On the PR Disaster at #Skepticon and the lack of #ConcernedStudent1950 representation

Given how the late-addition “Q&A” session at Skepticon came into being, how it was sold to the convention, how it was advertised, and how it was “envisioned” by Danielle Muscato and Mark Schierbecker, it is no surprise the entire thing went off disastrously. Let us itemize the ways this all went wrong.

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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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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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Police brutality in Ferguson escalates drastically tonight

Another young, unarmed black boy was executed over the weekend — this time by the police. Witnesses claim Mike Brown, a young man returning from a store who was due to leave for university in a week, was shot from 30+ feet away by police while he had his hands up. That he was shot ten times. That he was left to lay in the street for four hours while police “contained” the scene.

The police claimed that he had been shot after a struggle with an officer in which he tried to get the officer’s gun. They claim that he had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting — despite the store claiming they’d never called the police and didn’t suspect Brown of this alleged crime in the first place.

Protesters chanted things like “No Justice, No Peace” and “Don’t Shoot Me”, and the news media reported this as “Kill The Police”. People are rightly outraged that a young, unarmed boy was murdered by white government officials, and these same officials respond to their grieving by bringing out police dogs and tanks. A cop proclaims, on CNN no less, “bring it on, you fucking animals.”

The town of Ferguson, St. Louis is tonight a warzone as militarized police crack down on protesters. And what do you hear on TV? “Looting” and “rioting”. Nothing about murdering an unarmed boy sparking the protests that are being spun as a race riot. And this in a week that already saw a black man murdered by cops for holding an airsoft gun in the airsoft gun aisle of Wal-Mart.

Antonio French has been recording scenes from the day’s protest and the police action, which now includes firing rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds, shining lights directly at reporters who are trying to take video, and intimidating people who are clearly only armed with cell phones.

This brutality has got to fucking end. What year is this?

Google demonstrates how to use your platform and reach judiciously and subversively

Google is ubiquitous. Everyone everywhere uses Google at some point. And right now, at least in the US and probably Canada, the Google Doodle — the logo Google uses on its main search page and on the top left of every search result page — is sticking it to Russia over the anti-gay human rights violations happening there presently.

Google Doodle, Feb 6, 2014.

Google Doodle, Feb 6, 2014.

A rainbow of silhouetted athletes form the logo, and beneath the search box, this quote:

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” –Olympic Charter

This is not just subversive, it’s downright defiant. The message is clear: the discrimination that Putin and his government have entrenched in his country, the discrimination that anti-gay right-wingers are cheering in America, is a betrayal of everything the Olympics was intended to stand for. Humanity’s colors are at its most vibrant when it is not suppressed by bigotry and intolerance of difference, especially over something so fundamentally human as who you happen to love.

Google has not always entirely lived up to its mission statement of “Don’t Be Evil”. But on this issue, at least, the pendulum is obviously swinging far in the morally righteous direction. Thanks, Google, for siding with the angels this time.

Pine River, MN’s puppy mill animal seizure, and our temporary foster dog

About a month ago, since Jodi can’t work on the Spousal visa she’s under, she decided to start volunteering some of her time at a local animal shelter. The shelter was at the time flooded with animals after a puppy mill — Country Pride Kennel, owned and operated by 60 year old Deborah B. Rowell in Pine River, MN — was shut down and all the animals were seized. All 130 animals. All of whom were evidently kept in insufferable heat, mud-filled hovels as kennels, and rarely with available clean water or shade. One was reportedly found dead in its kennel, in fact. Enough of the dogs were pregnant on being seized that the shelter ended up with more than 200 animals to deal with.

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Conspiracy theories about Zimmerman’s car crash rescue

I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but they’re setting off all sorts of wishful-thinking and conspiracy theory alarms on my bullshit detection kit. Four days after being declared not guilty of murder after having shot and killed 17-year-old unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman quickly reentered the news. CNN reports that he “stepped out of seclusion” and, happening upon the scene of a family of four having overturned their car, helped pull them from the car before it erupted into flames.

By the time a deputy arrived, Zimmerman and another man already had helped the two adults and two children out of the vehicle, Smith said.

Zimmerman did not witness the crash, and he left after making contact with the deputy, Smith said. No injuries were reported in the crash.

Only there are some minor inconsistencies with the report: that Zimmerman didn’t mention the rescue to his lawyer when they next saw one another; that the family didn’t mention a crash on social media; that the first officer on the scene was a self-described “friend” of Zimmerman even before the verdict.
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Anatomy of an apology

People are talking a lot lately about what qualities a genuine apology might take — what sort of apology, for instance, Ron Lindsay might be expected to make if many of the feminists he’s so undercut with his opening speech are going to actually accept it and thereafter find it in their hearts to resume their support of CFI, given that most of us have explicitly ASKED for such an apology.

Kickstarter gave us a great example that we can dissect, even where it has a few rough edges yet. They even did it in exactly the right order.

The backstory: a really horrid pick-up artist manual with first draft material including passages like:

Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.

In the context of a relationship where you’re not particularly familiar with a person, there’s good reason why there was an outcry against this rape-culture-steeped, utterly empathy-free, deep-fried nonsense, and why Kickstarter has apologized for not acting in time to shut it down. The Kickstarter was fully funded, and they were made aware with only two hours left before it closed. They were not able to stop the automated processes from finishing, and so this pick-up artist’s manual on how to input Konami codes into women to unlock Sex Mode will probably come into being.

(Then again, it probably would anyway — I have no idea what the kickstarter would actually fund, short of vanity press publishing.)

So, despite the damage that was done, why does Kickstarter’s apology work?
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