The future kinda sucks

We’re all going to be cyborgs who live on protein pills! Unfortunately, reality makes that less glamorous than it sounds. It turns out that Soylent is rather unpleasant, and all those happy ambitious post-humanists who got gadgets implanted under their skin are discovering some downsides. When I met a guy who’d done some biohacking and implanted magnets under his fingertips (he can feel electric fields!), I thought it was nifty — but it turns out those magnets wear out after a few years, and you end up dredging corroded bits of wire out of your flesh.

OK, maybe it’s the near future that sucks, but it’ll all be great in the 22nd century.

Can we stop fighting the Civil War?

The team behind Game of Thrones is now proposing a new show: an alternate reality series in which the South won the Civil War and perpetuated legal slavery into the present day. It might be a good show, if it can consistently show that slavery is an unforgivable evil and uses this alternate history to highlight real injustices. But do you trust them to make a socially conscious, critical analysis of contemporary America? I don’t. The people who made Game of Thrones have learned that sensational violence and sex sells. I predict many opportunities to show attractive naked black women on the auction block or serving white men while topless.

It also falls into the category of playing devil’s advocate, or “just asking questions”, playing rhetorical games with matters that affect people’s lives. That is inappropriate. To have two white guys propose this thought exercise is troubling.

But mostly, we have a dreadful track record on dealing with the Civil War’s legacy in movies. Go read that link; we’re subjected to the most awful romantic schlock about the Confederacy, which was apparently full of rugged, noble individuals who were fighting for their way of life and dealing with the aftermath of loss with dignified grace.

People still think Gone With the Wind was a great movie. I doubt that it was; I’ve tried to watch it multiple times at the urging of friends, and have never lasted more than 15 minutes before I’ve left the room.

Organizations have the right to not invite Richard Dawkins — or me — to speak

A talk by Richard Dawkins on his newest book, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, was canceled by the radio station that was hosting it, KPFA, a public broadcasting station in Berkeley. Their reason:

We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.

Richard Dawkins complains with, unfortunately, the kind of argument often used by the alt-right:

I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?

Somehow, a minority community in America that is threatened with deportation by the government, is routinely condemned by talk radio and the likes of Breitbart, and that lives in fear of good Christian citizens who vandalize mosques and threaten violence (and sometimes, carry out violence) gets accused of having a “free pass”. That’s precisely the kind of blinkered nonsense that I can understand KPFA objecting to, so Dawkins is not helping his case at all. It’s also denying the fact that the New Atheists have been particularly specific in denunciations of Islam; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the newest member of the “four horsemen”, has recommended converting Muslims to Christianity, so there clearly is a hierarchy of religions with Islam at the bottom, deserving special contempt. And Sam Harris, of course, is all about anti-Islamic sentiment, going so far as to suggest that using torture and nuclear weapons against them might be justifiable. Let’s not play the wide-eyed innocent, “what, me abuse Muslims?” game. Let’s not pretend that Dawkins has never made any hurtful, regressive comments on his twitter feed, or on my blog.

CFI handles it a little better, pointing out that Dawkins has, for instance, opposed Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and that this particular talk was to be about science, so his other views were irrelevant. I suspect that it would have been a good talk that I would enjoy, since it wouldn’t contain the regressive views I’ve found so exasperating in Dawkins. So, sure, you can make the argument that Dawkins is a speaker of considerable virtue, and that he wouldn’t be flaunting his vices in this talk.

But then they go too far.

“We understand the difference between a people and the beliefs they may hold,” said Blumner, “All of us must be free to debate and criticize Ideas, and harmful ideas must be exposed. It is incredibly disappointing that KPFA does not understand this.”

I am disappointed that CFI does not understand that this is not a free speech issue. Dawkins is free to debate and criticize ideas. He’s the best-selling atheist author in the world! He isn’t oppressed or censored in any way; his books are popular, they get translated into dozens of languages, he gets to appear on television, he doesn’t have to fear that he’ll be ejected out of the country or murdered for his views (people like Maryam Namazi or Taslima Nasrin do). KPFA, as the host of this talk, has the right to decide that they’d rather not.

I’m going to agree completely with Siggy on this matter. That Richard Dawkins has some controversial, even objectionable, views does not, in some weird reversal of free speech concerns, obligate every entity on the planet to host him on demand.

People are always thinking of these issues in terms of the speaker’s free speech, but if anything, it’s about the inviters’ free speech. If speakers have a right to platforms, where are all my speaker invitations, and why isn’t anyone standing up for my free speech?

It wouldn’t even matter if KPFA’s reasons for rejecting Dawkins were totally bogus, so all the spluttering about how he isn’t really anti-Islam is irrelevant. Making it a free speech issue is just using a bullhorn to yell about how you don’t understand free speech.

Dawkins (and I) might not particularly like the idea that this rejection was made so late that it was obvious, but it is within KPFA’s rights, and it does no major harm to Dawkins. This is a case where the appropriate response is to shrug and move on.

There have been two cases in just the past year where conference organizers have contacted me, asked if I’d be willing to speak at their event, and then later written to me and retracted the offer without explanation. I’m sure it was because there are vocal members of those groups who objected vehemently to my appearance, but it was done before the final list of speakers was announced, so the change was not publicized. And that was fine, I didn’t complain, I didn’t announce that my free speech was being violated, I didn’t try to argue that their reasons for cutting me were invalid. Conferences have that right.

Why doesn’t CFI understand this?

Is this what the kids call “trash talk”?

That creationist with the chromosome argument put out another video raging about me today. It mainly consist of him declaring that I’m stupid, that he’d destroy me in a debate, but he’s not going to debate me, and that I ran away from debating him (I’d never even considered a debate with this bozo). Although if you advance to 17:10 in the video, he does do an imitation of me which is amusing.

His reply to my earlier comments is that he didn’t have the human chromosome number memorized, which is fine. I wasn’t testing him on rote memorization. More significant is that his guesses were that we had an odd number of chromosomes, which would be unusual for a diploid organism (yeah, you’re raising your hand and saying “male bees!”, but that’s a detail G Man is not ready for.)

What’s more important is that he takes a step back and tries to clarify the concept he was trying to explain. That’s good. That’s more important than the specific number, and I’m glad he could deliver a brief, crystal-clear summary of what he thinks. Of course, what he then has to do is demonstrate that he can get the concept right. So here goes G Man’s short summary of The Chromosome Argument that all of us atheists are using all the time.

What is the meat and potatoes of what I was trying to say there? I was trying to say that since tobacco had more chromosomes than human beings, then that means the next step in our evolution was to become, you know, tobacco. You know what I mean, because they have more chromosomes. That was the whole point I wanted to talk about.

Uh, no. No biologist makes that argument, as I said.

You can now ignore the video. Unless you really want to listen to him rant about destroying me. Oh, yes, and also Matt Dillahunty and Aron Ra.

It’s Christmas in July!

First it’s the gay-themed redecoration of the Ark Park.

Then, in light of the dodgy resale of the Big Gay Wooden Box to themselves to avoid taxes, the FFRF is coming down on them.

FFRF is requesting that the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority take immediate action to suspend the availability of tax rebates to the operators of the Ark and to terminate any applicable agreements it has with the Ark Encounter.

Kentucky has already responded!

The Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet notified the operators of the Ark Encounter that it is in breach of its Tourism Development Agreement with the state. That agreement provides up to $18 million in state subsidies for the Ark project in the form of annual sales tax rebates. FFRF obtained records from the Cabinet today that include a July 18 notice sent to the operators of the Ark saying that Ark Encounter, LLC has breached the agreement following the sale of the property. The letter says that no further tax rebates may accrue as of June 28.

And with that, a whole flock of happy lawyers and accountants have got their wings. See? This is what happens when you play shenanigans with the tax system: headaches, and the sucking sound of money swirling down the drain.

Oh, and Sean Spicer has resigned.

Today was a good day.

Henceforth, I shall call it the Big Gay Wooden Box

Ken Ham wants to take back the rainbow for his god, so he’s now lighting up the Big Wooden Box with rainbow lights.

I’m just seeing that Answers in Genesis is celebrating marriage equality.

You’re too late, Ken. The rainbow has been effectively coopted as a symbol for diversity, and you aren’t getting it back. Also, the flood/rainbow story is just plain stupid, unless you’re going to argue that before the flood, light wasn’t refracted by any materials, especially water.

Minnesota Department of Education approves Transgender Toolkit

I am surprised and gratified that our school system took a progressive step forward — they approved a set of guidelines for dealing with gender issues in schools, and it’s not outrageous bathroom bill nonsense.

A Minnesota Department of Education advisory council voted to approve a new toolkit for “Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” in front of a room of more than 200 opponents and advocates of LGBTQ issues Wednesday.

The motion was met with cheers from advocates for transgender students, led by OutFront Minnesota and its allies, who wore purple at the gathering at the department’s offices in Roseville.

Opponents of the toolkit, led by the Minnesota Family Council, a conservative Christian coalition, wore red.

The toolkit, approved by the School Safety Technical Assistance Council, is a nonbinding guide with information about providing welcoming environments for all students and guidelines for school officials to support transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

The toolkit stems from a desire to combat bullying in schools, said state Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey.

Impressive. The usual approach to combating bullying has been to enable the bullies. This is like, sensible and tolerant. Which means, of course that some people don’t like it at all.

Sadly, this toolkit undermines my authority as a parent, said Joy Orbis, who wore red and brought her four children from the Anoka-Hennepin School District to the packed meeting. Before the meeting, Orbis and her children drew signs that included the hashtag #Stopthetoolkit.

No, it doesn’t. If your little boy wants to be addressed as “he”, or your little girl wants to be called “she”, they still can, and you can complain if they’re misgendered.

The toolkit encourages teachers to teach false conceptions of gender, said Barb Anderson, a longtime opponent of changes to LGBTQ policies in the Anoka-Hennepin district. Her comments on Wednesday were met with yells of “disrespect” by others in the meeting room.

No, it doesn’t. It expects that teachers will respect the reasonable requests of their students. It contains clear, simple guidelines that mean less time spent squabbling over supporting bigotry.

You can read a draft of A Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students here. I hope more states follow Minnesota’s lead.

Those are some headlines

It’s the 92nd anniversary of the Scopes trial, and we missed out on some spectacular headlines.

Bryan, under merciless goad of Darrow, holds fast to Holy Writ
Defense leader, in contempt, recants
Commoner, in anger, flays all science

Wow. I want a merciless goad. I’d like to meet the guy who can flay all science.

Newspapers have gotten a bit bloodless, I think.

We Hunted the Megalodon

Since David Futrelle is currently offline, dealing with some nasty migraines, I guess I have to step in and cover the incel beat. Incels, for those blessedly ignorant of them, are “involuntary celibates”, sad deprived people who can’t get a woman to touch their penises, and who then blame all of womankind for their selfish unwillingness to have sex with them. They also tend to aggregate in places like r/incel where they indulge in increasingly vicious rounds of reinforcement of inappropriate blaming. It gets ugly.

Anyway, here’s an example of bad biology and misogyny from an incel.

OK, forget the bad biology — that’s irrelevant in the context of this person’s contemptible beliefs about women.

Without their shit tier brains they would be nearly perfect beings, which could be used by men for the better of society.

Yeah, ladies, if you were smarter men could use you, so we’re going to pith you so men can use your bodies. It’s all about using you.

Hey, I’m sort of understanding how Futrelle could feel bad after concentrated doses of reading this crap, but my discomfort seems lower down, somewhere in some heaving guts.

How do we end this bullshit? I think it’s safe to say that reddit makes it worse by allowing these people to clump into self-reinforcing clans suffering from self-fulfilling prophecies. Maybe reddit should take some responsibility and shut down wildly demented hate groups? Nah. Free speech uber alles!