Archive for July 2012

What the Thunderf00t are sceptics playing at?   Leave a comment

One of the first sceptics I followed on YouTube was Thunderf00t.  His work introduced me to many other free-thinkers, atheists and questioners.  Of course the friendly references to each other’s works and the personal testimonials suggested a clique of atheist/sceptics meeting and debating somewhere in the otherwise fundamental US of A.

That clique didn’t indicate any sort of exclusivity as we are the rational people and it is the reasoning not the reasoner that matters.  Our remit is the exploration of knowledge, facts and beliefs.  If not one happy family, we are fair and inclusive.  As most prejudices are irrational we also tend to be more “liberal”  and less bigoted.

For that reason it is odd to see our “close family” beset by discord.  Thunderf00t has been invited to enter the inner sanctum of sceptical thinking and contribute to Freethought Blogs only to be shown the door and cast out among the lesser sceptics as a result of his first post.

As a long-time reader of the blogs this left me with three questions:

1)      What the hell was Thunderf00t playing at opening his portfolio on this subject and why is he still obsessed with it?

2)      What is the point of FtB if it doesn’t allow the reasoned argument of issues around the sceptic community?

3)      Is there any weight to the views Thunderf00t is espousing?

On the first point, I don’t know whether Thunderf00t as a long time blogger and video blogger felt he needed to make a statement on his debut to FtB but it was unnecessary.  His work is multi-dimensional with the span of fighting religion, pseudo-science and then highlighting his own  projects.  He doesn’t need to prove himself.  Start with a great idea rather than a difficult argument.  That is not to say that difficult arguments don’t need exploring but find the place to do this.  If called out do you call a truce or start a battle of the type that is the norm with the fundies and scientific illiterates?  It is a place to push arguments but not always to air the dirty laundry.

There seemed to be some that saw Thunderf00t’s invitation to FtBs as a little odd.  He is an abrasive video-blogger who has made this sceptical name highlighting creationist nonsense.  However there is a range of bloggers within that collective not all of them dull and worthy.

Having started on a difficult argument did Thunderf00t deserve the response whether he was right or wrong? I am not sure he did- actually I am certain he didn’t.  His arguments were not accompanied by abuse or personal insults.  Yes he was forthright and did cite others arguments but this is what thesis and antithesis is about.  I expected argument and possibly a very strong negative response to Thunderf00t’s view.  In terms of Freethought, doesn’t it do what it says on the tin?  Yes you can censor bigotry and abuse but if there is a case to be made then it needs addressing.  However did either side advance the argument in a constructive way?  It is sad, that with the decision to exclude Thunderf00t having been made, no one is moving on.  PZ Myers against Thunderf00t feels like squabbling schoolchildren- “He said this!” “No I didn’t!” “it’s not fair…”  Even if Myers portrays the head prefect to Thunderf00t’s excitable first former.

Beyond the tiff is there a case in what Thunderf00t said?  If I understand him the argument is that the continued highlighting of sexism in the sceptic community and at the various conferences undermines the message.  If the issue isn’t a major problem at the events and within “our community” and if we cannot address it in practical terms then why make it central to our message?

Years ago I went to various conferences and usually saw them as a means to “cop off”.  Because I made this my aim the chance of actually finding any action was negligible.  If I went to gain from the event and have a good time then the chances of enjoying myself, in all ways, was increased.   Like I was in my youth, there will always be low-life losers at any event.  It is right that any event addresses the issues make those attending uncomfortable but is highlighting policies to deal with this potential for friction counter-productive?

As a white, middle-class, male I cannot claim to have been the subject of major discrimination.  As I live in the UK, even as an atheist I have no sense of discrimination.  I cannot particularly empathise with Rebecca Watson and the Elevatorgate incident that seemed to have started the whole misogyny debate.  I have to confess I am closer to the Dawkin’s view that there was an over-reaction to the initial event.  That doesn’t mean I agree with any sort of discrimination, harassment or anti-social behaviour.

We sceptics are the reasonable ones, the good guys (and gals).  We don’t discriminate based on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation or race because there is no evidence to support it.  It is possible that “free thought” gives social freedoms that question accepted norms.  However I am not certain that any atheist or sceptical conference of event will pose more issues for women than an equivalent student, political or business gathering.

That the starting point for any sceptic event or the message coming out of those events is sexism is wrong.  There might be issues at these events and it is correct to have an understanding of what is to be expected.  To make the supposed sexist nature of scepticism the message does a disservice to any free thinker.

If we are a community, which is very doubtful, and we have faults then address them.  Address them proportionally and at a reasonable level.  There are fundamentalist Christians wanting to deny basic reproductive rights to women.  There are Catholic officials abusing children and covering up the crimes. There are Muslims denying girls a basic education and forcing them to marry in childhood.  Can we pick our fights better?

There are plenty of better targets out there before we decide it time for a civil war!

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John Terry-justice done?   Leave a comment

I think the decision to prosecute John Terry for saying “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand was the correct one.  I also feel that the decision of the Chief Magistrate to acquit was the right one.  The case is significant for society and football but it also leaves the FA in a quandary.

Essentially we had the England football Captain accused of using threatening, abusive or insulting words within the hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress and those words were racist.  This is actually a comparatively minor summary offence that can only be heard in a Magistrates Court and for which the penalty is a fine that any Premier League footballer could pay out of his petty cash.

However we could all see that a conviction for using racist abuse could be a taint that would kill a career, particularly at international level.  In an age where progress is being made by projects such as “Kick it Out” to be labelled a racist is a very serious issue.  That said, this was not a case to determine whether John Terry is a racist.  Just as in the Suárez civil case before the FA, the question was whether the player uttered abuse that had a racist element rather than whether that player was a racist.  The Judge in Terry’s case pointed out that all the character witnesses showing Terry’s inclusive nature were irrelevant to the substance of the case; it wasn’t a question of being a racist just using racist abuse.

As a summary matter this case could not go to the Crown Court and play in front of a jury.  For all we treasure the trial by jury as a significant part of our justice it is good to see a senior Justice at work.  In the Magistrates Court a District Judge can sit in the place of a bench of lay magistrates.  In this case it was a Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle.  Judge Riddle was able to carefully explain his thinking in finding John Terry not guilty.

As I read Judge Riddle’s judgement he was certain that the CPS was right to bring the prosecution; John Terry had a case to answer.  There was no doubt that Terry had said, among other confirmed abuse, “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand.   He found Ferdinand and Terry to be good witnesses but there was confusion over the context in which Terry has said the “offensive” phrase.  Terry stated at the time that he thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying it and so had repeated the phrase back to him to highlight how ridiculous it would be for him to say that. He maintained this account throughout.

The exchange was part of a cycle of tit-for-tat abuse between the two players.  Most of the exchange, that the players couldn’t remember in detail, seemed to involve remarks about Terry’s sexual improprieties.   From a football perspective it is telling that the remark that ended up in court seems to be just an element of a “slanging match” that was part of a game of professional football.  In an age when football authorities are campaigning for respect on the football field this is telling.

John Terry isn’t a racist.  Although the Judge questioned his explanation of his uttering the offensive phrase, there was enough doubt to find that he had not committed a criminal offence.  However Ferdinand and Terry were involved in outbursts on a football pitch that have no place in the modern game.  There is still racism in our society and our national game but every reasonable person knows it is irrational.  The work done to combat this bigotry in and out of the game is why this case could be brought to court.

The admitted abusive exchanges between professional footballers shows that we have a long way to go in terms of the Respect Programme. As someone who has gone into classrooms to sell the principles of fair play and respect in sport and so in general life, it is galling to see the message trashed by those appearing regularly on the children’s televisions.

The FA suspended its investigation when the CPS suggested that there might be criminal action.  An acquittal in a criminal case where the test is one of reasonable doubt doesn’t mean a test on the balance of probabilities for a similar matter cannot succeed.  I expect that the FA will have to consider both the  “racial” of what John Terry said and the wider question of the two players’ exchanges on the pitch at Loftus Road.

It might be argued that there is sufficient evidence to find John Terry of at least bringing the game in to disrepute.  Anton Ferdinand was the victim in the criminal case but also seems to have a case to answer when we are looking at fair play in our national game.  It will be interesting to see how the FA takes this forward.