Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Groomed to be a participant in her own assault

This is heartbreaking and heartbreakingly common. Look at this part:
I was engaged to my rapist– had been engaged to him for almost a year by the time he raped me. He sexually assaulted me… I honestly don’t know. The number of times is probably in the hundreds. Looking back over our relationship, he had been grooming me for that moment for literally years. It had started small– minor things I could brush off as cute, as innocent, as harmless, but things still done to me without my consent. Slowly, so slowly I couldn’t tell what was happening, everything intensified. And, through it all, he made absolutely certain that I knew beyond all doubt that there was no such thing as no. If I said no to anything– if I didn’t instantly answer when he called, if I didn’t immediately change my clothes when he told me to, if I didn’t comply with every request the second he made it, I was punished.
He also made it brutally, horribly clear that he was not interested in only demanding and taking– if I was not at least a semi-active participant in my own assault, he would punish me for that, too.
Another aspect of this sort of grooming is that victims can end up initiating physical encounters in public even if they don’t want to. This can ruin the victim’s credibility if s/he later reports abuse:
He would have directed me to his parents– because he had made sure they witnessed me “initiating” physical things, like cuddling and touching and kissing. He had the entire campus on his side– he leveraged his popularity and his fame against me, deliberately doing everything within his power to discredit me as that “crazy bitch.” Years after I’d graduated, students still knew who I was, and what I’d done to him.” And the police would have marked my report a false allegation, and I would have been dismissed as a liar.
Forgedimagination also wrote a previous post, this time about consent. Inevitably, some random man turned up to explain to her how false allegations of rape are really bad.
This is why bringing false allegations into conversations about rape and consent is so damaging. We aren’t reacting negatively because we don’t think that false allegations are horrible, or that false allegations are insignificant and easily dismissed, because they aren’t. We are reacting this way because we live in a world where false allegations are the dominant narrative. Because false allegations are a nearly-universal part of any conversation about rape, when a woman says that she is a rape survivor, one of the first things that becomes a part of that conversation is suspicion, cynicism, and dismissal.
That, that and especially that. Read the whole thing. It’s hard. But read it anyway, if you can.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No Atheists in Intensive Care Units, my arse

An excellent post by Jen.
It’s not just the snubbing of science that irritated me. It made me think, “Why do you think your God saved your husband, but put my mom through so much pain? Why is he worth saving but she’s made to suffer through all of this? What kind, just God would do that?”
That’s when I was glad I was an atheist in that ICU. While my Greek Orthodox grandparents were weeping and distraught, asking me desperately why God would punish my mother like this, I understood that nothing divine decided this.  It did not reflect a flaw in my mother’s character or some sin that god was punishing. It did not reflect the frequency of prayers from all the church lists she had been added to, nor was it punishment for having rabid atheists for a husband and daughter. It was bad luck, a random mutation in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
There are atheists in foxholes and in ICUs. We prefer to take comfort in the fact that shit happens to the myth that people thrive or suffer based on the capricious will of a highly improbable entity whose existence we cannot demonstrate and whose arbitrary decisions we are not worthy to understand, although we’re apparently worthy to suffer regardless.

But Jen says it better than I do, read her post.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Presto-changeo deathbed conversion

I’m getting old. My last birthday a few days ago rendered me instantly middle-aged. It’s time to start taking Pascal’s Wager seriously. But one of the problems with Pascal’s Wager has always been Which God? I’m a pragmatist. To which god should I convert on my deathbed?  What are my options?

I was brought up in an Anglican household. If I converted to this wishy-washy religion, I’d need to repent my sins. That would take some time, so it would have to be a fairly slow death. That’s the wager, I suppose. If I did that, I’d avoid hell, which seems good, but the heaven I’d go to doesn’t sound that great. The reward seems to be proximity to god. God’s authorised biography reveals him to be kind of a dick, so eternity listening to him saying how great he is while being a racist, sexist, murderous tyrant, interested only in enforcing arbitrary rules, would get old after the first few gagillion years or so.

So what are my options?

Should I go Catholic?  This seems like an even worse deal. As I understand it, Anglican sin-forgiveness happens just by saying sorry to god in your head. You don’t even need to kneel down or fold your hands although it’s generally reckoned to somehow work better if you do. But if you’re a Catholic, you have to get your confessions signed off by a priest. It’s basically a soul backup, whereas the Anglican version is more cloud-based: the backup happens on the fly. But anyway, if I go Catholic, I have to do purgatory, don’t I?  Assuming my soul is backed up and I’m not going to hell, I still have to purify my soul before going to heaven. Which is the same sort of heaven to the Anglican one, but with more saints. And I can’t use condoms in the meantime. Catholicism seems a fairly shitty deal for deathbed conversion.

So what about Buddhism? I know almost nothing about it, but reincarnation doesn’t seem like a great deal. I don’t think we get to remember any past lives, so I’m not sure what sort of continuation it represents. If I could remember being, say, an isopod in a previous life, Buddhism would be totally awesome. If I could look forward to being, say, a Great Diving Beetle. I’d sign up immediately. But that doesn’t seem to be the deal. Apparently you’re supposed to work your way back to being human (and how does a beetle generate Karma anyway?) as if being human is the best way to be. Isn’t there a catalogue? I want to be a swift. Then a swan. I want to know the differences between them. Then I want to be a seahorse and probably an isopod again. Hanging out on a fish’s tongue seems like a great lifestyle. THAT would be a heaven to me, but apparently it doesn’t work like that.

Then there’s Islam. I don’t really know the rules but as I understand it you get to have 72 virgins and some sherbet providing you’re male and willing to commit an atrocity. I don’t qualify for two reasons. I’m male, but not willing to commit the required atrocity. But also, I don’t want 72 virgins. This doesn’t seem like heaven to me. I suppose the performance pressure is minimised because they are virgins, but there’s NO WAY they aren’t going to talk about me behind my back. I don’t need 72 reviews of my performance. And I’d rather learn something, anyway. I’d prefer one experienced, independent, loving, interesting (and hopefully non-judgemental) partner to an additional 71 bimbos. It’s almost as if I’m already in heaven, without having to blow anyone up.

So I’m left with the atheist alternative: oblivion. At age 41 the foxhole is looming. I don’t think I’ll convert, though. Oblivion seems like a better deal than the alternatives.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Moral panic: privacy vs porn

It was inevitable. The signs have been evident for some time.  David Cameron has decreed that every household connected to the Internet will have to tell their ISPs whether they want to access Internet porn. Our ISPs will be forced to operate porn filters and ask each household whether they want to opt out of using the filters if they want porn. 

The plan is described as ‘opt-out’ but that’s rather dishonest since “do you want to see porn?” is a loaded question.  It’s loaded because the plan will generate a list of people who say they want porn. History shows that when governments have data like this, they can’t help but think of exciting and horrible new ways to use it. And once the legislation is in place, it’s increasingly easy to add to. 

It’s the sort of information that could turn up to make people look bad in a trial or discredit witnesses: “she admits she likes porn!”. Worse, it could be used to indiscriminately target suspects or justify harassment by authorities.  The investigation of a sexual crime might begin by looking for everyone present in the area at the time who previously opted-in to porn.  Worse, in fact, everyone from a household that opted-in.

This is evidence at it’s most circumstantial, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that might sway juries, trump-up charges or demonise people within their own communities.

This move is a reaction to the moral panic currently being whipped up about pornography, largely by organisations devoid of morality such as the Daily Mail.  The argument is that people are harmed by looking at pornography.  The evidence for this is at best dubious.  I suspect that the people who are most harmed by pornography are those who are exploited by pornographers, not the users.  I think the answer is to use porn responsibly. Legitimise it. Regulate it. Unionise it. Let people who want to work in porn do so and protect them from exploitation. And allow people to opt out of porn if they want to in the way they want to. For example, they could try not downloading it. Or they could install filters at home and learn how to use them properly.  Or they could use an ISP that filters porn. 

But don’t force people to tell the government whether they want to watch porn or not.  This is information that can very easily be misused.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that porn could have indirect negative effects, such as the continued sexualisation and objectification of (especially) women. But this is by no means limited to porn and I’m not convinced that reducing access to porn will stop that. How about more porn for women? How about more porn for couples of any gender and combinations of sexuality? How about – in other words – producing and viewing porn responsibly?  Perhaps if we all had better attitudes in the first place, porn wouldn’t be seen by some as the problem or the cause of the problem.

There’s more to the plan.  For instance, possession of “extreme pornography” is to be banned. It isn’t clear what counts as “extreme”, but it is apparently to include porn that simulates rape.  This idea is also dangerous, for at least three reasons.

First, nothing illegal is happening in the production of rape fantasy porn (assuming the adults consent). Nobody is being harmed, nobody is really being raped.

Second, it is not clear that the possession of rape fantasy porn leads to violence.  Perhaps it will be established that use of such porn really is a significant factor that leads to violent acts, but until we have that evidence, it seems dangerous to ban its possession. Personally, I find porn that depicts violence of any kind awful and I’d rather there wasn’t any.  Even if it doesn’t lead to violence – particularly against women – it seems likely that it might lead to contempt and dehumanisation, But most porn can be accused of the same thing to a certain extent. The difference is that with more mainstream porn, we tend to assume that most people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality and that in more “extreme” cases, we don’t. I’m just not comfortable with that distinction, much as I’m sickened by violent images, simulated or otherwise. I’m happy to hear opinions on this point, I’m having trouble coming to a conclusion.

Third, defining something as 'extreme’ is a safe haven for feature creep. Once there is such a category it gets easier for governments to add new things to that category. We know that governments will cheerfully erode our rights in exchange for the votes of the ignorant. This seems like a perfect vehicle for doing that. 

The same might be true of the plan for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) to draw up a list of “abhorrent” search terms. I have nothing against that in itself: it’s how this might be managed and used that concerns me.  What’s to stop new terms creeping onto the list, which might be seen as ‘abhorrent’ by some but aren’t actually harmful to anyone?

But more importantly, surely this is the very definition of thought crime?  Paedophiles are sexually attracted to children. They can’t help it. We hope that they never act on their urges either by assaulting a child or by looking at porn that involves the assault of a child. I certainly think it’s right to outlaw the assault of children and behaviour that directly encourages, endorses or supports the assault of children, such as buying or sharing child pornography.  But searching for particular terms doesn’t imply that an abusive act is about to take place or even that it is more likely to take place in a particular instance. 

I agree that it’s hard to justify searching for child porn, but I don’t think it should be a crime.  Producing it, owning it, appearing in it (for adults), yes. Distributing it, yes. Searching for it? That’s a very dangerous thing to make illegal and a dangerous sort of thing – regardless of the details – to allow a government to do.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The adventures of Fortran

20130715_132049_resizedThis is the sort of thing I have to put up with. Today, Fortran:

1. Came into our bed and ran up and down Liz’ body with her claws out.

2. Got so excited when I fed her that she took a bite out of my foot.

3. Stood staring balefully at me, growling, for about five minutes.

4. Ran in through the catflap, out through the window, round the house and back in through the catflap about nine times in a row.

5. Clawed at my neck from the back of the sofa, causing me to almost soil myself.

6. Shortly afterwards, curled up on my knee and went to sleep, purring blissfully.

Fairly typical day so far.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

That’s alright then (that’s not alright then)

Malala Yousafzai wasn’t shot in the head for going to school. She was shot in the head for defying the Taliban. By going to school. And saying bad things about very bad people. So of course, that’s perfectly alright then. It was actually a reasonable act, as all should be able to see.

Adnan Rasheed sent Malala a letter explaining why his organisation shot her – a 15 year old girl - in the head on the way home from school.  I’m sure she appreciated it. Who would want to be shot in the head without a rambling, barely coherent letter from someone who a) falsely claimed he wished it hadn’t happened, b) pretended he wished she’d been warned before being shot in the head, as if that would somehow be a comfort, c) told her in detail exactly what she had done wrong when she had done nothing wrong at all and d) told her how to repent for having to be shot in the head by them for doing nothing wrong.

So Malala should consider herself lucky that Rasheed was thoughtful enough to clear all that up for her.

In the letter, Rasheed claimed that Malala was not targeted for her efforts to promote education, but because the Taliban believed she was running a "smearing campaign" against it.

The natural, reasonable and proportionate reaction to a 15 year old girl saying that bad people are bad is to shoot her in the head. She should have known that. It’s her own fault, really. Surely, she understands that?

From the letter:

"You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword," Rasheed wrote, referring to Malala's UN speech, "so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school."

But she didn’t have a sword. She had a pen. But they sure as shit had guns.

Rasheed – a former member of Pakistan's air force, who was among 300 prisoners to escape jail in April last year – advises Malala to return to Pakistan, join a female Islamic seminary and advocate the cause of Islam.

How fucking gracious. The Taliban is prepared to forgive her – now that she has recovered from their shooting her in the head – providing she becomes the poster girl for obedience to their demands.

There’s more here. I can’t write any more without ripping my pink trousers and punching some helicopters. 

Malala is an immensely courageous and inspirational woman and if I could have spared her suffering, I would have. But let’s not forget the other Malalas. We’re in danger as always of creating poster children and forgetting about the countless others in the same boat.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The best of us

My nephew has been diagnosed with a condition he can’t escape. It’s going to be difficult for him while he’s a kid and nearly as hard when he gets older.

He will have to try a bit harder than everyone else to do almost everything. He is to be admired for this, but we all know he will face years and possibly a lifetime of being mocked.

Fuck all of you who claim that free thought bloggers are bullies. I know bullies and my nephew will know them all his life. He’ll understand his condition and be as prepared for it as he possibly can be because his parents and my wife are brilliant, caring people.

So you people with shit agendas that involve dragging up nonsense about a particular blogger or something because you are are a self indulgent idiot, today of all days fuck off. Remember the people who have to work harder than you do and shut the fuck up.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

You can hang your coat on that

Do you want to hear a joke?

Eric Erickson is a right-wing talking head and a deeply unfunny man.

Texas has just passed a horrible abortion bill which makes it much more difficult for Texas women to get abortions.  Erickson is delighted with the ruling and entirely contemptuous of all women and all human life. He said this:

That’s right, he’s making a joke about women having to use coat hangers to induce abortion because they no longer have another option.

Ophelia posts on why coat hangers are horrific instruments of abortion. I can’t imagine anything less funny. I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer women to butcher themselves in secret than to receive safe, humane, compassionate abortions in the company of their loved ones.

I’d somehow forgotten about this Sagan quote

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Data Dealer: an online game about privacy

Data Dealer is an online game about privacy protection. You play a company trying to collect and exploit people’s profile information. You do deals with various companies and agencies to supply you with various types of information and your goal is to develop a profile database that will generate a lot of money.

One of my perennial concerns is the fact that we humans are bad at attaching value to our private data and at making deals for goods and services which we pay for with data. Our intuitions about how things work in meatspace don’t aid us much in the online world and it’s complicated: situations change rapidly and can have a radical effect on the importance of data.  And to make matters more interesting, the notion of value on both sides is highly subjective anyway.

For this reason we need guidance on how to value our private data and this game is a decent attempt to develop our intuition.  At the moment it is interesting rather than fun, but they have a kickstarter project to finish development of a more fully-featured multiplayer version.

It’s a good cause, consider investing.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Derek Walsh of Atheist Ireland on EWTS2013

All the talks are now up and nicely indexed. A couple of blogs that covered the conference are also mentioned.  I highly recommend watching the talks.  One was a bit rambly and far too long, but made some important points. All the rest were pithy, on-topic and entertaining.  There was a mixture of fire and thoughtfulness; humour and anger; intellectualism and emotion.  The panels were all carefully put together and the audience participation was interesting and relevant.

I’m less enthusiastic than Walsh about Justin Vacula’s livetweeting.  Although his output was prodigious, it seemed disingenuous to say the least. For instance, he posted 20-30 tweets during most talks and then in others – most notably Ophelia Benson’s and those of other speakers he dislikes – he posted only one or two.  Even those tweets almost pathologically failed to capture the salient points of the talks. It was as though he didn’t want to give those speakers credit for their excellent talks, enlightened views or well-crafted arguments. That’s Vacula’s choice, of course and he certainly did get a lot of good information about the conference out there.  I just wish he’d been a bit more honest.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Another appeal for awesome ideas with NFC

I’m still on the lookout for cool things people have done or intend to do or wish they could do with NFC.  I’ve done some fairly fun stuff using Tasker  I use Tasker to describe a context, based on what my phone thinks I’m doing, so I can use NFC tags as context-aware switches.
This means that bumping my phone on a single NFC tag does different things depending on the context. 
A very simple example:
My phone knows where I am, so if I bump it against a particular tag when I’m at work, it sets my phone to my work profile. But it also knows when I have meetings so if I’m at work and I have a meeting, bumping the same tag will set the phone to the meeting profile. When I’m at home, bumping the tag will set the phone to my home profile and so on.
Tasker can do this sort of thing all by itself and without the need to bump tags. But the problem is that there are always exceptions (I’m in a meeting but I really need to take an important call anyway, so the normal meeting profile doesn’t apply). In this case, I don’t want my phone to make decisions for me, I want it to understand the context and leave it up to me what action to take without my having to mess about with a bunch of settings on my phone.  So in this case, if I’m at work (my phone knows my location) and in a meeting (my phone can see my calendar) bumping will set the profile to meeting, not bumping won’t.
This is a very simple, dull scenario and I’m sure it doesn’t sell the concept very well. I have some more complicated and interesting ideas and I’m happy to discuss them with anyone who’s playing about in this area.  I’m particularly interested in the application of these ideas to mobile cloud computing, especially regarding privacy.
If anyone out there knows anyone with similar interests – commercial or academic – please point them this way.
I wear NFC tags all the time now so that when an Idea occurs to me I can just go ahead and implement it on the spot. It’s fun.  I’ll end this post with another fun – if not entirely practical for obvious reasons – scenario. I’ve implemented it but haven’t tested it yet (again, for obvious reasons):
When I’m at an airport, I bump my phone on a tag. My phone recognises that I’m in an airport and sets my phone to flight mode. When the plane takes off, my phone notices that the altitude has increased and sets a flag indicating that I’m in the air.  Later, when the altitude drops to fairly close to zero (since not all airports are at sea level) the phone waits ten minutes then turns flight mode off again.
When I’m not in an airport, bumping the same tag will do some other context-specific thing.  For example, when I get to the car hire place, bumping might open the satnav software on my phone and plot a route to my hotel. When I’m at the hotel, bumping might plot a route to my meeting location or back to the hire car place.
This is not entirely practical since you have to turn your phone off during flights, but I thought it was quite an interesting scenario anyway.
Can you think of any others?  Do you know anyone who is working in this sort of area?  Can you hook me up?

Friday, July 05, 2013

My dad's settee

We had to sing hymns every morning at primary school.  There weren't enough hymn books to go around so, naturally, rather than sharing the books we had, the older kids got one each and the younger ones weren't allowed one at all. This was despite the fact that only the younger kids actually needed a hymn book, since they didn't know the words and the older ones did.

Because of this, for years I sang:
Dance, dance, wherever you may be,
I am the lord of my dad's settee,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in my dad's settee.
I knew these could not possibly be the real words but I couldn't fathom what the real ones might be.

The interesting thing is that when I was finally old enough to get a hymn book, the real words made no more sense than the furniture-based ones I'd invented.  What dance?  Lord of what fucking dance?  Who are all these people gyrating their way across Galilee? 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Empowering Women Through Secularism

Last weekend I was at Empowering Women Through Secularism and had a great time. Videos are going up on the Atheist Ireland video site and at their YouTube channel. Watch them! For free!

My personal favourite was the panel on Reproductive rights and Irish abortion law with Ophelia Benson, Clare Daly, Anthea McTiernan, Ailbhe Smyth, Doctors for Choice. Maryam Namazie was brilliant as always through out and Taslima Nasrin's keynote was powerful and moving.

But what the hell, why not watch them all as they start to appear, they're all good. That way you can judge for yourself whether the known idiot @Mykeru, who invaded the conference hashtag (#EWTS2013) is right (

What I learned from #EWTS2013 : Everything is about rape, which is the biggest problem facing humankind. Noted
He later denied that he'd said this. He does that kind of thing a lot, along with making up whatever 'facts' he thinks will suit his argument, throwing in some random insults and - in my case - tweeting false allegations about me on other people's feeds. He seems to assume (probably correctly) that most people won't bother to check the truth of what he writes, so he might as well just make it all up.

Anyway, see for yourself. Many topics were covered. Women are marginalised and otherwise harmed in many ways all over the planet. Lots of these were talked about. Mykeru and many of his cronies are the ones obsessed with rape, not feminists.

I emailed a friend to tell him I was at the conference. He misread the email and thought I was at an Empowering Women Through SARCASM conference. Now that's not a bad idea...