Around FtB

How was everyone’s Halloween? I had to work late and missed prime trick-or-treating time, so I had no kids stop by. Now I have these bags of candy that I’m sure not going to eat. I’ll dig into the goody bag of FtB, instead.

  • Stephanie Zvan was at CSICon, and she thinks they did a good job on social justice issues.

  • Kate Donovan revisits Harrison Bergeron and the ableist fallacy.

  • Brianne Bilyeu displays the post-Halloween aftermath. It’s not pretty.

  • Sikivu Hutchinson discusses the sport of Black Women Bashing. Don’t tell the Olympic committee.

  • Ophelia Benson has to remind us of the Montreal Massacre. I remember that, vividly: “I hate feminists!” has a peculiar resonance to those of us who followed events on that day.

  • Richard Carrier explains that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, which was all over the news a while back, is a forgery.

  • Ian Cromwell has a guest post from Jamie James on abortion. No punches are pulled.

  • Digital Cuttlefish discovers something amazing: the Romney Mega Prayer. Did you know that scientists have proven that group prayer works?

  • Dana Hunter can sew? What does that have to do with geology?

  • Greta Christina is getting better!

  • Jason Thibeault hosts an epic rap battle. Lincoln won, naturally.

  • Maryam Namazie tells us that her body isn’t obscene, veiling it is.

  • Natalie Reed finds that the trans community is broken. Every community is broken in its own special way; can we fix them?

  • Reasonable Doubts is all about the depraved babies. Sick, morally corrupt, evil babies.

  • Taslima Nasrin catalogs errors and contradictions in the Quran.

Wolves: please visit Canada this weekend

Since Chris wrote about “wildlife services” being one of those oxymoronic names for a department dedicated to exterminating wildlife, I am compelled to mention Minnesota’s shame.

Minnesota has the largest population of wolves in the lower 48 states: a whole 3000, most in the North (none live near me). That’s something that should make us proud, that we can actually bring populations in balance naturally. Deer are experiencing a population explosion right now, and are also expanding their ranges farther north, where they’re also causing problems for moose.

The response of our legislature, though, has been to gleefully pass a law allowing thuggish motherfuckers to slaughter them. The first wolf hunt is scheduled for this weekend.

It’s always dismaying to hear “hunters” talk openly and proudly about their tactics.

Deer come for the food, and Smith said wolves come for the deer. He said where the tracks are, and which cameras the wolves show up on, help him determine where to hunt for the night.

Smith said he’s been a deer hunter for decades, and does it for the challenge. But he said he is hunting wolves because they’re killing the deer on his land. “Seventy-five percent of our does are without fawns this year,” he said.

The day before we spoke with Smith, we met Rep. Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, on his hunting property just south of International Falls. Smith’s still hoping to take a wolf, but Dill told us he’s done it three times.

“Theres a thrill that you were able to conquer this,” Dill said.

Dill said he shot all three of his wolves in Canada over the course of many, many years. He authored the bill creating a wolf hunt in Minnesota, for recreation, and population management. He called them the most elusive animal in the state. “It’s a survivor because it’s the top of the food chain, and it knows exactly what to do when to do it.”

So this guy has hunting property where he maintains a population of deer that he kills “for the challenge”. He’s angry that wolves are killing his deer for food and survival. And he’s killing wolves (under a law he authored!) for recreation and “population management”, that universal euphemism for killing. He’s tracking them with hi-tech camera gear and shooting them with high-powered rifles, and calling it a “thrill”.

What an asshole. What a great big flaming asshole.

There are rational people opposing this hunt, but bigwigs of both parties (DFL, you win no brownie points with me on this one) are endorsing it, so it’s going to go on, and probably expand in later years as more happy sadists report their joy. But right now, the Humane Society, the Fund for Animals, the Center for Biodiversity, and Howling for Wolves all oppose the hunt. Unsurprisingly, the Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service all support it…but of course they would, because they might as well retitle themselves the Department of Blowing Miners and Cattlemen.

Some good news: the White Earth Nation has declared their entire reservation a wolf sanctuary, with no hunting allowed. The Red Lake tribe has done likewise.

I have a suggestion: let’s give the whole state back to the Indians. They seem to be the only ones with a sensible appreciation of what “wildlife” actually means.

So “Gay Power” was meant literally?

You knew this was inevitable: Hurricane Sandy is blamed on New York’s gay marriage legislation by Rabbi Noson Leiter, and on the choice of two pro-homosexual candidates for the presidency by pastor John McTernan (oh, come on, does anyone really believe Romney will be good for gays? Maybe rich ones.)

Only Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has understood the implications. This is an amazing power that must be harnessed by America’s patriots.

Torturing wildlife on the taxpayers’ dime

Bella's babies

Sometimes there just aren’t enough fluffy bunnies in the world.

There’s a U.S. federal agency called “Wildlife Services” that — like many such agencies — has a name about 180 degrees opposed to its actual purpose. Called “Animal Damage Control”  until 1997, Wildlife Services’ job is, bluntly put, to kill or otherwise control wild animals that are perceived as causing problems for humans.

Wildlife Services has a number of different programs, some of them undeniably necessary . The agency coordinates federal wildlife rabies control programs including oral vaccine distribution. It works with airports to deter flocks of geese from flying into jet engines. It plays a role in managing invasive species. Wildlife Services is a division of the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and much of the agency’s mission centers on protecting the interests of American agriculture.

What the agency’s best known for is protecting one specific U.S. agricultural interest — public lands livestock ranchers — from predators. For decades Wildlife Services has worked with ranchers in the American West to kill off predators so that those ranchers’ assets stand a better chance of making it to slaughter. It’s kind of a sweet deal for the ranchers: graze your sheep and cattle on land you don’t own for a dollar and change per head per month and have your competition taken out on the taxpayers’ dime. Never mind that predators can be kept away from most livestock reasonably efficiently by spending a little money, training herd dogs, keeping cattle and sheep together (cattle deter coyotes), or  hiring more herders. That’s out of pocket money for the ranchers. Corporate welfare is just as appealing in Wyoming as it is on Wall Street.

Wildlife Services has taken a lot of criticism for its coyote control methods in the past, including the use of bait stations laced with sodium fluoroacetate, a deadly poison that can inflict significant collateral poisoning on non-target animals if used indiscriminately. Putting a piece of meat out on the range unmonitored, tied to a gun designed to shoot a dose into an animal’s mouth if it tugs on the bait definitely qualifies as indiscriminate, and bait stations intended for coyotes have killed other carnivores from black-footed ferrets to golden eagles.

The agencies has also used leg hold traps and snares to capture coyotes, as well as methods like aerial hunting and use of hunting dogs. All of these are predictably controversial, with sensitive coyote huggers like yours truly taking up positions against and hard-headed pragmatists pointing out that sometimes unpleasant measures are necessary.

I would expect both sides would agree, though, that hiring out the job of coyote control to creepy sadistic assholes is unwarranted. My friends over at Demarcated Landscapes posted yesterday about a Wildlife Services’-employed “wildlife specialist” they’d noticed posting photos of his unorthodox control methods. Those photos are seriously upsetting: the t[disgusting];dr version is that he sets traps for coyotes, then sets his dogs on the immobilized coyotes to rip them to shreds.

[UPDATE: I note that there’s no actual indication that the guy was on the clock with Wildlife Services when he took the photos in question. Still, even if this was “off-duty” recreational torture, hiring him calls Wildlife Services’ screening procedures into question.]

Baby Bunnies

palate cleanser

The Demarcated Landscapes post has apparently stirred up a bit of attention: they’ve been getting hits and image downloads from the USDA office in Fort Collins (which is apparently the “gentleman’s” regional office) including photos this guy has posted to Facebook back to 2010. They cleverly saved screenshots of it all, which is lucky because the guy’s Twitter and Facebook accounts seem to have been closed in the last few hours.

I’m not saying here that it’s uniformly wrong to kill problem coyotes, though Project Coyote has a wide range of excellent resources for people interested in more peaceful methods of coexistence. But if you need to trap a coyote, you’ve got it trapped, you have a gun, and you decide to kill it as a form of one-sided blood sport? I completely agree with Demarcated Landscapes in their summation of the situation:

Please, someone, get this man psychological counseling. Anyone who is entertained or amused by letting his dogs kill a trapped coyote has something very, very wrong with him.

Appallingly enough, this method of killing coyotes seems not to be illegal in much of the west — it’s apparently not even particularly unusual. But on the federal payroll? You can voice your concern, should you be so inclined, to Rod Krischke. Wyoming State Director, Wildlife Services, P.O. Box 59, Casper, WY 82602; (307) 261-5336;



Why I don’t bother with youtube comments, Part Eleventymillion

As you know, NonStampCollector has joined Freethoughtblogs. Check out the responses to his latest video—angry people are unsubscribing from his youtube channel because a) PZ Myers is an evil dictator, b) they refuse to contribute to PZ Myers’ profits, c) they’re all evil feminists at FtB, d) they banned Matt Dillahunty! and e) PZ Myers will have total control over what NSC can post.

Not only are these totally irrelevant to NSC’s video, but they’re all wrong. a) I don’t control FtB; Ed Brayton holds the purse strings, b) Profits from advertising are all split up by percentage of total traffic, so visiting NSC’s site puts money in his pocket, not mine, c) we’re all good feminists, like all decent human beings should be, d) we haven’t banned Dillahunty (look, here he is!), and e) all of our bloggers are completely independent, and they can write whatever they want. We took on NSC because we talked to him and learned that he’s not a total asshat, unlike some previous, poorly vetted admissions, so we trust him to be rational and reasonable.

I think he’s better off with the cretins unsubscribing, since it means the quality of his comment stream will take a great leap upwards. It will also improve because all of you will head over to youtube and subscribe.

Romney is a very devout man

Mitt Romney gives lots of money to his church! Sorta. It turns out he’s also a very clever man, with a deep knowledge of the tax code, who has cunningly used loopholes to generate the appearance of giving money to the church while keeping most of it for himself.

Romney reportedly took advantage of a loophole, called a charitable remainder unitrust or CRUT, which allows someone to park money or securities in a tax-deferred trust marked for their favorite charity, but which often doesn’t pay out much to the non-profit. The donor pays taxes on the fixed yearly income they get from the trust, but the principle remains untaxed . Congress outlawed the practice in 1997, but Romney slid in under the wire when his trust, created in June 1996, was grandfathered in.

The trust essentially lets someone “rent” the charity’s tax-exemption while not actually giving the charity much money. If done for this purpose, the trust pays out more every year to the donor than it makes in returns on its holdings, depleting the principal over time, so that when the donor dies and the trust is transferred to the charity, there’s often little left. The actual contribution “is just a throwaway,” Jonathan Blattmachr, a lawyer who set up hundreds of CRUTS in the 1990s, told Bloomberg. “I used to structure them so the value dedicated to charity was as close to zero as possible without being zero.”

Indeed, this appears to the case for Romney’s trust as well. Bloomberg obtained the trust’s tax returns through a Freedom of Information Request and found that Romney’s CRUT started at $750,000 in 2001 but ended 2011 with only $421,203 — over a period when the stock market grew. Romney’s trust was projected to leave less than 8 percent of the original contribution to the church (or another charity that he can designate). This, along with the trust’s poor returns — it made just $48 in 2011 — suggest the trust is not designed to grow for the LDS church but just serve as a tax-free holding pool from which annual payments can be disbursed to the Romneys.

If he’s so willing to screw over the god he worships, one has to wonder what he’s planning to do to the country.

The principles of atheism promote a positive ethics

Last week, the Irish Times published an opinion piece that was generally quite positive about atheism, but also perpetuated a stereotype.

Ireland is seeing the emergence of a newer kind of atheist, who is anxious to dispel the myth that they are all one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians.

It then goes on to praise charitable efforts by atheists, the emergence of the Atheism Plus movement, and the ongoing discussions about ethics within the atheist community (like I said, it’s mostly a nice article saying good things about atheists). However, it’s as if the author is surprised that we aren’t all out hanging priests from lampposts and blowing up churches.

But that’s wrong. The New Atheist movement has always been about applying reason and evidence-based thinking to everything, without exception. Atheism+ was established by aggressive, out atheists who do not compromise on the foolishness of faith, and take the very same take-no-prisoners approach on social justice issues.

In 2010, atheists met and formulated the Copenhagen Declaration (see also the Irish amendment). These are entirely ‘Dawkinsian’ in spirit!

It is actually no surprise at all that atheism is taking this direction. The only people who have been surprised are that obnoxious subset of atheists who thought nobody would ever expect them to defend their viciously anti-equality views rationally and with evidence — they’ve gotten a bit of a shock when they’ve found themselves marginalized and regarded with contempt. But they are well out of the mainstream of the New Atheist movement, and are reduced to angrily lashing out on the internet against the decent human beings who make up the bulk of our godless horde.

Michael Nugent has written an excellent article rebutting some of the misconceptions in the original opinion piece, which has also been published in the Irish Times.

“New Atheism” as promoted by Richard Dawkins has always combined promotion of critical thinking and science, strong rejection of religious beliefs that are unsupported by evidence, active campaigns against the harm caused by religion around the world, and philanthropic and charitable projects such as Nonbelievers Giving Aid and Foundation Beyond Belief.

Atheist Ireland is part of this evolving project, not a deviation from it. We promote atheism and reason over supernaturalism and superstition, and we promote an ethical and secular Ireland where the State does not support or fund or give special treatment to any religion.

We reject religious beliefs that are silly in their claims about reality, such as intervening personal gods who answer prayers and impregnate virgins to give birth to themselves; and religious beliefs that are harmful in their corruption of human morality, from Catholic sexism and homophobia to Islamic floggings and executions for blasphemy.

We believe that society should address ethical issues based on human rights and compassion, and applying reason to empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines; and that individual ethical decisions should where possible be made on the basis of personal autonomy and individual conscience, while not infringing on the rights of others.

This is not to deny that there are jerks among atheists — but the principles of the New Atheism have always been clear, and the imperfections of humanity should not be regarded as a slight against the ideals to which we aspire.

Godless Patriots

You need more t-shirts. You need some with a positive patriotic message so you can dumbfound all the yokels who think atheists hate America. Here’s the place you can find them: Godless Patriots.

They’re just starting up, and they’re looking for business and assistance — they also have a kickstarter page where they’re trying to raise money to expand their inventory.

They’re nice designs, and this isn’t mindless patriotism. They’ve got shirts for Americans and for the British.

Take a look and pick one up.

Happy Halloween!

People are always sending me pictures of their terrifying tentacled creatures, so I thought it only proper today to exhibit one that will send chills down your spine. Behold! A nightmare from Tupelo, Mississippi!

Note the cool regard of all she sees, the superior attitude, the tentacles, the stylish purple outfit with googly eyes on her head — she’s clearly an atheist. You will bow down before her.