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Bangladesh: Release Tasneem Khalil

May 10th, 2007 | By Human Rights Watch

(London, May 11, 2007) – Bangladesh’s military-backed care-taker government should immediately release Tasneem Khalil, an investigative journalist and part-time Human Rights Watch consultant, who was detained by security forces late last night, Human Rights Watch said today.

Khalil, 26, is a journalist for the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper who conducts research for Human Rights Watch. According to his wife, four men in plainclothes who identified themselves as from the “joint task force”came to the door after midnight on May 11 in Dhaka, demanding to take Khalil away. They said they were placing Khalil “under arrest” and taking him to the Sangsad Bhavan army camp, outside the parliament building in Dhaka.

“We are extremely concerned about Tasneem Khalil’s safety,” said Brad … Read the rest

An Essay on Man: A Trumpet Blast Against the “New” Humanism

Apr 23rd, 2007 | By R Joseph Hoffmann

Pressed to apologize for a silly comment he’d made about the full-frontal atheism of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, the humanist chaplain at Harvard replied to Brian Fleming (The God who Wasn’t There, etc.) – the slightly offended party – as follows:

I think apologizing is really a wonderful, necessary thing to do often. We human beings are so imperfect, we hurt each other and fail to live up to our own standards so often that learning to properly apologize is practically a survival tool. At least in my life it has been – I fail often to be as loving, or as smart, or just plain as right as I’d like to be. And I have seen

Read the rest

Five Questions About Clarity

Apr 23rd, 2007 | By Stephen Law and Nigel Warburton

Nigel Warburton is senior lecturer in philosophy at The Open University. He is one of the world’s foremost popularizers of philosophy, and has a particular gift for explaing things clearly. His books include Thinking from A to Z (about to come out in its 3rd edition this summer), Philosophy: The Essential Study Guide and The Basics of Essay Writing.

As the issue of clarity came up in the comments on a recent blog of mine, I asked Nigel five questions about clarity (questions in bold).

At the top of your website the Virtual Philosopher you quote John Searle: “If you can’t say it clearly, you don’t understand it yourself”. What is clarity, and why is it important in Read the rest

We Aim to Misbehave

Apr 22nd, 2007 | By P Z Myers

Larry Moran raised an interesting comparison over at Laden’s place. In response to this constant whining that loud-and-proud atheism ‘hurts the cause’, he brought up a historical parallel:

Here’s just one example. Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.

This prompted the usual cry of the accommodationists: but feminists weren’t as rude as those atheists.

Were the women saying that men were stupid? Were they portraying

Read the rest

We say no to a medieval Kurdistan

Apr 21st, 2007 | By Houzan Mahmoud

Around seven months ago, a draft constitution for the Kurdistan region was made available for discussion, suggestions and amendments. Article seven of this proposed constitution states: This constitution stresses the identification of the majority of Kurdish people as Muslims; thus the Islamic sharia law will be considered as one of the major sources for legislation making.

It is clear to the world that in those countries where sharia law is practised – or simply where groups of Islamic militias operate – freedom of expression, speech and association is under threat, if not totally absent. The rights of non-Islamic religious minorities are invariably violated and women suffer disproportionately.

The implementation of sharia law in Kurdistan would be the start of new … Read the rest

Walter Isaacson, Einstein, and Mileva Marić

Apr 17th, 2007 | By Allen Esterson

In an article in Time magazine in 2006 Walter Isaacson wrote of Albert Einstein: “[In 1905] he had come up with the special theory of relativity… His marriage to Mileva Marić, an intense and brooding Serbian physicist who had helped him with the math of his 1905 paper, had just exploded.”[1]

As I pointed out at the time[2], Einstein would hardly have needed help with the modest level of mathematics he used in the special relativity paper, the knowledge of which he had already acquired in his middle teens. As Jürgen Renn, an editor of the Albert Einstein Collected Papers, has observed, “If he had needed help with that kind of mathematics, he would have ended there.”[3] I could … Read the rest

The New Humanism Yet Again

Apr 6th, 2007 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

At the end of April 2007 a “gala celebration” is being staged at America’s oldest University – the one in Cambridge, Massachusetts – to honor thirty years of the Harvard Humanist chaplaincy. The event designs to bring together friendly but competitive visions of the unruly congeries of ideas we call, for simplicity’s sake, “humanism.” To spice things up, the Harvard organizers have decided to use the sexy phrase “New Humanism” to describe the agenda. and while I do not know at the time of this writing precisely what will be said by the wise and wizened who attend the conference, I can guess, and I can guess I’ll be right.

The new humanism will be called a bright and bold … Read the rest

Truth Still Matters

Mar 29th, 2007 | By Jeremy Stangroom and Ophelia Benson

This article started life as a post by JS on Talking Philosophy, The Philosophers’ Magazine’s new blog. The post criticised the shortcomings of an opinion poll commissioned by the British Humanist Association. David Pollock and Jemima Hooper of the BHA later commented on the post, and Casper Melville posted a comment on the New Humanist blog, to which Julian Baggini replied. JS and OB then wrote separate comments on the BHA reaction – a reaction which gave them an odd feeling that they would have to write Why Truth Matters all over again, or at least give the BHA a tutorial in its subject matter.

The Opinion Poll

The recent opinion poll commissioned by The British Humanist Association (BHA) … Read the rest

‘Honour’ Killing Victim Could Have Been Saved

Mar 23rd, 2007 | By Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation

Women from the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation have been attending the trial currently in session at Court 10 of London’s Central Criminal Court. Mahmod Mahmod, father to Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, and Ari Mahmod Babakir Agha, a wealthy business man and her uncle, are accused of her murder in the name of so-called ‘honour’. The case has been much covered by the media over its first few days. Banaz’s boyfriend, Rehmat Suleimani, a Kurd from Iran, has given his account, including a heartbreaking video recorded on his mobile phone in which Banaz herself accuses her father of trying to murder her, which reduced her former lover to tears. Her father and uncle remained stone-faced.

Rehmat himself reports … Read the rest

A Dialogue with the Diggers

Mar 22nd, 2007 | By R Joseph Hoffmann

Scene: At the tombs, outside Jerusalem:

Professor T: It’s got to be here somewhere. The map the antiquities people gave us says there’s a housing development on the site.

Jacob.: It doesn’t matter. You’ve seen one tomb….

Prof. T: No, we have to get this right. The archaeology has to support my theory….

Jacob: I know, the caliphate. What’s that about?

Prof T: Jesus was married. Maybe had a son. Heirs—but James took over from him when he died.

Jacob: James who? There was a James Christ?

Prof T: If I am right, we are literally standing on top of the tomb of the Jesus family.

Jacob: It is exciting. But there’s nothing left in the tomb, right?

Prof T: … Read the rest

An historic 8 March in Iran

Mar 10th, 2007 | By Maryam Kousha

People in Iran welcomed 8th March this year by organising many events well ahead of the actual day in different cities all over the country. It culminated in major gatherings on Thursday, international women’s day. People were passionate about the day, had prepared manifestos, resolutions and banners demanding equality, condemning gender apartheid and women’s oppression. As usual the Islamic regime tried everything to halt and prevent these events. Despite massive paramilitary and secret police presence, many pickets and gatherings took place.


Several thousand people gathered around Tehran University by 4 pm Tehran’s time to start an 8 March rally which was called by 8 March organising committee, endorsed by OWL. However, this gathering was prevented from commencing by the … Read the rest

“Faccidents”: Bad Assumptions and the Jesus Tomb Debacle

Mar 7th, 2007 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

So much will have been written about the Discovery Channel presentation of the James Cameron extravaganza, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” that a further dissenting voice will neither be needed nor missed, In my initial preview of the program, published within hours of the CNN “announcement” and public unveiling of the alleged Jesus and Mary Magdalene matrimonial ossuaries, I wrote that the entire project was based on bad assumptions, and that since “following the science,” as the logorrhoeic Simcha Jacobovici says he was doing, can only take one where assumptions lead, let me spell out why the assumptions underlying this project are not only flawed but positively malicious to good scholarship and science. It seems to me uncontroversial and … Read the rest

The Erroneous Basis of ‘The Blasphemy Challenge’

Mar 3rd, 2007 | By Edmund Standing

Recently, a minor media storm has erupted surrounding ‘The Blasphemy Challenge’, a project of the American atheist group The Rational Response Squad. The challenge is based around Mark 3:29 (see also Matthew 12:31-32 and Luke 12:10). To participate in The Blasphemy Challenge, atheists post a video of themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit on YouTube, and in return receive a free copy of the film The God Who Wasn’t There. Amongst others, Richard Dawkins has expressed support for the Blasphemy Challenge, stating that he is ‘delighted to see so many young Americans taking part’. The Blasphemy Challenge sets forth the aim of the project as follows:

You may damn yourself to Hell however you

Read the rest

The Bones of Our Lord

Feb 26th, 2007 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

Happily coinciding with our Lenten observances, CNN and the Discovery Channel have colluded to bring us startling news, just ahead of the feast of the resurrection: namely, that Jesus lay for two thousand years in a family tomb next to his beloved bride, Mary (or Murray) Magdalene, and their little son, Judah, also known as Timmy. “The Lost Tomb of Christ” will air on March 4th. The miracle of the millennia has become the love story that could not be told.

“The Lost Tomb of Christ” will air on that paragon of scientific rectitude The Discovery Channel, home of such mind benders as “The Miracles of Jesus,” “Da Vinci’s Code,” and “Mysteries of the Bible.” Essentially the hoopla is all … Read the rest

William Paley’s Wonderful Watch

Feb 21st, 2007 | By Ian MacDougall

Socrates, though all too mortal, gave us a reasoned argument that the soul is immortal. It is all there in Plato’s Phaedo.

I first read Plato in 1957, as a sixteen-year-old student of one of the most formidable intellects Scotland has ever produced: John Anderson, Sydney University’s Challis Professor of Philosophy.

Anderson had studied mathematics and physics at the University of Glasgow before switching to philosophy rather late in his time as an undergraduate. The son of a village schoolmaster, he spoke with a well-modulated Scots burr, and with his grey hair and a thick moustache was to my mind the very model of a professor. His contemporary Bertrand Russell had also started in mathematics and physics, but where Russell … Read the rest

Let’s build an international secular movement!

Feb 17th, 2007 | By Azar Majedi

I am very pleased to be part of this movement. Coming from the Middle East, living under the Islamic Republic in Iran, one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century, I feel very passionate about the aims of this movement. As a first hand victim of political Islam, as a woman who has lived under the rule of Islam, I have experienced first hand the brutalism and suppression of an Islamic regime and political Islam. As a left activist fighting for freedom and equality I experienced this brutal regime and this reactionary political force, loosing many friends and comrades.

I have devoted my life to fight for a better world, a free and egalitarian society, where there exists … Read the rest

Goldenbridge II

Feb 1st, 2007 | By Marie-Therese O'Loughlin

“The Children Act allowed destitute children to be sent to industrial schools, even if they hadn’t committed a crime.” Paddy Doyle.


This “destitution” lark was a ruse used by the judiciary and the religious in order to obtain convictions. I was, for example, in a feeder institution, known as The Regina Ceoli, Mother and Baby unit for over four and a half years. So how could I have been even considered “destitute” by the judiciary? “Destitution”, this terminology, was in my estimation “illegally used” on my committal order to Goldenbridge Industrial School – where I was incarcerated until I was sixteen years old. There was no limit on my stay in the “hostel”.

It is imperative for people to … Read the rest

Global Warming, Intelligent Design and the Re-Ascendancy of the Pro-Scientific Political Left

Jan 31st, 2007 | By Steven Gimbel

In his State of the Union address, President Bush said something that was sadly remarkable:

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment – and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

In a major speech, the President of the United States openly acknowledged global warming, the fact that human activity is having an effect, and that we face a challenge in dealing with it. This should not be news, but that this President has done so, in light of his previous tap dancing around the scientific consensus around the issue, … Read the rest

Howard Gardner’s reading of Freud: A case of wilful ignorance?

Jan 10th, 2007 | By Allen Esterson

In the Washington Post of 7 January 2006 is a review by Howard Gardner of Peter D. Kramer’s book Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind. One sentence in particular of Gardner’s is worth closer examination:

No reader of Kramer alone would appreciate the extent to which Freud airs doubts, responds to criticisms, admits his changes of mind and presents extensive transcripts that readers can judge for themselves.

Now Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University, and adjunct professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and Sciences. So how come … Read the rest

The Goldenbridge Secret Rosary Bead Factory

Dec 27th, 2006 | By Marie-Therese O'Loughlin

Making rosary beads

From the middle 1950s to the late 60s, after ‘school’ at 4pm, children from the age of six were issued one slice of bread and margarine and then sent into St. Bridget’s classroom to make rosary beads. The classroom did duty as a mini-factory for the manufacture of rosary beads.

Each day of their lives children had to reach a quota of sixty decades and twelve threes. The task of rosary bead making is a very skilled one, and it required strict deliberation. Beads are strung onto a length of wire and are looped into the relevant beads very intricately, with the aid of heavyweight pliers. There were variations in the thickness of the wire. Silver wire, … Read the rest