Archive for September, 2010

Richard Dawkins in a lecture in Reykjavík

The laughing face of smug, despicable EVIL. (Image via Wikipedia)

The Pope’s left us alone now, and the protest march is over. A comprehensive summary of the event, reportedly attended by 12,000 people, has been written up Noodlemaz, and it all sounds to have gone rather well. Benny Sixteen himself won’t have been swayed on anything, but the very real opposition to his dangerous and misguided policies was expressed, and a lot of people will have gotten to hear about why so many others find him objectionable, and perhaps been prompted to reconsider their own position.

But some people still don’t like all these people standing up and expressing their dismay at the evil actions of this global institution. And Daily Mail wankery aside, this piece in particular just pisses me off.

I tweeted earlier:

People continue to be more loudly outraged at the people getting cross about child abuse than at the people abusing children. Bewildering.

Which sums it up as well as I could manage in 140 characters. This is not the only lengthy, angry, disparaging diatribe I’ve seen online which talks about how “bigoted” all these atheists are, with much more fervour than it employs to decry the sexual abuse of children which has gotten these angry atheists so angry in the first place.

I think it’s the lack of perspective that’s most frustrating. It’s not just that the author disagrees with Richard Dawkins about something, it’s that this is apparently the most important thing to him about the whole business. The “glee” with which Catholicism is being attacked is what he’s “not comfortable with”, while the fact that thousands of children have been raped is breezed over in a cursory nine-word sentence in an introductory paragraph, with an air of tired impatience.

Yes yes, alright, the Catholic church has done some appallingly inhuman things – but never mind that now, some atheists are being smug

It’s still the cry of “smug” which is made against these deplorable, militant atheists with the most vitriol, as if the accuser could imagine nothing worse than a snooty attitude.

And yet the exact same self-assured smarminess is no less evident in those attempting to distance themselves from the “New Atheist” movement. All they seem able to do is sneer contemptuously at the people who actually have something to say, and are getting together to make themselves heard. Dismissive terms like “media luvvies” means he doesn’t even have to consider whether they might possess any valid arguments, from up on his high horse.

See how easy it is to make someone you disagree with sound like a twat by using ugly words like “sneering” and “smarmy” to describe what they do? I was being disingenuous there – the author of the post isn’t noticeably more smug than anyone else blogging snippily about something that’s annoyed them (hello!). But throwing that kind of word around is an effective and lazy way to make it seem like what your opponent’s saying isn’t that important, because their tone should be enough to make you dislike and disagree with them.

There are a lot of simply bad arguments in the middle of all this, too. If similar accusations were made against another group, we’re told – say, if “Catholics” was substituted for “Muslims” or “Jews” – it would likely come across as “Islamophobic, anti-semitic and downright racist”.

Well, perhaps. If you apply a derogatory term to a minority group, of course it has a different impact than when the target is a dominant force around the world. That’s just how language works.

A black person called me a “honky” once. I was outraged. If the roles were reversed and you simply substituted “honky” for “nigger”, people would have said I was racist.

My point being, it’s not a ridiculous double-standard when the cases you’re comparing are entirely different. Last I checked, neither Muslims nor Jews were running an immensely influential global institution that’s systematically covered up child abuse among its ranks.

Moreover, the criticism against the Pope is said to be largely “framed… in terms of the so-called ‘New Atheism'”. You must have been watching a very different set of protests than I was if you really think they were driven by any kind of atheism more than, say, the fact that our government is tacitly (or perhaps outright) endorsing an organisation than has repeatedly protected its members from justice for the abuse of thousands of children over the course of decades.

Which still sounds to me like a bigger problem than the attitudes of some non-believers who aren’t touching anyone’s kids.

I know I’m harping on this point, but I kinda feel like this point is worth harping on about.

And when the author cites some examples of anti-papal bigotry, it makes me wonder if I should try explaining the concept of humour from first principles. “Now, look at this line here: ‘I hate the Pope; the Pope’s folks grope’. This is a reference to a popular phrase that… oh, never mind.” If anything, jokes like “Abstinence makes the Church grow fondlers” are treating child abuse with inappropriate jocularity, and go far too easy on criminals who ought to be locked up.

He even cites this BBC article as an example of the irrational anti-Catholic hatred he so deplores, indicating that he clearly either hasn’t read it or has trouble understanding what words mean. It quite carefully lays out the Protest The Pope campaign’s criticisms of the Vatican’s policies, and everyone quoted in it is entirely reasonable in their care to target these policies and not every single member of the Catholic church.

And towards the end it just gets weird. He’s just as displeased about the “arbiters of political and moral rectitude who had a field day condemning people who thought Raoul Moat was ‘a legend’, were quick to castigate BNP voters in the European elections”, and so on.

I’m firstly perplexed at this use of the term “arbiters of political and moral rectitude” being used in such a derogatory fashion. Remember, kids: publicly expressing your opinion on the morality of other people’s actions is bad and you should feel bad. Obviously this blogger would never go so far as to call other people’s actions morally misguided, bigoted, or… oh.

But also, what exactly is your problem with these arbiters expressing the view that Raoul Moat was not, in fact, a “legend”? He shot three people, and not in any kind of self-defence. He may deserve sympathy for some kind of mental problems he may have suffered from, but criticising a loving memorial website maintained by his “fans” is wrong how? And criticising atheists yourself in exactly the same tone isn’t hypocritical why?

I’m honestly not against the idea of legitimate criticism against Dawkins, or the protest movement. I’ve disagreed with the man before, and there may well be ways the campaign could improve the effectiveness of its message, or adjust its tone. But I’ve not heard any of that from articles like this one. It’s all just whining about how terrible and obnoxious these atheists are being, the way they give a fuck about things like child abuse and are taking a stand against it. The cunts.


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If you didn’t have enough evidence yet that the Tea Party – the bizarre right-wing movement that’s been moving in from the fringes of American politics lately, determined to “take back their country” from the scary black man who somehow took charge – is actively dangerous, then here ya go.

Christine O’Donnell is the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in the state of Delaware, and could be elected into office this November. And she thinks distributing condoms will spread AIDS.

I know a lot of people probably like her mostly because she seems like one of them, and that she “shares their values”, whatever exactly that means. It’s hard not to make your initial judgments about someone on a sub-rational level, a gut sense on whether they seem like the right sort of person. I know I liked Obama based on how he looked and how he spoke, non-specific recommendations from other people I liked, and snippets of reputation, before I could tell you anything about his politics.

But it’s really kinda important not to let that continue to be the one driving force that defines how you see someone; to latch onto them as “one of us” and be forced to justify any other position they take, whether or not you’d normally agree with it. I’ve become somewhat disillusioned about Obama since his election. Maybe I’m still overly hopeful, maybe I’m being too quick to be cynical and should give him more of a break, I’m not really sure – but the important thing is that I’m trying my best to base my opinion rationally, on what he says and does.

I’m never quite going to get there, not perfectly. But it’s important to try. And it’s important to be aware when your preferred candidate has expressed support for a policy based on incorrect information, which will result in an increased spread of a deadly disease.

This kind of introspection is something the Tea Partiers don’t seem to be great at. They don’t seem to be basing their allegiances on actual policies or views on things, in any rational way, as there doesn’t appear to be much consistency as to what they stand for. O’Donnell has spoken out against pornography, and campaigned against masturbation. Carl Paladino used to email colleagues video clips of bestiality.

How much do the people who shout their support for the Tea Party movement actually understand the people they’re championing?

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Another thought regarding the Koran-burning thing.

Nobody’s disagreeing that Pastor Jones’s chosen form of protest was both metaphorically and literally incendiary. I imagine everyone shares the concerns that the Islamic extremists’ response would be violent, and would hurt people unnecessarily. As I’ve said before, these concerns are both reasonable and demonstrably correct.

One place where a difference of opinion comes in, though, is in whether Jones should be allowed to go through with it anyway. Is he acting within the boundaries of his own rights to free expression? Or do those rights not extend to a knowing incitement and provocation to violent acts?

I’ve seen more than one person comparing what Jones is doing to shouting fire in a crowded theatre, a classic free speech cliché intended to demonstrate that it’s sometimes necessary to place some restriction on people’s right to say any damn thing they want. A case can be made that, for instance, concerns for public safety overrule anyone’s first amendment rights to go raising a ruckus.

However, I don’t think this is a fair comparison.

The first distinction you might notice is that shouting fire would only be considered unworthy of protection under free speech laws if it is knowingly untrue. Of course you’d be justified in alerting people to an actual fire, and presumably if you had good reason to suspect that there was a danger then you’d be on safe ground too, even if it turned out to be a false alarm.

Burning a Koran, on the other hand, is not an explicitly declarative act. There’s no potentially untrue or defamatory statement being made.

But this might not matter, if the incitement is still predictable as a result of the act. There’s a more interesting point I haven’t seen being made yet though.

If you do raise some kind of alarm amidst a packed crowd in an enclosed space, you may cause people’s lives or health to be endangered as they charge towards the exits to get the hell out of there. You can reasonably expect that they’ll take your warning at face value, and might be harmed while responding reasonably to this.

However, the danger from Muslim extremists was not because Pastor Jones had provided them with a falsified threat, and they were reacting appropriately to a perceived danger. A violent reaction might be predictable, but you’d only cause violence and harm in response to someone else burning some books if you’re fucking crazy.

People should run for the exits if they’re stuck in an enclosed space and told that there’s a fire. If they’re sensible, they’ll be compelled to take action by a legitimate fear. But whatever reason the extremists might think they have for attacking the nearest standing structure in fury at someone’s disrespect, they are wrong.

In the case of the Koran-burning, then, people will only get hurt if other people behave like unreasonable shits.

Nobody’s entitled to shift the blame for their evil actions onto somebody else’s provocations, simply because they made threats or have a reputation for being dangerously irrational. Which is why I don’t buy Pastor Jones’s actions as an incitement to violence that should be censored.

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…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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