I thought Iceland was more rational than this

The town of Bolungarvik, Iceland has been engaged in a lot of public works construction projects, like a new road and building a barrier to protect them from avalanches. Unfortunately, there have been delays and accidents, and they’ve decided what’s causing the problem: Elves. Pissed-off, cranky elves.

Some people pointed the finger of blame on angry elves who had finally snapped. The dynamiting for the town’s new avalanche defence barrier comes less than a year after a new road tunnel through the Oshlid hill was completed — neither of which with the prior blessing of the hidden people.

Seers requested the Bolungarvik municipal government make a full apology to the hidden people and elves for the disturbance the avalanche barrier and tunnel have caused them. The council failed to see the potential quirky PR value and refused to co-operate — saying that there must be logical explanations for the recent spate of accidents and breakdowns. Some locals then took matters into their own hands; making up their own peace offering.

This is crazy. Propitiating elves for random accidents? Madness.

I recommend a true New Atheist solution, using the practical tools at hand. Dynamite the elves. Let’s have none of this silly accommodationist nonsense with agents of superstition.

Look to the skies, America!

American Atheists is sponsoring banners to fly over select areas in 26 states to celebrate the Fourth of July. The banners read:

God-LESS America — Atheists.org


Atheism is Patriotic – Atheists.org

These are perfectly pleasant, inoffensive messages — that Silverman guy is such a timid, inoffensive fellow, I’m going to have to school him next time I see him — and simply affirm that the unbelievers are also part of this country, a good thing to remind people of as they listen to “God Bless America” before setting off small explosive devices.

But of course, panties are being wadded, pearls are being clutched, and fainting couches are fully occupied as the word gets out that atheists have seized control of the air. It’s going to get even uglier as the day progresses and good Christians look up and see godlessness cruising through their picnicking airspace, and there will probably be fists shaken heavenward and arcs of potato salad vomited forth.

Leading the way is the ever-insipid Mitch Albom, the guy who made a fortune selling treacle and vague apologetics, who asks If God Made The Sky, Can Atheists Fly It? , a questions so stupid and so pointless that I spent ten minutes trying to puzzle it out. I think the answer is no, which means that the fact that atheists are flying it tells us that god didn’t make the sky, which we could have told him long ago. Mitch doesn’t like it.

This is a classic example of an OK concept meeting a terrible idea. The group insists, on its Web site, that this “is not about … shoving our views down people’s throats.”

Really? Then why rent airplanes?

Because, obviously, airplanes are exactly the best tool for shoving things down people’s throats. Or maybe it’s just that a banner flying by briefly is a prominent but fairly inoffensive counter to the state-sponsored religiosity we usually get on this day. So what’s bugging you, Mitch? Will you feel compelled to abandon that drivel you call faith if you see a message from atheists.org? A one-day ad isn’t exactly intensively coercive, you know.

Poor Mitch tries to be fair and whine that atheists are being just as offensive as the religious.

By the way, this is just as true for displays of religious fervor. It is why some people cringe at billboards celebrating Jesus, or when Ten Commandments monuments are placed outside of public buildings.

Those are the very things to raise the ire of atheists everywhere.

Except…while I roll my eyes at the Jebusite billboards, I do not argue that they should be taken down, and I understand that private displays of belief are legitimate examples of free speech. Also, atheists do not get irate if a citizen puts up a ten commandments display on his or her property — the thing that raises our ire is when our supposedly representative government favors a specific religious tradition, and people try to argue that the sectarian nonsense that constitutes the bulk of those ten commandments actually has something to do with the law in our country.

Also, we are not fooled, Mitch Albom. You aren’t really against public displays of religious fervor — you aren’t railing against the Soledad cross, or that children are expected to say “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, or the fact that every coin that crosses your palm has a religious injunction on it. No, what got your cranky butt to the word processor is that now some atheists have dared to openly express their views. Your protestations would have a little more credibility if you had a history of campaigning for secularism and the separation of church and state and had mentioned a few times before that public displays of belief were unseemly…but a guy who makes a living selling New Age spiritual pablum can’t quite get away with that.

Oh, no, not again…once more unto the breach

This is your last gasp on the topic of the proper way to make a sexual advance. I’m just going to wrap up a few dangling bits.

Jen has slammed Richard Dawkins for some comments here. I can confirm that those comments were actually from Richard Dawkins. I also have to say that I agree with Jen and disagree with Richard.

Richard did make the valid point that there are much more serious abuses of women’s rights around the world, and the Islam is a particularly horrendous offender. Women have their genitals mutilated, are beaten by husbands without recourse to legal redress, are stoned to death for adultery, are denied basic privileges like the right to drive or travel unescorted. These are far more serious problems than most American women face.

However, the existence of greater crimes does not excuse lesser crimes, and no one has even tried to equate this incident to any of the horrors above. What these situations demand is an appropriate level of response: a man who beats a woman to death has clearly committed an immensely greater crime than a man who harrasses a woman in an elevator; let us fit the punishment to the crime. Islamic injustice demands a worldwide campaign of condemnation of the excesses and inhumanity of that religion.

The elevator incident demands…a personal rejection and a woman nicely suggesting to the atheist community that they avoid doing that. And that is what it got. That is all Rebecca Watson did. For those of you who are outraged at that, I ask: which part of her response fills you with fury? That a woman said no, or that a woman has asked men to be more sensitive?

I think reasonable men will be quite capable of both opposing Islamic fundamentalism with vigor and refraining from driving away their godless colleagues with petty harrassment, colleagues who may well be even more fervent and dedicated to our common cause of promoting equality all around the world. These are not mutually contradictory actions. They are complementary and necessary. Our goal isn’t to set the bar of equality at a level slightly higher than the situation in Saudi Arabia, or to some point somewhere around the significantly more enlightened (but still not adequate) level in America, but at a point where every woman has the same rights and privileges as every man, where women don’t have to fear being raped, and yes, where women don’t have to face this dismaying, depressing, common situation of seeing their autonomy disrespected and their compatriots rushing to excuse loutish behavior.

One other matter: some people muddled the issue by also pretending to be Richard Dawkins. Impersonating anyone else on this blog is an immediately bannable offense: I don’t warn you, I just delete all of your comments, and then I ban both your username and your IP address. You’re gone, burned to the ground. I’ve eradicated two Dawkins impersonators in that way. Don’t do it.

This thread really is the last on this specific topic. The only thing I’ve so far found useful about them is that they’ve smoked the flaming misogynists out of the woodwork. Try not to be one of them, OK?

Since Richard Dawkins has responded and is asking for an explanation of what he is missing, I’ll try to oblige.

Try googling “elevator rape”. What you will find is an unpleasant combination of stories about real crimes in which women were raped in elevators, and porn about women being raped in elevators. It is a small confined place in which a woman can be made helpless. Elevators aren’t exactly romantic or even comfortable; what a man might consider utilitarian transport can be seen as a cage to a woman alone.

The guy in the elevator was not accused of being a rapist; I got the impression from Rebecca that she wasn’t even really worried about serious threat to her safety, but was annoyed that she was being pestered by an insensitive cad. It was “slightly bad,” as you put it, and she responded at an appropriate level to the problem. She basically said to the atheist community, ‘hey, guys, don’t be an insensitive cad,’ a suggestion I find remarkably uncontroversial — it’s a slightly good suggestion in response to a slightly bad problem. It’s darned good advice, even.

Here’s exactly what she said:

Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and—don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

That really should be sufficient to explain to everyone exactly what was ‘slightly bad’ about this situation.

The response has been to belittle her reasonable suggestion, belittle her, accuse her of hysteria, defend the rudeness of the fellow with the proposition, and mostly act as if utterly obtuse to both the unpleasantness of the elevator faux pas and to disrespect the rational concerns of women. Women aren’t so much afraid that unruly mobs of atheist men will rape them at meetings, but that they’ll be dolts who trivialize legitimate and common concerns of women…and this incident has definitely shown that to be the case. We aren’t just going to see Rebecca Watson diminished as an asset to atheism, but all the other women who seek common cause with atheism will watch how we treat our own and find this community significantly less attractive.

This isn’t slightly bad. It’s very bad. Atheist men are alienating the people we want to work with us on the very same problems, the oppression of women under religious regimes, that you cited in your comment.

I’m taking one last stab at explaining this. Imagine that Richard Dawkins meets a particularly persistent fan who insists on standing uncomfortably close to him, and Richard asks him to stand back a little bit; when he continues, he says to the rest of the crowd that that is rather rude behavior, and could everyone give him a little breathing space? Which then leads to many members of the crowd loudly defending the rudeness by declaring that since the guy wasn’t assaulting him, he should be allowed to keep doing that, and hey, how dare Richard Dawkins accuse everyone present of trying to mug him!

That’s exactly analogous to Rebecca Watson’s situation. She did not make these hysterical accusations everyone is claiming, she did not compare herself to the oppressed women of the third world, she did not demonize the clumsy sap in the elevator — she asked for some simple common courtesy, and for that she gets pilloried.

Sorry, people, but that sends a very clear signal to women that calm requests for respect will be met with jeers by a significant subset of the atheist community, and that’s not right.

The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences

There are so many clueless comments in this thread that Old Man PZ, grizzled veteran of the sex wars, successful lothario who has managed to reproduce three times, and champion who successfully landed a Trophy Partner in an extremely long and happy relationship, feels like he needs to step in and give some friendly advice. So here you go, the short sweet simple Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences.

The first thing you must know is that you haven’t failed when the object of your desire says “no”. That’s a perfectly reasonable response, and even if you do everything exactly right, you’re going to hear “no” more often than you do “yes”. Accepting a refusal graciously is an important part of being a Decent Human Being.

You have failed if the person you’re interested in calls your behavior creepy. That’s where you need to step back and re-evaluate: you did something wrong. Decent Human Beings do not blame the other person, they recognize that they screwed up, accept their responsibility, and decide not to ever do that again.

What could you have done wrong? Here are some general suggestions.

Be self-aware. Are you sweaty and rumpled? Did you just eat a pound of greasy garlic fries? Are you drunk? Did the conversation just die because you’re too tired to think straight? You are probably at a nadir of attractiveness, then, and this probably isn’t the best time to step forward and invite close contact.

Be aware of your potential partner. Are they looking like they really want a hot shower and to brush their teeth? Do they look worn out after a long day of meetings? Then maybe they will regretfully turn you down, because as a Decent Human Being themself, they’re not going to inflict their hygienically unprepared body on you.

I know, this should be obvious, but if you are hoping to get laid at the big atheist conference, the first thing to do after the day of meetings is to go back to your room, take a shower, and dress nicely. Go out for a pleasant evening with the people you’ve met, drink in moderation, be friendly and pleasant and interesting, and strike up conversations with people. Your goal should be to make a connection, first; if you don’t, then you’re not going to get laid, and you should resign yourself to that.

What about tactics? I know all the games entitled young men, in particular, play. If you are deploying wingmen, if you are approaching this as you would a gazelle hunt, where the goal is to isolate a target from the herd and make them vulnerable so they will succumb to you, where getting the target stupefyingly drunk is a desirable means to an end, then you might get laid — I don’t deny that those tactics works for unscrupulous people — but you will have forfeited the title of Decent Human Being, and we’d rather you didn’t come to our meetings. Also, atheist women tend to be assertive and not at all bashful about telling everyone else about your behavior, and you’ll find yourself discussed on youtube and on blogs and perhaps even from the podium at the meeting. Then you’ll feel compelled to comment anonymously on those blogs, complaining about ball-busting man-haters, and you’ll be forever receding from that desirable status as Decent Human Being.

You don’t get to whine about being called out. It’s what we do. Join a cult if you’d rather have rules of silence and obedience.

So you’re down at the bar having a good time. How do you make the next move? Actually, asking “Would you like to come up to my roon for a cup of coffee?” or “How about if we continue this someplace a little more private?” are perfectly acceptable lines to use! Context is very important, though. If you are actually having a fun and sparkling conversation one-on-one with someone in a public place, with maybe a little flirting going on, then yes, ask away! If all you’ve been doing is general banter with a group, well then, there hasn’t been any really personal interaction so far, so expecting more is a bit presumptuous.

Remember, this is not a gazelle hunt. Decent Human Beings always give potential partners opportunity to gracefully decline, and best of all, put them in positions of equal status so they aren’t afraid to decline. If they look startled or their eyes dart around looking for an avenue of escape, you screwed up. Apologize and back off immediately.

Now you might find this hard to believe (I know I do), but I’ve been in this position several times at atheist meetings. I’m a homely old guy, not exactly what anyone would consider romantic material, and I’ve received variants of the “come up to my room for coffee” line from several women and one man. I did not find it at all creepy — it was extremely flattering, as you might guess — because in every case these were offers from intelligent people in reasonable contexts, that is, Decent Human Beings.

Being a Decent Human Being is actually the best defense you can have. Don’t abandon it for short-term gain: you’re in a community, and you’re going to lose that if you think of yourself as a predator on the make.

Now at this point, hopefully, you are two people in a hotel room. What next? I can’t help you much at this point, because I’ve always turned those offers down, and all of my dating experience is from 35 years ago, and in my current long-term relationship, we dated for two months before we even kissed. I’m pretty much the wrong person to ask for advice on what to do on one-night stands, except that as someone aspiring to be a Decent Human Being, “no” will always mean “no“, and maybe it should always be a good idea to keep on communicating as equals during the engagement. Also, everything that follows should be personal and private, so if you’re checking a blog post on the internet to see what to do next, you’re probably also doing it wrong.

Of course, if any more experienced commenters would like to offer further suggestions, they’re welcome to continue…as long as they remember these are guidelines for Decent Human Beings, not misogynistic exploiters and parasites.

Sing it!

Greta Christina has written some alternative lyrics for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” to remove all the bad religion references and update it to something more scientifically sound. It’s called “Evolve This Way”, and now it just needs somebody to actually sing it. In a perfect world, Lady Gaga herself would see it and rerecord the whole song, but at the revised song points out, this isn’t a perfect world, so maybe somebody else out there with some musical talent will pick up on it and give us a rendition.

It’s perfectly legit as a parody, you know.

An easy action to take

Taner Edis is uncomfortable with the label “atheist”, even though he agrees that he is one.

One problem is that I know how far too many Muslims react to the word; “atheist” has connotations of “enemy” as well as someone opposed to all that is True and Good. I would like Muslims to allow scientific institutions more autonomy in their countries. Once I am identified as “an atheist,” my arguments to that effect become worse than irrelevant–they actually harm any cause I would be seen to support.

But also among non-Muslims, the “atheist” label can poison the well. Even in academic writing, I regularly come across disclaimers that while the author is not devout, they disavow the dogmatic certainty displayed by atheists as well. To some degree, this is invidious stereotype-mongering. But the fact is, the stereotype is out there. Once I’m described as “an atheist,” people feel free to assume all sorts of (usually negative) things about me.

Annoying, but I doubt there’s much I can do about any of this.

Yes there is! Come out. Represent the good people of atheism. The reason the stereotype persists is that the people who refute the stereotype are always trying to hide.

I wouldn’t force anyone to be out — if I were introducing Edis to someone, for instance, I’d respect his wishes and call him “non-religious” — but his last line there is not correct. There is something he could do, if he were willing to put up with the bad assumptions.