It was a portrait of a delusion

Holly Hobby Lobby explains what she was thinking with that picture of her holding a bible and a rifle in front of a flag.

“I expected less backlash with this than I did the first one because the picture is, like, America’s founding principles,” Fischer opined to Fox News on Wednesday.

Hold it right there. Guns and God are what you get out of the Enlightenment principles that inspired America’s founders? That’s rather missing the point.

“That’s all that’s in the picture. And I really didn’t think it would cause the uproar that it has.”

What uproar? Pointing out, on media like blogs and twitter that parading about with a Bible and a gun isn’t exactly progressive, and exactly mirrors the attitude of the worst of the Abrahamic fundamentalists (heck, it is modern Abrahamic fundamentalism) isn’t exactly a riot. What I saw was a great deal of amusement on the left at the juxtaposition of Christian and Islamic ‘freedom fighter’, and most of the outrage came from the right, where they were howling in denial and insisting that they weren’t the same, because Muslims were gun-toting barbarians with a false god, while Holly was a white human being married to an American soldier. Totes different.

Fisher said that she posted the photo because there was a “growing intolerance among the left, and conservatives are becoming more and more afraid to speak up.”

In my culture, martyrdom is folly and a martyr complex, where no sacrifice is made but one pretends to be oppressed, is contemptible and stupid. Here, let me quell your fears.

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News (hell, Holly was being interviewed on Fox), World Net Daily, Ann Coulter, the Family Research Council, Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity, Sunday morning television punditry, Alex Jones, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin, Clear Channel, Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, Phyllis Schlafly, and the entirety of the Republican Party.

Conservatives aren’t afraid to speak up, because they sure won’t shut up. Everywhere I go, the Far Right Noise Machine is squawking nonstop.

Meanwhile, you probably think President Obama is a far left socialist/communist radical. He’s actually a centrist apparatchik who is less obstructive and destructive than the screaming idiots on the right.

You can complain when President Bernie Sanders is in office. Until then, your fears of socialism running the country are groundless. (And even then, a hypothetical Sanders presidency would be an even greater slog against the right-wing no-bots than the current one.)

Terrible disease rips through BBC staff

The news out of the UK is grim. Various voices in the media are falling silent, victims of an affliction called “reason”. The staff have been told that false impartiality, which allows kooks to air their views side-by-side with legitimate experts, must stop.

BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

They specifically mention anti-vaccine kooks, climate change denialists, and GMO hysterics, but I imagine it applies to creationists, flat-earthers, and people who claim to be able to square circles. For the BBC, this disease is going to sweep through them like a high fever requiring a bit of bed rest — they’re going to have to kick interviews with James Delingpole or Christopher Monckton to the curb.

But if Reason proves infectious and jumps the Atlantic, sweeping through American newsrooms, the effects could be devastating. We have no natural immunity. Our media revels in crankery of all kinds. Imagine this rule enforced on the executives of the History Channel: we’d have 24 hours of dead air. What if Fox News came down with it? It’d be like the Zombie Apocalypse there. Roger Ailes would have to be hospitalized; Fox & Friends would be populated with stunned, broken, speechless idiots staring teary-eyed and mute at one other; Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t be able to vent gas and would eventually explode. The Sunday morning pundit shows across all the networks would be destroyed. Imagine if they had to face the fact that Dick Cheney was disastrously wrong and simply not a respectable source to be consulted on foreign affairs?

Oh, the humanity.

I will not call on you to demand Anthony Cumia be fired

Anthony Cumia of the Opie & Anthony show has a long history of public awfulness. He’s a sexist pig and a creep.

But I don’t think you should call Sirius XM and complain.

His latest episode was a flamingly racist tirade against a black woman (only he didn’t restrain himself to merely call her a “black woman”). He wanted to shoot her because she slapped his camera away when he was taking creepshots.

He’s an appalling human being. But why bother demanding his dismissal?

Many media outlets are howling about his violent racist fantasies. He’s scum.

But he’s just the erupting pimple of the problem. The real issue is that somewhere in the corporate headquarters for Sirius XM, there is a nest of verminous, amoral, soulless corporate drones who saw a racist misogynist loudmouth as a pile of dollar signs. Fire Anthony Cumia, they’ll still be there. Fire Cumia, his audience of sympathetic racist misogynist cowards will still be there. Treating the repugnant excrescences without digging deep to the root of the disease is not enough.

If you want to do anything, cancel your Sirius XM account. Not conditionally, not if they don’t fire Cumia, but just plainly and simply cut them off. Punish the executives. Do you know anyone who listens to that Opie & Anthony crap? Repudiate them, publicly and unabashedly. Let them know that they are also terrible human beings for giving an audience to racists.

Firing Anthony Cumia is just the icing on the cake. Demand more.

Thunderf00t makes a good point

And I’d link to it if he didn’t throw it away at the end, and if it weren’t made to invent a false conflict with Anita Sarkeesian’s major points. His latest video attempts to mock Sarkeesian by using clips from movies and video games to show that there is a huge amount of objectification of men — as targets and victims, rather than sexual objectification — using a similar style to her videos. The thing is, though, that he’s actually confirming what she says: that media is problematic in how it presents human beings. Sarkeesian shows in her work how women are trivialized and reduced to stereotypes; Thunderf00t’s video shows how huge numbers of people, especially men, are reduced to sword and gun targets.

We’ve all seen it. There’s a guard, a minion, a redshirt in a scene, and along comes the hero or villain…there’s a short gasp, a gurgle, maybe a Wilhelm scream, and then…next scene. A human being has just been extinguished and it’s given no moral weight at all, he was simply an obstacle that needed to be removed. And it is also true that it’s almost always a man who is dismissively executed — if the security guard who got garrotted were a woman, it would have greater shock value to the audience. Or look at this list of dead red shirts in Star Trekoverwhelmingly male. Most of the few women killed had brief speaking parts in which we get to know them as people, before their tragic deaths. The men? Just statistics. Bit parts that got killed to add generic weight to a threat, but their stories were completely unimportant.

I’ve made a similar point about the glut of superhero movies. They are festivals of CGI in which mass destruction occurs, cities are reduced to rubble (by the good guys!), and nothing matters at all. Actions lack consequences. But in real life, the death of one person close to you is a traumatic event, a huge concern that can tear at you for years. Signs of a little wood rot in your house can send you into a panic and be a big drain on your finances. But in the movies, death is casual, and houses can be flattened, and we move on to our deep concerns about the hero’s love life. Or in the case of Michael Bay’s ouevre, we move on to the next giant robot and the next explosion.

It’s a real issue. I’d almost be willing to applaud Thunderf00t for bringing it up, because cheap mayhem has become a staple of movies and games. And it’s not as if media can’t be humanizing. The best movie I saw last year wasn’t The Avengers, but Nebraska; the best video game I played (although my consumption of the genre isn’t exactly thorough) was Gone Home. In both, nobody dies, nothing explodes, but I still left the experience thoughtful and impressed. This is not to say there isn’t a place for light entertainment, but why does so much of our light entertainment involve mass murder? (I know, it sells, and the population wants it.)

Where Thunderf00t screws up the message, unfortunately, is in two ways. He cherry-picks his examples to only feature movies where the perpetrator/protagonist is a woman: Kill Bill and The Matrix, for example. But the problem is that movies slaughter men indiscriminately, whether the killer is a man or a woman, and the majority of the R-rated violent thrillers feature manly men as the protagonists. There is a universal trend to treat men as expendable, but they’re generally used as faceless targets for violence; is there any genre equivalent to the slasher movie in which sexuality is the target, and women are the special, select victims of the violence, in which men are murdered? Also, and I’m sure Sarkeesian would point this out, when women are the sword- or gun-wielding hero, they are typically sexualized to the male ideal: they are young (in the case of Kick Ass, way too young), slender, attractive, not your Brienne of Tarth type. Men are also idealized to be muscular, tough, sexually charismatic. It’s all about making the protagonist someone the male audience wants to watch, not necessarily someone a woman would want to identify with.

And then Thunderf00t throws all of his good points away. He ends the video by declaring that it’s all bullshit, and laughing.

That’s what gets me about these MRAs. There are real social problems that affect men — we have expectations about how men must behave that confine their ability to respond appropriately to events. Feminists will talk about ‘toxic masculinity’, and it’s not about claiming that all men are toxic — it’s about how societal stereotypes can lead men to deny the breadth of their identities to fit a particularly obnoxious model. We can see genuine distortions of men’s roles acted out in our media, where they are either brutal butchers, or faceless, unimportant victims who can be destroyed without qualm. I could actually support a Men’s Rights movement that tried to call attention to these sorts of damaging representations, that actually dealt with unfairness fairly — that didn’t make jokes about the prison rape of men, that sincerely tried to see that child custody cases were honestly decided on what was best for the child.

But almost always, these loons destroy their own points. Thunderf00t made it clear that he doesn’t really care about the objectification of men in the media — it’s always about scoring points against the feminists. A good and productive Men’s Rights movement would be working in full partnership with feminists, each working together to end the sexism which harms both men and women. But somehow, the Men’s Rights side is dominated by asshats whose only goal is to put down those uppity women, rather than correcting an injustice.

The recent men’s rights conference confirmed that the driving force behind this incarnation of the movement isn’t men’s rights, but hating feminism. While there were a few talks that sound as if they focused on making life better for men, much of it was about demonizing feminism.

Mike Buchanan, a British men’s activist, warned that feminism was the ideology of “female supremacists, driven by misandry, the hatred of men and boys.” For 30 years, Buchanan said, “feminists have worked through the state to attack many of the pillars of civilized society,” and become “the defining ideology, of the political establishment.”

At the conference, feminism was responsible for turning wives against their husbands, bleeding them dry in divorce proceedings and separating them from their children, levying false accusations of rape and abuse against good men, or creating an ever-present culture of hatred where men are vilified.

Though men’s rights activists who hosted the conference often say sexual assault against men isn’t taken seriously, the audience laughed when speaker Fred Jones mentioned his fears about his son being raped after being arrested in New Orleans. 

“He’s kinda small and kinda cute, good looking, you know what I mean?” Jones said. “You know what they do with –” Jones cut himself off. But the audience laughed.

Why would you respond to a message about how men are victimized, by laughing at a situation where men are victimized? Perhaps MRAs would be more respectable if they actually took prison rape seriously. It’s not a joke.

Barbara Kay, a columnist for Canada’s National Post, argued that Santa Barbara shooter Elliott Rodger couldn’t have been driven by hatred of women because “he hated women because they rejected him sexually, but he also hated men because they had access to women.”

Not getting the point: how dare a slot machine reject his penis, while other penises were allowed to use the slot machine? Rodger regarded women as objects, and that was what drove his hatred — that they insisted on acting as human beings.

Rape on college campuses, she added, was a myth perpetrated by man-haters, and the concept of rape culture, how society can tacitly approve of or rationalize sexual assault, was “baseless moral panic.”

“The vast majority of female students allegedly raped on campus are actually voicing buyer’s remorse from alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky lines of consent on both sides,” she said, drawing chuckles from the audience. “It’s true. It’s their get-out-of-guilt-free card, you know like Monopoly.” The chuckles turned to guffaws.

I’m on a college campus. I know women who were victims of sexual assault. That accusation is never delivered casually, it’s not used as an excuse, and again, it’s not a joke — these students are harmed by the event, and doubly harmed by the kind of dismissal jerks like Kay perpetuate.

And that’s why I can’t support these MRAs. They really aren’t about fighting injustices done to the rights of men, but about opposing the rights of women.

“I’m not a scientist, but…”

Jonathan Chait makes an interesting observation.

Asked by reporters yesterday if he accepts the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, John Boehner demurred on the curious but increasingly familiar grounds that he is not a scientist. “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” the House Speaker said. Boehner immediately turned the question to the killing of jobs that would result from any proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which he asserts with unwavering certainty. (On this question, Boehner is not held back by the fact that he is also not an economist.)

This particular demurral seems to be in vogue for the Grand Old Party. Florida governor Rick Scott (“I’m not a scientist”) and Senator Marco Rubio (“I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.”) have both held up their lack of scientific training as a reason to withhold judgment on anthropogenic global warming.

Now I can’t unhear it. Everywhere you go, you hear idiots proffering that disclaimer. Watch this video and you’ll see:

Alice Roberts is clear and competent; Jeremy Paxson is abrasive to both sides (but really, “It’s just a theory”? Come on); but John Lewis is a stammering twit. You’ll notice it repeatedly. Every time he’s called on an issue, he backs off. He’s not a teacher, but; he’s not an official of ACE, but; he’s not a scientist, but. He’s so busy making excuses for why he’s not competent to be discussing any of the subjects brought before him that one has to wonder why the heck he was asked on the show.

It’s the same with the politicians that Chait cites. Why are they so quick to say that they aren’t qualified to discuss an issue, yet they seem to think they are qualified enough to disapprove of any resolution to address problems? Or in John Lewis’s case, they’re willing to say what lies children ought to be taught despite admitting to having no qualifications whatsoever to judge.

Chait’s explanation:

“I’m not a scientist” allows Republicans to avoid conceding the legitimacy of climate science while also avoiding the political downside of openly branding themselves as haters of science. The beauty of the line is that it implicitly concedes that scientists possess real expertise, while simultaneously allowing you to ignore that expertise altogether.

I think that’s true. But I also think there’s more.

In today’s media, taking a side is seen as a violation of neutrality. One thing they’re doing by announcing that they’re not scientists is declaring that they are an objective outsider…because as everyone knows, having extensive knowledge about a subject biases a person towards a particular best answer. Only the empty-headed fool can truly determine what is right. You’ll also see this philosophy in practice in the current penchant for debates, where you’re not supposed to decide the outcome by who most accurately reflects the truth, but by who makes the best case to a naive audience.

Another factor is that this is a dogwhistle. People like Chait or myself hear “I’m not a scientist,” and what we think we hear is a cautious disavowal — they are avoiding “openly branding themselves as haters of science”. But spend some time talking to strong creationists or climate change denialists, and you will discover that hating science is not the problem we think it is. To them, “science” is all ideologically driven propaganda promoted by egg-headed welfare recipients — all them scientists are getting rich off their fat gub’mint grants. So people like that hear “I’m not a scientist,” and they hear a declaration that the speaker is on their side, not one of the lying elites.

In a world where the tribal lines are stark, there’s a definite benefit to announcing that you are not one of them. And if you can do it in a coded way that doesn’t immediately antagonize your opponents and let them know what you’re doing, all the better.

Think about why it was trending

Remember that video by Joshua Feuerstein in which he claimed to destroy evolution in 3 minutes? It went viral. The BBC interviewed him, and got Aron Ra’s perspective. Feuerstein himself is bragging about the power of Social Media.

But they don’t ask why that video got so many views. I saw it because so many other atheists were linking to it…and laughing. It was this beautiful distillation of rank, raving creationist idiocy — a supremely confident ignoramus gushing over creationism’s dumbest hits as if they haven’t been smacked down a thousand times before.

Feuerstein got his moment of fame because he was that week’s stupid cat video, or comedic compilation of crotch punches, or amazingly clueless thing said by a Republican.

What is wrong with Chris Hedges?

I was grumbling about Chris Hedges 6 years ago, and every few years after that he seemed to spew more nonsense about atheists again. And then he gave an incoherent, illogical, dishonest talk at UMM last January. He’s been busily undermining his reputation as a journalist for years with babbling drivel.

And now I learn, via Ophelia, that he’s committed the unpardonable sin for a journalist: Chris Hedges is a serial plagiarist. Somehow, I’m not surprised. When I heard him speak, I was convinced he was a lazy hack, and so it’s not unexpected that he’s been stealing other people’s work and presenting it as his own. Perhaps the reason his anti-atheist material has been so much less persuasive than his work in other areas is because, in this case, he’s been reduced to stealing from creationists and far right wing ideologues.

The battle for Hedges’ reputation has begun with a familiar refrain.

Kaufman went on to note the “relative positions in the journalistic community between Salon and Truthdig and between Mr. Ketcham (and his spouse) and Mr. Hedges.” Because of these “relative positions” in the hierarchy of journalism, Kaufman stressed that “the issue of commercial motives cannot be disregarded,” and cited without elaboration “possible personal, economic and commercial gain that would be derived by Salon and Mr. Ketcham from damaging the reputation of Truthdig, Mr. Hedges, the Nation and other competitive publications and authors.” Nowhere in her letter did she address the Postman correction and its implications.

Get that? Hedges and Truthdig are so lofty and prestigious that Ketcham (the fellow who noted the plagiarism) and Salon (which was planning to run the piece, and then backed down) must be doing it for the vast monetary benefit to be gained from criticizing a famous writer. That has to be the only explanation. Integrity doesn’t exist — the only possible reason for criticizing a Big Man has to be for the attention/clicks/money. Sam Harris has done this, too, as have many of the big names in the atheist community — even the same people I’ve argued have been misrepresented by hacks like Hedges. And it’s a bad argument. It doesn’t work that way. Whistleblowers and critics of the power structure do not gain from their efforts, ever.

I though this comment from mesh at Butterflies and Wheels was insightful. They’re taking about Jaclyn Glenn, who has another video out (no, not that stupid one, but a new one that I thought was pretty damned stupid, too).

The last bit is particularly revealing when you consider the frequent charges of attention-whoring for blog hits; you don’t become popular by fighting the status quo, you become popular by promoting it. If such trends are any indication the way to get hits is to rage about the castration agenda of the feminazis, blame everything except attitudes towards women for their treatment in any given circumstance, and laugh at people who receive rape threats. If someone’s a feminist just for the attention they’re doing it horribly, horribly wrong.

You don’t get fame and fortune by disagreeing with a Movement Star, you get it by hitching your wagon to them. Rather than profit, one hopes the reward is for that intangible gain of being right and true.

This is also not about hating on Hedges — I have actually liked his anti-war, anti-authoritarian message, and some of his stuff has been very good and powerful (although now, unfortunately, I have to wonder where he cribbed the good stuff). I was dismayed to see the irrational turn his mind had taken with his anti-atheism writing, and it is dismaying to see worthy ideas tainted by these bad associations.

Correcting the bad reporting

I complained about the credulous media coverage of the so-called landmark success at the Turing test yesterday. That was the first flush of press release regurgitation; fortunately, there’s been a strong rebound of sensible journalism now. Gary Marcus talks about failing the Turing test, Scott Aaronson has a chat with Eugene Goostman, and Mike Masnick really rips it a new one.

Oh, and the biggest red flag of all. The event was organized by Kevin Warwick at Reading University. If you’ve spent any time at all in the tech world, you should automatically have red flags raised around that name. Warwick is somewhat infamous for his ridiculous claims to the press, which gullible reporters repeat without question. He’s been doing it for decades. All the way back in 2000, we were writing about all the ridiculous press he got for claiming to be the world’s first "cyborg" for implanting a chip in his arm. There was even a — since taken down — Kevin Warwick Watch website that mocked and categorized all of his media appearances in which gullible reporters simply repeated all of his nutty claims. Warwick had gone quiet for a while, but back in 2010, we wrote about how his lab was getting bogus press for claiming to have "the first human infected with a computer virus." The Register has rightly referred to Warwick as both "Captain Cyborg" and a "media strumpet" and has long been chronicling his escapades in exaggerating bogus stories about the intersection of humans and computers for many, many years.

This is what has happened to journalism: the competent get fired to make room for cheap hacks who can disgorge press releases without thinking, and the qualified experts have to follow along behind, sweeping up the crap.

Media fails to pass the Turing test

I don’t get it — there are news reports everywhere credulously claiming that the Turing Test has been successfully passed, and they are all saying exactly the same thing: that over 30% of the judges couldn’t tell that a program called Eugene Goostman wasn’t a 13 year old boy from Odessa with limited language skills. We’re not hearing much about the judges, though: the most common thing to report is that one of them was actor Robert Llewellyn, who played robot Kryten in the sci-fi comedy TV series Red Dwarf.

Instead of parroting press releases, it seems to me that the actual result should be reported as a minority of poorly qualified judges in a single media-driven event were trivially fooled by a clumsy chatbot with a background story to excuse its bad grammar and flighty behavior into thinking they were talking to a real person. It’s not so much a validation of the capabilities of an AI as it is an indictment of the superficiality of this test, as implemented.

Or, if an editor really wanted a short, punchy, sensationalist title, they have permission to steal mine.

We don’t yet have transcripts of the conversation, but the text of a 2012 test of the same program are available. They are painfully unimpressive.

Albert Einstein was not your prophet

This photo has been making the rounds for a while — it’s garbage, Snopes suggests that there is no corroboration for the quote, and the commenters agreeing with the sentiment are idiots. Who are using technology to talk about it.

fakeeinsteinquote

I look at that bottom photo and see five women interacting intensely with a larger circle of human beings than just that one little clump right there — and they could very well be talking to people world-wide. I see technology as an enabler and enhancer of communication.

I look at the top photo and see an authoritarian jerk behind it, who thinks putting their words into the mouth of a famous scientist lends their opinion greater authority. It doesn’t. It’s also kind of unfair to poor old Albert.