An Open Letter to Those Who Think Real Names Solve the Civility Problem

Dear People Who Think Real Names Make People Behave Better:

I understand the desire for a more civil discourse. Most of us would like that (except for the trolls, one supposes), but a “real name” policy isn’t the magic cure that will make everyone nice. Allow me to direct your attention to what people feel perfectly comfortable doing under their real names:

Ah, yes. Very civil. A shining example of the kind of respectful discourse one can expect when everybody knows everybody’s real name, isn’t it?

We’ve seen your arguments as to why real names are necessary, and Facebook has disproved very nearly all of them. Those Facebook hasn’t managed to provide demonstrations against are taken care of at the previous link. And I’m sorry, but your civility argument was so full of holes it could be used to drain spaghetti to begin with, and since then several people have hit it repeatedly with birdshot. I think there are some scraps left there somewhere, but they can’t be scraped together into anything usable now. Real names do nothing to rescue teh intertoobz from civility problems. People are too adept at being rat bastards for anything like a real name policy to stop them.

Ah, you say, but there will be consequences! Because, y’know, bosses and stuff will know who’s saying what, and they’ll get caught, and everything will be happiness and rainbows.

That may be true in a subset of cases. A few people may have to pay a real price for bad behavior. Lovely. Meanwhile, the bad behavior continues apace, because the chance of suffering consequences is so damned remote. And folks like, oh, lessee, Bob “Shoot to Kill” O’Connell and Joe “12 Gauge” Martinez are free to continue spewing their hate and death threats on real name forums like Facebook and Google+ while people like Bug Girl and GrrlScientist are shut out.

You don’t solve the civility problem with real names. Real names won’t stop a soul from frothing at the mouth. Even if everybody signing up for Google+ had to provide a photo I.D., therefore guaranteeing they have to use their really-real names, the civility problem would continue apace. Look at Congress.

I hate to tell you this, but the civility problem will never be solved. There will always be a subset of rotten jerks in any given population. The band-aid of a real names policy does nothing but give you the illusion things will be hunky-dory.

You mitigate it by having tools in place for folks to flag bad behavior. You mitigate it by having policies in place that deal with that bad behavior no matter what name it’s coming from. That’s what Google can do: provide some community guidelines (while keeping in mind that free speech shouldn’t always be nicey-nice speech), and provide tools for people to report bad behavior.

You yourself are going to have to take some responsibility beyond “real names!” to solve the civility problem. You’ll have to flag people who are being wildly inappropriate (and not just because you don’t agree with them, or don’t like their way of putting things, but truly bad, outrageous, nasty behavior). You’ll have to block those folks who make you feel icky inside, whose actions haven’t reached the level of a flag but are still not something you’ll allow in your online parlor. Speak out against behavior you find reprehensible. And step in and ask folks to behave better when comment threads on your stream get heated.

Whose fault is it if a place is full of assholes? That’s right. Uncomfortable but true.

So please, stop bleating about how real names are required to make the web a better place, and go about doing things that will actually make it a better place. Plenty of ‘nyms will be happy to join you in those efforts.

Dana Hunter

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bard?

It may seem bizarre that in the land infamous for a dry sense of humor, satire is banned. But politicians in both Great Britain and Ireland, it appears, are terrified of people like Jon Stewart. So terrified, in fact, that they’ve come up with inane rules meant to prevent the carpets in their halls of power from being trampled upon by the muddy boots of comedians.

In Britain, you’ve got Rule Four:

Guidelines on the use of the pictures are less prescriptive. They do specify that no extracts from Parliamentary proceedings may be used in comedy shows or other light entertainment such as political satire. But broadcasters are allowed to include Parliamentary items in magazine programmes containing musical or humourous features, provided the reports are kept separate.

And in Ireland, ye olde fine print in the Rules of Coverage:

Please note that use of Webcasts and broadcasts of the Houses and Parliamentary Committees must be in accordance with the Standing Orders of both Houses and the Rules of Coverage of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting and Parliamentary Information, in particular: “… that recordings or extracts of the proceedings shall not be used in programmes of light entertainment, political satire, party political broadcasts or in any form of advertising or publicity, other than in the form of news and current affairs programme trailers…”.

And these are the rules that kept the Daily Show off the air, for fear that a wee bit o’ satire could bring the whole House down. You can read the whole sad saga via Graham Linehan. And then you can watch the dread content right here.

Why yes, yes, I am laughing my arse off. Whyever do you ask?

Thing is, it makes a certain sort of sense, based on history. The whole thing reminded me of a bit I’d read on Irish bards many years ago. It set me galloping through my books looking for the relevant bit, and I found it in The Celts by Gerhard Herm:

When they [the filids and the bairds] rose to tell the old stories, to report on heroes still living, the warriors would hang on to their every word, like actors waiting to learn whether they had performed well or not. Adverse or favourable criticism from such a source could alone set the seal on, or ruin, a reputation; woe betide the prince who failed to reward a singer properly. One who did prove to be tight-fisted had a poisonous quatrain directed at him: “I know him/He’ll give no horse for a poem;/He’ll give you what his kind allows,/Cows.” This kind of thing struck home, and noblemen tried to be generous, to reward good singers, with at least a horse.

I should say so.

So it appears that instead of buying the bards off, these days politicians are attempting to outlaw their more dangerous practices. Knowing that those whom the bards would destroy, they first make ridiculous, they’re trying to legislate dignity. The problem with this is, America has freedom of the press, and the world has the internet. This means that the bard’s tale can cross oceans at the speed of light. And when these pathetic little rules cause Great Britain’s weekly dose of satire to go missing, curiosity gets piqued, and then you end up with articles in the New Statesman. Nothing a comedian could do to politicians is quite as bad as what they do to themselves.

We are quite amused.

[And yes, I know, this week’s been rather light on the geology. I assure you, that unhappy state of affairs shall not obtain for long. For one thing, I’ve been doing research to ensure that my next post on the Skykomish is not merely a gallery of rocks with captions saying, “Ooo, pretty!” Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but I like giving you added value. Additionally, I’ve been working on the research for a series of posts on various consequences of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet that I believe will meet with your approval (with especial thanks to Evelyn Mervine, who slipped me a copy of a very delicious paper on drumlins). And, last (but only because I’ve saved the best for), my intrepid companion and I are headed up to Deception Pass this weekend. Three days of wandering about amidst some extremely delicious geology. You will have such pictures, my darlings. So do not despair: the drought will end, and geology shall be thine. Possibly sans cats, but I’ll see what I can do about gratuitous felid insertion.]

The Limits of Tolerance

Johann Hari asks a very good question: “Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now? (h/t)”

Here’s a few portents from the East End that we have chosen to ignore. In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there. All through, it was normal to see young men handing out leaflets outside the Whitechapel Ideas Store saying gays are “evil.” Most people accept them politely. 

These are not isolated incidents.

Johann brings up the point that because Muslims are so frequently targets of bigotry, harassment and violence themselves, there’s an understandable reluctance to speak out against their less-admirable acts.  It’s easy to get yourself branded Islamophobic for pointing out that Islam isn’t necessarily a religion of peace, and that strict adherence to Islam leads to despicable acts.  But, as Johann says,

It’s patronizing – and authentically racist – to treat Muslims as if they are children, or animals, who can only react to their oppression by jeering at or attacking people who have done them no harm, and who they object to because of a book written in the sixth century. Muslims are human beings who can choose not to this. The vast majority, of course, do not attack anyone. But they should go further. They should choose instead to see us as equal human beings, who live and love just like them, and do not deserve scorn and prejudice.

Giving people a pass to be bigoted, damaging jerks just because they’re a member of a despised minority doesn’t do any sector of society any good.  It normalizes dangerous behavior.  It doesn’t confront the intolerance before it gets wildly out of control.  And it only feeds cycles of oppression.  No one – not even atheists – are saying Muslims have to give up their religion.  But we expect Christians and Jews and members of other faiths to respect gay folks, even if they do think gays are icky.  It’s ridiculous to give homophobia a pass out of some misguided sense of fairness.  It’s not fair.  It’s not fair to Muslim people who are lesbians or gays or bisexuals or transgendered.  It’s not fair to those Muslims who might discover that their religion can accommodate gays just fine.  And it’s not fair to the wider community, LGBT and allies, who are sick to death of seeing people get harassed, hurt and killed because of the way they love.

There are limits to tolerance.  We can tolerate people of other faiths.  We can’t tolerate actual harm they do for the greater glory of God. Let’s do talk about Muslim homophobia, just as we talk about homophobia in all its many disgusting forms.  Let’s not stay silent about issues that are so critically important.

DBAD: The Return

Poor Phil.  His Don’t Be A Dick stuff’s still getting panned.  Our own George W. took it apart:

I like Phil Plait a lot, but he’s recently been on a thing about “Not Being A Dick” and his recent video is supposed to be a clarification of that position.  

This reminds me of the scene in nearly every cop show where they take a fuzzy picture and apply enhancement software to it, and see a reflection of the killer’s face on a chrome-plated lugnut.  There’s only so much you can clarify a position that is fuzzy to begin with.

The rest of that post is well worth your time.

Les at Stupid Evil Bastard ripped a great gaping hole in the central premise of Phil’s argument:

Phil says all that does is make people defensive and resort to knee-jerk rationalizations and that is often true, I’m certainly guilty of it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t stop to consider the accusation of idiocy later when they have cooled down and are no longer in the midst of the argument. Not everyone will, but people who are anything like I am probably will and prompting that self-reflection can be the beginning of change.

I have much long and bitter experience in determining the truth of that.  

So, we’ve determined that a) quite often we’re hitting the target we intend, not the one he thinks we aimed at and b) when we turn double-barreled dickishness on someone with the intent of converting them, specifically, it can get the job done.  And I’ve not yet seen anyone argue that we must be all dick all the time.  There’s a time and a place for some hand-holding, sweet words o’ persuasion, and some gentle urging along.  That doesn’t leave DBAD in great shape.

Look, the sentiment was nice, and it’d be great if we lived in a world where dickishness was unnecessary, but there’s a reason for the carrot-and-stick proverbs.  Sometimes, all of us need a good sharp thump with a really big stick (or dick, ha ha) in order to snap out of our stupidity.

I just hope Bad Universe fares better than DBAD.  And, Phil?  I still love you, man.  How could I not, with posts like these?

Phil’s Not Faring Too Well

I love Phil Plait.  I respect Phil Plait.  I follow him on Twitter, shall soon be following him on teevee, and enjoy him immensely.  But even the people I love best occasionally do things that earn them a gentle savaging from their peers.  And it seems that his Don’t Be A Dick shenanigans (hereafter referred to as D-BAD) earned him said savaging.

Ophelia Benson, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and now even Peter Lipson (one of the least-dickish people I’ve ever read) have taken some not-so-subtle swipes, when not unloading with both barrels.  I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve missed.  It doesn’t matter anyway, because the whole thing makes me tired.  This “we must be nicey-nice to the poor delicate believers!” bullshit is threatening to condemn me to a life of early dentures.

Just a few thoughts that have been going about in my head during this whole D-BAD drama, and then I am hopefully done:

1.  If you run with the skeptics, your sacred oxen are at risk of getting gored.  If you faint at the sight of blood, better not run.

2.  There is no safety in numbers.  Just because several million people believe a delusion doesn’t make it true.

3.  Niceness and respect have their place, but all too often, it enables the very woo and uncritical thinking skeptics are supposed to be against.

4.  Enable one woo, and you’ve just thrown the doors open wide with a big welcome sign for all the others.

And, most importantly to me personally:

5.  Those “dicks” were the people who snapped me out of woo-tainted thinking to begin with.  All of the happy-joy-joy nice warm fuzzy people kept me thinking for years that some pretty inane shit was legit, because hey, they didn’t seem to mind.  And I’m not a very unique human being at all, so I highly doubt I’m an anomalous data point.  Without the dicks, I’d still be susceptible to pseudoscience and magical thinking.  Sometimes, what a person really needs is a good, sharp slap by an enormous dick to snap them out of it.

Oh, dear.  I suspect that last bit came out wrong, or led to mental images that have you reaching for the brain bleach.  Sorry ’bout that.

Anyway.  What I’m saying is, dickishness has a place and a purpose.  Religious sentiment should not and must not get a safe little reservation all walled off from skepticism.  (That goes triple for you, Quinn O’Neil, oh ye of the most bloody stupid argument I’ve read all week.)

Religious freedom is a Constitutional right in this country, and we dicks respect that.  But respect for a person’s freedom to believe in irrational bullshit does not translate into treating irrational bullshit with kid gloves, nor should it, and as for those who aren’t tough enough to take it – I’ve got a couple of religious friends you should consult, because they might be able to advise you how to take it on the chin and keep grinning anyway.  They don’t burst into tears and run away blubbering whenever I say something not nice about their faith. 

You know what all that crying tells me?  That the weepy religious believers running with the skeptical crowd aren’t sure their faith is legit.  They’re doubting.  Why else do they need everyone to tiptoe around them?  And how do I know this?  Because I did the same sniveling when my faith started crumbling on its own faulty foundations. And everyone who didn’t do their utmost to reinforce those foundations, or at least refrain from breathing on them, seemed like they were personally attacking me.  Guess what?  They weren’t.  They were going after silly superstition.  If you think your superstition isn’t silly, then shore up your own damned foundations, grow a pair, and deal with the dicks.

And don’t tell me that a few unkind words about your favorite form of woo is enough to sour you on the whole skeptical movement.  That’s just petty and ridiculous.  Besides, there are plenty of accomodationists out there happy to wrap you in their loving embrace.  Not all of us have to.  Not all of us should.

Life is full of slings, arrows, and dicks.  You deal, or you don’t.  And if that sounds harsh, well, it is.  It seems that despite some anatomical disadvantages, I am an enormous fucking dick. 

Doesn’t mean I don’t love you, though, irrationality and all. 

Things to Bring Up In Arguments With Cons

A few posts on Crooks and Liars you should absolutely not miss, especially if you get bogged down in discussions with Cons:

When they babble there’s no problem with racism and class divisions in this country, point them here. Be prepared to explain to them why, after generations of piss-poor treatment and rampant discrimination, black people may not have the warm fuzzies for white people, because you just know they’ll fall back on the “But they do it too!” defense.

When they brag about Faux News ratings in the mistaken belief those mean something, direct them here. Good luck trying to get them to understand that the majority of Americans aren’t obsessive fucktards who hang on Glenn Beck’s every spew.

And when they whine for the 1,989,346th time about how that report on right-wing extremism dishonors the troops, bring this to their attention. You may find it difficult getting through their skulls that neo-Nazis infiltrating the military dishonors the troops far more than reports advising that various extremist groups might target service members, but in the end, perhaps a fact or two might penetrate.

I know, who am I kidding, right? But let’s not give up hope just because the majority of them are hopeless fools.

Woozle and Mike Debate Thread

It’s a banner day, my darlings. This is the first time on this blog that a thread’s filled up to the point where it has to be closed and a new one opened. They’ve requested a new forum, and their wish is my command.

Of course, I’m sure neither of them will object if anyone else wishes to join the debate. They’re currently discussing reality vs. fantasy in sex ed.


Prop 8: Bet You Didn’t Realize There’s a Lesson to be Learned from the Romans

EmperorHadrian at Daily Kos has a wicked cool diary up exploring how the tyranny of the majority ends up affecting democracy:

We might be prone to be sympathetic to the Roman assemblies, and certainly its members were not nearly as powerful as the senators. The problem, however, is that democracies then as now can be manipulated by demagogues, sometimes even those with dictatorial ambitions (as we saw in the 2004 election). This was what helped Julius Caesar rise and overthrow the republic. The constitutional balance between the democracy and the aristocracy was what prevented a tyrannical leader, with no one’s interest in mind other than his own, from seizing power. The point of any constitutional system is to place checks and balances so that no source of authority (executive, aristocratic, or democratic) can achieve unchecked power. For this, look no further than our constitution. Our constitution is designed so that, say, some 52% majority can’t just invalidate the equal protection clauses in the constitution and thus deny rights, say marriage rights, to some unpopular minority group.


In effect, Tiberius used the same theory of popular sovereignty that Julius Caesar would later use, and that the supporters of Prop 8 in California used. The theory, that laws and constitutional mandates can simply be ignored when popular majorities disagree with them, was (is) repugnant to the genius’ of both the Roman and American constitutional systems, and if carried to their logical ends, would put the state under the absolute control of any temporary popular majority. Replace “popular majority” with “president”, and you get Nixon’s famous decree that “if the president does it, that means it is not illegal”.

Deary, deary me.

He makes a good case that following the popular will without respecting minority rights can weaken and eventually topple a democracy. Go have a read. It’s another good arrow to have in the quiver.

Deepak Chopra PWNS Hannity, Raises Important Issue

That’s gonna leave a mark – or it would, if Sean Hannity wasn’t such a dumbfuck:

I sent the following letter to Sean Hannity recently in response to his misrepresentation of what I said on his show regarding the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I have not received any response back from him. Today I read it aloud on my Sirius-XM radio program and am now making it public here as well.

Dear Sean,


I was hoping to come back on your show and have a reflective, intelligent dialogue, but perhaps the attack mode is the only way you know to make a living. The best excuse for your dishonest accusations against me is that you don’t believe what you’re saying. The far right has deflated, so you are there to pump it up with hot air. If you stop blowing, you’ll be out of a job. I empathize.


PS: No one expects the right wing to change, but for what it’s worth, they have entered an era of reconstruction. They’ve lost both their power and their credibility. Instead of trying to educate me about being an American, you might want to re-educate yourselves about dirty pool and below-the-belt attacks. Just a thought.

And yes, I cut out some of the best of it. That’s because you need to go give Deepak some love. Go. Read. Return. We have a few things to talk about.

Chopra is making an incredibly unpopular point, but a necessary one, in his recent interviews on Faux News and CNN. No one wants to hear it. For all we lionize the idea of responsibility in this country, we don’t like to take it.

And what Chopra is saying is this: we bear some responsibility for the violence in the world, and more violence isn’t the answer:

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: As the investigation continues into the terror attacks that left 174 dead in Mumbai, India, officials are suggesting that while some of the attackers were killed, those responsible for planning the attacks may still be on the loose in Pakistan. Joining us now on the phone in Canada tonight, the author of “Jesus, A Story of Enlightenment,” Deepak Chopra, and former secretary of defense under the Clinton administration, William Cohen. He was in Mumbai, India when the attacks began.

Welcome to you both.

Dr. Chopra, want to begin with you. What you said was pretty controversial, and you came under attack for talking about humiliation, poverty, lack of education as leading to this and getting to root causes, and Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal went after you for saying that.

Can you please explain?

DEEPAK CHOPRA, “JESUS, A STORY OF ENLIGHTENMENT” AUTHOR: Well, first of all, I don’t think Dorothy Rabinowitz has any sense of history. If she did she would know that in the 1980s the CIA financed the militarization of Afghan rebels to resist Soviet expansion in the region. At the same time the U.S. subsidized Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, to train and provide tactical support to these Mujahideen who later became Taliban.

So, you know, there’s a history there that clearly suggests that the U.S. activity in the Indian continent for the last few decades has in some way participated in the creation of this mess that we have.

What we have to understand, what Miss Rabinowitz does not understand is that killing a terrorist is not the same thing as killing their ideology.

The jihadists ideology, which is barbaric, violent, senseless, savage and primitive, is — has a historical context.


CHOPRA: It cannot be wiped out with force much less killed. You know, unless we understand the root causes of this, we’re going to perpetuate this violence over and over again.

Hannity bursts in shortly thereafter, after former Secretary of Defense William Cohen has made a similar point but with more emphasis on the “kill the terrorists” part, and makes a total ass of himself, trying to boil a complex issue down to “Deepak blames America for Islamofascism!!1!111!”

Neocons, warmongers, and people too busy with the latest celebrity mishap to pay attention to foreign policy issues want this to be simple black-and-white: America good, terrorists bad. They don’t want to hear about how our shitty foreign policy contributes to the conditions that foster terrorism. They don’t understand that we had a huge hand in creating the Taliban. They certainly don’t want to hear that we’re going to have to show some loving kindness toward those who might end up trying to kill us tomorrow otherwise. They just want the terrorists killed, not realizing that there is no purely military solution to this problem.

Let me highlight again what Chopra said, because it’s important:

…killing a terrorist is not the same thing as killing their ideology.

And until we have the guts to admit that, we’ll never run short of the terrorists we’ve helped create.

Well-Armed Citizenry

The absolute key to making a democracy work is knowing what the fuck is going on in the first place. A well-informed citizen is well-armed. And myself, I loves me the mental image of Congresscritters staring down the barrel of a savvy constituent.

Since the MSM refuse to do their fucking jobs, it’s up to us. Ordinary people, doing extraordinary work, and making democracy happen.

We’ve emerged with a strong voice in elections via sites like Daily Kos. We keep up-to-date on goings-on through blogs like The Washington Monthly, Think Progress, and Talking Points Memo. We take action through Act Blue and Firedoglake. And we have unprecidented access to our upcoming President via But until now, we haven’t had a friendly, easy-to-use site dedicated to keeping us up on legislation before it hits the ground running fast enough to knock us over.

That’s why I’m thrilled with this discovery:

For those who want to keep a closer eye on what happens in our nation’s Capitol, Kagro X is ruling the roost over at Congress Matters — where we hope to do for the legislative process what we’ve been doing to the electoral one: democratizing it. Remember, once legislation hits the floor of the Senate or House, it’s usually too late for us to do anything about. That’s why the lobbyists hang out in the committee rooms, not the floor. Our goal with Congress Matters will be to keep a better eye on what’s happening in those committee rooms, identify pressure points, so we can direct our activism at the right time and place. The site should prove immensely important in 2009.


Forewarned is forearmed, my darlings. I intend to put Congress Matters to good use, and I hope you do the same.