Trump is in Control of the USA

[this is a slight elaboration on a comment I made elsewhere]

I don’t think I’ve said “constitutional crisis” enough. Emphasis mine:

After a weekend spent trying to get the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to comply with the New York and Massachusetts Orders staying the Presidential Executive Order banning immigration from seven countries, a group of attorneys Darius Amiri, Laura Riley, Madiha Zuberi, Nina Bonyak, in coordination with other volunteer attorneys working out of LAX, have been at the U.S. Marshal’s office at the Central District of California since 8:00 a.m. this morning.

These attorneys are demanding that the U.S. Marshal’s office comply with its statutory obligation under 28 U.S.C. 566(c) to serve civil federal orders on the CBP Port Director at Los Angeles International Airport. The Marshal’s office has so far failed to serve process and instead represents that it has been instructed by its Office of the General Counsel to await instruction from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Over the weekend, California Central District Court (CACD) Judge Dolly Gee granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) (which was amended and corrected this morning) and this is another of the documents that has yet to be served on the CBP.

Two hundred years of precedent have established that the courts are the final arbitrator of what’s constitutional and what is not. But as I’ve said, the Judicial branch relies on the Executive to enforce its judgments; those court injunctions against Trump’s EO don’t go into effect until they get into the hands of the people enforcing that EO, and by telling the U.S. Marshals to stand down the Executive has effectively blocked those court orders from taking effect.

The Judicial branch is no longer checking or balancing Executive power. You just lost one of your three branches, Americans.

I have been saying that #TheRegime’s big overarching play right now is de-fanging the judiciary, sidelining it, making it subservient.

Now, if objecting to this gets any traction, #TheRegime’s talking point will be that the Marshals have always been part of DOJ, under exec.

Which is *true enough* but beside the point. They are the enforcement arm of the judiciary, grouped under executive because enforcement.

The impartiality of the law enforcement bodies under DOJ (FBI, Marshal Service) is supposed to be–must be–sacrosanct. Sacred. Untouchable.

Making the judiciary’s enforcement wing under the direct command of a handpicked crony AG accomplishes makes the entire judicial branch moot

With the Marshals marching to the president’s orders, court decisions only matter when #TheRegime agrees with them.

To make matters worse, the Executive branch is starting to override the Legislative. Remember how the border patrol refused to meet with Congressional representatives? Emphasis again mine:

“Since my background is a Ph.D. in public administration, I have a good working knowledge of U.S. institutions and policymaking processes,” [Donald] Moynihan told Salon. “Members of Congress are fond of reminding executive branch officials that [the latter] are beholden to them, not just to the president.” It is Congress that supplies every federal agency with its budget, and along with that “specific directives as to [its] role.”

“It’s remarkable to me that when an actual member of Congress would turn up at your doorstep, a manager in that agency would not try to be responsive to their concerns,” Moynihan continued. “It suggests they view obeying the guidance of the president as superior to any other direction. This is troubling precisely because the founders designed a separation of powers so that no single actor (in this case the president) had sole control of administration.”

Trump is also going behind the backs of Congress, borrowing their staffers while swearing them to secrecy. This is a big deal.

This is quite simply unheard of.

To be clear, the executive works with Congress all the time to craft legislation. That’s the President working with members of Congress, though much of the actual work is delegated to staff. All normal. It’s congressional staff working for the executive without telling the members of Congress they work for which is the big deal. […]

I’m not sure this rises to the level of a formal separation of powers issue. But the idea of the White House coopting congressional staff behind the backs of members of Congress certainly runs roughshod over the overarching concept of two coequal and separate branches of government.

Until Congress steps up, or Trump backtracks and agrees to respect judicial rulings, he has [no] checks on his power. He’s become a dictator without firing a single shot.


[HJH 2017-01-31] I just spotted a relevant update from Popehat.

OKAY. Awaiting an official statement, but about that story about the USMS not serving the LA federal court order: /1

/2 Counsel has now appeared for the federal defendants: US Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation – Civil Division

/3 In fact, a stipulation by the parties to move the briefing schedule now appears on the docket (but is sealed)

/4 The significance is this: by appearing, the federal defendants can’t claim lack of service of the order. This should moot service issues.

/5 In fact it should bind the federal defendants to any order the court issues or has issued now that its counsel has appeared, as I read it

/6 That doesn’t answer issue of whether CPD has refused to comply so far or will continue to refuse.

/7 Also doesn’t exclude possibility that USMS dorked around for some period of time until their counsel made an appearance.

/8 But the fact that the ACLU filed a stipulation reached with the feds suggests some level of acknowledgement and cooperation.

In some ways, this is good news. The courts will not be stopped by a technicality like a lack of service, and as of now federal attorneys are respecting the Judicial branch. But if service has been granted, that means that the delays by US Marshals had the effect of deporting potential plaintiffs before they could plead their case before the courts. Any border guard that deported or refused entry to someone as per the immigration Executive Order, as of eight hours ago, is ignoring a court order. And some digging brings up this case.

Mohammad Abu Khadra, who lives in Katy[, Texas] with his brother Rami, traveled to Jordan last week to renew his visa. When he flew into Bush IAH airport Saturday, officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained him at the airport for about 48 hours. He was transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Chicago Monday, where he remained as of Tuesday afternoon. The teen has no access to his cell phone or to a computer, his brother said.

 Mohammad is among dozens of visa holders and immigrants to be detained at U.S. airports since Trump signed an executive order Friday indefinitely barring all Syrian refugees from entering the United States and suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days. It also prohibits citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, whether they are refugees or not. Those countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Mohammad’s native Jordan is not on the list, and Mohammad is not a refugee.

The Judicial branch is still out of commission.

I’m Calling It

The USA is officially in a Constitutional crisis.

In case you’re a Breitbart reader: President Trump issued an executive order that bans immigration from seven countries, for the span of 90 days. This was ostensibly to protect the US from terrorism as what happened during 9/11, yet mysteriously didn’t ban people from the countries behind 9/11, and double-mysteriously didn’t ban people from countries where Trump has business ties. Worse, Trump doesn’t appear to have consulted with anyone about it, giving no heads-up it was coming and certainly not asking about the wording of it.

The result has been chaos.

The new rules blindsided people in transit and families waiting for them, and caused havoc for businesses with employees holding passports from the targeted nations and colleges with international students.

Pegah Rahmani, 25, waited at Washington’s Dulles airport for several hours for her grandparents, both Iranian citizens with U.S. green cards. “They weren’t treating them very well,” she said. Rahmani’s grandfather is 88 and legally blind. Her grandmother is 83 and recently had a stroke. They were released to loud cheers and cries.

Canadian citizens are being turned away, despite assurances from officials. Science is suffering because of it. Protests are already widespread and growing, families are being torn apart.

Late Saturday, though, it looked like there would be some reprieve.

A federal judge has granted a stay on deportations for people who arrived in the US with valid visas but were detained on entry, following President Donald Trump’s executive order to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The stay is only a partial block to the broader executive order, with the judge stopping short of a broader ruling on its constitutionality. Nevertheless, it was an early, significant blow to the new administration. […]

“I think the government hasn’t had a full chance to think about this,” Donnelly told a packed courtroom.

This isn’t a full stay, but the judge signaled that Trump’s Executive Order was likely unconstitutional and said parts of it shouldn’t be enforced on a temporary basis.

And yet,

As the night wore on, it became increasingly clear that CBP was defying Brinkema’s ruling. Lawyers concluded that that meant someone was in contempt of court. The judge could theoretically send in federal law enforcement officers to force CBP to let the lawyers meet with the detainees. But sending in the U.S. Marshals—who are part of the Department of Justice—to take on Customs and Border Patrol—which is part of the Department of Homeland Security—would have been a bureaucratic clash of the titans. And, like everything else that night, it would have been unprecedented. It didn’t happen.

Though detainees were slowly being released, lawyers were disturbed that they couldn’t meet with them. What if CBP tried to coerce detainees into signing paperwork that could jeopardize their legal status? Release wasn’t enough. A federal agency was defying a federal judge, and no one was quite sure what to do.

Then at around 11:45 pm, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker showed up. [….]

“We see tonight what I believe is a clear violation of the Constitution,” he continued. “And so clearly tonight we have to commit ourselves to the longer fight. Clearly tonight, we have to commit ourselves to the cause of our country. Clearly tonight, we have to be determined to show this world what America is all about.” 

Asked by The Daily Beast what CBP officers had told him about why they wouldn’t let detainees see their lawyers. 

“They told me nothing, and it was unacceptable,” he said. “I believe it’s a Constitutional crisis, where the executive branch is not abiding by the law.” 

The Executive Branch is not respecting the Judicial Branch. Trump shows no sign of backing down, either.

‏@realDonaldTrump (Donald J. Trump)

Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!
7:00 AM – 29 Jan 2017

Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!
7:08 AM – 29 Jan 2017

Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!
9:03 AM – 29 Jan 2017

The closest historical similarity I can find was when Harry Truman decided to take control of a number of steel mills in 1952 during wartime. Back then, the Judiciary said it was unconstitutional… barely. Either the rule of law goes, or he does, and so far he’s got the support of key Republicans.

This is a full-blown crisis. And it comes a mere eight days after Trump came into power.

[HJH 2017-01-29: Extended a quote. Also, someone else who called it before I did.]

Destruction of Justice

I’ve written about the “rape kit backlog” before; as a quirk summary, police departments are letting rape kits languish for decades, despite how easy they are to process and how effective they are at securing convictions.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

But back then, I never thought of the dark side of the rape test backlog.

As scrutiny of disregarded rape kits mounted, a portrait of a more difficult to tally sort emerged – rape kits police destroyed. As with the rape kit backlog, there is no national tally of the kits police destroyed. But increasingly, local media have published reports of police destroying rape kits in states as disparate as Utah, Kentucky and Colorado. […]

In 2013, in Aurora, Colorado, police department workers derailed a prosecution when they destroyed a rape kit from a 2009 assault. The error was discovered when a detective got a hit on an offender DNA profile, went to pick up the rape kit and was told it no longer existed. Shortly thereafter, police stopped all evidence destruction while they investigated, and found workers destroyed evidence in 48 rape cases between 2011 and 2013.

In Salt Lake City, 222 of the 942 kits collected between 2004 and 2014 were destroyed. Of those, just 59 were tested and went to court.

In Hamilton County, Tennessee, sheriff’s employees destroyed rape kits with marijuana and cocaine from drug busts, angering the local prosecutor who said he wasn’t consulted.

In Kentucky, the state auditor discovered some police departments routinely destroyed rape kits after a year, even though the state had no statute of limitations for rape. The perpetrators could have been prosecuted as long as they were alive.

There was so little value placed on those kits, despite their track record of landing convictions, that the experts responsible for handling them saw no problem in their casual destruction. Criminals are allowed to walk freely, because the police bought into common myths about sexual assault.

It’s one more slice of rape culture.

A Slice of Rape Culture

There’s only so much you can cover in an hour. Early drafts of my lecture on sexual assault included a rant on rape kit testing, and it’s not hard to see why.

… police departments have been found to destroy records and ignore or mishandle evidence, which leads not only to undercounting but dismissal of cases. Many of the jurisdictions showing consistent undercounting are also, unsurprisingly, those with rape kit backlogs (there are more than 400,000 untested kits in the United States). Many cities and states don’t even keep accurate track of the number of rape exams or of kits languishing, expired or in storerooms—but when they do, the numbers improve. The arrest rate for sex assault in New York City went from 40 percent to 70 percent after the city successfully processed an estimated 17,000 kits in the early 2000s. However, it is only in the past year, after embarrassing and critical news coverage, that most departments have begun to process backlogs. After being publicly shamed for having abandoned more than 11,000 rape kits, the Michigan State Police began testing them, identifying 100 serial rapists as a result.

There’s some follow-up on that last item.

In Michigan, the Detroit kits make up the majority of those awaiting testing. To date, the largest backlog by far remains in Wayne County, where 10,000 of the 11,341 kits found in 2009 have been tested or are in the process of being tested. As of July 10, Detroit’s kit-testing initiative identified 2,478 suspects — including 456 serial rapists identified as of June 30 — and 20 convictions have been secured.

While it’s great to see justice served, take a step back and think about this. This one county managed to process 10,000 rape kits within a year or two; that means they’re quick to process. Those kits identified serial criminals and even in that short span generated 20 convictions; that means they are invaluable tools of law enforcement, an easy way to score convictions, keep the streets safe, and generate some good publicity.

But not only was this goldmine left to rot and grow since the 1980’s, it was discovered in 2009; in other words, even when they were aware of these kits and knew how valuable they were, they waited five years until they were embarrassed into action by the press.

This is one aspect of rape culture: the systematic devaluation of sexual assault victims, to the point that we blind ourselves to widespread injustice.

“This is not just an issue impacting Detroit or Wayne County,” [Shanon Banner, Michigan State Police manager of public affairs] said. “Everyone should care.”

[HJH 2015-07-19] USA Today was one of the first to break this story, and they have a follow-up too.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

Despite those successes, many police agencies haven’t changed their policies.

In New York state, law enforcement agencies outside of New York City are under no legal requirement to test rape evidence. No state law exists requiring agencies to track how many untested kits are stored in their evidence rooms.

New York is one of 44 states with no law stipulating when police should test rape kits and 34 states that haven’t conducted a statewide inventory. […]

Interviews with law enforcement officials, and a review of police records obtained by USA TODAY, reveal sexual-assault-kit testing is often arbitrary and inconsistent among law enforcement agencies — and even within agencies.

In Jackson, Tenn., for example, notations in evidence records show contradictory reasons as to why rape kits were not tested. In some cases, the Jackson Police Department did not test evidence because the suspect’s identity was already known, records show. In 13 other cases since 1998, records show police decided not to test kits because there was “no suspect” or “no known suspect,” even though testing the kits could help identify a suspect. […]

Some government officials and researchers have faulted police for a predisposition to doubt survivors’ stories.

“The fact is that often rape kits are unsubmitted for testing because of a blame-the-victim mentality or because investigators mistrust the survivor’s story,” Illinois Attorney General Madigan told a U.S. Senate subcommittee at a hearing in May. “This outdated way of thinking must change.”

After more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits were discovered in Detroit in 2008, a landmark study funded by the Justice Department faulted police for “negative, victim‐blaming beliefs.”

“Rape survivors were often assumed to be prostitutes and therefore what had happened to them was considered to be their own fault,” researchers from Michigan State University wrote in their analysis of Detroit’s rape investigations.

Welcome to rape culture.

When Secularism Is A Lie

In 1990, Gregg Cunningham thought the anti-choice movement was losing the battle for reproductive rights. In response, he formed the Center for Bioethical Reform, then spent years brainstorming how he could reinvent the movement. His answer: secularize it. This allowed anti-choice messaging to dodge past religious disagreement over abortion (Christian denominations are evenly divided over support for abortion) by pretending to be above it all, and get into places a religious approach was barred from entering.

… this is very carefully targeted. When we do this on a university campus there is actually an enormous amount of preparation, and we do a great deal of follow-up. We start pro-life organizations on the campus where none had existed previously, we greatly strengthen currently existing pro-life groups by increasing the size of their membership, by donating to them all kinds of educational resources they can use, we help recruit students to volunteer at the local crisis pregnancy centers. We do a myriad of things of that sort. The same is true of churches. […]

The Genocide Awareness Project is one of a myriad of projects which we are doing, but they are all aimed at the same thing: how can we engage a reluctant culture and educate it over its own objections? It all starts with a willingness to take the heat. We lack moral authority if we are not willing to take the heat.

It signaled that lies and half-truths were perfectly acceptable, since Cunningham’s organization was secular in name only.

We are a secular organization, we’re not a Christian organization, but we are an organization comprised of Christians, and the thing that motivates us personally is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While Cunningham is an extremist, his ideas have been very influential. The moderates in the anti-choice movement have since noted the failure of religious arguments, and have embraced trojan secularism. Emphasis mine:

the strenuous efforts of abolitionists have yielded very little in terms of measurable progress in reducing abortion, so it’s time to try a more fruitful strategy.

I have my own beliefs about the sanctity and rights of an unborn baby, but I don’t think we’ll change many minds by arguing about that. The proliferation of 3D ultrasound machines, new research about fetal awareness and pain, and the increasing viability of extremely premature babies will continue to make an impression on some people, but for those who are heavily invested in the moral neutrality of abortion on demand, and who see the concession of any status to the fetus as in direct conflict with the rights of the mother, this won’t make a lot of difference.

We need more discussion, then, of abortion as a women’s issue. Abortion damages women. It does them physical and psychological harm, which is multiplied by the fact that very few women seeking abortions give their informed consent (meaning consent even after being advised of the risks.) Those of us who take such things seriously tend to agree that it does them spiritual harm. More broadly, a culture in which abortion is seen as essentially harmless wreaks profound changes to our collective understanding of motherhood, sexuality, the obligations of mothers and fathers to each other and their children, and adulthood.

It’s been embraced so much by extremists and moderates alike, Kelly Gordon found that only 1.9% of anti-choice messages contained a religious element.[1]

The latest variation of this that I’ve heard of this comes from Crisis Pregnancy Centres. Cunningham called them “Ministries,” which is more accurate than I realized.

In a conference room at the Embassy Suites in Charleston, South Carolina, Laurie Steinfeld stood behind a podium speaking to an audience of about 50 people. Steinfeld is a counselor at a pregnancy center in Mission Hills, California, and she was leading a session at the annual Heartbeat International conference, a gathering of roughly 1,000 crisis pregnancy center staff and anti-abortion leaders from across the country. Her talk focused on how to help women seeking abortions understand Jesus’s plan for them and their babies, and she described how her center’s signage attracts women.

“Right across the street from us is Planned Parenthood,” she said. “We’re across the street and it [their sign] says ‘Pregnancy Counseling Center,’ but these girls aren’t — they just look and see ‘Pregnancy’ and think, Oh, that’s it! So some of them coming in thinking they’re going to their abortion appointments.” […]

In her workshop, “How to Reach and Inspire the Heart of a Client,” Steinfeld told her audience about her mission to convert clients: “If you hear nothing today, I want you to hear this one thing,” she said. “We might be the very first face of Christ that these girls ever see.”

When someone’s salvation is on the line, anything is justified. Exploiting the desperation of someone in order to bring them into a relationship with Christ is completely justified, so long as you don’t use the word “exploit.”

Multiple women told me it was their job to protect women from abortion as “an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove.” Another oft-repeated catchphrase was, “Save the mother, save the baby,” shorthand for many pregnancy center workers’ belief that the most effective way to prevent abortion is to convert women. In keeping with Evangelicalism’s central tenets, many pregnancy center staff believe that those living “without Christ”— including Christians having premarital sex — must accept Christ to be born again, redeem their sins, and escape spiritual pain. Carrying a pregnancy to term “redeems” a “broken” woman, multiple staff people told me.

And here again, we find they deliberately avoid the “G” or “J” words until they’ve sealed a connection.

The website for Heartbeat International’s call center, Option Line, offers to connect women with a pregnancy center that “provides many services for free.” It encourages women who are curious about emergency contraception to call its hotline to speak to a representative about “information on all your options.” On the Option Line website, there is no mention of Christ, no religious imagery, no talk of being saved. But visit the website of Heartbeat itself and you’ll find very different language. “Heartbeat International does promote God’s Plan for our sexuality: marriage between one man and one woman, sexual intimacy, children, unconditional/unselfish love, and relationship with God must go together,” it says. […]

In her session, “Do I Really Need Two Sites?” Chenoweth explained that, yes, in fact, pregnancy centers do. She recommended that centers operate one that describes an anti-abortion mission to secure donors and another that lists medical information to attract women seeking contraception, counseling, or abortion. […]

Johnson … emphasized that waiting rooms should feel like “professional environments” instead of “grandma’s house,” and discouraged crucifixes, fake flowers, and mauve paint before showing slides of Planned Parenthood waiting rooms and encouraging staff to make their centers look just as “beautiful and up-to-date,” especially if they have a “medical model,” meaning they offer sonograms and other medical services. Johnson also said pregnancy center staff should mirror Planned Parenthood’s language.

Lies are an integral part of the anti-choice movement. Lies about what abortion does to you, and lies about what they stand for and believe in. Anyone hoping to promote secularism and humanist values should be wary of religion in secular clothing.

 

[1] Gordon, Kelly. “‘Think About the Women!’: The New Anti-Abortion Discourse in English Canada,” 2011. pg. 42.

Dictionary Atheism and Morality

I’m quite late to the party, I see. Hopefully I can make up for it with a slightly different angle.

There are no shortage of atheists that fetishize the dictionary. “It’s just a lack of belief, nothing more!” they cry, “there’s no moral code attached to it!”

Bullshit. If there is no moral system, why then are dictionary atheists so insistent on being atheist?

Moral codes are proscriptive, while assertions and bare facts are descriptive. One tells us how the world ought to behave, the others how the world is or might be. This can get confusing, I’ll admit. Science is supposed to be in the “descriptive” bin, yet scientists make predictions about how the world ought to behave. It sounds very proscriptive, but what happens when reality and your statement conflict? Say I calculate the trajectory of an asteroid via Newtonian Mechanics, but observe it wanders off my predicted path. Which of these two must change to resolve the contradiction, reality or Newtonian Mechanics? Surely the latter, and that reveals it and similar scientific laws as a descriptive item: if the description is wrong, or in conflict with reality, it gets tossed.

But this division is further tested by things like evolution. If we ever did find find something that broke that theory, like a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian era, we are not justified in tossing evolution. The weight of all other evidence in favor of evolution makes it more likely we got something wrong then that evolution should be dust-binned. We again seem to be proscriptive.

That pile of evidence is our ticket back to descriptiveness, though. One bit of counter-evidence may fall flat, but a giant enough heap would not. There is only a finite amount of it favoring evolution, so in theory I can still pile up more counter-evidence and be forced to give that theory up in favor of reality, even if that’s impossible in practice.

No amount of evidential persuasion can force me to give up on a moral, in contrast. This too may seem strange; it may not be moral to kill a person, but wouldn’t it be moral to kill Hitler? The information we have about a scenario can dramatically shift the moral action.

But, importantly, it doesn’t shift the moral code. No sane moral system will hold you accountable for honest ignorance, and even the non-sane ones provide an “out” via (for instance) penitence or another loop on the karmic wheel. Instead, you apply the moral code to the knowledge you do have, a code that does not change over time. Slavery was just as bad in the past as it is now, what’s changed instead is us. We as moral agents have progressed, through education, reason, and the occasional violent rebellion. The moral code hasn’t changed, we have adjusted our reality to better match it. Again, we find morality is proscriptive.

So what are we to make of atheists that argue they can only follow the evidence? “Do not hold false beliefs” is proscriptive, because it tells us what to do, yet it’s a necessary assumption behind “I cannot believe in the gods, because there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief.” Having a moral code is an essential prerequisite for every atheist who isn’t that way out of ignorance, and that ignorance dissipates within seconds of hearing someone attempt to describe what a god is.

But… is it true that black people deserve to be paid less than whites? Is it true that women who dress provocatively deserved to be raped? Is it true that the poor are lazy and shiftless? All it takes to believe in any form of social justice is the moral “do not hold false beliefs” and evidence to support “claim X is false.” The minimal moral system for a hardline dictionary atheist is no different then the minimal moral system of a feminist!

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t toss extra morals into the mix. Social justice types would quickly add “allowing false beliefs to persist in others is wrong,” but so too would the dictionary atheist. How else could they justify trying to persuade others away from religion? No doubt those atheists would disavow any additional morals, but so too could a feminist. That one extra premise is enough to justify actively changing the culture we live in.

There might be other differences in the moral code between dictionary atheists and those promoting social justice, but it amounts to little more than window dressing; not only does being an atheist require a moral code, even the “dictionary” brand, the smallest possible code also supports feminists and others engaging in social justice.

So knock off the “atheism has no moral code” crap. It just ain’t true.

It’s About Ethics in Biomedical Research

I’m a bit surprised this didn’t get more play. From what I hear, Pinker has some beef with bioethics.

Biomedical research, then, promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing. Just imagine how much happier you would be if a prematurely deceased loved one were alive, or a debilitated one were vigorous — and multiply that good by several billion, in perpetuity. Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence.

Get out of the way.

A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as “dignity,” “sacredness,” or “social justice.” Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future.

This path leads to very dark places. I’ll quote a summary I wrote of Blumenthal (2004).[1]

Booker T. Washington had an ambitious plan around the turn of the century, of rapidly advancing the health and welfare of African Americans in that city. His Tuskegee Institute revived agriculture in the South, build schools and business alliances, created a self-sustaining architectural program, and developed a Black-owned-and-operated hospital.

It also took a keen interest in health issues, and after World War I it faced a major crisis in syphilis. Soldiers returning home led to a dramatic spike in cases, and as of 1926 as many as 36% of everyone within the surrounding Macon County were infected. The best cure, at the time, was a six-week regimen of toxic drugs with a depressing 30% success rate. Something had to be done.

A short study of six to eight months was proposed, the idea being to track the progression of the disease in African-Americans and learn more about it, then administer treatment. It got full approval of the government, health officials, and local leaders in the African-American community. Substantial outreach was done to bring in patients, explain what the disease was, and even give them free rides to reach the clinic.

But then… circumstances changed. The newly appointed leader of the project, Dr. Raymond Vonderlehr, became fascinated with how syphilis changed people’s bodies. The Great Depression hit, and as of 1933 there wasn’t a lot of money available for treatment. So Vonderlehr decided to make the study longer, and provide less than the recommended treatment. He also faced the problem of getting subjects to agree to the toxic treatments and painful diagnostic tools, but that was easily solved: stretch the truth, just a bit. Those spinal taps they used to diagnose syphilis spread to the neural system became “free special treatment,” even though no actual treatment was done. Disaster struck when other scientists discovered the first effective cure, penicillin; elaborate “procedures” were developed to keep the patients from getting their hands on the drug, even if other infectious diseases threatened their lives.

And the entire time, the project had the full support of the government, and published their results openly.

After the entire incident exploded in the press, a commission of experts were formed to advise the US government on bioethical legislation. The result was the Belmont Report, and one of the three core principals it rested on was

Justice. — Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of “fairness in distribution” or “what is deserved.” […]

Questions of justice have long been associated with social practices such as punishment, taxation and political representation. Until recently these questions have not generally been associated with scientific research. However, they are foreshadowed even in the earliest reflections on the ethics of research involving human subjects. For example, during the 19th and early 20th centuries the burdens of serving as research subjects fell largely upon poor ward patients, while the benefits of improved medical care flowed primarily to private patients. […]

Against this historical background, it can be seen how conceptions of justice are relevant to research involving human subjects. For example, the selection of research subjects needs to be scrutinized in order to determine whether some classes (e.g., welfare patients, particular racial and ethnic minorities, or persons confined to institutions) are being systematically selected simply because of their easy availability, their compromised position, or their manipulability, rather than for reasons directly related to the problem being studied. Finally, whenever research supported by public funds leads to the development of therapeutic devices and procedures, justice demands both that these not provide advantages only to those who can afford them and that such research should not unduly involve persons from groups unlikely to be among the beneficiaries of subsequent applications of the research.

Ignoring social justice concerns in biomedical research led to things like the Tuskegee experiment. The scientific establishment has since tried to correct that by making it a critical part. Pinker would be wise to study the history a bit more carefully, here.

But don’t just take my word for it. Others have also called him out, like Matthew Beard

Let’s put aside the fact that one paragraph later Pinker casts doubt on our ability to make accurate predictions at all. Because there is an interesting question here.

Let’s assume that hand-wringing ethicists slow progress that cures diseases. As a result, animals aren’t subjected to painful experiments, patients’ autonomy is respected, and “justice” is upheld. At the same time, lots of people died who could otherwise have been saved. Surely, Pinker suggests, this is unethical.

Only under a certain framework, known as utilitarianism, in which the right action is the one that does the most good. And even then, only under certain conditions. For instance, although some research might have saved more lives without ethical constraints, Pinker wants all oversight removed.

Thus, even bad research will operate without ethical restraint. For each pioneering piece of research that saves lives there will be much more insignificant research. And each of these insignificant items will also entail ethical breaches. This makes Pinker’s utilitarian matrix much harder to compute.

… and Wesley J. Smith.

These general principles [than Pinker excludes] are essential to maintaining a moral medical research sector! Indeed, without them, we would easily slouch into a crass utilitarianism that would blatantly treat some human beings as objects instead of subjects.

Bioethics is actually rife with such proposals. For example, one research paper published in a respected journal proposed using unconscious patients as “living cadavers” to test the safety of pig-to-human organ xenotransplantation.

The best defences of Pinker I’ve seen ignored the bit where he dismissed “social justice” and pretended he was discussing less basic things. It doesn’t reflect well on Pinker.


[1] Blumenthal, Daniel S., and Ralph J. DiClemente, eds. Community-based health research: issues and methods. Springer publishing company, 2004. pg. 48-53

Christina Hoff Sommers: Blatant Science Denialist

So, how’d my predictions of Christina Hoff Sommer’s video pan out?

The standard approach for those challenging rape culture is to either to avoid defining the term “rape culture” at all, or define it as actively encouraging sexual assault instead of passively doing so, setting up a strawperson from the get-go.

Half points for this one. Sommers never defined “rape culture,” but thanks to vague wording made it sound like “rape culture” was synonymous with “beliefs that encourage the sexual assault of women on college campuses:”

[1:12] Now, does that mean that sexual assault’s not a problem on campus? Of course not! Too many women are victimized. But it’s not an epidemic, and it’s not a culture.

Continuing with myself:

Sommers herself is a fan of cherry-picking individual studies or case reports and claiming they’re representative of the whole, and I figure we’ll see a lot of that.

Success kid: NAILED IT

There’s also the clever technique of deliberately missing the point or spinning out half-truths […] I don’t think Sommers will take that approach, preferring to cherry-pick and fiddle with definitions instead, but as a potent tool of denialists it’s worth keeping in mind.

Oooooo, almost. Almost.

While there’s a lot of things I could pick apart about this video, I’d like to focus on the most blatant examples of her denialism, her juggling of sexual assault statistics.

The first study she cites is an infamous one in conservative circles, the Campus Sexual Assault Study of 2007. Ever since Obama made a big deal of it, they’ve cranked up their noise machine and dug in deep to discredit the study. Sommers benefits greatly from that, doing just a quick hit-and-run.

[0:50] The “one in five” claim is based on a 2007 internet study, with vaguely worded questions, a low response rate, and a non-representative sample.

Oh, how many ways is that wrong? Here’s the actual methodology from the paper (pg 3-1 to 3-2):

Two large public universities participated in the CSA Study. Both universities provided us

with data files containing the following information on all undergraduate students who were enrolled in the fall of 2005: full name, gender, race/ethnicity, date of birth, year of study, grade point average, full-time/part-time status, e-mail address, and mailing address. […]

We created four sampling subframes, with cases randomly ordered within each subframe: University 1 women, University 1 men, University 2 women, and University 2 men. […]

Samples were then drawn randomly from each of the four subframes. The sizes of these samples were dictated by response rate projections and sample size targets (4,000 women and 1,000 men, evenly distributed across the universities and years of study) […]

To recruit the students who were sampled to participate in the CSA Study, we relied on both recruitment e-mails and hard copy recruitment letters that were mailed to potential respondents. Sampled students were sent an initial recruitment e-mail that described the study, provided each student with a unique CSA Study ID#, and included a hyperlink to the CSA Study Web site. During each of the following 2 weeks, students who had not completed the survey were sent a follow-up e-mail encouraging them to participate. The third week, nonrespondents were mailed a hard-copy recruitment letter. Two weeks after the hard-copy letters were mailed, nonrespondents were sent a final recruitment e-mail.

Christopher P Krebs, Christine H. Lindquist, Tara D. Warner, Bonnie S. Fisher, and Sandra L. Martin. “Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study, Final Report,” October 2007.

The actual number of responses was 5,446 women and 1,375 men, above expectations. Yes, the authors expected a low response rate with a non-representative sample, and already had methods in place to deal with that; see pages 3-7 to 3-10 of the report for how they compensated, and then verified their methods were valid. Note too that this “internet study” was quite targeted and closed to the public, contrary to what Sommers implies.

As to the “vaguely-worded” questions, that’s because many people won’t say they were raped even if they were penetrated against their will (eg. Koss, Mary P., Thomas E. Dinero, Cynthia A. Seibel, and Susan L. Cox. “Stranger and Acquaintance Rape: Are There Differences in the Victim’s Experience?Psychology of Women Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1988): 1–24). Partly that’s because denial is one way to cope with a traumatic event, and partly because they’ve been told it isn’t a crime by society. So researchers have to tip-toe around “rape culture” just to get an accurate view of sexual assault, yet more evidence that beast exists after all.

Sommers champions another study as more accurate than the CSA, one from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics which comes to the quite-different figure of one in 52. Sommers appears to be getting her data from Figure 2 in that document, and since that’s on page three either she or a research assistant must have read page two.

The NCVS is one of several surveys used to study rape and sexual assault in the general and college-age population. In addition to the NCVS, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and the Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA) are two recent survey efforts used in research on rape and sexual assault. The three surveys differ in important ways in how rape and sexual assault questions are asked and victimization is measured. […]

The NCVS is presented as a survey about crime, while the NISVS and CSA are presented as surveys about public health. The NISVS and CSA collect data on incidents of unwanted sexual contact that may not rise to a level of criminal behavior, and respondents may not report incidents to the NCVS that they do not consider to be criminal. […]

The NCVS, NISVS, and CSA target different types of events. The NCVS definition is shaped from a criminal justice perspective and includes threatened, attempted, and completed rape and sexual assault against males and females […]

Unlike the NCVS, which uses terms like rape and unwanted sexual activity to identify victims of rape and sexual assault, the NISVS and CSA use behaviorally specific questions to ascertain whether the respondent experienced rape or sexual assault. These surveys ask about an exhaustive list of explicit types of unwanted sexual contact a victim may have experienced, such as being made to perform or receive anal or oral sex.

Lynn Langton, Sofi Sinozich. “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-age Females, 1995-2013” December 11, 2014.

This information repeats in Appendix A, which even includes a handy table summarizing all of the differences. If it’s been shoved into page two as well, that must indicate many people have tried to leverage this study to “discredit” others, without realizing the different methodologies make that impossible. The study authors tried to paint these differences in bright neon, to guard against any stat-mining, but alas Sommers has no qualms about ignoring all that to suit her ends. Even the NCVS authors suggest going with other numbers for prevalence and only using theirs for differences between student and non-student populations:

Despite the differences that exist between the surveys, a strength of the NCVS is its ability to be used to make comparisons over time and between population subgroups. The differences observed between students and nonstudents are reliable to the extent that both groups responded in a similar manner to the NCVS context and questions. Methodological differences that lead to higher estimates of rape and sexual assault in the NISVS and CSA should not affect the NCVS comparisons between groups.

In short, Sommers engaged in more half-truths and misleading statements than I predicted. Dang. But hold onto your butts, because things are about to get worse.

[2:41] The claim that 2% of rape accusations are false? That’s unfounded. It seems to have started with Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 feminist manifesto “Against Our Will.” Other statistics for false accusations range from 8 to 43%.

Hmph, so how did Brownmiller come to her 2% figure for false reports? Let’s check her book:

A decade ago the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports noted that 20 percent of all rapes reported to the police were determined by investigation to be unfounded.’ By 1973 the figure had dropped to 15 percent, while rape remained, in the FBI’s words, the most underreported crime.’ A 15 percent figure for false accusations is undeniably high, yet when New York City instituted a special sex crimes analysis squad and put police women (instead of men) in charge of interviewing complainants, the number of false charges in New York dropped dramatically to 2 percent, a figure that corresponded exactly to the rate of false reports for other crimes. The lesson in the mystery of the vanishing statistic is obvious. Women believe the word of other women. Men do not.

Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Open Road Media, 2013. pg. 435.

…. waaaitaminute. Brownmiller never actually says the 2% figure is the false reporting rate; at best, she merely argues it’s more accurate than figures of 15-20%. And, in fact, it is!

In contrast, when more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.Lonsway, Kimberly A., Joanne Archambault, and David Lisak. “False reports: Moving beyond the issue to successfully investigate and prosecute non-stranger sexual assault.” (2009).

That’s taken from the third study Sommers cites, or more accurately a summary of other work by Lisak. She quotes two of the three studies in that summary which show rates above 8%. The odd study out gives an even higher false reporting rate than the 8% one Sommers quotes, and should therefore have been better evidence, but look at how Lisak describes it:

A similar study was then again sponsored by the Home Office in 1996 (Harris & Grace, 1999). This time, the case files of 483 rape cases were examined, and supplemented with information from a limited number of interviews with sexual assault victims and criminal justice personnel. However, the determination that a report was false was made solely by the police. It is therefore not surprising that the estimate for false allegations (10.9%) was higher than those in other studies with a methodology designed to systematically evaluate these classifications.

That’s impossible to quote-mine. And while Lisak spends a lot of time discussing Kanin’s study, which is the fifth one Sommers presents, she references it directly instead of pulling from Lisak. A small sample may hint at why he’s been snubbed:

As a result of these and other serious problems with the “research,” Kanin’s (1994) article can be considered “a provocative opinion piece, but it is not a scientific study of the issue of false reporting of rape. It certainly should never be used to assert a scientific foundation for the frequency of false allegations” (Lisak, 2007, p. 1).

Well, at least that fourth study wasn’t quote-mined. Right?

internal rules on false complaints specify that this category should be limited to cases where either there is a clear and credible admission by the complainants, or where there are strong evidential grounds. On this basis, and bearing in mind the data limitations, for the cases where there is information (n=144) the designation of false complaint could be said to be probable (primarily those where the account by the complainant is referred to) in 44 cases, possible (primarily where there is some evidential basis) in a further 33 cases, and uncertain (including where victim characteristics are used to impute that they are inherently less believable) in 77 cases. If the proportion of false complaints on the basis of the probable and possible cases are recalculated, rates of three per cent are obtained, both of all reported cases (n=67 of 2,643), and of those where the outcome is known (n=67 of 2,284). Even if all those designated false by the police were accepted (a figure of approximately ten per cent), this is still much lower than the rate perceived by police officers interviewed in this study.Kelly, Liz., Jo. Lovett, Linda. Regan, Great Britain., Home Office., and Development and Statistics Directorate. Research. A Gap or a Chasm?: Attrition in Reported Rape Cases. London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, 2005.

Bolding mine. It’s rather convenient that Sommers quoted the police false report rate of 8% (or “approximately ten per cent” here), yet somehow overlooked the later section where the authors explain that the police inflated the false report figure. In the same way they rounded the 8% to ten, Liz Kelly and her co-authors also rounded up the “three per cent” figure; divide 67 by 2,284, and you get within fingertip distance of 2%, a false report rate of 2.5%.

Lisak did not get the low-end of his 2-8% range from Brownmiller; he got it from two large-scale, rigorous studies that concluded a 2% false report rate was reasonable. In his scientific paper, in fact, he explicitly discards Brownmiller’s number:

Another source, cited by Rumney (2006) and widely referenced in the literature on false allegations is a study conducted by the New York City police department and originally referenced by Susan Brownmiller (1975) in her book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. According to Brownmiller, the study found a false allegation rate of 2%. However, the only citation for the study is a public remark made by a judge at a bar association meeting, and, therefore, no information is available on the study’s sample or methodology.

Lisak, David, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote. “False Allegations of Sexual Assualt: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases.” Violence Against Women 16, no. 12 (2010): 1318–34.

That 2% number is actually quite well founded, and Sommers must have known that. Feminists also know of the 2-8% stat, and cite it frequently.

In hindsight, this is a blatant example of the embrace-extend-extinguish pattern of Sommers that I discussed earlier. She took one extreme of the feminist position, then painted it as the typical one while cherry-picking the evidence in her favor. She took the other extreme as her low point, so she had the option of invoking a false concession, and then extended her false report range to encompass the majority of false rape report studies out there, most of which are useless.

very few of these estimates are based on research that could be considered credible. Most are reported without the kind of information that would be needed to evaluate their reliability and validity. A few are little more than published opinions, based either on personal experience or a non-systematic review (e.g., of police files, interviews with police investigators, or other information with unknown reliability and validity).

Lisak (2009), pg. 1

Sommers then claims this “middle ground” as her own, riding the Appeal to Moderation for all it’s worth. This is denialism so blatant that no skeptic should take it seriously.

Alas, quite a few do.

My Little Takedown of Christina Hoff Sommers

[Guest blogger HJ Hornbeck, here! This originally started off as a reply to someones’ comment, but it’s been greatly expanded and stands on its own. A hat tip to Ophelia Benson is in order, too, for providing some of the raw material via her blog, as well as for giving me the platform.]

Who is Christina Hoff Sommers? Let’s start off with one of her former employers, the Independent Women’s Forum, where she once served on the board. Wikipedia offers this summary of them:

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is a politically conservative American non-profit organization focused on policy issues of concern to women. The IWF was founded by activist Rosalie Silberman to promote a “conservative alternative to feminist tenets” following the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1992.

The group advocates “equity feminism,” a term first used by IWF author Christina Hoff Sommers to distinguish “traditional, classically liberal, humanistic feminism” from “gender feminism”, which she claims opposes gender roles as well as patriarchy. According to Sommers, the gender feminist view is “the prevailing ideology among contemporary feminist philosophers and leaders” and “thrives on the myth that American women are the oppressed ‘second sex.’” Sommers’ equity feminism has been described as anti-feminist by critics.

But if you know Sommers at all, you probably know of her through her connection to the American Enterprise Institute.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research(AEI) is an extremely influential, pro-business, think tank founded in 1943 by Lewis H. Brown. It promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism and its people have served in influential governmental positions. It is the base for many neo-conservatives. […]

In February 2007, The Guardian (UK) reported that AEI was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each, “to undermine a major climate change report” from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). AEI asked for “articles that emphasise the shortcomings” of the IPCC report, which “is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science.” AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green made the $10,000 offer “to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere,” in a letter describing the IPCC as “resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent.”

The Guardian reported further that AEI “has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil, and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees,” added The Guardian.

They too are an active opponent of feminism.

According to an April Newsweek profile, much of AEI’s recent influence has to do with Arthur C. Brooks, … who has been its president since 2009. (A $20 million donation from a Roman Catholic founder of the Carlyle Group probably didn’t hurt, either.) “He’s the message man,” Pema Levy wrote of Brooks. “He may not be a pollster, but Republicans say he possesses a gift for making conservative policies sound appealing.” Newsweek focused on the ways Brooks is nudging conservatives toward less flagrantly uncompassionate policies on poverty. But, judging from these op-eds, the AEI is also employing the most sophisticated techniques to date in the much-discussed Republican “war on women.”

For starters, they’ve put a female face on it. AEI scholar and The War Against Boys author Christina Hoff Sommers has a new “vlog” series, “The Factual Feminist” (as opposed to us fantasy feminists), in which she seeks to invalidate feminist discourse. […]

there is something especially insidious about a woman and self-described feminist like Sommers providing anti-feminist talking points. Her claim that “feminist activists have convinced many young women that a foolish, drunken hookup was actually rape” sounds a lot more credible than, say, Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” distinction, despite meaning essentially the same thing: What women call rape isn’t really that big a deal.

So far, all we see are anti-feminist far-right think tanks. Here’s one exception, though, Prager University:

Dennis Prager is a neoconservative radio host, professional tone troll, and conspiracy theorist who believes that the United States is a Christian nation, and that it’s under attack from “secular leftists” who control the media, universities, public education system, and other institutions. Despite being a fairly extreme conservative, to the point of being a weekly WND columnist, he does moderate on certain issues such as abortion and, to his credit, he does seem to know quite a bit about religion and aspects of United States history. […]

He has also started his own non-profit online program called Prager University which, keeping up with his paranoia around universities turning students into secular bisexual leftists, has the totally not bizarre motto “Undoing the damage of the University… five minutes at a time.” It actually presents history and politics from a hard-right point of view, which includes rampant New Deal denialism, promotion of the Laffer curve, Europhobia, and an off the walls weird interpretation of liberalism.

Her contributions have consisted of a series of videos openly hostile to feminism, such as:

Women in America are the freest in the world, yet many feminists tell us women are oppressed. They advocate this falsehood through victim mentality propaganda and misleading statistics, such as the gender wage gap myth. In five minutes, American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers tells you the truth about feminism.

So who is Christina Hoff Sommers? While she may bill herself as the “Factual Feminist”, her history suggests she’s a right-wing shill who uses her platform to spread misinformation about feminism, in the hope of opposing social change. I think she’s taking something of an embrace, extend, and extinguish approach: pretend to join up with what you oppose, but alter it to be superficially similar yet quite different and use a mix of money and rhetoric to bury the original version.

Yeah, the above’s a bit of an ad hominem, but I can fix that easily enough by looking at Sommer’s actual arguments. Take her recent video defending GamerGate.

You read that correctly, she’s defending GamerGate:

Well, take it from “Based Mom:” GamerGate overall is a voice for moderation in today’s fevered debates over sex and gender.

“Based Mom” is the nickname GamerGaters have bestowed on Sommers, incidentally. She shows up frequently as a target of affection, earning a place in their fan art, and is considered a leader. But what exactly is GamerGate? Sommers offers this summary:

#GamerGate is a Twitter hashtag, and it attracts gamers from all over the world, males and females, liberals, conservatives, black, white, straight, gay, trans… Some gamers identify with the hashtag because they believe there is too much corruption in gaming. Others are weary of cultural critics who evaluate video games through the prism of gender politics.

That narrative leaves out critical details, though. We have chat logs that show it’s also a coordinated movement plotting to spread hate and lies about women who talk about gender issues in games, with the help of an ex-boyfriend of one of their targets. In one such log, for instance, one member discusses driving Zoe Quinn to suicide, to general agreement, while another frets about keeping up the facade:

Opfag: I’m debating whether or not we should just attack zoe
Opfag: turn her into a victim
Opfag: let her cry and take it further
NASA_Agent: she’s already a victim
OtherGentleman: She’s a professional victim
NASA_Agent: it was real in her mind
ebola-chan: She’s victimizing herself.
Opfag: push her… push her further….. further, until eventually she an heroes
Silver|2: She’s a professional victim. She doesn’t do it for free
OtherGentleman: She can’t even into depression. What makes you think she has the balls to kill herself?
Opfag: I kind of want to just make her life irrepairably horrible
Opfag: At this point.
rd0951: ^^
rd0951: like i siad
NASA_Agent: but what if she suicides
Opfag: Good.
Opfag: Then we get to troll #Rememberzoe
NASA_Agent: #disarmcyberbullies2014
Opfag: And milk the lulcow corpse
OtherGentleman: The more you try to attack her directly, the more she gets to play the victim card and make a bunch of friends who will support her because, since she has a vagina, any attack is misgony
rd0951: ./v should be in charge of the gaming journalism aspect of it. /pol should be in charge of the feminism aspect, and /b should be in charge of harassing her into killing herself
Opfag: I agree.
BurntKimchi: #banassultburgersandfries
NASA_Agent: you don’t see this kind of unity often
Opfag: You don’t
Opfag: We really must be at war
Silver|2: It’s happening

We also have the posts where they come up with journalistic integrity as a cover for their bigotry:

This is a fun interesting story. I’ve been keeping track since the beginning but I think the lot of us are too scattered about what this should really be about. It shouldn’t be about a psycho slut who fucked 5 guys and hurt some betas feelings. I think the focus should be more on that this chick is using sex to climb her way through the ranks of the gaming industry, all while spewing an ideology that she does not believe nor follow.

We need to focus on the fact that she:
>Fucked journalists/game reviewers in order to give the game she designed, positive feedback.
>She fucked her current boss who is married. This is obviously bad, neither her or her boss should be allowed to keep their current job.
>She is a hypocrite that claims a very specific “feminist gamer” ideology and then 180s and has sex with everyone to get what she wants.

We need to expose her as a hypocrite and a liar. The cheating part is just a bonus, yes she’s a slut but there are tons of sluts out there. There is actually proof that she is getting leverage in her career by using sex and that is a travesty and a corruption.

Dude exactly yes.Thus far all that’s happening EVERYWHERE is we’re getting our threads deleted-from giantbomb, from reddit, and from 4chan itself.

What we need to do is bring a true discussion to the table. We need to ignore the dirty laundry between the beta and his slut girlfriend and bring to the table the discussion of “how close is too close when dealing with gaming press and game developers relationships as well as the relationships female game devs have with their superiors”.

Further proof comes from examining what happens on the #Gamergate hashtag, where the majority of discussion is not about ethics at all. We even have archives of where GamerGaters invented a hashtag as a false front, hoping to enlist innocent but gullible people to divide and conquer feminists:

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 03:56:48 No.261346918
WHO /MINORITY/ HERE? I’m like 2/3 of the things these faggots say they are fighting for, and when I engage them on Twitter (WITH MY FUCKING PERSONAL ACCOUNT) they ignore me. Jesus Christ this is getting frustrating, I might as well be a white male for these faggots.

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 03:57:44 No.261347051
You fuckers need to organize with your own hashtag and take a stand

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 03:59:14 No.261347271

>>261347051
>>261346918
Something like
>#NotYourShield
And demand the SJWs stop using you as a shield to deflect genuine criticism

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 04:31:01 No.261349447
>>261346918
>>261347271
#GamerGate + #NotYourShield is an excellent combination. Use it for talking about how you’re for GamerGate but nobody will admit you’re not white, cis and straight.

SPREAD IT

anonDorf: #notyourshield backup squad reporting in
Albel: mah nigga
Albel: retweet the hell out of that shit
Guest55872: I am non-cis, non-white, non-male
AnimeJustice: Can I use #notyourshield regardless?
Guest55872: Albel, you need my selfie?
Albel: Nah, I’m good bud.
Guest55872: Albel, asking, ’cause I do not tweet
foTTS: Use #gamergate and #notyourshield at the same time, pls Albel anonDorf AnimeJustice
Guest55872: anonDorf, want mines?
Albel: FoTTS: Sadly, I don’t fall under any of the #notyourshield categories but I’ll put it in there where I can
foTTS: spread the word about notyourshield Albel
anonDorf: Yeah why not
Guest55872: NICe

codeswish: yea, femfreq is easy PR, you forget that sending her a nice tweet gets them lots of retweets from her followers
Albel: codeswish: That’s fine. You know, maybe part of #gamergate is that we should not demonize femfreq
Albel: “Hey, I don’t necessarily with @femfreq but we here in #gamergate don’t condone the harassment.”
codeswish: The Sarkeesian Effect will handle it for us
W334800: Anita and Zoe are passive aggressive competing or victim-queen
AAAAaaaaAAAA: someone needs to set those 2 attention whores against each other
randompleb: that’s a brilliant idea
Guest55872: ^^
randompleb: two black holes eating each other
AAAAaaaaAAAA: find a way to make the ZQ followers hostile towards the AS followers

This coordinated assault has had real consequences:

The next day, my Twitter mentions were full of death threats so severe I had to flee my home. They have targeted the financial assets of my company by hacking. They have tried to impersonate me on Twitter. Even as we speak, they are spreading lies to journalists via burner e-mail accounts in an attempt to destroy me professionally.

We’ve lost too many women to this lunatic mob. Good women the industry was lucky to have, such as Jenn Frank, Mattie Bryce and my friend Samantha Allen, one of the most insightful critics in games media. They decided the personal cost was too high, and I don’t know who could blame them.

Every woman I know in the industry is terrified she will be next.

GamerGate, in short, is a hate group. While there may be positive elements to it, we have good reason to expect they will or are being exploited by the negative ones.

Which returns us to Christina Hoff Sommers:

Now, I discovered GamerGate when I was working on my recent video about sexism in games. Now in that video, I pointed out that the evidence does not support the claim that video games cause violence or misogyny. I mean gaming has surged since the early 1990’s, but youth crime has plummeted. And Millennials who were born and raised in “video game nation,” they are far less sexist, homophobic, bigoted than older generations.

Note the bait and switch? Sommers swiftly transitions from discussing sexism, to discussing violence, racism, and homophobia. She jumps from talking about video games to talking about youth crime, as if the greatest predictor of the latter was the former. It’s not.[1] If her case was solidly in line with the facts, she would never have to engage in such verbal slight-of-hand; Sommers would just duly report the facts, pointing on existing body of research that demonstrates an accurate, balanced portrayal of women in video games.

She doesn’t, because she can’t. In 2007, a group of researchers looked at video game cover art.[2] Why not the games themselves? Because different people have different skill levels, for different genres, and it’s difficult to capture the entire range in a statistical sample. Plus,

the covers are available for anyone to see, whether they are experienced or not; the covers are easily viewed by those not even interested in playing. For example, video games are usually just one aisle away from the movies in a rental store. Games are not organized by rating so the games rated for mature audiences are often display together with games meant for younger children. There is nothing keeping young children from being exposed to the images on the M-rated games even if they are only seeking an E-rated game. Lastly, for many people the decision to purchase, play, or allow a child to play a game maybe based largely on the material portrayed on the cover.

They found that men were portrayed three times as often, and that while men appear on 9 of 10 game covers, women only appeared on 4 of 10. Men were five times more likely than women to have a primary role on the cover, and four times more likely to have a secondary role. That’s not a typo; since there were four times many men on the covers, they dominated almost every stat. The main exception was objectification: 2 in 10 woman in a primary role were sexually objectified, while not a single man was, for instance. I recommend reading the full study, as I’ve just skimmed off a fraction of the details.

This isn’t an isolated finding, either,[3] [4] [5] [6] yet Sommers is completely ignorant of the research around gaming. She’s also outright lying:

in the earlier video I pointed out that gamers were being blamed for issuing death threats, even though no-one knows who sent them

This is not true.

[Brianna] Wu, who has written about the harassment against women in gaming, has long been critical of the recently-formed Gamergate movement and what she and others have seen as the targeting of women in the industry. Earlier this week she caught the attention of users of the pro-Gamergate message board 8chan after Tweeting snark about the movement, only to then see users of that board mock her, post details about her husband and ultimately publish her personal information (a screencap of a post with redacted info remained on the thread on Saturday).

“I was literally watching 8chan go after me in their specific chatroom for Gamergate,” she told Kotaku today. “They posted my address, and within moments I got that death threat.”

The only people circulating the home addresses of Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, or Zoe Quinn are from GamerGate. Whoever used the home address of those women to drive them out must have been, at minimum, assisted by GamerGate, which itself is a crime. Nor is Brianna Wu an exception, as Anita Sarkeesian demonstrates:

Multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists at USU. For the record one threat did claim affiliation with #gamergate

Note too that Sommers thinks it’s unlikely that someone from a movement known for spreading lies and vicious rhetoric about Sarkeesian could have issued a death threat. She must think a death threat is equally as likely to come from the florist down the street, blissfully unaware of video games, or a supreme court judge, or a five old who can’t pick up a controller. To think that everyone’s equally likely to issue a death threat is a remarkably pessimistic view of humanity. But back to Sommers:

Colin Campbell, the senior reporter at Polygon for example, called me a “reactionary” and he suggested that my indifference to sexism in videos was a “irresponsible abrogation of our shared humanity.” I don’t doubt Mr. Campbell’s sincerity: many games do depict horrific violence, and mistreatment of women.

It’s fascinating how she reduces Campbell to a string of insults. His critique had far more substance than that:

Everything Sommers says comes from the assumption, asserted early in her video, that hardcore games are consumed by men because they are made for men, as if they were in the same category as aftershave and Men’s Health magazine.

But although male domination has been the status quo for many years, the influx of women playing games is a sign that women like to play games. “Hardcore games,” of the kind that women don’t play so much as casual games, are not marketed to address a particularly male need any more than blockbuster movies are; they are male-centric because their makers have failed to figure out how to make them more interesting to women.

All entertainment features subsets of products that are clearly aimed at men or women. Just take a look at the bookshelf in your local supermarket. But games have fallen into this male-centric locus because their makers have not been smart enough to reach outside their historic core target.

But given the choice, Sommers would rather focus on surface gloss instead of substance. This should be a red-flag to skeptics that her arguments are weaker than they first appear. Speaking of which:

But remember, there is vastly more violence and mistreatment of men!

This is misleading. It’s true that the cannon fodder tends to be male. But what’s under discussion isn’t raw body counts, it’s representation and erasure. Yes, men are frequently used for target practice, but it’s also true that men take the leading role, get long-running character arcs that fully flesh them out as human beings. Consider Nathan Drake of Uncharted, Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, Sora of Kingdom Hearts, or William Joseph Blaskowicz of Wolfenstein 3D. Women very rarely get starring roles, or for that matter show up at all. If all you had of the human race was our video games, you’d never guess that half our species was female.

So when women do show up, they’re the exotic “other.” They’re special, and rarely given time to develop their characters beyond the first dimension. Hence, even if women are more likely to be brutalized than men, in terms of raw numbers they’re a very small share of the body count. Sommers is ignoring one form of sexism in order to refute another!

the feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian disagrees. She has called the game “pernicious” and she faults its “shameless sexism,” and the use of the “male gaze.” “Everything about Bayonetta’s design,” says Sarkeesian, “is created specifically for the sexual pleasure of straight male gamers.” Those were her words. Now her critique relies on a 1975 feminist theory about the “male gaze” and how it objectifies and demeans women. But “gaze” theory has evolved since 1975! It turns out that spectators might be able to gaze at a women’s beauty and also identify with her at a human level.

It’s a stretch to call the “Male Gaze” a theory, as Laura Mulvey’s essay was intended to be more polemical than intellectually rigorous (and she invokes quite a bit of Freud).[7] Nonetheless, others realized she was on to something. Heterosexual men are sexually attracted to women, and tend to view men as rivals for that attraction. This translates into a distinctive “gaze” or viewpoint to narratives. The classic example of this is the introduction of Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder in “Dr. No.” She emerges from the ocean partially clothed, as James Bond peeps from the bushes. The camera is reflecting a heterosexual male point of view, and catering to their preferences. There is such a thing as a “female gaze;” compare that scene to one in Casino Royale, where James Bond (Daniel Craig) emerges shirtless from the surf. For that moment, he is being sexualized. You can argue for other, non-heteronormative gazes, and some researchers have,[8] but those two types are the most common.

There’s nothing bad about a male or female gaze, per-se, the problem comes when one becomes dominant. Both men and women see movies, after all, so to appeal to everyone you’d expect movies to be primarily neutral but with moments of male- or female-gaze taking the fore about equally. Instead, the male gaze tends to dominate. This torques women’s view of themselves; a recent study[9] found that college women experienced more body shame and anxiety about their appearance when they were told they’d be interacting with a man, as opposed to interacting with a woman or no-one at all. Effect sizes were moderate, with one of the greatest having Cohen’s d = 0.59.

Objectification isn’t the same, but it’s frequently confused for it. James Bond is a subject; he can choose whether or not to act, and those choices affect the world around him. James Bond’s watch is an object; it does not act by itself, but subjects like James Bond can use it to perform actions. Honey Ryder is more object than subject: she’s there to help Bond defeat Dr. No, where “help” means both literally and metaphorically being pulled around by the arm, spouting worthless exposition, sitting out the final battle until Bond rescues her, then having hot sex with this near-stranger. By the next movie, she’s forgotten and replaced with a prettier model: Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, who would be the second in a long line of interchangeable “Bond Girls.”

The confusion between the Male Gaze and objectification stems from the frequent collusion of the two. If men are rivals under the male gaze, then they tend to be involved in a struggle for power and control. This bleeds over into sexuality, resulting in women being reduced to conquests, trophies, and symbols of virility. Objectification is a natural consequence of the Male Gaze, but only because of the assumptions we absorb from our culture.

Summing up, Sommers is close enough to correct when she says “gaze theory” has evolved since the 1970’s, but her claim that women can be objects and subjects is at odds with the evidence. In the extreme, it’s logically impossible; how can you simultaneously have agency and lack it? That’s an embarrassing oversight for a philosopher.

But what about Sarkeesian’s claim that Bayonetta is designed to appeal to the straight male? Let’s consult a neutral source on the matter.

Bayonetta is portrayed as a tall, beautiful, young woman with a slender but curvy figure much like the other Umbra Witches in her clan. She has black hair wrapped into a beehive-like hairdo and gray eyes with a mole located at bottom of her left cheek close to her lips. Her main attire is composed of a skin-tight suit made out of her hair that has a rose design on the abdomen with long white gloves, black and gray heels, thin gold chains, three small belts strapped on each arm, and a pair of gold, cat-shaped earrings. […]

Because of her hair based fighting techniques, Bayonetta’s outfit becomes more revealing when she uses Wicked Weave techniques. Her suit’s inner section remains running up the middle and back of her body and her hair drapes over her chest to cover it, but the rest of the suit and the sleeves of hair vanish and trail outwards from her head in a spiral of hair and gold chain used to summon the demonic limbs. When summoning full demons, the entire suit disappears and leaves behind her gloves, shoes and watch.

Video game players are rewarded for successfully completing complex attacks with a strip tease by an attractive woman. It’s no surprise Sommers ignored Sarkeesian’s argument, because otherwise she would have been forced to agree.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably seen alarming stories about an army of angry and vicious video gamers, marching under a banner called “GamerGate.” Well, according to these reports, this mob will stop at nothing to defend its “heteronormative privilege.”

Sommers says “heteronormative privilege” as if she’s quoting someone, and by connecting it to the news she makes sound like a common claim. But a simple news search reveals nothing. Expanding things to a normal web search, I can find a blog post by Cathy Smith, but she doesn’t apply the label to GamerGate at all.

It’s not surprising that many of the people who believe in GamerGate see cliques in game development and press. It’s possible these people have dealt with cliques in school, and I do believe that many of the people involved in this are still in school and feel like they’re at the bottom of the rung. Hell, I had no conception of sexism in middle school, and I had internalized a lot of misogyny that I hadn’t realized was a part of me until late high school. It’s hard to understand the concept of male privilege or white privilege or heteronormative privilege when you have to get permission to go to the damn bathroom.

I can find a Tumblr post about gay erasure in gaming, but it dates from before the name “GamerGate” was even coined.

And that’s it.

Where are these claims of “heteronormative privilege?” Sommers must have thought they were so prevalent that she didn’t need to cite them, yet that’s clearly not the case.

Today, at least in certain feminist circles, it’s open season on the sexual preferences of straight males.

It’s curious that someone who dubs themselves the “Factual Feminist” would make claims about feminism without evidence. This should have been a trivially easy citation for Sommers, yet she doesn’t bother. If history is any guide, that’s probably because she has none.

They need to show, not dogmatically assume, that video games make people sexist. The burden of proof rests with them.

By my count, I’ve provided at least five citations demonstrating that video games are sexist, and at least three show it has real-world consequences. Sommers, in contrast, has failed to provide a single one to support her view.

So, who is Christina Hoff Sommers? Possibly someone who quote-mines heated rhetoric from summaries and ignores substantive critique. Certainly, Sommers is a spokesperson for bigots, who’s made a career out of white-washing anti-feminist hate with a superficial gloss of pseudo-intellectualism. Her legacy will be one of promoting the suffering and misery of all genders in the world, presumably just to line her pockets with cold-hard cash.

Illuminati Lich (10:07 AM – 4 Nov 2014):
[JT Eberhard,] A video by Sommers?

JT Eberhard (10:07 AM – 4 Nov 2014):
[Illuminati Lich,] Yeah. I agree with most of what she said.

D.J. Grothe (2:31 PM – 1 Sep 2014):
[Sommers,] You’re a mythbuster in the grand tradition of those who debunk harmful nonsense, speaking truth to power in the public interest.

Richard Dawkins (12:27 AM – 17 Sep 2014):
The “Big Sister is Watching You” Thought Police hate [Sommers]’ Factual Feminism, and you can see why.

Fortunately, good skeptics are capable of looking past the false front and know not to take her claims seriously. I’m not the only one to spot this, by any means:

Laura Flanders. “The ‘Stolen Feminism’ Hoax”. Extra!, Sept. 1st, 1994.

Sharon Presley “Freedom Feminism Still Isn’t Either.” Reason.com. January 30, 2014

Malmsheimer, Taylor. “Conservatives Are Obsessed With Debunking the 1-in-5 Rape Statistic. They’re Wrong, Too.” The New Republic, June 27, 2014.

Ampersand. “Fact-Checking the Anti-Feminists; like Following around an Elephant with a Bucket, No Matter How Much Crap You Clean up They Keep Producing More.” Alas, a Blog. Accessed December 7, 2014.

Johnston, Angus. “Yes, Christina Hoff Sommers Is a Rape Denialist.” Accessed December 10, 2014.

Citations:

[1] Baron, Stephen W. “General Strain, Street Youth and Crime: A Test of Agnew’s Revised Theory.” Criminology 42, no. 2 (May 1, 2004): 457–84. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00526.x.

[2] Burgess, Melinda CR, Steven Paul Stermer, and Stephen R. Burgess. “Sex, lies, and video games: The portrayal of male and female characters on video game covers.” Sex Roles 57.5-6 (2007): 419-433.

[3] Dill, Karen E., and Kathryn P. Thill. “Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions.” Sex roles 57.11-12 (2007): 851-864.

[4] Behm-Morawitz, Elizabeth, and Dana Mastro. “The effects of the sexualization of female video game characters on gender stereotyping and female self-concept.” Sex roles 61.11-12 (2009): 808-823.

[5] Dietz, Tracy L. “An examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games: Implications for gender socialization and aggressive behavior.” Sex roles 38.5-6 (1998): 425-442.

[6] Dill, Karen E., Brian P. Brown, and Michael A. Collins. “Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44.5 (2008): 1402-1408.

[7] Mulvey, Laura. “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18.

[8] Wood, Mitchell J. “The Gay Male Gaze.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 17, no. 2 (December 2, 2004): 43–62. doi:10.1300/J041v17n02_03.

[9] Calogero, Rachel M. “A Test Of Objectification Theory: The Effect Of The Male Gaze On Appearance Concerns In College Women.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28, no. 1 (March 2004): 16–21. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00118.x.

HJH @ 2014/12/10: Added another link to someone critiquing Hoff Sommers.
HJH @ 2015/02/04: It’s “embrace, extend, extinguish.” Stupid dyslexia.