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.

We cannot expect

Aug 20th, 2014 6:16 pm | By

PZ also has a post on the abortion and Down syndrome issue. In it he says this:

I recommend reading any of Michael Bérubé’s stories about having a child with Down Syndrome— he doesn’t have any regrets at all. Or you could read about how Bérubé schooled Peter Singer, and Singer did the right thing and changed his mind. He also wrote a book on the subject,reviewed in the NY Times.

I was thinking of Michael and Jamie Bérubé and of Peter Singer during all this, so I was glad to see that link, which is to a piece I read with interest at the time. (The time was December 2008.) Reading it again reminds me what a fiendishly good writer Michael is. Read the whole post, because it’s fiendishly good. I’ll just extract a little, because it’s relevant.

Surely you’ll recall—my post was only two months ago!—that in the passage at issue, Singer wrote, “To have a child with Down syndrome is to have a very different experience from having a normal child. It can still be a warm and loving experience, but we must have lowered expectations of our child’s ability. We cannot expect a child with Down syndrome to play the guitar, to develop an appreciation of science fiction, to learn a foreign language, to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, or to be a respectable athlete, basketballer or tennis player.”

Well, Singer wrote to me to say that my reply to this passage suggests that he is wrong about Down syndrome, whereas in fact it takes more than a couple of exceptional children here and there to challenge the general rule.  After all, the passage speaks of expectations, and although people do win the lottery now and again, it would be unreasonable to buy a lottery ticket and expect to win.  Professor Singer then asked me to direct him to some evidence that would indicate that Jamie is not anomalous—and, he said, this is not an idle challenge: if he is mistaken about Down syndrome, he will correct himself in the future.

They wrote back and forth, and Michael requested and got permission to quote his own replies.

Many thanks for noticing that blog post, and for taking the time to write.  Thanks also for your kind words about Jamie.  I do, in fact, enjoy a handful of Woody Allen movies here and there;Broadway Danny Rose is a wonderful piece of work, and I’m fond of Bullets Over Broadway as well.  But I do think “we cannot expect a child with Down syndrome to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen film” instates a distinctly Upper West Side-y performance criterion, and is worth critiquing on those grounds alone.  More seriously, I note that in the 1920s we were told that people with Down syndrome were incapable of learning to speak; in the 1970s, we were told that people with Down syndrome were incapable of learning how to read.  OK, so now the rationale for seeing these people as somewhat less than human is their likely comprehension of Woody Allen films.  Twenty years from now we’ll be hearing “sure, they get Woody Allen, but only his early comedies—they completely fail to appreciate the breakthrough of Interiors.”  Surely you understand my sense that the goalposts are being moved around here in a rather arbitrary fashion.

I do appreciate the fact that you’re not issuing an idle challenge.  I don’t think you would do that.  I have three responses to it.

Here is the second response:

The larger point of my argument with your claim is that we cannot (I use the term advisedly) know what to expect of children with Down syndrome.  Early-intervention programs have made such dramatic differences in their lives over the past few decades that we simply do not know what the range of functioning looks like, and therefore do not rightly know what to expect. That, Professor Singer, is the real challenge of being a parent of a child with Down syndrome: it’s not just a matter of contesting other people’s low expectations of your child, it’s a matter of recalibrating your own expectations time and time again—and not only for your own child, but for Down syndrome itself.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw a young man with Down syndrome playing the violin—quite competently, at that, with delicacy and a sense of nuance.  I thought I was seeing a griffin.  And who could have imagined, just forty or fifty years ago, that the children we were institutionalizing and leaving to rot could in fact grow up to become actors?  Likewise, this past summer when I remarked to Jamie that time is so strange that nobody really understands it, that we can’t touch it or see it even though we watch the passing of every day, and that it only goes forward like an arrow, and Jamie replied, “except with Hermione’s Time-Turner in Harry Potter,” I was so stunned I nearly crashed the car.  I take issue with your passage, then, not because I’m a sentimental fool or because I believe that one child’s surprising accomplishments suffice to win the argument, but because as we learn more about Down syndrome, we honestly—if paradoxically—don’t know what constitutes a “reasonable expectation” for a person with Down syndrome.

There’s more; it’s all that good.

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

Your majesty is like a doughnut

Aug 20th, 2014 5:07 pm | By

Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, George Bernard Shaw, and George V (or is it Edward VII?) discuss eugenics.


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

Choice is minimised

Aug 20th, 2014 4:00 pm | By

Iain Brassington comments on Dawkins’s Twitter adventure today at the Journal of Medical Ethics blog (which is a subset of the BMJ blog).

Look, I know that Twitter really isn’t the place for nuanced debate.  But, by that token, everyone else should realise that as well – especially intellectual superstars. So how, then, to explain Richard Dawkins’ spectacular foot-in-mouth moment earlier today?

Well, one leg of that explanation would be that actually Dawkins appears not to realize that. I honestly don’t know why, because 1. I know that people very close to him have told him it, and 2. it seems so blindingly obvious once you’ve been using Twitter for awhile, as he has. (Not to mention 3. doing so has blown up in his face about ten times now, and the last time was just three weeks ago.)

But another leg of it would be, I think, that he doesn’t realize it in the moment, and then when it all goes pear-shaped he gets irritated instead of getting quiet. SIWOTI, basically.

So why doesn’t he realize it in the moment? I really don’t know. I would think the problem with today’s would just jump right out at you, while you were typing. I don’t know why such things don’t jump out at him.

I do know a few people like that though – people who just say startlingly rude things to other people, apparently without any idea that they’re saying something rude. On the other hand none of them are famous best-selling Oxford professors.

Brassington quotes the infamous tweet.

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

Oh, crikey. He actually said it. I don’t want to raise the spectre of The Paper Of Which We Do Not Speak, or even to delve into questions of procreative beneficence; what’s important about this is a deeply stupid thing to say in its own right. After all, you can think what you like about the permissibility of abortion, but I don’t think that anyone is really suggesting that a woman who is pregnant ought to abort. The most defenders of abortion would want to say is that it’s permissible to abort.   Procreative beneficence says that you ought to select against “disabled” embryos if only one can be implanted and one is going to be implanted; but it doesn’t say that you ought to terminate a once-begun pregnancy. Nor should it: to make that kind of statement is indefensible for more or less the same reason as a statement to the effect that a woman isn’t allowed to have an abortion - to wit, there’s light years between a right to abort and a duty to abort.  The former is about a woman’s ability to choose what kind of pregnancy she has, and what kind of child she’s willing to gestate; the latter is… well, it’s the opposite of that.  Choice is minimised.

A little dialogue ensued on Twitter:

Dr. Steve Cooke ‏@SteveCooke 2h
@IBrasso @OpheliaBenson it’s easy to forget (more so because Dawkins also forgets) that Dawkins is a scientist not an ethicist.

Synthetic Future(s) ‏@SynFutures 2h
@SteveCooke @IBrasso @OpheliaBenson Is it?!


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

Searching and hoping for comfort

Aug 20th, 2014 11:50 am | By

A doctor with MSF, Gabriel Fitzpatrick, gives a heartrending account of working at the center of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

In the suspected cases ward I saw a small child getting his nappy changed by a nurse who was wearing a full body plastic protective suit.

The child was clinging on to the nurse, searching and hoping for comfort in a place which does not allow direct skin-to-skin contact. As a father myself, this image stuck in my mind.

On the same evening, a mother and her two children were admitted to the hospital with confirmed Ebola. Within days the mother and eldest child had passed away.

It is startling how quickly this virus can kill patients. The remaining child is still receiving supportive care but his chances are not good.

There are a few rules in the Ebola treatment centre that are sometimes difficult to remember and go against our natural instincts.

Firstly, shaking hands with anybody is forbidden, and you must keep a certain distance away from people at all times. This can feel isolating.

Especially, no doubt, for the patients. The child trying to cling to the plastic-covered nurse is just…crushing.

So let’s include some better news.

There are happier stories – some of those who catch Ebola survive. For some unknown reason their bodies beat the virus.

More than 300 patients have been admitted to MSF isolation centres in Sierra Leone. To date about 50 have recovered and returned home.

Every few days, patients who have survived are discharged from the hospital. This is a big occasion and is celebrated both by those who have recovered and by hospital staff.

Certificates are presented to these patients during a ceremony with somebody invariably performing a dance. West African music is supplied via a mobile phone.

It didn’t work; the clinging child is still in the foreground.


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

The cabal strikes again

Aug 20th, 2014 10:46 am | By

Oh dear. Here we go again. Another item for the big master list of things not to say on Twitter.

InYourFaceNewYorker ‏@InYourFaceNYer 2h
@RichardDawkins @AidanMcCourt I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins
@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

The Independent is already on it.

Budding atheists wondering whether Richard Dawkins is in need of a little time away from Twitter to reflect on the past few weeks are about to have their (lack of) prayers answered.

The philosopher has managed to go one step further than his controversial comments on ‘date rape versus stranger rape’ to voice his opinions on what it would be ethical for a mother who is informed that her unborn child has Down Syndrome to do.

He started off his conversation with followers ethically enough, highlighting the plight of women in Ireland, where abortion is illegal, in light of the recent reports of the country’s refusal to provide a safe abortion to a suicidal rape victim. She was forced to give birth.

“Ireland is a civilised country except in this 1 area,” he tweeted, adding “You’d think the Roman Church would have lost all influence,” to caption a link to a similar article.

But then the provocateurs sent by the cabal of Secret Theocratic Underground Operatives got to work.

But after engaging in conversation with a number of users, his ethical values appeared to come a little unstuck.

“994 human beings with Down’s Syndrome deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012. Is that civilised?” @AidanMcCourt asked.

“Yes, it is very civilised. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings,” Dawkins responded.

“I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma,” @InYourFaceNYer chimed in.

“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice,” he tweeted back.

Job done! All it took was two tweets! The cabal of Secret Theocratic Underground Operatives is laughing its fiendish collective laugh as atheism takes yet another broadside hit in the reputation.

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


Aug 19th, 2014 5:13 pm | By

Oh good god.

Via Godless Indian Feminists on Facebook.

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

Gentle, friendly, courageous

Aug 19th, 2014 4:42 pm | By

More on James Foley.

The BBC:

The Islamic State militant group has released a video online purporting to show the killing of a US journalist.

The victim was identified by the militants as James Foley, a freelancer who was seized in Syria in late 2012.

The militants said it was in revenge for recent US air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The video has not been independently verified, but the White House said if it was genuine, the US would be “appalled by the brutal murder”.

Foley’s family wrote on Facebook: “We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers.”

Foley has reported extensively across the Middle East, working for the Global Post and other news outlets including the French news agency AFP.

From the Guardian:

A friend of Foley’s and his fellow captive in Libya, journalist Clare Morgana Gillis, wrote in a 2013 essay that captivity was “the state most violently opposite his nature.” Gillis described Foley as gentle, friendly, courageous and impatient with “anything that slows his forward momentum.”

In a January 2013 interview with local television news near her Rochester, New Hampshire home, Foley’s mother Diane said her son was “passionate about covering the story in Syria, passionate about the people there.”

A talk that Foley gave in 2011:


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

Imposing signature orientalist questions

Aug 19th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

So let’s sample a bit of Dilly Hussain’s work. Here’s a piece posted at the Huffington Post UK yesterday. It’s about the pressure on Muslims to disavow Islamist violence and repression.

This pressure on Muslims to bend over backwards in distancing themselves from crimes committed by their co-religionists comes in many forms: the war on terror rhetoric our government uses when talking about ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’, the media’s demonisation of Islam linking it to every crime under the sun from sexual grooming, domestic violence to terrorism, and TV/radio presenters’ aggressive methods of interviewing. The sight of prominent Muslim figures and organisations tripping over themselves when they race to condemn on national TV, you can’t help but think, how different it is when let’s say white Britons or Americans commit similar crimes, or Christians or any other ethnic, racial or religious group – this apologetic syndrome has affected Muslims exclusively.

When the Madrid and London 7/7 bombings happened, Muslims in the West felt cornered as their governments and the media targeted their religion. Whilst the perpetrators of these attacks were Muslim, you would be naive to think that Islam was the catalyst behind the attacks, totally ignoring the West’s unequivocal support for Israel and its brutal occupation of Palestinian territories, propping oppressive dictators in the Arab world like Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gadhafi, Ben Ali and the petrol rich sheikhdoms of the Gulf, as well as the illegal war against Iraq.

But how does the West’s unequivocal support for Israel and its brutal occupation of Palestinian territories, propping oppressive dictators in the Arab world like Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gadhafi, Ben Ali and the petrol rich sheikhdoms of the Gulf, as well as the illegal war against Iraq justify or explain or require the murder of 52 random people in London? In what way is murdering random civilians a method of disputing or reforming the foreign policy of “the West”?

Also, in fact, you wouldn’t be “naive” to think the London bombers were all radical Islamists, because they were just that.

I found myself hounded upon by a BBC radio presenter last week when I was invited to speak on the topic of ‘Should British Muslims support a Caliphate‘. The discussion went from my personal views on the Caliphate to whether I acknowledged that Yazidis were being persecuted and if I condemned it. Furthermore, the presenter was hell-bent in his condescending style of ‘ impartiality’, imposing signature orientalist questions of analysing the Caliphate from the prism of secular liberal democracies as a bench mark to measure its viability in the modern era.

Golly. Now I have another question about why the Huffington Post publishes this guy: I want to know why they want such a bad writer writing for them.

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

On the nerves of Islamists

Aug 19th, 2014 3:37 pm | By

Amjad Khan at Harry’s Place introduces us to Dilly Hussain and his methods of disagreeing with that horrifying monster a Liberal Woman.

There seems to be something about women that really gets on the nerves of Islamists such as Dilly Hussain. Namely when they’re doing horrible “Islamophobic” things such as expressing opinions or leaving the confines of their home.

Now for those of you who don’t know ol’ Dilly, he’s a regular on the Huff Po and likes to write about his wonderful Caliphate (you know, the one that beheads apostates and stones women to death) on a bag of crazy called 5Pillarz.

Why would the HuffPo regularly publish someone who advocates for a Caliphate? Does it publish people who advocate for Nazism?

Dilly’s latest outrage was over Mina Topia having the audacity to say she ”wouldn’t agree with any state which tries to curtail anyone else’s right based on their religion, their sexuality, their creed or their political leaning” on a recent debate on the caliphate on BBC Asian network. That should sound fairly uncontroversial coming from pretty much anybody. The problem of course is that Mina made the mistake of being a Muslim and worse still, being a woman. Being unable to smear his critics as either racist or “Islamophobic”, Dilly instead resorted to calling Mina a “fatty”. Because that’s real mature and because he couldn’t deploy his usual dirty tactics to close down the debate before it even gets started.

With his persecution complex in full swing, Dilly decided to Twitter stalk Mina then copy and paste pictures of her out friends with great nuggets of wisdom like “pisshead, drunken liberal garbage”. Of course what somebody like Dilly is doing on a site that is meant to cater mainly to progressives, whilst referring to a woman as a “stupid liberal cow”, you will have to ask the Huff Po themselves. I didn’t know believers in a brutal, repressive, totalitarian theocracy that stones uppity women to death like Mina were standard fair for that site now.

It’s to make up for imperialism. Or something like that.

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

Sending a message

Aug 19th, 2014 3:26 pm | By

IS has apparently beheaded the US journalist James Foley, who has been missing for two years, the SMH reports.

Islamic State insurgents who control territory in Iraq and Syria released a video on Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of US journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago. The group also threatened the life of a second US journalist it claims to be holding.

The video, titled “A Message To America,” was posted on social media sites. It was not immediately possible to verify.

Foley, who has reported in the Middle East for five years, was kidnapped on November 22, 2012, by unidentified gunmen.

God is great.

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

More Amnesty sources

Aug 19th, 2014 11:59 am | By

Amnesty International has a useful Ferguson Storify recording its activities and what its people have seen.

police announcing anyone standing who’s not a member of media will be arrested. Heading back to hotel with @Amnesty crew. stay safe

US can’t tell other countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it won’t clean up its own human rights record


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

Economic recovery depended on cheap labor

Aug 19th, 2014 10:38 am | By

I’ve been re-reading David Oshinsky’s book Worse Than Slavery. It’s about the ways the Southern states found, after the Civil War, to continue exploiting black labor after and despite the abolition of slavery; it culminates with an account of Parchman Farm, Mississippi’s nightmarish state prison.

The Washington Post has the whole first chapter. Let’s start with the Mississippi governor in 1865. The state was a ruin.

In the fall of 1865, Governor Benjamin G. Humphreys addressed the “negro problem” before a special session of the Mississippi legislature. A planter by profession and a general during the war, Humphreys had campaigned for office in a “thrice-perforated” army coat shot through with Yankee lead. Like other leading Confederates, he had at first been excluded from participating in the South’s postwar political affairs. But President Andrew Johnson had pardoned the general, and hundreds like him, in remarkably short order. Humphreys received his pardon on October 5, 1865, just three days after winning the governor’s race in a landslide.(24)

His speech about the Negro was a major event, the first of its kind by a Southern governor since the Confederate defeat. “Under the pressure of federal bayonets.” Humphreys began, “. . . the people of Mississippi have abolished the institution of slavery.” That decision was final; there could be no turning back. “The Negro is free, whether we like it or not; we must realize that fact now and forever.”(25)

But freedom had its limits, Humphreys continued. It protected the Negro’s person and property but did not guarantee him political or social equality with whites. Indeed the “purity and progress” of both races required a strict caste system, with blacks accepting their place in the lower order of things. And that place–literally–was the cotton field of the south. Since economic recovery depended on a ready supply of Negro labor, the new system, like the old one, must reward the faithful field hand and punish the loafer. Such was the rule of the plantation, said Humphreys, and the “law of God.”

In the following days, the legislature passed a series of acts known collectively as the Black Codes. Their aim was to control the labor supply, to protect the freedman from his own “vices,” and to ensure the superior position of whites in southern life. “While some of [these acts] may seem rigid and stringent to sickly modern humanitarians,” the legislators declared, “the wicked and improvident, the vagabond and meddler, must be smarted [and] reformed.” Others agreed. The Mississippi Black Codes were copied, sometimes word for word, by legislators in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

And that’s the core of the whole story right there. It’s horribly simple. Mississippi was fertile land for growing cotton but the work is horrible and so is the climate. What to do? Nominate a caste of people who have to do the labor. Before the war it was literal explicit slavery; after the war it was slavery disguised as judicial punishment. How to do that? Make not working a crime for that caste. Make it a crime to quit a job, make it a crime to seek higher pay, make it a crime to move around, make it a crime to offer higher pay.

The Black Codes listed specific crimes for the “free negro” alone: “mischief,” “insulting gestures” “cruel treatment to animals,” and the “vending of spiritous or intoxicating liquors.” Free blacks were also prohibited from keeping firearms and from cohabiting with whites. The penalty for intermarriage, the ultimate taboo, was “confinement in the State penitentiary for life.”

At the heart of these codes were the vagrancy and enticement laws, designed to drive ex-slaves back to their home plantations. The Vagrancy Act provided that “all free negroes and mulattoes over the age of eighteen” must have written proof of a job at the beginning of every year. Those found “with no lawful employment . . . shall be deemed vagrants, and on conviction . . . fined a sum not exceeding . . . fifty dollars.” The Enticement Act made it illegal to lure a worker away from his employer by offering him inducements of any kind. Its purpose, of course, was to restrict the flow (and price) of labor by forcing plantation owners to stop “stealing” each other’s Negroes.

Frighteningly tidy, isn’t it; all exits locked and barred and nailed shut.

Reconstruction got in the way for awhile, but only for awhile.

So this is part of our filthy history, we Americans. Ferguson is like a day at the beach in comparison.

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


Aug 19th, 2014 9:51 am | By

Amnesty International is in Ferguson.

In an unusual move, the global rights organization Amnesty International has dispatched a delegation of observers and organizers to Ferguson, Mo., to provide direct support to community members and to observe the police response to protests. The 13-person delegation, which arrived late last week, was the first of its kind deployed by Amnesty within the United States, the organization said.

Not the first time it’s ever been needed though.

Via Twitter:

stevegiegerich @stevegiegerich · Aug 15
Jasmine Heiss & Justin Mazzola part of Amnesty International team monitoring situation in #Ferguson #MichaelBrown

Embedded image permalink

The scope of Amnesty’s mission was unprecedented; it was more like what they did during the 2013 protests in Turkey than anything they’ve done in the US before.

Heiss, who returned to Washington on Sunday, said the most striking thing she saw during her time in Ferguson was the “overall lack of transparency” from law enforcement.

“Reflecting on our time there, one of the most troubling things is what we didn’t see,” she said, referring to limits placed by law enforcement officials on access to the protests. “When you see this kind of restricting of people protesting … it seems clear that the authorities are using the ill will of some to undermine the rest.”

Well let’s face it: the US is more like Turkey than it is like the secular liberal democracies of the world.

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

More from the Brown files

Aug 18th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Andrew Brown has invented a concept he calls “hard secularism” and cites as an example of it “attempts to ban prayer before council meetings.”

Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC, points out that of the four cases on religious liberty that have gone to Strasbourg in the past three years, his organisation has sided with the Christians in two and against them in two. The commission took the view that Christians were not allowed to discriminate against gay people, however sincerely they want to, but it backed their right to wear crosses at work even when the secular courts disagreed.

For the EHRC, this is no more than a slight adjustment of course: a check that it is interpreting the law as it is supposed to be. But I think it is rather more than that and represents the start of a swing of the pendulum away from the kind of hard secularism that regards all forms of religion in public life with suspicion. Examples of that would be attempts to ban prayer before council meetings.

Because it’s just obviously no problem at all when city governments impose prayers on all councilors? Why? Why is that obviously no problem at all?

This is not a move towards the functional re-establishment ofChristianity, which has been effectively disestablished over the past 30 years. If anything, it is prompted by the rising importance of Islam. It is obviously dangerous to social cohesion if the idea gets around that Muslims can get away with things that Christians can’t, and there is some basis for that kind of reasoning. Christians who preach homophobia are sometimes harassed by the police in a way that Muslims who do the same aren’t; if Muslims come to the attention of the police for their beliefs, it is in connection with terrorism rather than crimes against liberal sexual orthodoxy.

“Liberal sexual orthodoxy”? So now Andrew Brown is sneering at gay rights too? Why doesn’t he just move to the Telegraph then and end the confusion?

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

In the shelves

Aug 18th, 2014 5:04 pm | By

The BHA posted this photo on Facebook a few minutes ago:

Photo: See our Flickr album for high-res versions and Creative Commons licensing information:

They posted it along with a link to their Flickr album from the GHC. So I’m looking at the album to see if I can spot friends, and I’m spotting friends.

Leo and Andrew are standing in front of the Dawkins-Grayling shelf. Those two dudes have produced a lot of books just on their own.

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

If you listen

Aug 18th, 2014 4:13 pm | By

Look, what you see is not all there is, aka the availability heuristic, comes up again, this time at Alex’s, in a post about the fact that some people have every reason to be passionately angry at and about religion, and the related fact that others shouldn’t be telling such people to tone down their anger.

People like us are infamous for words like ‘privilege’, ‘splaining’, ‘problematic’; part of the power of concepts like these is that when transferred between activist contexts they expose parallels. I’m deeply aware there can be only limited analogy between atheism and the concerns of more marginalised groups, and would hate to devalue their language. But I’m convinced of the following:

It is a form of privilege to be an atheist who’s never experienced religious abuse, as many of us have who are antagonistic.

It is privilege blindness to expect — without a clue what we’ve experienced or what it means to us — that we give up our self-expression so that you can form alliances with faith communities that deeply injured us.

It is tone-policing if when you’re not telling us to shut up about it, you’re telling us how to talk about it. How dare you tell us to be more respectful.

It is splaining if your answer when we detail histories of religious abuse is ‘Yes, but’ — or if you tell us we can’t blame religion for it since not all believers do the same. We know the details. You don’t.

Commenter smhll made a very apposite comparison:

I agree very strongly. I’m truly fortunate that my parents barely even bothered to fake any religious faith (even decades ago; I’m oldish). My sibling and I got taken to a liberal church maybe twice a year. My parents were even fairly sex positive.

There’s a parallel to be drawn between people who’ve only had mild, okay experiences with police and people who’ve only had mild, okay experiences with clergy and churchgoers. (But I don’t want to oversell the similarity since police brutality is extra painful this week.) Just because some people get acceptable treatment from police (when they rarely are confronted) doesn’t mean that that behavior is a constant.

See? That’s what you see is not all there is. I haven’t had bad experiences with the police; I don’t get to conclude from that fact that there are no bad experiences with the police to be had. I don’t get to generalize from my experience in cases where I have good reason to know that my experience is not typical. Some kinds of experience it’s ok to extrapolate from, and it’s part of empathy to do so. Other kinds, it really isn’t.

HjHornbeck also made the analogy.

I’ve been finding myself gradually slipping towards the “faitheist” side. Liberal believers seem gloriously liberal, a refreshing break from the angry fights I’ve gotten into with semi-liberal or conservative atheists.

But as Benson recently pointed out, what you see is not all there is. Just because I’ve had no experience with religion, let alone been effected by it, doesn’t mean others have experienced the same nor that they are unjustified in being angry about their experiences. To each their area of expertise, and thanks to your history yours is the subtle corrosion of liberal belief.

I’d be wise to listen, rather than argue over tone or strategic alliances.

If you listen, you might learn more about what there is.



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

Summer school with sprinkles

Aug 18th, 2014 1:08 pm | By

The summer school where Sue Blackmore gave that talk is called Oxford Royale Academy. Yes really – with the e on the end of Royal. Maybe you’re not allowed to call your consumer item “royal” unless you have permission from a royal? So you call it Royale instead? But the trouble is then it sounds like ice cream.

You probably shouldn’t be allowed to call it Oxford either, because it’s misleading, but there you go. My uncle put the Gallup Poll in Princeton to get the appearance of academic credibility. It’s what people do. He called it The American Institute for Public Opinion for the same reason. Templeton puts “Institutes” and “Academies” in Oxford and Cambridge for the same reason. It’s a widespread wheeze. It’s a wonder Oxford and Cambridge aren’t so full of shady “Institutes” there’s no room left for the universities.

Anyway, here’s its blurb about itself. I find it rather…icky.

About our Oxford Summer School

Welcome to ORA, the award-winning Oxford Summer School! A recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, fully accredited by the British Council, every year ORA welcomes students from 90+ nations to its world-class summer enrichment programs, which offer unparalleled opportunities to learn, make friends and get ahead in life. The exciting coach excursions, exceptional teaching faculty and access to Oxford University colleges have made it one of the most sought-after teen summer camps in the world. Spaces are filling up fast – browse our 2015 summer courses and secure your place today!

With ORA you can: Learn English in Oxford | Gain an academic edge over your peers | Enjoy the summer in Oxford’s idyllic surroundings | Make friends from all over the world.

Notice that at the top it’s an academy but in the blurb it’s a summer camp?

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

Another bunch left, then another

Aug 18th, 2014 12:11 pm | By

Sue Blackmore gave a lecture at a summer school yesterday and was left shaken and depressed by how it went.

I was told they were of 45 nationalities and I assumed many different religions. So I prepared my lecture carefully. I tried it out the day before on my husband’s grandson, a bright mixed-race 16 year-old from Paris, and added pictures of the latest craze for ‘Fatkiniposts’ and more videos, including my favourite Gangnam Style parody (Python style), but I wasn’t going to avoid the topic of religious memes – religions are an example, par excellence, of memeplexes that use wicked tricks to ensure their own survival. I simply made sure that my slides included many religions and didn’t single one out.

We can see the clouds gathering already.

I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

Thus illustrating how memes work, and/or how groupthink works, how conformity and solidarity work, how safety in numbers works. Once one batch left, all the others felt 1. empowered and entitled to leave and 2. righteous about leaving.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.

The cartoon was worse. As I have often done before, I suggested that one final trick of a desperate religion (I didn’t say quite that this time) is to forbid laughter. I warned any devout Muslims in the audience to look away as I showed one of the Danish cartoons. It’s so simple – just a bunch of terrorists arriving in heaven to be told, “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins’. That normally gets a good laugh – along with sympathy for the cartoonists threatened with death for something so innocuous. Not this time. More walked out.

She encountered some of the leavers outside, and had an unproductive conversation with them.

Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I’d learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer – when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren’t so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?

Maybe remember that climate change will make it all tragically irrelevant much sooner than anyone would like?


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

Meet Pro-life Waco

Aug 18th, 2014 11:45 am | By

So, thanks to artymorty, here is Pro-Life Waco and its campaign against Planned Parenthood complete with STOP Planned Promiscuity sign.

Right at the top you get its ideal, which is a pretty and dainty white lady lying down flat with a baby pasted to her front. That’s how we like our ladies: white, and pretty and dainty, and recumbent, and pasted to a baby.


They had a campaign against a sex education program by Planned Parenthood, with its own website that looks a lot like the original website, complete with recumbent white lady pasted to baby.


Planned Parenthood Promiscuity

corrupting your community, America, and the world.

John Pisciotta, Director of Pro-Life Waco

Using Planned Parenthood’s own words and deeds, this page unmasks their agenda for children as the Celebration of Fornication.”

Pisciotta presents his deep thinking on the subject.

What follows is almost unbelievable material that unmasks Planned Parenthood schemes to capture our children and grandchildren. When I think I have understood how bad this organization is, they always surprise me and reveal they are even worse. In deceptive statements, Planned Parenthood may claim to promote abstinence. In reality thiswolf in sheep skin promotes promiscuity and its own profit and power.

I have come to believe that promotion of promiscuity is more central to the “DNA” of Planned Parenthood than abortion. Going back to its founder, Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood has always promoted free sex and attempted to melt away the roles of parents and religion. Abortion can be seen as a pernicious outgrowth of the corrupted belief that promiscuity can be lived without difficult consequences. Moreover, to the extent that Christians can turn themselves and others from promiscuity to chastity, abortion fades away. As self-giving love, commitment, and marriage strengthen, the holocaust recedes.

So now we know where those signs came from.

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

Planned what?

Aug 18th, 2014 10:22 am | By

Talking Points Memo has a piece about anti-abortion protesters collecting the license plate numbers of people entering clinics.

What interests me about that story is the photo they used to illustrate it. It’s an AP photo credited to Duane A Laverty, and it shows people wearing huge red stop sign-shaped signs that read

STOP Planned Promiscuity


What?? That’s a thing? I’d never heard of that before.

But I still haven’t, apart from that photo. I can’t find it via Google, including via News or Images.

I’m very curious about it, as well as very disgusted by it. Does anybody know anything? Who uses this slogan? Is it an anti-abortion slogan or an anti-contraception slogan?

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