All entries by this author

A mephitic hole in Yorkshire

Aug 26th, 2014 6:22 pm | By

Randeep Ramesh is sickened by the Rotherham report.

The putrid mess that oozes from the 160 pages of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham is so thick that one gags rather than read the words.

Children in the town were systematically identified by gangs as vulnerable, seduced with drugs and drink, brainwashed into believing they were in a relationship with an adult and then used for sex, often raped before sometimes being trafficked to nearby cities to work as prostitutes.

The brutal violence that surrounded this depraved process was shocking. Children who refused to acquiesce to ever more macabre demands were doused in petrol, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and told they

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In the upright position

Aug 26th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

On a flight from Newark to Denver

A plane in the US had to be diverted and two passengers removed after one of them started a fight by using a banned device to stop the seat in front reclining.

The spat began on United Airlines flight 1462 because one passenger was using the Knee Defender, a $21.95 lock that attaches to a tray table and jams the reclining mechanism of the seat in front.

The male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the device to stop the woman in front of him reclining while he was on his laptop, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ok can I just … Read the rest

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Free markets and coercive religions: the best of both worlds

Aug 26th, 2014 5:40 pm | By

The Koch brothers are spending money to get libertarian ideas taught in schools, according to Slate.

The Edvantage, a project of the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, bills itself as an online “curriculum hub for pioneering educators.” The website offers high school teachers and college professors educational videos, articles, and podcasts on topics including economics, history, and philosophy. But as people might expect from a think tank whose board is chaired by billionaire libertarian Charles Koch, most of the project’s economics content features two common themes: vilify government, promote the free market.

For example, teachers using Edvantage can find economics videos explaining how the Environmental Protection Agency is bad for the environment, how sweatshops are good

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In Rotherham

Aug 26th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

I’m reading the BBC live summary of the Rotherham report. It’s horrifying.

14:01: Evidence of the “appalling” abuse of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham, South Yorkshire over 16 years has been laid bare in a new report.
14:01: The inquiry was carried out by Professor Alexis Jay, a former chief inspector of social work in Scotland.
14:02: Her independent inquiry into how social services in Rotherham dealt with allegations of child sex abuse between 1997 and 2013 found girls as young as 11 were raped multiple times, trafficked to other towns and cities, beaten and doused in petrol.
14:04: The report, which has been published in the last few minutes, says: “The police and the council both failed

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The role of irregular verbs in argument

Aug 26th, 2014 3:38 pm | By

I wrote this column for the Freethinker. In it I take issue with the idea that emotion is the opposite of reason.

I don’t mean that people arguing or writing articles about moral or social issues should be in a heightened emotional state themselves; I mean they should not pretend the subject is a matter of pure logic or number-crunching or engineering.

Above all, what we should not do is claim that our argument is Pure Reason while that of our opponent is nothing but emotion. It won’t work, for a start, and it’s not likely to be true, and it’s toe-curlingly arrogant. It helps to remember that we all have enormous built-in cognitive flaws, and that it’s never

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Abortion was just one front in a wider religious war

Aug 26th, 2014 12:41 pm | By

Fintan O’Toole provides some background on Ireland’s appalling “Pro-Life” amendment to its constitution.

The most successful single issue movement in the history of the State, the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC), was established in January 1981 by 13 organisations: the Congress of Catholic Secondary School Parents’ Associations; the Irish Catholic Doctors’ Guild; the Guild of Catholic Nurses; the Guild of Catholic Pharmacists; the Catholic Young Men’s Society; the St Thomas More Society; the Irish Pro-Life Movement; the National Association of the Ovulation Method (“natural” contraception endorsed by the Catholic church); the Council of Social Concern (COSC); the Irish Responsible Society; the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children; the St Joseph’s Young Priests Society (young Catholic priests, that is); and the

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De-segregating the Housman room

Aug 26th, 2014 11:14 am | By

David Colquhoun has a brilliant post that starts out being about ending the all-male status of the main and best UCL common room in the 1960s, and goes on to be about the importance of confidence for achievement, and continues on to be about the importance of role models and zeitgeist, and ends up being about the way over-competitiveness in academia drives out people who don’t like over-competitiveness and thus distorts and impoverishes academia.

Colquhoun loves UCL – its godless tradition, its multi-faculty nature, its comparative democracy.

From the start, the intellectual heart of UCL has been the staff Common Room. As I so often say, failing to waste time drinking coffee with people who are cleverer than yourself

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Tropes v women

Aug 25th, 2014 6:08 pm | By

Anita Sarkeesian looks at women as background decoration in video games. Cool stuff: murdered women lying around in sexy poses with few clothes on. Phwoarrrr, sexy, also entertaining and funny, right? RIGHT?

For some strange reason the comments are disabled. So puzzling.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=5i_RPr9DwMARead the rest

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Guest post: There was so much suffering, so far beyond endurance

Aug 25th, 2014 4:50 pm | By

Originally a comment by quixote on “If you are from the Mehatar caste, you have to do this work.”

This post gave me a fullblown flashback. One of my most vivid memories from visiting India decades ago was the look in the eyes of one of the sweepers.

His job was dealing with a public toilet I was walking past. I can’t imagine who would use one of them because there were piles of shit everywhere inside (I could see partway into the door) and plenty outside from people who no doubt didn’t want to contend with the conditions inside. Indian food can be hard on the intestines, so the piles were not necessarily well-formed. He was sweeping this unspeakably … Read the rest

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Their caste-designated occupation reinforces the social stigma

Aug 25th, 2014 4:42 pm | By

That HRW report on dalits and cleaning up human shit every day.

There are laws against hiring people to do this horrible job, but they’re not enforced.

However, because these policies are not properly implemented, people remain unaware of their right to refuse this role, and those who do refuse may face intense social pressure, including threats of violence and expulsion from their village, often with the complicity of local government officials.

Manual scavengers are usually from caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and confined to livelihood tasks viewed as deplorable or deemed too menial by higher caste groups. Their caste-designated occupation reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or “untouchable” and perpetuates

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The people united

Aug 25th, 2014 3:46 pm | By

Thousands of people marched in an Oslo demonstration against ISIS organized by young Muslims.

The demonstration, organized by young Muslims in Norway, gathered people of different religious and ethnicities together in Oslo against religious extremism and the crimes of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The crowd filled the entire Grønland square as the demonstration started at 17.00.

After short talks by the organizers, demonstrators marched through Oslo streets towards Norwegian Parliement (Stortinget) with slogans of “No to ISIS”, “ISIS is not in Islam’s Name”, “Against ISIS terror for Peace”.

When the protestors arrived at Eidsvold space, in front of Stortinget, the number has reached to almost ten thousand, according to the organizers.

That’s good. More of that!

A young

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Not scrupulously fair

Aug 25th, 2014 2:57 pm | By

What was that I was saying about managing disagreement ethically? I must have been dreaming.

There’s a new article at the Richard Dawkins website, by one “Notung” who is a blogger at Skeptic Ink. So the article is pseudonymous, so it had better be scrupulously fair in whatever it says, right? Because surely it’s dirty pool to be unfair and be pseudonymous. Isn’t it?

An article on Religion News Service by Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer) asks whether Richard Dawkins is an asset or a liability to atheism. Actually it tells us: he’s a liability. 

Nope, not scrupulously fair. Rudely inaccurate about a named journalist, rather than scrupulously fair. … Read the rest

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“If you are from the Mehatar caste, you have to do this work.”

Aug 25th, 2014 1:03 pm | By

BBC News reports on dalits in India whose job it is to empty non-flush toilets and carry away the shit for disposal.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Indian government to end “manual scavenging” – the practice of cleaning human waste by low-caste communities – in a new report.

The practice is banned by law in India, but it is rampant and activists say nearly 10 million are involved in this demeaning work which opens them to prejudice and abuse.

The report calls on the government “to ensure that local officials enforce the laws prohibiting this discriminatory practice”.

Check out the BBC story, because it’s full of vivid and tragic photos.

Munnidevi of the state’s Etah district says she

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The vitriol pours in

Aug 25th, 2014 11:10 am | By

Another day another tweet.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins
I apologise for impugning the morality of the approximately ten percent of women who deliberately choose NOT to abort a Down’s fetus.

It’s a Basil Fawlty apology.

One of the reasons I’ve always found Basil Fawlty so hilarious is that I’m like that myself. There’s generally a snotty asshole in me roaring to get out, and it often does get out. (I usually regret it when it does.) Some of Basil’s rages are my rages too, and I sympathized with some of them and cringed at others. It’s much the same with Richard. His Basil Fawlty runs away with him sometimes.

There’s an interesting exchange on his site between a commenter and … Read the rest

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Into realms that belong to God and God alone

Aug 24th, 2014 6:24 pm | By

I’ve long disliked Vandana Shiva, and here’s more reason to dislike her: Michael Specter in the New Yorker:

Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Charles, perhaps the world’s best-known critic of modern life, has for years denounced transgenic crops. “This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone,” he wrote in the nineteen-nineties, when Monsanto tried to sell its genetically engineered seeds in Europe. Shiva, too, invokes religion in

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Based on little more than magical thinking

Aug 24th, 2014 6:15 pm | By

Steven Salzberg at Forbes points out that Whole Foods Markets does some very good things, like having a seafood sustainability policy and offering humanely-raised chicken and beef. On the other hand it also does ridiculous things, like flogging homeopathy, opposing GMOs, and refusing to sell aspirin.

Whole Foods sells homeopathic medicines that are little more than snake oil. They make claims for health benefits, both on their shelves and on their website, that are based on little more than magical thinking. For example, they sell “homeopathic flu remedies” claiming that “when taken at the first sign of sickness, these can provide temporary relief of symptoms including fever, chills, and body aches.” This is simply false: no homeopathic

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As kind of awkward

Aug 24th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Gosh, even Sarah Palin got in on it. I wouldn’t have thought she’d know who Dawkins is.

Mr. Dawkins, I’d let you meet my son if you promised to open your mind, your eyes, and your heart to a unique kind of absolute beauty. But, in my request for you to be tolerant, I’d have to warn Trig he must be tolerant, too, because he may superficially look at you as kind of awkward. I’ll make sure he’s polite, though!

Love,

Sarah Palin & family

It would be interesting if he actually took her up on it.… Read the rest

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Marching together

Aug 24th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

In Dublin this afternoon, thousands of people marched in support of extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian people.

Organisers said 8,000 people took part in the march, many of whom held signs reading “equal”. Some dressed in sashes and tiaras after the news that the newly crowned Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh had publicly come out as lesbian.

Comedian and writer Tara Flynn introduced speakers at a stage on St. Stephen’s Green. Ms Flynn recently starred in an LGBT Noise ‘Armagayddon’ video, which went viral internationally.

The march was notable for the number of straight people marching alongside LGBT people, along with families, and an almost endless array of colourful banners and signs. Representatives from LGBT youth organisation

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One can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts

Aug 24th, 2014 12:40 pm | By

Kenan Malik did this talk at the Global Humanist Conference a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been meaning to read.

Right at the beginning we run into a funny (odd and haha both) idea.

Every year I give a lecture to a group of theology students – would-be Anglican priests, as it happens – on ‘Why I am an atheist’. Part of the talk is about values. And every year I get the same response: that without God, one can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t.

Ye-es…and?

Of course one can pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t, and one had damn well better do exactly Read the rest

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A missing word

Aug 24th, 2014 11:20 am | By

You know what English needs? It needs a word that’s the opposite of “want.” It needs a word for want-not. Just adding a not doesn’t do it, because it’s too limp, too reactive, too mere. We need a word that’s more forceful, more feeling, than “don’t want.” An unwant word. A verb form of aversion.

Is there a verb form of aversion? If so it’s certainly not in active use. English needs a word like that that is in active use, and so is available to use.… Read the rest

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