The next Pharyngula podcast…

I’m going to try it again. I’m scheduling it for 10am Central time on Saturday, 30 June, in the usual place, Google+. I think that works for a large part of the world; west coasters will have to be up early at 8am, it’s late afternoon/early evening in Europe, and evening for Australia (you can check your time with this Time Zone Converter.)

I’m experimenting with the format still. I’d like to have some regulars confirm that they’ll be available then, so I know we’ll have a core of people to chat, but I’m also going to make it public, so anyone can join in, up to the limit of 10 participants. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a creationist trolling through.

Which would be appropriate. The theme will be “Creationists say the silliest things” — come prepared with your favorite/goofiest creationist arguments, and tear it apart in a few minutes on air.

Scotland is laughing at us!

It’s true. A bunch of people in kilts who wash down their sheep’s stomachs with Irn-Bru while listening to caterwauling bagpipes are giggling at those stupid Americans. It’s embarrassing. The Scotland edition of the Herald is mocking the American educational system.

The textbooks in the series are alleged to teach young earth creationism; are hostile towards other religions and other sectors of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism; and present a biased version of history that is often factually incorrect.

One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur. It’s unclear if the movie Godzilla was the inspiration for this lesson.

The situation is pretty bad when the Scots are looking at you like you’re mad and saying, “You don’t really believe in the Loch Ness monster, do you?”

(At least I can explain that no, it wasn’t Godzilla — it was a rotting basking shark with the gill region torn away that was called a plesiosaur.)

Don’t read the comments there and at The Scotsman! They really are laughing at us — they can’t believe that Americans believe in Nessie, let alone that creationism bullshit.

OK, now I want to move to Scotland. Seems like a sensible place.

Why I am an atheist – Ruth Crosby

Ironically, my other’s staunch Catholicism sowed the seeds for my rejection of god. Not in the way one might expect, through so perfectly illustrating the hypocrisy and contradictions between her speech and actions (although there was that, too). Instead, her choice to bear 11 children in 18 years (I know – crazy! I’m number 9 – everyone always wants to know.) meant that my eldest siblings were effectively a different generation, and they held far more sway with us younger kids than our parents ever did. Fortunately for me, those siblings had come of age in the early seventies, and were heavily influenced by the counterculture. My eldest brother, an aspiring musician who was an early follower of punk and new wave, was like the Pied Piper to the rest of us – and he was an atheist.

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Misogynists can think women are tasty, while not recognizing that they are human beings

I see where Thunderf00t gets his name: he puts his foot in it hard. And that’s unfortunate, because before building up his credibility in in his new digs here at freethoughtblogs, he’s launched into an embarrassingly clueless defense of his privilege to chew on women’s legs.

I’m tempted to tear every sentence apart, but the structure of his post his so flimsy I’ll just knock out a few of the rickety bits.

Now first let me say from a strategically point of view sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue

And then he tells us the conference scene is unimportant because, for instance, the youtube and blog scene is much, much bigger.

He is incorrect. From Thunderf00t’s point of view it is a non-issue. From a strategic point of view, the position that we want the atheist/skeptic movement to grow and include more diversity, it’s a major problem that must be addressed.

This has never been about TAM, either. The argument encompasses meetings, but also the larger geek and atheist culture, which turns out to be pretty damned sexist. You do not correct the broader problem by turning a blind eye to the specifics; it doesn’t work to say that you reject misogyny, but oh, that meeting there? It’s OK if you hit on women there. It’s OK if you abuse women in a bar; bars are free-range markets for men to exercise their will.

Further a female friend of mine who repeatedly attends many such events has informed me that the most recent TAM was the best ever in this fashion.

I’m sorry, Thunderf00t, but with that you demonstrate that you’ve completely missed the point.

It’s an anecdote. So?

But also, it’s one that everyone involved in this fracas agrees with. This and many other blogs have enthusiastically supported TAM over the years, I have specifically pointed to TAM as a model conference for getting a more diverse audience, and Skepchick has been raising money to send more women to it. We’ve pointed to their anti-harassment policies last year as a good thing, we’ve applauded the balance of speakers, we’ve actually said nothing but good things about the meeting.

Until this year, when DJ Grothe screwed up bigtime. He announced that the attendance of women was down this year, and blamed it on individuals and blogs who had actively promoted the improvements in the conference. Then, denying that sexual harassment ever occurred at TAM (it has, as has been amply demonstrated) and dragging his feet over doing anything to continue the formerly good policies made it clear: he’s not interested in supporting women’s issues after all.

That’s what has people disgusted with the meeting this year: the management seems determined to unravel all the good will that has built up over the years, because rather than dealing with a common problem in this culture, they’ve decided to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. As Thunderf00t has.

The level of the warning suggests the issue is far more problematic than it is in reality.

Thunderf00t does not get to determine how other people respond to threats; only the threatened people get that option. And his solution, which is to ignore all threats except the ones where you get to bring in the FBI and have them arrest someone, is so laughably black-and-white that it suggests he is entirely oblivious to the situation.

For instance, I had multiple, daily death threats from a well-known internet troll, Dennis Markuze, for over a decade. The intensity of his obsession made it clear that there was a serious problem here, as did the escalating intensity of his behavior. I reported this guy to the local police, the FBI, the RCMP, and the Montreal city police…who did nothing. Nothing at all. It was only last year that his local police finally took him in for much needed treatment.

So often the FBI solution is no solution at all. And I’m saying that as a man — the first response women get when they try to bring in authorities to deal with harassment is doubt and denial.

But also, I know that Thunderf00t does not call the police every time someone says something rude, stupid, or threatening to him: there are other responses besides lying down and pretending it didn’t happen.

You can point and laugh.

You can block them, if it’s on the internet.

You can refuse to associate with them in real life.

You can ask friends to back you up.

If it’s a conference that you suspect will be full of assholes, you can turn down invitations to attend.

You can try to change the culture that tolerates such abuse, if you’re ambitious.

These are perfectly reasonable, rational responses. They are better responses than bluntly dichotomizing every situation into do-nothing vs. “drag their legally beaten carcass around the walls of Troy”.

The VAST majority of people at these conferences are civil, honest, respectable folks.

Nobody has said anything different, and in actual fact we’ve said that TAM tends to be better than your average crowd of random human beings.

But here’s the thing. The instances of harassment are rare and usually (not always) effectively dealt with…but there’s a massive culture of internet bravos who want to diminish and demean the concerns. There is an attitude that women are there not as colleagues and respected partners in the goals of the movement, but as eye candy and sex toys, so please please please don’t you dare suppress my right to hit on women all I want!

Unfortunately, Thunderf00t expresses that same sense of privilege.

Giving people a list of things they are and are not allowed to do in the bars in the evenings gives the impression that this is not a conference for grown-ups but an expensive and repressive day/night care where your every action will be vigilantly vetted for dis-approval by the conference organizers. Put simply this sort of thing is a killjoy for the civil, honest respectable majority. If I want to chew on some womans leg in a bar, I don’t want to have to consult the conference handbook to see if this classes as acceptable behavior!

The people who have been arguing for better harassment policies are not killjoys — you apparently don’t know Rebecca Watson or Greta Christina very well if you think that they aren’t enthusiastic participants in the bar and party scene.

If you want to chew on some woman’s leg, no, you don’t have to consult the conference handbook.

You have to fucking consult the woman.

That’s the message. Not that you will be policed by a mob of impersonal killjoys, but that you damn well better appreciate that that woman is a person who has just as much right to be there and to demand some respect for herself as you do. And that if you fondle someone because you think you have that right, there will be people who have the back of your target and who will tell you NO you don’t get to dictate to that person how she will participate in your games.

If she wants you to nibble on her leg, or she wants to nibble on yours, fine, have fun.

But let’s be clear on this: the women at a conference are not your buffet.

Cristina Rad does it right. She asks if something were an instance of sexual harassment. In this case, a companion was nagged with requests to participate in sexual activity until she felt she had to move away to escape it.

Yes, that is sexual harassment. Undeniably so.

But here’s the contrast with Thunderf00t’s argument. He seems to think it’s either something you ignore, or something you call the FBI to handle. I think every rational person would agree that no, you don’t call in the FBI or the local police to handle a nuisance hitting on you at a bar. But that doesn’t mean it’s something that should be encouraged or tolerated — no means no. It would be nice if conferences encouraged intermediate levels of reaction, somewhere between “Bye, I’m not attending this event” and “Boom, I’m calling in a swat team.”

This attitude that if a situation doesn’t require the police to beat on someone, it should be tolerated, is exactly the kind of position that creates a safe space for pick-up artists and their ilk — they’re given the latitude to push right up to the point the nightsticks are hauled out.