10 August 2012

Thunderf00t Sinks to a New Low

This morning, I got to wake up to this post over at Pharyngula.

Fuck Thunderf00t/Phil Mason. The accounts that Zinnia and Natalie and Ashley have revealed are true: for the past month, Thunderf00t took advantage of a security exploit to hack into our private mail server; when the hole was closed, he tried multiple time to use the same exploit to get back in. He knowingly and willfully violated a confidential email list. And worse, what he has since been doing (and this is how we discovered the security flaw in the first place) is disseminating some of this email to third parties.
Yeah, this is the guy who expressed such outrage at people ‘dropping docs’ on him, but he has absolutely no qualms about breaking legally binding confidentiality of an LLC, and thinks it’s just fine to hold hostage personal information on pseudonymous posters who, under the promise of privacy, had discussed personal matters and job-related issues. He is a colossal hypocrite. 
Just to make matters even worse, I woke up this morning to find some reassuring email from some friends of his, who had basically staged an intervention, trying to get him to back off from his unethical behavior. I was told that he had listened and agreed, and piously assured everyone that he thought the goals of the freethought movement were most important, and that we should all step away from the petty divisiveness and concentrate on education, science, secularism, and politics. His friends wrote to me and they sounded quite convinced that he was sincere and high minded. 
And then he turned around, no doubt chortling to himself, and posted another slimy, sneering, lying article about freethoughtblogs. It’s appalling. Not only has he stabbed FtB in the back, but he has no qualms about lying to and betraying the people he still regards as friends.

Thunderf00t's actions are deplorable and childish.  As Ms. Reed points out in her blog post, the consequences of outing somebody are very real.  It can result in the loss of family, friends, and in some extreme cases compromise the very safety of the blogger involved.  I myself blog pseudonymously.  I don't have to worry about my job or my safety, mind you; no laws are broken in posting here, nor is operational security (OPSEC) violated.  I maintain (relative) anonymity for two major reasons.  One, I prefer to keep my private and professional lives as separate as possible.  Even though I don't insult family, friends, colleagues, and superiors here, I would rather my interactions with them be on as much of a face-to-face level as possible.  Two, I go to great pains to ensure that my own views, religious or otherwise, are not mistaken for those of the Department of the Army or the United States Government as a whole. Though I doubt somebody would confuse my views from the Army's by knowing who I am, I would rather that I be more cautious than necessary.

In short, I don't consent for my identity to be revealed.  Its also a right everyone should be able to claim without fear of some irate blogger taking it away in the middle of a tempter-tantrum.  The fact that Thunderf00t gained the ability to take away that choice though illegal activity only makes it worse.  Even IF his complaints were valid (they weren't), he's now ceded whatever moral high-ground he may have had.  He's proven himself to be a thug, only interested in his own advancement.

And yet, we shouldn't be shocked by this.  The entire Thunderf00t scandal in June highlighted how petty and childish Thunderf00t could be.  Natalie Reed lays out just how childish and narcissistic Thunderf00t can be:

I don’t know how many of you know or are invested in the story of how and why Thunderf00t was expelled from Freethought Blogs. I certainly never really wanted to be all that involved in that conflict myself, as by the time it happened I was already feeling worn out and exasperated by the ongoing petty warring in the wider community over issues that I was appalled weren’t already accepted as fundamental basics of creating inclusive, safe, progressive, non-horrible activist communities, like sexual harassment policies for conferences (Seriously, how was that controversial? What in the actual fuck is wrong with people that they would see it as such?). But I was asked by someone what my opinion on Thunderf00t’s expulsions was, and I replied with my assessment that the issue wasn’t so much the content of his posts (as ugly and inflammatory as they may have been), but his extremely unprofessional conduct behind the scenes, which was creating a situation that was severely inhibiting our ability to operate as a cohesive, functional network. There was just really no real option. 
Thunderf00t saw the tweet, and responded with accusations that I was a liar. Which still doesn’t really make much sense to me, because unless he believed I was deliberately misrepresenting my own perceptions and opinion, there’s no way my subjective interpretation of his behaviour as unprofessional, and my perceptions of what PZ and Ed’s motives were, could be a lie. He could disagree with me, sure. He could hold a different opinion. He could think my interpretation was grossly inaccurate. All of that is fine, and to be honest, what I’d expect (people rarely believe of themselves that they’re acting like assholes). But the accusation that I was lying was just weird. 
This led to something really creepy and scary when Thunderf00t began threatening to publish the confidential contents of FTB’s private listserv, to “prove” that I’d been “lying” about his behaviour. When I reminded him of the ethical problems with this, and hinted at the real danger it poses to me, he laughed and suggested that his treatment by PZ and FTB as a whole justified any actions he wanted to take. Soon after, several of the group who’ve sided themselves against FTB in the growing, petty, awful little “rift” of the atheist blogosphere began accusing me of attempting to bury evidence and hide the truth.

It's this response that captures the problem with Thunderf00t.  It's not enough to say that somebody is wrong;  any disagreement has to transcend seeing something differently, it has to be a concerted effort to target and destroy him.  It shows just how highly he thinks of himself.  Any kind of injustice is well worth the cost, because it's just his getting his considerable due.  The fact he's willing to do this, despite having gone through it himself, is incredible.  It shows that his opposition to being "outed" wasn't about the act itself, but rather that it was happening to him.

The community circled the wagons for Thunderf00t when he was threatened with being outed by religious opponents.  This is something we should all be proud off.  If Thunderf00t was worried that he was the target of some massive conspiracy to isolate him from the atheist community, his actions to prove just how justified that end-state would be.  I think its time that we as atheists and free-thinkers recognized Thunderf00t for who he is and chose not to associate with him.  I'm pretty sure most already have before this point, but if you needed any better reason I think you've got it.

Now, one common refrain I'm seeing from people within the atheist community is that this fight is viewed as petty and distracting away from atheism as a whole.  If our goal is to be recognized as equal members of our communities and fight discrimination, we won't be doing ourselves any favors by throwing all common decency out on the way.  We might find ourselves down the line becoming the very monsters we're so opposed to.

Bottom line?  For shame, Thunderf00t.

Apologies if my post seems a little disjointed at points.  I've been a little under the weather since I got my smallpox inoculation.  It's really quite the unpleasant experience.

08 August 2012

Catholic Bishops in Kenya Angry about Contraception Push

I take back everything bad I said about Bill Gates when I was a nerdy teenager.  His foundation does some wonderfully good things in the developing world, to include a new program to provide money for the distribution of contraceptives within Africa.  Catholic bishops in Kenya, however, are quite irate about it:

“We cannot allow our country to be part of an international agenda, driven by foreign funds and by so doing, losing our independence and our African values of the family and society,” wrote John Cardinal Njue, chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference of Bishops in a letter titled Let us Uphold Human Dignity. 
The article that the Bishops wrote against, titled “Kenya joins global birth control push”, mentioned that Kenya is among the countries that have “signed up to a new $4.2 billion (Sh356 billion) drive to promote family planning services”, adding that leaders of more than 20 developing countries made “bold commitments” to address “financing and delivery barriers” that women face who seek contraceptive services and supplies. 
“[T]he use of contraceptives […] is both dehumanizing and goes against the teaching of the church, especially in a country like Kenya where a majority of the people are Christians and God fearing. It already threatens the moral fabric of the society and is an insult to the dignity and integrity of the human person.”

The Catholic Bishops urged all Kenyans and the country’s government leaders that “any development which does not protect the human person is meaningless and in vain.”
The Bishops slammed the program for targeting millions of girls and women in Africa with contraception while “many women are dying daily due to lack of proper medical care, food and housing.”

This entire article is disgusting.  It has been the backward and dogmatic opposition on the part of the Catholic Church that has contributed to the needless misery and suffering of thousands around the developing world, to include Africa.  Kenya in particular has one of the worst HIV/AIDS problems in Africa, with 1.5 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS.  Part of that problem, as has been the case across the developing world, has been the steady opposition of the religious towards the introduction of and advocacy for contraception.   The fact that a Catholic bishop, fresh from decrying the outlaying of funds for contraception, can then turn around and bemoan the fact that nobody is doing enough to provide for women's health shows how either the church is incredibly out of touch at best or disgustingly cynical at worst.

Christopher Hitchens said it best while debating a Catholic bishop:

...I think it will one day be admitted with shame that it might have been in error to say that AIDS is bad as a disease, very bad, but not quite as bad as condoms are bad, or not as immoral in the same way. I say it in the presence of His Grace, and I say it to his face, the teachings of his church are responsible for the death and suffering and misery of his brother and sister Africans, and he should apologise for it, he should show some shame.

The fact that the Catholic Church views even the acknowledgement of human sexuality as such a threat as to require such fanatical and frequently dishonest attacks on contraception shows how morally and ethically bankrupt it is as an institution at this current time.  This is yet another example of how blind religious faith can make somebody who should be morally decent take positions that are morally indefensible.  The Church's hierarchy has the blood of millions on their hands because of their demands that people around the world should ignore reality and the mounting piles of bodies and remain loyal to the bronze-age nonsense they hold to be some divine revelation. Until the Church realizes this, concedes that the preservation of human life is more important than their bizarre hangups about sex and human sexuality, and takes active steps to right the damage they've done, I don't expect to view them as having any sort of moral legitimacy. 

In parting, Stephen Fry had the best response to how the Catholic Church responds to its critics towards the end of the debate I referenced above:
I suppose I’m slightly disappointed that Ann Widdecombe in particular should say “oh, I knew they’d bring up condoms and child rape and homosexuality.” It’s a bit like a burglar in court saying “you would bring up that burglary and that manslaughter, you never mentioned the fact that I gave my father a birthday present.” You know, yes, yes, are you getting the message? There is a reason we hammer home these issues: because they matter. It’s such an opportunity, owning a billion souls at baptism. It’s such an opportunity to do something remarkable, to make this planet better, and it’s an opportunity that is constantly and arrogantly being avoided and I’m sorry for that.

06 August 2012

Dear Pat Robertson

Dear Mr. Robertson,

Your comments on the 700 Club today led me to raise an eyebrow. Actually, that would be putting it mildly.

Today on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson said that “Satanic” atheists were to blame for the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Robertson claimed that “people who are atheists, they hate God, they hate the expression of God,” and are responsible for the massacre, which was committed by a white supremacist. “They’re angry with the world, angry with themselves, angry with society and they take it out on innocent people who are worshiping God,” Robertson continued. He recommended that people “talk about the love of God and hope it has some impact” to stop violence.

Here's the deal, Pat (can I call you Pat?).  I don't hate god.  It is impossible for me to hate something that doesn't exist, and that monster you think lives in the sky certainly meets that criteria.  Additionally, I don't hate life.  My atheism actually leads me to value my life far more than I think you ever can.  I don't think that my few decades here on earth are part of some elaborate, diabolical test to decide how loyal to a totalitarian dictator I can be.  Because of that, every relationship I have, every experience I undergo, and every intellectual pursuit I enjoy I hold that much more dear because I know how finite and precious they really are.

The only thing about the world that I'm angry about is how I'm constantly maligned by you and your fellow believers.  I'm angry about how you demand that I give your intellectual ideas inordinate respect, attempting to place it beyond intellectual examination and thus providing extremists, the very monsters in our midst, with intellectual top-cover.

So, Mr. Robertson, you can do one thing: piss off.  I'm not angry at anyone, frankly, but you, because you're the most deserving of it.

03 August 2012

John Rocker Doesn't Understand Freedom of Speech

John Rocker has a new article out on WorldNetDaily, and it's as vapid as one might expect. I shouldn’t be surprised the man responsible for these infamous comments would be largely unable to make a proper argument, but this article is almost epic in its level of incoherence.
Over recent years, it seems the term “free speech” has become more of an oxymoron than an absolute in our society. Technically, as our Founding Fathers intended, we are all given the undeniable right to voice our thoughts and opinions freely without fear of scorn and/or ridicule derived from non-agreement. I supposedly have the same right to express myself as you do. In a perfect world, my rights should be no different from yours. I’m quite certain that given the current stage of the world’s social climate, however, anyone ascribing to the ridiculous notion that our world is perfect is kidding himself. Our “perfect” world was replaced many moons ago by the defective reality in which we are all forced to reside – and one of the most blatant areas to view the erosion of perfection is seen in the lack of ability many in this great country have to speak freely without fear of chastisement.

Okay Mr. Rocker, let's go ahead and examine this for a moment.  This whole paragraph is wrong on several levels:

1)  The Constitution and the Framers had absolutely no intention of allowing somebody to escape criticism for expressing an opinion or face scorn for it?  Can you be serious for one second and posit that, considering we're talking about a group of individuals who used to shoot each other over disagreements.  Is that not considered scorn?  Or how about opponents of John Adams, who used to refer to him as His Rotundity, a term coined by no less than Benjamin Franklin?  How is calling somebody the then-equivalent of a "fat-ass" not scornful?   

2)  Let's take the full text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Please point to me where this prevents scornful language of any kind?  Where, within this document, is one's right to have their precious, dainty feelings protected?  It isn't there, and nor should it.  If the Framers were that concerned with the idea that people's feelings should be protected, don't you think they would have noted it in there somewhere?

3)  Even IF the Framers wanted to protect people from scorn, why should we care?  ALL ideas that enter the public sphere deserve to be debated, and if they're especially stupid they deserve ridicule, contempt, and scorn, and that's a right I claim.

Of course, perhaps I'm being too hard on Mr. Rocker's article.  Perhaps he's just a sensitive flower who thinks that freedom of speech should mean freedom from criticism because he's just unable to bring himself to criticise people he doesn't agree with.  

From "Roger Clemens and the Big-Government Circus," published on 25 June 2012:

I’ve lived the scenario I just described more times than I care to recall. There is nothing quite like the elation one experiences when a seemingly never-ending, largely ineffectual situation finally has closure. Many years after being absent from a sensation such as that, it finally happened again. After multiple “rain delays,” blatant errors and despicable blunders, the obnoxious multi-inning affair between our generally incompetent federal government and Major League Baseball has finally ended. On June 18 the acquittal of Roger Clemens on all federal counts figuratively pushed across the final run in what, at times, seemed like an endless and outright ridiculous saga. 
The “game” that lasted more than nine years, wasted countless man hours, cost American taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, while irreparably ruining once-impeccable reputations, yielded but one obstruction of justice conviction carrying with it nothing more than two years’ probation and community service. If this “game” that had the first pitch thrown by our federal government doesn’t blatantly reveal the laughable incompetence of individual legislators such as George Mitchell, Elijah Cummings and John Tierney, to name a small few, much of our governmental process specifically and big government overall, then I’m quite sure nothing ever will. From my observation, all that emerged from the government-contrived three-ring circus over the past decade was an indictment of big government at large.

So, wait, its okay to accuse some legislators in Congress as being incompetent because they disagreed with you that the potential use of performance-enhancing drugs in a lucrative sport might be worth noting?  How can anything you published in that article be referred to as anything other than somebody expressing their opinion "freely without fear of scorn and/or ridicule derived from non-agreement"?

Or how about "Things Aren't Really that Bad" from 23 July 2012.

“The bubble-headed bleach blonde comes on at 5; she’ll tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eyes.” If you’re like many Americans, you spend a portion of your time keeping yourself informed on current events – and if you’re like me, after you have been “informed” you oftentimes wish you hadn’t been. Every day it seems the normal course of news is solely devoted to the latest massacre, drought, massive layoff, environmental threat, nuclear threat, rebel uprising or political fisticuffs. Being “informed” regarding the world around you is enough to make the average person peek outside in anticipation of a falling sky prior to heading to work each day. At times it can be downright demoralizing. 
So intimating that people who are concerned with the direction the United States and the world are "bubble-headed bleach blonde[s]."  Ignoring the rampant misogyny implicit within that song lyric, people concerned with the issues that John Rocker doesn't like are apparently vapid. 

Or how about some of the other things Mr. Rocker is associated with.  Like his defense of Ozzie Guillen, who referred to a Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist as a "fag."  How is THAT not scornful?

Good for me, not for thee, I suppose.

Hat-tip to the always great Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

01 August 2012

Yes. I'm absolutely biased against Chick-fil-A. So what?

Today was Eat at Chick-fil-A day, a way for religious conservatives to support a fast-food chain that is infamous for its financial support for groups opposed to equality.

Of course, there are plenty of people who have taken umbrage at people DARING to decide that they don't want to send their money to an organization that's just going to forward that money to poorly-lettered hate groups.  Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag has been getting angry tweets from Christian conservatives all-day for pointing out she had no intention of shopping there.  One common response is that calling on people not to eat at Chick-fil-A is somehow tantamount to stiffing their free speech. Now, ignoring the obvious humor of Christian conservatives getting pissed about people taking a page from their own tactics manual, the thing that really steams me about this kind of response is that people don't understand that free speech doesn't automatically mean that I have to support what you have to say, but rather support your ability to say it.

The founder of Chick-fil-A is welcome to be as much of a bigot as he wants to be.  He's free to selectively quote from his bronze age text as much as he wants.  That said, I'm free to say that he's a bigoted asshole for doing so.  Now, as Ms. McCreight pointed out, that means you can expect to hear that you're actually the bigot because you hate people who are intolerant.  They've got me there.  Guilty as charged.  I am ABSOLUTELY intolerant of people who want to rob people of their right to marry and raise a family.  I'm not going to remain silent and let them spew that view into the public square without comment.  And I'm damn sure not going to pat them on the back for saying it.  Of course, that stance doesn't keep Christians from remaining loyal to their religious beliefs and legally marry in the way they see fit.  I doubt the religious right's bigotry would permit gay couples the same.

The bottom line is simple.  My answer to the people demanding that I shop at Chick-fil-A is a resounding NO.  As in: NO, I refuse to send my money to an organization that's merely going to package it up and use it to deny my fellow citizens their civil rights.  NO, I refuse to give an organization that advances policies that treat women like baby-factories.  And NO, I refuse to give money to an organization that passes money to unscientific "therapies" that cause untold mental suffering in response to somebody daring to recognize their own sexuality.

So go ahead, Chick-fil-A,  open a store near me.  Christians? Feel free to shop there as much as you like.  But don't expect me to give them the time of day, let alone my hard-earned money.

Then again, perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way.  I'm thinking that this might make for one hell of a drinking game.

The Bigoted Against Chick-fil-A Drinking Game!*

  • Accused of hating free speech because you exercised it?  Take a shot.
  • Somebody un-ironically calls you intolerant for challenging a bible verse that says gays should be put to death?  Take a shot.
  • Gay agenda mentioned in any way?  That's two shots, hero.
  • Bullshit sociology or psychology "study" mentioned? Take a shot.
  • Accused of being a "homo-terrorist" (whatever that means)?  Pound a beer.
  • Told you're going to hell?  That's another beer, champ.
  • Each time the person you're debating proves they obviously don't know much about the book they're trying to beat you over the head with?  Only take a single drink, because it's likely to happen a lot.

*Wow, I suck at naming stuff!

Warning: your proximity to the bible belt could result in a case of alcohol poisoning. Do not play the game if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant.  Do not operate heavy machinery while playing the game. 

Oh, one final thing. Is anyone surprised that during all this furor the fact that Chick-fil-A fires women because they've had the gall to get pregnant and chose NOT to stay at home? Who knew having hopelessly backward views on LGBT rights would mean that you're also going to have horribly misogynist views?