Lands on his feet, like a cat

David Silverman: fired from American Atheists for sexual harassment.

David Silverman: hired by Atheist Alliance International, fired from AAI for sexual harassment.

David Silverman: hired by the Conru Foundation, fired…well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Although I think his fans are predicting his future. They know what’s coming.

One has to wonder, though — what the heck is the Conru Foundation?

The Conru Foundation is a nonpartisan think tank focusing on elevating truth and undermining the false narratives that cause needless polarization and threaten modernity.

We seek to reclaim “Social Justice” by producing educational material and events that promote cognitive liberty, freedom of speech and Enlightenment values, as well as directly supporting speakers of truth.

Oh. They’re going to reclaim social justice by promoting Free Speech. This sounds familiar. This is the same rationale we always get from the right-wingers: Free Speech Uber Alles. We can sacrifice all kinds of civil rights as long as we retain the freedom to talk about them.

I still had never heard of them. I looked a little deeper; here’s the bio of the founder, Andrew Conru, who built this foundation with grit and determination and hard work and the highest aspirations.

I was fortunate to be at the right place and time (e.g., Stanford in 1992) when the Internet just started. This gave the opportunity to be the one of first to create interesting things like online shopping carts, centralized ad banner management, online matchmaking, and real-time website customization technologies. Over the years, I started a dozen or so companies with the largest being the Friend Finder Network – a dating social network with over 300M registered members. I also realize that most internet technology is pretty straight forward and success happens often not only by having the right skills but with a bit of luck and timing.

“Online shopping carts”? “centralized ad banner management”? I hate him already. This is another of those capitalists who poisoned the promise of the internet by turning it into yet another vehicle for sucking money out of people’s pockets. The Conru Foundation was only recently founded in 2017, and is just another “think tank” to defend his right to exploit others.

But his biggest success is Adult FriendFinder. I hadn’t heard of this before, but now that I’ve figured out what it is, I’ve probably seen it in way too many pop-up ads. Adult FriendFinder is a porn site. Check it out, if you don’t mind tainting your browser history. It’s full of photos of young women who are supposedly inviting you, horny man, to hook up with them in a quick date…or you can watch them take off their clothes on a webcam. You just have to have a credit card number, and subscribe! You can find out more on Wikipedia.

Adult FriendFinder has been accused of committing systematic billing fraud. According to the complaints filed, the company has a practice of continuing to bill customers even after they have cancelled their service. Former employees of the company have claimed that this is their standard policy and not the result of errors. These employees have stated that the majority of customers do not notice the charges for many months. As of October 2014, hundreds of civil cases have been filed against the company and a criminal indictment was made by the Federal Trade Commission against the company. In 2007, Adult FriendFinder settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the company had used malware to generate explicit pop-up ads for the service on computers without user consent.

Now there’s nothing wrong with doing porn — although I notice that Andrew Conru’s hot body is not for sale — but I had to laugh. David Silverman has finally found a sponsor who won’t fire him for being an abusive horndog. He’s being paid by a porn impresario!

Beauty contest!

We encountered a few indoor spiders today, so I thought I’d stage a little beauty contest.

Contestant #1: Pholcus phalangioides, found wandering the laboratories of the University of Minnesota. Hobbies: must be biology, since she was captured working in a biology lab.

Contestant #2: Sitticus fasciger, found hopping around in my house. Hobbies: jumping, obviously.

You are the judges! Who wins your approval?

The third letter: evangelical nonsense

My third letter is standard Christian evangelism. It’s a bit nicer than the other two, I think, but still is loaded with oblivious assumptions.

I hope my correspondent was professional in their educational career, and wasn’t trying to persuade their students to accept non-scientific ideas in the classroom, but the use of the Christian tell “evidences” is a little worrisome.

But to answer their questions:

A freethinker is someone who rejects dogma, especially the religious kind. Freethinkers can be theists, but they will not accept the dogma of any particular religion. I’m not that kind of freethinker: I reject all religion totally, and also don’t accept many cultural shibboleths.

It does not imply an absence of value. It says that I’m going to think freely about what values I’ll believe in.

I know enough about Christianity to see that there are a great many flavors of faith, and I’m not interested in any of them. I went to church regularly as a child, but I was not disillusioned — I grew up and learned to see through the pretense of false claims and historical failure. I do not accept the authority of this Jesus guy, who seems to be a figure painted over with 2000 years of ever-changing claims and beliefs, and also seems to be an empty figurehead that modern Christians fill in with bad ideas and discredited nonsense. I do not believe that my correspondent has any better knowledge of the True Jesus™ than I do, or than Jerry Falwell Jr. has.

I don’t think I’m “swine”.

I’m an atheist. I didn’t arrive at that conclusion because I was preached at by Madalyn Murray O’Hair or Richard Dawkins. I have already investigated thoroughly; my first dates with my wife-to-be involved going to different churches to see what they’re like. We concluded that there were a lot of nice folks out there, going to church, but that there was nothing convincing about any of their doctrines (if we had decided our faith on the basis of how nice the people going there were, we’d be either Buddhist or Russian Orthodox today, but that’s not how we made up our minds). I’m also not going to be persuaded by a nice letter from a Christian.

Also, praying more won’t accomplish anything.

And thus endeth my three letters of Christmas.

The second letter: our Christmas dystopia

This letter wasn’t sent to me, but was so horrifying I had to include it. How do you feel about the Christmas police?

Someone in Haddonfield, NJ has appointed themselves the keeper of Christmas traditions, which consist entirely of flashy, elaborate displays of Christmas lights around your home. I don’t know what an “S & V panel” is, but it sounds like a vigilante HOA roaming about a neighborhood deciding whose exhibition of forced jollity is adequate.

I knew a bit about Haddonfield from years gone by. Aren’t there Jewish families living there? And atheists? And Christians who don’t go for the showy stuff but, like Linus, are sure they know the True Meaning of Christmas?

I give fair warning to any Christmas evangelists roaming around Minnesota: I had no Christmas displays up, and if you come around with a letter like that, I’m putting up my spider-based Halloween decorations instead.

The first letter: an atheist complains

I seem to be on this person’s mailing list, and I frequently get sent their diatribes. This one is an open letter sent to American Atheists, and they request input on it. So here, give them input.

I just got another solicitation for money
from American Atheists’ (AA) president Nick Fish
–this time, in a snail mail.
Rather than inspire me to contribute,
Nick’s message left me
more angry and disappointed than ever.

For one thing, Nick lists AA’s “accomplishments” in the
past year in his letter; they are three small-town events
which apparently originated and were worked on by local groups
in the U.S. but not spearheaded or originated by AA.

Nick lists AA’s accomplishments in 2019 as follows:

1) He claims that in Missouri, AA blocked a bill that would have
required public schools to offer “Bible literacy” classes.

This is a good cause, but in none of the 52 news releases that
Nick and others at AA sent out in 2019 (one a week usually)
did he mention that this effort had started,
informed us of its progress
or mentioned what progress was being made.
I suspect this was a mostly totally local effort by
Missouri atheists, which AA headquarters wants to
take credit for, and that’s why we were never
informed that it was happening.

2) Nick claims that in North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah,
AA “worked to ban” female genital mutilation.

Oy. What does female genital mutilation have to do with
separation of church and state?
There are a lot of things that are more damaging
to people in North Carolina,
Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah than genital mutilation.
The coal industry, for instance, lung cancer, malnutrition,
unemployment, lack of healthcare.

Moreover, shouldn’t AA tackle MALE genital mutilation first?
Circumcision is much more prevalent in the USA than
female mutilation. And it is clearly a religious practice.
Female genital mutilation is considered a cultural practice.

3) In Nebraska and Colorado, Nick says AA helped ban
“conversion therapy.”

I take it that Nick is referring to the issue, prevalent in the LGBTQ
community, that trying to convert a gay person to heterosexuality
is considered a negative thing to do, though he doesn’t define
“conversion therapy.”

I think this is a personal decision for the gay person,
who is certainly free to decline this kind of therapy.
While we can certainly sympathize with
any coercion exerted on the gay person to undergo therapy,
I feel this is an issue better handled by the many LGBTQ
organizations out there that are equipped to deal
with the nuances.

By listing these three AA accomplishments
of 2019, Nick has implied here in this fund-raising letter that
apparently one-third of AA’s resources
this past year have been devoted to this issue.

I am also upset by other things in Nick’s
money-solicitation letter:

He uses lingo that is foreign to Atheism
and evidently stems from other movements,
such as, for example:

(1) “Christian nationalists” – I have been an activist in the Atheist
movement since 2004 but have not
heard this term used to any wide extent.
What exactly does it mean?

(2) “Religious Equality” –

I have told Nick Fish over and over that this term
is not relevant to Atheists.
Why would atheists want
to be “equal” to Religious people?
I don’t know any atheist what wants to be like a religious person.
It would be going backward, in our minds.

This distinction in our interpretation of this term
is a nuance, I know, but I assure
you that the goal of most atheists is NOT to be
the same as, or equal to, a religious person.
I know equality is something the LGBTQ
community strives for, but they mean legal equality.
Atheists mainly have legal equality in our court system
because we do not have to disclose that we are atheists.

I know equality is something the the LGBTQ community
strives for, but they mean legal equality.
Atheists mainly already have legal equality in our courts
because we do not have to disclose that we atheists.

To Nick, then, I would say: If your constituents tell you
that they don’t know what you mean, or that it
does not apply to us, you really ought
to pay attention.

And what are AA’s goals for the coming year?
Nick says they are:

1) Giving a voice to young people who are kicked out of their homes
for leaving their parents religion.

I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t happen very often, Nick.
It takes some maturity for a child to figure out that they
want to leave their parents’ religion, and by that time
maybe they should be out of the house and independent
of their parents anyway.

2) AA’s second goal for next year is “Opposing arranged or forced marriages in various religions.”

This is, alas, just one aspect of how religion oppresses women.
Some AA members feel it is more important to oppose religion
as a whole, as we have been doing in the past, rather than oppose
individual religious customs that are oppressive–
of which there are many, some much more damaging than forced marriage.

3) The third goal is to help would-be parents that are Atheist adopt children.

I was not aware that would-be adoptive parents were being widely turned down
because they are Atheists. I knew, however, that LGBTQ parents suffered
from this this prejudice. This may be a difficult issue to resolve because it
it appears that many religions sponsor their own adoption agencies. It would appear
to me that setting up an Atheist adoption agency would be the best solution here
but that requires much funding and time. I don’t think it can be accomplished in one year, if at all.

But all these are matters for discussion
and matters for the democratic determination
of the priority of particular issues.

There has been very little listening to members’ input
this year in AA. And there has been no democracy whatsoever
in determining what issues should be financed
and worked on.

Yes, American Atheists, that is what I am accusing
you of: A lack of democracy in AA.
And a concomitant lack of transparency.

Since the new regime began at AA, there has been
little or no input taken seriously from members.
You who run AA ask for our money
but then want to be left alone to do whatever you wish.
Yet it is obvious to Atheist veterans that
the current regime has a lot to learn not only
about Atheism but also about
how to represent us as Atheists.

In summary,
The AA accomplishments in 2019 cited by Nick Fish
seem to be astonishingly sparse–he mentions only three.
And those three really do not, in my opinion,
touch the hearts and goals
of most Atheists, with the exception of the first one,
the elimination of the requirement of Bible study
in public schools in Missouri.

Surely you must be aware that most AA members
have a limited interest in female mutilation or conversion therapy.

We need to get back to Madalyn’s goals.
I, for one, am interested in eliminating the tax-free
status of churches.
Ken Bronstein has pointed out that if the U.S. taxed churches,
we would gain enough tax revenue to provide free HEALTHCARE
for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

The LGBTQ community surely needs healthcare,
so it seems possible that by fighting to eliminate
religion’s free ride on taxes, we can benefit everyone.

I remain loyal to the Atheist movement,

Well. I have run across this attitude many times — that there are only certain things that are appropriate to concern themselves with, and that human rights aren’t one of them. This person also couples that narrow attitude to a deep seated antipathy to a disregard for issues relevant to LGBTQ+ individuals. So let’s go through their concerns.

1) This one seems rather petty. You would think that opposing religious indoctrination in the schools would be smack dab in the center of traditional atheist concerns, but no…it was a matter handled in Missouri. Why is American Atheists meddling in Missouri? It’s not as if it’s a part of real America, after all.

2) Similarly, why all the fuss about female genital mutilation? There are only a few cases each year (they have no idea how many), and therefore it can be disregarded. Of course, there are about 200 million women in the world that have had their genitals hacked, but they’re not American, so fuck ’em. It’s a problem here in Minnesota (is that part of America?) with increasing numbers of immigrants from regions in Africa where the practice is common. We’ve had a few cases of 100s of girls being mutilated.

Federal prosecutors unveiled charges Thursday against the mothers of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota whose genitalia were cut during a religious procedure earlier this year.

Seems like something atheists might have legitimate concerns about. We’ve got Muslim communities opposing legislation to end child abuse, shouldn’t atheists have an opinion about that?

3) They don’t like that AA has opposed conversion therapy. I would say that a) conversion therapy is religion-based pseudoscience, and atheists on principle should oppose bad science, and b) I know a lot of gay atheists who are activists and significant members of atheist organizations. Shall we just disregard the goals of our godless constituents? Why?

Then they say they’ve never heard of “Christian Nationalism” or “religious equality”. I’m surprised. They haven’t noticed the takeover of our government by theocrats? Do some research before declaring that your ignorance should define policy. “Religious equality” is the principle that religion, or the lack thereof, should not give one privileges in the law. It’s in the first amendment to the Constition of the USA.

I’m glad they’re in favor of removing the tax-free status of churches. I’m all for that, too. Lots of atheists and atheist organizations want that — but it doesn’t mean we stop caring about all these other issues until we’ve accomplished that.

So this writer wanted honest feedback on their letter. I’ll tell them right now: American Atheists will just dump it in the crank file. They’ll be more polite about it then I am, much more diplomatic, but they’re not going to pay any attention otherwise to their complaints.

Betelgeuse death watch!

I was momentarily excited. Betelgeuse is dimming! People are speculating that that could mean it’s going to explode in the near future! That would be cool, and I’d love to see a supernova flare up 600 light years away.

Unfortunately, to an astronomer, the “near future” is 100,000 to a million years from now.

Dang it. I guess that means I’ll have to stay alive and wait for it even longer.

Where the spiders at?

I’m free of teaching duties for a few weeks, so my goal for now is to get a paper written summarizing our spider survey results. I’ve been working on figures lately, and here’s a map of our survey sites.

(I also have a boring grayscale map of the same thing, which is probably what I’ll have to use for publication.)

See? We surveyed both sides of the railroad tracks. We should have tried getting more homes in the southeast side of town, though. Not shown are some of our less careful observations of locations outside of garages and sheds, where we’d find many more Araneid spiders. That’s something for another day.

I’ve also been digging deeper into our data — we have all these locations with tallies of all the species present, which is kind of overkill, since the environments we’re looking at are all dominated by just four species, and they’re all coexisting in the same spaces. I’m getting a sense of some of the peculiarities of the distribution, though: I’ve been surprised to see how rare Steatoda triangulosa is around here — we found only one site with that species back in June — and how Steatoda borealis is uncommon as well, but they form these little localized colonies where they are the only Theridiidae present.

Now I’ve got plans for these new angles to pursue, but I have to wait for the world to thaw out and for spiders to rise up again.

The Perfect Pangburn

I’ve been reading Travis Pangburn’s personal history of the downfall of Pangburn Philosophy, and wow. I had no idea that a saint was living among us. From the outside, what I saw was an impresario who was busy sucking up to the alt-right, who over-committed himself to multiple big ticket events around the world, and then discovered that Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson only have niche appeal and there were only so many tickets for so much that could be sold. He crashed and burned when he couldn’t pay his ‘talent’, when events collapsed, and when he couldn’t even refund ticket-holders money. What I didn’t know, according to Travis, was that none of it was his fault. It was all the result of a conspiracy by his backstabbing employees, and the faithlessness of the people he was paying big money to to perform.

I think Peak Pangburn was reached when his rage at his staff prompted him to send this email to all of them.

Sneaking around, hiding things from me, recording my voice without my knowledge, absurd questioning of my motives and practice, feeling urges of physical violence towards me, citing things from my past work relationships and using that as fuel for your cowardly motives, long conversations on Facebook to plan to confront me on issues in group think, thinking your have admissions of some kind of guilt from me etc etc etc…….. Some of you came to me to report this insanity, but much too late. You had already contributed your drivel to this failure.

You have all disappointed and failed me. (TD’s) email of demands exposed your callousness and/or cowardice. I have no use for cowards. You will never be forgiven, as far as I can tell, for the stress & pressure you put on me and my family the night before my flight to Dublin. You disgust me in your carelessness. My trust for each of you has reached absolute zero.

Effective immediately:

-All of your current contracts with Pangburn Philosophy are terminated. The contract you had me sign under duress at the Vancouver airport is null and void and was never active.

-Your Pangburn email addresses have been deactivated.

-You have no permission to access any Pangburn Philosophy credit cards, PayPal, social media accounts or anything else owned and operated by Travis Pangburn or Pangburn Philosophy.

-The locks, alarm system & surveillance at the Pangburn Philosophy headquarters have all been changed. You are not permitted on the premises, as you are no longer a member of the Pangburn Philosophy team due to your contract termination. If you have personal items left behind, you can schedule a pickup time with me through your personal email.

-You can send me final invoices from your personal email, that are based on your standard operating contract prior to me being put under duress from Masha’s email of collective demands.

-If you have in your possession anything owned by Travis Pangburn or Pangburn Philosophy, make arrangements to return those items swiftly.

A dim light from this precipice:

Each of you has the opportunity, this Friday, July 20th, to call me to attempt to stay on with Pangburn Philosophy in a lesser capacity. If your reasons for calling are outside of your love for the Pangburn Philosophy or myself, don’t waste my time. If your reason for calling is for the love of working with the speakers or artists I pay for, don’t waste my time.

Do not respond to this email in any way. I have no time for your excuses or explanations.

*Any distribution of this email or any other Pangburn Philosophy communication marked confidential will result in fierce legal action. This also includes any contacts that were shared with you confidentially.

I can’t imagine why his staff detested Captain Queeg…I mean, Travis Pangburn. It wasn’t Trav’s fault, it was all their fault, and they deserved to be fired. Unless they’re willing to crawl back and work for less money.

Also amusing: he blames Sam Harris for abandoning him, but at the same time calls him a “great human being”. The obsequious and loquacious tongue-laving, simultaneously sucking up while seething with resentment, reminds me of another character: EB Farnum from the series Deadwood. He’s a bottom-feeder who relies on the patronage of others more popular than he, who lashes out at his underlings whenever he thinks he is unobserved.

Oh, wait, I forgot — he’s a blameless saint.