Help Ed Brayton Battle a White Supremacist

Our colleague Ed Brayton is being sued by a white supremacist for calling him a white supremacist. It’s a case that Ed is sure to win. But the guy attacking him has minimal expenses (since being a lawyer, he is representing himself) and Ed needs to cover enough of his own costs to answer him capably. Read all about it in Please Help Me Fight a Lawsuit, where you can also send Ed some bucks to help. It’s worth a little dosh at least. Because this is yet another case of our backwards legal system disadvantaging the non-rich by making them pay for justice.

Pat Condell Gets Seriously Fucking Pwned

Oh snap. This. Is. Beautiful.

For those who don’t know, Pat Condell is primarily known in our community because Dawkins likes and endorses him repeatedly. Condell is everywhere billed as a “comedian and atheist internet personality,” I suppose because he doesn’t have any actual qualifications in anything (beyond that). He’s sort of like the Rush Limbaugh of criticizing Islam. Indeed, so far as I can tell, that’s Condell’s only substantive contribution to the atheist movement. And getting a hundred thousand Likes for it.

Now, Condell has said some really stupid and ignorant things before, demonstrating his tremendous and epic failure to adhere to even the most rudimentary principles of skepticism (like “check your facts” and “be suspicious of extraordinary claims”). Avicenna has pwned him (and exposed his implicit racism and ethnophobia). PZ Myers has pwned him (and exposed his implicit racism and ethnophobia).

But now it’s just straight off world’s end into the abyss, as Alex Gabriel meticulously demonstrates (with, you know, facts) that in Condell’s latest right wing rant he could not have provided a clearer or more consistent example of…

  • Not knowing what the fuck he is talking about (while arrogantly claiming he’s the one who knows what he’s talking about).
  • Why criticism of Islam needs to be Way Fucking More Nuanced than his racist, ethnophobic bullshit (and, through Gabriel’s deconstruction of it, how to actually effect such a nuanced critique).
  • Why Dawkins needs to start listening to smarter friends who Actually Know What They’re Talking About (given that Dawkins repeatedly praises Condell as the man to heed on this issue).
  • How not to do skepticism (and, amusingly, giving Gabriel a superb opportunity to demonstrate how to do skepticism really well).

Alex’s takedown (with its even more beautiful and educational and extensive statistics addendum) is a tour de force of admirable measure. I cannot fathom how anyone so brutally and thoroughly exposed as wrong about nearly everything he says, and wrong for no plausibly good reason (thus demonstrating that it is very probably bigotry driving his rants and not, say, facts), and never apologize and correct it, can continue to have anyone’s respect in the atheism, humanism, or skepticism communities.

In a world using objective outcome measures, Condell would be done and dusted. Sadly, too many people in the atheism, humanism, or skepticism communities replace objective facts with subjective feelings and defend their Brave Heroes rather than admit when they’ve destroyed their own credibility and their entire efforts have been exposed as a factophobic sham. Condellians will probably pepper my comments with defensive screeds somehow trying to restore Condell’s bullet-riddled body in logic-space to some semblance of crypto-ethnophobic zombie life. Just not with actual facts or logic. (Or they’ll just attack me with complete non sequiturs that don’t even defend their Hero, like I’ve seen them do time and again to others.)

There are lots of things wrong with Islam. But there are lots of things wrong with Christianity, too. And fascism. And poverty. And superstition. And ignorance. And bigotry.

Don’t listen to the Rush Limbaugh of Islamocriticism anymore. Please. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about, and aren’t ignorant ethnophobic bigots. We have at least six blogs on our network with contributors who have extensive experience with or knowledge of Islam and Muslims, some of them by or featuring actual ex-Muslims. I’m sure if you take the trouble to explore our roster you’ll find them (yes, I’m challenging you to do that…assuming you haven’t already!). Hear what they have to say instead.

JT Eberhard: A Parody

I wasn’t going to write about the one hiccup from JT Eberhard about an incident at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention (as Greta Christina already did), but someone on twitter has convinced me that I need to. First, I’ll say that I heard the convention was freaking awesome and that the organizers were phenomenal. It was seriously one of the best-run first-time conferences JT had ever attended.

The problems all started when, after the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, JT complained about a response to a woman who asked Mandisa what black people were doing to fight black on black crime. Was the woman’s question naive? Yes. Very. Especially since Mandisa’s talk was about what the atheism movement can learn from the hospitality industry (irony meter pegging out here) and had nothing to do with crime in black communities or even race. Oh, and there actually is no glut of black-on-black crime, that’s actually a racist belief all too often innocently bought into (the rate of white-on-white crime is actually comparable, and when controlled for economic rather than racial variables, is pretty much the same), since the whole notion is a false belief based on racial inferiority (‘black people are worse’), which is, by definition, a racist belief.

Anyway, he is sure her naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist. Although that of course is kind of the problem with racist beliefs. One does not have to be maliciously or consciously a racist to hold them or act on them. Yet those beliefs and behaviors are still racist. And still do harm and offend.

Nevertheless, I’m told Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing. This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long). While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody. [Read more…]

Is Thunderf00t a Sociopath?

In response to my video promoting positive goals and values for the atheist community (Atheism…Plus What?), Thunderf00t (whose real name is Phil Mason) has expanded his anti-feminist rants to the point that I am seriously worried he might have no empathy for other human beings at all. He is now even ranting against concern for minorities. His departure from logic and reason, in defense of abuse and amorality, is just weird, and makes it ironic that he claims my call for more community and compassion, honesty, and reasonableness is toxic to the atheism movement. Clearly, his chucking overboard empathy, women, minorities, and anything actually good for our community is what’s toxic. If his vision were realized, the atheist community would be a scary and awful place to be.

Before I break down what is most disturbing about his video, some backstory is needed. [Read more…]

Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening

Adam Lee has launched a petition I hope all my godless readers will sign. In fact I hope you will encourage as many godless friends and colleagues as you can to sign, to show how many of us support women in our movement and oppose the abuse and harassment of them that is going on from a very vocal minority of appalling atheists. See Petition: Support Feminism and Diversity in the Secular Community for the full explanation and link, or go directly to the petition at Change.org: The Leaders of Atheist, Skeptical and Secular Groups: Support Feminism and Diversity in the Secular Community.

Why is this needed? As Lee well puts it:

We, the undersigned, are atheists, skeptics and nonbelievers who value free speech and rational thought and who seek to build a strong, thriving movement that can advocate effectively for these values. We’ve chosen to put our names to this petition because we want to respond to a video created by a blogger calling himself Thunderfoot. In this video, Thunderfoot attacks named individuals who’ve been active in promoting diversity and fighting sexism and harassment in our movement. He describes these people as “whiners” and “ultra-PC professional victims” who are “dripp[ing] poison” into the secular community, and urges conference organizers to shun and ignore them.

We hold this and similar complaints from other individuals to be seriously misguided, false in their particulars and harmful to the atheist community as a whole, and we want to set the record straight. We wish to clarify that Thunderfoot and those like him don’t speak for us or represent us, and to state our unequivocal support for the following goals: We support making the atheist movement more diverse and inclusive. … We support strong, sensible anti-harassment policies at our gatherings. … We support the people in our community who’ve been the target of bullying, harassment and threats. … [And we want] to put a stop to this bad behavior once and for all [by] chang[ing] the culture of the atheist movement…

As of this posting, his petition is approaching 1700 signatories, and I want to see it go as high as possible, so we know how many atheists in our movement have our back, and how many of us these horrible bad apples of atheism are offending. I want to know how alone I am in this, or how supported I am. I want to see where our movement is going: their way, or ours.

Please go sign that petition now. Then come back to read on. Unless you are still not convinced you should bother. In that case read on first, and then see how you feel. [Read more…]

Being with or against Atheism+

What does it mean to support or oppose Atheism+? I took a stab at defining what Atheism+ is all about in The New Atheism+. And Dana Hunter has assembled a quick roundup of other articles on FtB about this movement up to then, but Greta Christina’s posts Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism and Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness are both a must-read, while Jen McCreight has announced the launch of the new Atheism Plus Website which is still under construction but will certainly grow in content.

Here I will make it as simple as possible. I have added this new requirement on my booking page (and this is just my own personal speaking policy, I don’t expect anyone else to adopt it):

Note that I will not speak at events run by organizations that are unwilling to repudiate sexism, racism, and homophobia, or that do not endorse the values of reasonableness, compassion, and integrity. You do not have to make a public statement or policy on this. You don’t even have to specifically mention it. But I must feel comfortable that you are an organization that shares these values. And I will assume you are, unless I have reason not to. But if you consider my taking a stand on this to be divisive, don’t ask me to speak at your event (unless it is specifically to debate our moral differences in a reasonable manner). Otherwise I will work with any organization that approves of this value statement, even if it is not an atheist organization or is even an explicitly religious organization.

This goes for individuals as well as organizations, although that will simply be a matter of which company I would prefer to have wherever I happen to be, and not a condition of speaking anywhere (since it’s a free country and I fully expect assholes and douchebags will inevitably be anywhere). It will also be a condition of who I condemn or disown on my own time and in my own venues. In short, if you reject this value statement, you are simply my ideological enemy, and I will give you no quarter. I’ll respect your legal and human rights, because I believe in that. But don’t be shocked if I am not friendly.

This includes if you mock or make fun of Atheism+ or belittle it with stupid dumb-ass shit like calling it Stalinism. That makes you an asshole. Point blank. Plain and simple. We are simply not going to let the Atheism movement become like chat roulette (a point well made in How Not to Build Inclusive Communities).

The rest of this post deals with other, more specific confusions over just what Atheism+ is all about, and who we are chucking into the sewers and shaking the dust off our sandals at. [Read more…]

The Art of the Insult & The Sin of the Slur

Throughout my blogging career I have occasionally been taken to task for using insults and ridicule on select occasions, and have in turn often discussed the ethics of insults and ridicule. And in The New Atheism+ I articulated some of those principles again, and then I went overboard in using the tactic in comments.

People rightly brought up issues with that, so I reexamined my actions there and what people had to say on the subject, and retracted and apologized for some of my actions there. In discussing the matter further I found I was wrong about a few other things, and realized this is an important issue that deserves an article of its own. Getting things like this right is what Atheism+ is all about, and debating and educating each other on these issues is valuable and ought to be welcome.

Because this article necessitates using offensive (in some cases extremely offensive) words in illustrative examples, a trigger warning is in order for anyone who might have a bad reaction to that. This is a clinical, philosophical post about proper and improper use of words, and should be approached as such. But if that is not possible, you should avoid it. [Read more…]

The New Atheism +

There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all (I mean people like these and these). I was already mulling a way to do this back in June when discussion in the comments on my post On Sexual Harassment generated an idea (inspired by Anne C. Hanna) to start a blog series building a system of shared values that separates the light side of the force from the dark side within the atheism movement, so we could start marginalizing the evil in our midst, and grooming the next generation more consistently and clearly into a system of more enlightened humanist values. Then I just got overwhelmed with work and kept putting it off on my calendar for when I had a good half a day or so to get started on that project.

Since then I blogged On Sexual Harassment Policies and Why I Am a Feminist (which smoked out a few of the dregs who attempted to defend their anti-humanist atheism), but closer to my growing thoughts on what separates us, and ought to separate us, within the movement was my post on (Not) Our Kind of People, which wasn’t really about any moral divide (since lots of people who aren’t my kind of people are nevertheless my people as far as basic values go, and I know they would agree; we just enjoy different company), but it paralleled my more private thinking about the evil among us. Then I read Lousy Canuck’s account of the whole abuse of Surly Amy at TAM and elsewhere, which enraged me (I had previously only known parts of that story). It shows the dregs will now publicly mock humanist values, and abusively disregard the happiness of their own people. Well, that starts drawing the battle lines pretty clearly then.

So I was chomping at the bit to find time to write something on this, but still not sure what to say or how to say it. It especially bugged me because I couldn’t get to it for lack of available time (which reminds me to mention, be warned, I am AFK most of this week and so comment moderation here will be unusually slow).

Then Jen McCreight said it for me, more eloquently and clearly than I could have. This weekend she wrote How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism, which was so well received (and quite rightly) that she wrote a brief follow-up: Atheism +. And Greta Christina and others have taken up the banner: Atheism Plus: The New Wave of Atheism. I am fully on board. I will provide any intellectual artillery they need to expand this cause and make it successful.

Its basic values (and the reason for its moniker) Jen stated thus: [Read more…]

Red Tails

Lucas’s new film is good but not excellent. There were elements of it that disappointed me. But it may be worth your support anyway. Here’s why…

Red Tails is a movie just released honoring the Tuskegee airmen, an often unrecognized unit of black fighter pilots in WWII. For those who don’t know the backstory, George Lucas (sort of?) wrote and produced it, and has been working for over two decades to try and make this film happen, because studios just weren’t interested (he ended up paying for it himself, and it wasn’t cheap). Why? Because, he was told, a film with an “all black cast” was assumed to be a loser at the box office, especially in the foreign market, and thus not worth the investment a major film like this requires.

Sikivu Hutchinson, writing for Black Skeptics here at FtB, gets you up to speed on this fiasco in Jim Crow Hollywood 101. Although one of the deciding factors causing studios to reject the film was apparently their belief that an all-black action film would flop in the foreign market, so it’s not just the fading ghost of Jim Crow America, but also the rest of the “We Used to Love the Atlantic Slave Trade” Western World and “Why Is Their Skin a Weird Color, What Are They Aliens?” Eastern World (oh, and I suppose we ought to add the “We Can’t Afford to Buy Your Stupid Movies Because of Your Agrosubsidies, Dumb Asses!” African market and the “We Have Our Own Action Movies With People of Color in Them, Thank You” Indian market, and so on, but I’m not a studio exec so I don’t know what supposed data they were looking at).

Other WWII Films to Compare

As for myself, I thought the movie might be awesome just because it was a WWII action flick; the fact that it was about the Tuskegee airmen was just a cool bonus. I was a little unsure, though, because ever since the 80s WWII movies either suck (Pearl Harbor, anyone?) or are beyond excellent but, as one might say, kind of dark. Das Boot, Schindler’s List, Valkyrie, Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Basterds, Miracle at St. Anna, are all superb films, some are brilliant on almost every measure. But they aren’t exactly ra-ra, “heroes rock!” action flicks. Yes, Basterds had a bit of that (and some would say a bit too much of it, and that on the “um, that didn’t happen” side, but let’s be honest, we all love a good revenge fantasy now and then), but overall even that film was, let’s be honest, dark. So can we have more feel good WWII films? Sure, people die even in those. Sad things happen. It’s war. But the overall feel is not “excuse me while I go shoot myself,” but more in the “yay!” category.

Once upon a time we had those movies, albeit often wildly fictional: Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, Force 10 from Navaronne (all had a token black guy…who duly got killed; except in Force 10, where he’s only mortally wounded, demonstrating real progress in racial relations; until you notice he wasn’t depicted on any of the promo film posters, despite being Carl Weathers, hardly a nobody…). And of course there have been plenty of WWII-set pieces…that had nothing much to do with war per se. Like Victory, two of the Indianna Jones films (Raiders and Last Crusade), The Keep … (notice we are descending into even wilder fiction here). But they also used to write really heroic, sometimes even delightfully comic, WWII movies that, I have to say, would never get written today for some reason. I’m thinking of flicks like Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Father Goose, and Operation Petticoat.

Red Tails: Bad News First

I name all of these so you’ll know what my point of reference is as far as what counts as a really good WWII flick (don’t make too much hay out of any omissions; there are tons of classics I haven’t seen). Red Tails doesn’t make this cut. And that’s mostly because George Lucas wrote it (the credits say two other guys did, but on The Daily Show he described himself writing it, and IMO either he did, or clones of him did, because it’s very Lucasy). George Lucas is kind of a shit writer, IMO, and the worst when he tries to write “for kids.” He talks down to kids. He apparently thinks kids are stupid. When I was watching Red Tails there were several scenes were I was pulled out of the film because of some stupid dialogue he’d put in (or allowed in, if he was just supervising the script; indeed the very first lines of the film will worry you as far as their dumbness…all I can say is, it gets better…mostly). Later I realized why that stupid, unrealistic dialogue was in there: he wants parents to take their kids to go see this movie, and he thinks kids are too stupid to follow realistic dialogue (as my wife said to me afterward, the opposite is the case: she learned how to speak and understand better by watching as a kid movies that were written for adults; but this is a guy who thinks kids loved Jar Jar Binks).

Still, there were really only three or four scenes that were that bad. The rest was at least decent, especially when the black performers were on screen (the cast is not devoid of white people, it just doesn’t have any in lead roles). But here I think the rest of what was wrong with this movie is that the director (Anthony Hemingway) kind of phoned it in whenever he was shooting white cast members. In almost every scene with a white person in it, their performance sucked. It looked like he always printed the first take, when a real director would stop and tell them, “Okay, you’re delivering your lines fine; now perform the lines. Okay, take two…” In contrast, the black actors performed solidly throughout, even R&B singer Ne-Yo, who was great, producing one of my favorite characters and adding something different to the film I’m sure would have been lost if they’d gone with someone else.

(I should also add my usual peeve about all contemporary cinema, that I’m sick of the over-use of CGI in movies today; it’s lazy and unconvincing and destroys most of the awe movies once could produce. I liked it back when we actually made movies, and not cartoons that we try to pass off as movies. But this is a minor point. I know it’s unrealistic to expect some real movie magic and actual aerial stunt work, especially when he wasn’t even getting funded properly, but I really do want to see real movies again some day. So, complaint registered. Moving on…)

Red Tails: Now the Good News

It’s a decent work of historical fiction that’s fun to watch in the classic sense. You will learn a lot about what went on and what they accomplished and how they were perceived at the start of the war and how that changed by the end of it, which is all in broad outline accurate. There’s humor and heroism. And it’s miles better than any crap film like Pearl Harbor. Note that I can’t compare Red Tails here with the 1995 HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen starring Laurence Fishburne, which covered the same unit, not only because I haven’t seen it (although now I am inspired to), but because it was not a studio released film; indeed, the fact that it was not is an example of what’s wrong with Hollywood (and accordingly, as I don’t have premium channels like HBO, I had never heard of it until researching this post today).

So what about Red Tails? Should you see this movie, and encourage others to as well? Your call. But let me play advocate: (a) it’s at least an okay movie (7 out of 10, and from me that’s saying something since most films these days don’t even rate a 5 for me); and (b) it will teach you shit about history you might not have known but would love to learn. And I don’t just mean the issues (or for some uninformed people, even mere existence) of black combat pilots in WWII, but, especially cool for a historian of technology like me, the fact that the Nazis invented jet aircraft and fielded a fleet of jet fighters during the war, and we had to fight them with ordinary prop planes (maybe someday I’ll blog about one of my old pastimes, weapons tech, and the fact that pretty much everything we fight with now was invented by the Nazis, including the automatic assault rifle, shoulder-launched rocket, and guided missile…and yes, jet fighters), and (c) it will flip the bird at the white-ass studio execs who wouldn’t pay for or to distribute this film because “no white people are in it.” They think white people won’t go see it because they aren’t in it (and it’s always supposed to be about us, see).

It would be worth it to prove them wrong. I’d certainly hate to find them feeling “vindicated” by the movie’s failure. Because studio execs are neurophysically incapable of registering a film’s quality at all, they won’t realize it failed (if it even does) because of the writing or directing, so they will think it’s because no white actors were in the lead parts. It’s this stupid false inference that has driven practically the whole industry since 1980. That’s why when one studio comes out with a hybrid talking vampire shark movie, every studio comes out with a hybrid talking vampire shark movie, because “obviously” that’s “in” now (rather than judging what to do based on whether a script is actually just good).

Next Move

If, however, you rankle at paying to see merely average movies just to learn stuff and support a cause, but you want to see what was actually the first all-black-lead WWII action movie, then rent Miracle at St. Anna (directed by Spike Lee). That got panned by the critics (mostly because Spike Lee didn’t direct it like a “Spike Lee” film, as critics had pigeonholed him, but actually demonstrated his skill and versatility as a director and made something quite different), and fans of “constant action” war movies hated it because it had a lot of boring “talking” and “emotion” and shit, and other people hated it because it was a little confusing and requires you to actually follow everything and be intelligent. But it actually rates as one of my top most favorite WWII films (in the “dark” category, that is), rivaling even Saving Private Ryan.

Why? Well, you might get it if after watching it, you have the balls to then watch it again, now knowing what happens and thus what all sorts of things really meant earlier in the film (the imaginary-friend scene with the boy in the barn will make you cry…once you know what was really going on in that scene). And if you have an eye for the decisions a director makes (editing, getting performances from the actors, where to put the camera) and just overall matters of quality (not much CGI here). It will also teach you about history (a central atrocity that occurs in the story is actually a true story). And it has literally the most intriguing opening scene of any war movie ever made (yes, even beating Saving Private Ryan). I know one critic who said it sometimes played too much into black stereotypes, but in fact it demonstrates how blacks themselves in the 1940s could play with those stereotypes, while some of them were based on cultural realities of the time, and in fact you actually get as much diversity of character among the men as you would in any “all white” WWII film (so if you don’t notice that, then you are the one obsessing on stereotyping…and I wonder if that was kind of Lee’s point).

Anyway, that’s an excellent film, and thoroughly anti-Lucasy (which does mean, not for kids). But what I want now are good, action-fun WWII films. Like Inglorious Basterds with an all-black infantry unit; or Operation Petticoat style antics in an all-black motorpool unit near the front lines (“When the air raid started he just took off. All he said was ‘In confusion, there is profit!'” … if you didn’t just laugh, you either have no sense of humor, or you haven’t seen Operation Petticoat recently; one of those is easy to remedy). Why not? The potential would be awesome. If you want to see that happen, though, you may have to start small and go see Red Tails. Then studios will start listening to pitches for similar films, and inevitably something awesome will get made that never would have otherwise.

In other words, maybe we should make Red Tails the next hybrid talking vampire shark movie.