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Sunday, December 11, 2016

New site, and update

As you may have noticed, I've been drawing a lot of comics lately. I've become disenchanted with the impact of straight-up writing, and decided to try my hand at combining some words with some images and see how that goes. If I may say so, it seems to be going pretty well so far-- although some attempts have been a bit rough, there does appear to be a wavering upward trajectory.

On the day of the election, I created some characters in my head to play out the sort of conversations I saw around me, or those I wanted to see around me. If you create a continuing cast of characters in a comic, and you post that comic on the web, I believe it's called a "webcomic." So I created a webcomic, apparently.

As you may also have noticed, the comics that belong to that series have vanished from this particular page. That's because they've moved to a new page called Giant If, their new home. I plan to continue drawing comics for this series as long as they occur to me, which might well be for the next four years. Check it out if you feel so inclined.

Making the new site also encouraged me to do something I've not done before, which is creating a Patreon. I started this blog in 2010 and have written for it since then without any sort of external funding from ads or anywhere else, and decided that maybe it's worth a try.*

Patreon lets you choose to let people pledge a certain amount of money per month, or a certain amount of money per thing you produce (in my case, comics).  Both have a cap, so you can for example decide to pledge $1 per comic with a cap of $10 per month, or whatever.  I think that's a pretty handy way to both a) require someone to produce something before you make any payment for it, and yet b) prevent yourself accidentally paying a larger amount than you expected if your donee suddenly starts producing at a higher rate than you'd expected.

I also put a link to my Amazon wishlist on there, because what the hell.

That does not mean that Cheap Signals is coming to an end, btw. You'll see that I haven't (yet) removed or relocated the comics I've been making that aren't part of the Giant If series. That's because I'm not sure where they really belong-- do I want to make this blog solely about writing, and that one solely about comics (of all kinds)?  I don't currently know, and advice would be welcome. But right now I plan to continue to do writing, at the very least, right here.

This blog, she is not dead. I'm still making stuff-- I can't not.

*There's also a donation button on this page, if you're interested in becoming the first person to use it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous."


You don’t think about whether the store you’re taking your child into might get held up. 
Nor should you. 
Yet leaving your kid alone, even for a short time in safe circumstances, can lead to a child-abuse investigation. 
What’s going on? 
The researchers suspected that the overestimating of risk reflects moral convictions about proper parenting. 
To separate the two instincts, they created a series of surveys asking participants to rate the danger to children left alone in five specific circumstances: a 2 ½-year-old at home for 20 minutes eating a snack and watching Frozen, for instance, or a 6-year-old in a park about a mile from her house for 25 minutes. The reasons for the parent’s absence were varied randomly. It could be unintentional, for work, to volunteer for charity, to relax or to meet an illicit lover. 
Because the child’s situation was exactly the same in all the intentional cases, the risks should also be identical. 
Asked what the dangers might be, participants listed the same ones in all circumstances, with a stranger harming the child the most common, followed by an accident. 
The unintentional case might be slightly more dangerous, because parents wouldn’t have a chance to make provisions for their absence such as giving the child a phone and emergency instructions or parking the car in the shade. 
But survey respondents didn’t see things this way at all. 
“A mother’s unintentional absence was seen as safer for the child than a mother’s intentional absence for any reason, and a mother’s work-related absence was seen as more dangerous than an unintentional absence, but less dangerous than if the mother left to pursue an illicit sexual affair,” they write. 
The same was true for fathers, except that respondents rated leaving for work as posing no greater danger than leaving unintentionally. 
Moral disapproval informed beliefs about risks. 
That was true even when the survey explicitly separated the two factors, first asking participants to rate leaving the child from 1 (nothing wrong) to 10 (highly unethical/immoral). 
People rated the risk higher when they first made a moral judgment. 
“People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral,” the researchers write. 
“They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous. 
“That is, people overestimate the actual danger to children who are left alone by their parents, in order to better support or justify their moral condemnation of parents who do so.” 
The result is a feedback loop that increases the legal and social penalties for leaving kids alone and reinforces the belief that even the briefest parental absence amounts to child abuse. 
These beliefs don’t just affect busybodies. They lead police, prosecutors, judges and jurors to overestimate risks. 
Take what happened to Julie Koehler: she left her three daughters, ages 8, 5 and 4, watching a video in the minivan while she went into an Evanston, Illinois, Starbucks for three minutes. When she saw a police officer talking to the girls through the open windows, she thought nothing of it, until he returned and her 8-year-old started crying. She rushed out of the store, and the situation deteriorated from there. 
Koehler is a public defender in the homicide division. 
She knew she hadn’t broken any laws and she had two lawyers, her husband and mother, to call to the scene. 
She wasn’t arrested, but the state nonetheless initiated a child-abuse investigation.
Read the rest at: https://www.thestar.com/life/2016/09/13/if-you-leave-your-kids-alone-its-not-predatory-strangers-who-are-a-risk.html 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Roles

Sometimes misreading a word puts an idea in my head, and there's no way to get it out except...


Saturday, July 30, 2016

"Summer of Justice" recap

Hot.

The so-called "Summer of Justice" protest week was...hot.

Wichita, Kansas, site of the original 1991 so-called "Summer of Mercy" protests, for which these protests were intended to be an anniversary celebration and renewal, has been experiencing a heat wave. Not exactly unusual for the third week in July. But that's the week chosen by Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, who went on to say "I pray what God began in 1991, he's going to complete in 2016."

Not being God, I can only offer my own view: I hope the "completed" part is true.

Wouldn't that be nice? Last Thursday, during the protest week, David S. Cohen, co-author of the new book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, gave a talk at a local bookstore. He told the stories of abortion providers who have been harassed, threatened, and in some cases outright attacked in the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided.

He told us of doctors, medical assistants, clinic owners, and volunteers who have been forced to wear disguises and take alternate routes to work because of threats, whose children have been stalked at school, and in one case had her personal information including home address published in a "newsletter" that was distributed to pro-life prisoners currently serving time. Yes, pro-life violent criminals were informed, during their prison sentence, that the only way to stop abortionists is with a bullet and by the way, here's one of their home addresses.

At this point, I had already contacted Trust Women to express a desire to do something to help during the upcoming anniversary protest. Operation Save America had been kind enough to publish an anticipated schedule for the week, including speakers (note the gender of all involved), and I wanted to be useful in some way during what would surely be a stressful time for both South Wind Women's Center (Dr. George Tiller's former clinic: see this post and this post) and the Planned Parenthood central Wichita location.

I've gone to this Planned Parenthood location several times, with a positive experience each time. But security is something of a concern. At the Repro Rally on July 9, Planned Parenthood was accepting volunteers to act as escorts from the parking lot to the door of the clinic. South Wind, by contrast, has a secure private parking lot, which is something of a luxury in that it doesn't seem to be very common for clinics that provide abortion services (though it should, in my humble view, be ubiquitous and government-funded).

So my initial question for Trust Women/South Wind was whether they'd like support in the form of counter-protest, and was told no-- actually, engaging the protesters would be counter productive. But maybe I could be a legal observer?  A legal observer's job is to observe, obviously, via your eyes and ears and video recording device and camera and notepad and however else you can notice, record, and document what's going on. Not being a confrontational person (to put it lightly), this seemed to me an ideal way to help out.  What, you mean I don't have to shout at people who hate me?  I can just be present, and pay attention? Sign me up!

So I was signed up. I got trained. I met some really cool people in the process, whose identities I won't give here for privacy's sake, but I can say this: Everybody cared. Everybody wanted to do something to defend the right to an abortion on the ground, against an onslaught of people who want to attack it on that level.

But we weren't fighting-- we were explicitly not fighting. That, of course, didn't stop protesters from approaching us, once they figured out that we weren't part of their group. We didn't make it blatantly obvious, of course-- no pro-choice t-shirts or signs. Just some people wandering around, watching, who were distinguished somewhat by the fact that we weren't wearing t-shirts with big crosses on them or waving signs.

I trained on one day, and observed on two days following that. The protesters who approached me, on both days, were always men. Men over the age of 35, of varying degrees of politeness ranging from "Have a nice day" to "What you're doing is evil, and I hope you know that."

The number of signs and slogans that co-opted Black Lives Matter, and the wider movement against police racism and brutality, was astonishing.

No one, to my knowledge, was arrested. There was ample police presence, and the police officers were friendly to everyone. From what I observed they didn't interact much with either the protesters or the legal observers. I was profoundly grateful for their presence-- for obvious reasons, but also because it made my job decidedly easier.

So let's talk about that now. Let's talk about how last Saturday, the final day of the protest, I was observing until the official end, and I observed several protesters walk up to police officers and thank them for not arresting them. The "Thank you" part is great-- no issue with that.  The "...for not arresting us" part is slightly different.

Pro-life protesters: They weren't not arresting you because they're nice, or because they respect or agree with you. They weren't arresting you because, for the most part, you weren't breaking the law.

The police are not on a crusade to arrest the virtuous pro-lifer at the behest of the evil abortion provider-- they're there to enforce the law, and the abortion providers and volunteers are happy to see them do it.  Due to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, protesters may not physically prevent doctors or other clinic personnel from entering the clinic, and you did not do that. You just shouted at them, with microphones and amplifiers. For the most part, you stayed where it was legal to stay. That is why you didn't get arrested.

Freedom of speech protects your right to gather in groups and tell lies on the sidewalk. For better or for worse.

And boy, were there a lot of lies.

I often wonder about how the pro-life movement would look if everyone, nationwide, actually understood what abortion is.

When I see a pro-life lie about abortion, I have long since stopped thinking in terms of "liars for Jesus," because there's one critical problem with admonishing people for their supposed hypocrisy in violating one of the Ten Commandments in the name of their faith: You cannot lie if you don't know what you're saying is untrue. And I honestly don't think they know.  They haven't ever been taught the truth, so they don't know that what they're proclaiming is a lie.

Ignorance is the greatest enemy of human rights.

These people think that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.

These people think there is such a thing as "post abortive syndrome," where women who get abortions find themselves in a state of long-lasting regret and even self-destructive behavior afterward.

These people think that women get abortions because they are promiscuous, lazy, and/or selfish.

These people think that abortion harms/risks your body in ways that pregnancy and giving birth do not.

These people think that providing abortion services for minorities, who, due to poverty, are in greater need of abortion services, is racist.

These people preach against homosexuality and birth control at the same time as abortion, because they think "be fruitful and multiply" is a God-given mandate.

These people think that "viable" means a fetus is a healthy baby.

These people think banning abortion would end the killing of babies, rather than resume the killing and imprisonment of women.

These people think that abortion providers, people receiving abortions, and people defending the right to abortion don't know what they're doing. They think we don't know what abortion is.

Ignorance really is the greatest enemy of human rights.

Happy not to be on that team

I can't help wondering if, after having established his character Dilbert as the office Everyman, Scott Adams has somehow welded himself permanently into that role-- in his own perception, at least. That perhaps after such a long time of speaking to the Dilberts of America and the world, Adams has managed to convince himself that he also speaks for them. 

Or maybe not. Maybe it's just your typical bigot universalism tendency. Maybe that's what it always has been. Either way, Adams has decided that the Democratic National Convention is very likely lowering the testosterone of American men, and thereby their happiness, on a national scale. 

Why is this? Because the celebration of woman aspiring to positions of power that they have never held throughout the country's history-- specifically, the presidency-- makes Adams feel defeated:
I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act. 
Let me say this again, so you know I’m not kidding. Based on what I know about the human body, and the way our thoughts regulate our hormones, the Democratic National Convention is probably lowering testosterone levels all over the country. Literally, not figuratively. And since testosterone is a feel-good chemical for men, I think the Democratic convention is making men feel less happy. They might not know why they feel less happy, but they will start to associate the low feeling with whatever they are looking at when it happens, i.e. Clinton.
I'm sure that you-- but perhaps not Adams-- have already heard the aphorism "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression." Maybe you've acknowledged it, though, without trying to stop and consider whether it really feels like oppression.  I can't actually say, one way or another-- I don't know of any scientific studies that can verify it (though if you do, please let me know).

And Adams is making a scientific statement here. He's saying that watching and listening to Alicia Keys perform Superwoman made him feel like a loser. That this feeling of non-triumph means lower testosterone, and therefore that this feeling must be spreading across the country and lowering testosterone levels on a national scale.  Wow!

So what if he's right? Let's just assume he is, for the sake of argument.

Power can certainly be a zero-sum game-- if someone gains it, somebody else is losing it. Adams described the feeling he was having as like losing. Being non-triumphant. I believe him about that. I believe that to someone who sees the world in hierarchical terms and has bought stock in just-world bias, equality feels like losing.

He gets two things wrong about this, though.

First, he thinks that because he feels like a loser, he's been somehow wronged. "Superwoman" apparently profoundly disturbed his worldview, and rather than question that worldview he blames the song, Alisha Keys, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, or all of the above for harming him. I feel bad, those people made me feel bad, those people are wrong!

Second, he universalizes-- he thinks that all American men feel bad, or should feel bad, right along with him. He wants to bring a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all men against feeling bad, without ever checking to see whether everybody else who identifies as male feels like a loser too. Presumably at least some of them don't-- there were men at the DNC, right? A few of them? Was any footage captured of them bending over in agony while Alisha Keys was singing, protecting their genitalia?

That's a common tendency of bigots-- white supremacists assume that all white people are white supremacists, homophobes assume all straight people are homophobes, etc. and that anyone who isn't is either lying or a traitor. Scott Adams, of course, assumes that all men are as threatened as he is by women in powerful positions.

Thankfully, he's mistaken about that.

Let me restate that more emphatically-- thankfully, Scott Adam is wrong. He does not get to speak for mankind, any more than any other fearful member of the majority gets to speak against a minority.

When I posted about this on Facebook, my friend Ben Pobjie commented:
He assumes that being male is like being on a team, and we all put that team first and identify with other members of that team before all else. I might be threatened by women in powerful positions if I thought I was on the same team as Scott Adams, and that the purpose of life was to be on the winning team.
When you think in those terms, it's really a choice you make-- do you define your "team" based on incidental characteristics and then push for them to win, whatever "winning" is supposed to mean? Or do you choose your team based on what they say and do, regardless of these other differences, and work together for common goals rather than common traits?

I seem to have less and less time, these days, for people who choose the former.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How many more?

Three more police officers were killed today, in Baton Rouge. Three injured. The same word used as in Dallas-- "ambush."

The fear and despair I'm feeling right now are mostly due to three beliefs: that such killings a) might have been inevitable, b) will certainly only make things worse, and c) may well happen again.

Black Lives Matter is of course both a slogan and a movement, and the movement's leaders have disavowed violence against police officers. But America is certainly fond of binary thinking of the "you're with us or against us" variety. Onlookers have gathered in a circle around this conflict like a group of children yelling "Fight! Fight!" Especially those who have drawn a line of allegiance between BLM and The Police, and have donned their #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and "I Can Breathe" t-shirts to signify which side they've chosen.

My friend Ed Brayton remarked that he was experiencing writer's block in the wake of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, followed by the killing of five police officers in Dallas.  But he still managed to make the following observation that I think should be preserved:
This is not the least bit surprising to anyone who has paid attention to the problem over the years. And so we have the Black Lives Matter movement protesting against such injustice and brutality. And while you may dislike some of their tactics, they are right on the core issue. Our criminal justice system really is racist from top to bottom. Anyone who denies that cannot possibly have seen all the data that supports it, data that I have been presenting for more than a decade. 
And then we have two men who gunned down 11 police officers in Dallas on Thursday night, at the end of a long and peaceful protest against this injustice. What they did is horrifying and wrong in every possible way and it will do nothing but undermine efforts to address the problem. But unlike the unjust and racist treatment of black people in this country, that is an incident that is merely anecdotal, not systemic. But let’s also recognize that it was virtually inevitable. 
I have been saying this for years: When you oppress people, you radicalize them. If you do nothing to address legitimate grievances and fix problems, it is inevitable that some small portion of the victims of that oppression are going to choose violence as a response. That doesn’t justify it, but it does help explain it. If you cannot change as a result of non-violent protest, you make violent protest inevitable. 
And here’s the real problem: All this does is perpetuate the cycle of violence. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, every act of violence is then used to justify the next reprisal, which is then used to justify the next one, and the next one. At some point, the violence has to stop. But the only ones who can really stop it are those with power, which means law enforcement, courts and politicians. Violence on the part of those who protest against state-sanctioned killing is a response to the misuse of power, not an expression of power. It is up to those with power to fix this. No one else can.
What I fear is that Ed is right...but that those with power will not fix this. That they will just double down, using the killing of these officers as justification.

By all accounts, BLM and the police of Dallas actually had a decent relationship prior to the post-protest ambush, and hopefully will manage to repair that relationship in the wake of it.  The same probably cannot be said of Baton Rouge. But that's kind of the point-- these things differ from state to state, city to city. Police departments have different approaches, including Richmond, California police chief Chris Magnus's decision to stress de-escalation and the development of a positive relationship with citizens above all else.

Here in Wichita, a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally last Tuesday led both protesters and police to declare the event a success, and they're holding a cookout tonight, in lieu of another march, in the spirit of improving community relations.

All of which tells me that progress is being made on a local level. Quantifiable measures like the increase of police departments using body cameras are one way to recognize this, but of course body cams aren't a panacea-- no simple increase in accountability can be, though we still absolutely need increased accountability!

But what we also need, so very desperately, is a paradigm shift.  Nationally, we have to recognize that being opposed to racism and brutality in a police force is absolutely not the same as being anti-cop (any more, as one meme noted, than being anti-child abuse is the same as being anti-parent).

We have to acknowledge that the more police officers are different and separated from the communities in which they operate, the more empathy for people in those communities is diminished. No police department is an occupying force. Every police department is composed of human beings entrusted with tremendous power and authority to enforce the law, who are still human beings.  For better and for worse.

The "for betters" like the examples of Chris Magnus, like Wichita's police chief Gordon Ramsay (yes, our police chief's name is Gordon Ramsay and he's organizing a cookout-- what?) should be encouraged, rewarded, and perpetuated.

And when it comes to the "for worse," to the biases and cover-ups and abuses...there are ways to counteract these. We absolutely must work to counteract these.  Our local communities and our national community depend on it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Too adult to Pokemon

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg had a joke about Little League. It went like this: "I wish I could play Little League now; I'd kick some fuckin' ass."

Pokemon Go is not Little League.

Pokemon Go is a mobile game that anybody with a smart phone can play, and apparently nearly everybody is playing it. Everybody, that is, except for a few stalwart defenders of the dignity of adulthood, who maintain that they're not playing that game because it's for kids.

I feel sorry for those people.

I used to be one of those people.

See, I've been playing video games all my life, starting with the Atari 2600 and never stopping, so the notion that video games in general are just for kids has never held water for me. But somehow when Pokemon came to the United States in the late 90's, I decided that this particular video game franchise was for kids, and therefore not me.

I made a similar error with Harry Potter-- these books are for ten-year-olds! Aren't the adults reading them embarrassed?

Turns out no, they're not. They're just happily enjoying a series of books in genre of fiction that they happen to love, and which are-- from all I've heard-- really good (I still haven't gotten around to reading the books, but that's no longer because I'm too busy sneering at them. Just haven't had time to read them.)

But I have started playing Pokemon (currently level 11, Team Instinct), because I realized that I'm no longer too old too enjoy it. I never was.

An adult enjoying Pokemon is unlike an adult playing Little League, or taking part in an Easter egg hunt, or trick-or-treating, because those things are all zero-sum games. An adult taking part in them means that children don't get to, or at least don't get to take part to the extent that they otherwise would.

Unless you're literally knocking children out of the way to capture a Pokemon, which would be wrong regardless, your playing the game is not trampling on anybody.  Do not listen to the haters saying otherwise. But also if you aren't interested in playing, don't play. I doubt there's a video game player alive who is interested in all genres of games equally, and you can't play them all, even if you wanted to.

But don't be a hater yourself.  As a frequently-quoted Adam Ellis cartoon says, "Shhh. Let people enjoy things."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Good luck, Indiana

Your governor is a monster.

So's mine, of course-- my governor is Sam Brownback, after all. But yours might be even worse.

Why's that? Well, because on Thursday Indiana's Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that makes abortion illegal in the event that a woman seeks one because of fetal disability-- any kind of fetal disability-- and framed it as "a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life." As the worst monsters always do, he depicted a heinous attack on human rights as a righteous act.

Before I go into what's so horrible about this bill, I want to first acknowledge that it's almost certainly blatantly unconstitutional. To my knowledge, there is no legal basis for banning abortions that would otherwise be legal based on the reason a woman wants one. And Indiana's law doesn't just ban abortions performed because of fetal disability-- it also bans abortions based on the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Abortion was deemed a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade, and fundamental rights can't be abridged based on a person's motive for exercising them. One would think.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, made a great comment about the specifications of the bill: "They basically took non-discrimination language and made it an abortion ban."  It's always fun when conservatives pretend to care about diversity and egalitarianism purely for the sake of trying to make liberals look like hypocrites. What's not fun is that this tactic is often remarkably effective, because on first blush a liberal might fully agree that women shouldn't abort based on any of those factors. After all, none of these traits are the kid's fault!  They're circumstances of birth!

Yeah, well...there's a problem there. Because we're not talking about a kid. We're not talking about about circumstances of birth, because we're not talking about someone about someone who has been born. A fetus that is aborted will never experience discrimination, because that fetus will not experience anything. A fetus does not care why it was aborted, because a fetus doesn't care about anything. The result of abortion is the same for every fetus, regardless of why the abortion occurred.

If we agree that a fetus is not a person (in the legal sense), then the fetus has no rights.  It doesn't matter whether it's freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against (which, again, social conservatives don't generally support in the first place)-- non-people do not have rights.

If we don't agree that a fetus isn't a person, which is to say, you think they are people...then every abortion is equally murder. Reasons don't matter. We don't just ban murders that take place because of discrimination-- they're illegal regardless.  So in that respect, passing a law that forbids abortion for discriminatory reasons is implicitly acknowledging that fetuses aren't people.

That said, let's get into the specific ramifications of this law, and why you'd have to be an utter sadist to support it.

1. The "disability" portion of the law forces women who know that their fetus has any sort of disability, including the ones it is very unlikely to survive, to carry their pregnancy to term. Imagine being pregnant and finding out that the being growing inside of you has anencephaly, meaning that it's missing part of its brain, and is certain to die either before or immediately after birth. Imagine learning this in your first trimester. Imagine having no choice about whether to continue this pregnancy, because your governor wanted to "affirm the value of all human life." Except, apparently, yours.

Because in addition to the emotional torture presented by the scenario above, being forced to continue such a pregnancy presents health risks for the pregnant woman. Brownsyne Tucker-Edmonds, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis, commented of the bill that
It will require a woman, during one of the most devastating times in her life after learning of a fetal anomaly, to prolong her pregnancy even if against her wishes, and to potentially assume the greater health risks associated with doing so. Some women have cases in which the risk of death during a full-term pregnancy is more than 14 times higher than for a termination of pregnancy. 
2.  Even if the disability is not as severe as anencephaly, something with good chances of survival for years beyond birth, how many of these women can afford to care for a disabled child?  The second most-cited reason for abortion is the woman's inability to afford a baby.  And that's assuming a baby without disabilities.  The value of life for a disabled person, much as proponents of this law might claim otherwise, is not at issue here.

Rather, the cold, hard fact is that if a woman considers herself unable to afford having a "normal" child, then she's probably quite a long distance from being able to care for a disabled one.  And-- big shocker here, I know--- Indiana's House Enrolled Act 1337 does not come accompanied by a comprehensive provision for generous public assistance to the women it forces into this position.

3. Under this law, doctors face a wrongful death lawsuit if they perform an abortion for a woman who requests one after learning about a pregnancy complication.  That's certainly likely to improve relations and communication between doctors and their patients, right?

....No:
Hal Lawrence, chief executive of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the group, comprising roughly 30,000 doctors nationwide, strongly opposes the law because it could encourage a patient to withhold information from her doctor. 
A woman who, for example, learned her fetus carried a severe disability may pursue an abortion from an out-of-state provider and then, out of fear, skip follow-up care from her regular doctor. 
“She shouldn't be under legal duress when she came back to where she lived,” said Lawrence, who practiced gynecology for 30 years. “Patients need postpartum or postoperative care. They need to be counseled for contraception. Discouraging that is highly destructive.”
4. The law effectively bans fetal tissue research. Not that clinics in Indiana participate in such currently, but this will sure prevent them from considering the idea.  And that's because...

5. The law requires that all fetal remains, whether from abortion or even from an early miscarriage, be buried or cremated.
Normally when a pregnancy ends earlier than 20 weeks, the "products of conception" (fetal tissue and the placenta) are treated like any other medical waste. After 20 weeks, the fetus is considered a "stillbirth" and the parents typically have the option to cremate or bury it if they choose. 
So even if a woman has a miscarriage at 8 weeks of pregnancy at home, under this law she could be required to keep the blood and tissue, take it to a hospital, and have it buried or cremated by a funeral home. 
Abortion providers will probably have to take on extra costs and administrative burdens for all of those extra burials and cremations, and those costs would probably get passed on to the patients.
Then what happens if you abort or miscarry, but can't afford to have the fetus buried or cremated?  If it's an abortion, it sounds like you might not be able to get one at all.  If a miscarriage, well....I guess you're just screwed.

So yeah, Indiana, this is what your governor has gotten you into. Did he think it through?  No, almost certainly not-- all he saw was an opportunity to look like a virtuous pro-lifer, at the expense of every woman, and by extension most men, in the state.

Again, good luck. And I'm so sorry.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

How the toupée fallacy enables judgmental jerks

The toupée fallacy is named for a particular example of the informal fallacy that goes something like this:
All toupées look fake; I've never seen one that I couldn't tell was fake.
Like a lot of fallacies, it's so painfully obvious when it's spelled out that you might have a hard time believing that anyone actually entertains this kind of thought. You would immediately respond to a person who said this by replying "Look, genius, you only think that all toupées look fake because the only ones you've noticed have been the bad fake ones. The ones that are clearly fake." They might respond by insisting that they're very good at detecting the existence of toupées, but that would be beside the point-- in fact, it would detract from the point they're trying to make. If all toupées look fake, then it wouldn't be necessary to have refined toupée detection skills to detect them.

And of course we wouldn't care about detecting toupées at all, bad or not, if we weren't judgmental about the act of wearing a toupée in the first place.  If we didn't think that being "fake" was wrong, we would not care about "real" vs. "fake." We most likely wouldn't have a notion of "fake" in the first place. Instead of Fake Thing vs. Real Thing, there would simply be One Kind of Thing and Another Kind of Thing.

Toupées are kind of an outdated thing to be judgmental about, with the glaring exception of course being Donald Trump. Trump might be single-handedly keeping the toupée fallacy alive specifically regarding toupées. But not in general, because there are so many things people are judgmental about, so many places where people have decided that there's a "fake" and a "real," and I'm going to discuss a few.

Cosmetic surgery

The terms "cosmetic surgery" and "plastic surgery" are often used interchangeably, but cosmetic surgery is that brand of plastic surgery performed to enhance a patient's appearance aesthetically.  The toupée fallacy among people who are judgmental about cosmetic surgery (and gosh, there are a lot of them) occurs because having surgery to improve your appearance is perceived to be wrong. By its own name ("cosmetic") it's not medically necessary, therefore it's not necessary at all. And if you're one of the people who thinks this way, you have an incentive to believe that cosmetic surgery is obvious-- how else would you point out people who have had it and call them out as vain and silly?

But of course, only the obvious cosmetic surgery is obvious. In all other cases the "fake" is indistinguishable from the "real," unless you happen to have before/after photos of the person in question. If you treat cosmetic surgery as kind of deception committed by a shallow person against the world, this distinction matters.  If you simply see it as a person opting to change his/her appearance for non-medical reasons, it does not. There is no real and fake-- there is simply before and after.

No makeup

Wearing makeup is another way in which people-- invariably women-- are perceive as pulling one over on the world, specifically the heterosexual men of the world. Apparently it's a crime to make your face look different, even on a temporary basis, because a man could look at it and not realize that you weren't born looking that way.

The toupée fallacy here takes the form of insisting that women without makeup don't just look better but are vaguely morally superior (by not taking part in the deception), and of course the person making the judgment can tell perfectly well whether a woman is wearing makeup or not.

Buzzfeed has a list of examples of people praising celebrity women for being "natural" and going without makeup when they are actually wearing minimal makeup or just non-obvious makeup.  If you've ever seen a makeup tutorial, you probably know that just as much time and work can go into a non-obvious makeup job as an obvious one.

So much of makeup is corrective-- if a person spends an hour hiding her pimples and under-eye circles, and giving herself the appearance of more prominent cheekbones, how is that going to be distinguishable from someone who just has prominent cheekbones, and lacks pimples and under-eye circles?  And what is the moral difference if one of those people is wearing bright orange lipstick while the other is wearing colorless lip balm?

There isn't one, of course. There are only aesthetic preferences turned normative judgments.

Fake geek girls

The toupée fallacy regarding "fake geek girls," on the other hand, is not about aesthetic preference-- or at least, not just about that. A fake geek girl is a girl who appears to enjoy comics, video games, tabletop games, etc. when she actually doesn't-- or doesn't enjoy them sufficiently to count. This distinction matters to people who consider themselves gatekeepers of geekdom, and believe that there is an actual problem of girls pretending to be interested in geeky things in order to win the attention and affection of geeky boys.

This kind of person commits the toupée fallacy by assuming that he (generally "he," but not necessarily) has both the authority and the ability to assess a woman's actual interest in/knowledge of geeky things and compare it to how much she appears to enjoy these things. Because-- again-- there is something wrong with appearing to enjoy geeky things more than you actually do. Apparently.

Transmen and transwomen

This is far and away the place where committing the toupée fallacy has the worst consequence-- it is literally a matter of life and death.

Transphobia often involves believing that you can tell the difference between trans men and "real" men, between trans women and "real" women, and that this difference matters because being transgender is fundamentally wrong.

Natalie Reed is a trans woman who wrote a blog post specifically about this issue called Passability and the Toupée Fallacy, which discusses the incredible injustice of demanding that trans people "pass" as their claimed gender identity in order to be treated as...well, as people.

To "transition" is to take measures (such as wearing different clothes, getting "top surgery," hormone replacement therapy, etc.) to change your appearance to more closely match that gender identity, and some trans people transition while others do not. There are various reasons why a trans person might not transition. They might feel more comfortable in their current appearance. They might simply not have the financial ability. For those who do transition, there is a societal expectation that they will or should do so "enough," if they want to have their identity respected. And in reality, there are people who will never accept that someone's gender now can differ from the one to which they were assigned at birth. To these people the different gender identity will always be the "fake," while the previous one was the "real."

We are moving away from this perception, albeit glacially. It amazes me how strongly society believes that it, not the individual in question, controls their identity.

Because in each of these cases, control is ultimately what we're talking about. When someone declares they can decide that who you are is "fake," whereas what you used to be, or what somebody else is, is "real," they are trying to control you.

They are saying their perception of you matters more than your own of yourself.  They're saying that even when they can't tell the difference between the so-called-fake and the so-called-real, this distinction matters, because there's something wrong with the so-called-fake. Else they wouldn't consider it fake to begin with.

That's why this fallacy matters. I wish it only applied to toupées.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

They're coming back

Operation Save America, the successor to Operation Rescue, has announced that they're returning to Wichita for a "Summer of Mercy" anniversary tour. The city is reportedly unenthused.
Hundreds of people from around the country are expected to converge in Wichita this summer for a week of anti-abortion rallies, protests and prayer vigils marking the 25th anniversary of the “Summer of Mercy” campaign. 
“Some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life happened right here in Wichita,” said Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group based in Waco, Texas. 
“What I’m writing in my brochure is: ‘Some of you were there. This is our reunion.'” 
Operation Save America is a successor to Operation Rescue, whose 46-day “Summer of Mercy” campaign in 1991 resulted in nearly 2,700 arrests as protesters blocked access to clinics where abortions were performed. 
This summer, July 16-23, the group plans to partner with local churches to organize protests against abortion. Its agenda includes “street activities” outside South Wind Women’s Center, a clinic operating at George Tiller’s former practice on East Kellogg, Thomas said. 
“There’s a proverb that says, ‘We make our plans but God directs our steps,’ ” he said. “We go to these evil places and address that evil and hopefully overcome it and set the captive free.”
Except there are no captives that need to be set free, and there won't be, ironically, until Operation Save America comes to town and resumes their place caterwauling in the street and generally making life miserable for abortion providers and patients, but accomplishing nothing else. Which is as much as they accomplished the first time in 1991.

In a post discussing the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, reporter Mary Mapes reflected on the protest:
These "rescuers" -- sweaty mobs of zombie-like true believers -- swarmed across the street in front of the clinic like angry ants. They crawled over the hot asphalt toward his office on their hands and knees. They collapsed onto the stairs, chained themselves to the fence, shrieked prayers and threats and bellowed the Biblical equivalent of evil spells at anyone who approached the place. They fell lifelessly to the ground, some of them swooning and crashing spectacularly to earth. 
When I went to Wichita to cover this, I thought I would be assigned there for a day or two. But this became more than a single protest. It turned out to be the birthplace of heartland civil disobedience against abortion and it went on and on and on.
The New York Times reported:
For nearly three weeks now, this city has become the most vivid symbol of an emboldened anti-abortion movement as members of Operation Rescue focus on the city's three abortion clinics, flinging themselves under cars, sitting by the hundreds at clinic doorways and blocking women from entering as they read them Scripture. 
The confrontations have resulted in more than 1,600 arrests and the closing of all three abortion clinics for more than a week in late July. 
The city has had to assign nearly a quarter of its police force to control the protests, and a Federal judge earlier this week ordered Federal marshals to keep the clinics open. 
The confrontations show no sign of abating, and some doctors have had to perform abortions in the predawn hours to avoid disruption. Leaders of the protest say they plan to stay indefinitely. 
As a Wichitan who witnessed the protests in 1991 (though I was in middle school at the time) and who lives here now, there's one word that describes my immediate feeling about this: dread.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

DiTHBINAD

Screenshot from Firewatch
Feminist Frequency has begun producing a newsletter called FREQ, and their first edition is an interview with Jane Ng. Ng is a 3D environmental artist who most recently worked on Firewatch, which looks like an amazing game. You can read the interview with her here.

My favorite part about the interview, aside from learning that Ng originally started out studying theater and compares environmental design to scenic design (long ago, I studied theatrical scenic design myself), is this:
 I think games that are trying to appeal to young men can have kind of a macho thing going on, and it can create this culture where even the development team is kind of bro-y. A lot of it is determined by leadership. But with [the game] Spore we had Lucy [Bradshaw, executive producer of Spore] and she wanted the game to appeal to everyone, so the team didn't have that attitude at all. There were women everywhere. I don't think I had a single "did that happen because I'm not a dude" moment the entire time I was there. It was just about the work.
"Did that happen because I'm not a dude" is a great turn of phrase.  It's a question that all kinds of women ask themselves when they suspect that they've encountered sexist attitudes in the workplace, because-- contrary to popular belief-- sexism in the workplace does not generally take the form of a co-worker or boss announcing "You're a woman, and therefore I think less of you."

Rather, it can be an environment in which women are treated differently, taken less seriously.  They might be outright harassed, but far more often they might be treated as if their views are less important. They might be interrupted or talked over. They might not be consulted on something they know about, in favor of a male co-worker who has less mastery of the subject.

When things like this happen, that woman's first thought is likely to be "Did that happen because I'm not a dude?" She will ask herself this, and then maybe ask a co-worker who she trusts. The co-worker will hopefully commiserate, but even if so, there's really not much the woman can do about this subtle sexism, especially if it comes from above.

So I can imagine what a tremendous relief it must've been for Ng to be in a working environment where she didn't get that DiTHBINAD feeling; an unexpected relief because of the male-dominated industry in which she works.

I suppose a general term for behaviors that stir that DiTHBINAD feeling would be "microaggressions," but I like the specificity of DiTHBINAD. If a woman in a male-dominated industry says that in a certain working environment she doesn't get that feeling, we should sit up and take notice-- that team, that department, maybe even that company as a whole, is doing something right. They should be recognized for that.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Caught in a TRAP

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. This case involves the claim that two laws create an undue burden on the right of a woman to obtain an abortion in the state of Texas. One of the laws requires that doctors at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital 30 miles from the clinic, and the other that clinics be expensively retrofitted to become "ambulatory surgical centers," or ASCs.

Laws like this are referred to as TRAP laws, which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, because they involve imposing regulations on abortion providers in the name of "protecting womens' health" that are far and away more stringent than regulations for other more dangerous medical procedures, and these laws have the effect of putting clinics out of business because they cannot afford to remodel, relocate, and/or rebuild in order to conform to such unreasonably high standards.

I read the arguments last night and made the experience more enjoyable by live-tweeting my favorite bits along the way. The transcript is available here, and Dahlia Lithwick of Slate also did a very good run-down of the proceedings here.  The justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan all did an amazing job tearing apart the argument that effectively regulating abortion clinics out of business is permissible if a state sees fit to do so.  Near the end of the arguments (pg. 72), Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller tries to claim that because the regulations are on the clinics, they do not represent a threat to a woman's rights, to which Ruth Bader Ginsburg replies:
But this is about -- what it's about is that a woman has a fundamental right to make this choice for herself. That's what we sought as the starting premise. And then this is certainly about --­­ Casey --­­ Casey made that plain, that it -- ­­the focus is on the woman, and it has to be on the segment of women who are affected.
Which is what inspired me to draw this. Because she's right-- a freedom is meaningless if there is no way to exercise it.  Women obviously can't and shouldn't perform their own abortions (though a disturbingly high number have tried to do just this in Texas, due to clinic inaccessibility), so if they are to exercise their right to have one, the state must not place obstacles in the way which serve no purpose except to inhibit them from doing so.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Lonely universe?

I am no longer allowed to comment on creationist cartoonist Dan Lietha's Facebook posts. Lietha does the After Eden cartoon on the Answers in Genesis website, and I've become somewhat fascinated with his work because it combines some quite respectable artistic talent with some absolutely baffling apologetics. And here I don't say "baffling" to mean "difficult to refute," but rather just plain weird.

I've taken the piss out of his cartoons on a couple of occasions, but that is almost certainly not why I'm now banned as Facebook commenter. Rather, it's because he has a rule against what he calls "debating," and what I call "correcting." I've never been rude in my corrections, and we actually had a positive exchange once, but at some point after that I discovered that my input is no longer welcome. That actually hurts a tiny bit.

But back to the weird apologetics. This one was posted today-- I have no idea why he chose to do a response to Ellen DeGeneres.


Was some big fuss made about her space alien comment? It seems fairly unremarkable to me.  I'm glad for the caption, as I might've confused her for Ryan Gosling otherwise. The sentiment sounds like a reply to a quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.
"Terrifying" isn't the word I'd use-- fascinating is the word I'd use.  And DeGeneres seems to agree, because she doesn't think much of humanity apparently.  I think humanity's great, but the chance of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is fascinating because of the sheer possibility of what that intelligence would be like. We only know our own, so far, and not that well honestly. And part of developing self-awareness is contrasting the self with others, so it would sure be nice to have some "others" to contrast ourselves with.

And given the immensity of the universe, it would be fascinating if there wasn't another form of intelligence on the level of humanity on some other planet, because even though it took the better part of 4.5 billion years in the time that Earth has existed for humanity to come along, it did happen. And there might be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in our galaxy alone. That's a staggering thought.

But given that Lietha is a creationist, I suppose it isn't staggering at all. I suppose he thinks that's outright nonsense, which is pretty staggering in itself.  But the chances of someone who thinks the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old being able to consider the ramifications of 40 billion possibilities of human-like intelligence in the Milky Way really couldn't be that high, could they?

I suppose the logic at play here bothers me the most. The cartoon just claims the non-existence of aliens as a flat fact, apparently based on the fact that fictional aliens exist.  How much sense does that make?  That would be like me saying that gods other than Jehovah, gods that Lietha considers to be fictional, exist, therefore....


Not very convincing, is it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Just do what the Newt tells you


Newt Gingrich said on the February 14th edition Fox News' Fox and Friends Sunday:
No, no, no. He has every right to recommend. He doesn't have every right to choose. This goes back to the Constitution. The Senate is not obligated to approve who he recommends. I mean, he has a simple model. If he really wants to get somebody approved, sit down with Mitch McConnell and with conservative senators like Mike Lee, ask them who they would approve and nominate somebody who is in the Scalia tradition.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Statement from the NECSS

After my last post went live, the NECSS executive committee posted the following statement to their web site:
We wish to apologize to Professor Dawkins for our handling of his disinvitation to NECSS 2016. Our actions were not professional, and we should have contacted him directly to express our concerns before acting unilaterally. We have sent Professor Dawkins a private communication expressing this as well. This apology also extends to all NECSS speakers, our attendees, and to the broader skeptical movement. 
We wish to use this incident as an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion of the deeper issues implicated here, which are causing conflict both within the skeptical community and within society as a whole. NECSS 2016 will therefore feature a panel discussion addressing these topics. There is room for a range of reasonable opinions on these issues and our conversation will reflect that diversity. We have asked Professor Dawkins to participate in this discussion at NECSS 2016 in addition to his prior scheduled talk, and we hope he will accept our invitation. 
This statement and our discussions with Professor Dawkins were initiated prior to learning of his recent illness. All of NECSS wishes Professor Dawkins a speedy and full recovery. 
So yes, Dawkins was re-invited.  It's not clear why, except that the NECSS organizers apparently felt that they didn't un-invite him properly?  Huh.

Note: When they announced that Dawkins was un-invited, participants were offered a refund on their tickets if they wanted to cancel registration in light of the announcement. No such refund is mentioned here for those who bought tickets because they'd heard that Dawkins was un-invited.

Did Richard Dawkins blame his stroke on feminists?

On Feb. 5th Richard Dawkins experienced a stroke while at home, on the cusp of traveling to New Zealand and Australia for a speaking tour. Fortunately it was a minor stroke, and he was allowed to return home after four days to begin recuperating. He reported later that it was a hemorrhagic stroke in the right basal ganglion, which "affects left-side coordination but does not affect higher cerebral function."

That update comes from this recording of Dawkins describing what happened. In it he sounds very frail, but not a bit less lucid-- quite to the contrary, he takes the opportunity quote both Steven Pinker and his own previous writings on the evolutionary marvel of the human hand. Dawkins' own left hand's functioning had been diminished by the stroke to the point that manipulating buttons became difficult. He goes on to reflect that he'd been thought slow as a child for being a late learner of button manipulation as well as shoe-tying, having started life in Africa and not requiring such fastenings on his clothing at the time because of the ambient weather.

And this part of the recording I will simply transcribe, because listeners have reached radically different conclusions about its meaning:

The doctors, obviously, were worried about what caused it. I'd been having blood pressure problems for a while, which the GP and I'd thought were under control, but apparently not. The doctors asked me whether I'd been suffering from stress, and I had to say, yes I had.  They keep advising me not to get involved in controversy, and I'm afraid I had to tell them that controversy-- that not getting involved in controversy is not one of the things I'm terribly talented at.

I told them that I'd had a certain amount of controversy and was very distressed, and on the 28th of January I was dis-invited from a conference in America to which I'd previously been asked. This upset me very much. I'm used to getting hate from religious nuts and creationists but when I get hate from what I think of as my own people...the left, liberals, feminists and so on, that directly hurt me. And I might've been expected to get a stroke after that, if ever.

But paradoxically, the stroke came after I got a bit of good news. On the morning of February the fifth, I had a very gracious letter from the conference organizers, the committee, graciously apologizing for dis-inviting me and re-inviting me, and I was overjoyed at that. And you might think that's the last time I've have got a stroke, but it was actually the evening of that same day that I got the stroke.

It's to be assumed that the conference Dawkins is talking about here is NECSS, from which he was dis-invited last month for having approvingly tweeted a video claiming that feminists and Islamists share a commonly ideology.

I did some searching for verification that Dawkins had been re-invited to NECSS, but didn't find anything. There isn't any notice of such on their web site-- the most recent announcement regarding Dawkins is their declaration to dis-invite him on January 27th called Concerning Richard Dawkins.  I don't see anything on their Twitter feed, either.  So....who knows?

If I were PolitiFact, I would probably give the claim that Dawkins blamed feminists for his stroke a rating of "half true." He said that he could've been expected to have a stroke, "if ever," from the "hate" directed toward him by his "own people," which includes the left, liberals, and feminists.  But in this speculation, he notes that the stroke was more immediately preceded by receiving notification of being re-invited to NECSS.

Matthew Facciani at Patheos wrote a blog post that was originally titled "Dawkins blames feminists for his stroke," and then changed it after getting some heat from readers.  His post concludes:
I hope Dawkins continues to make a full recovery and I also hope that some of his words from this interview can impact people. 1) It’s another reminder how precious life is and how we should cherish every moment. and 2) It’s also a reminder that we should try to be decent to one another even when we disagree. Perhaps the many Dawkins fans who scoffed at the harassment women face online can take note how serious such behavior can be.
It wasn't just Dawkins' fans, but he himself who scoffed at the harassment women face online-- and even endorsed such harassment, in the case of Chanty Binx.  I suppose that's just because he decided that she was "nasty" and therefore "deserves abundant mockery, the more the merrier."

But here's the thing-- given Dawkins' comments above, it seems like he needs to make a decision. Either "abundant mockery" can potentially cause a person to have a stroke, or people can "deserve abundant mockery, the more the merrier."  I suppose a third option could exist-- that both are true, and therefore some people deserve to have a stroke caused by abundant mockery-- but I don't want to believe that anyone genuinely thinks that.

It's common knowledge that there are many feminists, including Chanty Binx, who have become the targets of sustained harassment both on the internet and off because they are well-known feminists. Each of these women has suffered from it. Each has had to make a choice, perhaps repeated choices, about whether to continue speaking out, and to what extent they can handle doing so.  Most of these women do not have anything like the platform and hordes of admirers that Dawkins has, factors that-- along with other privileges-- have enabled him to have considerable insulation from such ridicule.  It's a really good thing none of them have had strokes (that we know of) as a result......so far.....isn't it?

Monday, February 1, 2016

What feminists make noise about

In reply to my previous post, "Jokuvaan" made the following comment:
What you are missing here is the current double standard of european mainstream feminists treating rapes differently depending of the ethnical background of the perpetrators. So far feminists have made more noise about one man comparing women to cars than about taharrush jamai or taharrush gamae in europe. 
Just recently a all women college in Germany decided to shut down for the time of the carnival so that the students wouldn't get raped if they left their homes. 
Some feminists go even as far as victim blaming like women shouldn't dress so revealingly to agitate the muslim men to rape. No I'm not shitting you. 
Sure this cartoon is a exaggeration but its not without a hint of truth. Though I'm not blaming you as it seems you are on the other side of the Atlantic and likely have to rely on english news on the subject and frankly most european countries are not native english speaking. 
My reply:

I have a few disparate points to make in response to that so I'm going to just number them for clarity:
  1. Your working definition of "feminist" seems to be "person who makes noise about crimes against women in proportion to what I, Jokuvaan, consider to be their severity." This is not the definition of feminism. A quick and easy definition of feminism would be "opposition to sexism and enforcement of gender roles." Being a feminist does not mean one has an obligation to make noise about anything at all, let alone make more noise about some things than others. To say otherwise is to commit a form of moral equivalence fallacy often referred to as "Dear Muslima" after Richard Dawkins famously used those words to commit said fallacy in 2011. You can read more about the fallacy here. You can also read Dawkins's limp apology for committing it here, though I'd note that he seemed to have forgotten about it completely by the very next day.
  2. Following from #1, a feminist's failure to "make noise" about something cannot be construed as agreement with it, much less advocacy of it. It's possible to care about more than one thing at a time, and it's possible to care about something without "making noise" about it. If you declared yourself to be an animal rights activist, and I noticed that you weren't protesting the fact that an endangered species of animal is being driven further to the brink of extinction, I don't get to declare that you share a common ideology with trophy hunters. That would be grossly dishonest of me, especially if I wasn't an animal rights activist myself. I don't get to tell you how to do your activism, and I don't get to claim you side with your enemy because you're not doing activism in the way I'd prefer.
  3. I cannot verify your claims about what "some feminists" have or haven't done regarding victim-blaming or reasons for shutting down carnivals, but I do wonder-- if it's the behavior of these feminist that supposedly lends a "hint of truth" to a video which claims that feminism generally has "much in common" with Islamism, isn't it rather odd that the person chosen to represent feminism in the video is a Canadian feminist? A person who has absolutely nothing to do with any of what you're talking about? Doesn't that seem rather odd, that they picked a woman who has been harassed for years for the "crime" of just yelling at some MRAs, rather than one of these people whom you say are engaging in victim-blaming? 
The cartoon is not an exaggeration-- it's a bald-faced lie. It was created by anti-feminists to claim that feminists are just like Islamists if they do not...I don't know what. Talk about Islamic misogyny all day, every day? Roam the streets trying to attack Muslim men as punishment for Islamic misogyny? Maybe just become anti-Muslim terrorists?

It's not clear what kind or amount of opposition to Islamic misogyny would convince an anti-feminist that feminists don't "share essentially the same ideology" as Islamists, and that's because anti-feminists don't actually give a shit about Islamic misogyny. They just hate both Muslims and feminists, and so it's awfully convenient to pretend that two of your enemies are in league with each other so you can swing the same club and hit them both.

In actuality, Islamophobes and Islamic misogynists are both enemies of mine, because I oppose both religion-based and sex-based bigotry. And if you think I'm not shouting about one loudly enough, it doesn't mean I agree with the other. It means you should do your own shouting.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dawkins insults feminists, complains when feminists feel insulted

Last Tuesday (Jan. 26th), Richard Dawkins made the following tweet:
Text: "Obviously doesn't apply to vast majority of feminists, among whom I count myself.
But the minority are pernicious." 
Here's a summary of what happened next:

Lindy West began a Twitter conversation with Dawkins, informing him that the woman caricatured in the video is a real person called Chanty Binx. Binx was recorded shouting at a group of Mens’ Rights Activists (MRAs) outside of an event at the University of Toronto in 2013, and the video made her the object of ridicule and harassment, including death threats, by anti-feminists who refer to her as “Big Red.”

Dawkins expressed surprise to learn that Binx is a real person and eventually deleted the tweet with the video, stating that death threats are never acceptable—but not before hedging on the deletion and implying that after having watched the original video of Binx, she might’ve deserved them. Even after deleting the tweet, Dawkins affirmed that Binx is “nasty” and “vile,” that she did deserve “ridicule” and “abundant mockery,” suggested that she might be mentally ill, and implied that she made up the threats against her.

The Northwest Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) had recently invited Dawkins as a speaker in spite of his known tendency to, as Adam Lee put it, “post a horrible misogynist meme, get called out on it, get defensive, go back and delete tweets, repeat.” However, as a result of this particular Twitter dust-up, the NECSS rethought their decision and uninvited Dawkins on the 27th. Steven Novella, a member of NECSS’s executive committee, made a post on his blog Neurologica yesterday detailing the thinking behind this decision.

Considering that the Center for Inquiry (CFI) made an announcement on the 21st that the skeptic organization would be merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS), Stephanie Zvan wrote an open letter to CFI’s board of directors urging them to reconsider that merger in light of Dawkins “embracing denialism of harassment.”

Dawkins, you will probably not be surprised to hear, still believes he did nothing wrong.

Text: "Now I've heard it all. Now I'm the one accused of generalising about 'all' feminists!
What can you do?
Text: "Yes, of course many feminists care passionately about Islamic misogyny. They're
the ones NOT satirised in the 'offensive' joke cartoon."

He apparently believes that because #NotAllFeminists, because he stated in the original tweet that feminists who love Islamists are the "pernicious minority" of feminists, those feminists in the “vast majority” should not be offended by a video which equates feminism with Islamism.

And let’s mince no words—that is absolutely what it does.

It was made by “Sargon of Akkad,” who I’d never heard of before. Rebecca Watson, however, describes him as a “longtime harasser of me and other women” and Zoë Quinn described Dawkins’s tweet as “promoting a guy who built a career of a stalking and harassing my family.”

Here’s a link to the video, but if it you don’t want to watch it I don’t blame you in the slightest. I didn’t want to watch it either, but did so that I could provide this transcript:

The animated video depicts Chanty Binx sitting at a grand piano, playing it. Next to her stands a man with a long nose and a beard, dressed in jeans, a jacket, and a baseball cap with a picture of what looks like an AK-47 on it. Since I don’t know if this man is supposed to represent a real person or not, I will refer to him simply as “Islamist.”

Their singing is done by a man (“Sargon of Akkad,” I assume), using an a vaguely Arabic accent (which later changes to British) for the Islamist and a whining, nasal tone for Chanty Binx.    

Islamist: I am an Islamist

Chanty Binx: I am a feminist. You might not think we have very much in common.

Islamist: But we share essentially the same ideology.

Chanty Binx: And Muslims are oppressed just like every woman.

Islamist: I say “haram.”

Chanty Binx: I say “problematic.”

Islamist: You say everything’s “triggering.”

Chanty Binx: And you say everything’s unquaranic cos you are an Islamist.

Islamist: And you are a feminist.

Both: We have so very much in common.

Islamist: I say “Islamophobia.”

Chanty Binx: I say “misogyny.”

Islamist: I blame the Jewish media.

Chanty Binx: And I blame the patriarchy cos I am a feminist.

Islamist: And I am an Islamist.

Both: A whiny pair of little spastics.

Islamist: You know what makes me feel like really marginalized, yeah? Is when ignorant people remind me that the prophet (alayhi as-salām) had sex with a nine year old girl.

Chanty Binx: Mohammed had sex with a child? Oh, that’s awesome! That means that every white sister and heteronormative pedophile here in the West is guilty of cultural appropriation! And that’s the real societal problem!

Islamist: Oh yeah!

Chanty Binx: See? It’s easy when you look at the world through problematic glasses! (laughs) 

Islamist: Oh, who would’ve thought that you and me would get along so well?

Chanty Binx: I say “social justice.”

Islamist: I say “jihad.”

Chanty Binx: I say “Slutwalk.”

Islamist: I say “Whore, where is your hijab?” cos I am an Islamist.

Chanty Binx: And I am a feminist.

Both: We have so very much in common.

Islamist: So do you mind if I rape you now?

Chanty Binx: Oh, don’t be silly. It’s not rape when a Muslim does it! (Both laugh)

Islamist: That is a good one!

Lovely, huh?

So here are a couple of obvious things to note, right off the bat:

The video itself clearly does not consider Islamist feminists to be a "pernicious minority." Chanty Binx is presented as a feminist-- she's intended to represent feminists generally. The Islamist is, likewise, intended to represent Islamists generally-- he's not merely a "pernicious minority" in Islamism. Actually, Islamism would be better described as a pernicious minority within Islam, and if the Islamist in this video had been described instead as "a Muslim," then Muslims would be legitimately offended at the generalization. Possibly they should be anyway.

The video mocks concepts that are uncontroversial within feminism:
  • Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power (though intersectional feminists refer to interconnecting systems of power and dominance revolving around race, sexual orientation, class, etc. rather than there being just one type of privilege elevating one group over another). 
  • Misogyny is hatred of and/or ingrained contempt for women.
  • Social justice is the entire body of effort to create a more equitable society. 
The video equates feminist actions and concepts with elements of Muslim extremism that are their exact opposite, such as Slutwalk vs. calling women "whores" because they are not wearing a hijab. Slutwalk is a celebration of womens' freedom to dress however they choose without being harassed or sexually assaulted, for crying out loud. On what planet does that indicate that the feminist and the Islamist "share essentially the same ideology"?

Likewise "haram" (forbidden) and "problematic" (problematic)?

Likewise "triggering" (eliciting a negative emotional response such as panic or fear) and "unquranic" (apparently "in violation of the Quran")?

And of course there's an element of pretty disgusting ableism thrown in ("a whiny pair of little spastics") so we don't have to wonder what kind of people this video is made by and for.

Really, based on Dawkins's previous comments about Muslims on Twitter, including his bizarre tirade against "clock boy" Ahmed Mohamed, it's easy to see what he was trying to get at-- some feminists have the gall to think that there is such a thing as Islamophobia (bigotry against Muslims) and speak out against it, and in Dawkins's view these feminists are not just wrong but are enabling Islamism. There are even cultural relativist feminists out there who use the term "Islamophobia" to refer to any criticism of Islam in order to stifle it.

I count myself as the former type of feminist-- I've seen mosques vandalized or destroyed, non-Muslims denying that Islam is even a religion whose practitioners have the equal right to worship as they choose, and worst of all Muslims (and anyone who looks like they could be Muslims, such as Sikhs) being violently attacked by racist and religious bigots.

However, I'm pretty sure of a few things:
  • Islamophobia exists, and it is not criticism of Islam. It's bigotry against Muslims for being Muslim.
  • Chanty Binx is not known for being an Islamist or agreeing with Islamists.
    And
  • There is not a feminist alive who thinks that rape isn't rape if it's committed by a Muslim.
I would imagine that in addition to considering himself a feminist, Richard Dawkins counts himself as a civil rights activist. And yet I'm trying to imagine him tweeting a link to a video created by a white supremacist depicting a black civil rights activist such as Shaun King singing along with an Islamist, laughing about how they "have so much in common," because there are a "pernicious minority" of civil rights activists who say that some-- or even all-- criticisms of Islam are racially-based.

Because hey, he's not talking about all black civil rights activists (even though the video is)! How absurd would it be for black civil rights activists to get upset about this video equating them with violent bigots when clearly it's "satire"?  When obviously it's a "joke," and the joke is not about them? When Dawkins went to the trouble of putting scare quotes around the word "offensive," to make it clear that only a dimwit would be offended by the comparison?

Dawkins blames Twitter's "brevity" for the continuing cycle of his stepping in it, over and over again. He says it "forces you straight to the point, which can sound aggressive."  But his extreme defensiveness for being called out after stepping in it, and apparent eagerness to rush straight back to the cannons to fire another volley of assholery onto the internet before the furor over the last one has died down, give the lie to this claim.

Perhaps he thinks that if you say it on the internet, it doesn't matter. Perhaps he has too much of an echo chamber-- his supporters were in full force while the exchange with Lindy West was going on-- to be able to recognize legitimate criticism and learn from it.  I really couldn't guess.

But I can be grateful to see, with his "de-platforming" from the NECSS, that this behavior at least has consequences.  Finally.