Underestimation can lead to embarrassment

I saw this video this morning, and it really bugged me.

What I saw was a bunch of farmers pulling the leg of an easily fooled and somewhat patronizing Dutch reporter. They’re cocoa farmers, but they had no idea what cocoa was used for? I didn’t buy it.

Good thing I didn’t: someone named ChuraChura posted a dismissal.

I find this video pretty distasteful (and that’s aside from the link between cacao plantations in Cote d’Ivoire and child slavery).

I work in southwestern Cote d’Ivoire, just on the border of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. The men I employ are largely cocoa farmers, when they’re not in the forest taking complex observational data on primate behavior and ecology.

Most of the people in this region are farmers with 5-10 acres in cacao or rubber production, and a much smaller subsistence plot with manioc, cassava, rice, pineapple, avocado, and oranges. Cacao is a labor-intensive crop. Once a year, the pods get harvested from the trees. They’re then cut open and the cacao bean is pulled out of the membrane and left on tarps in the sun to dry (everything smells like vinegar as the beans ferment), before being bagged up in 50L sacks, and then brought to central cacao-grower organizations. If you’re in a slightly more developed part of the country or part of a wealthy organization, you can get your cacao loaded onto trucks to bring them to a central location. Otherwise, we see men with these big sacks on bicycles pushing them from the village to their closest big town. Where I work, guys are generally walking 15-20 km. Once you get your cocoa beans to the organization, you’re at the mercy of the buyers. They generally set a price per kilo, and sometimes will set a quota for the amount they’re buying from particular regions depending on supply and demand.

Cacao is an attractive crop because demand is fairly steady, and the farms have been productive for a really long time. The problem is that you only harvest once a year, and then you have to rely on that lump sum of cash to get you through a whole year. This is particularly hard because mobile banking hasn’t really penetrated the market, and what (few) banks there are in rural southwestern Cote d’Ivoire aren’t really set up to cater to small-scale cash crop farmers. Some people are relying on the long-term prospects of rubber, which is currently getting better prices/kilo and can be harvested year-round – this makes it a lot easier to pay for things like school fees, uniforms, books, and supplies that need to paid for year-round. The problem is that rubber plantations take a while to come into production (5-7 years), so first of all you’re cutting down your producing cacao trees, and then you’re twiddling your fingers for 6 years while you’re not earning any money, hoping that the price of rubber won’t crash when all the new trees start producing, and that there’s still a market in the future.

The region is still politically unstable, and conflicts over land rights are a major part of that. A lot of the men I work with either fled themselves, or sent their families, to refugee camps in Liberia during the recent crisis. During that time, people from northern Cote d’Ivoire moved south and took residence in these abandoned farms – so even now, two years after La Crise officially ended, people still in refugee camps in Liberia are sneaking across the border and killing people they suspect took over their land. In addition, the effects of climate change are making the rains less predictable. The rainy season normally goes August-October (more or less); we didn’t get rain in 2013 until almost the end of November, which had serious consequences both for people’s cash crops and people’s subsistence crops. Food prices are rising, commodity prices are falling, and the situation is looking grim. The forested buffer zone around the national park I work in has now been entirely converted to fallow fields, cacao, coffee, and rubber plantations.

And, the men I work with know what chocolate is. When they can afford to buy it, their kids eat a knock-off version of nutella called Chocomax (it is pretty gross). These are smart, sophisticated adult men (and women, though fewer women own their own land… they mostly just do a lot of the labor on their husbands’ and fathers’ farms). Even if they didn’t know what chocolate was, they’re plugged into their local economies, they have a sense of larger global economic forces, and they know what’s going on (we listen to BBC world service: francais every night in the forest on Ferdinand’s satellite radio. They’d ask me cutting and incisive questions about stupid American politics, like who the hell is that Sarah Palin person anyway?).

But look, this is the way an extractive (exploitative) cash-crop economy works. It’s not cute or endearing that these men who are working incredibly hard have never, or rarely, had the opportunity to sample the end-product of their labor. It’s not touching that you have to go to the big city to find chocolate, and that only a little of it is locally produced (Milka is very popular in Abidjan; Ivorian brands less so), It wouldn’t be touching if you showed a cell-phone to a coltan miner in DRC and said "Look at this amazing machine your backbreaking labor in dangerous conditions enabled!" or a diamond miner in Sierra Leone with your sparkly pretty engagement ring and said, totally amazed, "But why don’t you have one?" Consumers in the developed world should be smarter than that. The producers in the developing world – the folks enabling our lifestyles – certainly are.

Now that’s actually interesting. It doesn’t fit into the racist narrative of the poor black subsistence farmers, though.

I also found this complementary video, in which the reporters went back home and showed the cocoa nut to European citizens. This ignorance I can believe, because I would have been baffled, too.

Who’s smarter? Who thinks they’re smarter?

Now look who’s picking a fight with Dawkins

simpleconcept

(via Ophelia)


Facepalm time.

It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

Richard Dawkins

Being burnt at the stake or being sent to Room 101 is bad, but being criticized on Twitter is worse, I guess. Where the fuck are these witch-hunts, other than in the mind of every person whose misogynistic behavior is rebuked?

Why why why?

I really like Richard Dawkins, personally and professionally, although a lot of readers here get indignant at that. But that’s why it hurts to see him say obnoxious things on Twitter, like rating different kinds of rape and pedophilia. He doesn’t understand why that’s objectionable; has he ever heard of Todd Akin (maybe not — he is an obscure American politician who made up a lot of nonsense about “legitimate rape” and got flambéed for it)? This is like walking straight into a firepit that has consumed many far-right wingnuts (which Dawkins is not) before him, and thinking he’ll come out unsinged.

Amanda Marcotte does an excellent job of explaining why his remarks were objectionable. That feminists think a patronizing pat on the ass deserves a lesser punishment than rape is simply not an issue; we don’t need condescending explanations of basic logic to understand the concept. The problem is people who don’t understand that logic at all, and think there’s a sharp cliff, an all-or-nothing pattern, so that rape gets you put in jail, while date rape gets you a high-five in the locker room. And those people aren’t feminists.

If you want to make a difference in social attitudes, you can say “Date rape is bad”…full stop. You don’t go on and say that some other form of rape is worse, because that’s all the date-rapers see: “Richard Dawkins says I’m not as bad as a rapist”. The first part is ignored.

Better still: I believe in a proportional response to a crime, and therefore someone who commits date rape should not go unpunished.


Maybe this will get through to him.

What’s wrong with rainbow families?

A woman went to a fertility clinic for artificial insemination, and discovered a surprising stipulation. She’s white, so they’ll only allow her access to sperm from white men.

Dr. Calvin Greene, the clinic’s administrative director, confirmed the private facility will not treat couples or singles who insist on using donors of a different ethnicity. The policy has been in place since the clinic opened in the 1980s.

“I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants,” he said. “That’s her prerogative, but that’s not her prerogative in our clinic.”

A statement on the clinic’s website reads: “it is the practice of the Regional Fertility Program not to permit the use of a sperm donor that would result in a future child appearing racially different than the recipient or the recipient’s partner.”

“Rainbow families”? Does Canada have miscegenation laws, because this is the same thing.

Maybe there was a typo in the doctor’s statement. Perhaps these rules were formulated in the 1880s.

If only Christians weren’t so damned ahistorical

Here’s yet another of those pious Christian groups protesting same sex marriage, using a bogus argument. It’s infuriating: they know so little of human history that they think their local, recent mores are the universal and eternal dictates of their god, when Christian perspectives on marriage and politics and every damn thing have been evolving in all sorts of directions for two thousand years.

We get the same thing from creationists. They pretend their interpretation of the Bible is exactly as Jesus intended it, when really, modern creationism would have been regarded as heretical madness by Christians at any time before about 1960.

At least this bunch provides some comedy relief. Their strategy for dealing with same sex marriage is to fast for 40 days. Only not.

A Christian group that is planning a ‘fast’ in opposition to same-sex marriage has claimed that members don’t actually have to stop eating food to take part.

Like the rest of their platform, none of this makes any sense.

Sharp lines

Greta asks where you’d draw the line.

Is there any line that someone could cross that would make you unwilling to support them or work with them? Is there any line that someone could cross that would make you not link to their videos, not share their blog posts, not upvote them, not post admiring comments about them in public forums, not buy or promote their books? Will you really support the work of absolutely anyone, regardless of how vile their behavior has been, as long as they say one thing you happen to agree with?

Would you support the work of an avowed racist, who has publicly and unapologetically stated their opinion that black people are not fully human? Would you support the work of an avowed homophobe, who has publicly and unapologetically stated their opinion that LGBT people are mentally ill and should be locked into mental hospitals?

OK, atheists, think about it. Have you been outraged at the Catholic Church’s cover up of pedophiles, criminal behavior in orphanages or hospitals, or been horrified at their inhuman rejection of family planning in the third world? Have you ever thought to yourself that it was unbelievable that people actually remained in the church and even made excuses for that behavior? If you’re saying that all behavior must be tolerated in the name of the Big Tent, if you’ve been arguing that it’s just one little foible but that these cheerful misogynists have done good work otherwise, if you’re reluctant to call out the ugliness because it might besmirch the good name of atheism, go look in a mirror and say hello to the same damn thing as any Catholic apologist.

Atheists already have a PR problem, in that the stereotype is that we’re all amoral, horrible people. The only corrective is to make it clear that we stand for something more than just making fun of god — and everyone knows this. Atheists like to stand up for science (I approve), but some atheists freak out if we also use atheism as a rational justification for equality (I don’t even understand that). Neither science nor atheism dictate what you must do, but they are frameworks for seeing the universe free of the superstitious fog of human delusions, so that human beings can better pursue human virtues. All human beings. Not just the ones in your ethnic group or your socioeconomic class.

About that ‘big tent’ every movement aims to provide…atheism is a small tent. It was worse 15-20 years ago, when I’d attend atheist meetings and find myself the youngest guy there, but still fitting in as a white male academic. It’s definitely gotten better. But honestly, rather than simply expanding the tent, what I see is resistance, defensiveness, and a hardening of sexist and racist attitudes. And further, I see movement leaders acquiescing or glossing over these flaws because they fear antagonizing people already under the tent, rather than seeing that these same reactionary neophobes (or worse, disruptive trolls) are a major hindrance to further growth. And you have to be willing to adapt.

When you a non-white or non-male person joins your movement, like Sikivu Hutchinson, or Rebecca Watson, or Anthony Pinn, or Heina Dadabhoy, or Jamila Bey, or when LGBTQ atheists like Zinnia Jones or Chris Stedman join, they are not there to bring you cookies. They are not there to reassure you that straight white men are A-OK in their book. They are not there to allow you to check off an entry in your diversity bucket list. They are there to represent their interests, to criticize, to shape the movement to better fill the needs of more diverse people. You can disagree and criticize right back, because that’s what atheists do, but you must take them seriously, and you must try to change yourself, because that’s the only way we can grow this movement.

That’s our choice. We can either make atheism mean something, with substantial ideas that improve people’s lives — and science is one thing that does, but is only going to appeal to a niche audience — or we can fade out and die away, like any of the other tightly focused movements that sprang up in this land of a thousand religions and a thousand self-help movements. Diversify or die. Adaptation or extinction. Your choice.

I’m not making the choice that says we ignore the hidebound dogmatists and stiflingly loud haters in our midst. I’ve got lines that I won’t cross.

Is Ted Nugent still a darling of the Republican party?

I knew Ted Nugent was a nasty piece of work, but this…can he possibly be a bit more blatantly racist? He’s had a couple of shows cancelled at Indian casinos — first by the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho, and most recently by the Puyallups in Washington — and I guess it made Nugent a mite testy.

“The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has always been about human rights — for decades, we have worked individually and as a Tribe to make sure that each and every person is treated equally and with respect and dignity,” said a statement from the tribe.

A spokesperson for the casino said that the company didn’t want to provide a platform for the “racist attitudes and views that Ted Nugent espouses.”

Nugent responded to the cancelation by calling the Coeur d’Alene Tribe unclean vermin.

By all indicators, I don’t think they actually qualify as people, but there has always been a lunatic fringe of hateful, rotten, dishonest people that hate happy, successful people, he continued. I believe raising hell and demanding accountability from our elected employees is Job One for every American. I am simply doing my job.

Brilliant: fired for racist remarks, so he calls the whole tribe “vermin” and questioning their status as humans, perfectly confirming the accusation.

Ouch, anti-feminists, you made me sad

The latest noise the MRAs have been pouring into my mailbox has actually been effective in their goals: I find it very depressing. If your intent is to fill me with despair, you win!

First, some background. Y’all have heard of Cathy Young, right? She’s one of those anti-feminists who claims to be a True Feminist™, like Christina Hoff Summers. She’s one of those people who seems to hate the idea of consent, and spends most of her time writing about evil, man-hating feminists — she’s one of the sources of mischaracterization of feminism, of the sort that misogynists love to regurgitate.

Barry Deutsch takes her to task on her weird definitions of feminism.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an anti-feminist as “One opposed to women or to feminism.” Cathy doesn’t oppose women, but you’d have to impossibly distort her work to argue that she doesn’t oppose feminism; virtually all her writings on feminism are attacks on feminists and feminism. The OED offers a second definition: “a person (usu. a man) who is hostile to sexual equality or to the advocacy of women’s rights.” Cathy isn’t hostile to equality (and she’s not a man!), but her writing clearly is “hostile to… the advocacy of women’s rights.” She thinks women already have virtually all the rights they need, and therefore further advocacy is unnecessary.

In the introduction to her book Ceasefire!, Cathy concedes that in one area – the family/work balance – women might still have a legitimate complaint. But virtually all other concerns that justify a “case for continued feminist activism,” she dismisses as illegitimate. There’s a big difference between criticizing some feminist views, and denying that there’s a legitimate need for a women’s movement at all. How can anyone who doesn’t see a need for a movement for women’s equality, be a feminist?

Deutsch also wonders about this myth of man-hating feminism, which Young tends to favor.

But this brings up something I’ve wondered about for quite a while. When I read MRAs, as well as “conservative feminists” like Christina Hoff Sommers, a narrative history of feminism tends to emerge, which goes something like this: Once upon a time there were the suffragettes, who were libertarian or conservative and they were Good. Then came the second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s, who fought for equal pay and the like, and they were Good. But in the 1980s came the Evil “gender feminists” or “victim feminists,” who turned feminism into man-hating victimology, and feminism has been Bad ever since.

But curiously enough, when reading Sommers and others, it quickly becomes apparent that most of their examples are from 60s and 70s feminism. And so Sommers makes a big deal of the word “ovulars,” a term from the 1960s that no one but Sommers herself uses nowadays. Dworkin, Young’s example, peaked in influence and prominence in the 70s, became a hugely controversial figure within feminism in the 80s, and pretty much faded from prominence after that. Most of the feminists I see quoted as proof of how awful and man-hating feminists are (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer , Marilyn French, etc) came into prominence in the 60s and 70s.

Are we all up to speed, then? If you’ve ever heard MRAs pontificate sagely about how they are “equity feminists” but not “gender feminists”, terms that Sommers popularized, or accuse feminists of hating men, or of being professional victims, you’ve been hearing the echoes of conservative anti-feminists like Cathy Young. Their claims are nonsense, but they resonate well with the men who like their sexism endorsed.

That’s familiar. It’s a bit sad. But here’s the article I find most discouraging, an old review of one of Cathy Young’s books…a very positive review.

"Girls are not silenced or ignored in the classroom," Young writes. "Medicine has not neglected women’s health. Abuse by men is not the leading cause of injury to American women; the courts do not treat violence toward women more leniently than violence toward men. Gender disparities in pay and job status are not merely a consequence of sex discrimination. The ’80s were not a "backlash decade’ but a time of steady progress for women and, generally, of strong support for women’s advancement."

Young spends much of the book proving these assertions in a way that makes you want to cheer aloud. Finally someone has shed light (and reality) on all those bogus and overstated women-as-victims-of-patriarchy claims.

One just has to sigh at the misrepresentations and dishonesty. But this is what really gives me little hope: that article is by Robyn A. Blumner. This Robyn Blumner.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science U.S. today announced that Robyn Blumner has been named Executive Director, effective February 5, 2014. Blumner will replace the interim Director, Edwina Rogers, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. 

Blumner is a longtime columnist and editorial writer for the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. She has an extensive background as a public advocate for church-state separation, the rights of atheists and other nontheists, a spectrum of civil liberties and civil rights causes, economic and racial justice and other progressive causes. Her nonprofit experience includes having led two statewide affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am delighted to have Robyn Blumner leading the Foundation in the U.S,” said Richard Dawkins. “Her published writings show her to be a strong, unapologetic atheist with the vision to pursue the imaginative aims of the Foundation, while her legal background and non-profit experience equip her to put them into practice.”

You win, MRAs, misogynists, and other pig-like beings, you win. I’m going to curl up in a corner somewhere and weep for a while. Go celebrate.

But I’ll feel better later, and get back to fighting.

Well, I am on a diet and trying to lose weight

So it’s very kind of John C. Wright to assemble a post that completely kills my appetite — in fact, it makes me feel like an inhabitant of the planet Miranda, only I can’t make up my mind whether to just lie down and die or go full Reaver. It’s titled The Secret to the Most Mind-Blowing Sex Ever. Very click-baity. I can only the imagine the disappointment of people searching for “mindblowing sex” and landing on Wright’s article, and feeling their generative organs shrivel.

It’s premise is that there’s more to sex than just the physical — and I’d agree with that. It’s emotional, it’s social, it strengthens the pair bond, it’s fun. But Wright isn’t thinking along those lines, and he also has a peculiar idea of what’s appropriate about the physical side of it.

If the union were physical only, nothing but the physical sensation of the orgasm would matter, and rubbing your penis in an anus, mouth, armpit, elbow, or an elephant’s ear, not to mention the crevasses of mothers and sisters and underage children, convenient animals, and fresh corpses or whatever floats your boat would be called sex just the same as sex is sex. The word sex would refer only to the hunger for the sensation, and not to the sex act.

I’m fine with people who get off on armpits. As long as the two people doing it (and I’m pretty sure that one requires at least two people; if you can do it solo, you must be built like a barnacle) are willing participants who both are enjoying it, why not? And of course I’d be among many agreeing that there’s a difference between sexual interactions and sexual gratification, and that regarding your mother as a collection of crevasses is more than a little icky. It is rather important in long-term sexual relationships that you consider your partner as a human being.

But no, that’s not what Wright is getting at. He has his own definition of the function and purpose of sex.

In order to understand the perfect sexual experience, we first must say what sex is: it is copulation, the process by which two halves of a sexual whole find complement and completion, and reproduce. The sex act is the act of sexual union in sexual reproduction. The sexes, however, are spiritual rather than physical: men are masculine in psychology and mind and soul, masculine in speech and deportment and nuance in all they do just as women are feminine. The sexual union is spiritual, ordered toward the end of reproduction.

That’s it. The whole purpose of sex is making babies. For someone who just lectured on interminably in flowery language about how sex is not physical only, he sure seems focused on the physical process of getting the lady preggers.

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

If you are artificially sterile, or using contraception, you are holding back, you are not passionate about the sex, you are trying to use the sex rather than surrender to the sex.

Gosh, is he an evolutionist? Because we’d be the types to say that the only ‘goal’ of evolution, the only measure of success, is sustained maintenance of the species. Of course, we’d also note that it’s a much more complicated process in humans than blindly inseminating random females (that’s more appropriate to sea urchins), and that sex also plays a role in strengthening bonds between people to help with survival, and we’d also note that lots of phenomena in biology have interesting side-effects that can be important in life histories, too. Sex is not exclusively ordered towards reproduction, so his premise is false.

We get to his real deal, at least: he’s against contraception. He doesn’t see any point to any kind of sexual interaction that doesn’t have the possibility of conception. Well, gosh, I’ll have to break the news to my wife that there were only three brief periods in my life when our sex life mattered, and that was when we were trying to have kids. All the rest was frivolity and illusion, and now that we’re all done with the kid stuff, we can stop. Because sex would be pointless.

It just gets worse from here. If you’re just trying to lose a bit of appetite, you can stop just a couple of paragraphs in — proceeding further takes you deeper into bulimia territory, as you discover that sex is also supposed to reinforce very traditional roles for men and women: master and servant.

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, you have to love the woman first, and want her to be the mother of your children, and want it more than you want life itself. Since sex is spiritual, you have to protect your children and your wife and make them safe. Your wife cannot be made safe if you are allowed to abandon her. Hence, since sex is ordered toward reproduction, you must swear, swear by Holy God and your hope of heaven, never to leave her, but to love and cherish her, in sickness and health, for better or worse, until nothing less than horrid death itself you do part.

For her part, she must vow to love and honor and obey.

And if you do not understand about that obey part, you do not understand women. She wants a leader, an alpha male, a chief, a Christ, and you must be willing to die for her as Christ was willing to die for you, or she will not feel secure in your love. If she does not swear to obey, you are not a couple, not a dyad, not a unit, but are still two sovereigns dealing with each other at arm’s length, not intimate, and she cannot trust you fully, cannot love you fully, not with a divine and self-sacrificing love. And she knows you don’t love her fully, not with a love that is more than madness, more than sense, more than the universe.

So much nonsense. Here’s the real secret to mindblowing sex: each treats the other as a sovereign, intimately. My interactions with my wife are not subservient to praising tropes in a dusty old holy book, nor are they dedicated to creating some third party (yeesh, especially not at our age).

Of course, this is John C. Wright babbling: Catholic, conservative, fan of Vox Day, science fiction writer. And if the puffed-up goofy prose in that column is any example, not a very good writer. Judging by the content, also a dogmatic idiot.

I think it would do him a world of good to go fuck an elbow, actually.

Commitment

Jonathan Eisen is walking the walk, turning down an endowed lecture opportunity because of their gender imbalance.

Thank you so much for the invitation and the respect it shows to me that I would be considered for this.  However, when I looked into past lectures in this series I saw something that was disappointing.  From the site XXXX where past lectures are listed I see that the ratio of male to female speakers is 14:3.  I note – the XXXX lecture series – also from XXXX – also has a skewed ratio (11:2).  As someone who is working actively on multiple issues relating to gender bias in science, I find this very disappointing.  I realize there are many issues that contribute to who comes to give a talk in a meeting or seminar series or such. But I simply cannot personally contribute to a series which has such an imbalance and I would suggest that you consider whether anything in your process is biased in some way. 

Sincerely, 

Jonathan Eisen