Around Freethought Blogs

Things not to miss on the network today.

Natalie has the information on yet another Harper attempt to remake all of Canada in his image:

it appears that recent amendments to the Canadian Aeronautics Act, the laws and regulations regarding aviation in Canada, have added a regulation that permits discrimination against transgender passengers, entitling airline employees to refuse them permission to board. Specifically, this one:

Sec 5.2(1)(c) of the ID screening regs of Aeronautics Act: “An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”

Oh hell no, Harper.

Frederick has a little something to say about being used by Be Scofield in an attack on Greta Christina and “New Atheists”:

I’ve observed a few the written exchanges between Scofield and Greta Christina and agree with the assessment that he is either sloppy or downright dishonest in his characterizations of what she says.  And Greta of all people least deserves to be a target of criticism on the issue of diversity and the “atheist movement.”

Scofield quotes from Sikivu Hutchinson’s critique of the New Atheists blind spot with respect to social justice issues, and the interplay between African American religiosity and these issues of social justice. Yet if he bothered to read the rest of the book besides the passages criticizing new atheism, he’d see that Hutchinson hardly argues for walling off god belief and African-American religious institutions from criticism. Her critique is aimed at presenting atheism/secularism to African-Americans in a way that makes it relevant because it addresses issues of racial and economic inequality.

And Greg has the latest on the war against women’s bodily autonomy–and the strange role the Susan G. Komen foundation has chosen to play in that war, presented here as a picture for the added irony:

Misplaced Komen Ad

Go read them all.

A Federal John DNA Database

Rather than writing much about this myself, I’ll just refer you Melissa Gira Grant, who knocks this AlterNet article out of the park.

For the last six years, police across the United States have been empowered by federal and state law to collect DNA from the people they arrest in order to build a government DNA database. The database includes those who have yet to face trial as well as people who are later found innocent. Now a group of researchers, law enforcement and conservative campaigners want to exploit people’s concerns about being included in such a database in order to scare people out of involvement in the sex trade. By threatening people with the possibility of being marked for life in a government database, these well-funded campaigners — with allies in law enforcement, including the Department of Justice — are using a questionably legal policing practice, a combination of “scared-straight” strategies that became a signature of the war on drugs and the extension of the surveillance state propelled by the war on terror.

Gira Grant touches on the constitutional questions, the financial incentives for law enforcement that come from targeting johns, the racial disparities in those targeted, the problems with the “science” behind the initiative, and the fact that targeting clients does nothing to improve the lives of those willingly (even if sometimes as the best of several unattractive options) in the sex trade.

(The only aspect of this she doesn’t dig into is the use of the Secondary Effects Doctrine, the idea that crime increases near sex-based businesses, to justify building such a database. It isn’t necessarily irrational to believe that the doctrine may hold where the sex-based businesses are already illegal–crime breeding crime–but in general, the doctrine and the scientific support it has received are not without criticism.)

Whether you consider yourself for or against the legalization of prostitution, I strongly suggest reading Gira Grant’s article.

Press Coverage on the MN Atheists Billboards

The Minnesota Atheists’ billboards have been up for almost a week now, and they’re getting some decent coverage. The Pioneer Press covered them first, just a couple of days after they went up.

“Some people thought the design was a little amateurish,” said Eric Jayne, a board member of the Minnesota Atheists organization who came up with the billboard idea. “The idea was to satirize the pro-life billboards.”

Atheist Baby in Saint Paul

Satirize them they did, as everyone who wrote about the billboards also wrote about Prolife Across America, who appear to have come up with a fairly canned response for inquiries on the subject.

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In Our Degenerate Times

This is what I get for reading the local mainstream paper on a Sunday.

If you don’t read liberal Minnesota bloggers, you may not have had the displeasure of having heard of our local conservative columnist, Katherine Kersten. Yesterday’s column, however, can give you all you really need to know. It contains all the ahistoricality, all the lofty sneering, all the sour distaste for those unlike her, all the appropriation of real tragedies to make her petty points.

Yesterday, Kersten appears to have decided that the sinking of the Costa Concordia is a lesson about the depravity of today just waiting to happen:

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Let Them Eat Grass

This year is the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War. Haven’t heard of it? Chances are very good you’re not alone. One of the things the U.S. is very bad at is recognizing the actions by which it became a single nation instead of several scattered across the continent.

We of the dominant culture teach that there were people here when our ancestors arrived. What we don’t teach is the specifics of how they were displaced and, frequently, killed. Part of the reason we don’t do this is that we live alongside the people whose land we took, and we treat history in part as a matter of tourism. This can lead to continued conflict.

A 150-year-old loop of rope, knotted into a hangman’s noose, sits in a climate-controlled case in the underground archives of the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

Some say it should be burned, buried or returned to the hands of the Dakota people.

Others argue it should be displayed, like piles of shoes at Holocaust museums, as a powerful artifact to help people confront the grim story of the U.S.-Dakota War, which erupted in Minnesota in 1862 and ended with the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

The noose, and just what to make of it, is one sign of the historical reckoning looming this year as Minnesotans wrestle with how to mark the 150th anniversary of one its ugliest, yet often overlooked, episodes.

The noose won’t be displayed this year, but there are no plans to return it yet, either. If it were part of history we had learned and come to terms with, maybe that would be less of an issue.

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On This Snowy Saturday Afternoon

Well, it’s snowy here at any rate, just warm enough to be working on icy. So it’s a good day to stay inside and get a few things accomplished. Maybe cooking a turkey isn’t on your list the way it is on mine, but the rest of these are worthy of your time and attention.

Awkward

Too unnatural?

First, go help Skepticon design the most inoffensive atheist banner ever. It is for two very good causes. It will help advertise Skepticon locally in St. Louis and Kansas City, and it will help to settle the question of whether it is possible to create a billboard that mentions atheists without people finding it offensive.

I recommend the awkward puppy and kitten combo for the billboard, but it may be too unnatural for some. It’s in last place currently.

Once you’ve done that, go sign a petition to allow students at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, AZ to set up a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance. The principal is currently requiring that the students who want an SSA chapter collect signatures from other students to say that this is okay. Of course, if the school allows any clubs at all, it is required by law to allow all clubs. When you sign the petition, feel free to express your feelings about a professional school administrator doing something that blatantly illegal.

Then it’s time to do something a little more you-centered. Find out what gender and age Google thinks you are. Me? I’m apparently a 45-54-year-old male. Then again, I’m not the only woman Google thinks is interested in “guy stuff.” The Mary Sue suggests that if you’re a female geek, you might want to change this to let Google know that geeky women exist. That’s assuming you’re cool with them knowing who you are. Then again, once Google’s privacy policies are “consolidated,” you’ll have less control over that, so you might as well make them get their facts straight.

After all that, it’s time to relax. May I suggest you get yourself some hot chocolate, hot cider, mulled wine, or tea, and check out Natalie’s first week of blogging here on FtB? Plenty there to read and think about until the sun comes out and all this snow melts.

Saturday Storytime: All the Painted Stars

Gwendolyn Clare is one of those scientists who is also a science fiction writer. It’s always fun to see how the imagination and the discipline interact across spheres.

I lower my gaze to look at him. Humans seem to desire a quite specific quantity of eye contact while communicating—not too much, not too little—though I have not yet mastered the exact proportion. “I am not an ambassador,” I say. “I was trained to be an enforcer of the law. I cannot perform another life.”

Liu’s brows tighten and draw together. “Life?”

“Job,” I say, to clarify. I have not yet discerned why they have two words for this concept.

Liu exhales forcefully and leans back against the bench, stretching his legs. If the gesture means something, it is lost on me. Humans rely heavily on nonverbal communication, much of it subconscious, and it frustrates my efforts to understand them. Or rather, it would frustrate me, if it were important for me to understand them. Which it is not. Because I think I will kill myself today.

After a while, Liu speaks again. “In the ship’s logs, the Brights say they left us Legacy because they knew we would someday build conservatories.”

I do not know the word. “Conservatories?”

“Places where we cultivate plants for aesthetic value.” He points at the solarium ceiling. “The architecture usually looks something like this. Anyway, at the time when they left us the ship, humans had barely started getting a handle on agriculture. We didn’t build conservatories until thousands of years later.”

“Are plants of great cultural significance to you now?”

“They’re not central to our society, no. Well—Keene might argue otherwise, but most people don’t think twice about the cultural value of plants.” He lifts his shoulders in an unfamiliar gesture. “I don’t know. Maybe the Brights saw what they wanted to see in us.”

“As you see what you want to see in me.”

“The point is,” Liu says, “you hardly ever get the ideal situation you’re hoping for. But if you’re lucky, you find something that will suffice.”

“I am not an ambassador,” I say again.

“No, but you’re close enough for us.”

Maybe I will wait until tomorrow to kill myself.

Keep reading.

Troll Alert: Do Not Engage

Those of you who read a number of blogs here at Freethought Blogs have probably noticed that we’ve had an ongoing infestation. It’s gone by a lot of names, but the commonality is that it can’t stand us talking about equality. I know that this sort of troll is a favorite food for commenters here, but after doing a bit of digging and seeing this guy in several places, I’m going to recommend that people stop engaging and simply report sightings to the blogger in question. Reasons why below the fold.

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Plots, Posses, and Feminist Terrorist Fist Bumps

The plotting started well before I got to Science Online. I mentioned to Scicurious that we’d be flying in on my husband’s birthday. She insisted we needed to do cake. I countered with cupcakes and found some nearby. There was still a problem, though, since we wouldn’t be landing until after the cupcake shop closed and Sci wouldn’t have a car.

Scicurious was on the job. She recruited Princess. By coincidence (not a requirement for procuring cupcakes) Ben and Princess share a birthday. This presented Sci with her own problem. Princess doesn’t usually make a big deal of her birthday, but Sci didn’t want it going unnoticed in all the furious meeting and greeting of SciO Day One. I suggested letting Bora and Karyn know, as they’d make sure it didn’t stay a secret.

Birthday Cupcakes

"Birthday cupcakes for the win!" by Ben Zvan

As you can see, the cupcakes part of the mission was a success. So was making sure Princess was included in the birthday celebrations. Cupcakes in a hotel lobby bar attract attention. Everyone wanted to know why they were there. It might even have been more attention than she wanted, or maybe she just slipped away to say, “Hi,” as people came in.

The cupcakes were a success in an unexpected way as well. I had ordered a bunch, not sure who would be at the hotel the first night. Several of the people I’d mentally counted were either absent or stuffed from what I hear was epic BBQ. That left cupcakes to share.

I’m not huge on initiating social contact, but now I had an excuse. I flagged down people I slightly recognized from Twitter avatars and others who merely looked wistfully curious as they walked passed a table of people eating and laughing. Introductions were made, birthday wishes given. Then the litany began.

“Black forest, bourbon pecan pie, ‘hot’ chocolate (with pepper), coconut, banana, maple, chocolate, an–”

“You mean chocolate chocolate chocolate. What? That’s how you’ve been saying it.”

“Chocolate chocolate chocolate, and raspberry.”

Cupcakes make an excellent ice breaker.One of the bar staff was later heard to say, “Those scientists.. really know how to throw it down. They were here until 3am. With cupcakes.”

That was only the first of the Science Online plots in which I took part. [Read more…]