MoronWatch Is Away

I’ll be away for the next week or so, with limited Internet access. If you miss me while I’m gone, you could try the following MoronWatch-related activities:

  1. Catch up with my podcasts (“Moron-Free Radio” as they’re better known) – there are now four to listen to. Find them on my blog or subscribe on iTunes.
  2. Watch some morons on Twitter. They’ll probably be running riot while I’m not here.
  3. Join my Facebook page or add me on Google+.
  4. And of course – follow me on Twitter, if you aren’t already: @MoronWatch

Have fun with the morons! If you get good at it, you too could be receiving fan mail like this one:

D**** S**** *****@aol.com 
 
to mw
Your a fucking asshole and your country Has already surrendered to the Muslims and will soon drown under Sharia Law > Cant wait to see Ya stoned to death for drawing a Picture of Mohammed Fucking a Donkey. Then we’ll see who the MORON is!

Climate Change Morons Dissected

Hot Earth

It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here

My policy with regard to climate-denying morons on Twitter is usually to steer clear. Trying to discuss science with adults whose level of science understanding wouldn’t even win them a GCSE (UK 16-year-old qualification), and within 140 characters, seems a little pointless. But for some reason I did engage today… well, it’s warm and sunny (for a change) in London, and I felt generous. The conversation went very much as you’d expect, and rather than waste the rest of my day in Twitter shouting, I decided it would be easier to deal with the issues in a blog post, and help educate these poor folks at the same time.

Here’s a wonderful starter from @DixieSportsman: if you believe in climate-change, you’re guilty of  “child-like naïveté” (look, he’s got all the accents in it n everything)!

To be honest, I’m happy to share in the “naïveté” of climate scientists, rather than join the “hard-headed reality” of those who believe propaganda pumped out by the fossil-fuels industry. To join the party, check out the wonderful New Scientist guide for the perplexed, which pretty much answers every nonsensical climate change-denial myth. In fact, if you’re going to engage with climate morons on Twitter, at least insist they read this before wasting time repeating myths that were discredited years ago.

Next, we find one of the many common climate myths, repeated by @ndgc12dx. This is one of the most frustrating things about dealing with science-illiterate morons who think they understand science. All they need to do is go and read a book. Or even Google! But they’d rather repeat their favourite myth – in this case, claiming that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today:

First of all, note the use of “Historians”. What he actually means is “climate scientists”, which is weird, because he doesn’t seem to believe anything climate scientists say. He’s wrong anyway: the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the previous and subsequent centuries, but cooler than today. Here’s a page with a nice graph showing that current temperatures are warmer than they’ve been for at least 2000 years (including, of course, the Medieval Warm Period).

Next, @ndgc12dx entertains us with the fascinating information that there’s “very little CO2″ in the atmosphere:

Now, “very little” is a relative thing. I could offer to anally fist @ndgc12dx “very little”. Like, for only five minutes. Now, if @ndgc12dx lives for 80 years, the time I spend anally fisting him is less than one eight-millionth of his entire life, or to put it another way, around one hundred-thousandth of one percent! Which is very little indeed, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the fisting at all, or perhaps even notice.

For a more scientific comparison, consider this: a typical dose of the hallucinogen LSD (around 100 micrograms) is around one-hundred-billionth the weight of a typical man (a far smaller proportion than CO2 in the atmosphere). By @ndgc12dx’s logic, taking a regular dose of LSD will have no effect on him whatsoever. I suggest he goes and tries it out.

Back to CO2: this increased from around 280 parts-per-million (ppm) in pre-industrial times to around 392ppm in 2011, representing a 40% increase just in the past couple of centuries. 40% is a large increase, but in @ndgc12dx’s terms, it’s an increase from one very small number to a different very small number. The issue @ndgc12dx is failing to understand is that small things can, and often do, have big effects. Almost all climate models show that around 450ppm is a level beyond which life on the planet will change drastically for humans and many other species (and the increase from 392ppm to 450ppm is very small indeed).

On the same subject, he displays an appalling grasp of mathematics in the next tweet:

The CO2 proportion in the atmosphere is rising around 2ppm at the moment, which equates to an increase of around 1.5% over three years, not .005% – he seems to be calculating the increase as a proportion of the total atmosphere rather than the proportion of CO2. As we saw above, he thinks (wrongly) that small changes are insignificant. And he repeats the ignorance here:

Because 0.03% is a small number to a moron. You can’t buy 0.03% of an egg can you? Well then.

Then we come to a moronic old favourite, again from @ndgc12dx:

Firstly, he’s getting “proof” confused with “evidence” – a sure sign that his science education was strangled at birth. This claim is one of the most moronic climate-denial statements possible, as the “greenhouse effect” link between warming and atmospheric CO2 has been well-known for a long time. To quote from New Scientist:

We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs and emits certain frequencies of infrared radiation. Basic physics tells us that gases with this property trap heat radiating from the Earth, that the planet would be a lot colder if this effect was not real and that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will trap even more heat.

As they say, the Greenhouse Effect is just basic physics – denying it is akin to denying gravity.

Finally we return to an old climate myth, repeated by one of our favourite tweeters:

This is a straw man argument: it claims (falsely) that people who believe in man-made climate change don’t believe in other climate change. This is hugely moronic, largely because it’s not true. Anyone who has studied the climate to any level at all will know that it has been changing forever. The climate changes continuously for many reasons, one of which is the presence/absence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We know that when CO2 levels were much higher, tens of millions of years ago, the climate was warmer. Land was covered by immense forests, and as they died, they grew on top of old dead forests, one layer after another. Bit by bit, carbon was trapped in the ground as “dead forest”, and the climate cooled. Then along came humans, who started extracting “dead forest” from the ground and burning it, thus restoring more CO2 to the atmosphere. The correct name for “dead forest” of course is “fossil fuel”.

The funniest part of this argument (that the climate has always been changing) is that it relies on the work and expertise of climate scientists; the same people who climate morons love to ignore when they warn us to stop burning fossil fuels.

White Supremacists, Islamophobes and Moronic Correlations

White supremacists

Some Morons

Once upon a time, before Twitter was even thought of, and even before the Web, there existed on the Internet a public domain service called Usenet. This consisted of a large number of threaded discussion groups on different topics – anyone could create a newsgroup, and server space was donated, usually by universities, to allow the system to work. Usenet carried groups covering every subject under the sun, from mountain biking to US politics – and of course porn.

I found US political newsgroups interesting to track. Hate groups proliferated, and even until 2005 or so (when I last accessed Usenet), the prime target for American morons was black people. Coordinated bullying campaigns against Muslims, as we see today on Twitter and the blogosphere, had yet to come into existence. This was the last gasp of organised white supremacy, a centuries-old idea, which flourished throughout US history, until the election of Barack Obama finally killed off their widely held belief that blacks could never make it to the pinnacle of society.

White supremacists were masters of finding (and misusing) correlations that supported their cause, and their favourite correlation of all was that between race and intelligence (as measured by IQ and academic achievement). Educational achievement in the US (and elsewhere) consistently showed a hierarchy: Chinese, then Indians, then whites, and blacks falling last. The statistics were undeniable, and white supremacists used them repeatedly to demonstrate white “superiority” over blacks. They were so determined to “prove” this point that they were even willing to accept the “superiority” of Asians over whites (which kind-of undermines the idea of white supremacy).

Reality of course was somewhat different. IQ (it turns out) is in large part a measure of a society’s degree of education, particularly in science-based areas. IQ scores have increased very significantly over the past 100 years. Within the US since the Civil Rights era, whites have gained in IQ but blacks have gained more – the gap is rapidly narrowing. Furthermore, the statistics on educational achievement weren’t as simple as they seemed. In the UK for example, Indians do outperform whites, but closer examination shows that when treated as a separate group, Bangladeshis (of the same broad racial group) do not. Similarly, African immigrants do much better at school than black immigrants from the Caribbean. The correlation between race and IQ turns out to be about issues of class and culture, not inherited ability.

White supremacy seems to have imploded as a coherent movement. But what happened to the white supremacists? Many of them turned their bigotry, hate and statistical tricks against the new “threat”, Muslims. Of course, not everyone who dislikes or fears Muslims was active in white supremacy. Many confused people genuinely believe in the “Islamic threat” to “the Western way of life”. But those pulling the strings, and creating the propaganda, learned their tricks from the old far-right: fascist and white supremacist groups.

This week, I found myself dealing on Twitter with dodgy “facts” about Muslims (largely from a handful of reactionary Atheists), and was struck at how the old white supremacist tricks are still alive and well (I was also struck with the poor quality of reasoning used by some Atheists, a group from which I tend to expect better).

In one example, I was sent a news link about a poll showing that some young British Asians support “honour killings”. Although the article didn’t mention religion, the person followed up with a tweet claiming that the article showed a link between honour killings and Islam. A quick look at honour killing statistics does show that the majority of cases (though far from all) relate to Muslims.

Is that enough to show a correlation between Islam and honour killings? Well, no – as with the IQ argument linking race and intelligence, the argument doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Firstly, honour killings happen largely across an area spanning parts of the Middle East, west and south Asia including Muslim, Sikh and Hindu populations. Second, most Muslim countries fall outside this area. The practice appears to be unknown in black African Muslim countries, where women take a more dominant role in society than in many Asian societies. So the correlation between honour killing and Islam breaks down: the correlation appears to be with certain Asian societies, not with any religious group.

The correlation is, of course malicious. Those who began this rumour probably knew perfectly well it was false; but most of those who now perpetuate the myth lack the understanding to realise that they are propagating a lie. Other dishonest correlations exist too: Muslim-baiters like to correlate female genital mutilation with Islam. But this practise is a largely African one, and happens across both Christian and Muslim societies.

A number of reactionary Atheists have this week accused me of “defending Islam” by using arguments like the ones above. But I think I’m defending truth, using scientific reasoning – which is what (I thought) Atheism was based on. I have no love for any religion, and do my best to persuade the religious that their beliefs are wrong. But equally, I believe that everyone has the right to believe and worship as they want, and most importantly I despise bullying, especially of the large-scale variety inflicted on Muslims, Jews, blacks and other minority groups.

Reason is the enemy of barbarity, and the spread of reason is the only thing that can end honour killing, female circumcision, and other brutal practises. But finding such a lack of reason among Atheists has left me sad and disappointed – I suppose I see myself as part of an Atheist tribe, and discovering that members of my tribe can be as ignorant as members of any other has been a useful lesson that we are all fallible.

WTF Is “Radical Islam”?

Generally, sparring with morons online can be fun. Being told that I’m a pawn of the devil, or a self-hating Jew often makes me smile. But there are more disturbing moments. The ongoing fascist-style campaign to paint all people of Muslim descent as an evil threat to the Western World becomes ever-more reminiscent of what was done to the Jews across Europe and America in the 1930s. Usually, the offenders are semi-literate Bible-bashers, but increasingly, just as in the 30s, secular “liberals” can be found in the melee, swinging a punch or a kick.

Recently, for no apparent reason I could identify, I was accused by some fellow Atheists of “defending Islam”. Now, I’m not aware that I’ve ever “defended Islam”. In fact, that term itself has an Orwellian ring to it, like “supporting terror” or “promoting homosexuality”. It seems “defending Islam” is something that good, secular liberals everywhere must avoid, or face public condemnation. In response, I pointed out that defending Muslims from attack isn’t “defending Islam” – to which I was told: yes it is: because all Muslims uphold Islam, which (as any moron knows) is an evil ideology. I pointed out that I know people who identify as Muslim, but who don’t practise, or in some cases don’t even believe. But these Atheist defenders of rationality told me I was wrong: anybody who claims Muslim identity is bad by definition, I was told.

Fascist stuff indeed: identity, I’ve always believed, is for the individual to choose for himself, and nobody else to force upon him. In my own experience, I tend to feel most Jewish when I encounter anti-Semites (and least Jewish in the company of other Jews). And certainly, a similar transformation is taking place among European and American Muslims: hatred towards Muslims is growing at breakneck speed, and the more times someone has MUSLIM screamed at them, the more Muslim they will feel. Like Judaism, Islam is a deep culture, with its book, traditions and routines. I remember childhood Friday evenings lighting sabbath candles and being allowed a sip of red wine; the prayers and tastes of the Passover dinner; the unique smell of a room decked in fruit and leaves during Sukkot, the harvest festival. My nostalgia over those memories, and my feeling that I was enacting an ancient ritual, are still there, despite my Atheism – the Jewish religion still forms a part of my experience, memories and identity, although I reject its superstitious beliefs. Muslims likewise, both secular and religious, will remember the rituals, the tastes and smells, of their childhoods, and feel Muslim, however little they practise their religion.

The Nazi propaganda campaign against Jews was subtle and sophisticated. How do you persuade Europeans that a tiny minority could be a threat? Some conditions are required: first and foremost, the population must be ready and willing to believe. And indeed, hatred of Jews (and Muslims) is an old European (and Catholic) tradition, dating back many centuries. Next, you take some grains of truth. And then you build up layer after layer of lies.

Post-9/11, the far-right leaped into action and repeated Nazi methodology to the letter. The far-right British National Party didn’t mention Muslims at all prior to 9/11. Their target was “Asians”, but this hate campaign failed to gain much traction. Within days of 9/11, their leaflets were rewritten, and Muslims had replaced Asians as the threat. Those people attacking Muslims today use the Islamophobe’s favourite phrase: I’m not racist; Islam isn’t a race. But to attack Muslims in the UK means to attack Pakistanis, who have been the target of race hate since at least the 1970s. And French fascists now label North and West Africans (who they’ve always attacked) as Muslims. And Dutch or Spanish fascists now label Moroccans (who they’ve always attacked) as Muslims. Bit by bit, European and American fascists have clicked into gear with each other. The anti-Muslim messages have been standardised, strengthened and amplified.

Secular fascism has returned. The Muslim-hating Atheist spreads similar stories of hate to the Christian crusader. Of course, the secular fascist tends to be more intelligent, and more persuasive. Unlike the Christian fascist, the secular fascist can uphold gay rights and women’s rights without hypocrisy, and hence sound more compelling. Secular fascists can sound liberal, and then use their “liberalism” against Islam – or more accurately, against their definition of Islam. Or more accurately still, against Muslims, whatever they believe, and wherever they live. Because the target of European fascism isn’t a religion or ideology, but minority groups: fascism gains strength by demonising minorities. Pre-9/11, there was no coherent “threat” for fascists to unite around. 9/11 gave them a common narrative.

A favourite way to “confront Islam” (or bait Muslims) is to cherry-pick.

“Islam oppresses women”.

“How so?”

“Look at Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.”

Note how these three countries are repeatedly chosen as examples, ignoring most of the other 50 Muslim countries. Never mind that Saudi Arabia is home to a fundamentalist cult, Wahhabism; or that war-torn Afghanistan is home to the ultra-conservative group, the Taliban; or that Iran is a theocracy. Never mind that these three countries have totally different cultures to each other. Never mind that the modern state of all three societies has nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with 20th century Western and Russian foreign policy, with oil, and the American imperial war. In the mind of the moron, this argument is enough. Of course, anything can be “proved” this way: Christian countries have the world’s highest rates of rape. Therefore Christianity is the rapist religion – easy! But of course, fascism is doesn’t target Christians. It targets Muslims, Jews, Roma, blacks… any group that forms a distinct minority in the West.

This was the Nazi method by which the Jewish Problem was invented. The corruption of a Jewish financier, or the explosion of a Zionist bomb, or the “backwardness” of fundamentalist Judaism were unrelated issues. But a combination of clever propaganda and a moronic public turned them into the same thing. Never mind that most Jews who were eventually dragged into concentration camps were neither Zionists nor fundamentalists nor financiers. The Jewish Problem came to mean everything Jewish.

The modern equivalent of the Jewish Problem is Radical Islam. It is equally meaningless, equally misleading, and equally capable of persuading morons that a real threat exists. It is a term that can be stretched to include any group or event. The 9/11 attacks were by Radical Islam, not Saudi dissidents protesting against US occupation of Arab states. Radical Islam (not the conservative Taliban) stopped women from being educated in Afghanistan, and stops women from driving in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaida, a terrorist organistion, and Hizbollah, which exists to defend against terrorism, are both Radical Islam. It’s enough that both groups are Muslim (although in fact, Hizbollah also has Christian members – details always spoil a simple story). The peace-loving Muslim who prays 5 times a day and the loud-mouthed protester who burns poppies in protest at British involvement in Afghanistan, are both Radical Islam. Support for Iraqi insurgents (and why shouldn’t anyone support those fighting against invasion of their own land?) is Radical Islam, and so is a group of teenagers throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who are helping to destroy their village’s crops. Palestinian activists who belong to the secular Fatah movement are Radical Islam. British Muslims who come out to defend their streets against EDL street thugs are Radical Islam. Women in burqas or hijabs are Radical Islam. The conservative, Islamist government of Turkey is Radical Islam. The conservative Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt are Radical Islam.

Fascism has risen again in Europe, and real people are being hurt today in real attacks – that is the real result of fascists, both religious and secular, “confronting Islam”. When street thugs target Muslim homes and businesses, they don’t care whether the owners are religious or not, political or not. While we’re easily distracted by the moronic antics of street thugs like the EDL, the most dangerous fascism now, as in the 1930s, lives among the middle classes. Generally, fascism is most prevalent among religious conservatives, but secular liberals can be the most persuasive and dangerous advocates of fascism. Seeing some of my fellow Atheists joining the bullying campaign against ordinary people (whether religious or secular) saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me. After all, Atheism isn’t a movement – it’s simple a lack of belief in a god. I find the religious beliefs of Muslims (and Jews, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists) to be ludicrous – but that debate must be one that accepts the right to believe. Using religious intolerance as a proxy for a race war isn’t a new trick – but apparently it’s one that is as powerful today as it always was.