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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bergholz Amish Win Appeal



It brings me no joy to report that Sam Mullet and his Bergolz Amish followers have won a victory in an appeals court and may "become loose" against the express wishes of many local Amish.

A deeply divided ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals went against the jury's determination that the hair-cutting attacks, with which Mullet's minions terrorized the greater Amish community, constituted a religious hate crime.

The majority of those convicted had already completed, or nearly completed their sentences. The real issue, as ever, is with Bishop Mullet, whose fifteen year sentence offered his community a life free of his sexual demands on the women, physical abuse of their husbands, and the psychological control he exerts over all of his Bergholz Amish.

It is not illegal to run a cult. It is not illegal to extort sexual favors from adult women, in most cases. It is not even illegal to consign grown men to incarceration in chicken coops. It is illegal to terrorize neighboring communities with physical abuse and assaults on their dignity, and it is for this that Mullet and his co-conspirators were convicted.

The larger question from the beginning has been whether cutting off the hair and beards of other Amish constituted a hate crime, in other words, were the crimes motivated by religion.

In a deeply divided decision, two of the three judges on the panel concluded that the jury received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks. They also said prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn't have happened but for religious motives.

"When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the judges wrote.

They said it was unfair to conclude that "because faith permeates most, if not all, aspects of life in the Amish community, it necessarily permeates the motives for the assaults in this case."

The dissent pointed out what those who followed this case know full well -- that Sam Mullet said in no uncertain terms that it was about religious differences.

In a strong dissenting opinion of the 6th Circuit's Wednesday ruling, Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. wrote that religion was a clear motive for the 2011 attacks and that the hate-crime convictions were appropriate, especially against Mullet.

Sargus quoted several statements made by Mullet acknowledging his religious motivations, including in an interview with The Associated Press in which he said that the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to the Amish community and that he should be allowed to punish people who break church laws.

Should this decision prevail, it will set a high bar in terms of precedent on hate crimes going forward.

The ruling will make it more difficult for federal prosecutors to obtain hate-crime convictions, because the court made it clear evidence must show the crime was based solely on religious hatred, said Ric Simmons, an Ohio State University law professor.

"It's always hard to prove state of mind or motive of a defendant," Simmons said. "Now it's going to be even harder because you have to prove not only was this a reason why they did it, you have to prove this is essentially the only reason, or the motivating reason."

It seems clear that the prosecutors will appeal further and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Either way, the unfortunate fact is that Sam Mullet will probably be released and resume his strict and strange control over the men and women who have chosen to follow him. The sad, sordid saga can be found here.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Negative Thinking Associated with Longer Life



"The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." ~ George F. Will


The data in support of "negative thinking" keeps piling up. I have posted a number of things about studies and assessments showing that staying positive doesn't necessarily bring positive results for either our physical or mental health, and can even be detrimental. See here, here, here, here, here, and here, for a start.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal addresses some of the newer findings that show pessimism and negativity can be better for you, depending on the circumstances and your natural disposition.

Experts say pessimism can at times be beneficial to a person's physical and mental well-being. Some studies have found that having a more negative outlook of the future may result in a longer and healthier life. Pessimism and optimism are opposite ends of a spectrum of personality traits, and people generally fall somewhere in between. 

One study found that older people who were pessimistic about aging had better health outcomes and greater longevity.

A study published last year in the journal Psychology and Aging found that older people with pessimistic views of the future were more likely to live longer and healthier lives than those with a rosier outlook. The researchers used data from a nationally representative survey in Germany of about 11,000 people. Among other questions, people were asked how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they would be in five years.

Much of this dealt with correlation, not causation, but Dr. Frieder Lang posits that it may have to do with preparedness and preemption, which pessimists are more likely to undertake.

Similarly, optimistic people may take greater risks. Leslie Martin, who co-authored The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study found that people who were optimistic as children did not tend to live as long, possibly because of dangerous hobbies or bad habits like smoking and drinking.

Negative or pessimistic thinking also has a bearing on our analytical capabilities, as previously discussed here. A recent study found that this can translate to poor risk assessment.

A study, published last year in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, evaluated the brain response of 16 older adults when processing fearful faces. People with greater optimism had reduced activity in the parts of the brain that process emotional stimuli. "Being less bothered by stresses can help in coping," said Dr. Jeste, who led the study. "On the other hand, a nonchalant attitude to dangers can leave the person poorly prepared to deal with a risky situation when it arises."

Another study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that generally optimistic people had a harder time coping with stress.

What much of this research points to is a need for balance. And also a need to deal with what is -- with the reality of what is actually going on in our lives.

This is also true for people who are dealing with really difficult circumstances, including things like  adverse medical diagnoses. The importance of a positive attitude in the face of serious illness has been accepted as conventional wisdom, even in the medical community. But this has not proved out. For instance, a study done at the University of Pennsylvania did not confirm that belief. They found no correlation between positive feelings and greater life expectancy among patients with head and neck cancers. The article notes that similar findings have been made in studies of other cancers.

This study, the largest yet to study this question, combined two randomized, phase III radiation therapy studies, with a total of 1,093 patients with head and neck cancer from two different radiation therapy studies, of which 646 patients died during the course of the studies. One of the studies was a comparison of different radiation dose fractionation schedules, and the other was designed to study concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. As a part of these studies, quality-of-life estimates were examined, and patients were assessed upon entry to the protocol with five questions on the FACT-G quality of life questionnaire evaluating whether patients felt sad, were losing hope, feeling nervous, worrying about dying, worrying that their condition would worsen, and whether they were proud of how they were dealing with their condition. In neither univariate (the more sensitive but less specific way of looking for correlations) or multivariate (the more statistically appropriate method), did the investigators find any correlation between feelings of well-being and survival. This held true in the face of multiple calculations to take into account stage of disease, demographics, smoking, and performance status. Even doing subgroup analyses, often the last resort when looking for some result or correlation in a trial that is yielding none, failed to find subgroups for whom well being correlated with survival. Because the number of deaths observed was larger than the combined sample sizes of most previous studies, this represents the most resoundingly negative study to date looking at this question.

. . .

The population chosen naturally has led critics of the study to argue that, while perhaps a positive attititude doesn’t prolong survival in head and neck cancer, perhaps it does in other cancers for which the treatment is not so harsh. In the case of breast cancer, however, there are multiple retrospective studies that also failed to find a correlation between health-related quality of life scores and survival (1, 2, 3) and one randomized trial testing whether supportive group therapy had any impact on survival that failed to find any benefit in terms of survival.

Dr. James Coyne, who oversaw that study, is interviewed here by Cara Santa Maria. As he points out, not only is a positive attitude not co-correlated with a longer life expectancy, the pressure to be positive can have a detrimental effect on a patient's emotional well-being. It's not, as he says, "a prescription everyone can fill."


"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." ~ James Branch Cabell


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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Dawkins Keeps Digging

 photo DawkinsBusesnBoobs_zpsac99bed7.jpg


Does someone maybe want to take the shovel away from Richard Dawkins? 

His recent Twitter battle, discussed here, is having a ripple effect I don't think he expected or intended. It's rather interesting to see Richard Dawkins so completely on the defensive. He did, after all, set out to do what he does best -- use logic and reason to make sure everyone who disagrees with his world view knows how stupid they are. But it backfired and brought him a lot of negative feedback, even from some atheists. I think he may be learning the hard way that it's not as easy to get away with belittling women as it used to be.

His latest post on the issue shows him to be in full damage control mode and you know what they say: If you're explaining, you're losing.

I have briefly explained (it’s in An Appetite for Wonder) that, as a small boy, I was the victim of a pedophile teacher in the school squash court. He pulled me on his knee, put his hand inside my shorts and fiddled for about half a minute. It was very unpleasant, but it didn’t ruin my life and I had the temerity to say so in my memoir and elsewhere. I had the effrontery to downplay my experience and imply that it could have been worse. The teacher could, for example, have . . . well, I didn’t specify details, but anyone can fill in some of the appalling things that have happened to other children of both sexes.

Pandemonium in the Pigeon-lofts. Freethought Feeding Frenzy. “Dawkins actually said – I kid you not – that his experience in the squash court wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened. Wow, just wow. Where has he been these past few years? Doesn’t everyone nowadays know there are NO gradations? All cases are exactly equally bad. How dare Dawkins BELITTLE the horrors of pedophiliac assault?”

Mr. Dawkins is being disingenuous. Worse, the man who so prides himself on his logical acumen is kicking at a straw man. People weren't upset with him for for not having the proper reaction to being molested. They were upset with him for deciding what the proper reaction should be for everybody else. He blithely announced that the other boys who were molested by the same schoolmaster suffered no "lasting damage," as if it were his place to speak for them and about things he could not possibly know. And then he extrapolated his personal experience into tortured apologia for the Catholic Church's monstrous failures in protecting children from pedophile priests. Who cares if the many survivors of various forms of abuse at the hands of clergy say they were permanently harmed by it. Dawkins had a similar experience and he knows better than they what the appropriate and proportionate effects should be on one's life.

That he would undertake such drastic revisionism of his previous commentary also provides mens rea. It's obvious that he knows full well what he said about sex abuse was bad or he wouldn't feel the need to so thoroughly rescript it.

In this post he also, ever so slightly, walked back the "Dear Muslima" commentary that came to be known as "Elevatorgate." He seems here to be acknowledging that his recent X and Y comparisons are at odds with his total dismissal of Rebecca Watson's concerns about being propositioned at 4:00 in the morning on a lonely elevator.

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

But he did not simply invite American women "to contemplate" the suffering of Muslim women. He was grotesquely insulting and demonstrated his own continuing ignorance of the realities of female genital mutilation and feminist activism on the issue.  In her response to Dawkins's trivialization of the elevator incident, Skepchick Rebecca Watson, underscored the absurdity by posting a screenshot of a rape threat she received specifically because of her outspokenness on female genital mutilation.

That comment and many like it were sent to me in response to a video I did about the horrors of female genital mutilation, which, by the way, is a cultural practice and not relegated to Muslim women. I’ve spoken about the topic a lot, and the worst of my hate mail from atheists is about that.

So to have my concerns – and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault – dismissed thanks to a rich white man comparing them to the plight of women who are mutilated, is insulting to all of us. Feminists in the west have been staunch allies of the women being brutalized elsewhere, and they’ve done a hell of a lot more than Richard Dawkins when it comes to making a difference in their lives.

No, Mr. Dawkins, female genital mutilation is not a "Muslim" practice. It's an ancient tribal practice that merged into and was spread by some Muslim cultures. And no, Mr. Dawkins, Western feminists aren't a bunch of navel-gazers, so absorbed in our own ongoing battles with misogyny and sexual violence that we're ignorant of the brutal oppression of women elsewhere.

A more full-throated apology is required for what it is that he actually said. So is some genuine concern for all forms of misogyny, not just the ones that can be exploited to justify an anti-religion and virulently anti-Muslim agenda.

The sad and obvious truth is that the Twitter comments that touched off this recent firestorm were not simply an exercise in logical deduction. They were a shot across the bow against feminist detractors who have become a thorn in Dawkins's side. It appears that his tantrum rather abruptly ended a detente in the gender wars that are tearing at the fabric of the modern atheist movement.

The full comments of Skepchick writer Amy Roth can be found here as she addresses this rift in her community and the possibly detrimental role Dawkins plays within it at this point.

In this case Dawkins has gone so far as to insinuate that his particular emotional reaction to an often emotionally destructive topic, trumps anyone who may feel differently. You can not rate rape on a scale. Full stop. No one can say what type of rape is more damaging to another person. His attitude towards these sensitive topics is extremely dismissive and outright damaging to any community that hopes to be inclusive and understanding of women’s issues or any other issues affecting oppressed groups. If a person wanted to teach a lesson in logic, they certainly did not not need to reach for the example of rape when they are aware that harassment of women is currently a problem within their community. Dawkins’ recent statements at worst highlight his refusal to acknowledge his role in promoting misogyny, sexism and racism in the atheist community and at best show me an extremely privileged man who cares more about being seen as “right” than he cares about any of the victims of violent sexual assault.

As I alluded to in my previous post on this, there is something deeply hideous about invoking the very charged and emotionally wrenching issues of rape and sexual abuse and then berating people for getting all emotional. A must-read post by Amanda Marcotte thoroughly elucidates how gendered and how juvenile was his verbal assault on people for feeling stuff.

Dawkins is being particularly disappointing this round because he’s hiding behind a gambit so transparent that every shitty 18-year-old boy who wants to win an argument with his girlfriend resorts to it: Telling you that you’re too emotional to be reasonable and he alone possesses access to objective reality above emotion. That this tactic is highly gendered should not be treated as a coincidence. Claiming to simply be more reasonable and declaring victory is possibly the most common way men on the losing side of an argument with women try to regain the upper hand.

. . .

So this is an obvious attempt to stifle discourse by shaming people that Dawkins decides have too many emotions, which is synonymous with disagreeing with him, and that you can tell someone has the “correct” amount of emotions because they agree with him, which is actually kind of funny if you saw any of the rage-filled bile that was aimed at me from the pro-misogyny troops for daring to criticize him at all. Stephanie Zvan dealt with this:

I’m disgusted. How is it that a scientist is still entertaining this idea that people being emotional is a bad thing or that it is somehow universally detrimental to thinking when we have studies that show emotion is critical for good decision-making? How is it that people who purport to be good at thinking still promote arguments that rely on this outdated idea?

How indeed. Could it be that Dawkins is less about science these days and more about being a ruthless and intemperate ideologue?


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Friday, August 01, 2014

The Richard Dawkins Problem


Richard Dawkins has stepped on his crank. Again.

Another day, another tweet from Richard Dawkins proving that if non-conscious material is given enough time, it is capable of evolving into an obstreperous crackpot who should have retired from public speech when he had the chance to bow out before embarrassing himself.

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” huffs Dawkins. Seeming to have anticipated, although not understood, the feminist reaction this kind of sentiment generally evokes, he finishes the tweet: “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

I've really written very little about Dawkins, the man, and restricted my criticism to his dogmatic atheism and his disingenuousness in that arena. He has a long history of intemperate, ignorant, and insensitive remarks, particularly in the areas of gender politics and sexual violence. I've never thought it deserved a free-standing post because it's not really relevant to discussions of his atheist views. This is, I think, for reasons articulated in that same article.

Dawkins’ narrowmindedness, his unshakeable belief that the entire history of human intellectual achievement was just a prelude to the codification of scientific inquiry, leads him to dismiss the insights offered not only by theology, but philosophy, history and art as well.

To him, the humanities are expendable window-dressing, and the consciousness and emotions of his fellow human beings are byproducts of natural selection that frequently hobble his pursuit and dissemination of cold, hard facts. His orientation toward the world is the product of a classic category mistake, but because he’s nestled inside it so snugly he perceives complex concepts outside of his understanding as meaningless dribble. If he can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist, and anyone trying to describe it to him is delusional and possibly dangerous.

I think there is a connection between Dawkins's scientism and a kind of emotional stuntedness. He's suspicious of subjective experiences and seems to think that our emotions should follow a logical process. If you were raped this way, you should feel like this and if you were raped another way, you should feel like that. I mean it's only logical. And why on earth can't you be ruthlessly analytical about rape? You must be stupid.

As I wrote here, neither emotions nor religious experience are well understood from a perspective of cold empiricism. We can no more easily prove love exists than we can that God or the experience of the numinous does. And it can be emotionally brutalizing to have those subtle, subjective states trivialized or dismissed because they can't be charted, graphed, or demonstrated in a lab.

What Dawkins has demonstrated here, and not for the first time, is that he lacks empathy and compassion.

The way people experience and process sexual assault varies. What Dawkins considers "mild" could be very traumatic for some people. That he underestimates the profound feelings of betrayal experienced by many survivors of acquaintance rape, something that could make date rape considerably worse than the far less common stranger rape, is another obvious problem with his reasoning. When this was brought to his attention, he simply inverted his "syllogism" and said that the logic works in either direction. That such a cold calculus would be hurtful to people, and no doubt many of his readers have experienced some type of sexual violation, doesn't seem to enter his thinking.


 You don't need religion to have morals if you can't determine right from wrong then you lack empathy not religion


For the record, here in the US and I expect in most civilized countries, the law makes no such distinction between acquaintance and stranger rape. It is also no longer legal in the US to rape a spouse. The relationship between perpetrator and victim are not relevant to the physical facts of rape.

"Stranger rape" occurs when a rape victim is attacked by a previously unknown person. For example, an assailant who violently drags a passerby into a secluded spot and rapes her commits a stranger rape. Date rape occurs when the rapist and the rape victim have an existing social relationship and the rapist strikes in the course of that relationship. For example, a date rapist may prevent a woman from refusing to have sexual intercourse by drugging her drink while they are out on a date. Date rape is far more common than stranger rape. While both are equally illegal, the ambiguities that are inherent in many social situations make date rape a far more difficult crime to prove than stranger rape.

Penalties on rape and sex abuse of children have also been increasing over the years as the psychological realities of sexual trauma have become increasingly known and understood.

This is not the first time Dawkins has said bizarre and offensive things about sexual assault and violation. He is, himself, a survivor of sexual abuse, but as he feels that it did him no lasting harm, he is very dismissive of what he considers "mild pedophilia." He is well within his rights to determine what did or did not harm him. Projecting his reactions onto other people is far less sound.

One day — I must have been about 11 — there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a skin-crawling, creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as embarrassing. As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him. I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage, but some years later he killed himself.

He's not only decided what did and didn't harm other children assaulted by this particular assailant, he's made sweeping generalizations about the results sex abuse writ large.

"I am very conscious that you can't condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don't look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today," he said.



As such, the avowed atheist and critic of all things religious, has largely dismissed the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. It's not nearly as bad as teaching religion itself, he reasons on the basis of one anonymous example.

There are shades of being abused by a priest, and I quoted an example of a woman in America who wrote to me saying that when she was 7 years old, she was sexually abused by a priest in his car.

“At the same time, a friend of hers, also 7, who was of a Protestant family, died, and she was told that because her friend was Protestant, she had gone to hell and will be roasting in hell forever.

“She told me, of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse; it was yucky, but she got over it. But the mental abuse of being told about hell, she took years to get over."

In The God Delusion he compares the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church to the Salem witch trials. The irony seems to be lost on him.

This line of thought goes back at least to 2006 for Dawkins, when he wrote"we live in a time of hysteria about paedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch-hunts of 1692," in his popular book the God Delusion. He continued:

All three of the boarding schools I attended employed teachers whose affections for small boys overstepped the bounds of propriety. That was indeed reprehensible. Nevertheless, if, fifty years on, they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers, I should have felt obliged to come to their defence, even as the victim of one of them (an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience).

The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium. For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America… We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories. This is so counter-intuitive that juries are easily swayed by sincere but false testimony from witnesses.

I actually wrote the press release for Elizabeth Loftus's seminal book The Myth of Repressed Memory, so it brings me no joy to say that her scholarship on the issue has been called into question.

Dawkins has been roundly criticized for his stance on sexual abuse, even in the atheist circles where he enjoys a kind of rock star status. So why would he drudge up the issue on Twitter? And then up the ante by trivializing rape? He had to know he was poking the bear. Was that really necessary to make his point about logic? Perhaps this incident is just bringing him what he loves most: attention.

He may have gotten more than he bargained for, in this case. As a sex abuse survivor, he was somewhat insulated from criticism for his views on that issue. His insensitivity towards women has been another simmering issue -- one that has gotten far less mainstream press attention. But in atheist circles, and among critics of New Atheism, the "elevator incident," aka., "elevatorgate," has netted him a reputation as an insensitive, sexist boor.




It all started with atheist blogger Rebecca Watson, or Skepchick. She shared her discomfort at being propositioned during a late night elevator ride after having just explained during a forum they were both attending that being a woman and being sexually objectified in the sexist world of atheism could be a little rough.

Dawkins took it upon himself to pronounce her discomfort ridiculous and trivial, by mocking her openly in a comment on PZ Myers's blog post.

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

What's kind of funny here is that Dawkins is making the very same logical error he accused his Twitter readers of making the other day. Just because X (being intruded upon in an enclosed and potentially unsafe space) is a less extreme offense than Y (female genital mutilation), doesn't mean that X is not an offense.

Skepchick's response to  this odious comment can be found here.

Well, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, Phil Plait, Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Melissa McEwan and others have all already said it, but I figured I should post this for the record: yes, Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man! 

. . .

This is especially interesting since Richard Dawkins sat next to me in Dublin and heard me talk about the threats of rape I get...

I don't know, were they only piddly, little date rape threats? That's not so bad, right?

His clarification to that comment only made matters worse.

No I wasn't making that argument. Here's the argument I was making. The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.

If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics' privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn't physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer, and he was absolutely right to do so because the heightened value of the wafer was a fantasy in the minds of the offended Catholics. Similarly, Rebecca's feeling that the man's proposition was 'creepy' was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.

Muslim women suffer physically from misogyny, their lives are substantially damaged by religiously inspired misogyny. Not just words, real deeds, painful, physical deeds, physical privations, legally sanctioned demeanings. The equivalent would be if PZ had nailed not a cracker but a Catholic.

Then they'd have had good reason to complain.

Richard

It seems fairly clear that Dawkins has no concept of the kind of physical disadvantage women are at when it comes to the potential for sexual violence, or the simple fact that an unwanted advance from a stranger carries the potential that they might just not take no for an answer. This is the reality women and girls live with everyday... and at 4:00 in the morning in an otherwise empty elevator. So, yes, it's a bit more serious than the threat posed by a stranger's chewing gum etiquette.

Now Dawkins has unintentionally made it obvious to the world that he is woefully ignorant about the realities of sexual violence. Unlike elevatorgate this really has become a media firestorm and he's taking a lot of criticism from journalists and experts.

But Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said the scientist had belittled the ‘devastating’ effect of sexual abuse.

He said: ‘What staggers me is that for such a self-proclaimed intelligent man to even talk in these terms is to completely miss the point.

'There is no such thing as mild or serious paedophilia. There is child abuse, and the consequence for the victim is that they can be scarred for life.’

Holly Dustin, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said Professor Dawkins had ‘minimised’ abuse in his remarks. ‘Richard Dawkins is not just engaging in light-hearted philosophical discussion when he talks of “mild date rape” and “mild paedophilia”, but minimising these serious offences,’ she said.

Shami Chakrabarti, of the human rights group Liberty, said even the most intelligent Twitter users should sometimes ‘put their smartphones down and count to 250’ before commenting on such sensitive topics.

‘There is no mild rape, there is no mild paedophilia. These are terrible, terrible crimes,’ she told the Daily Telegraph website.

Dawkins later took to his blog to give all of us whiners a thorough dressing down for not being rational enough about rape. He raised the question with this absurdly long title: "Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?"

In it he defends moral philosophers who subject prickly life, death, and eugenics (???) questions to the cold light of logic. Writes Dawkins:

Could eugenics ever be justified? Could torture? A clock triggering a gigantic nuclear weapon hidden in a suitcase is ticking. A spy has been captured who knows where it is and how to disable it, but he refuses to speak. Is it morally right to torture him, or even his innocent children, to make him reveal the secret? What if the weapon were a doomsday machine that would blow up the whole world?

The ticking time bomb scenario? Really?! This is one of the worst torture defenses ever because it doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Even if torture worked, which it does not, it's a lot less threatening when it's time limited. The suspect can hold out. Or send investigators on wild goose chases. All they need to do is run out the clock. As the nice general from West Point and his military and FBI interrogator sidekicks tried to explain to the producers of TV's torture porn vehicle "24," it's the worst way to handle such a scenario, not just because it's immoral and illegal, but because it's thoroughly ineffective.

At the meeting, Cochran demanded to know what the interrogators would do if they faced the imminent threat of a nuclear blast in New York City, and had custody of a suspect who knew how to stop it. One interrogator said that he would apply physical coercion only if he received a personal directive from the President. But Navarro, who estimates that he has conducted some twelve thousand interrogations, replied that torture was not an effective response. “These are very determined people, and they won’t turn just because you pull a fingernail out,” he told me. And Finnegan argued that torturing fanatical Islamist terrorists is particularly pointless. “They almost welcome torture,” he said. “They expect it. They want to be martyred.” A ticking time bomb, he pointed out, would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk. “They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory—the ticking time bomb will go off!” [emphasis added]

Well, no duh, huh?

Can we stop talking about Richard Dawkins like he's some towering intellectual giant yet?

Dawkins never seems to know when to stop. He will invariably double down, spouting increasingly nonsensical defenses of his position in increasingly condescending tones.

He might do well to consider the immortal words of Thomas Friedman, because what he's saying bears about the same relationship to logic.

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging.When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.

He's based an entire second career as a kind of professional atheist on his credibility as a biologist and Oxford's one time Professor for Public Understanding of Science, even though credentials as a scientist in no way qualify a person to speak to theology. No matter. He doesn't believe theology is a real thing anyway. His entire public persona is based on his intellectual credibility, so questions about that credibility are directly on point. He has justified his stance as a critic of religion on the basis of his superior logic and reasoning skills. But if these horrible incidents have proved anything, it's that he's not much of a logician either.


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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are the Poles Shifting?

Revised Compass Rose photo RevisedCompassRose_zps50720ae7.jpg


I've been talking about pole shift for a while now. Several years ago, I started getting intimations that it was imminent. There's a little more on these of messages here. I just didn't really know what to make of it. The gist was that things were going to shift in some very surprising ways, that the systemic injustice that I find so excruciating had reached the end of the line, and that this was somehow connected to or simply concurrent with pole shift.

I first learned about the idea of pole shift many years ago when I was reading a book on Edgar Cayce. I had no frame of reference for the idea so it rolled off my brain like beads of water from an oily surface. Years later, when I first became acquainted with the work of Drunvalo Melchizedek, I heard it again and thought, so is that what Cayce was talking about? I liked Drunvalo's take on this. It was fairly optimistic and tied the idea of pole shift with an expansion in human consciousness.

Drunvalo says all kinds of things and some I really do take with a grain of salt. But he always struck me as a sincere fellow and so much of what I learned from him has proved itself to me that I keep a lot of his more outrageous material on the maybe pile. His ideas on pole shift fall into that category.

Pole shift has been a subject of debate. It's an accepted fact that Earth's magnetic poles have shifted more than once, in the distant past. That this has caused crustal displacement is disputed by most experts. Charles Hapgood theorized that they did and that it was associated with changes in land masses. His theories have not gained wide acceptance.

Mainstream science has been as strident and dismissive of concern as it has been vague on the particulars. The simple truth is that there's a lot they don't know about how this works and the potential effects. As discussed here, some theories have us already in the beginning stages of shift. The message from officialdom has been that while the magnetic field of the planet has been weakening for over a hundred years, and while we are probably overdue for a pole reversal, the last known one having occurred about 750,000 years ago, the next is probably at least hundreds of years off and will occur gradually, probably over thousands of years. In other words, calm down, people.

That said, there's enough concern over just what is happening with our magnetosphere that three satellites, called Swarm, were launched last November to monitor the situation. As Chris Corrigan in The Daily Sheeple put it:

One thing we do have the answer to already is that scientists, and most likely politicians as well, are worried. Cash strapped, austerity driven Europe would not be spending tens of millions of dollars putting three satellites into space if they weren’t.

These satellites came with a price tag of about 220 million euros.

What has Swarm learned? Well, it's actually kind of alarming. Earth's magnetic field is weakening and probably as a precursor to pole shift. And it's weakening about ten times faster than they thought.

Earth's magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called Swarm.

The biggest weak spots in the magnetic field — which extends 370,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) above the planet's surface — have sprung up over the Western Hemisphere, while the field has strengthened over areas like the southern Indian Ocean, according to the magnetometers onboard the Swarm satellites — three separate satellites floating in tandem.

The scientists who conducted the study are still unsure why the magnetic field is weakening, but one likely reason is that Earth's magnetic poles are getting ready to flip, said Rune Floberghagen, the ESA's Swarm mission manager. In fact, the data suggest magnetic north is moving toward Siberia.

. . .

Scientists already know that magnetic north shifts. Once every few hundred thousand years the magnetic poles flip so that a compass would point south instead of north. While changes in magnetic field strength are part of this normal flipping cycle, data from Swarm have shown the field is starting to weaken faster than in the past. Previously, researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per century, but the new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per decade, or 10 times faster than thought. As such, rather than the full flip occurring in about 2,000 years, as was predicted, the new data suggest it could happen sooner.

The magnetic field of the planet is kind of important. Among other things, it offers some protection from solar wind and solar flares. And while this solar maximum has been tamer than expected -- some researchers are calling it Mini-Max -- we have seem some very impressive ejections. We've just been lucky.

Really lucky.


Solar Flare 7/23/12 photo SolarFlare072312_zpsc7af9551.jpg


Days ago NASA admitted that we only barely missed having a major Carrington Event two years ago. I remember seeing this one on Space Weather at the time and thinking, Whew. That was close. Turns out it was worse than I knew. We missed a major calamity by about a week -- the kind that could have knocked out electric grids and global communications, leaving us in utter chaos for years.

NASA scientists recently revealed that particles from a sun storm on July 23, 2012 almost struck the Earth but the planet was saved by a mere week’s rotation. It was a near miss. Had the solar flare occurred just one week earlier, it would have been directly facing the Earth rather than off to the side.

Although the planet would not have been destroyed, solar flares project a huge mass of highly charged particles, known as coronal mass ejection (CME) that would have changed modern life on the Earth. Instead of striking the Earth, the particles glided next to NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). Probes were able to catch most of the event.

During the solar storm, a plasma cloud rocketed away from the sun as fast as 3,000 kilometers per second, which is more than four times faster than a typical eruption. For the last two years, researchers have been studying the data and have reached the conclusion that it was one of the strongest solar storms ever recorded. They believe it may have even been stronger than the Carrington Event.

Because this thing was moving so fast, we would have had virtually no warning. It was exactly the type of thing astronomers have been warning world governments about for years. We were simply lucky. This time.

So what causes these solar storms that put our technological latticework at such risk? At least the worst of it, the period known as solar max, is caused by the sun reversing its polarity. Unlike Earth, the sun's pole shifts are regular and fairly predictable.  It's an 11 year cycle. Earth's pole shifts seem to be more like every few hundred thousand, although that cycle is apparently so irregular that we're overdue for one at 750,000 years.

As to whether or not such a reversal will come with an expansion of consciousness, I'm increasingly inclined to think so. Or at least, I'm increasingly inclined to think that a consciousness shift is really beginning in earnest and that there is an interrelationship with shifts on the planet, energetic and, in some cases, physical. For instance, I was directed to make a public statement in March about "the gates" being open "around the world," which I did here, in the comments, and on my Facebook page. A short time later the Chile quake occurred, an event that came with some very uncomfortable energetic fall-out for me. I'm not saying that these two things are connected. They may have been, but the message I got about the gates was much broader and think we've only begun to experience the results.

After years of dealing with what many of us generally refer to as the "lightwork" and the ascension symptoms that seem to come with it, one thing I've learned is that periods of beautiful energy expansion come with cleansing eruptions of "uck." Growth is painful.


For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction_Cynthia Occelli


All I can say at this point is that I'm seeing some very dramatic shifts in energy. I'm seeing this on a very personal level, where I'm experiencing my own energy field in a very new way. It's doing things I've just never seen it do before. And I'm seeing some very interesting changes and vibrational shifts  in geographic locations. Is any of this tied to a possible pole shift? Let's just say that, whatever messages I have gotten from my guides, I remain circumspect.

In looking at the news, I have to say that whatever pole shift is and whatever it may mean, how long it may take, and what it may mean to life on earth, I think it just got a lot harder to deny that the process has begun.


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Monday, July 28, 2014

Satanists Seek to Exploit Hobby Lobby Ruling



The Satanic Temple has carved out quite a niche for itself in the fight for First Amendment protections, capitalizing on Satan's pariah status as it exploits legal loopholes and bad rulings that cater to Christian extremists. Last I heard they were riling up some Oklahomans by attempting to slip a giant statue of Baphomet onto State Capitol grounds, using the same "private funding" excuse used by the ten commandment enthusiasts who placed their own monstrosity.

Now, in light of the stunningly horrible Hobby Lobby ruling, the Satanic Temple is taking the opportunity they believe the Supreme Court has opened up to defy laws on the basis of religious belief. Has your state passed laws restricting abortion access and requiring doctors to regale women with unscientific claims about the dangers of abortion? These Satanists claim that junk science and restrictions on personal liberty are against their religion... and probably most people's. Therefore, they are making printable letters available to women everywhere whose religious belief in bodily autonomy precludes their being lectured about how abortion may land them in the mental ward.

Informed consent or “right to know” laws state that women seeking elective abortions be provided with information about alternatives to the procedure, often couched in language that attempts to personify the fetus. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 35 states currently have informed consent laws, and of those, 33 require that the woman be told the gestational age of the fetus.

In some states, that information consists of pro-life propaganda that links abortion to a higher incidence of breast and ovarian cancers, or discusses “post-abortion syndrome,” a mental condition not recognized by any major medical or psychiatric organization.

Because the Satanic Temple bases its belief “regarding personal health…on the best scientific understanding of the world, regardless of the religious or political beliefs of others,” it claims that state-mandated information with no basis in scientific fact violates its “religious” beliefs.

There's a certain irony to what the Satanic Temple is attempting here. On the one hand, the Hobby Lobby decision allows businesses to insert their owners' religious beliefs between employees and their doctors even when those beliefs have no basis in fact, such as claiming that some forms of birth control are abortifacients when they're not. Their religious belief says they are and that's enough for the Supreme Court. The Satanic Temple is calling on women to deny laws that insert similarly counter-factual claims between women and their doctors on the basis that their religion calls for accurate medical definitions.

Previous campaigns by the Satanic Temple have targeted other outrageous abuses of liberty from school prayer to the Westboro Baptists.

The Satanic Temple, sometimes referred to as “the nicest Satanic cult in the world,” falls somewhere between satire, performance art, and activism. The group says its central mission is to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.” It has a set of seven tenets that closely track with humanism. Typically, wherever issues of church and state are overlapping, the Satanic Temple isn’t far behind.

Members of the Satanic Temple first made national headlines when they rallied in support of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) for approving a bill that allows prayer in public schools, saying they’re glad the new policy will allow children to pray to Satan. Since then, they’ve also held “a formal ceremony celebrating same-sex unions” on the grave of the mother of the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, declaring that she has posthumously become a lesbian, and commissioned a seven-foot-tall Satanic statue near a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol.


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Friday, July 25, 2014

William Henry on Cave Paintings in India




A few years ago, I asked if religion could survive first contact. Answer: It probably already has done, if we include indigenous medicine practices reaching all the way back into prehistory. The recent discovery of alien looking beings depicted in ancient stone art in India has rekindled debate over just what indigenous peoples have been painting on stone walls. According to archaeologist JR Bhagat, these ancient paintings accord with local legends about something that sounds an awful lot alien contact and abduction.

There are several beliefs among locals in these villages. While few worship the paintings, others narrate stories they have heard from ancestors about "rohela people" — the small sized ones — who used to land from sky in a round shaped flying object and take away one or two persons of village who never returned.

Many not human-looking beings and things that look like flying saucers have been discovered in cave paintings and these have given rise to questions about alien contact. But are these beings from other planets or other dimensions or, perhaps, both? Graham Hancock addressed this most recent discovery on his Facebook page the other day:

Aliens from other planets coming here in high-tech space ships? Or visitors from other dimensions? http://bit.ly/1oWXhn4. A few years ago when I asked Amazonian shaman Pablo Amaringo what the flying saucers were that he saw in his Ayahuasca visions, and painted in his extraordinary art (http://bit.ly/1oKnVfW), he told me they were vehicles for entering and leaving the spirit world. When a shaman speaks of the spirit world he's not far from the quantum idea of a parallel universe. I think the UFO and "aliens" mystery documented in rock and cave art all over the world may be MUCH more mysterious and intriguing than many believe. In my opinion these phenomena are real, but precisely WHAT they are remains to be established.

In my estimation, many of these otherworldly beings may indeed be from other planets and other star systems, but when one is moving through fourth dimensional space (or fifth, or sixth, etc.), the distance between worlds might not be so great. Some of these strange looking beings may be Earth energies, which again, are not third dimensional beings. We see them when we pierce the veil in some way.

Hancock has also explored the idea that there is some correlation between ufology, faerie lore, and shamanic experience. He makes a very convincing argument, one that really connects a lot of dots for me.




Some of the most intriguingly alien looking beings can be found in the rock art of the Kimberley region of Australia, where the Aborigines have maintained an ancient tradition of reverence for the Wandjina. (alt. Wondgina, Wanjina) The Wandjina are part of their creation mythology.

The Aborigines see the Earth as the great serpent Ungut. The Milky Way is seen as another serpent called Wallanganda. Between them, these two Serpents gave birth to the Creation by dreaming all the creatures that live on the Earth, including the spirit ancestors of the Aborigine people, and also the Wandjina who bring both rain and fertility.

. . .

The Wandjina's are divided into two groups, which are the originators of all human customs, and the inventor of all implements. The Wandjina can change from one form to another at will, now a Wandjina, now a human, and now an animal. The Wandjina live today at the bottom of the watering place associated with each particular painting. According to the Aborigines, when the Wandjina lay down, they entered the Earth, leaving their imprints on the stone, so they were believed to be the originators of the rock paintings.

The original images date back to at least 3800 B.P., but are refreshed by tribal elders, specifically "the oldest living member supposedly descended from its originator."

In a new episode of his show Revelations, William Henry speculates on some of the possible correlations between these recently discovered paintings in India and other mythical constructions, such as Hopi Kachinas and the Watchers.

It becomes harder and harder to ignore that there is, not only a long historical and prehistorical record of something that looks and sounds an awful lot like contact with non-human "visitors," but that there are strong correlations between these experiences. We can keep calling them myths and hallucinations, but at some point we might need to consider that this doesn't mean they aren't real.

As for how our religions would survive conclusive evidence of alien contact, Christian fundamentalist Ken Ham is so threatened by the possibility that he's calling for an end to the space program. Why would we spend "hundreds of millions of dollars" looking for beings who are just going to end up in hell anyway?

“You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation,” he explained. “Jesus did not become the ‘GodKlingon’ or the ‘GodMartian’! Only descendants of Adam can be saved. God’s Son remains the ‘Godman’ as our Savior.”

I take a very different view, obviously. I think many of our religions are actually based on exactly these kinds of contact experiences.


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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Graham Hancock Sums It Up




This interview is brief but, as ever, Graham Hancock shows the elegant fluency with his material that make all his talks and interviews compelling. This is a very worthwhile summary of his research into a possible lost civilization, sometimes referred to as Atlantis. They also discuss TED's war on consciousness, the whole sad, sorry saga of which can be found here.


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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Marion Zimmer Bradley Problem

Mists of Avalon photo MistsofAvalon_zps34395ba1.jpg


Hat tip to The Wild Hunt for this morning's disillusionment. I had been blissfully unaware of this controversy. Even though I have never been Marion Zimmer Bradley fan, I am well aware of her influence in both the fantasy genre and the pagan community. So learning that she was both an enabler and perpetrator of child sexual abuse is a little rough.

This is all the more painful because Bradley is, in many ways, a feminist icon. She introduced the divine feminine to a generation of readers and she paved the way for other female authors. The irony for me was all the more unsettling as moments before seeing this post, I had been reading yet another story on the never-ending sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and puzzling over whether there is more of a problem there than elsewhere. The Church, of course, says no and they're probably right. The larger problem is the ability and determination they've had to conceal it, creating an overarching abuse of power for which the entire institutional framework is responsible. But, there's also a kind of metaphorical power to the idea of such an incredibly patriarchal institution being responsible for the prolific theft of sexual power. We almost expect them to rape women and children. Representatives of goddess energy far less so, but there we are.

Many years ago a friend lent me her copy of The Mists of Avalon specifically because she knew I was deeply invested in goddess mythology. I didn't get far and promptly gave the book back. In retrospect, I can't honestly say why it didn't connect for me. It just didn't. But I've always respected the book's reach and power to touch lives.

I can still vividly remember how I felt when I learned that there was a Mother Goddess in ancient mythology. The one woman play presented at my college was terrible. The theater was nearly empty. The handful of women's studies majors around me, who were seeing it for credit, were falling asleep in their seats. I was transfixed by the power of realization. Suddenly the world -- things I felt and even things I had written -- made more sense. It was an organizing principle for me in a way that no other religion had been, neither my Christian background nor my Buddhist practice. In time my first goddess altar replaced the Buddhist one. I read and I read and I read. So, although I found Bradley unreadable, I well understand what a cool drink of water her writing must have been for people everywhere who were rekindling, as I was,  a memory of the divine feminine.

Many people are feeling very betrayed and disillusioned about now. Some are still cloaked in denial and spouting apologia, as referenced here. Once again, I think this creates a problem of cognitive dissonance. But the evidence seems pretty irrefutable. Unbeknownst to me, this issue had come up some years ago as a result of Bradley's deposition in the case of her husband Walter Breen, who was convicted of multiple sex abuse charges. He had sexual relationships with many underage boys. She knew. She even enabled the abuse. Horrible. But fans convinced themselves that she was misconstrued and wished it all away. A recent declaration from her own daughter Moira Greyland is much harder to ignore.

The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.

More commentary from Greyland appears in The Guardian today.

Greyland, writing to the Guardian via email, said that she had not spoken out before "because I thought that my mother's fans would be angry with me for saying anything against someone who had championed women's rights and made so many of them feel differently about themselves and their lives.  I didn't want to hurt anyone she had helped, so I just kept my mouth shut".

Greyland, a harpist, singer and opera director, said it was now clear to her that "one reason I never said anything is that I regarded her life as being more important than mine: her fame more important, and assuredly the comfort of her fans as more important.  Those who knew me, knew the truth about her, but beyond that, it did not matter what she had done to me, as long as her work and her reputation continued."

She hailed the "outpouring of love and support" which has followed her revelations. "What has happened in the past 20 years, apparently, is that rape, child abuse and incest have been enough in the public eye for them to be accepted, and victims and survivors to routinely be believed now, and there are so many survivors among my mother's fans, as well as supporters of survivors and decent people who care about the truth that my mother is now being held to the very standards she wrote about," her email continued.

"I am so glad I spoke out, because on the blog, so many people have shared their OWN stories of abuse and incest and heartbreak.  I am going to keep talking about it, if only so that those people who need to share their own stories will do so now."

This revelation hits close to home for other reasons. I worked for two different publishers who published Bradley at different times. She was a grande dame, her name said with a certain reverence by the SF & Fantasy imprints it was invariably my job to handle publicity for. I was usually the only person who read and liked the genre at all in any department I worked for. The broad category of SF & Fantasy is a world unto itself within publishing.

One thing I learned during my publishing career, more generally, is that people aren't their writing. There are wonderful people and brilliant thinkers who don't express themselves very well through the written word. And there are writers of astounding depth and wisdom whose work dwarfs them as people. Many great artists -- many great people -- have feet of clay. I still think Orson Scott Card, whose books I also handled for a brief time, is one of the greatest writers in the English language. I find his political and social views odious, but I don't consider it a reason to disregard his writing. The work stands on its own.

I don't know that I can say that in a case like this. There is something profoundly disturbing about a writer of any topic, let alone feminine power, who sexually tortured her own daughter. It's altogether too incongruous. Even if I were inclined to read Bradley's work today, I don't think I could, however great and good her muse may have been.

After reading her daughter's brave words and poetry, however, I sincerely hope she writes a book.


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Monday, June 23, 2014

TED and the Diploma Mill Yoda




How did this squeak by TED's rigorous screening process?

By this I mean a TEDx talk written up in this feel-good piece in Mother Jones, a publication I thought had fact-checkers.

Ironwood State Prison resident Steven Duby served as MC for a bill that kicked off with Budnick interviewing Sir Richard Branson about the importance of, yes, second chances. (Branson once spent a day in "prison," he said, for failing to pay taxes. His mother was able to bail him out by mortgaging her house, Branson added, but not everyone has it so easy.) Among the acts was Illinois therapist and motivational speaker Sean Stephenson (above), who held the prisoners rapt with his tale of overcoming adversity. "When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would be dead within the first 24 hours of my life," he began. "Thirty-five years later, all those doctors are dead, and I am the only doctor that remains!"

Obviously, I agree that it's lovely that TEDx put together an event for prison inmates. I even agree that Sean Stephenson is a good speaker with an inspiring life story. But he is not a doctor. He admitted as much when he agreed to remove such verbiage from his website. My original post and our exchange in the comment section can be found here. Yet here he is, in the spring of 2014 still calling himself a doctor.

He is also still calling himself a therapist. I challenged him directly on his use of the term psychotherapist, but he's not backing down on that one. In his bio he calls himself a "board certified therapist." By what board, he does not say. As it happens, I answered that question in the above mentioned post. It's not surprising that he doesn't name it. He still won't call himself what he is: a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner. Why? Is he ashamed of his actual credentials in hypnotherapy and NLP? Here's how he currently describes his practice on his website.

Since 2001, I’ve been working as a psychotherapist with an emphasis on clinical hypnosis and neuro-linguistics.

An "empahsis," he says. Those are the only things he's actually trained and certified in any way to do. He knows full well that hypnotherapy is not respected the way psychology, psychiatry, and even the very unfairly maligned field of clinical social work are. And maybe it's unfair that hypnotherapy is not taken more seriously. Maybe it's even unfair that there's no such thing as an accredited doctoral program in hypnotherapy. But his response to this perceived injustice is not to demonstrate the virtues of his actual field of endeavor. It's to mislead people about what it is exactly that he does.

Just a little reminder: TED censored the talks of a biologist with a PhD from Oxford for questioning some rather questionable assumptions of science and a professional journalist for having the temerity to say that indigenous shamans might actually have something of value to offer the world. TEDx organizers have been warned and even had their charters pulled for sponsoring the talks of a range of highly accomplished and credentialed people.

In fact, the same sort of "guerrilla skeptics" who've brought TED to heel, have been fighting for the heart and mind of Wikipedia for some time. Rupert Sheldrake was one of their primary targets there as well.

The Guerrilla Skeptics apparently did not take kindly to being outed.  Since June, they have gone on the attack to seriously change Rupert’s Bio.  On June 14th, he had a relatively stable and neutral biography, which is documented from June 14th.  Compare this to the pretty current September 28th version.  The changes are quite drastic and unfavorable to Sheldrake.

And yet here is Sean Stephenson's Wikipedia page, not only unmolested by the guerrilla skeptics, but clearly untroubled by even cursory fact-checking. All I can say is that the New Atheist guerrillas who wage war on legitimate, and even heavily credentialed professionals, for casting doubt on their material reductionist world view, have a very strange set of priorities.


TED Sean Stephenson photo TEDSeanStephenson_zpsb972832a.png


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