Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The site that keeps on giving. PLEASE stop giving

More from

More pure gold which, we are reminded, is STAR STUFF, thereby proving god.

If God is Omnipotent (All Powerful) Why Did He Need to Take Six Days to Create the Universe?

asked atheists, to be polite. What we really meant was “The claim that god created the universe in six days makes no sense for about a thousand reasons. Tell me how you justify it so we can laugh at you and point out your mistakes.”

Well, apparently there are really two questions, neither of which have anything to do with why it supposedly took six days:

    1. Astronomical data indicates that the universe began 13.8 billion years ago,1 but the earth was not formed until 4.5 billion years ago.2 Why would God wait 9.2 billion years after creating the universe to create the earth?
    2. And why would He wait another 4.5 billion years to create humans, if we are really God's ultimate reason for creating the universe?

Good questions. Providing you start from the ludicrous position that god invented the universe. But the question was about the universe being created in six days. What’s this billions of years shit all about?

Wait, there are three questions now:

Are the atheists correct in asserting that the whole thing was an unplanned accident? The Bible actually addresses many of these issues and provides answers that tell us why God created the universe the way He did.

Well as long as it answers “many” of those three questions, I’m happy to read on.

The main problem with the question is that it makes some assumptions about God that just aren't true. Many skeptics assume that instant creation demonstrates the power of God more decisively than creation over a period of time. One problem with this assumption is that the element of time is irrelevant to God. In fact, the Bible says that God created time along with the universe.3 Therefore, God is not bound by time, so that six days, six minutes, or six trillion years mean nothing to Him. It's not like He had to wait around for things to happen, since He is not subject to time.

I’m going to ignore the straw atheist assumption.  The question is why six days in particular not why six days instead of zero days. And exactly which atheists think the power of a non-existent god is better proven by a shorter time taken for creation? Confusing.  But if time is irrelevant to god, why did he go to all the trouble of taking exactly six days?  This is the sort of thing we atheists ask and exactly the question the author is somersaulting to avoid.  But to be fair, he’s about to make a stab at an answer:

Even though God is not bound by time, one could say that creating instantly would be preferable to creating over a period of time.

One could, but I can’t think of a reason one would, especially if we’ve already accepted that god is timeless.

However, any astronomer asked the question would prefer that the universe be created over time.

I don’t think the author asked any astronomers, do you?  I think astronomers would say that they write down shit they see and make predictions about what they might see next.  If preference came into it, I expect they’d prefer good telescopes to bad ones and generous funding to a pittance, but I’m not an astronomer.

Curiously, astronomers would be out-of-business if God had created the universe instantly.

You know this is going to be good:

This is because the universe is expanding at nearly the speed of light, so that we can see back in time nearly to the creation event itself. If God had created everything instantly (but kept the universe the same size), and placed all plant and animal life on earth a few thousand years ago, we would see nothing of the heavens, other than the solar system and a few stars.4

The site delivers as usual. The author creates an extraordinary vision of the universe, which he already admits no astronomer would subscribe to, and uses this to explain why astronomers would be out of a job if it were true, which it is demonstrably not. Therefore god. Brilliant. I’m going to go with the idea that astronomers have jobs not because an insanely convoluted straw caricature of their entire body of work is false but because the actual body of work is true. I’m thinking that’s the way Occam’s razor snits.

However, Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God,5 so it seems likely that God wanted us to see the entire universe. If He had created it instantly, this would not be possible.

Unless, since the premise is already that god is omnipotent, he did the whole photons-en-route-to-earth thing.  But far be it for the rest of us to feel that observable reality might trump Psalm 19.

The same logic can be used for the creation of the earth and life on it. Besides indicating that the heavens declare the Glory of God, Psalm 19 says that the firmament shows His handiwork. The biological history of the earth is preserved in the rocks so that we can see the creative handiwork of God in producing life's history. If the universe and earth were created instantly, there would be no history of life to examine, and God's glory would not be visible to us.

I have this weird compulsion to make Young Earth Creationist arguments against this extraordinary statement.  We’re already supposed to have accepted god’s omnipotence and yet we’re supposed not to believe that god planted fossils to fuck with us.  

But I’m being unfair. So far the author has been demolishing the arguments he pretends atheists have about… well, he seems to have entirely forgotten what the argument is about.  When are we going to get to the part where the claim in Genesis (and the claim of countless people) that that the universe was created in six days is scientifically plausible?

Let’s fast forward through the part, littered as it is with scientific inaccuracy, that says rocky planets like ours take a while to form. Once ours did, the author asks, did god take the best part of 4 billion additional years to create humans?  It turns out that it was yet again so we happened to exist at exactly the right time to appreciate god’s glory.  This seems somewhat fundamentally at odds with the prior claim that god is timeless and omnipotent. And it makes the breathtaking assumption that the entire universe is there simply to make us understand how great god is.

I’ve had enough of this, so I’ll finish with the author’s explanation of the purpose of creation, which is supposed to bring these deranged ramblings into a concise explanation of why god took 6 days to make the universe. I doubt you need the spoiler alert:

In order to determine why God created the way He did, we need to understand the purposes for which God created the universe. Atheists and certain religious sects assume God created the earth for mankind to give us a perfect place to live that is designed for our enjoyment. However, nowhere does the Bible indicate that God created the earth for our pleasure or enjoyment. In contrast, the Bible indicates that the earth was established to accomplish the purposes of God.7 What are the purposes of God regarding this creation? First and foremost, the creation is designed as a place where evil can be conquered.8 Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice on the cross, provided a sacrifice to remove the evil we have committed and reconcile us to God and each other.9 Our role in this purpose is to choose between good and evil.10 By choosing good, we participate in God's purposes and bring glory to Him.11 According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."12 This creation is not the ultimate purpose of God, since it will be destroyed13 and replaced with a permanent, perfect creation,14 in which we can live with God forever. So, by necessity, this universe must be temporary and subject to the laws of thermodynamics.

Science, everyone.

Wednesday entertainment: unintentionally hilarious god and science site

This site tries to reconcile science with god, specifically the many Christian versions of that fictional character.  It is hilarious. Go ahead and pick a page at random, it’s comedy gold all the way down.

My favourite bit so far is the ‘explanation’ of how the Egyptian magicians turned their staffs into snakes to emulate Moses.  First we need to know the scientific explanation of how Moses pulled off the trick:

True magic (not just sleight-of-hand) is impossible for human beings to perform. However, spiritual beings who exist in extra dimensions can easily perform acts that are impossible for those confined to our four space-time dimensions. According to the Bible, the beings capable of such feats are God and the angels. In the Bible, the feats themselves are called "miracles" or "signs." Since God told Moses to throw the stick, we assume that He was the one who actually performed the miracle and not Moses.

Oooh, sciencey. I love the way they start with the ‘extra-dimensional beings’ and then ‘casually’ drop in Christianity as though it were simply an example.  Saying “He” instead of “he” was a bit of a giveaway, though.

So that fully explains – using science – how Moses did it, so how about those sneaky Egyptians?

Although it is clear that God performed the miracle for Moses, how were the Egyptians able to perform those same signs? It seems unlikely that God would cause the Egyptians to perform the same miracle. However, the Bible clearly indicates that angels (both good and bad) are able to perform miracles and signs.1 Presumably, the demons (fallen angels) or Satan himself (another fallen angel) performed the miracle for the Egyptians. So, it would seem likely that the miracles of the Egyptians were real, not performed by the power of God, but by the power of demons. The demons would not want the Israelites to leave Egypt, since this was one of God's continuing prophecies,2 which would eventually culminate in the coming of Messiah. By encouraging Pharaoh to oppose the Israelites, the demons thought they could possibly thwart God's plans. It would not be the last time the demons would attempt to block God's plans. Satan himself (the ruler of the demons) entered Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin (the ruling Jewish leaders), eventually resulting in His crucifixion.

I like the presumablys and would-seem-likelys. No, it really doesn’t seem very likely at all, I’m afraid.  And I love the way the writer forgets the entire premise of the site and drops into full-on proselytising by the end of the paragraph.

The site also has much to say on “The hope of atheism and humanism: the ultimate fate of life, the universe and everything”.  Well, I admire ambition.

Contrary to the explanation offered in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is not "42." Christianity claims that the universe is a temporary abode for spiritual creatures who are destined to live with or without God for eternity. Until recently, science had no answers about the ultimate fate of the universe. However, humanism (the philosophical arm of atheism), through its manifestos and declarations, claims to offer hope for humanity. Are these declarations consistent with the reason and science that they are supposedly based upon?

At least that introduction makes it clear that the author certainly isn’t going to use dishonest tactics to discredit a philosophical position he disagrees with.  I especially like the comparison between a thoughtful and varied approach to thinking about our place in the universe to a comedy science fiction story, great though that story is.

The author cites an affirmation published by the Council for Secular Humanism:

We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.2

Seems reasonable. Let’s see if the author thinks so:

Presumably, this affirmation is a comparison between religious and humanistic philosophy. Accordingly, religion would be expected to lead to pessimism, despair, dogma, ignorance, guilt or sin, fear, hatred, selfishness, ugliness, and blind faith or irrationality. With such a list, it is a wonder why anybody would ever want to be religious, much less choose religion3 over humanism. So, just what kind of good things can we expect based upon what we know from science?

Your paranoia is showing.  The affirmation is really just saying which, of that list of opposites, is the preferred choice for Humanism.  That religion does tend to support the other in each case is not entirely coincidence but that’s not what the affirmation is saying.  But wait…. you don’t suppose the author is going to show how science shows there’s no hope, therefore the Humanist position is wrong and – it just so happens – the Christian one is right?

Yes, of course he fucking is:

So, although humanism may pretend to offer optimism, in reality, science tells us that all sentient life is doomed to eternal destruction.

But at least there’s some irrelevant and misunderstood stuff about dark matter and dark energy to keep up with the ‘science’ remit.

Then there’s a good bit about why the universe is so big if the whole thing is about one planet.  Apparently god was showing off.  Creating just a sun and a planet from nothing isn’t very impressive so to show how truly great he is, god created an entire universe.  And – apparently misunderstanding the anthropic principle entirely – put us at the exact place and time where we could infer the existence of dark matter and therefore witness his true glory.  Nevermind that that place is almost anywhere and the timespan we’re talking about is billions or trillions of years.  The author makes Earth seem like the ultimate Goldilocks zone. God, he says, even went to the trouble of making sure we didn’t end up in a cloud of dust, which would have blocked our view.

The ability to see the expansion of the universe is crucial to confirm the predictions of the Bible, since it first claimed this truth11 thousands of years before verification by science. So, the Bible's claim that the heavens declare the glory of God is confirmed by our position in the universe and the timing with which we were created, since we are at the ideal location at the ideal time to see the glory and design of the universe's creation.

I must have missed the parts of the bible that predict dark matter and the expanding universe, but this is a science site, fortunately, so there are references!

    • Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
    • Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. (Psalm 104:2)
    • It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
    • Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, (Isaiah 42:5)
    • Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone" (Isaiah 44:24)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host." (Isaiah 45:12)
    • "Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together." (Isaiah 48:13)
    • That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens, And laid the foundations of the earth; That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy? But where is the fury of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 10:12)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    • The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, (Zechariah 12:1)

Well, that makes it pretty clear.  Not quite as clear as if the bible said, for instance:

And lo! the Lord GOD said “oh, and by the way, the universe is expanding. In the past it was all kind of squashed up and then it sort of exploded and now it’s flying apart and getting bigger. And it will look to your descendants like the expansion is accelerating because of all this stuff they can’t see.  Yeah, it sounds a bit weird but in a few thousand years you’ll realise this proves I exist.”

But you can’t have everything, I suppose.

Christianity claims that the universe is not eternal, but was created by God as a temporary abode to house God's spiritual creatures.12 After God's purposes are accomplished, He will destroy the entire universe in a cataclysmic apocalypse,13 and create a new universe14 with entirely different laws of physics.

You know, there are an awful lot of Christians around, scribbling, typing and talking, talking, talking but I’ve never noticed a single one of them saying that. But references!

    • "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
    • But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)
    • And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)


    • The new earth will have no sea
    • There will be no Sun or moon, no heat
    • Gravity will be absent or greatly reduced
    • No more death, suffering, pain
    • Believers will receive a new body

At least the items in the first list are actual citations, stupidly irrelevant though they are. But the author seems to have forgotten what references are with the second list.  It’s just more stuff he himself has written.

So all this shows us that Humanism is wrong and Christianity is right.  Right?

Conclusion: Cosmology shows us that the hope of atheism and humanism is ultimately bankrupt. Without God, the universe has no purpose, other than to just be, and its ultimate destiny is to become increasingly more hostile to life- until life, consciousness, and knowledge are eternally destroyed when the universe suffers permanent heat death. In contrast, Christianity says that the universe was designed by God to be a temporary place where spiritual creatures can determine where they want to spend eternity. The New Creation, God's perfect, eternal creation will replace this universe before it becomes inhospitable to human life, offering eternal life with God - the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom.

So science tells us there’s no eternal life unless you pretend there is.  I’m not sure how this is supposed to demonstrate compatibility between science and religion. 

Go ahead and pick a random page to guffaw at. If you find anything especially hilarious, tell me about it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

No True Atheist

Yesteday Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina by one Craig Stephen Hicks, who later turned himself in.

Like me, Hicks is a vocal anti-religion atheist.  Unlike me, he murdered three people. Unlike me, the victims were good people. At least one worked for a charity dedicated to the dental care of people such care is not ordinarily available to.

So what are we to learn from this horror?

At least one Islamist group is saying the incident shows that terrorist attacks have nothing to do with religion, presumably even if the perps shout “Allahu Akbar” as they pull the trigger.  Several prominent atheists are saying that since (they say) it wasn’t Hicks’ atheism that led him to these murders, the fact that he’s atheist is irrelevant. 

I hope the first assertion doesn’t need debunking. It’s clear that one attack apparently not motivated by religion doesn’t absolve other attackers from religious intent. The second assertion seems equally wrong to me, but lots of people seem to disagree, so I’ll try to explain.

I’ll begin by saying that I don’t believe Hicks’ atheism was a motivation for his acts of murder.  That doesn’t make much sense.  He doesn’t seem to have murdered those people in the name of atheism nor to have used his atheism to justify his acts after the fact (as far as we know at this point).

But I can’t, in good conscience, distance myself from Hicks’ acts, as a fellow atheist. I can’t pretend that his atheism is not relevant to this discussion. Here’s why.

We atheists propose that you can be good without god.  We tend to say that religious dogma is neither necessary nor sufficient to provide a moral compass. We pride ourselves on fleeing or disregarding religious dogma and trusting our human values of what is right and wrong to guide us.  We all tend for the most part – naked and alone - to agree about the broad strokes of human values. Religion rather than atheism so often seems to go against those human values. 

I agree with all of this.

But I also disagree with Muslims who say that attacks obviously motivated by Islam are nothing to do with Islam.  I disagree with Christians who say that the murder of abortion providers has nothing to do with Christianity. The particular fallacy employed here is called “No True Scotsman”.  I don’t think Muslims can argue that those Islamists who do terrible things are not true Muslims. I don’t think that Christians can make the same excuse about their own. And I don’t think we atheists can do that either.

I think we have to admit that Movement Atheism has largely failed in how it has treated the story of these murders . We can’t dismiss Hicks as Not A True Atheist without negating our own criticisms of theological types in similar situations.  I think we have to admit that atheism fucking well should respond to the familiar ‘criticism’ of theists: 

From where, exactly, do we get our moral compass?

Because my moral compass is sure as absolute motherfucking shit nothing at all like Craig Stephen Hicks’.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Saudi historian says Western women drive because they don’t care if they’re raped

Sexual violence “is no big deal to them”, he says.

Saleh al-Saadoon claimed in a recent TV interview that women can be raped when a car breaks down, but unlike other countries, Saudi Arabia protects its women from that risk by not allowing them to drive in the first place, according to a translation posted online by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

An attitude that is not unrevealing.

"They don't care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do," al-Saadoon said on Saudi Rotana Khalijiyya TV.

So it’s men who get hurt when women are raped?  Sounds familiar.

“It’s no big deal for them beyond the damage to their morale,” al-Saadoon replied. “In our case, however, the problem is of a social and religious nature.”

“Morale” is a nasty, dismissive way of putting it, but then dismissal is what al-Saadoon is doing.  His social standing is more important than any mere pain, terror or social standing of his wife and daughters because – after all – they’re his property.  His daughter being raped would be like someone slashing his tyres.

al-Saadoon went on to call the show’s other guests, who appeared shocked, “out of touch”, sending the irony meter into orbit.

"They should listen to me and get used to what society thinks,”

Then he changed tack because this message didn’t seem to be going down very well.  Women in Saudi Arabia are treated like queens, he said, being driven around by male chauffeurs.  He was ask whether he was worried that the chauffeurs might rape their passengers.  His solution was to bring in foreign female chauffeurs.

I don’t think I have the strength to pull that one apart.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Kate Smurthwaite is good at upsetting fools, a great quality to have

Kate Smurthwaite is a brilliant stand-up comedian and advocate for feminism, secularism and all that is good.  I don’t agree with everything she says but I know why she’s saying it. I know where she’s coming from. I know that she has good reasons for saying what she says. Because she explains it in public at every opportunity and rightly so; Kate says things that need saying to people who ought to hear it. She’s clearly worked hard to become something of a go-to atheist on some UK goddy TV shows for which the normal criteria for entry are the mystifying authority of wearing a piece of white cardboard on your shirt or having an impressive beard or a magical hat.

I admire her a lot. Here are a couple of reasons why:

I don’t need to comment on those Internet-winning performances. There she is having fun upsetting people because they can’t defend their horrible views without anger, bluster or manufactured offense.

Kate recently planned a show at Goldsmiths College in London. It was cancelled at the last minute for reasons that aren’t clear but apparently relate in part to the suspicion that there’d be a picket line (what a quaint term, come to think of it) and the university couldn’t allow that on safety grounds.

What the whatnow? When I was a student, protests were practically compulsory. If they’ve somehow become dangerous now, that’s all the more reason to protest. Students should be protesting about the dangers of protests. They should be protesting that protests aren’t dangerous enough. They should be protesting about whatever the fuck they like. Or what they don’t like, it doesn’t matter, the protesting is the important bit. Universities shouldn’t be cancelling gigs because some people might not enjoy them. They should take care about what acts to book in the first place, but they probably shouldn’t cancel acts they’ve booked without a really, really good reason. We don’t need to mollycoddle students; they’re adults.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sodomite semen coffee pastor says other crazy things

Last year, New York Pastor James Manning claimed that Starbucks flavour their coffee with ‘sodomite semen’.

Starbucks is a place where these types [‘sodomites’] frequent and a lot of body fluids are exchanged there. The thing that I was not aware of is that … what Starbucks was doing, is they were taking specimens of male semen, and they were putting it in the blends of their lattes.

It’s the absolute truth. They’re using male semen, and putting it into the blends of coffees that they sell. Semen flavours up the coffee, and makes you thinks you’re having a good time.

His source and the reason he knows with certainty that his claims are absolute truth is the one you’d expect. God told him.  Gay rights activists were on form, handing out free Starbucks coffee outside his church.  He didn’t like that.

It turns out that Manning was in prison in the 70s for – among other things – burglary, robbery, larceny and criminal possession of a weapon.  He says of that time:

I saw a lot of that activity [homosexual sex] going on in prison. It was par for the course. I was tempted, but I didn’t yield to temptation, by the way.

I’m not sure why he said this.  Perhaps it was to suggest homosexuals are degenerate for acting on their desires; that homosexual desires are evil things that should and can be fought.  Whatever, that doesn’t put him very far from much mainstream religion.  I’m more interested in other things he’s said.

For example, he still thinks Starbucks sells semen-flavoured coffee and he knows why:

A number of people think that semen tastes good. A number of people think that drinking semen is a good idea.

Starbucks has deduced, in an ingenious way, that since so many people like semen, while they’re drinking it from one another, why not put it in our coffees?

This doesn’t explain why Starbucks uses only the finest sodomite semen though.  And it doesn’t explain why they don’t put it on the menu.

But he hasn’t finished yet. He’s also decided that Justin Beiber is transgender:

These young girls, if we don’t stand, can be led to cut off their breasts once they get into puberty. They can be led to have operations like Justin Bieber. They can think the best choice in life is to cut off their breasts.

By the time they reach the age of 20 years old, they look and say “I wish I had never cut off my breasts, I wish I had never mutilated my flesh, I wish I had never cut off my penis, I wish I had never done that, I was just young”.

He makes it difficult for us to avoid applying armchair psychology, doesn’t he?

I will not as a pastor allow that to be said by any child that’s under my leadership.

He won’t let them say it (whatever he means by “it”). The choice of words seems telling.

I will chase every sodomite, I will chase every lesbo, I will chase every political leader with the power of God, with the chariots of fire, that these children be not misled by people in congregations and people in business or politics like Obama.

He doesn’t like Obama. He thinks Obama is gay and – for some reason – that Putin will out him.

They’re influencing these children to throw their lives away the way Justin Bieber threw his life away, and then 20 years old, can’t grow their breasts back. We need to wake the hell up.

Compassion just drips from every word, doesn’t it?  I’ll end with one more quote, which speaks very much for itself:

God Almighty has given me the revelation threof that soon, after the court announces that they are to be protected by the Constitution to be sodomites, they’re gonna also start cannibalism. Every sodomite, every lesbo, every homo, every fag, every transvestite, every LBGT person by the year 2016 will have participated in some sort of cannibalism because they are demon-possessed. And they will do it with a smile on their faces. In fact, they will be scourging through and rummaging through the hospital medical waste looking for human waste.

People still go to his church.

Circular reasoning is circular

It turns out that there’s such a thing as the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education.  Ed Pawson is the Chairman of that thing and according to The Freethinker he thinks that the government must take urgent action to address the shortage of RE teachers. 

Why?  Because without good RE teachers, there won’t be enough kids who go on to…..qualify as RE teachers.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Don’t do thousands of wrong

There’s lots of technology that can track stuff and people. You can stick a dongle to something then find out where it is. You can stick the same dongle to a person and find out where they are and where they’ve been. Perhaps you’re worried about your children or your elders. This kind of technology could – in some sort of universe that isn’t a great deal like this one – help to protect those loved ones.

One thing that’s automatically wrong with attaching devices like this to people is that they aren’t the ones in control of what those devices report. Another thing that’s automatically wrong is that location and sensor data generated by these devices is going to be stored somewhere and can and will be abused by employees of that somewhere and hacked by people somewhere else.

Being responsible for someone doesn’t mean you ought to control them.  I think it means the exact opposite, in fact: if you don’t control someone but are responsible for their actions anyway, then you’re probably doing it right, even if it bites you on the arse now and then. Loved ones will make mistakes. Let them. It’s none of your fucking business.

Let me pick an example I know a little about (why not be novel?) A few years ago I worked for a project that monitored the activity of elderly people in order to alert appropriate others if something was deemed to be wrong. For example, an alert might be triggered if a person didn’t get out of bed one day or didn’t weigh herself or didn’t turn the kettle on or meet up with friends. You get the idea. The alert might go to the caretaker of sheltered accommodation. to a doctor, to relatives…

This sort of thing can be useful only if it isn’t imposed. We don’t get to decide whether the things our youngers or elders do are mistakes. Our part of the project tried to make sure that decisions about what was reported to whom and why was always in the hands of the people generating the data, but we were always fighting government departments who felt they were better able to make those decisions.

Fuck that noise. Let’s by all means build devices that can collect all kinds of data about us. And let’s build an ecosystem in which we can each share whatever data we like and change what we share from moment to moment. Let’s not impose the collection, storage and sharing of data on anyone. It ought to be their decision, not ours.

When I was a kid I took myself away across the fields for many hours at a time.  I found places I knew I could be absolutely alone.  I mostly read and slept; even then I didn’t sleep too well and lying in grass by a river was more conducive to sleep than lying in a bed. No doubt my parents thought I was up to all kinds of horribleness.They’d sure as shit have tracked me if they could.

Kids need to learn how not to be tracked, how not to be observed. They need to carry this through to old age, learning all the time. They need to know what data to give up and what it costs. Hardly any shit purporting to help supposedly vulnerable people does that. Is it news that young and old people aren’t actually all that vulnerable?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Don’t do the things

This TL;DR of the Bible is funny but implies that – even in the Bible – God gave anyone a choice about whether or not to do the things.  God comes across as the injured party.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nugent, the Internet isn’t about you

I’m not very interested in Michael Nugent, but he keeps on writing stupid shit so I guess I’ll have a punt at it.

I don’t believe that PZ Myers is sexist. I believe that PZ supports equality for women, and that in his own mind he is trying to advance that aim, using methods that I believe are unjust and hurtful and counterproductive to feminism, equality and social justice.

But what would happen if PZ and his colleagues applied the same level of judgment about sexism to PZ’s own behaviour over the years, as they do to behaviour by other people, the most recent example being the shirt worn by Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor?

Oh Michael. I think you already know the answer. I used to think you were a decent human. You are sure as shit not.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Go compare

Brianna Wu talks about being forced from her home due to sustained, horrific attacks by gamergate-affiliated bullies. Zero comments.

Michael Nugent might be wrong. 72 comments and counting (over 2 posts)

Credit fraud being used as a form of domestic abuse. Zero comments.

To be honest, everything else I’ve ever written. Zero comments.

People aren’t coming here for my writing (can’t blame them for that) and they aren’t coming here for any agreement or complaint with the sorts of thing I tend to say. They’re coming because they’re outraged that I criticised Michael Nugent.

They’re outraged that I criticised Michael Nugent because they are idiots. People who disagree with me aren’t necessarily idiots but people who attack me because they are outraged that I criticised Michael Nugent necessarily are. I’ve written things about sexism in various places which nobody has ever paid the slightest attention to. I’m not complaining about that, there’s no reason anyone should. But criticise someone who thinks he’s a leader of the atheism movement and the hits roll in.  I could have made nearly a penny if I’d had adverts.

So you people hell-bent on telling me off for saying your hero isn’t very nice: why not make such earnest comments on other things I’ve said on the same subject?

Some of my best peaches are in the freezer

I know I’m going to get comments about free speech (well, probably only if I call Michael Nugent a poopyhead again) but I don’t think this is the kind of ‘work’ we should allow people to do here. He can come and visit. He can talk all he wants about more or less whatever he wants and if I don’t like it I can fuck off.  But we don’t have to let him do it on a professional basis. I don’t think we should.

So I signed this. You can sign it too!

Also, Michael Nugent is a poopyhead if that gets more people to sign.

Saturday, November 08, 2014


Hopefully the last thing I’ll have to say to Michael Nugent.

I’d like to say that I understand Michael Nugent’s claims that he’s been misrepresented. But I don’t. He’s been represented.

I don’t know why you need to keep posting your CV. We get it, Michael, you’ve done all kinds of good. Nobody ever said otherwise. But we still get to criticise you if we want. We want. We want because you are failing to take a stand on horrible behaviour. Bewilderingly, you insist on claiming that our criticisms are about you, your past and your achievements rather than about your blind – and repeatedly pointed out to you – ignorance. You deliberately and repeatedly fail to see that we don’t need or want heroes; that we admire the good things people do and deplore the bad.

That seems to me the essence of what it means to be an atheist. Christopher Hitchens was admirable in many ways and I mourn the fact that he is dead. But let’s be clear, he was a dick about some things. Richard Dawkins was responsible for my becoming a scientist. I devoured The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. The enthusiasm with which Richard communicates science is infectious. He’s always been one of the biggest influences of my life and probably always will be. I’ve met him. He’s utterly charming. But he’s clueless about several important things.

Michael, this is how we do hero worship, if we’re smart: we celebrate the good and deplore the bad. Personally, I celebrate the things Darwin was wrong about. They seem stupid in hindsight, but they were honest and fairly – at the time – reasonable attempts to solve a problem his theory predicted. That is hugely impressive, more than I’ll ever do. There should be a movie about how and why he was wrong about what came to be genetics. It’s one of the most interesting and human stories there is.

And there’s another side to this hero business, isn’t there? We know that great responsibility is a consequence of great power. Geeks like us are only just learning what that means. To be an atheist or to be a skeptic has a social consequence that I don’t think we can ignore. To be a putative leader in the atheist/skeptic movements, moreso.

So, Michael, worship heroes if you like, but recognise their failures and limitations. Worship heroes all you want but don’t be afraid to criticise them when they’re wrong. Don’t tell other people that they’re wrong to criticise your personal heroes.  Don’t let clueless rhetoric blind your otherwise good instincts for social justice.

And for fucks sake stop crying about smears.

Some people – including me – think you’ve done lots of good things for the atheist movement but have utterly disgraced yourself by tacitly endorsing horrible views and insisting that criticisms are smears. Your cluelessness was first evident to me when you insisted that victims of abuse ought to talk genially with their abusers. Lots of people explained why you were wrong but you didn’t listen. In this new case, there are at least two sides. One side constantly reinforces you because it likes what you say, whatever you say since you’re now a champion of horrible people. The other side criticises some of the things you’ve done.

Criticisms are not smears, Michael. I can tell you about smears. I can tell you that some of the people commenting on your blog have made entirely untrue and public accusations about me. Those are smears. Criticisms of you are not.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The extent of this surveillance

Cross-posted at lookatthestateofthat and evilwednesday. Seems to fit with both.

Zoe Williams writes in The Guardian

The first compensation award, of £425,000, has been made to Jacqui, one of the women impregnated in the mid-90s by a police officer pretending to be an activist. She said last year that it felt as though she had been raped by the state

Jacqui says:

“Did he report every contraction back to the police? What use was that for information purposes? That is a moment so intimate, and I shared it with a ghost.”

She said that she felt as though she’d been raped by the state and I can see her point.  Presumably the police officer, Bob Lambert, reported with some regularity to his superiors who saw nothing wrong in beginning and maintaining this relationship through to and beyond childbirth.  As Williams says:

The language doesn’t exist to describe this crime, and that consigns us to imperfect analogies: it is an invasion beyond privacy and beyond sex, into a person’s destiny, holding them hostage forever to the love of a child conceived as the byproduct of state reconnoitre.

How would you feel if your partner – with whom you share a life and a child – turned out to be leading another life, too?  Not ‘just’ something relatively commonplace like an affair but a completely different life, such as having another family with someone else or having lied about their job?  It’s hard to imagine. But to know that the deception was sanctioned and maybe even encouraged by the state in order to catch some criminals who didn’t exist in the first place is a whole new level of unreality. It must be massively dehumanising; the feeling of being used – of being thought of as a tiny cog in a large and futile game – must be devastating. I don’t know what feelings, if any, Lambert had for Jacqui.  But she doesn’t either. All she knows is that the police didn’t. The state that sanctioned their activities didn’t.  She was unwittingly used: and used as part of a surveillance system aimed at the people and ideals she cared most about.The £425k compensation seems meagre at best.

Williams points out something I hadn’t considered:

The impact on Bob Lambert, the police officer, cannot be ignored. His life has been completely denatured by this duplicity. Surveillance, like torture, brutalises the agent as much as it violates the victim

Well, perhaps, but I’m struggling to summon any sympathy. He didn’t have to form a romantic relationship with Jacqui. He sure as shit didn’t have to father her child. He didn’t have to form any kind of intimate relationship – sexual or otherwise with her – in order to do his job. And he didn’t have to do that job.  I feel safe in my assumption that either he thought his actions were justified or even correct, or that he didn’t care whether they were or not.  And he certainly got off lighter than Jacqui in any case.

[…] at some point, it must have been obvious that this woman was not a threat to the state. One day, using average human judgment, of a woman he knew inside out, Lambert must have known that Jacqui was not a terrorist but rather a person of radical views. The thing we will never know is how long after that penny had dropped he continued to spy on her. One year? Three? Five?

I don’t know whether the ‘investigation’ was about Jacqui or her circle of friends and contacts.  But the point is important either way.  How much time, effort and money are the police prepared to spend in investigating a lead that’s leading nowhere? And how many lives are they prepared to ruin in the process?

When, for that matter, did MI5 realise that Eric Hobsbawm had no intention of defecting to Russia, and was simply agitating for radical left possibilities within UK politics? When did it realise that Christopher Hill was not intending to restart the English civil war, with a mind to recreating a Leveller revolution three centuries later? These two men were academics and communists, and last week it emerged that they were trailed by security services for more than three decades. The extent of this surveillance is still considered too incendiary to be released fully into the public domain, with sections still redacted.

Williams suggests two explanations. The first is that – to the police and state – the possession of radical views is tantamount to a crime in itself.  I think that’s almost true.  I think it’s a case of the means justifying the means: circular logic being let out to run riot.  Unlike youths in a town local to me: police are “clamping down” on large gangs of youths gathering in public parks on the grounds that – in their view – no good can come of it. It’s unfortunate for the police that the officer issuing threats against youths and their parents that cannot be legally enforced is called Inspector Button. Aaaaawwww. Anyway, large groups are bound to contain a bad apple and they’re all so close together! If we watch a large group long enough, a crime is certain to occur eventually and we can justify our intolerance of crowds! I’m not sure that the state (at least this state) thinks that activists are automatically evil, but that some of them are likely to be and that catching one justifies enormous taxpayer expense (that’s enormous expense, not necessarily an enormous taxpayer) and the devastation of innocent people’s lives.

I agree more closely with Williams’ second explanation:

Once you start spying on somebody, it is incredibly difficult to stop

This seems about right. We humans love nothing more than to throw money after bad. It’s the basis of the Gambler’s Ruin. We’ve spent so much without results that someone – and it might be me – is going to get in trouble. So we show progress in ever finer detail but rarely have the guts to call it quits. I’ve done it in various roles as an academic, a software engineer, a project manager and a human being. But in addition to that, Williams suggests that the police and other authorities just really love spying on people and don’t want to stop. I think that’s true too. I mean both spying in general and spying on individuals.

Once you’ve started, the piece of evidence that comprehensively proves innocence doesn’t exist. All that exists is absence, the lack of definitive proof of guilt. One more push might be all it takes.

Yes. This is true regardless of whether authorities view dissent itself as guilt. As I said, some people think that the means justifies the means. The means exist in anticipation of an end but they don’t seem to rely on one. Hence surveillance in the wider context, too.

Williams writes a lot of nonsense about Russell Brand, for some reason. He hasn’t been “monstered” as she suggests. He’s been told off in the papers because of his immature and ill-considered views, but has been lionised in about equal measure. He hasn’t been vanished or curtailed, he’s been granted podia at which to air his views regardless of never having earned it by, for instance, actually having something to say. Let’s not consider him someone who’s been demonised because of his off-centre beliefs. If anything, the opposite is true.

But I liked some of the things Williams said that were not about Russell Brand.  Every time we allow our government to spy on us a little bit more… Well, you know the rest.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Credit fraud as a tactic of domestic abuse

One of the problems faced by victims of domestic abuse is that they lack the finances to leave their abusive partner.  In many cases, the abuser sabotages their partner’s career.  Ophelia reports on this, quoting Lucy Green:

There are a number of ways an abuser can prevent a victim from holding a job. He may cause physical injuries to her face or body, so that she’s embarrassed to go to work. He may keep her from getting enough sleep, or show up at the workplace and harass the victim, disrupting her duties. He may refuse to provide child care, forcing the woman to stay home with the kids, or he might not allow the victim to have a car, depriving her of reliable transportation.

There’s a particular kind of terror in this type of abuse. Imagine knowing that your partner’s actions are aimed at blocking every chance you have to escape a their abuse.  Imagine seeing your options disappearing one by one. It’s a distressing thought and disturbingly common.  As Green notes, abusers are prepared to go to more chilling lengths still:

Another tactic that is becoming more common is identity fraud. The abuser may take out a credit card account in the victim’s name and pile up debt, destroying her credit rating.

So there’s no way for the victim to regain control of her finances.  No way for her to escape a lifetime of abuse.  Not even a way for her to have any sort of life outside the abuse.  I can only imagine the sense of helplessness. 

And yet there’s no shortage of helpful men lining up to ask women why they don’t just leave their abusers.

Ophelia again, quoting herself this time:

Dominance. Such a deep need for dominance. So destructive.

Destructive is right. These abusers are destroying people.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A reply to Michael Nugent’s extraordinarily long post about why I am wrong

In response to this masterpiece:

I said on Twitter that Michael Nugent defends rapists. I didn’t say he defends rape.  I said that he defends (some) people who are rapists, I meant something fairly specific by this: Michael Nugent continues to provide a safe haven for people who perpetuate rape culture. People who trivialise rape. People who use the threat of rape as an instrument for silencing women. People who vociferously claim that sex with someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or youth is not rape. Nugent does not condemn people who espouse such opinions in the comments on his blog. He equivocates, pretending this means he isn’t taking a position.

I expect Nugent despises some or all of these opinions. But he doesn’t condemn them. This is not an issue on which one can be apolitical. Refusing to comment or pick a side; refusing to condemn hateful comments; calling for the abused to engage in dialog with their abusers… These are political statements and failure to condemn them is tacit endorsement of a deeply unfair and horrible status quo.  This is what I mean when I say that Michael Nugent defends rapists. It’s what I always meant. I stand by it. I didn’t apologise for that and I don’t apologise for it now.

I’ll get to what I did apologise for later, First, I’ll address a tiny portion of Nugent’s ~3000 words of self-indulgent claptrap.

I’ll begin by saying that nothing I said was in any way representative of anything PZ Myers said, Michael can’t understand this. He used his conversation with me - and his misunderstanding of what I was apologising for - in an attempt to somehow shame PZ into apologising for something he said. We don’t speak for each other and my apology for one thing shouldn’t be seen as a reason for PZ to apologise for something else.

Latsot, a pseudonymous occasional guest blogger at FreeThought Blogs, has withdrawn and apologised for their repeated allegation that I defend rapists, saying that they had intended to convey something else.

I didn’t say that I intended to convey something else. See above for what I intended to convey. See below for what I apologised for.

This might be a positive first step in trying to reverse the demonisation of some atheists by PZ Myers and others, which has resulted in increasingly serious allegations being casually made as if they were an acceptable part of normal discourse.

Michael, you may not use an apology I made to imply a change in stance of anyone other than me.  As you’ll see, you shouldn’t use it to imply a change in my stance, either. If you think other people are making serious allegations against you, take it up with them. It has nothing to do with me and what I say has nothing to do with them.

There’s a long part of Michael's post where he quotes some things I said interspersed with calls to “[some time later]” in which he removes things that were said, for some reason. The reason certainly can’t be edits for brevity. He says it’s difficult to reconstruct Twitter conversations into a linear thread. He’s right. Others might call it cherry picking but I’m more generous.

This part ends with me explaining my point, which was the point I was making all along:

Because the point is a little more subtle than you’ll admit. Being complicit in rape culture is making a haven for rapists. I think you are defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists. If that sounds like I’m backtracking, I’m not. I think – and no doubt I could have been clearer – that you defend the actions of people who either rape or apologise for rape when you dismiss evidence of rape and when you encourage people who do the same. I think that it is a moral imperative to take a stand on this issue and hyperskepticism is at best a cop out. This is what I’ve been trying to say. Most of the time I’ve been replying to what other people have said, so the message will be fragmented at best. I hope this is a little clearer.

I daresay Michael didn’t see much of my earlier conversation with others and indeed believed that this was a new argument. But as you can see, I made it clear that this is what I meant all along, even if I was unclear earlier even though the discussion spanned several conversations, not all of which Michael was necessarily privy to. I thought this would clear the matter up. I wasn’t making the simplistic and wrong claim that Michael advocates rape and I told him so.

But this wasn’t good enough for Michael. He was only concerned with trying to intimidate me into withdrawing statements he misinterpreted in the first place. 

I did withdraw them. Not because I was intimidated but because I didn’t mean what he continued to think and claim that I meant.  In that sense, it was a not-pology: sorry you thought that’s what I what I said. Sorry if I came across that way.  But what I said stands. 

Michael, I didn’t apologise for what you seem to think I apologised for.  I apologised for being unclear. I don’t think I implied that you endorse rape but if I did, I’m sorry. But what I didn’t apologise for still stands.

Then Michael included a conversation we had about his cat. It was dying and I felt sorry for it and for Michael. I still do. I’m appalled that he included this exchange in his post. It had nothing to do with what we were talking about and he presumably only included it to make me seem contrite for whatever it is he mistakenly thinks I apologised for.

The second part of Michaels post was about what he considers my ‘new’ argument. Which was actually what I was saying all along. I’ll skip the passive-aggressive parts where possible (it’s not easy):

I will now address your rephrased intended allegation, which is not that I defend rapists, but that in your opinion, my actions seem to perpetuate rape culture and are very problematic.

This allegation is vague and impossible to respond to in its current format.

I daresay that a statement made in chunks of 140 characters was indeed vague.  I’d have thought the appropriate response would be to seek clarification rather than to write a long blog post about what you assumed I was saying.  But as we’ll all see, I apparently don’t know what I’m talking about.

I will assume that it is related to your previous opinions that I don’t take a stand against rape culture, that I clearly don’t understand how much rape hurts people, that I dismiss evidence of rape, that I have defended someone you strongly suspect is a rapist, and that I am defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists.

I said those things. There’s quite a lot of context missing, but I stand by them. Let’s get to Michael’s measured response:

To put them in perspective, the most common advice that I am getting from people who actually know me, including women and including rape victims and including lifelong social justice activists, is that I am out of my mind to be even giving you the credibility of responding to you.

Some of my best friends….

Michael, it’s an astounding piece of arrogance to think your responding to me somehow lends me credibility. Authority is not a very good basis for an argument.

Seriously, Latsot, I really have to emphasise this. You have no idea how bizarre your allegations seem to people who actually know me, who actively campaign for social justice, and who do not share the particular worldview that has shaped your public allegations about me.

I’m sure that many of my opinions seem bizarre to people who don’t share them. I’ve been told that my opinion that women ought to be treated with respect are bizarre. I’ve been bewilderingly called racist and threatened with death for celebrating Christmas while being atheist. I’ve been threatened with death for suggesting that the terms ’Muslim’ and ‘Islamist’ referred to different sorts of people. None of these opinions make any sense at all. What was your point again?

I’ll start with your general opinion that I don’t take a stand against rape culture.

You provide a long quote, which is pretty reasonable. But you’ve also stressed (which seems at odds with what you’ve said here) that allegations of rape ought to be handled by the police with the clear implication that if the victim didn’t go to the police, the credibility of the argument is reduced.

Firstly, you say that I clearly don’t understand how much rape hurts people. The only response I will give to that is that you don’t know what you are talking about.

A brilliant argument.  Of course, that statement of mine was not made out of the blue but as part of an ongoing argument with someone who wasn’t you. But why listen to me?  Apparently I don’t know what I’m talking about. And you know what? I’ve never been raped. I know people who have been, but I certainly don’t understand how much rape can hurt people.

Secondly, you say that I dismiss evidence of rape. Actually, I don’t dismiss evidence of rape. I take evidence of rape very seriously.

Providing evidence is defined the way you choose. You seem to wilfully make the mistake that evidence of rape is necessarily how a police force would reckon it. If so, which police force? One in Ireland? In England? In Pakistan?  Credibility of a rape allegation is not increased by reporting it to the authorities. Evidence of a rape is not more credible if authorities endorse it or less so if they dismiss it. Evidence is still evidence outside a police investigation or court of law.


See above. I don’t think my suspicions are more important than due process and I have never said so.  We’re not talking about convicting anyone here, we’re talking about whether we believe a rape happened.  I strongly expect it did, but I have no case to bring to court. I don’t think anyone should be imprisoned without appropriate due process but I wouldn’t want to leave a vulnerable person alone with someone I suspected of being a predator.  This point has been made to you many times: there are different standards of evidence for different situations. Like many others, you choose to hide behind legal definitions when nobody has even suggested invoking a legal system. I find that stance sickening and you should be ashamed of yourself for holding it.

Who are these people?

Example: people who have sex with others who are impaired by alcohol. That’s rape.  Lots of people commenting at your place have argued otherwise and claimed to have had sex with people with impaired judgement. Those people are rapists. In any case, it’s not up to me to tell the police. It’s not my decision.  But I certainly don’t have to tolerate those people or their views in a space I own and police.  I consider such tolerance tacit endorsement.

Latsot’s withdrawal and apology is a positive first step in trying to reverse the demonisation of some atheists by PZ Myers and others, which has resulted in increasingly serious allegations being casually made as if they were an acceptable part of normal discourse.

I hope you now understand that I didn’t apologise for what you thought I apologised for.  I didn’t mean to suggest that you endorse rape and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear about that. But I still wholeheartedly think that you provide something of a safe haven for rapists and misogynists; that you insist on sometimes inappropriate standards of evidence regarding the credibility of rape allegations; and especially that you are determined above all to tell everyone else how they should think.

What PZ chooses to say and do has absolutely nothing to do with me and vice versa.  Stroppily using our argument as a bat to hit him with is rather pathetic. Not quite as pathetic as using our conversation about your poorly cat to make me appear humbled and contrite, though.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Do I look like a terrorist?

Confirmed bellend Richard Littlejohn writes things on the Daily Mail, for some reason. That’s already a bad beginning but needless to say it gets worse.

It begins charmingly:

As the old whore complained: ‘It’s not the sex, it’s the stairs.’ Same goes for air travel. It’s not the flight, it’s all the aggravation that goes with it.

I’m not sure he thought this analogy through. Aggravation as stairs, I get. But he seems to cast air travel as (presumably unwanted and laborious) sex and himself as the aging prostitute.  I doubt this is what he was trying to say.

He’s complaining about his bag being searched when he flew to Glasgow last weekend.

I’ve written before about middle-aged Howards and Hildas being given the third degree at airports while women in burkas and young men of Asian descent are waved through security — so terrified are the authorities of being accused of ‘profiling’.

What else could Littlejohn be saying other than he’s white, middle-aged and middle-class so couldn’t possibly be a threat, unlike those shifty-looking brown people in funny clothes?  He claims he was stopped because the plastic bag containing his fluids (I mean his shaving cream and so on, not his bodily fluids, presumably) was slightly too big.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt about that*, although I don’t really buy it.

Much of Littlejohn’s article is about the security theatre in airports, and I’ll get back to that. But the rest is high-grade, refined, starship-fuel grade racism. First, he establishes why he can’t possibly pose a threat to aircraft:

We were forced to wait while my miniature can of shaving gel was whisked away for an anti-explosives swab and the assistant filled in a special form, noting time and action taken.

While all this was going on, I was chatting away merrily to a supervisor who’d recognised me and wanted a natter about something he’d read in my column.

Clearly he knew perfectly well that neither my wife nor I were terrorists or had any intention of blowing up the Glasgow shuttle. So what was the point of holding us up?

I think the answer to that question is pretty clear. The security staff recognised him and wanted to give him – him personally – the hardest time they possibly could. I certainly would. Who wouldn’t? But he slaps his prejudices on the slab for all to see, so let’s poke at it gingerly with a stick and a horrified expression. It’s clear that he thinks he’s above suspicion. He’s not brown and his clothes are normal instead of funny so how could he possibly be a threat to a plane? I’ll come back to this, too.

Hundreds of wannabe jihadists seem to have had no difficulty passing through British airports en route to joining IS in Syria.

Even if there were hundreds of emigrating jihadists, what does Littlejohn propose? They’d be unlikely to carry explosives or to have any intention of blowing up a plane, so what would be the point of searching them? If they were going to blow up a plane, they’d need to have explosives. Where did they get them?  And why would they target flights to Syria? Surely that would be counter-productive if the supposed mass exodus of jihadists to Syria is to be facilitated. Littlejohn is proposing either searching of muslim-looking people for no reason or their prior surveillance, also for no reason.  Apparently just so he – who is clearly above suspicion – doesn’t have to go through the mild inconvenience of having his bag searched.  No matter that the ‘shoe bomber’ was white. And the ‘white widow’. And the ‘unabomber’. There are many threats to air travel. Excluding brown people from travel will not eliminate those threats.

The most recent [‘wannabe jihadist’] was a 15-year-old Somalian girl from Bristol, travelling via Turkey unaccompanied by an adult. Didn’t that ring any alarm bells?

I don’t know why it should. There are reasons to go to Syria other than jihad. Littlejohn doesn’t know whether or not she was treated with suspicion and her luggage searched, just like his was. If it was – as in his case – they didn’t find anything. So what reason would anyone have to stop her travelling? Littlejohn doesn’t seem to mind non-Somalians with the same travel plans. Not that Yusra Hussien is from Somalia, of course, she’s from Bristol. And nobody knows whether she travelled for the purposes of jihad. Perhaps she did, but preventing brown people from travelling is hardly going to help.

Wouldn’t all this money be better spent targeting them, instead of wasting time and effort treating respectable, middle-class Middle Englanders as potential shoe bombers?

By “them”, Littlejohn is referring to people who have travelled with false passports. Of course, no respectable, middle-class Middle Englander could be worthy of suspicion. I’m an entirely disrespectful lower-class northerner. Is there a Littlejohn Scale of Trustworthiness? I’d be interested to know how I scored.

And at this rate it can only be a matter of time before the aviation security ‘experts’ work out that the only way to guarantee our ‘safety’ is simply to abolish air travel altogether?

Well yes. That’s exactly what a security expert would say. Bruce Schneier has said exactly that and if he’s not a security expert I don’t know who is.  Security is always about trade-off. It’s easy and convenient to use the same password for everything but it’s roaringly insecure.  It’s easy and convenient to allow the public to visit public spaces, but one of them might have a gun or a bomb. The Internet and other telecommunications set us free, but they also chain us.

The only way to secure air travel entirely is to prevent it altogether. We’re not going to do that. But Littlejohn’s assertion is that there’s nothing to be gained from airport security theatre.  I agree to some extent.

There’s no denying that the security theatre at airports is mostly that. The vast majority of fluids on planes will not explode them. Most people just want to get to wherever they wish to be. Hardly anyone has exploding shoes. But that doesn’t mean there are no threats, risks or attacks. A threat is a potential vulnerability. A risk is a judgement about how seriously to regard a threat and how much – money, effort, fear, whatever – to spend on it. Attacks are attempts to exploit threats in order to make assets vulnerable. Assets are things that can be hurt. They might be data, objects, people or systems.

There’s also no denying that there are threats relating to air travel. There are assets with vulnerabilities which might be attacked. So our job is to understand the risks and to deploy countermeasures that result in some sort of security of those assets.

It would be nice to think that actual real-world countermeasures make threats benign and thereby protect our assets, but it doesn’t work that way for about a thousand reasons.  For example: if a neighbour’s burglar alarm goes off once, you’ll probably look out the window to see what’s up. If it goes off all day every day for a month, you’re likely to crash through the the neighbour’s house and rip the fucking thing off their wall with your teeth. Does any of this have any bearing on the risk of burglary?

A big part of security is about finding out what it is you want to protect and what you want to do with those things. Part of that involves recognising who is  the attacker and how they mean to attack. Sometimes the attackers we consider aren’t real, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering the attack. But sometimes attacks aren’t real and we have to wonder whether preventing them is worth the cost. The 9/11 attacks were certainly real and committed by people who want to hurt us. Littlejohn is right to suppose that confiscating our liquids and our tweezers will do nothing for plane security. But theatre has it’s place. It makes people feel safer even if they’re not.  It’s vital that people keep using air travel services even if the security surrounding them doesn’t make us safer. Placebos work even though they’re not medicine, even for people who know placebos are placebos. Security theatre might be worthwhile in some ways even though it’s bullshit; even though it doesn’t increase security.

In the case of security theatre at airports, I think it does have a place ,more good for airports and the air travel industry than it does for passengers. I think the bodies who need to do or be seen to do something are not always those in a position to do it. I think that many, many players are involved in airline security have conflicting agenda and that if they sat down at a table to decide how to secure airlines, they’d only be able to agree on stupid, trivial measures like taking away your tweesers and complaining that you have too much shaving cream.

Littlejohn’s complaint isn’t valid on any level. The security trade-off isn’t about the people he fears because they look and dress different to he. It’s about corporations and government together making travel difficult for various reasons. Or internet access. Or freedom of speech. Or access to information. Depending on where you are. The proper response to authoritarian bullshit isn’t to demand that minorities are prevented from travel or other freedoms and majorities are not. The correct response is to disobey. To protest. To disobey and protest even if – and especially because – you are not a minority,

Littlejohn is an idiot and he writes stupid shit. But his shit splatters a lot of people who never wanted to have to wipe it off.


* I flew from Newcastle to London to Amsterdam to New York to Chicago not long after 9/11. I got all the way to New York before security decided my deodorant was unacceptable for air travel. As the guard was confiscating it, I noticed a sign behind her saying that it was perfectly acceptable to carry a gun on the plane providing you inform the crew before you board.