A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

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Guest Post over at B&W: The Good Juror Pose

It’s been almost two weeks since I mailed this essay off to Ophelia Benson, but I’ve been on holiday in Melbourne sans notebook and passwords for most of the time. You’ll have to forgive me for my tardiness.

There seems to be a trend of late, of people lecturing jurisprudence at people who it is reasonable to assume, have been victims of rape or sexual assault. Notably, it’s often not just “Skeptics”, but “Skeptics” with friends accused of acting up and pestering people sexually (or worse), who engage in this practice.

It’s not that the presumption of innocence is to be suspended, it’s just that the presumption of innocence is often irrelevant to the context these discussions are taking place in, with potentially harmful consequences. I spend 2600 words (including quotes) on the matter over here

~ Bruce


The Crepuscular Mr Snow

You’ll not likely see him, but he’s there,
out the corner of eye during dawn and dusk.
He dodges nine-to-five commuters,
keeping to gutters and shadow.

You rarely catch Snow in Australia,
though he’s present all year ‘round.
He gusts through alleyways where litter abounds,
He lives under tiles and in cracks in the pavement.

Outside the lamplight at twilight, he watches you,
wondering about friends, daylight, and things you take for granted.
Mr Snow is hungry for company, for food, for life.
Most of all, he just wants what you already have.

Nobody knows how Snow got lost in the grey.
So few could, because so few care to think.
The prospect is horrible; nobody knows who’s next.
Except Mr Snow. He’s seen it before and he sees through you.

Beware shadow-hands reaching from back-alleys.
Beware the tendrils of black teasing your brow.
Keep an eye on the cracks in the pavement,
and don’t write off what Mr Snow can not.

You too could turn grey, white and numb.
You too could eat from a bin.
The winds that harrow Mr Snow can blow through you,
leaving only twilight, garbage and dust.

~ Bruce


Creeper

Creeper makes too much eye contact
He’s a bit to eager to talk to women.
He sits alone in his seat, waving to strangers,
mooching off of common courtesy.

Leaning over has pesters a French couple…
”Are you tourists?”
It’s asked bluntly, with dismissive tone.
Yes, they’re tourists. No, they don’t want to talk to him.

Creeper’s advances are unsolicited.
Creeper’s interests are boring.
Creeper won’t take a hint.
Creeper doesn’t respect boundaries.

Bordertown; ironic waypoint denoting territory.
Creeper gets a passenger to sit with;
a captive audience for his indulgence;
a sounding board for the self-centred, banal and inane.

Creeper questions the senior woman’s ethnicity.
He proceeds to lecture her on her heritage.
He explains that he studied war at University.
He tells his captive he’s a writer.

Creeper paws her shoulder.
Creeper asks her about vampires.
Creeper hints at undead conspiracies.
Creeper lectures about “girls” and life decisions.

Sweating and writhing, he looks like Gollum having a bad day,
and as wise as the lovechild of Ed Wood and Alain de Botton.
Senior woman asks “how do you know?”
Creeper doesn’t like the questions of philosophers.

Creeper affects chivalry towards service staff,
lunges at senior woman’s neck for a joke;
calls her beautiful while hands linger over her chest.
She doesn’t terribly mind.

Creeper got the encouragement he craves.
Creeper will do it all again…

~ Bruce


Music Review: Raven Black Night’s “Barbarian Winter”

Here’s one I fired off to the almighty editor a couple of months ago…

“Owing to technical reasons (and kleptomania), it’s been a while since I’ve broken out the vinyl. But finally, with a new album release by Adelaide’s Raven Black Night this year, on Metal Blade Records no less, I’ve been motivated to get off my rear end, grab a replacement turntable, and put needle-to-track once again.”

You can read the whole article in Rabelais #8 (2013) over here

~ Bruce


Open letter on The Cabinet of No Credibility

Dear Nick Champion,

I’m writing as a member of your electorate concerned with the attitude of our new Federal Government; its attitude towards climate change in particular, and towards science in general.

Specifically, both the axing of the Climate Commission and the dissection of the science portfolio, signal at an early stage, this new Federal Government’s capacity to treat scientific research and education as expendable casualties of culture war. The composition of Tony Abbott’s cabinet further reinforces this view, with extreme ideologues gaining quite a few choice positions.

That this has occurred shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rather, it’s a reminder to be vigilant. People may have suspected that the election of an Abbott government would see a return to culture war, but the fact that so soon into its first term, with no prior announcement, and with zero debate of the merits, drastic action has already been taken, allows such suspicions to now be treated as confirmed.

Ulterior motives, not grounded in research or scientific consultation, and not subject to due scrutiny, are clearly the guiding lights of The Abbott Government when it comes to science. From where I’m standing, when it comes to science, Tony Abbott has assembled a Cabinet of No Credibility.

There is little doubt we will see talking points from the Australian Right’s cottage industry of gadflies and pseudo-intellectuals elevated to the status of principles-to-be-acted-upon, while also with little doubt, there will be little room made for these talking points to be debated or properly subjected to scientific inquiry. The senate will surely have its hands full.

Not that I want to insult players of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, I think your observation about the credibility of the assembly of extremists in Canberra in 2011 is likely to hold true for our new Federal Government; they will treat discussion of science as a fantastic game.

Subsequently, I have enclosed a twenty-sided dice in the hope that you are able to gift it to our new government in protest. Perhaps it could help them roll-up some better policies. I hope this is not too much of an imposture.

Yours sincerely

Bruce Everett

Addendum (1st October, 2013): The twenty-sided dice is used in, and an icon for, fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons.


This is what PR dissembling looks like…

For those of you who don’t know, Karen Stollznow, sceptic, public speaker and author, revealed her account of how sexual harassment was dealt with in a recent Scientific American blog post. You can read that here.

Subsequent to this publication, multiple outlets are now naming the alleged sexual harasser/stalker, as the relatively high profile sceptic, Ben Radford. As I’m not privy to the details or evidence, I’ll not speculate on his guilt, but I suspect more details are going to come out in the wash at some point.

The employer, also not named in Karen Stollznow’s post, has since been named as the Center for Inquiry (CFI). CFI has now responded to all of this in typically boilerplate language. You can read their response in full, here.

For a moment ignoring the names, that have been named thus far, the personal politics, and the potential culpability of individuals in this matter, this is a strange document that borders on the meaningless. It’s almost a deepity in PR long-form.

“As a general rule, CFI does not discuss personnel matters in public. We refrain from discussing these matters in public not only out of consideration for our staff, but also because experience has shown that this is the best way to encourage people to come forward with complaints.”

In general yes, this is a good strategy. Especially before due process has worked its way through (something Karen Stollznow complied with).

But CFI is responding to a specific case here, and in this case Karen Stollznow has opted to go public owing to the alleged inadequacy of CFI’s process, and after the process has completed at that. Keeping things private in this context, is meaningless; CFI can’t keep it private because it’s already public, and it’s what CFI does under the veil of privacy that is in question.

People with potential complains seeing this case unfold, aren’t going to be worried about CFI’s ability to keep things in-house. Indeed, Stollznow, and about every other critic of CFI’s management, positively speak to CFI’s ability to maintain the hush.

Further, who’s decision is it, ultimately, to keep things quiet, or go public, if something has gone wrong? That’s not the organisation’s call, and unless we see court action deciding to the contrary, it was Karen Stollznow’s right to bring this to light.

What does CFI think people with complaints about harassment are more likely to be worried about – that CFI will go public with their information, if the issue is already public, or that CFI will decide of its own accord, without regard to the wishes of the person making the complaint, what level of openness is appropriate?

Yes, there are legal concerns about going public, for all parties, but in it’s release, CFI doesn’t cite this as a justification. CFI claims it doesn’t want to deter future complaints.

CFI’s response reduces the serious matter of privacy, from a human relations concern, to the level of marketing pablum.

And then things proceed to where the wheels really begin to fall off…

“However, we would like to make it clear that any suggestion that CFI has been less than diligent in addressing harassment complaints is mistaken. During the administration of current president and CEO, Ronald A. Lindsay, that is since July 2008, CFI has investigated all complaints that have been made to management, and, where necessary, has taken appropriate corrective action. “

On the face of it, this looks like a good thing, right? Investigating every case? Good-o.

“Neither allegations nor denials determine the actions CFI takes. The results of the investigation determine the actions taken by CFI. If CFI has employed an outside investigator, we go with the investigator’s findings; we do not substitute our suspicions. If the investigator found, for example, that a sexual assault occurred, we would accept that finding; likewise, if the investigator found that no sexual assault occurred, we would accept that finding.”

If you’ve read the whole release, you’ll notice that the remainder is mostly rhetoric in this vein, talking about rumor and gossip, while ironically not even vaguely citing any examples of rumor and gossip – CFI is gossiping about alleged gossip. While I’m not commenting on Ben Radford’s guilt, I wouldn’t dismiss Karen Stollznow’s concerns as “gossip”.

That aside, and to the point I want to make – CFI defers to investigators, in deciding the facts. It’s fair to say, that seeing as CFI acknowledged that sexual harassment did indeed occur, there are at least some facts between CFI and Karen Stollznow that are uncontested.

Furthermore, it’s the allegedly lax penalties for sexual harassment that were met out by CFI that Karen Stollznow disputes in her article. Are we to believe that CFI outsources it’s values as well, such that independent investigators also decide upon penalties, in addition to the facts of the case?

No. This is Ron Lindsay’s job, and the accusation is that he failed to appreciate the implications of the facts, such that remedial action was inadequate.

Raising the matter of independent investigators is an irrelevant act of self-promotion that (by design?) distracts people from the substance of Karen Stollznow’s concerns.

I’m not entirely sure that distracting attention from the substance of complaints, and dismissing them as gossip, is going to make people more comfortable with the prospect of making complaints to CFI. But if you’re not actually facing this prospect, and you can’t tease the implications out of the boilerplate language, then I guess CFI’s release would look nice and fuzzy.

I’m wondering how long they can manage to keep treating this matter like a PR issue, and making fatuous statements about privacy, instead of realizing that transparency about the process is the solution.

~ Bruce