Skepchickileaks

In the past I have mocked a lot of the hyperbolic rage-whining that comes at near-incessant frequency from the band of devoted camp followers that have made it their life’s mission to destroy FreethoughtBlogs, Skepchick, Atheism+, feminism, the concept of equality, the colour orange, and basically anything else they consider a personal affront. I have not held back in voicing my scorn for a group of people who seem to have endless amount of time, energy, hatred, and immaturity – I seriously do not know where these people find the wherewithal to work themselves into this level of froth over the fact that a blog network exists.

One of the oft-parroted claims made by this shrieking horde is that FTBchickminism+ is “ruining the movement”: that atheism was doing just stupendously well for everyone before the “FTBullies”* showed up and ruined it by… I honestly have never been clear on what the mechanism of “ruining” has been. This, of course, is contrasted against the other claim – that FTBchickminism+ is so ludicrously marginal and derogated by all right-thinking atheists that it is an abject failure and can’t possibly amount to anything. It is sometimes the same people making these contradictory claims. The mind boggles.

Up until now, my position on this kind of over-wrought conspiracy mongering has been fairly consistent: FTB is not the boogey-man; it’s a network of blogs that (mostly) existed before there was a network to begin with. Atheism+ isn’t ruining atheism; it’s a reaction to the fact that it was already ruined for a lot of people. Skepchick is not rounding up all male atheists to throw them into a witch’s cauldron of menses and liquid misandry. Go get hobbies that don’t involve Twitter, Reddit, or Photoshop.

That was until a recent event that, as far as I know, I am the first person to bring to the public sphere. [Read more...]

Happy Easter!

Easter and the ‘Passion of Jesus’ is one of those things that makes way less sense the more you think about it. I remember being profoundly affected by the passion story as a child – a man making the ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of sins. It was a touching tale. Until I thought about it as an actual event, at which point it became a story about a street preacher getting tortured and killed by a brutal occupying force with the political support of a wealthy religious elite. Not exactly terribly inspiring or even unprecedented – sad, to be sure, but not particularly unique. And then there’s the whole “being a god” and “knowing he would return from the dead” thing that kind of takes the edge off the ‘sacrifice’ theme.

At any rate, maybe if they had showed this in Sunday school instead, I’d have had an easier time believing:

The payoff comes at around the 3-minute mark and is just non-stop hilarity right through to the end.

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Online dating in the uncanny valley

There’s a concept in animation and robotics called “the uncanny valley” – the point where simulated humans are so close to realistic but not quite that they are disturbing. The theory is that people will become more comfortable with simulated humans as they become more like living things, up until a point right before full similarity when the comfort level drops precipitously. Facial expressions that are ‘not quite right’, movements that are ‘unnatural’, other subtle clues that would make people uneasy*.

There is a less technological manifestation of this phenomenon, referred to commonly as Poe’s Law, where someone’s stated beliefs are so close to what it would look like if someone was mocking those beliefs that it becomes difficult (or, in some cases, impossible) to determine the intent of the speaker. This can be a useful trolling technique, or even a persuasive method of argumentation to demonstrate the absurdity of a position.

I poked around with online dating for a little while when I first moved to Vancouver, but had little luck and abandoned the experiment pretty quickly. Despite my own frustrations with the process, I have learned that there are far worse things out there than not getting messages from prospective dates.

You could, for example, get a message from this guy**: [Read more...]

Reporting from the Ministry of Irony

One of my deepest not-at-all-guilty pleasures is irony. If I were a more supernaturally-inclined person, I would point to events like this as evidence that there must be a supreme being:

British Columbia’s largest oil spill response vessel got stuck on a sandbar en route to a federal news conference where Monday about strengthening Canada’s oil spill defences.

The shipping-industry-funded company in charge of the vessel confirmed it ran aground briefly on an uncharted sandbar off Sand Heads at the mouth of the Fraser River en route from its Esquimalt base to the Coal Harbour news conference. But it denied the ship had a “close quarters situation” with a B.C. ferry near Active Pass earlier Monday – as claimed by the Coast Guard’s marine communications union.

In a news release Wednesday, Canadian Auto Workers Local 2182 spokesman Allan Hughes said the vessel’s slow trip to the conference underscored how ill-prepared B.C. is for an oil spill.

It really does strain credulity to imagine that such a thing could happen by accident. If one were specifically trying to illustrate the real environmental dangers posed by shipping bitumen through environmentally sensitive areas, there could be no more perfect example than this. The only thing that could have possibly been ‘better’ is if the ship leaked some oil, but then you’re trading the deliciousness of the irony for the real possibility of ecological damage.

The poignancy of this accident is made all the better by the fact that there is a cross-border debate currently happening about the viability of shipping Tar Sands bitumen to the United States, and an international fight over whether we should send that same bitumen to China over the opposition of aboriginal groups, through whose territory proposed pipelines would have to run. The accident, while minor, vividly underscores the real (and, in my mind, unacceptable) risks of transporting bitumen from an area that is already an environmental disaster.

Of course, as always, such issues should be routed through the Undersecretary for Whimsy and Caprice:

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He who fears God…

When I was in Catholic school, right before we had our Confirmation (the Catholic equivalent of a bar mitzvah), we had specific instruction in Catholic dogma and catechism. Unlike the horror stories that I’ve heard from some others, all of the Catholic schools I attended were fairly secular, save for the mandatory religion class and the prayers during the morning announcements after the national anthem. We didn’t, for example, get fire and brimstone during science class or disciplined by dour nuns. To my recollection, we didn’t even get much by way of instruction in the Catholic beliefs on sexuality. Of course, it was elementary school, so that was likely due to squeamishness over the topic rather than evidence of the enlightenment of the instructors.

In any case, we were taught about the seven “gifts of the Spirit“, which are distinct from the seven virtues, which are themselves a counterpoint to the seven deadly sins – please believe that Catholicism is well steeped in the same numerology that defines the quirkier aspects of Judaism. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, counsel, knowledge, fortitude… sure. Even at thirteen these seemed pretty self-explanatory (even if they were plainly not evinced by those who claimed to be “strong in the Spirit”). But it was the seventh that gave me trouble…

Fear of the Lord.

My catechism teacher tried to convince me that this simply meant ‘awe’, and a recognition that Yahweh was much greater than we were. Fine, I said, but why not just use ‘awe’? Why ‘fear’? If Yahweh was benevolent and loved us and all that jazz, why would it be right to fear him? After various attempts to explain that ‘fear’ was a metaphor (the Catholic dodge for just about everything), I was simply told to ignore the ‘fear’ language as an anachronism. Of course, once I learned about Stockholm Syndrome in undergraduate psychology, the anachronism suddenly made a lot more sense.

Of course, since rejecting theist belief, I have come to understand ‘fear of God’ in an entirely different way:

A church billboard saying

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Al Qaeda faces its own tone scolds

There are few arguments I find more tedious than the ones about the ‘tone’ that atheist organizations should take. The James Crofts of the world will have you believe that they’re only acting out of the strategic best interests of the group (with delightful British accents and unflappable pep), but all too often the fight over ‘tone’ boils down to “you’re factually correct, but the way you said it wasn’t flattering enough to the majority group, and therefore it’s wrong”. Sometimes the majority group needs a sharp five across the eyes in order for them to realize they’re in the wrong. Further, I will not begrudge a minority group the use of whatever language it needs to articulate its position – it is the oppressors who need to adjust their language; not the oppressed.

I am not, by any means, suggesting that language use has no effect on persuasive strength. What I am saying is that in an instance where I feel that a minority group is not being as persuasive as I personally think they could be, my response is to advocate on their behalf, not chide them for failing to be “civil” enough. Ultimately, I imagine that groups articulating the dynamics of their oppression are smart enough to figure out on their own that flattery is better received than insult. I am also quite aware of the fact that “civility” breeds complacency, and that anger usually comes after diplomacy has failed.

With that in mind, I couldn’t not laugh at this story: [Read more...]

#FuturamaArcher: Or, ‘Futurama: Noooooooope!’

Robert Reece of Furious and Brave and I have challenged each other to an essay-writing contest. Each of us has 2,000 words to write a persuasive essay defending the honour of the superiority of our favourite animated series. Robert has chosen Futurama, and I have chosen Archer. We have not seen each other’s essays in advance, nor co-ordinated in any way (aside from agreeing on publication date and length). His essay can be found here.

The Archer intro logo

When considering the comparative merits of any work of art, taste being subjective, it is necessary to develop a set of criteria by which the different works can be judged. In the absence of such criteria, any comparison swiftly becomes an exercise in who can express the most fervent support – a contest of fanaticism rather than a proper comparison. I must confess that, were this to be such a challenge, I would surely come up short – Robert is far more practiced at defending positions based on the strength of his emotion and passion alone. I am unfortunately forced to rely solely on facts and logic.

And it is based on fact and logic, limited and uninteresting though they may be, that I enthusiastically state unequivocally that Archer is a superior animated series to Futurama. Now, it behooves me to mention at this point that I have a deep personal affection for Futurama – I would not dream of arguing that it is a bad show. Nor would I argue that it has not made its contribution, such as it is, to our popular culture. Such an argument would not only be easily demonstrated as false, but it would be shockingly disingenuous. I am, in fact, a fan. That being said, I recognize superiority when I see it, and I simply cannot deny that Archer is a better show, for reasons I will detail below.

My first task is to establish a set of criteria by which the relative greatness of a work should be judged. Again, due to the subjective nature of taste, I will eschew things that are so obviously subjective as, for example, ‘which show is funnier’. Such a crude comparison is clearly not worthy of the refined and discerning audience of this piece (and besides, for that specific category, Archer would win in a walk). Instead, I offer these much more concrete categories for evaluation: [Read more...]

Movie Friday: My right-wing conspiracy theory

I am not one easily given to conspiracy theories. I usually assume that any major injustice or monumental political shift is due to an accumulation of human stupidity, rather than the genius machinations of a secret cabal. After all, as Karl Rove has taught us, most of the people who are rumoured to be political ‘geniuses’ are usually just lucky and have good PR. It’s usually safer to assume that the snake has no head, given how spectacularly bad human beings are at keeping secrets.

I do make two pet exceptions though. The first is for H1N1, which I think was seen as an opportunity to test our public health readiness infrastructure. We knew pretty early on that the disease wasn’t particularly fatal, but it was a good chance for us to see what would happen when a serious flu (like H5N1, for example) breaks out, in a natural experiment. This isn’t a nefarious conspiracy – I don’t think government labs ‘cooked up’ a fake disease or any nonsense like that – but I think they held back on telling the public that there really wasn’t anything to worry about.

The second conspiracy theory that’s been cooking in the back of my mind is that conservatives are secretly brilliant. That they’ve been playing at being buffoons as part of a trans-generational practical joke on liberals, who are just too slow/outraged to get the joke. How else do you explain the fact that Michelle Bachmann is sitting on the House Intelligence Committee? That kind of irony doesn’t just happen by accident – that’s satire on a grand scale.

The problem is that liberals still haven’t clued in after all these years, and they’re having to get more and more obvious in the hopes that we will catch on. For a recent example, we can turn to (where else?) Fox ‘News’: [Read more...]

The best laid plans of mice and small minds

One of the fascinating aspects of the denial of privilege is the pirouettes one must turn in order to square the denial with observed fact.

“Black people have just as many opportunities as white people!”

Well, here’s an assload of evidence that suggests that’s not true

“…culture of poverty! Single moms! Phrenology!”

This is the reason why I think race is a perfect subject for the skeptical movement, because we can point to the evidence and say “here’s a whole bunch of problems, and the excuses offered for them are based on stereotypes rather than facts”. This is what we do when it comes to homeopathy, UFOs, gods, whatever you like. We find ways to take human inference out of the equation, and then figure out what the truth looks like regardless of what beliefs you had before you asked the questions.

The hubris of those who discover that Obama didn’t raise their taxes, or that FOX News isn’t “fair and balanced”, or that outlawing contraception causes more abortions, is always highly amusing to watch. Well, sometimes amusing, other times depressing as they manage to find smaller and smaller loopholes of post hoc reasoning to justify the rapidly-disappearing credibility of their arguments (“he’s a secret socialist! You just wait!” “Scientists and media observers are all liberals!” “the devil lives in the uterus!”). At any rate, it’s never boring.

What’s even more amusing is when the myths of the obsessed are punctured at their own hands: [Read more...]

Hilarious parody site skewers Catholic sainthood

I am not sure why, I assume it has something to do with the fact that my name and e-mail is out there and searchable, but I regularly get spam e-mail from people hawking a book or offering me an “exclusive chance” to interview someone I’ve never heard of for my blog. Usually I reply with a simple “please remove me from your e-mail list”, but they continue to pour in unabated. Because I occasionally talk about religion, I often get this unsolicited spam from people hawking religious books on behalf of their clients – a feat of irony that tells me they don’t bother to read the blogs before they start pimping to them.

The joys of internet notoriety, folks.

Most of the time I delete them without reading, but yesterday I received an e-mail that, to the untrained eye looked like the same kind of spam, but was, upon closer inspection, actually an extremely clever bit of anti-Catholic parody: [Read more...]