Sunday, December 30, 2012

David Quinn, Politeness and the One-Sided Conversation

David Quinn has written recently on the need to move away from insults in online discourse. It's one of those likely rare topics on which we agree - I find insults lazy, tawdry and generally counterproductive. If your strongest argument is your belief that your opponent is a 'toerag' you have little in the ways of convincing material and your efforts will most likely weaken the cause you support.

He's published a Twitter 'code of conduct' which I read with interest:
"Twitter Code of Conduct needed. 1; no abusive language. 2; address arguments 3; assume the good faith of the other person"
I'm not in a position to promulgate how Twitter is best used, but I was heartened a little to see that these three rules match neatly how I tend to interact online. I slip from time to time; I'm human after all, but I find my most popular posts and most interesting conversations flow from a beginning of engaging with someone of different views using evidence, reason and polite language.

I've written about David Quinn's work with vaccine denial groups before, and the fact that his message is unpopular with women. I've also wondered aloud why the Iona Institute benefits from charitable tax status but I've neither insulted him personally nor used foul language. It came as some surprise to me to find out I was blocked:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tax Breaks, Vaccine Denial and Irish Pro Lifers

It's a time of hardship for a lot of us. Tax is up, the carer's allowance has been decreased and most of us are making do with less. Still, it comes as small consolation to remember that as a nation we provide tax breaks for many worthy charities who do important, vital work. However, amongst the dedicated, effective and admirable groups there are a few interlopers perhaps undeserving of tax payers' assistance.

I've mentioned before that the Iona Institute is freed from the shackles of many tax obligations. You can see their company, Lolek Limited, is listed on the Revenue's list of authorised charities. (Compare the charity number there to that listed on Iona's website.) I pop back to this Revenue list from time to time when investigating various groups and have found many names gratifyingly absent. I should also add that I bear the Revenue no ill will in this matter; they merely enforce the rules and are not the body who decided the criteria for charitable status. (Late addendum: this means donors can either write off some of their tax bill against the donation, or get the Revenue to add to their donation, depending on their tax status.)

Recently a video made by the American group EWTN has been excitedly shared through Facebook and Twitter. (Bebo was not checked.) It was designed to solicit prayers and donations for Irish anti abortion groups. Perhaps surprisingly, it has been promoted most heavily by those of us on the pro choice side, largely due to one ridiculous hat:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé and Cameroon's Criminal Incarceration

Early last year Roger Mbédé sent a text to another man. It read "I'm very much in love w/u". For this apparently heinous crime he was sentenced to three years in prison, his infraction earning the official title of "homosexuality and attempted homosexuality".

He's already served a year in penance for this private expression of love, and faces two more in harsh conditions if he is not pardoned. The excellent is calling for Roger to be pardoned, and for Cameroon to fulfill their obligations under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Please sign their petition. If you can, consider a small donation.

I made the below image from the Twitter profile pictures of's followers. Zoom in to see some of the thousands of faces of those who support him and want Cameroon's unjust law repealed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Live Action, Youth Defence, and the Return to the Magdalene Laundries

"... back in the olden days of yore, when there was a standard – and when if you got caught having sex before marriage, you would get your butt beat and get sent off to Ye Olde Forbidding Nunnery & School For Wayward Girls – there were a lot fewer teenagers having sex." -Kristen Walker Hatten,
I greeted news that Youth Defence is now open about their US-based financing with mixed delight. True, the myth that they are the voice of the silent Irish majority can only be damaged by this approach. But I worry that their true colours may show more clearly when they drop the pretense of being strangers to the worst excesses of anti abortion activism in the USA.

Take the opening quote. It hankers back to a simpler time, where Magdalene laundries prevented abortions by incarcerating those women who dared be raped, judged lascivious by village elders, or - horror of horrors - choose their sex partners without church approval.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

@ProLifeAtheists and the Damascene Conversion

"By sticking steadfastly to religious arguments, the prochoice advocates who organised this march have shown they are out of touch with the modern debate – a debate which includes people of all faiths and no faith. Just look at @secularprolife, @prolifeatheists and many others for examples." - Cora Sherlock, Deputy Chair of, via 
"The Church is entitled to contribute just like any other group in society but the fact remains that abortion concerns human rights, not religion. The Journal readers can see this from groups like @secularprolife, @ProLifeAtheists, PLAGAL and of course the writings of secularists Nat Hentoff and the late Christopher Hitchens." - Cora Sherlock, Deputy Chair of, via
Sad that you don't respect beliefs of others & feel need to make abortion a religious discusion. It is not. See @secularprolife or @ProLifeAtheists for eg. U must know argument will be list on human rts grounds

Atheism is the absence of belief in gods, nothing more, nothing less. Being both an atheist and opposed to legal access to abortion is not an incoherent position, though it would be inconsistent for an atheist to advance a religious argument against abortion.

Still, I was a mite curious about this @ProLifeAtheists group. Who were they? Could they be what I was looking for - a majority Irish group?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Migration Patterns - Why Are @ProLifeCampaign's Followers Mainly American?

Cora Sherlock, deputy chair of the Pro Life Campaign, was kind enough to comment on a recent post where I discussed the organisation's Twitter stats. I encourage you to read both, but for those who can't resist skimming I'll summarise by saying that only ten per cent of this Irish organisation's followers are Irish, and 70% are based in the United States. I'll quote sections of Cora's response for context below.

Cora didn't specify if she was commenting in an official capacity or not. To my mind it is most charitable to assume her words were in a personal capacity and that is the interpretation I will take unless corrected. I should also add that at present I have no reason to believe that Cora runs the @ProLifeCampaign Twitter account - as such any criticism of the account should not be read as directed at Cora. Indeed I'm grateful to her for interacting; it is not a step taken by any other anti-abortion group I've covered.

I've taken the liberty of assigning headers to what I feel are Cora's main points.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pro Life Campaign - an end to carrots?

I approach this post with a certain amount of dread. Any time I look at the Twitter statistics of groups opposed to abortion in Ireland I invariably find myself beating a fresh path to the oft visited conclusion: they're mainly American. It grows harder and harder to provide entertainment to those willing to accompany me on this journey.

Finding the poverty of Irish numbers supporting Youth Defence in my initial post of this sort was quite amusing. But as I worked my way through the Life Institute, Ireland Stand Up, David Quinn and Ronan Mullen, seeing each one dominated by either Americans, men, or American men, using my unique method of pulling Twitter stats began to become more of a chore.

So, this will be my last check of Twitter geography of anti abortion groups in Ireland. My reasoning is simple - I'm out of material. The only two left are the Life Institute (stats given to the excellent Red Lemonader, looking forward to reading her take) and the Pro Life Campaign, which ran last night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Craig's List And The People Of The Law

Sometimes it's nice to start from a point of idle curiosity. In a previous installment I prepared a word cloud of the Twitter biographies of those who follow Stephen Law and William Lane Craig. I drew no conclusions from it; there really wasn't enough hard data.

Stephen Law was kind enough to take an interest and we had a brief Facebook chat. I showed him another post of mine on the Discovery Institute. For that one, I'd pulled a list of everyone who follows the Discovery Institute. They're an anti-evolution group with delusions of science, saying their belief in an Intelligent Designer is not motivated by prior theological conclusions. Taking this list of their followers I then found out what each Intelligent Design fan followed. I put the results into a matrix and found that the majority of Discovery Institute fans have a pronounced primary interest in Christian apologetics and no interest in science.

Much as I enjoyed writing that post I find it hard to approach Craig's followers in a similar manner. For one, it would be ludicrous of me to point out that their primary interest is in Christian apologetics and present it as some sort of unexpected finding. Secondly, having met a few fans of Craig I find they tend to be doing their best to work out this mystery called life and are in the main pleasant folk, willing to converse with those of different viewpoints and generally open-minded. That I do not share their conclusions does not mean I do not hold them in some respect.

Let's look at the top twenty for each. First we'll look at those accounts that are most popular with William Lane Craig followers:

Monday, November 19, 2012

We Are All Savita

The title of this blog post is not original. I saw it on a placard when I marched on Saturday. And the constituent parts of the image below are also not my work - they're the profile pictures of the Twitter followers of @ProudProChoice and @ChoiceIreland. Later, based on welcomed feedback in the comments section I added in 583 profile pictures from the march for Savita Facebook event. (Technical reasons prevent me from viewing more.)

It's a collaborative effort. I know many who grieve are not represented below; unfortunately there's no way for me to get images of everyone. It's flawed and imperfect, but in some small way it shows me that when we work together we can remember someone beautiful.

Now let's remember her through legislation.

Update December 5th, 2012: many more have supported or attended marches calling for legislation on the X case. I've rerun the procedure and produced an updated image - the increased number of supporters has resulted in a much sharper image:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Morbid Make It Happen Foundation

From the Make It Happen Foundation's YouTube channel: "We try to take as many children as possible each year on fun filled excursions and the sad part is some of these children don't make easter [sic] of the following year"

Given that the organisation has existed for less than a year I find this rather disturbing.

ChooseLife2012 twitter stats

I was asked to look at @ChooseLife2012 on Twitter. It's an initiative of the Irish Catholic Bishop's Conference, is against abortion, and has a number of tweets on repeat that encourage prayer and talk of embryo development.

I like to think I approach these things with an open mind and listen to those with a different viewpoint. I've made information public on Youth Defence, but I've also made information public on Proud Pro Choice and Choice Ireland. I've offered my services to pro-life groups and feel there is nothing to fear from accurate data.

So what did I find on @ChooseLife2012? Nothing much. The accounts they follow are primarily based in Ireland, are a sane, reasonable and in some cases interesting bunch. Those following them are also based in Ireland. The gender balance seems fair. If pushed for a complaint I'd quite like it if their site didn't say "Volunteer for a pro-life group" without providing clarity on which groups they deem worthy of support. Still, hardly the worst I've encountered.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ronan Mullen Twitter Analysis

I checked @RonanMullen's Twitter account but find it far too dreary to warrant an extended commentary. If you like, reread my piece on David Quinn and do the necessary search and replace.

Instead I offer the stats and images to my fellow bloggers, regardless of position, to do with as they wish.

Do tweet me or comment with a link when done below. If I like, or strongly dislike your take on the numbers I'll be sure to publicise it for you.

Number of followers: 1,202.
Number of people followed: 20
Total number of women followed by Ronan Mullen: Two.(@MiriamOCal and @LCreighton)
Number of those women who follow him back: One. (@LCreighton)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Waterford Street Preachers Talk on Wednesday 28th

Delighted to announce I'll be making a field trip to Waterford on the 28th of this month to give a talk for Waterford Skeptics in the Pub. It will be an extended version of my Street Preachers talk, including oddities from the Hare Krishnas, Young Earth Creationists, Moonies, scientific miracles in the Qur'an, and the pictured representative if the Mormons.

It will be taking place at 7:30pm in The Munster Bar. I'm told I'm moderately amusing. I hope to see some of you there - if you know anyone in the Waterford area who might be interested I'd appreciate it if you passed it on.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

David Quinn - Voice of Irish Women?

Increasingly, when investigating a new Twitter account, I find it useful to start with a word cloud formed from the biographies of its followers. Take David Quinn's for instance. Those of you without laser enhanced vision may prefer to click the image for a larger view.

There is much I am sure he would welcome - Irish Catholic journalist are hardly words from which he would seek distance. Political, views, current affairs, Dublin and media all strike me as fair representations of his fans. I don't deny him his supporters.

But today I look with specific focus. David Quinn has been vocal on women's rights of late. Take his Independent column. Take his numerous tweets. I'm going to take a risk and assume he hasn't declined any media opportunities on the subject. It's clear that it is dear to him.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Stephen Law Vs William Lane Craig

I quite enjoy Stephen Law. Reading his books helped rid me of an irrational prejudice against philosophy while teaching me something new and in sections giving me a good laugh - do check out the free chapter of Believing Bullshit. I've mentioned William Lane Craig a couple of times on this blog.

They debated some time ago. It was rather good, and at ten to midnight I can't give it a worthy summary but I encourage you to track it down on YouTube if you missed it. About an hour ago the mood struck me to pull a list of each of their followers, pull each person's Twitter biographies, and do a word cloud of the results. No commentary, it's past my bedtime. I'll leave you to guess which is which. Click for big, feel free to reuse the images elsewhere if you like.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do Youth Defence Really Care About Rape Survivors?

Some time ago I wrote a piece on the typical Youth Defence follower. It was intended to be lighthearted: I listed the various right-wing American personalities and groups followed and wondered aloud why a supposedly Irish organisation would find their members expressing such interest. As my source material I gave a list of other groups followed by those who deem Youth Defence of interest.

As a closing comment I mentioned that there were no Irish charities on the list. (There’s one US-based charity.) Shortly afterwards I was contacted by a new friend who asked if I could get her some more details. The script I used to pool the accounts followed by Youth Defence followers had a cut-off of 11 – it was conceivable that ten Youth Defence fans supported a specific Irish charity. Nick Beard wanted to know how many, if any, supported charities that work with rape survivors.

I’d like to frame the discussion by opening with a quote from, a front organisation based in the same building and using the same staff as Youth Defence:

“Victims need real support not a quick-fix solution like abortion. Rape is a terrible crime against women. Victims need our support and sympathy. We should be doing a great deal more to protect and help them.” -link

Do they live by this maxim?

Thoughts on Remembrance Day

I’ve spent all but a year of my life living within walking distance of Glasnevin cemetery. It’s a fascinating place, to my knowledge the first secular cemetery in this nation and a treasure trove of history. Last year I managed to find the final resting place of an aunt who’d died shortly after birth – the information had been lost for half a century. It was a very moving time and I commend the trust’s helpful staff and volunteers.

You may wonder at the relevance. It has a sizeable section dedicated to Irish war dead from WWI and WWII. Many had lain in unmarked and unremembered graves for decades. Between 2010 and 2011 Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected headstones for Irish servicemen and women, researching their past and contacting surviving relatives. Last year there was a rededication of war memorials in the cemetery.

It’s interesting to note that there are more names on the memorials than there are graves. This is in part because fighting for the British was often frowned on and it was not uncommon for volunteers to give a false name for fear of reprisal against themselves or their families. Our war dead are certainly fewer in number than those of other countries, and steady pay was of course a motive for some, but we can say that they were all volunteers and did not enlist against a backdrop of a war-supporting society.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Make It Happen Foundation and the Case of the Disappearing Hospitals

I've spoken of the Make It Happen Foundation before. Ostensibly a charity it was noted by its absence from the Revenue's list of approved charities. It seems key members of staff also worked on a previous venture which lost Revenue approval and was wound up for failing to pay suppliers. The sparse text on their website appears to contain content copied from the Make A Wish Foundation, a recognised, worthy charity.

Their front page advertises "Hospitals Associated with the MIHF":
A morbid sense of curiosity led me to click the link which delivered me to the following establishments. Click for a larger image:

You'll note "Bernardos", a misspelling of Barnardos, Ireland's leading children's charity. The entry is completed by the Dublin address of their teenage support programme and the Limerick phone number of their family support service. The prefix is incorrect.

Immediately below we find the Children's Sunshine Home. They also operate as the Laura Lynn house and are Ireland's first and only children's hospice.

I do quite enjoy programming as a method of finding information, but just occasionally it can be simpler to ask the question.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Guest Post: White, British and now a Muslim

Twitter can be a voyeuristic pursuit and I enjoy reading microupdates from those whose views are different from my own. I don't recall when or why I started following Rayyan, but I've enjoyed the experience. He's mid twenties, a doting father and a hardworking student. He has more on his plate than I do! Despite this he's spent a lot of time wondering about this great mystery called life.

I feel a little guilty having asked him to write a guest post. Knowing his schedule I've likely deprived him of many hours of sleep, but his is an interesting perspective and he was enthusiastic to share his thoughts here. About four months ago he embraced Islam. I've read a translation of the Qur'an and listened to those who I'd describe as professional speakers on Islam, but when following Rayyan I learned that the discussions generated by a recent convert can be amongst the most interesting and insightful.

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

May God give you peace and bless you all, I would like to thank our friend Geoff for giving me the opportunity of writing here on his webpage. Today I aim to give a brief introduction as to who I am and God willing move on to three common misconceptions of Islam today.

My name is Rayyan, I’m a 25 year old man, blessed with a five year old daughter who lives with me full time (lone parent), and I lose my house keys at least three times a year. I invested a year self-studying religion and four months ago today declared I believe in one God and I accept Mohammed as God’s slave and final messenger. If I may, I ask you all to have an open mind and try to be free of all media influence such as the news and ask you not to associate culture with Islam e.g. forced marriages, honour killings etc.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Westboro Baptist Church

On Twitter I asked if anyone would like an account analyzed. I offered to do a wordcloud of the Twitter biographies of followers of nominated accounts.

SomeGreyBloke was first off the mark. If you haven't done so already, do check out his videos. He suggested I check out the Westboro Baptist Church, famed for their "God Hates Fags" placards, their picketing of soldier's funerals,  and their poor personal hygiene.

He was likely unaware that the majority of their followers are not fans. A delightful amalgam of gay, atheist and sane Christian tweeps, the wordcloud of such diverging properties was not one likely to convey all views.

Instead I pulled all messages to @GodHatesFagsWBC and fed that into the mix.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Anjem Choudary - face of Islam in Britain?

Jim Rohn once said "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with". This unprovoked assault on English grammar contains a concept with which I agree, and if we apply this maxim to Twitter accounts followed by Anjem Choudary's we are left with the impression he is a nobody.

There is little I can do to analyze zero accounts followed. I can, however, examine those 2,186 folk who choose to follow Anjem. Who are they?

American Woman - gender analysis of Romney / Obama Twitter fans

Estimating gender, be it online or in real life, can be a hazardous matter with significant impact should one err.  Just ask my female friends Nick and Joe, or my male friends Michelle and Evelyn. Still, we can have fun trying. I humoured myself by working out that the majority of women behind Women 4 Shariah were, in fact, men earlier this week and thought I'd take the opportunity to have a glance at the US elections.

For this I selected Women for Romney Ryan (650 followers) and Women for Obama 2012 (2,228 followers).

I'd like to start by admiring Women for Romney Ryan's pluck. When they heard of my intentions they responded with:

and seem like a good-natured bunch.

On to the figures. I can only guess gender for folk who provide a first name. SuperWoman 2.0 seems to be voting Obama, for example, but it's not a first name my script recognises so it will show up as unknown. Similarly, guessing the gender of the Romney Ryan fan "Saving California" is beyond the capabilities of my script. To save you some effort with calculators I'll be showing stats once with the unknown tally included, and once without.

Women for Romney Ryan

Women for Romney Ryan. 36% Female, 24% Male, 40% Unknown
 Women for Romney Ryan (Unknowns excluded) 59% Female, 41% Male

Women for Obama 2012

Women for Obama 2012. 43% Unknown, 46% Female, 11% Male
 Women for Obama 2012 (Unknowns excluded). 20% Male, 80% Female

So in summary @Women_For_Obama has 3.4 times the number of followers, and less than half the percentage of male followers of @WomenForRR.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ann Coulter - NSFW

The NSFW in the title of this post could stand for Not Safe For Work. The language used is far from that I normally employ, so be warned. Alternatively it could be the initials of Not Suitable For this World, a suitable epithet to describe Ann Coulter.

You've likely seen the tweet where she chose to make fun of the developmentally disabled. John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete, has already written an excellent response. Late to the game and in the presence of a more powerful writer I'll restrict myself to some Twitter analytics.

First I tried to pull all negative comments sent to Ann Coulter. Unfortunately the thunderous volume of response was such that I had to restrict myself to a mere two hour window. Despite the short timeframe it contained over a thousand tweets, overwhelmingly negative. Hats off to the ambitious Tweeter who tried to make the hashtag #crawlbacktoyourcavecunt. Not a term I favour, but I respect your spirit.

Here's a wordcloud of tweets sent to Ann in that time. Link to John Franklin Stephens' blog post removed, as were some common words.. Click for a larger version.

And now the hashtags:

#1in88 #2012 #anncoulter #anncoulterscockhole #anncuntler #asshat... #AutismSpeaks #canSheDieNow #character #Classy #congrats #Coulter #crawlbacktoyourcavecunt #cunt #debate #Douchebag #downsyndrome #dumbass.. #dumbbitch #EducateYourself #EraseTheRWord #evil #evilheartlessbitch #fact #fb #Forgettable #forreal #FuckAnn #FUckCoulter #getaclue #GOP #growup #guessnot #Hitler #howdoesitfeel #hurtfulwords #hypocrite #Hypocritical #ignorance #ignorant #insanity #inspirational #itsokay #itsthetruth #JohnFranklinStephens #justsayin #khq #killitbeforeitbreeds #learnalesson #legit #lmao #loser #makesesick #MalalaYousufzai #MarkLevin: #mediawhore #message #moreeffective#hateful #moron #nary-a-peep #notabigdeal #outofthefryingpan #pathetic #PC #professionalism #proudofobama #puzzledlookonmyface #R #ragebait #realtalk #reputation. #respect #RETARD #Romney #rude #Rword #sarcasm #scary #shame #shameful #sinister #sitdown #SomeoneThatDumb #somethingbothpartiescanagreeon #specialolympics #spreadtheword #stayclassy #stfu #StupidPeople #tcot #thinkaboutitbitch #ThinkLongTerm #trash #ugly #watchwatchasay! #whoyouhurt #youcangetitallday #yougotserved #YouLearnedThatSomewhere #you'regraspingatstraws

Tweeters are imaginative. I had planned on reproducing them all, but you really should just view them yourself. Retweet and join in!




My laptop's been running stats on Anjem Choudary since Sunday evening. He has many followers, mostly EDL members, and it's taking some time to run the reports in which I'm interested. One less popular group I spotted in the preliminary results was Women4Shariah. The name caught my eye - Anjem founded Islam4UK and I wondered if there was any connection.

While looking through the ladies who seek the enforcement of Shariah worldwide I noticed something odd. You can see some of the profile pictures above. You'll note that beards abound. The style of dress is, well, masculine. I didn't wish to rush to judge, but I started to suspect that some of these women for Shariah could be men.

So I checked.

I pulled a list of all followers, determined first names, then ran them through a script I wrote to estimate gender. Some accounts I couldn't tell. "Shariah Of Muhammad", "MuslimPrisoners" and "Sharia 4 Indonesia", for instance, are not accounts where the gender is easily discernible. Accounts of these sort I listed as unknown. The results are as follows:

With only 29% female I venture to suggest that they're missing their target market.