PZ Myers is Ron Paul

If you were a libertarian around 2008, it seemed you either accepted Ron Paul as the best chance of something libertarianish becoming president, or you thought he was a terrible example of a libertarian. I was in the latter camp. Somehow he managed to convince people he was all for liberty and freedom. However, it only took a little bit of research to learn about the Ron Paul newsletters, vile hateful things published in his name that he was in fact completely aware of. Looking at his voting history, you could see that he was against women’s right to choose and he cared little to nothing for gay rights. He was outraged at the result of Lawrence v Texas, a Supreme Court case that struck down an anti-sodomy law that regulated what people do in their private lives. He was admittedly anti-science, saying he didn’t accept evolution, didn’t accept climate change, and in a scary statement for a doctor, claimed he’d never seen a pregnancy that needed to be ended with an abortion, somehow never running across an ectopic pregnancy.

With a lazy media and a naive internet, he built a fanatical following around the idea that he was a “libertarian”. Ron Paul is a lot of things, but was not a libertarian in 2008. Every time I heard his named linked with libertarians I cringed. Few people have done more damaged to the image of a libertarian than any single person I can think of. The media will always be forever lazy about non-mainstream ideas, and you can still see that today with media personalities wondering why libertarians aren’t outraged about Ferguson, MO (I read about that while reading about twenty articles about Ferguson on Reason.com). If the first and only time people are exposed to libertarian ideas is through Ron Paul, I wouldn’t blame them for not being interested. He does nothing but perpetuate the worst stereotypes about libertarians.

So how is PZ Myers Ron Paul?

I was in a mostly social media blackout this week because I was busy at work, and just wanted to take some time away. It wasn’t until today that I read about some particular callous statements made by 2009 Humanist of the Year PZ Myers concerning the death of Robin Williams and the subsequent media coverage. Apparently, PZ Myers was dismayed that the media covered it all, and seemed to imply the media was happy to move on from Ferguson, MO to talk about Rob Williams because he was a wealthy white man. Well, it’s Thursday August 14th, and I’ve heard very little about Robin Williams today and pretty much all about Ferguson MO. I imagine it’s been the same for most people. A shocking suicide by a beloved comic/actor did dominate the news cycle for a time, but then it went right back to a real crisis in Missouri (I live in the KC area of Missouri).

This is just one of countless diskish statements PZ Myers has made for years and years. Somehow he has become a popular, well known atheist and …. humanist. The last part there is hard to type because it seems hard to believe such a misanthrope could be considered a humanist. Humanists care about other people, not themselves. Myers’ ridiculous, mean, spiteful comments about the death of Robin Williams have no place in humanism. You can have empathy for the people of Ferguson, Michael Brown’s family, and the family of Robin Williams all at the same time. You don’t have to pick and choose. What Myers decided to do, though, was play to his crowd for the lulz. He may have tried to make it seemed like he cared so much about the Michael Brown situation that he was willing to go against the grain, but no, it was really about stroking his ego. That’s not humanism. It’s even way meaner that most libertarians, frankly.

If you’re not an atheist, or a humanist, but you’re interested, you may run across PZ Myers, his blog, and the horde of sycophantic commenters. With his nasty demeanor, lack of empathy for anyone not his kind of atheist, questional accuracy, he’s a terrible ambassador for atheism or humanism. He ensures that opponents of atheism always have some great quotes to make atheists look like dicks. Pissing on Robin Williams, the Koran, etc, that’s the kind of atheism we want? I don’t think so. It’s certainly not what I want.

As someone who runs in atheist and libertarian circles, PZ Myers is indeed, Ron Paul.

Quick Follow Up to “Skeptoid Is No More”


Brian has posted a message on his website: http://www.briandunning.com/message.html. It explains a great deal, it’s the kind of honesty from Brian I was hoping for, and it tells me that eBay and the US government have treated him shabbily. With this new information and perspective, I think we can disregard what I said yesterday about it being “over”.

Yesterday’s post, Skeptoid Is No More, has gotten some decent traffic, and I’ve received some good feedback. In fact, people have told me I’m wrong about Skeptoid being effectively over, and they did it without raging against me or calling me a douchebag. Civil disagreement can happen.

So, I would like to follow up on that part of the post. I didn’t spend as much time on it, as I wanted to write mostly about the suspicious case against Brian. I do not want Skeptoid to end, nor do I think it should end. I would like, as a person and a skeptic, for Brian to be able to continue the work he does, precisely because I do not believe eBay. Brian deserves a second chance. So when I guessed that Skeptoid was over, I was not speaking out of desire. On top of that, the JREF forum thing blew up, and I was more pessimistic than I usually am.

Still, it’s not going to be easy for Skeptoid over the next fifteen months. You have the clowns at Skepchick and FTB who will do their usual poor level of analysis, but even today, I saw an article by the Friendly Atheist that also showed a poor level of understanding of the issues involved. I expect to see a lot of these kind of drive by articles for a while, and I think it will eat into the audience and donations. While I had hoped that Brian would be able to tell you his side of the story, it looks like that won’t happen due to a civil settlement Brian did with eBay. That is a shame, because I think that would have been the best way for him to move forward.

So on top of a case brought by a billion dollar corporation, by a government who is criticized for not coming down hard enough on white collar crime, you have a civil settlement that now limits Brian’s ability to publicly defend himself. How anyone can be dancing with schadenfreude over that is beyond me.

If come next Christmas Skeptoid is still getting lots of downloads and getting donations, I won’t be disappointed and write tripe about how terrible some skeptics are for continuing to listen. I’ll probably wish him well on Facebook and keep an eye on his next project.

Skeptoid Is No More


Brian has posted a message on his website: http://www.briandunning.com/message.html. It explains a great deal, it’s the kind of honesty from Brian I was hoping for, and it tells me that eBay and the US government have treated him shabbily. With this new information and perspective, I think we can disregard what I said yesterday about it being “over”.

At least that’s my guess. Brian Dunning was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for defrauding eBay on August 4th, 2014. With Shawn Hogan getting seven months for defrauding ebay four times as much, I’m guessing the length of sentence is a bit of a surprise for Brian, but I say that without any inside knowledge. I’m sure the auto-posters will run for a while, and a bunch of Skeptoid episodes are probably in the can, but fifteen months is a pretty long time for a podcast to take a break. I think for all intents and purposes, Skeptoid is defunct.

Unlike some “skeptics” I did not read the news of Brian’s sentencing with glee. I did not read it with a lot of sadness either. I am not a friend of Brian’s, I rarely put people on pedestals, and truth be told, I’ve barely listened to Skeptoid for a year. Yesterday I noticed that I had canceled my automatic donation to Skeptoid sometime last year, though I don’t remember when. So I can safely say there is some natural distance these days between myself and Skeptoid/Brian Dunning.

In reviewing the gleeful reactions lately over Brian’s legal troubles, it’s not hard to see how clueless PZ Myers is to think Brian’s widget could have been running on PZ’s site, how asinine The Lousy Canuck’s leap to believe that Brian created a non-profit to hide his eBay earnings, and how little research Rebecca Watson does. Then you have the strange reactions of people dismayed that Brian asks for money to do Skeptoid, as if his personal wealth is some how connected to whether or not people should donate to him for work he does that they enjoy. If people had done the research, though, they would know that most of the money Brian earned is long gone, and has been for years. The whole eBay thing ended around the same time he started the Skeptoid podcast, and for most of Skeptoid’s existence, he’s been involved in some legal actions.

Another thing that has struck me is how so many progressives, who are normally skeptical of corporations, and who complain about the unfairness of the justice system, suddenly believe the words of a billion dollar corporation to the letter and praise the prosecutor as a beacon of skepticism. There is, in fact, much to be skeptical about and a lot that doesn’t make sense. I am not here to argue for Brian Dunning’s innocence, because I do not know that to be the case. I’m not here to judge his involvement or knowledge. I’m here to put critical thinking front and center and to illustrate why the case against Brian Dunning hasn’t made much sense to me from the beginning.

The state seems to want to make Brian Dunning out to be some uber clever hacker who defrauded eBay. This has made some of Brian’s critics assume more was involved than really was. Brian did not create some complicated, obfuscated bit of code to trick eBay. Brian’s code still lives in various archives online and if you check it out, it’s pretty clear that what Brian was doing was simple and obvious. There was no obfuscation whatsoever involved. It just wasn’t that sophisticated.

The case also includes very little background of the industry and how it worked. There were two companies involved, eBay and Commission Junction. CJ’s job is to handle affiliate programs and, this is key, fraud prevention. You don’t become a top affiliate with the numbers Brian was pulling and not get noticed. Someone would be looking at you within the first week. And if CJ didn’t catch on quick, you would think eBay would notice as well. In all the years I worked in the internet advertising industry, I’ve never heard of such activity going on for so long without it being detected somehow. It strains credulity to think that neither eBay or CJ knew what was going on.

By far, though, the biggest red flag for me is the way eBay describes the investigation. Somehow an eBay employee was working with the FBI for a year to catch Brian. They even set up a “sting” to catch him in the act. What makes this all so perplexing to me, is that this should have taken all of an afternoon to figure out. I’m serious. To figure out, as the state claims, that users were getting cookie-ed without visiting eBay takes only a little bit of code, and a few hours of waiting. I would hardly call that a sting. We had a name for it in the business: doing our job. It doesn’t take a year of investigation and a scary sounding sting to figure out a fraud method so simple we already solved it in the late 90’s. So, the state’s case, in addition to wanting to make Brian sound like a real hacker, plays up how they claim they caught him.

Really, none of this makes all that much sense. Does this exonerate Brian? Nope. I will not say he is innocent. I can only say that what eBay alleges almost certainly didn’t happen, and I say that based on fifteen years working in the advertising industry. My personal opinion is that people in eBay and CJ knew what was happening, were being compensated well because of the program, and then let Brian take the fall later. In that case, I don’t know who committed the fraud against who. I don’t know how much Brian might have known. My guess is that eBay itself would be on the hook for defrauding other affiliate marketers if people within eBay conspired to jack one affiliate’s numbers up. This is complete conjecture on my part, but even so, it is more believable than eBay’s current claims.

With all that, though, it’s time for Brian to come completely clean if he expects to ever have a future in skepticism. No talk about what his lawyers won’t let him say. No more vague statements. He will have to be more brutally honest with his audience and perhaps himself than he has ever been. Even with that, I think his chances of regaining a leadership role in skepticism to be pretty much nil. If I were him, I would completely open up to my audience, finish my sentence, and then slowly rejoin skepticism making amends where they might be needed. I do wish Brian and his family well. As an optimist and a human being, I believe people can learn from mistakes, be rehabilitated, and have a productive life.

I don’t know if this post comes off too forgiving, too hard, or naive. I hope at a minimum I’ve presented a different side to the story you’re not hearing almost anywhere in the skeptic movement.


Thursday of #TAM2014

(This is part of an unknown numbered series of blog posts about The Amazing Meeting 2014)

The Thursday before TAM is always workshop day. The number of workshops I attend varies from year to year, depending on the topic and timing. This year I only attended two workshops, but I’m sure they were all excellent.

The first one I attended was “Advancing Skepticism in the Media” with Sharon Hill, James Underdown, Richard Saunders, and Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki. Anyone who follows me know I’m a big fan of Sharon Hill’s Doubtful News (and Sharon Hill herself). I’ve praised Saunders’ “Skeptic Zone” podcast many times. I’ve seen James Underdown do a workshop before on UFO’s and I thought it was excellent. This workshop was the first time I’d ever heard of Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki. As expected, it was an excellent workshop. Each speaker brought a different facet and angle to advancing skepticism in the media. I thought each segment flowed nicely to the next. There was not a dull moment.

The second workshop was “Rhetoric and Argumentation for the Skeptic” run by Miranda Celeste Hale, Robert Blaskiewicz, and Eve Siebert. Last year, I had to miss a similar workshop they did and I made a point to make it this year. They’re a different kind of skeptic, and I wanted to learn more about the non-sciencey side of skepticism and how to make better arguments. The night before Bob had told me that they were going to do something a little different. What I saw was three people who worked well together, and had a conversation with us the audience about rhetoric and argument. The room was packed, and the time passed quickly. I really enjoyed it.

I decided that after the workshops I would go to the High Roller ferris-wheel like thing with some friends despite my normal apprehension about heights. My plan was to get a couple drinks in me fast, get a little buzz, and then try the ride. I met up people and we went in two groups up to the High Roller. Richard (who’d I’d only met in person for the first time this TAM) drove one car with his family, and Travis, Andrew (another new person I met!), and I took a cab. Well, somehow it took a while for Richard to make it there, and by the time we approached one of the pods, I was completely sober.

The pods, which are 120 sq feet or so, are constantly moving. As I came up to the pod, I was mumbling to myself, “This isn’t a good idea. I’ve made a terrible mistake”. But, it was too late, and I was going. I shuffled into the pod, and immediately took a seat to kind of get my bearings. As it turns out, there isn’t nearly as much feeling of motion and movement as I expected. As we got higher and higher, I started to feel more comfortable. I won’t say that I became completely at ease, but I was not panicking, and I never really had any real fear of the height.

I eventually stood up and that was even better. For some reason, when sitting down, you can feel little bits of mechanical thunking, but when you stand up, you don’t feel any of that. From then on, I really enjoyed it. I still had a minor level of nervousness, and I still had a psychological block to standing right on the edge, but I was able to take lots of pictures, have a conversation, and honestly enjoy the great view we had as we got to 550 feet. I was actually a little disappointed when it was over.

We got back to the South Point Hotel just in time to hear DJ, George Hrab, and Randi say a few words at the TAM reception, and then it was on to socializing for a little bit. I talked with a few people at the reception and then down at the Del Mar, but it was an early night as I had precious cargo to pick up the next morning: vegan donuts.

How to Lose a Friendship With One Link Share

I’ve debated whether or not to make this public, but since the original incident happened in public, I’m going with making this post public.

Within my various online communities, it’s not uncommon for one single post by a person to cause a loss of a social network friendship. It’s very common to hear something along the lines of “I had to unfriend that person because of such and such…”. I think we’ve all heard it, and I think many of us have done it. Well, for me, I actually lost a real world friendship over a single share of a link. Why am I writing about this? It’s been on my mind a lot lately, and writing it down will make me feel better. Making it public will perhaps allow some people to give me some advice on how I could have better handled it.

Like many people, I sometimes share links on my social network profiles without commentary. This leaves the reason for sharing up to the imagination of the people who follow me, but I only one time before, did anyone ever question me. That person was my wife, who was surprised by something I shared, but once I explained why, that was the end of that conversation. A short sixty-second conversation.

I have to admit, I don’t often think about what other people might think of why I share stuff. I thought it was generally accepted by most people that sharing does not equal endorsement. I’ve seen miscommunications online all the time, but usually by complete strangers or online-only friendships. I personally have never seen it happen to real or close friends. Well, it happened to me.

A few months back I shared a link to an article on Cracked.com: 5 Annoying Things Parents Say to People Who Don’t Have Kids. Cracked.com is a humor site, and I never thought that a friend of mine would take it serious. The author of the article is a father of three, and as someone who doesn’t want kids, I thought it humorous and interesting, and I shared it, and didn’t pay it much attention. Again, it’s a Cracked.com article.

Well, a few hours later, a friend of mine (who happens to be a parent) left a comment on it, a very long comment. This is a friend from the real world of at least the last seven years. I wish I’d saved the comment, but frankly, I was a little embarrassed at the content. It accused me of being a bigot, of being a bad skeptic, and how he was tired of my attitude about children. It went on for a couple paragraphs with more of this kind of commentary. It ended with a threat: either renounce the story, or we’re no longer friends.

Now I’ve been to enough TAM’s to know what my natural reaction was going to be, but even so, I wasn’t able to avoid a totally human reaction. I simply commented “Well, if you don’t like the links I post, don’t follow”. Perhaps that was more antagonistic than I intended, but I was really feeling insulted and attacked. Soon after I left that comment in response, he responded “Good idea, I’m done with you.” And that was it. All social connections killed within minutes.

The next morning, after thinking it over, I sent him an email with a fuller explanation. I did not apologize for sharing the link, but explained why I shared it. I had gone back and looked and didn’t find much in the way of anti-kids links that I had shared, so I figured it must have been something I said in person, but even that would have had to been over a year before. The email was not a suck-up, let’s be friends again type email. I was just honest about everything. I never heard a response, and it’s been four months.

A couple days later I talked about it with another friend of mine, who also is a parent. About a year before, I had said something off the cuff about children, and this friend took exception to it, and told me so. With this friend, however, we were able to have a conversation about it, no demands were made, and we were past it in a few minutes. It was just a slight misunderstanding, and probably made us slightly better friends for being able to talk about it. I’ve been more careful about my language, and he understands better where I was coming from.

This friend couldn’t understand what my now ex-friend was doing, or why he did it. It didn’t make much sense to him. I felt a little better after talking about it, because I wasn’t imagining the feeling of being attacked. I was attacked.

I haven’t tried much the last four months to reconnect. I sent him a short email congratulating him on something. I think I liked a post or two of his. There has not been a single response. I honestly don’t know what happened, or how anyone could kill a friendship like that over one link share. It’s not something I would ever do. I can’t even imagine it.

He might read this, and may have a completely different take on it. Maybe I was more strident than I can remember or find. I concede that’s a possibility. However, I do know that cutting things off will never solve that. After my last email was ignored, I’m pretty much done with it. Peter Bogossian once tweeted “True friendship is only achieved if parties don’t pretend to know things they don’t know. Pretenders have relationships based on illusion.” I’ve tried to live by that recently, and I think it’s helped. I, wonder though, if my friend and I were ever really good friends to begin with. Seems like there must have been some level of dishonesty between us.

And that is how you lose a friendship with one link share.

Wednesday of #TAM2014

I wasn’t checked into my hotel for more than five minutes when I started running into friends from TAM. I met Torkel as he was coming out of the elevator and a couple minutes later Jamie walked by after returning to the hotel from a previous donut run to Ronald’s (more on that in a later post).

This was the earliest I’d ever gotten to TAM. I’ve made some Wednesday nights, but never Wednesday morning. I almost has a whole new day to do something. Mainly, though, I wanted to meet up with old friends.

I ended up in the Del Mar, of course. My sense of timing was off, and I ordered a drink at two-thirty in the afternoon. Jamie made a run to the sub shop across the street and we chowed down for an hour or so in the bar. I feel like we must have been there for hours, because TAM’ers started to show up and I had a lot of good talks with people I hadn’t met before in real life. The overwhelming feeling I had was one of comfort and ease.

I do not have any sort of clinical level of social awkwardness, but I’m usually very shy, and always feel like my words fumble out of my mouth. It’s rare that I ever feel at ease in any social setting, even amongst friends, but this was one of those times.

Skeptic Bowling was a bust it turned out because of (I thought) a weird set of rules and the inability to reserve lanes. Back to the bar. I spent the rest of the night having a couple drinks with old and new friends. Completely at ease.

I turned in early because I was still running on central time and wanted to keep a decent sleep cycle early on. I went through a few pics each of my wife and our animals, before drifting off to sleep to the sounds of the Mysterious Universe podcast.

Leading Up to #TAM2014

(This is part of an unknown numbered series of blog posts about The Amazing Meeting 2014)

Every year I look forward to The Amazing Meeting. It’s an event that seems tailor made for my interests. However, life happens the other three hundred and sixty days a year and it’s never a sure thing that I will be able to get to TAM. So far I have been lucky. Back in March, we learned that Peedee had cancer. As with human cancer, there is no single prognosis and it would be a few weeks before we would know what we could expect. For that period of time TAM was in the background, something I had planned to do, but wasn’t thinking about.

Peedee was treated with surgery three months before TAM and was expected to do well. It was at that point, that I assumed I would be going to TAM. I did not want to assume the worst, that Peedee wouldn’t recover. As it happened, he recovered quicker than expected, and hasn’t otherwise missed a beat.

In the past, I would always be anxious during the packing process. I would think about packing weeks in advance and be nervous. This time was different. I didn’t stress out about anything other than having to get up at three am to make my flight. That turned out to be a non-issue. The drive to the airport was not filled with excitement. It felt as routine as a trip to the grocery store. The airport itself felt a normal errand. The flight was as uneventful as can be. I was in my own zone of videos and noise canceling headphones.

Once in Vegas, I still lacked excitement. Some of it felt second nature, like the trip to the rental car center, and the drive down South Las Vegas Blvd to the South Point Casino. It wasn’t until I opened the door to the casino, until I felt the air conditioned air on my face, until I could hear the ringing of slot machines in my ears, that I felt it.

I was at TAM. My friends were coming. I was excited.