Friday, December 14, 2012

Bobcat Friday

Because Friday contained bobcat.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Shame on Bristol University

Bristol University Christian Society has banned women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings unless their husbands are also involved.

Seriously.  They really have. They think this is a ‘secondary issue’.  Women being treated as human beings is a secondary issue of not much importance to the church. Why is everyone making such a fuss about it?

But you have to understand that they are just striving for inclusivity.  Inclusivity of people who think women are secondary, that is.  Not remotely inclusive of people who are women, of course.  At least the society’s International Secretary had the decency to resign over the issue.

This is what Ophelia Benson has to say about it. She’s spot on as usual.  Read the whole thing, but to whet your appetite:

Hey, fuck you, dude – women are not secondary. Nobody is secondary. You don’t get to exclude people from the important work and call that “secondary.” You don’t get to treat people as inferior and subordinate and Not Allowed, and then treat your doing that as “secondary.”

Saturday, December 01, 2012

I’m no sophisticated theologian but

I’m often amazed by believers’ reactions to Jesus’ monstrous behaviour as described in the bible.  For example, look at John 12, where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet:

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

Judas objects, saying that the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus responds:

For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

The inadequacy of Jesus’ reply is clear: we’re not talking about some abstract notion of poverty here, we’re talking about actual people who are actually suffering and dying for want of a few pennies, while Jesus washes his feet with fancy Marks and Spencer bubble bath. The moral imperative is clear: the poor needed the money more.

If anyone else used this argument to avoid giving money to charity, they’d rightly be accused of being – literally – uncharitable.  And an idiot: it’s hard to imagine a more stupid argument. Don’t give money to people who need it because it won’t stop other people needing money. Seriously?

But when Jesus says it, it is treated by believers as automatically wise and somehow benevolent. That’s how it was presented to me at school. We were supposed to nod sagely at Jesus’ response and act as though it was not only reasonable but somehow wonderful and brilliant.

No doubt theologians have found ways to explain this behaviour as some sort of parable but they can’t escape the fact that Jesus is being a bit of a shit. Why does everyone pretend he’s not?  You know, I might be able to get behind a leader who said “You know what, you’re right! I’m being selfish. Next time we’ll give the money to people who need it. I’ve learned something today.”  But I can’t get behind a self-indulgent child who uses terrible arguments to justify selfishness.

The next thing you know, he’ll be cursing fig trees for not having all figs on when it’s the wrong season for figs. And people will still find ways to justify it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The pope says the nativity story is all lies!

I’m impressed.  I didn’t think I’d live to see the day.  The pope’s new book says that the biblical story of the birth of Jesus isn’t true! 

Well, bits of it. 

Well, specifically the bits about various animals being present at the happy event.

According to the pope’s research, there is also no evidence in the Gospels that the cattle and other animals traditionally pictured gathered around the manger were actually present.

So all Christmas cards are wrong. But, there was a robin, right?

However, the bits about the virgin birth, Jesus being god etc?  All totes true.

I hardly know where to begin unravelling the irony and wrong.

Still, this is obviously an important work. We don’t want people saying there was a donkey ana cow ana camel ana lamb ana transformer ana…. wait a cotton-picking minute, how come there are never any horses in the stable? Anyway, the point is that we don’t want people just making stuff up, do we? Thank god the pope wrote this book.

Here’s the front cover:


Friday, November 02, 2012

Mob burns down school for rumoured blasphemy

A rumour broke out that a girls’ school in Lahore had put a blasphemous question in a test so naturally a huge mob assembled, ransacked the school, burnt it to the ground and fought with police. Here’s where it says that.

A sizeable number of activists of the Islami Jamiat Talba and JuD were part of the crowd and they demanded that the police should hand over the blasphemers to them.

Not difficult to guess what they’d have done with them.  They weren’t handed over to they baying mob, but they were arrested.

"I assure you the government will thoroughly investigate the matter and will not spare those involved in blasphemy," promised Nazir, who is the political secretary to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Alarming in so many ways. It shouldn’t be the government investigating, it should be the police. And they shouldn’t be enforcing fucking blasphemy laws.

As you do. Murder your daughter with acid for talking to a boy, that is

A couple in Kashmir killed their 15-year-old daughter by fucking pouring acid on because they saw her talking to a boy. It says so here.

They beat her, poured acid on her, then waited until the next day before taking her to hospital with hardly any skin on.  I expect they felt they were sentimental fools for taking her to hospital at all.

Somehow they thought first that their ‘honour’ was worth more than the life of their daughter and second that pouring acid on a human is more honourable than not doing that.

And by ‘somehow’ I mean by means of cultural and especially religious indoctrination which promotes and enforces the treatment of women as virtually worthless property.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m never quite sure where these people get the acid from. Wherever they get it, it suggests pre-meditation. They find out where to buy it, go and get some, empty a car battery or whatever and then pour it on people in cold blood.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


Chris French is being mean to psychics again by, you know, asking them to demonstrate the things they say they can do. It’s…… kind of nostalgic.  It’s nice to see people still doing this kind of thing, it’s important. These people are conning and hurting people.

It’s a perfectly standard tale. The psychics agreed to the tests. They felt that they were a good test of their abilities and that they’d easily pass.  When they failed, they criticised the tests. Those ones they were perfectly happy with before the test and confident about passing throughout.

This is the standard response or psychics, of course.  If the test proves them wrong, then the test was wrong. And they were having a bad day. Their powers come and go, you see. Oh, and the proximity of skeptics somehow blocks psychic ability.  So they didn’t stand a chance, really, despite agreeing to all the conditions beforehand.

There’s a Daily Mail article about it here.  And as a bonus, the comments section already has people saying that only women believe in psychics!  Oh, and a pseudoscience overload in the sidebar.  Besides those things, the article isn’t too bad by DM standards.

Monday, October 01, 2012


*Yawn, rubs sleep out of eyes*. I’m back after a bit of a break in which I did Other Stuff.

Look at this thing that Maryam Namazie said:

Sometimes I really don’t know what more to say.

What else can be said about Sharia law that– at least in your gut – you don’t already know?

It is based on the Koran, the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. Its criminal code includes stoning to death for adultery and execution for apostasy and homosexuality. In Iran, for example, there are over 130 offences punishable by death.

Its civil code – which is imposed by Sharia courts in Britain – is discriminatory and unfair particularly against women. Basically it is a code of death and despair.

Not breaking news, is it? After all it is religious law. And that’s what – in my opinion – religion does best. A court based on the Bible and Torah would be similarly discriminatory and barbaric.

Yet the numbers of people who continue to defend Sharia courts in Britain as people’s ‘right to religion’ is staggering.

Emphasis mine and all I need to do.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Oh divisive, is it? Bring it the fuck on

Divisive? Fucking divisive? Is that what it is?  There is not the slightest excuse for people to harass a woman who only wants to make things better for everyone.

Oh, you know what? There is not the slightest excuse for anyone to harass anyone. At all, Under any circumstances whatsoever.

Anyone who has made a horrible comment to people like Rebecca or Jen, FUCK YOU. 

Anyone who has pretended that comments like this are somehow excusable because of some footling political or semantic point, FUCK YOU.

Anyone – like me – who knew this kind of abuse was going on and didn’t do much about it, FUCK YOU.

FUCK ME. What a complete fucking wanker I am. Let’s be clear: I knew this kind of abuse was going on and aside from complaining a bit about it in a place (here) where nobody would really read about it, I didn’t do anything.

We failed Jen. We have failed Rebecca. We have failed to protect everyone who is told to keep quiet because of their sex.

This is why we need things like Atheism+. Divisive? I will not associate with anyone who makes hateful comments like these; people who excuse such comments; or people who don’t do whatever they can to stop people making such comments. 

Is that fucking divisive? It is.  And rightly so. You’re not necessarily against us if you’re not for us, but you are against us if you don’t do anything about brave people being hurt by idiots. In which case, FUCK YOU.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Priests are innocent, victims are seducers

Says Father Benedict Groeschel, charmingly.

“People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to — a psychopath. But that’s not the case,” Groeschel explained. “Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.”


Right. How does he know that, I wonder?  And even if it’s the case in some circumstances, does that mean that no abuse has occurred?  That the child has not been harmed?  That no crime has been committed? Does it mean that the man is no longer responsible for his actions?  That – put plainly – it’s OK to rape people if they’re asking for it?

Groeschel called the abuse “an understandable thing,” and pointed to Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who he called a “poor guy.”

Yeah, poor guy.  He was allowed to get away with systematic sexual abuse of children over a prolonged period.  Poor guy.  According to Groeschel, who presumably doesn’t know any more than the rest of us so is making this shit up, it didn’t occur to anyone that Sandusky might be committing crimes by sexually assaulting children and that’s why he was allowed to get away with it.  Sure, nobody thought that raping and otherwise sexually assaulting children might be a crime.  Or might be, you know, wrong and needed to be stopped.

Groeschel pointed out that “sexual difficulties” were rarely prosecuted 10 or 15 years ago, and now if “any responsible person in society would become involved in a single sexual act — not necessarily intercourse — they’re done.”

So one rape is fine? It was better in the old days when people who raped children remained in positions where they could do it again? 

Rape me once, shame on me?

“And I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime,” he added.

Their intention was not to commit a crime.  It was to fucking rape or otherwise sexually assault children.  Groeschel’s obsession with whether a particular act is illegal rather than whether it is wrong and harmful is simply obscene.  He’s a monster.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Local news

You can’t beat local news.  Look at this, there’s a Bermuda Triangle in the North East of England.  Only for pigeons, not planes or boats:

Hey, I live in the North-East England Bermuda Triangle for Pigeons!

Hm… there is one massive big fat pigeon that visits our garden every day. I wonder if he’s eating all the other pigeons?

The comments section for that story is the feelgood story of the year.  It turns out Jez found an injured racing pigeon in the garden. Various people told Jez who to contact and the situation was resolved when Jez contacted the racing pigeon website (racing pigeons have their own site?)

The other big news story around here is this crash:

Caption: Two Arriva buses – one double-decker, one single-decker  - collide in Northgate, Darlington, close to Boots.  No one was hurt. An investigation has been launched.  Picture: STACEY FLETCHER

My favourite line from the story is this:

No one was injured in that incident, although dozens of onlookers came to witness the spectacle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Discovering privilege

Fizzygoo realised he was privileged.  He had a car which – for some reason – is associated with the gay community:

Less that six months after getting it, I was pulling on to a college campus and a young white man leaned out the passenger window of a large truck and yelled, “faggot,” at me as they passed by. So angry, so full of hate and violence was that word issued from his mouth, that I was truly afraid. I watched in my mirrors to make sure the truck didn’t turn around. I was shaking with the adrenaline.

I expect lots of us have had unsettling experiences like this.  Fizzygoo went a step further:

Once the truck was out of sight, that is when it hit me; gay men (and other minorities in general) have to live with that fear every day and the less ‘concealable’ the person of the minority is within the larger group, the higher risk for daily incidents.

This was a huge moment for me. It was the liminal temporal space between being aware that there’s a problem vs. seeing the problem first hand. For a brief moment my privilege was pulled back and I felt the problem.

Some revelation is good.  For example, blinding and surprising flashes of empathy, where we realise we’re privileged and didn’t notice it.  Most of us don’t make that connection.

He dismounts brilliantly:

So that’s it. That’s my realizing my own privilege (at least the parts I have become aware of…it’s looking to be one of those ongoing life-learning experiences).  That unless I’m driving in a Miata I largely don’t ever have to worry about someone targeting me for a hate crime. That I can walk down dark streets at night without, largely, having to be afraid. My privilege protects me from fear…but it doesn’t mean that that fear, for those that experience it, isn’t real nor is the source of the fear…those who would do harm to others simply because they are “different,” whether verbally or physically, not real. It is, and they are. And that’s a world I don’t want to promote.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thursday, August 09, 2012

My People

PZ writes about something close to my heart.  I came to be a skepticism activist through the traditional route.  The JREF and Randi in particular were a cornerstone in my education as a critical thinker. I looked forward to Friday when Randi published his brilliant Swift: a sort of proto-blog about the crazy things people believe and the inspiring and often hilarious things groups like the JREF were doing to change things.  Say one thing for James Randi, he’s a showman.  When he makes a point, it stays made.

I was pleased when JREF reorganised into a more professional outfit and argued that Swift should evolve to include new authors and more diverse topics.  In retrospect, I think I was wrong.  I think a lot of us came to think that the JREF was the centre of skepticism, that it legitimised skeptical activity through diligent and scholarly pursuit and that conferences like TAM were vital.

But I don’t think many of those things any more.  I was always uncomfortable with the JREF’s policy on religion.  It was a political one, an accommodationist one. There’s no good reason to exempt religion from critique. In the old days, I was pleased enough with JREF occupying a niche. The problem now is that it seems to be claiming it is mainstream skepticism and everyone else r doin it rong.

JREF: get back in your box and do what you did better than anyone ever,

Skeptics: be skeptical about everything.

PZ sums this up well:

Give me a good hardcore New Atheist any day. Those are my people. They’re skeptical about everything, and don’t make special allowances for the benighted believers.

Those are my people too.  They should be every skeptic’s people.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Literally adding insult to injury

First, look at this: for some reason, acid attacks by men against women are increasing in Columbia, leaving lives in ruins. It’s horrific beyond words.  Look at some of these quotes from the article:

The chemical burned off an ear, melted an eye, ate through her lower face and ruined her teeth. She now wears a skin-tight elastic mask, breathes through a straw-like tube that protrudes from her nose and walks the streets looking “like a monster,” as she put it.

How do you think she feels about it?

“I would like to go to sleep today and not wake up tomorrow,” she said. “The truth is life is too hard and I am alone.”

Some men aren’t even ‘brave’ enough to carry out the attacks themselves:

Her former boyfriend paid a small boy $1.75 to throw acid at her — changing the course of a young life. “I stopped going to school, I can’t work, I can’t depend on my own self,” said Vargas, wearing a scarf to shield her scarred neck and chin.

Changing the course of at least two young lives, I expect.  It’s hard to imagine a more callous story.

But then we inevitably get to the comments.  Look at this, for example:

This is not a gender issue. People hurt each other, it happens to men and women.
But for some reason we only care when it happens to women, which is a gender issue.

Sure, men get attacked too, so the fact that these women were attacked because they were women is somehow not a gender issue.  The real problem, of course, is that women complain about having acid thrown in their face.

because only men engage in violence against women

Some women are violent toward other women, therefore there can’t possibly be a problem of male violence against women. Outstanding.

I also am a man. but you know what? I am offended by you and your own choice to use this forum to cast acid as it were on the men of the world with your words. I didn't do this evil thing; tens of millions of other men all over the world have also managed not to throw acid or to be mean an ugly to girls and women all of their live.
It is not right for you to lash out at all men, or boys just because they are not girls or women.
I can not word this any plainer.

Oh, you’re offended, are you?  Well cry me a fucking river. 

He didn’t need to go further than “cast acid as it were”, since it weren’t.  He’s equating horrific attacks and the resulting injuries with being slightly offended on behalf of his fellow men by a post on a website.  He seems actually to want praise for not maiming women.  The point is just a dot on the horizon to him.

This man surely knows that the poster wasn’t accusing all men of throwing acid in women’s faces.  He also surely knows that this is overwhelmingly a form of attack used by men upon women. So what is his complaint?

He doesn’t like women getting uppity and spilling the beans,  He doesn’t want to accept the truth that men the world over are responsible for acts of violence and oppression against women.  He wants to hold on to his privilege, so he has to pretend that there isn’t a problem.  The fruits of his privilege are more important than women’s lives.

The man on a website who equates feeling slightly bad about a comment with countless women with ruined lives, suffering chronic pain and being shunned by society; the administrator who posts a ‘joke’ about rape on a site for rationalists and the people who join in the joke; the man in the pub who laughs at a sexist joke for fear of not fitting in.  These are the people who perpetuate the culture that treats women as second class citizens.

Someone on Ophelia’s site asked how we can turn this trend of violence against women in Columbia in particular and (I assume) in general around.  I’ve no idea. But I’m certain it has to start with men accepting the truth and our collective responsibility.  We should react to stories and comments like this with shame, not indignation, even if we’re not ourselves guilty of violence.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Garden of Love by William Blake

My favourite poem and a work of effortless-seeming genius:

I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dankblake
Weeping, weeping.

Then I went to the heath and the wild,
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And "Thou shalt not," writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

The poem lends itself to over-analysis, perhaps because it is so well crafted. I don’t think there’s much meaning to look for other than what is baldly and simply stated right there in the text, which is one of the reasons I like it so much.

There are two things that make this poem great.

First, it’s a triumph of showing instead of telling.  The overwhelming tone is one of sadness and long, slow-burning frustration, but the only complaint comes from the thistles and thorns.  Blake is merely observing things as they are without comment and yet sadness weeps from every line.

Second, those last two lines. I don’t think I’ve seen anything more powerful. They could stand as a poem by themselves.  They seem to amplify the sadness with a rising fury.

I wish I could use language and craft words that way.  And I wish I could read the damn thing without crying.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thunderf00t does it again

I’m not at all sure which is worse: the pointless spite and vitriol, the sheer blindness to a genuine issue or the unbelievably fuck-witted arguments.  But Thunderf00t is back in the saddle with his particular brand of idiocy.

I wasn’t sure whether to write about this post since the whole thing is so painfully, embarrassingly, foolish but I felt compelled to since it is such a perfect example of someone deliberately misinterpreting what people say in order to score dubious points. Which is pretty much what Tf does now.

She [Surly Amy] was apparently reduced to tears simply because someone wore a Tshirt (see below).

She wasn’t.  She says so.  I see no reason to disbelieve her.  She made one post where it did look a bit like a t-shirt made her cry and a later clarification where she says it didn’t. Tf takes the bizarre step of deciding that the latter was an attempt to re-write history.  This is the greater part of Tf’s ‘point’: that Amy’s posts show inconsistencies therefore…… well, I’m not sure because Tf doesn’t say. I’m not sure how being inconsistent in writing necessarily invalidates a point, but as we’ll see, Amy is not inconsistent anyway.  But I’m getting ahead of myself:

If you are banging your head on the desk in disbelief at the moment I just want to remind you that this is a girl who blogs regularly onskepchick, and has been supported by freethoughtblogs.  She’s also the girl who makes those little ceramic pendants that many people wear (or maybe used to wear at conferences before Amy’s crying over a Tshirt antics).  Indeed the only way I think you might have a chance of explaining her self-centered position to Amy is though the concept of reciprocation.  How would she feel if I were to be in tears because of people wearing those little ceramic pendants at conferences, suggesting that they indicate people support her anti-freespeech position, and that merely wearing these pendants is ‘dehumanizing’ and ‘very hurtful to me’, with the clear expectation that everyone else should conform to behaviors that I do not find hurtful or offensive: anything less would just be hateful.

Let’s ignore the condescending use of ‘girl’ and the dismissive tone. Tf is drawing a false equivalence.  Harriet’s shirt could easily have been interpreted as a personal attack on Amy and the other Skepchicks. In fact, I find it very difficult to interpret it any other way.  If someone I’d previously felt was an ally, maybe even a friend, wore a t-shirt – in public, in a position of some power – which insulted me and my friends personally, I’d be offended.  I’d be upset.  I wouldn’t demand that she remove the shirt.  I wouldn’t try to infringe on her freedom of speech. Amy did neither of these things either (Tf is lying when he claims Amy has an ‘anti-freespeech position’). I’d sure as hell say something to her though and explain why I thought the message was hurtful. Which is in fact what Amy did.

This situation is entirely different to the arbitrary one Tf conjures up.  His feigned offence would be entirely arbitrary.  It would not be based on a personal insult, intended or otherwise.  It would not be a case of someone sending a clear message from a prominent position without much of an opportunity to respond to the audience it was aimed at. These two situations are not the same at all.  Tf is trying to make Amy look absurd by drawing this false equivalence, but it is so ham-fistedly done that he only splatters himself with the backfire.

Yup, I’m pretty sure Amy would fairly quickly come around to the position that just because someone takes offense at a t-shirt (or similar), no how matter how hysterical the outburst, it really should have no impact on the way conferences are run.

Unless that t-shirt were a deliberate attempt at bullying. For example, if the shirt were designed to make a group of people feel uncomfortable or unwelcome or to feel bad, then I’d rather hope the conference organisers would gently put a stop to it.  I’m not saying that Harriet’s shirt intended any such thing.  In fact, Harriet has been surprisingly quiet about why she promoted that particular message.  But I certainly don’t condemn Amy for feeling that it was a personal attack.  That’s the way I read it too. 

But let’s look a little more closely at what Tf is really saying here.  He’s talking about conference harassment policies, of course.  He seems to be saying that Amy claims we need (presumably overly strict) harassment policies at conferences just because someone was offended at a t-shirt.  I’m not aware that she made any such argument (I doubt it) but Tf strongly implies that she did.  He also conveniently misses out the point that a t-shirt can genuinely be offensive.

I know, I know (I know, alright, stop saying I don’t know!) that nobody has the right not to be offended.  And as far as I can tell, this is how Amy treated the situation. She was offended by it and said so.  She questioned Harriet’s decision to wear it.  She condemned the message as a bullying one. And that’s all. She didn’t call for t-shirt censorship at TAM or anywhere else. 

So what’s the problem?  Apparently that Thunderf00t doesn’t think the t-shirt was an adequate reason for Amy to get upset. Personally, I think I’d rather let the targets of bullying decide what’s offensive.  A lot of bullying went on at my school.  If anyone reported what was said or done to them, it often sounded inoffensive or absurd.  But the hurtful part wasn’t always what was said or done so much as the fact that a particular person was singled out for it, often repeatedly, sometimes for years.  Tf doesn’t get to decide what people should be upset by and ridiculing upset people seems insensitive at best.

Now it turns out Amy Roth has since issued a ‘clarification’.  It’s often said that a clarification is not made to make oneself clear, but to put oneself in the clear.  Regrettably that only works if you are honest and/or competent, rather than just the shamelessly self serving ‘Rebecca Watson’ type attempt to rewrite history.

Thunderf00t has no reason to believe that Amy was trying to rewrite history (and just look at the list of slimy accusations he makes in that one paragraph).  Let’s dissect his argument.

He points out that on July 17th, Amy wrote:

I think one of the most hurtful things I experienced while attending TAM was Harriet Hall’s Tshirt that she wore three days in a row. I told her through tears, in the speakers’ lounge, that it was dehumanizing and gender/color blind and very hurtful to me specifically as a person who does have to deal with harassment regularly.

And then that on 18th said:

So know that just a ‘silly tshirt’ did not reduce me to tears. Sadly, there was a lot more going on.

Tf’s insightful comment on this is:

Yup in just one day, a T-shirt goes from “dehumanizing”, “gender/color blind” and “very hurtful” to now just a “silly tshirt”.  Think someone is trying to shamelessly rewrite history there Amy!

I genuinely don’t understand how an honest person could come to this conclusion.

For one thing, a t-shirt can be dehuminishing, gender/color blind and very hurtful while at the same time being silly.  More relevantly, though, it seems clear that in her second comment Amy was refuting claims by others that a ‘silly t-shirt’ (he quotes) made her cry.  She has said it didn’t. She was already crying because of other stuff. 

She has not changed her stance on the fact that she was upset by the shirt for the reasons she stated and there is certainly no reason to suspect that she’s trying to rewrite history.  That seems a crazily-paranoid interpretation at best.

Tf’s cherry-picking is even more shameless in his next point:

on July 17th, Amy wrote:

I said I was glad she [Harriet] felt safe and that I wouldn’t have sent 22 women to the event if I didn’t think it was safe for them either. So who was she talking to?”

and Tf adds:

Bravo Amy for saying how you think TAM is safe.  Great so what was all the ‘we want a policy and to lynch someone at TAM’ tantrum of FTB and skepchick all about?

‘Lynch’? WTF, Thunderf00t, whoever said anything about lynching?  This is an excellent example of those‘reasoned arguments’ you are so proud of.  It was hardly a tantrum, either.  And you already know the answer anyway: some people think that conferences are better if they have harassment policies so that people can feel safer. Nobody intends that they be used to prevent people from having fun, but to help people who are actually harassed: a thing which actually does happen. Tf just can’t resist putting these sneering little jibes, based on gross misrepresentations of what anyone actually said, into every paragraph, like a petulant child.

Oh wait…. wait… Amy is about to retell the story….

Let’s see, shall we?  On 18th she said:

I hope that Harriet will realize why it was so hurtful and why I was offended by both the front and the back. Some of us have been harassed at events and do not feel safe. The shirt was also hurtful to those in that context as well.

I read that as a partial explanation of why she was offended by Harriet’s shirt and why she feels others might have been offended too.  Thunderf00t, on the other hand, has a different (read ‘batshit insane’) interpretation:

Bravo Amy, Bravo (slow hand clap), so now we have two sequentially, mutually inconsistent accounts of ‘history’ from the same person, both given within about a day of each other.  One in which TAM is safe, and that’s why you have worked to send people there, and in the other versions of ‘Skepchick’ history, where you worked to send people to an environment that was not safe, indeed that you worked to send women to an environment populated by “gropers and PUAs and drunk fumblers“.  **SLOW HAND CLAP**

There is nothing inconsistent with what Amy said unless you read it with deliberate dishonesty. First she said that she thought TAM was safe at least at the time she raised funds to send women there.  Then she says that Harriet’s shirt might have been offensive to people who had been harassed at events (she doesn’t even mention TAM) and who might, consequently not feel safe. 

She said nothing about whether TAM was safe or otherwise, just that the shirt might have offended people who didn’t feel safe.

There is no inconsistency here and again, no possible attempt to rewrite history.

Tf then quotes Amy saying that she respects Harriet and hopes that one day she’ll understand why her shirt was hurtful and then:

I will continue to try to be a better person and I will continue to try to help other people get involved and to set an example of kind, productive, proactive behavior in hopes that more people will follow my lead than the those who want to mock and belittle.

This, Tf argues, is a case of double standards.  Why? Because Rebecca Watson – a person who is not Amy – thinks that:

[…] people (notably myself and Paula Kirby) who disagree with them on reason based arguments, actually all think they are a Totalitarian Nazis clique.

Go and see for yourself.  I think anyone honest can see that Rebecca is being flippant and employing sarcasm.  She is ridiculing Paul Kirby’s ludicrous name-calling.  It is perfectly clear that she (Rebecca) doesn’t really believe that Paula believes there’s an exact equivalence between Skepchics and Nazi Germany, although the quotes from Paula do explicitly compare the organisation to undesirable aspects of the regime in the old East Germany.  To be fair, I don’t know why Rebecca includes Thunderf00t in this part of her article,  I’m not aware of his using the same slurs as Paula (although my impression is that he endorses her). 

But who cares?  Tf’s argument is invalid anyway.  Amy’s personal statement that she wants to continue trying to be a better person and setting a good example would be in no way contradicted by someone else thinking that “people (notably myself and Paula Kirby) who disagree with them on reason based arguments, actually all think they are a Totalitarian Nazis clique.”  Something, of course, that Rebecca (regardless of what she thinks Paula thinks) categorically did not say.  She took some very specific quotes from Paula (not a reasoned argument in any way) and represented them on face value. And ridiculed them.

Thunderf00t is a liar and a bully. He misrepresents what people say and ridicules people who are genuinely upset because he has decided that they shouldn’t be.  Then he makes transparently bogus arguments that his mis-representations and ridicule somehow undermine the arguments.

I’ve no idea why anyone takes that idiot seriously.

Monday, July 23, 2012

You have lost your way, JREF

I love Randi and what he’s achieved, but it’s been clear for a while that I can no longer support JREF.  The decision hurts me more than it hurts JREF, of course, I’ve donated not much more than a hundred or two dollars or so a year, although I’ve done so for 15 years or so now, I guess. They won’t miss me, but I will miss them.

Much has gone wrong with that organisation recently. I’ve had personal disappointments that I won’t go too far into (but see later) and there have been more important public failures which we all know about.

Sadly, the organisation has fallen into the hands of the politically motivated.  I supported that move when it happened. I was excited by it. I thought JREF would grow as a result. But we ended up with presidents like Phil Plait who didn’t really seem to do anything at all and then DJ Grothe who has squandered away much of the goodwill built over the decades.

The JREF was a lot better when it was just Randi with his million dollars and I don’t think it has survived the transition to whatever it thinks it is now. Super sorry for supporting that transition.

I’ve been told off a few times (by the author and the editor) on the Swift blog for politely disagreeing with the author in the comments. A few days before one of those incidents, three regular commenters disagreed with one of my comments and spent a lot of time attacking me personally.  I don’t mind being attacked, but it was amazing that those people who made horrible, unwarranted personal remarks weren’t disciplined at all, but I, who only argued politely with the author of a later post was told to shut up. I complained about those attacks, by the way.  The JREF editor told me that the people shouldn’t have written those things.  Thanks, that helped a whole lot.

The JREF has lost its way. It has employed entirely the wrong people and embraced the wrong things. It will never get another penny from me. 

I never thought I’d say that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jesus & Mo on ‘sophisticated theology’ for more.

One of the most frequent allegations levelled against Richard Dawkins in the wake of The God Delusion was that his theology wasn’t sophisticated enough and that he didn’t know enough about religion to criticise it. 

Atheists such as Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers counter-argued that ‘sophisticated theology’ turns out to be pretty empty stuff when you actually read it.  Lots of it involves redefining god so his existence can’t be disproved (by throwing out any claims about god that can be tested and using words like ‘transcendent’). 

These counter-arguments are valid and entertaining, but there’s a more fundamental one: the things actual religious people say about their religion are – as the barmaid puts it – absurd and are without evidence of any plausible standard.

This should be enough for any rational person to discount religion. We don’t need to know any more about it than that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I can and will not understand this

Harriet Hall wore this t-shirt at TAM 2012

It says “I feel safe and welcome at TAM”.

This is the back:

What possible motive could Harriet have for wearing this (for at least 3 days in a row)?

It can only be a passive aggressive dig at people who are concerned about harassment at conferences. And at the Skepchicks in particular, a weirdly personal attack. 

The kindest interpretation I can come up with is “shut up, ladies”.  This is the problem I have with the shirt. I don’t mind her being an arsehole, but I do mind her slapping the faces of those who do not feel safe and welcome, as though their experiences don’t matter.  Blaming her grievance on the Skepchicks is as nasty as it is pointless.

Besides, there’s a lot of misinformation and wilful ignorance about this issue. Nobody mentioned TAM until DJ Grothe suddenly said that women like Rebecca and Ophelia were scaring women away by talking about their experiences at conferences and in the atheist/skeptical community in general

Then people started talking about TAM, but I don’t think anyone singled it out as a particular problematic conference.  For instance, Rebecca decided not to go to TAM because she didn’t feel safe in the community, not because she didn’t feel safe specifically at TAM.

Update: Sastra reports here that she spoke to Harriet at TAM and that I might have misjudged her motives.  I remain only half convinced and Sastra herself isn’t quite sure she understands Harriet’s reasoning. 


[Harriet] likes the Skepchick website, reads it, and was appalled at the vitriol and online attacks aimed at Rebecca and other women over elevatorgate and pretty much everything else. She does not doubt that women are harassed and discriminated against. She considers herself a feminist.

Harriet also applauded Pamela Gay’s talk at TAM 2012 and was part of the standing ovation. 




The commenters above who suggested that she is making a point that women should aim to eliminate bias by refusing to be minimized into a “woman skeptic” category are correct. Harriet is old school, and she suggested that it’s possibly a generational thing. She doesn’t object to the Skepchicks, mind you. She’s not against them. She was very careful to make sure the back of her shirt had a small “s” on skepchicks.

It was a point that occurred to me, but it seemed (and still seems) incongruous with the wording of her t-shirt, especially the word ‘skepchick’.  The small ‘s’ comment is very strange.  If I were more even more cynical than I actually am, I’d say it sounds like plausible deniability.  Who calls themself a skepchick except for the Skepchicks themselves? 

I told her I was afraid this fine distinction would be lost.

I guess I can accept that it was bad communication on Harriet’s part, but that is so uncharacteristic of her that it’s quite a stretch to believe it.  Especially since Sastra suspects Harriet was aware of some of the wtf? comments that were turning up on the web, yet continued to wear the shirt.  If I thought that people en masse had misunderstood my message, I’d stop saying it and do my best to correct it.

My understanding is that she was defending TAM — and responding directly to something Rebecca Watson apparently wrote a day or so before the conference: “I do not feel safe or welcome at TAM” — the implication being that women in general should not feel safe or welcome at TAM. She thinks that’s nonsense.

And it is indeed nonsense, but in more ways than one because Rebecca did not say that. You can read about it in her own words here

In no way does she imply that “women in general should not feel safe or welcome at TAM.”  She says she’s not going to TAM because she finds DJ Grothe’s policy of blaming the victim and hushing up instances of abuse deplorable. She writes:

So when it comes to DJ Grothe, I can no longer support someone who is so incredibly dismissive of women’s experiences. I can’t give my time and money and energy to a man who blames women for speaking out about their own harassment, and I can’t give my time and money and energy to the organization he runs. I will always have the utmost respect for James Randi, who is responsible for inspiring me and millions of others to think critically and fight dangerous pseudoscience and superstition. It makes me incredibly sad that I can no longer support JREF.

So if this is Harriet’s motivation, minus several million for comprehension skills. And besides, ‘defending TAM’ against Rebecca Watson seems like agreeing (tacitly or explicitly) with DJ Grothe, which seems to jibe poorly with her appreciation of Pamela’s talk.

Sastra says:

I told her I thought she misunderstood the nuances of the situation: she told me she had on the contrary taken a fair amount of time to read from many sources and understood it all very well, thank you.

Perhaps Sastra is right. Quite a lot of otherwise intelligent, sensitive people seem to have misunderstood the nuances of this issue and it might explain Harriet’s apparent tin ear with the small s in skepchick.

But I’m only half convinced.  My (entirely speculative) suspicion is that Harriet decided in advance that Rebecca was being a drama queen and only read the first part of her statement on why she wouldn’t be attending TAM.  Her t-shirt is consistent with that, too, and this attitude is typical of many who disagree with Rebecca on this issue.

So I’m with Sastra in saying wtf.  And I’m with Ophelia in not understanding why someone would do that.  Personally, I’d work damn hard to make sure I really understood the issue and wasn’t kidding myself before wearing a shirt like that when giving talks at a major conference.  The inclusion of ‘skepchick’ on the shirt is by itself strong evidence that she didn’t do that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

So late to the party that all there’s left to drink is Malibu and tins of Carlsberg with fag ends in

So……Paula Kirby, then.  I’ve been meaning to write about her for some time, but the whole business is so depressing and I haven’t had time to do the whole business justice.  Fortunately, now that everyone else has had a go, I don’t have to.

I knew Paula when she was a fledgling atheist on the RDF forum, a curious, insightful person letting go of god.  She (rightly) impressed a lot of people and gained a deservedly large audience.   This is why her recent behaviour is so depressing: it’s unpleasant indeed to see someone I previously admired acting like such an idiot

I first heard her views on sexism at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin (yes, the Elevatorgate one). I was surprised then at her message that everything was totally fine and there was no problem with sexism in the movement. Fortunately, Rebecca was there to show us more of the ugly side of skeptical and atheistic sexism.  It’s great that Paula has never had problems with sexism, but it’s somewhat perverse to argue from that position that sexism isn’t a problem.

And now she’s taken to writing stupid shit.

I’ve made a few attempts at dissecting parts of her fact-free essay but others have got there before me. Jadehawk has a good one, for example.  I don’t think I have much to say that Jadehawk didn’t except to stress that I still don’t understand what bullying Paula and her friends are referring to.  She doesn’t provide a single example of such bullying in her essay and I haven’t been able to ask her about it on Twitter because she blocked me for politely asking her about a separate (but equally stupid) comment she posted there.

Monday, July 09, 2012

I’m holding out for a hero

My older brother is about the most po-faced person I’ve ever met, the cynical old bastard. A few years ago I told him I was about to meet a few of my heroes (Dawkins, Ridley, Ward and Hurlbert, as it happens).  I was excited but my brother was contemptuous.  He doesn’t have any heroes. He doesn’t understand why anyone would.. Also he doesn’t like the name of my new cat.

Understand, of course, that as a brother ten years my senior he was my hero for many years. I didn’t try to emulate him, although we ended up doing similar things, but when I was a kid I wanted to be more like him (we are not very alike).  He still has many admirable qualities, but he’s no longer my hero. This is less of a demotion on his part than a development on my part of what sort of things I admire.

I’m not at all ashamed to have heroes.  They are all people who have achieved extraordinary things, but they’re sometimes unsung.  Some of my heroes are big names in the atheist and skeptical movements.  Dawkins, Benson, Randi, Watson, Christina, PZ, in no particular order are names that come to mind.  I have historical heroes too, mostly scientists: Lovelace, Curie, Darwin, Franklyn, Newton, Einstein, Turing, for example.  But also poets such as Coleridge and Blake and artists such as Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh.

But my heroes at the moment are those bloggers and commenters and other people who are taking a stand about what the atheism and skeptical movements could be.  While atheism is technically described as lack of belief in gods and skepticism is defined as a desire for appropriate evidence before some proposition is accepted, the realities of those positions can be different.

I’m an atheist because I cannot believe in any kind of god, but also because I think notions of god are dreadful and to be campaigned against.  I’m an atheist because it is necessary to point out the horrible things that only religions can get away with and because there are people the world over committed to not letting that happen. 

Those people are my heroes at the moment. I can’t do that.  My skills lie in ripping apart poorly formed arguments; ridiculous attention to detail; and interminable point-by-point rebuttals. These are not skills that are in short supply in this community and while they’re necessary and fun, they are not the sort of skills that change the world.  That will be done by people who can organise and cajole: people charismatic and smart enough to persuade without compromise. 

Those people are my heroes at the moment and most of them are bloggers, commenters and just random insightful and hilarious people.  Congratulations, because you’re the people who make the Internet and the movements great.

And brother: there is nothing wrong with calling a cat Fortran.

No religion = riots

Taking part in a riot can be an ecstatic, spiritual experience, says The Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells*

I bet he does. I bet he does. You see, that way he car argue (without the slightest evidence) that the reason people riot is a lack of spiritual experience elsewhere and the cure for this is of course (again without evidence) religion.

In a brilliant flash of self-importance, the church has even invented a new kind of sin to explain riots:

The report said that clergy have been ‘working with the concept of structural sin which recognises how people on all sides of conflicts can face moral choices that are not between what is clearly right and clearly wrong but which are necessitated by circumstances in response to situations where much has gone wrong already’.

It doesn’t really seem to work.  The moral choice facing the rioters in the UK last year was not ‘necessary’: they were not forced to choose whether or not to riot. There was no social injustice so great that they had no option but to….break into shops and steal trainers or mug innocent and bewildered victims in the streets… 

Structural sin seems more like a further excuse for the church to meddle in politics.

*Warning, may not drown babies in the font during baptisms then eat them in the vestry later.

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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Religious debates

Well that’s a good point and something I’ve wondered about too.  Over at WEIT, Jerry asks why the faithful don’t debate each other. Many religious opinions are fundamentally incompatible, even within what is nominally the same religion.  The most obvious examples are to do with whether the Bible should be taken literally or which bits should and shouldn’t be considered metaphor. You’d think the proponents of these ideas would spend a happy lifetime arguing with each other about who’s right.  But they don’t.  Or they don’t seem to.  If anything, they ignore their differences to unite against the common enemy of reason.

I think Jerry’s answer is the right one:

Because, I think, religious people realize that by attacking someone else’s superstition, they undermine their own.  By exposing the lack of evidence for the other guy’s faith, you inadvertently expose the lack of evidence for your own.

When faith-heads debate atheists they can and always do play the faith card.  They know they are right not because of evidence (indeed, to them  evidence is insufficient) but because of faith, which they think is good enough.  But if they debate each other they both have to use this trick and it doesn’t work. 

Not that it works against atheists either, but when its faith against reason, the faith-head can pretend she has the authority of all the religious behind them. If it’s faith against faith, it just looks like your-word-against-mine and quibbling over the details.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Pope’s butler

Just as we learn the incongruous fact that the Pope has a butler, he doesn’t have one any more, because he’s had him arrested for leaking details of corruption in Vatican City.  There isn’t much detail about the corruption in the press, but it seems to involve personal correspondence from the Pope implicating him in awarding state contracts to preferred people.  The butler is now in the Pope’s private prison, I’ve no idea what sort of justice he can expect.

The Pope is supposedly ‘shocked and saddened’ at the leaks, but apparently not at the wrongdoing itself.  This is a familiar response: Ratzinger didn’t care in the slightest about institutional child rape in his church but did everything he could to cover it up.

There are equally predictable claims that this is part of some kind of plot to discredit Ratzinger.  I’m not sure how his credit could be further reduced having clearly enabled child rape and protected child rapists for decades. It’s hard to see how a bit of financial corruption could be worse than that.  If I were going to go all conspiracy theory on his holy ass, I’d say it was a plot to distract people from more serious crimes.  But I doubt it.  It’s more likely that the church is just guilty of lots of different horrible things.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Nobody would be surprised

A priest has claimed that a girl was kidnapped by the Catholic church for a sex party and then presumably murdered.  It wouldn’t be terribly surprising but the man is a known liar and idiot and there is no reason at all to take his claims seriously.

Here is one reason to not take him seriously: he claims to have done 70,000 exorcisms.

70,000. At one per day, that would take 191 years. Let’s be generous and say he’s been doing it for 50 years, one per day.  That would be 18250 exorcisms.  Nowhere near the 70k. He’d have to do three or four exorcisms a day for fifty years to get to 70,000. I don’t know about you, but I have two or three meetings a week which would blow my exorcism schedule right out the window. He was appointed to the post of exorcist (really, it’s an actual post) in 1986 and claimed the 70,000 figure in March 2010. So that works out at about 8 per day. 

That’s an impressive work ethic and a *fuckload* of demons.  And a testable claim: we just need to look at his diary.  I bet he has a secretary who could easily confirm his 8 appointments a day.  And presumably he had staff who weeded out the fake possessions so he didn’t have to waste time casting out fake demons.  He was on a pretty strict timescale, after all.

I don’t know whether Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped by the Catholic church for a sex party.  It seems unlikely because they’ve never needed to kidnap anyone before in order to sexually abuse them.  Well, for a given definition of ‘kidnap’.  It seems more likely that Amorth is an unreliable witness or a supernaturally hard worker.

There are about 60m people in the UK. How many of us are demons?

Tory bigot wants it both ways

The Guardian says:

Owen Paterson, the socially conservative Northern Ireland secretary, has become the first member of the cabinet to say publicly he does not support gay marriage.

This is what he said:

"Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage,"

Or rather:

“Having considered whether or not people should be treated equally, I am afraid I have come to the decision that they shouldn’t.”

Paterson wants everyone else to behave the way he wants them to.  Or does he?  He also says:

"However, the government is rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships to do so, erasing historic convictions for consensual gay sex and putting pressure on other countries that violate the human rights of LGBT people.”

There are two ways to interpret this. Perhaps he’s saying that while he has certain views on the matter, it’s not up to him to decide what the nation should do and he’d abide by the collective decision.  But….wait a cotton-picking minute.  He has to abide by it, as do the rest of us. 

Saying that you hate gays but will tolerate them if you’re forced by law isn’t exactly an open-minded position and bigoted pricks like Paterson don’t get to pretend it is.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


What’s the cruellest thing you can think of?  I cried like a baby today when I heard a true story about a spiritualist church which bullied someone of limited mental capacity into telling someone else that they’d received a magical message of some sort from their dead son.

Every single thing about that is the cruellest thing I can imagine, especially the part where it made me cry.  Why do these people want to make me cry? What’s wrong with them?

Monday, May 14, 2012

AIDS is women’s fault for being too attractive and moist. So force them by law to have their heads shaved

Zimbabwe senator Morgan Femai knows how to solve the AIDS problem in his country.

Senator Morgan Femai reportedly told a conference he believed the killer disease had spread because men found it difficult to resist attractive and well-dressed women.

In other words, AIDS is all women’s fault for being so adorable.  Men can’t possibly be expected to keep it in their pants or –heaven (literally) forbid – practice safe sex.  The solution is obvious to Femai: naturally he called for laws that force women to shave their heads and bathe less to be less attractive to men.

He also decided that the female body contains more moisture than the male, which causes bacteria to grow. He seemed confident that this had something to do with AIDS.  He called for more research on the subject:

There should be a way to suck out that moisture.

He said.

Needless to say, Zimbabwe has a large Catholic population, with its priests undermining any and all efforts at educating the people not to die.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Awful awful awfulness

I struggle sometimes to understand people’s motivations.  The current Mrs Latsot, like many other people, suffers from chronic migraine. It’s a horrible condition.  Aside from the pain, the necessity to take medication every day (with its side-effects) and the need to avoid certain foods, drinks and other chemicals: migraine sufferers lose days when they could be doing something – anything - else. 

The good news is that migraine as a condition is becoming more widely understood and better treatments are emerging.  One proposed treatment is Botox.   There seems to be good evidence that it helps people cope with chronic migraine. NICE says that it’s a good treatment and if it turns out to be cost effective, Botox could become available for chronic migraine sufferers on the NHS. 


There are articles about this all over the news including – inevitably – one in the Daily Mail. And there are comments.  Look at this one:

I used to get botox injection for migraines 7 years ago and the muscle injected in my neck was completly solid, trying to inject it would bend the needles, the muscles spasms were so severe I was told they were pushing my spine out of shape. The trouble for me the injections only gave relief for 1 month and I could only have the injections once every six months and because the needles would bend sometimes it wasn't a pleasant experience. So now I put up it and try and carry on as normal with the view not much can be done about the problem. I get a migraine nearly everyday.

- Mickey Mouse, London, 11/5/2012 12:38

Well, that’s a lie. Your muscles bent needles? Are you a fucking golem?  The Botox caused muscle spasms, did it?  And they threatened your spine? Odd that nobody else has ever suffered any such symptoms.

It’s nonsense and a complete lie.  What possible motivation could this person have to make such a lying, hurtful, harmful comment? 

Mickey Mouse, London, has decided for no good reason that Botox is a bad medicine and that their personal arrogant opinion trumps science, objective reality and above all common decency.  This person wants people to suffer because he or she doesn’t like the treatment, for no good reason.

Mickey Mouse, London is obviously a liar and more obviously a horror show of a human being. 

If Botox really does help people with chronic migraine lead lives more free of pain, deprivation and horribleness, then it can’t be trumped by the personal squeamishness of idiots.  Spreading lies to try to enforce that squeamishness is the most cowardly, bullying, horrible thing a supposed human can do.

Friday, May 04, 2012

How could I possibly have known it was wrong to rape children?

"In 1975 no State or Church guidelines existed in the Republic of Ireland to assist those responding to an allegation of abuse against a minor. No training was given to priests, teachers, police officers or others who worked regularly with children about how to respond appropriately should such allegations be made."

-- Cardinal Brady

Nobody ever trained me how to deal with child rape, either.  But I’m pretty certain that my default position – due to lack of training – would not bot to protect the rapist.  I think I’d probably do every single possible thing in my power to stop the rapist raping anyone else and do whatever I could to help the victims.

I guess that’s just my lack of training showing.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

It turns out Jesus doesn’t cure cancer

This billboard in New Zealand breaches advertising standards and has to be removed.

“[A complainant] said the billboard was dangerous and deceptive as it could potentially offer false hope and lure in the vulnerable in their time of illness and sadness.”

Quite right, but why do we have to keep saying this? Why do skeptics have to show the harm, especially when religion is involved?  Isn’t the fact that it is an obviously unsubstantiated claim enough?

The church said they believed the Bible as the authoritative and reliable source of information and it gave numerous accounts of Jesus healing people.

No they didn’t. Either they cited unverifiable claims from the Bible about Jesus healing people or equally unverifiable claims that some peoples’ healing in modern times was down to Jesus and not to their doctors.  Like this, for example:

"Our belief is substantiated by the fact six people within our congregation have testified to Jesus healing them from cancer," the church said.

Oh, ‘testified’ sounds so much more impressive than “claimed”, doesn’t it? How would these people know that Jesus cured their cancer?  Were they receiving conventional treatment as well as praying?  Do they even exist? We will never know. 

The church said religious advertising and freedom of speech were vital components of a free and democratic society.

But false advertising is not. That is an essential limit on the freedom of a society because it is an enabler of exploitation. We know that advertising is disquietingly effective and virtually impossible to avoid entirely, so we have to make sure that people are not being conned.  I’ve no objection – at least, no objection I can properly justify – in churches putting up posters saying that they believe that Jesus cures cancer.  That’s a statement of fact, however stupid.  Saying that Jesus does, in fact, cure cancer is a very different statement.  Specifically, one that is not true.

Pastor Lyle Penisula recognised that using ''the C word'' made some families uncomfortable and believed this was why the billboard hit the limelight.

Pastor Lyle doesn’t get it.  This is not about squeamishness.  Many cancers are curable or treatable if caught early enough.  We know perfectly well that telling people that Jesus cures cancer can prevent them from seeking medical help.  Once again, why do we have to keep saying this?

''In the days of Jesus, leprosy was the word of fear, that everybody sort of walked around, and Jesus in his day healed leprosy. In today's day cancer is probably the modern day leprosy and people just want to tread carefully around it.''

Someone wrote in a book that someone called Jesus healed lepers (although, why didn’t he just heal all lepers?) therefore….. it’s totally true that he heals cancer?  Because people were frightened of leprosy and people are now frightened of cancer so they’re totally the same?

"I would be more than happy if this billboard was to read 'Jesus Heals' and that way it could be interpreted to mean he heals spiritually/emotionally which I believe is more along the lines of what the church are trying to say."

I cannot share that opinion. I guess the billboard could be taken in that way, but it could also be taken entirely literally to mean physical healing of illness.  But – more importantly – JESUS DOESN’T EXIST AND HE DOESN’T GO AROUND HEALING PEOPLE, EITHER PHYSICALLY OR ‘SPIRTUALLY’, WHATEVER THAT CAN EVEN POSSIBLY MEAN. 

It’s still a lie.

The church’s new advertisement reads:

Jesus Heals every Sickness & Every Disease - Matthew 4:23

Which is disingenuous in two ways. First, that verse says that Jesus healed, not that he heals today and second it says ‘every disease and sickness among the people’ not ‘every possible disease’.

The billboard is still quite clearly claiming that Jesus can heal your body and is still dangerous and sickening.  But the church is hiding behind the fact that in a free society, we need to be tolerant of idiots. The secular society has done its best: sadly it’s up to the conscience of the church now.