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Mar 10 2014

David Silverman’s “Darwin Was Wrong” Moment

Surely New Scientist’s terrible choice in creating the “Darwin Was Wrong” cover happened not so long ago that the skeptical community has forgotten the sturm und drang that rightly came after it. And yet, here we are.

To explain: the science rag’s cover was designed to tease an article wherein the phylogenetic “tree” shape is explained to be less accurate than the more web-like structure with speciation and cross-pollination that we now understand to be the case today. So, Darwin was wrong, yes — but he was not wrong about evolution. And yet to this day, you will find creationists who use that misleading cover to suggest that evolution did not happen, therefore God. Despite being technically correct, the messaging was so poor as to cause splash damage, and atheists and skeptics were pretty mad despite the right-on-a-technicality nature of the problem.

So it’s honestly surprising to me that so many people are so bent out of shape over David Silverman’s poor messaging very recently at CPAC — no, not the people who are upset that what he said caused splash damage to women and was worth criticizing. I mean, the people who are bent out of shape over the CRITICISMS of such.
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Mar 09 2014

“It’s sad I can’t take my kid”

Someone sent me an email with regard to the timeline I had put together of harassment reports in the secular / skeptical / atheist communities, and it came at a very good moment for me. Just when I was feeling the strain of the sisyphean task of combatting harassment in a community that would rather we have a “big tent” that includes the harassers, this email came to bolster my spirits.

I got permission to republish excerpts in hopes that it helps you too.

I wanted to say thank you for the work you’re doing, because no matter what I say, I will never be taken seriously when I talk about sexual harassment in geek space- because I’m a woman. It’s doubly hard for me now, because my daughter is old enough to start being interested in going to various conventions in geek culture.

The second I say anything, no matter how mild, I’m instantly going to be viciously attacked. I’m moderately used to the nastyness, but I’m completely unwilling to subject my 13 year old child to that sort of crap.

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Mar 07 2014

If only this was a real Canadian Heritage Moment

It’s high-enough quality that it should be. I wonder if Canada will ever commission new ones, or if we’ll just keep seeing the Winnie-The-Pooh one over and over again. Not that I should complain, since there’s a few that are about women’s suffrage and the systemic repression of women in education that still also get circulation. But still — we should celebrate our more recent human rights victories too, right?

Mar 04 2014

Fraudster skeptic Brian Dunning’s shell game

It’s been known for quite some time that Brian Dunning is dirty. From 2006 to 2007, he and his brother set up their joint venture Kessler’s Flying Circus as part of the eBay affiliates program wherein you get commission from every sale if someone purchased something after clicking on a banner ad on your site. Two of Dunning’s other websites, WhoLinked.com and ProfileMaps.info were configured to “stuff cookies” for eBay — that is, to create persistent cookies in your web browser such that if you visited one of those sites, the next time you visited eBay it would imagine that you’d clicked on one of those banner ads. Basically, by going to the site, without knowing it, you were treated as though you’d clicked on the Dunning brothers’ ad campaign even if you’d never even seen that ad. And the cookie would persist such that all your purchases looked as though they came from that ad campaign.

He’d figured out to do this by reverse-engineering Shawn Hogan’s tools — Shawn Hogan being the top-most eBay affiliate, who had himself defrauded eBay of $30+ million USD.

In 2008, eBay filed a lawsuit alleging that Dunning and Dunning had defrauded them of $5,300,000 USD. Though not as big a fraud as Hogan’s case, the Dunnings were the number two affiliate, and this was not chump change. eBay was definitely not getting the advertising bang for their buck. In 2010, a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. The FBI issued a press release in April 2013 showing that Brian Dunning had pled guilty. He faces 20 years jail time for his crimes.

Given that his general defense to the FBI was that eBay had been “stupid” in the way they set up the program, it’s fairly self-evident he was not repentant of his crimes and thought he could fight the suits in a sort of characteristically Libertarian “if you can do it, then it’s okay to do” defense. Now that he’s pled guilty, it’s fairly evident that he could not fight this case with that method of thinking.

Dunning’s legacy, his skeptical podcast Skeptoid, has long been known to be a cash cow as well — with its own advertisements, and a kitsch store with huge markups on t-shirts and mugs and the likes. However, now that Dunning has pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing, Skeptoid’s fate is in question.

In May of 2012, Dunning filed to convert the Skeptoid Media, Inc into a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, removing the ads from the podcast and site. This is mere months after he’d been forced to publicly admit that the lawsuits were ongoing.

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This is a screenshot of the filing for non-profit status from the Department of Justice website.

It’s an easy leap to believe that this was done to protect it from fallout from his fraud; it’s an easier leap to believe that all he has to do to protect the money he stole is to donate it all to Skeptoid as soon as the non-profit status comes through. I am under the impression that Dunning is presently setting up a board for this non-profit entity prior to the status actually changing. I don’t think it’s possible, at this point, to consider the brand anything but spent and destroyed — any efforts made by any members of our community toward rehabilitating its image and disassociating Skeptoid the brand from Brian Dunning the imprisoned felon are, in my mind, wasted and themselves tainted efforts.

I’m certain that the FBI will not allow this shell game to happen, especially not with the scrutiny that’s levelled at Brian Dunning presently. But on the off chance that it does happen, that Skeptoid is allowed to use funds from the eBay fraud, and that it doesn’t die on the vine thanks to the ongoing support I see from numerous big-name skeptics in our community, at least it won’t have happened because everyone stayed silent.

I do not consent to the skeptical “brand”, insofar as there is one, being represented by malicious con-men and other ne’er-do-wells. The skeptical way of thinking is a toolset that supplements a person’s identity. Not every person’s identity toolset is complete — many people lack empathy or a strong moral compass, among other numerous lacks. The skeptical toolset has too long been associated with amoral Libertarian con-artists that comprise the big-name skeptics, like Dunning, and I’d very much like that to end now. We have enough of an image problem with so-called “honest liars”; no need to prop up dishonest con-artists as part of a package deal.

Speak up. Repudiate any efforts to resurrect the Skeptoid brand. Dissociate yourselves from it if you have ties. Dunning is an unrepentant con-man and none of us need to go down with his ship.

I say that as someone who got into movement skepticism with Skeptoid being the first podcast I ever listened to.

Mar 03 2014

Quick, while I have the TERFs and MRAs distracted, go solve all the problems!

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a sixteen year old wide-eyed innocent who believed the human race is generally good, I was victimized by someone’s lies. I told the story on this blog in hopes of achieving some measure of catharsis for myself, and providing real support to others for whom the same sort of lie had damaged their lives. However, I recognized later that the reason I got off so easy actually meant many people who were really hurt would never see justice, and that this was a problem with society that I would have traded more personal pain to see righted.

Today, someone who ostensibly agrees with me on the existence of the overarching problem with society threw those lies back in my face, attacking me because I disagreed with her that transgender folks should be protected from her attacks, in an effort to poison my Google search results for my name. That someone is Cathy Brennan. And she’s in totally appropriate company in the attempt at poisoning my search results — the same slander is also posted on A Voice For Men.
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Mar 02 2014

Petition to remove judge who claims Down syndrome rape victim “didn’t act like a victim”

IMPORTANT WARNING: After signing and putting my weight behind this petition, I learned that the person who created it is a Trans-Exclusive Radical feminist (TERF). Please bear that in mind before signing, if you are trans and need to protect yourself. While I strongly agree on this one issue, I am very keenly aware that TERFs have been known to and continue to victimize trans folk, and I don’t want to put any of you in harm’s way.
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Mar 01 2014

Fake tweet, legit topics of discussion.

Piers Morgan is no stranger to controversy lately, where in his TV show’s dying days, he sought to turn Janet Mock’s life into infotainment, doing immense splash damage to trans folks in the process. It’s no wonder people are taking it upon themselves to shame him in innumerable ways.

Like with this very probably faked tweet, apparently taken as a photograph of a computer monitor with visible pixellation, posted by some rapper obviously looking to make a name for himself by inventing a “beef” as the kids say with a public figure:

 

piersmorganfake1

The image is ostensibly of Morgan’s Twitter stream, complete with his avatar and Twitter page background, tweeting a link to www.pornhub.com/asian .

Below the fold, I talk about pornography. Might not be safe for work.
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Feb 26 2014

Crommunist imagines Macklemore and Tim Wise as a buddy cop story

Absolutely brilliant. What an inspiring story of overcoming adversity in the face of anti-white bigotry!

(ELMORE and WISER sit at a dimly-lit bar, drinks in front of them. Music by Kenny G plays in the background. The bar is mostly empty, save for a few regular patrons.)

ELMORE: I don’t get you, Wiser. You’ve been on the force for 20 years, but you’re still front line. Why not write the sergeant’s exam? Why not try to move up the ladder?

WISER: (Sighs) You still don’t get it, kid. The system is rigged against guys like us. You think I haven’t written that exam? You think I want to be stuck in the same place? It’s all bullshit politics.

ELMORE: What do you mean?

WISER: I used to be like you, Elmore. I used to believe that the system could treat folks like you and me fairly, if we played by the rules. But all that changed when the mayor hired the first black police commissioner. At first I thought it was a great step. Clear out some of the old racists, get some new blood in the chain of command. Really change the force, you know?

ELMORE: So what happened?

WISER: The new commissioner turned out to be just as racist as the old one. The first thing he did was appoint a deputy. You know what colour that deputy was? Black. Then when it was time for a new Internal Affairs chief, the commissioner put forward a list of recommendations. Not a white man on the list.

ELMORE: I can’t… I can’t believe it

WISER: Believe it. Face it, Elmore. The tables have turned. Now guys like you and me are riding at the back of the bus, while the commissioner puts all his buddies in all the positions of authority.

Read more. Now.

Feb 19 2014

Vox Day plans on making a game with Historical Versimilitude(TM) by excluding women

It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about Jerk-Of-All-Trades Theodore Beale, also known as Vox Day. He’s a creationist, an MRA, and a generally self-satisfied, self-proclaimed polymath. And he’s making a video game that, in his words (Manboobz link!), “does not, and will not, have a single female character in it.”

His reasoning:
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Feb 17 2014

On anger over the word “stupid”

Anti-social-justice folks are attempting to stir the pot and get so-called “big names” to throw down with one another right now. There’s a definite sense of glee coming from certain parts, parts wherein people are evidently incapable of any sort of nuanced argumentation, where all they live for is the “drama” of people disagreeing with one another. It’s the “let’s you and him fight” sort of instigation you expect in high school. And it needs to be pointed out that this is happening, precisely because there is always some manner of painful growth necessary within our movement.

This is exactly the sort of thing they’ve been asked to do and have refused, and are now relishing the moment that the people who asked them to do that sort of growing are themselves being called out for language that has done splash damage. Except, the configuration of this particular fight isn’t quite exactly right for the sort of lines-drawing that we’re doing.

Trigger warning: discussion of slurs in just about every class of such, including and especially ones that are considered ableist since they are at the heart of the current conflagration.
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