Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The inevitable Thunderf00t, unexpected idiot #1

Thunderf00t has recently squandered a lot of good will due to clueless and classless idiocy.  He made this post then this post then this post.


He began with:

Now first let me say from a strategically point of view sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue (and if reading that has just pushed some buttons, I want you to calmly unplug those emotions and put them in a box, then take a deep breath, relax and read the rest of this reasoned argument)… breathing calmly yet? good!, then we can continue….

And in the later points entirely abandoned the idea of being calm, unemotional and reasonable. He used lots of capital letters and bold and accusations that people who don’t agree with him can’t read.

His arguments so far have been beyond stupid. What’s wrong with you man?  You used to be cool.

Let’s start with his statement above. I’m all for dispassionate discussion, but I’m not a fucking Jedi. I’m not convinced that emotion is irrelevant. Some of the decisions I make about charity donations, for example, are influenced by emotion. I don’t think TF wants us to put those emotions in a box. He just wants to explain in a hopelessly patronising fashion that anyone who has an emotional connection to this particular issue should put that in a box. Because they should listen instead to his reason, which is more important.  Let’s see.

Let’s start with harassment being a non-issue. To be fair, TF is talking from a ‘strategic’ point of view.  I’ve already found a problem. What strategy is this?  It’s the sort of thing you have to make clear before telling everyone what we should do to implement that strategy. TF doesn’t do this.

indeed to a large degree the conference scene is mostly redundant.  A large conference is a couple of thousand people.  In terms of viewership, a mediocre channel such as mine would pull in several tens of thousands of views for a video.  Then of course many of these lectures are repeated from conference to conference, and virtually all of them are available online. 

Conferences are not redundant because they are not only about listening to lectures. They are about networking and about being…well….energised.  About reminding oneself about why you care about this kind of thing in the first place.

Put simply if your primary focus is on the conference scene, then in the internet age, it’s probably misplaced

Doesn’t that depend on what you want to get out of your participation in the community?  I rather think it does.  Misplaced how? How would that effort be better used, exactly? TF doesn’t say.

Further it’s my personal experience that sexual harassment affects only a very significant minority of attendees.  Indeed I personally know prominent women who went to TAM last year who said from a harassment point of view, it was the cleanest TAM yet (battle fought and game won?).  So the full scope of the problem is a minority of a  minority.  As such do you really think this is the priority target where you will get best bang for your buck in terms of focusing hard won resources, or focusing the attention of the online community?

There’s a fallacy here.  We see it all the time in politics.  The opposition party always takes the government to task for dealing with an apparently trivial thing because there are more important things in the world. As though they can’t deal with more than one thing at a time. Why are you worrying about poor educational standards when there are UNICORNS DYING?

The issue is a priority because of the harm it does to (first) people and (second) everyone’s fun if we don’t address it.  If women don’t feel safe, they don’t feel safe and no clueless deciding that this isn’t really a problem is going to change that.  It’s a priority target because we want everyone to have fun at our conferences.  If people don’t feel safe, they aren’t going to have fun.  I’d have thought that was obvious.

Thunderf00t also says:

Now this is not to say that conferences are obsolete (they clearly still have functional roles to play), or that sexual harassment isn’t a bad thing. Sure it exists, I’ve seen it, although it seems to me that such acts overwhelming happen in the bars outside the conference.  I’ve seen some of this first hand, and was happy to help try to resolve the matter in an appropriate and mature fashion.  My personal estimate would be, of the things that aren’t just people being social clutzs, something like 1 guy in 100-1000 (and maybe the odd girl too!) causes almost all of the problems.  My straw poll estimate from half a dozen such meetings is that the ‘harassment’ that goes on in the bars at such meetings is little different from that you would find in practically any other bar in the country.

Well this is just entirely made-up shit and I don’t see how it’s helpful.  Well, it certainly is helpful in setting the scene for TF’s later idiotic assertions, which I’ll get to.

But for now let me finish with this:

… and such problems can of course be dealt with quickly and discretely without spoiling the fun for everyone else (the modus operandi of most nightclubs).

There’s some ambiguity about what ‘such problems’ might be, but also a bigger problem.  TF says that nightclubs have a sort of proto-policy when they maintain the right to kick people out if they want.  He seems to think this is adequate protection for vulnerable people and defends it by saying that the nightclubs are commercial enterprises and know what they’re on about.  But lots of bad shit goes on in nightclubs. People get raped in nightclubs, of course, but I suspect that’s not all that common. But people get groped. People get attacked.  People who are just out for a drink and a dance get harassed into drinking and dancing with particular people.  In many cases, these are not things the victim could report to staff because they wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t care because there is no legal implication and because if they admitted responsibility they might be liable.

I’d like to think conferences can do better than that. I’d like to think they can say how complaints will be dealt with. I’d like to think they can say how complaints – and the way they were dealt with – can be publicised so that people can make more accurate risk assessments about attending those conferences.

Tomorrow’s post (if I get time, it might be the day after) will be about how having an anti-harassment policy is the exact opposite of spoiling everyone’s fun.

Holy toilet paper

Jerry Coyne writes about religious morality, asking the usually-ignored question of why the religious obey some of the rules in Deuteronomy and ignore others.  He cites as examples the fact that many Jews obey strict dietary laws and prohibitions against working on the Sabbath but don’t obey the laws about the stoning to death of disobedient children or non-virgin brides or homosexuals.

As Jerry points out, there is only one possible conclusion: that people get their morality from some source other than god.  Evolution probably plays a part since there is quite a lot of near-universal agreement on certain points of morality, Learning (explicit instruction by authorities such as parents or implicit picking up cues from society) also seems to play a part.  But god can’t be the source since people are picking and choosing which laws to obey.

Jerry illustrates the silliness of some of these laws by pointing out that the tearing of toilet paper is forbidden on the Sabbath and that some Orthodox Jews obey this odd requirement.  They pre-tear their toilet paper.  Apparently, this practice is common enough for a firm to start producing Sabbath-friendly pre-torn toilet paper in case all that tearing is too much effort.  It’s also a protection against accidental tearing of toilet paper, which is also forbidden.

I can’t help but think god would probably turn a blind eye if someone accidently tore some toilet paper, but then I’m not the one professing to know the mind of the creator of the universe.

But Jerry’s point is well-made: since people go to ridiculous lengths to obey all this silly minutia but don’t follow what most people would consider more important laws, their morality cannot come from god.  The only rebuttal I’ve ever seen to this argument is entirely bogus and comes from Christians, usually as a reason to discriminate against homosexuals.  It argues that Jesus changed things to make all the bad laws go away and all the good ones stay.  Even though it doesn’t say this anywhere in the Bible.  And even though Jesus explicitly says otherwise in Matthew 5:18:

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The fool sayeth in the comments

There are some depressing comments to this article. Todd Stiefel asks some questions about the reliability of the bible as a description of Jesus’ life.  It’s good stuff.  For example, he asks why – if Jesus was a deity and willing to use miracles to prove it – he would cure lepers rather than leprosy. He asks why people take the bible seriously when it contains all those errors and contradictions.

But the comments are woeful.  The second comment is Pascal’s Wager, for goodness sake!

But things get especially bad when user Leopold explains what evolutionists believe about evolution.  Here it is:

This is what you believe.

Before there was anything there was nothing.

Then it (nothing) exploded.

After that “it” somehow organized itself into planets and stars.

The genius, that calls itself evolution then had an idea.

It arranged the planets and stars in an extraordinary way.

Thank God, oops! I mean thank evolution, that it thought about putting a moon and a sun and all the other heavenly bodies in just the right position to make life on earth possible.

The miracle of evolution was that somehow a body of water managed to collect itself in different places. That gave evolution more choice from which to start life.

It stirred the waters of the deep and tried and tried to bring forth LIFE.

And then – somehow it succeeded. There was a cell!

Evolution somehow made sure there was enough light and air for this cell to develop.

This cell somehow divided itself into all kinds of different cells.
The cell changed itself over and over again until it was able to somehow crawl out of the water.

As it continued to develop it left some other cells behind which then somehow turned into plants.  From a blade of grass to a rose. From one original cell. Amazing!

Now through this process other cells were left behind to become bushes and trees. From one original cell. Amazing!

We are not exactly sure when this split between bushes and trees happened. But the evidence that it did is all around us.

Other cells turned into fish, dinosaurs, horses, elephants, mice, birds, fleas, giraffes, dogs, apes, etc. etc.

And then, – I can hardly contain my joy, – man and woman came to be. Yep, it did that. All from one original cell. Amazing!

Now we don’t know exactly how many generations of apes and monkeys were deformed, and then later humans, failed to survive.

When did evolution figue it out that two legs of the same length and two arms are better then one short leg without a foot.

How many times did evolution fail to get the eye, or the stomach right.

Never mind this thing called feelings.

How many people must have bled to death when injured, because the function that stops bleeding today, was not well developed.

How many died before the body had the ability to built anti-bodies to certain things.

Can you even begin to appreciate the time it took for one man and one woman to be able to produce a child? I mean really, it is genius.
Over time the penis was long enough to reach into the woman’s ****** to mingle with her eggs. Only evolution knows how the eggs came to be. All from one original cell. Amazing.

And when or why did evolution stop? I haven’t heard of anything that crawled out of water to become something, lately.

Well, There you have it, evolution: The survival of the fittest.

You know what?  I don’t really believe Leopold thinks evolution works like that.  I think it’s just another version of Lying for Jesus.  The alternative is that he genuinely believes this is what all evolutionists think happened and not one has spotted the flaws that are so obvious to Leopold.  I doubt Leopold knows (or cares) how evolution actually works, but I strongly suspect he doesn’t think anyone but dishonest creationists claims it works that way.

In a follow-up post, he says something extraordinary:

This is the difference between Christians and Atheists. If scientists have absolute proof that God used evolution for creating everything, we will be much more open to that concept then you [atheists] are to creation right now.

In other words, he says that Christians would only accept the fact of evolution if there was absolute proof that god did it and this makes them more open-minded than people who accept it on evidence (regardless of whether god did it) than people who reject creationism precisely because there is no evidence.  This is a particularly twisty form of Begging the Question and the most preposterous logic I’ve seen for some time. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Look at this:

Just look at it.

Liberal or bigoted? Confused, inconsequential babble about gay marriage from George Pitcher

The Reverend George Pitcher says he’s a liberal and that gay marriage is a threat to the Church of England. He’s right about the last part, it’s plainly a threat, hence the church’s petulant and lightweight response.  But it turns out that’s not what Pitcher means. What he means is….muddle-headed at best.

As a classic Anglican liberal, I'm slightly rattled at finding myself siding with the traditionalists over gay marriage.

I'm uneasy about my position because I suspect that much of the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in homophobia.

That seems to be the extent of his liberal feelings: a slight unease about the church’s motives.  You know what? I’ve been around this block so many times that people have started calling the police.  It’s a smokescreen.  Clearly the opposition to gay marriage is rooted in the desire to treat homosexuals differently to heterosexuals, which is either homophobic or indistinguishable from homophobia.  But we judge people and institutions by their actions and if the church were a moral organisation it could put aside the icky feelings of some of its constituents and show a commitment to caring about people rather than the institution. It doesn’t do this because it wants to court controversy instead. It knows that a strong stance on issues like this will attract a certain type of person.  Or to put it in no uncertain terms, the Church of England is deliberately trying to attract the bigot vote.

It seems to me that this would be the point at which an actually liberal-minded person would object to the institution, but Pitcher is having none of it.

I'm supportive nevertheless of the Church of England's opposition to gay marriage, published in its government consultative paper today.

I wonder if he has any good reasons?  What do you reckon?

That's because I'm committed to equality, not uniformity. Men and women are different. It follows that marriage and civil partnership are different institutions.

It…..follows?  It follows….how…..exactly?  Men and women are different….how….exactly?   Because this is what matters in the argument.  Everyone is different, but that doesn’t mean we need a different definition of marriage for every couple.  So we need to work out what is so different about men and women that the ordinary definition of marriage can’t possibly apply to same-sex couples.

And this is where we get right back down to bigotry because although he doesn’t say it, I have little doubt that Pitcher is talking about genitalia.

To declare that they are the same institution is to unravel thousands of years of definition of what a marriage is and what it's for.

So here we are.  Marriage, according to Pitcher, is ‘for’ procreation, regardless of all those couples who are childless by choice or unable to have children.  But marriage can never, historically, have been for the purposes of procreation because we can happily procreate without it.  But I accept there’s tradition behind single-sex marriage.  I just don’t think tradition is a good excuse for discrimination.  Pitcher apparently does.

While we're at it, let's kick the tyres of the research that shows consistently that the best environment in which to raise children is a stable family with a mother and father (perhaps Iain Duncan Smith could have a word in Cameron's ear?). And if we decide that still holds, then let's decide whether we want the Church and the state to endorse that institution.

Where to begin?  We don’t ‘decide’ whether research holds or not.  It’s either true or it isn’t, that’s rather the point. But if it’s true that heterosexual marriages are in some sense ‘better’ for children than homosexual ones, so what?  Marriages between affluent couples might also be superior.  Or black couples.  Or tall couples. Would we prevent those people from getting married?  Pitcher’s bigotry is showing and he doesn’t seem to know it.  And then who exactly gets to decide what the church endorses?  We have a say in what the state does, but we don’t vote for bishops, never voted to have bishops in the House of Lords and never voted to have the Church of England as part of the establishment.

At least then the Church and state would be singing from the same hymn-sheet, which is a rare enough occurrence these days.

As it should be. The church does not speak for me and has no place in public life. 

It's facetious of Mr Cameron to speak of the Church being exempt from conducting gay weddings. If he introduces them, then a marriage in Church and a state wedding will be two completely different things (and why, incidentally, will he continue to make a distinction in secular law between marriage and civil partnerships?)

On the first point, I partly agree.  Exempting churches (and not the state) from performing gay marriages gives them special dispensation to discriminate and I can see no reason to allow this.  I don’t see why this would make marriage by the church or state two different things though, surely this is just a matter of administration.  On the second point, the purpose of differentiating marriage from civil partnerships is that they are specifically designed to be different things.  People might want a partnership instead of a marriage. For one thing, they might want to avoid an institution traditionally associated with a bigoted church.

So a priest in church will be performing a different role as registrar at a wedding from that of a secular registrar. How does that work for a Church of England that is established in law, with the head of state as its Supreme Governor?

The priest would be performing precisely the same role in every respect. Whether or not the priest happens to be a bigot and refuses to marry same-sex couples does not affect the role in any way.

Of course, there are those secularists who see this precisely as another opportunity to drive a wedge between Church and state in their intent to have the Church of England disestablished. That hardens my resolve - and should harden the resolve of all who call this 'a Christian country' - to resist the move.

But why?  The only reason anyone could want an established church is to afford it special privilege which it doesn’t deserve.  A liberal would surely understand that a secular society is a much fairer one and that an established church cannot fail to work against the interests of members of other churches and atheists.

Again, we should have a sensible and informed debate about disestablishment. But we shouldn't condone those who seek cynically to use the institution of matrimony - or euthanasia, or abortion or the 1701 Act of Settlement, which discriminates in the succession of the Crown against Roman Catholics - to achieve absolutist secular ends. That would be a wholly illiberal and discriminatory way forward.

Illiberal how?  If I ‘use’ the church’s stance on gay marriage to publicise its bigotry and thereby undermine its unearned ability to tell everyone what to do, I would not be acting illiberally.  Patently quite the reverse.  I would be increasing choice rather than restricting it.

I'm for the Church finding a way to bless civil partnerships, as the unconditional love of God should, in my view, be celebrated wherever it is found.

To ‘find a way’?  Well, just do it.  Just say the magic words and wave your bladder on a stick or whatever it is you do.  What do you imagine is stopping you?

All you have to do is care about people more than the institution.  The rest is easy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

More catholic monsters

A 9 year old girl was habitually raped by her stepfather. When she was taken to hospital complaining of severe abdominal pain, it was discovered that she was pregnant with twins. She underwent an emergency abortion in order to save her life.

That global force for good, the Catholic Church, reacted by excommunicating the girl’s mother and the doctors involved but – needless to say – not the rapist.  The girl only escaped because the church considers her still a child. 

How did the church even find out about the incident in the first place?  But more importantly, how could anyone act in such a monstrous fashion?  Presumably the mother and doctors now believe they will burn in hell for all eternity. Presumably the daughter now believes it’s her fault that her own mother will burn in hell.

How can any Catholic not stand up in opposition to the Church about this?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Idiots make the relatively benign accusations about them ten million true

Look at this horror show.

Just look at it.

Look at the post, unless you cringe yourself to death doing so, then look at the comments.


I don’t really know how to respond to this or whether there’s even a point.  So I’ll just leave it at this work of apparently oblivious idiocy by SkepticAtheist:

Rebecca Watson is nothing but a religious radical feminist bully, who makes a career from being a professional victim.

I support Rebecca Watson wholeheartedly on this issue. DJ is a disappointment and often oblivious. He seems more concerned about describing the politics than the reality.

And there are women being abused at conferences like this and political buggers like DJ explaining carefully that it’s not abuse if he doesn’t say it’s abuse. And if someone says there’s abuse, they are harming the movement and should be quiet.

Fuck you, DJ.  I despise your smarmy behaviour and your oblivious reaction to reasonable complaints.  You are an enabler of these horrible idiots attacking people like Rebecca for stupid reasons. You are really pissing your responsibility up against the wall.

Rebecca would be a terrible person if she persuaded women to attend events at which they are demonstrably – as sites like the above show – not safe.  She’s right and I am DISGUSTED to have to admit it.