Please Keep Making Calendars (if you want to)

Argh. This is tough. I love Rebecca Watson, but I think this is literally the first time I’ve disagreed with her about something. And strongly.

Rebecca Watson has posted a blog in response to (I assume, due to the timing of it) Secular Woman, Inc.‘s creation of a nude atheist calendar project. In it, she lists several reasons why she wishes atheist and skeptic organizations would stop making nude calendars. Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist also posted a blog in support of Watson. I’d really just like to take a moment to address the first two of Watson’s criticisms:

1. Regardless of the intent behind the calendars, regardless of how much fun we had making them, regardless of how empowering we found them, regardless of the racial and age diversity we showcased, and regardless of the fact that they were run by a woman and benefited women, pin-up calendars added to an existing environment in which women were seen first as sexual objects and maybe if they’re lucky they’d later be seen as human beings with thoughts and desires of their own. Back in 2005, I thought skeptics weren’t affected by the patriarchy and that misogyny was something left to the religious. In a community like that, a pin-up calendar of women would be absolutely fine. I learned that a community like that does not exist and it was naive of me to assume otherwise.

2. Adding a calendar of men did not balance out the calendar of women. In a perfect non-patriarchal world, it would, but what I realized was that the women in the calendars were not being seen in the same way as the men in the calendars. The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

First off, if the intent behind the calendars is good, and the people making them both had fun and were empowered by it, then that’s all you should need right there. If you want to pose nude (or semi-nude) for a calendar (or anything else) go right ahead. The whole point of feminism is that nobody but you gets to tell you what to do with your body. I realize that Rebecca isn’t saying otherwise, but if you want to make a nude calendar then you should. Don’t let anybody else tell you not to.

The problem here isn’t that women are being sexualized. If you’re posing for racy photographs with the intent to distribute them, then I would hope that you realize that being sexualized is inevitable, if not the whole point.

The problem is when assholes fail to have the ability to see someone in a sexual context for a few seconds (or, I guess, a month) and then treat them normally in any other context. The problem is when these people objectify women, rather than recognize that sexuality is only one small part of an entire person.

So what’s the solution? I don’t claim to be smart enough to know for sure, but I suspect that the following things will help:

  1. More nude calendars with more diversity: Everyone get naked! Let’s try to create a culture where people can be sexual and still be taken seriously. We need more men to strip for the cause because, as Rebecca points out, nobody takes nudity as a mark against men. Maybe, just maybe, we can normalize nudity to the point where it’s not something that people can hold against women. The Atheists Breaking Through calendar is doing awesome in this regard as it has a mix of men and women, including a trans woman. That’s great! Let’s do more.
  2. Don’t give in to trolls: If we let the solution to “dumbasses don’t know how to deal with nudity” be “get rid of all the nudity” then you’ve basically let win kind of people who think that a woman who has appeared naked in a photo once can no longer be taken seriously. If you want to express yourself by appearing nude, then stopping yourself because of negative reactions you get is letting people silence you. And you know what? If that’s a barrier to you expressing yourself that you don’t want to put in the time and energy to traverse, that’s fine too. But what bothers me about Rebecca’s suggestion to get rid of the calendars is that she’s adding to that barrier rather than fighting against it. “If you think that ignoring assholes and bullies makes them go away, you are wrong”.
  3. Stop being an asshole: If you’re the kind of person who can’t take a woman seriously if you’ve seen her boobs, then kindly fuck off. I honestly wonder how you can even have relationships with women. I imagine most of you would actually love to see some boobs, so how do you deal with that in real life? Do all your relationships (romantic, sexual, or otherwise) teeter precariously over the brink of seeing the other person naked? If you have sex with someone do you magically become unable to have a serious conversation with them? How do you operate in life? I honestly don’t get it. But regardless, don’t be that guy. Just… don’t.

Posing nude can be fun. It can be sexy. It can even be empowering.

Although it sucks that there are people in this life who will try and take that away from you, if you decide that your desire to do it outweighs the drawbacks, then great. Go for it.

I did some nude modelling for a friend’s photography art project in university. It was awesome. I am so proud that I did it, because I do have body image issues and being able to be open like that was a huge deal for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat. JT Eberhard, who will be appearing in the Atheists Breaking Through calendar, said it beautifully:

As a recovering anorexic, taking those pictures was extremely difficult, but it was worth it.  This is what flooded into my mind when Bridget asked me to be in this calendar.  It will be scary, but ultimately I think it will be good for me.

I think the human body is beautiful.  After those pictures, there were times when I thought mine was as well.  After years of coming to loathe reflective surfaces but being unable to resist looking at them, that feeling was like breathing oxygen for the first time.  I suspect that participating in this project will allow me to recapture that sensation.

So yeah. If you want to pose naked, then do it. If you want to publish the photos, then do that too. Hell, if you like looking at the photos of other people naked, there’s nothing wrong with that either. You just need to be able to go back to treating the people in those photos normally after you’ve looked at them. Don’t objectify them just because they have tits or a dick.

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Stalemate

A friend on my Facebook posted this image:

Spock says:
“Neither of you can prove or disprove God”
“Checkmate Christians & atheists”

I replied as follows (and wanted to repost it here):

Ignoring that science is not actually in the business of “proving” things, but rather gathering evidence through investigation.

Ignoring that if you’re going to use a standard of knowledge that requires “proof” or “absolute certainty” then you actually can’t prove or know anything. And I mean *literally* anything. You can’t prove that the sky is blue because for all you know we’re in the Matrix right now and the actual sky is violet.

Ignoring that Christians can’t even agree among themselves as to the characteristics of the god they believe in; let alone the hundreds of other religions in the world.

Ignoring that, actually, if your claims about gods require preconditions that contradict things that we know about reality, then yeah… you can eliminate the possibility of that god existing. Further, if your the preconditions of that god are logically impossible then you’ve again precluded the possibility of his existence.

Ignoring that absence of evidence is, in fact, the only *possible* evidence of absence, and that you don’t believe in leprechauns, unicorns, fairies or mermaids for the exact same reason that atheists don’t believe in gods (ie: complete and utter lack of evidence for their existence).

Ignoring all that and supposing for the sake of argument that we have absolutely no idea whether or not any gods exist:

Without being able to prove that religion is correct, you don’t get to impose it on other people. There’s no reason to deny loving same-sex couples the right to marry. There’s no reason to institute mandatory prayer in schools. There’s no reason to splash acid in the faces of women for wanting to go to school or drive a car. There’s no reason to refuse to help the poor because they’ll just get some really good shit in their next life. There’s no reason to deny women their rights to bodily autonomy. There’s no reason to deprive children of necessary lifesaving medical technology like vaccinations or blood transfusions.

In the argument between atheists and religious folks guess who’s fully on the side opposing all those things?

That’s right, the atheists.

We don’t do it for ourselves, we do it for everyone. So that nobody has to be oppressed by the religious segments of society.

And you know what? If nobody on the planet were harmed in any way by religion, then I’d still argue with religious people, but it would be in the same way I argue with people who think that Star Wars is better than Star Trek: at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because neither of us are going to go home and starve our children because of our religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where all the things I listed above happen. A lot.

And before you throw up the “not all religious people are like that” argument, let me just tell you: I don’t care. I don’t give one half of the tiniest shit about that. The fact that it happens AT ALL is the problem.

That’s why the atheists fight.

And if you’re a religious person who lives their full life without harming anyone in the slightest, whether inadvertently or not, because of your religious beliefs? Good for you. Captain Kirk could still kick the shit out of Han Solo.

On a related note, the bit about going home and starving one’s children over religious belief is a reference this story. I worry that it seems like I’m just picking a recent bit of news that proves my point, but the sad thing is whenever I go to write about the horrific things that people have done in the name of religion, I don’t need to dig back very far in recent news to find something. Like, ever. There’s a constant source of terrible, depressing things done by religious people, in the name of religion, easily available for reference in the news stories of the past week or so.

Remind me again how you can’t have morality without God?

Update on Minecraft-Zelda

It’s been about a year since I first posted about my recreation of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in Minecraft. Wanted to give you an update.

The overworld map is basically done.

Gerudo Desert, the Great Swamp, the Orchard.

Lake Hylia, the Eastern Palace, Hyrule Castle and Link’s House.

Lost Woods and Karkariko Village.

Death Mountain.

Zora’s Domain.

The Dark World is basically done:

Village of Outcasts, Skull Woods and the Golden Pyramid.

Misery Mire, Swamp Palace, Ice Lake and the Dark Palace.

Dark Death Mountain, Agahnim’s Tower and Turtle Rock.

Even the interiors of all the dungeons are all done, such as:

Castle Prison.

The Sanctuary.

Turtle Rock Dungeon.

… and more, but there’s too many to show.

Currently I’m in the process of coding all of the dungeon switch-based puzzles, teleporters (using command blocks from the upcoming snapshot) and trying to finalize the last few items that don’t have good equivalents in Minecraft (such as the boomerang or magic cape). Most of the items have been placed in chests and stuff, including apples as heart pieces, emeralds as rupees, bow, arrows, bottles, etc…

Demo for the glass switch blocks that you can toggle up and down.

 

Map for the inventory to place items in chests, etc…


Yep.

Who Votes Over the Economy?

The following is a hypothesis. I don’t really have the background in sociology or any idea of the methodology required to confirm or refute it, but I want to put it out there any maybe someone with more of a clue than me can figure out if it’s true or not.

I read the following quote from Grimalkin on the Atheism+ forums today:

People who have their lives voted on and legislated by politicians tend to not care *too* much about the economy, because we’re too worried about whether some governer is going to declare him the right to our uterus or something equally fun.

It got me thinking. The economy is probably an important issue, and one that I admit I don’t really understand. Because of this I’ve always voted on social issues: stuff I can wrap my head around. Marriage equality is important because gay people deserve the same rights as anyone else. Marijuana should be legalized because we are imprisoning too many people for a “crime” that the vast majority of people commit; they just had the misfortune of getting caught. Education costs should not be prohibited. Homeless people deserve a place to live. Women should have the right to bodily autonomy. Transgender people should not have to worry about discrimination. Women who are coerced into prostitution should be protected and women who want to be sex workers should have that right. People should have access to healthcare regardless of how deep their pockets go.

These are all issues that our society is grappling with and for the most part they seem to be supported by the left and rejected by the right.

In the current US election campaign, I hear Republicans talking about the economy a lot more than Democrats. It’s similar in Canada: I hear a lot more from the conservatives about economic and business issues and a lot more from the NDP and Green Party about social issues.

So it makes me wonder, who actually casts their vote based on the economy?

It seems to me that if your primary concern is the economy, then you haven’t really had to deal with a government or society that seems intent on trampling your rights. If your biggest concern is whether your company can make more money with the Republican tax plan, or if your biggest problem is that you can’t afford the lifestyle you used to have then you are privileged in a lot of ways that allow you to ignore how the right is taking away the rights of the rest of us.

If you’re gay, you have to worry about bigots trying to pass constitutional amendments to prevent you from getting married. If you’re in prison for minor drug offenses, you’re probably concerned about the hypocrisy of the people who put you in there. If you can’t afford an education, you have to worry about how to get a good job in a society that increasingly requires a post-secondary education. If you’re homeless you probably have to worry about whether your local shelter has enough beds and food. If you’re a woman, you might have to worry about the long term consequences of if you have a child you’re not ready for. If you’re trans, you probably have to worry about whether the government will let you get on a plane or whether they’ll harass you because you don’t “look man/woman enough”. If you’re a sex worker you probably have to worry about your safety and ability to rely on law enforcement if you’re in danger. If you have cancer you need to worry about whether you can get the chemotherapy that you need to stay alive.

In my opinion, these issues are way more pressing than which candidate gives the best tax cuts.

I’m not saying that the economy is unrelated to these issues: clearly it is as government needs ways to fund a lot of these things (or in some cases is actively wasting money on suppressing the disadvantaged, for example money spent on imprisoning people for drug possession). But if your primary concern when you cast your ballot is which party will better stimulate the economy, then you probably haven’t had to spend any part of your life worrying about whether the party you were voting for was going to turn around and try to stomp you and people like you down and out of society once they’re in power.

A Challenge

I posted this on my Facebook the other day:

Challenge: Explain Tom Bombadil to someone who has never read Tolkien without him sounding like the stupidest thing ever.

Please discuss.

No, seriously, who is this guy?

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.

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.