Poisoning of a movement

Sigh. I might once have been willing to take exception to this characterization of the history of New Atheism, but I can’t anymore. I just can’t. It’s all too true, and what should have been an opportunity for reason to rise ascendant has been drowned in a rising flood of idiots who use “reason” as an empty buzzword.

Once Bush left office, the promoters of “intelligent design” curricula retreated from the public sphere, and millennials asserted themselves as the least religious generation to date; the group that had coalesced around the practice logically refuting creationists needed new targets. One of the targets they chose was women. Militant atheism had always been male-dominated, but it took several years and a sea change in American politics for the sexism within its ranks to fully bloom. In 2011, skeptic blogger Rebecca Watson described in a YouTube video how a male fellow attendee of an atheist conference had followed her into an elevator at 4 a.m. in order to ask her on a date—behavior that, understandably, made her uncomfortable. The community erupted into what was later remembered as “Elevatorgate.” A forum was created to harass Watson, and Richard Dawkins himself wrote a comment telling her to “stop whining” because she had it better than victims of honor killings and female genital mutilation.

This dynamic played out again and again. In 2012, the popular atheist vlogger Thunderf00t (real name Phil Mason) aimed his sights at Watson in a video titled “Why ‘Feminism’ is poisoning Atheism,” thereby reigniting the previous year’s controversy. This time it took off, leading him to create several follow-up videos accusing women of destroying the paradise that was New Atheism for their own gain. In 2013, Mason inaugurated his “FEMINISM vs. FACTS” series of videos, which attacked Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist video game critic who was then receiving an onslaught of harassment and violent threats for daring to analyze Super Mario Bros. This sort of idiocy, combined, again, with the growing popularity of jibes associating outspoken atheists with fedoras, neckbeards, and virginity, led to an exodus of liberals and leftists from the “atheist” tent. Those who remained for the most part lacked in social skills and self-awareness, and the results were disastrous.

And then the author starts talking about Stefan Molyneux and James Damore, and it just gets worse.

So here we are. There is still no god, religion is bunk, but the atheist movement has become a dogmatic label used by assholes, racists, and misogynists.

“the obligations of international leadership”

So many people are praising this speech by John McCain.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

I’m not so impressed.

Let me remind you that McCain has been a loyal Republican apparatchik for decades. He was elected during Reagan’s term, and was an ardent supporter of Reaganomics and military adventurism — his only ‘virtue’ is that he was willing to negotiate with countries after we’d bombed them. This is the man who joked, Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? – Because Janet Reno is her father. This is the man who ran for president with Sarah Fucking Palin as his running mate. He likes to pretend that he is a “maverick”, when really he is consistently conservative and dedicated to propping up the status quo.

That speech reeks of hypocrisy. He’s arguing against nationalism because it’s not patriotic? Nuts. He’s promoting the tired old claim that America has been idealistic for the last three quarters of a century, that we are the ‘the last best hope of earth’? Tell that to the people of Vietnam and Cambodia that we napalmed, to the countries of Latin America where we have supported dictators, to Cuba that we embargoed when they didn’t support American imperialism, to the people of Iran where we maintained a tyrant to protect our oil interests until a theocratic revolution cast him down, to the nations of Africa that suffered under our exploitive neglect, to South Africa where we aligned ourselves with the perpetrators of apartheid, and on and on and on. This is the America that still treats Henry Kissinger as a distinguished elder statesman. This is a nation that lashed out with violence and war in response to a terrorist attack, and demolished a country that had not been involved. America is a country that enables war criminals and then reveres them as heroes.

His speech is just more American exceptionalism, and it will be well-received by the yahoos and the journalists who will praise it as statesmanlike. Notice, though, how he assumes that we possess “international leadership” — that of course we run the world, so we must continue to bear the paternalistic burden of solving everyone else’s problems. The problem is just that one bozo currently in office…but never forget, that bozo is the epitome of Republican policy. And that McCain is a loyal Republican who has contributed so ably to our descent into madness and corruption.

What our country needs is a different virtue: a little humility. A recognition that we are one among many. That we don’t get to claim our idealism when we haven’t lived up to it. That we have to earn respect rather than demand it at the point of a massive military machine. We have to notice that our country is on the road to being a failed state, and has lost all authority to tell the rest of the world that they must follow our lead.

We privileged men have to accept our culpability

Helen Lewis has a few words for the men of journalism (which also apply to every other area). It’s easy to deplore acts you haven’t done, but that by your behavior you may have enabled.

The response to the Weinstein coverage has borne this out. Over the last week, my phone has lit up with female journalists silently screaming: have you seen him decrying Weinstein? The hypocrite!

In private, there has been a cathartic outpouring of Bastards We Have Known. The colleague who texted a friend of mine, Ros Urwin of the Standard, promising that “before I die, I will kiss every freckle on your lips”. The man who told my colleague Amelia Tait that she’d have to have sex to get ahead. The sub-editor who stalked a junior member of his team, turning up outside restaurants she was at with her boyfriend. The magazine journalist who developed an obsession with a female colleague and put her on late shifts to ruin her social life. The arts journalist who would take out new colleagues for a “welcome drink” at his London club – where they’d discover he had a room booked upstairs. The guy who put his hands down a colleague’s trousers at the Christmas party. More than one man in journalism, feeling spurned, has taken to ringing his love interest’s doorbell late at night.

Those are just the overt acts of egregious harassment. She also points out that a casual boy’s club atmosphere of little crappy jokes and disparagement in bad taste fuels the confidence of the worst offenders, and that we men all contribute in various ways to a culture of entitled oppression. Have I ever actively harassed anyone? No. But have I ever trivialized the atmosphere of sexual exploitation with a lazy joke or blithe acceptance of the status quo? Yes. Should I change? Yes. Will I change? I’ll try my hardest. You have permission to slap me when I screw up.

Just Asking Questions

Readers here are familiar with a deflection technique used by people with ugly views: they claim they aren’t promoting bad ideas, they’re Just Asking Questions. Asking questions is a good idea, right? We wouldn’t want to discourage people from questioning! Unfortunately, they always use the question as a framework for setting up alternatives that allow them to discuss their real agenda. Are women and black people fully human, or are they inferior subhuman knock-offs of the white man? Hey, don’t criticize me, I’m just asking a question here!

Now look at the kind of person Donald Trump tried to appoint to high office (we could also look at the people he successfully recruited). Anthony Scaramucci has been saying some interesting things on Twitter.

Hey, man, don’t give him no grief. He’s just askin’ questions here. He isn’t denying that the Nazis killed some Jews, he’s just thinkin’ we ought to be quantitative about it.

He’s not sayin’ we should murder 25 million people by setting them on fire and poisoning them with radiation. See, you can choose “no” (and most people did)! He’s just proposing some reasonable alternatives for discussion.

JAQing off isn’t the only tool in the deplorable’s toolbox. There’s also the “Just Joking” defense.

President Trump once joked that Vice President Mike Pence “wants to hang” all gay people, The New Yorker reported Monday.

The publication also reports that Trump has mocked Pence for his views opposing abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Trump jabbed at Pence after a legal scholar told the pair that if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many states would probably legalize abortion.

“You see?” Trump reportedly said to Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.”

And when the meeting began to focus on gay rights, Trump reportedly pointed to Pence, joking, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”

I’m also kind of despising the “Devil’s Advocate” gambit. The people who deploy that one sure seem to spend a lot of time role-playing as Satan.

This chart is a lie

Serial cables are neutral? No way. Chaotic evil. I had to make too many of them. DB9 or DB25, or some ghastly custom pinout some manufacturer saw fit to stick on their device? I’ve encountered lots where all you need is 3 pins — ground, transmit, and receive — but even then you have to worry about whether this is a straight pass-through cable or a null modem cable. Some devices require one or several of the handshaking lines to be enabled — but different machines require different handshakes. Do you need DTR or DCD? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Then some of those handshake lines are completely redundant, and you can make it work just fine by shorting out the line to one of the other pins.

I remember the bad old days when you’d buy laboratory devices and they’d have some odd connector hanging off the back and there’d be a cryptic pinout diagram in the specs, and you’d have to solder up your own cable for it. It was not a happy time.

Lovely green landscape, charming people, and…a hurricane?

I’m keeping up with the news from Ireland, where Ophelia is rushing up the west coast. Hurricanes and fierce winds and massive storm surges just aren’t what I picture when I envision Ireland.

I hear our national stockpile of thoughts and prayers were seriously depleted by hurricane Maria. Maybe that means we’ll actually have to give appropriate aid where needed.

Just like we’ve been doing in Puerto Rico.

A science video about gonad development

A bit about the early development of human gonads.

A few useful sources:
Sadler TW. 2014. Langman’s Medical Embryology. LWW. ISBN: 1451191642.

Everyone needs to have a copy of Langman’s around. Diagrams in the video were taken from this text.

Sajjad Y. 2010. Development of the genital ducts and external genitalia in the early human embryo. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 36(5):929-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0756.2010.01272.x.

A good review of the embryonic plumbing.

Zhao F, Franco HL, Rodriguez KF, Brown PR, Tsai MJ, Tsai SY, Yao HH. 2017. Elimination of the male reproductive tract in the female embryo is promoted by COUP-TFII in mice. Science 357(6352):717-720. doi: 10.1126/science.aai9136.

New stuff: a nice example of a female gene product that actively suppresses a male developmental feature.