The wisdom of Rick and Morty

For years, I’ve been getting this constant urging to debate, debate, debate. We’re supposed to engage creationists in debate. We’re supposed to battle Nazis in debate. We’re supposed to meet bad speech with more speech, which I guess is fine, but why the fuck is the form of the speech supposed to be debate? Debate is a weirdly specific and artificial mode of interaction, it’s often not particularly effective at engaging people, and it never settles anything. I’ve noticed that creationists often prefer to set up debates, because all they’re doing is bringing in a foil who will be ignored while their chosen insipid viewpoint is given equal status with serious, scientific positions.

So why are we giving in to them and doing debates?

Now here’s a beautiful argument that addresses that issue.

Hey folks, today I’d like to talk about the alt-right, debate, and Scary Terry.

If you’re a fan of Rick and Morty, you’ll probably remember the Freddy Kruger inspired but legally distinct character of Scary Terry, and his “You can run but you can’t hide, b***h” catchphrase.

He’s mostly known for saying “b***h” at the end of every sentence, but it’s a key plot point that he keeps repeating “You can run but you can’t hide” because Rick and Morty eventually evade and defeat him by not taking his advice, and hiding from him instead of running.

And now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with anything, let alone the alt-right and debate?

Well, it’s in reference to the talking point that all leftist “SJWs” have to do is debate the alt-right, rubbish their arguments, show them up, and you’ll defeat them!

So when Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, or any other alt-right figurehead says “debate me, that’s the only way you’ll defeat me!” you need to ask yourselves one little question:

“Since when are we taking this guy’s advice on anything?”

The fact is, you can engage with their arguments, you can debunk their claims, make a mockery of their ideas, all without their involvement! Their participation is not required in any of this, you don’t need to help give them an audience for this, they are broadly irrelevant.

The alt-right, the neo-nazis, their currency is attention, they need it to thrive and for their ideas to spread. You can engage with that, without giving them an audience, without granting them participation in the process.

You don’t need to ignore them, you don’t need to stop engaging with their ideology or their rhetoric, but you do need to stop handing them the megaphone they crave. Don’t take their advice and let them set the rules.
Spencer calls for a white ethnostate, and “peaceful” ethnic cleansing.

Ok, let’s debate the idea. It’s absurd on it’s face. What happens to POC who don’t want to leave their homes? There could be no establishment of an ethnostate without violence, so it is a threat of violence.

So, remind me again why I’d need Spencer’s participation to rubbish his ideas?

It is far more effective to cut people like him out of the conversation entirely, talk about his ideas without having to deal with him, or anyone like him, in a debate setting.

Giving them platforms, agreeing to their debates, you’re just being a useful idiot and spreading their ideology for them.

I like it. Cut ’em off. Don’t bestow them the credibility of sharing an equal footing with you. There are terrible, stupid, discredited ideas out there, and the appalling nature of their arguments is not a good reason to elevate their representatives. Tear them down without promoting their proponents.

No more debates.

I finally broke down and got a digital subscription to a newspaper

I’ve been waffling. I’m extremely unhappy with the cowardice of American journalism, so every time some major news source whines at me that I should subscribe and pay even a small amount to support ‘quality journalism’, I grimace and say a few choice words (in my head) and back away. But on the other hand, if we don’t support journalists, how will the situation improve? I go back and forth on this.

But today, I realized that I do need to step up and throw a few dollars at the news media…provisionally. I want to see some improvement or I’ll give up again. The deciding factor was the New York Times. they went all fair-and-balanced on us.

In a note on the Times’s opinion page Wednesday night, the newspaper recognized its critical view of the Trump administration, and said it would feature letters from Trump supporters in the spirit of “open debate” in place of the print edition’s editorial page.

“The Times editorial board has been sharply critical of the Trump presidency, on grounds of policy and personal conduct. Not all readers have been persuaded,” the note reads.

“In the spirit of open debate, and in hopes of helping readers who agree with us better understand the views of those who don’t, we wanted to let Mr. Trump’s supporters make their best case for him as the first year of his presidency approaches its close.”

Yup. That abruptly crystallized my decision.

So I subscribed to The Washington Post.

The New York Times will never get a penny from me.

Yet more legal expenses arising

A year and a half ago, Skepticon banned Richard Carrier from its conference for inappropriate behavior. Shortly after that, we announced that we were suspending his posting privileges here pending an investigation of the accuracy of those accusations. Immediately, he stormed off in a snit and demanded that we send him a copy of his blog posts, remove his blog, and then resigned. His behavior simply confirmed that the stories about him circulating on the whisper network were valid concerns, so we were quite content to just let him go his own way.

Unfortunately, he then sued us for the effrontery of merely questioning his behavior. He sued Skepticon. He sued The Orbit. He sued four individuals and three organizations, demanding over a million dollars for this slight.

We’re slowly wending our way through the halls of justice to deal with this absurd situation, and we’re optimistic that we’ll win, if we can just make it to the finish line. If only good lawyers didn’t cost so much money! We’re stretching to keep up, so we just had to increase our goals on legal defense fund to $50,000. Ouch. That hurts. I hope you can donate and help out.

One odd thing: he made the mistake of suing all of us en masse, so we’re sharing the legal expenses, which helps diffuse them a lot. But Carrier is somehow paying all of his legal costs alone, which has us mystified. He wasn’t rich to begin with — before this suit, he often complained about his poverty, and admitted that his wife (now his ex-wife) was covering most of his living expenses. He doesn’t have a job, but instead makes a mediocre living as an itinerant classics scholar (it’s as remunerative as it sounds) with a Patreon account. Yet he’s burning money on legal expenses at least as fast as a whole group of us combined are. This is suspicious. It wouldn’t surprise me if the usual gang of misogynist MRAs and anti-SJW jerks are backing him, which would be an ugly betrayal of all the things he paid lip service to while he was here, and makes us even happier that he packed up his bags and left.

So help us out! Our cause is just, his is more of a vindictive snipe at people he alienated, so please donate to our Defense against Carrier SLAPP Suit fund or to the Skepticon legal fund. We’re committed to fighting this nonsense to the end.

Moors are lovely places, no werewolves at all

This may be my last bit of pleasure reading for a while, as the storm of a new semester strikes. But I’m happy to say I finally got to On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk by Richard Carter, and it was wonderful. Science and history and geography and evolution and culture all tangled up in musings while walking about the moors around Hebden Bridge — I got to visit that place a while back, and it was lovely and dense with a feeling of history. Now you too can sample it! Then get on a plane or train and go visit it! I’m sure Richard will be happy to give everyone a tour.

It’s also interesting for me since part of my paternal family came from that region in the Beforetimes, in the Long Long Ago. Maybe I should pick up a copy for my Out West family.

A reminder for the first day of classes

Treat your students with respect, or you’ll get what you deserve.

The alleged incident, during a University of Guelph anthropology class, was posted on Facebook, in an unofficial university group called Overheard at Guelph, shortly after it happened.

Students said a professor, Edward Hedican, who was filling in for their usual professor, made disrespectful comments to the student, who has “severe anxiety,” while an aid worker was at his side.

He made repeated dismissive comments, suggesting that an acutely nervous student didn’t belong in class.

And then…boom, a student stood up and spoke out for the young man with anxiety, and the whole class walked out. There’s video of the woman who spoke against the professor’s attitude.

Wow. That is exactly the kind of integrity and outspokenness I want for all of my students. I just have to try to avoid deserving the criticisms Hedican got — which actually isn’t too hard. It’s bad news when a fellow professor can’t even clear that low bar.

Also, by the way, that class was huge. With that many students, you have to be able to accept and teach to diverse people. I’ve got it easy, my biggest class this semester has 23 students, and even at that I can see many different sorts of people — you’ve got a few hundred students in your class, and you expect total uniformity and a complete lack of distractions? Get real.

Yes, I do accept guest posts!

But they have to be relevant. I just opened my mailbox this morning to see a flood of spam from people making inquiries about submitting guest posts — you know, those things that would be better labeled guest commercials masquerading as content. I do not accept those. I block those. Especially when they praise my quality content and chatter about how avidly they follow my blog, and then offer to write a post for me about cake decorating. It’s true, we do have an unfortunate shortage of posts about cake around here.

Other things I’ve been offered as articles to enhance my website, besides cake: résumé writing, top gadgets for CEOs, stock tips, the best mobile phones, home decorating, cheese, and sex positions. You’ll have to let me know if you’ve been missing those topics, and why you think I’m not qualified to cover them and should get an outsider perspective.

My favorites, though, are the knowledgable fans of the Panda’s Thumb who write to me (why me?).

I’d love to connect with you and see if you’re currently accepting columnist pitches for Panda’s Thumb, The?

I do love the obviously handwritten, personal request. Also, there is a noticeable dearth of articles about cheese at Panda’s Thumb, The.


The other day, an event occurred that rocked the entire state of Minnesota. I wondered why Twitter and Facebook went briefly insane.

I have a few observations.

Vikings fans are a godly people. I lost track of how often people would shriek out the name of the Lord.

There sure are a lot of people who wear that Vikings purple. I guess that’s OK. It’s a nice dramatic color. I’d wear it if it didn’t immediately label me a Vikings fan.*

Why do so many people record themselves watching TV? Is there a family member who is coolly ironic, watching with a sense of detachment, who knows that Uncle Joe is pretty much guaranteed to go amusingly apeshit at some point in a football game?

This is a game the Vikings were losing until the final few seconds, when there was an amazing pass and run for a touchdown (I was impressed, even). Does that mean that the coolly ironic person with the camera was watching Uncle Joe in anticipation of seeing him break down and cry? Because that puts a cruel twist on these videos.

Were they disappointed when Uncle Joe was instead gushingly overjoyed? Or did a Grinch scenario play out here? If so, we need people to start recording people who are recording people watching football games.

I am not a football fan, and I wasn’t watching the game in real time. But now I’m thinking it might actually be entertaining if there were a sports show that specialized in only showing the last 30 seconds of games. Games with dramatic conclusions like that one would be rare, with most just ending with a buzzer and one team walking off the field dispiritedly, but that would be true to the games, too, and you wouldn’t have to wade through 3 hours of bother to find out who wins.

*You can look up the official hex codes for the colors here, or the Pantone numbers, in case you want to go buy a bucket of house paint in those colors.