I hope you have a bucket handy

The Creation “Museum” is advertising on Nickelodeon with commercials aimed straight at your children.

Notice that nowhere in their ads do they mention biblical literalism, young earth, god’s extermination of most of mankind, or that their audience are all damned sinners. Instead, we get dinosaurs and animals and a lot of false implications that the museum is a fun place for kids.

It isn’t. It’s a pretty dry series of exhibits, full of earnest sincerity, and a good bit of it in the middle is an attempt to scare everyone away from hellbound evolution.

Oh, well, I hope they’re spending a lot of money on advertising, and that it all contributes to this year’s red ink.

Underestimation can lead to embarrassment

I saw this video this morning, and it really bugged me.

What I saw was a bunch of farmers pulling the leg of an easily fooled and somewhat patronizing Dutch reporter. They’re cocoa farmers, but they had no idea what cocoa was used for? I didn’t buy it.

Good thing I didn’t: someone named ChuraChura posted a dismissal.

I find this video pretty distasteful (and that’s aside from the link between cacao plantations in Cote d’Ivoire and child slavery).

I work in southwestern Cote d’Ivoire, just on the border of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. The men I employ are largely cocoa farmers, when they’re not in the forest taking complex observational data on primate behavior and ecology.

Most of the people in this region are farmers with 5-10 acres in cacao or rubber production, and a much smaller subsistence plot with manioc, cassava, rice, pineapple, avocado, and oranges. Cacao is a labor-intensive crop. Once a year, the pods get harvested from the trees. They’re then cut open and the cacao bean is pulled out of the membrane and left on tarps in the sun to dry (everything smells like vinegar as the beans ferment), before being bagged up in 50L sacks, and then brought to central cacao-grower organizations. If you’re in a slightly more developed part of the country or part of a wealthy organization, you can get your cacao loaded onto trucks to bring them to a central location. Otherwise, we see men with these big sacks on bicycles pushing them from the village to their closest big town. Where I work, guys are generally walking 15-20 km. Once you get your cocoa beans to the organization, you’re at the mercy of the buyers. They generally set a price per kilo, and sometimes will set a quota for the amount they’re buying from particular regions depending on supply and demand.

Cacao is an attractive crop because demand is fairly steady, and the farms have been productive for a really long time. The problem is that you only harvest once a year, and then you have to rely on that lump sum of cash to get you through a whole year. This is particularly hard because mobile banking hasn’t really penetrated the market, and what (few) banks there are in rural southwestern Cote d’Ivoire aren’t really set up to cater to small-scale cash crop farmers. Some people are relying on the long-term prospects of rubber, which is currently getting better prices/kilo and can be harvested year-round – this makes it a lot easier to pay for things like school fees, uniforms, books, and supplies that need to paid for year-round. The problem is that rubber plantations take a while to come into production (5-7 years), so first of all you’re cutting down your producing cacao trees, and then you’re twiddling your fingers for 6 years while you’re not earning any money, hoping that the price of rubber won’t crash when all the new trees start producing, and that there’s still a market in the future.

The region is still politically unstable, and conflicts over land rights are a major part of that. A lot of the men I work with either fled themselves, or sent their families, to refugee camps in Liberia during the recent crisis. During that time, people from northern Cote d’Ivoire moved south and took residence in these abandoned farms – so even now, two years after La Crise officially ended, people still in refugee camps in Liberia are sneaking across the border and killing people they suspect took over their land. In addition, the effects of climate change are making the rains less predictable. The rainy season normally goes August-October (more or less); we didn’t get rain in 2013 until almost the end of November, which had serious consequences both for people’s cash crops and people’s subsistence crops. Food prices are rising, commodity prices are falling, and the situation is looking grim. The forested buffer zone around the national park I work in has now been entirely converted to fallow fields, cacao, coffee, and rubber plantations.

And, the men I work with know what chocolate is. When they can afford to buy it, their kids eat a knock-off version of nutella called Chocomax (it is pretty gross). These are smart, sophisticated adult men (and women, though fewer women own their own land… they mostly just do a lot of the labor on their husbands’ and fathers’ farms). Even if they didn’t know what chocolate was, they’re plugged into their local economies, they have a sense of larger global economic forces, and they know what’s going on (we listen to BBC world service: francais every night in the forest on Ferdinand’s satellite radio. They’d ask me cutting and incisive questions about stupid American politics, like who the hell is that Sarah Palin person anyway?).

But look, this is the way an extractive (exploitative) cash-crop economy works. It’s not cute or endearing that these men who are working incredibly hard have never, or rarely, had the opportunity to sample the end-product of their labor. It’s not touching that you have to go to the big city to find chocolate, and that only a little of it is locally produced (Milka is very popular in Abidjan; Ivorian brands less so), It wouldn’t be touching if you showed a cell-phone to a coltan miner in DRC and said "Look at this amazing machine your backbreaking labor in dangerous conditions enabled!" or a diamond miner in Sierra Leone with your sparkly pretty engagement ring and said, totally amazed, "But why don’t you have one?" Consumers in the developed world should be smarter than that. The producers in the developing world – the folks enabling our lifestyles – certainly are.

Now that’s actually interesting. It doesn’t fit into the racist narrative of the poor black subsistence farmers, though.

I also found this complementary video, in which the reporters went back home and showed the cocoa nut to European citizens. This ignorance I can believe, because I would have been baffled, too.

Who’s smarter? Who thinks they’re smarter?

Metamorphosis tonight

Just so you know, we’re rolling out a major site redesign in the middle of the night tonight. Alex, our tech guy, is doing it in a smart way by getting it running on a shiny new server first, and then swapping in the IP address of the old one to bring it all live quickly. As with any new design, I expect gasps of horror tomorrow that it’s different — but it’s happening anyway, and productive suggestions to tweak it will be just fine. You’ll just have to adapt.

Most importantly, once we get the redesign out of the way, we’ve got a great big backlog of new additions to the roster who’ve been waiting for this obstacle to be cleared. Expect great new content to follow!

This is where pure logic takes you

Read this letter.

We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He’d been shredded (the hospital’s word) by an Israeli missile attack – apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are – hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.

I suddenly found myself thinking that it could have been one of my kids in that bag, and that thought upset me more than anything has for a long time.

Then I read that the UN had said that Israel might be guilty of war crimes in Gaza, and they wanted to launch a commission into that. America won’t sign up to it. 

We can stand aloof from the events and carry out thought exercises, and we can carefully weigh the pros and cons of war—this side did this horrible thing, that side did that horrible thing, this side has this worthy cause, that side has that worthy cause—and we can attempt to calculate who is slightly better and who is slightly worse, although even there it’s striking how often different people seem to come up with completely different sums, as if maybe, somehow human lives resist being reduced to simple numbers. Let us reason together, you say; if only we could get everyone to look at the situation logically, if only everyone would be a dispassionate observer like me, if only everyone would sit back and coldly analyze all possible actions to arrive at an optimal conclusion that maximizes idealized outcomes…

…and then we arrive at this moment where all the brilliant science and technology of our civilization culminates in this beautifully intricate weapon, designed, machined and assembled by highly educated teams of engineers and executives and politicians, aimed at a small child. One human being, persuaded by the moral calculus of their side that this action is a logical necessity, pushes a button and turns another innocent human being into shredded meat.

We don’t need any more logic. What we need now is more appreciation for the value of life.

What appalls me most is that the same people who use science and reason — principles I hold highly — as the supposed basis for a rational morality can somehow arrive at a justification for sowing injustice and death to achieve their more enlightened world. Shattered lives and stunted opportunities and a lifetime of oppression on one side of the balance can be weighed against greater wealth, happiness, and security on my side (strangely, this equation only works when it benefits my side), for a net gain in human well-being.

All it takes is for someone to pull the trigger on a child.

It’s the only logical thing to do.

More legal fun and games from Kent Hovind!

Kent Hovind wants the property he forfeited in his criminal conviction back! He has filed a lis pendens on the property that was seized. I am not a lawyer, and had to look it up, but apparently it’s an intent to make a legal claim on some real estate. I guess you’re not supposed to do that with properties forfeited to the government in a legal process, and which are under an injunction. But the law won’t step ol’ Kent!

So the court has fired back with a threat to hold him in contempt.

Kent E. Hovind is required to appear before the Court at 8:00 a.m., on September 8, 2014, to show cause why he should not be held in criminal contempt of Court, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 401(3) and Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a). This will be a jury trial and will be held in Courtroom 5, United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, located on One North Palafox Street, Pensacola, Florida 32502.

He has an option to get a court-appointed defense lawyer. I hope he doesn’t, and instead relies on the advice of his wacky right-wing conspiracy theorist buddies, because the shenanigans are always so entertaining. Anyone remember subornation of false muster?

Now look who’s picking a fight with Dawkins


(via Ophelia)

Facepalm time.

It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

Richard Dawkins

Being burnt at the stake or being sent to Room 101 is bad, but being criticized on Twitter is worse, I guess. Where the fuck are these witch-hunts, other than in the mind of every person whose misogynistic behavior is rebuked?