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.

In Oxford

Aug 8th, 2014 1:01 pm | By

Taslima is at the World Humanist Congress in Oxford. You could do worse than take a look at her Twitter stream for happy news and pictures from the Sheldonian and nearby.

Like the view from her room:

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From my window. Look where I am staying now. A famous college at Oxford university. Founded in 1264.

Not bad eh?

And Taslima in the Sheldonian:

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

Deniz Firat was exceptional

Aug 8th, 2014 12:54 pm | By

Bad. I can’t find any sources in English yet, so I’ll have to use the one French one I saw. A Kurdish journalist, Deniz Firat, was killed by ISIS today during the fighting at Makhmur, 40 kilometers from Erbil.

Elle était très exceptionnelle, une femme militante et courageuse. Elle avait déjà perdu deux sœurs dans la lutte de la libération du peuple kurde.

L’agence de presse kurde Firat (ANF) a condamné cette attaque par des ennemis de l’humanité qui a couté la vie d’une journaliste, affirmant que Deniz Firat était sa principale source d’informations sur le front.

My rough translation, which anyone should feel free to correct:

She was exceptional, a brave activist woman. She had already lost two sisters in the struggle for the liberation of the Kurdish people.

The Kurdish press agency Firat has condemned this attack conducted by the enemies of humanity who have taken the life of a journalist, saying that Deniz Firat was their principle source of reports from the front.

That’s bad.

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

Recreational harm-ranking

Aug 8th, 2014 11:40 am | By

What about the larger question of whether or not it’s any use to rank harms? Let’s consider that question.

Or maybe it will turn out that we don’t need to, because the answer is so obvious. Of course it is. Next question?

It’s bound to be part of our most basic equipment, isn’t it. It’s part of the basic equipment of most animals, isn’t it. You know the skittish way many animals drink at watering holes? That’s an animal ranking harms, isn’t it. “Thirsty as fuck; need to drink; but exposed here; maybe lions; keep alert, be ready to bolt.”

We humans, with our vastly sophisticated brains, get to use that for things like choosing between So You Think You Can Dance and Last Tango in Halifax. Is the harm of missing the first greater than the harm of missing the second, or is it the other way around?

In other words, we rank harms and benefits, bads and goods, all the time. We do it of necessity and we use the equipment provided to do it recreationally.

And we do it with regard to moral issues, which gets us closer to what we’ve been talking about. We do that all the time too. If a co-worker forgets to do something one time and that creates a nuisance for you, that’s one thing, while a co-worker who routinely forgets to do things and apparently just can’t be bothered to remember or create a system for reminders – that’s another thing.

We have to rank harms all the time, in order to know what to do about them. We need to know when to shrug off a harm and when to make an issue of it.

It’s a big part of child-rearing to teach children how to do this well, or at least competently. Humans probably never really do it well, because the dear self always magnifies harms done to the dear self while shrinking those done to strangers.

But then that’s a reason to be careful about Recreational Harm-ranking when the harms being ranked are ones that can’t be done to the dear self but can be done to other people. Notice I’m not saying never talk about it at all, I’m saying there’s a reason to be careful about it. It’s not a good look for gentiles, say, to minimize the harm of anti-Semitism. It’s easy to extrapolate from that example to others.

That’s an outline.

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

So what if it is?

Aug 8th, 2014 11:16 am | By

An ISIS flag flying over the entrance gate to a housing estate (what in the US would be called a housing project) in Poplar, East London. (Call the Midwife is set in Poplar.) Go there to look at the picture, which is weirdly blood-curdling.

A black flag with white Arabic writing, similar to those flown by jihadist groups, was flying at the entrance of an east London housing state near Canary Wharf.

In a highly provocative gesture, the emblem was planted on top of the gates of the Will Crooks estate on Poplar High Street, and is surrounded by flags of Palestine and slogans.

The flag bears similar writing to the jihadi flags that have been flown by the extremist group in Iraq and other jihadi groups since the 1990s. When the estate was approached last night, a group of about 20 Asian youths swore at Guardian journalists and told them to leave the area immediately. One youth threatened to smash a camera.

When a passerby tried to take a picture of the flag on a phone, one of the gang asked him if he was Jewish. The passerby replied: “Would it make a difference?” The youth said: “Yes, it fucking would.” Asked if the flag was an Isis flag, one local man said: “It is just the flag of Allah.” But another man asked: “So what if it is?”

So what if it is? Well, genocide, that’s so what if it is.


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

Women’s Emotions are “Emotions,” Men’s Emotions are “How People Talk”

Aug 7th, 2014 5:55 pm | By

A thing from one Jennifer Dziura (who is apparently a life coach, but this is good anyway) a couple of years ago: “When Men Are Too Emotional To Have A Rational Argument”.

She starts with election night 2012. Guys were having meltdowns all over tv. They were very emo.

What I want to talk about is how emotional outbursts typically more associated with men (shouting, expressing anger openly) are given a pass in public discourse in a way that emotional outbursts typically more associated with women (crying, “getting upset”) are stigmatized.

I wish to dispel the notion that women are “more emotional.” I don’t think we are. I think that the emotions women stereotypically express are what men call “emotions,” and the emotions that men typically express are somehow considered by men to be something else.

This is incorrect. Anger? EMOTION. Hate? EMOTION. Resorting to violence? EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. An irrational need to be correct when all the evidence is against you? Pretty sure that’s an emotion. Resorting to shouting really loudly when you don’t like the other person’s point of view? That’s called “being too emotional to engage in a rational discussion.”

Not only do I think men are at least as emotional as women, I think that these stereotypically male emotions are more damaging to rational dialogue than are stereotypically female emotions. A hurt, crying person can still listen, think, and speak. A shouting, angry person? That person is crapping all over meaningful discourse.

She did a radio debate with a guy who got very angry and shouty while she got angry but, with great effort, not shouty – so he called her passive-aggressive, while she thought she was just arguing as one should. She naturally thought he was an asshole but then they went for a beer with the crew and producer and he turned out to be a good guy, it’s just that you have to shout on the radio or you’ll be silenced by shouters.

This was a good guy. The problem wasn’t him, it was that the behavior our society rewards was not, in my opinion, the best this guy had to offer.

That, to me, is the real problem. It’s also why I’ve used the terms “stereotypically male” and “stereotypically female” in this article; I’m sure that some part of our debating styles is due to how much testosterone is floating around our bodies, but some large part of it is learned. If you’re accustomed to arguing on radio programs, you have to shout because otherwise you would not get to speak. If you majored in women’s studies, you’ve probably had it drilled into you that shouting is “denying someone her voice.” On a talk radio show, crying would immediately invalidate your argument. At a feminist conference, shouting would make you the oppressor. I’m suggesting that both crying and shouting are emotional expressions, that some of these emotions are more destructive to debate and dialogue than others, and that we should all recognize our emotions and then channel them into rational discourse. That means dudes, too.

That is exactly right. We need to recognize our emotions and then channel them into rational discourse. All of us. Not some of us pretend we are doing rational discourse free of emotion while others are doing emotion with no rational discourse.

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

Right on target?

Aug 7th, 2014 12:50 pm | By

One point about Kimberly Winston’s article about Dawkins and Twitter and peace accords – I was surprised by what Daniel Dennett said.

Of course, Dawkins still has legions of supporters. Among his biggest is Dennett, one of his fellow “Four Horsemen” and a philosopher at Tufts University.

“I thought Richard’s responses were right on target. If some radical feminists (and others) think that all rape is equally bad, do they think it is not quite as bad as murder? If so, are THEY condoning rape?  And if they think rape and murder are always equally bad, they really have lost their bearings and do not deserve our attention. Richard has been immensely important.”

Note the “if”. Well yes, if, then whatever. But the proposed “if” isn’t relevant to anything, so it’s frivolous to mention it. It’s likely that Dennett simply had no idea what all this is about, but in that case, he should have just replied that he had no idea what all this is about. He shouldn’t have cast about for a likely reason for Dawkins to tweet “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think” and then used his own speculation as an answer to questions about it from a reporter.

How do I know that’s what he did? I don’t know for sure, but if he had known what it was all about, I don’t see why he would have given such a dud reply.

Of course Richard has been immensely important; I said that in my reply to Winston myself. But I don’t think he’s been immensely important on Twitter. In any case it can be true both that he has been immensely important and that he is currently doing a good deal of harm and could stop doing that with little or no cost to himself.

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

Reporting on the deep rifts

Aug 7th, 2014 11:04 am | By

A couple of days ago I talked to Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service about the joint statement with Richard Dawkins and about his recent adventures on Twitter. Her article is now posted.

So now I can tell you that that’s what prompted yesterday’s farewell to Dear Muslima.

Dawkins declined to be interviewed, and a representative for his foundation said a statement he made on its website would be his final word on the subject.

Yet the current dust-up may have served as a wake-up call. On Wednesday (Aug. 6), presented with criticisms collected for this story, Dawkins added to an existing post on his foundation’s website.

“There should be no rivalry in victimhood,” the addendum to the post reads, “and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist … that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.”

Now to begin at the beginning.

It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record.

Late last month, two heavy-hitters within organized atheism, activist Ophelia Benson and scientist Richard Dawkins, reached a detente of sorts about online debate and posted it on their separate websites.

Heh heh heh. Two heavy-hitters. Like I’m on his level. Like I’m a heavy-hitter at all. Heh heh heh.

Not that I’m going to argue!

“Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not,” the statement reads. “ If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.”

Before the virtual ink was dry, Dawkins had stepped in it again.

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” Dawkins said on Twitter, where he has almost 1 million followers. “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” Another tweet applied the same logic to “mild date rape” and “violent date rape,” and still another compared “mild pedophilia” and “violent pedophilia.”

The sad thing is…this article was going to be about the statement. Just the statement. I think Richard probably would have enjoyed that article more.

On the other hand we now have farewell Dear Muslima, so maybe it’s for the best?

Atheists say controversial things online every day. But Dawkins’ position as the godfather of the modern atheist movement has revived a question that’s been percolating for at least three years: Has the famous scientist become more of a liability than an asset for the movement he helped create?

I’m genuinely torn about that question. He did blow open a lot of doors, and I do still think that was valuable. But…his Plainspeaker shtick has been a magnet for a huge throng of Plainspeaking shitheads who don’t have his talents but do have his taste for being confrontational. That can make organized atheism a massive turnoff for a lot of people.

That’s what I said to Winston, except I knew I had to leave the swears out.

So when his recent tweets about rape and pedophilia hit the Twittersphere two days after the release of the civility agreement with his longtime critic, the debate started anew.

“Perhaps he was testing it,” Benson said of the agreement, which she characterized as a positive step in repairing a rift over feminism within atheism that she traces to Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment.

Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.

“In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to represent long-term, healthy atheism.”

To put it another way, I don’t think “go away and learn how to think” is a helpful thing for a heavy-hitter to tell people who disagree with him on Twitter.

Even some of Dawkins’ critics say they are heartened by his recent statement over the “Dear Muslima” incident.

“I consider this a very hopeful sign that he’s gaining a better appreciation of perspectives different from his own,” [Adam] Lee said. “I’m not going to say that this one statement wipes the slate clean, but it does make me more optimistic and hopeful that his understanding will continue to evolve.”

See what Adam did there? “Evolve.” A friendly little joke.

Anyway – that’s what I think too. We’re not going to agree on everything. I very deliberately composed the statement to say at the outset that we’re not going to agree on everything. But we can disagree without being total shits about it. That will work better. We should do that.


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

ISIS has always worn its love for sectarianism on its sleeve

Aug 7th, 2014 10:03 am | By

Maajid Nawaz has a piece at CNN on ISIS’s ongoing attempt at genocide in Iraq.

ISIS has always worn its love for sectarianism on its sleeve, and its vicious hatred for Yazidis has been no mystery. Repeatedly, disturbing videos have been circulated on social media depicting Yazidis held in tiny cells being cruelly taunted by ISIS prison guards. On top of this, “IS” propagandists have continuously warned of their intention to execute or enslave the adherents of this ancient Zoroastrian-linked religion, whom they view as “devil worshippers” on account of their revering a fallen angel.

So they won’t be fretting about all those Yazidis dying of heat and thirst on Mount Sinjar, will they.

While most fled to refugee camps in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, some 30,000 families ended up on Mount Sinjar, where they are now stranded, surrounded by jihadists.

They are forced to sleep in caves, faced with temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and have no food or water, let alone arms to defend themselves with. Initially, they could contact the outside world using mobile phones. Now, though, most of these have run out of battery and there is no telling how critical the situation has become. What is for certain is that their prospects for escape are minimal.

This is yet another instance of the appalling brutality of “IS”, a group that has consistently abused the most basic human rights of the people it has forced itself upon. Over the last two months, it has committed countless mass summary executions of Shiite soldiers and tortured and shot hundreds of Sunni tribespeople who resisted its rule before taking to social media to boast about their actions.

And the world is doing nothing.

What’s transpiring now is a new Kosovo, an ethno-religious cleansing on a huge scale. That it is taking place at the hands of a jihadist group too extreme for al Qaeda, a group that has repeatedly shown that it has internationalist ambitions, is all the more worrying. It is ludicrous that no one has acted against it already when it is clear that neither the IAF nor the Peshmerga is capable of shutting it down alone.

ISIS has acted with impunity in the region for far too long. It has been allowed to take control of an area larger than the United Kingdom, commandeer hundreds of thousands of dollars of U.S.-made weaponry and subjugate nearly 6 million people.

The international community needs to step up to this most troubling challenge. It must provide substantial and coordinated humanitarian assistance to all refugees and internally displaced people — of any faith or ethnicity — in the region. Furthermore, diplomatic pressure must be exerted on Turkey, the only military power in the region that stands a chance of crushing this false caliphate. Ankara must be ready to bury its differences with the Kurds and extend all the assistance it can to them on a human rights basis, even if this means military support.

Lastly, it is imperative that states across the world reaffirm their absolute commitment to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the right to free thought, conscience and belief. If we do not stand by our principles, who will?

We know the answer to that. No one will. Many people think the rights established by article 18 are anathema.

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

Willing to work for scraps to better our beautiful country

Aug 6th, 2014 5:40 pm | By

A thing I have seen.

Edited to add: it’s not really by Ray Comfort; it’s a fake. The same kind of fake as the ones I’ve been objecting to when they’re attributed to Richard Dawkins or Jessica Valenti lately.

On fazebuke

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

40,000 Iraqis dying of heat and thirst on Mount Sinjar

Aug 6th, 2014 4:24 pm | By

The Telegraph reports on a horror.

Tens of thousands of members of Iraqi religious minority groups driven from their homes for fear of the jihadist group Islamic State are dying of thirst and heat on a desert mountainside in the north of the country, according to the United Nations and human rights groups.

Some 40 children have already died from the heat and dehydration, the UN children’s organisation Unicef says, while upwards of 40,000 more are sheltering in the bare mountains, without food or water or access to supplies. It says 25,000 children may be stranded.

Hundreds of adults, particularly men but also women and children, are already feared to have been killed or abducted by the group, which now surrounds their hiding place.

Most of the refugees, who fled their home city of Sinjar when it was seized by Islamic State at the weekend, are members of the Yazidi community. The Yazidis are an offshoot from Zoroastrianism and the “Peacock Angel” at the centre of their beliefs is associated by some Sunni Muslims with Satan.

Oh dear god. That’s not a reason to murder people. Just stop.

The Yazidis mostly fled south when Sinjar was attacked, but the mountains where they are hiding out are entirely cut off by the Islamic State. Some photos have emerged of panicked lines of cars, and groups of people huddled at the entrance of caves.

The army has managed to drop some supplies by helicopter, but not enough.

“The civilians trapped in the mountain area are not only at risk of being killed or abducted; they are also suffering from a lack of water, food and medical care,” Ms Rovera said. “We urge the international community to provide humanitarian assistance.”

Amnesty claimed the Kurdish government had begun blocking access to refugees. “The plight of displaced people caught up in the fighting in Iraq is increasingly desperate and all parties to the conflict must do more to ensure their safety,” [Amnesty International researcher Donatella] Rovera said.



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

Thank you for taking the time to report something

Aug 6th, 2014 3:48 pm | By

It’s social media day on Slate; they also have a piece about how crappy Facebook is at doing anything about bullying and harassment…except that they don’t put it that harshly, and they should.

A woman in Texas is suing them for doing nothing whatsoever about a report she sent them that someone was posting fake porn pictures of her. Yeah that sounds like Facebook. I suppose they sent her that form letter that says “we saw your report, your reports help us make Facebook safe and welcoming, we’re ignoring your report, we have no reason in fact we didn’t even look at it even though we just said we did, have a nice day.”

Facebook (which I have advised in connection with my work as a member of the Anti-Cyberhate Working Group) and other content providers should heed her lawsuit’s message. Ali’s claims express dissatisfaction with the enormous, unchecked power that digital gatekeepers wield. Her suit essentially says: Hey Facebook, I thought that you had a “no nudity” and “no harassment” policy. Other people reporting abuse got results, why not me?Why would you take down photos of women breastfeeding but not doctored photos portraying me as engaged in porn without my permission? Did my complaint get lost in a black hole or was it ignored for a reason?

Facebook could have alleviated a lot of Ali’s frustration by actually responding to her when she first made contact. 

Ya, and they don’t do that. I along with a whole bunch of other people reported a horrible page on Facebook a few days ago that was set up for no purpose in the world other than to mock and bully and harass Melody Hensley. We all got instant replies from the algorithm, saying what I just said they said.

We reviewed your report of Getting PTSD from tumblr posts without trigger warnings

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the Page you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

That’s what they say. That’s what they always say. Just for one problem, it’s a lie – they did not review the page; they didn’t even see my report. The reply came instantly; it’s obviously automated. Why the hell do they say they reviewed the page when they didn’t? Having done that, why do they then insult us further by saying “Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment”?

With great power comes great responsibility, and Facebook needs to improve its terms-of-service enforcement process by creating an official means of review that includes notifying users about the outcome of their complaints….Facebook can also improve the enforcement process by ensuring that reports of certain abuse—like harassment, nude images, and bullying—get priority review over others, such as spam. When users are filing complaints, they should be prompted to provide information that would better help staff identify those requiring immediate attention.

All true, and none of that is what happens now, as you know if you’ve ever reported anything to Facebook. They just throw it out and send you an insulting pack of lies 2 seconds later.

Bottom line: Facebook needs to start explaining its decisions when users file complaints, no matter the result. Ali should have been told whether or not Facebook viewed what happened to her as a violation. She should have been told whether or not it would be taking the content down, or what the next step would be. And to ensure the fairness of the process, Facebook should not only notify users of decisions but also permit them to appeal. Of course, Facebook is not our government; it does not have to grant individuals any due process under the law. But it should have an appeals procedure anyway, because when people perceive a process to be fair, they are more inclined to accept its results.

It also needs to stop telling lies about reviewing the page when they didn’t review the page.

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

Good-bye Dear Muslima

Aug 6th, 2014 10:48 am | By

Richard D has a new post on the issue of comparisons and rankings. He makes the very reasonable point that it cuts both ways – saying Problem X is comparatively minor can be bad, and saying Problem X is horrific can be bad. Then he says something that made me lean right forward until I almost bumped into the screen. The last two paragraphs:

But let’s think about it. Who exactly is doing the belittling here?

Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say, namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me? I could imagine the following explosive retort from another pedophile victim: “WHAT? You cannot be SERIOUS. When I was a child, I was painfully raped by my father, week after week for years and I was too terrified to tell anyone. How DARE you go on about your 30 seconds of discomfort and momentary embarrassment with a teacher who, unlike my father, meant nothing to you. How DARE you big up your paltry 30 seconds, thereby BELITTLING my five years of painful misery and betrayal? Check your privilege, Dawkins, and take a look at what REAL child abuse looks like.”

Well, I hope nobody would actually say that. There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

Did you see it? I’ll separate it out, in case you missed it.

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.

There it is.

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

What this approach fails to recognize

Aug 6th, 2014 10:25 am | By

Amanda Hess at Slate points out what a terrible, non-existent job Twitter does of preventing users from harassing people.

When CNBC invited Twitter users to ask questions of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo last month, thousands of people chimed in with queries like, “Why is reporting spam easy, but reporting death and rape threats hard?” and “Why are rape threats not a violation of your ToS?” According to CNBC, more than 28 percent of the 8,464 questions submitted to the network concerned harassment and abuse on Twitter. But when Costolo appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, he didn’t address the problem of online threats. 

Sure enough, that sounds exactly like Twitter. It never does address the problem of online threats. 

The company’s typical response to complaints about abusive and harassing behavior on Twitter is to advise users to fend for themselves. The networktells abused individuals to shut up (“abusive users often lose interest once they realize that you will not respond”), unfollow, block, and—in extreme cases—get off Twitter, pick up the phone, and call the police. Twitter opts to ban abusive users from its network only when they issue “direct, specific threats of violence against others.” That’s a criminal standard stricter than the code you’d encounter at any workplace, school campus, or neighborhood bar.

And the result is that Twitter is a playground for people who enjoy harassing others.

What this approach fails to recognize is that online harassment is a social problem (one that disproportionately affects the same folks who are marginalized offline, like minority groups, LGBT people, and women), and making the Internet a safe and equitable place to communicate requires a social solution. 

But of course their goal isn’t to make the Internet a safe and equitable place to communicate. It’s to get as many people as possible using Twitter as much as possible. Obsessive harassers are great for that.

She talks about the Blockbot and other blocking apps, and points out the limitations.

But without Twitter’s cooperation, these developers are still focusing on selected users instead of addressing the problem on a site-wide level. Sharing my block list with my followers might alert a few people to a few bad apples, but all that will accomplish is offering a handful of people the option to block some vile tweets from view. This is, ultimately, in service of Twitter’s preferred solution—that users ignore abuse, pretend stalkers don’t exist, avert their eyes from harassment, and don’t bother Twitter HQ.

These apps won’t actually inspire Twitter to shut down the serial abusers who use their Twitter accounts to harass and threaten women. They won’t help attract serious legal attention to their crimes. And they won’t compel Twitter to instruct its brilliant developers to imagine new sitewide solutions for the problem, or else lend its considerable resources toward educating government officials and law enforcement officers about the abuses its users are suffering on its network. Right now, Twitter doesn’t even have the basics down: University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron, writing about a recent lawsuit filed against Facebook for ignoring revenge porn on its site, suggests that social networks can begin to serve harassed users by hiring more employees to sift through complaints instead of assigning the task to robots; prioritizing reports of threats over reports of spam; notifying users of the outcome of their complaints; and—above all—actually communicating with users on this issue.

Damn right.



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


Aug 6th, 2014 9:21 am | By

A photo Taslima just posted on Twitter, saying “Why wouldn’t Bangladesh boats sink?”

Embedded image permalink

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

Women do most of the farming

Aug 6th, 2014 8:50 am | By

Women do most of the farming in developing countries, but they don’t own the means of production. The Guardian reports on a UN FAO report.

In many households men control the production and marketing of crops as well as household finances. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that if women had the same access to these resources as men they could increase agricultural yields by 20-30%, enough to lift between 100 and 150 million people out of hunger.

Our report, Women’s empowerment pathways: roadblocks and successes found we need to consider the following points.

Context-specific action plans

In order to empower women economically, the underlying causes of income inequalities must be addressed. Due to the immense variation between culture, religion, and infrastructure which can exist even in areas only a few miles apart, strategies to empower women farmers cannot be one size fits all. Implementation must be informed by country-level, context and culturally-specific assessments to determine the needs of women farmers on a community, regional and country level in order to tailor approaches which will address underlying causes of inequality while ensuring women’s wellbeing. This should be informed by a broader gender strategy which establishes long-term goals and guides the intervention.

It often amazes me what a lot of plain waste there is in gender arrangements.

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

Guest post: Under any rationale, no matter how flimsy

Aug 5th, 2014 4:50 pm | By

Originally a comment by newenlightenment on In a fair world he would get it.

They ruined her a while back: Kissinger was at Hirsi Ali and Niall Ferguson’s wedding. (Admittedly by his invitation, not hers.) Particularly galling when you consider that Christopher Hitchens was on his deathbed at the time, had been a close friend and defender of Hirsi Ali, and his greatest work was in exposing Kissinger’s war crimes to the world. Hirsi Ali’s actions are a total betrayal, not only of human rights, but of basic human decency.

Hirsi Ali also claimed that the welfare state was responsible for the murder of Theo Van Gogh, since ‘the killer was on welfare, if he had had to look for work to support himself, he would not have had the time to plan the murder’ – a statement so wingnut it makes James Delingpole look almost logical.

Hirsi Ali may have been just as bad before she joined AIE, in Infidel she claimed that as an MP she had advocated ‘dramatically cutting unemployment benefits and abolition of the minimum wage’ to eliminate a supposed poverty trap where Muslim migrants were able to earn more on benefits than by working, and thus could avoid mingling with unbelievers. Even if one accepts the facts of this claim, abolition of the minimum wage would make no sense, one does not ‘make work pay’ by cutting wages! If Hirsi Ali had argued for cutting unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage she might at least have made sense on her own terms, but as it is, she merely exposed the right-wing agenda she determined to promote, under any rationale, no matter how flimsy.

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

Simply Reckless

Aug 5th, 2014 4:38 pm | By

Let’s take a look at the American Enterprise Institute. Let’s see what SourceWatch has to say.

Controversies and Claims

Minimum Wage Hikes “Simply Reckless”

AEI scholars caution against legislation raising the minimum wage “for the sake of low-wage workers,” claiming that mandating a higher wage increases the cost of employment and will therefore leave fewer jobs. In one article, AEI resident scholar Michael R. Strain called Seattle’s initiative to increase the city’s wage requirements “simply reckless.”[16]

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform “Disastrously Wrong Response”

AEI has spoken out against the financial system regulations created under the Dodd-Frank Act. In an article, AEI scholar Peter J. Wallison claimed that the 2008 financial crisis, which led to the legislation, “was not caused by insufficient regulation, let alone by an inherently unstable financial system. It was caused by government housing policies…” Wallison wrote, “The Dodd-Frank Act was a disastrously wrong response,” claiming it created uncertainty and removed the incentive for financial institutions to take risk.[17]

No surprises there, only the familiar disgust.

Casting Doubt on Global Warming

In February 2007, The Guardian (UK) reported that AEI was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each, “to undermine a major climate change report” from the United NationsIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). AEI asked for “articles that emphasise the shortcomings” of the IPCC report, which “is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science.” AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green made the $10,000 offer “to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere,” in a letter describing the IPCC as “resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent.”[19]

The Guardian reported further that AEI “has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil, and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees,” added The Guardian.[19]

Since the time of that report, AEI has continued to receive money from Exxon Mobil — a total of at least $1,520,000.[20]

That’s pretty shameless. It’s almost as if AEI is not a think tank at all, but just a paid servant of the oil industry – only for some reason it’s seen as a think tank, so its output is treated not as PR fluff but as think-tankery.

AEI and the head of its energy studies department, Benjamin Zycher, have faced criticism for distorting scientific findings on global warming from Jeffrey Sachs, a leading environmental studies scholar, Columbia University professor, economist, and UN advisor. Zycher had once criticized Sachs for misconstruing the IPCC conclusions on global warming; however, Sachs responded, “It is Zycher who distorts, misrepresents, or simply ignores the IPCC conclusions.”[21]

Sachs went on to write:

“It is time for Zycher and, indeed, the American Enterprise Institute, to come clean. The AEI, despite its roster of distinguished academics, has failed to be constructive in the climate debate.

A roster of distinguished academics who have been bought by ExxonMobil.

Defending Big Tobacco

In 1980, AEI for the sum of $25,000 produced a study in support of the tobacco industry titled, Cost-Benefit Analysis of Regulation: Consumer Products. The study was designed to counteract “social cost” arguments against smoking by broadening the social cost issue to include other consumer products such as alcohol and saccharin. The social cost arguments against smoking hold that smoking burdens society with additional costs from on-the-job absenteeism, medical costs, cleaning costs and fires.[24] The report was part of the global tobacco industry’s 1980s Social Costs/Social Values Project, carried out to refute emerging social cost arguments against smoking.

NGO Watch

In June 2003, AEI and another right-wing group, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, launched a new to expose the funding, operations and agendas of international NGOs, and particularly their alleged efforts to constrain U.S. freedom of action in international affairs and influence the behavior of corporations abroad.[25] AEI claimed that “The extraordinary growth of advocacy NGOs in liberal democracies has the potential to undermine the sovereignty of constitutional democracies, as well as the effectiveness of credible NGOs.”[26]Ralph Nader responded, “What they are condemning, with vague, ironic regulatory nostrums proposed against dissenting citizen groups, is democracy itself.” [27]

Altogether not a very admirable organization.

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

Londoners and near-byers

Aug 5th, 2014 2:41 pm | By

Don’t forget this, people in London and vicinity – and Edinburgh and Stockholm if you’re up for making a trip at the last minute – Bernard Hurley’s talk on “How to Make Enemies and Alienate People – the Philosophy of Offensive and Inappropriate Language.”

It’s at the Exmouth Arms, 1 Starcross Street, NW1 2HR London.

The growth of social media has given an unprecedented opportunity for those who wish to gratuitously offend to actually do so but it has also given an opportunity for those who wish to take offence at mere criticism to express such offence. It’s clear that someone who uses offensive language is doing more than just conveying information, but what exactly are they doing? The job of the philosopher is to clarify, rather than to prescribe and it seems to me that there is urgent need for clarification today. However there has been very little discussion about how offensive language fits into the Philosophy of Language. Drawing on some ideas of Michael Dummett, I shall make some suggestion about how such language might work.

This lecture is part of the 2014 Kant’s Cave Lecture series. As is usual at these lectures there will be plenty of time for discussion afterwards.

I wish I were in London right now so that I could go.

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

The downfall of a skeptoid

Aug 5th, 2014 11:47 am | By

Rebecca tells us that Brian Dunning has been sentenced at last – 15 months in the slammer.

This is great news for the skeptic community at large, since it may be a long enough sentence for Dunning to fade from memory and stop publicly representing the very people who are supposedly trying to stop people from defrauding others.

It’s not a good look, is it, having a big Name skeptic turn out to have been committing fraud on a large scale.

Meanwhile, this case had brought to light an actual skeptical activist who appears to be smart, hilarious, and actually effective at stopping frauds: Assistant United States Attorney David R. Callaway. In the government’s sentencing recommendation to the court last week, Callaway* argued beautifully against the idea that Dunning deserves to be insulated from the consequences of his actions, saying that “There is no “Get out of Trauma Free” card for white-collar criminals or, unfortunately, their families.”

Callaway points to Dunning’s “celebrity” in the skeptical community as a further reason to punish him harshly (emphasis mine):

The enhanced deterrence value of a prison term would be all the greater in Mr. Dunning’s case, as he is at least somewhat of a “public figure” by virtue of his podcast, “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena,” which he claims has a weekly audience of 179,000 listeners.

I keep pointing out that skepticism isn’t enough. It’s a useful tool, but it’s very far from being a complete or adequate worldview, let alone any kind of moral compass.

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

Religious freedom functions like a giant get-out-of-reality-free card

Aug 5th, 2014 11:20 am | By

Katha Pollitt at The Nation says pleasingly harsh things about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

RFRA, which required laws infringing on religious convictions to meet the “strict scrutiny” test, was overkill. There were other ways to protect Native Americans’ right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. The church could have asked the State Legislature for an exemption; after all, during Prohibition, the Catholic Church was allowed to use wine in the Mass. Or—but now I’m really dreaming—workers could have been given legal protection from losing their jobs for minor lawbreaking outside the workplace. I mean, peyote! Come on. But no, for some reason, there had to be a sweeping, feel-good, come-to-Jesus moment uniting left and right.

“The power of God is such,” said President Clinton, “that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.” Gag me with a spoon.

What were progressives thinking? Maybe in 1993, religion looked like a stronger progressive force than it turned out to be, or maybe freedom of religion looked like a politically neutral good thing.

I know what I was thinking: I was thinking it was a horrible law. I have never in my life thought that religion was any kind of progressive force. Freedom of religion as normally understood looked like a politically neutral good thing, but not the absurdly expansive version that RFRA imposed.

For some, RFRA doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t apply to state law. In April, Mississippi became the nineteenth state to enact its own RFRA, which essentially legalizes discrimination against LGBT people by individuals as well as businesses, as long as the haters remember to attribute their views to God. Instead of protecting LGBT people from discrimination—a business refusing to serve them, for example—Mississippi will be siding with the bigots, just like old times. Last year, the state passed the Student Religious Liberties Act, which gives pupils the right to express themselves freely on matters of faith without consequences. Johnny can tell his classmate Jane that she’ll burn in hell because she’s a lesbian and write all his biology papers on Adam and Eve and their dinosaur pets, and the school can’t say a word about it. That would be intolerant.

Anybody who didn’t know all along that this would be the implication wasn’t paying enough attention. (It wasn’t long after that that I read Stephen Carter’s dreadful book about the horrors of secularism, and I thought that was a huge crock of shit too.)

Even if religion were not the basically conservative social force it is in American life, expanding the religious freedom of individuals or corporations is simply not a good way to make public policy.

Why? Because religion doesn’t have a reliable or intersubjective grasp on reality.

It’s great, though, when you don’t have an actual argument to support your position. The right uses religion because that’s all it’s got: the secular arguments against LGBT rights are in history’s dustbin…Religious freedom functions like a giant get-out-of-reality-free card: your belief cannot be judged, because it’s a belief.

My point exactly. It’s the realm of the arbitrary, and that’s no good for making public policy.



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