I Am Afraid

I’ve spent much of my life afraid, but I’ve only been afraid like this once before. The fear I feel today is twin to the fear I felt after the terrorist attacks of September 11. This will surprise no one. The parallels are too many. The city has changed. The name used to organize the terrorists was different. Still, so much is the same.

But I am not afraid of the terrorists. I mourn their victims. I have mourned them in all the attacks between then and now. I feel the weight of the knowledge that there will be more. There were more today, in Mali. I grieve for the interrupted lives, dead and survivors alike. But I am not afraid of the terrorists.

I am afraid of us. [Read more…]

“No-Platforming” and the Cult of Bad Arguments

Last week, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper had an opinion piece published by Politics.co.uk titled, “The attack on Germaine Greer shows identity politics has become a cult”. Now, as is the case on most sites with editors, she probably didn’t write the headline, so it doesn’t get her argument quite right. She actually argues that people who recognize the gender of trans people are totalitarians trying to brainwash the rest of the world.

No, really. I’m not exaggerating. That’s her argument.

The whole thing is so transparently ridiculous that I would just point and laugh if it weren’t for two things. First, I’ve seen “reason-loving” atheists who should really know better sharing the piece. Also, yesterday’s elections here in the U.S. have given us heart-breaking example of why of one of the central prongs of Reilly-Cooper’s article is wrong. [Read more…]

“Purely Semantic”

So Richard Dawkins tweeted this morning. I know, but bear with me. What came out was this.

Now, as usual, it’s a good idea to wait a little bit and find out what the Great Communicator meant in the place of what he said. Doing that, we get this. [Read more…]

Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Computer programming is one of those fascinating fields in which we got to watch work become less pink collar over time. It started as women’s work because the prestige was thought to be in hardware engineering, not “computing”, which was really just dressed-up math. (Yes, World War II required governments to recognize the math skills of their female citizens, just like they required the U.S. to recognize the skills of its black citizens.)

Then, as women developed the field of programming, the private sector started to understand just how much work it would be possible to get computers to do. Programmers gained status and pay and–over the course of a couple of decades–the idea that the work should be done by men. Women have always continued to program, particularly in government service, but they came to be seen as anomalies instead of the people who defined the field.

Before that could happen, however, women led the way to making programming practical and accessible. In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, here are four ways they did it. And no, Ada Lovelace isn’t even on the list, as awesome as she was, because it’s easy these days to find out more about her. [Read more…]

The Problem Is That I’m Not in an Institution

Well, well. This is something new. I’m used to people blaming mass shootings on mental illness because “Obviously there’s something wrong with those people.” I’m used to gross, proud ignorance of what constitutes mental illness and indignation over being asked to get it right before classing a large group as a menace to society.

What I’m not used to is a bunch of gun nuts telling us we can’t talk about gun control because we liberals were all in favor of deinstitutionalization. That’s the problem, you see. We no longer take away people’s freedom because their brains don’t work right all the time, so of course people are dying.

Nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and entitled attitudes toward them and incorrect beliefs about how they end up used. Nah, it’s because we don’t lock up all those crazies.

[Read more…]

Advice for Lonely Potential Mass Murderers

Another college campus, another mass shooting, another bunch of people dead–including the shooter–because a young man was angry the world wasn’t giving him what he thought he deserved. As has frequently been the case, this included a romantic/sexual relationship and the admiration of his peers.

The gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon community college said in writings he left behind that everyone else was “crazy” and ranted about not having a girlfriend, a law enforcement official said Monday.

He “complained in writings about not having a girlfriend, and he seemed to feel like he was very rational while others around him were not”. In other words, he was single and felt unappreciated. He was lonely. So he shot up a college and killed himself.

I’ve been there. [Read more…]

The Breakfast Club, Updated

A user-made Someecard with a woman in early Victorian dress. Text in the post.

If The Breakfast Club took place today, all those kids would just be silently texting about their shitty Saturday and never make friends with each other.

This has been going around Facebook the past few days. I’ve seen it from friends my age who use social media almost as an afterthought to their busy lives. There’s nothing wrong with that usage, of course, but it’s not mere coincidence that this is who is sharing it. They’re the people who least value social media and are, therefore, most likely to get it wrong. Let’s talk about how.

First off, let me note that The Breakfast Club was an idealistic fantasy when it came out. Having been a teenager in the 80s, I can tell you from experience that it took more than temporary isolation from the outside to break down the social defense mechanisms that kept kids from bonding across class and tribe.

Yes, even the unhappy kids. In fact, it was often the kids who were the most unhappy who clung hardest to their tribal affiliations. Adding stress wasn’t going to change that. The movie was an escape fantasy aimed at kids who’d suffered from tribalism, but it was just that–a fantasy.

So if we were going to update The Breakfast Club for today’s social media landscape, we’d be looking at the best of all possible outcomes, just as John Hughes did. That’s good, because otherwise, we’d already be running into problems with the premise that kids would be allowed to bring their cell phones to detention. Instead, we’ll just suspend that bit of disbelief.

Once we do that, here’s a taste of what a modern Breakfast Club would look like, social media and all. [Read more…]

Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?

Well, it’s come to this. A pro-choice feminist has hounded an abortion doctor and advocate on Twitter for using the phrase “pregnant person” instead of “woman” when arguing with people who are against abortion–and with people who thanked Dr. Torres for being inclusive in her language.

There were a couple of reasons given for this hounding. The first being that inclusive language erases women as being the primary recipients of abortions a la “All lives matter”. As Jason points out, that argument has problems.

The second argument given is that using inclusive language when talking about abortion obscures the sexism and misogyny that have pushed the political fight against abortion rights. This is also wrong, but I’ve seen it cropping up more frequently lately. That makes it time to deal with it. [Read more…]

But How Will You Unite Us?

David Koepsell has a post up on his blog at Center for Inquiry that looks familiar.

It is natural for us to dissent from one another. We are freethinkers. We have our own ideas, our own visions, and at our best we encourage open debate. At our worst, we attack our allies, demonize those who disagree with us, and splinter our forces and efforts needlessly. It seems that every minor ideological or procedural disagreement we have with one another becomes an opportunity to attack, to lambast, to shun, or worse – purge our ranks. This is a tremendous strategic mistake. The culture wars are not over, and the bastion we have begun to build is always capable of being undermined.

If it rings bells for you too, that is probably because it hearkens back to Ron Lindsay’s post from nearly three years ago.

Shunning and boycotting may be gaining acceptance in the atheist and skeptic communities.   In particular, it appears they are being adopted as tactics against fellow atheists and skeptics.  This is regrettable.

Unfortunately, I think Koepsell’s post has as much chance of changing the situation as Lindsay’s did. [Read more…]

Rethinking Diversity Panels

In the last week and a bit, it seems everyone is writing about rethinking the value of diversity panels. That isn’t to say it’s a new topic. It’s not even close.

It is, however, in the public eye at the moment. The painful absurdity at Gen Con’s “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” panel. Wes Chu being out of place at a diversity panel at Sasquan just a few months after talking about having been removed from a panel he was suited for to be placed on a diversity panel. General talk about supporting diverse writers in the wake of Sad and Rabid Puppies having “accidents” all over Hugo Awards ballots. All these have put the topic firmly in the public eye, and folks have plenty of good things to say on it.

As someone who just organized a conference at which all the speakers and presenters were women or genderqueer people, I generally agree with these assessments. We worked hard to match people with topics that reflected their expertise, not their marginalization, keeping “minority provides free education” duties to a minimum. Our priority was to highlight their other skills and interests. [Read more…]