Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Provocative or offensive?

Dec 20th, 2014 10:50 am | By

Massimo Pigliucci has a post about the American Atheists billboard campaign and the utility of what Dave Silverman calls the “firebrand” approach to fighting religion.

In this essay I will first explain why I object to “firebrand” atheism and on what principled (i.e., before evidence) grounds. I will then look at David’s data and argue that it doesn’t show what he thinks it does, and why even if it did this would still not settle the matter. I will then end with some constructive suggestions for atheist activism more generally.

Why firebrand atheism is a bad idea

American Atheists’ billboards have carried messages the likes of “You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice,” “What myths do you see?,” “Christianity? Sadistic God; useless Savior; 30,000+ versions of ‘truth’; promotes hate, calls it ‘love’” (I know, this is a mouthful…); “You know they are all scams”; “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody”; and this year’s entry, featuring a cute kid and the words “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”

I have one thought here before even reading most of Massimo’s post. That thought is that billboards are like tweets, and that deliberately “provocative” (or firebrand) tweets can backfire in ways that we have seen many many many times over the past few years as Twitter’s ubiquity has become ever more so. In short, I have learned to loathe “provocative” tweets, and to think that they just don’t work. Maybe that’s actually an overgeneralization, and they can work, but it takes a lot of skill. Billboards are even more so than tweets, because there is no Reply button on a billboard. The AA billboards have always made me feel a bit twitchy, because they oversimplify, and oversimplification doesn’t seem all that useful. (T shirts come to mind here, too.)

The reason I find this approach objectionable is precisely the reason David pushes it: it is in-your-face, belittling religious believers by telling them in huge font that they built their lives around myths and lies, and that they worship morally reprehensible charismatic figures. The ads paint religion with one broad brush, implying, or outright stating, that it is fundamentally stupid and evil.

Well, I think it’s all right to argue that, and that it is at least a big part of the truth, but I don’t think it’s a great idea to say it in ten or twenty words on a billboard. I think you need many more words, and a less take-it-or-leave-it medium.

The first problem with all this is that the older I get the less I think that being offensive on purpose gets you anywhere.

Now that I agree with.

I think being provocative can get you somewhere, if you’re a skilled provocateur (which few people are). But offensive on purpose? Not really…although I suppose I can think of some pieties that do need puncturing, for the public good, and the pious believers will inevitably see the puncturing as offensive even if we consider it merely provocative. Irregular verbs or adjectival phrases again: I’m provocative, they’re offensive.

Now I’ll read the rest of Massimo’s post.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Teenagers wanting to become ‘Jihadi brides’

Dec 19th, 2014 5:37 pm | By

This is a sickening story.

British girls as young as 14 are being helped to marry Islamic State fighters in Syria in increasing numbers by London-based “facilitators”.

Teenagers wanting to become ‘Jihadi brides’ are being assisted with applying for passports, given funding and sometimes even accompanied to the region after being groomed online.

Ew. What a golden opportunity – marry a murderer and give up all your rights for the sake of the bright lights of IS-held Syria.

Pockets of east London in particular are becoming hotbeds for organised groups of men and women helping young IS supporters to get to the Syrian conflict zone, the Evening Standard reported.

Haras Rafiq, an expert at British counter-terrorism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, says the organisation is “aware” of groups working across London but particularly in the east of the capital.

He said: “The average age is being reduced. Some of the girls getting out there are only 14.

Ew ew ew.

Mr Rafiq said the attraction for these girls is escaping their “regressive” home lives.

He added the roles this girls play once in IS are primarily domestic. But Mr Rafiq added they are also given the job of acting as the “morality police” and attend radicalisation classes where they learn how to “brainwash” potential new recruits online.

The warning comes after a girl of 15 was rescued from joining the conflict in Syria after Met counter-terrorism officers stopped the plane she was on as it was taxiing down the runway at Heathrow.

Fifteen. I remember how ignorant and clueless I was at fifteen. Fifteen.

A minimum of five people a week are evading the authorities and going out to IS, according to Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe and it is estimated around 1,500 Brits may have been recruited to fight in Iraq and Syria.

The Times said one of its investigators posing as Aisha, a 17-year-old from east London, was offered cash and assistance after making contact with a hardline jihadist in Syria on Twitter.

He sent an image of himself outside the Islamic Court in the Isil stronghold of Raqqa, northern Syria, in which he is clutching a rifle and holding a handwritten message bearing the name from her Twitter profile.

So romantic.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

But we mustn’t get emotional

Dec 19th, 2014 5:07 pm | By

Ireland and the US are so alike in so many ways, most of them bad.

In Ireland, a woman who is clinically dead but 17 weeks pregnant is being kept alive against her family’s will. At this painful time, her relatives must go to court to stop the Irish state treating their loved one’s body as a cadaveric incubator.

Yeah we do that too. Marlise Munoz was kept alive after brain-death despite her family’s wishes for two months last year because she was pregnant.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant with the couple’s second child when her husband found her unconscious on their kitchen floor November 26. Though doctors had pronounced her brain dead and her family had said she did not want to have machines keep her body alive, officials at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth had said state law required them to maintain life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient.

I wonder if Texas inspired the Irish state.

Back to Emer O’Toole on the Irish situation.

Do those facts emotionally affect you? Then please calm down. What we need here is balance. Indeed, the Irish media considers it a moral virtue to trot out pro-life arguments alongside the facts of each and every new horror story that arises from Ireland’s abortion laws. There are two sides to this debate, after all. And Taoiseach Enda Kenny has cautioned us against “knee-jerk” reactions to sensitive cases such as this.

Women get so hysterical, you know.

This year, a suicidal teenage victim of rape and torture (Miss Y) was forced to carry her pregnancy to viability and deliver by C-section. And now we have a clinically dead woman being ventilated and fed for the sake of an insentient foetus, while her heartbroken family takes legal action in order to mourn her.

But we mustn’t get emotional. There’s no political appetite for another abortion debate. Kenny has already dealt with this issue. The passing of the protection of life during pregnancy bill last year was very difficult for him and his party. He deserves a pat on the back for legislating at all.

Women are so demanding. What is their problem?

If you must discuss this case, do so cooly: in terms, perhaps, of its potential effects on the career prospects of male politicians? Is the ambitious Leo Varadkar, the health minister, using this case opportunistically? What might it mean for the future leadership of Fine Gael? That’s what matters here. Women’s bodies, women’s lives, women’s rights: those are messy, incendiary topics, best avoided.

Plus, of course, they just don’t matter all that much. It’s only women.

Women’s experiences are routinely erased from Irish discourse on abortion. Our government and media won’t engage with the reality of living in a body that gets pregnant. When others do, they are dismissed as irrational, emotive: feminine.

Goodness, what a lot of anger. She’s so bitter. She’s such a rage-blogger. No wonder everybody hates women.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All eight

Dec 19th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

Obama’s gone all radical extremist ideological gender feminist on their asses. TIME – avid fan of Christina Hoff Sommers – reports on his gender-feminist press conference today:

President Barack Obama’s traditional end-of-year press conference Friday was historic for reasons that had nothing to do with the substance of the president’s comments. All eight of the reporters who questioned Obama were women—and nearly all were print reporters—an apparent first for a formal White House news conference, a venue traditionally dominated by male television correspondents.

It makes news, yet all-male gatherings hardly ever make news.

“The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, after the event. “As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”

And to irritate Fox News and Christina Hoff Sommers at the same time.

“It’s amazing for that to happen as that room is filled with a majority men,” said [April] Ryan, who shouted out a question to the president and was acknowledged over questions shouted by male reporters.

Makes a change, doesn’t it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

More amaze

Dec 19th, 2014 3:59 pm | By

This is basically an ad for a 3D printer but I don’t care, the technology is just so astounding I have to share it anyway.

Tara Anderson, a director at 3D-printing company 3D Systems, adopted Derby from non-profit dog rescue Peace and Paws. “I kept looking at his photo and reading his story, and I cried literally every time,” says Tara in the video. So she decided to do something about it and created a pair of specially fitted prosthetic legs for Derby, built in a loop configuration similar to kids’ “jumping shoes” to stop him digging them into the ground. The result is one happy dog.


H/t karmacat

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Gender is a huge deal in this field

Dec 19th, 2014 3:46 pm | By

Originally a comment by MrFancyPants on Yes that’s right, exactly like this.

I wonder if the people (mainly men?) complaining about “why is gender even an issue” are even professionals in a computer science field. If they are, they’re stunningly unobservant.

I am a computer science professional (formerly academic, now in the private sector) and I can confidently state that gender is a huge deal in this field. As an academic, I repeatedly saw promising female grad students drop out of the computer science program or switch to a different field, and it was apparent that this was happening due to the boys’ club nature of the research labs at that time (and at that university).

Now, as a private sector professional, I’m dealing with the effects of that: a depressingly small pool of qualified candidates for jobs, which is altogether unsurprising since society is basically turning away half of the potential graduates before they even really get started. Some of the positions that we are trying to fill at my firm (a tiny startup with excellent wages, benefits, and profit sharing) have been unfilled for five years or longer.

There are real reasons why women are not taking part in this field in greater numbers. We need to understand them if we’re going to change it. So for my part, at least, I think that it’s not only just “an issue” that women in engineering/computer science bring up gender, but it’s actually vitally important. So bravo to Elena Glassman, Neha Narula and Jean Yang.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Printed in space

Dec 19th, 2014 3:04 pm | By

Wow. I knew the ISS now had a 3D printer, because it’s much more practical – that is, possible – to make needed equipment on board than it would be to pack all potentially needed equipment, but even knowing that, this story is very cool.

For the first time ever, hardware designed on the ground has been emailed to space to meet the needs of an astronaut. From a computer in California, Mike Chen of Made In Space and colleagues just 3D-printed a ratcheting socket wrench on the International Space Station. “We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore (who goes by “Butch”) mention over the radio that he needed one,” Chen writes in Medium this week. So they designed one and sent it up.

“The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly,” he adds. It’s a lot faster to send data wirelessly on demand than to wait for a physical object to arrive via rockets, which can take months or even years.

The team started by designing the tool on a computer, then converting it into a 3D-printer-ready format. That’s then sent to NASA, which transmits the wrench to the space station. Once the code is received by the 3D printer, the wrench is manufactured: Plastic filament is heated and extruded layer by layer. The ISS tweeted this photo earlier this week, and you can see more pictures of the very cool wrench-printing process here.

And there’s Butch with the new wrench:

photo credit: Commander Barry Wilmore shows off a 3D printed ratchet / NASA

Pretty damn amazing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Yes that’s right, exactly like this

Dec 19th, 2014 12:27 pm | By


At Wired, Elena Glassman, Neha Narula and Jean Yang tell us what happens when women in a STEM field talk about…oh, whatever.

“We’re 3 female computer scientists at MIT, here to answer questions about programming and academia. Ask us anything!” we wrote for our Reddit Ask Me Anything session last Friday. And then, boom:


Dozens of questions like these were interspersed with marriage proposals and requests to “make me a sandwich” in our AMA. We had intended for the AMA to be a chance to answer questions about what our lives are like as PhD students at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), and what we could do to get more young people excited about programming.

So, naturally, what they got was what women do get, because that’s how life is now.

They wanted to talk about their work – programming, academia, MIT CSAIL – and how they got into it. They also wanted to talk about what it’s like to do that as women in a male-dominated field.

We decided to actively highlight the fact that we were three female computer scientists doing an AMA, to serve as role models in a field that’s less than 20 percent female.

As it turned out, people were extremely interested in our AMA, though some not for the reasons we expected. Within an hour, the thread had rocketed to the Reddit front page, with hundreds of thousands of pageviews and more than 4,700 comments. But to our surprise, the most common questions were about why our gender was relevant at all. Some people wondered why we did not simply present ourselves as “computer scientists.” Others questioned if calling attention to gender perpetuated sexism. Yet others felt that we were taking advantage of the fact that we were women to get more attention for our AMA.

Uh huh. Professional victims; gender feminists; radical feminists; cultural Marxists; ideologues; yadda yadda.

The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”.

That’s “get the fuck out” as of course you know.

The dynamics of our AMA reflects gender issues that lead to disparities in who chooses to pursue careers in STEM fields. People treat girls and boys differently from an early age, giving them different feedback and expectations. There is strong evidence that American culture discourages even girls who demonstrate exceptional talent from pursuing STEM disciplines. For those few young women who continue to study science or engineering in college, there is still a good chance that they will leave afterward. There has recently been much discussion about how tech culture causes women to leave “in droves;” the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon of females choosing to stop pursuing careers in STEM is a well-known problem.

That’s why we wanted to talk about it. Head on. We made gender an explicit issue in the AMA to engage our audience in a discussion about both the existing problems and potential solutions. And in that way, it was a success. We were able to raise awareness about technical privilege, implicit bias, and imposter syndrome.

Good. (I look forward to Christina Hoff Sommers’s debunking of the whole thing, preferably in a video.)



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They said they said

Dec 19th, 2014 11:49 am | By

The BBC’s Panorama said; Apple said. Panorama did an investigation of bad working conditions for people who make Apple products; Apple said it was “offended.”

Apple has said it is “deeply offended” by a BBC investigation into conditions for workers involved in manufacturing its devices.

Rules on workers’ hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were routinely breached, the Panorama programme witnessed.

In a staff email, senior Apple executive Jeff Williams said he knew of no other company doing as much as Apple to improve conditions.

But he added: “We can still do better.”

Well let’s be real about this. Why does Apple get its products made in China in the first place? Because it’s cheaper. They can’t be ignorant of the logic of that.

Panorama’s editor Ceri Thomas said he stood by the programme’s journalism.

He said the team had found an exhausted workforce making Apple products in China, as well as children working in extremely dangerous tin mines in Bangka, Indonesia.

Those are some of the reasons outsourcing is popular. It’s cheaper, it’s less regulated, it’s faster.

The Panorama film showed exhausted workers falling asleep on their 12-hour shifts at Pegatron factories on the outskirts of Shanghai.

One undercover reporter, working in a factory making parts for Apple computers, had to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for a day off.

Mr Williams said Apple had undertaken an audit of working hours.

“Several years ago, the vast majority of workers in our supply chain worked in excess of 60 hours, and 70+ hour work-weeks were typical.

“After years of slow progress and industry excuses, Apple decided to attack the problem by tracking the weekly hours of over one million workers, driving corrective actions with our suppliers and publishing the results on our website monthly – something no other company had ever done.

“This year, our suppliers have achieved an average of 93% compliance with our 60-hour limit.”

But you outsource for a reason. It’s no good pretending you don’t.

In the Panorama programme, children were seen mining for the tin typically used in devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The process can be extremely dangerous – miners can be buried alive when the walls of sand or mud collapse.

The programme spoke to 12-year-old Rianto who was working with his father at the bottom of a 70ft cliff of sand.

He said: “I worry about landslides. The earth slipping from up there to the bottom. It could happen.”

Cheap tin. Cheap raw materials, cheap labor, long hours, crap safety regulations. These things aren’t accidental.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Drawn to what they imagine

Dec 19th, 2014 10:35 am | By

Mark Oppenheimer has an article in the Atlantic piquantly titled The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side.

Eido Shimano is the founder of the contemporary Zen Buddhist network in the US. One night in 2010 a student at Dai Bosatsu, Shimano’s rural branch of the Zen Studies Society, stood up at the end of dinner and gave a rambling speech about secrecy, shame, and the need for openness.

Fred Forsyth, an artist who now lives in New York City, remembered that her speech “was very long, and she had clearly been preparing it.” She spoke of “authority” and “power,” and how she was “secretly in a relationship” with someone who wielded much more power than she did. As Daphna spoke, Forsyth realized that his fears were being confirmed. It was clear that Daphna was describing a prolonged sexual affair with Eido Shimano, who was sitting right there. A monk named Bonnie Shoultz recalled that Daphna was particularly upset that she’d had to keep the affair secret, for close to two years.

And she wasn’t the only one.

Daphna’s allegations, it turned out, were not the first hints that Shimano wasn’t the man his followers hoped he was, and that the world he had built was not what it seemed. One week earlier, the Zen Studies Society board had met to discuss allegations of several decades of sexual impropriety, allegations that had surfaced on the Internet.

The Internet!? Well then obviously they were false. True allegations are made only to the police, never on the Internet.

The charges were damning, and well sourced, and Shimano had not denied them. The board had drafted a new set of ethical guidelines, the text of which included an acknowledgment of past indiscretions by Shimano. The hope had been that this new ethics statement would resolve the online rumors, which largely referred to events many years in the past. But news of this more recent affair spread quickly, and it forced prompt action. On July 19, 2010, Shimano resigned from the board of the Zen Studies Society and said that he would step down as abbot in 2012.

Oh. So it turns out that allegations of sexual predation can be taken seriously even without police involvement. How astonishing.

But in early August 2010, I got an get e-mails from a member of the sanghawho believed that Shimano’s phased retirement, with attendant honors, dinners, and valedictory speeches, would only keep forestall the necessary healing in the sangha.

Because if the phased retirement goes with heaps of honors and flattery, then there’s no real acknowledgement of the harm done. This is always the problem when people who do harm don’t acknowledge the harm they’ve done.

This member hoped that, as a journalist who covered religion, I would tell the world about Shimano’s behavior. On August 20, 2010, I wrote an article for The New York Times in which I described the online allegations, recounted Daphna’s bombshell at Dai Bosatsu, and quoted several sources discussing the board’s deliberations. My article seemed to hasten Shimano’s departure: on September 7, he announced in a letter that rather than waiting until 2012, he would step down as abbot at the end of the year.

But he’s fighting back.

…he is currently suing his old society for the pension that he says he is owed, but which the society’s new leadership says he forfeited with his decades of bad behavior. In response to those charges, Shimano is arguing that, first, he was never the womanizer that he is alleged to be, and second, even if he was, that is no grounds to void his contract. According to Shimano, sex with students is not a violation of Buddhist precepts. By sleeping with a student, he now says, he might have been doing her a favor.

Shimano’s defense, as outrageous as it may sound to some, is worth inspecting. Not because I side with Shimano, but because his views of sexuality are widely held in certain precincts of American Buddhism. In this country, we have learned the hard way that religiosity is no guarantor of morality. But many Americans still imagine that Buddhists are the good kind of religious people—or that they are not religious at all, just “spiritual.” Buddhists, they know, or think they know, do not have the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim beliefs in “dualism,” in good and evil; they are not censorious, always worried about sin and shame. Drawn to what they imagine is a kindler, gentler way of being, imported from a more pacific part of the world, Buddhists themselves, confronted with the worst things a teacher can do, may choose to be willfully naive.

Which describes how this always goes. Drawn to what they imagine is a better, cleverer / funnier / wiser / more skeptical way of being, fans / followers / admirers themselves, confronted with the worst things a comedian / actor / football player / skeptic / atheist can do, may choose to be willfully naive.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Hold that pose

Dec 19th, 2014 8:33 am | By

Meet Fools Do Art.

His name is Chris.  His name is Francesco. They love recreating famous paintings. All of the painting remixes are done at the Squarespace office in NYC. The only rules are that all props must be things found in the office and all editing must be done on a phone (Android or iPhone). Enjoy!

Update: Must add the new one. H/t chigau.

The most recent one, dated December 17, is my favorite:

You can send them suggestions.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

More poor Muslims than rich westerners

Dec 18th, 2014 6:17 pm | By

Oh look. Looky there. A headline on a Guardian Comment is Free post by Ben Doherty –

Pakistan attack reveals the truth about terrorism: it kills more poor Muslims than rich westerners

Golly gee, that’s exactly what I was saying in that post on Sunday that got so many people in such a (mostly fake) rage. How shockingly ideological to make that point! Why shouldn’t terrorism kill more poor Muslims than rich westerners? Why even mention it? It’s political correctness run mad.

Doherty commits the thought-crime all over again in the first paragraph. (Or, rather, he commits it too, since it was probably an editor who chose the title.)

Those who suffer most from Islamist extremism are not people in rich western nations, but other poor Muslims.

Shocking. He’s fighting class warfare by saying that. Shocking shocking.

But enough of that. His point is serious and of course it’s true. Nigeria all by itself is testimony to that, not to mention Syria and Iraq.

In 2012, there were 140 incidents of terrorism in the west. In 2013, that figure was more than 250, the increase driven by a sharp rise in attacks in Northern Ireland and Greece. Twelve people died.

But those figures are dwarfed by attacks outside the west.

In non-western countries, the increase was from 8,000 incidents in 2012 to more than 11,000 in 2013, the rise driven by continuing sectarian violence in Iraq and Pakistan, and deepening unrest in the Philippines and Egypt.

The number of non-western terrorism deaths in 2013 was over 22,000.

In November of this year, nearly 5,000 people died in Islamist fundamentalist terror attacks, the majority of those at the hands of Islamic State (Isis) or Boko Haram.

Just over half the dead were civilians, “the vast majority … Muslim,” the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation said.

The children and teachers murdered in Peshawar? It seems safe to assume they were mostly or all Muslims, culturally or observantly or anything in between. The “militants” are not there to fight for justice or equality.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The procedure involves slicing through the cartilage and ligaments

Dec 18th, 2014 5:36 pm | By

And speaking of doing horrible things to people…The Guardian reports another one of Ireland’s grim secrets.

“Mary” was delighted to be pregnant at 23, but she was in labor for a long time, and they got worried about her heartbeat, so they called in the doctor.

When the doctor arrived, he did something Mary cannot forget. “They gave me gas and air and an injection, and took me to another room, where they tied my legs up on each side,” she recalls. “There were two nurses on each side of me. I saw this doctor at the end of my bed with a big, long silver thing. They made a hole in your private parts, and he inserted this silver thing up and cut the pubic bone and pushed it over to widen your pelvis for you to deliver your baby yourself.”

Petrified and in agony, Mary had been subjected to a symphysiotomy – a controversial operation that was seldom used in the rest of Europe after the mid-20th century, but which was carried out on an estimated 1,500 women in Ireland between the 1940s and 1980s.

The procedure involves slicing through the cartilage and ligaments of a pelvic joint (or in extreme cases, called pubiotomy, sawing through the bone of the pelvis itself) to widen it and allow a baby to be delivered unobstructed.

What could possibly go wrong? Besides everything?

Critics blame the continued use of the operation on a toxic mix of medical experimentation, Catholic aversion to caesarean sections and an institutional disregard for women’s autonomy. They claim it has left hundreds of surviving women with life-long pain, disability and emotional trauma. For some in Ireland, it is yet another scandal perpetrated against women and girls, joining revelations over the Magdalene laundries (where “wayward” women were abused), the deaths of children at mother-and-baby homes and sex abuse in the Catholic church.

It ruined Mary physically.

“I hold down a job, but only because of the painkillers,” she says. “I have arthritis in my hip and in the bottom of my spine. I walk with a limp. No one can help – there’s no way back. Getting up and down stairs or getting up on a chair I can’t really do. You get one leg up, then the other slips down.”

The worst problem, she says, is incontinence. “I wear pads the whole time, and have been since the age of 23. My sisters all had babies and none had this problem. A lot of people might have a little leak, but this is a whole flow … It’s very embarrassing.”

Mary and her husband went on to have three boys as well as their daughter. She believes she should have been offered a caesarean section much earlier. But campaigners and historians say it was exactly to avoid caesarean sections that symphysiotomy was used in Ireland.

Symphysiotomy was first used in the 19th century. As caesarean sections grew safer, the use of the operation declined in the developed world. But Alex Spain, the master of Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital (NMH) until 1948, disapproved. According to Jacqueline Morrissey, a historian who <a class=” data-link-name=”in body link” data-component=”in-body-link”>began investigating the practice in the 1990s, it was Spain’s Catholic beliefs, not his medical judgment, that guided his actions. At the time, the established medical consensus was that having more than three caesarean sections was dangerous, and that further pregnancies would have to be stopped by sterilisation or contraception. Spain considered this unacceptable, says Morrissey, and talked about “the mutilating operation of sterilisation and marital difficulty”.

So that’s terrifying.

The real argument, according to Mairead Enright, a law lecturer at the University of Kent who specialises in religion and law, is whether medical staff were negligent in using “a procedure so inherently defective that any doctor should have realised it was wrong”.

“The consequences for women afterwards were so severe that they should have known it was not the proper way to go,” she argues. “Depriving a woman of one medical treatment, which has problems, and substituting another that has guaranteed morbidity to circumvent contraception is gender-based violence.”

More sadism from the loving god.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The next thing we knew, she was on fire

Dec 18th, 2014 4:47 pm | By

Yesterday the Telegraph reported some heart-breaking details of the slaughter at the army school in Peshawar. Be warned: they’re not happy reading.

The Taliban attackers reserved particularly horrific deaths for the adults, pouring fuel over at least three and setting them alight and killing the head, Tahira Qazi, with a hand grenade.

“Our principal showed extreme bravery,” Wasif Ali, a grade six pupil, said from his bed at the Lady Reading Hospital, where he was being treated for abdominal and head injuries. “She wasn’t afraid even when the militants were firing shots.” He said that as the firing started, she rushed from classroom to classroom, shouting at those inside to lock themselves in. Other pupils said she was trying to console them as well as protect them.

She was joined by another teacher, Saeed Khan, who tried to prevent pupils running away, fearing they would be exposing themselves to more danger, and told them to lie on the floor of the classrooms.

“All the 900 students would have been killed, had both those teachers not come out in the middle of it all,” said Jaffar Gul, a boy who sustained head injuries. “God bless both.”

This isn’t militancy or unrest or extremism. It’s sadistic slaughter for its own sake, by people who take pleasure in sadistic slaughter.

Mr Khan was one of a number of teachers who had fuel poured on them and set alight. At the hospital, he could only be identified by the rings he was wearing.

“Saeed Khan didn’t care for himself,” said Adnan Ahmed, a grade nine student. “Later, we were told in the hospital that Khan has been killed.,” Another pupil, Irfan Ullah, 15, told local reporters he would have probably been killed if his teacher, Afsha Ahmed, 24, hadn’t stood in front of the attackers as they entered their room and told them she would not allow them in.

“She was so brave,” Irfanullah said. “Her last words to the terrorists were: ‘You must kill me first because I will not see my students’ bodies lying in front of me.’ “The next thing we knew, she was on fire. Even while burning, she shouted at us to run away and find refuge.” Another teacher, Hifsa Khush, is also thought to have been burned alive in front of her pupils.

Shortly before the sadistic murderers did that, they posed for a picture in front of a flag with the shahada.

The Pakistan Taliban continued yesterday to claim credit for the attack, which they said was in retaliation for army assaults on their strongholds in the north-west of the country.

They published online pictures of the attackers taken before they launched their assault, at lunch-time on Tuesday. The pictures showed six men and their commander lined up first in military fatigues and then in civilian clothing, brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles.

In the latter, they are kneeling in front of a flag bearing the Muslim expression of faith in black writing on a white background.

That’s their “god” – one that approves of setting teachers who protect their students on fire.

The school, part of a network of elite schools for the sons and daughters of soldiers as well as some civilians, was a natural target.

However, the Taliban have also destroyed schools across northern Pakistan as part of their campaign against modern education. More than 1,000, especially girls schools, have been attacked and in many cases burned.

The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, signalled a hardening of attitudes, saying he would no longer distinguish between “good and bad Taliban”, referring to previous attempts to negotiate with some jihadist factions, including that responsible for Tuesday’s attack.

That was never a good idea.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Self-appointed experts

Dec 18th, 2014 1:08 pm | By

NPR did a blog post about Vani Hari aka “Food Babe” the other day.

…as her profile grows, so too do the criticisms of her approach. Detractors, many of them academics, say she stokes unfounded fears about what’s in our food to garner publicity. Steve Novella, a Yale neuroscientist and prominent pseudoscience warrior, among others, has dubbed Hari the “Jenny McCarthy of food” after the celebrity known for championing thoroughly debunked claims that vaccines cause autism.

Hari is a self-styled consumer advocate and adviser on healthful eating.

Her website,, offers recipes, tips for nutritious dining while traveling, and, for $17.99 a month, “eating guides” that include recipes, meal calendars and shopping lists. But she’s best-known for her food investigations, frequently shared on social media — posts in which she flags what she deems to be questionable ingredients.

But if you’re going to pay attention to someone’s food investigations, you want it to be someone who knows the subject, or at least knows how to ask people who know the subject. Hari isn’t that sort of someone.

Take, for example, Hari’s campaign urging beer-makers to reveal the ingredients in their brews. Among the ingredients that concerned Hari was propylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze. But, as cancer surgeon and blogger David Gorski writes,the product used in some beers to stabilize foam is actually propylene glycol alginate — which is derived from kelp. “It is not the same chemical as propylene glycol, not even close. It is not antifreeze,” he wrote.

Like that. That’s not useful.

Another beer ingredient that got Hari up in arms? Isinglass, or dried fish swim bladders, which may sound, well, fishy, but has been used to clarify beers for well over a century. Such mix-ups prompted historian Maureen Ogle, the author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, to dissect Hari’s claims, point by point, in a post on her site titled “What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery.”

Hari’s approach capitalizes on growing consumer distrust of both Big Food companies and their unfamiliar, industrial-sounding ingredients, and of regulators’ ability to oversee them effectively. Some of these chemicals and additives may indeed be questionable, but food scientists would argue that nearly all are safe. So why do food companies respond to her demands, if they have nothing to hide?

Because, Gorski writes, “companies live and die by public perception. It’s far easier to give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public.”

Critics note that Hari lacks credentials in nutrition or food science; she’s a former consultant who studied computer science. Hari declined to be interviewed for this story; through her publicist, she told NPR she isn’t speaking to media until her new book is released in February. But when the Charlotte Observerasked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, “I’ve never claimed to be a nutritionist. I’m an investigator.”

But that lack of training often leads her to misinterpret peer-reviewed research and technical details about food chemistry, nutrition and health, says Kevin Folta, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida and vocal online critic of Hari.

It’s kind of the same principle as rewiring. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Rewiring Principle. It states that when you decide you need to update the electrical wiring in your house, you don’t ask someone random to do it for you, you find a licensed electrician who knows how to do wiring in such a way that it won’t burst into flames some night while you’re asleep.

So why not simply ignore Hari? Because her reach is growing: Last month her op-edwas featured in The New York Times’ Room for Debate section. In October,Experience Life magazine, a health and fitness publication, featured her on its cover. That decision prompted critics to bombard the magazine’s Amazon page with single-star reviews for putting “an uneducated fearmonger” on its cover.

And this fall, Hari addressed the University of Florida as part of a lecture series for freshmen on “The Good Food Revolution.” That talk prompted Folta to write a scathing blog post about her visit in which he accused her of being “afraid of science and intellectual engagement.”

He was angry that her talk didn’t include a question and answer period in which he could challenge her on some of her scientific assertions. “When you bring in a self-appointed expert, a celebrity more than a scientific figure, it does have the effect of undoing the science we are trying to instill in our students,” Folta told me.

I want the licensed electrician every time.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Arctic feedback cycle

Dec 18th, 2014 12:50 pm | By

Here’s a disquieting press release from NASA:

NASA Satellites Measure Increase of Sun’s Energy Absorbed in the Arctic

NASA satellite instruments have observed a marked increase in solar radiation absorbed in the Arctic since the year 2000 – a trend that aligns with the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during the same period.

While sea ice is mostly white and reflects the sun’s rays, ocean water is dark and absorbs the sun’s energy at a higher rate. A decline in the region’s albedo – its reflectivity, in effect – has been a key concern among scientists since the summer Arctic sea ice cover began shrinking in recent decades. As more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the climate system, it enhances ongoing warming in the region, which is more pronounced than anywhere else on the planet.

So there keeps being more dark water, so there keeps being more of the sun’s energy being absorbed, so there keeps being more dark water, repeat repeat; feedback cycle; problem.

Since the year 2000, the rate of absorbed solar radiation in the Arctic in June, July and August has increased by five percent, said Norman Loeb, of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. The measurement is made by NASA’s Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instruments, which fly on multiple satellites.

While a five percent increase may not seem like much, consider that the rate globally has remained essentially flat during that same time. No other region on Earth shows a trend of potential long-term change.

Oh it seems like much. That’s in only 15 years. Yes, that’s much.

As a region, the Arctic is showing more dramatic signs of climate change than any other spot on the planet. These include a warming of air temperatures at a rate two to three times greater than the rest of the planet and the loss of September sea ice extent at a rate of 13 percent per decade.

While these CERES measurements could ultimately become another of those signs of dramatic climate change, right now scientists say they have obtained the bare minimum of a data record needed to discern what’s happening over the long term.

Getting data beyond 15 years will allow scientists to better assess if recent trend falls outside the realm of natural variability, said Jennifer Kay, an atmospheric scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research and Environmental Science at the University of Colorado.

So it could be a fluke instead of a trend. The feedback cycle might not go on forever; more data needed. Fingers crossed.

Increasing absorbed solar radiation is causing multiple changes in the sea ice cover, said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. Two of those changes include the timing of the beginning of the melt season each year and the loss of older, thicker sea ice.

The onset of the melt season in the high Arctic is now on average seven days earlier than it was in 1982, Meier said. Earlier melting can lead to increased solar radiation absorption. This is one step in a potential feedback cycle of warming leading to melting, melting leading to increased solar radiation absorption, and increased absorption leading to enhanced warming.

Since 2000, the Arctic has lost 1.4 million square kilometers (541,000 square miles) of older ice that is more than 3 meters thick, which during winter has essentially been replaced by ice that is less than 2 meters thick, according to data provided by Mark Tschudi at the University of Colorado. Once again, Meier said, this trend is a step in a feedback cycle.

“Having younger and thus thinner ice during winter makes the system more vulnerable to ice loss during the summer melt season,” Meier said.

But maybe there will be a miracle.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The daily horror

Dec 18th, 2014 11:28 am | By

Boko Haram this time.

Militants have stormed a remote village in north-eastern Nigeria, killing at least 33 people and kidnapping about 200, a survivor has told the BBC.

He said that suspected Boko Haram militants had seized young men, women and children from Gumsuri village.

The attack happened on Sunday but news has only just emerged, after survivors reached the city of Maiduguri.

The BBC headline is peculiar: Boko Haram unrest: Nigerian militants ‘kidnap 200 villagers’. It’s not “unrest” – it’s organized murder and kidnapping. And the people doing it aren’t really “militants”; their goal is to kill some people and enslave others. Calling them “militants” makes it sound as if they have genuine political goals, but it’s not at all clear that they do. It’s much clearer that they love violence and murder and sexual enslavement.

Residents told the BBC that armed militants attacked the border town of Amchide on Wednesday, arriving in two vehicles with many others on foot.

They raided the market area, setting fire to shops and more than 50 houses.

They’re armed criminals. Why dignify them with the title “militants”?

Guess who the people “kidnapped” were.

A vigilante group that had protected the village from previous attacks was overpowered by the militants, AFP reported.

“After killing our youths, the insurgents have taken away our wives and daughters,” a resident who fled to Maiduguri was quoted as saying.

Militants, insurgents, yadda yadda – they’re men who kill other men and enslave women. That’s their “politics”; that’s their “ideology.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Got secularist?

Dec 18th, 2014 10:39 am | By

The NSS is taking nominations for Secularist of the Year.

Who do you think should be the 2015 Secularist of the year?

The Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year is awarded annually in recognition of an individual or an organisation considered to have made an outstanding contribution to the secular cause.

This year’s prize will be presented on Saturday 28 March at a lunch event in central London so please get your nominations to us by Friday 23 January.

The nomination form is right there on the page, so if you have a candidate, get to it.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Does this rag smell like chloroform to you??”

Dec 17th, 2014 4:55 pm | By

Some people and institutions do take misogyny seriously. Dalhousie University apparently does.

Dalhousie University in Halifax has launched an investigation into disturbing, sexually explicit Facebook posts attributed to male students in the faculty of dentistry, CBC News has learned.

The men were part of a Facebook group called the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen. The group was removed from Facebook late last week.

I wonder by whom. Facebook doesn’t remove groups like that, and no one else could, so I guess the members removed it.

The university is working on what to do about it. Exams have been postponed until next month.

CBC News obtained screenshots of the group’s posts, which are sexually explicit and appear to involve discussions of female classmates.

In one post, members were polled and asked, “Who would you hate f–k?” They were given two names to vote on.

Yeah that hate fuck idea is nice. Jian Ghomeshi told a colleague he wanted to hate fuck her at a meeting, which tells you something.

Another post shows a woman wearing a bikini. The caption says, “Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl).”

You know…I know of several Facebook groups that are way worse than that. That’s mild in comparison. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

Their conversations also include jokes about using chloroform on women.

The words: “Does this rag smell like chloroform to you??” were superimposed on one photo.

In response to another photo of a bikini-clad woman, two members wrote: “Can you tell me what this chloroform smells like?” and “Does this mask smell like nitrous oxide to you?”

Haha – geddit? Gas her unconscious so that you can fuck her – with or without hate – whether she’s willing or not.

One thing the internet has certainly given us is a much deeper knowledge of how many men really hate women, and how taken for granted it is. Not one of my favorite things about the technology.

H/t Ibis.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Words are never enough, but have some anyway

Dec 17th, 2014 4:07 pm | By

So I had to read John Sauven’s* blog post about how sincerely, deeply, utterly sorry he is about the Nazca lines and how strongly he hopes Peru will just take his word for that and stop bothering them.

Words are never enough, he says in the title, and yet they seem to be all he’s offering.

Words are not enough. I know that. But I want to start by saying how deeply disappointed and sorry I am for the activity undertaken in the name of Greenpeace at the Nazca lines in Peru last week during the climate talks.

The place chosen for holding a banner showed a regrettable disregard for the culture of Peru and the importance of not going to fragile and culturally important sites without authorisation. Greenpeace International’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, has this week met with the Peruvian Minister of Culture, who is responsible for the site, to offer an apology. Kumi has assured the Minister that we will fully participate in any investigation into the activity.

“Fully” of course meaning “not including telling Peru who was involved in the ‘activity’.” (Note the evasive word. Trespass, invasion, damage – those would have been better words.) “Fully participate” meaning “in whatever sense we mean by ‘fully’ and not at all what Peru might mean by it.”

In short, he’s basically told an untruth right at the outset. They’re not fully participating.

Greenpeace International is conducting an investigation into how it was possible for this to have happened. The result of this investigation will inform changes that Greenpeace will make to try and ensure something like this can never happen again.

Like the church, like the military, like the universities. But they committed a crime. They don’t get to keep the investigation in-house. Sure, they need to look at their own organization to find out why someone agreed to such a bad move, but they don’t get to be in charge of the whole investigation, and they shouldn’t be stonewalling.

The first comment says that nicely.

The phrase “hold the people responsible accountable” has been tossed about by Greenpeace, without ever defining what that means. Will you turn them over to Peruvian authorities, or will you just withhold their team T-Shirts? You say words are not enough. When will you actually offer more than words? If it was oil rather than footprints spread out over the sacred desert site, would Greenpeace accept an apology from BP or Haliburton?

Would they and should they? No and no.

*Sauven is the executive director of Greenpeace UK.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)