The point of the TAM harassment posts

I read the comment threads on a lot of these TAM harassment posts and many readers seem to miss the fundamental point:

DJ said women were not attending TAM because other women were posting about harassment at skeptic events. He justified this by saying no reports of harassment were made at TAM last year.

These “feminazi” posts are actually just a skeptical examination of his claim.  And since there’s a lot of evidence in favor of reports of harassment having been made, his conclusion, that women should stop talking about it, is without any evidence or argument to justify it.

At this point, it seems the more reasonable claim is that DJ needs to stop posting comments in blogs blaming women for low female attendance as that has directly led to several women deciding not to go.

Obviously, this is an emotional issue for a lot of the people involved, but we have to remember that emotions are valid and exist on all sides of the debate.  The point stands regardless: women are leaving TAM because of DJ.

Aren’t you making it up? – Why women don’t report harassment

There has been a lot of discussion about why women don’t report sexual harassment (Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina) and what they’re up against when they do, including hyper-skepticism over claims that are routine, mundane, and unsurprising.

I would like to present to you a comment I got today, which you can go find if you want, but I have no intention of linking to it or encouraging people to respond to it.  I want you to read it and keep in mind a few things:

  1. Unlike most cases of sexual harassment, I had several witnesses
  2. Many witnesses were willing to make public statements
  3. Although the report was incomplete, it was made as the harassment was ongoing, not afterwards
  4. It was not a complaint about a named person, no one is on the defensive
  5. It was not a complaint about a well-known speaker
  6. Many people in the community know and respect me, I am not unknown
  7. I have a public platform from which to speak

These things are not always true for a woman who is being or has been harassed and the following is a response I got with all of those things on my side.  Take away one or two or all of these and tell me what kind of response the average woman might expect to get.  And then tell me whether you’d find it worth it to make a report when you can expect this treatment from many other people.

Miss Miller, is there any actual evidence that the alleged harassment took place? Is there any actual evidence that “some other women” were harassed? Did you submit a written report of the alleged harassment to the conference organizers? Did the alleged “other women” submit written reports? Did any of you report the alleged harassment directly to “DJ”?

If the guy was so obnoxious for so long, why didn’t you ask someone for help? Why didn’t you ask for help right away if you were so repulsed by and uncomfortable with the guy’s alleged behavior? You say that someone from TAM’s staff eventually (but “so quickly”) intervened but you don’t say whether you asked for help or if someone just happened to come along and deal with the alleged situation.

You say that someone from TAM “made it stop” and that someone kicked the guy out but you don’t say exactly who it was who first intervened and how they knew you were being harassed. You say that you were told that “DJ himself” kicked the guy out but you don’t say who told you that.

You obviously think that TAM should consider what you did as a “report of harassment” but you don’t actually say what you did, exactly who intervened, whether you asked for help, who you talked to (either to ask for help or otherwise), and there are a lot of other missing, important details.

Another thing you said is that you were ultimately impressed with and proud of TAM’s staff for so quickly intervening. If they intervened so quickly, how could the guy have harassed you from room to room for so long?

You also make it sound as though “DJ” must have known about the alleged situation at the time but you don’t actually know that he did because you didn’t actually talk to him about it at the time, did you?

Exactly how would it make TAM “look bad” if you had gone “into explicit detail of exactly how gross the guy had been to” you? Who exactly would you have gone into explicit detail to about how gross the guy was to you that would have made TAM look bad? If you had gone into explicit detail with TAM’s staff, how would that make TAM look bad? If you didn’t go into explicit detail with someone on TAM’s staff at the time, then why did they intervene and kick the guy out? How would they know for sure what they were intervening with?

And another question: Do you expect the TAM staff or “DJ” to be psychic and to know what’s happening to you and/or other people at the conferences at all times, and to know what has allegedly happened to you or other people even though you and/or those other people don’t properly report it to the people in charge?

According to your own words TAM’s staff  took care of the alleged situation “so quickly” and effectively. That speaks well of TAM’s staff, which should demonstrate to you and all others that TAM’s staff deals with problems quickly and effectively as soon as they know about them. TAM’s staff can’t reasonably be expected to be psychic or to personally babysit every woman (or man) at their conferences. It’s unreasonable for you to blame TAM or “DJ” for something that you could have ended a lot faster if you had asked for help quickly and had properly reported it to the people in charge.

Is it wrong for ‘skeptics’ to be skeptical of non-evidential claims that don’t add up, and that weren’t properly reported to the people in charge of the conference?

Are you making up the whole thing?

On its own, it might just seem like a bad apple not worthy of notice, but I’ve gotten dozens of other comments here, on other blogs, on Facebook, and in e-mails that reflect the same sentiment.  And I knew I would get them.  Every woman knows she will get them.  Every time she speaks up.  Every time.  And sometimes it’s just exhausting.  It hurts a little, having to relive it and be called names and a liar, but ultimately it just makes you tired, completely bone-weary, and a little heartbroken.

DJ Fact Correction

I generally don’t take the time to fact correct every random person who misrepresents what I say, because it’s a herculean task, but I’m surprised to find, after all the positive back and forth between us, that DJ went and said this:

All we knew about was that someone was removed from the speaker reception because he wasn’t permitted to be there, and was apparently drunk. In her blog post and in further comments, Ashley says she didn’t feel like the harassment was worth reporting to JREF staff or hotel staff at the time, nor did she nor anyone else mention it in one of the TAM attendee surveys.

No, absolutely not true, and an abhorrent misrepresentation of what happened.

From the man who reported the incident:

…he was rude and talking to several ladies with inappropriate language. I told you [DJ] about him and you took immediate action and talked to the gentleman and you took him from the room.

At that time, DJ only knew what I told him and he acted immediately and did the right thing. There is a chance that DJ does not remember this because he only knew that the guy was rude, drunk and needed to leave. DJ did not stop to think about it – he just took action.

I had been told it was already reported, because it was reported and dealt with by DJ, I didn’t know a second report was necessary. Had DJ himself not been the one who handled the issue initially, if I had thought that he’d totally forget, if I thought he would think that being alerted to a man bothering women translated to just a guy who wasn’t invited, or if I knew that he had not gotten complete information, I would have immediately made an additional report.

Because the issue was very much worth reporting to the JREF staff — which is why it was, it just turned out that the report was incomplete.

To say that I did not think it was worth reporting is a lie and an egregious one at that.

Furthermore, I did not think that DJ would ever be going around saying that no harassment was ever documented at TAM. I didn’t think DJ would be saying that the low attendance problems at TAM were from women talking about sexism they experience. I didn’t think that DJ would ever be saying that the only problem that TAM needs to correct is that victims just don’t officially report enough.

I am extremely lucky that there were other witnesses, I hate to think what other women who’ve been harassed are thinking right now. What would people be saying about me right now if I hadn’t had half a dozen other people there? I mean, considering what they’re already saying.

I hate posting about this stuff. I absolutely despise it, because it’s hard to deal with the comments and it’s hard to relive all the harassment — and not just that one incident, but the lifetime of cultural shame and guilt and horror and anger that comes with every incident. I think what some people are missing is how much that can hurt and how difficult it is to expose yourself like that. Should women report it?  Absolutely, but it’s really difficult to do so because it is painful and when people act the way DJ is acting right now, it makes it even harder.

11 Thoughts on TAMpocalypse 2012

I’ve been asked by a few different people to respond to Rebecca Watson’s post, so I’m going to be brief with my thoughts.  I think the first three are the very most important things that everyone who is writing about this needs to understand and, in their anger, some people seem to be forgetting.

1. Rebecca Watson is not a bad person, cares deeply about making TAM the best it can be, and has contributed greatly to making that happen.

2. DJ Grothe is not a bad person, cares deeply about making TAM the best it can be, and has contributed greatly to making that happen.

3. I care deeply about JREF and TAM and have been honored to speak there in the past. I owe TAM a great deal, and want it to be the best it can be.  I do not hate nor am I mad at DJ.  I continue to owe DJ a debt of gratitude for helping me last year and he’s always been nice to me, even through this.  I do not consider anyone in the skeptic movement my enemy.  I can’t say they all feel that way about me, but that’s OK too.

4. DJ has a habit of saying things poorly in comments and getting himself into trouble.  Telling Rebecca that it is partially her fault that women are not coming to TAM was a major misstep.  If I was told that I was the problem by the president of an organization that I had devoted that much time and support to, I would feel unwelcome and not want to participate.

5. Rebecca boycotting the event is likely to hurt TAM in the short run.  It’s possible that this will lead to the organization doing a better job of communicating in the future, it’s possible that it will weaken the organization longterm.  It is her choice and I understand it and I hope that even the Rebecca haters could put themselves in her shoes.

6. TAM is a safe event for women, but it is not a safe space.  These are two different concepts.  DJ has policies in place to protect women.  They are enforced.  There are problems with how TAM keeps tabs on what happens, but that does not mean women are in danger.

7. I believe DJ and his explanation of his recollection of events.  I also believe he had initially forgotten the event entirely, though I am surprised that he did not try to find the answer before publicly accusing me of making it up.  However, after seeing several other people verify the story, he did the research and confirmed the event.  The initial misstep was rectified and we worked through it amicably.

8.  I would not have used the term gaslighting to describe DJ’s immediate response, but I don’t know that Rebecca’s use of it was incorrect.  He was intentionally trying to make me doubt my own memory, but because his memory disagreed with mine.  I was very fortunate to have so many other witnesses that corroborated my story, many women do not.

9. I am surprised that when being alerted to bad behavior of a man towards women the only thing he remembered about the event, once he figured out what we were talking about, is that the guy wasn’t on the invite list.  The invite had nothing to do with why it was pointed out to DJ.  I can’t personally imagine being alerted to bad behavior of a man towards women and not thinking harassment immediately and not writing the incident down.  But I also am a woman who has been harassed by men, so my perspective is different from DJ’s.

10. DJ did the right thing when (re)alerted to this problem and located the guy to whom I was referring and asked me for a written report, which is now on file.  He has been very vigilant and polite to me — even when he thought I had no idea what I was talking about, he did it in the politest way possible and in an attempt to reach a conciliatory conclusion, not to create a fight.  He handled this with more grace than I would have.

11. The question DJ refers to on the survey is whether you felt welcome at the event or not, not whether you were sexually harassed by attendees.  These are massively different questions.

TAM9 Harassment New Information

First off: Anyone who has had an incident at TAM, however small, should write it down and send it to DJ ([email protected]) ASAP.

DJ’s explanation of the event:

Hi Ashley, I was wracking my brains trying to place the incident you are blogging about. So we looked up in our database of last year’s attendees anyone fitting the description and location of the man you mention in your blog post, and I believe we now know who it was: someone who was being asked to leave the private speakers reception (he wasn’t a speaker, nor invited to the reception, and appeared drunk).

DJ goes on to say he was confused because I thought I’d meant the guy had been kicked out of TAM not just from the reception.  DJ e-mailed me the guy’s Facebook profile and I confirmed that it was the correct guy and DJ asked for a full report, which I have sent him.  I assume that with an official written report, at this point DJ will have to stop saying that there’s never been a report.  I suppose it will now be that there’s only ever been one report.

Phil Ferguson, of Skeptic Money, is the person who brought the guy to DJ’s attention:

This was at the speaker reception. There was one person that was not supposed to be in the room (i do not know if he was even at TAM) he was rude and talking to several ladies with inappropriate language. I told you about him and you took immediate action and talked to the gentleman and you took him from the room.

The guy was a TAM attendee, he was wearing his badge and was in TAM’s database.

I want to reiterate that my complaint is not about how DJ handled this, he handled it swiftly and efficiently and everyone in the room was impressed.  He also made the effort to find out who it was and get a report after I wrote my blog post.  He is absolutely to be commended, he is doing a great job of handling these things when they arise.

The problem is that he’s going around saying that women are making unfounded complaints because there has never been a report of bad behavior at TAM and women like me, who complain about bad behavior on blogs, are why other women aren’t going to TAM and that’s my fault.

TAM felt it was important enough to kick the guy out of the reception, but did not think it was important enough to get detailed accounts or write down what happened, even though several people congratulated DJ for doing the right thing.

Since there are a number of incidents, detailed after this, where JREF staff helped someone who complained about behavior but DJ has no knowledge of any reports of behavior, I recommend that when they help someone who complains verbally they make a note of it and make sure they understand what happened, so that DJ has a more accurate record of what his staff has actually done and what incidents have been acted upon. I think many people, myself included, made the assumption that telling someone on the staff what was going and them acting on it means that you’ve reported the incident, but apparently if you did not write it down, it doesn’t count.

From PZ:

someone had blown through the nearly empty hallways while a session was ongoing to make lewd remarks to someone sitting at the tables; it was reported, I heard, and I joined in with another fellow to look for the “gentleman”…he’d escaped, so it didn’t happen? There was also an incident on twitter in which a prospective attendee threatened to grope Rebecca Watson on an elevator at TAM; I thought his registration was revoked

From Kitty Mervine:

I had an issue at the Del Mar [pre-DJ], was handled very well by two members of the JREF staff and South Point. I’m not kidding, my hair was set on fire. So well resolved except he showed up at South Point at the Del Mar. I talked to the South Point security and they assured me ONE WORD from me and he would be OUT. (and they had no clue WHO I was, but this guy is in their “data base” as a bad one). They were even “do you want us to remove him now? Do you feel uncomfortable?” The man was NOT attending TAM, he was simply at the Del Mar with his wife and talking quietly, so I said “no”. But later a security person from South Point (she informed me she was a veteran) came over to check with me again. I was “no I’m fine”. I would say South Point security has as their first goal the comfort of all their guests. A person can just be making you feel uncomfortable, and South Point will react quickly. I admire them so much.

And what follows are several other people’s memory of the speaker event that I talked about in my previous post.

I was a little surprised, since the day before (or within a couple of days before) I tagged him in a comment where I referenced how well he handled that situation, and why I took that as a good sign for how well the JREF was handling policing TAM. … Well, it wasn’t just you. Jenn had the exact same experience as you with the same guy at the same time. And I’m relatively sure it was made clear that it was as much of an issue as it was because the guy was going from woman to woman.

This guy was being very
persistent in his attentions to you, and then to Jamila Bey. Possibly to
other women as well, although I didn’t witness that. I didn’t see him
grope anybody, but I did see him follow you around persistently and  be
very invasive of your physical space. I remember that he was drunk off his
ass. I didn’t personally witness DJ escort him out of the room, but I
heard second-hand that that’s what happened.

I remember the guy. He was definitely violating our personal space and hopping from woman to woman

I clapped DJ on the back and the other guy who helped kick creeper dude out. I can’t wildly speculate as to how insignificant was this event or how widespread were events similar such that none can be recalled, but it was memorable to me. And this wasn’t three women looking for something to bitch about- this guy was egregious enough to be obviously a nuisance (at LEAST) to the entire roomful containing both genders.

As I recall, DJ was approached because a drunk man was repeatedly bothering women, and it was my impression at the time that DJ either personally asked him to leave the reception, or saw to it that someone else escorted him out. I agree that he was ejected just from the reception and not from the entire TAM conference. I don’t recall the exact words that were used, so it’s possible that what DJ took away from the conversation was merely that someone was drunk and disruptive, but I know that it was clear to all of us that he was harassing women specifically, and we all believed that that was the reason this action was taken. As Jarrett said, we all were impressed at the time that the incident was taken seriously and we thought it was handled well.

To reiterate the specifics, I remember that he reached a certain level of extreme that had Ashley and Jen (I believe it was only the two of them standing together at that moment) that finally another gentleman (whose name I don’t recall) decided to go get DJ and explain the situation to him, as, in a way that’s not remotely surprising given everything we normally hear in these situations, Ashley and Jen were not comfortable stirring up MORE trouble on their own.

That said, I wasn’t privy to the conversation that this gentleman had with DJ, so it is purely ASSUMPTION on my part that he described the situation accurately. It’s possible he merely stated that the guy was drunk and obnoxious. I do recall overhearing DJ ask more than one person if they knew whose guest he was, implying he was trying to track the person’s validation for being at the reception, and shortly thereafter I noticed the man in question had been successfully removed.

So among a reasonable number of people it was known that this person was drunk, obnoxious, talking three inches from the faces of any women he could get near, and saying suggestive things to them. What I can’t say for certain is how well this was communicated back to DJ in the process of informing him that this man was harassing the women at the reception.

Harassment at TAM9

EDIT: More information in a follow-up post

So, Greg Laden has a post on FtB about DJ Grothe making some kind of horrible comments about how women who complain about harassment are making women afraid to come to conferences.  And that, as far as he knows, he is unaware of any reports of harassment.  Which is weird because I was sexually harassed by a guy last year at the TAM9 speaker’s reception, as were some other women, and the guy was kicked out for it. And I was told that it was DJ himself who made him leave.

From my recap last year:

That evening I went to a presenter’s reception, and got to spend some time hanging out with a lot of awesome people who were going to be speaking, including Debbie Goddard who I had not previously spent much time with.  But there was a drunk british guy from Shrewsbury who would not leave me alone.  I hate wine breath.  And I was not nice to him, but he kept following me.  He was so annoying that every time I tried to escape and enter a new conversation, everyone who was in that conversation would leave and leave me stranded.

He also kept touching me, which I found very disconcerting.  Fortunately, I was eventually rescued, and he was asked to leave, but it was pretty gross.

I guess it didn’t mean much to him at the time, or he forgot, or didn’t realize that it wasn’t just that the guy was annoying, it was that he was inappropriately touching me and backing me into corners and asking me to have sex with him after I told him to stop, or that DJ wasn’t who kicked him out and it was someone else on the TAM staff.  In fact, I was impressed with TAM so much for ultimately intervening that I didn’t want to go into explicit detail of exactly how gross the guy had been to me, for fear of making TAM look bad.

In any event, someone was harassing me and someone from TAM made it stop.  I’m sure part of it was that I was really upset, but I was touched that they’d fixed the problem so quickly and proud of them for doing so.  And, probably because it was very upsetting at the time, I am currently upset that apparently no one at TAM remembers or took note of it — like somehow it didn’t count because it happened to me?  Because I and the other woman harassed were speakers?  Or I didn’t write something down?  Like I should have written up a report?

But if that didn’t count as a report of harassment, I’m not sure what to think of DJ’s claims that there’s never been one, other than he’s playing with semantics.  Here’s his comment from FB (bolding is mine):

It is true that harassment issues are much discussed in some quarters of the skeptics and atheist and other allied movements (all generally for the better, to the extent the emotionally charged issues are tempered with evidence) but to my knowledge there has never been a report filed of sexual harassment at TAM and there have been zero reports of harassment at the TAMs we’ve put on while I’ve been at JREF.

Of course that doesn’t mean such didn’t happen, but of 800+ responses to our attendee survey last year, only three people said they were made to feel unwelcome by someone at the event: one, a man who didn’t like all the magic; two, a woman who was ridiculed for her veganism; and three, a conservative who didn’t feel welcome because of what he saw as an undue emphasis by speakers and attendees on progressive and leftist ideals. (One woman at the event did, however, complain to staff that she felt she may be harassed by someone in the future, and felt uncomfortable about the man, and while we are concerned about such concerns, she didn’t complain of any actual activity that had happened that the hotel or security or law enforcement or others could take action on.)

I believe I understand the impulse to protect people from harm (this is a strong motivation for skeptics, after all) but telling newbies that they need to be on guard against so-called sexual predators at our events, or that the movement or movements are “unsafe for women,” may be a sure-fire way of making some women feel unwelcome who otherwise would feel and be safe and welcomed. As for policies, I think Ben is on the right track. We are all against harassment or bullying of any kind, sexual or otherwise. Any incident of harassment or assault should immediately be reported to security and law enforcement, and JREF staff and the hotel staff stand ready to assist should any regrettable incident ever occur, God forbid. But again, no such incident has ever occurred at TAM to my knowledge, and I believe that bears mentioning in current discussions about how prevalent are the unnamed “sexual predators” at various atheist and skeptical events.

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

Guest Post: Izzy Woods on de la Barre

I received an e-mail about a month ago from a freelance writer who wanted to contribute a guest post to my blog.  I told her I was happy to post anything that was on topic and she sent me the following article.  I hope you find it interesting, and if you’d like to have something posted here, I am open to it, just contact me.

Jean-François de la Barre – Martyr

In the early 18th Century, the ruling establishment consisted of the monarchy and the church, and they were intolerant of anyone who challenged the status quo. One early victim of the oppression of secularism and free speech was a young boy who died a most appalling death, and who is still celebrated in Paris as a symbol of man’s right to speak freely. His story is a salutary one, but not widely known outside Europe.

The year is 1765. It is August, and in the dead of night someone pulls down and vandalizes a wooden crucifix, which stood on a bridge at Abbeville. The Bishop of Amiens flew into a rage when it was discovered the next morning and demanded the vandal be brought to justice. The town was silent. People either had no idea who had done it or were shielding them. The Bishop threatened to excommunicate anyone withholding information, but still no one came forward. Finally, a local magistrate called Du Maisniel de Belleval used the awkward silence to accuse a young nobleman, a student against whom he had a grudge.

The boy was just nineteen years old and, although history does not record the exact reason for the magistrate’s grudge, we can imagine that he was perhaps just a normal teenager, full of high spirits, and somewhat mischievous. Jean-François de la Barre was arrested and charged with a range of offenses against the church. Jean-François de la Barre was charged with failing to doff his hat as a procession of monks walked past; of tearing down the cross on the bridge; of singing ‘lewd’ songs, and finally of owning seditious literature. These charges are hard for us to think of as criminal offenses, but in the 18th Century they were grossly offensive to the Church, who set about making an example of their black sheep.  Which of these charges, if any, were true is contested. Someone had to pay.

Voltaire took up the boy’s case, since the book he had been found in possession of which so outraged the Bishop was one of Voltaire’s own, the Philosophical Dictionary, first published in 1764. It contained alphabetically arranged articles, some of which disparaged the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions. Not content with simply managing their own business and turning a blind eye to a mere book, the state and church were enraged by the publication of such literature and ownership of it was a personal risk.

The Encyclopédie
The Church were feeling particularly bruised at the time, since the Encyclopédie, (1751-1772), one of the earliest encyclopedias, was in the process of being written, by Enlightenment thinkers such as Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire himself. Diderot’s stated aim was “change the way people think”, and the Encyclopédie championed rational thought over superstition. The book is credited as being one of the drivers behind the French Revolution, which was to follow, in which the religious powerbase was totally destroyed. In the an article in the Encyclopédie, Dumarsais writes:

Reason is to the philosopher what grace is to the Christian… Other men walk in darkness; the philosopher, who has the same passions, acts only after reflection; he walks through the night, but it is preceded by a torch. The philosopher forms his principles on an infinity of particular observations. He does not confuse truth with plausibility; he takes for truth what is true, for forgery what is false, for doubtful what is doubtful, and probable what is probable. The philosophical spirit is thus a spirit of observation and accuracy.

The topic of theology was ordered under ‘Philosophy’ since the writers argued that it was subject to human reason and not a source of knowledge. This was a scandalous assertion at the time. It was this uneasy relationship between reason and faith that formed the backdrop to the fate of Jean-François de la Barre.

Martyred
It was the fury felt among Catholic leaders about attacks on their power base that may account for the hideous treatment of poor young Jean-François. Owning Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary sealed his fate. On July 1, 1766, he was brutally tortured. His hands were chopped off and his tongue torn out. Finally, he was decapitated and his body burned on a pyre in the square at Abbeville, along with the offending literature.

Jean-François de la Barre’s case was championed by Voltaire, who wrote two accounts of it – Relation de la Mort du Chevalier de la Barre (1766) and Le Cri du Sang Innocent (1775), in which he attacked the complicity of the Catholic Church in what was in fact a prosecution raised by the State. A number of offences against religion, such as sacrilege and blasphemy, survived from the edicts of the old regime.

Memorial
The National Convention eventually pardoned De la Barre in 1794. Today a statue of the boy stands in a quiet park at the top of the hill of Montmartre. Its unveiling was heralded by a celebration by rationalists and free thinkers, who held a ceremony in his honor. He was a victim of that age’s savage religious intolerance and remains a symbol for those committed to free speech today. Chevalier de la Barre Day, every July 1st, is a day that can be celebrated by anyone who opposes religious oppression.

75 Books 66-70: Colfer, McGinniss, Hancock, and Jillette

Aren't I fabulous?

66. Artemis Fowl 5: The Lost Colony – Eoin Colfer

I loved this one — there’s a new character called N°1 who I like even more than Artemis.  N°1 is a demon.  Imagine a world ruled by Tim Curry in Legend and then imagine a really dorky, kinda sweet misfit teenage demon who just can’t seem to hit puberty.  There are parallel stories of Artemis learning how to time travel and N°1 escaping the demon realm, discovering that he’s a warlock, and trying not to get killed.  But it’s really less about the story and more about how adorable N°1 is. A

67. The Rogue – Joe McGinniss

You really have to admire McGinniss, I have no idea how he survived the research and release of this book.  Palin released her rabid legions on the poor guy because he rented one of the only available houses in Wasilla when researching this book.  And that house happened to be right next door to Palin, and somehow living next door to someone you’re researching makes you a stalker.  Palin is a childish bully, a middle school mean girl, and McGinniss shows that clearly and calmly.  The best part of the book has little to do with Palin herself, however.  McGinniss knows Alaska in an intuitive way, I feel like I’ve lived there now.  You really get a sense of what living in Wasilla is like, and it’s both not as bad as you think it would be and very depressing.  A+

For surviving the onslaught of Palin hate, McGinniss really deserves:

68. Artemis Fowl 6: The Time Paradox – Eoin Colfer

This may be my least favorite of the series so far.  I’m not a big fan of time travel stories, especially when the story becomes about how it all makes sense because things couldn’t have happened the way they did if people hadn’t gone back in time.  I mean, it’s fine, but I just don’t particularly dig on it.  The best part of the book was seeing older Artemis, who is a better person now, interacting with young Artemis, who is a bit of a sociopath. B-

69. The Humanist Approach to Happiness – Jen Hancock

I did a very long review of this earlier, but the summation of it is that I disagree strongly with her perspective on sex and relationships.  To quote myself:

But when she says things like women who hate their dads transfer that hate to all men; and people who dated can’t really be friends and shouldn’t contact one another for at least a year; and, no matter what they say, women who say they’re OK with a solely sexual relationship are really just looking for an emotional relationship, whether they know it or not; and people who watch porn lose sense of reality and it’s a catalyst for bizarre violent activity and it’s addictive… when she says things like that, it is all I can do not to punch the screen.

There’s some good stuff in the book about embracing who you are and being a dork, but I really can’t say I recommend it.  There’s just something so gallingly sexist about her belief that women can’t have sex for its own sake or that a woman’s relationship with a man is based on her relationship with her father that the rest of the book just loses any worth for me.  D

70. God, No! – Penn Jillette

This book is basically a collection of personal stories loosely connected to the idea of a different, more humanist ten commandments.  Most of the stories are funny, but a few are really touching, particularly when he’s talking about his family.  I think the anecdote that most stuck with me was when he was talking with his friend and his sister about the Unabomber being turned in by his brother.  They were discussing what it would take for you to turn in your sibling and his sister said she wouldn’t do it, not ever, no matter what Penn had done, even if he was going to destroy the entire planet, she trusted Penn.  The book, in the end, isn’t really a book about atheism so much as it is a book about Penn’s life and personal beliefs and how they impacted him.  Go into it looking for stories about Penn Jillette, and you’ll enjoy it, but don’t go in expected anything like a Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens book.  A-

Hemant Mehta Apparently Knows Something About Math

I had the great pleasure of hearing Hemant speak this weekend, the Pastafarians of USC brought him in to talk about, strangely enough, math.  It turns out that Hemant has some sort of day job that doesn’t have anything to do with being an atheist.

Hemant being boss

How is this relevant to a secular group?  Well, I will tell you.  He gave a talk about how, while atheists tend to be very alert about bad thinking trying to take over science or history education, we were less aware that there was a lot of bad thinking in teaching math.  I was surprised myself, perhaps because it just never occured to me.  I started college as a math major with the intention of getting a BS/MS in 5 years.  And I ended up in Film, so, whatever that’s worth.

Hemant made some points about how math is taught, which is that teachers give kids formulas without explaining how they got to those formulas.  See, to me, as a very lazy person, I only ever remembered like 3 formulas and then figured everything else out based on those formulas.  Apparently, that’s actually the better way to learn math because you understand how it works, not just that this formula does this.

I admit that I was being a total teacher’s pet and I knew the answers to everything.  I tried to resist, I swear I did, but it was math and I like it!  We talked about polyominoes, which is like dominos and tetris — you have to put a square next to another square.  I’ll put a picture.

We got assigned a task to determine how many different shapes you can make with 5 blocks and draw them all.  I won a free copy of his book, because I am super awesome.

We also learned statistics from World Series of Poker, that standardized tests only test how well you take standardized tests, math teachers aren’t taught to think or teach critically.  Hemant gave some cool examples of practical things he did in the classroom to teach different concepts — my favorite was memorizing the names of angles in parallel lines and transversals by having kids play DDR and jump into the correct position based on the names given.

Alternate Exterior!!

It all boils down to math is awesome, math should be more about open-ended questions and applying critical thinking, and teaching math should be engaging not boring.

Why Alternative Medicine Exists

I have been sick for nearly six weeks, there’s something wrong with my stomach.  I’ve been to three different doctors, had seven tests done, each with different supervisors and doctors and nurses.  I am nauseous, if I eat to much it won’t stay down, and my stomach and intestines hurt.  I have lost 20lbs (and part of my brain is all “huzzah” but I’m so tired, it’s not a very enthusiastic “huzzah”).

It’s like overnight my guts mutinied and I can’t get them back under my control.  And, while my doctors have diligently tried to give me things to help, they’ve either not worked or had side-effects so bad that I’ve been unable to take them long enough to see if they worked.  The thing about an upset stomach is that you can still work, you’ll be grouchy and very tired, but you’re awake.  The thing about working when you’ve been knocked out by a drug is that you can’t.

So, of course, when people find out you’re not feeling well they 1. have a cousin/brother/aunt who had the same thing and it turned out to be celiac/stomach acid/cancer and 2. you should try acupuncture/unproven diet/homeopathy, it really worked for my friend/loved one/family member.

And when you’ve felt like crap for six weeks, you’re pretty much willing to try anything to feel better.  Even I, skeptic extraordinaire (I guess) am tempted to do things I know are useless.  I sit here and think, “Well, maybe the placebo effect will help even if nothing else does.”  It’s nutty, I know it’s nutty, and yet I am so miserably sick and there seems to be no explanation or cure forthcoming, it’s hard to say no to something that might possibly work, even through magical thinking.

Here are otters, they make things ever so slightly better.