FtBCon2: Free Online Conference Next Weekend!

Remember when we had this amazing free online conference one weekend last year, with dozens of talks, panels, and speakers, that people all over the world could watch live? And ask questions in real time. And watch the recorded events ever after on YouTube. Well, get ready. Because we’re doing it again–in precisely one week.

Our complete calendar for the weekend of January 31 to February 2 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) will be finalized and go live over this weekend. As will our complete list of speakers and panelists (and its huge! and spans the globe!). For both speakers and schedule, bookmark our page on Lanyrd and check it tomorrow night (as a backstage planner, I can tell you that we’ve scheduled over 30 talks and panels throughout the conference, featuring over 80 speakers and panelists altogether). For everything else, bookmark FtBCon.org and also check that Saturday night.

(We will also have a YouTube collection of everything that you can view if you miss the live events, facilitated by our own Miri Mogilevsky; right now over there you can view all of last year’s talks and panels–you can also read up on last year’s event here and peruse its Lanyrd page here. This year will be organized similarly, and have a similar diversity of topics.)

Last year I attended many of the talks and panels as a viewer and it was awesome. I gave one talk myself, on “What the Military Taught Me about Feminism.” This year I’m doing one talk and one panel, and helping facilitate and introduce a few more (including panels featuring members of the Secular Student Alliance, The Black Freethinkers Network, and the Filipino Freethinkers…who will actually be streaming in live from the Philippines!). [Read more...]

Help D.M. Murdock Get Her Facebook Account Reinstated

Jesus mythicist D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) has had her Facebook account terminated (permanently, FB claims) merely for posting a picture calling attention to religious child abuse. She documents the story on her own website here. My email box received a request to sign a petition over the weekend, and I signed. I recommend everyone do so. Our own Ophelia Benson has also written about this fiasco. She concurs.

There is no sound reason for Facebook’s action. The most they should have done is requested modification of the image to blur offensive sections of it (which Murdock would have been happy to do). Although even that is childish on their part (unless they are genuinely concerned about privacy issues, which would be a first), it would not be as absurd as killing her entire Facebook account. One might ignorantly argue any picture of naked children being sexually abused in a religious ritual is “child porn” and thus intolerable, but even that (which ignores the distinctions between porn and legitimate journalism and activism and the documenting of crimes against humanity…indeed, the image came from a news magazine) would have been solved by simple modification of the image to satisfy the prudes (as Murdock demonstrates) or victim’s advocates (whom Murdock would likewise be happy to oblige).

Everyone should voice their opposition to Facebook’s action in this case and demand a reversal.

Is Attacking Rape Apologetics Rape Apologetics?

It’s strange to see even atheists convert hyperbole into fact in the span of just hours or days. That’s supposed to be what religious people do. When I wrote an article attacking rape apologetics in the discussion of the allegations against Michael Shermer, I was accused of engaging in rape apologetics (examples cataloged here, here, here, and here). But only by making false claims about what I wrote in my article.

This has started now to become lore. In comments on Stephanie Zvan’s recent article on the BlockBot I was weirdly even accused of “victim blaming” in an article against victim blaming that actually defends victims from being unfairly blamed (lest this not be believed, I will document the actual contents of my article below), and a scenario I explicitly described as reprehensible and as victimization and worthy of condemnation, one commenter said I described as “kinda cool” and “what a rapist would like to believe,” which is the exact opposite of the actual facts in the case, yet this version of events is then endorsed by another commenter. Meanwhile, in comments on the same article described as “what a rapist would like to believe,” I had to debate actual rape apologists (or at least folks who didn’t know that’s what they were doing). Which in context is surreal.

It’s unclear how the myth arose that something I condemned I called “kinda cool.” And perhaps the lore varies from person to person. But throughout, from what I’ve read, I have found there are some failures of fact and reasoning to address. [Read more...]

Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)

Presumably you’re aware by now that accusations have been made that Michael Shermer did something bad (if not, you can catch up on current events here). There are some things atheists need to consider about this, philosophically and personally.  [Read more...]

CFI Still Doesn’t Get It

If you didn’t already know, a scandal has exploded yet again throwing CFI in a bad light (you can catch up on events here and you should definitely read the original piece starting it all here). And once again they are making things worse with a disastrous pattern of communication. Things are still happening behind the scenes, so I am awaiting events to unfold further before I make a decision, but CFI is not handling this well, and this could spell the end of them for me.

Apart from the obvious (the horrible treatment Stollznow has endured and the awful human being Ben Radford is…and I do not have to trust all of Stollnow’s report to reach that conclusion about him, although I have seen no reason to doubt anything she’s said; and that’s well apart from the fact that Radford already has a record of being an unskeptical anti-feminist worthy of eye-rolling), I have two major problems with what is going on so far, one has to do with the legal and corporate culture at CFI (which I will blog about later, either tomorrow or next week), the other has to do with CFI’s public communications in this matter.

It seems evident, regardless of which details are disputed, that Ben Radford engaged in a sustained campaign of sexual harassment against Dr. Karen Stollznow (both employees of CFI for many years). And he received no visible punishment. He continues to be employed at CFI. I’m told he was punished somehow but no one can talk about how (this is a serious problem I will be taking on in my next post about this matter). But frankly, if even a fraction of what Stollznow says is true, any other business would have fired him in a heartbeat, and I am struggling to understand why I should support any nonprofit that would keep him (or why I should subscribe to a magazine he edits). As for Stollznow, seeing her harasser largely unaffected and receiving no significant support from CFI, she essentially just had to leave.

More about all this may come out, more developments may ensue (I am aware of things happening I can’t discuss). But right now, this is how it looks. And that does not make CFI look good. At all.

But making all this far worse (again) was CFI’s public statement on the matter. Which is a disaster. The same thing happened last time, when CFI’s “statement” about the Lindsay affair was exactly the wrong thing to say, the very worst possible public communication on the matter. It failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing or even what the problem was, it passive-aggressively complained about being criticized, and said nothing that showed any understanding of what it was being criticized for, and nothing as to what it was going to do about it. Indeed, the statement as a whole was essentially an exercise in contempt…even if that wasn’t its intention, but intention isn’t magic–and that’s what a communications director is supposed to be for: to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen, that communications with the public don’t look contemptuous or useless or clueless. Yet in that case CFI didn’t even avail itself of its own communications director. Even now I don’t think its board of directors understands how contemptuous, useless, and clueless that statement made them appear.

This new statement is the same kind of travesty. Other organizations have leadership that actually understands how to do this right (examples here, here, here, and here, and still especially relevant, here). CFI is alone in doing it disastrously. That is essentially the definition of relative incompetence.

I thought CFI’s communications director was Paul Fidalgo–who I know wouldn’t be this awful at the job. If he wrote this new one, he should resign and instruct CFI to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. But I doubt he wrote it, because he didn’t write the last one (that was written by CFI’s warring board of directors who couldn’t agree on anything). And if that’s the case, CFI board of directors, you need to stop doing that. Seriously. Stop doing that. You are consistently making things worse and making CFI look incompetent and insensitive. You do not know what you are doing. Use your communications director. That is what you pay him for.

To help you see what I mean, CFI, let’s break down your public statement on the Radford-Stollznow matter (and we know who the parties are, even if your lawyers keep telling you you can’t admit it). [Read more...]

FTBCon Tomorrow!

Richard Carrier in service uniform as a Petty Officer (1991)The massive, amazing, totally free online conference hosted by Freethought Blogs starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday. We have over 100 speakers and 33 sessions. Many names you’ll recognize and love. Many names you might not know but will be glad to have been introduced to. There will be topics you might not have heard discussed at an atheist conference before. And so many! I’m already sad that I won’t be able to see everything myself, but I’m going to be spending the whole weekend drinking scotch and watching as many sessions as I can.

You can browse the schedule at Lantyrd: see FtBConscience. More information about the conference is available at FtBCon.org, including our conduct policy and how to attend (see here and here) and how to submit questions for Q&A (through our chat room).

My talk, What the Military Taught Me about Feminism, will go live this Sunday (July 21) at 11am Pacific Coast Time (the online schedule is all in Central time, so subtract two hours for Pacific; the official page for watching that session is here). I’ll be telling some embarrassing and personal stories about my time in the service twenty years ago as a young naive man, and reflecting on how they changed me and contributed to what I know and how I think today. There will be a moderated Q&A. Please bring questions. Warning for Viewers: Some of my stories will be about the sexualization of women, and I will be repeating sexual slurs and other things I saw and heard that can be quite shocking.

For more backstory on my Coast Guard career see Atheists in Foxholes. The photo here (above right) is my last service photo in full uniform and cap, as a Sonar Tech, Third Class (which means Petty Officer, Third Class, the equivalent of a Corporal, which is an NCO, or Non-Commissioned Officer), with two marksmanship ribbons (pistol and rifle) and the National Service Medal (indicated by the more colorful ribbon).

Free Will in American Law: From Accidental Thievery to Battered Woman Syndrome

For my last class on naturalism and free will I composed some readings on Sam Harris’ mistreatment of the concept of free will in American law. I already deal with the legal aspects of “free will” in some detail in Sense and Goodness without God (III.4.5, pp. 109-14), and really any discussion of the subject here must begin there (where I cite and explain key Supreme Court rulings as well as standard concepts like the criteria of guilt and the insanity defense, things the public often gets wrong because they think TV legal dramas accurately portray them). I also cover the whole free will debate generally (in the whole of section III.4, pp. 97-118), and explain the reasons compatibilism provides a more fruitful understanding of free will than any alternative. (I have also blogged on free will several times before.)

But to supplement all that, I’m here reproducing one of those course readings I composed, where I address cases not mentioned in SaG (United States v. Grayson – 438 U.S. 41 (1978) and Morissette v. United States – 342 U.S. 246 (1952)) as well as a legal concept also not mentioned there, “Battered Woman Syndrome” (as a legal defense), which supplements my discussion of the insanity defense in SaG. All of this was compiled in response to Sam Harris’ (IMO awful) book Free Will. I have a lot of problems with that book. But here I’ll be addressing only one claim in it. (For those who are curious, much better books recently on free will, though still flawed, are Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge? and Kane’s A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will.) [Read more...]

What Do Ron Lindsay and an Oklahoma Tornado Have in Common?

Besides raging over the same weekend? Both are ignorantly destructive blowhards, apparently. At least Lindsay didn’t kill anything (except his own common sense, and maybe his career in secular leadership).

Lots happened while I was away at the fantastic Imagine No Religion conference in Kamloops, BC. I recommend it for next year, it has been by all accounts great every year, and this year was no exception. But while I was nestled safely up there enjoying good scotch and martinis, a tornado ripped apart a community in Oklahoma (I guess by Pat Robertson’s logic, it must have been full of feminists), and charity aid is much needed (atheists can help: please donate to Humanist Crisis Response through the Foundation Beyond Belief, an umbrella charity organization specifically geared for nonreligious donors).

And over the same weekend at the Women in Secularism conference in Washington, DC (where a zillion feminists actually were…evidently your god’s aim sucks, Pat), the president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, Ron Lindsay (the sole male speaker), opened the conference by complaining about a campaign to ask men to listen to women before complaining about women, by telling women to stop telling men to listen to women before complaining about women…at a conference for women, funded by hundreds of women (since attendees forked over the registration fees, they actually paid for the conference). And then he acted like a stock sexist man and hysterically defamed the woman who criticized him for this rather than responding to her actual (calmly presented) arguments. Thus becoming the poster boy for a man who doesn’t listen.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s stranger than fiction. Anyway, I needn’t blog about the Lindsay Faceplant because that has already been excellently done. If you want to get caught up on this debacle, I highly recommend, first, Jason Thibault’s brief live description of what Lindsay said at the conference and how obviously wrongheaded it was, and then Amanda Marcotte’s Open Letter to the Center for Inquiry, and then An Alternative Universe by Stephanie Zvan, Taking It Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism by Ashley Miller, and The Silencing of Men by Rebecca Watson (the tone and quality of which has to be compared to the garbage Lindsay wrote in response: Watson’s World and Two Models of Communication…a title whose irony was completely lost on Lindsay, considering that he decided to respond to a reasonable and ultimately correct argument by hysterically accusing its author of “the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea” and then proceeded to pick at irrelevancies in her case and straw man what she said and ignore her every substantive point…nice).

[Since I first published this article, a really excellent analysis has also come from philosopher Dan Finke: Feminism, Civility, and Ron Lindsay’s Welcome to Women in Secularism, which reinforces many of the points well-made earlier by Adam Lee in Some Sadly Necessary Remarks on the #wiscfi Intro. Subsequently, Lindsay has since issued a lawyerly quasi-apology for comparing Watson to North Korea, yet in the very same remark treats her with veiled contempt by referencing the least relevant remark in her article and still ignoring her every substantive point, and all her evidence, and refusing to retract or apologize for any of his more substantive errors. This appears to be a trend with him. See the bemusing analysis of Nancy McClernan in Ron Lindsay's Non-Apology Apology over His Non-Welcome Welcome.]

Lindsay on Atheism+

One thing I’d like to add to these critiques is his equally-ignorant treatment of Atheism+… [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...]