Rationality Rules is “A Transphobic Hack”

Looks like my initial assessment of Rationality Rules’ second attempt at transgender athletes got it right.

I just want to start this video noting a very simple fact. Whilst Stephen Woodford’s latest video is over 21 minutes long, when I accounted for arguments already refuted, the new content only amounted to just 6:34. What’s more is that said new content contains zero arguments. It’s purely him dishonestly framing his opposition and the example he asks us to keep in mind as he opens his video.

The only two arguments he makes in his video are the bait and switch I dealt in my original response. And an attempt to justify this by shirking the burden of proof, something I dealt with in my response to Woodford’s ‘Mistakes of Many’ video.

Think about that: RR had two months to research counter-arguments and strengthen his stance, and instead chose to ignore all his critics and push the same arguments. The only changes he made were to move the goalposts. As one example, the original video contained these statements:

I’m convinced that, unless quickly rectified, [the inclusion of transgender women] will quickly kill women’s sport.

I don’t want to see the day when women’s athletics is dominated by Y chromosomes, but without a change in policy that is precisely what is going to happen.

He has never acknowledged those statements in any subsequent video, nor apologized for them. By removing them from the public record, though, he makes his stance look more reasoned. Since his opponents haven’t removed their critiques, though, they look like they’re overreacting.

Add in his now-usual tactic of dishonest editing to make his opponents’ views appear weaker than they are, and the new tactic of relying on talking points from religious far-Right organizations that joke about transgender people suffering painful deaths, and Rationality Rules’ replacement video is actually worse than the original!

How could he do something like this? Easy.

[48:55] How much damage does Woodford have to do to both trans people and the secular community before those who have been sitting on their hands, claiming we need to just give him time, finally take a stand? So rather than me ending by asking you questions, I’d like to offer a request. Start questioning the various content creators in the secular community as to why they still remain silent on the subject.

Because the only way we’re going to fix the secular community is if we actually begin holding its members accountable. People have asked me to consider how my attempts to hold Woodford accountable look to outsiders. Well can you?. How can we judge religious institutions for failing to tackle internal issues, whilst we see a coordinated effort to police marginalised voices in the secular community? My actions are not what makes the secular community look bad.

Rationality Rules knows he will not be held accountable for his dishonesty and harm. The Atheist Community of Austin tried to do a mild accounting, but was forced to back off due to public backlash from the community and a few high-profile members like Matt Dillahunty and AronRa who reflexively backed RR. And among high-profile groups and individuals, that’s it.

The message of the atheist/skeptic community is loud and clear: they will give your dishonesty and bigotry a pass if you’re popular enough and give the superficial appearance of caring about rational discourse. If you’re wondering why I continue to devote so much of my spare time to critiquing RR’s videos, it’s because I strongly disagree with the consensus of my community and I want it to change.

I should confess, however, that if you’d asked my the “why?” question a few weeks ago, I would have instead said that I dislike it when someone promotes misinformation, doubly dislike it when that person uses their rhetorical skills to make it tougher to respond, and triply dislike it when that person shares a community with me. My own thoughts have evolved thanks to Peter/Ethel of EssenceOfThought, and the time and effort they’ve put into critiquing RR. The quotes I’ve pulled from their latest video really don’t do it justice, I strongly recommend you watch the full thing.

And while doing so, think about how you’d like this community to behave.

[HJH 2019-06-23: Added a link to Matt Dillahunty’s tweet.]

[HJH 2019-06-23: Also added a link to EssenceOfThought’s summary of what happened to the ACA immediately after publishing their original statement.]

TERFs Harm Women

I hate loose threads. There was something I had to brush past in my last post, because I didn’t know much about it and I was already over the 2,000 word mark. It kept bugging me, though, enough to prompt me to do my homework. Now I realize why this was the first bullet point in that TERF apologetics post:

Associating our intellectual position with a far right-wing one, because some far right-wing thinkers would agree with us in some of our conclusions, and insinuating that our position is all the worse because of it, is an ad hominem. Ad hominems are widely recognised as inappropriate in philosophy. […]

Equally: the fact that person shares a conclusion with a far right-wing person could never show, on its own, that the conclusion was false. It is likely that every single person on the planet shares several hundred (true) beliefs with any given far right-wing person. In brief: this strategy, and any which are structurally like it, is rhetorical guilt-by-association. It has no place in responsible argument.

If we’re playing fallacy cards, then I pull out the Fallacy Fallacy. If it’s a coincidence that TERFs and the religious far-Right agree on several positions, that is indeed an ad hominem. If instead they agree on the same positions because they’ve directly convinced one another of the truthhood of those positions, then it is fair to link the two. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if their positions were true, but if they’re instead an incoherent mess used to harm others then we have an entirely different story. If I can establish such a link then I can lay the harm caused by one group at the feet of the other.

[Read more…]

TERFs are Incoherent

Remember this old claim of mine?

But rather than [use] a specific list [to identify TERFs], it’s more important to look for incoherence. Take the above; if anatomy is so strongly associated with a tendency to violence, how can you hope to improve things by destroying the concept of “gender?” That list of beliefs isn’t universal or definitive, but I have yet to see a single TERF with a self-coherent view of sex/gender. That’s because their “criticism” isn’t actually a critique, based on solid evidence and analysis, but a fig leaf to disguise their bigotry. It’s very similar to the way creationists and snake-oil salesmen will invoke science without actually understanding it.

I was handed an excellent challenge to it. The primary author, Dr. Kathleen Stock, is a professor of philosophy with a fair number of publications to her name. I also recognize Rebecca Reilly-Cooper; she’s a political philosopher and also has numerous published works. This is a “dream team” of TERF philosophers, and they’re here to “challenge their opponents to avoid some obviously bad argumentative moves” in challenge-response format. You couldn’t have designed a better challenge to my claim, so how does it hold up?

[CONTENT WARNING: transphobia, TERFs]

[Read more…]

Rationality Rules is an Oblivious Transphobe

I have some regrets about my last post on Rationality Rules. I banged it out in just a few hours, while I was in the early stages of a nasty cold, and as I result I didn’t lay out all my arguments as clearly as I’d liked. I should have more clearly stated that his behavior was more in line with how a transphobe would react to the situation than someone who wasn’t transphobic. Now that I’ve had the benefit of time and RR’s long-teased follow-up video, I’ve had more time to reflect. As a result, I’ve refined my view of RR.

This new stance might not seem that charitable. After all, we’re talking about a video where RR says:

[1:58] I painted a picture of trans women essentially “stealing” competitions from non-trans women, and you’re absolutely right. I really dropped the ball here, and I will do my utmost best not to make this mistake again. In fact, going forward I’ll be very conscious of my narrative and language altogether, as such a sensitive topic requires nothing less. Truly, I should’ve known better. [2:20]

[9:23] … I absolutely recognise that my honest mistakes caused real harm, and for that I am sincerely sorry. The original video is now delisted and I’ve donated all of the ad revenue that it made to the transgender charity Sparkle. I know that it’ll never make up for the harm that I’ve caused, and that many of you will never consider me an ally again, I understand. [9:47]

He explicitly says a trans woman is a woman, too, at around the 1:40 mark. So why the harsh interpretation? [Read more…]

Oh, Alberta

There used to be a rule in my province: if you worked overtime, you could be compensated in two ways. Either your boss would pay you 150% of your normal hourly rate for those hours, or they could give you an equal number of hours off in a future shift. The loophole is obvious: pressure your workers into taking time off, and you don’t have to pay them that extra 50%. The New Democratic Party plugged that loophole over a year ago, bringing us in line with other provinces.

In their election platform, the United Conservative Party pledged to reintroduce the loophole, allowing employers to fleece their employees again and hurting the bottom line of hundreds of thousands of Albertans.

The UCP also pledged to remove the provincial “carbon tax.” This also takes money from Albertans, as the tax is proportional to the amount of carbon everyone consumes. Since industry is by far the greatest polluter, it’s easy to use the taxes on them to offer rebates for ordinary citizens. Indeed, roughly 60% of us paid little or no carbon tax thanks to that trick. To make matters worse, removing the provincial carbon levy doesn’t mean Albertans are free of said “tax.” On the contrary, our federal government imposes a carbon tax if your province doesn’t have one. The UCP solution? Sue the federal government, on the grounds that… they can’t collect taxes, I guess? The UCP is almost certain to lose in court and charge the legal fees to the taxpayers of Alberta.

Oh also, the UCP want to cut the minimum wage. Not for everyone, mind you, just the workers that people don’t care too much about. Meanwhile they want to cut the business tax rate, despite Alberta already having the lowest business taxes in all of Canada, and are aiming to slash the province’s debt, at a time when we also have the smallest debt in all of Canada. Social service cuts are sure to follow.

Their platform, in sum, kneecaps most Albertans. So how on Earth can you hope to win their votes? All you USians in the crowd can probably guess this one. From the UCP platform:

  • Establish an ‘Energy War Room’ to respond in real time to the lies and myths told about Alberta’s energy industry through paid, earned, and social media.
  • Seek out and support Alberta energy companies that are willing to challenge the campaign of defamation by anti-Alberta special interests, similar to Resolute Forest Products’ defamation suit against Greenpeace for $300 million in damages.
  • Launch a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act into the foreign sources of funds behind the anti-Alberta energy campaign. The inquiry will have the power to compel witness testimony, and have a $2.5 million budget.

That’s right, the UCP is proposing a “war” against foreign environmentalists. Local ones either don’t exist, or are “fake” Albertans under foreign influence. It’s a fanciful conspiracy theory, built right into their core platform. Add in some identity politics (Campus free speech! Trudeau sucks!) and grandiose claims of chickens in every pot, and you’ve got most of their election strategy.

The missing bit is something USians are also familiar with, but may not have guessed.

The leader of the new United Conservative Party (UCP) is already promising not to act on a resolution passed over the weekend at the UCP’s first policy convention. Members voted in favour of parents being notified when their child joins an after-school club, including a gay-straight alliance. But Kenney quickly poured cold water on the idea. […]

“Let me be absolutely stone-cold clear: a United Conservative government will not be changing law or policy to require notification of parents when kids join GSAs,” Kenney said.

=====

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney on Tuesday defended his pledge to proclaim the Education Act (2014), which would remove the prohibition on parental notification if a child joins a gay-straight alliance.

Kenney has faced backlash from LGBTQ advocates, teachers and parents since he announced the UCP education platform on Monday. A UCP government would proclaim the former Progressive Conservative government’s Education Act (2014) to replace the NDP’s amended School Act.

Technically Kenney didn’t lie, in the same way that Alabama technically didn’t ban abortion or William Barr technically summarized the contents of the Special Council Report. On other topics, however, he steals directly from Trump’s playbook.

Kenney’s repeated insistence Monday that the change would simply align Alberta with overtime laws in “in every other province” is not true. In every province and territory where workers can bank overtime, employers are required to pay out those hours at 1.5 times the hourly wage. In B.C., it goes up to 2.0 for anything exceeding 12 hours of overtime.

“This does not affect overtime pay. I repeat — it does not affect or diminish overtime pay,” Kenney said Monday when asked about the line in the UCP platform which he unveiled over the weekend in Calgary.

=====

“The NDP, of course, is running a fear and smear campaign,” Kenney said. “All we are proposing is that we return to exactly the same [overtime] rules that existed for, as far as I know, decades in Alberta without any, as far as I know, reported abuses.” […]

[Christina] Gray rejects Kenney’s contention that no one complained about the old rules. “I heard people complained during the consultations,” she said. “I know that many workers felt that it didn’t make sense for Alberta to be out of step with the rest of Canada.”

Those South of the ’49 tend to view Canadians as more enlightened and sensible. But Ontario knew who Doug Ford was via his brother Rob Ford, knew they were getting someone who ran their own partisan fake news organization, knew of all the scandals and personality cult surrounding him, knew that in Canada majority governments can do whatever they want, and yet they still handed him a clear majority. Alberta’s United Conservative Party were plagued with scandals over homophobic and racist candidates, and Albertans didn’t like the party’s leader all that much, yet also handed the UCP a clear majority. In the USA, the people involved with their horrific family separation policy could forever be tarred by the association; in Alberta, we just rewarded the guy in charge of our horrific family separation policy with high office. The government of the province next door, Saskatchewan, is looking to follow the lead of Alberta’s UCP. Out of ten provincial governments, in fact, seven skew conservative. At the federal level, the Conservative party is likely to win the next election, thanks in part to systemic racism.

It’s slowly dawning on me that Canadians are no more progressive than our US friends. And now, with the NDP officially out of power and the United Conservatives firmly in, I’m about to get a four year dose of conservatism. “Hellberta,” indeed.

Trump Is A Coward

I have a lot more to say on the SCO’s report, but there’s one thing most people missed. Josh Marshall spotted it too.

Trump already knew these things didn’t happen. Sessions didn’t unrecuse. Corey Lewandowski never sent his backchannel messages to Sessions. And of course Robert Mueller was never fired. What I suspect is most angering to Trump, most humiliating is precisely that these narratives show he never did anything about it. He could have fired McGahn and gotten another White House Counsel. He could have fired Mueller himself. (…) More straightforwardly, like Richard Nixon, he could have fired McGahns and Rosensteins until he found someone who would carry out his orders. But he didn’t. (Revealingly, in the one case of a real firing, he had a letter hand-delivered to James Comey at FBI headquarters when he knew Comey was on a trip to California.)

The image is one of weakness, someone who blusters but is actually surprisingly, paradoxically conflict averse.

This forms a clear pattern of behavior. Remember this incident?

For one thing, Trump announced the appointment of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to be chief of staff (and thus that Priebus was leaving) through a string of three tweets. Second, according to a pool report by Politico’s Josh Gerstein, following an Air Force One flight Priebus was almost literally kicked to the curb.

After Air Force One arrived in Andrews Air Force base in Maryland outside DC, following a trip to Long Island, Priebus initially boarded an SUV with other senior White House staff — before those staff members left his vehicle for another one. And when news broke of the firing, Priebus’s car was literally pulled out of the motorcade and sent on its way. The whole time, Trump sat in Air Force One …

Or all the “resign-firings,” of which Kirstjen Nielsen is only the most recent example. That isn’t what you expect from a leader, let alone a strong leader. It is what you expect from someone with incredibly low self-esteem, though. Someone who is desperate for praise, because they are deeply insecure about themselves. These people tend to think everyone is talking about them implicitly. They trash other people to make themselves look better, while cravenly sucking up to anyone who could help them; note that the people Trump most praises are either authoritarian leaders with access to world-class hacking capabilities, or influential Fox News and right-wing media hosts.

Trump is a coward, with an unusually high level of insecurity. His leadership style is to allow his subordinates to do whatever they want, so long as they praise or protect him. Even when they don’t live up to their end of the bargain, Trump will ineptly complain about them for months on Twitter before he can work up the courage to do anything about it.

No wonder Putin has Trump wrapped around his finger. Anyone that insecure is easy to manipulate.

Two Opposing Camps

[CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, TERFs]

Alas, we hit another depressing milestone a few days ago: “A new Pentagon policy that effectively bans transgender people from joining the US military and serving in their preferred gender has come into effect.” If you’re wondering what happened to all those court cases, they’re still ongoing; lower courts had issued injunctions preventing the Pentagon from putting the policy into place until the legality was settled, the Department of Justice appealed those injunctions, lost, and kept appealing right to the Supreme Court. The DoJ wanted the Supremes to short-circuit judicial process and immediately take over the case, which they sensibly refused, but the conservative judges voted to stay the injunction. The Pentagon was thus free to effectively ban transgender soldiers while the courts figured out if they legally could.

Yeah, I don’t understand that last bit either.

The ban has revealed two different camps on the issue. The American Medical Association has repeatedly said transgender soldiers should be allowed to serve, but they’re merely the medical experts. What about people with direct military experience? Let’s see what a Republican with a record of military service had to say at a hearing on the ban. [Read more…]

Sexism Poisons Everything

That black hole image was something, wasn’t it? For a few days, we all managed to forget the train wreck that is modern politics and celebrate science in its purest form. Alas, for some people there was one problem with M87’s black hole.

Dr. Katie Bouman, in front of a stack of hard drives.

A woman was involved! Despite the evidence that Dr. Bouman played a crucial role or had the expertise, they instead decided Andrew Chael had done all the work and she was faking it.

So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library () to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman. Stop.

Our papers used three independent imaging software libraries (…). While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software; it would have never worked without her contributions and

the work of many others who wrote code, debugged, and figured out how to use the code on challenging EHT data. With a few others, Katie also developed the imaging framework that rigorously tested all three codes and shaped the entire paper ();

as a result, this is probably the most vetted image in the history of radio interferometry. I’m thrilled Katie is getting recognition for her work and that she’s inspiring people as an example of women’s leadership in STEM. I’m also thrilled she’s pointing

out that this was a team effort including contributions from many junior scientists, including many women junior scientists (). Together, we all make each other’s work better; the number of commits doesn’t tell the full story of who was indispensable.

Amusingly, their attempt to beat back social justice within the sciences kinda backfired.

As openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other gender/sexual minority (LGBTQIA+) members of the astronomical community, we strongly believe that there is no place for discrimination based on sexual orientation/preference or gender identity/expression. We want to actively maintain and promote a safe, accepting and supportive environment in all our work places. We invite other LGBTQIA+ members of the astronomical community to join us in being visible and to reach out to those who still feel that it is not yet safe for them to be public.

As experts, TAs, instructors, professors and technical staff, we serve as professional role models every day. Let us also become positive examples of members of the LGBTQIA+ community at large.

We also invite everyone in our community, regardless how you identify yourself, to become an ally and make visible your acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people. We urge you to make visible (and audible) your objections to derogatory comments and “jokes” about LGBTQIA+ people.

In the light of the above statements, we, your fellow students, alumni/ae, faculty, coworkers, and friends, sign this message.

[…]
Andrew Chael, Graduate Student, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
[…]

Yep, the poster boy for those anti-SJWs is an SJW himself!

So while I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years, if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life. Otherwise, stick around — I hope to start tweeting

more about black holes and other subjects I am passionate about — including space, being a gay astronomer, Ursula K. Le Guin, architecture, and musicals. Thanks for following me, and let me know if you have any questions about the EHT!

If you want a simple reason why I spend far more time talking about sexism than religion, this is it. What has done more harm to the world, religion or sexism? Which of the two depends most heavily on poor arguments and evidence? While religion can do good things once in a while, sexism is prevented from that by definition.

Nevermind religion, sexism poisons everything.


… Whoops, I should probably read Pharyngula more often. Ah well, my rant at the end was still worth the effort.

The “Summary” That Wasn’t

Remember that letter from eight days ago? Emphasis mine:

On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. $ 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

This prompted a lot of discussion of Barr’s memo; follow that New York Times link, and the headline declares it a summary. CNN called it a summary too, as did the Washington Post, Vox, The Atlantic, Business Insider, the CBC, and so on. Three days ago, or five days after he released his first memo, Barr released a second.

Also, I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019 supplemental notification as a “summary” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report. For example, Chairman Nadler’s March 25 letter refers to my supplemental notification as a “four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s review.” My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.

Wait, so that original memo wasn’t a summary? Then what was it?

… an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions”—that is, its bottom line.

Any reasonable person would treat “summary” and “summarize its principle conclusions” as synonymous, and conclude Barr was releasing a summary. Barr is trying to pull a Bill Clinton and push a specific interpretation of specific words that’s at odds with their general understanding. As a lawyer, he almost certainly chose those words deliberately and with that intent.

That’s barely the start of what was wrong with Barr’s original memo.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observes that “he is likely pushing back because calling it a ‘summary’ suggests that the letter accurately summarizes the entire report, and it does not do so.” Moreover, by hiding even the length of the report in the first letter, Barr helped President Trump perpetuate the assertion that Mueller hadn’t found much of anything. If it took almost 400 pages to lay out his findings, we can bet there’s plenty of interest to the American people.

Other Justice Department veterans agree that Barr is playing defense. “I think he’s clearly a bit stung by the criticism he’s gotten this week, and this letter was his attempt to look like he is committed to transparency without actually making any new commitments,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller.

Note the timing as well: Barr’s first memo was released two days after he announced he had the SCO report, when the media was desperate for any scraps and would eagerly blast them to the public. His second memo was released on a Friday night, when the media was less likely to notice and report on it, and long after everyone had already called the first memo a summary.

Then there’s the issue of redactions: Barr identified two types of information he’d like to redact in his first memo, info related to ongoing investigations and “matters occurring before a grand jury.” In the second memo two more categories pop up, “material … potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods” plus “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

All but the first of these four categories are problematic. […]

“This is not how things are meant to happen,” said Professor Neil Katyal, Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, who drafted the special counsel regulations, on MSNBC on March 29.

In connection with Barr’s unwillingness to release the unredacted report to Congress, Katyal said: “The fact that he won’t do that is really suspicious and tells me that there is information in the Mueller Report that Barr doesn’t want to come out. I don’t think it’s for up-and-up reasons. I think it’s because it’s embarrassing to the president.”

As that Forbes editorial points out, this wasn’t a problem with past Special Council reports. Ken Starr finished his report on a Wednesday, and Congress was given a full, unredacted version of it the same day. It too contained grand jury material, but Starr merely had to consult with a judge to get that released to Congress. The public themselves got restricted access two days later via the internet. The turnaround was so rapid because, as Special Council, Starr knew his report had to be delivered to Congress and the public. He’d done the hard work of working out the redactions while drafting the report, so the publication would proceed as rapidly as possible.

Yet Barr is implying Mueller had no idea he’d be submitting his report to Congress or the public, and offloaded that work to Barr. Tack on the fact that Barr’s job application included an unsolicited memo which claimed the President was immune from prosecution, and his past work was stopping the Iran-Contra investigation by pardoning the key players, and this stinks of a deliberate cover-up. No wonder the House Judiciary committee is preparing the subpoena cannon.

 

“You might think that’s OK”

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I treat US Republican politicians as if they were a hive mind. That’s obviously false, but when they act as a unit to continue family separation policies or put partisan hacks on the Supreme Court then their differences are small enough to safely ignore.

Today, we got another example of that. The Intelligence Committee within the US House of Representatives held a hearing on Russian interference. Rather than contribute towards that, however, every Republican on the committee used their time to demand the head of the committee step down. Why? According to a letter they released,

Despite these findings [of the Special Council report], you continue to proclaim in the media that there is “significant evidence of collusion.” You further have stated you “will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised in any way to a hostile foreign power?” Your willingness to continue to promote a demonstrably false narrative is alarming.

Either Adam Schiff knew this was coming, or he’s damn quick on his feet, because he shot back with this. Forgive the length of this quote, but it’s worth absorbing in full. [Read more…]