from Mr. McGinn. They included the message mentioning sex over the summer, along with a number of other sexually explicit messages, Ms. Thomasson said.

“This was not an academic discussion of human sexuality,” Ms. Thomasson said. “It was not just jokes. It was personal.”

Mr. McGinn said that “the ‘3 times’ e-mail,” as he referred to it, was not an actual proposal. “There was no propositioning,” he said in the interview. Properly understanding another e-mail to the student that included the crude term for masturbation, he added later via e-mail, depended on a distinction between “logical implication and conversational implicature.”

“Remember that I am a philosopher trying to teach a budding philosopher important logical distinctions,” he said.

And there is no other way to do that than by talking about hand jobs. No other way at all. Simply cannot be done in any other fashion.

Whatever the facts of the case, many philosophers say that the accusations of misbehavior against Mr. McGinn are the edge of a much bigger problem, one that women have long been unwilling to discuss publicly, lest it harm their careers.

Many credit the blog What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?, which in 2010 began posting anonymous stories of harassment, with helping to highlight the issue. “Just about every woman you talk to in philosophy has experienced first- or secondhand some form of sexual harassment that is egregious,” said Gideon Rosen, a philosopher at Princeton. “It’s not just one or two striking anecdotes.”

There are signs that the publicity surrounding the McGinn case may be encouraging more women to step forward. Both Ms. Saul and Peggy DesAutels, a philosopher at the University of Dayton and a member of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women, said that in recent weeks they had each heard from several graduate students who were considering filing complaints.

Oh noes – they will scare away all the women and then the philosophy departments won’t be able to boast that they’ve pushed their percentage of women all the way up to 21%.

Scholars in all disciplines have disagreements. But philosophy is unusual, many say, in its tradition of developing ideas through face-to-face and sometimes brutal debate. “People in other disciplines think we’re just thugs,” said Louise Antony, a philosopher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

That reliance on debate can pose a particular dilemma for women, she added. Argue aggressively, and they’re branded shrews (to put it nicely). Hold back, and they’re not good philosophers.

“Many people have called philosophy the combat sport of academia,” Ms. Antony said. “But if you can’t have those conversations, you’re at a disadvantage.”

“Shrews” of course is NY Times for “bitches” and “cunts.”

In an essay on implicit bias in the forthcoming book “What Needs to Change: Women in Philosophy,” Ms. Saul recalled the terror of overhearing faculty members at Princeton, where she earned her Ph.D., casually sort graduate students into “smart” versus merely hard-working — or worse, “stupid.”

Women, she said, are more likely to be categorized as “stupid,” to the detriment of the field as a whole.

Fear of being labeled not smart “is bad for philosophy,” Ms. Saul said. “It makes you not want to take risks.”

This is a job that may take some time.

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

The link between status and virtue

Aug 3rd, 2013 11:12 am | By

This question of credentials, accomplishments, fame, status, titles, and what it has to do with whether or not someone can behave badly. As I discussed yesterday, Tim Farley seems to be claiming that fame and titles in the skeptic/atheist world are incompatible with acting like a shit. I say “seems to be” because it’s not clear exactly what he’s claiming. I’ve asked him to clarify but so far he’s said only that that’s a small part of the post, which doesn’t help and is frankly beside the point.

He says

the list of Level 2 and Level 3 blocks reveals people, many of whom I know personally, who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world.

He lists 10 examples of such involvement; he says

These are not anonymous trolls. They are not likely to be arrested anytime soon. Most of these people regularly speak at national conferences to audiences from several hundred to over a thousand people.

And that a quick scan of their Twitter feeds turns up little in the way of “attacking, threatening or spamming”; and that

these well-respected people are being listed right alongside some vicious troll accounts, and not being clearly distinguished from them.

He does not say “these people are important and famous, therefore they can’t possibly be intermittently or steadily unpleasant on Twitter.” But he hints at it. That seems to be what he wants us to conclude, even though he doesn’t spell it out. (If he had, he probably would have noticed how silly it is, and either deleted it or done a better job of arguing it.)

What’s the hidden premise here?

I suppose it’s one that I share, in a way. It’s something like people who do good thoughtful work are thoughtful people, and thoughtful people don’t harass or pester or jeer at other people on Twitter.

I do think that, up to a point. It’s why I keep being surprised by people who are thoughtful in other contexts, being astonishingly childish or malicious or brutal on Twitter or blogs. But at the same time I also know better – I know that if only because I’ve had so much experience of it over the past couple of years. But it’s not only that; I do know it from other sources. Doesn’t everyone?

Isn’t it notorious that fame and status can make people feel entitled and reckless? Hello? Bill Clinton and Air Fuck One? Every rock star ever? Bernie Madoff? Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

And no, intellectuals and academics are not immune. Far from it. There is no preener like an academic preener.

So no. It’s sad, but no, being a star in the (tiny) atheist/skeptic movement is not a guarantor of always-thoughtful-behavior.


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

An argument from false authority

Aug 2nd, 2013 6:17 pm | By

Our friend Tom at Dubito Ergo Sum has an excellent, thorough post about Tim Farley’s objections to the block bot.

He too quotes the list of credentials and then comments on it.

This would make for a great game of spot the fallacy, wouldn’t it? Farley lists all these qualifications, but none of them are “noted anti-spam crusader” or “longtime anti-bigotry activist,” not that those would be excuses either. See, none of these qualifications are inconsistent with “abusive [...] anti-feminists, MRAs, or all-round assholes” or “annoying and irritating”3. It’s possible to be an Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning comedian and also be an annoying asshole who delights in baiting feminists with disingenuous arguments, just as it’s possible to be a Ph.D. biochemist who believes in intelligent design. This is a pro hominem argument, an argument from false authority, that these people’s lofty credentials make them somehow incapable of being bigots, jerks, trolls, abusers, or just antagonistic assholes to specific groups of people.

The last paragraph there is a doozy of arguments from ignorance and unstated major premises. “I see little evidence” is very different from “there is no evidence,” and the mechanics of Twitter mean that offensive tweets are often lost to the depths of a person’s timeline after a relatively short amount of time. But there’s plenty of evidence that prominent skeptics are capable of being petty, antagonistic, obtuse, bigoted (both in overt and unintended/unconscious ways), and asshole-ish. Some skeptics love poking various hornets nests, some love directing snide comments and thinly-veiled insults at people/groups they disagree with on social media, some keep dredging up sexist/racist/homophobic arguments and tropes time and time again even after hearing repeated responses/debunkings, some hyperbolically respond to the slightest criticisms with howls of NaziCommieStasi witch-hunt inquisitions. Farley’s right, they’re probably not going to be arrested anytime soon, but that’s because being an annoying, antagonistic asshole isn’t a crime.

The unstated major premises here are that “only anonymous trolls (and certainly not people I consider friends) behave in ways that would merit mass blocking,” which I dealt with above, and “only behavior that is illegal merits mass blocking,” which is the usual response to those complaining about harassment: if it’s not illegal, it’s not really harassment; if it was real harassment, why didn’t you call the police? I’ve responded to this notion, so has Stephanie Zvan, and the fact that Farley is able to spout off with it in such a casual manner shows just how insulated from this stuff he really is.

Yes. Very well said. Read the whole thing including comments, some of which are from Farley.



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

Just a casual scan

Aug 2nd, 2013 5:37 pm | By

Yesterday Tim Farley wrote a piece about the block bot and some objections he has to it. One objection he has is that it blocks some people whom he considers…I’m not sure what, exactly – too good to merit blocking, I guess is the clearest way to put it. He considers them people who shouldn’t be blocked, because they don’t deserve to be blocked. But he makes this case in a very odd way.

The community needs of this very specific group (“Atheism+”), combined with the lack of auditing and transparency of control, has resulted in some (in my opinion) very strange choices. I am familiar with many of the people in these communities.  I know many of them in real life as well as online.  Scanning the list of Level 2 and 3 blocks makes me repeatedly scratch my head in puzzlement.

I’m not going to get into exact names here, as I do not want to discuss the pros and cons of blocking particular people.  That is not a productive line of discussion.  The bottom line is that if the users of this bot (or any Twitter user) want to block these people, that is their right.

And I will agree with that piece of text quoted above that implies that most would agree that the people blocked in Level 1 deserve that status. I scanned some of these accounts, and some I have seen before, and they are pretty heinous offenders.  No argument there.

However, just a casual scan down the list of Level 2 and Level 3 blocks reveals people, many of whom I know personally, who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world.

Yes…So what? Is the idea that people who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world cannot also be shits who harass women and/or feminists? Apparently that’s exactly the idea.

 They include:

  • A Research Fellow for a U.S. think-tank who is also deputy editor of a national magazine, and author of numerous books
  • A Consultant for Educational Programs for a U.S. national non-profit
  • A long-time volunteer for the same national non-profit
  • An organizer for a state-level skeptic group in the US
  • A past president of a state-level humanist group in the US
  • A former director of a state-level atheist group in the US
  • An Emmy and Golden Globe award winning comedian
  • A TED Fellow
  • Co-founder of a well known magazine of philosophy and author of several books
  • A philosopher, writer and critic who has authored several books

These are not anonymous trolls. They are not likely to be arrested anytime soon. Most of these people regularly speak at national conferences to audiences from several hundred to over a thousand people.

Again: so what? That doesn’t stop them being shits. I would love it if it did, but it doesn’t. The bit about the award-winning comedian, for instance – what, because comedians are never ever sexist? Ever? No comedian has ever relied on familiar old contempt for women to get laughs?

And all the rest of them too. None of those credentials are incompatible with being a shit. They certainly don’t confer some kind of fame-based immunity or extra leeway…or rather, they do, but they shouldn’t.

 Starting from the publicly available block list you can click the names to go directly to their  Twitter feeds, I see little evidence that these people are attacking, threatening or spamming anyone.

Attacking, threatening and spamming are not the only ways there are to be unpleasant and harassy. Not even close.

Now I’m not dumb, I know that many of these people have had very public disagreements with people allied with “Atheism+” who use this bot.  And let me reiterate: if people want to block others that they disagree with, that is their right.  

But these well-respected people are being listed right alongside some vicious troll accounts, and not being clearly distinguished from them.

That “disagreements” thing pisses me off. It’s right up there with “FTBullies” for repetitive fakery. It’s not about disagreements. It’s about picking fights, stalking, sneering, pestering, monitoring. Even people who direct state-level atheist groups, even TED fellows, can do stuff like that, and it’s not any kind of misbehavior or attack on free speech to block them on Twitter.

And by the way credentials don’t equate to well-respected. I don’t respect everyone who has a credential of that kind – why would I? You can have a credential and be an asshole. You might even have a credential because you’re an asshole.

The credentials are, on the contrary, often a source of wonder and disgust. “This is the guy who does such good work? Jeez. Who’d have thought it?” Maybe Farley is thinking that once people have credentials they’ll be inhibited from acting like assholes because they have more to lose. I’ve often wondered about that. Why isn’t ___ more worried about tarnishing the credentials? It can be puzzling, but that’s not at all the same thing as a slam-dunk reason to think assholitude is out of the question.

So, no. Credentials are only credentials. They’re not a free pass for being a creep on Twitter.

[I should add that Tim Farley did me a favor last year by talking to the guy who sent me the strange emails about how in danger I would be at TAM. I remain grateful for that. But I think this suggestion that important people can't be nasty people is very mistaken.]

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

How it works

Aug 2nd, 2013 4:47 pm | By

Bjarte has a new cartoon.

@OpheliaBenson The @stickfigure is suing @The_Block_Bot for libel! :-O

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

Protect Nahla Mahmoud

Aug 2nd, 2013 3:40 pm | By

Nahla Mahmoud is being threatened, and the police won’t do anything about it.

From the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain:

Following an interview on Channel 4 on Sharia law, Islamists have threatened Sudanese secular campaigner and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson Nahla Mahmoud with death, calling her a ‘Kafira’ and ‘Murtada’ who has offended Islam and brought “fitnah”. The threats have been reported to the police who have closed the case and advised that nothing could be done.

We the undersigned are extremely concerned about the safety of Nahla and that of her family in Sudan. We ask the authorities to investigate the threats made particularly by Mr Salah Al Bandar.

Nahla writes: “I am most concerned with the harassment by Mr. Salah Al Bandar. Not only is he endangering my health and sense of safety and security in the UK, but he is also organising against me back in Sudan in ways that are potentially very dangerous for both myself and my family. As a consequence, my younger brother has been physically attacked in Sudan, my mother has been seriously threatened and I continue to get threats and have had to endure a number of cyber stalking episodes by Mr Al Bandar or his associates.”

Mr Al Bandar claims to be a “democratic, liberal Muslim” who has been politically active and until recently a councillor with the Lib-Dem Party in Cambridgeshire; he is a director at the Sudan Civic Foundation in the UK. He has attempted to silence Nahla with his threats which include the following:

On 22nd January, Mr Al Bander posted an article in Arabic on the Sudanese Online Website (one of the most widely read websites in Sudan and throughout the Sudanese diaspora) entitled “A Sudanese woman announces that she is a ‘Kafira” on British TV.  In some parts of this article he says:

“I will not forgive anyone who wants to start a battle against Islam and the beliefs of the people…”, “Be aware of this ‘fitna’ and I know who is behind it and I will never have any mercy on her here…”, “I will have no tolerance for anyone here who talks about freedom of belief or freedom of thought or any of the other clichés…”

On the 25th of January 2013 he posted a new piece saying: “infidel Mohamed Mahmoud Kassalawi is the one who organised this scandal from A to Z.  He is looking for someone like Nahla to pass his scandalous agenda. ….I am against those who use her to offend people’s sanctities….”  [Dr. Mohamed Mahmoud is an academic and director of the Critical Centre for Religious Studies in the UK.]

On 29th January 2013, Mr Al Bander added an article featuring Nahla with Maryam Namazie and Mohamed Mahmoud ‘photoshopped’ together with a background of a Facebook page he made up and named ‘Sudanese Atheists’ Page’.  He also discussed the relationship of the three in a post on 8 February. The article is full of fabrications, including that Maryam Namazie “trained” Nahla in “public activities against Islam” and that Mohamed Mahmoud “created this idol Nahla and presented her as a champion of freedom of expression”. Also, he posted a screen shot of Nahla’s article published in ‘Left Foot Forward’ about ‘Sharia implementations in the UK and elsewhere’ after adding a main headline into the article to read  “Freedom of practicing ‘Luat’ and promoting it” (“ Luat” is a derogatory term for homosexuality).

On the 10th of February he posted “I forbid anyone from trying to change Nahla’s scandal to a case worthy of support… It will all get back to them… Be cautioned! Be cautioned!… No excuses for those who have been warned! ”

On the 22nd of February he added a new post entitled “She sold her faith for a legal status… The second episode of Nahla Elgaali’s series” where he said:  “January 2013 is an unusual month for the Sudanese diaspora in the UK. For the first time a Sudanese young woman goes public provoking the feelings of those in and outside the country. Not publicising her own beliefs, but joining a group which promotes atheism among the Sudanese diaspora”. He continues:  “the topic is now being discussed outside this website. It has spread to include in-country platforms. A ‘Khartoum newspaper has done an interview with Mrs. Huda Mohamed el-Khair, Nahla’s mother, exploring the background of Nahla’s complicated journey.”

His posts against Nahla and his labelling her ‘Kafira’, ‘Murtadda’ and ‘Zindiga’ has resulted in governmental and official bodies such as the ‘General Administration of the Sudanese Armed Forces’ , Blue Nile Channel , and the official Sudanese governmental newspaper,  ‘Elentibaha’  speaking against “the infidel woman in Britain who offends Islam and promotes nudity”. These include: al ‘Khartoum’, ‘el- Sudani’, ‘el-Ayam‘ ,  and ‘el-Ray el Aam’, ‘el watan’ , ‘Hurriyat’  and a number of other local newspapers. A number of online platforms also considered it their headline news over a few weeks, including Sudan Motion, Sudan.Net, ‘el-Nilain’, Sudanile, Sudanforall, ‘el-Rakoba’, SudaressMugren Net  and others. A few Middle Eastern websites also reported the incident such as ‘el-hiwar el-mutamdn’, ‘Kitabk’ and Alhurra TV.

We the undersigned call on the authorities to investigate Salah Albandar’s bullying, harassment and threats against Nahla Mahmoud, prosecute him and guarantee Nahla’s safety and security.

Anne Marie Waters, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Christopher Roche, President, Bath Atheists, Humanists and Secularists
Clive Aruede, Lola Efuntade-Tinubu and David Walters, Organising Committee, London Black Atheists
Deeyah, Music Producer and Filmmaker
Gita Sahgal, Executive Director, Centre for Secular Space
Hala Ahmed, Sudanese Non-Religious Out Loud Campaign
Ibn Warraq, Writer
Imad Iddine Habib, Founder of Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco
Lloyd Newson, OBE, Artistic Director, DV8 Physical Theatre
Marcin Lysuniec, Chairman, Polish Atheist Association
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder, Secularism is a Woman’s Issue
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany
Mohamed A. Mahmoud, Director, Centre for Critical Studies of Religion
Nadia El-Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nina Sankari, European Feminist Initiative in Poland
Salah Sid Ahmed, Sudanese Humanists Group
Stephen Khan-Evans, Founder, Council of Ex-Muslims of New Zealand
Tarek Fatah, Founder, Muslim Canadian Congress
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
Waleed Al-Husseini, Founder, Council of Ex-Muslims of France

You can sign it by commenting to say so below the article.




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

Milking it

Aug 2nd, 2013 2:49 pm | By

Tauriq Moosa alerted me to an example of “there is no depth too low.” What is it? Harassing a child who has leukemia? Torturing a kitten in front of the kitten’s weeping human? Firebombing a picnic just for the lolz?

No, it’s harassing Amanda Berry for going outside and having fun – Amanda Berry, who spent ten years not being able to go outside and have fun because she was imprisoned in a house by a filthy human being who kept her locked up there.

On CNN over the weekend, Nelly told Erin Burnett, “What stuck with me most was that she had a smile on her face. That’s one of the most impressive things to me, considering everything she had been through … I thought, wow, that was special.” But Burnett was too busy being amazed that “She looked totally normal.”

Burnett’s concerned astonishment was charitable compared to what the lowest form of opinion generators – Internet commenters – had to say about Berry’s newly reignited social life. “It’s just odd given the years of abuse she suffered. Normally she would not have that kind of trust or comfort. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense,” wrote one concerned ABC News commenter, while another more bluntly decided, “It seems to me she was enjoying it and is gonna use her ordeal to cash in.” Many were concerned that she appeared with a man who stood behind her and warmly put his arm around her and kissed her neck while she was onstage. Or, as some of the ABC commenters decided, he was a “dirt bag hanging all over her,” who “groped” and “pawed” her. A CBS News commenter more generously decided she looked “pretty hot.” And 645 comments later on NBC, Berry had plenty of well-wishers but also comments about her eyebrow piercing, and how she doesn’t look like “a real victim….lol.” And of course, if you want to plumb the absolute bottom of the barrel, there’s YouTube, where Berry is being  accused of “milking everything she’s getting.”

Uh huh. She did it for the blog hits.

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

Alex’s list

Aug 2nd, 2013 12:33 pm | By

Alex Gabriel has a list of 100 Irish and British atheists who don’t fit the stereotyped image of what an atheist is. It’s a great list. I know a few of them, know of many of them, am pleased to learn of the ones I don’t know of.

25. Jane Donnelly is Atheist Ireland’s Education Policy Officer, and has spoken widely on the need for secular education. Recently, at Empowering Women Through Secularism, she also gave a presentation on secularism and human rights. You can find her writing and updates on AI’s dedicated Teach Don’t Preach site. [Email her] [Tweet her]

44. Yemisi Ilesnami - proudly feminist, proudly bisexual, proudly atheist – can be found at FreethoughtBlogs since joining them this May. She’s also Nigerian, now resident in the UK. Beyond her blog Yemmynisting and her book Freedom to Love for All: Homosexuality is Not Un-African, she has a law degree, works occasionally as a plus-size model and has worked in the past for the Nigerian Labour Party and the International Trade Union Congress. Recently she spoke on the ‘Atheism is not enough’ panel at FTBcon, and her YouTube vlog focuses on atheist identity and LGB issues. [Message her] [Tweet her]

49. Sinéad Kennedy spoke at Empowering Women Through Secularism on politics and acampaigner; she teaches English and Media Studies at NUI Maynooth, and campaigns for access to abortion with Action on X and Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign. She drew some people’s ire bycrediting her secularism and feminism to her Marxism, but personally, I’m glad she did. [Email her] [Tweet her]

A list to keep.

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

Priests who brooked no opposition of any kind

Aug 2nd, 2013 12:11 pm | By

There’s a little book published in association with RTE (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) in 1986, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl. It started as a series of radio interviews with writers, who then lived up to their job titles by writing up what they’d said. Polly Devlin included in her account a look at the grip the church had on Ireland in the 1950s.

As a social system our Catholic religion constituted a tyranny – not within the confines of our family but certainly outside it. We as a family were brought up in a dispensation that was different from that heavily medieval Catholic one that obtained in the parish…My father had been brought up in an enlightened way so that not only was there no bigotry in our house, there was a real tolerance. The parish, however, was run as a great many Irish parishes were run at that time, by priests who brooked no opposition of any kind. The men were mixed with the office to an intolerable degree, so that if you had any quarrel with the man, as it were, you then had a quarrel with the whole church. Quite often at church on Sunday priests would denounce from the altar things that they had no business denouncing; secular affairs, the parishioners’ own private business. There were of course good priests and there were bad priests; there were priests who did their best and priests who did their worst. For me, it constituted a tyranny, because there was no escape, no court of appeal. They were the people to whom you confessed, but they were also the people who judged you. There was no other tribunal.

It sounds suffocating and horrible beyond endurance. One of the things I hate most about the harassment-abuse is the constant prurient watching and peering and monitoring, the relentless gathering of material for new denunciations from the altar – the pack of slavering strangers with their noses all up in my business. How much worse it must be to have it coming from all-powerful priests.

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

winky winky

Aug 1st, 2013 6:34 pm | By

I haven’t been doing this lately, but just this once.


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

Turning a blind eye

Aug 1st, 2013 6:31 pm | By

Josh has a great post at More Than Men about bystanders.

There’s a special place in my imaginary hell for tepid bystanders who turn a blind eye to the suffering and targeting of someone more vulnerable. I hate them, and I hate them more than I hate the tormentors. Because they fly a false flag. They present themselves as friends but turn out to be collaborators at the most dire moments. Because they know better and they choose to do nothing. To do nothing in a way that magnifies the stage, and scope, and power of bullies.

I came out publicly at 12 years old. This was very unusual in the mid-80s. There were no such things as Gay/Straight Alliances. We queer kids gathered in a sympathetic guidance counselor’s office (bless you, Mrs. H. I still remember giving you makeup tips and how delighted you were when you saw the results.) on a time-rotating basis so no one would figure out we were all in the same place at the same time. We knew we’d be harassed and beaten even worse if our ad hoc meetings were found out. We knew the administration would turn a blind eye, that it might make life professionally difficult for Mrs. H.

There was a 10th grade English teacher, a lesbian, who should have helped him but didn’t. Read it.


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

Only some of the contempt?

Aug 1st, 2013 5:54 pm | By

Julian Assange is running for the Senate in Australia, and has said he’ll appoint Leslie Cannold as his “proxy” (I didn’t know there was such a thing) if he’s elected and can’t return to Canberra. (They let you do that? Strange.)

The point is, it’s seen as a good wheeze, because Australia (like all the places) has a misogyny problem. (Never!! No, really, I understand it does.)

This is an election where misogyny, always lurking under the surface like a tetanus spore, has erupted. Both political parties are overwhelmingly choosing men to replace outgoing MPs in safe seats, and former PM Julia Gillard told The Monthly magazine that some of the contempt that she was shown as prime minister was about being the first woman in the job.

Or, perhaps, about being a woman in the job.

…as soon as her position on the WikiLeaks Party ticket was announced on 25 July, the Tweets started – specifically – how can WikiLeaks Party supporters disavow rape culture considering that the leader Julian Assange is hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London while facing rape allegations?

Well, that was certainly my first thought.

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

Level 3 is “annoying”

Aug 1st, 2013 2:06 pm | By

The campaign to pretend that the BBC libeled some of the people on oolon’s block bot continues. People are working each other into a frenzy on Twitter and Facebook, pretending that they were named on Newsnight and then called abusers. Not what happened. No one was named.

Gavin Esler and Paul Mason discuss it.


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

Not a joke

Aug 1st, 2013 2:00 pm | By

The BBC reports:

Police are investigating bomb threats made on social networking site Twitter against several female journalists.

Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Independent columnist Grace Dent and Time magazine’s Catherine Mayer all said they had been threatened.

Anonymous account-holders tweeted that bombs had been placed outside their homes, primed to explode at 22:47 BST.

Not a joke. Not amusing. Not “trash talk.” Not trolling. Not best dealt with by ignoring.

Freeman, who had earlier published a column entitled “how to use the internet without being a total loser”, reported the threats to the Metropolitan Police.

The anonymous author of the tweet had “failed to understand my column”, she wrote.

An investigation into the threats, which make the tweeters liable to be arrested, was then launched, a Met spokesman confirmed.

The anonymous accounts have since been suspended, but screen grabs of the tweets have been circulated on the social media site.

Ms Mayer said she had been tempted to ignore and delete the “not very credible-sounding” tweet.

But the police advised her, Ms Dent and Ms Freeman not to stay at their homes overnight and had searched her building for suspicious devices, she told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

The police don’t consider it a joke, or trash talk, or trolling, or best ignored.

Ms Freeman remained home as she “did not think it was worth taking that seriously”.

She explained there was no rationale for why she was targeted, adding: “There’s some kind of assumption that you have done something, that you must have written something particularly controversial…

“My great crime is that I’m a woman with some small amount of public profile – that is enough it seems.”

Yes: that is enough. I’ve been told that very explicitly – if I don’t like being abused and threatened, then I should stop writing and talking online. That simple. I’ve been told I’m a “public figure” and as such simply have to expect abuse from strangers. I’ve been accused of drama, and rage-blogging, and victim-feminism, and talking about it for the blog hits. I deserve – I asked for – whatever they choose to dish out. That’s just how it is, I’m told.



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

The purpose of trolls

Aug 1st, 2013 12:09 pm | By

Amanda Marcotte comments on the BBC Newsnight – Paul Mason – Twitter harassment campaign story to point out that misogynist harassers have an agenda.

But as awful as trolls are, they do serve a major purpose, if people are willing to accept that these are actual people expressing actual opinions, instead of imagining them, as too many people do, as almost a force of nature that the internet willed into existence and not people at all. That purpose is revealing that misogyny exists and it is widespread. Understanding that, I think, makes clear why so many other things exist: Rape culture, fundamentalist religions, the Republican Party’s guns-and-abortion obsession. There is a sea of boiling anger out there because men are taught from a young age that women are here to serve, and then they grow up and discover that women often elect not to do that.

Or because they’re taught from a young age that to be a boy is to be not a girl and that for a boy to be at all a girl is a profound disgrace and shame, deserving of beatings and wedgies and being dunked in toilets. Or because they’re taught from a young age that girls are kind of laughable and contemptible even if they are also highly desirable. Or because they’re taught from a young age that only men do things that matter, and then they grow up and find all these pesky women cluttering up the place and thinking they get to do things that matter too. Or because they’re taught from a young age that to be male is to be a bit brutal and obtuse, that fee-fees are for girrrrrrrrls (who are contemptible and Other Than boys, see above), that a boy or man who is at all good at paying attention to other people’s thoughts and feelings is a wimp and a pussy and doing the male thing all wrong. Or because they’re taught from a young age that women are dependent on men and they don’t want to have a woman depending on them.

Some misogynists—the Rick Perrys of the world—calmly react to this realization by deciding that women’s rebellion is a temporary, feminism-induced insanity, and that the proper legislative pressure plus a good dose of condescension can return them to their natural state of servitude. Some men get a sick pleasure out of stripping away the “illusion” that women are equal and violently showing them exactly how inferior they are. The online troll population has these kinds of characters in it, but the dominant class is men who don’t get the level of sexual attention they feel entitled to from women, and therefore have concocted elaborate, dogged theories about how women are broken, because they cannot ever allow that women have a right not to like them personally. (Or that if they started acting like decent people, maybe they would actually be more likeable.) All misogynists get upset when women are given attention for their talent or skills; it violates their core belief that women are here to serve. This is why writing on the internet while female means getting everything from laughably delusional men pretending to “critique” your writing while barely concealing their rage to rape and death threats. Particularly if your writing is not upholding the opinion that women are inferior servant class.

Ya. That one violates the “only men do things that matter” doctrine, and there clearly really is something special about it. Being a woman who writes on the internet has become like being a magnet with little bits of iron all over your environment. Wham, wham, wham, all day long as the bits of iron slam into you.

The seething rage on display from so many men (and their female supporters) all the time on the internet is educational; it makes it much harder to hand wave and pretend that rape and sexual harassment are a matter of miscommunication, that anti-choice sentiment is a result of some kind of affection for “life”, and that women’s failure to reach economic and social equality is a matter of women’s failures instead of widespread sentiment that women don’t deserve said equality. Seeing the livid rage of devoted Republican voters at the very existence of independent women sharing their thoughts and opinions online makes it very difficult indeed to see Republican policies that hurt women as being merely coincidental. So this shit matters.

That’s why it’s uncomfortable to have so many people insist that there’s an easy fix for troll targets, the “ignore the bullies and they’ll go away” fix, usually spouted by people who haven’t considered for a moment that the trolls may very well be actual people who are trying to protect and perpetuate sexism.

It is educational, but I get tired of being a textbook.

Trolls want to silence women. When they are allowed to shout at you without a response, they have created a microcosm of the world they want, where men are yelling at women who are sitting there and taking it. This is an interesting point, though as West points out, trolls also “win” when they get attention—particularly with the “women won’t fuck me like I deserve!” anger mobs, getting negative attention from women becomes a sort of revenge for them. So it’s tough, but like sexual harassers, trolls know how to create a situation where you can’t win: Either you endure their harassment or you are a “bitch” for pushing back. Cultural misogyny works in their favor.

I retweet trolls a lot (and then usually block them immediately, because I know that there is no potential for actual discourse here). I get a lot of shit for it, mostly from men. Every time a man condescendingly tells me, “You are giving them attention! Just ignore and block them!”, I hear, “Being exposed to the brutal misogyny you get aimed at you every day is uncomfortable. It would be so much better for me if I didn’t have to know this is what’s going on.” This phenomenon is not unique to the internet. Kids who get bullied get “don’t be a tattletale” from adults. Women who get street harassed end up having to apologize for making men in their lives uncomfortable by bringing it up. The intention is almost never to tell someone they are to suffer this in silence, but the effect is that you are telling them just that.

Yes. That. Kids do get it. Gay kids get it in triplicate.

[Lindy] West is right; it’s time to stop thinking of trolls as idiots who are just seeking attention, and see them for what they are: Misogynists with a political agenda. These are men that absolutely do not want to live in a society where women are treated equally, and they are obsessed with silencing the women online whose writings they rightfully fear are going to help push society in a more feminist direction. They want to harass feminists into silence. If we keep this understanding front and center and discard useless theories about “attention-seeking” or “lulz”, we can begin to have a more productive conversation about what the hell to do about the problem.

I’m doing my best.


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

For the cheerfuls

Aug 1st, 2013 11:30 am | By

Via the Global Secular Humanist Movement page on Facebook -

Photo: Global Secular Humanist Movement

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

Treated like subhuman garbage

Jul 31st, 2013 6:17 pm | By

Lindy West, like many observers, points out that a report abuse button on Twitter could be used for just more of the same abuse.

The thought of having my Twitter account potentially suspended by abusers in retaliation for fighting back against my own abuse is profoundly enraging. On the other hand, though, this week someone created a parody account of my dead father to harass me because of my stance on rape jokes (still going on, because COOOMEDYYYYY). And you better fucking believe I wanted a “report abuse” button for that. I can see both sides—though mostly what I see right now is how hard the entire system is rigged to fuck women over.

I used personal examples there, because I happen to have those on hand (so, so many of those), but this isn’t actually about how I, Lindy West, am treated on the internet. This is about how people—particularly women—are treated on the internet when we challenge entrenched power structures.

We are treated like subhuman garbage, and that’s because internet trolling is not random—it is a sentient, directed, strong-armed goon of the status quo. And the more we can hammer that truth through the public consciousness, the sooner we can affect the widespread cultural change we need to begin tamping down online hate speech.

Yes. A technical fix, if it worked, would be good, but not nearly as good as a widespread cultural change which makes it be the case that people don’t want to treat anyone like that.

One of the pillars of conventional wisdom about internet trolling is that internet trolling just happens. You hear this all the time, from even the most progressive allies: Oh, well, it’s the internet. There are trolls. Trolls troll the internet. Rape threats are like oxygen. Whatareyagonnadooooo. So, I’m just supposed to accept that psychological abuse is built into my job and I’m some thin-skinned rube if I complain about it? Easy for you to say, Señor Rando. Not only is that framework supremely unsatisfying for me personally, I’d go so far as to say that it’s a dangerous and patently false myth. Internet trolling does not “just happen.” It is not some mysterious, ambient inevitability that affects all internet users indiscriminately.

Internet trolling is a force with a political agenda.

Hmmmmmmyes and no. Much of the “political agenda” is just trolling itself. It’s how some people socialize with their friends. That’s a sick, depressing fact, but there it is. It has to be fun for them, because if it weren’t, they would stop after a few hours or days. We know they don’t: they keep at it for years.

…when we ignore the issue—leaving trolls to twist in the wind—not only does it not fix anything, it actively hurts us. It poisons healthy conversations. And, more specifically, it actively drives women off the internet and out of the conversation and back into our “safe spaces”—which is exactly what the trolls want. They want us to shut up. They want us out of their territory.

But engaging with the issue is exactly what trolls want too. They revel in attention. So that’s the conundrum: As soon as we acknowledge them, they win. But if we never acknowledge them, they also win, plus discourse shuts down and we all get dumber. So what are we going to do? Well, in light of that idiotic Catch 22, I know what I’m going to do. Whatever I fucking feel like doing. I’m sick of being told that I’m navigating my own abuse wrong.

I’ve been sick of it all along.

Cumulatively, the sheer volume of hate that we’re expected to shoulder, in silence, every day, is wearing a lot of people out and shutting down rational discourse. Female bloggers are being hounded off the internet. Teenage girls are being hounded off the earth. There’s no good solution, but we have to do what we can to stop these people—unmask them, shame them, mock them, cement their status as social pariahs—for our own sanity and for those whose armor isn’t so thick (upgrade yo greaves, son).

We’re doing our best.

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

Burka Avenger

Jul 31st, 2013 5:31 pm | By

Pakistan now has its own caped crusader, but under the cape is a burqa. Hmm.

Pakistan’s first caped crusader is a burka-clad superhero who fights school-hating baddies by night and moonlights as a gentle, compassionate schoolteacher by day.

Burka Avenger has yet to launch on TV, but she is creating quite an impression in a country where female literacy is estimated at a grim 12% and the Taliban are continuing a campaign which has seen hundreds of girls’ schools blown up in the north-west.

That sounds quite good, in a way. But…a burqa?

“This is such an interesting way to reinforce positive social messages for kids,” Mr Rashid told the BBC. “The Burka Avenger is a great role model. We lack those in Pakistan.”

Many real life women’s rights crusaders in Pakistan might not agree. The use of the burka, the full cloth head-to-toe veil that is often worn by women in the north-west and tribal areas of Pakistan, is controversial in a country which has been reeling from the effects of religious extremism over the past decade.

Marvi Sirmed, an Islamabad-based journalist and human rights activist, thinks that it is not right to build a resistance figure out of a woman wearing a garment that has been strongly associated by some with the suppression of women.

“It is subversive and it says that you can only get power when you don a symbol of oppression,” says Ms Sirmed.

“It is demeaning to those brave women in the conservative parts of Pakistan who have been fighting for women’s rights, education and justice, and who have said ‘no’ to this kind of stereotype.”

In one way, yes, but in another way, it’s more like subverting the burqa.

Taha Iqbal, the head of animations for Burka Avenger, thinks that everyone should just wait for the series to come out.

He says like any other superhero, Burka Avenger has a back-story too and her reasons for wearing the burka have nothing to do with subservience.

“Besides she has to kick ass,” he says. “Tight leather pants are hardly practical for that purpose.”

No, but dude, neither is a giant bag over your body and a smaller bag over your head. Those aren’t practical for kicking ass either.




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

It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible

Jul 31st, 2013 5:00 pm | By

Just because. The parrot sketch.

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