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Oh, gosh — I have cheesed off Sam Harris!

He is clearly quite peeved. It looks like the final straw was that I, as he claims, “gleefully endorsed” a post on The 5 Most Awful Atheists. Actually, what I did was challenge the author to write something positive about atheists, and agreed that the criticisms were valid, but not gleefully, and I also said that I do not consider any of those atheists irredeemable (except, of course, SE Cupp).

And I’ll stand by that.

Sam Harris has been a significant contributor to the atheist movement, and is far better known than I am. But that does not make him flawless. I disagree strongly with him on his position on torture, as do many others; I know he’s not a casual advocate of torture, but he does invent ridiculous, improbable scenarios (in which torture wouldn’t even work!) to justify some instances. I think his advocacy of profiling was repugnant, irrational and unjustifiable, and Bruce Schneier also found it problematic. To now dismiss Schneier’s informed discussion as a “long and rather tedious debate” and to characterize Schneier’s position as a failed argument from expediency is ridiculous.

For real fun, look at his complaints about blogs in general.

It is difficult to overlook the role that blog comments play in all this. Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers. Many people who read his blog come away convinced that I am a racist who advocates the widespread use of torture and a nuclear first strike against the entire Muslim world. The most despicable claims about me appear in the comment thread, of course, but Myers is responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.

Hmmm. I think Harris’s reputation as an illiberal advocate for atrocious policies long preceded any of my criticisms of his positions, and I suspect that the commenters here could make a far better indictment of Harris than he can a defense. But what do I know? You guys have destroyed my integrity!

Let’s complete the total sellout. Since I am now a notorious and unscrupulous opponent of all that is Sam, I will turn it over to you: there is currently a competition to raise money for Camp Quest. I’m falling far behind. If you think I’m on the side of Goodness and Righteousness, donate to Team PZ’s Revenge. If you think I’m full of it and adore Sam Harris, donate to Team Awful Re-defeat PZ, that gang of 13 bloggers (we’re all evil!) who have teamed up to conquer sad, lonely, isolated me.

Sam could really teach me a lesson by making a big donation to Team Awful. A good trouncing would show everyone how pathetic my influence actually is.

Comments

  1. hexag1 says

    Frankb @317

    Not sure where you are reading racism in anything I’ve said, and there isn’t any real ethnic difference between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. In any case, the idea of Armageddon does have specifically Christian origin, but the same idea has popped up again and again in many religions, particularly those that were built up around military states.

    And since Islam is more or less a wholesale copy of 7th century Catholicism, the Armageddon concept has made its way into Islam as well. There is a whole Koranic/Islamic theology of armageddon or ‘eschatology’ as it is sometimes called.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_eschatology

  2. hexag1 says

    Frankb @317

    Not sure where you are reading racism in anything I’ve said, and there isn’t any real ethnic difference between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. In any case, the idea of Armageddon does have specifically Christian origin, but the same idea has popped up again and again in many religions, particularly those that were built up around military states.

    And since Islam is more or less a wholesale copy of 7th century Catholicism, the Armageddon concept has made its way into Islam as well. There is a whole Koranic/Islamic theology of armageddon or ‘eschatology’ as it is sometimes called.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_eschatology

  3. hexag1 says

    KG @384

    You are being evasive about the ‘Armageddon’ question. You say that “Armageddon” is “not an Islamic concept”, but Islam does have an equivalent concept (because Islam is almost completely copied from Christianity and Judaism). In Islam it tends to be called ” Yaum al-Qiyāmah”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_eschatology

    This version of End Times theology has its own flavors which one can pick and choose from, including the terrifying lets-blow-up-the-world kind, espoused by from extereme-right figures in the Muslim world.

  4. says

    But we have home-grown Christian fanatics who are raving about the End Times…and who are busily populating our military. Why should we be afraid of one Islamist idiot getting his hands on a bomb, when we’ve got millions of Christianist idiots with their hands on thousands of bombs?

  5. says

    whatever procedures are currently being used for secondary screening on a purely random sample of passengers

    They stopped doing the random screenings in 2005 or thereabouts. Because they didn’t work and security experts recommended (rightly) that a consistent screening process that was as good as it could be practically made would be better. Random screenings were a temporary shortcut before they got the body scanner machines and got people accustomed to pat-downs. Getting everyone to put everything except their pants and shirts through the scanner pushed the system 90% of the way there. The body scanners push it to 99% (I just made that up!) There isn’t much that can sensibly be done to push it to 99.9%

    If such random screening exists, and the procedures (searches and whatnot) are ineffective, then we should stop secondary screening altogether.

    It exists but there’s really not much more that they can do. They look at your bag, ask you more questions, and wipe the bag down and check for nitrate compounds. Then they run your back back through the same scanner they ran it through the first time and peer at it more carefully. That’s it.

    There isn’t much more that can be done!! I suppose you could haul people aside and question them with an E-meter, but you’d have insane numbers of false positives. And the obvious fact is that once you’ve had your body and your bag scanned, you pretty much certainly haven’t got a gun or a knife or a bomb. Using an E-meter might catch a terrorist who had mastered martial arts and who planned to kill everyone on the plane with his bare hands, but that’s about it.

    I pointed this out elsewhere: Harris went and made a fool of himself by hanging himself on this issue when there really isn’t any additional value to any of what he’s talking about, anyway. That’s one of the things I meant when I said that Bruce was being nice to Harris; if he was more of a go for the jugular debater he wouldn’t have stood back and let Harris dig himself into a hole, he’d have pushed him in.

  6. says

    One of Scheier’s favorite points to make about airplane security (and it’s 100% exactly correct) is that the single biggest improvement resulted from armoring the cockpit doors with aramid, and locking them from the inside. That, right there, did more than every search and scan and profile and whatever.

    Security is a game of figuring out what to do next that’ll give you the best bang for your buck. Harris made a fool out of himself over what is, at best, a side-show.

  7. says

    @chigau “semitic features”

    I already tried argumentum ad zappa, earlier. :( The reason that Quinn (who was Mexican-American, I believe…) is dressed that way is to make him fit the stereotype.

    Harris and those defending racial profiling have staunchly avoided looking at pictures of Mohammed Atta going through security on 9/11, apparently.

  8. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    LicoriceAllsort, that’s pretty cool. You can see that even those “average faces” separated out African American and European American average faces. Making a composite Muslim face would give you something mostly Indonesian and Asian Subcontinental (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). Sure there are people who are of that mixed race but I don’t think it’s going to be very useful.

    (Of course this is your point, but I wanted to emphasize that most Muslims are not Middle Eastern)

    (This is beside the fact that most of the recent terrorist attacks on the United States have been by white American men. See: Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting, Aurora shooting, Planned Parenthood firebombings, that guy that flew a plane into an IRS building…)

  9. says

    It seems to me that much of the impenetrability to reason and reality based thinking on this issue, from Harris and many of his defenders on this point, is a very basic “common sense” fallacy.

    To their minds it really is as simple as, “duh, haven’t you seen the plane terrorism recently, it’s almost always darkish Muslim types, therefore a focus on darkish Muslim types is obviously the reasonable thing.”

    Full stop.

    Nothing else really enters into the equation. Sure, there is a lot of wavering and appeals to game theory and math. There is a lot of shuffling around the point that they obviously mean darkish people, to avoid being called racist.

    But it really is, at base, an appeal to common sense. And it isn’t just common sense, see. They are wreaally wreaally smart, so their common sense is obviously correct.

    Any blowback to this very obvious and common sense thing is political correctness, it’s liberal hand waving, it is the fear of acknowledging the Hard Truth™.

    Never mind that, despite what TV tells you, there are vast swaths of non-dark Muslims.

    Never mind that, according to this particular guy’s own criteria, you have to screen every male, bearded or not, of a certain age, of every color.

    Never mind that, according to this other guy’s criteria, Anders Breivik, Tim McVeigh, James Holmes and any other number of white, western, non-Muslim types – you know, the type of person statistically most likely to commit terrorist acts in the U.S. – breeze through security as security spends a disproportionate amount of time screening all of the might-be-a-Muslim-types.

    Never mind that, as Marcus pointed out, their policy would lead to even bigger groups of people standing around outside of the screening area, which makes a prime target for a suicide attack.

    Never mind how security experts explain the inefficacy of their positions.

    Never mind all of that, because, you see, it’s just common sense. Also not racist.

    See?

  10. says

    Average male faces for different countries and ethnic groups. I suspect that some of the profiling apologists ITT think that we could use similar technology to create an average Muslim face

    that would end up hilariously inefficient, considering that IIRC most Muslims are SEAsian, while most Islamic terrorists have been Middle-Eastern

  11. says

    I linked above to the Wikipedia articles about Irgun and Lehi. I have to assume Harris would argue that profiling of Jewish-looking people then would have been warranted due to militant Zionism.

    Or, he could just understand that politics is complicated and that a great many political ideologies, including his own, promote violence.

  12. vaiyt says

    @jt512:

    Middle Eastern descent correlates with being Muslim.

    BUZZZZZZZ WRONG!

    Most Muslims are of non-Middle Eastern descent. You look for Semitic features, and the terrorists just start bringing Indonesians/Africans/Slavs. You look for passports from countries of Muslim majority, they just recruit native citizens or from countries where they’re minorities. Beard? Come on, not even the 9/11 hijackers would be caught with such an asinine standard. You look for “muslim clothes”, they just dress like tourists. All the features one can use to catch suppposed “Muslims” are easily changeable. Meanwhile, you’re subjecting lots of innocent people to suspicion and putting them through additional hoops for no good reason.

    There was profiling of “Middle-Eastern” people around the country just after 9/11. What it did was generate plenty of false positives just after 9/11, including a Brazilian of Asian descent who was detained for two months because his name looked like it could be Arabic.

  13. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    @Mera:
    From your second link “A fifth of the world’s Muslims (19.9%) now live in the Middle East-North Africa.”

    That means that over 80% of muslims live elsewhere. And that profiling based on looking “middle eastern” could miss four out of five muslims.

  14. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Mera.

    vaiyt said most Muslims are of non-Middle Eastern descent.

    You responded that most people in the Middle East are Muslim.

  15. KG says

    What it did was generate plenty of false positives just after 9/11, including a Brazilian of Asian descent who was detained for two months because his name looked like it could be Arabic. – vaiyt

    He was lucky. In London after 7/7 a Brazilian electrician, Jean-Charles de Menezes, was shot dead by police (who subsequently lied about him and the sequence of events), after being misidentified as a wanted Islamist terror suspect. The senior officer in charge of the operation was later promoted, while the police were reportedly taunted on the streets with shouts of: “Don’t shoot – I’m not a Brazilian electrician!”.

  16. potira says

    But you see, Jean Charles de Menezes shouldn’t walk around wearing a heavy coat with bomb belt wires popping out looking foreign. Also, seven preemptive shots are the only way to stop jihad-bound suicide bombers electricians from doing their thing.

    If only the Brittish Police had waterboarded him just a lil’ bit, they might have obtained crucial information to prevent all those attacks performed by his cell.

  17. says

    Marcus wrote:

    [Random secondary screening] exists but there’s really not much more that they can do.

    It is this random secondary screening that I’ve been talking about. If secondary screening is efficacious, then I think the current random selection process should be replaced by a targeted selection process (and if secondary screening is not efficacious, then it should be abandoned).

    Assuming secondary screening is efficacious, randomly selecting passengers for it renders it almost useless, unless the fraction of passengers selected is high enough to be a deterrent. I don’t know what fraction is currently being used, but to a casual observer it looks pretty low. Let’s say it’s 2%; then the probability of a terrorist being randomly selected for secondary screening is 2%. That means that any terrorist hoping to avoid being randomly selected has 49 chances out of 50 of succeeding. Who is going to be deterred by odds like that?

    The PNAS paper (that just about everyone thinks says the opposite of what it does) provides the formula for optimal selection probability (with the goal is selection efficiency) that takes into account both the theoretical profiled probability of a passenger being a terrorist and the probability that our assessment is (in)correct. So even if we can correctly identify a Muslim say 20% of the time, the paper shows that profiling is still more efficient than random sampling. Note that using the method recommended in the paper, each passenger would still have a non-zero probability of being selected, but the probability for each passenger would depend on his or her risk profile.

  18. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    @ Marcus Ranum [468]

    Israel proliferated nuclear weapons technology to South Africa – another apartheid pariah state.

    It is important to note that South Africa completely turned away from nuclear proliferation and was the first country in the world to give up all its nuclear weapons. It was also the first country in the world to fulfil all the conditions of the draft international treaty banning landmines, by blowing them all up in a big mushroom cloud explosion!

    @ jt512

    Nigel, Middle Eastern descent correlates with being Muslim.

    Oy Vey. I best break this news to my (Coptic) Egyptian friends gently… X(

    @ chigau

    Anthony Quinn was “The Wandering Jew?” Hard to tell apart from the “Twelfth Imam”, who also tends to wander. (My solution is to profile all people on the planet … oh wait!)

  19. says

    theopontes wrote

    @jt512
    Nigel, Middle Eastern descent correlates with being Muslim.

    Oy Vey. I best break this news to my (Coptic) Egyptian friends gently… X(

    Maybe they can explain to you what “correlation” means.

  20. says

    We should have screened for Muslimy Behavior Patterns before 9/11.

    That way we could have caught the terrorists since they did Muslimy things like not going to strip clubs and not drinking booze.

    But seriously, I don’t know – can anyone tell me if it’s considered halal to get drunk and buy a lap dance if you’re about to make a martyr out of yourself?

  21. 'Tis Himself says

    But seriously, I don’t know – can anyone tell me if it’s considered halal to get drunk and buy a lap dance if you’re about to make a martyr out of yourself?

    I think the martyr is supposed to wait until after death, when he gets his 72 virgins (or possibly grapes).