Ron Lindsay’s Mistake

I haven’t written on this very much.  Strike that.  I haven’t written on this subject at all, yet.  You, dear reader, may chalk that up to my respect for having an informed opinion on the matter and I really didn’t want to share what I was thinking until I had taken enough time to cogitate and turn it over in my own head before I set it in “print.”

As a white male, and an olding one at that, I have in recent years had my consciousness raised towards the issues that racial and cultural minorities have faced in atheist, humanist and skeptical organizations.  It was an issue that I hadn’t really thought much about what with my activism being more driven towards reducing the suffocating role that religion plays in modern society.  I had only been too focused on the assumption that in working to struggle against the efforts that religious organizations make to tailor our world to the desires of the Next World’s Master, that freethought leaders and groups were also very forward thinking in regards to the power that cultural minorities should have in self-determination.

Attribution not found.

This is the most important thing that men can do when women explain why they are angry.

I had assumed that women would share equally in the power structure.  I had assumed that women would be more likely to be “heard” when they discussed the issues that were important to them when it comes to freethinking.  I had assumed that women were more likely to be respected than they are in the larger society.  I had assumed this because of common cause.  As atheists and agnostics who have had to correct assumptions about who we are and what we want and need in our relationship with the world at large, my thinking had been that we would be all the more sensitive to those who bore the extra burden of patriarchal society.

I was jolted into reality just a few short years ago when Rebecca Watson reminded men that it is not a good idea to proposition women in an elevator at 4 a.m. as the first point of conversation ever made.  It wasn’t Watson’s statement that jolted me.  To me, what she had said was a common sense maxim that I have always followed.  As drunk as I have been in hotels, telling someone who is clearly exhausted that I want to go with her to her room is something that I have never done (unless I said things that I don’t remember due to blackout.  Never having awaken  following such drunkenness with a black eye or a strange woman next to me, I think it safe that I have never done that.)

The reaction to her statement, the reaction to her defense of that statement and the reaction of people who I had supposed to be properly decent individuals who would understand the key role of respect in the relationships between men and women, and the reaction to the reaction to the reaction has alerted me to the struggles that women face in becoming more active in skeptical, atheist and humanist organizations.

Since that time, there have been several brouhahas that continue to flare and cause not only rancor but have led to outright threats of bodily harm against activist women and men who stand with them.  One of my favorite bloggers has decided that she can longer put up with it and the formerly prolific Blaghag has been writing only sporadically at Free Thought Blogs.  Friends of mine have been targeted by a forum called “The Slyme Pit” because they think that wimminz should just lighten up and take the abuse as an expected cost of taking part in the internet.  The reaction by misogynists has been to charge misandry at all opportunities.

And it is into this mess that Ron Lindsay stepped when he addressed a Center For Inquiry (CFI) sponsored conference for Women in Skepticism.  Lindsay, the American CFI’s President and CEO spoke in the opening remarks for the conference, and in his words he reveals that he is still under the same impression that I was until ElevatorGate woke me up; that since women under religion are dealt a raw deal they should be grateful that they are members of a skeptic organization.  It reminded me of Richard Dawkins’ sarcastic comment at Pharyngula that Muslim women’s are not of concern to Western women because Western women are worried about getting unwelcome sexual attention at atheist conferences (link no longer active at Pharyngula.)

This is a small snip of what Lindsay had to tell the conferees:

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

This approach doesn’t work.  It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and … poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

Now, this really would have been a good opportunity to use his tympanic membrane as opposed to his glottis. The reactions to his speech would have been a good time to read before typing. He made a huge mistake in thinking that in order to dig his way out of a hole of his own making, this was an opportune time to grab a stronger shovel, deny that he was in a hole and start digging even further. He responded to critique of his opening remarks to say that Rebecca Watson lives in an alternate universe, and that she was guilt of misstating his position in a way more fitting to a  North Korean communiqué.

What he doesn’t realize is that he was being patronizing in his opening remarks by reminding women how rough they have it in religion.  They already know that.  Worse, he doesn’t realize that it is important for people to be able to express anger and dismay at mistreatment and such expression is necessary in order to achieve progress.  It is all very well and good to have civil discussions about where things should be fixed, yet when women asked for a concrete sexual harassment policy from the James Randi Foundation’s (JREF) annual skeptfest The Amazing Meeting (TAM)  was to be told that there is no need for a specific policy because there were not really any serious problems (even when those problems were specifically pointed out.)

The men that were at the conference in support of the aims and goals of the speakers and conferees were there to listen rather than to talk.  They were there to gain understanding, to make new friends and try to figure out the things that they do in their local organizations to be more inclusive of women and to get out of the way for women who are quite ready to move into leadership of skeptical organizations.

When I was a lad in my teens and saw the protests of women who wanted to have equal rights, I could’t understand the problem with doing that.  I had believed, based on my experience with many women in my family and in my town and even on television, that there were very few differences in women’s ability to lead and proceed compared to men.  I could even then see that women were often chucked aside to roles that were assigned to them.  The girls in my classroom were among my most challenging competitors in math, science, composition and critical thought related classes.  They were as athletic as the boys.  I didn’t understand why there weren’t more women as political leaders or as bosses of businesses.  I knew that the differences had to be cultural rather than biological, and I had thought that our society would progress on sexism as much as we had in the 1960’s on race.

It appears to me that male backlash has responded, and a crowd of males are saying that they just don’t want to give up our status of power over women.  Ron Lindsay, I think, should at this point take a step back and review the responses to his recent talk.  He states that he has apologized for his intemperate response and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity:

In my blog post of May 18, I complained about Ms. Rebecca Watson’s characterization of my May 17 talk. In doing so, I expressed my points in intemperate language, e.g., the comparison of her blog post to a press communication from North Korea, and for that I unqualifiedly apologize. This apology has been conveyed to Ms. Watson.

To be clear, I still firmly believe Ms. Watson’s blog post mischaracterizes my talk, specifically by characterizing my abbreviated discussion of the phrase “shut up and listen” as the “crux” of my talk.

It is time for Ron Lindsay now to listen, to show that he is capable of learning from his mistakes.  His talk can not be considered in isolation from all that has happened since ElevatorGate exploded over the freethought community, and he should take this opportunity to learn how his words affect the movement as a whole.

Defining life foolishly

Some like to define living organisms as that which

1) reproduces,

2) has inheritance, and

3) has variation.

In other words, living things would be those which evolve by natural selection. Rosie Redfield (blog) espoused this view in a recent talk at the Evolution 2012 conference in Ottawa (#evol2012 Twitter feed). Jerry Joyce (lab page) did the same at the 74th symposium of Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in 2009.

But this is folly.

First of all, I can easily give an hypothetical example of something that must clearly be alive, but which does not evolve. I’ll defer that to the end of this post.

But I can also give an example of something that most people will not agree is alive, namely languages. Metaphorically, I can accept that languages are alive. “Danish is such a beautiful language, alive with raunchy adjectives and verbs that sing.” Or something. But not actually alive in a literal sense. It is spoken by beings that are alive, but is no more alive than thoughts or books, even if it does evolve (note that languages evolution really isn’t of the Darwinian kind, either, just like memes aren’t).

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

In Defense of the Humanities Again and Again and Again

And Yet Again


Over at Crooked Timber they’ve been hassling yet another Martha Nussbaum defense of the humanities. Though I know of her defense work, I’ve not read any of it, so I don’t really know whether the hassling is just.

But I’m going to believe it is. ‘Cause I’m tired of these defenses of the humanities. They’re so lame and predictable. In fact, I’m wondering whether or not it’s the humanities that’re IN FACT being defended.

Maybe the defense of the humanities has been USURPED INTO defending olden times. So, the defender doesn’t really like any of this new-fangled stuff, including the internet and all, but they don’t want to go after that directly. Instead, they defend the humanities.

And then . . .

One notion you find in defenses of the humanities is that we need to see the world whole. I agree. We need DO to see the world whole. Now more than ever. The arts do this in a way. So can the discursive humanities.

But we don’t need the old discourses. We need new discourses. 21st century discourses. Beyond postmodern discourse, etc. And it seems to me that the defense of the humanities genre is pretty much owned by people who want to stave off the creation of new whole-cosmos discourses.

That ain’t right.

Lawyers Using Bots to Hassle Busy People, or: How I had to waste time giving myself permission to quote and paraphrase myself, really

It’s all just so bleepin’ INSANE.

Here’s the deal. Two, no three, years ago a buddy of mine, who shall nameless so he’s not associated with this mini-quagmire, asked me to contribute a chapter to a book he’s editing on a subject near and dear to me. Fine. Glad to. So, over a year ago I put some of my work in progress online at The Valve, a group blog where I have privileges, in order to get feedback on my ideas.

Which I did. Thank you very much, interwebs.

Time goes by, I turn in my final chapter. My buddy likes it, his editor likes it. And then the publisher sends some bots out on the web to compare text in their book-in-progress to whatever’s on the web. What happens? My chapter gets flagged because, hey! some of my prose is out there on the web.

And you know why some of the prose in my chapter is out on the web you clueless bot-masters? Because I put it there! That’s why.

Anyhow, my buddy sends me a note explaining the situation and asking me to send him a note explaining that, yes, I put that stuff out there on The Valve. Here’s my exact message: “Some of the prose in my [name redacted to protect the innocent] chapter first appeared online at The Valve — where, for example, I’m quoting [some worthy]. So I’m just re-using my own prose.”

My buddy passed that on to his handlers and we figured that was the end of it. But, no, not good enough. His handlers got back to him, this time with the very passages the bots had swiped from the web. Continue reading

Grow up, Americans!

Seriously, Americans. What is this infatuation you have with your founding fathers?

Whenever Americans from the right of the political spectrum (which, btw, is far right compared to normal countries*) insist that America is a Christian country, they turn to the founding fathers to prove their point. And when Americans from the left of the spectrum (why is quite far to the right compared to normal countries**) counter that it is not, then they too turn to the Constitution. Fair enough, you might say. It is the law, after all (at least the Constitution is, which says nothing about America being a Christian nation: We The People ring a bell?). However, it is the law as written centuries ago. Newsflash: it is outdated.

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

You’ve seen the Youtube mashups — now see the movie!

In which I review a much better movie about Hitler getting his comeuppance.


A different kind of basterd…

….which is to say “Inglourious” ones. As in the movie. Which I just watched.

OK, the plot has its comedic moments, and its thrilling moments, and the climax is satisfying (partly because I didn’t know until it all came down whether they were actually planning to re-write some well-known history there). But jeezuzkrist there’s some appalling scenes (yeah, OK: Quentin Tarantino). Brad Pitt’s character, Lt. Aldo Raine, casually tortures and executes prisoners with a sort of detached sadism that almost makes me like the supposed villain, Col. Landa, by comparison. I’m damned sure that if a bunch of American commandos were running around behind German lines pulling that kind of shit, the Nazis would tell the Allies to knock it the hell off or they’d start doing the same to a few of their POWs. There’s a reason everyone signed on to the Geneva Convention. Just a little too much suspension-of-disbelief being asked there.

So what’s the point of this? Is there any redeeming value in this silly gore-fest of a flick? Well, how’s this for a wild speculation: Raine’s “aw shucks” drawl reminds me of George W. Bush. So: Raine is supposed to be Bush as the war hero he portrays himself as, and of course he’s the President who brought back torture as an instrument of state policy. Which makes the movie a kind of slap at current American practices in Guantanamo and Iraq.

Or am I just talking out my ass?

Wakefield: Admit Nothing, Deny Everything, Make Counter-Accusations

That’s pretty much all Andrew Wakefield did on CBC Radio’s The Current the other morning. He has always acted in the best interests of his patients (The children! The poor wee sick bairns!), never did anything unethical, had no conflict of interest, the British medical establishment (enabled by muck-raking journos and no doubt spurred on Big Pharma) is out to get him, it’s lies-all-lies I tell you!, he’s a most noble and put-upon hero, yessirree.

I suppose it’s possible the self-aggrandizing fraud even believes all that bullshit about himself.

Merry Newtonmass 2010

God rest ye merry, physicists
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Isaac Newton
was born on Christmas Day!
His gravity and calculus and “f” equals “m” “a”!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

A factor of big G – the same
for flea and giant star.
Then multiply the masses
and divide by square of “r”.
The force that keeps us on the earth
and orbits moons afar!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Now, calculus is math for those
who change things bit by bit.
To figure out derivatives
and get the curve to fit.
Then integrate and you can find the area under it!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Sir Isaac took a beam of light
and passed it through some glass.
“What shall I call these colours?”
was the question he did ask.
And now we live with ROY G BIV
in every optics class.
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Political interference in science

Eric Cantor and Adrian Smith both republican (Duh) representatives have decided to attack the National Science Foundation. Albeit in a cowardly way.

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