Monthly Archives: August 2012

Atheism+

In case my post from last week was ambiguous. This. Exactly this.

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

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Can We Have a New Atheist Movement Now Please?

Fuck. I’ve been putting off writing this, because I don’t really have the words. There are so many things right now, and through the last year, that just piss me the fuck off about the Atheist Movement. I’m an atheist, and I want very much to be a part of *an* atheist movement, but the one we have right now is failing on so many levels.

Sure we have publicity, and record numbers of people showing up to conferences. Huge spikes in secular student groups. Blogs. Billboards. Television exposure.

But for all our successes, we have a lot of fucking problems. Natalie Reed sums it up brilliantly (no, seriously, read the whole thing):

And, of course, the endless controversy over the most basic principles of feminism and women’s rights. Elevatorgate, now ongoing for over a year. The treatment of the 15 year old girl on r/reddit. The “controversy” of Staks Rosch’s all-male atheist-of-the-year list, and his ridiculous claims that it would be “tokenism” to have ANY women on a five person list, with insinuations that it would only start “making sense” for just ONE of half the world’s population to show up if it were a list twenty people long. The endless discussions of the merits of using the word “cunt” to harass and intimidate women. DJ Grothe’s insistent apologism for any dudes being “attacked” by the “radical feminist” contingent of Atheism who had some basic level of sense that all this fucked up shit was kind of fucked up. The sexual harassment issue. The blatant misogynistic appraisals of female atheist’s worth by their appearance. Mallorie Nasrallah. Paula Kirby. FTBullies. The Amazing Atheist’s meltdown while trying to deliberately trigger a rape survivor. Justin Trottier. The increasing incursion and overlap between the internet Atheist Movement and the Men’s Rights Movement. I got so sick of all that, having to same the sexist garbage rehashed endlessly, with so much vitriol and fervor.

(links added by me)

And to be perfectly honest, as important as I think the Atheist Movement is, as crucial as it is to promote reason and skepticism and secularism; I’m fucking tired of having the movement I believe so much in associate me with people like that. I’m fucking tired of it, and honestly, I don’t even have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I can’t imagine what Natalie, Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Ophelia BensonRebecca WatsonElyse Anders, the rest of the Skepchick crew and probably dozens of other women (some of whom I probably haven’t even heard about yet) have to deal with on a day to fucking day basis. Not to mention women outside of the movement, like Anita Sarkeesian who are victims of the same Internet culture in which the Atheist Movement thrives. And yet we’ll turn to defend women like Jessica Ahlquist so long as the people threatening to rape her come from outside of the movement; and then quickly turn around and pat ourselves on the back for how much better we are towards the womenz.

I don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people anymore but I also don’t want to give up on fighting for something that I think is this important now that I’ve finally found a place (albeit a mostly digital one) where I actually feel like I belong.

So here’s what I propose: we need a new atheist movement. Not the “New Atheist” movement as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, as described by Christians: it’s been well pointed out that the current Atheist Movement is nothing new at all: philosophical objections to Pascal’s Wager, the Watchmaker analogy and the ontological argument are almost as ancient as the arguments themselves. What we need is an actually new atheist movement. One that actually cares about the people. While I enjoy many privileges in life (being white, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc) I’m tired of a movement that clothes itself in these privileges and then claims that they’re better for it.

I want a new atheist movement that actually cares about people. An atheist movement that will look at the way religion poisons our views on gender, race, or sexuality and actively tries to combat that. I want an atheist movement that will reach out help other people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, education, wealth, visibility, or even religion. Yes, religion, we don’t have to agree with them, we don’t even have to be nice about it, but we can still be the goddamn compassionate ones who will reach across and help anyone in need, regardless of whether they can refute Pascal’s Wager or not.

I want a new atheist movement that isn’t going to call women on the internet cunts for having an opinion.

I want a new atheist movement that is open and inviting and accessible to everyone who wants to be there.

And I want a new atheist movement where we can tell the people to fuck off and leave if they have a problem with creating a safe space for the people who want to be there. Because fuck those guys.

Shoot the Canadians!

So this story has been making its way around the internets about Walt Wawra, a visitor to Calgary who was set upon by two hoodlums whom he was unable to shoot because of Canada’s over-the-top gun laws that make it illegal to, like, shoot people. It’s already been torn to shreds by the rest of the intelligent world, but it looks like fun so I want to join in. My response in red.

I recently visited Calgary from Michigan. As a police officer for 20 years, it feels strange not to carry my off-duty hand-gun. Many would say I have no need to carry one in Canada. [Some might even say you, in particular, should not be carrying a gun at all.]

Yet the police cannot protect everyone all the time. A man should be al-lowed [what?] to protect himself if the need arises. The need arose in a theatre in Aurora, Colo., as well as a college campus in Canada. [Look, there is an argument to be made that if people were “al-lowed” to carry guns, then they could be used to stop violent crimes. There’s something to this: absolutely *some* violent crimes could be stopped if the victim or witnesses were armed. Aurora was *not* such a crime. For starters, James Holmes was wearing fucking body armour. Secondly, the room was dark, loud, and filled with fucking tear gas: who knows how many other people might have been shot. Finally, if two or more of the victims had been armed, on what rational basis do you expect that they wouldn’t have been shooting at eachother? All you’d know in that situation is that there are two other people in the room who are armed threats. So pro-gun folks: fine, keep bringing up Aurora, but realize that you’re shooting yourselves in the foot (so to speak) when you do.]

Recently, while out for a walk in Nose Hill Park, in broad daylight [you know, the time of day when most violent crimes occur] on a paved trail, two young men approached my wife and me. The men stepped in front of us, then said in a very aggressive tone: “Been to the Stampede yet?”

We ignored them. The two moved closer, repeating: “Hey, you been to the Stampede yet?”

I quickly moved between these two and my wife, replying, “Gentle-men, I have no need to talk with you, goodbye.” They looked bewildered [as is typical for muggers, who can often be stopped with nothing but a request for them to leave you alone], and we then walked past them.

I speculate they did not have good intentions when they approached in such an aggressive, disrespectful and menacing manner. [Not to mention the fact that they just let you walk off without incident] I thank the Lord Jesus Christ [of course you do] they did not pull a weapon of some sort [because in America-land, you have to assume that everyone around you is armed], but rather concluded it was in their best interest to leave us alone. [-slash-left you alone because you asked them to]

Would we not expect a uniformed officer to pull his or her weapon to intercede in a life-or-death encounter to protect self, or another? [Yes, typically. But in what way was this anything resembling a life-or-death encounter? Guys walk up to you in a park, ask a question, and when rebuffed leave you alone. At what point was your life in any actual danger. The question I would love to hear Wawra answer is this: “If you had had a gun on you, would we now be reading a much more tragic story involving two dead men? With only the information available to you at the time, would you have pulled the trigger and if so would you still stand by your decision knowing now that the two men were willing to just let you walk away?] Why then should the expectation be lower for a citizen of Canada or a visitor? [Because a) police carry weapons because they are more likely to be intentionally walking into dangerous situations: that’s their job; b) police are trained, not only to wield a firearm properly but also assess whether a situation requires the use or threat of deadly force (I can only assume Wawra missed this day in police school); or c) most people aren’t walking around with a fucking gun in their pocket. Take your pick.] Wait, I know – it’s because in Canada, only the criminals and the police carry handguns. [There were 170 firearm related homicides in Canada in 2010[source]. In the US, that number was 8,775[source]. That’s 28.5 gun murders per million people in the US, or 5 gun murders per million people in Canada. You know, it’s almost as if not allowing people to carry guns around, and not constructing a society where guns are seen as “manly” or “an inalienable right” causes fewer gun deaths. Y’know, almost.]

And as a postscript to this story, there’s a possibility that the two “Nose Hill Gentlemen” were simply promoters for the Stampede handing out free passes.

“Life-or-death encounter”.

A Fun, Quick Theorem

I like this theorem, and it’s pretty straightforward to prove since I’ve done all the leg room in previous posts.

Theorem: There are sets of natural numbers that no computer program can enumerate.

Proof:

  1. There set of all computer programs is enumerable (countably infinite). (Proof here)
  2. The set of all sets of natural numbers in not enumerable (uncountably infinite). (Proof here)
  3. Therefore there are more sets of natural numbers than there are computer programs to enumerate them.
  4. Therefore there are sets of natural numbers that no computer program can enumerate.

\Box

Nothing too earth-shattering, I just thought it was cute.

Oh yeah, did I mention there are different sizes of infinities? I guess I should talk about that next time.

How I Use Evolution to Organize My Closet

Okay, this is going to be a weird one, but just bear with me…

When I do laundry, I hang my shirts in my closet by just shoving everything in my closet to the left, and hanging up the shirts I just washed on the right. Pretty simple system, but it has an interesting consequence.

Over time, my shirts become organized from left to right by how often I wear them. This is due to the fact that if I go many laundry days without wearing a shirt, it will just keep getting pushed further and further left every time I hang my laundry back up, whereas shirts I’ve recently worn will be on the right-hand side. It’s not a perfect system: if I decide one week to wear a shirt I hardly ever put on, then next laundry day that shirt will end up near the right-hand side of my closet, but the point is that over time this evens out.

Now you might think it’s a stretch to call this evolution. And you know what, you’d probably be right, as my closet is not really a self-replicating system. But fuck it, it’s almost 3am as I write this: let’s see where it takes us.

Let’s consider every time I hang up my laundry as a new generation (population 1), whose genome is determined by the order of the shirts. This generation keeps part of its genome from the previous generation (the order of the shirts I haven’t worn since my last laundry day) but also has some mutation imposed on it (the random order in which I hang up the shirts that I just washed). More specifically, the left genome segment is inherited from the previous generation and the right genome segment contains a bunch of new data. The ratio of how much of the final genome is inherited versus how much is mutated is a function of how long it’s been since the last time I did my laundry.

But since there’s only a population of one, I don’t really have a selection mechanism, so that kind of falls apart.

Let’s consider the shirts themselves as the population, and we could say we’re selecting for a shirt that really like to wear. Because of the structure that comes out of this whole process, I can easily (artificially, obviously) select a shirt from the right side of the closet and odds are I’ll end up with a well-liked shirt in-hand. And if I then wear the shirt, next time I do laundry it will receive a high-priority in the new population when I hang it back up on the right-hand side.

Is there a point to all this? Not really. I just thought it was a neat little meditation on how complex systems can be generated through simple rules.

(That sound you’re hearing is every biologist who reads this screaming at their monitor, by the way…)

–Posted without being proof-read. Like I said, it’s almost 3am.