Hau tu komyewnikate

May 25th, 2010 4:40 pm | By

Chris Mooney has explained about the need for science communication, or as he calls it, Sci Comm Training.

Science needs both to create new knowledge and also to disseminate it effectively so that that knowledge has an impact–so that it changes the world in a positive way. Why on earth would these two important ends be set in opposition to each other?

Yes of course it does, but disseminating knowledge is not necessarily the same thing as “framing,” nor does it necessarily need to know about “framing.” Framing is more closely related to public relations and political campaigning than it is to education, and that’s one major reason scientists and fans of science don’t all think Mooney is the ideal person to give “boot camps” in how to disseminate scientific knowledge.

I said something like that, and a bit more, in a comment that I tried to make at The Intersection, thinking perhaps after all this time the ban on me had expired, or rusted, or been lifted. I thought I would see, at any rate. But my comment has not been posted, so clearly the ban is still fresh and vigorous. So I’ll drop it off here.

The problem continues in this post – the “communication” here includes misdescribing at least some of the disagreements around all this.

I, for one, have nothing against “science communication” as such. I do however have doubts that you are the right person to teach science communication, Chris, for the simple reason that you’re not very good at it yourself. That’s not meant as an insult – it’s not a crime not to be good at a particular thing.

One part of being good at communication is surely an ability to predict the effect of your communications on your audience. You don’t seem to have that: you were surprised by the reactions to your “civility” post a year ago. You were surprised by my reaction, for instance – you may remember we had a (reasonably friendly) email exchange about it. It’s odd that you were surprised, and the fact that you were surprised hints to me that you don’t have full control of your communications – you don’t entirely know what you’re doing. This would seem to be a disqualifier for teaching the subject.

You don’t seem to be able to grasp why the concept of “framing” is not welcomed with cries of delight by people whose vocation it is to try to get at the truth. That to me seems to be another disqualifier for teaching communications. Your overall refusal to engage with critics seems like another.

Even the Dalai Lama kicks at atheists

May 25th, 2010 4:27 pm | By

Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, says tolerance is good and religions are good. Unfortunately, as G Felis pointed out, he says more than that.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

No we don’t. We may offer generalized criticism of religious belief as such, but that’s not the same as issuing “blanket condemnations” of all believers themselves. The DL did a blanket condemnation of us.

New sandbox rules

May 24th, 2010 12:32 pm | By

Karl Giberson explains about political science in the US and what it means for how we have to behave:

America has a complex and enduring commitment to pluralism. We want people to be free to act — and believe — as they please. But we must all play in the same sandbox, so we are attentive to the idiosyncrasies of our playmates, especially when they don’t make sense to us.

By “attentive” it turns out he means we don’t disagree with them, and by “idiosyncrasies” it turns out he means beliefs, no matter how unreasonable and arbitrary and evidence-free. So we must all play in the same sandbox, meaning, apparently, that we must all spend our lives three inches from all 300 million of the rest of us, and therefore we must never disagree with any of the beliefs of any of the 300 million.

What a happy and fulfilling life that sounds like! In airless proximity to 300 million people and forbidden to dispute any of their beliefs no matter how demented those beliefs may be. If that’s what pluralism means, I’d better start packing for Antarctica, where there’s a little room to breathe.

Giberson goes on to explain that “informed religious belief can accommodate modern science” and that things are looking good in that department, then he goes on from there to explain that the only problem is, “New Atheists.” Then he goes on to spend the vast bulk of the piece saying what’s so awful about “New Atheists” – thus violating his own rule about how to play in the sandbox, I would have thought, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

Dennet’s brother-in-arms, atheist Jerry Coyne, raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and me over the coals in The New Republic for our claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science.

Enough with the jokes; now I’m serious. That’s a really offensive claim. Not offensive in the frivolous sense the word is so often used to convey, but genuinely offensive, because it is untrue. Coyne doesn’t rake Miller and Giberson over any coals; he says good things about both of them in that long review in The New Republic; he also disagrees with much of what they claim in their respective books. He does it honestly, and carefully, and with detailed argument. That is not the same thing as raking people over the coals! It is offensive for Karl Giberson to make that accusation in a large-circulation national newspaper. Yet here he is telling other people how to play nicely. It’s so typical – say things about atheists that are not true, in the very act of telling atheists to be Nicer.

For the sake of argument, let us set aside questions about the truth of religion vs. the truth of science. Suppose there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion. Allow that the “New Atheist Noise Machine,” as American University communications professor Matt Nisbet calls it, has a privileged grasp of the truth. Even with these concessions, it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.

Does it? Or does it just appear that they are describing reality as they see it, and disputing other descriptions of reality that seem to them to be wrong. That’s how it appears to me. It also appears to me that Karl Giberson is confusing “saying something I don’t like” with “behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies” – while doing some genuine bullying himself.

There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don’t comport with science.

But nobody is “demanding” that – because nobody is in a position to demand that. People are pointing out incompatibilities, in public discussions. It seems to me there is “something profoundly un-American” about treating that as impermissible.

I had thought Giberson was a mistaken but decent guy (I got that impression from Coyne’s review, ironically enough), but now I know better.

Those who can’t, give a “boot camp”

May 23rd, 2010 5:39 pm | By

Hmm. I see where Chris Mooney says he is

giving a four hour “boot camp” on science communication to a group of graduate students and other interested parties. The session begins with an overview of the “theory” of science communication–why we must do it better, what the obstacles are, and how a changing media environment makes it much tougher…Then, the session goes into a media “how to”–rules for interacting with journalists, media do’s and don’ts, and an overview of various key communication “technologies,” such as framing.

Interesting, but one question that occurs to me right away is what makes anyone (including Mooney) think Mooney is the right person to teach anyone how to communicate? He’s strikingly bad at it himself. Really he is. Yes I know I’m not an impartial observer, but all the same – he is.

He could so easily have done a better job of “communicating” and “framing” last summer – he could have answered questions instead of ignoring them, he could have taken critics seriously instead of repeatedly trashing them, he could have admitted it when he absorbed other people’s arguments and began regurgitating them, he could have dropped the petulant whining about bloggers he dislikes in the national media. He could have said basically the same things (minus the trashing and whining) but done a better job of it – a less alienating job of it – a less piss everybody off job of it. But he didn’t. He just kept pouring more gasoline on the fire, instead. So in what sense is he an expert on “communication”? In what sense is he even good at it?

He does please the Templeton Foundation, of course, but then the Templeton Foundation is not what you’d call hard to please. They’ll lavish money on anybody who shouts that science and religion are best friends.

Update: link fixed! Sorry – was late in the day when I did this yesterday.

Update 2: Abbie has a very funny post on the subject, with a lot of very funny comments (which eventually become all-Pluto all the time, at which point I recommend ceasing to read).

Timeless twoofs

May 23rd, 2010 12:53 pm | By

Jerry Coyne points out this here Clergy Letter Project. It’s a thing where a bunch of clergy sign a letter saying science and religion can be compatible. Very useful in its way, no doubt, but it says some dubious things on the way there.

Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation.

Oh really? What “timeless truths” does the beloved story about Noah and the ark convey? That there is a god watching human antics as if we were a bad movie? That we are so bad and disgusting that this god may decide to delete us all and start over, deleting all the other animals at the same time? And that then god will decide there is one righteous fella and decide to preserve him and his kids and a pair of each animal, and start over from them? What timeless truths does all that convey? That humans are horrible? That god is incompetent? That humans are horrible except for one righteous guy? Are those timeless truths? Are they truths at all? And is that story such a great way to convey them? Better than the Odyssey for instance? And as for Adam and Eve – we know what that teaches: that women are sly stupid disobedient bitches who ruin everything and drag men down with them.

And how can the bible or any other book convey any kind of truths about “the proper relationship between Creator and creation” when there is no “Creator” to have a proper relationship with? In other words that whole idea just begs the very question that is at issue, the compatibility of science and religion. The reason the two are not compatible is that science doesn’t assume the existence of a magical evidence-free “Creator” while religion does, so if you try to explain that the two are compatible by burbling about “timeless truths” about “the proper relationship between Creator and creation” then you’re arguing in a circle.

Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

By starting from the assumption that there is a “Creator” and a “proper relationship” we should be having with it, which is a pair of claims about the real world that we live in, so it’s not as separate from science as the project wants to claim. Typical.

Lunchtime O’Jokes

May 22nd, 2010 12:29 pm | By

Decca Aitkenhead’s article on Hitchens is very snide, but one suspects there is a good deal of truth in it. In particular I can’t help being amused by her portrayal of his sense of humor.

The march of time certainly hasn’t altered one thing about Hitchens, which is, alas, his unaccountable pleasure in word games of the most puerile variety. Page after page is devoted to the infinite hilarity derived by Amis, Rushdie, McEwan and Hitchens from substituting in the titles of well-known books, films and songs the word “dick” for “heart”, or “fuck” for “love”, or “cunt” for “man”.

“Oh, I know,” he chortles, when I bring this up. “Shameful.” He surely can’t still find these jokes funny, can he? “Oh yeah, I do. I sometimes wake up laughing at them. Yup. Never get bored of it.” And this from a man who once wrote that women weren’t funny.

Now, I can imagine a few of those being funny (except for the cunt part, but we’ve already found out that the word has a somewhat modified meaning in British English), but an infinite stream of them? Not so much. Endless repetition really isn’t all that funny, yet I do know some people who really think it is, and tirelessly engage in it. They’re all men. And they are all peculiarly (indeed, conceitedly) blind to humor in women. One shouldn’t generalize from one’s own narrow experience, but all the same, I find Aikenhead’s weary incredulity quite funny. I too have spotted what looks like a correlation between unfunny jokes in the self and inability to recognize funny jokes in the other – something that is more than just ‘I am funny and you are not’; it’s a peculiar kind of humor coupled with a peculiar kind of tin ear.

Still. To be fair, it’s hard to believe that that really applies to any of the males Aikenhead mentions, since they can be genuinely funny as well as boringly pseudofunny.

Still again…there is that pub joke of Hitchens’s…

Why does he say to the barmaid, “Put a Xerox in that” when he wants another drink? He’s meant to be an international sophisticate, not a home counties golf club bore.

“I think it’s rather ingenious.” He beams. “You don’t want to say, ‘Same again’, like everyone else. It works like a sonnet. It gets them every time.”



May 21st, 2010 5:11 pm | By

I quite understand, except for one thing – why did they hire a psychic in Bangalore? Are there no psychics in Lincolnshire? That seems most unikely. It’s a mystical sort of place, Lincs – it must be crawling with psychics.

Now I know what you’re going to say – they’re psychics – they don’t have to be on the spot – der. It’s spiritual. It’s not all grubbily of the earth earthy; it’s immaterial, it’s floaty, it’s non-geographical. The psychic could be on Pluto; it wouldn’t matter. Thought travels through space and time, it does not need bodies or proximity. I know. I get all that. But what about the convenience of the people who are stuck in Lincolnshire? Surely it would be easier for them to chat with a psychic who was right there than with one who was in a completely different time zone.

On the other hand, I suppose the thinking is that if you’re going to use a psychic you might as well use the best, and obviously the best psychics are all in India. Fair enough. Forget I said anything.

The creator of the universe is really clever

May 20th, 2010 12:22 pm | By

Karl Giberson is a honcho at BioLogos. BioLogos is about “Science and Faith in Dialogue,” about Science & the Sacred. Francis Collins is a scientist, Karl Giberson is a scientist. Karl Giberson explains why he has reservations about Intelligent Design.

BioLogos enthusiastically endorses the idea that the universe is intelligently designed and we certainly believe that the creator of the universe is intelligent. We consider the evidence regarding the fine-tuning of the universe to be provocative and compelling. Our reservations about ID certainly do not derive from any rejection of the rationality of the universe.

The rationality of the universe? What’s rational about the universe? It’s too big, for one thing. It’s too cold for another, too full of surprises for another, too hard to breathe in for one more. What’s so rational? And…rational according to what criteria? Ours? Obviously not. God’s? But that just begs the question.

Anyway. What I really wonder is what he means by saying “we certainly believe that the creator of the universe is intelligent.” What can any human mean by that? What do we mean by “intelligent”?

We mean “intelligent according to us,” of course. We’re human beings, saying human things, seeing things from a human perspective. “Intelligence” is something we attribute to ourselves and perhaps in small amounts to some other animals. It’s something we name as existing in some of the evolved animals in the organic top layer of this one planet. Does it seem at all likely that the same quality could exist in an entity that “designed” and “created” the universe? Not to me it doesn’t. We recognize something we call “intelligence” in entities of a certain size with a certain amount of brain tissue. The universe doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that could be “designed” and “created” by a similar entity magnified enough times to be bigger than the universe (you have to be bigger to be outside it, because you have to be outside it before you can design and create it). It’s not enough to be bigger than Texas, or bigger than the earth, or bigger than Jupiter – bigger than the universe is a whole different order of bigger. Does it make sense to think we can make educated guesses about what kind of personal qualities – intelligence, courage, politeness – an entity of that size might have?

I don’t think it does. I think it’s just a packet of words that people mouth, without really thinking about them properly. If they actually thought about them, the oddities would slow them down. It’s very easy to say we certainly believe that the creator of the universe is intelligent, but making sense of it is another matter.

But what are you going to do about it?

May 20th, 2010 11:32 am | By

Rand Paul, Kentucky’s “Tea Party” nominee for the Senate, is opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo says why that’s not just a principled libertarian view:

To a degree the argument Paul is making is something like saying that I don’t like rape or murder, I just don’t believe in a police force to prevent it or a judiciary to punish the offenders. The reason we, albeit imperfectly, have equality before the law and in the society at large (in terms of public accommodations and so forth) on racial grounds in the whole of the United States is because of federal legislation that forced that to be the case. The reason we don’t have white and colored drinking fountains or pools for whites only

is because of federal legislation that forced that to be the case.

And we know all that because that’s how it played out during the 1950s and 60s. There was activism, there were protests and marches and freedom rides, and they got things going, but they weren’t enough. They faced overwhelming state force, and they would have lost if the federal government hadn’t – slowly and reluctantly under Eisenhower and Kennedy, with more commitment under Johnson – joined in. Libertarianism wouldn’t have worked, at least not nearly as fast.

Yesterday’s gone

May 19th, 2010 12:18 pm | By

Sean Brady says no no no no no he won’t go. He doesn’t want to. It’s not fair. All the others. He was only. They didn’t use to. Back then it was all. You just don’t. We all thought that.

The cardinal, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, is under pressure to stand down after it emerged that he took part in a secret canonical tribunal in 1975 at which two minors were made to swear oaths of silence about their allegations against the paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth.

Smyth went on to rape hundreds more children across Ireland, the UK and the United States before he died in prison in 1997.

Well, yes, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. Look here – suppose you’re an executive of BP, or General Motors, or Enron, or Lehman Brothers, or any other fine upstanding capitalist institution. Suppose a couple of children credibly report being raped by one of your subordinates. What do you do? You force them to swear secrecy, of course! And you transfer that subordinate from London to Salford, or Galveston to New York, or whatever it may be; you move the subordinate to a city different from the city where the two raped children live, thus insuring that that subordinate will not be raping those two children again. Simple! Problem solved! The children have been made to shut up, and the rapist has been moved, so it’s a win-win. Everybody is protected, everybody is safe, everybody is happy.

So what possible reason could there be for Sean Brady to quit his excellent high-status job?

Marie Collins, a campaigner who was abused by a priest as a child, said that she was not surprised. “I met with him six weeks ago and he gave no indicaton whatsoever that he felt any remorse or regret or even grasped that he’d done anything wrong in the Brendan Smyth case, that he’d left an abuser free for 18 years to continue abusing.”…

“He [Cardinal Brady] was well aware for the following 18 years that Brendan Smyth was free to continue abusing and he did nothing about it,” she said.

“In his statement he has not even referred to the past, so I think it’s an indication that nothing is changing in the Church, the attitudes are still the same for all the words that we are getting.”

Forgive and forget, Marie Collins. Cast not the first stone. That was then, this is now. Move on. Spilt milk. Get over it. Get a life.

Evan Harris’s actual views on abortion and death

May 18th, 2010 3:10 pm | By

In his own words, which he put down in a comment [Apr 19th, 2010 at 11:16 am] on Cristina Odone’s vicious Telegraph blog post about him just before the election.

On the issues, it is true that, in common with 80% of the country and a majority of Christians, Lib Dems support – on a free vote for MPs and peers – the legalisation of assisted dying for the suffering terminally ill of sound mind. This is very different from “euthanasia” which would include involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia (non-consenting or where no capacity to consent) which we of course oppose.

And yet both Odone and Pitcher flatly stated that he supports euthanasia. The election result was very close; Odone’s falsehood may have been decisive. She said something false and hateful just before the election, and he just barely lost. I do not like Cristina Odone.

On abortion, there is no party policy. I support – as does 80% of the population and the Church of England – the right of women not to be forced to go through pregnancy and give birth against their will. Abortion, when it happens, should take place as early as possible and our current laws should be amended to make access to early abortion easier to prevent delays.

Always good to have falsehoods corrected, don’t you think?

Leave me alone you big bully

May 18th, 2010 2:09 pm | By

I just heard Peter Tatchell speaking very sharply to a Ugandan government minister (whose name I didn’t get, having turned the radio on in mid-segment) on the World Service. “You do not speak for all Ugandans,” he said fiercely. The minister said, “We’re not going to be bullied.” No indeed; instead you’re going to bully.

Sheep may safely wear clogs

May 18th, 2010 11:54 am | By

So 1500 people who currently work for the BBC in London are being shifted to working for the BBC in Salford, i.e. Manchester. This is rather like working for PBS in New York and being shifted to working for PBS in Pittsburgh…Though not all that much like it, since Manchester is a lot closer to London than Pittsburgh is to New York, plus there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff between Manchester and London, not to mention in a 50 mile radius of Manchester, which is not so true of Pittsburgh.

But never mind; it’s close enough. You get the idea. It’s a move to the provinces, and the industrial provinces at that; it’s a move to the rust belt; it’s a move out of The City to a city. Mind you – Manchester’s got two football teams – and an interesting past (Engels? remember him?) – and a university – but all the same, it’s not London.

The BBC understands. The BBC feels their pain. The BBC realizes they must be going through hell. The BBC knows how to help. A source explained:

Many of the London staff were horrified by the prospect of moving up North and there will no doubt be people who need counselling about their change of surroundings. It is hoped that the new vicar will be able to provide some pastoral support to the new community of London staff who, it is expected, will take a while to acclimatise to life outside the capital.

Ahhhh…isn’t that sweet? They’ll be wanting counselling about their change of surroundings. So I suppose that will be the vicar explaining about the 50 mile radius, and the two football teams, and the university, because the BBC staff won’t be able to figure out for themselves, being still paralyzed with horror about this moving up North thing. Plus of course the vicar will be able to pray with them, and pat them on the shoulder, and say there there there there, and tell them how dreadful Evan Harris is.

Or is there more to pastoral support than that? Does it include herding sheep? Is there a lot of sheep-farming in Manchester? I rather thought that was outside the cities, on the fells or dales or hawes or krills or something.
No matter; that’s for the vicar to work out; but anyway the staff is sure to be fine, because they are the new community of London staff, and no one who is the community can possibly be downcast or horrified for long.

The christian war on Evan Harris

May 17th, 2010 4:24 pm | By

David Colquhoun sees Evan Harris rather differently from the way George Pitcher does.

Evan Harris is one of the most principled men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. His stands on human rights, civil rights and libel law reform have been exemplary. He is also one of the few (and now fewer) members of parliament who understands how science works and its importance for the future of the UK. He has been a tireless advocate for the idea that policy should be based on evidence (as opposed to guesswork).

And he’s an atheist, and “his defeat was brought about by poisonous lies propagated by, ahem, evangelical christians.”

Then Colquhoun goes through the lies and the people who propagated them.

Lynda Rose is an Anglican minister who seems to think it appropriate to call a good man “Dr Death” because of her religious ‘principles’…Cristina Odone was editor of the Catholic Herald from 1991 to 1996. She is another ‘good christian’ who wrote an abominably nasty piece in the Daily Telegraph on April 19th

A piece also calling Harris “Dr Death.” And then George Pitcher, and Father Raymond Blake.

So much for the idea that religious people are nicer.

What I have been doing lately

May 17th, 2010 3:38 pm | By

I’ve been working on the next issue of The Philosophers’ Magazine for the past twelve days. We have now finished; another issue put to bed. This one is the 50th. Imagine that! The 50th! Cities have risen and fallen in that time, dynasties have collapsed, bubbles have burst, banks have run through all their own and everyone else’s money, oil has spilled, cookies have crumbled.

It’s a tremendous issue. I can’t tell you how, because it’s a surprise, but it’s Special, and it’s very very good. I’ve read every word of it, as always, and it’s great.

An evil slur

May 17th, 2010 10:16 am | By

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has some sharp (in both senses) things to say about the burqa and laws relating to it and the hijab.

As always, the British power elite casts itself – unconsciously perhaps – as more tolerant and enlightened than its European counterparts…
We have a history of self-righteousness in these intra-continental culture wars. The veil once more gives us a chance to show off our liberal credentials and show up our more bigoted neighbours, whose anti-Muslim attitudes are indeed uglier…

But defending the right to wear the burqa isn’t really the ideal way to show off one’s liberal credentials.

What of the fact that millions of us are against the black covering? And that many supported the French school-uniform proscription? We know there is no Koranic injunction to cover the face, and we watch helplessly as organised brainwashing is leading to the blanking out of female Muslim presence and individuality from the public space. The Oxford theologian and imam Dr Taj Hargey can give you chapter and verse to prove both these points. We say that dress codes can be imposed in public-service interactions for a greater good. That whether opted for by the woman or pushed on her by others, the inherent message of the veiled woman is that femininity is treacherous – which is an evil slur.

Too many defenders of the right to wear the burqa – not all, but too many – fail to deal with the evil slur aspect. Too many defenders treat the matter as unambiguous, easy, a slam dunk. They need to keep the evil slur firmly in mind.

‘Anonymous’ is all right for Palgrave’s Treasury…

May 16th, 2010 4:55 pm | By

Jerry Coyne did an amusing post yesterday about anonymous blogging. He did it as if he were Andy Rooney (an editorialist on a long-running tv news show, for non-US readers).

I’ve learned that there are people out there who run blogs but do it anonymously. Anonymously—get it? That means that they hide their identity from readers. Now when I first heard this I was astounded. After all, I’ve been a journalist for nearly seven decades, and the first thing you learn is that you stand behind your work—you take responsibility for what you say.

Well quite. And if you don’t, then most of the time – unless you’re very good at it, very clever and sharp and funny and knowledgeable – you will be taken considerably less seriously than you would be if you did take responsibility for your work. You will also be read less. I’m just not very interested in what Someone Random has to say (unless SR is good enough to have built up a reputation as SR, which takes time), and I’m also usually wary of it, because SR lacks an important motivation that the rest of us have for not doing things like lying or lapsing into scatalogical frenzies.

But some commenters on Jerry’s post sharply disagreed – mostly for bad reasons. A somewhat good or at least reasonable reason is that some people want to be free to discuss controversial ideas without fear of repelling employers or families or both.

I would still say that is at least not the best way to argue for controversial ideas, precisely because it does look evasive and unaccountable. There is an old and admirable tradition of anonymous pamphleteering, but all the same – there are drawbacks to pamphleteering that way. There are non-invidious reasons people want to know who is writing.

More to the point, however, that kind of anonymity isn’t a reason for slandering other people who are not anonymous, and doing so is ethically…suspect, shall we say.

One late commenter remarked that

I find it interesting that those who fail to understand the value of anonymity are usually those who didn’t have the privilege of growing up with the internet. It’s an unfortunate generation gap.

No; that won’t fly. Anonymous abuse does not magically become a fine thing just because it’s on the internet. For one thing it’s hardly a secret that the internet can be an incredibly nasty place, nor that anonymity is one major reason for that. For another thing, why would it?

Suppose someone at your workplace starts leaving messages all over the place saying nasty things about you or some other co-worker – anonymously. That’s not considered perfectly all right, is it? Granted I don’t get out much, but it is my understanding that that kind of thing is frowned on. Or suppose someone at a school is doing that – plastering the place with anonymous messages about a teacher or a student. Is that seen as okie dokie? No. So why would it be ok on the internet? It wouldn’t, and it isn’t.

I don’t read anonymous blogs much; it may be that I don’t read them at all (I’m not sure offhand). One I’m just not very interested, but two, I don’t trust them. Newspaper editors don’t trust anonymous sources, and neither do I. And as for anonymous ankle-biters – they’re just a joke, and they sink to their own level. No one reads them but other anonymous ankle-biters.

You did want to know that, didn’t you?

Replacing a mountain of lies with a few truths

May 16th, 2010 11:10 am | By

Poor Orlando Figes, what a terrible fate. The embarrassment of it.

The future of one of Britain’s leading historians was looking increasingly uncertain tonight after he admitted that he was the author of anonymous reviews that praised his own work as “fascinating” and “uplifting” while rubbishing that of his rivals.

On Amazon. Oh dear.

Orlando Figes, one of the stars of contemporary history, had issued a string of legal threats to academic colleagues, literary journals and newspapers that suggested he might have written the reviews posted on Amazon.co.uk.

When challenged about the reviews, Figes’s lawyer initially denied Figes was the author and threatened legal action. In a later statement, Figes blamed them on his wife, the barrister Stephanie Palmer.

Then he said he did it, and he’s fraffly sorry.

[T]he editor of the TLS, Peter Stothard, said the issue of poisonous online reviews needed to be kept in proportion. “There’s nothing new about oversensitive writers, and nothing new about anonymous criticism, both of which have existed since time immemorial. What is new and is regrettable is when historians use the law to stifle debate and to put something in the paper which is untrue.”…As a specialist in Russian history, Figes’s “whole business is replacing a mountain of lies with a few truths”.

It’s a good business, and people who engage in it should try to live up to it.

The elites who run the Empire State Building

May 15th, 2010 5:05 pm | By

Bill Donohue is in a huge giant rage again, this time because he ordered the people who manage the Empire State Building to illuminate it with blue and white lights one day in order to celebrate the birthday of “Mother Teresa” and it didn’t obey.

Well – there are only 365 days in the year and the people who run the ESB can’t obey every single time someone orders them to illuminate the building in order to celebrate X, so why is Donohue all tied in knots? Because “Mother Teresa” is obviously one of the 365 most important and wonderful people of all time and therefore should get one of the 365 days there are in the year? Please. That must be why though, because nothing else fits. But what makes Bill Donohue think MT is all that important and wonderful? Apart from relentless PR by the short Albanian sadist, of course.

Well – she’s Catholic – and – well she’s Catholic, and Catholics are like a totally persecuted minority, so if a Catholic doesn’t get her birthday celebrated on the Empire State Building when Bill Donohue says it should be, then…Well it’s an elitist plot, that’s what, and Bill Donohue and Bill O’Reilly (do we sense a theme here?) are going to make a big stink about it, so there.

One wonders what world the elites who run the Empire State Building live in. Besides siding with the Communists and dissing Catholics, they are just plain stupid. If they think they can ride this out, they have no idea what they are dealing with.

Ah – out come the threats. Suitable for a loyal Catholic perhaps – he must have grown up steeped in threats and bullying – but not very pretty to watch.

Bill Donohue and George Pitcher: making religion look bad in every way they can think of.

Hat-tip to Miranda.

The pope visits Fátima

May 14th, 2010 3:05 pm | By

The pope is telling everyone what to do, again – not that he ever stopped, but still it’s interesting to see that he apparently feels no shyness or hesitation, no doubts about his moral authority, even now that it has been searchingly and thoroughly revealed that he and his church have been protecting child rapists and bullying their victims for many decades.

This is interesting, in its way. I think ordinarily people who have been morally compromised the way the pope has become a little bashful about pretending to be moral bosses. It’s interesting that the pope doesn’t, especially since the content of his moral bossing is so godawful – so harmful for actual existing people, so fretful about imaginary people and arbitrary rules.

Benedict called for initiatives aimed at protecting “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”

Like that. Pretending that divorce and gay marriage are insidious and dangerous threats to the common good. (You can make a case that divorce can be partially harmful to the common good, but then you can also make a case that indissoluble marriage can be partially harmful to the common good.) Prating about divorce and abortion and gay marriage when he and his tyrannical church have done real harm to thousands of real children. Talking as if he were better than other people because he wears the white dress. Talking as if he were even minimally decent.

Benedict has endeavored to shape a new identity for the church as a “creative minority” in an increasingly secular Europe. On Thursday, he denounced “the pressure exerted by the prevailing culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain.”

The law of the stronger is it – as in the all-powerful church that gets to shelter criminals from the law and get away with it year after year? Easy and attractive gain is it – as in the children trained to revere the church and its priests, who are such easy pickings for men who enjoy raping children? That kind of thing?

The pope also told the social service groups to find alternatives to state financing so they would not be subject to legislation at odds with Catholic teaching, urging them to “ensure that Christian charitable activity is granted autonomy and independence from politics and ideologies

Meaning, of course, politics and ideologies that favor equality and frown on discrimination against people for arbitrary reasons. The pope can’t be doing with those politics and ideologies, he prefers “Catholic teaching” that gay people are sinful.

Bust him! Read him his rights, cuff him, book him, let him phone his lawyer.