Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year

fckh8-pope-meme

By now you’ve heard that the Advocate has named Pope Francis its person of the year. In perhaps one of the most cringingly apologetic and sycophantic pieces published about the Supreme Pontiff, Lucas Grindley reaches to draw the barest scraps of meaning out of the most innocuous of statements. In fact, reading this piece, you’ll notice that most of the article is Grindley doing little more than repeating himself or explaining why other people deserve the praise more. I almost feel as if the editorial board made the decision, and poor Lucas was tasked with writing it up. But let’s examine this article to see if we can divine the thinking that makes what appears to be pandering to pop culture lionization into a legitimate choice.

As I mentioned, the first six paragraphs are about how other people should have been given this honor. Grindley focuses especially on Edie Windsor, the brave woman whose case got a part of DOMA thrown out in court. It’s followed by this remarkably cop out

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Thus begins my new piece for Queereka. Read the whole article on that site.

Man Divorced From Reality Running For Sheriff

Mark Kessler, a man who doesn’t let reality get in the way of his simplistic worldview and violent hatred of people not like him, has decided since it’s likely that he will be fired as police chief of Gilberton, PA, that he will run a write in campaign for county sheriff.

The parade of ridiculous is amusing and frightening, like Halloween Horror Nights with fewer strobes, but pay attention to the bolded part from this Facebook post (emphasis mine) :

when your back is against the wall, when the odds are almost impossible to overcome, that my friends is when we the people finally stand up and say , ENOUGH! so all I can say is this!, BRING IT YOU PACK OF SCUM SUCKING SHIT BAG POLITICIANS, i’m not politically correct , damn proud of that I must say! I don’t come with a smile and a bag of bullshit every four or two years, NEVER HAVE NEVER WILL!, I don’t need to suck the so called elected elites ass cracks to run for anything, or get the stamp of approval from the so called elected elites! I’m an AMERICAN, nothing more nothing less, I love my country, I honor our military who honor their oath, I honor all American Patriots, and all those who shed their blood of gave the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom whether on the field of battle or not! as for you scum sucking politicians from the left & right, WE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE COMING AND YES WE ARE PISSED OFF! so NOVEMBER 5TH 2013 WRITE IN MARK KESSLER FOR SCHUYLKILL COUNTY SHERIFF, one true american patriot! and lets give this CURRENT thuggery regime here in Schuylkill county & across the nation THE BOOT!

I’m going to do a favor to everyone who has ever claimed not to be politically correct and recommend that you stop making that claim. When you say, “I’m not politically correct,”  you think you’re saying, “I’m a bold warrior for free speech.” What you are actually saying is, “Other people? Who gives a shit about them? Why should they stand in the way of my saying any bizarre or ridiculous thing that comes into my head the moment I think of it and suffer no social consequences for it?”

You see, another phrase that means the same thing as being “politically correct” is “being nice.” If you sincerely believe that there are people who, due to any given difference from you, don’t deserve at least a modicum of respect or kindness as the default behavior, then you should not be proud of that. You should be ashamed and start immediately watching re-runs of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

People who rail against political correctness either don’t understand what it means, or they’re looking for an excuse to be gigantic assholes and feel morally superior for it. Nobody is buying it, though. You want to be a douche of epic proportions, you go right ahead, but don’t expect me to praise your honesty. If your honest opinion is, like the thoroughly unhinged and armed Kessler that people who disagree with him are “fucking cocksuckers” who ought to be shot, then you are a seriously sick individual and I hope you’ll limit your contact with human beings.

If you reject kindness as some sort of unfair burden on your liberty and attempt to martyr yourself because people didn’t like that you’re a jerk, then it’s time to re-evaluate your behavior. There is nothing noble about being “not politically correct.” It is no more a virtue than being uninformed and claiming that that gives you a completely unbiased perspective. In both cases you are glorifying ignorance.

Why Do We Keep Listening to Dawkins?

Seriously. I know he has been incredibly important to the atheist movement, but let’s take a step back and ask if it’s worth listening to somebody who apparently thinks that we can’t judge pedophiles before a certain arbitrary date because they didn’t know any better.

In a recent interview with the Times of London, Dawkins described his own early schooling and pointed out that he was molested as a child by a master at his boarding school.

Professor Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, describes in a new autobiography how a master at his Salisbury prep school “pulled me on to his knee and put his hand inside my shorts”. He writes that the episode was “extremely disagreeable” and that other boys were molested by the same teacher, but concludes: “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage.”

He also describes this as “mild paedophilia” and says that you can’t judge people in the past by your own moral standard.

“Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

Ok, first of all, how the fuck would Richard Dawkins know if any of his schoolmates who were also molested by this creepy schoolmaster suffered “lasting damage?” As Greta Christina points out, he can speak for himself, not for them. Considering his demonstrable disdain for the the science of human behavior, he probably wouldn’t accept the opinions of people who say that molestation can and does inflict lasting damage on many, many children.

Secondly, in exactly what year did it become no longer ok to touch children’s genitals for sexual pleasure? I’m really kind of curious. PZ touched on this as well, but I would like to point out that one of the many arguments that atheists use to counter the “the New Testament got rid of all that Old Testament stuff” is that the Old Testament stuff was never moral to begin with. The premise of the argument is that a perfect god would never have ordered the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people, or the capture and rape of young girls, or the stoning of any number of people, including those who had the audacity to gather firewood on the Sabbath. A perfect god would have outlawed those things to begin with rather than wait a few thousand years and then correct that error. Just saying, “Well, things were different back then, cultural context, it was the only way to protect them, blah, blah, blahty, blah,” doesn’t actually make any of those things ever a good or moral thing to do. It’s an effective tactic because the person making the argument must either admit that god wrote those things, but is not perfectly moral, or that men wrote them in the cultural context in which they lived and as they grew more enlightened, they started to correct their self-serving, barbaric behavior by claiming that a perfect deity changed its mind.

So to hear Dawkins say that there was a time when child molestation was a-ok basically undermines the argument that immoral behavior remains immoral whether or not the pervading opinions of the time hold it to be so. In other words, I damn well do hold the racism of the 18th and 19th century against the people holding those opinions. I may recognize that they were not in possession of the wealth of thought that I have available to me to formulate the conclusion that race is a bullshit idea with no bearing on a person’s potential except inasmuch as they must deal with racism, but that doesn’t mean that I will blithely excuse their terrible opinions or wave them off as insignificant. It means that I will engage their racism as I do with any of their other arguments and demonstrate why its wrong, even if that person may be right about other things.

Knowing Dawkins, he will spend the next couple of days on Twitter trying to explain how everybody just doesn’t understand the nuances of what he was saying, then trying to describe those nuances in 140 characters or less, but I sincerely hope that maybe he surprises us and actually learns from this that there are no degrees of pedophilia, that you absolutely can and must judge the past by the new information we have today, and that he doesn’t get to tell us whether his schoolmates suffered because of what happened to them.

UPDATE: Dawkins has clarified his statements and apologized for his presumption about his classmates’ reactions or experiences. I am, frankly, surprised, and while there’s a lot in there that suggests that it’s our fault for not getting it, he seems contrite on the important points, and that seems reasonable.

Link Parade 6/30/13

Here’s a collection of things I wanted to talk about but don’t have a full post in me for.

1. Apparently, Ohio is also passing an abortion ban, presumably to create the jobs they keep saying is their priority. Miri has the details and is encouraging people to call John Kaisich and tell him to line-item veto that provision from the budget bill. I encourage you to go over there and get the details on how. I just did, and I don’t even think modern Republicans ever give a shit about public opinion, but it didn’t hurt me. The part that gets me, however, is this bit:

Doctors must inform patients seeking abortions exactly how much money the clinic made from abortions within the past year, and how much money the clinic stands to lose if the patient chooses not to get an abortion. In case it’s unclear, the point of this is to warn patients that there is a “conflict of interest” involved in providing abortions because clinics can make money from them. This is ridiculous because any medical procedure can make money for doctors and hospitals.

You’ll notice that with the advent of 501(c)4s and the GOP’s favorite Court ruling, Citizen’s United, that the opposite is true of them. If I were a principled Democrat in Ohio, every bill will have a proposed amendment that you cannot submit a bill in the state legislature without it saying how much you have received from the relevant special interest group and how much you stand to lose in campaign donations if the bill doesn’t pass.

2.Will Wilkinson talks about why Republicans would bother standing against immigration reform when it’s clear that even 86% of Republican voters think a “pathway to citizenship” is a good idea. And the answer is that they have a hard core base that really is dedicated to identity politics.

The energetic ideological base of the Republican Party is a nationalist, identity-politics movement for relatively well-to-do older white Americans known as the “tea party”. The tea party is interested in bald eagles, American flags, the founding fathers, Jesus Christ, fighter jets, empty libertarian rhetoric, and other markers of “authentic” American identity and supremacy. That America is “a nation of immigrants” is a stock piece of American identity politics, but the immigrants that made America America were, well, not Mexican, and spoke English, or at least Pennsylvania Dutch. Sorry Mexicans! Even if each element of immigration reform, taken in isolation, is agreed to be a good idea by a solid majority of Republican voters, Republican politicians must nevertheless avoid too-enthusiastically supporting this package of good ideas, lest they fail to project sufficient appreciation for the importance of keeping America American and putting Americans first.

This is where I think there is an element of cognitive dissonance present in a lot of GOP voters. They don’t think of themselves as hurting immigrants, they don’t want to hurt anybody, but they also want to feel more authentic, more American than somebody, and immigrants are a traditional target. They prioritize their desire to feel superior, better than, over their desire to help people who may have been raised in this country, entirely unaware that their parents brought them here illegally as babies. They aren’t entirely unfeeling toward other people, which is why they support parts of the bill, but a whole bill threatens their feeling of supremacy and that cannot happen.

3. This is the boy I wish I was when I was 13. In fact, this is the boy I wished I was when I was 13. Will Phillips has been a social justice activist since he was 10 years old. Matt Barber has questioned his motivations and suggested he’s been “brainwashed” (which is wingnut speak for “taught that other people matter”). He initially got famous for refusing to say the Pledge because he didn’t feel that we did have “liberty and justice for all.” Most recently, he spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade. This kid is amazing and has a bright future ahead of him. Go read about him now.

4. TW: cults, murder, homophobia. “Lord” Pete Moses is the leader of a Judaism-based cult. And he has just been found guilty of murdering two of his followers, one of which was a 4-year-old boy who was killed because Moses thought he was gay. At the very least he will be going to jail, the sick fuck. Sentencing is next Friday.

5. If you have small children, you should fill out this form saying you would be interested in getting them this awesome toy to teach your youngsters about evolution. Even if you don’t have kids you should fill it out. This is not buying the product, they are gauging interest in it, and filling out the initial form will not ask you for credit card information, but will give you an opportunity to give comments.

6. If you remember me talking about Joe Klein and how he apparently doesn’t understand that atheists help people, there have been multiple updates. First, Klein himself tried to weasel his way out of his comments by claiming that he only meant organized atheist groups, which is still incorrect. Now Time has come out with its own statement, and basically they’re supporting Klein, which is why I highly suggest that you contact Time and let them know that this is utterly unacceptable, that inaccurate reporting has no excuse, and that you intend to cancel your subscription if you have one.

On a side note, I was helping my friend with her baby yesterday. Funny how Joe Klein wasn’t there to help.

7. This baby duck was born with a deformed leg. So, rather than give him a peg leg or letting him suffer, science has found a solution. Using a 3D printer, people made a mold for a silicone prosthetic leg and foot for Buttercup. All the feels for this one.

8. I was torn about this for a whole 3 seconds before recognizing the problems with it. Basically, it’s a website that is encouraging a movement for “Christian Domestic Discipline” which we are told is a consensual arrangement that includes male domination and punishments like spanking.

Christian Domestic Discipline is not BDSM. It is not a game. While we do not deny its sometimes erotic nature, it is ultimately not for erotic purposes. It is often much different than the domestic discipline you will find outside of the Christian faith.

The thing is, it sounds a lot like BDSM. However, my experience has taught me that I can’t trust that Christianists aren’t lying when they say stuff like “consensual”, and there is a question of whether a lifetime’s worth of being told that this is the natural order of things leaves a person in a position to meaningfully consent or not. However, giving the women involved in this the benefit of the doubt, I see nothing on their website about wives who want to exit this “consensual” arrangement, or merely drop that aspect of it without getting a divorce. I also see no mention of safe words and very little in the way of safety instructions to keep husbands from going too far (I suppose god will stop them?), which means it is very, very, very not BDSM. Essentially, as a Dom/sub relationship with a religious play component, this could be really hot. As a lifestyle with no escape routes, no safety instructions, and no apparent care for the lives of women who get into this other than value paternalistic nonsense, it sounds both dangerous and abusive, despite claims that it is not (because saying that something is not abusive/racist/homophobic/otherwise awful totes makes it true).

9. #4 on this Fred Clark link list. Just go read it.

I think that’s everything for now. Oh, if you haven’t, please go vote on my new tagline. It’ll only take a second and be really helpful.

Klein Both Dishonest and Insulting

It should come as no surprise that Joe Klein of Time Magazine is a dishonest hack. He has never, in the course of his career, allowed facts to get in the way of a story or, more often, a pitiful insult to bolster his ever-ravenous ego. I can think of very few people so vile in the mainstream press as Joe Klein, a man who thinks that as long as it isn’t his children getting killed by drones, then it’s ok (fairly typical conservative belief, though most are smart enough not to say it on TV). This is a man who likes to write at length about things he doesn’t understand. A man who will say anything in service to his preferred narrative. He has made outrageous claims about members of the military with no factual backing, and he has strawmaned liberal bloggers.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that in a piece he writes for the cover of Time magazine about how volunteering can help with PTSD, he takes a cheap shot at atheists.

… there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon.

Fuck you, Joe. Hemant does the work of actually linking to many of the atheists that were out there helping, so I will just refer you to him, but I would like to point out that on top of that, you had Christian groups that refused to work with the godless, showing how much they care about helping people instead of being perceived by gullible cretins like Klein as doing so.

Which leaves us to ask, what should we do? Well, for one, signal boost the hell out of this story. Let people know that hacks like Klein are liars, frauds, or far too lazy to be trusted in the capacity of a purveyor or analyst of news. Also, write to Time and let them know this is unacceptable. I have included my letter below. Be polite, but firm.

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I have to ask what your editorial board could have been thinking in the last cover story, allowing Joe Klein to take a cheap and petty shot at atheists, accusing us of never helping after disasters? While it would be bad enough if this were accurate, the fact of the matter is that many secular humanist groups were present and helping. In some cases, they were more willing willing to work with Christian groups than the reverse was true. It seems that Klein’s faith has made him no more honest than the average person, or at the very least no more than a hack journalist, willing to slander an entire group of people without doing the most basic Google search.

Both Klein and Time should issue an immediate apology, as well as take a serious look at the apparent lax standards in your editorial and fact checking departments.

Punish the Girl First

Very few things frustrate me more than one person having to suffer for the crimes of others. Part of the reason why I have a problem with Christianity is that it is based, primarily, on the idea that one person can suffer in exchange for another and, further, that this is good.

In this case, the person suffering is 12-year-old Maddy Blythe who was previously allowed to play football on her middle school team. However, administrators at Strong Rock Christian School seem to be very afraid of her magical girl powers to create “lustful thoughts” in the boys on the team. So instead of the boys having to control themselves, she has been cut from the team.

Now, keep in mind, I am not really entirely on board with the “teach the boys to control themselves” idea in this case since the concern isn’t even for their behavior, it’s for their thoughts. Yes, they should learn about how not to give into those thoughts on an unwilling person, but this bullshit thought-policing does nothing but cause these boys to be steeped in shame on an incredibly regular basis since it doesn’t take a whole lot to give a 12 year old lustful thoughts. But, as Darrel Ray points out quite often, sexual control leads to control in other aspects of life, and religious organizations like Strong Rock love to control people. Make them afraid of their entirely natural and uncontrollable thoughts, then give them a cure for the made up disease in the form of obedience.

There is nothing good about this situation. All you see is kids being abused for being in the first case a girl, and then in the boys for being on the edge of puberty. When I first read this I was angry, but the more I think about the enforcing of purity myths and the inevitable pain that will be suffered by any child who buys into this claptrap, the more nauseated I get.

Strong Rock Christian School is harming children with this policy. They’re taking one girl who not only enjoys football, but is reportedly very good at it, and telling her that she must be the one to be punished because the administration can’t trust the boys. The boys on the team are being told that they can’t be trusted because they might be thinking things that haven’t been approved by Jesus, and their very thoughts can send them spiraling into the very depths of hell. On top of that, they are being told that if they do have a problem, it’s not their job to fix it, it’s somebody else’s job to make things easier for them.

There are no good lessons here. There is no hidden meaning that makes this anything other than fanatical devotion to absurdity and unthinking obedience to social structures that undoubtedly give all or most power to the people making these decisions. It’s sick, it’s sad, and I feel for these kids. I recommend going to the Let Her Play Facebook page and showing your support.

CFI Shows Zero Backbone

I’m a liberal Democrat, so I’m rather used to the leaders that ostensibly support the things I care about backing down in the face of a fight. It’s frustrating as all hell, but you eventually come to expect it, at least politically.

Still, I am fairly new to the wider atheist/skeptical movement, and I’m still getting used to which groups hold the same values that I do. I remember when the Secular Coalition of America (what I call the “other SCA”) hired a Republican lobbyist who basically spent her career up to that point getting people elected that stood against everything the other SCA does to run the organization…and that hasn’t turned out horrible.

CFI originally attracted me because I thought that Melody Hensley and Debbie Goddard were pretty damn awesome. Michael De Dora does a really tough job as well, and so do many of the other staffers who work there. In fact, though people will say otherwise, there has been very little blowback against the Center for Inquiry since its CEO, Ron Lindsay, decided to lecture a bunch of feminists on what feminism is and isn’t.

That is until they released the result of their discussion on the matter which is…less than stellar.

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

I’m sorry, but this is a fucking joke. Seriously, what could have possibly been going through the heads of the board of directors when they drafted this? Did they think that it would be accepted?

The fact of the matter is that they are making it perfectly clear that they have no interest in maintaining the confidence of the social justice-minded among the atheist movement. This is a shame since Women in Secularism is a great idea and one that can really do a lot of good for the movement, but not if it seems as if they’re doing this to check off a box. I believe that members of the staff are passionate about getting women involved in secularism, but it seems like the leadership sees it as a nuisance.

Greta Christina and Rebecca Watson have both pulled their support from the organization, which probably means very little to those in charge. We’ve also started to see the emergence of the predictable distortions, such as this signable open letter which reads in part

We are aware that the silencing tactics, accusations, shaming and/or smearing campaigns employed by influential representatives of the Atheism Plus movement – particularly certain bloggers and speakers associated with Skepchick and Freethought Blogs – have included calls to interfere with the careers and personal lives of valuable contributors to the secular/atheist/skeptic movement. We are witnessing an effort to purge supposed undesirables from the movement, based on personal and political agenda. We do not condone this. Some of us have been directly targeted by these tactics, and others of us are afraid to use our real names online, let alone attend conferences, because we fear we may be targeted next.

We are aware of a campaign, headed by Amanda Marcotte and others, to remove Ronald A. Lindsay from his position as CEO of the Center for Inquiry. We do not support this effort.

Where? Where has anybody, Amanda Marcotte or otherwise, lead a “campaign” for Ron Lindsay to be fired? Everybody I have read has asked for an apology, either from him or on his behalf. And who is calling to interfere with the careers of people? This is completely made up nonsense, a collection of hyperbolic ghost stories told by anti-feminists to justify their harassment tactics. The point of this letter is just to tell the world that the undersigned don’t have any problems with people treating others horribly. They’re fine, so why should they give a shit about anybody else?

Basically, this is weapons grade projection.

The thing is, I am entirely unsurprised by this. Seriously, I’ve already seen how this mythology is built. First the statement comes from CFI that is so ambiguous that it says absolutely nothing but tries to shift blame away from itself and its CEO, then people pretend that there is some horrible campaign to get people fired (that they will refuse to support or support with comments on blogs that go against the things the blogger has said), then it’s all about how hateful we A+ers are because we’re stifling free inquiry and a false equivalence is made between the right to free speech and the fictional right to be given a platform.

This is an old script. We have new elements (let’s see how long it takes the Vacula to get Ron Lindsay on his radio show), but ultimately it’s the same thing. Anti-feminists will pretend that they care about free speech so long as you’re loud enough to yell over them and embellish the truth because that’s how good skeptics win arguments, apparently.

*sigh* At least there’s still American Atheists. Dave Muscato and Dave Silverman seem to understand that just because something doesn’t make you personally uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean you should stand by and let other people be harassed. That’s really what this boils down to: CFI has stated clearly that they’re good, so what does it benefit them to be concerned with somebody else? That’s a sad attitude to have.