My brain just exploded


Join me in a journey to the gibbering throat of conspiratorial madness: a Breitbart article on Ahmed Mohamed and Irving, Texas.

This story isn’t just the usual whine that the “clock” (it’s now always in quotes — because although it was actually a clock in a pencil box cannibalized from an old Radio Shack clock, that is only its outward seeming, and in truth, it was a portent heralding the rising of an ancient evil) was not really an “invention”, therefore Mohamed was a liar. No, that was a circuit board of destruction!!!

It appears, the “clock” Mohamed brought to school this week was not the first of his circuit boards to look ominously like an improvised explosive device trigger. In fact, a photograph of one circulated by the Dallas Morning News was virtually indistinguishable from a circuit board used in a commercially available device used to train law enforcement and military personnel regarding how to identify IEDs.

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With a name like Ahmed Mohamed, what else would you expect?


Look at that face and name: there’s someone who clearly needs careful scrutiny. He’s a 14 year old in Irving, Texas, who likes to build electronic gadgets. He must be very dangerous, because when he showed up at school with a digital device he’d built, the police were called and he was handcuffed and led out of the school and taken to jail.

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Hasn’t learned a thing


Sam Harris is still going on and on about how we ought to racially profile airline passengers. We’re looking for suicidal jihadists, he says, so it’s ridiculous that we’d give the same attention to someone who looks like Jerry Seinfeld that we would to someone who looks like Osama Bin Laden. Never mind that extremely few people who look vaguely Semitic are suicidal jihadists; it’s an injustice to white people to subject them to the same indignities as brown people, but it’s not an injustice to falsely target brown people as terrorists because, well, they’ve committed the sin of looking like Osama Bin Laden.

We’ve been around and around on this subject. Bruce Schneier, the security expert, schooled him on the flaws in his idea, and really exposed the shallowness of his thinking. It’s bad security. It alienates people who are just as interested as we are in flying safely. It’s statistically naive, ignoring the problems with false positives.

I think it’s also a premise built on unquestioning bigotry. There is an assumption that people who look a certain way based on race will be less humane, more prone to violence, and a greater danger to law abiding citizens of White America, who would never ever harm anyone. The facts, of course, expose that for a sham.

Here’s an example from the streets of Ferguson.


Of those three men, who would Sam Harris thinks poses the greater threat to peace and stability in Ferguson? Clearly, it’s got to be the potential suicidal jihadist on the right, not the righteous Christian Oathkeepers who are patrolling the streets with deadly firepower in their hands.

The dismaying thing about this interview with Harris is that he hasn’t budged a bit — the facts explained to him by a security expert didn’t sway him at all from his bias that brown skin and Semitic features equates to fanatical jihadism. Science, how does it work?

Black people have a superpower

So chrome! So shiny! Soap dispensers work for him 100% of the time!

So chrome! So shiny! Soap dispensers work for him 100% of the time!

It’s invisibility! Various technological gadgets, like soap dispensers and facial recognition software, don’t detect them, because they were never properly tested with diverse users.

On the one hand, this is disgraceful — it tells us that biases in the tech sector lead to blind spots. On the other hand, when SkyNet takes over and decides to exterminate the population, it’s only going to shoot the white people.

If you aren’t an advocate for the truth, you aren’t a journalist


Way back in the distant past, lost to the internet, when Pharyngula was just a tiny project I was running on my lab computer, one of the subjects that pissed me off was pseudo-objective journalism. The kind of thing where a New York Times reporter would write a long article on the geology of the Grand Canyon, and give equal time to creationism and real science, and excuse it by saying,

I don’t consider myself a creationist. I don’t have any interest in sharing my personal views on how the canyon was carved, mostly because I’ve spent almost no time pondering my personal views — it takes all my energy as a reporter and writer to understand and explain my subjects’ views fairly and thoroughly.

This is the kind of journalism where facts and evidence don’t matter and aren’t part of the evidence — all we’re supposed to care about is cataloging the opinions of the uninformed, and weight is bestowed by how loudly they are shouted, or by how rich and famous the ignoramus with an opinion is. The journalist doesn’t have the time to assess the facts, all their energy is consumed in transcribing quotes. And worst of all, they tout this as a goddamned virtue of good reporting.

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If you’re giggling over Josh Duggar’s comeuppance…


You need to consider this:

The Saudi Arabian government is using the recently leaked data from Ashley Madison to track down homoesexuals in their contry. As homosexuality is a crime, punishable by death, in Saudi Arabia the leak is estimated to result in the death of hundreds if not thousands of gay people in Saudi Arabia.

Or if you prefer your news with fewer clumsy typos, here’s another source.

The Ashley Madison leaks, as many observers began noting yesterday afternoon, will have real world, devastating consequences on thousands of users worldwide. When the dust clears, it will be most vulnerable among us — LGBT and women in repressive countries — that will ultimately pay the price. And unlike Josh Duggar, their price will not be paid in snarky internet comments but rather loss of employment, family, and, in some cases, possibly their lives.

Yeah, Josh Duggar is going to come out of this oozing piety. Other people won’t be so lucky.

The ol’ racist evolution switcheroo


Ben Seewald, whose only claim to fame is that he’s married to Jessa Duggar, tries to stake out his own domain of stupid in a conversation with Dante Berry, another evangelist. He does not do well. But in the topsy-turvy world of American fanatical Christianity, that might mean he succeeded.

“If you check it out, what they’re trying to do with America, is basically have us going against each other while the Devil can sneak in real clearly and destroy what he’s trying to destroy,” Dante explains to Ben, adding that “if we’re fighting against each other, the Devil can sneak in and do what he want to do.”

“That’s right,” Ben agrees, “there’s no room for racism in Christianity. That all comes from the Devil. That all comes from, like, this false religion out here, evolution, that stuff? Teaching that, like, some people are ‘more evolved?,’ and different stuff.”

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How to use genomic information for evil


The combination of access to genetic data and computer programming must be an irresistible temptation to racists. Someone tried to distribute a code fragment that would allow a program to look up gene data on 23andMe and use it to limit who would be allowed to use the program.

Dubbed Genetic Access Control, the program—which was posted to GitHub on Monday—would act as a login for sites and scan the genetic information of 23andMe users who make their data available, much like how websites currently request access to your Facebook profile prior to entry. The coder in question cited a few “possible uses” for Genetic Access Control, ranging from “Groups defined by ethnic background, e.g. Black Panthers or NAACP members,” to “Safer online dating sites that only partner people with a low likelihood of offspring with two recessive genes for congenital diseases.”

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