Paris damages the case for mass surveillance…

Originally posted on Paul Bernal's Blog:

Predictably, the horrific killings in Paris have led to a number of calls for more, and more invasive powers of surveillance for the police and the intelligence services. This always happens after an atrocity – the horrendous murder of Lee Rigby, for example – but as then, these calls are misguided at best. In particular, what happened in Paris doesn’t make the case for mass surveillance stronger – if anything, it damages that case. A huge amount has been written about this already, and I don’t want to go over the same material yet again, but there are a few key points to bear in mind.

Firstly, that France already has extensive surveillance powers. It already has ID cards. It already has more privacy invasions than we in the UK have – and we have a huge amount. That surveillance, those privacy invasions, didn’t stop the shooting in Paris. Why…

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#StopTenPenny because #vaccineswork

Anti-vaccine disease advocate Dr Sherri Tenpenny is coming to Australia.

We don’t want her to. The #StopTenPenny campaign is asking the Immigration Minister and Health Minister to disallow her visa on the grounds that she’s a loon and a fucking menace to public health. I wrote this today.

Dear Ministers

I write to you to express my concern about the impending visit to Australia of prominent anti-vaccine campaigner Dr Sherri Tenpenny.

Dr Tenpenny is a proponent of potentially fatal misinformation regarding vaccines. Among the lies she promotes is the particularly pernicious falsehood that vaccines cause autism – a link which has never been scientifically demonstrated or even shown to have baseline plausibility. Not only that but the originator of the autism-vaccine link claim, a UK doctor named Andrew Wakefield, has been revealed as a fraud, with his deeply flawed and unethical autism-vaccine Lancet study retracted and his license to practice medicine in the UK revoked.

While it is true that some vaccines can have side-effects on some patients, the incidence of such effects is so low that the benefits of immunising children outweigh the minor risks by several orders of magnitude. “Herd immunity” – a percentage of vaccinated children of 75-90% depending on the disease – is vital to protect those children who, for legitimate medical reasons, cannot receive vaccines as normally scheduled.

I understand that people have a right to free speech, but if Dr Tenpenny is allowed to evangelise to Australian parents about the entirely fabricated causal links to autism and the other paranoid conspiracy theories she promotes, she will present a real and undeniable danger to public health. Irresponsible attitudes such as Dr Tenpenny’s have already caused a resurgence in preventable childhood diseases such as measles and pertussis in the UK, Australia and particularly in the US, with many preventable deaths occurring.

I call on you to immediately investigate any and all reasonable routes to barring Dr Tenpenny from access to Australian parents. Her message is based on fear, ignorance and on warped ideology and not on good science. Anyone taking her advice risks not only their children’s health but the health of everybody those children will come into contact with.

Regards, etc

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#OneTermTony is only the beginning | .@independentaus #auspol

Of course Tony doesn’t care that he and his dream-team of much-loathed vandals almost certainly won’t be re-elected. He’s here to do a job – fulfill a wish-list given him by conservative radicals, making it easier for them to do business by relaxing or removing worker protections and any/all regulations that might delay or slightly reduce profit (not to mention make it criminally easy for the government to get into your personal space). Once he’s spent his three years slashing and burning the social safety nets that have been thorns in the sides of his masters since Whitlam (along with every other piece of post-Gough legislation designed to serve and protect normal people from the miscreant behaviour of state and business alike), he’ll co-author a self-serving memoir with some Murdoch fist-puppet and retire to obscurity on a healthy PM’s pension (and perhaps join the Tory speaker’s circuit and make awkward jokes to various assemblages of CEOs and smugly pale IPA list-makers), comfortable with the knowledge that he fulfilled the brief and did what he was damn well told. He wasn’t there to make friends, he was there to make waves for his bosses to surf on.

And then the incoming Labor government, even if it has both Houses in its pocket, will almost certainly not have the vertebrae to repeal, roll back or even renovate the authoritarian, anti-science, user-pays remnant of a nation they’ll inherit, much less undertake the radical redesign that it already needs after a scant 15 months of Tory clear-felling. As a party they’ve shown precious few signs of mounting actual, effective, opposition while in Opposition (they’ve left that job to The Greens & capricious independents, who they’re happy to throw under the bus when it suits them, even as said Greens, no longer a single-issue party [if they ever were] take seat after seat across the state polls at the expense of both old firms). It takes longer to create – or crucially, repair – than it does to destroy, and it’s difficult to see the next Labor government (esp. if it’s led by Shorten, which seems unlikely [#Plib4PM!]) having the guts or the inclination to fix the train wreck they’re going to step onto. Far easier to just take advantage of the new and extensive state powers set up by their predecessors (as did Obama, who expanded the Bush-enacted surveillance state and sent in the drones, among other things) and cosy up to the real power behind the throne in 2016, which will be an emboldened and enriched executive-class, and make all the right noises to keep the party faithful satisfied (i.e.: the opposite of whatever the Coalition says). And then the Coalition will get back in…

So don’t let’s continue to crow about “One Term Tony”, because in all probability that’s just the beginning.

New Year #2015 detox? Save your money & don’t squirt coffee up your arse | .@ScienceBasedMed

My summary of this Science Based Medicine post: if you’re a generally healthy person, your body is already very good at what it does, which is removing nutrients from food & drink and removing garbage from the leftovers.

If you’ve been overdoing it through the party season, sure, give your rig a break and try replacing one of your daily servings of glazed ham & brandy sauce with a bowl of bran cereal and an apple. Don’t spooge cash on a box of mulch powder and nostrums that makes vague, scary, unsubstantiated and implausible claims or subject yourself to a series of coffee enemas.

People often castigate modern medicine for its profit motive – sure, doctors make money, but when was the last time you saw someone like Dr Oz or Dr Mercola or FoodBabe who *didn’t* have an online store full of magic fat-burning beans and GMO-free ghost-repellent de-ionising Himalayan salt lamps? These guys thrive on using the general ignorance of the public to make people think they’re sicker than they are, then selling them the latest untested, unproven thing to cure it, either directly or via lucrative affiliate programs with other retailers. If you thought showmen flogging miracle cures died out with the travelling carnival, that’s not true – they just went online.

And they want you to put coffee up your arse.

REVIEW: #GamerGate [aka GameGhazi]

Official press releases (and pompous manifestos) for Hashtag GamerGate were, unsurprisingly, full of self-praise for finally taking it to what it saw as gaming’s deeply corrupt journalism-industrial complex. Imagine my surprise when, upon opening the box, all I found inside were self-serving, woman-loathing, harassing, abusive, stalky, shrill little manchildren behaving like toddlers at the prospect of being denied a fourth lollipop. Marching with them were irrelevant opportunists like renowned misogynist-approved feminist Christina Hoff Sommers (recently appointed official court feminist by the Manly Atheist Leadership Establishment Society, whose misogynist thralls overlap significantly with #GG’s) and assorted rightfully long-forgotten fringe conservatives, all lining up to encourage (read: cynically exploit) the ever-increasing rageboy chorus in order to enable their own return to the limelight.

What was supposed to be some kind of grassroots Waterloo for gaming journalism ended up more closely resembling the contents of a water closet. The advertised aims of holding gaming journalists’ feet to the fire and holding developers responsible for unfairly gaming the system (as it were) were no more substantive than the hot air currently being blown out the side of my laptop. Though the targets have been legion, the main villains in the piece – two independent game developers and one gaming critic, all women – are neither journalists nor large players in the industry. The instigator of the movement, a jilted lover of one of the women, penned and publicly posted a list of mouth-foaming lies about his former flame that were so easily and quickly debunked that they may as well sit next to “Creationism” in the Encyclopaedia Bovinus Excreta (the big one regarding said flame’s sleeping with a journalist in order to garner good press was instantly belied by the fact that said journalist never reviewed said game! That’s a plot-hole worthy of Michael Bay). The “good guys”, if there ever were any, were nigh-instantaneously replaced by the kind of ranting, incoherent, double-fisted hate-wankers you’d normally only find in Youtube comment threads but have, emboldened by internet anonymity and the company of fellow woman-hating pre-adolescents, seen fit to air their “grievances” (chiefly in the form of intentionally offensive sexism or abuse, frequently in the form of graphic threats of rape and murder – on occasion including the alleged villains’ home addresses) via social media. They are aided in this by the aforementioned nobodies who, like the opportunistic predators they are, have swum to the chum.

I’m used to being sold a pup by press releases, having compared many a game, politician, film, book and TV series to their PR and finding them wanting, so disappointment would be the wrong word to use here (perhaps “reappointment”?). However, Hashtag GamerGate is by far the most egregious case of the label not matching what’s in the box I’ve yet encountered. The primary players are tooth-grindingly stupid, obsessively hateful or attention-seekers of the lowest possible order, with fewer relevant things to say than any given Kardashian on any given topic. Their targets are in the crosshairs not for lapses in journalistic ethics, nor for bribery or corruption, but for the heinous offences of 1) not coddling and kowtowing to a large and vocal subsection (some would say subspecies) of the gaming community in the way said subsection apparently thinks they deserve and 2) not shutting up and going away in the face of sustained intimidation campaigns, instead continuing to say things that upset the clearly emotionally delicate GameGaters’ feelings.

The aims of #GG might be loftily expressed via several-dollar words and fine-sounding phrases, but they are belied by naked, unapologetic, incandescent misogyny to such an extent that it now defines the movement – and will in perpetuity. If #GG was a movie I would not only urge, beg and bellow at you to not watch it, I would advise all and sundry to blockade any cinema that screened it for the good of humanity. History will not look kindly on Hashtag GamerGate, and rightly so.

SCORE:

No rating given. Even “minus one star” would give this dog’s breakfast more legitimacy than it deserves.

Fastest growing atheist demographic: the Disillusioned | cc @pzmyers @richarddawkins

PZ Myers is disillusioned. Put away the “Surprised” Crayola; he’s not the first and he’s not the only one.

It’s interesting how (what I consider to be) the initial phase of New Atheism in the mid-noughts proudly considered itself somewhat radical, game-changey and fighting the establishment, only to turn around in recent years and itself become the establishment, as resistant to introspection and self-reflection and the admission of error or misjudgement as the hierarchy of any religious target they would’ve railed against, scarlet “A” banner flapping proudly in the breeze as they charged. Specific subject matter to one side, the behaviour of the self-described global thought leaders has, in the face of years of complaints of sexist behaviour and attitudes, rape threats and general misogyny, attempts at driving women bloggers into silence and many real allegations of assault and rape, been just the same as any Old Boys’ Club’s inner circle (and their concentric circles of wannabes) who are faced with inconvenient questions or impertinent highlighting of problematic behaviour or attitudes: deny, defend, deflect, denigrate, double down.

The old new atheists always revelled in their impropriety and impertinent interrogations of religion – they seem to very much resent receiving similarly irreverent treatment from the new new atheists. Their outrage, disdain and denial almost precisely mirrors the reactions they got from establishment religion in the middle years of last decade. Dawkins et al were accused of stridency and shrillness quite a lot back in the day and rightly scoffed, as the allegations were baseless hyperbole. Today? Not so much. If anyone ever wanted to see Dawkins finally earn that “strident” badge, just read his twitter feed when women are up for discussion. If invoking hallmarks of tyranny – e.g. when he employed “verbal jackboots” and the “FreeThought Police” – in response to being criticised on blogs isn’t strident and shrill, I’m waiting to see what is.

The fact is that the atheist movement – such as it is – that these (mostly) men founded (or at least accelerated) is changing. All movements do: feminism, LGBT rights, civil rights, indigenous rights and now non-religious rights have gone and all go through periods of intense forward motion followed by periods of reflection after their successes (even if they’re just in raising awareness) and discussions of “where should we go now?” Right now, atheism is expanding both its demographics and its agendas. Where once it was dominated by academic white guys who were all about church & state and proper science classes in schools, many of the atheists inspired by those people to examine their own beliefs are wanting to talk about – and apply their skepticism and secular reasoning to realising – other things like gender equality and ethnic inclusiveness. One byproduct of both this and the atheist habit for proud irreverence is that the words and attitudes of atheism’s purported leaders are now being questioned as deeply as they themselves would question those of the religious. Sadly, in many cases, those words have been found wanting, the attitudes they reveal as calcified as in any rank-closing bishop and the responses to criticism as reactionary as any wrathful believer – or insecure believer in belief.

In many of the cases of defensiveness on the part of visible atheists like Harris and Dawkins, the subject of the criticism isn’t responding to the content of the criticism, but to the mere fact of the criticism. The subject, incredulous, cannot possibly imagine why anyone would take issue with what they said, because (to their mind and to the bulk of their experience) they are right, what they are saying is common knowledge, utterly inoffensive, well-informed and could not possibly be disagreed with by any educated person of the right mindset. Accordingly, anyone who does disagree or criticise is obviously of the wrong mindset. Once categorised as Wrong, such people can then be summarily dismissed without the need to respond meaningfully to any specific criticism. If the Wrong reiterate or expand their criticism or issue followups, for example criticising the non-responses and summary dismissals, the subject can then invoke all sorts of tyrannical or oppressive or purely monetary motives (“doing it for the clicks!”), as if a single blogger or even a moderately popular blog network has any sort of censorial power over someone like the Richard Dawkins, a best-selling author and in-demand public speaker with (in the atheist world at least) unparallelled influence and access to resources, or any comparable ability to attract revenue just by publishing a post (if anyone’s wondering, this one’s on the house, just like every other one).

The transition was relatively rapid, too: one minute everyone’s apparently (I’ll get to that) on the same page and looking in the same direction, the next – as soon as women identify problematic behaviour and request that we guys not do that then start talking about harassment policies – there’s an instant rift dug by people who for some reason viciously resent being told that some behaviour makes others uncomfortable. Then a few visible “leaders” say some thoughtless or petulant things, one blogger wonders if atheism can be about a little more than debunking myths and is vilified at length for the mere suggestion, a blogger or ‘tuber or two reveal themselves to be unapologetic misogynists, a parallel atheist community is born for the sole purpose of harassing and obsessively monitoring two blog networks and before you know it, women are being threatened with rape and death. With rape and death. And others are laughing at it. Including other women.

And now for the “apparently”: as various discussions progress it turns out that no, we weren’t all on the same page and sexist and creepy behaviour didn’t just spring into existence ex nihilo in a lift early one morning; it’s been a problem nobody (especially insulated white chaps like me) really had any idea about for years – except those directly involved and in some cases, disappointingly, at the executive level of some atheist/skeptic organisations, where active decisions were made to do nothing to support employees who’d been victimised or harassed. It also turned out that there had been for years (like there is in other conference circuits) a grapevine, a back-channel utilised by women attendees and speakers to stay informed about infamous creeps and sexual predators.

And with every revelation and accusation, the rift got wider and deeper, the apologetics got louder and more (dare I say) strident, the responses got more toxic and hateful and the leadership seemingly became focused on prioritising the preservation of their positions at the cost of making what movement there was more welcoming to people who didn’t resemble them physically. Not only that, but the misogynist ragers, the hateful stalkers, the doc-droppers and the entrenched old boys then had the unmitigated gall to accuse those advocating for a more welcoming and diverse community of being “divisive”. As if, somehow, women and feminists pointing out sexist attitudes and harassment so as to raise awareness and start a discussion about solutions was something unexpected, a gross heresy, an unforgiveable sin, all part of a plot to – well, God only knows what. It has never been adequately explained how atheism as a cause might be irreparably harmed by making better and more meaningful efforts to welcome the other half of the population to atheism.

And now that many women, feminists, non-male people and now many non-white people are throwing up their hands and saying “fuck it, you want your “movement” to be pure, to be free of questions that make you uncomfortable, fine – you can have it,” I fully expect the apologists and the old boys themselves to further blame us (feminists, women, non-males, non-whites, inclusivists in general, those social justice warriors everyone seems so concerned about) for being even more divisive.

Finally, I find it highly ironic that the leadership/s that brought us the scarlet letter “A” logo, a repurposing or “taking back” of the old tactic of publicly humiliating women who dared step out of the social boundaries prescribed by the men who essentially owned them, would be so solidly behind enabling and defending a sexist status quo, and in some cases being openly hostile to all women who challenge them, whether they’re accusing accuse “leaders” of assault or inappropriate sexual behaviour or of simply saying things that are mildly (but no less thoughtlessly) sexist. In light of the last three years of harassment, obsessive monitoring, threats, both mild casual sexism and unapologetic misogyny, all with nary a disapproving look from the leaders over the tops of their spectacles, followed by wagon-circling and dismissive responses to allegations of assault and rape (some going back years), that scarlet letter is more appropriate than ever.

Simply, the message in “movement” atheism at this moment appears to be: Speak, woman, and be vilified.

@SamHarrisOrg Unfortunately some things really do need to be said | cc @GretaChristina

Recently, bloggist Greta Christina received some threats and abuse – unfortunately this isn’t a rare occurrence for Greta (or any feminist atheist writer these days), but the abuse in question was in response to some criticism she posted of Sam Harris, atheist advocate and author, recently in the spotlight thanks to voicing some sexist attitudes. Greta tweeted some of the abuse and @’d Sam, saying it’d be nice if he spoke out against such abuse – she made it clear she wasn’t blaming him for it, just asking if he’d distance himself from people behaving like sugared-up pre-adolescent Xboxers in his name.

After some back-and-forth Sam did exactly that, asking anyone who’d abuse any of his critics to unfollow him on Twitter. One of his tweets during the exchange, however, jumped out at me:


Does *anything* go without saying?

I thought this was a good question – I asked it myself not so long ago (2011 to be exact – “Elevatorgate” was only the beginning).

Prior to 2011 I saw that not only were atheist and secularist concerns priorities when it came to atheist activism, but LGBT people and non-white people as well – I’d always thought opposition to LGBT & racial discrimination went without saying and I was happy to see that it did among atheist leaders as well.

At the same time I thought the atheist movement getting behind gender equality (regardless of whether you use the “F” word to describe it) went without saying – not just because of authoritarian patriarchies like Saudi Arabia (and the Bible Belt, and Queensland) but because women are human beings deserving full equality with their fellows. I thought, given everyone’s insistence on skepticism and rationality, that a quick look at the state of play even in advanced societies with legal equality would reveal that women, just for starters, earned less for identical work, were disproportionately overlooked for promotions and executive & political positions and were disenfranchised across the board in myriad ways; that is, social and professional equality were still unrealised goals (again, just for starters – problematic, repressive and sometimes damaging expectations of what a “real” man or “real” woman should be and shouldn’t do are another essay entirely).

But, imagine my surprise when I learned that no, the atheist movement didn’t appear to care about that undeniable hard data because, well, who knows? I saw a lot of chest-beating and foot-stomping and violent assaults on straw-feminists and paranoid fever-dreams of misandrist femtopias and invocations of Christina Hoff-Sommers (the last person anyone should ever depend on for reliable information about the attitudes and goals of mainstream feminism) and general tantrum-throwing – not to mention low-level, casually clueless sexism – but very little in the way of reasonable arguments defending the male-heavy status quo. This wasn’t restricted to a few bloggers or vloggers either; sexism was alive and well and entrenched up to the executive level in the very organisations that held national and international skeptic and atheist conferences – the very organisations that made up the public face of the movement and presumably wanted said public to see their intelligent, rational and enlightened approach not only to science but to society.

I also thought the atheist movement opposing and decrying, as a group, harrassment, online bullying, threats of violence, rape and murder, abuse and cyber-stalking of anyone, not just women, went without saying. How disappointed I was to learn that it didn’t oppose outright such behaviour, and even went as far as to dismiss allegations of rape, dismiss threats as “it’s just online, get over it”, ignore patterns of problematic behaviour, blame victims at every turn and generally behave like any woman who complained of being targeted was getting all in a tizzy about nothing. Again, this was happening at an institutional and executive level and not just on the blogs and Youtube accounts of a few misogynist miscreants.

In short, Mr Harris, yes: in this movement at least, there a great many things that not only need to be said but need to be said repeatedly and loudly, right now, by people in positions of influence. Richard Dawkins did exactly that when he signed a joint statement with Ophelia Benson decrying abusive behaviour in the atheist community – the fact that within 72 hours he’d undone that good work by revealing gaping holes in his appreciation of sexism and rape culture notwithstanding (not to mention his earlier foot-in-mouth about rape rankings) . Clearly your fellow Horseman, for all his own missteps, appreciates that some things really don’t go at all and really do need to be said.

I made the mistake of thinking that opposition not only to casual sexism but also harassment and abuse did indeed go without saying in this community; you appear to have done exactly the same thing. My mistake was a result of simple naivete, but after several years of sustained and publicly-reported abuse and death threats of your fellow atheists and skeptics (leading to more than one restricting their involvement or quitting it entirely due to obsessive and unrelenting hate campaigns), all based on little more than their gender and alignment with certain ideals, I’m wondering what possible excuse you could have.