Notes and Comment Blog

Is it 1900 yet?

Nov 18th, 2014 5:55 pm | By

Gosh, who turned on the time machine and threw us all back to 2008? Some genius came up with a poll on “the most influential non-believer” with a long long list to choose from, including some dead guys, and guess how many women.


Christopher Hitchens
Richard Dawkins
Sam Harris
Daniel Dennett
Steven Pinker
Victor Stenger
Richard Carrier
Lawrence Krauss
Michael Shermer
Peter Singer
Paul Kurtz
Steven Weinberg
Susan Blackmore
William Provine
Jennifer Hecht
EO Wilson
David Sloan Wilson
Barbara Forrest
Peter Atkins
Philip Pullman
PZ Myers
Ray Kurzweil
Stephen Hawking
Kai Nielsen
Penn Jillette
James Randi
Bill Maher
Ricky Gervais
Matt Dillahunty
Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist)
Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist)
Thunderf00t (YouTube Icon)
Aron Ra (YouTube Icon)
Dan Barker
Bart Ehrman
David Silverman (American Atheists)

33 men, and 3 women.

Staggering, isn’t it. No Susan Jacoby, Katha Pollitt, Taslima Nasreen, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Barbara Ehrenreich, Amanda Knief, Polly Toynbee, Sikivu Hutchinson, Louise Antony, Kate Smurthwaite, Maryam Namazie, Julia Sweeney, Jamila Bey, Vyckie Garrison…

Why do we even bother.

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

Garden bench for sale

Nov 18th, 2014 3:26 pm | By

I went to see David Sedaris on stage last night. (Tonight he’s in Missoula, Montana.)

I laughed more than I expected to. I expected to laugh, but not as much (or as raucously) as I did.

There were a few minutes for questions at the end, and someone asked about his “Fitbit” – which now I understand because he wrote about it in the New Yorker last June. It’s like a pedometer but more so.

A few weeks later, I bought a Fitbit of my own, and discovered what she was talking about. Ten thousand steps, I learned, amounts to a little more than four miles for someone my size—five feet five inches. It sounds like a lot, but you can cover that distance in the course of an average day without even trying, especially if you have stairs in your house, and a steady flow of people who regularly knock, wanting you to accept a package or give them directions or just listen patiently as they talk about birds, which happens from time to time when I’m home, in West Sussex, the area of England that Hugh and I live in.

One April afternoon, the person at my door hoped to sell me a wooden bench. It was bought, he said, for a client whose garden he was designing. “Last week she loved it, but now she’s decided to go with something else.” In the bright sunlight, the fellow’s hair was as orange as a Popsicle. “The company I ordered it from has a no-return policy, so I’m wondering if maybe youd like to buy it.” He gestured toward an unmarked van idling in front of the house, and seemed angry when I told him that I wasn’t interested. “You could at least take a look before making up your mind,” he said.

Well quite. How dare he not want to buy some random thing that this stranger doesn’t want to be stuck with.

I closed the door a couple of inches. “That’s O.K.” Then, because it’s an excuse that works for just about everything, I added, “I’m American.”

“Meaning?” he said.

“We . . . stand up a lot,” I told him.

He and Hugh live in West Sussex and he walks a lot, all the more so now he has the Fitbit. (He feels he has to live up to its expectations.)

Since getting my Fitbit, I’ve seen all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally have come across. Once, it was a toffee-colored cow with two feet sticking out of her. I was rambling that afternoon, with my friend Maja, and as she ran to inform the farmer I marched in place, envious of the extra steps she was getting in. Given all the time I’ve spent in the country, you’d think I might have seen a calf being born, but this was a first for me. The biggest surprise was how unfazed the expectant mother was. For a while, she lay flat on the grass, panting. Then she got up and began grazing, still with those feet sticking out.

“Really?” I said to her. “You can’t go five minutes without eating?”

Around her were other cows, all of whom seemed blind to her condition.

“Do you think she knows there’s a baby at the end of this?” I asked Maja after she’d returned. “A woman is told what’s going to happen in the delivery room, but how does an animal interpret this pain?”

I thought of the first time I had a kidney stone. That was in New York, in 1991, back when I had no money or health insurance. All I knew was that I was hurting, and couldn’t afford to do anything about it. The night was spent moaning. Then I peed blood, followed by what looked like a piece of gravel from an aquarium. That’s when I put it all together.

What might I have thought if, after seven hours of unrelenting agony, a creature the size of a full-grown cougar emerged, inch by inch, from the hole at the end of my penis and started hassling me for food?

Our point exactly.

Maja and I watched for an hour. Then the sun started to set, and we trekked on, disappointed. I left for London the next day, and when I returned several weeks later, and hiked back to the field, I saw mother and child standing side by side, not in the loving way that I had imagined but more like strangers waiting for the post office to open.

If David Sedaris turns up where you are, go see him.




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

Canals on Mars

Nov 18th, 2014 2:47 pm | By

How about those canals on Mars?

I was just wondering how widespread the belief in their existence was. A 2011 article by Richard Milner in Astrobiology Magazine gives some background.

About 120 years ago, however, at least one prominent astronomer was convinced that Mars not only supported life, but was home to an advanced civilization. Martians, the theory went, had built an extensive network of canals to draw water down from supposed icecaps at the Red Planet’s poles to irrigate a world that was drying out.

Imagine really believing there were “Martians” on another planet. It’s not a particularly outlandish belief given the available information…but it seems like quite a dramatic belief.

Martian canals as depicted by Percival Lowell.Martian canals as depicted by Percival Lowell.
Credit: Public domain

These immense illusory earthworks (Marsworks?) had been studied in detail by one of the greatest astronomers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the wealthy and socially prominent Percival Lowell.

In his day, Lowell was far and away the most influential popularizer of planetary science in America. His widely read books included “Mars” (1895), “Mars and Its Canals” (1906), and “Mars As the Abode of Life” (1908).

Lowell was not the first to believe he saw vast canals on Mars. That distinction belongs to the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who in 1877 reported the appearance of certain long, thin lines he called canali, meaning channels in Italian. But he stopped short of attributing them to the work of intelligent Martians.

Channels can just happen. Canals, not so much.

Lowell carried the matter much further. Captivated by these sketchily observed — and ultimately nonexistent — phenomena, Lowell spent many years attempting to elucidate and theorize about them. The lines, he thought, must “run for thousands of miles in an unswerving direction, as far relatively as from London to Bombay, and as far actually as from Boston to San Francisco.”

He thought the Red Planet must once have been covered by lush greenery, but was now desiccated; the “canals” were an admirable attempt by intelligent and cooperative beings to save their home planet. [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]

The Canals of Mars became one of the most intense and wrongheaded obsessions in the history of science, capturing the popular imagination through dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, as well as such classic science fiction as “The Princess of Mars,” a pulp classic by Edgar Rice Burroughs…

With us it’s Roswell and alien abductions.


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

Back on 67P

Nov 18th, 2014 12:43 pm | By

Philae has found organic molecules on Comet 67P.

Carbon-containing “organics” are the basis of life on Earth and may give clues to chemical ingredients delivered to our planet early in its history.

The compounds were picked up by a German-built instrument designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere.

Other analyses suggest the comet’s surface is largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer.

Very very frozen ice, as hard as sandstone.

And landing where it did may have been useful after all.

After bouncing off the surface at least twice, Philae came to a stop in some sort of high-walled trap.

“The fact that we landed up against something may actually be in our favour. If we’d landed on the main surface, the dust layer may have been even thicker and it’s possible we might not have gone down [to the ice],” said Prof McCaughrean.

The drill apparently didn’t get a sample though, which is disappointing.

A key objective was to drill a sample of “soil” and analyse it in Cosac’s oven. But, disappointingly, the latest information suggest no soil was delivered to the instrument.

Prof McCaughrean explained: “We didn’t necessarily see many organics in the signal. That could be because we didn’t manage to pick up a sample. But what we know is that the drill went down to its full extent and came back up again.”

“But there’s no independent way to say: This is what the sample looks like before you put it in there.”

Pesky science, always refusing to give dogmatic answers.

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

It’s bash feminism week

Nov 18th, 2014 11:43 am | By

TIME magazine, fresh from its triumph at electing the word “feminism” as the Worst Word in the World, has given the job of reporting on sexist shirts in the workplace to Katha Pollitt Amanda Marcotte Soraya Chemaly Cathy Young. Cathy Young of Reason magazine, Cathy Young who is Christina Hoff Sommers’s favorite colleague in feminism-bashing.

When I first heard about the outrage over a scientist from the Rosetta Mission, which landed the Philae space probe on a comet, wearing a “sexist” shirt for a press appearance, I racked my brain wondering what the offensive garment could have been. A T-shirt showing a spacecraft with a “My secret fort—no girls allowed” sign? An image of a female scientist with the text, “It’s nice that you got a Ph.D., now make me a sandwich”?

Right – if it’s not spelled out as literally and unmistakably as possible, then it’s not sexist at all. If it doesn’t say “no women allowed” then it’s not sexist. Hooray! Feminism has won and we can all move on – because people don’t put “no women allowed” signs on the doors any more, except in religious institutions. But guess what: actual signs saying “women get out” are not the only form of sexism there is. There are others.

This is true of so many things – of everything that social and political, in fact. A workplace where the men are always grabbing the women’s butts but there is no sign anywhere saying “women get out” – that is still a sexist workplace. There is such a thing as implication. I don’t believe that Cathy Young is genuinely so stupid that she doesn’t get that. I think she chooses to pretend she doesn’t get it.

Dr. Taylor’s shirt may not have been in great taste. But the outcry against it is the latest, most blatant example of feminism turning into its own caricature: a Sisterhood of the Perpetually Aggrieved, far more interested in shaming and bashing men for petty offenses than in celebrating female achievement.

No, that’s not true. The question of how to make STEM fields more attractive to women is not petty at all. One way not to make them more attractive to women is to ignore low-level sexism. Sure, it is low-level. That shirt is far from the worst kind of sexism or the worst thing anyone could have done. (Mind you, paired with “I didn’t say she was easy” it gets a bit worse.) But low-level sexism also matters, and when it’s amplified by being the face of an exciting event like this, then it matter more. It’s not petty.

[T]his particular brand of feminist ideology, which inevitably stigmatizes straight male sexuality, is at the center of the recent culture wars.

It doesn’t “stigmatize straight male sexuality” to say “not in the workplace.”

Sadly, the brouhaha over Dr. Taylor’s shirt overshadowed not only his accomplishments but those of his female teammates, including one of the project’s lead researchers, Kathrin Allweg of the University of Bern in Switzerland. More spotlight on Dr. Allweg, Dr. Grady, Dr. Alexander and the other remarkable women of the Rosetta Project would have been a true inspiration to girls thinking of a career in science. The message of ShirtStorm, meanwhile, is that aspiring female scientists can be undone by some sexy pictures on a shirt—and that women’s presence in science requires men to walk on eggshells, curb any goofy humor that may offend the sensitive, and be cowed into repentance for any misstep.

Thanks for ruining a cool feminist moment for us, bullies.

Thank you TIME magazine for joining the war on feminism.

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

She’ll need Steven and Brian’s help

Nov 18th, 2014 11:20 am | By

Oh good, a “girls can” book that actually says girls can’t. Helpful.

The latest affront to basic decency in gendered toy marketing comes from a Barbie book that tells girls they can’t be game developers or programmers.

The book is bafflingly called Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. It was written by Susan Marenco and published by Random House. Despite its encouraging title, Marenco’s book actually tells pre-teen girls that Barbie can only contribute to the design of the game she’s building.

As [blogger Pamela] Ribon describes in an increasingly cringe-inducing writeup about the book, Barbie is introduced as the designer of stereotypically “girly” games featuring cute little animals. Barbie’s work resembles Pet Rescue or similar mobile games—you know, not the ones “real gamers” make.

That’s okay, though, because Barbie is apparently perfectly happy with her second-class status. “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie tells Skipper. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”



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

A fish notices the water

Nov 17th, 2014 6:00 pm | By

At Slate: Phil Plait on The Shirt and the fallout after The Shirt and the apology and the moving on.

To be clear, I don’t think Taylor is a raging misogynist or anything like that; I think he was just clueless about how his words might sound and his shirt might be interpreted. We all live in an atmosphere steeped in sexism, and we hardly notice it; a fish doesn’t notice the water in which it swims. I’ve lived in that environment my whole life, and I was well into adulthood before I started becoming aware of it and figuring out how to counter it. I’m still learning.

*raises hand* I notice it!

Boy do I notice it. I so notice it. I’ve been noticing it my whole adult life, and somewhat even before I was an adult. That’s why I get called all these names: for noticing it, and then saying I notice it, and saying what it is and what’s bad about it. I notice it I notice it I notice it. I notice the water.

And then came the backlash.

If you think this is just women complaining, you’re wrong. Certainly many have, and rightly so. But the fact is, I’m writing about it. I can point you to many men, friends of mine, scientists and science communicators all, who have spoken up about it. It’s important that men speak up, and it’s important that we listen, too.

If you think this is just complaining from wannabes who can’t hold a candle to someone who just landed a probe on a comet, you’re wrong. Talk to my friend, the cosmologist Katie Mack. Or the planetary scientist Sarah Horst. Or geologist Mika McKinnon. Or planetary geologist Emily Lakdawalla. Or radio astronomer Nicole Gugliucci. Or professor and science communicator extraordinaire Pamela Gay. Or Carolyn Porco, who worked on the Voyagermission and is the leader of the Cassini imaging team, the space probe that’s been orbiting Saturn for over a decade now.

If you think this is just pompous idiots, see above. Richard Dawkins please note.

If you think this isn’t a big deal, well, by itself, it’s not a huge one. But it’s not by itself, is it? This event didn’t happen in a vacuum. It comes when there is still a tremendously leaky pipeline for women from undergraduate science classes to professional scientist. It comes when having a female name on a paper makes it less likely to get published, and cited less. It comes when there is still not even close to parity in hiring and retaining women in the sciences.

So yeah, it’s just a shirt.

And it’s just an ad.

It’s just a saying.

It’s just a TV show.

It’s just the Internet.

Yes, but you almost make as much as a man does.

It’s just a catcall.

It’s a compliment!

It’s just that boys will be boys.

It’s just that she’s a slut.

It’s just that your dress is too short.

It’s just that we want to know what you were wearing at the time, ma’am.

It’s just it’s just it’s just.

It’s just a death by a thousand cuts. No one cut does the deed. In the end, they all do.


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

Guest post: An observation from St Carl of Ithaca

Nov 17th, 2014 4:58 pm | By

Originally a comment by Blake Stacey on The most shameful ontological status.

I felt a little of that when the Mars Rover landed safely. I was disappointed there weren’t more women in the room. I hoped there would be more in the future. I was glad to see the few who were there.

This reminded me of something, so I went and looked it up. Everyone open your hymnals to St. Carl of Ithaca, Pale Blue Dot (1994), p. 243, describing the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter:

The impact of the millennium was beginning to look very much like a fizzle.

Then there was a report from a ground-based optical telescope in La Palma in the Canary Islands, followed by announcements from a radiotelescope in Japan; from the European Southern Observatory in Chile; and from a University of Chicago instrument in the frigid wastelands of the South Pole. In Baltimore the young scientists crowding around the TV monitor—themselves monitored by the cameras on CNN—began to see something, and in exactly the right place on Jupiter. You could witness consternation turn into puzzlement, and then exultation. They cheered; they screamed; they jumped up and down. Smiles filled the room. They broke out the champagne. Here was a group of young American scientists—about a third of them, including the team leader, Heidi Hammel, women—and you could imagine youngsters all over the world thinking that it might be fun to be a scientist, that this might be a good daytime job, or even a means to spiritual fulfillment.

Emphasis mine.

This stuff matters. And people who the trolls probably claim to admire agree that it matters.

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

The most shameful ontological status

Nov 17th, 2014 4:21 pm | By

Kiran Opal has a brilliant post on the most recent uproar and its meanings.

She quotes something Josh said that I hadn’t seen.

Official SpokesGay @SpokesGay

Crying is feminine and weak. Being feminine is the most shameful ontological status. Bitches made Matt Taylor weak and feminine in public.
3:46 PM – 16 Nov 2014

Shock of recognition. Yeah.

She provides a lot of resources:

Here are a few articles/resources talking about sexism in science/STEM fields.

(I don’t expect misogynistic dudebros to bother reading things that don’t agree with their views on women, but I hope others will):
Issues Affecting Women in STEM A repository of peer-reviewed research (a huge fucking repository at fucking Harvard for all the people who only believe things institutions like that tell them)

Academics Anonymous: sexism is driving women out of science

Many people on Twitter I need to follow.

The feminists’ point was that this was ONE manifestation of sexism in science. How wearing a shirt that had objectifying images of women was not something that was considered inappropriate at work during an interview that was broadcast around the world. A broadcast that young girls and women would watch and see that the science guy wears a shirt that has images of women reducing them to sexual objects. A broadcast that young boys and men would watch reinforcing the idea that even in science, looking at women as mere sex objects is a thing and totally cool.

One. Just one. Not the only. Not the worst. Not the hugest. Just, one – but a highly visible one, and painful because an obstacle in the rejoicing. (I felt a little of that when the Mars Rover landed safely. I was disappointed there weren’t more women in the room. I hoped there would be more in the future. I was glad to see the few who were there.)

Matt Taylor’s apology was accepted by just about everyone who had originally found the shirt inappropriate, in bad taste, or sexist.

The people who didn’t accept his apology are the anti-feminists out here on the internet for whom a man saying, “I’m sorry I did something that perpetuated sexism” to a bunch of women is EMASCULATING. Their fragile egos were hurt. Thus began the immense mindfuck of a backlash that you can see summarized in these articles/posts:

With ‪#‎GamerGate‬ floundering, the Internet Douchebag Squad whips up a ‪#‎Shirtstorm‬

Scientist apologizes for his sexist shirt, but the Internet still wants women to shut up and die

A list of resources at the end:

More from reliable, scientific sources about the sexism women face in science/STEM fields today:

Why Science Is Sexist

Women in science: ‘Whoa, what are you doing here?’

Science Is Institutionally Sexist. Here Are 4 Ways To Help Fix It

Women in science: Women’s work

Sexism In Science? UK Study Finds Women Scientists Get Fewer Grants, Less Funding Than Male Counterparts

6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism

Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students

Astronomical Sexism: Rosetta #ShirtStorm and Everyday Sexism in STEM

Female Physicists Worldwide Fight Sexist Stereotypes

I wonder if Richard Dawkins would think Kiran is a pompous idiot.

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

Sam Harris please note

Nov 17th, 2014 3:15 pm | By

From Science Daily: This just in: Political correctness pumps up productivity on the job.

Political correctness, loathed by some as censorship awash in leftist philosophy, actually boosts the creativity of mixed-sex work teams, according to new research published in Administrative Science Quarterly.

I can’t begin to tell you how thoroughly unsurprised I am to read that.

Of course it does. Why? Because the absence of “political correctness” equals the presence of political putdowns and sneers, and what does that do? It distracts the people subject to them, and diverts their energy to being annoyed and defensive and resentful. That is useful to no one.

Ok I’m opining before reading the whole article. Maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. Maybe it’s something else that I couldn’t have expected.

“Our work challenges the widespread assumption that true creativity requires a kind of anarchy in which people are permitted to speak their minds, whatever the consequence,” said Jack Goncalo associate professor of Organizational Behavior at the Cornell ILR School and lead author of the study.

Still not surprised.

These results highlight a paradoxical consequence: A term that has been used to undermine expectations to censor offensive language as a threat to free speech actually provides a foundation upon which diverse work groups can freely exchange creative ideas.

“Political correctness facilitates idea expression by reducing the uncertainty that people tend to experience while interacting with the opposite sex,” Goncalo said. “The PC norm, by establishing a clear guideline for how to behave appropriately in mixed-sex groups, made both men and women more comfortable sharing their creative ideas.”

That is somewhat different. It reduces the uncertainty, as opposed to the hostility.

Ok, so the reduction in hostility is an excellent side effect. (But actually this is just a report on a forthcoming article, so I’m going to guess there’s more to it than just a reduction in uncertainty. My bet is that knowing for certain that men would be sneering at women in these mixed groups would not be great for productivity.)

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

Fire on earth v fire in space

Nov 17th, 2014 2:48 pm | By

A photo from the ISS:

Fire on Earth (left) vs. fire in #space (right); without convection drawing the flame up, flames form spheres.

Embedded image permalink

How cool is that?!

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

The possibility of expanded unrest

Nov 17th, 2014 1:51 pm | By

Wait what now? Possible future protest is now a reason to declare a state of emergency? So the cops will be there with clubs raised before the protesters even arrive?

That sounds more like intimidation than a state of emergency.

Citing “the possibility of expanded unrest,” Gov. Jay Nixon today declared a state of emergency and prepared to send the Missouri National Guard to help maintain order in the St. Louis region when a grand jury decision is announced in the Michael Brown case.

Nixon’s executive order puts the St. Louis County Police Department in charge of security in Ferguson “in areas of protests and acts of civil disobedience, should such activities occur.”

Well great, because the police have such a fine upstanding history in Ferguson, and the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case is all about that fine history. Way to pour gasoline on the house fire.

The order also establishes a unified law enforcement command consisting of the county police, the St. Louis Police Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol. The agencies will operate together “to keep members of the public safe and protect property while allowing citizens to exercise their constitutional rights,” Nixon said in a news release.

Their constitutional rights to stay home.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the shooting of Brown, 18, who was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The shooting sparked months of protests.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch has said the grand jury’s decision whether to charge Wilson is expected in mid- to late November.

Nixon’s spokeswoman, Channing Ansley, said the governor had no detailed knowledge of when to expect the grand jury decision, other than McCulloch’s public statements.

He just thought he might as well put people even more on edge. Good thinking.



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

Life in prison for selling $10 worth of marijuana

Nov 17th, 2014 11:58 am | By

The ACLU has a report on life sentences in prison without parole. Many such sentences are for non-violent crimes.

The number of people sentenced to life without parole
has quadrupled nationwide in the past 20 years, even
while violent crime has been declining during that
period. Not only has the use of life-without-parole sentences
exploded, but the punishment is available for a broader
range of offenses, and those sentenced to LWOP include
people convicted of nonviolent crimes, including low-level
nonviolent offenses.

According to data collected and analyzed
by the ACLU, 3,278 prisoners are serving LWOP for drug,
property, and other nonviolent crimes in the United States
as of 2012. Our data on the people serving LWOP shows
marked geographic and socioeconomic patterns, and reveals
stark racial disparity in life-without-parole sentencing for
nonviolent offenses.

Let me guess – lots more white people? No?

Life without parole used to be extremely rare in the US, until the Supreme Court banned the death penalty in 1972. Since then the numbers have exploded.

LWOP has not only expanded to nearly every state but also
is an available sentence for many more crimes. In 37 states
and in the federal system, a life-without-parole sentence is
available for non-homicide offenses, including convictions
for selling drugs, burglary, robbery, carjacking, and battery.
In 29 states, an LWOP sentence is mandatory upon conviction
of particular crimes, thus denying judges any discretion to
consider the circumstances of the crime or the defendant.

(There are reference notes in the original.)

The net result of this expansion is that LWOP is now used
at historically high levels to punish people who at one
time would have received much more lenient sentences.
In addition, people sentenced to LWOP are robbed of the
opportunity for release, which is rooted in the belief that
people have the capacity for growth and rehabilitation and
the ability to successfully reintegrate into society. Indeed,
studies show that lifers who are released are very unlikely
to commit new crimes. A sentence to life without parole,
however, means the prisoner has no prospect of release
in his or her lifetime, regardless of his or her efforts at
rehabilitation: virtually every person sentenced to LWOP dies
in prison.

What can possibly be the point of that? Just brutality for the sake of brutality?

Honestly on so many criteria the US cannot be considered an advanced developed democracy. In many ways we’re anti-development and hostile to advancing.

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


Nov 17th, 2014 11:40 am | By

Naturally Christina Hoff Sommers is contemptuous of TIME’s cowardly failure to tell feminists that they are pompous idiots for doing something Christina Hoff Sommers doesn’t approve. Naturally the only True Feminism™ is that approved first by Richard Dawkins and then by Christina Hoff Sommers.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · Nov 16
TIME caved to pressure. Has stopped poll on most cringe-inducing word because “feminist” was winning by a landslide.

How dare TIME cave to pressure? How dare anyone cave to pressure? How dare Little Rock Central High School cave to pressure and allow African-American students to enter the building? How dare the mobs outside Little Rock Central High School cave to pressure and stop screaming at those students? How dare anyone ever pay attention to what an oppressed marginalized group says about how it’s treated?

Pressure is annoying or worse when you disagree with the reasons for it, of course. But that’s what the issue is: the reasons for the pressure, not the pressure itself. Sommers applies pressure herself, constantly, relentlessly, all the time. So do I (but without the clout of the American Enterprise Institute behind me). Pressure we agree with is just persuasion or argument or at most polemics.

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

The Ebola count ticks up

Nov 17th, 2014 10:53 am | By

Damn. Martin Salia, a surgeon who caught Ebola while working in Sierra Leone and was flown to the US on Saturday for treatment, died this morning. His case was too advanced.

He was given the experimental drug ZMapp on Saturday. He also received a plasma transfusion from an Ebola survivor. That treatment is thought to offer antibodies to fight the virus, said doctors at the hospital. He was flown from Freetown in a heavily equipped air ambulance for treatment in the United States at the Nebraska Medical Center.

But within the first 12 hours he was in complete respiratory failure and had very low blood pressure, doctors said during a news conference.

It was too late.

Martin Salia contracted the virus in Sierra Leone, where he was the chief medical officer and surgeon at the Kissy United Methodist Hospital in the capital of Freetown. He also worked at several other hospitals in Sierra Leone.

After Salia initially tested negative, his colleagues embraced him, celebrating the good news. The hospital has since been shuttered and three of his colleagues are being isolated over Ebola fears. It is still unclear how Salia contracted Ebola, which had killed nearly 5,200 people worldwide as of Nov. 11,according to the World Health Organization.

He had symptoms and got tested, but the test came back negative.

But when his symptoms remained nearly a week later, Salia took another test, on Nov. 10. This one came back positive, sending the Sierra Leonean doctor with ties to Maryland on a desperate, belated quest for treatment and forcing the colleagues who had embraced him into quarantine.

And it was too late.

In a sign that the Ebola epidemic still poses a danger, even though it may have eased in parts of Liberia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday that airport screening will begin for travelers arriving in the United States from Mali, which lies inland from Sierra Leone and Liberia and has begun to report cases of the disease.

For Sierra Leone’s medical establishment, already rocked by Ebola, another doctor’s diagnosis was devastating national news. Since the outbreak started, 320 Sierra Leonean health workers have died of the disease. New billboards in Freetown show the faces of doctors who have died, with the words “Some of our national heroes killed by Ebola.”

It’s heartbreaking.

Early tests for Ebola aren’t reliable, we’re told.

The doctors who tended to him in Freetown appeared to be unaware that an early Ebola test — taken within the first three days of the illness — is often inconclusive. In a country where information about the disease continues to move slowly, it was another potentially tragic mistake.

In many cases, a negative test at that stage means nothing because “there aren’t enough copies of the virus in the blood for the test to pick up,” said Ermias Belay, the head of the CDC’s Ebola response team in Sierra Leone.

Now his colleagues could be infected.

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

TIME says “oops, our bad”

Nov 17th, 2014 9:07 am | By

TIME apologized for including “feminist” on its facetious poll of words to be banished from the empire.

Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s managing editor, penned an apology that is included as an editor’s note above the article:

Time apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word ‘feminist’ should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.

Why did that not occur to them as soon as someone suggested the word? It’s not a subtle or nuanced thought, is it.

In the Los Angeles Times, blogger Susan Rohwer opined it was “deeply troubling a news organization like Time would suggest banning a word that means something as basic and seemingly uncontroversial as ‘all humans deserve the same rights regardless of their gender.’ Apparently, we need yet another reminder of why anti-feminist rhetoric like this needs to end.”

The New York Review of Books, Planned Parenthood and others all weighed in on social media, generally panning the magazine’s decision to include the word on its banishment poll.

And TIME stared open-mouthed, and blinked, and moved its lips, and finally figured out that shitting on the idea of equal rights for all of humanity instead of just the male half of it might not be such a genius plan. Well done.


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

Guest post: Would he smile approvingly?

Nov 16th, 2014 6:19 pm | By

Originally a comment by themadtapper on A complaint to HR would be valid.

The thing that completely blows my mind about the whole ordeal is that in ANY professional context that shirt would be considered unprofessional at best and outright inappropriate in almost every case. And people like Richard Dawkins know damn well it would be. If Dawkins went to a speaking engagement at Oxford and a fellow speaker showed up wearing a shirt like that, would he smile approvingly? I very seriously doubt it. At the very least he’d give it a sigh and a shake of his head, but most likely he’d ask the speaker to please not go out on stage like that.

The only reason anyone at all is stirred up is that FEMINISTS pointed out that it’s inappropriate. They’re only defending the shirt because feminists disapprove of it. In essence, they’re not even defending the shirt; they’re opposing feminists. Which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. If feminists are against it and it isn’t literal physical violence or perpetrated by Muslims, then it de facto must be something that’s blown out of proportion. Ironically, it’s always the anti-feminists that blow the issue out of proportion. Feminists say “that shirt is highly inappropriate and contributes to the negative stereotypes that make woman uncomfortable in STEM fields”, anti-feminists say “feminists are BULLYING this poor man over his clothes, no make that ATTACKING him over his clothes, no wait they are WAGING WAR over a shirt”. They come out of the woodwork to defend the man, and no insignificant amount of them run active campaigns of harassment and threats against women who dared to voice their opinion on what is and isn’t appropriate attire. And “deep-thinkers” like Dawkins will lament how far feminists have fallen that they would make such a mountain out of a molehill.


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

Imagine if the feminists had gotten their claws into Columbus!

Nov 16th, 2014 5:38 pm | By

Well this is classic.

Embedded image permalink

Ha! Where to begin? How about with what happened to the people who lived on the continent that Columbus “discovered”? How about the cluelessness of using Columbus for a fantasy of genius scientific genius strangled by political correctness? How about the blithe assumption that there couldn’t have been anything to say to Columbus other than “We are struck dumb by your masculine awesomeness”?

I found that by looking at the feed of this guy:

The Danny C. XP @thedannycxp · 32 minutes ago
@OpheliaBenson In the end, @mggtTaylor and @RichardDawkins have advanced the frontiers of science. You’ve written a blog shitting on people.

Oh zing! I thought I was advancing the frontiers of science but it turns out I was wrong!

Just kidding. I never thought that.

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

A complaint to HR would be valid

Nov 16th, 2014 5:04 pm | By

An informative comment at PZ’s (on PZ’s post about Glenn Reynolds):

Yesterday I completed an online sexual harassment training for the community college (in the US) where I am currently teaching. I was thinking about this while I was going through the course and this shirt would ABSOLUTELY fall under sexual harassment. That’s not to say that the person would lose their job over it, if it was a one time thing, but a complaint to HR would be valid. Most likely in this scenario (if it happened where I teach) the person wearing the shirt would be told by their supervisor that the shirt is inappropriate and may be brought in for a talk with HR. Either way the incident would be noted in case any further incidents with that same person occurred in the future. This outcome does also depend on if there were any previous incidences of sexual harassment complaints.

See? It’s not a huge deal, unless there’s an existing pattern, but it’s an issue, worth noting and correcting. That’s all. It’s magnified if it’s seen by millions of people all over the world, but then again, an apology will suffice.

It’s not the worst thing ever, but no one said it was. It is something, which is all anyone said.

We were not wrong to say that.

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

Rally the troops

Nov 16th, 2014 1:15 pm | By

David Futrelle points out the replacement of the fading GamerGate with the new and exciting Shirtstorm.

By all rights, the furor over rocket scientist Matt Taylor’s cheesecake shirt should have died down by now. After being chided earlier this week for marring the celebration over the landing of a space probe ON A GODDAMNED COMET by doing interviews in a tacky shirt covered with half-naked ladies, Taylor offered a brief but heartfelt apology. You would have thought we’d all be able to move on.

And you would also have thought that would be what Matt Taylor would like even more than everyone else – but never mind that, that’s not important when there’s a new opportunity to vomit on feminism.

Not so fast. Because these days apparently no controversy can ever be over as long as it serves someone’s interest to keep it going. And so a loose but very familiar coalition of reactionaries and antifeminists and angry techies have started flogging an amorphous cause they call#Shirtgate or, more popularly, #Shirtstorm, purporting to be outraged that Taylor was “humiliated” into apologizing.

So many of the angriest voices in this, er, conversation are #GamerGaters it looks a lot like a sequel. Call it GamerGate Part Two: The Straw Graspening.

There are tweets. Futrelle shares some.

Oh, it’s a veritable #GamerGate Old Home Week! GG mainstays Thunderf00t and Mundane Matt have rushed out videos about The Shirt.

Of course they have. Others are camped out in my Twitter mentions right now, talking to each other.

Dean Esmay turns up, and so does Christina Hoff Sommers. But not Dawkins, for some reason. He should be there.


Richard Dawkins retweeted
godless wonder @godlesswonder31 · 9 hours ago
@RichardDawkins Hmm, why does this seem so familiar? Buncha’ lunatics losing their minds over a cartoon image. Oh, right, now I remember.

Richard Dawkins retweeted
CL | Novril @novriltataki · 21 hours ago
@DistanceLeft @FartToContinue Feminists hate @RichardDawkins because he supports real equality and real science, not post-modernist tripe.

Science for the public, baby.

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