The Riddle of Randomness

Cross-posted at Geek Girl Con’s blog!

Last year at Geek Girl Con, I had the privilege of participating in the Do-It-Yourself Science Zone teaching kids about probability and randomness.

GeekGirlCon 2014 at Washington State Conference Center in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

GeekGirlCon 2014 at Washington State Conference Center in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

However, being The Riddler, I had a secret agenda in mind while doing my demonstrations — I have a trio of ten-sided dice that I use to gamble with my fellow super-villains, and I wanted to figure out which of them, if any, had a bias for or against any particular number. What better way to find out, than to offload the boring task of rolling those dice over and over again onto unsuspecting passers-by?
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Getting off on the charges of getting off without consent

Content note: sexual assault, non-consensual sexual activities.

Been a while, I know. This story reignited the RAGE BLOGGER in me, and this is a good thing, because I’ll need the warmup for what I’ve got rattling around in my head the past few days.

Apparently, in Tokyo, a man responsible for ejaculating on non-consenting, unaware women over a hundred times on Tokyo’s train system has finally been caught.

A middle-aged man, Tetsuya Fukuda, 40 has been arrested for the attacks on crowded trains between Kinshicho and Akihabara stations in the capital Tokyo.

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Tribalism, empathy, atheism, and Chapel Hill

In the rush most Big Name Atheists are making to disavow or diminish the role Craig Hicks’ atheism played in his murdering three Muslim students earlier today, I am not shocked at all that some — most, even — of these Names are the same people who demanded that every Muslim disavow the actions of the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre or else be judged complicit. Nuance goes right out the window when viscerally reacting to a traumatic event, and doubly so when your instincts incline you toward protecting The Tribe. Nor am I shocked at the need by some to attempt to perform contrafactual judo in order to attack the intersection of identities that they most easily consider The Enemy Tribe, pinning it on Them, Not Us. Even when the “Them” doing this are more proximate to the problem, insofar as they are the ones advocating against the pluralists and the tolerant liberals and the “Social Justice Warriors” who want people to stop being assholes to one another. All in service of defending The Tribe of Atheism against the heathen Religious who are trying to sully our good name by holding us to account for an antitheist murdering some religious folks.

I’ve said innumerable times that knowing only that someone is an atheist is insufficient information to make the determination as to whether or not they’re a good person. Dictionary atheists — those who staunchly defend the idea that Movement Atheism should be solely about antitheism and must not let our mission creep — reacted quite astonishingly antipathetic to the idea of Atheism Plus. They were evidently quite put out by the idea that one should be more than just atheist, that people who also cared about humanism and feminism and anti-racism anti-ableism and LGBTQ rights might want to find one another, befriend one another, and provide one another with support.

These people have decided that “The Movement” should only be about atheism, and that we should be a granfalloon Big Tent and we should all overlook the nasty behaviour of certain quarters of atheism. Given that said behaviour makes the environment generally toxic to various underclasses and makes the movement inaccessible to all but the whitest, dudeliest, most “un-PC” jackasses whose idea of “edgy” is telling racist or rape jokes as though nobody’s ever said shitty things about women before, this functions as entitlement over an environment.
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Glenn Beck: enemy of humanity

How else can you explain someone faced with empirical evidence that children are being infected with a preventable disease, thanks to anti-vaccination anti-science, claiming it’s all a hoax?

Damn it all. Maybe we deserve our fate, as a race, to succumb to some pandemic or other humanity-endangering event, because of certain humans spreading misinformation in order to line their own pockets. When the stakes are human lives, how can we as a species continue when we’re willing to throw others’ lives away for our own enrichment?

(Guest Post) Words of mass destruction: the weaponization of ‘free speech’

A guest post by Robert Fendt. Please address comments appropriately. :)

(Note: this text deals with harassment, sexism, misogyny, racism and transphobia. Readers’ discretion is advised.)

Dear reader: are you male? White? Heterosexual? Cisgender? Healthy? Congratulations: this text is for you. It also means you are among us lucky ones who get to play the game called ‘life’ on the easiest setting there is. Don’t believe it? Read on.

Disclaimer: I’m also a white male cisgender heterosexual person. And for a long time, I would have said about me having it particularly easy in life: don’t be ridiculous. But I do have friends and colleagues who are not male, who are not white, who are not heterosexual, who are not cisgender, some of whom have to deal with disability or illness, and listening to them has changed and reshaped my perspective. It’s time it changed the perspectives of us all.

In the ‘western’ countries, freedom of opinion and speech are fundamental rights, designed to protect minorities from persecution. So how ironic is it that nowadays ‘free speech’ also functions as a smoke screen for the harassment of women and minorities?

Imagine being a woman walking down the street. Now try to guess how common cat calls and whistles are, and how many unsolicited comments about your body and looks you get. Try to guess how common it is that strangers come uncomfortably close or even touch you without your consent. If you guessed “rarely”, then guess again. Being a woman in public means being scrutinised and ogled and commented upon, at the very least. And now do me a favor: honestly try to imagine being in that position. Imagine dealing with stuff like that. For every. Single. Fucking. Day.
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#FtBCon 3: Asexual Spectrum Atheists panel, and Youtube comments brigaded

Here’s the full panel.

The book mentioned is Asexuality: The Invisible Orientation by Julia Sondra Decker, and here are some links the panelists wanted to include.

A link that Tristan wanted to add, relevant to the “asexual but still having sex”: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Group/BussLAB/pdffiles/why%20humans%20have%20sex%202007.pdf

This is regarding the House episode mentioned:
http://nextstepcake.tumblr.com/post/78579198812/tw-massive-ace-invalidation-going-on-here-a

The census is available here: https://asexualcensus.wordpress.com/

And hey, big congratulations to Thunderf00t on fully embracing your nature as a churlish, small-minded and provincial sort, the type of person who gives atheists a reputation of being the Douchebag Brigade, much like was mentioned during this panel. Since your coming-out as such a few years back, your quality of life must have gotten really much better — I know what it’s like to have to hide some fundamental aspect of your life, and it must be nice for you to feel free to be an utter asshole in public now. Good for you. And good for all your fellow douchebags in your audience.

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#FtBCon 3: My facilitator track

The full schedule for FtBCon3 is at Lanyrd, and finding your way to the Google Event page (where the Hangout will be broadcasted) is as simple as going to the panel you want, and clicking on the Official Session Page. This will work even after the event was over hours ago, even if you’re a little late, even if you have used a TARDIS and gone to the distant future (assuming Google’s servers still exist). And if you’re early, you’ll probably see no video, or a countdown clock til go-live.

Q&A will be handled in the Pharyngula chat room, accessible by going to http://tinyurl.com/ftbcon.

Here are the sessions I’m facilitating, with the Google Event pages linked in the titles. All times are in Central.

Asexual Spectrum Atheists – Friday, 9pm-10:30pm
An asexual is someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. While it’s a simple definition, we will correct common assumptions, and explain the the asexual spectrum through our personal experiences. We will discuss obstacles faced by asexual-spectrum folk and why it’s important to be aware of it and talk about it. And completely unique to this panel, we’ll discuss the good and the bad of how our experiences intersect with atheism and skepticism. This is especially important considering that the asexual community is predominantly non-religious right now.

The Psychology of Trolls – Saturday, 10am-11am – panelist
Much has been made recently of trolling on the internet, and how it betrays the trolls’ sociopathy. Is there any truth in that? Why do trolls troll, otherwise? What traits do they have in common, and what tactics do they use as a result?

Fundraising for a Secular Cause: Because It Takes Money To Change the World – Saturday, 1pm-2pm
It takes money to scale an organization up from its seeds as a good idea into a major player with local and/or national impact. Organizing a successful conference entails similar costs. But fundraising is hard, and very few people enjoy asking others for money.
This panel will show you not only how to ask people for money, but also to understand who you should be asking in the first place! Presenters range from those serving as volunteer fundraisers for a local group, to organizers of highly successful conferences, to professional staff with responsibility for raising a million-dollar budget.

Student Advocacy and Why Students Need to be Involved in Politics – Saturday, 3pm-4pm
Cara and Dan will illustrate the how and the why of political activism, and how to make allies out of your state representatives, city council members, and school administrators.

Secular Cults – Saturday – 5:30pm-7pm
Not all cults are religious. Attributes of a cult include traits such as: unquestioning commitment to one or more leaders, who are considered unaccountable to any authorities; punishment of dissent; mind-altering practices such as meditation and chanting; and deceptive recruitment practices. Many organizations that are not overtly religious still exhibit many of these traits. In this panel we will discuss some examples of this phenomenon, such as the Amway and other multi-level businesses, the self-help movement, and some homeschooling organizations.

Evidence-Based Feminism 2 – Saturday – 7pm-8pm
HJ Hornbeck continues to put feminism’s claims under science’s microscope, this time by examining economic equality, representation, and that perennial favorite “rape culture.” Watching his previous talk is optional, but recommended.

Secular Asian Community – The binary nature of diversity discussions – Saturday 9pm-10:30pm
A panel of Asian freethought community members will discuss successes in making Asians more visible in the community, things the secular community could be doing better to make Asians feel more welcome, and the consequences of not building organized and humanist communities, such as the situation in China presently.

Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Commentary and Q&A by Dr. Richard Carrier – Sunday 11am-12pm
Dr. Carrier will briefly discuss his new book On the Historicity of Jesus (published by the University of Sheffield), his online course on the topic, and some of the issues of debating the historical existence of Jesus, and then take live Q&A from the audience. Exactly the opposite of a Sunday sermon. On Sunday. At sermon time.

Teaching Critical Thinking – Sunday, 4pm-5pm
How can teachers use their role as educators to instill critical thinking and ideas like rationalism and empiricism? Are such approaches intrinsic to teaching or separate? We could also go into the ethics of where to draw the line between instructing and “preaching” but I’d actually prefer to stick to the praxis and methodology of bringing critical thinking into the classroom. How do we adapt assessments and assignments? How do we model thinking behaviors we’d like to see?

Digital Self-Defense – Sunday 6pm-7pm – panelist
Experts in various fields related to technology and intellectual property come together to discuss the art of self-defense on the internet. How do you protect yourself online from all manners of attack, be they hacks or legal threats?

And of course I’ll be in the last panel, the denouement of the con, Wrapping It Up.

The null hypothesis

I was cued to write this mini-rant by a conversation on Twitter. I don’t really feel that I should have to explain the null hypothesis to people within this community, but in contexts like sexual assault and rape, it seems that all proportional skepticism goes right out the window.

Ami Angelwings (of Escher Girls fame) tweeted about accusations, and how the accusation that “she’s making it all up” is actually itself an accusation, and needs to be vetted out. She went on to say that the null hypothesis in this case is not that “she’s making it up”. Someone I greatly respect in the skeptical community replied to my retweeting that, saying “it is, give evidence”.

Frankly, that’s a load. That isn’t how the null hypothesis works.
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FtBCon 3: Confirmed Participants

Cross-posted from FtBCon:
Here’s a preliminary list of confirmed participants for Freethought Blogs’ FtBConscience 3. This list is subject to change, but at time of writing, all participants have confirmed their availability for panels and talks for the conference.

FtB Bloggers:

  • Alex Gabriel
  • Heina Dadabhoy
  • Jason Thibeault
  • Miri Mogilevsky
  • Richard Carrier
  • Russell Glasser
  • Stephanie Zvan
  • Tauriq Moosa

Invited Guests:

  • Adam Lee
  • Amy Boyle
  • Amy Davis Roth
  • Ben Blanchard
  • Caleb Harper
  • Cerberus
  • Chana Messinger
  • Cindy Cooper
  • Dan Fincke
  • Dan Linford
  • Dan Williams
  • Danny Samuelson
  • Debbie Goddard
  • Donald Wright
  • Ed Cara
  • Elizabeth
  • Erin
  • Franklin Veaux
  • Harry Shaughnessy
  • Hiba Krisht
  • HJ Hornbeck
  • James Billingham
  • James Croft
  • Jared Axelrod
  • Josiah “Biblename”
  • Karen Hill
  • Karen Stollznow
  • Kaveh Mousavi
  • Kay Vee
  • Lauren Lane
  • Leigh Honeywell
  • Lilandra Ra
  • MA Melby
  • Mai Dao
  • Maria Greene
  • Matt Lowry
  • Michael Damian Thomas
  • Michael Nam
  • Michelle Huey
  • Misha Greenbaum
  • Misty Taylor
  • Monette Richards
  • Muhammad Syed
  • Neil Wehneman
  • Nick Fish
  • Nick Geiger
  • Niki Massey
  • Olivia James
  • Raina Rhoades
  • Razib Khan
  • Reem Abdel-Razek
  • Rich Wisneski
  • RJ Redden
  • Sakeena Almulhida
  • Sastra / Sue Strandberg
  • Scott Lohman
  • Shelly Henry
  • Susan Porter
  • Tim Farley
  • Trina Gardinier
  • Tristan Miller
  • Valerie Aurora
  • Vic Wang
  • Vivian
  • Vyckie Garrison
  • Wesley Fenza
  • Yau Man Chan

We hope to add more to our roster as panels are finalized in the run up to the convention. Hope to see you there!

Brief thoughts on Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech

Satire depends heavily on the cultural context in which it was made. Charlie Hebdo is certainly a leftist rag, and certainly satire, and certainly understood as such within France’s cultural context. However, there are some universals about satire that people, time and again, forget.

The first and most important thing to remember is that satire can damage just as much as the original offense, and sometimes more. Charlie Hebdo’s satire was about taking some aspect of the news cycle — some politician or celebrity who held racist and sexist views — and illustrating the logical end result of those views. In a context where a great deal of damage has been done by outright propaganda by outright racists and sexists, where “Evil Banker Jew” and “Monkey-Like Black Person” are well-worn tropes, depicting them as though you’re resurrecting the trope in order to scandalize the person who still holds those views is fraught and potentially more damaging to the person who’s damaged by the original racism.

The second thing to remember about satire is that it is a powerful weapon, to be wielded carefully so as to avoid splash damage. Attacking a class — or being perceived to be attacking a class — that is already under siege by society, is “punching down”. Even if you’re trying to shame the person who’s holding an antisemitic or anti-black or anti-woman view, you could very well legitimize or normalize attacks on that class of person by increasing the number of instances where it’s perceived to be acceptable. Increasing the frequency of a meme does not NECESSARILY legitimize it, but it CAN.
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