Islamists have brain leeches!

Susan Blackmore always lectures entertainingly — really, if you get a chance to hear her, you should — so I can guess how surprised she was when students claimed offense and walked out on her talk. They were religiously indoctrinated, and simply shut down their brains when the word “evolution” came up, and when she started presenting rational and secular explanations for the existence of religion, just forget it — there were a lot of students who thought you could only quote the Bible and Koran with unstinting reverence, accepting their divine claims at face value.

It is sad to see young people with such closed minds.

But one comment jumped out at me — it was so familiar.

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I haven’t forgotten you!

I’m in Oxford, nicely ensconced in as 15th century stone tower, but having great difficulty finding a reliable, easy-to-access wireless signal, so connection is intermittent and usually when I’m trying to have breakfast.

Also, busy.

I must be a gamma, too

True confession: my wife has been on a historical feminism kick lately: the other day she forced me to watch Iron Jawed Angels with her. This evening we’ve got the PBS documentary One Woman One Vote on the TV right now. So it was amusing that Vox Day and David Futrelle had a ‘debate’ over whether women should be allowed to vote. Actually, Day proposed a debate on a subject that was settled in the USA about 95 years ago, and Futrelle laughed dismissively, and Vox Day declared himself the winner.

Critics such as Futrelle and Scalzi are of low socio-sexual rank, which means that they have the usual gamma male’s distaste for conflict that has a clear winner. The reason is that as long as they can avoid losing, they can still claim victory in their delusional gamma style.

Wait. But it was Vox Day who threw out a few non sequiturs and declared himself winner…this is confusing.

Anyway, the two movies were pretty good, you can watch them yourselves at the links.

So, we’ve had a weekend of late 19th/early 20th century feminism at my place. Any recommendations for movie/documentary treatments of feminist history in the 1960s onward? I’ve worked my way from beta to the gamma badge, I think, and now I’m looking for credit towards delta-hood, and — dare I aspire so high? — to someday make epsilon.

Can someone dig up the corpse of Norman Vincent Peale and drive a stake through its heart?

He’s still stalking about, giving the complacent a lie to shut the dissatisfied up. No, positive thinking doesn’t work; affirmations have no power; The Secret is a scam. The @SciCareer guy put his foot in it again by touting some paper titled “Happy Thoughts May Help Postdocs Handle Stress.” As you might guess, the reactions of young academics aren’t exactly enthusiastic.

Are you for actual serious with this?? The article describes a new study–and I use this word lightly because it’s based on a one-time survey of 200 postdocs–that found less anxiety and depression in folks who self-reported more frequent positive emotions. So, not only do we have a clear correlation vs. causation issue here – who can say that it was the positive emotions that prevented the development of clinical symptoms and not vice versa – but it belittles the many real stressful problems that postdocs face that cannot simply be "thought" away.

The real money quote is this:  "When we suggest that people need more positive emotions in their lives, I know it sounds kind of frou-frou, but it’s actually a very simple practice.” OK. a) I don’t think you know what frou-frou means (frilly or ornamented, not fluffy or insubstantial, which is what you probably mean and you’d be right). b) No, it is not simple. Postdocs have personal, financial, and professional stresses on a daily basis. They are busy as fuck. To suggest that watching a sit-com or going for a run can change that reality not only presumes they have time for something like that, but has very strong undertones of "stop complaining and just change your attitude."

Anger is fuel for change, “positive thinking” is a worthless analgesic for the masses. Get angry, and do something about it.

July Online Gender Workshop: An exercise in the utility of definitions

When last we left our intrepid workshoppers, one month ago, we had had a rollicking discussion of definitions of gender, sex, and related terms.

One of the things that came out of that discussion is that when we are each pressed to define exactly what each of us as individuals mean by each person’s specific, personal use of terms like “gender” and “sex” and “transsexual” we not only consistently come up with different definitions, but we also routinely fail to come up with terms that actually cover everything we want to say.

In looking at people overtly performing gender, many of us struggled to find a way to express exactly what we wished to communicate using the terms we had just defined. Worse, in something little discussed as of yet, those people who are assumed to be the best and most skilled of us frequently declined to use gendered pronouns for some performers, but not others.

Why is this the case? If declining to assume an appropriate pronoun for Conchita Wurst is respectful, why not decline to assume an appropriate pronoun for Julie Andrews or Shirley Temple? One of the things we should, in fact, be discussing is the coercive nature of many gendered interactions. Did Shirley Temple choose the clothing or choreography for that scene? Did Temple have more agency in creating a gender (or a gendered image) than Conchita Wurst? At age 3 and 4? Given the legacy nature of Temple’s income and ability to work, what are the implications for Temple’s gender agency at age 40? And if Shirley Temple can’t be assumed to have had a free gender hand, why are we willing to trust an application of a gendered pronoun for Temple more than we trust an application of a gendered pronoun to Wurst?

To help solve some of these problems, it is necessary to have a common language. As revealed in previous exercises, we do not currently have that. We have idiosyncratic usage as created and modified by our successes and failures in conceptualizing and communicating sex and gender concepts. That simply isn’t enough when the times get rough.

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What a mess

The SCA has fired Edwina Rogers.

Ms. Rogers said in an interview that she was given no warning and no reason for her termination, but that she suspected she was being blamed for organization funds discovered to be missing and said to be embezzled by two of her subordinates. An internal audit, obtained by The New York Times, found that two employees who handled the Secular Coalition’s finances embezzled $78,805, mostly by using the coalition’s credit cards to pay for restaurant meals, travel and plastic surgery. Ms. Rogers said she had no authority over the finances, but discovered the misuse of funds, reported it to the police, fired the two employees and commissioned the audit with the approval of the board.

The president of the Secular Coalition, Amanda K. Metskas, did not return phone calls, but she confirmed in an email that Ms. Rogers “has never been a suspect in the misdirection of funds at the Secular Coalition for America.” Ms. Metskas would say only that Ms. Rogers had “moved on” for reasons she could not discuss because they were “confidential personnel matters.”

They’re quite clear that Rogers was not involved in the embezzlement, but I have to wonder who these two fresh-faced thieves were…and whether they were hires by Rogers, and also came out of the same entitled Republican background. I was uncomfortable from the moment she was announced, just because there isn’t a lot of cultural overlap between academic/intellectual weirdos and pampered privileged upper class weirdos.

On top of the recent Global Secular Council debacle, the SCA is looking like they’ve taken a long and costly detour here. I hope they can bounce back.

Relaxing in Seattle

My required labors in Seattle are now done — I spoke to a packed house at Town Hall last night, had a grand time, got lots of questions and had many hours of stimulating conversations (wait, why am I calling that “labor”?). Now tonight is just relaxation — I’ll be going in to our Secret Meeting Place (I’ve told an awful lot of you where it is, but it’s not too late to email me and ask for details) late this afternoon, strolling through the wonders of the city, and then parking myself in the aforementioned Place sometime around 6 or later. If no one shows up, that’s fine, I’ll take it easy with my iPad and savor the ambience of Puget Sound. If you drift in later, that’s fine, too. If you’re wandering around looking for me, I’ll be easy to spot in my bright yellow t-shirt:

yellowshirt

The watchword for the evening is “casual”. Pleasant conversation. Friendly discussion. No pressure, no worries. Don’t show up to pick a fight or we’ll pitch you off a pier.

Oh, no

If any of you have been following Jay Lake’s struggle with cancer, it’s over.

We’ve had a few conversations, but I only met him once at Norwescon — he was a smart, brave guy. I’ve been hoping I’d get a chance to run into him again, but the last few entries on his cancer diary weren’t encouraging.