Archive for September, 2010

…and it doesn’t even help.

It turns out that suffering from a mental illness doesn’t make someone more likely to commit violent crime. What does have a good chance of turning you into a danger to society, mental illness or no, is getting boozed up and stoned.

So now you know.

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Well, the Popal visit is off to a great start. He’s called me a Nazi and he’s given Stephen Fry a badge.

Okay, not quite.

His Popiness is currently, in the UK, though, and already he’s given a speech comparing atheists to Nazis, in which it’s strongly implied that the Holocaust was among the many atrocities of “atheist extremism of the twentieth century”.

You might be surprised to learn, as Pope Daddy informs us, that the Nazis “wished to eradicate God from society”. The Nazis might have been surprised to learn this too, and they certainly weren’t doing a very good job of eradicating him if they couldn’t even get him off their belt buckles.

Hitler described himself as undertaking a “fight against the atheistic movement”. He wrote in Mein Kampf that he believed he was doing “the Lord’s work”. Pictures of Hitler engaging with Catholic authorities are not hard to google. And the Pope, as a child, was a member (albeit conscripted and not necessarily willing or enthusiastic) of the “Hitler Youth”, a paramilitary organisation of the Nazi party.

His condemnation of atheists as some kind of dangerous fascistic extremists seems flimsy, disingenuous, and deeply ignorant, is my point. Dawkins’s takedown is pretty awesome.

And Stephen Fry really did get a badge. Not directly from the pope, but from fellow credit to the nation Phill Jupitus, as a mark of pride at one of his latest accomplishments. Specifically, Stephen Fry is hated by the Daily Mail.

I won’t summarise. The man says it all. Heart.

And finally, I was bored at work today and tweeted a few little known #popefacts, which I’ll replicate here. Feel free to join in the fun.

If you meet the Pope’s gaze directly, you might need to spend a minute staring at the Sun to counteract the darkness. #popefacts

The Pope can be left alone in a room with a tea-cosy for up to sixteen hours without trying it on. #popefacts

If bears are Catholic, logic dictates that the Pope must shit in the woods. #popefacts

If you rearrange the letters of “The Pope”, get rid of some, and add some others, you get the phrase “has never masturbated”. #popefacts

Alternately: If you rearrange the letters of “The Pope”, the Vatican’s postmaster-general will shout at you. #popefacts

The Popemobile is installed with bulletproof glass, which has so far successfully thwarted all God’s attempts to shoot him. #popefacts

The Pope no longer kisses tarmac, ever since a holiday fling with a driveway ended acrimoniously last summer. #popefacts

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It’d been weeks since I’d had a good laugh at homeopathy, but Nancy Malik is quite a treasure.

If you’ve not encountered her until now, her style of interaction in comments threads and on Twitter appears to be somewhere between that of spambot and troll. She seems to recognise English sentences with slightly greater perspicacity than a computer program should be capable of, but the way she jabbers on along exactly the same themes as always, without ever actually responding to things appropriately or taking on new information or understanding concepts like “evidence”, are also unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a sentient being before.

The latest addition to her repertoire is to apparently troll WikiAnswers, adding spurious questions that nobody’s asked, as an excuse to ramble on with her misleading crap in another new venue.

And she’s still wrong. For exactly the same reasons that she and others like her have been wrong since the 19th century.

But hey, Pam Anderson has used homeopathy “successfully”. How could that possibly be the case, if its apparent effectiveness was in fact due to a combination of various cognitive biases and subtle logical fallacies and not a genuine pharmacological impact?

Edit: Too perfect. Barely hours after posting this, I get a comment from her below, thanking me for my “efforts for homeopathy”. This really is the level at which she operates. You’re very welcome, Nancy.

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The Pope’s nearly here. I hope you’ve all got at least one can of Pontiff-B-Gone spray on hand, particularly if you live near somewhere he’s scheduled to stop.

Tim Minchin recently made his own homage to the pedophile-harbouring AIDS-worsener free to download from his website. If you haven’t heard it, it’s very catchy, in a NSFW kind of way:

I shared this with the lovely Katey yesterday, and she shared it with her friends elsewhere. One of these was not quite so amused, and put up a rather feeble defence of His Popiness. She protested that everything bad being said about the Popal office actually happened under the last guy. She also suggested that she’d never judge others based on their religious beliefs anyway.

I didn’t get directly involved in the argument myself, but my ensuing rant read like this (slightly adapted for readability):

Anyone not willing to judge others on their religious beliefs is very short-sighted as to the kind of dangerous and evil insanity that religious beliefs can encompass. Also, judging people is funny, so she just sounds dull.

And she’s not even right about it all going on under the last Pope’s watch. There have been documents coming to light with Ratzinger’s name on them where he’s specifically directed cardinals under his command (before he was pope) to act with “discretion” and consider the image of the church and bollocks like that. [I didn’t have links at the time, and was sloppily imprecise in my description, but multiple articles by Christopher Hitchens on Slate have covered this in depth.] He’s made very clear his stance against any efforts to bring his child rapist friends to justice.

And even if she were right, how much would that excuse him? Surely if your organisation has had as much public scandal surrounding child abuse in the past as this one, then when you’re taking over the reins of the entire business you wouldn’t just hope it’d all blown over and do your best not to mention it. Surely you’d make damn clear that you were going to take an active stand against any more child rape under your watch and haul any more perpetrators over the coals with absolutely zero tolerance from now on? I imagine anyone in a similar position in a non-religious financial corporation would have to say something like that, if their company was even still standing after as much institutional pedophilia as has been uncovered in the Catholic Church.

And how much did she protest John Paul II’s involvement in the covering up of sex abuse at the time, anyway? She’s happy to lay all the blame on him for all this crap now.

I think the third paragraph point especially deserves hammering home. The crime in question is the sexual abuse of many, many children, over many, many years, by numerous representatives of a supposed moral authority. Even if it had all been stopped now, and the current boss hadn’t actually been responsible for any of it, and the loose ends were all satisfactorily resolved, I still would not want to hear them whining about how they’re totally blameless and it’s so unfair how much criticism they’re getting for something that’s not even happening any more.

Even if the new guy had done everything right and fixed everything, at least 90% of the things he says should still be assurances that the child abuse formerly endemic in his institution was abhorrent, and will be rooted out unhesitatingly from this point on.

But Benny Sixteen has not been blameless and impeccable in his efforts to set right the wrongs that are his responsibility, even if they might genuinely not be his fault. So we really don’t want to hear whining about how rough a time we’re giving him, and how we keep banging on about this child abuse business, while there are still rapists in his church.

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Yes, that Barack Obama. The one who’s the President now and whom no-one in their right mind believes is a Muslim.

It wasn’t as deranged of me as it might sound. It’s just this very fuzzy memory I have of when I first heard about this Obama guy who was running for President, and from whatever news source I was half paying attention to I somehow got the impression that he was a Muslim. It wasn’t an agenda being pushed nearly as strongly as it is now, but the notion found its way into my head somehow.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. “Huh, okay. Non-Christian guy running for President. Could be interesting.” That was the extent of it, as far as I can recall.

In retrospect, even that sounds painfully naive. The idea that a non-Christian would have any chance of not being torn to shreds from all sides in a US Presidential race seems ludicrous, especially given how much shit real Christians get for not being Christian.

Like I say, I really didn’t think about it much.

When I did think about it, having heard some more about this increasingly pertinent news story and acquired some actual facts, I realised quickly that I’d got the wrong idea. He says he’s a Christian – which ought to be enough to settle things on its own, really – he goes to church, it all seems quite straight-forward. Simple enough to change my mind. Sorted.

Apparently some people haven’t found it quite so simple.

The thing is, I had absolutely nothing invested in the idea that Barack Obama was a Muslim. I’d made a mistake on a subject I didn’t really care much about. But some people really seem committed to the idea, beyond anything that can be called rational. It’s become really important to their mental well-being to continue seeing him that way; the cognitive dissonance involved in admitting a mistake, and having to accept him as a Christian – just like them – is far too great.

(If there are any significant non-Christian factions convinced that Obama’s lying about his religion, I’m yet to encounter them.)

It just seems like a pernicious, dishonest, and largely self-deluding way of distancing and depersonalising the guy – he’s not one of us, he’s one of them. He’s not saying the things I want him to say, he doesn’t stand up for all of my beliefs against what I perceive as threats, he doesn’t stop the others encroaching on my country who I want stopped. And he looks a bit different from me and the people I know.

So he must be one of “them”, an outsider, a foreigner, an enemy of “real” America, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi, a Muslim, a terrorist from Durkadurkastan – or any other such term which seems to get used more or less interchangeably by the kind of people who think like this.

He professes his Christian faith, has been going to a Christian church for decades, and doesn’t actually appear to be a Muslim in any way whatever. But if you start thinking like that, then you might have to acknowledge that you have something in common with him.

I don’t know where I was going with this. I think it’s just another bitter rant.

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So the big news story of the past week was that some guy owns some books and that’s it.

I just spared you several million words and many hundred hours of pointless news coverage. He’s not burning them. Nothing is happening.

There are four distinct fails worth reporting on here, I think, from different people letting the side down in different ways. In increasing order of egregiousness:

4. Me

My productivity has sucked lately, which is why this post is arriving several days beyond its moment of relevance. I was ill for a while, then I was travelling across Kent to see the Scott Pilgrim movie and my friend Sara, both of which were fantastic. But I’m getting back on the wagon now.

3. Pastor Terry Jones

The guy pretty much sounds like a dick.

He made a massive deal out of his intent to burn some books, as a protest against the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” (which is evidently neither), then called it off, as may have been the intent all along. Having got all the press attention conceivable, there’s really no need to actually go through with it now.

But it was an obnoxious form of protest in the first place. And it’s worth my explaining why, as someone who has defended – and indeed taken part in – a deliberately provocative protest against extremist Islam before.

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day was a response to the threats, violence, arson, and murders committed by religious extremists in response to some cartoons being published in a newspaper that precisely zero people were forced at gunpoint to read. It was a way of telling the dangerous lunatics that they do not get to make the rules for the rest of us, and we will not accept their barbaric attempts to enforce a blind adherence to their theocratic dogma on the rest of us.

Most of the people who took part in it accompanied it with an explanation of their intentions, and were careful to contextualise any offence given. The protest was a legitimate one, against unacceptable acts committed in the name of religion, and I think it made its point well.

Pastor Terry Jones is not protesting against anything worth making a fuss over – the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” is in no way an oppressive or extremist action, and infringes not even slightly on anyone else’s rights. He has no sensible reason to be upset, and so his protest seems unmeasured and ill-conceived.

Moreover, the way he’s going about it is distinctly hostile. The Muhammad drawings were, for the most part, unobtrusive and friendly. There were a lot of smiling stick figures, comical cartoons, sketches that were parodic without descending into tawdry piss-taking. Even the less respectful ones were just images which can easily be looked away from.

Burning a book, on the other hand, is an inherently violent and destructive act. Not a criminal one, by any means, but far from conciliatory. As Rebecca Watson pointed out on the SGU podcast this week, book-burning is aggressively symbolic of silencing others, and suppressing free speech, even while not being an explicit act of censorship in itself. It represents the destruction of ideas by force, regardless of their merit, which is entirely anathema to rationality or humanism.

I was never among those standing by Pastor Jones on this, or planning to acquire a copy of the Koran just to take a match to it. I did not endorse his protest, and I don’t think I want to associate with those who did.

2. The media

One lone idiot decides he wants to make a spectacle of himself, by means of an unoriginal idea which the Westboro Baptist Church have been keen to point out they were doing years ago. And the media fall over themselves to help him do just that.

Although they’re deplorable on many other matters, the HuffPo pretty much have this one right. It’s been a media circus of the most infuriating kind – the kind where I’ve been compelled to put on the clown make-up and join in, lamenting at great length that people are still talking about this non-issue at any length at all.

It’s just some guy who doesn’t like the Park51 centre – and there’s no short supply of those – and his congregation of fewer than 50 people, making their tedious point known to anyone who’ll listen. Nobody should know anything about these people. It doesn’t merit anything like the attention it’s received. But the circus has already come to town.

A special mention in this category goes to the politicians who have assisted in drawing attention to this nonsense and making it a story of even greater media interest by publicly condemning it. Obama’s come out against it, and Pastor Jones apparently received a phone call about it from Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary.

It’s depressing that someone with a job title that makes him sound like he really ought to be a very busy man is personally bothering with stuff like this. This one guy is a very small part of the problem here. Much bigger is the artificial furore that’s been constructed around him, and which he’s no doubt been delighted by.

That’s still not the biggest part, though.

1. The religious extremists

Let’s not forget why someone destroying their own property in a way that harms no-one is even a problem in the first place.

What Pastor Jones is doing (or not doing, it now seems) is offensive. I’m not saying that as a condemnation – that’s me downplaying it. All it is is offensive. The worst it does is offend some people. Its not their books being taken from them and destroyed. The ideas in their heads remain intact. Those who take offense are diminished or physically wounded in no way whatsoever by someone else’s decision to mutilate their own copy of these printed pages. It neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg.

But the response has been predictable. It’s as clear as ever that large numbers of Muslims want to force us to abide by their rules, and will feel righteous in their use of violence against us if our expression of our rights ever goes outside their own concept of the sacred.

So there’s eleven injured here, one shot dead there, and probably more victims scattered around the globe.

The reason for this is a little bit because of one lone idiot stating his intention to burn some books. It’s partly because of the media almost universally deciding that this should be a matter of worldwide interest and immense gravity.

But it’s mostly because some people think they have a god-given right and duty to react with violence when their sensibilities are offended.

Those dangerous maniacs are the prime failures here.

Another special mention, though, goes to those commentators who have been asserting the need for tolerance and a more sensitive approach, but who act as if Pastor Jones is the one most in need of this lecture, and effectively become apologists for religious brutality. At a mosque in London recently, a Muslim spokesman said:

A number of churches have condemned this act. There is nothing wrong with intellectual or theological debate, but this should be conducted within the bounds of decency and tolerance. Instead, what we are seeing is hatred being spread.

He was talking about the proposed book-burning. Not the rampaging mob charging down the streets to attack a Nato base, because of something going on thousands of miles away which they heard about on the news and which does not concern them in any material way.

Others have been calling for the book-burning, if it’s attempted, to be “prevented”. The US government have been urged to “take steps” to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The idea of holding free expression as a valued principle doesn’t seem to occur to them. But the lectures about tolerance continue.

There are also those who, while not personally offended, still consider Pastor Jones’s stated intentions “irresponsible”, because of the inevitable incitement of the Muslim communities who will take offense. That was the point of Robert Gates’s phone call, after all – it was feared that there could be violent repercussions.

And, well, clearly they’re not wrong about that. But there’s a problem with simply saying that people shouldn’t exercise their rights, because of how someone else can be trusted to react. Specifically, it fails to suitably condemn and place the responsibility for violent acts on the people actually doing the violence.

The logic is identical to that employed by those devout Muslims, and others, who refuse to allow women to be seen in public without being covered head to toe in thick fabric, because the mere sight of a wantonly flaunted ankle may incite men to acts of violent, lustful passion. If the sight of women being allowed some basic autonomy will do that to men, then it’s the men who need to get a fucking grip.

I don’t buy that someone else’s evil, unhinged, unjustifiable arrogance and fury is enough reason to warrant limitations being placed on my rights.

Well, there’s the chart run-down. I hope some of your own favourites made it onto the list. Next week: the top eight things I hate about Buddhists. Those bald wankers have had it easy for too long.

There’s more on this from PZ, Index On Censorship, and PZ again.

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I seem to have made a serious mistake.

Apparently this is what feminism is. And I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.

I’ve been calling myself a feminist for years, but apparently the philosophy I was expressing my support for wasn’t feminism at all.

I’m not sure what it is called, the thing I’ve been aspiring to and championing in my own small way. But it’s that other thing, which is sort of like feminism, but which isn’t patronising and illiberal bullshit.

As perhaps is evident, I’m being more than a little glib here. This sort of nonsense being pushed as modern feminism makes me understand what Elly has been complaining about all this time.

Even in a country like the UK, where explicitly demeaning women as inferior to men is socially acceptable almost nowhere, it’s true that there are serious issues of bias and prejudice that need addressing. There are attitudes and assumptions engrained in our culture which are not conducive towards equality, and which need to be addressed.

But Bidisha sees sexism like Americans see Jesus in bits of toast.

She describes a pyramid of misogyny, in which the various ways for men to verbally abuse women are layered according to severity. In the very top layer – among those at the absolute pinnacle of degradation possible between the sexes – is the word “cougar”.

If you’re not familiar with the term, this refers to a woman aged upwards of around 35 or 40 who seeks sexual involvement with younger men.

Down at the lower end of the pyramid, less severe but still branded as “Just Plain Sexist”, are things such as “commenting on a woman’s appearance”.

That’s when you use words to address a woman and describe some physical aspect that you notice about her. Examples may include “Your hair looks nice” or “That top looks great on you”, and other such phrases known to send women into paroxysms of fury and rage at being so objectified.

Yep. That’s the bottom – but still sexist – section of the pyramid of misogyny.

As an aside, there are places in the world where women aren’t allowed to go outside without being escorted by a man. That’s not on the pyramid.

Heresy Corner has plenty to say on the subject of Bidisha’s sense of proportion. I have two observations which I think I find even more glaring.

The first is that she apparently fails to make any distinction between inadvertently perpetuating damaging stereotypes about women, and actually hating them.

This is genuinely troubling. She cites plenty of examples of men using unflattering terms to treat women in a dismissive and contemptuous way, but apparently fails to see that the underlying attitude is the real problem here. Sure, sometimes dismissing women as simply being “hysterical” or “man-hating” can be a sexist way of avoiding a complex issue. But sometimes the feeling and intent behind such words – and certainly behind “commenting on their appearance” – isn’t anything like hatred.

The extent to which she misses this point if typified in the suggestion – delivered with no discernible irony – that 90% of the planet’s human population be slaughtered, leaving only the “non-woman-haters” who have never dared utter any such unforgivable slurs as mentioned above.

The second observation is that it’s unclear to me just what Bidisha is trying to achieve.

The problem, it’s made very clear, is men. Men and almost everything that men do. And yet I really don’t believe that an article which nags and lectures and scolds on such a scale as this will possibly persuade men to change their behaviours in ways the author would find more acceptable.

I can’t imagine many men reading this and thinking “She’s right, I won’t ever judge anyone female to be aggressive ever again,” or “Gosh, have I been grossly offending women by complimenting them on their appearance all this time? I shall stop at once and endeavour to maintain a respectful silence in all future cross-gender communications.” Which seems to be what she wants.

I can, however, imagine a lot of men reading this and thinking “Oh, pipe down, you humourless cow.”

Which is a shame, because I’m not thrilled about men being encouraged or inspired to think about women in those terms.

Even when they have a point.

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Oh yeah, this. This is just surreal.

I wrote an article on here about a month ago titled Bleachgate, about Rhys Morgan‘s efforts to inject some sense into a medical message board getting derailed by dangerous pseudoscience.

Have a quick look back at that post… and then read this.

See what they did there?

Well, what they appear to have did there is lifted the text from my article (without crediting or linking back), used some technomagic to translate it into a foreign language and back again, and posted the result.

I do not understand why.

Some of the resulting mangled Engrish is quite interesting, though. For instance, “bleach” becomes “whiten”, even when used as a noun. “Saga” is perhaps over-literally rendered as “scandinavian legend”. “15 years old” becomes “15 years fertile”, which is quite emphatically not the same thing at all (at least not for our species). And “don’t”, bewilderingly, becomes “dress in’t” – presumably due to the software in question isolating the word “don” and then doing its thing with that.

On reflection, no translation software I’ve seen would have any chance of keeping the sentence structure as flawlessly intact as this. All that seems to be happening is that individual words are sporadically lifted out and swapped for something with a decent shot of being a synonym. I’m still puzzled as to the reason. Perhaps it’s an effort to disguise the fact that it’s plagiarised, by inserting enough differences that it’s unlikely to appear on an internet search of a chunk of text from the original article?

Very strange. And it’s surprising how few alterations are needed to make the thing read like spamtastic computer-generated blather. I hope that’s just a fascinating quirk of the way we read language, rather than a comment on my writing style.

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A couple of weeks ago, knowing that he was a Muslim was all some idiot needed to attack a cab driver with a knife.

More recently, a Planned Parenthood clinic, which provides reproductive and sexual health advice and services, and does things like screen for cancers, was firebombed.

I know that every Christian in my acquaintance will find these things just as deplorable as I do. The problem isn’t with every single individual member of a group, but that applies to Islam as well as Christianity.

And a lot of the people whose anti-Islam sentiment spreads to every individual Muslim in America are also tacitly part of the same group as the fucktards who knife cab drivers and bomb medical centres.

Seriously. Almost every Muslim in the country? Less of a danger to Western civilisation than you.

This is the kind of complaint that some people like to use to assert some kind of pro-Islamic bias, and pretend Christianity is persecuted in America. Christianity’s not persecuted, it just gets called on its bullshit.

I’m still recovering from ick and getting back into the swing of this blogging thing. Something more substantive will hopefully follow tomorrow.

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Hey – remember that time all those doctors, epidemiological researchers, and other medical professionals got upset about something an anti-vaccinationist had written, and sued her?

And then they started calling her a whore in internet discussions and joking about her being raped, physically accosting her in the street, and making death threats against her and her children?

No, me neither. But it’s odd how asymmetrical these things can sometimes be.

I’ve been debilitated by the dreaded man-flu for most of last week, so I’ve not been getting much done. I’m slowly building up speed again, but for now I’m not going to do much more than point you towards an article by Amy Wallace, describing her experiences writing about vaccines. She and Dr. Paul Offit are among those who deserve the most credit for publicly carrying on the important fight for accurate information and children’s safety, in spite of an unending tide of evil and malicious bullshit from their detractors, who still don’t seem to have a damn thing to argue with except innuendo, distortion, ridicule, and threats.

Right. Hopefully by tomorrow my order from totallylegitimatehealingcrystals.com will have turned up so that I can properly recover my health and get back to my usual level of waffling output.

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