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PZ Myers and false rape accusations

Something that’s been bugging me: Those of you who follow the skepticisphere know that a few weeks ago, Pz posted a report from an undisclosed source that Michael Shermer got her drunk at a conference a few years ago and raped her.This isn’t an anonymous source. He knows her well, so his judgment that this accusation is probably true isn’t just statistical. I’d link to it, but the post was taken down after Shermer threatened to sue. 

A lot of people don’t want to believe this accusation. That’s understandable. There are a lot of good reasons to like Shermer. I used to like him quite a bit. He’s written some good books. Denying History is a big part of what got me into skepticism and a history major in the first place. It’s difficult to believe that someone could you like could do something horrible, like rape. It means you are a bad judge of character and it means you may have inadvertently enabled his behavior.

However, even if you can’t believe Shermer is actually guilty, it makes no sense to think PZ made the whole thing up. He’s risking a hell of a lot for something that, at best, will lead to a slight reduction in Shermer’s fan base. Surely if he were the type of person who makes up malicious allegations (which is not in evidence), there are people he liked far less than Shermer. What the hell would the motive be? All possible motives make no sense and if you think that PZ is a guy who’s irrational would throw away a good deal of his social standing and risk a difficult lawsuit over petty revenge that was unlikely to be very effective, you’ve been reading a different column than I have for the past six years.

Yes he’s sometimes angry and occasionally will go overboard in an argument because he’s emotionally invested, but that’s everybody except Spock, and maybe even him. It’s certainly not the same thing as a reckless, malicious liar.

I’m not saying that the idea that the accuser made the whole thing up and bamboozled PZ, who acted in good faith, is particularly plausible either, because it isn’t, especially when you factor in that large parts of the story were corroborated by third parties. My point is the fact that people who don’t believe the story go straight to blaming PZ is fairly strong evidence that they are either evaluating the situation irrationally because they like Shermer and dislike PZ or are arguing in bad faith and are jumping on this story because it looks like convenient ammo to discredit PZ, not because they give a damn about the accusations. EIther way, it’s a bullshit argument.

The big picture

A few weeks ago, my former pastor’s daughter posted on Facebook about how some of her best memories were made at Camp Hickory. She tagged pretty much everyone she was in youth group with. A lot of other people chimed in in agreement. I didn’t get it. For me, camp combined the worst aspects of camping (bug bites, sunburn and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements), church (lots of lecturing, little chance to ask questions) and gym class (being judged on your athletic abilities, constant risk of injuring people if you play too hard). Camp was about the most miserable experience in my life and eventually I had to be forced to go.

Most of us grew up in heavily Christian cultures and are vaguely familiar with what the camp experience entails. Imagine, instead if you grew up around a few Christians and heard plenty of rumors about them at temple, but they were rarely featured on TV and the only books you could find on them in your language were the Bible, histories of the church that focused on doctrine and politics and books aimed at believers about how great it is to walk with Jesus. This would tell you nothing about camp, or what church services were like or the role of potlucks in community-building. Knowing all about the history of Christmas and the traditional ways of marking it tells you very little about how most Christians feel about Christmas and the Bible tells you even less.

Unless you live in a handful of heavily-Islamic communities, that’s how things are with respect to Islam in the English-speaking world. My friend Heina is trying to rectify this in a book she’s writing, tentatively titled The Skeptic’s Guide to Islam. She will cover what you do at the mosque, the way people obey all the rules you’ve heard about and so on. I encourage you to go help push her the last few hundred dollars over her stretch goal on Kickstarter to make the book extra awesome.

How to deal with a tricky subject. (Feminst Frequency)

I’ve been milling a piece about in my head where I criticize Anita Sarkeesian. If you’ve been paying attention to the Internets, you know that’s she been the target of a misogynistic backlash because of her announced intentions and fundraising for a project talking about sexism in video games. I had already been thinking about doing a piece on her, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I had also been thinking about a piece about how the Internet gamesphere is full of assholes and my general burnout on fandoms in general. Sexism was one of many factors. This is just the latest example of horse asshat behavior.

However, my piece on Anita Sarkeesian wasn’t planned to be particularly positive. While she does a lot of good work, it tends to be mixed in with a lot of sloppy work. Then, I got thinking about whether it was advisable for me as a man to criticize a fairly prominent voice of feminism for being a bad feminist. It sounds kind of mansplainy. I thought about it some more and realized that I wasn’t so much wanting to criticize her for being a bad feminist (though she is that, too) as a bad movie critic.

She has a strong tendency to come up with interpretations based on her personal views and pet theories rather than the text, then impose them on the text, then criticize the text because she finds her interpretation offensive when her interpretation was something she brought from outside and not the fault of the work she was evaluating at all. On a closely related note, she seems to have little sense of nuance, despite explicit claims to the contrary, and takes everything terribly literally and interprets most material on a shallow level. In practice, this means she can’t tell the difference between straight uses of a trope and subversions or parodies. She also seems to confuse her personal tastes with moral value.

Criticizing her for her frequent use of out-of-context examples that don’t fit her thesis and cherry-picking is going to look like criticizing her feminism, though, especially since there’s currently an anti-feminist dogpile on her based on the idea that she goes around looking for shit to be be offended by (a common stereotype of feminists). Plus, I want to make direct criticisms of her feminism since she’s anti-sex-worker and, if I’m interpreting her correctly, a gender essentialist.

My concern is that anything I write critical of Sarkeesian will come off as the dreaded “yes, but” argument. It hardly seems fair to lay off legit criticism just because a bunch of people are combining illegitimate criticism with asshattery. Is there any good way to handle this?

Addressing some things Thunderf00t definitely actually said

As those of you who follow the blog may know, a few days ago, I embarrassed myself by criticizing Thunderf00t for things I was pretty sure he said, but could find no direct evidence of and inferences about what he meant when he said something. This was unfair and ineffective if I wanted to actually show anyone that I had a point instead of venting. Now that he’s made his first real post on Freethought Blogs, I think the issue deserves a second look where I address things that he definitely really said. This will require a lot of background for those of you who don’t read the corner of the blogosphere I do. More below the fold. Read more…

An apology to Thunderf00t or sometimes I’m that Greater Internet Fuckwad

It’s come to my attention that my previous post about Thunderf00t didn’t go over well. On review, it’s clear this is my fault. Full apology below the fold. Read more…

Atheism is rational: atheists aren’t

There are a good number of people out there who like to promote the idea that atheists are rational. I think this is a terrible oversimplification and leads to problems when you apply it to the real world. Atheism is a rational position, but there are as many reasons to not believe in a God as to believe in one and some of the reasons are far more supportable than others. Common reasons to believe include being raised that way and not thinking about it much, liking the social institution of church (and not necessarily even paying attention to doctrine), a need to feel a sense of greater purpose, a smug sense of superiority to non-believers, not being able to imagine where the world came from, and not being able to imagine morality without a supreme moral authority.

Common reasons for disbelief include being raised that way and not really thinking about it, dislike of the social institution of church, a lack of a need to feel a greater purpose, a smug sense of superiority to believers, lack of any solid evidence for religious claims and moral objections to religious teachings. Only those last two are rational, and not necessarily even then. There’s also a great deal of diversity of belief among atheists. I’m a materialist who believes in the scientific method and reasoning to the most like explanation, as are most of prominent speakers on the atheist lecture circuit, but plenty of people don’t believe in God but do believe in karma, mind/body dualism, chakras, choprawoo, conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific versions of racial and gender essentialism. I started thinking about this again because of this recent story, ably covered by Dan Fincke over at Camels with Hammers. Short version: a minor atheist blogger Leah Libresco has converted to Catholicism. Read more…

Freethoughtblogs, is this the image you want?

Edit: I don’t stand by most of this. I blogged angry and went off the rails. See this post.

I fell out of the habit of posting daily in the finals crunch and it’s hard to get back on the horse, as has happened before, something finally got me angry enough that I had to wrote about it. I feel behind on reading FreethoughtBlogs, so just realized this, even though it was announced a week ago, but Thunderf00t is joining the network. I have a problem with this: namely that Thunderf00t is a xenophobe and a tribalist who cares more about winning arguments and congratulating his audience on how they are so much more clever than whoever he’s pwning than being right or effecting any sort of positive change. To this end, he is not above quote-mining, bullying or much of anything else. Also, he has a martyr complex where he can’t shut up about how brave he is to keep speaking the truth in the face of all these death threats. I’m not accusing anyone of endorsing any of this. Despite all this, he has made a lot of good science videos that manage to be very funny while either teaching important stuff about science or tearing down bad anti-scientific arguments. I subscribed to his channel for several years. I can see why someone would think he was a good fit if they didn’t dig deep into his archives. To be clear: the problem isn’t that I disagree with him on some issues. I disagree with everyone there occasionally. The issue is that his positions and tactics are contrary to the goals of the site. Evidence is below the fold. Keep in mind that he operates on YouTube. I’m talking about a period of several years and can’t just do a Google search for phrases and pull things up. Videos have a tendency to go down the memory hole there either because the poster didn’t like how they were received and deleted them or a bunch of people false-flagged it for offensive content and YouTube deleted it. Many things he said are gone or have no good way to find them. There’s enough left to make a good case, though. Read more…

Movie criticism

Roger Ebert says that the hardest part of being a movie reviewer is that you have to watch 200+ movies each year. Most people don’t like movies that much and burn out after several months. I just checked my records. I watched 152 Blu-rays that I hadn’t seen before in the last year. When you add in things I had seen previously, DVDs, Netflix and the theater, I probably am over two hundred. Granted, I only wrote in-depth criticism of a handful of those, though I did post smart-ass remarks about dozens more on Facebook. I may actually have the necessary temperament.

Earlier this year, I decided not to apply for an opening at Rewind (after spending several hours developing a review of Sucker Punch that fit their format) because I don’t think that my TV is good enough for me to accurately judge picture quality. Once I get regular income, I’ll drop $2,000 or so on a decent TV and this will no longer be a concern. Of course, I also won’t have as much time to write.

One of the main issues is I am not really a slave to the release schedule. I am generally watching things that came out years ago. Most demand is for new releases. People who write for websites tend to get free releases from the studios, but I wonder about deadlines. For instance, Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series hit Blu-ray a while back. It’s seventy-three episodes, a miniseries, two movies and a couple collections of webisodes. The majority of episodes have an audio commentary and deleted scenes, plus there are various other special features. In total, there’s about one hundred hours of material. When a reviewer receives such a set in the mail, how long much time do the have to write the review? How much do they get paid. Granted, it’s Battlestar Galactica, so a low hourly rate may be acceptable, but reviewers are also expected to watch a lot of shitty shows and movies.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I should be finishing both Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. I think that when I’m done, I’ll write in depth looks at the Blu-ray releases of both and something about how the sci-fi genre has changed over the last few decades. I mat endeavor to write about every movie I watch from now on as well. In the meantime, I’ve become active on TV Tropes. I think I’ll write about that experience once I’ve done more actual editing. Right now, my experience is mostly in arguing in the trope repair shop.

Plus, I still have a family event thing to write about. I’ll start that with a question for the readers: How old do you have to be before people stop insinuating that you don’t understand because you’re too young and eventually, you’ll agree with them?

P.S. Is there some way to find posts that Facebook did not see fit to preserve on timeline? There’s some stuff there I’d like to find.

Question for the readers

Sorry I’ve been away lately, but I’ve developed lots of ideas. I’ve been wanting to do an article or series about ideas that you can’t express without a large number of people interpreting you to mean something else. Have I established enough liberal cred to complain about common liberal memes that really bug me because they are slogans masquerading as solutions or otherwise divorced from reality without people taking it to mean that I disagree with the sentiments expressed? Is that even possible?

It Makes One Recoil

This was for US-Japan relations. The assignment was to respond to two articles: one about how dropping the a-bomb on Japan was justified and one about how it wasn’t. Read more…