Catherine Dunphy, Acting Executive Director of The Clergy Project

Going to play catch-up on some things that need amplification on my tabs for the weekend. Apologies for being so absent lately, and for being so late on a few extremely newsworthy items. It couldn’t be helped.

First up, allow me to extend hearty and heartfelt congratulations to Catherine Dunphy, the first graduate of The Clergy Project and an absolutely lovely human being through and through, on her recent appointment as Acting Executive Director for the project. The press release, which I’ve nicked from RDF

Washington DC, Thursday July 26, 2012 – The Board of Directors of the Clergy Project would like toannounce the appointment of a new acting Executive Director.

As we move forward with our organizational goals, Catherine Dunphy former Chaplain and Board Secretary has been appointed by the Board of Directors to the role of acting Executive Director of the Clergy Project. Catherine has been a member of the Clergy Project since its inception in March 2011.

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Catherine Dunphy, Acting Executive Director of The Clergy Project

An apology, a mea culpa, and my stated opinion of DJ Grothe


So, I have this problem. A vacuous shitbag troll is running around telling everyone that I’m a homophobe based on a reading of my comment here:

DJ Grothe is not LITERALLY a douchebag, as he does not store vinegar or other potentially harmful chemicals in his person for the purposes of “cleansing” a woman’s vagina. In fact, I hear he wants little to do with women’s vaginas.

When people who have shown every intention of manufacturing controversy just happen to be right about something, I have this tendency to not believe them because of all the dross they’ve spat out before. I sometimes trust my pattern recognition all too much. The fact that this troll is presently spamming both DJ and all my compatriots, and has been for two days, is galling, but must not blind me to the fact that some people could find that offensive.
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An apology, a mea culpa, and my stated opinion of DJ Grothe

Hits vs comments, controversialism, and a reception metric

DJ Grothe, in the wake of a bit of pattern recognition by Stephanie Zvan that made him look bad enough to evidently cause him to forget that he has a JREF communications director, recently made a claim in his reply (link to Greta’s sur-reply with blockquotes) to Greta’s two questions that certain blogs are under orders to write contrarian and controversialist blog posts in order to drum up hits. He hasn’t yet substantiated that claim with some actual specifics, so while we’re waiting, I thought I’d look at some statistics for the other major component of that claim, that controversial topics drive hit counts.
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Hits vs comments, controversialism, and a reception metric

Vilifying dissent

A fifteen year old girl posts a picture of herself on Reddit r/atheism holding a copy of Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World, which she took to post to Facebook originally. She didn’t know she was evidently transgressing unwritten and sexist-by-design social rules by posting her picture, and thus was being taught the lesson that she should have “worn a burka”, in her words. She ended up on the receiving end of hundreds of comments upvoted by thousands of users involving all manner of hateful and diminishing speech. Rebecca Watson pointed this situation out on Skepchick with the usual inflammatory results, since everything that Rebecca Watson ever points out must be wrong because it was pointed out by Rebecca Watson. Bloggers everywhere leapt on this conflagration, hoping to sway a closely-allied community into fighting back against the atheist and skeptic communities’ problem with sexism.

Then I started to notice a new trend in various blog posts’ comment threads, both here and at Greta’s. It’s a trend I’m not terribly sure I like. It is the conflation of enabling misogyny, and being a misogynist.
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Vilifying dissent

How do you truly “lead”, in a community so loosely organized and full of in-fighting?

Stephanie Zvan lives up to her nickname once again, this time by putting together an excellent and thorough discussion on leadership in context of the big ol’ privilege blowup (AKA, this month’s Great Rift In The Community (TM)). This is important stuff, if you want to understand exactly where people have gone wrong in arguing many of the points they’ve argued, and where people are completely misunderstanding their own leadership roles. There are many lessons we should learn from the events surrounding Elevatorgate, and Stephanie does a fantastic job of cataloguing them.

Debbie [Goddard, of CFI – ed] and I spoke about skeptical leadership, and it was a particularly interesting time to do so. Rebecca’s post on naming names in her talk at the CFI leadership conference had just come out. This was a conference that Debbie had organized and run. Also, earlier this year, I had expressed some criticism of CFI Michigan’s leadership for their promotion of an evolutionary psychology speaker and their reactions to my post and Bug Girl’s dissecting the speaker’s research.

Debbie and I had a good talk, and I’ve been meaning ever since to write up a few thoughts on leadership. Note that these are my thoughts, not Debbie’s, although I’m comfortable saying that Debbie and I agree on a few things:

  • Leadership is largely a set of skills that can be taught.
  • Due to the nature of skepticism and atheism, leaders in these movements may emerge from the ranks based on skills other than leadership. That’s natural and expected.
  • Skepticism and atheism, as broad movements, need to find a way to reliably instill these skills in their leaders to create stronger movements.
  • We need to provide support for leaders independent of the groups that they’re leading. That is to say both that pooling talent and knowledge is more effective and that it isn’t healthy for an activist organization’s leader to receive all their social support from within the organization.
  • We’re only in the beginning stages of treating leadership skills as important, but we’re already making good strides.
  • Moving this quickly, as with any kind of change, is going to produce some pain.

Now, speaking only for me, I think there are some lessons on leadership to take home from the events of the past few months. I will also be naming names here, but I should note that my intent is to provide concrete examples and to draw something good out of painful events, not to shame anyone. None of what I’m about to say is or should be transparently obvious to everyone. These are things we need to learn.

Emphasis mine. If any of this was self-evident, there’d have been no blowup.

Go read the rest of this post, post-haste.

Yes, that was an imperative. I’m being leader-y, see?

How do you truly “lead”, in a community so loosely organized and full of in-fighting?

Atheist blogospherics, and beating creationists at their own game

I haven’t done any atheist posts recently. I’ve been so wrapped up in the astrology nonsense that I just haven’t had the concentration to split off onto other topics, like my rampant heathenism. This is a sin, in my books, so I aim to rectify that — by pointing to a few other people’s interesting posts.

Greg Laden discusses the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Minnesota Museum of Science, which Jodi and I had the opportunity to see but opted not, given the high price and the low level of interest we had in the actual archaeology behind it. A few jokes were made about the religious folks who would flock to it only to discover that most of the stories in the Bible took a much different form in their original incarnations. None of the jokes were anything to do with the authors being ignorant shepherds.

A while ago I asked on my Facebook page whether anyone had seen the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. As one might expect, a couple of people, who possibly thought I was joking, noted that the Dead Sea scrolls were part of the bible, and all that stuff was implausible stories handed down by ignorant shepherds over the generations, etc., etc., etc.

My first reaction to that, as an anthropologist, was this: “Hey, Imma let you say that now, but if you diss my Pygmies like that I’ll kick your ass.” In other words, I do find it rather condescending when western occidento-hetero-caucasoido-normative types take it on themselves to make blanket statements that some other group of people of which they know nothing are stupid. I understand the whole being annoyed at the bible thing, but this is where modern-day new atheists can be thoughtless when unpracticed in their philosophy and its application.

Interested to see where he’s going with this? Of course you are!

Elsewhere, on the intertubes, a blogger writing under the name of Overscope has a post up titled Poisoning the Well, wherein he discusses the recent-slash-neverending “schism” discussion between atheists and skeptics. And he makes a number of truly excellent points.

I want to point something out that I don’t think many skeptics familiar with this discussion have paid enough attention to: nobody (save some career civil servants in the Bush Administration and Dr. David Nutt in the UK) ever lost their job due to skepticism. Nobody’s been threatened in the US military because they didn’t believe in Bigfoot. There is no wording in US state constitions prohibiting people from holding office if they don’t believe in reflexology. People don’t pound on your door at 8am on a Saturday trying to convert you into believing NASA didn’t really land on the moon. No US president has ever said that people who don’t believe in UFOs aren’t really citizens. Dowsers are not trying to prevent women from consulting with geologists. Chiropractors are not taking over state boards of education to ensure subluxation theory replaces the germ theory of disease in high school biology class. Spoon-benders did not spend tens of millions of dollars trying to deny non-psychokinetic Californians their right to marry.

And occasional commenter and an ex-roommate of mine, Mitchell, sent along a link to a brilliant application by paleontologist Paul Senter of the techniques that creationists use to show that the various “kinds” of life, or “baramins”, are correctly classified, in order to prove that dinosaurs and birds share a common ancestor.

I used a statistical technique called classic multidimensional scaling, which creation scientists use to quantify morphological gaps between species. I wanted to determine whether morphological gaps separated Archaeopteryx – the earliest known bird – from the various non-avian coelurosaurs, the group of predatory dinosaurs ranging from tiny Microraptor to giant T. rex. I showed that within this group there is too much similarity to indicate separate baramins. Contrary to the previous creationist view that these animals were separately created, their own pet technique shows that these animals shared a common ancestor (Journal of Evolutionary Biology, vol 23, p 1732)

The technique could theoretically be used to systematically show a common origin for most, if not all, life, thus forcing creationists to either accept a common origin or abandon their technique of classic multidimensional scaling. It would be a small victory, but an amusing one nonetheless.

So, what interesting news in atheism do you have to share?

Atheist blogospherics, and beating creationists at their own game

A few blogospherics before bed

Just a few quick, interesting things (a short RCimT, if you will) before I hit the hay.

I bet Russ looks something like this.

If you haven’t already seen it, check out Jim Gardner’s multi-part review of Joe Cienkowski’s tract really-short-book Atheism is a Religion – Evolution Is Their ‘Creation’. As an added bonus, I clash with some random anonymous dude here in part 2 over some specious claims about the ability to be “true-agnostic” like True Neutral in D&D. Amusingly, later in the same thread, a steady-stater named Russ shows up to talk about how light can get tuckered out, and how he knows better than the scientific consensus through his self-education in particle physics and cosmology over the past 41 years. And guess why there’s a scientific consensus about the big bang cosmology? That’s right, a global conspiracy for money! Of course!

Our Lady of Perpetual Win, AKA my evil overlord, has a fantastic meta-analysis post about how alliances are formed and maintained on the blogosphere, and what can be expected from allies — and conversely, what CAN’T be expected in any fairness. And here I just thought you went around collecting minions from willing subjects. Suffice it to say, expecting a nascent community of otherwise outcasts to act monolithically is pretty counter-intuitive. Though I guess if you were really supposed to collect minions, you could expect at least some measure of uniformity in action. Stephanie also reposts a salient piece from last year about allies, containing this most-choice quote:

The people we need to reach, in the mainstream or in other marginalized groups, are not monolithic. We need as many ways to reach them as there are people to be reached.

So, again, quit elbowing the people on your side of this argument. Just because they do things differently, doesn’t mean that method is inherently wrong or will damage “the movement”, if there even is such a thing.

And finally, George W, a frequent commenter, takes it upon himself to enter dialog with someone that confronted PZ Myers, PZ ignoring him, and the Pharynguloids going rabid over him thereafter for his troubles. While I don’t personally care for the whole tone debate, this is exactly what Stephanie means by that pullquote above. There is some utility to the slavering hordes at Pharyngula. There is also utility to my making fun of, say, the more fundamentalist Sunni Muslims for believing some fan-fiction about their prophet and threatening people for drawing him as the logical extension to that belief. Likewise, there is utility to those cases where someone honestly, and without malice, offers their hand to the person on the other side of the debate, hoping to educate them about how the universe actually works and how splendorous it is unfiltered through religious dogma.

Mind you, there are some cases where the person you’re trying to lift out of dogmatic belief has no intention of ever leaving it. Sometimes you have to live and let live. It’s why I do not argue against the sillier beliefs on other people’s forums unless the owners are known quantities and, well, already proven allies (so to speak). I advertise, instead, hoping people with sincere beliefs will come to me seeking enlightenment. Or sometimes, just seeking a fight. You get some depraved and tenacious loonies this way (search for Zdenny on this blog!), but every once in a while, you get a genuine discussion with someone that genuinely wants to know more about the universe, and those make it all worthwhile.

A few blogospherics before bed

Epic week of epicness

I have had just about zero time to blog all weekend. And what spare time I did have, I spent instead with my beloved wife. Now that beloved wife has gone to bed, and I can sleep in slightly more than usual tomorrow (plus I had a nap this afternoon), I should really get back to flexing my writing muscle. Use it or lose it, they say. Whoever they are, they’re probably right. And anyway, I don’t want to alienate you, my loyal readers. (Whom I can probably name, and count on one hand.)

Moved Mark and Sara into their beautiful new home today, which is a stone’s throw from ours. No, literally. Just a sec, let me prove it. … On second thought, that stone came a little close to a window, let’s not try that again. They have an absolutely gorgeous enclosed outdoor space with a watertight sunroom / greenhouse thingie — a screened in area that would allow them to enjoy the outdoors without all the outdoorsy things like bugs and such. And they have a sunroof in the kitchen. I’m muy jealous. A major advantage to our co-marriage-ers moving so close, is that Jodi can now carpool to work with Sara, saving us on the literal tripling-up on the amount of driving I have to do daily. Jodi’s work is about the same distance from our house as mine is, only in the exact opposite direction, so dropping her off in the mornings entailed driving her out to the vineyard then backtracking to my office. It sucks for Sara that she’s moved so much further from her work (she was almost within walking distance before the move!), but it benefits us, so I’m not going to complain.

We also got a bunch of work done on the house that we’ve been putting off. Mowed the lawn for the first time in three weeks, after the lot owners passed out flyers to the houses with the longest grass saying “mow or we’ll do it for you and send you the bill”. Good motivation to do it. Well, for most people… it just stuck in my craw, making me want to put off mowing another day in defiance. I did it anyway though. What a rebel, huh?

We also got a pressure washer and cleaned off the algae from the house siding, which I’m guessing has been building up since the house was built almost four years ago. The previous owners were not much for maintaining this place, evidently, between the sudden discovery of the wholly un-caulked back sill and the previous mold problem they spot-repaired, and the air exchanger that we cleaned last week, where there was so much gunk built up that it was preventing any air at all from getting exchanged. That exchanger is supposed to be serviced quarterly, but I’m guessing the previous owners had never done it, ever, judging by the filth and dead insects that caked the filters. Now that they’re all clean, it’s amazing just how obvious it is that it hasn’t worked since we moved in. We really should have looked at it sooner, I guess.

Three big moves have happened over the past week. Mark and Sara, as I just mentioned; Stilgar got moved into his finally-completed cage, which I mentioned when it happened; and we moved Jen and Opal out into their new apartment on Wednesday, so we’ve finally got the house to ourselves. I won’t be ashamed about saying it — there has been pantslessness in rooms that have not seen pantslessness in almost a year. Plus I can shower in the master bathroom now, which has a tub, as opposed to the stand-up shower in the ensuite that I’m just evidently far too gangly to manage showering in without banging elbows and such. Not even with a year of practice.

Now, a blogospherics rant below the fold. Skip it if you don’t care.
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Epic week of epicness

Catholic blame-shifting (and blogospherics)

The Catholic Church has been quite busy with damage control regarding this never-ending pedophilia cover-up scandal. I just wanted to point out the various conflicting suggestions the Church has made over the past few weeks:

Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio told reporters that public-school sexual education texts “seek to make our boys and girls responsible, to take responsibility for their actions, and for that they need information.”

Lujambio said the programs are careful to avoid “hurting any social sensitivities.”

On Thursday, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi said that “when there is generalized sexual licentiousness, it is more common to have pederasty.”

“In the midst of the invasion of so much eroticism, it is not easy to remain faithful in celibacy, or in respecting children,” Arizmendi, the bishop of the San Cristobal de las Casas diocese in Chiapas state, said at a meeting of Mexican bishops.

The cardinal, who is known for his blunt and sometimes tactless manner, made the remarks at a televised press conference in Chile’s capital Santiago.

He said: “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. This pathology is one that touches all categories of people, and priests to a lesser degree in percentage terms. The behaviour of the priests in this case, the negative behaviour, is very serious, is scandalous.”

Who is to blame for the sexual abuse affairs in the Catholic Church? The Jews, at least according to an Italian bishop, which suggested that Jews were behind the current criticism of the Church’s record on tackling clerical sex abuse, British newspaper The Guardian reported Sunday.

An Italian website quoted Giacomo Babini, 81, the emeritus bishop of Grosseto, as saying he believed a “Zionist attack” was behind the criticism, considering how “powerful and refined” the criticism is.

No longer did priests accused of child abuse face a canonical trial and the possibility of “defrocking”.

Instead, and with disastrous consequences, they were sent for therapy and then, “cured”, they were reassigned to ministry.

The bottom line is that if canon law had been used properly, fewer children would have been abused. Civil authorities would still not have been informed, but priests found guilty of child abuse under Church law would have been punished and likely removed from ministry making it more difficult for them to offend again.

Speaking to News Mediaset in Italy, the 85-year-old exorcist noted that the devil is behind “the recent attacks on Pope Benedict XVI regarding some pedophilia cases.”

“There is no doubt about it. Because he is a marvelous Pope and worthy successor to John Paul II, it is clear that the devil wants to ‘grab hold’ of him.”

Get that? Sex education, gays, Jews, therapists, and the Devil are why Catholics feel the need to bugger kids and why their infallible emissary from God feels the need to cover it up and obstruct real justice. Either that, or they’re just why everyone is apparently fibbing about how dire their crimes are, just to try to get them in trouble for stuff they didn’t do. Yeah, tell that one to the victims.

Some blog meta below the fold.
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Catholic blame-shifting (and blogospherics)

Wedding blog being ported

Just so you know, I’m importing the five posts over at the wedding blog and incorporating them here into their own category. It seems senseless for it to have its own blog since we’re hardly posting about it. Speaking of which, I should update everyone on how things are going, but maybe I’ll save that for tomorrow.

I wish I had more energy to blog today… haven’t felt all that hot all day, honestly. Plus, playing WoW with Jodi took precedence over blogospherics. Sorry interwebs. I’ll pay attention to you soon, I promise.

Wedding blog being ported