I must have cursed National Geographic by accident

Back in the dim and distant past, around 2011, when the dignified and staid National Geographic bought up my former blogging home, ScienceBlogs, there was a certain self-appointed guardian of the Purity of NatGeo who was infuriated that I might exist under the bold banner and yellow border of his beloved company. I was going to taint the brand! I was a horrible person who should be dismissed forthwith! I was a corruption, a depravity, a dissolute poisoner of the sacred spirit of science!

He was a little bit distraught about it all.

I’ve completely forgotten his name, but I’d be curious to know what he thinks now, now that NatGeo has completely shuttered ScienceBlogs after a couple of years of neglect, and now that NatGeo is peddling…magic…rocks…to people. Yep, they’ve really sold out. I guess they were envying Gwyneth Paltrow’s reputation and money.

It’s true. They’re sending out magic healing crystals to journalists.

The huge box Nat Geo sent me contained a book, some press material, and this glass water bottle with their name printed on the side. The >$70 bottle’s package advertises that it contains “carefully selected and ethically sourced gemstones representing the building blocks of earth,” including “wood,” “water,” “earth,” “metal” and “fire.” It came with an instruction and information manual.

Why does my water bottle have an instruction manual? It reads: “For the most precious moments in life! Gems raise the energy level of water. That’s been known for hundreds of years and scientifically proven. VitaJuwel Gemwater Accessories are not only Jewelry for Water, they’re a great tool to prepare heavenly gemwater like fresh from the spring.” The instructions are: screw in the gemstone vial, fill with water, and then wait 7 minutes.

You know how it works? Vibrations. NatGeo is promoting vibrations.

Some of the claims are really wild. At one point, the pamphlet says: “Everything in nature vibrates. Gems naturally act like a source of subtle vibrations. These vibrations inspirit water, making it more lively and enjoyable.” This is nonsense, and any reference to electricity in crystals (like piezoelectricity, when charge accumulates on some structures in response to physical stress) is neither exclusive to crystals nor relevant to healing or enlivening drinking water. (“Ha! Yeah. Nah,” astrophysicist Katie Mack told me in a DM.)

Now I feel really guilty. He was right. It was all my fault. That I was briefly (and under protest) sponsored by National Geographic was the causal agent that sent the whole venerable institution plummeting into a deep chasm of woo.

I’m sorry, everyone. I didn’t do it on purpose, it must have just been my bad vibes.

Botanical Wednesday: Maybe it’s a trojan horse

My wife gave me my birthday present a month ago. “It’s not my birthday,” I said. She told me to be patient.

My present was a bucket of dirt. “Gee, thanks,” I said.

“You have to take care of it,” she said. “Oh, great,” I said, “A bucket of dirt and a new chore.”

I did as I was told. It was supposed to do something on my birthday, but my birthday is still more than a week away. And now the bucket of dirt looks like this already.

Is it going to get bigger and more garish by my birthday? Should I be worried that it’s going to eat me? Because that would be a surprise.

Why are you praising Dick’s Sporting Goods?

Dick’s announced that they will no longer sell AR-15s, and all I’m seeing is cheers and huzzahs for the company.

My first thought was, “Why was a sporting goods company selling assault rifles in the first place?” There’s something just plain wrong with that.

But now I learn that they’ve pulled this stunt before. In the wake of the Sandy Hook murders, they announced then that they would stop selling these specific murder-tools (cheers, huzzahs), and then a year later they quietly resumed peddling instruments of death (silence, cluelessness). This is a stunt. A ploy. An advertising gimmick. And oh, but they are receiving lots of free advertising right now.

Fuck ’em.

Silent Bob is modest about everything except what goes on in his head

Kevin Smith had a major heart attack, and he talked about it from the hospital.

It’s all so familiar — I went through exactly the same procedures, although in my case it was more preventive than to deal with an immediate crisis. A lot of his responses sound familiar to how I felt at the time, except for a couple of things. The doctors were telling him he was dying, but his major immediate concern was keeping his underwear on, out of modesty. Nope, not me. I did not care. Strip me naked, I don’t mind, just fix me up. He was, obviously, responding with the notorious Kevin Smith motor mouth — he’s telling stories non-stop. Not me. I just go quiet under stress. That’s why he’s the raconteur, and I’m not. In the aftermath, he was quite happy that people who feared for his life were saying all these nice things about him. When I was in the hospital, mostly what I got was gloating hate mail from Christians and atheists; just recently I told my wife that when I die, she ought to just avoid the internet for a few weeks because it will be nothing but hatefulness aimed at my corpse, and as collateral damage, my family.

Otherwise, one thing that did bother me was he mentioned the response to Chris Pratt saying he was going to pray for him. OK, atheist world, there is a huge difference between people with power mumbling “thoughts and prayers” as a substitute for taking action to correct a problem, and a person who has no responsibility for action saying, as a gesture of good will, that they will pray for you. I wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t believe for a moment that it would actually help, but it’s just a believer trying to be nice.

I know from experience that it actually is a heck of a lot nicer than the believers who cackle about how you’re going to burn in hell, or the unbelievers gleefully telling you they don’t know whether they want you to experience brain damage or die in pain.

Rebecca Watson tells it like it is

Here we go again.

She’s exactly right on this, and her account of the Buzzfeed article matches mine: they researched that thing for months, and there was a point in the middle where I was expecting it to come out at any time that the reporter contacted me and told me it was on hold a little longer while they nail down a few more points. This was not some quick hatchet job.

It’s telling, too, that the critics of the article keep circling around the same ad hominems.

I keep seeing the same thing over and over again. We’re not supposed to believe the article because Rebecca Watson is cited in it (as is this mysterious awful person, PZ Meyers). A lot of people also jump on the fact that Melody Hensley is in it.

That really pisses me off — it’s a circular argument. Shitlords on the internet grabbed a picture of Melody from the internet, slapped the words “TRIGGERED” on it, and then used that meme to argue that she has no credibility. I’ve also seen them cite the odious Thunderf00t’s terrible video on her — which really was a cheap hatchet job — that implied that only soldiers ever get PTSD (wrong!) to say that her diagnosis of PTSD was a lie. And now, because she was harassed right off the internet and out of her job, they claim that she experienced no trauma at all, which makes no sense. It’s a contemptible argument.

It also makes me wonder what they think motivates Rebecca Watson and Melody Hensley. Neither of them have gained a thing from speaking out about harassment, other than more harassment, hate mail, death threats, and reputations smeared by assholes, all while the skeptic/atheist movements sail merrily along, changing nothing, pretending that all is well.

Oh, and here’s another comment that confirms what the women have been saying all along. It’s some of the conference organizers who are a significant part of the problem.

I had to point out to this guy that maybe the reason he doesn’t see any criticisms is that his bias is shining out brightly, and it’s quite likely that the women know better than to talk to him — he’ll just deny, deny, deny, and then turn around and call them a Crazy Woman. So he doubled down.

A True Skeptic, that. I guess I’m not who I think I am. And once again, the fact that a mob of jerks hounded Melody into a stressed-out retirement from the movement is used to discredit Melody, rather than the mob.

I’ll also mention that this conference organizer, who had not heard any complaints about his speakers in 7 years, then turned around and claimed that he’d heard from dozens of women that I’d sexually harassed them when I spoke at his conference. That’s the level of dishonesty we’re dealing with here — that’s the amount of disrespect atheist conference organizers deal out to the women attendees. And then they wonder why women and minorities show less interest in organized atheism.

Secular Women keep on working

This is a press release from Monette for an upcoming conference, Secular Women Work. They have a Kickstarter for donations.

Secular Woman and Minnesota Atheists are bringing back their activist training conference, and they’re using Kickstarter to make it possible. The Secular Women Work conference will be held in Minneapolis this August 24–26 and features accomplished activists Jessica Xiao, former program assistant at the American Humanist Association and current Prison Book Club Coordinator, and Greta Christina, writer and cofounder of Godless Perverts. Mandisa Thomas will be returning as well after another successful three years for Black Nonbelievers.

Come August, the conference will feature a full slate of exclusively women and genderqueer speakers. The original conference in 2015 highlighted the importance of “women’s work” in the secular movement. Secular Woman president Monette Richards explains, “The recent revelations that atheist figureheads and organizations knew and did nothing about Lawrence Krauss long before his recent #metoo reckoning demonstrate how far we still have to go as a movement in valuing the contributions of women. There’s no better time than now for another Secular Women Work.”

The conference has returned to Kickstarter to sell conference tickets and raise additional funding. The first Secular Women Work was the first atheist or skeptic conference to successfully crowdfund. “There’s a perception of waning interest in secular conferences. We think people are just looking for the right conference to take them to the next level in their activism. The Kickstarter lets us test our theory before committing resources”, said Minnesota Atheists incoming associate president Stephanie Zvan. The campaign launches today, and tickets will only be available through Kickstarter until it fully funds.

In addition to conference tickets, which will be transferable, the Kickstarter offers backer rewards such as t-shirts, custom SurlyRamics jewelry, and advertising space. Those who can’t attend but want to support the conference can buy and donate a scholarship to another activist. The campaign will end March 29.

The Secular Women Work conference will be heavy on skill-building and problem-solving workshops, with panels and speakers covering specialist topics. All workshop leaders, panelists, and speakers will be seasoned activists themselves. Additional speakers are expected to be announced during the Kickstarter campaign.

The conference will be held in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus. Conference organizer Chelsea du Fresne explained that the venue was an important factor in making the first conference special. “Not only is the space wonderful for getting to know other activists, but being surrounded by so much political accomplishment is inspiring. Today, more than ever, those reminders that we can make a difference really matter.”

The conference is a joint project of the Minnesota Atheists and Secular Woman.

It’s a good cause, and I plan to attend. See you there!

David Brooks, the Times, and well-deserved rudeness

Drew Magary lets the NY Times editorial page have both barrels. It’s great stuff prompted by David Brooks recent excremental whine that we need to be nice to gun owners and Republicans in MAGA hats.

So let’s talk about rudeness for a moment, because we live in rude times. The president is a pig. His underlings are nothing but a bunch of opportunists and enablers. And the rest of GOP is staffed by a wide range of scum, from camera-friendly establishment monsters like Paul Ryan to outright crackpots like this guy. When the president’s own little pukeson decides to endorse a conspiracy theorist truthering the motives of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas teenagers, I feel like that’s a much greater sign of the end of civilization than someone rightfully telling a lady at the Times that she should take the L.

None of these people deserve civility. In fact, civility only serves to enable them. The fact that Trump can go party at his fucking country club on the same weekend 17 teenagers were slaughtered inside a school, and have NO ONE surrounding him say an unkind word to him, is damnable. And when Brooks cries out for “respect” for the coterie of stubborn gun owners who lap up the NRA’s propaganda, he is tacitly maneuvering to blunt the momentum of the Parkland kids who, with a welcome brashness, have kickstarted a very real and potentially effective anti-gun movement. He would like everyone to calm down. He would like everyone to think things over.

But this is not a time to calm down. Kids are fucking dead. Their friends are rightfully, and loudly, pissed about it. David Brooks has no right to tell people who are mad as hell to stop being mad as hell. He can afford to be calm and collected because he is so wealthy and sequestered that nothing truly awful can happen to him. His civility is a luxury. He only wants to talk about this shit in civilized terms because he lives a civilized life. His words are those of a man whose foremost experiences in life have happened inside his own rectum. He deserves to have his ass dragged every time someone hits PUBLISH on his behalf.

Oh, yeah. The NY Times has been scorned by Trump, so instead of seeing that as an opportunity to be free of any need to suck up to power, they’ve been frantically trying to appease the Republicans. This is the opposite of what a good newspaper should do.

We should be engaged in revolution right now, but Magary feels that violence isn’t the answer (I agree). So what can he do?

That leaves me with words. That leaves me with rudeness and the power to SHAME. In the real world, I do my best to be nice to people. I say “please,” and “thank you,” and I try not to be an inconsiderate prick. Sometimes I fail, because I am a big goober, but I do try. And I have tried my best to make sure my children aren’t rude, either. People who are rude all the time suck. You and I both know that. As a baseline, rudeness is bad.

But as a weapon, it’s vital. Rudeness is the proper option when polite entreaties for sanity are ignored. I am very rude online to people. I have regrets about how I’ve deployed this rudeness, but I do not regret being rude to those who have continually demonstrated that they do not deserve such courtesies. Ivanka Trump shouldn’t be able to fly in public without getting an earful from her fellow passengers. Your local GOP Congressman shouldn’t be able to stage a town hall without residents openly telling him to go fuck himself. And the Respectable Conservative arm of the Times deserves every non-threatening piece of hate mail they get.

All hail rudeness. It is the appropriate mode of interaction in rude times.

Challenge is one thing, stacking the deck is another

The creationists are playing legalistic games again.

Policymakers in the United States are pushing to give the public more power to influence what educators teach students. Last week, Florida’s legislature started considering two related bills that, if enacted, would let residents recommend which instructional materials teachers in their school district use in their classrooms.

The bills build on a law enacted in June 2017, which enables any Florida resident to challenge the textbooks and other educational tools used in their district as being biased or inaccurate. In the five months after the state’s governor approved the law, residents filed at least seven complaints, including two that challenge the teaching of evolution and human-driven climate change, according to the Associated Press.

I have questions.

What do the creationists think this bill accomplishes? They can “challenge” science teachers right now, and they can recommend instructional materials. Go ahead. Disagree with me. Send me Chick tracts and tell me to replace my textbooks with those. You can do that! I’d find it very entertaining. I’d put it in my promotion review file for my colleagues to chortle over, and it would be helpful to me. But otherwise, you can challenge all you want, but I’m just going to ignore you.

What the bill actually does is increase the nuisance value of creationists and create additional costs for Florida schools.

With the law now in place, any county resident — not just any parent with a child in the country’s public schools, as was the case previously — can now file a complaint about instructional materials in the county’s public schools, and the school will now have to appoint a hearing officer to hear the complaint.

This is a law that enables teacher harassment. Nothing else. It’s not going to change the science at all, it’s just going to allow ignorant people to meddle in education — precisely the wrong people to empower.

Now I’d like to know more about this “hearing officer”. If it’s a guy with a wastebasket who sits in a room shuffling complaints to their appropriate destination, that’s just a waste of time and money; if it’s a guy who actually has some power to punish or otherwise affect teachers, then it’s a poison to education.

If you’re wondering what the obstacle to change in the atheist movement might be, here it is

There is a private meeting of the people who are ‘running’ the movement side of atheism; it’s called “Heads”, which sort of tells you what it is about. It’s the leaders of the various disparate groups that make up the movement. You might wonder what goes on there (I’m not and never have been part of it). Much of it seems to be about silencing the people who might drive change.

The structure of this year’s meeting changed after women voiced their opinions and concerns at last year’s meeting. Some of those opinions were unpopular and unwelcome, and during the meeting, the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition of America requested that the next meeting be available only to member organizations of SCA. SCA ran this year’s meeting, and the change was made, excluding Secular Woman and other smaller organizations.

People continue to write “where are the women” pieces about the secular movement after years of work to make us more inclusive. Women enter this movement, then leave with stories of being talked over, silenced, and valued for their bodies over their voices. As #MeToo continues to gather momentum, the leaders of this movement have changed the rules to specifically exclude Secular Woman, the only secular organization which focuses on the concerns and voices of women.

That’s right, the powers-that-be took action to exclude innovators and representatives of new ideas. You must be a member of their in-group to participate now. Perhaps you’re wondering who runs the show behind the scenes in the atheist “movement”. Here’s that advisory board.

Woody Kaplan – chair
Robert Boston – writer and spokesperson on the Religious Right and First Amendment issues
Richard Dawkins, D.Sc., FRS – evolutionary biologist and popular science writer who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University
Daniel Dennett, D.Phil. – philosopher whose research intersects with cognitive science and evolutionary biology
Rebecca Goldstein, Ph.D. – author and philosopher
Sam Harris, Ph.D. – author, neuroscientist, and CEO of Project Reason
Jeff Hawkins – entrepreneur and inventor
Wendy Kaminer – author and social critic on civil liberties, religion and popular culture
Michael Newdow, M.D. – attorney, medical doctor and litigant in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow which attempted to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance
Dan Okrent – author, best known for having served as the first public editor of the New York Times.
Steven Pinker, Ph.D. – psychologist, writer and Humanist Laureate
Salman Rushdie – novelist
Hon. Fortney “Pete” Stark – The first openly nontheistic member of the United States House of Representatives (1973 to 2013)
Todd Stiefel – founder and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.
Julia Sweeney – actor best known for her androgynous character Pat on “Saturday Night Live” and her critically acclaimed one-woman monologue, “Letting Go of God.”
Doug White – a long-time leader in the nation’s philanthropic community, is an author, teacher, and an advisor to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists.

Some of them are all right. But way too many of them are, at best, defenders of the status quo, and at worst, representative of the nastier elements of atheism. Old boss, same as the new boss. And we probably will be fooled again, dammit.