Episode 99: Every Problem is a Nail

9 comments on Episode 99: Every Problem is a Nail

  1. Rick K. says:

    The Guerrilla Skepticism group had a little blurb on the newest Skepticality podcast (May 7), and their coordinator, Susan Gerbic, was interviewed on the latest American Freethought podcast (#176). I guess the group assumed too much familiarity or sent out a spam email to all the podcasts they could find. Here’s the link to their website: http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.com/
    Not sure how you want to take it from here but hopefully this will give you a bit more information about them.

  2. ullrich fischer says:

    Re email scammers… my wife got a phishing email a few days ago from [email protected]. I suspect that as more people try to scam the scammers, the scammers are trying to focus in on their target market of really really stupid people.

    Thanks for yet another hilarious and yet strangely infuriating episode. Your comments about Elizabeth Smart were spot on. I remember thinking the same thing when I read her comment about used chewing gum. I hope she finds her way to atheism after experiencing the worst of the consequences of being indoctrinated in vicious fundamentalism. I guess since she grew up in a controlling cult, it wasn’t that foreign for her to adapt to the new cult that had stolen her from her birth cult.

  3. ullrich fischer says:

    Hmmm. I need to clarify my previous post: By “really really stupid” I mean people who would get their news from Faux News and who would buy gold from Glenn Beck, not necessarily clinically mentally retarded people.

  4. Rowan Lewis says:

    We’re still calling you “yankies” or “yanks”, and you’re still calling us criminals.

    Perhaps we can come to an agreement?

    Love,
    Australia

  5. Will says:

    Hi,

    This was the first episode I had heard of this podcast and I had to stop listening. I have been a skeptic for a while, and one thing I have found is that where there is crossover between skepticism and political commentary, the waters seem to get muddied.

    Having been to Bangladesh and done research there, the commentary was appallingly ignorant of the reality of things on the ground in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. These recent protests come in the wake, not so much in terms of ‘calls for Islamic law’ but the use by the corrupt government of the secular PM of the Country to use the prosecution of collaborators (from the liberation war) to silence dissent.

    What this resulted in was a number of massive ‘hortals’ (general strikes) which are pretty much the standard means of democratic political protest in the country. They are universally terrifying things to be in, having witnessed one first hand (I was about 30 metres from a police barricade which was overrun, 4 policemen being beaten to death).

    The response to the hortal has been something approaching open war by the police/paramilitary against protests of any kind, by Islamist groups or otherwise.

    This has resulted in many deaths. The focus upon the Islamist element amongst the protesters (whose reasons for protesting are very varied) does not show a skeptical approach, it shows a willingness to selectively present information in support of a pre-established position.

    The politics of Bangladesh are complex, the secular government is utterly corrupt, and this has led to a backlash, the results of which are seen here. To present this in such simplistic terms is as inappropriate as it is ignorant.

    Either do a decent amount of research into the history of what you are talking about, or at least consult something approaching an expert on the region before you talk from ignorance.

    -Will

    1. diss0713 says:

      Here is the article we were talking about, maybe you missed it / didn’t do your research:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/05/06/bangladesh-protests-islamic-laws_n_3221660.html?utm_hp_ref=uk?ncid=GEP

      Just like every episode we do – we include the story we used as a jumping off point for our commentary in the episode notes. But hey – you’re new.

      I did a search for other articles, I came up with a few from some notable news outlets:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22418379

      http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/world/bangladesh-clashes-at-least-15-killed-in-clashes-at-motijheel-area-of-dhaka-bangladesh

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/world/asia/two-days-of-riots-in-bangladesh-turn-deadly.html?_r=0

      NONE of these mention anything that you say in your comment.

      I am happy to read anything that you send or post that shows the side that you are representing, but from the major news outlets we are getting pretty much the story we shared. So if you truly are interested in skepticism, help us understand the situation, I can be convinced. However, I won’t be swayed by arguments like “I was there – you don’t fucking know”

      If you came here to help illuminate – the floor is yours.

      If you just came here to be butt hurt and finger wag – duly fucking noted.

  6. Will says:

    Hey,

    The one thing that is pleasant about debating with fellow skeptics is that there is at least the pretence of being open to changing position.

    This being the case, I’ll try to be as systematic in presenting my point as I can, appreciating that my last post was more emotive than necessary, even a bit of ad hominem.

    So my point was, at its core, articulated when I said:
    ‘This has resulted in many deaths. The focus upon the Islamist element amongst the protesters (whose reasons for protesting are very varied) does not show a skeptical approach, it shows a willingness to selectively present information in support of a pre-established position.

    The politics of Bangladesh are complex, the secular government is utterly corrupt, and this has led to a backlash, the results of which are seen here. To present this in such simplistic terms is as inappropriate as it is ignorant. ‘

    Essentially, my problem was the presenting of the hortal as a singular event, de-contextualised. There was no mention of the ongoing context of the hortal, there was a sole attribution to the motivation of the protesters and in general I feel that this misrepresents the situation on the ground along simplistic ideological lines.

    I saw your single source, yeah, and the same critique does extend to it as well.

    Here is the context I referred to:

    The War Crimes tribunal:
    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2013/03/201332610941998639.html

    The War Crimes Tribunal represents the starting point of the protests, which began many many months ago (there have been running hortal in Bangladesh since February 5th, called first by supporters and then the opposition). There have not been any serious attempts to prosecute collaborators from the liberation war since then, however, unfortunately, this current attempt was clearly politically motivated, an attempt to prop up Sheikh Hassina’s falling popularity. The process is not transparent and has been widely criticised by Human Rights Watch and numerous other organisations.

    This conflict exists in the following context:
    ‘In Bangladesh, according to Amnesty International’s report, in the last few years since this government has been in power, more than a thousand people have been abducted and their whereabouts have never been found …. Opposition parties make a democracy rich – and yet under the current government in Bangladesh what we are seeing is a very alarming development of complete erosion of people rights to assemble. And when they do assemble they get shot … in fact ministers in the cabinet … who are very close to the current prime minister have been recorded as saying they should shoot to kill them, hang them wherever you find them …. The rights of these people have been completely destroyed …’

    The protests that are being covered at the moment are being led by Hifazat e Islami, which are an ally of Jamaat e Islami, which has links with the main opposition party, the BNP. While on the ground you will find people articulating the protests in terms of blasphemy laws, if we look at the broader political situation, this is an ongoing conflict about the legitimacy of the current government.

    I think that that is a very important part of any coverage, context and history is needed. To present this as righteous police cracking down on crazed Islamists simplified a hugely complex situation.

    It is interesting that you say that if I said ‘I was there, you don’t know’ it would be something to dismiss… yet the author of the article you took as your source was certainly not there, and does not appear to be anything even approaching an expert on Bangladesh. I am not basing my arguments on an appeal to authority, but I could argue that your dismissal approaches that. I at least have tertiary education in relevant disciplines (history and politics) and have studied the history and society of Bangladesh, as well as having done research on the ground.

    While the expressed motivations of groups on the ground, varied as they are, certainly have a place in coverage, the broader political and economic situation I believe is deserving of more focus. It should certainly at least be mentioned. The government has sentenced numerous members of their political opposition to death. The people protesting in the hortal are not simply a bunch of crazed Islamists, they are made up of a broad anti-government coalition. Far more than simply being about Islam, or even the Jamaat, these protests represent a political struggle against a corrupt regime.

    Of course I have little faith that any regime that came from the jamaat would be particularly less corrupt, but the narrative you presented left out so much that I was shocked.

    I hope my reply was clear, illuminating even, if not apparently particularly concise. I don’t know what level of knowledge I am working with, how far back into the history of the liberation war, the elections that brought Sheikh Hasina into power (she was in gaol at the time on corruption charges) etc.

    Thanks for your reply.

    -Will

    1. diss0713 says:

      Will, I want to address a few things here. The first is that I think you are right when you say:

      While the expressed motivations of groups on the ground, varied as they are, certainly have a place in coverage, the broader political and economic situation I believe is deserving of more focus. It should certainly at least be mentioned.

      We had stayed away from Bangladesh for a while because we know it is a complex political system. That being said I think you have a desire for our show to be something that it isn’t. We aren’t reporters we are commentators. It feels like you stumbled upon the op-ed page and are furious that they aren’t as objective as you’d like. We take stories from blogs and newspapers each week and give a brief synopsis, then we give our opinion. Often times the stories themselves are just a chance to make jokes or rant for a few minutes. We are not an objective source at all, we are very subjective. Our listeners know this.

      You mention in your first post:

      Either do a decent amount of research into the history of what you are talking about, or at least consult something approaching an expert on the region before you talk from ignorance.

      I think that is nonsense. We all have opinions about things we aren’t experts in. I have an opinion on politics, healthcare, charity, vaccines, global warming, etc. I am not an expert in ANY of those fields. It doesn’t dismiss my opinion.

      It is interesting that you say that if I said ‘I was there, you don’t know’ it would be something to dismiss… yet the author of the article you took as your source was certainly not there, and does not appear to be anything even approaching an expert on Bangladesh. I am not basing my arguments on an appeal to authority, but I could argue that your dismissal approaches that. I at least have tertiary education in relevant disciplines (history and politics) and have studied the history and society of Bangladesh, as well as having done research on the ground.

      So you say. But the reason I believe the authors of these articles is because they are accountable for what they write. You are an anonymous person on the internet. Reporters have lost their jobs because of a lapse in journalistic integrity (Dan Rather, Jonah Lerer, etc). If you think this is a serious batch of misrepresentation, I would suggest contacting Huffington Post, BBC, CNN and the New York Times about this, because they all reported basically the same thing. A few of these articles mention the protests in February, but they make no direct link between these recent protests and the ones from the military tribunal.

      And regardless of history, we both think that “The protesters… 13-point list of demands, including a pledge to Allah in the constitution, the end to gender mixing in society and mandatory Islamic education.” is not a solution to anything. Also blasphemy laws shouldn’t exist anywhere.

      The protests that are being covered at the moment are being led by Hifazat e Islami, which are an ally of Jamaat e Islami, which has links with the main opposition party, the BNP. While on the ground you will find people articulating the protests in terms of blasphemy laws, if we look at the broader political situation, this is an ongoing conflict about the legitimacy of the current government.

      Aren’t all protests about the bigger picture? The occupy wall street protests were all over the US for some months last year. If you talked to different groups, they would have varying reasons for the sit ins, (low economic growth, lack of jobs, lack of taxation on the ultra rich, big banks getting bailed out,etc.) But labeling it as one of those reasons is legitimate, even if it doesn’t encompass the whole protest.

      So when the people on the ground say it is because of the blasphemy laws, some of them mean it. And it is a perfectly reasonable stance to comment on the motivations that people give for their own actions, even if those motivations, as revealed by the actors themselves, are incomplete.

      Thanks for the response, if anything it will give us some pause on future episodes when these sorts of things come up.

      —–
      Edited for clarity on the final point.

  7. Will says:

    Thanks for your comprehensive reply. I really appreciate that you have taken the time to address my points.

    ‘We had stayed away from Bangladesh for a while because we know it is a complex political system. That being said I think you have a desire for our show to be something that it isn’t. We aren’t reporters we are commentators. It feels like you stumbled upon the op-ed page and are furious that they aren’t as objective as you’d like. We take stories from blogs and newspapers each week and give a brief synopsis, then we give our opinion. Often times the stories themselves are just a chance to make jokes or rant for a few minutes. We are not an objective source at all, we are very subjective. Our listeners know this.’

    I take this point, not being familiar with your show I can understand your argument here. That said, I think that I more generally have a dislike of subjective reporting of stories, which then in turn have a carry on effect that results in a blurring between the lines of objectivity and subjectivity.

    Maybe because of my educational background I am more inclined to view subjective and only moderately informed rants on things like politics and history as being in a similar vein to those on science.

    ‘I think that is nonsense. We all have opinions about things we aren’t experts in. I have an opinion on politics, healthcare, charity, vaccines, global warming, etc. I am not an expert in ANY of those fields. It doesn’t dismiss my opinion.’

    I concur, it does not. Which maybe I wasn’t clear enough in acknowledging. I however think that we would both agree that, when it comes to vaccines, global warning, evolution and other such scientific issues, there are many opinions that are less valid than others. The validity of these opinions coincides with the consensus of experts, something which we defer to in the absence of an ability to individually test such claims.

    While our access to truth in politics and history is less direct than the application of scientific method to medicine or the climate, this does not mean that there are not people who, through use of similarly consistent and testable methods, peer review, tertiary education etc. come to have a level of expertise that means their opinion carries weight. This is not an appeal to authority in the sense that their opinion should trump evidence, but rather things like consensus and experience do have a sort of authority to them.

    I think you acknowledge this when you open yourself up to correction. I am not claiming that my insights are valuable because of things you can’t confirm, I am arguing on the basis of facts that I have understood. This is why I attempted not to make that appeal. My assertion of the existence of authorities was, I guess, in response to your dismissal of the possibility that I had some.. get me?

    ‘So you say. But the reason I believe the authors of these articles is because they are accountable for what they write. You are an anonymous person on the internet. Reporters have lost their jobs because of a lapse in journalistic integrity (Dan Rather, Jonah Lerer, etc). If you think this is a serious batch of misrepresentation, I would suggest contacting Huffington Post, BBC, CNN and the New York Times about this, because they all reported basically the same thing. A few of these articles mention the protests in February, but they make no direct link between these recent protests and the ones from the military tribunal.’

    That a reporter may be accountable for their ignorance is something unfortunately rare, but I’ll acknowledge that it is a factor in establishing some measure of accountability… that said, it does not establish their experience or knowledge of a particular region. Far too often reporters draw on a central bank of repeated, unchecked stories, this is a problem in science reporting just as it is in political reporting.

    What establishes a journalist as an expert then is not the fact that they might be held accountable if they spread garbage (debatable) but rather if they have knowledge of a region and a history of reporting there, links on the ground, a broad historical understanding of conflict and so on and so forth. Such individuals are rare in this day and age.

    ‘And regardless of history, we both think that “The protesters… 13-point list of demands, including a pledge to Allah in the constitution, the end to gender mixing in society and mandatory Islamic education.” is not a solution to anything. Also blasphemy laws shouldn’t exist anywhere. ‘
    I do not disagree, but and you could accuse me of an emotive response here, the varied goals of the protesters is distinct from the crackdown that was in response and the ongoing conflict. The emotive response I refer to is my own baulking at the placing of the blame of the violence on the protesters getting shot. That is not to say that the police are not themselves part of a broader set of circumstances, but I feel like context is always needed.

    ‘Aren’t all protests about the bigger picture? The occupy wall street protests were all over the US for some months last year. If you talked to different groups, they would have varying reasons for the sit ins, (low economic growth, lack of jobs, lack of taxation on the ultra rich, big banks getting bailed out,etc.) But labeling it as one of those reasons is legitimate, even if it doesn’t encompass the whole protest. ‘

    I think that if there is a list of expressed reasons amongst a group of protesters, the one that should be highlighted is that which has the most general applicability. It is not out of the question that this reason is ‘calling for Islamic governance’, however I think that in this case the far more prevailing reason is calling for an end to government corruption. Here the Islamist part, in a country not particularly known for Islamism, is more a populist move behind that. Focussing on the Islamist element and neglecting broader trends serves to assert a particular narrative of causality that cannot be established.

    Instead it acts to obscure what is happening on the ground. Such obscurity and enshrining of subjective and ill-supported narrative goes against my ideals as both a historian and as a skeptic. As you said that you will take this on board, I will leave it there.

    I hope this finds you well and thanks again for your reply.

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