Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Hammill the prodigal

Mar 4th, 2011 11:38 am | By

Hammill, as I said in a comment earlier this morning, is Walter Smith, known as Wally, a graduate student in biology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

He said last summer that he would never do it again. He’s been doing it again.

He’s been sowing little seeds of hostility and paranoia and mistrust. He’s been ever so gently tarnishing the reputations of gnu atheists. Again.

For instance on this post, which of course drew him like a fly to honey, because it was both scornful and inaccurate about me. His kind of thing! (I don’t know why he hates me so particularly, given that I’m hardly the only vocal atheist out there, but he does.) He saw an opening for some poison, and he was ready. He was worried about the way new atheists talk.

Just look at the words used to describe Josh here or others from several blogs over the past week: blatantly misrepresented, intellectually lazy, deceptive, dishonest, untrustworthy, deliberate distortion. They all sound like something from a political attack ad in late October, not salvos in a mutual debate or discussion. I don’t want to read too much into intentions or motives, but I don’t personally see them as an attempt to invite mutual debate. I see them as an attempt to quash dissenting opinion through character attacks without giving the heart of the debate a chance to find the table – a marginalization or distraction strategy, if you will. That’s certainly politics, although I would argue it’s far from the good kind.

And four more paragraphs of the same kind of thing – the very best most refined kind of concern trolling. Now read it again with the YNH blog firmly in mind – the lies, the accusations of lying, the obscenity, the sexism, the multiple socks all confirming the lies – that’s our refined concern troll.

Then another solemn refined comment in the same vein. Then warm agreement from one of the people he deceived. Then me asking a different anonymous commenter, TB, if it was the same TB aka Tim Broderick who called me a liar repeatedly at the Intersection. Then another concerned, conscientious, hand-wringing, highly respectable intervention by Wally the confessed serial liar.

For the sake of argument, consider for a moment that TB is who you say he is and what you say happened is an accurate representation of what did happen. Beyond the obvious ethical considerations of providing the real name of another poster who has not personally divulged their identity on a site, how is a past argument relevant to the current discussion? Shouldn’t an argument be judged on its merits and not on one’s perception of the character of the person making it? Unless there are clear logical flaws in what TB has been saying here, I fail to see how pointing out a past dispute serves anything beyond an attempt to undermine one’s character, which is the point I was making several posts above. I hesitate to use this word due to the small firestorm it’s caused in this post, but dropping a pseudonymous commenter’s real name along with what appears to be an entirely unrelated, negative character reference seems an undeniably political move. (If there is a connection between the past and present somewhere that I’m missing (and I may be) that makes all of this more relevant, feel free to correct me.)

Feast on the rich, multiple, layered ironies of that comment.

The prodigal returns

Mar 3rd, 2011 5:09 pm | By

So, remember a month ago I wondered about this new Mystery Commenter who went by the name “Hammill” and whose central, indeed almost only, subject seemed to be the sadly naughty ways of the gnu atheists, and who showed a strangely excessive interest in me, and Jerry Coyne, and me again? Remember how I said it reminded me of someone? Remember how I said that someone was “Tom Johnson”/You’re Not Helping/William?

Well that’s who it is. I’ve been able to confirm it.


So the discussion has been distorted by a guy with a known agenda and history posing as someone new and unknown. Someone who frowned gently in concern that people disagreed with Chris Mooney. Someone who worries about people “throwing around” the word “lies”…

Just look at the terms used to describe positions: unfair representation, misrepresentation, intellectual dishonesty. I think the terms “lies” and “deliberate distortion” have been thrown around in the past. I realize that much of that language stems from the “blood feud” you mention above, but the division seems great and very real. IMO the blood feud is getting in the way of actual progress.

That’s Tom Johnson, the guy who lied about that notorious conference where the notorious things he described didn’t happen. That’s YNH, who repeatedly said on his blog I was telling lies here. That’s Milton C, who told lies about me in comments here.


So he’s saddened by the rough and tumble of the “blogosphere“:

Part of me almost wishes that the entire debate were taking place in a refereed journal rather than the blogosphere, due to the inherent incivility that the internet brings. Perhaps that could corral the personal disputes a bit and focus a laser beam on the core issues.

That’s YNH, who knows a thing or two about incivility on the internet!

He spent the months between July and January honing his skills, perhaps. He was a good bullshitter, for awhile.

There are much deeper issues at play in terms of communication than “stop being so loud” and “stop talking so frequently.” The issue seems much more nuanced and complex than this, perhaps by several orders of magnitude; however, I believe it often erroneously gets simplified down to the statement above, and the debate suffers because of it.

Sounds convincing, doesn’t he.

He didn’t, quite, to me, even then. People don’t usually talk that stiffly on blogs. He was hyper-correcting, as it were. And then where had he come from, all of a sudden? He seemed awfully familiar with the subject matter for someone unknown. But I was only generally suspicious. At first.

But so what?

So he poisoned the well, that’s what.

I appreciate this piece very much, Andrew. I’m a nonbeliever that is frequently ashamed to be associated with some of the vitriol that comes from our side of the aisle. We need more people, like yourself, to speak out for a positive, forward-looking kind of nonbelief….

….even if doing so only directs the vitriol in your direction. I’ve noticed the link above leads to site where you are being accused of not being a nonbeliever simply for your opinions on tone. Furthermore, some of the vitriol and invective (ignorant, arrogant, immoral, unethical, bitter, bullsh@t, etc.) directed at you is disturbing. Include the discussion about what to call “pseudoatheists” like yourself and the message seems clear: the goal is to marginalize you and bully you into not seeking to take nonbelief in a positive direction.

“The link above” is, of course, to B&W. I loom large in his pantheon of hate-objects. He’s doing his little bit to swell the chorus of hatred against the evil gnus, and he’s doing it in a mask, because all his previous masks got covered in excrement which won’t wash off.

And not just once. Another opportunity presented itself, and there he was, all eager for the treat:

I can agree with much of the substance coming out of the gnu atheist community but cringe mostly at its delivery. At times the rhetoric and invective makes me embarrassed to even be associated with them, however tangentially, as a nonbeliever.

Same old thing. That was when I really suspected he was TJ, and I confronted him:

We’ve seen this kind of thing before.

Will you be shyly confiding in “Rob” about your experiences at conservation conferences soon?

Who are you?

As far as I know he hasn’t commented since. Sad for him. But he’s had plenty of effect, there’s no reason to doubt that. That bolus of antignu hatred is larger than it would have been without him.

Update: and see Paul W’s comment on the stranger thread. Says it all.

There’ll be music everywhere

Mar 2nd, 2011 10:52 am | By

PBS showed a Tribute to Motown at the White House last night. I thought I would watch just a minute of it, but I got pulled right in.

I’d kind of forgotten Dancing in the Streets. That was stupid. Martha and the Vandellas. Yeah.

Meta x 11

Mar 1st, 2011 2:41 pm | By

A couple of thoughts on the hunting of the snark.

One thought is that I always wonder why the focus is so exclusively on the evil gnu atheists. To put it another way, I always wonder why the standard is so double. I wonder why the filter has only gnu atheist-shaped holes.

I wonder why the sustained activities of “Tom Johnson” are ignored in favor of shining a spotlight on something someone said five years ago. Gnu atheists are sometimes irritable, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes rude. “Tom Johnson” is a malicious misogynist liar who put great energy into attempting to smear several chosen gnu atheists. Why so much heavy breathing about the former and nothing at all about the latter? It’s not because the latter is irrelevant – he’s an enthusiastic partisan in the “gnu atheists are horrible” campaign. He is in fact the source of a lot of specific “gnu atheists are horrible” claims.

Like this one, which I had forgotten about. Milton C, May 27 last year. I didn’t know at the time that Milton C was “Tom Johnson” and all the YNH bloggers and all the YNH sock puppets, who were many.

The Ruler of Comment Overmoderation whines about comment moderation. Hm.

The irony – it BURNS.

See? That’s the confirmed confessed liar who filled whole threads at The Intersection with tirades about new atheists under different names, thus creating an impression of lots of haters of new atheists, then did the same thing with his own brand new blog. He’s accusing me of “comment overmoderation” – which is something he had been accusing me of via the YNH sock puppets for several weeks by that time. It’s a pack of lies.

Then this, after I retorted.

idk, Ophelia. I’ve been a “lurker” here for some time, and I’ve seen you engage in ‘total banning’ on some people who have made comments that really didn’t get too offensive or inconsiderate but that you just took personally…but I’ve also seen you engage in ‘total banning’ when people have been purposefully inconsiderate and offensive, too.

Complete and utter falsehood. (How can one “see” people engage in banning anyway? All he had seen, of course, was himself saying that under different names at my place and at his place.)

That’s morally repugnant, if you like. It’s a good deal more morally repugnant than sometimes being irritable under one’s own name and for truthfully-stated reasons. Yet the shock-horror is reserved for the latter. I consider that peculiar.

The other thought is about this comment – #4 on yesterday’s -

Well, it’s certainly a little ironic that the very same bloggers who leaped to condemn Sarah Palin’s incendiary rhetoric (perhaps with justification) are quite content to use this sort of language. Wasn’t there a suggestion somewhere that people on the “accommodationist” side of this debate, should be called “Quislings”? It’s classy stuff.

That’s for me. If you google new atheist quisling, I’m the first result. I did it.

Or I did and I didn’t. I didn’t do it in a Sarah Palinesque way. I did it in a hedged way.

Here is another…can we say quisling? If they call us aggressive new atheists, can we call them quislings? Here is another quisling atheist moaning about how boring and boring the gnu* atheists are. It’s Caspar Melville of the New Humanist, I’m sorry to say – I like the NH.

The real irony though is that Caspar was so horrified by my morally repugnant remark that he invited me to write an article on the subject. In other words, he probably did think it was a bit much, but also probably not the nadir of verbal wickedness.

Speaking of objective morality…

Feb 28th, 2011 11:53 am | By

I’ll take a break from following the “new atheists are the rudest people in the history of the universe” discussion, to take a sad and pitying look at Ronald Conte, a Catholic theologian. (Professional? Amateur? He doesn’t say. Oh I take it back, yes he does. Amateur. Self-appointed. Not affiliated with any church or college or university that he mentions. Like me – but then I don’t call myself a theologian.)

We’ve seen him before, talking vicious murderous nonsense about the life-saving abortion in Phoenix. Now, in jocular vein, he’s talking about whether or not married people are allowed to do things to each other’s genitals with their hands (or, godforbid, their mouths). His answer is absolutely not.

Yes really. No. That’s right out. It’s a Sin. It’s inherently evil.

The love of God and neighbor requires that each and every sexual act be marital, unitive, and procreative. When a sexual act is non-marital or non-unitive or non-procreative, then the act has a deprivation in its moral object, making the object evil and the act intrinsically evil.

Evil. Using a hand to turn on a sex partner – evil.

any sexual act that is intrinsically evil, is not only always immoral, but always gravely immoral. Some intrinsically evil acts are venial sins; other intrinsically evil acts are mortal sins. An intrinsically evil sexual act is always an objective mortal sin.

And by that he means – make no mistake – using a hand to turn on a sex partner. It’s intrinsically evil and a mortal sin – it is the worst.

The guy’s a maniac.

Read the whole thing if you have time. Pale with horror and disgust, and try to feel some sorrow for Ronald Conte and his airless little mind.

Atheists like me are less willing to settle for the status quo

Feb 27th, 2011 1:16 pm | By

Jason Streitfeld says some very cogent things on the subject of public displays of atheism.

For atheists like me, there is one issue that matters most in all of this: the role of religious authority in society. I’m not saying atheists are concerned with this issue above all else. Not at all. They might be more concerned about global warming, say, or human rights violations in third-world countries. What I am saying is that, for many atheists, atheism is first and foremost about the rejection of religious authority. Public atheism is first and foremost about putting religious authority in its proper place. For us, to be a public atheist just is to deny that there is any objectively valid moral authority which religions could claim and to deny that religious authority is similar to, equal to, or in any methodological or philosophical sense compatible with scientific authority. If we cannot argue these points in public, then we cannot be public atheists in the way that is meaningful to us.

Indeed; and more: atheism is first and foremost about the rejection of religious authority, in an existing context in which religious authority is not just not rejected, not even just welcomed and embraced, but made all-but-mandatory. If religious authority weren’t always being shoved at us, it might seem otiose to bother rejecting it, but that’s not the situation we’re in – not in the US and not entirely in other parts of the Anglophone world either, let alone more frankly theocratic states. The pope thinks he has every right to order women to bear children they don’t want to bear, and to tell hospitals not to save the lives of pregnant women if it takes an abortion to do that.

News flash: The public already thinks atheists have no moral compass. People just don’t understand these issues, but they think they do. That’s the real problem: people are ignorant of their own ignorance. The public needs exposure to what atheists actually think–not in an inaccessible, academic way, but in a clear, practical and relevant way. Right now, they’re mostly relying on misinformation when they criticize atheists.

And, sadly, they’re getting even more misinformation, and old misinformation repeated and re-enforced, by some atheists. Even some atheists are telling people that atheists are rude, mean, intolerant, bullies, dicks – you name it.

Jean’s argument ultimately rests on the claim that people cannot learn what many atheists want them to learn, and that, at best, our efforts at education will be fruitless. This is what Coyne seems to be bothered about. It’s not just Jean’s conclusion. It is her argument that is so upsetting. Atheists like me are less willing to settle for the status quo. We are far less satisfied with the public’s current perceptions of atheism. Furthermore, we would rather give the public the benefit of the doubt. We are optimistic that the public can learn a whole lot more than Jean seems to think. Of course, atheists will continue to be misunderstood and misrepresented for a long time to come. But the discourse might move forward nonetheless. It certainly won’t help if we stop trying.

The status quo aspect is key. The mantra that atheists should be careful of what they say in public (and when in doubt, err on the side of saying nothing) is just more of the same. We already have that arrangement, and we think it’s a bad arrangement, and we want to Fix It. It’s the status quo, and we want to change the status quo, so that things will be better.

They do not represent any of the local communities

Feb 27th, 2011 12:50 pm | By

Tower Hamlets Council is shocked shocked by those anti-gay posters that appeared recently. So is the Mayor, so is Dilwar Khan, Director of the London Muslim Centre, so are the chairs of Rainbow Hamlets LGBT Community Forum.

Andrew Gilligan says some of the shock shock is bogus. Guess which part.

…the East London Mosque speaks with forked tongue. Yesterday, it was due to demonstrate its deep commitment to “standing together against homophobia” by hosting a gala dinner with one Uthman Lateef, a homophobic preacher who has stated: “We don’t accept homosexuality… we hate it because Allah hates it.”

Why does the East London Mosque say one thing while it means another? Because it can. Because it works.

There is a part of liberal white society which would rather ignore or deny the problem of extremism, hatred and bigotry in some parts of some Muslim communities. The lies give them a form of permission to do so.In that same council press release, the chairs of the Rainbow Hamlets LGBT Community Forum, a local gay group, condemned the anti-gay posters but added: “We also condemn those who use these incidents to create a moral panic and stoke up racist or Islamophobic sentiment. At present the people responsible cannot be accurately determined, but it is clear that whoever is responsible, they do not represent any of the local communities.”

Really?! It is clear? How can it be? How can that possibly be “clear”?

Well it can’t, and it’s obvious that it can’t, but the rainbow people apparently think they have to say it is, lest they stoke up “Islamophobic sentiment.” Apparently they find themselves stuck with having to toady to a group that lives next door to them and hates them with a lively and religious hatred.

I think I would move to Ealing, or perhaps Merton.

Ratzinger muses aloud

Feb 27th, 2011 12:28 pm | By

The pope has been telling doctors to straighten women out on something the poor deluded darlings are hopelessly confused about. What – that homeopathic “polio vaccinations” are real vaccinations? That their most important job in life is to have flat abs? That they have to be “spiritual”? No.

Pope Benedict XVI has urged doctors to protect women from the “deceptive” thought that an abortion might be a solution to social or economic difficulties or health problems.

Has he indeed. How, I wonder, does he know that that thought is deceptive? If a woman or a couple doesn’t have enough money to have a child, how is it deceptive to think that an abortion might be a solution to the problem? And what the hell does he know about it? He has all the money he needs, and he’ll never have to bear a child. He has no experience of being up against it in that way. How does he know he knows better what is and is not a solution than people who do have that experience?

As for health problems…well if the pregnancy itself is proving to be fatal, then an abortion in fact is a solution to that particular health problem. In that particular case, the pope is just lying when he says it’s not. What he means is that it’s a solution he won’t allow a woman to have, if he can prevent it.

What a nice thing to say

Feb 26th, 2011 5:02 pm | By

Darrick Lim has been observing the inter-atheist wars. He has kind things to say about me. (Well that’s the important thing; do admit.)

Fellow atheists Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson jump into the fray with their own takes on DBAD. Both are known for taking off the gloves in anti-religion arguments when they deem it appropriate. As an evolutionary biologist, Coyne in particular has little patience for accommodationist views – the belief that science and religion can be reconciled and need not necessarily be at odds with each other. Along with another passionate – some may say ‘cantankerous’ – atheist, the biology professor and blogger PZ Myers (who runs the popular science blog ‘Pharyngula’), Coyne, Benson and other ‘Gnu Atheists’ are considered to be at the ‘meaner’ end of the attitude spectrum.

Ohhhh. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Mind you, Lim apparently doesn’t consider the putative meanness all that mean; I might not feel very w and f if he meant “meaner” completely literally. But this question of “exactly how mean are the gnu atheists really, when you look at them under a good microscope?” seems to have as many answers as there are people to ask the question, so whatevs.

More malevolence

Feb 26th, 2011 4:25 pm | By

Via Johann Hari:

In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there.

Because why? Because of a stupid baseless prejudice. Because they eat their boiled eggs from the narrow end instead of the wide end, or is it the other way around. Because they like stripes better than checks. Because they like muesli better than shredded wheat. Because they watch football instead of tennis. Let them burn in hell!

Off with her head

Feb 26th, 2011 4:17 pm | By

Does god hate women? Do Republicans hate women?

 Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin—who last year proposed making rape and domestic violence “victims” into “accusers”—has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize miscarriages and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal. Both miscarriages and abortions would be potentially punishable by death: any “prenatal murder” in the words of the bill, including “human involvement” in a miscarriage, would be a felony and carry a penalty of life in prison or death.

Isn’t that interesting? So a woman has a miscarriage…will the cops be pounding on her door wanting to find out if there was any human involvement in that miscarriage? If so, how will she demonstrate that there wasn’t? Multiply by a large number, given how common miscarriage is.

There seems to be no chance such a law will be passed, but the filthiness of the mind that suggested it is worth noticing. Malevolence is always worth noticing.

A minor point

Feb 26th, 2011 11:43 am | By

What is wrong with the word “harm”? Or “damage”? Why is it always “negatively impact” now? Why is a stupid clumsy circumlocution that includes a noun pretending to be a verb preferable to a single blunt word of one or two syllables?

Is it for the same reason that so many people say “poor” when they mean bad? “It’s poor weather for a walk.” Because of some nebulous worry that “bad” might hurt someone’s feelings? Like, say, the weather’s?

Why else would Kathleen Sebelius say it?

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the rule, issued in the last days of the Bush administration, could “negatively impact patient access to contraception and certain other medical services.”

Or is it because it sounds more official and like something a cabinet member is supposed to say? But if so, why does it? Why does “negatively impact” now sound somehow superior to “harm”? When it’s so stupid? When “negative” doesn’t mean “bad” and “impact” doesn’t mean “affect”? Why two inexact words when one exact one is readily available?

You tell me.

Social pressure? What social pressure?

Feb 25th, 2011 12:16 pm | By

Greta Christina observes that atheism is not always greeted with open arms. It doesn’t always get even a mere hostile silence. It sometimes gets just plain forcible rejection. Just good old “no you may not.” Just “sit down and be quiet you hateful atheist you.”

Resistance to atheist groups from high school administrators, while not universal, is depressingly common. According to JT Eberhard, campus organizer and high school specialist for the SSA, “Most of them seem to elect to try and drag their feet until the interested students either lose interest or graduate. The ‘objections’ are varied. I’ve heard ‘it would be too controversial’, ‘all clubs are secular’, ‘other groups already do the same thing’, and a whole host of other lame reasons.”

And this, you see, is one reason we explicit atheists fight back. It’s not necessarily because we are bullied or oppressed ourselves, it’s because a view that we think right and important and under-represented gets treated like a contaminant.

The need for high school atheist groups — or indeed, for atheist groups of any kind — is baffling to many people. When USA Today ran an article about Brian Lisco and the SSA’s new high school program, it was met with a barrage of hostile comments… partly in the hysterical “Satan is trolling for the souls of our youth!” vein, but largely with puzzlement and snark, along the lines of, “Why would anyone need a club to talk about what they don’t believe in?”

But the powerful resistance these groups have encountered makes the need for them all too clear. The reality is that atheists are the most distrusted and disliked of all minority groups — more than blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and gays and lesbians — and polls show that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than they are for a person in any other minority or marginalized category.

All very recursive. We need groups because of the marginalization, so the attempts to set up groups are marginalized, so we need the groups all the more, so; repeat until tired.

Countering anti-atheist myths is important even when the bigotry isn’t overtly threatening or grotesque. Myths about atheists are widespread, even among more moderate and progressive believers. Countering those myths requires visibility — and visibility is more effective with organization. Groups can provide emotional support to people who are coming out when they face opposition and hatred… and groups can make visibility easier to accomplish. As Eberhard points out, “One of the best ways gay students have acquired a greater level of acceptance is by ‘coming out’, so that many people are now realizing that they not only know gay people but that they like gay people. So it must be with atheists. We need to encourage non-believing students to be proud of who they are if the social stigma is to ever be dissolved.”

And not just in high school. Even among adults, even among meta-adults (which is to say, old adults), myths about atheists are widespread, even among more moderate and progressive believers, and even among actual atheists. Atheists who hate atheists; talk about internalization.

So – let the groups spread – let people grow up familiar with atheists – and eventually the automatic hatred will fade away.

Good morning, Mr Ratzinger, please come with us

Feb 24th, 2011 1:01 pm | By

No doubt it will just be filed and forgotten, but it’s good to see, all the same…

Two German lawyers have initiated charges against Pope Benedict XVI at the International Criminal Court, alleging crimes against humanity…

They claim the Pope “is responsible for the preservation and leadership of a worldwide totalitarian regime of coercion which subjugates its members with terrifying and health-endangering threats”.

They allege he is also responsible for “the adherence to a fatal forbiddance of the use of condoms, even when the danger of HIV-Aids infection exists” and for “the establishment and maintenance of a worldwide system of cover-up of the sexual crimes committed by Catholic priests and their preferential treatment, which aids and abets ever new crimes”.

Well yes, he does, but…there’s a Special Dispensation for popes. No one else, just popes. So sorry.

They claim the Catholic Church “acquires its members through a compulsory act, namely, through the baptism of infants that do not yet have a will of their own”. This act was “irrevocable” and is buttressed by threats of excommunication and the fires of hell.

It was “a grave impairment of the personal freedom of development and of a person’s emotional and mental integrity”. The Pope was “responsible for its preservation and enforcement and, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of his Church, he was jointly responsible” with Pope John Paul II.

That’s the ur-crime, of course. They’ll never make it stick, but it is the biggy. That expropriation of people’s minds at birth and continuation of it via threats is a truly horrible arrangement, which the world allows only because it’s so accustomed to it. Maybe this indictment will make people a little less accustomed to it. Maybe this Verfremdungseffekt will jostle the world out of its complacency. That would be something.

Women? What women?

Feb 23rd, 2011 1:02 pm | By

The PBS documentary show Frontline did a special on the Egyptian revolution last night, the first part on the events overall, the second part on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The second part was reported by Charles Sennott. He was on Fresh Air last week, talking about the same subject. I thought the Frontline piece was abysmal. Interesting, to be sure, and informative in its way, but abysmal. He never so much as mentioned women. Not a word. He didn’t mention the implications of a political movement that is a “brotherhood”; he didn’t mention women’s rights; he didn’t mention women in Egypt; he didn’t mention hijab; he didn’t even mention women, period.

Hello? Hello hello hello hello? Is anybody listening? I’m not talking about some tiny group of people after all, I’m talking about half of humanity. Sennott went on for half an hour about the MB, much of it in a fairly approving vein, without ever even mentioning how Islamists view women’s rights.

It was much the same on Fresh Air: lots of cuddly talk about how hip the MB yoof are and how cool it all is and how different the yoof are from the “sclerotic” oldies. But there at least Terry Gross did manage to ask him about women’s rights, so he was forced to admit that yes, the MB does believe in segregation of the sexes and yes it does ultimately want sharia. Gross didn’t press him on that, unfortunately, but she did at least mention it. Frontline, on the other hand – not a god damn word.

That’s pathetic.

If you do decide to go meta

Feb 22nd, 2011 12:56 pm | By

Russell says why metametametameta discussions about Why Gnu Atheists Are So Horrible are likely to be irritating to gnu atheists.

If people who don’t believe they have been especially uncivil are chided not to be “a dick”, or if lies are told about people like them behaving in public in outrageously uncivil ways, and if stories are told that suggest they are uncivil in the manner of the children in Jean’s story, it produces certain emotions. To be blunt, it creates anger and ill-will.

Well yes it does rather. It does that all the more when all these things, and other things too, happen over and over and over again, saying the same thing, pointing at the same people, tutting the same tut. The people who don’t believe they have been especially uncivil start to wonder why the people who keep scolding them for incivility are so obsessed with them. They start to wonder why the scolders are so obsessed, and they start to wonder why they are so obsessed with them.

I wondered that about the post that Russell is answering, for example. I wondered, not for the first time, why Jean Kazez pays such close attention to me.

I wrote the post on January 25, 2011, and I was actually thinking about what I’d been reading at atheist blogs in the weeks and months before that.  There had been lots of talk about “adults” who are critical of “gnus”.

The “adults” are…whom [sic]?  At Butterflies and Wheels, Phil Plait came under withering criticism on Dec. 6, partly because he wasn’t sufficiently critical of Chris Mooney and (see the comments) also  because of his “Don’t be a Dick” speech.  I take it Plait is against contempt, but not against candor.  There was also upsetness (October 17) about Julian Baggini’s speech at Westminister Abbey, in which he encouraged atheists not to be anti-theists.  As the author of an excellent book about atheism he’s hardly a should not be said kind of a guy.   There was also upsetness about Andrew Lovley (Jan. 6), who wrote a post encouraging atheists to be conciliatory instead of antagonistic.  He’s for lots of interfaith talk, not atheists shutting up.

Three posts, all of them mine. Nobody else mentioned. That’s a lot of attention. It makes me feel Special, and I do love to feel Special, but when I look closely I have to acknowledge that the attention is not altogether admiring. It’s more like getting a lot of attention from an undercover cop.

Russell explains why this kind of thing tends to be…provocative.

…there’s a danger in going meta. Once you move away from debating the truth or falsity of ideas to discussing other people’s behaviour, what should or should not be said, and so on, you almost inevitably add to whatever degree of incivility was around in the first place. That’s not to say that going meta is never appropriate. But people who decide to go meta should be aware of the likely outcome – an escalation of ill-feeling, and even feelings of injustice and moralistic anger – and take this into account. If you do decide to go meta, you’d be advised to show a lot of explicit humility and trepidation. If you then use the annoyed responses of others as evidence of their inherent uncivil tendencies, you’d better be aware that this will be seen by them as further unfairness or injustice … and will provoke even more annoyance.

I could be wrong, but I think provoking even more annoyance is usually the point.

Darwin and Bertie

Feb 21st, 2011 4:25 pm | By

Allen Esterson takes a hard look at some tendentious biographical interpretation of Darwin by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.

…they achieve their aims by a highly selective use of evidence, and by insinuating connections between Darwin’s evolutionary writings and concurrent political events for which there is no documentary warrant.

Well perhaps they were doing postmodern history.

It appears that The King’s Speech is another example of postmodern history. Christopher Hitchens tells us how.

The King’s Speech also part-whitewashes and part-airbrushes the consistent support of Buckingham Palace for Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and their unceasing attempt to make an agreement with Hitler that would allow him a free hand in Europe while preserving the British Empire.

Oh well, that was then. It’s so much pleasanter to think of them as lifelong anti-fascists, don’t you think?

Isaac Chotiner in The New Republic doesn’t think so.

The King’s Speech is historically inaccurate, entirely misleading, and, in its own small way, morally dubious…What the film never mentions is that Edward VIII was an ardent admirer of Hitler and of fascism, and a proponent of appeasement long after Germany moved onto Polish soil and hostilities began in earnest…Bertie himself is also romanticized. He is seen presciently raising the question of German aggression before the invasion of the Sudetenland.

Dude, lighten up, it’s a movie. Movies don’t have to get the history right. Come on – movies tell stories, and they can’t do that if they have to get the history right. Have some champagne, step on a peasant, relax.

What’s missing

Feb 20th, 2011 5:10 pm | By

The Philosophical Primate, aka our friend G Felis, did a guest post at Eric’s blog a couple of days ago. One item in particular jumped out at me.

…the persistent and insistent claims that “something is missing” from the New Atheist world view is true: What’s missing is the siren call of easy assent to illegitimate authority — the human instinct to blend in and concede our autonomy to parent-mimicking authorities who, unlike actual (good) parents, do not have our genuine best interests at heart.

QFT, as the saying goes. I love that. It would make a nice bus ad.

What’s missing is the siren call of easy assent to illegitimate authority.

How peaceful the silence is.

Shank’s mare

Feb 20th, 2011 4:53 pm | By

A commenter at Jerry’s suggested a frightening possibility:

JAC, Brother Blackford, OB, and that muscular Eric McD are becoming quite a faction. OMG! You don’t suppose that there are actually EIGHT Horsemen of the Apocalypse?!?11

I suggested we could be the Four Pedestrians of the Apocalypse. I think this is a kind and generous thought, because it gives opposing factions so many openings for jokes. I’m a very giving person.

No actually I just think it’s funny, plus I am a dedicated pedestrian.


Feb 19th, 2011 2:06 pm | By

I’ve been thinking about segregation, because I’ve been thinking about the Muslim Brotherhood and sexual segregation. The MB of course mandates sexual segregation where it can, and would mandate it throughout Egypt if it got the power to do so. Many non-MB Egyptians think sexual segregation is right and good.

Marwa, a nursery school teacher who did not provide her last name, stood with some 200 women of all ages who chanted for the downfall of the regime. She wore a veil covering her hair.

‘I cover my body and support gender segregation during the protests, not as an Islamist statement, but because it is not right for men and women to have physical contact,’ she said.

What I’ve been thinking about segregation is the obvious: it’s inherently anti-egalitarian. Where there is segregation there is always superiority and inferiority. Separate but equal was a brazen lie. People who want to impose segregation of any kind are people who want to impose hierarchy.

Thinking about that led me to thinking about a different subject, which is NOMA, or the putative compatibility of religion and science. That too is a secretly hierarchical arrangement. The Non-Overlapping part of NOMA is an announcement that religion contaminates science as opposed to being genuinely compatible with it.

NOMA makes religion and science separate. It segregates the two from each other; that’s the point. If they were genuinely compatible, compatible substantively, they wouldn’t have to be separate. Overlapping would be fine. NOMA then goes on to do a lot of silly flattering of religion, but the real point is the separation.

This is how it works with de facto compatibility. “There are believers who do perfectly good science,” is the motto on that banner. Yes, and they do it by compartmentalizing, which being interpreted means, segregation. They do it by keeping the two rigidly separate. The need to keep them separate points up the fact that they’re not really compatible at all.