On Sexual Harassment Policies

Ron Lindsay of CFI (a lawyer and legal scholar) has composed a brief, solid primer on why sexual harassment policies are necessary and how they actually work, in the context of CFI’s new policy adopted for conferences and events. See CFI’s New Policy on Hostile Conduct. It is illuminating because of his legal expertise and the fact that he dispels many of the false assumptions about what sexual harassment policies do. He also discusses the merits of different policy elements and why CFI accepts some and rejects others, a good example of what I have been talking about: see On Sexual Harassment on that point, and the whole backstory on why I’m talking about this and what I think about it. Here I want to collect my thoughts on how venues could and should improve any policies they now have or will adopt in future. If you agree, and see a policy that could be improved, feel free to refer the organization in question here.

Defining and Delimiting Harassment

It is well worth reading the policy CFI adopted, and its smart use of definitions, which I highly recommend other venues adopt. Most particularly: [Read more…]

On Sexual Harassment

Thunderf00t’s post today on the ongoing sexual harassment policy debate (titled MISOGYNIST!!!) has already generated nearly 600 comments (and that in barely half a day). Almost simultaneously, Cristina Rad has told one story of her own and asked whether it falls under the definition of sexual harassment (Educate Me on Sexual Harassment. Case 1.). (My own answer: it does, but only in the moral sense, not the legal, i.e. it was harassing, and it was sexual, and that’s the kind of behavior we don’t want at events, but not anything we’re calling to outlaw). Earlier this month the “ongoing sexual harrassment policy debate” gained a historical treatment, which anyone who wants to get in on this debate had better read first before assuming they have all the information or have been told the truth about it (because a lot of lies have been circulated and are still being generated regarding what has actually been said and done in this debate): see Harassment Policies Campaign – Timeline of Major Events. IMO, most of it has been debating the debate rather than the issue, and most of it consists of reaction to trolls and bullshit rather than worthwhile disagreement (and I will remind you, most does not mean all).

But I find it boils down to five simple truths: [Read more…]

Rad Thunder

If you don’t know Cristina Rad (ZOMGitsCriss, “Zoh My God, it’s Criss!”) or Phil Mason (Thunderf00t), you should. They’ve just joined Freethought Blogs. But they have huge chops as YouTube vloggers of the first order. You can read all about them at Rational Wiki (Cristina / Phil). And Cristina introduces herself to FtB fans here; and Thunderf00t, here.

I’ve long been impressed by Cristina Rad’s talent editing her videos and speaking on camera. No word is wasted, every point is spot on, and it doesn’t even look like she’s trying. She’s very smart and informed, with a keen sense of humor. Basically, the ideal vlogger. And her relentless take down of religious nonsense is a thing to see (one of my favorites, her take two on the Ten Commandments exemplifies her style and genius). Mainly vlogging from Romania, you’ll get from her a perspective on the world you won’t likely get elsewhere. Even still, I rarely can find time to view vlogs, and for that reason did not know Thunderf00t’s work very well until now (though I had seen and loved this video on William Lane Craig), but all of it is smartly done and rich with scientific fact (and scientific humor). He doesn’t just find creationist gems of stupidity and correct them (which makes for some top entertainment, believe me), he also fights vociferously for free speech online and promotes the beauty of the natural universe, using video as his vehicle for both.

We’ve also recruited several other smart vloggers and bloggers, including Zinnia Jones (introduced here), who does some great analytical vlogging in her own right, defending a reality-based worldview against godist assaults, and educating people on LGBT issues. And the well-known Aron Ra and Ashley Miller have started blogging here, too. Aron has a huge following and critical acclaim as a popularizer of evolution science against creationist lies and foolery (check out his YouTube channel and his intro to FtB), and Ashley writes smartly and well on many legal and cultural topics of interest to the godless (intro here).

Welcome them all, check out their stuff, and enjoy!

(Not) Our Kind of People

I’m a weirdo. But in a good way. And I hang out with other weirdos-in-a-good-way every  chance I get, because that’s the best company in the world. But we all know weirdos-in-a-bad-way, too, and they are the worst company, the destroyers of any groove and the killers of fun times. You are uncomfortable around them. You want them to go away. You wish they wouldn’t show up at meetups and events. You are keen to brush them off and avoid them so you can find the fun people to hang out with. But it’s not just the bad crazy people that bring you down. Even folks in between, who are just dull or stuffy or so socially conformed that (if you’re a weirdo like me) you just don’t fit in with them, too. They aren’t weirdos. In fact, their principal defect is that they aren’t weirdos at all. But you don’t care much for their company, either (but if it’s the best you can have on the occasion, you can make the best of it).

And of course, like all things, the paragraph above describes a continuum, and people can fall anywhere along it. But the best company is way to one side, the worst on the other, and everyone else in between. If you’re like me, how comfortable and happy and fulfilled you are in anyone’s company is a direct function of where they are on that curve. Or at least, this is true for the good weirdos, the weirdos I fit in with. The non-weirdos are a bit uncomfortable around us, too, and would rather hang out with other middle-of-the-curve people. I can’t speak to what the bad weirdos prefer, because I assiduously avoid them and thus don’t have much data on what they prefer. But those good crazies? They’re my kind of people. (I also know plenty of people midway between good weird and fuddy duddy who like and get along with both, and I’m comfortable around them but still not as much, and vice versa. Thus it all comes by degrees and not absolutes.)

Are you like me? Do you prefer (even love) the company of “crazy” people, who are the good kind of crazy, but can’t stand (and do all you can to avoid) the company of “crazy” people, who are the bad kind of crazy? What’s the difference then between good crazy and bad crazy? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I’ve been doing a lot of events this past month and a half (doing nine or ten gigs, spanning three states), intensifying the experience I always have when doing what I do, which is for ten years or so now, as a speaker and special guest, speaking to, meeting, and typically dining or drinking with atheist groups all over the U.S. (and Canada). (Although what really got me to thinking about all this was the new awesome Garbage song Not Your Kind of People, which I’ve been playing during my drives this last week, philosophically contemplating its lyrics. Best Garbage album in history, BTW. But then I’m a weirdo, remember?)

Let me describe two scenarios, so you can consider if you’ve experienced the same. [Read more…]

Busy Bee

Starting this weekend I begin a crazy schedule in which I have appearances or travel-related events every weekend until June and in some cases I am away from home for a week or more at a time (a couple of these events I haven’t even blogged yet, but will in the coming month), and in nearly every case I travel the Friday and Monday framing each weekend. In addition to this I have a number of other obligations to meet, personal and work related. The result of which is that I will be uncommonly scarce on my blog for a month and a half, posting maybe as little as once a week, and I will often have to take more than a day or two to approve comments (I commonly take weekends off already, but because of travel and all the work I have to do I will be short on time even during the work week). And email I will hardly be able to look at at all (for urgent matters, contact me by texting only). I will be back to normal in June. But in the meantime, I want you to know what’s up. This is particularly important because tomorrow I will be posting my review of Bart Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist?, but then immediately I’ll be in transit with back-to-back engagements until Saturday afternoon, so comments on tomorrow’s post won’t even get my eye until then. So please be patient. And stick around for what’s to come!

Support Camp Quest West!

Camp Quest West is pretty cool (as all Camp Quests around the country are). I’ve seen it first hand. And it’s precisely the kind of socializing event the atheist movement needs more of, to replace the few remotely useful things religion attempts to do, and build community with new upcoming kids and teens in the movement. I’ve run educational (skeptical!) games and seminars at Camp Quest West a few times in the past (in the mountains north of Sacramento, California), and my brother-in-law often works as a counselor there. I’ve seen kids of all ages come and go and enjoy the hell out of it. It’s all just like Christian summer camp: life in cabins and mess halls, walks in the forest, playing in a lake, archery, stargazing, arts and crafts, classes on neat stuff (like science and history), except CQ maintains a consistent theme of teaching skepticism, humanism, critical thinking, and knowledge of science and history as well as diverse religions and philosophies, all in a fun way.

It’s expensive to run a camp. You need safety personnel, responsible guides and counselors, food and supplies, insurance and grounds fees, vehicles, and what have you. But all of that makes for a great experience, safe and educational, and a retreat from urban and suburban zones to get some experience with the natural wilderness, which is often underappreciated, and underexperienced, especially by today’s youth. Many parents can afford to cover the cost. But many can’t, and CQW has a fund to help some parents cover that cost so they can send their kids to a summer camp that isn’t all religiony.

If you can help them hit their goal, or even exceed it, even if just donating $50 or something, please check out their special donation page (in my honor, as a CQ alum who has helped support them in the past), which tells you more about what Camp Quest West does, and how to donate (the link at top will show you even more). Every $585 they receive will fund one child (ages 8-17, and 15-17 year olds now get special training and responsibilities as cabin leaders, which looks good on resumes and college aps, and is valuable experience in its own right). They are a 501(c)(3) organization, so your donation is not only supporting the future of freethought but it may be tax-deductible, same as any charitable donation. I don’t get any kickback or anything. Just the glory, if I bring a lot of donations in. (Or the embarrassment if I don’t!) So give a little for our future atheists!

Let’s Read Natalie Reed

Natalie Reed is a new member of the FtB team and she blogs about transgender and transsexual issues, and other things in her wheelhouse (like, say, Dr. Who). I try to read my fellow bloggers when I get a chance (most often at best I can only skim, and often I can’t even keep up at that, but I try), and I must say Natalie Reed is one of my favorites here. She’s smart, well-informed, writes very well, and has already taught me a great deal (check out her blog, Sincerely, Natalie Reed, and all its archives here, already full of gems). So I’m shocked to see John Loftus has gone off the handle and is treating her very strangely, ignoring everything she actually says and attacking her for things she didn’t say, and then getting petty and childish in the process, basically accusing her of being an unqualified “diversity hire.”

Which is strange. That’s like accusing someone of being hired to represent Mexico of being a “diversity hire” because they were hired to represent Mexico. Huh? And wouldn’t actually being Mexican qualify you to represent Mexicans? I mean, that’s nearly the top qualification there. Reed is a transsexual woman. She is also superbly informed on that issue, has a tremendous body of experience many atheists don’t (with issues such as drug addiction), and is a very good writer (In fact, IMO, the best in this subject). She is thus very qualified, and very much wanted and welcome here; indeed, needed here, as the transsexual and transgender community almost never has any distinct voice or representatives in atheist congregations and events. So, WTF, John?

Our own Daniel Finke has already done a superb job of explaining the situation and why Loftus is way off the rails here, and I could not top him if I tried, so I well recommend you read his post on this: On the Qualifications of our Alleged “Diversity Hire”, Natalie Reed. I’ll only add a repeat here of my comment there:

I fully agree with your assessment here, Daniel.

Natalie Reed is an excellent writer. Her blogs are often thorough, thoughtful, informed, and well-researched, are a delight to read, and do not waste words (some people complain they are sometimes long, but that’s not padding or verbosity, it’s precision and completeness). She’s impressed me. And already taught me a great deal. She also does fill a vacant niche (and that is why we got her): a representative speaking for and to atheists about transsexual and gender issues. It’s not like John Loftus was doing that (or that he would be qualified to even if he did). And frankly, I can’t think of anyone better for the job than Natalie. And isn’t the best one at it precisely who we should have here?

As for Loftus himself, he has not been comporting himself well in this case. Lately he has given ample grounds for you to conclude as you do; he’s been far more off the handle than I’ve ever seen him. I do hope he recognizes and addresses this perception and behavior problem.

Whatever you think of John Loftus (his behavior in the comments thread to Natalie’s well-thought post Target Audiences and Playing Nice is appalling, and I’m ashamed to see that), I think you should all check out Natalie’s blog from time to time. Truly. We could all benefit from reading Natalie Reed.

Why The Week Rocks

I hate magazines and never read them. Except all the magazines that I read.

I say that only because the magazines I read would be considered (by many avid magazine readers) as weird. This includes trade mags that most of you would find terribly dull but that keep me up to speed on things in my field (Historically Speaking often touches on questions of historical method across historical disciplines, as well as forums on hot debates in those fields; Isis is the definitive review periodical for books in the history of science, one of those things that other fields of history annoyingly don’t have; and so on). But it also includes periodicals I think everyone should read–including Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, but even more importantly (IMO), Science News and The Week. Something really awesome in that last got me to blogging today, which I’ll be getting at presently; but let me digress a bit on SN first.

Science News is a must because all other media do not report science correctly. Not only do they miss 99% of the important stories in scientific and technological progress. But the 1% they do report on, they get entirely wrong, almost all the time. Compare a science story in a mainstream source, with the coverage of the same discovery in Science News, and you’ll often be so appalled you will never get your science news from anywhere else again. Plus you get all those other stories you should be hearing. Isn’t the state of scientific progress across all fields one of the most important things to keep up with? As a citizen, and as a philosopher, it’s absolutely essential. Plus, you know, all those other reasons (e.g., in case you didn’t get the memo, ascience is hella cool).

But the biggest benefit is that if you read Science News for years (or, as in my case, decades), you learn tons and tons of shit about science you never would have otherwise, from field-specific knowledge and terminology, to all kinds of “consilience” stuff, like realizing the connections between everyday materials science and basic physics, or between biology and psychology, or what it really takes for cybernetics to work, or AI, or computer models of the Big Bang, and so on (also, if I don’t understand something in it, like a word or concept, I google around until I do, and being spurred to do that weekly has been a huge benefit to my intellectual development and understanding). Plus SN reminds you that religion doesn’t ever do this. That is, produce enough real advances in human knowledge every week to fill an entire magazine consistently for going on nearly a century now (and you know it won’t cease). The more you read Science News, the more religion looks decisively lame.

But my favorite magazine of all is the weekly The Week. I tried my hand at news weeklies before, and they all suck devil dicks. (That’s slang for wicked awful. Alright, yes, I just made it up. And yes, I should have said greasy devil dicks, in homage to Brian Flemming’s infamous question to me in The God Who Wasn’t There). For a classic example of my profound annoyance at U.S. News & World Report, for example, see my thrashing of it on the subject of love science in Sense and Goodness without God III.10.3, pp. 197-202. (And, hey, that combines my point above about shitty mainstream science news reporting, too! Two birds.) But The Week is different. So different. Radically different. Unparalleled, that kind of different. Better even than Brill’s Content (for those few who ever knew what that was, which I would love to see someone bring back again, at least in concept).

What is The Week? Basically, it’s like a 40-page weekly for-profit RSS feed for worldwide print media. You get one every week (it comes to your doorstep in paper, unless you get the electronic version), and it summarizes all the big stories in newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. It’s the “and abroad” part that’s especially cool. But even the U.S. part is something, because they summarize stories by summarizing sometimes several articles across several periodicals of different political bent, and they do it in half a page or even a quarter of a page or less, plus a ton of quick story summaries of a single paragraph taken from state and municipal papers across the nation and the world. And it’s brilliantly written, when you consider what they are doing here. So you don’t have to read tens of thousands of words to get the gist of what was said across the country on diverse topics by people from diverse perspectives–and in foreign newspapers even. Curious what Nigerian newspapers are saying about the U.S. presidential debates? Or about their own internal politics? What about what Iranian newspapers are saying about the assassinations of their own nuclear scientists? Or what Chinese newspapers are saying about the shift in focus of U.S. military policy to the Pacific (in case you didn’t notice that, BTW; it’s not like U.S. media cover shit we actually want to know). Then read The Week.

The effect of avidly reading The Week is the same as Science News, only it’s history-in-the-making, and world politics and cultures, that you are learning about. All kinds of stuff about, that you would never have learned otherwise. And in the same ways, e.g., you might google something talked about in an article to learn more about it; and multiply that by thousands of items a year, and the benefit to broadening your mind is priceless. And so on. Case in point (and this is what inspired me to write this blog today): Feb. 10 issue (I’m behind a bit; tends to happen), page 14, “Best Columns: International” feature, bottom fifth of the page, “Turkey.” It summarizes an article in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet by Mustafa Akyol.

I’ll just quote it outright (with some stuff snipped for space):

Newt Gingrich professes to revere modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk…He has frequently written about Atatürk and held him up as a model statesman, to the point where the Atatürk Society of America gave Gingrich an award in 2006 in “commemoration of his contribution to publicizing Atatürk’s legacy.” But does the Republican presidential hopeful really understand that legacy? Atatürk was “the greatest and the strictest secularist” in our entire region…[creating] a state free of religious interference, even banning religious garb in the workplace. In the U.S., Gingrich considers secularism “a nightmare” and an abomination. “A country that has been, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” Gingrich says … and [he says] “anti-religious bigotry” is responsible for a decline in American morals. So how can Gingrich hold up as a hero the “militantly secular founder of a European one-party state?” The answer can only be that he favors secularism not for Christians but for Muslims, as a bulwark against what he sees as “creeping sharia.” The “obvious double standard” puts the lie to Gingrich’s claims of being an intellectual.

Ouch. But, yeah. “You are correct, sir!”

Now, I actually knew a lot already about the history of Turkey and its atheist national hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; but suppose you didn’t…you would have learned something cool here, plus you might have googled to learn more, and really learned something cool here. So think of what you might learn from other columns, week in and week out. Right above this article, for instance, is an article from Russia about the epidemic of teen suicide there and its relation to horrific flaws in the Russian healthcare system; above that, a panoply of columns from India are summarized regarding the Golden Temple flap (you may be surprised by what Indians are actually saying about that).

And case in point…I didn’t know any of this about Newt Gingrich! I mean, I knew he was a racist douchebag. But just when you thought you’d plumbed the depths of his hypocrisy… Comedian David Cross once quipped about how it pisses him off that he has to read “other countries’ fucking newspapers” to learn about shit happening in his own country. Well, touché, David. Touché.

Subscribe to The Week, people.

(And incredibly, they did not pay me to say that!)

The Richard Carrier Project

For a couple of years now a colleague of mine (Ben Schuldt, aka War on Error) has been building a site that collects every significant critique of my work online or in print. There is so much of this now that I haven’t had the time even to keep track of it all much less answer any of it. But with all or most of it cataloged in one place, and blogging now a regular pastime across the world, perhaps others who have that time can undertake the task for me. So I sponsored a simple wiki site to help Ben get all this up and running, and he says it’s pretty much ready to go.

As Ben has time he keeps adding to it, but now that it’s “live,” feel free to tell him about things he missed. He’ll get them in there. We are not cataloging forum posts, or comments in threads, or tweets, or Facebook posts, or any random rigmorole like that, however; only full-on blogs and articles (and of course anything in print). Ben also sometimes doesn’t agree with me himself, and he has posted and cataloged his critiques as well, and welcomes responses to those just as much as any of the other stuff. Ideally we’d like it to have good replies (even if those replies amount to me correcting myself, since one of the aims of the project is to catch my errors; because we all make them, and I’m keen on rooting mine out).

The site he has built is called the Richard Carrier Project. You can hop on over there and read the mission statement, and explore further if you like. It has some useful extras. For example, he keeps a running catalog there of all the audio and video of me there is to be found online (and certainly if you know of anything available that’s not there, send him the link). There is also an amusing Roast page that is full of all the awful things people have said about me (some worse than others). :-)

If you are keen to, there are two ways you can contribute to this project…

1. Independent Response

You can answer anything that’s cataloged in it on your own blog or website, submit the link to Ben, and if it’s good enough your answer will get in the catalog as a response. What is “good enough”? Well, there is a Project Directives page that gives you some of the requirements we (mostly Ben) have set. But overall, we would only count as being an appropriate response to catalog at the site something that does one or more of the following:

  1. Treats what I have actually said, compares it with what the critic said (especially the stuff they curiously left out), and sets the reader straight on the issue (e.g., how far are they missing my point or ignoring details of my case).
  2. Deals with any claim that I erred as to the facts and assesses who is right on that score.
  3. Deals with any claim that a conclusion of mine doesn’t follow from my premises (e.g., a formal or informal fallacy) and assesses who is right on that score.
  4. Deals with any argument I don’t address, but that a critic claims refutes my conclusion, analyzing that argument for logical validity, and the truth of its premises.

Also, we will not approve any response that lies or makes obvious errors of fact or logic or obviously misses the critic’s point (and that includes egregious fallacies like ad hominem, since we want well-argued, non-fallacious responses that stand up on fact-checking; but that doesn’t mean you have to be polite, just right). Responses don’t have to be comprehensive. You can focus on only one or a few things in a critique. Ideally we’d love a full response, but we can also construct one by adding several together. We also love responses that improve on my work, for instance explaining a point better, or providing a more rigorous or less ambiguous analysis of something, or supplying supporting facts I missed, or anything else.

2. Joining the Team

If you really impress us, and ask to help, we might invite you to become an editor of the project, which will give you more ability to carry some of the load for Ben, add critiques to the catalog, and build responses of your own within the catalog. What is “really impress us”? Obviously this is an issue of trust (since you would be given passwords to the site), so you would have to be an established presence online, enough that we can confirm you are sane, educated, honest, reasonable, responsible, on the right side of most issues, and not a pill to work with. It can be very hard to verify that for most people, so please don’t get put out if you aren’t recruited. Most won’t be. It doesn’t mean we think you aren’t that sort of person; it just means we have no means of confirming that you are.

Finally, a brief disclaimer: The very reason for the site is that I have no time for this stuff, which is why Ben took it upon himself to do it. Which means I do not necessarily approve of everything on it; because I don’t have time even to peruse most of it. I trust Ben’s judgment and have no qualms about leaving him to it. But as I haven’t carefully vetted it all, who knows what I might take issue with. In other words, don’t assume this site represents my views on anything. It’s more a collaborative fan project than my own work. But we will try our best to keep it at least in the right ballpark. So if you see anything on it representing me that you think is way off base, feel free to make your case to Ben (except when it’s some other critic who is way off base; then, just blog about it and submit that link to Ben as a potential response to catalog).