Feminism 101

Here is a good new resource about feminist issues in the high-tech field: Finally, a Feminism 101 blog.

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Why you should ignore the tone police

Because they punch down while those they police aren’t allowed to punch up. The people being told to ask nicely or argue sweetly are themselves subject to a barrage of hostile garbage. Read Amanda Marcotte’s trenchant analysis: “Tone policing only goes one way.”

Nine times out of 10, if someone is saying something horribly offensive, and someone else calls them out for it, everyone will turn on the person calling them out for it. You see this every time people get more up in arms because someone used the term “racist” or “sexist”, but not so much over the racist or sexist shit that caused the word to be articulated.

Reason Rally scenes with audio from Dawkins

March 23, 2012

This video shows typical scenes from the Reason Rally in Washington DC on March 24. The audio track is excerpts from Richard Dawkins’ speech to the rally.

Currently reading: Outliers

Malbook cover, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwellcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is a book that makes me think. Using statistics from demographics, education, sport, and individual biographies, he shows that a minor advantage caused by happenstance can translate into an insurmountable advantage years later. The happenstance is often being just a bit older when training or education starts. That accrues extra help and practice time and the snowball is rolling. At the end of the process, a sport or vocation is missing half its potential because half the population was filtered out at the start by happenstance.

Gladwell also maintains that expertise comes from practice and a lot of the difference in outcomes is derived from differential opportunity to amass the 10,000 hours of practising needed. He cites musicians in general, the Beatles, and Steve Jobs. He points out that most American self-made millionaires were born in a span of only nine years, 1831 – 1840, and that today’s most successful computer startup firms had founders with an even narrower range, 1953 – 1956. If you were older, you were settled into a different career and if you were younger, it was too late.

Another point he made was that there’s some level that’s good enough, after which more intelligence makes no difference to professional outcomes.

I’m only half-way through the book. Perhaps he’s cherry-picking his examples but it is thought-provoking.

  • Book review on Google
  • Discussion on Gladwell’s website. “In the case of Outliers, the book grew out a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.”
  • Review on Goodreads
  • Wikipedia article
  • Book on Amazon.com

The ‘war on Christmas’ is older than we think

I just found out that the War on Christmas has been going on much longer than most of us realize. Not only were Christmas trees a pagan German tradition introduced to England by Victoria’s husband; not only does the holiday itself have deep pagan roots in the turning of the year; but also the first Christmas card was non-religious!

First Christmas card, illustrated by John Horsley

It was printed in 1843 for Henry Cole, who didn’t have time to write long letters to all his friends. The card is illustrated by John Horsley with two scenes of charity and gift-giving to the poor, flanking a large holiday dinner in which almost everyone is holding a glass of wine. One of those too young to hold her own glass, a little girl of about three, is being given a drink from her mother’s glass. There’s a seasonal greeting and a lot of ivy twined around the scenes. No Christ, no manger, no wise men, no Star of Bethlehem, no religion. The remaining Puritans objected to the scene of jollity and booze and destroyed the original cards as harmful to society. Consequently, only ten of the First Christmas Card are known to exist (information from the BBC’s Victorian Farm Christmas).

However, the idea quickly caught on among other busy folk with lots of friends; by 1877 the Brits were sending 4.5 million each year. The custom was spread by the new rail travel for sending the post and lower postal rates for Christmas cards and postcards (more from the BBC’s Victorian Farm Christmas).

I think it’s clear that the essence of the midwinter holiday is a shared feast to cheer us up during the dark days of the winter solstice, including sharing with the less fortunate members of the community. Long may we celebrate it!

Are secular people more ethical?

Spiegel Online asks, Does secularism make people more ethical?. Then it veers off into talking about numbers. Hilmar Schmundt notes: “Non-believers are often more educated, more tolerant and know more about God than the pious.” A study at Boston University finds

  • They are more commonly opposed to the death penalty, war and discrimination.
  • They also have fewer objections to foreigners, homosexuals, oral sex, or hashish.
  • They are better educated.
  • Even when their higher education levels are factored out, they are better informed in matters of faith.
  • They tend not to humanize non-human factors.

Secularists make up some 15 percent of the global population, or about 1 billion people. As a group, this puts them third in size behind Christians (2.3 billion) and Muslims (1.5 – 1.6 billion).

Pie chart showing No Religion as the third-largest group

No Religion is the third-largest group


(Figures from adherents.com)

Barry Kosmin is the director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Connecticut, U.S.. He says

many believe that the US population is steadily becoming more religious — but this is an optical illusion. Many evangelicals have simply become more aggressive and more political.”

The article continues, “This heightened public profile may be contributing to the shrinking numbers of religious believers. Churches in the US are losing up to 1 million members every year.” Secularism is spreading from the more to the less educated, just as quitting smoking did.

In the former East Germany,

Nearly 67 percent of eastern Germans have no religious affiliation, compared to just 18 percent in the West. This trend isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future, since children who grew up with non-religious parents are almost certain to remain secular. The mother’s beliefs have an especially significant impact on the children’s belief systems.

When the GDR ended its period of religious repression, no process of re-Christianization occurred. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the withdrawal of a church presence in the east actually sped up,” says Detlef Pollack, a professor in the sociology of religion at the University of Münster.

But the secular are not organized. Barry Kosmin tells of a meeting of secular groups last year in Washington. They were planning a big demonstration:

“But they couldn’t even agree on a motto,” he says. “It was like herding cats, straight out of a Monty Python sketch.” In the end, the march was called off.

Same-sex marriage is allowed in U.S. military

Starting Friday, September 30, U.S. military chaplains were authorized to perform same-sex marriages in geographic areas that have marriage equality for all adult couples. Howls were heard from the usual nosy parkers.

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