Have a big fat freaking sh!t-ton of Alain de Botton abuse! You’re welcome.

I have no idea where this Alain de Botton guy sprung from, but he can spring right back. You’ve heard Dawkins mention the Neville Chamberlain school of atheist accomodationism, but de Botton, an atheist who thinks atheism would be really awesome if only we were all religious about it, is full-on Vichy. His latest excrescence, inflicted upon the world through no less a source than CNN (or as they prefer to be called, Fox Lite), might charitably be described as a car crash that caused a train wreck that fell off a bridge causing a shipwreck that settled into the sea bed to become home to a pod of fail whales. Apart from that, it’s not so bad.

(Though I usually don’t like those “more after the jump” type blogs, let me just say, there’s more after the jump.)

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Iron Chariots update

FYI, in case you’re wondering:

  • The forum has been updated to a new version of PhPBB, but the old data hasn’t been fully transferred over.  Expect a delay of perhaps a few more days before the process is complete.  Don’t panic, your posts will come back.
  • The wiki is up and running, but no anti-spam enhancements are installed yet.  For the time being I have blocked new accounts from being created.  If you already have an account, you should be able to edit as usual.  If you want a new account, you can reply to this thread with a username and I’ll see what I can do.


Assault is not free speech

I have to say, I was initially kind of skeptical of this story about the judge who threw out a lawsuit against a Muslim for assaulting an atheist.  Several people have emailed us looking for a comment on it, and I hesitated to jump on it until I knew the whole story.

It’s not that I thought a Muslim wouldn’t attack an atheist, it’s just that people have cried wolf on exaggerated versions of imaginary creeping Islam in the United States — with several southern states going so far as to pass essentially useless and redundant legislation banning Sharia law, as if that were a serious threat.

In this case, though, having read the details of the case and listening to much of the court’s audio, a judge did, in fact, come out with something that sounds very, very dumb.


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Open Thread for Show #750 – Matt & Tracie

This is the open thread for the program. No topic, just calls. Caller Eric, from AZ, most fun. Can something come from nothing? Can there *be* nothing? If it *is* or *was*–then could it have actually been nothing? If nothing does exist, does that mean it’s something? If nothing cannot be (as Eric defined it as nonbeing), then it can never have been–and so there has always been, according to Eric, something–by definition. So, something has never come from nothing–as nothing cannot be. I’m not sure Eric had thought this through before calling, despite his boast that he beat George (H.) Smith in a debate.

Reserve your copy of A Better Life

You may have seen some notices and plugs about photographer Chris Johnson and his Kickstarter project for a lavish coffee-table photo book featuring atheists, but if not, go have a look and open your wallet to him if you feel so moved. I do think this is a nice idea, and Chris’s goal to help present the message of positive atheism to a prejudiced public through his work is a laudable and most necessary one. Among the folks already committed to appearing in the book are Derren Brown, Michael Shermer, PZ Myers, Daniel Dennett, and Jessica Ahlquist. From the AXP ranks, confirmees include myself, Matt, and Beth and Lynnea from Godless Bitches. (I suspect Chris has contacted us all. I just don’t who else has confirmed with him or not yet.)

He’s making good headway toward his goal — over 200 people have pledged over 17 grand so far — but this is a very big budget project and so he still needs a massive amount of support yet. So let’s help put him over the top. In a world where evangelists can reach into petty cash and build $200 million megachurches, hopefully something worthwhile to spread a friendly face for atheism and reason can meet its economic ambitions.

Iron Chariots outage

FYI: Ironchariots.org will be experiencing some down time for a matter of hours or days as I try to complete this upgrade to the latest version of MediaWiki, which should help reduce spam and make more tools available to editors.


UPDATE: It’s been down since yesterday, now it’s back up.  It doesn’t look any different, but it’s on a shiny new server running software that’s six years newer.  Now I can start figuring out how to take advantage of the antispam stuff.  The forums are still down, but I’ll fix that shortly.

UPDATE 2: Both the wiki and the forum are now up and running.  I still need to upgrade the forum version so it may go down again.

Debating and rallying and reasoning, oh my!

Some quick updates on what some of us in the AXP camp are up to. Matt is, as you read this, getting ready to take the stage at West Texas A&M University in Amarillo for another debate. Here’s the flyer thingamajig.

Debate flyer

No, we don’t have any idea about their plans to record the debate, or post it online. Yes, we’ll embed it here the instant we find out such a thing exists.

In other news, yours truly (that would be me) just bought his plane ticket to Washington, so expect to see me at the Reason Rally in a month. I’ll be easy to spot, in that of all the godless hordes attending, I’ll be the only one who’s Martin Wagner. I don’t know about any plans from anyone else yet. As we get closer to the day, I’ll work out arrangements for an Atheist Experience meet up, perhaps the Friday night before. Maybe some of you who are attending and know DC a bit better than I do can think of some worthwhile places to hold one. Part of me is hoping that I step off the plane into the devastation of the Capital Wasteland, dodging super-mutants while Galaxy News Radio spins oldies over my ear buds. But I suspect the worst I’ll run into will be some dippy sidewalk evangelists.

“50 Popular Beliefs” now available

If you enjoyed our interview with Guy P. Harrison last weekend, why not show him some support and pick up the new book?

Harrison’s new book challenges popular beliefs

Author Guy P. Harrison, a former Grand Cayman resident now living in southern California, has written a new book that is attracting high praise. 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think are True is a skeptical grand tour of extraordinary claims and unusual beliefs, including UFOs, psychics, near-death-experiences, ghosts, intelligent design, alternative medicine, alien abductions, conspiracy theories, faith healing, astrology, doomsday predictions, Atlantis and more.

Somewhat off-topic: Evolutionary arms race of spam

Just wanted to mention that we get a lot more attempted spam here at Freethought Blogs than I ever remember getting at the old blogspot address.  Luckily, the spam filters are pretty good and I usually don’t have to lift a finger to mess with it.  I do, however, see a few posts a week that slip through the cracks as “uncertain” and drop into the moderation bucket to be checked.

To give you an example of what spam looks like these days, here’s a post from last night by “Nicolette Snith”

Thanks for an unbelievable post, would see your personal others posts. thank you your thinking for this, I felt a trifle strike by this text. Thanks again! You commit a great aspect. Displays the beauty through great facts here. I believe that if a greater number considered it like that, they’d have a very better time frame get the grasp ofing the difficulty.

That’s a pretty common variety.  It’s lavishly complimentary, totally unspecific, and almost written in a reasonable style of  English.  It only looks weird if you take the time to actually read it carefully.

Obviously the goal of spam is to drive traffic to commercial sites, and this seems to be accomplished by adding a URL in the user identity, which you can click from the person’s post.  It used to be the case that most such URL’s were in the form of obviously suspicious locations, i.e., “http://hotgirls.ru” or something like that.  (I just made that up, but I checked and it’s a real site.  I do not take responsibility for you surfing there or wasting any money.)  These days, however, the address is more often in the form of an IP address (such as which redirects you to a site that wants to sell you viagra or mortgages or whatever.

The behavior of spammers and spam filter writers very closely resembles the evolution of predators and prey in nature.  Each side has a survival motive to improve.  The spammers are obviously in it for the money.  Design the perfect spam filter, and you cut off their income.  In the worst case scenario, they might even have to give it up and find an alternate career that doesn’t require them to be goddamned parasites.

The anti-spammers are fighting for survival of their content.  I’ve seen quite a few abandoned blogs and forums become completely choked with spam, to the point where it’s impossible to engage in a meaningful conversation.

So each one evolves competitively, and both need to be automated to an extent.  The spammers are busy trying to post millions of junk messages to sites all over the world, while non-spammers are busy trying to clean up hundreds or thousands of messages without employing an army of human moderators to babysit their sites.

What’s interesting is that there does seem to be an upper limit on the effectiveness of spam filters.  If a human reader can’t tell them difference between spam and a legitimate post, how is a computer supposed to do it?  Even now, I have gotten to the point where I look at a brief, harmless compliment with deep suspicion.  If I see a new poster write “Well said” or something of the kind, I have to stare at the email address, the name, and any suspicious links for a non-trivial amount of time before I decide it’s safe to pass through.

Much as I hate this omnipresent intrusion into our lives in a digital age, I find it kind of fascinating to see how the race keeps shifting.