A Year-End Wrap Up

… You know, I’ve never actually done one? They feel a bit self-indulgent, but having looked at the data I think there’s an interesting pattern here. Tell me if you can spot it, based on the eleven posts that earned the most traffic in 2018:

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Checking In

Goodness, it’s been longer than I thought.

One reason I’ve been silent is that I spent much of the last month grinding away on a paper. It’s basically a useful set of computational tools for a specific job, a minor improvement over existing techniques. Nothing too fancy, but as is typical for me it wound up snowballing into a LOT of work right before deadline. My advisor wanted more results, alas, so we blew past that deadline and are aiming for another venue in February.

Normally I would have popped back up after that, but as you may have noticed the Christmas season was upon us. Historically, it has been the hardest time of year for me. Worse, my life has taken a nose-dive over the last two months, and that plus some changes to my emotional support network could have combined to absolutely crush me.

It didn’t, which is still surprising even in hindsight. After a lifetime of battling depression, I’ve apparently gotten to the point where my  subconscious can organise self-care without my consciousness cluing in. That was a head-trip.

I haven’t fully dodged the emotional bullet, alas, but at least I’m functional enough to either hammer away at the worst I’m dealing with or sit patiently while it passes. It does mean I’ll be keeping to lighter topics and sparse posts on the blog, though, as I’m not centred enough to pull off longform rants unless I get really ticked off. Sorry to disappoint in that department, but hopefully this isn’t a permanent phase.

Case Dismissed

Just over two years ago, Richard Carrier filed a lawsuit against Freethought Blogs, The Orbit, Skepticon, and a few individuals. Strangely, his choice of venue was Ohio, well away from anyone involved

It’s worth noting that Ohio lacks any anti-SLAPP protections — making it easier to sue people who may not have the money to fight back — while California, Minnesota, and Missouri have at least some protections.

It was a crafty move, but in the end it bit Carrier in the ass.

Defendants made allegedly defamatory statements outside of Ohio, relating to conduct that occurred outside of Ohio, about an individual who moved to Ohio a few weeks before the statements were made. In sum, there is no sufficiently substantial connection between any of the Defendants and Ohio to make the exercise of personal jurisdiction reasonable.

The Court declines to hold an evidentiary hearing because even if all of Plaintiff’s assertions of fact are true, there is still an insufficient basis for personal jurisdiction. Weighing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court holds that Plaintiff has not made a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction over any of the Defendants.

PZ Myers is already celebrating, quite understandably, so I’ll play the grump.

For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendents’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and DISMISSES Plaintiff’s Complaint WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

WITHOUT PREJUDICE” is the troublesome bit, as that means Carrier can re-file his lawsuit in another state. He appears to be an independent scholar that earns most of his money from online courses, yet his legal bills must be substantial, which suggests one or more people are subsidizing his lawsuit. Even if he didn’t have a sponsor at the start, he likely has one now. How much money are those people willing to sink into griefing FtB/The Orbit/Skepticon? If Carrier’s move was to set up this lawsuit, that suggests he or his possible backers know the legal system, know how expensive it can be, and hold a substantial grudge.

I’d recommend tossing some cash at the defendants; if my pessimism is accurate they’ll need the cash, and if not it’s a good guess that their legal bills are more than what they fundraised. Don’t dump all your cash in there, though. Save a bit for champagne, as this is still a celebration.


HJH 2018-11-14: Two things. James Hammond on Pharyngula pointed out that I wasn’t considering the statute of limitations. It turns out both Minnesota and Missouri only allow libel claims within the two years, and California within one; two of Carrier’s original five claims were for libel, so he can’t re-file those. Minnesota and California also limit personal injury claims to two years after the incident, which I think block his claims of emotional distress there. “Tortious interference with a business expectancy” is going to be very difficult to prove, even in civil court, as the allegations of misbehavior against him haven’t prevented Carrier from offering online courses, being invited to speak at conferences, and give lectures.

In sum, there isn’t much to re-file on, which deflates a lot of my pessimism.

PZ Myers, meanwhile, confirms what I suspected.

The donations don’t yet fully cover our legal costs, so no, we’re still in the hole.

If Carrier’s intention was to punish his accusers via the legal system, he’s partly succeeded. One way to soften the blow is by donating to Skepticon or the rest of the defendants. They’ll all be grateful for the support.

It’s Time

I finally gave in and set up a public Patreon account. My financial situation isn’t as good as it once was, and I could use the pocket change. It’s on a per-work basis, as my posting schedule is erratic and goes through long dry spells. I only intend to ding patrons for my larger, more analytic posts; those “hey look at this cool thing” posts are too easy to charge for. If you’re worried about a posting spree draining your bank account, no problem: Patreon allows you to set up a monthly cap, so you’ll never be caught with a surprise bill.

Why the reluctance to hop on this bandwagon? The main reason why I never became an artist is that I have no appetite for self-promotion. Long-time friends and family members have no idea about my blog, because I know their interests and know it’s not their cup. Running a successful Patreon demands a pro-active social media presence, and that’s just not my thing. I’m not anti-social so much as a-social, which leads to all sorts of confusion when people meet me in person.

Having said that, I do have a few special things planned.

Some people dropped out of the hike, due to the lousy conditions. There is no such thing at O'Hara.

I used to be an avid photographer, and I’ve still got a tonne of unprocessed photos sitting on my hard drive. So let’s say that if you contribute at least $5 in any given month, then if you send me an address I’ll send you a photo postcard. I’ll track which ones you receive so you’ll never get the same one twice. I also have a lot of old ideas kicking around that were never fully completed, so a members-only poll of which ones to revive might encourage me to finish one of them. Even if not, it at least gives you some insight into where my head is at.

So if that sort of thing is appealing to you, or you just like the stuff I write enough to donate some pocket change, sign up. If you don’t or can’t, no problem! I don’t plan on going anywhere.

Help A Brother Out

Tony Thompson Jr. has been around the social justice side of atheism/skepticism for a long while; I mean, just check the page count on his blog. He’s a great guy, but his personality can’t stop hurricanes. Tony escaped the worst, but he’s still had to deal with no electricity or running water, a lack of food and other essentials, and his funds are running dry.

If you’ve got a few extra dollars, send them his way.

The Boghossian Experience, in Audio

If you somehow missed my series of blog posts on this “grievance studies” debacle, or you’d just like the info in audio format, you’re in luck! Cory Johnston caught wind of what I’d written, and invited me on the Skeptic Studio podcast to summarise it. I was interviewed just as the third in that series came out, if you’d like to properly situate it in the timeline.

Cripes, I’ve done five posts on Boghossian and friends? Sorry, but the trio are fractally wrong.

Anyway, Johnston is part of the Brainstorm podcast network, a series of skeptic/atheist shows that tick all the CanCon boxes. They have Twitters and Books, and if you like what you see consider tossing them some cash via their store or Patreon.

As for me, I want to polish off an illustration before formally launching my Patreon thing. Give me another day or two, I pinky-swear.

Secular Women Work

One reason why Adventure Time may be popular with adults is its complex emotional content. Via the creator, Pendleton Ward:

Dark comedies are my favorite, because I love that feeling – being happy and scared at the same time. It’s my favorite way to feel – when I’m on the edge of my seat but I’m happy, that sense of conflicting emotions. And there’s a lot of that in the show, I think.

The best example I can think of came in Season Four: the Ice King visited Marceline to get her help writing a song. Her conflicted emotions towards the Ice King are eventually explained via notes that he wrote to her. The result always crushes me, turning a comic character into a deeply tragic one.

I walk away from Secular Women Work in a similar state. It is very easy to look upon the works of others and despair, as a starter. Bria Crutchfield fundraised for and delivered four trucks’ worth of water and supplies to Flint, Michigan; Danielle White’s activism helped overturn HB2 in South Carolina, which discriminated against trans* people; Mandisa Thomas founded Black Nonbelievers, a thriving atheist community which has expanded into twelve cities; Lauren Lane founded and ran Skepticon for a decade; Debbie Goddard has been within organized skepticism/atheism for over sixteen years, splits their time between multiple organizations, and specializes in campus outreach. Every speaker was an activist with several wins under their belt, working to make this community a better place.

There was also despair over the state of the movement. One of the panelists mentioned graphic threats leveled by fellow atheists against herself. Bria mentioned how someone tried to get her fired for bringing water to Flint, during a panel devoted to the blowback activists face for doing their work. An offhand conversation I had turned to the women who have been driven from the movement due to harassment or worse. Five years ago, Melody Hensley gave me a warm hug to welcome me to Women in Secularism 2; roughly a year ago, she had to commit social media suicide to escape years of harassment directed at her, harassment that continues to this day. There are many more examples, most of which I’ve never heard.

But the human cost really hit home while I was packing to leave. Niki Massey’s name came up during this conference; she was someone I had the fortune to see at the first Secular Women Work, both on stage and at an after-conference dinner, but that was the extent of our connection. As a result, her death never carried the same impact for me that it had for so many others. While organizing my things, however, I reflected that three years prior Niki was doing the same thing. She too was organizing her things, she too was reflecting on her conference experience. Was she also thinking about attending the next one? It weighed heavily on me that she’d never have the option.

Still, while Secular Women Work did load me down, it was also a great release. Merely being in the same room as people I admired, soaking in the conversation, was a trip. There were fascinating discussions both on and off the stage, including a long one about IT management during a beautiful sunset. I found myself actively seeking light conversation, and I’m not the light conversation type. On the stage, Mandisa not only talked of her experience growing Black Nonbelievers, she also laid out her full management strategy. In a workshop, I scribbled down a few pages of notes as Elise Matthesen held forth on codes of conduct. Debbie pointed out there was little we could do about Trump, so she suggested redirecting our attention to local politics where we could have an impact. Cassidy Slinger argued that mission statements weren’t just for attracting new members, they also made it easier to kick troublemakers out. Mandisa made a similar point during her talk: joining organizations is a privilege, so no single member has a right to be a part of it. Gretchen Koch stated that all art is political, so decrying art for its politics is a smokescreen for arguing against politics you don’t like. There’s a lot more where that came from, I could easily fill another paragraph just using the notes I took during the direct action panel.

Inspiration for activism was in ample supply, too. During a workshop, Trinity Pixie argued the most effective way to help the trans* community was to donate cash directly to those in need. There’s a tonne of discrimination against them at work and elsewhere, so earning a paycheck is difficult, yet it is common for charity groups refuse to help trans* people. Donating directly also cuts out the overhead inherent to charities. Here’s a Twitter thread to get you started, but consider actively searching for such fundraisers if you have a little cash to spare. Even a few dollars could make a huge difference.

I walk away from many atheist/secular conferences giddy at hanging out with cool people. I walk away from Secular Women Work thinking deeply about myself, and how I can help the communities I belong to, and a little bummed at the state of the world, and giddy over cool people. It’s like the difference between snacking on candy and eating soy people.

Checking In

Yep, I’ve been sandbagged in by other commitments. The last week has been a weird mix of nostalgia and panic, desperately trying to remotely feed a supercomputer cluster while also visiting old friends in faraway lands, with just the slightest tinge of mortality angst hovering in the background. It doesn’t help that, yet again, I find the topics I want to blog about involve a helluva lot of pain and misery. Weighty subjects provoke creative inertia, at least for me.

The situation should improve around the end of the week. Should.

Just Checking In

As I’ve mentioned, the last month has been rough on me. The part of it all that would have had the greatest emotional impact has come and went quickly, fortunately… and surprisingly, didn’t land with a heavy blow. Part of that comes from seeing it as a possibility for months, but part of it comes from relying heavily on my favourite coping mechanism: work. More specifically, absorb myself in rich, intellectually-challenging work with a difficulty level slightly higher than I’m used to.

And hooooo boy, is that coping mechanism handy when I’m facing an unusually heavy workload. I just spent a good hour or so laying out the messages passed between a complex distributed system, and I feel like most people do after a day at the spa. Maybe better, in fact, as the glow isn’t coming from tired muscles but from an inner peace and contentment. I’m back to running on a sleep deficit, but even though I’ve barely imbibed any tea my mind feels perfectly caffeinated. All may not be right in the world, but my little slice of it is slowly being righted.

This has an unfortunate side-effect, alas. I don’t blog like most people, in fact I pretty much do the opposite of how a blog is best run. I don’t build readership by posting small little updates or links on a regular schedule, while carefully pruning my comment section; no, I tend to go for big stories on an irregular schedule, and don’t actively engage in my comment section. Unfortunately, the bits of my brain best suited for those big stories are currently swimming in proofs and system design, and loving every moment of it. Blogging the way I want to means unplugging from something I love, something keeping me sane, and even though I also love writing blog posts it’s tough to switch.

Ordinarily, I’d just put the blog in park and repost old writing and blogging. I’m just over half-way through Proof of God, and I have a few other long philosophic works on atheism that I’d love to get out there. I’ve also got a decent back-catalogue of work to shift over from Sinmantyx. But there’s also old business that I don’t want to drop on the floor: I want to weigh in on the CFI Calgary controversy, I haven’t finished with that Google memo, I have a great Boghossian post rattling in my head, and there’s still this mess to deal with. So given the choice, I’d rather devote my time to getting those written up than repackaging existing work. It means more delays, but such is life.

Besides, a hard drive died on the computer storing my main copy of Proof of God. Time for one of my patented once-a-decade OS reinstalls.