Notes and Comment Blog

That’s something to look forward to

Jan 19th, 2013 5:32 pm | By

Justin Vacula is raising money to attend Women in Secularism 2.

He posted about me on his Facebook page a few times yesterday. He incited quite a few enraged comments.

(Images of disfigured women are added to a recent blog post from Ophelia Benson who writes “Maybe I should start wearing protection,” seemingly opining on the criticism, ridicule, and disagreement she experiences because she operates a blog… and makes statements people disagree with).
Get a grip, Ophelia. Women who have acid thrown in their faces are in a much different situation than you are and face real quantifiable abuse – much unlike what you talk of as being abuse and the ‘threats’ you claimed to have received. Even if we grant that people ridicule you, say nasty things, and make fun of you on the internet this is — by no means — tantamount to acid splashing.
[Warning: horrible pictures of women with acid-melted faces below the fold]

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  • 3 people like this.
  • Gary Schmauss … I have no words for this…
  • Tami Carter This is a blogger being an attention whore, and doing it on the backs of victims of abuse, usually domestic violence.
  • Robert Pogo Suski Not to be an asshole, but seriously why is anyone giving her any attention, even criticizing?  It’s obvious she’s just doing it for attention, so the best thing would be to ignore her.
  • Justin Vacula Ignoring the nonsense doesn’t make it go away. Ophelia has a large platform, is respected by many, and shouldn’t get a free pass – especially when she continues to engage in character assassination campaigns against fellow secularists.
  • Robert Pogo Suski Fair enough on the character assassinations, but if an entitled moron is an entitled moron and nothing anyone says will convince them otherwise, hell to them any criticism is just an indignation they they’re right.  Plus anyone that wants to fill her hugbox is likey of either the same mindset or feeds off it in some way.
  • Katie Graham Wow. I’m absolutely disgusted.
  • Justin Vacula Let’s also not forget PZ Myers recent post comparing, as it seems from his post, people who critique femnism and feminists online to mass murderers:

    “And these anonymous monsters on the internet who shriek affrontedly about women and feminists and moan that any feminist allies are ‘manginas’ — to me, every one of them has the name Marc Lépine, and is just hiding it in shame and fear and hatred and cowardice.”

    Free online service for freezing web pages. Save, share and prove what is on the web at a specific point of time.
  • Justin Vacula “To date, I have stayed out of this witch hunt against our most prominent leaders, thinking that “this too shall pass.” Perhaps I should have said something earlier. As Martin Niemöller famously warned about the inactivity of German intellectuals during the rise of the Nazi party, “first they came for …” but “I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a….””

    Michael Shermer

    When I got involved in the skeptical, atheist, and secular movements in the 1980…s, one looked out over the audience and saw mostly old white guys. Today it is a different picture entirely. At the last Skeptics Society lecture at Caltech on December 16, for example, an audience of three hundred was r…See More
  • Dominick White What’s wrong with this fucking woman
  • Max Driffill That PZ post was simply ridiculous. Criticism = murder. Keep it classy.
  • Ophelia Benson Why did you add those phtos and why did you include my photo? And for that matter why are you persistently harassing me?
  • Justin Vacula Persistently harassing you? What are you talking about? (Anyway, this image is from the Slymepit)
  • Ophelia Benson What am I talking about – this! And all the other shit you talk about me. You never stop.
  • Matthew Justin Yeah, really, Justin? Why did you use her face instead of the pineapple? lol
  • Max Driffill Ophelia,
    I think your face was used, to demonstrate the strangeness of your comparison.
  • Justin Vacula Opehlia – you’re the pot calling the kettle black.

    Hahahahahaha Justin Vacula explains why what Michael Shermer said about atheism …as a guy thing was totally reasonable and ok and fine. He explains it in a comment on Jacques Rousseau’s post accusing me of misrepresenting Shermer, hyperbole, and failure to read charitably. Unfortunatly, the principle…See More
  • Justin Vacula I voice disagreement with you, you voice disagreement with me. How is this harassment?
  • Justin Vacula Ophelia – looking at search results of my name on your blog, I appear 17 times from August 19 of 2012 to the current date.
  • Ophelia Benson I wouldn’t voice a damn thing with you if you hadn’t lied about me on your podcast and then started cyberstalking me. You could always just leave me the fuck alone. But none of you shits will do that, then you dare to say we’re self-important if we object to it!
  • Daniel Waddell Come on now Ophie McPrune criticism is not harassment. If you stop saying stupid shit people will not criticize you any more therefore your so called “harassment” will end
  • Richard Murray Is cyberstalking what the cool kids are calling google now?

    Is anyone else amused by the “leave me alone” gambit played by someone who went out of their own way to BE not left alone?
  • Renee Hendricks Yeah. No pass on this one, Ophelia. You made this horrible incident about you. You’ve taken something that has fuck all to do with pissing matches within the online atheist community and twisted into something that garners you more pro-vic points. Disgusting.
  • Richard Murray I heard it expressed elsewhere today (NOT on the Slymepit, not by Myerku)…

    “The longer an Internet discussion goes on, the more likely that Ophelia Benson will appear and attempt to make it all about her”
  • Justin Vacula Ophelia, was discussed this podcast issue months ago. Your objection, as it seemed, is that I didn’t real the full content of the e-mails you received. Is that right? That’s not a lie. At the most, I would say, it wasn’t fully representing the issue, but the same conclusion is drawn nonetheless. People can find the e-mails, read the posts you had written, etc. I didn’t want to read all of the e-mails on the show because it would have taken way too long (and the show went over time, anyway).

    Either way, I felt you handled the issue poorly and that backing out of TAM was a poor idea. Obviously I am not you, as was stated many times, but from the information given I come to this conclusion as do many others who have listened to the podcast or not.

    What is this cyberstalking you speak of? What do you mean ‘leave you alone?’ I’m simply, as I usually do, responding to your writing online (public information). I’m not sending you threats, intimidating you, or engaging in any criminal activity. If my communication (and not even directly to you) upsets you so much and you want me to leave you alone, why are you engaging in direct communication with me on my Facebook profile?
  • Ophelia Benson Well someone posted it on my wall and I thought you’d tagged me. That part was just confusion.
  • Justin Vacula I’ll put the invitation out once again, Ophelia, and even extend it. I’m very open to having a recorded discussion with you about all of this stuff…and I’ll even go on someone else’s podcast to have it. Hell, we can even chat at Women in Secularism (which I am planning on attending – so I would be available in person). If you want to talk about these issues, I’m all ears. We obviously have grievances about the state of the atheist community and, while these grievances are different, I’m open for discussion.
  • Chuck Goecke Anyone who worries about getting acid in the face should carry a small squeeze bottle of sodium bicarbonate – Baking soda slurry.  That would minimized the damage if applied immediately.
  • Travis Roy you’re going to WiS? You are a brave man Justin
  • Katie Graham I couldn’t let this one go. Hopefully, it’s my last blog post about Benson. She just a bad person:

    The question of morality does not have to be answered by religion, despite the c…ontentions by theists that every law must have a “law giver.” In this blog I will explain why this is not true, periodically post interesting moral questions and show ways in which morality can be taught without the pres…See More
  • Travis Roy Perhaps people would switch sides and back Ophelia up if she just released that email from the JREF that she claims was dismissive of her concerns of the threats.. Oh, that’s right, it probably doesn’t exist.
  • Justin Vacula Travis Roy – I have been called a brave hero, you know :p
  • Mark Neil So, Ophelia, who “moderates” people (so their posts never see the light of day) as a matter of routine when they post dissenting opinions, complains it’s harassment when those people respond in the medium they do have available. Ophelia, do you seriously believe you’re above reproach or criticism? That your opinions, which you post for all to see, are not to be challenged? It amazes me how such a pitiable, helpless, victim like you can be a feminist role model.
  • Robin Lionheart When hater Jerry Conlon creepily tweets “@OpheliaBenson Maybe a vial of acid would do you some good. You already look like you were set on fire and put out with a wet rake.”, he probably intends that as dismissive mockery. But we don’t know that; he might actually mean it. And that sort of rhetoric validates Ophelia’s concerns.
  • Glenn Michael Scott I have a book on my shelf; it’s called “Why Truth Matters”. Maybe you should read it, Ophelia, and stop spreading lies, misinformation and … crazy.
  • Justin Vacula It’s unfair to, as Ophelia and her cadre often do, pick up random comments from people and cast this as representative of the people who offer civil disagreement. On any given issue you will find people who would post stuff like that online…
  • Robin Lionheart It’s also unfair to cast people who offer civil disagreement as the sort of people Ophelia seeks to protect herself from. She didn’t approach JREF with security concerns because of polite dissent.
  • Mark Neil Especially when those comments are a direct response to her own words, and not unprovoked. It’s not like that guy made that comment and then she wrote her article. She’s the one who raised the idea of acid attacks against her.
  • Mark Neil Robin. In this very thread, she accuses Justine of harassing her, and thereby being one of those people she needs protection from. Unless you’re suggesting he’s done more than attempt civil disagreement, I think you’r mistaken.
  • Victoria Carmel This is probably the most epic attention whoring I have ever seen.
  • Robin Lionheart I don’t think that image Justin composed up there constitutes “civil” disagreement, Mark.
  • Glenn Michael Scott I think it does, Robin. He’s saying that she’s engaged in RIDICULOUS hyperbole. She’s also minimising what happens to real acid attack victims. I can imagine her asking one of these women to console her because she got a critical tweet.
  • Liam Jones ” she didn’t approach the JREF with security concerns because of polite dissent”

    Too true, she approached them due to an email that wasn’t even approaching dissent.
  • Glenn Michael Scott Ophelia Benson is one of the most deplorable people I have ever heard of. She is conniving and dishonest. You disgust me, Ophie.
  • Robin Lionheart Justin’s image pairing those images of acid attack victims with one of Ophelia trivializes their suffering, Glenn. Nothing she wrote about Sergei Filin did.
  • Glenn Michael Scott The yellow part highlights writing, Robin.
  • Glenn Michael Scott Oh, so we add words to aid interpretation, do we? She said what she said, not what you wish she said. Also, what actual threats has she received?
  • Robin Lionheart Fine, I’ll take back the word “threats”: She compares harassment against Sergei (specifically Facebook hacking) to harassment against herself (albeit not in that criminal form). Sergei’s persecutors turned out to be violent; she suggests maybe she shou…See More
  • Glenn Michael Scott Words: “maybe I should start wearing protection” and “sounds like ‘the atheist community’”. Seriously, fuck her. She has no integrity.
  • EllenBeth Wachs Abbie Smith calling Ophelia “Nanny Benson”, Daniel Waddell referring to her as “Ophie McPrune” Matthew Justin asking why you didn’t use the picture of the pineapple instead.
    Is this the type of civil disagreement you talk about?  Stirring this shit up on your wall can be a type of intimidation tactic.


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

A sense of power to say these things to people

Jan 19th, 2013 12:09 pm | By

Something that happened last October, in Staten Island.

A teenage girl who friends say was bullied at school committed suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train in front of other students Wednesday afternoon.

Why was she bullied? Well, you see, there was this party, and at the party she had sex with four guys on the football team. The four guys of course punished her for having sex with them by trashing her at school. What else would they do?

The day before the fatal plunge, the sophomore posted one last cry for help on Twitter, saying “I can’t, I’m done, I give up.”

Briana Torres says just a few days ago, Felicia broke down in tears, told her rumors were spreading at school and online.

“She told me how a few football players were tormenting her.  They were making fun of her, inappropriate things,” Torres said.

Police are investigating, talking with students.

“The ability to be anonymous on the internet gives people a sense of power to say these things to people because they’re hiding behind a keyboard,” said Polina Feldbein, a student.

And once they are hiding behind a keyboard, what could be more fun than to torment someone?

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

Jerry Conlon apologizes

Jan 19th, 2013 12:04 pm | By

I am, obviously, not going to treat this as a private correspondence. Jerry Conlon isn’t a friend of mine, I never asked him to contact me in any way, he tweeted at me yesterday (and the day before) just to stir the shit aka harass me, so I don’t consider his apology or my reply part of a private correspondence.

Jerry Conlon to me:

I would like to apologize Ophellia for that vile tweet I sent you yesterday. I did not mean it as threat on your person being but as a childish insult agaisnt your appearence.

I understand how you take it as personal threat and I hope in no way did I make you feel unsafe in your own home. That was not my intent and I apologize if I did.

I do not expect you to accept this apology or expect you to. I am not doing it to safe face with fan base either. I feel terrible for the tweet I sent and if it caused you any duress.

My apologies,

My reply:

Well, Mr Conlon, I don’t see why you think it’s ok to insult people for being old and ugly, either. It’s not “childish” – it’s vicious. I don’t suppose you do that to your mother (assuming she’s alive) or other ancient female relatives. I don’t suppose you would enjoy hearing other people doing that to your mother. I don’t even suppose you would do it to anyone face to face.

You did of course make me feel unsafe. I didn’t think you were going to hop on a plane and come here to throw acid on me – but of course it makes me feel unsafe when people are willing to say things like that to me. Hatred and rage escalate. That was what I was saying in the post about acid-throwing yesterday. Yes, I feel unsafe because of the non-stop hatred at the slyme pit and on Twitter. Yes, you made that worse.

Thank you for the partial apology, but I really urge you to stop doing things like telling women you hate how ugly they are.

I mean that. I hope he does. I would like to see everyone stop fostering the hatred and rage. However I don’t for a second think that will happen.

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

Acid in the face now? Seriously?

Jan 18th, 2013 4:53 pm | By

Gee I don’t know why you’re always making such a fuss about all this stalking and hate-mongering.


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

You just stop seeing it

Jan 18th, 2013 11:42 am | By

Wait, what? There’s such a thing as sexist sci-fi and fantasy book covers? Really? I thought only ugly feminists said that. Surely the BBC isn’t an ugly feminist.

Science fiction and fantasy novels routinely portray scantily clad woman on their covers – a device that draws the heterosexual male eye but may turn away women readers. Lynsea Garrison finds one fantasy author aiming to zap gender

By doing the poses himself, to amusing effect.

Hines, a fantasy author, is posing like some of the female characters on science fiction and fantasy book covers he says objectify women.

He gets into character by twisting his body into the same contorted positions as the female characters on the books.

“The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it,” Hines says.

“I think posing has made people see it again – you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it.”

Well, a 38-year-old male balding glasses-wearing fantasy writer with stubble and armpit hair, at least.

Many science fiction and fantasy readers are disappointed to encounter everyday sexism in a medium that is supposed to offer an escape.

Covers frequently exhibit women’s bodies with revealing clothing unsuitable for combat, and fans argue that sexualising female characters sends a message to readers that women are sex objects.

And that the only women who are of interest are the pneumatic hottie type.

Gallo thinks part of the problem is that male artists greatly outnumber female artists in the industry.

“You go to art school, and it’s 50-50,” Gallo said. “But professionally, it’s overwhelmingly male.

“This is an unfortunate fact of the industry. These artists grew up with comics and gaming, so it’s easy to perpetuate these things without thinking them through.”

Ah no no no no no!! You can’t say that. No no no. That’s Nazi witch-hunting inquisition stuff. It never happens that anyone perpetuates these things without thinking them through. Never never never!

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

It’s blasphemy to blaspheme against blasphemy laws

Jan 18th, 2013 11:11 am | By

Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, has been accused of “blasphemy” for criticizing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in a tv interview two years ago. There are a lot of people who take criticism to be blasphemy, aren’t there…

Rehman has been a critic of the controversial laws, which have been widely condemned by rights organization and deemed discriminatory. In November, 2010, Rehman submitted a bill to parliament seeking to reform the blasphemy laws and an end to capital punishment. Rehman has since faced death threats from Islamist militants.

Right. Gotta kill people who think “blasphemy” laws might need reform (notice she didn’t even say they should be eliminated) and that the state shouldn’t execute people. Anti-death people should be made dead.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has come under sharp criticism from the country’s rights organizations and the West for refusing to reform the legislation despite the assassinations of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian cabinet minister, and Salman Taseer, the former governor of the Punjab province. The two politicians were brutally murdered by Islamists in 2011 because they had dared to speak out against the laws.

Death to the anti-death blasphemers.

Fatimah Ihsan, who teaches gender studies at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, said that the apex court was “hounding” officials of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“I think the decision of the Supreme Court to accept the petition against Rehman is to target the PPP again, and to damage its reputation,” Ihsan told DW in an interview.

Ihsan believed that instead of reforming the laws, they should be repealed completely.

Quite so. But be careful where you walk, Fatimah Ihsan.


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

From hacking to acid-throwing

Jan 18th, 2013 10:10 am | By

Update for you creeps from the mildew pit -

No it’s not that I think I’m that important, you assholes. It’s that you do. You’re the ones who act as if I’m pretty much the most important person in the world! Along with eight or ten others. You’re the ones who monitor my every move every hour and every day. You’re the ones who focus a creepy amount of attention on me. I don’t think I’m that important at all! I don’t think I’m worth that kind of attention – not from people who like me and not from people who hate me. No, I don’t think maybe someone will eventually attack me because I’m so important – I think that because you people are so fucking unhinged and obsessive and you keep ratcheting up the hatred. I am very small potatoes, yet there you are, staring and frothing and hating.

I hope that clears that the fuck up.


The Bolshoi sounds like “the atheist community.”

The artistic director got acid thrown in his face yesterday. Apparently the Bolshoi is riven with deeeeep rifts. (That’s good, isn’t it? Riven with rifts? Same root, no doubt. I can’t say I use “riven” much. Every now and then though – well it’s the word that fits in the slot.)

…even before police find the culprits – if they ever do – many will connect the attack to the ongoing squabbles and infighting that have been plaguing this jewel of Russian culture.

Most of the squabbles that have affected the theatre have not been about money, but about personal competition, and they appear to have degenerated into nasty attacks on the talented dancer-turned-director.

Before acid was used in Friday’s attack, Sergei Filin had already received numerous phone threats, and his email and Facebook accounts had been hacked.

Interesting. One minute it’s just hacked Facebook accounts, the next it’s acid attacks. Maybe I should start wearing protection.


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

Waiting for the magic

Jan 17th, 2013 12:37 pm | By

Ed has a good post on Michael Shermer’s exaggerated outrage at my criticism of him.

His comment on the bit where Shermer says I turned the inquisition on him and that we inquisitors are trying to force him to defend himself -

What does innocence until proven guilty have to do with any of this? That is a legal concept and you are not on trial, no matter how much you imagine yourself to be. You said something dumb and sexist in a public forum and someone else pointed out that it was dumb and sexist in a public forum. And the truth is that you are defending yourself, primarily by going on the offensive and accusing your critics of trying to destroy you and others the same way the Catholic Church, the McCarthyites and the Nazis did to their opponents.

All of this is such an hysterical overreaction that it leaves my jaw agape. No one has been “purged” in any “inquisitions” or “witch hunts.” What they have been is criticized for saying dumb things now and again. You’d think that Shermer, who has spent most of his adult life encouraging people to think critically would recognize criticism when he sees it, but he squeals like a stuck pig when the harsh glare of criticism is turned on him.

He does. And he goes on squealing, too. Apparently everyone was supposed to think he’s infallible, and yet, he’s a skeptic, so he must be familiar with the idea that no one is infallible. Vanity vanity vanity; it’s the orange-eyed monster.

I like Michael Shermer. I’ve written for his magazine and had interesting conversations with him at a couple of events and I’m even sympathetic to his libertarian political views, unlike a lot of others in this community. But he is embarrassing himself here and the only reason I can think of to explain it is vanity. I wish he would stop. There’s still a serious discussion to be had about diversity at atheist events but it cannot be had with someone who is making these ridiculous claims of witch hunts, inquisitions and Nazi purges.

And once again I am struck by how much this rhetoric mirrors that of people in stark opposition to the goals of atheists and skeptics. When Paula Kirby refers to Rebecca Watson and her defenders as “feminazis,” she is using exactly the same language used by Rush Limbaugh (who invented that term, or at least made it famous). When Al Stefanelli claims that Watson and her defenders just “hate white men,” he is using exactly the same argument used by right-wing Christians for decades. And when Shermer talks about witch hunts, inquisitions and purges, he is using precisely the same rhetoric that right-wing Christian anti-feminists have used, and continue to use, to describe not only feminists but the entire secular community as well. And he is acting just like those fundamentalist Christians who are practically addicted to false claims of persecution.

Yes but when a sketpic acts like that it’s magically transformed into – wait…

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

Uglies v pretties

Jan 17th, 2013 11:15 am | By

Seen the 9 Ugliest Feminists In America thing?

It ends with a bizarre non sequitur.

Feminists want to be valued for their brainpower and ideas above all else, but they still engage in professional photoshoots to push the prettiest picture of themselves on their web sites and book jackets. I guess even feminism can’t completely demolish a girl’s desire to be pretty.

Well one reason for that might possibly be the way people like this “Roosh” fella like to shame feminist women for being ugly.

I’m fortunate to be too obscure to be on the list, but I certainly get plenty of shaming-for-being-ugly elsewhere, especially of course on the mildew pit (let’s give it a new moniker for a change). I get double shaming because I’m not just ugly, I’m also a million years old, so I get all the old AND ugly shaming. My name is Prune. This of course is because it’s a crime to be ugly, also to be a million years old, let alone to be both at once.

This has always been the way – the hyena in petticoats, you know. But the Internet provides a cornucopia of new ways to disseminate the ugly-shaming. It’s no longer necessary to get on a bus in order to shout insults at ugly women. You can just set up a website or a forum or a blog for the purpose, and then besides there’s also Twitter and Facebook. Life is good!

“Roosh” awards the top honor to my colleague and friend Jen McCreight. I’m not going to quote what he says, because it’s too vicious. I’ll just say that it’s there. It’s deeply sad that there are people who take pleasure in doing that kind of thing. Maybe they’re all psychopaths, so they simply don’t have the working bits of the brain that would prevent them – but that’s deeply sad.

A former colleague of mine mused about this on Twitter

 Jeremy Stangroom@PhilosophyExp

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that many of the “chill girls” who are vilified (for no good reason) happen to be very attractive…

Well first I would want to know what is meant by “vilified.” But leaving that aside, it’s a good point. The unspoken bit represented by the ellipsis is of course “and the feminists happen to be very ugly.” Well spotted. The idea is that we hates’em because they’re so pretty and we’re so ugly.

Well, actually, not all of us are, but that’s probably beside the point. At any rate I certainly am, and one should be enough to make the observation relevant. So is that what’s going on? Pretties on one side, uglies on the other? Uglies just pissed off because they’re not pretties, and pretties victimized by the ugly old cunts?

Let’s say yes for the sake of argument. Sure. Whatever. Lucy Wainwright @Whoozley (a pretty) agreed with him, so that’s an objective outside view, so let’s say yes. But is it quite as simple as uglies hating pretties because the uglies are ugly? I think it’s not.

One, the being pretty itself tends to shield women who are pretty from that kind of abuse, which can have an influence on how feminist they are. Rebecca has talked specifically about this. She used to be a “chill girl” herself…until people started calling her a cunt.

Two, the fact that they don’t get that kind of abuse may make the pretties indifferent to that kind of abuse directed at the uglies. That might be because of the belief I alluded to at the beginning, that it’s criminal and immoral to be ugly. The pretties may well think, or half-think, or believe below the level of conscious awareness, that ugly people are bad people. There’s plenty of research that indicates we all believe that, and we uglies believe it just as much as anyone else. (Sad, isn’t it.) But we uglies also have the motivation to fight off the belief, while the pretties don’t.

So…no, it may well not be a coincidence, but even if it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily equal simply “the uglies hate the pretties because the uglies are ugly” – which I think was the intended message.


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


Jan 17th, 2013 10:21 am | By

Some things are even worse than colonialism – at least the people of northern Mali feel that way after months of being oppressed and tormented by Islamists. They wave Frech flags, they smile, they want the French to stay.

Mali was one of the most successful democracies in Africa until insurgents began trying to take it over.

Besides taking many lives, the insurgents have destroyed historic shrines in Timbuktu that date to the 15th century. The attackers say the shrines offend Sharia law.

Such allegations have spurred the International Criminal Court to launch a war-crimes investigation, its chief prosecutor announced Wednesday. Fatou Bensouda said Mali’s government asked the U.N. tribunal to investigate in July, after Islamists had taken control of much of the country.

“The international crimes committed in Mali have deeply shocked the conscience of humanity,” Bensouda said Wednesday. “The legal requirements have been met. We will investigate.”

The ICC has found “reasonable basis” to support allegations of murder, torture, mutilation, rape and pillaging, Bensouda said.

Well, “colonialism” is probably the wrong word. As the journalist in the video points out to the guy in the car who says the French should stay, France is the former colonial power in Mali – but all the same, there’s a difference between liberation and colonialism.

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

Both barrels

Jan 17th, 2013 9:47 am | By

One good thing – although really it’s only the undoing of a bad thing. Obama’s new moves on gun control included 23 unilateral orders, which included an end to a ban on gun-violence research by the CDC. A what? An end to a ban on what? Yes: a ban on gun-violence research by the Centers for Disease Control. The NRA has way too much power.

NBC goes into more detail.

Obama issued a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific agencies to research the causes and prevention of gun violence — and he called on Congress to provide $10 million to pay for it.

“We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science from this epidemic of violence,” he said.

The move effectively reverses 17 years of what scientists say has been a virtual ban on basic federal research…

A ban on research. Congressionally mandated ignorance.

From the mid- 1980s to the mid-1990s, the CDC conducted original, peer-reviewed research into gun violence, including questions such as whether people who had guns in their homes gained protection from the weapons. (The answer, researchers found, was no. Homes with guns had a nearly three times greater risk of homicide and a nearly five times greater risk of suicide than those without, according to a 1993 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.)

But in 1996, the NRA, with the help of Congressional leaders, moved to suppress such information and to block future federal research into gun violence, Rosenberg said.

An amendment to an appropriations bill cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, exactly the amount the agency’s injury prevention center had previously spent on gun research. The money was returned to the agency later, but targeted for brain injury trauma research instead.

In addition, the statute that governs CDC funding stipulated that none of the funds made available to the agency can be used in whole or in part “to advocate or promote gun control.”

That doesn’t explicitly say “nobody can do any research on gun violence,” but the people at the CDC were scared off.

The NRA attacked some scientists, trying to discredit their research, endangering their jobs and even threatening their families, Rosenberg claimed.

“These were not mild campaigns,” he said. “When the NRA comes after you, they come after you with both barrels.”

The whole thing is a scandal.


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

The heroic standard is too high

Jan 16th, 2013 11:07 am | By

I’m thinking about the Romantic cult of the hero, and what a bad insidious idea it can be.

Yesterday Sara Mayhew made a rather pointed remark on Twitter.

If a retired US AirForce Col. who pioneered as one of the 1st female pilot and flight surgeons voices critique about your feminism, listen.

Here again is what I quoted Harriet Hall saying in Shermer’s hit piece on me [update: with Shermer's prefatory phrase added]

As for why the sex ratio [among atheists and skeptics] isn’t perfectly fifty-fifty, Hall noted: “I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.”

I disagreed with that; Mayhew apparently thinks I should not disagree, on the grounds that Hall pioneered as one of the first female pilot and flight surgeons. She thinks I should instead “listen” and having listened, agree or obey. (I already had “listened,” obviously, or I wouldn’t have known what she said, and thus couldn’t have disagreed with it.)

I do (as I have repeatedly said) admire Hall a lot for the pioneering. But it doesn’t follow that I have to agree with her “critique about my feminism.” I don’t agree with it, and that’s partly because I think she is making her own pioneering the standard for others, and that that’s a seriously bad idea. Here’s why.

People shouldn’t have to overcome barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

That’s all. People who do overcome barriers are admirable, yes, but it doesn’t follow that everyone should be admirable in that way, if the barriers are human creations that are not necessary and are in fact retrograde and unjust.

The Little Rock Nine were incredibly brave pioneers, and I admire them immensely. But they shouldn’t have had to be. It shouldn’t have required enormous courage for nine teenagers to go to school. Malala Yousufzai is brave beyond belief, but she shouldn’t have to be. Jessica Ahlquist bravely faced massive vicious harassment, but she shouldn’t have had to.

Nobody should have to put up with a bunch of shit to go to school or get a Constitutional principle enforced or take up a profession.

And most people don’t want to put up with a bunch of shit. The trouble with the cult of the hero is that it makes not wanting to put up with a bunch of shit seem cowardly or weak or self-indulgent – just less than what the heroic people do. That’s wrong.

It’s wrong because not wanting to put up with a bunch of shit is basically a moral view. Distaste for the shit is because the shit is morally wrong. That of course does not mean that people who do put up with it are endorsing it! God no. But it does mean that they shouldn’t make it a reproach to everyone else, the way Harriet Hall apparently is, and the way Sara Mayhew explicitly is.

No. Just no. Hall needs to be very wary of the idea that because she put up with a bunch of shit, other women should just shut up and take it. No, we shouldn’t. We should unite our voices in saying “remove the shit.” The shit is one of the preventable obstacles that Hall mentioned, and we need to get it out of the way. Women shouldn’t have to be hazed as a condition of entry into philosophy or math or computer science or gaming…or skepticism or atheism.


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

Paging Orac

Jan 15th, 2013 3:49 pm | By

Oh yes I forgot one of my favorite things from earlier today.


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

In which I get closer to Shermer’s word count

Jan 15th, 2013 2:53 pm | By

Ok so now Shermer’s “response” is online, so I can look at a couple of other details I omitted because I didn’t want to retype the whole damn thing.

By the way I get to respond in the next issue. I’m going to do that. I’ll be briefer, and more polite, and I won’t pretend to think anyone is going to “come for me.”

When self-proclaimed secular feminists attacked Richard Dawkins for a seemingly innocent response to an equally innocent admonishment to guys by Rebecca Watson (the founder of Skepchicks) that it isn’t cool to hit on women in elevators, this erupted into what came to be known as “Elevator­gate.” I didn’t speak out because I figured that an intellect as formidable as Richard Dawkins’s did not need my comparatively modest brainpower in support.

When these same self-described secular feminists went after Sam Harris for a commentary supporting racial profiling in the search for terrorists, again I didn’t speak out.

One, I wonder why he keeps saying “self-proclaimed/self-described secular feminists” that way. I don’t “proclaim” myself that, and I’m not sure I know anyone who does. I do talk about secularism a lot, and of course I talk about feminism a lot. So? Why does Shermer seem to be holding both at arm’s length as if they smelled?

Two, no they didn’t. The same people didn’t do both. We’re not an army, we don’t march in unison. I haven’t said anything about Sam Harris since I reviewed The Moral Landscape for The Philosophers’ Magazine. I don’t find him very interesting.

But perhaps I should have spoken out, because now the inquisition has been turned on me, by none other than one of the leading self-proclaimed secular feminists whose work has heretofore been important in the moral progress of our movement. I have already responded to this charge against me elsewhere,* so I will only briefly summarize it here. Instead of allowing my inquisitors to force me into the position of defending myself (I still believe in the judicial principle of innocence until proven guilty), I shall use this incident to make the case for moral progress.

Could outraged vanity make itself any more apparent? (I said I was going to be more polite in the magazine. I didn’t say I would be more polite here.) The inquisition forsooth. This is self-importance at work: it can’t be that I simply criticised something he did actually say, no, because he is so important, therefore my audacity in criticising becomes an inquisition. And note “whose work has heretofore been important” – meaning, presumably, that it stopped being important when and because I lurched off the Path of Importance and inquisitioned him instead. And then note the nonsense about forcing him into defending himself, and the courtroom nonsense. Look on this example, oh ye mighty, and despair – or don’t despair, but do resolve never to let vanity get that kind of grip on you.

As for why the sex ratio isn’t perfectly fifty-fifty, Hall noted: “I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.”

You don’t say so!

Very few people actually think every sphere of human endeavor has to have exactly equal numbers of women and men. That’s a straw man. But we haven’t yet finished that little job of ensuring there are no preventable obstacles, so it’s way way way too early to let the chips fall any old how. The kind of thing that Shermer said, which is a kind of thing that lots of people say, is one of those preventable – or at least minimizable – obstacles. I’m trying to do my tiny bit to prevent that kind. That’s not an evil thing to do. Shermer seems to think it is, but he’s wrong.

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

Shermer responds. Again.

Jan 15th, 2013 11:21 am | By

So, that was interesting. I collected the big bag of held mail yesterday, and sorted it, and found the latest Freethinker with my column in it, and the latest Free Inquiry with my column in it. Late in the evening I flung myself down to read the Free Inquiry – and was brought up short on the contents page. “Oh? Eh? Wha? Really? Er…uh oh.” Because why? Because

53 Response

A Guy Thing? Secularism, Feminism, and a Response to Ophelia Benson

Michael Shermer

Huh, I thought. Huh. But he already did respond. At some length. With considerable heat. With, in fact, quite a large helping of righteous indignation. With an air of “who is this woman to criticize something I said?” He really needed to say more?

Who knows, but he did say more, along with recycling what he’d already said. He said a lot more. He took up three pages (or two and a half, since there’s an ad on the last page) responding to my one sentence in a paragraph on sexist stereotypes. He said a lot.

The issue isn’t online yet, and I don’t know if Shermer’s piece will be online when it is, so I can’t link to it. Update: now it is online. The gist is – we’re making great progress in including women in atheism and skepticism. But – there is “a McCarthy-like witch hunt” to get rid of all sexism and racism, real or imagined. This “unfortunate trend has produced a backlash against itself by purging from its ranks the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris” -

Wait, what? Purging? Who has, what has? No it hasn’t. Many of us strongly disagree with Dawkins’s “Dear Muslima” but that isn’t purging him. Oddly enough, we don’t have the power to “purge” people. “This unfortunate trend” isn’t the KGB nor even the Stasi, and it can’t purge people.

There are lots of women at the top, he goes on, but even so “much ink and emotion are spilled over trivial slips of the tongue that allegedly reveal hidden biases and unconscious prejudices.”

Ok that’s for me – that was what that passage in my column was about.

…atheism hasn’t always been very welcoming to women. Maybe there’s an idea that men created God so men should do the uncreating.

Mostly, though, it’s just a matter of stereotypes, the boring stubborn wrong stereotypes and implicit associations that feminism has been battling since forever. The social psychologist Cordelia Fine sums them up in Delusions of Gender:

Measures of implicit associations reveal that men, more than women, are implicitly associated with science, math, career, hierarchy, and high authority. In contrast, women, more than men, are implicitly associated with the liberal arts, family and domesticity, egalitarianism, and low authority.

The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do non-theism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”

Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that a week ago on a video panel discussion on The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented the question: why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

It’s all there – women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved – it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.

It’s incredibly discouraging, that kind of thing. I thought (naïvely) that stereotypes of women as stupid and passive and bashful had been exposed as, precisely, sexist stereotypes decades ago, at least among intellectual and political and progressive types. I thought everybody knew they were not just wrong but also retrograde. Would Shermer have said that if the question had been about race instead of gender? Would he have said “it’s more of a white thing”? It seems very unlikely.

So, yes, I spilled some ink over something he said that, in my view, revealed a sexist stereotype, of a kind that does damage. I think I’m allowed to do that. I don’t think that’s a particularly monstrous thing to do.

But Shermer thinks it’s comparable to Nazism. Will Orac rebuke him? I don’t think anyone will bet on that.

To date, I have stayed out of this witch hunt against our most prominent leaders, thinking that “this too shall pass.” Perhaps I should have said something earlier. As Martin Niemoller famously warned about the inactivity of German intellectuals during the rise of the Nazi party, “first they came for…” but “I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a…”

Yes, he wrote that.

He goes on to say that “self-proclaimed secular feminists attacked Richard Dawkins for a seemingly innocent response to an equally innocent admonishment to guys by Rebecca Watson…”

Self-proclaimed secular feminists? Attacked? Seemingly innocent? “Dear Muslima” was “seemingly innocent”? Not in my book. And if Rebecca’s admonishment was also seemingly innocent, why – oh never mind.

Then there’s Sam Harris and racial profiling, and a swipe at PZ. Then he says “the inquisition” (yes, he says that) has been turned on him, by me.

I have already responded to this charge against me elsewhere [with a footnote to the URL], so I will only briefly summarize it here.

Briefly?! Ya not so much. At great length. Most of this is the eSkeptic piece, a bit nastier in places (he accuses me of “redacting” what he said, when I simply quoted one thing he said, in its entirety).

He concludes with a warning about the way social movements devour their young, and then republishes what Harriet Hall said about me in her email to him, with lots of repetition of my name in case lazy readers had already forgotten it. Then he gropes for an explanation for why there aren’t more women atheists and skeptics doing tv shows right now -

…it is probably a legacy of the past socialization defining what women are expected to do.

No. That assumes women are deciding not to do tv shows. That’s not it. They are not being invited. It’s odd for a skeptic to overlook that. As I pointed out, Cara Santa Maria later told Shermer that she had asked only two women to do her show. That’s not a big enough sample to conclude that women are deciding not to do them.

But I’m a Nazi witch-hunting inquisitor, so what do I know.

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

Last geography lesson for now

Jan 14th, 2013 5:40 pm | By

Taking off yesterday from San Jose, we flew straight south at first. I know, it’s to do with the prevailing winds, but I kept wanting to shout “Hey! North! Seattle is north!”

But then we did the big turn to go the other way, and I had a window seat on the left side so I got a terrific view of Monterey Bay – the same view I’d had all morning from Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, but from 30 miles away and higher up. I could see Point Pinos, where the Monterey peninsula turns the corner to Asilomar, right next to where I’d been staying. I could also see…the Santa Cruz wharf. That was a funny experience. It was the only human-made feature I could see on that whole crescent around the bay. Quite cool.

It’s been slightly grim weather to come back to – colder than usual and dull. There’s a beautiful lurid sunset now though, so that’s all right.

Pelicans. I love seeing Pelicans. There are no Pelicans around here at all whatsoever.

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


Jan 14th, 2013 3:16 pm | By

A tech writer writes about a sexist piece of advertising.

‘Play with my V spot’

What does that advertise? A voice-control company. So it’s not what you think! That picture is all about her voice! That finger in her mouth is just a finger! And it’s pointing at her voice. And she does have eyes and a top to her head, but that would be completely irrelevant to the message of the ad, which is about voice-control.

Sex sells, right? And disembodied female body parts coupled with Beavis and  Butt-head-level puns are super-sexy, right?

Guys, this is why we don’t have more women in tech: It’s a cesspool. As long  as we’re passing offensive schlock like this off as marketing for a major  technology conference, we don’t deserve more women in tech.

Voco calls these ads “playful.” Maybe “playful” is in the eye of the  beholder. Maybe the beholder doesn’t think of women’s body parts as playthings.  Maybe that kind of play isn’t in any way related to voice-control technology or  consumer electronics — you know, the kind that aren’t sold at Babeland.

Or maybe they just pitched a journalist who isn’t in the mood to play those  pubescent, sniggering games anymore.

Oh come onnnnnnnnnnnn. Don’t be such a sex-negative bitch.

I think there should be stores that sell nothing but lips. Lips&Labia, they could call it.

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

See, this is what I’m saying

Jan 14th, 2013 11:41 am | By

Via the genius at Gnu Atheism on Facebook.

God hiding

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

Going the long way around

Jan 14th, 2013 11:20 am | By

A cleric does the “god is complicated” dance, with a large helping of “I’m more sophisticated than they are” thrown in. A doorstep fella asked him if he’d found God yet. Oh how vulgar.

It was the formulation of his question that raised my hackles. It implied that God was a comprehensible being awaiting discovery. Scratch the surface of existence persistently enough and he will be revealed.

Well yes. That would be because people like you are always talking about god – talking about god is your profession! – so it’s really not all that strange that people think you mean something by it. You treat it as a name, so people hear it as a name.

If god is not a comprehensible being, then why don’t you just stop talking about it altogether? Why are you a cleric if you don’t think god is a comprehensible being?

If we envisage God as a person clothed with epithets such as powerful, loving, just, fear-inspiring and omnipotent we are creating a manmade image. Sigmund Freud points this out in his book, The Future of an Illusion. “Religion comprises a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality.” In other words we have an innate tendency to invent the particular God that suits our needs. Ironically this is precisely what the second commandment fulminates against. A paradox lies at the heart of the doorstep caller’s question. The more you claim to know God and attempt to delineate his nature the less likely you are to have hit the bull’s eye.

Well then shut up about it! You can’t have it both ways. If we don’t know what god is, then we should stop endlessly going on and on about it.

It is only possible to escape from this impasse by re-orienteering our thought forms. Faith is not the progressive unearthing of God’s nature but a recognition that he/she is fundamentally unknowable. The signpost points not to growing certainty but towards increasing non-knowing. This is not as outrageous as it seems. An apophatic thread, a belief that the only way to conceive of God is through conceding that he is ineffable, runs throughout Christian history.

Yes but that’s just an elegant way of saying the whole thing was an invention from the beginning and it’s time to recognize that and move on. If god is fundamentally unknowable, then there is no earthly point in using the word. If god is unknowable then maybe it’s a gas, or empty space, or a virus, or a cruel savage demon. If you don’t know, then how can there be such a profession as being a vicar? You’re not a vicar for all the other things you don’t know are you? Why are you a vicar for this one? The [unknown] that has the label “god” – why are you a vicar for it? If you don’t know what it is, why do you call it god?

Is anything left or does this destroy the very fabric of spirituality? What remains is a Quakerlike silence during which we can respond to the numinous, develop our perceptions, hone our morality and enhance our wonder at the staggering complexity of the universe. Instead of ranting at the arbitrariness and high-handed conduct of the God we have invented, it is now possible to rest in a cloud of unknowing which gives us time and space in which to reflect on the fundamental questions of life. Why am I here? How can I best deport myself in this bewildering world?

But you can do that anyway. You don’t need god for it.

Persist and the rewards are immense. There is an exhilarating sense of newfound freedom. It releases us from the burden of kowtowing to the dictates of a holy book and it relieves us of the intellectual difficulties of accepting the dogmatic assertions of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. We are liberated and can follow our own spiritual path. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, spent a lifetime doing just this and found it uncovered an oasis of calmness and peace. “Follow my ways and I will lead you to golden-haired suns, Logos and music, blameless joys, Innocent of questions and beyond answers: For I, Solitude, am thine own self: I, Nothingness, am thy All. I Silence, am thy Amen!” Give it a whirl. I might just free you from the shackles of orthodoxy and kickstart your spiritual life.

I’ve already given it a whirl. I already don’t have the burden of kowtowing to the dictates of a holy book. I already don’t accept the dogmatic assertions of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. I don’t need apophatic theology for that; no one does.

He doesn’t care though, of course. He wants to have it both ways.

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

The romance novelist and the guy with a truck

Jan 14th, 2013 9:42 am | By

I don’t think I was aware of Alisa Valdes before. She wrote a memoir, The Feminist and the Cowboy: an Unlikely Romance. Sounds potentially good, in a way – she teaches him to understand that women aren’t lesser beings, he teaches her to appreciate horses and bad coffee. Culture clash made fun; meeting cute; oddly-matched couple models the potential for mutual broadening of horizons.

Yes but that’s not the plot. The plot is that she

falls in love with a cowboy who teaches her to reconnect with her “femininity” — and to never talk back, open her own car door or walk on the street side of the sidewalk.

Erm. That’s not a good plot. I dislike that plot. Throw that plot away and start over.

Well she has, kind of, but that’s because it turned out – surprise, surprise! – that the kind of guy who teaches a woman never to talk back ends up abusing her.

The book, which features a cover image of a woman’s bare legs tossed high with a cowboy hat perched atop one foot, has been heavily marketed to the anti-feminist crowd, even earning a plug from Christina Hoff Sommers, who called it a “riveting tale about how a brilliant, strong-minded woman liberated herself from a dreary, male-bashing, reality-denying feminism.”

But now the author, Alisa Valdes, a prolific romance novelist, alleges that the man who taught her to “submit,” and to enjoy it, turned out — after she wrote this love letter of a book about him — to be an abuser.

Has anyone called Christina Hoff Sommers for a comment?

It’s not that she’s entirely changed her mind, though. She considers herself a “Difference Feminist” (i.e., she sees men and women as having equal worth but as “not being necessarily the same or having the same abilities in all things”), and maintains that the cowboy helped her “to embrace my own female-ness in a way I had been trained to subsume.” She ended the email with a nod to her alleged abuser, “As the cowboy often said, there is the way things are, and there is the way we would like for things to be,” she tells me. “The only one that matters, ultimately, is how things are. We might not like it, and it might not be fair, but that doesn’t make any of it less true.”

That doesn’t make any of what less true? Feminism isn’t a truth-claim. Feminism isn’t an assertion that women and men are the same. Feminism is a moral commitment. Moral commitments depend on the idea – they are the idea – that “how things are” in the social world is not necessarily how things should be or how they have to be. The idea of equal rights, of equality, of human rights, does not depend on any claims of exact sameness. It does depend on a core of sameness, of an entity that has some sort of need for rights and equality; it rules out stones and daffodils and steam as rights-bearing entities; but it does not depend on sameness all the way down. The cowboy’s wisdom is bullshit. In the social realm, the difference between the way things are and the way we would like things to be is one way of describing the whole idea of reform, aka progress. That can lead to wishful thinking, yes, but that doesn’t mean it just is wishful thinking.



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