Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sally Can't Dance No More

On June 18, 1983 Sally Kristen Ride rode the space shuttle Challenger to become the youngest American and first American woman to go to space. On October 5th 1984 Sally rode the space shuttle Challenger to space a second time. On July 23rd 2012 she died of pancreatic cancer in La Jolla California.

America’s second woman in space, Judith Arlene Resnik, died on January 28th 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after liftoff. Sally Ride would sit on the Rogers commission whose 9 June 1986 report would establish the need for enhanced safety procedures in NASA. Sally would also sit on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board whose 26 August 2003 report would identify a catastrophic anomaly occurring 82 seconds after liftoff.

Sally identified “remarkable similarities between the two tragedies”

The challenger disaster effectively ended Sally’s tenure as an astronaut. She had been scheduled to fly another mission, but when that mission was dropped in the post-Challenger re-shuffling she was dropped from crew rotations. After representing NASA on the Rogers Commission Sally continued to work for NASA for a few months.  Then in 1987 she left NASA, divorced her husband, and moved to California.

It may have been because of her employment with NASA that Sally did not co-sign Richard Feynman’s famous “minority report” appendix to the Rogers Commission’s 1986 report. It may have been because Feynman’s appendix too strongly criticized the agency she had been a vital member of since 1978. However, Sally’s input steered the main body of the report to the fault finding that lead to real changes in the way NASA described and handled safety concerns in its space program.

Roger Mark Boisjoy died on January 6th 2012 after succumbing to a cancer which had spread to his colon, kidneys, and liver. On the night of January 27th 1986 Roger had, as project manager for the shuttle solid rocket boosters at Morton Thiokol, used his authority to force a telephone call between executives at Thiokol and NASA; Roger had learned that the temperatures in Florida were going to drop below freezing, and wanted the launch delayed. Roger was afraid that the potential O-ring failures he had documented in a January 1985 memo would prove catastrophic; they did.

After Roger presented his alarming prediction during the pre-Challenger phonecall the Utah-based executives of Thiokol put the NASA administrators on hold for a couple minutes. After they conferred privately with Roger Thiokol got back on the line and announced that their concerns were not conclusive.

Roger's recounting of the O-ring concerns hit the Rogers Commission investigation like a ton of bricks. Even Feynman, who would use Roger’s revelations as an important element of his minority report, was stunned. Only Sally was able to provide genuine support to the engineer who had just sunk his own career to make the truth known.

In her most famous public display of affection Sally gave Roger a hug.

Roger’s career would take a nosedive. He became unemployed, and almost unemployable. Years later he would uncontrollably sob when recounting the Challenger disaster, and his role in it.
“I knew they were all going to die, and I could not do anything to stop it.” -- Roger Boisjoy
Sally had, perhaps, a unique perspective on the difficulty that “coming out” with uncomfortable truths could cause. Since 1985 Sally had been in a committed relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy. That relationship would only end with Sally’s Death this past Monday.

The policy of Don’t Ask Don’t tell would not be introduced until 1993. NASA was a strange offshoot of the air-force, and though Sally and her fellow astronauts were civilians the legality of dismissing them for homosexuality would have been a concern for any of them. Tam is female, so it would have been a personal concern for Sally.

Tam and Sally apparently met when Sally was in middle school, and just 12 years old. A story of love and devotion spanning almost five decades is surely chock full of the sort of details which would delight the sensibilities of any un-jaded listener. Sally kept her same-sex partnership a private –though not secret- detail of her life until after she died. Because of the laws of the USA Tam will not see a penny of the survivor’s benefits she would enjoy if she and Sally were able to have legally married.

Sally’s death has attracted the attention of many public figures; including the two men who would become our next president.

Mitt Romney said: “Sally Ride ranks among the greatest of pioneers. I count myself among the millions of Americans she inspired with her travels to space.”

Mitt strongly opposes the concept of same-sex marriages that would have allowed Tam to receive federal survivor benefits.

President Obama said: “"As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally's family and friends."

President Obama has recently categorically stated his support for changes in legislation that would allow same sex marriages to be legal.

The tribute article that served as Sally’s obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune missed both Sally’s support of Roger, and the fact that Tam was a woman. I think that is because Thiokol was a Utah-based company, and Tam’s gender identifies Sally as a high-profile heroic lesbian. Though these two issues do not adequately define Sally they are indispensable elements of her most accomplished and amazing life. I have missed a lot that would contribute to an adequate telling of her life's accomplishments here due to space and time concerns, but look into what has been written about her by credible sources. You will find inspiration.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Breaking Bad

In another glaring example of my parenting skills I tempted AOD into starting a life of crime yesterday, and she took the bait. She has learned that using her super-powers for evil pays; in cash.

Demographic data suggests that there is a correlation between education/intelligence and the probability of engaging in criminal activity. The higher the level of education attempted the less likely one is to commit crimes. Drop out of high school and it is no surprise when you get popped for boosting a car. Drop out of law school and you’re expected to become a respectable citizen, and spend years developing a sizable ponzi scheme; get busted for knocking over a liquor store while on probation and people are going to talk.

For AOD her educational accomplishments have actually facilitated her early entry into the world of crime.

Over the past several weeks I have been assailing anyone who slowed down enough with boasts about AOD's accomplishments this year.

She had been stymied in her pursuit of academic excellence by an institutionalized vision of mediocrity in the Tooele school district. Late last year she had attempted to pad her schedule with a collection of advanced math, science, and language classes. She had also attempted to get into a classically male CTE class [for those of you not familiar Utah requires that all high school students take a number of Career and Technical Education –CTE- classes to graduate. These range from “shop-class” and “Home eck” type classes to PE. Included in this subsection of the Utah graduation requirements are those elements which are most strongly associated with classical gender roles]. After months of waiting she received her final schedule, and it contained shockingly few of her desired classes.

Some classes were simply not offered. Some were not ever scheduled to be offered at the school she was attending, but there might be a possibility of bussing her a dozen miles to another school in to take them; if she gave up a period for travel time. However, the district added insult to injury by suggesting that she had “plenty of time” to take statistics and calculus and needed to focus on her other requirements as a sophomore. She was given Social Dance instead of statistics; of course since she was denied so many classes I could say “instead of” a number of things.

The social dance issue became one of the more significant drivers in her decision to apply to schools in other districts. AOD was told that social dance required the female students wear high heel shoes. AOD is six feet tall in her bare feet. Wearing high heels would have her tower over most of the flat-shoed boys, and put her at eye-level only with the tallest boys in the school.

A girl should be allowed to carefully assemble her own personal body image without being forced to shove delicate parts of it into the faces of too-soon-weaned pubescent boys for a CTE grade.

The first school she went to accepted her immediately. Within twenty minutes of her asking she had every single class she wanted. She was convinced to take honors instead of AP chemistry, but that was the result of a discussion in which she felt like a full participant.

I am always slow to get on board with sweeping new ideas. When AOD pitched her potential schedule to me I was incredulous. Not only was her schedule full of college-level classes, but she had to catch a city bus every morning at 6AM, and take an hour and 15 minute bus ride so she could arrive in time to wait a half hour before school started (because the city bus schedule did not mesh with the school schedule). After school she planned on waiting almost two hours before the first bus could take her on an hour-long ride home. I did not think it was reasonably possible for a high school student to wake up so early every day.

But she did. She made it look easy. She had such a great time at school that she has enticed AYD to join her as she enters high school this coming year.

Because of the variety of classes available to high school students AOD’s straight A’s don’t mean much without reams of explanation about the relative difficulty or merits of each particular class. Though I may be eager to provide you with that intricate detail I’m going to stop myself. Instead I will rely on a handful of national test scores.

Four of the classes AOD took were Advanced Placement (AP) classes. These classes prepare students to leapfrog introductory college classes by serving as prerequisites for more advanced courses. The efficacy of an AP class is determined by the score on an annual AP test. The AP test is scored with a number ranging from 0 to 5; a 3 is considered an adequate passing score showing mastery of the AP subject.

AOD took four AP tests. This is more than most Tooele school district students take in all four years at any Tooele high school, and she has two more years of high school ahead of her. She earned a 5 –the top score- on each of the four tests she took. This earned her the distinction of being an “AP scholar with honors”, and opened the door in her future marked “crime”.

With official national recognition of her excellence the requests to have her help with this or that math class came pouring in. This person or that child was not “good at maths” or “hadn’t been bitten by the math bug yet” or “wasn’t math smart” and wanted her to help them. Because the AP scores represented college-level proficiency adults in college also sought her assistance.

The adults may have thought the assistance from a 16-year-old girl would be cheaper than that from some other adult.

Sometimes I get asked for help on this or that assignment from this or that returning student. I am usually happier to help than my schedule will allow. There have been times I have offered to really help someone learn something, and ended up just doing homework for them. Most people hate this and don’t ask me to help them again, and some think this is an optimal solution and jump at the idea of securing my help in the future. It was one such happy customer that asked AOD for assistance.

I do not charge anyone who I would bother to pretend to help, but I suggested she pay AOD a few bucks. We agreed on a couple-three of Jacksons in payment; she had actually suggested more, but would have to go to the bank.

AOD jumped on the idea. She does not make much in allowance, and has little time to do odd jobs around the house for cash. She set about doing the homework, and carefully wrote out a set of notes to help her explain the material to her first customer.

I gently explained to her that her customer might be more interested in the completed homework than the much more valuable tutoring she was prepared to give.

“You mean she is planning on paying me for doing her homework for her” AOD asked incredulously.

“pretty much..I mean I’m not sure…but pretty much…I think…yup” I replied.

“isn’t that wrong” she asked

“Yes it is” I said.

“Then shouldn’t I not do it” She asked

“Well…” I hemmed “She is asking you to help her with her homework, and you are offering that. Are you fully responsible if she decides to ignore your offer to help so she can get the completed homework without effort? Is it your job to police the motives of adults who would manipulate the honest offer you are making to gain personal shortcuts? “

“I guess not” she replied unsurely

“See what you can do with rationalization” I answered “It can be a powerful moral force”.

“Do you think I should bother to do the detailed notes for the second homework?”

“No” I sighed “Probably a waste of time”

AOD’s customer arrived with 12-year-old in tow. AOD handed over the homeworks, and pulled out her detailed notes for the first one. She began showing how the answers were obtained.

“That’s OK” said her customer “I’ll look them over later. It’s just that these math courses are kicking my butt. I mean, I get the homework and all, but when it comes to the tests I choke”

AOD accepted the cash, and her customer was gone seconds later.

“Dad…is that what a drug deal is like?” she asked “How does she pass the tests?”

“Well…what if they are take home tests?” I asked “Would you be willing to do them for say … a dollar a point?”

“Three” she playfully answered.

I tried to add “You know that would be wrong…” but she had skipped off down the hallway waving her cash in the air.

“Look AYD” she called out “I’ve got cash money!”

Friday, July 13, 2012


Is it just me or does SE Cupp not come across as a credible atheist?

I don't have regular access to broadcast or cable television, and I rarely watch the talking head shows (the ones without David Byrne at least), so I'm just now becoming educated in who SE Cupp is.   That is the reason for the rhetorical question.  To many folks she is becoming the most visible and well-known atheist in the US.  That is why the rhetorical question is worth thinking about.

Is there such a thing as a non-credible atheist?

Does it make sense to imagine not-doing anything in a credible manor?

Well...sure it does.  There are things that have tests.  Someone who is credibly "not wet" should be demonstrably  "dry" for instance.

Not believing is a trickier issue as the tests for it are subtle to the point of absurdity.  Add to this the reticence of big-tent atheists like myself to "judge" someone's non-belief, and "credible atheism" can enjoy almost the same free-pass that theist belief gets in our culture.

But this free-pass is based on a basic assumption of honesty.  There are folks I know who are atheists yet subscribe to some ill-defined spiritual super-structure of benevolent coincidence.  They readily admit that it does not make sense and that their beliefs are not rational.  Upon discussion the nature of their system dissolves into a deistic cloud, but the motivation to dispel the fog is just not there.  Since they are truly non-theistic I fully accept their self-identification as atheists even if I do not understand the necessity or usefulness of their deistic cloud.  This belief system is psychological rather than theological and may, in practice with limited data, be heuristically credible. 

There may be people who would argue that these deists are not credible atheists, and they might have a point.  I would be open to ideas on the subject, but this credibility issue is different from the SE Cupp credibility issue.

I think she is outright lying about being an atheist.

I wrote a post earlier this year about BA Christians lying about atheists in order to play act stereotype atheist jokes like the old-time black-face minstrel shows allowed whites to caricature African-American stereotypes for fun.  

Cupp has even gone so far as to write a book called Loosing OUR Religion (emphasis in bold caps added by me) bemoaning atheist attacks on Christianity in America. 

Other recent instances of "what is going on here anyway??" are:

She has a personal religious test for fitness to be president.  She would not vote for an atheist because of some very theist reasons:

I like that there is a check, OK? That there‘s a person in the office that doesn’t think he’s bigger than the state… I like religion being a check and knowing that my president goes home every night addressing someone above him and not thinking all the power resides right here… Atheists don’t have that.

She also thinks that militant atheist are:

among the most intolerant people that I’ve ever come across in my religious-sort-of dealings.

Which is a fairly militant attitude, but since it is a militantly attitude associated more often with theists she gets away with saying:

I am not one of these crazy, militant atheists, and I say crazy and mean it.”

But why would she want to be associated with atheists at all? Well…the answer is she does not:

I envy religious people. I envy the faithful. I would like to be a person of faith, but I’m not there yet.

Cupp is a pretty white woman.  I've seen pictures of her from her television appearances wearing very high heals, somewhat short skirts, and  low-cut blouses. She is exactly what fox news would like in an atheist woman; a pretty light-skinned woman who says she is an atheist, but most everything else she says sounds like it is coming from a hard-core fundamentalist Christian.

I've heard that Glen Beck is apparently using her, and she is on some MSNBC show. 

She rails against atheists using the two-dimensional caricatures we have come to know so well.  It is like she is not only not an atheist, but that she openly despises atheists:

"What spiritual quest are they on, except to put an abrupt end to those like my father's? For them, the science is settled, the data are conclusive and the book (no, not the Good Book) has been written. Time for everyone else to pack up and move on to other business, like, presumably, accumulating wealth and fulminating at the sight of the nearest Christmas tree."

Maybe a pretty young fake atheist is a good thing for the greater cause of atheism. It is a weird kind of diversity, but it is diversity nonetheless.  Still…I’m not sure what kind of message it sends to say something like: “even lying born-again Christians can be atheists”!?!?

On the other hand, the reason the networks put up with her even saying that she is an atheist is that atheists have grown in power enough to deserve a seat at the table.   We have grown in influence enough to deserve several seats at many tables, but we don't have them.  We have very few seats at very few tables.

SE Cupp is sitting in one of those seats.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tying the room together

Blogg post ideas are trending in clusters of three for me. It may be a measure of maturity in writing for this format that I want to break impossibly long ideas into several posts. it is unfortunately a potential sign of my immaturity that each of the three posts becomes impossibly long by itself.

I tried twitter, but thought that anything I said in 140 characters or less was not worth saying, or sounded like a command. Since I had nothing to say I did not try and get any followers, and so I had none. So I could make commands that would fall on deaf ears.
'Shet de do' – Mark Twain from Huckleberry Finn
As my hearing slowly fades away with passing years I realize more and more how angry people sound when they yell loud enough for me to hear. They get angrier every year.

Apparently one of the useful things you can do with Twitter is create hashtags. This is a human-understandable word with the “#” before it. This allows one to search for a particular idea, and collect the relevant info from all over twitter about it. One can even collect the data and relate it to other variables, like time, and create graphs. You can even make pie charts if you are into that sort of thing.

Recently a bunch of people decided to create a searchable hashtag to collect thoughts, feelings, and data on what they imagined was bullying at FTB. They created a hashtag called #FTBullies. I don’t know if they said anything worthwhile on the hashtag. I doubt it because what worthwhile thing can you say in 140 characters or less?

Several folks over at FTB decided it would be fun to “crash” the hashtag. So they insinuated in and posted weird information. They posted hundreds of funny little hip lines like “dingos ate my #FTBullies”. I guess the idea was to crash it like a computer crashes as well as crashing it like when you go to a party uninvited.

Anyway, some of the same folks went to CONvergance, which is not as cool as comicCON but still has all sorts of cosplay folks in wonderfully inappropriate costumes strutting around folks arguing about which of the Doctors is best. And if you ask “Doctor Who” you either know what I’m talking about, or I’m not going to tell you.

Actually at the same time that several FTB bloggers were doing a panel on trolls called “Don’t Feed the Trolls” [Sexism, misogyny & the internet. A discussion about the recent wave of internet bullying against women and what we can do about it. Panelists: Heina Dadabhoy, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, Jason Thibeault, Rebecca Watson] you could learn all about the companions of Doctor Who at a panel called “Companions in Doctor Who” [Dr. Who just isn't the same without his trusty companions. Let's talk about our favorite. Like Ace. Panelists: Steve Manfred, Lars Pearson, Tim Liebe, Lynne Thomas, Michael D. Thomas]. The Doctor Who panel was about half-again as popular as the troll panel, but the attendees to it might have felt the room would be larger on the inside than it was from outside.

Videos, transcripts, and other recordings of the troll panel are available. I was randomly struck by one comment Christina Rad (who apparently was a surprise panel member added after the schedule was published?) made.
“yeah, it’s not your free speech to come into my house and pee on my carpet.” –Christina Rad
The Dude would approve. Peeing on carpets is for Nihilists.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bad Atheist - No Banana. ACT II scene 2: Thundergate

ACT II Scene 2: Thundergate (You are either with us or against us)

It is late June on the internets (June 21st 2012) and TAM (The James Randi Education Foundation’s, or JREF’s, big meeting in Las Vegas) is less than 60 days off. Already posters advertising “Tam9 from outer space” are popping up in all the cool places.

Rebecca Watson may have decided to boycott, but a quick perusal of headliners reveals that her big fellow podcast will be there. Three Novellas and Evan Bernstein of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe (SGU) will represent it; that’s four out of six SGU celebrities. This is no surprise as Steve Novella who hosts SGU is also a senior fellow with JREF.

The same quick perusal of headliners reveals that 16 of the 35 big names on the schedule are women (admittedly SGU was only counted as one name). Although there is not a slacker amongst the female names this ratio nods to at least some conscientious desire to balance the gender of the speakers.

PZ Meyers, a big name at Freethoughtbloggs (FTB) posts exciting news; he has convinced the popular Vlogger Thunderf00t to join FTB. PZ Meyers is ecstatic, and writes:

Yes, the awesome has just gone up another notch, because Thunderf00t has joined Freethoughtblogs. You will never leave, ever again.”

Elsewhere he would write that he considered Thunderf00t a personal friend.

It is interesting that he states “You will never leave, ever again” because in just a few days he will kick Thunderf00t off of FTB.

The individuals whose harassment by Dr Buzzo at TAM8 sparked upskirtgate have been commenting furiously about what they did and did not say on several posts that discussed upskirtgate. Several times they repeat that they never stated that Dr Buzzo was taking upskirt photos; just that they were uncomfortable with the harasement, and the camera on a stick added to their level of discomfort.

Dr. Buzzo responded as well. He apologized if he made the women feel uncomfortable, and identified the camera on a stick as an XShot device. The "XShot-get in the picture” is apparently a popular commercial device for taking self portraits with other people.

Many people who posted categorical statements that Buzzo was taking upskirt photos recanted... at least partially. Gretta Christina updated her indictment of TAM organizer DJ Grothe to read:
“Grothe was told that a male attendee of TAM was persistently harassing women even after having been asked to leave them alone multiple times, and was strongly and reasonably suspected of using a camera on the end of a telescoping monopod to surreptitiously take photos up women’s skirts”

ThunderF00t jumped into the ongoing discussion about sexual harassment at meetings, his first post at FTB (titled MISOGYNIST!!!) raises rational questions in the semi-confrontational attention-getting style common in more popular blogs. He starts with an inflammatory statement, and then modulates it.

Unfortunately he steps onto at least one key feminist hotbutton issue while doing it. Thunderf00t states (bold from the original post):
Put simply, YES talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment.
Which in the context of the post might mean: “talking about sexual harassment way out of proportion to any real sexual harassment” or “Talking about sexual harassment that does not exist is a bigger problem than the non-existent sexual harassment” or some other attenuated form of the statement. One almost feels the desire to rip the keyboard out of Thunderf00t's hands and type some reasonable attenuating phrase onto his bolded assertion.

Thunderf00t specifically chooses this wording because it is a snowclone used often in civil rights movements to highlight the need to be vocal about issues of equality.
Talking about ____ isn’t the problem, ____ is the problem
He may have specifically been assaulting a popular feminist version that had been used just a couple weeks earlier by DJ Grothe who was attempting to specifically address the Upskirtgate issues when he said:
Talking about sexism isn’t the problem, sexism is the problem.
Though Thunderf00t’s statement is wrong on many levels the irony of embedding it in his own discussion of sexual harassment is unintentionally right. Is Thunderf00t’s post itself a bigger problem than sexual harassment? The reaction of some folks would have you believe it was.

Ophelia Benson rapidly posted a vivid description of a humiliating public sexual assault that a journalist in Cairo was subjected to; on the end of it she linked to Thunderf00t’s post in the hopes of tying his words to the violence.

For some, like me, the childishness of the knee-jerk attacks is inspiration to dig deeper into Thunderf00t’s MISOGYNIST!!! post. Normally I don’t find the use of all capital letters and three exclamation points inspire anything but bemused disinterest, but the vitriol encapsulating the links to it were enough to overcome my reaction to the unfortunate typesetting and pique my interest.

I expected a harsh attack on atheist-feminists. I would have loved a description of a coven of feminist bloggers listening to an 8-track tape of Shulie Firestone chanting from the Dialectic of Sex; the room lit only by the smoky light off of candles hand-crafted from liposuction offal. Instead I got a somewhat bombastic opinion piece that wrapped itself around a couple of fairly reasonable, albeit pedestrian, ideas. These appeared to be:
  1. There are no significant reports of sexual harassment occurring as part of or coincident with scheduled conference activities so it is impossible to reasonable deal with the issue as a defined problem of the conference.
  2. Reports of non-conference harassment are associated with establishments which have harassment policies in place to deal with the level of harassment that has been reported.
The fact that the TAM conferences, which were alluded to, take place in Las Vegas makes point two much more salient. There are many establishments in Las Vegas where the male clientele is encouraged to engage in incredibly harassing behavior, but they are made to pay for it; quite literally. On the other hand there are lounges in Las Vegas where the clientele are expected to behave with a decorum exceeding that which is reasonable at a professional conference.

Alcohol is a strong contributing factor in many sexual assaults; let alone incidents of sexual harassment. If conference attendees went dry I know that I would be subjected to far fewer incidents of stupid harassment, and the incidents featured in ACT I and ACT II of this play would not have taken place. Since I have been a tea-totter for almost three decades my opinion on behavior while intoxicated is suspect. Though I personally might be at home, maybe even more comfortable, at a conference where attendees had to blow a 0.0 on a breathalyzer before entering the hotel I am not proposing that as a viable solution.

The issues addressed by Thunderf00t themselves are not sufficient reason for the tenor of backlash against him. Christopher Hallquist (another FTB blogger) posted a much more scathing indictment of atheist-feminists in January of 2012; he even named other FTB bloggers in his analysis. He also stopped short of imagining a Firestone-worshiping cannibal coven. Only those people attacking Thunderf00t, and with time some immature counter attacks, were conjuring violence.

One probable reason why Thunderf00t’s post sparked such response might have been because, as Gretta Christina put it: “This is what we are talking about now”. It was the hour of sexual harassment at atheist conferences. The bloggers at FTB had an alliance with Rebecca Watson who had self-described as a personal victim of physical, verbal, and just plain icky abuse. It would be impossible to leave questions formed from Thunderf00t’s inflammatory verbiage about this topic inflamed without invalidating Rebecca’s horrible experiences. Thunderf00t even specifically addresses Rebecca in his post (bold from the original post).

"let me be honest, repeatedly publicizing rape threats from a troll simply shows a crass lack of personal judgment and an immaturity at dealing with the interwebs, rather than a secular community ridden with men looking to rape women at conference."

I would have missed this passage being directed at Rebecca, but in a later video Thunderf00t juxtaposes it against her telling the audience at a conference that she has received rape threats from “hundreds of atheists”.

What Thunderf00t’s Rebecca passage means hinges on what is meant by “troll”. Many people use “troll” to mean “disagreeing with what I have faith in”, but I think the passage makes more sense if it uses the classical definition of “pretending to be someone or think something to get an emotional reaction out of other people”.

Trolling, especially as classically defined, is damaging and hurtful. When violent threats like rape or murder are connected to the trolling it is also illegal.

In August of 2011 a famous internet troll called David Mabus was arrested in Canada for violent trolling. If the campaign against David Mabus, which included a petition which gathered over 3,000 signatures, focused instead on “Canadian death threats” or “hundreds of death threats from people in Toronto” the campaign against him would have caused unnecessary damage to innocent Canadians. It may have also slowed or muted the eventual response as it was Canadians who eventually arrested Mabus.

When pictures of my daughter’s “inappropriate dress” went semi-viral I was subjected to quite a few obviously troll-like communications which I deleted. The Huffington post mirror of the story undoubtedly deleted quite a few more. It appears as if one cannot put a picture of a young woman up on the internet without it attracting banal stupidity. If I had been more mature about the level of interest the post would receive I might have thought of something more constructive to do with the troll comments than simply deleting them. I did not accuse some group or demographic of creating them because I could not conclusively attribute them to any one group. I could guess that the trolls were male, and probably be right. I could picture them as poorly-dressed middle-aged white men, but then I would be uncomfortably in the demographic I was vilifying.

As part of the demographic that is supposedly sending Rebecca rape threats I want the veracity of those threats examined. I want them to be shown to be non-credible. I want them to be blocked, or stopped, or to just go away.

As a person I want them to have never existed.

As July starts Thunderf00t is kicked off FTB.

Interestingly PZ Meyers calls Thunderf00t a troll after he kicked him off FTB. Meyers apparently subscribes to the more modern troll definition as he justified calling Thunderf00t a troll by saying:
”he had deep contempt for FTB, didn’t like what we wrote about, he thought we were unrepresentative, he despised everything we wrote”.

Which is obvious hyperbole as I’m sure Thunderf00t would not have despised Meyers writing about how awesome he thought thunderf00t was just weeks earlier.

In the storm that follows groups coalesce out of the interwebs: “Meyer’s Minions” and “Thunderf00t’s followers”. Accusations are distributed with casual abandon. Some are obviously fabricated; I saw Thunderf00t accused of posting “Mabus-like threats” in one comment.

One FTB blogger posts a profanity-laced “insider’s perspective” in which he enumerates 7 reasons for Thunderf00t’s expulsion from FTB. Four of his seven reasons are simply “he is a sh**y bloger”, one reason is that he is a “gaping a***le”, one is that he is ignorant, and the last is that people had to “deal with his s**t all the time”.

Another blogger is kicked off FTB. Interestingly it is because he was making Mabus-like threats to another FTB blogger:
Now, get forever out of my life. Do not turn back. You do not deserve to even know the people you’ve insulted in that idiotic post you wrote. Don’t ever, ever find yourself in my presence or think you deserve to breath the air that I, and Jen, and Stephanie, and Gret and Ophelia and PZ and the rest of us breath, because you do not.
If you do make that apology it better be from laying face down in the mud.

Thunderf00t posts a video where he bookends a reading of his MISOGYNIST!!! Post with commentary. Interestingly it reads well as a script, and sounds much more reasoned and mature. The addition of images and flow help the listener understand much of what sounds somewhat reprehensible when simply combined with the local images from my mind.

Meyers posts a video in response where he couples editing irritation to sweeping social declarations. I am led to beleiving there are two types of atheists: The wonderful forward-thinking members of FTB, and the evil-bad ones.

So atheists can be divided into us and them. Unfortunately I, and many “thinking free rationalists” are probably amongst the “them” to both sides.

How could any atheist/rationalist/humanist be a them to any side in today's environment?  We have the first president who has openly accepted atheists as complete Americans running against a candidate who openly despises the irreligious.   Ideologues like Rebecca may use most of their words to combat a War on Women, but it appears as if they are more concerned with the purity of their foot-soldiers than winning the war.  

There are many bloggers like myself who will always be a "them" to the self aggrandizing spokespeople, but they do a disservice to the community when infighting prevents participation in the greater mission.  

We can loose the greater fight, and we are poised to lose more as a group than any of us could individually win through infighting.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bad Atheist - No Banana. ACT II scene 1: Upskirtgate

ACT II Scene 1: Upskirtgate (Where things go from bad to worse)

In July of 2011 The Amazing Meeting (TAM) number 9 was held in Las Vegas Nevada. Neil deGrasse Tyson was the keynote speaker.

Sometime during the conference a couple of female-looking people are harassed while at a bar in the Southpoint Casino where the TAM was taking place. This incident, unlike that one which prompted elevatorgate, clearly involved harassment of some kind. One of the harassed women (and I use the term woman to be contextually consistent although the individual has stated that they prefer to be called something like “genderfluid”) recalls clearly asking the harasser several times, in a clear and concise way, to leave her alone. Eventually she, and another woman, left the bar to stop the harassment.

Though this was clearly harassment was it sexual harassment? The early reports left this sneaking feeling that any particulars of the conversation that would define it as sexual harassment, as opposed to drunk-guy-in-bar harassment, would have been emphasized.  But even if it was not sexual harassment it was still harassment. 

The harasser was a well-known attendee of TAM.

The two women reported the incident to TAM conference organizers. In the report the harassed individuals apparently also described “a camera, on a pole, at ankle height.”. This added emphasis to the report of harassment, and she stated that she: “Was really uncomfortable with it and didn’t feel safe.”.

The harassed individuals were unhappy about the way the conference organizers dealt with the situation in the casino bar, and over the following months complained to other attendees of the conference. One of them wrote this:
Two women approach me and another conferee. They are pale and trembling. A man with a camera on the end of a telescoping monopod has been attempting to surreptitiously take photos up their skirts. Yes, he was attending TAM. They had taken concerns to conference organizers and got little satisfaction. Hotel security confiscated the camera. I later learned the individual was well-known and had been complained about in previous years, and yet there he was again.”

The situation is now clearly more than sexual harassment; it is women being assaulted at TAM by at least one upskirt voyeur. Security personnel have physical proof of the assault.  How many hundreds of pictures are on the confiscated camera?  How long will the upskirt photographer be in jail?  How many victims are there?  When the police seize his home computer how many more images will they find on it?  Will they find bodies in his crawlspace?  Is this the atheist "Catholic Priest" scandal?  Will TAM, or any atheist conferences, or even the atheist movement survive this scandal?

The events of upskirtgate broke onto freethoughtblogs (FTB). This is a collection of bloggs that gets more hits per day than I have gotten in the entire time this site has been up.

In late May of 2012, at the European Atheist Convention (or IBKA), Rebecca Watson announces during her address to the assembly that “hundreds of Atheists have sent her rape threats”. Things have apparently gone downhill for her since elevatorgate broke.

On May 30th one of the FTB bloggers, Greg Laden, calls for the resignation of DJ Grothe (organizer for TAM) because of statements he made online. Female registration for TAM 2012 has apparently dropped by 50%. Greg says:
“But I can tell you one thing with perfect certainty: The skeptics movement is currently divided into two very distinct parts: 1) The part that wants women to be not only comfortable, but to lead, and this includes the majority of people in the movement, and 2) The part that wants the old timey conferences to retain their old timey charm as minor meat markets for nerds, that wants to keep its old white guy idols and icons, and that wants to move such marginal and suspicious entities as the Mens Rights Movement to the forefront, and this includes a minority of people in the movement.”

Over nine months have passed, and there have been no arrests.  There is no indication that an investigation is ongoing.  Is this situation going to be covered up?  How high does the blame go? 

On June 1st Rebecca announces she will not be attending TAM in 2012. She blames her non-attendance on the organizers of TAM for blaming the drop in participation on important bloggers like her discussing sexual harassment at TAM instead of addressing the sexual harassment. She mentions a “nonstop avalanche of rape threats” she has been getting.

Rebecca elaborates:
“Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke, a cunt, a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

This is quite obviously not a safe space for me or for other women who want to be free of the gendered slurs and sexual threats and come-ons we experience in our day-to-day lives. But apparently, DJ thinks I am lying about that, since apparently my feeling that the freethought community is not a safe space is “misinformation.” I should apparently put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t happen, because by reporting on my treatment, I am creating “a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.””.

FTB bloggers like Gretta Christina unload a can of what they think is whoop-ass. Gretta writes an entire blog post devoted to attacking TAM organizers. She repeatedly says “Grothe was told that a male attendee of TAM was using a camera on the end of a telescoping monopod to surreptitiously take photos up women’s skirts”. They would NOT get away with covering up this criminal behavior. 

On June 17th FTB hosts a video chat where they discuss sexual harassment. On the video Rebecca names the upskirt photographer as a “Dr Buzzo” and states that he has been sexually harassing women at TAM. Rebecca describes him as “Please don’t ever leave me alone with this person. I mean...he is scary”.

The curtain goes up on this scene.  Rebecca has now been physically assaulted at meetings for years; a seemingly important fact that she forgot about in Dublin.   Now rape threats are pouring into her mailbox constantly and they are all from skeptics and atheists.  Hundreds of atheists are now actively threatening her.

The Atheist Community is apparently a very unsafe place for women indeed, and it is getting more unsafe with each passing day.

Coming Soon: ACT II Scene 2: Thundergate

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bad Atheist - No Banana. ACT I: Elevatorgate

I’ve been accused of not being a proper atheist by other bloggers, and over the past few weeks it has been looking like I’m in good company. Apparently all sorts of people are no longer proper atheists, and the divisive problem is caused by women and sex. 

When I write it that way it sounds like a very old story; lots of people like stories about women and sex. There is this one with a snake and an apple in it that has caused all sorts of grief.

So far it plays out like a two act play, but I’m sure there will be sequels.

ACT I Elevatorgate (Where Richard Dawkins is taken down a notch)

In early June of 2011 the World Atheist convention is taking place in the O'Callaghan Alexander Hotel Dublin. Many prominent atheists are meeting to espouse the awesomeness of reason. Maryam Namazie is the keynote speaker.

The conference includes a host of workshops including one with Tom Melchiorre, AronRa, Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson (SkepChick) on communicating Atheism. Rebecca sat between Tom and Richard. Tom wore a black button-down shirt unbuttoned to reveal a Tee-shirt in a color of unnaturally-flaming red that rivaled the color of  Rebecca’s hair. Rebecca wore a low-cut sleeveless black blouse, and Richard wore an awful tie that did not work for video.

Rebecca spends the first 10 minutes of the panel detailing the e-mails she gets. The breakdown went like this:
  1. She gets a couple a month where an atheist disagrees with her in a sexist way (she provides an example of someone addressing the men of her podcast for things she said); these range from "very sexist" to “this is probably sexist”. 
  2. She then describes “fan mail” where the writer in inappropriate “graphic” terms describes what they would like to do with Rebecca; she feels that the writers of these e-mails just “don’t understand”. 
  3. Then there is the unspecified volumes of mail from “religious people” which include specific threats of rape as well as death threats.

This is good stuff. It raises awareness for a type of environmental issue that should be addressed. She is complimented on this, and conversation moves from the conference to the bar, and continues until 4AM. Rebbecca, now exhausted, extricates herself from her fans, and takes the elevator back to her floor.

Rebbecca describes what happens in a video. Some guy got on the elevator with her and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”. One can tell from the video that Rebecca was creeped out by the event. Apparently she said no, and that was the end of the story.

Except that was not the end of the story. Dozens of people chimed in. Many people, both men and women, stated that Rebecca was being over-sensitive about her response, and that the invitation after drinks was not an inappropriate example of sexualizing her.  Some called into question the descriptions she had made on the panel earlier in the conference; if she was so overly sensitive is her assessment of inappropriate e-mails skewed? People stood up for her right to be offended by anything a man might do, especially in an elevator, especially at 4AM. Some good points were made.

I was busy taking apart a magic electric water-magicifier, and did not think that anyone would care if I said anything as I’m old, white, heterosexual, and -above all else- the wrong kind of atheist.

That’s when Richard Dawkins weighed in. In a sarcasm framed electronic communication he suggests that being asked to coffee after a late night drinking, saying no, and then having the asker accept no as an answer does not measure up to the flavor of abuse against women that many Muslim women routinely have to put up with.

I should point out that the keynote speaker for the Dublin conference was a noted ex-Muslim female-rights activist. Women’s rights were a key concept at the Dublin conference. I encourage you to watch some of the videos of the keynote speech; they are brilliant. You would not know that speakers on women’s rights were so key in the conference from Rebecca’s video, as she does not really mention them. She does tell us that AronRa can’t hold his alcohol.

The response to Richard’s communication was huge. This issue now had validity. It got a name too: “Elevatorgate”.  I hope Richard has learned to avoid using sarcasm in mixed company in the future.

Rebecca responded by calling for a boycott of all things Dawkins.

Rebecca reveals that Richard Dawkins is old, rich, and white.   If this is true then Richard has no excuse for his tie in Dublin.  He should have enough disposable income to hire AronRa for fashion advice, as he was the only member of the Dublin panel dressed properly. There was a time when LBT meant "Large Black Tee-shirt" in the way LBD is still instantly recognized as meaning "Little Black Dress". 

She also posts a very uncivil e-mail from someone stating that she should be raped because of some disagreement they have over the relative harm of female genital mutilation and male circumcision. She then states that “the worst of my hate mail from atheists is about that”. So by association she is receiving rape threats from atheists. Much has changed in a few short weeks.

By September Rebecca related to USA today that: “Hers and other atheist/skeptic blogs were soon flooded with comments. Many women told of receiving unwanted sexual advances at freethinker gatherings. Some men, meanwhile, ridiculed Watson as overly sensitive or worse — or threatened her with rape, mutilation and murder.”

Note:  there are so many marvelous links to the source material for this post.  I will  be adding them as time permits.  Right now I want to work on "ACT II scene 1: Upskirtgate"

Monday, July 2, 2012

Die Tampon

The German word for “why” is pronounced “VAROOM”.

I know several of my readers are fluent in German, and so this is no special revelation to you. AOD has decided to teach me German (which is very cool since she does not know German), and VAROOM was one of the first words in my new vocabulary.

I decided this was the coolest thing I’ve learned all week, and I’ve learned some pretty cool stuff this week.

Do you know what happens when you blast salty goo with high-energy lasers? Cool stuff; that’s what.

I’ve spent time wandering around alternately saying “Varoom?” as a question and “VAROOOM!” as a NASCAR sound effect.

I stopped short of tying a beach towel to my neck like a cape and running around my house shouting “VAROOM VAROOM VAROOM”. Such erratic behavior irritates AYD and AOD, but there is still time.

Shortly before the German lessons started AOD and I spent a sunny hour taking a long drive into Salt Lake where she peppered me with words from the handful of languages found in her polyglot dictionary.

“Ask me a word in German” she asked.

“Ok….how about ‘tampon’?” I replied.

AOD flipped through the dictionary, looked up, and yelled: “TAMPON”.

Is that the word for “tampon” in German? I asked.


“So ‘tampon’ in German is ‘TAMPON’”


“That sounds like the English word, only you yell it” I replied.

“Maybe you don’t really need to yell it” she replied.

“So it’s the same as the English word?” I asked.

“Well you would say ‘die’ before it”

DIE TAMPON” I yelled.

Everything sounds louder when you yell it in a Toyota Corolla.

“Maybe you don’t really need to yell it” she replied.

“So…” I allowed the word to dissolve into a hint of mischief. “If someone yells ‘DIE TAMPON’ in a crowded room….I would think any tampons they might have would be dieing… or severely wounded”

“Ick Dad”

“This German sounds like a playful language. “ I replied

“I will teach you German” AOD responded. “Just try not to be stupid about it, and don’t yell ‘DIE TAMPON’ when we go to WalMart”

If I had only known the German I know now I would have replied “VAROOM!