A note to my friends, family, colleagues and readers of color

Joan Walsh doesn’t speak for me.

I mean, I get her. I get the fear, the desire not to be lumped in with those bad other people who do the bad things. I get the desire to continue to enjoy the privilege of not having to think about my race day to day. I’ve been a straight person in the group of LGBT folks, the man in the group of feminist women, the cis guy talking to transfolk. Hell, I’ve been the only white person at the dinner table more often than I can count. I get that desire to start out each interaction with a pat on the back to assure me that I’m “one of the good ones.”

Don’t do me that favor.

I’ve been exceedingly fortunate in this life to have met people who have been willing to school me when I get something wrong, when I make assumptions about people’s lives based on my own experience. I’ve been fortunate to have people willing to instruct me out of my ignorance about the world outside my skin, and to do so mostly patiently, but not always. Sometimes that instruction came with justifiable peeve, or even anger.

And like Walsh, I’ve occasionally wanted to wave my lefty bonafides in front of my critic of the moment to defuse the topic, to make it more academic and a bit less uncomfortably about me. I’ve protested that just because I’m white doesn’t mean I’m conservative, or rich, or racist — and if I am racist, it’s at least not the kind that prompts me to drag people behind my truck. Like Walsh does somewhat academically in her essay, I have protested that far from being a racist, I am in fact a Nice White Guy.

But I’m learning that that criticism, as has been said here before in other contexts, is a gift. That the person taking the time to engage with me is, to appropriate a phrase from this important 2007 essay by the blogger Nanette, giving me the benefit of the doubt.

Like I said, I get Walsh’s desire to protest that we’re not all bad. I suppose I’m kind of doing it myself with this post, making my views distinct from her seeming ignorance of race privilege. Except that my goal here isn’t to separate myself from Walsh the way she wants you to separate her from the Klan. She and I are basically the same, after all, with our defensivenesses and privileges worn slightly differently.

Rather, my intent here is to thank you for the hard work you’ve put in to change the whole conversation, which you continue despite prominent people like Walsh telling you you’re doing it wrong. In ways incremental and massive; whether you were a one-time commenter on my blog with a sharp word or, well, my ex-wife who offered me two decades of private instruction in precisely where my white privilege lay; whether we’ve spoken directly at all or you’ve dissected a post of mine on your Tumblr or I’ve read something you wrote about something else and didn’t weigh in…

Well, I’m weighing in now. Thank you. You’re making the world a better place by speaking your mind candidly. Eventually, more of us will listen more of the time.

And don’t be too unnerved by Walsh’s admonition that whites need to be insulated from the scorn of people of color because “Democrats still need white support.” It’s an ugly threat on her part, but it’s an idle threat. Some of us don’t change our basic sense of ethics just because someone called us a name. I’m pretty sure Walsh is one of us, deep down. Yesterday’s essay just wasn’t some of her best work.

Another crummy leak

We’re really going to have to fire our tech guy — there has been another leak of sensitive information from the FtB backchannel.

Don’t read it. We’re already beginning the process of sterilizing Vancouver to limit the flow of information, and if any of you try to scurry off with our secrets, well, you won’t ever be able to use a toilet again without fear of a tentacle rising up and dragging you into the sewers.


Worrisome news from China:

A person who had close contact with a dead H7N9 bird flu patient in Shanghai has been under treatment in quarantine after developing symptoms of fever, running nose and throat itching, local authorities said late Thursday.

So far, China has confirmed 14 H7N9 cases — six in Shanghai, four in Jiangsu, three in Zhejiang and one in Anhui, in the first known human infections of the lesser-known strain. Of all, four died in Shanghai and one died in Zhejiang.

That first paragraph is the really scary one: it suggests that there may (emphasis on the possibility, it has not been demonstrated) have been human-to-human transmission, rather than just bird-to-human. The latter case is slightly more manageable — avoid ducks. The former case would require avoiding people — not so easy.

The H5N1 bird flu virus, different than this one, had about a 60% mortality rate, but 36% mortality for H7N9 so far is not good. Also, H5N1 was lethal to birds, too — this one seems to be relatively harmless to the bird carriers, while being relatively deadly to infected humans.

Mastropaolo is just plain out of his gourd

It’s gotten rather annoying. Joseph Mastropaolo is this antique dogmatic young earth creationist who hasn’t said a single thing that’s novel or believable in 20 years, and somehow his name has been snared by the media. He’s getting promoted everywhere. I’m getting all this email and twitter notes telling me to debate him — I’ve even had a couple of students bring him up and suggest that they’d like to see me debate him. NO WAY. He’s dumber than Jerry Bergman, and meaner, too.

Look. Here’s an example of the kind of thing he’s prone to declare: that, for instance, humans hunted T. rex.

As for how human beings were able to survive in the same neighborhood as a Tyrannosaurus rex, Mastropaolo said that humans beings would have been able to trick them.

"Human beings were smarter the further back we go in time because they have been less degenerated by the pollutants that we’ve been putting into the air, water, and soil," he said. "T. rex … could be herded into a blind canyon and have rocks dropped on their heads from above. And they’d soon be done in."

Furthermore, Mastropaolo believes that they could even have been domesticated the "way we have domesticated cattle and elephants."

See what I mean? Please, please, please stop telling me to engage this loon…and media, could you wake up and recognize that he’s not credible about anything?

Jewish women master retroactive invisibility!

It’s too bad it came too late to help them. Here’s a famous photo of Jewish civilians being herded out of the Warsaw ghetto by Nazis. Awful, horrifying stuff, right?


Yet when a conservative Haredi newspaper in Israel published this photo, they edited it in interesting ways.


Isn’t it ironic that the Jewish women who were victims get their faces erased, but the Nazi men with guns are left untouched? Of all people, you’d think Jews would be most sensitive to the importance of preserving the horrors of recent history…but I guess it only matters if it happened to men.

Solidarity with atheists of Bangladesh


There is an Atheist Association of Bangladesh, which is amazing. The government of Bangladesh is cracking down: atheists are being arrested, and most horribly, Islamist mobs are rioting and murdering atheists (warning: very bloody images at that link). Some atheist blogs are participating in a blackout in protest.

Taslima Nasrin has just published a statement of support from Bengali atheists. John Sargeant has suggested that we bloggers include a scarlet B for the Bangladesh situation, which seems like literally the least we can do. (Oops, this was originally Hemant’s idea.)

I feel helpless in the face of this oppression, unable to do anything for people in a distant country who are being abused by their own government. The American Humanists have issued an action alert, a petition to ask the US ambassador to lodge a formal protest. Sign it!

Free Amina!

The place to go for information on Amina, the Tunisian activist who dared to say that her body was her own, is Maryam Namazie’s blog. She has a fantastic roundup of the European protests. I’m also happy to see that secular humanists are finding common cause with women’s rights: The IEHU has also issued a statement of support.

(Note: all the links above include bare breasts and strong language, and worse, women standing up for themselves. Might not find favor with your corporate masters if you browse them at work.)

I am wondering how all the people recently sneering at atheists as islamophobes are going to cope with all these godless ex-Muslims coming out against Islamic justice.

Just when you thought Libertarians couldn’t get any more revolting

Steven Landsburg carries out three “thought experiments”. They’re all pretty bad — one suggests that we have no grounds to complain about environmental destruction in Alaska if we’re living somewhere else, to which I’d have to reply, “You mean like Mars?” — but the third one…jebus, Mr Creepy McLiberturd is masturbating publicly here.

Let’s suppose that you, or I, or someone we love, or someone we care about from afar, is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm — no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission. (Note: The Steubenville rape victim, according to all the accounts I’ve read, was not even aware that she’d been sexually assaulted until she learned about it from the Internet some days later.) Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?

He provides his Libertarian philosophical answer.

As long as I’m safely unconsious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn’t the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits? And if the thought of those benefits makes me shudder, why should my shuddering be accorded any more public policy weight than Bob’s or Granola’s? We’re still talking about strictly psychic harm, right?

Maybe we could even talk about a positive advantage. You go in to a hospital for some essential medical treatment that involves anesthetizing you, and while you’re unconscious, the hospital pays for its services by leasing out your body to anyone willing to pay. Free health care! It’s a benefit, right?

It’s a remarkable claim from a Libertarian. If we’re not using our property at some moment, do we forfeit our rights to it? When Landsburg is not driving his car, is it OK if someone takes a joyride in it as long as it’s returned when he needs it, with the gas consumed replaced?

Is there really no cost to a person if their body is abused while they are unconscious? He writes as if this “psychic harm” is meaningless nothing. Reputation, security, trust…these are mere “psychic” phenomena, so they have no significance to a person?

And what gives this hypothetical rapist the right to use someone else’s body? Flip it around and try to justify the rapist’s exploitation of another for his personal benefit — by what right does that person deserve to “reap the benefits” of someone else’s unconsciousness…or for that matter, reap the benefits of the Alaskan wilderness? Mr Landsburg seems to naturally take the side of the takers and looters.

We’ve got a convenient phrase for what Landsburg is doing: it’s called JAQing off. He’s clearly a master.