Notes and Comment Blog

Guest post: Back in fundie-land

Jul 24th, 2015 1:18 pm | By

Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on The art of the question.

M. A. Melby @11:

As a recovering fundie, I can tell you that there’s only one answer to a question that ends with, “…yes or no?”, and that’s “Fuck you.”

Lawyers get to say “…yes or no?” because you’re compelled by the court to answer. You’ll go to jail for contempt if you don’t. And you’ll face contempt if you answer a yes/no question with a question, or a long answer, or a non-response. [Unfortunately] the lawyer is allowed to make such demands, because they are empowered to compel a response, and to punish you for your refusal.

Inquisitors get to say “…yes or no?” for the same reason: an inquisitor is a prosecutor, generally in a religious court, and can have you tortured or executed not only for giving the wrong answer, but for refusing to answer.

Back in fundie-land, I’ve been asked [and, to my shame, I’ve asked] these “…yes or no?” questions. The asker does it because they think they’re an inquisitor. Their intention is to either force compliance with some norm, or to identify you as an outsider as a prelude to punishing or expelling you from the community. They have the power to do that. Sometimes because they’re actual gatekeepers, like church rulers. More often because the social group stigmatizes the wrong answer to such an extent that it doesn’t matter how an answer is extracted from you; once you fail to say “shibboleth” correctly, you’re a heathen, infidel, outsider, unperson.

I find it hilarious–but in a sad way–to see “rational” or “freethinking” people set themselves up as inquisitors. It’s a healthy reminder that religion is just a well-adapted vehicle for delivering the toxin, and human nature is its source. The need to cement our “we” status by inflicting “they” status on someone else. I.e., self-righteousness. The inability to care for “us” without simultaneously hating “them.” Etc, etc.

“Yes or no?” Fuck you is my answer. Even if I agree with you, still fuck you.

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

Guest post: Submission

Jul 24th, 2015 12:58 pm | By

Originally a comment by Blondin on An overzealous state trooper.

The cop did a u-turn and covered a lot of ground to catch up with Ms Bland. From her point of view I think she did what most people would do if they saw a cop car charging up behind them. Just that aspect of the story looks suspiciously like a despicable tactic. Anyone who gets out of his way but fails to signal gets pulled over, either because he has a quota to fill, because he’s a loathsome bully who gets a kick out of antagonizing the powerless, or maybe a bit of both.

I keep reading comments saying she should have just complied; she should have just put out her smoke and she would have been on her way. I don’t think that would have made any difference. Refusing to put out her cigarette was not her “mistake”. Showing her irritation was where she went wrong. Answering his question about why she was irritated is what sealed her fate. Calling “bullshit” on his bullshit was not a sin he could overlook.

We always tell our children to obey a policeman’s commands and answer his questions truthfully because we assume he has a legitimate reason for asking those questions or issuing those commands. We always advise people to show similar compliance with muggers but for a different reason. If a man waves a knife in your face and asks for your wallet you don’t want to piss him off or he might fuck you up. We should not have to worry about pissing off a cop because he might fuck you up.


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

The art of the question

Jul 23rd, 2015 5:44 pm | By

Wikipedia entry: Loaded question.

A loaded question or complex question fallacy is a question which contains a controversial or unjustified assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).[1]

Aside from being an informal fallacy depending on usage, such questions may be used as a rhetoricaltool: the question attempts to limit direct replies to be those that serve the questioner’s agenda.[2]

President Bill Clinton, the moderator in a town meeting discussing the topic “Race In America”, in response to a participant argument that the issue was not affirmative action but “racial preferences” asked the participant a loaded question: “Do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative-action program that produced Colin Powell? Yes or no?” [8]

Complex question:

By a complex question, in the broadest meaning of that term, is meant one that suggests its own answer. Any question, for instance, that forces us to select, and assert in our answer to it, one of the elements of the question itself, while some other possibility is really open, is complex in the sense in which that term is here employed. If, for example, one were to ask whether you were going to New York or London, or if your favourite colour were red or blue, or if you had given up a particular bad habit, he would be guilty of the fallacy of the complex question, if, in each case, the alternatives, as a matter of fact, were more numerous than, or were in any way different from, those stated in the question. Any leading question which complicates an issue by over simplification is fallacious for the same reason.

Suggestive question:

Yes/no or forced choice questions like “is this yellow or green?” force people to choose between two choices when the answer could be neither of the choices or needs more explanation. This generates more “interviewer-talks” moments, where the interviewer is talking and controlling most of the interview.[7] This type of question is also known as a false dilemma.

Professionals at risk for using suggestive questions

Interrogators and police

Unethical or unskilled police officers can use suggestive questioning in interrogation rooms. Such interrogators use different kinds of techniques and questions in order to get people to confess. They use response framing when getting people to falsely confess. This is when they purposely limit certain answers and suggest others.

Did you follow all that? Yes or no.



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

Did you do your homework?

Jul 23rd, 2015 5:21 pm | By

I got a long condescending mansplaining email from James Billingham today telling me how terrible and telling it is that I refused to answer a question that demanded a yes or no response, and how extremely simple and uncontentious it should be to answer the question with a “yes” end of story.

That claim betrays an unfamiliarity with thinking.

Thinking just doesn’t work like that. If you can answer yes or no, there’s precious little to think about. Yes or no is for simple factual questions, or practical plan-making questions. Is the light on? Did you get milk? Are you ready to go? Did you feed the cat?

Questions that are more complicated than that can pretty much never be answered with a yes or no.

You could demand of me, “Are women equal to men? Yes or no.” I would refuse to answer the question in that form.

Why? Isn’t it simple? Shouldn’t I just say yes, of course?

No, because I wouldn’t even know what was meant by “equal to” – so I couldn’t answer until I did know. Therefore I would have to refuse to answer at all, if the other party had been such an asshole as to order me to answer yes or no.

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

Guest post: He’s thinking of leaving policing

Jul 23rd, 2015 4:43 pm | By

Originally a comment by sambarge on An overzealous state trooper.

The mentality isn’t that you can’t back down. It’s that you can’t escalate needlessly. As you mention, you negotiate or talk. You don’t have to be a social worker but you have to be a human being. You don’t demand something of a person that you don’t have a very good reason for demanding. Because officers are armed and empowered to use force on their own judgment, they have to be of the very best judgment. That is not what we have now.

In short, I agree with everything you’ve said.

I was discussing the Bland case with a good police officer (one who believes he serves the public) and he recounted a story of a welfare call on a pregnant woman who had been involved in a dispute. They were checking in to make sure she was okay because she had fallen during the disturbance/dispute and left the scene before they arrived. She wasn’t happy to see them and told them to “f*ck off.” His partner wanted to push past her and search her house. Why? Because she was rude and she swore at them. The good officer (and the senior in this case) pointed out that there was no law that said people had to be polite to police officers. She’s pregnant, she’s just had a shitty day and of course she’s going to be rude. But he could see her the next day on the street and she’d be friendly and smiling. He had to physically restrain his partner from tackling a pregnant woman half his size because she wasn’t nice to him. I mean.

Too few officers have his approach to it though. And, the result is that POC are paying the ultimate price while white folks wonder at what’s going on.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s thinking of leaving policing.

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

Tangerines and fish

Jul 23rd, 2015 11:55 am | By

A very interesting Fresh Air a couple of days ago about making the movie Tangerine, about a friendship between transgender sex workers in LA.

When film director Sean Baker moved to Los Angeles three years ago, he found himself drawn to one of the city’s most infamous intersections. The corner of Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard is “an unofficial red light district,” Baker tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. But Baker’s interest in the area went beyond the usual transactions: “I thought there must be some incredible stories that take place on that corner.”

Baker wanted to tell those stories, so he and co-screenwriter Chris Bergoch began walking the streets in search of a collaborator who could act as their “passport” into an unfamiliar world.

Many of the women Baker and Bergoch approached assumed they were cops and refused to talk. But then they met Mya Taylor and something clicked: “There was just something about Mya — she attracted our attention from 40 feet away — and we went up to her and introduced ourselves and started talking about this project and it was that ‘eureka’ moment where she expressed just as much enthusiasm back to us. … She was that collaborator we were looking for.”

She played one of the two main parts but she also collaborated on the writing and directing and probably more. It was her idea to make it a comedy, which Baker didn’t like at first but now thinks was the only way to go “because it wasn’t condescending to the subjects.”

Mya Taylor: It was a very sensitive time of my life, because I went through life with my transition keeping shades on my face and covering up with a whole bunch of clothes — like turtlenecks and jackets and things — because I wasn’t comfortable with my body or with my face at that time, because I knew that it wasn’t developed to the way that I wanted it to be, and I knew that it was going to take a few years…

During the filming and everything I was very comfortable, though, because of the crew and Sean and Kiki [co-star Kitana Kiki Rodriguez], those are the two people that I’m closest to, but I was very comfortable during the whole thing, I guess, because [by] acting I kind of took my mind away from that.

It’s not one of those happy-clappy stories about how great sex work is. Taylor didn’t like it at all.

Taylor: I’ve done sex work in my life and it’s not fun, it’s not easy and it’s nothing that you can just get used to. I was pretty much thrown away from my family when I came out to them when I was 18. … I left and I moved to LA with another family member, who actually treated me horribly. … I was forced out to the streets and I came across the youth center — at the time it was called the Jeff Griffith Youth Center — and I went to the center and they helped me a lot with housing and everything to pretty much get myself back on my feet.

But I was constantly surrounded by all these sex workers and drug dealers in the area, and I needed money and I was applying for all these jobs over and over and over and I was like “Why am I not getting any jobs?” So eventually I started applying for more, I did 146 jobs in one month and the last month that I applied for jobs, before all this movie stuff, was 186 jobs and I found myself being discriminated against and I could actually prove it. So you have to ask yourself, “Why are there so many sex workers on Santa Monica and Highland?” Me personally, I did it, because I could not get a job.

It’s scary.

Taylor: When you’re getting inside a car with somebody, it’s scary as it is, because you never know what they could do to you, or you never know if they’re a cop that’s going to take you to jail. It’s really, really, really scary. I think I was more scared of being taken to jail, which I had been [to] already, quite a few times, for doing that. … The whole time, every time I got out there, my heart was always just pounding and pounding. It pounded even harder when a car would pull up, because I know that this person is here, but I know that I need this money.

From the transcript: Gross introduces a bit of dialogue from the movie:

In the opening scene, the two women are in a doughnut shop, talking about what happened on the block while Sin-Dee was in prison. To understand what they’re talking about, you need to know that Chester, the guy they’re going to talk about, is Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and a pimp. And the word fish is used here as a slang term for a woman born with a woman’s anatomy. Alexandra, played by our guest, Mya Taylor, speaks first.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) I’ve been keeping a secret about me and Chester.

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Girl, (laughter), I know what it is. You’re breaking up with him. Thank, God because Honey, for him to be cheating on you like that…

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Wait, wait, whoa, whoa – what?

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) You didn’t know?

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) How the [expletive] would I know?

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Girl because everything that you been hearing on the block about the girl that he’s been with.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Girl, you’re the first girl I seen on the block.

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) You…

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Who is she?

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Girl, she’s some white fish, I don’t know.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Chester’s gonna cheat on me with real fish?

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Like, a real fish, Girl – like, vagina and everything.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) I been gone for 28 days, and you mean to tell me that he’s been out here cheating on me with fish?

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Yeah.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Do I know her?

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) I don’t know, I just know that her name starts with a D. It’s something like Danielle, Desiree, Deedee. I don’t know, girl.

Um, thought I. “Fish”? That sounds pretty…contemptuous.

I thought they were going to gloss over that, but they didn’t.

GROSS: I want to ask you about the word fish, which is used in the movie by the trans sex workers to describe cisgender women – like, women who are born with a woman’s anatomy and are comfortable with that…

BAKER: Right.

GROSS: …And identify with that.

BAKER: I guess the proper term these days is chromosomal female.

GROSS: Oh, is it changed already from cis?

BAKER: It’s already changed (laughter). That’s semantics.

GROSS: Wow, I can’t keep up with it. It’s chromosomal now?

BAKER: Nobody can keep up with it. Yes, nobody can…

GROSS: So it’s chromosomal woman.

BAKER: Female.

GROSS: Chromosomal female. OK, so, Mya, have you been hearing fish for a long time? Is that a new word or an old word? I’d never heard it.

TAYLOR: It – you know what, it’s an old word, and I used it in the film because I knew that it’s used in that area a lot. But, like, I knew how to use it, but I cannot tell you exactly where it came from. I just know how to use it. I do not use it in my daily speech (laughter).

GROSS: It sounds a little derogatory (laughter).

BAKER: Yeah, I think that’s where, (laughter) I think we all know where it comes from.

GROSS: (Laughter) Right.

BAKER: I mean, it’s a derogatory…

TAYLOR: Oh, my God. Yeah, yeah it does. Yeah, I don’t use that in my daily life. I don’t talk like that.

It was a nice conversation. They were able to laugh about not being able to keep up with the changes in vocabulary, and at the fact that calling cis women “fish” is an insult based on the old “eww women smell like fish” trope, and to agree that it’s not all that cool to insult women, no not even if you’re trans women.

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

An overzealous state trooper

Jul 22nd, 2015 5:56 pm | By

Oh my god.

I tell you what, one thing I will cop to is putting off stories I know are going to be unpleasant to explore. I do that. So it’s only just now that I started to watch the video of Sandra Bland’s arrest and jesus christ. I’m only 2.18 minutes in and I’ve stopped because it’s hard to take.

The cop simply loses his fucking temper because Bland has the gall to talk back to him.

He picks a fight from the outset, going up to her car window and after a few seconds saying “You seem a little irritated.” She says she is irritated, since all she did was get out of his way. He tells her to put out her cigarette, and she says she’s in her own car and she doesn’t have to. He tells her to get out, she says no, he flings the door open and keeps escalating his orders to get out of the car, and then he pulls his stun gun and sticks it in her face.

It’s horrifying. It’s a traffic stop and he pulls his god damn stun gun on her because he’s in a snit.

I wouldn’t put anything past them after that.

The Times analyzes the video.

Representatives of Sandra Bland’s family said on Wednesday that a dashboard camera video of her arrest, three days before she died in a Texas jail, showed an overzealous state trooper who had no reason to resort to force or to arrest her.

The video released on Tuesday showed a confrontation between Ms. Bland, 28, and a state trooper, Brian T. Encinia, that quickly escalated from why she had been pulled over, to whether she should extinguish her cigarette, to whether she had to get out of her car, until the trooper drew a stun gun and threatened, “I will light you up.” After she exited the car, out of view of the camera, a scuffle and yelling can be heard, including Ms. Bland saying that the trooper had slammed her to the ground.

I stopped the video after they stepped out of view. I don’t want to watch the rest, but I will.

The family’s lawyer, Cannon Lambert, cast doubt on the conclusion that Ms. Bland’s death was a suicide. Primarily, he and Ms. Cooper pointed to the video as vindication for their claim that a minor traffic stop in Hempstead, Tex., northwest of Houston, should never have landed her in jail.

“Right out of the gate, you see from that dashcam that this could have been easily avoided,” Mr. Lambert said. “There was very little reason that can be gleaned from the dashcam why Sandy had to be asked to put the cigarette out, why Sandy had to be asked to get out of the car, why Sandy had to be subject to having the officer point a Taser at her, why Sandy had to be thrown to the ground and hurt.”

The only reason there was, apparently, was that the cop wanted deference and humility instead of irritation, and he didn’t get it. So he arrested her – for nothing.

It’s as if the cops get to go around testing our obedience whenever they feel like it. They don’t. They don’t get to issue us orders to see if we’ll obey and then arrest us if we don’t. Sandra Bland wasn’t doing anything – just DWB.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said on Friday that Trooper Encinia did not follow a policy requiring troopers, in dealing with the public, to be professional and courteous, and to explain what is going to happen. He has been placed on desk duty.

He should be placed on unemployed duty.

But Sandra Bland is still dead.

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

How the lies grow and spread

Jul 22nd, 2015 4:54 pm | By

First, the claim about what I said:


Improbable Joe ‏@ImprobableJoe Jul 21
@latsot @oolon How about this question: “did you know that the people you’re friendly with are incredibly abusive to trans people?”

latsot ‏@latsot Jul 21
@ImprobableJoe Well how about it? I’d want to know more about the abuse, I guess. @oolon

Improbable Joe ‏@ImprobableJoe Jul 21
@latsot @oolon The response I got was “how dare you question my online associations”

Then, the actual exchange:



Improbable Joe:

Hey, do you mind if I ask you why you follow obvious terrible bigots like Sarah Ditum and Helen Lewis?


Hmm. I suppose I do mind a bit, because I think the whole monitoring who follows whom thing is…silly, at best. Twitter isn’t Facebook, and following isn’t friending. At least not in my mind. I’m extremely promiscuous about following, and I follow people for a variety of reasons.

I don’t know enough about Ditum or Lewis for it to be obvious to me that they’re terrible bigots.

And I don’t consider following any kind of endorsement or alliance or friendship.

I awaited a reply, but found I was blocked, instead. Apparently my reply was so rude and offensive and outrageous it merited a block…and then, a few months later, a pack of lies about what he said and what I said.

I was actually a lot more polite than I wanted to be, because I felt sorry for Joe, because he often complained of loneliness and self-loathing. I used to try to include him in conversations because of that.

I wanted to be less polite first of all because frankly I think it’s creepy to go around checking on who is following whom on Twitter, and even more creepy to ask people why they are following This Person or That One. What the hell business is it of anyone else’s? What business was it of Joe’s?

And second because I was pretty sure that claim about Helen Lewis and Sarah Ditum was bullshit, but didn’t want to spend the time and energy to go snooping through their Twitter timelines to try to figure out what he was talking about. Plus when I even thought about it the whole “what business is it of yours??” question became all the more urgent.

And third because anyway I hate this ridiculous belief that following is endorsement.

And fourth because I’m bloody-minded and insubordinate and I just can’t stand people trying to tell me what to do for ridiculous flimsy reasons, especially people with as little connection to me as Improbable Joe.

There are now several people running around squawking that I’m a transphobe and a bigot, and that is bullshit. But I’ve seen it happen to other people as well as to me: the lie gets told and then it spreads and expands with every telling. One example of many: after I wrote that post about Jezebel’s fatuous coverage of Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, one red-rager shouted at me that if only I’d used female pronouns, people wouldn’t be all blah blah blah. I replied that I had used female pronouns. That was the end of that conversation – but the red-rager went on red-raging elsewhere.

So that’s how this works.

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

“Do not use it with non-Muslims”

Jul 22nd, 2015 11:51 am | By

When she was 16, the daughter of a diplomat from a secular family and newly returned home to Kuwait after four years in Morocco, Elham Manea encountered a girl a year older than she was leading an Islamist religious group.

The sessions were fascinating. Our leader explained about the love of God. The moment we enter into Islam, she said, all our sins are washed away and we become equal. The fate of those who are not Muslims was never mentioned. She told us that we could be better people if only we embraced the message of Islam – the true Islam, not the corrupted form of our society. For a teenage girl, lacking direction, the message was mesmerising, and I embraced it wholeheartedly.

The changes in me were gradual. It started with language. Instead of greeting others with “good morning” or “good evening”, I used only the salute of Islam: “assalamu alaikum”, peace be upon you. Later I would learn that this salute is only reserved for Muslims. “Do not use it with non-Muslims”, I was told.

See that? That’s so ugly. Why would you not wish peace on people who are not part of your religion? Why would you choose and enforce that refusal just because they’re not part of your religion?

“You have to wear the hijab”, I was told. “Hell will be filled with women hanged by their hair because of the way they seduced men by their beauty”. I was used to walking with my hair open. I covered up nevertheless. I did not like it. It suffocated me. But I did it – if this is the price for God’s love, how could I object?

By wondering why a good god would want to suffocate you, as a first step.

I was told all those around me including my practicing mother were living in Jahiliyya – “the state of ignorance and false belief that prevailed before the time of Islam”. I was told that painting, sculpture, art and music were all part of Jahiliyya and prohibited by Islam. I started to feel uncomfortable.

Religious fanaticism is religious fanaticism is religious fanaticism. It hates everything good and loves only obedience to an imaginary god.

The more I embraced their message, the more I was drawn away from my father – an intellectual, a philosopher. He was a man of wisdom who taught me about life, philosophy and religion through poetry, books and critical thinking.  My father was not my father anymore; he was an enemy of Islam, I was told. He objected to my wearing of the hijab. He objected to what I started to tell him about Islam and the world. He was telling me this is fundamentalism, and I was starting to be angry with him. When I told my group about our fights, they repeated the message about the companions of Mohammed and how sometimes they had to fight their own fathers, brothers and uncles, even on the battlefield.

As fanatics do.

Imagine how painful that must have been for Elham’s parents.

It was not just the militant dimension of their message that finally made me realise that something was fundamentally wrong with this group, it was the gender aspect. It was when I was told a saying of the Prophet about a woman who ignored her husband to visit her sick father. I was told the Prophet said, “the angels are cursing her, for she defied her husband’s order”. Later I came to understand that the Prophet might not have said this at all.

I left our meeting that afternoon knowing I would never return. Who should be cursed here, I asked myself, the woman who wants to visit her sick father, or this husband who has no mercy in his heart?

She was lucky enough, she points out, to have the tools to question what she was told. Not everyone does.

I am sharing this personal story with you because it connects with the phone calls I receive nowadays from Swiss teachers, overwhelmed with changes they are witnessing in their students. It connects with the questions raised by European and North American policymakers on how to tackle militant Islamism. Those policymakers often seem content with policies that address the security dimension of radicalisation, focusing on violent Islamism but ignoring its non-violent version. When they attempt to chart preventive or de-radicalisation policies, they conclude that working with “non-violent extremism” can be the best antidote to violent extremism.

Wrong, she says. The “non-violent” version is just the entry to the violent version. Also, I would add, it’s violent itself in many non-literal ways. Saying “peace be on you” only to your in-group is a kind of violence. Ordering girls to suffocate in hijab is a kind of violence. Telling young people their parents are “enemies of Islam” is a kind of violence. It’s all intellectual violence.

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

Yanking the Overton window back and forth

Jul 22nd, 2015 11:18 am | By

Maajid Nawaz points out in a public Facebook post that liberalism is not extremism.

No, my secular liberalism is not the “other extreme” to Islamism (a desire to enforce a version of Islam over society). The other extreme is anti-Muslim bigotry & the desire to ban Islam.

My liberalism means a legal right for you to be religious, or not.

So no, I have not gone from ‘one extreme to another’. Nor have ex-Muslims for that matter, so long as they remain liberal, ie: support individual liberty.

But obviously, if your starting point is way out there with Islamism, then even conservative Islam appears “moderate” to you, and the idea of liberalism would appear like an extremely distant aberration, even extreme.

And for non-Muslims to adopt this trope & charge me with it, shows how low their expectations of Muslims have become. In fact, this tells us how far we all have to travel, yet, to reach a reasonable centre in this debate.


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

Working on a reply

Jul 22nd, 2015 11:14 am | By

An item from Andy McSmith’s Diary in the Independent:

Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, arranged a Commons debate on civil rights in Saudi Arabia during which he raised the Badawi case. Replying for the Government, [Foreign Office minister Tobias] Ellwood claimed “the case is in the Supreme Court and is under review. We therefore cannot interfere with that process, in the same way that the Saudi authorities would not interfere with our process.”

When challenged, he insisted: “The case has returned to the Supreme Court, which reflects the fact that the leadership has taken stock of international opinion. The punishment has stopped and is under review. Until that process moves forward, it would be incorrect to comment on another country’s judicial process.”

The last the world heard was that in June the Saudi Supreme Court had upheld Mr Badawi’s sentence, and it was reported then that his only remaining hope was a royal pardon. I asked the Foreign Office if they could throw light on Mr Ellwood’s statement. More than seven hours after he spoke, I was told that their Saudi desk was working on a reply. When it comes, I will gladly pass it on.

It’s confusing. It’s not clear if Ellwood has inside knowledge that the Supreme Court did not rule in June after all and is still reviewing the case, or if he just got it wrong (or obfuscated).


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

Flying gun

Jul 21st, 2015 6:21 pm | By

Soooooo…stay out of the parks. Well just stay inside altogether. But they can come up to your windows I suppose, so…

I guess just kiss your ass goodbye.

The Feds are investigating.

The US Federal Aviation Administration says it is investigating an online video that shows an alleged home-made “drone” firing a handgun in the Connecticut countryside.

The 14-second video called Flying Gun shows a homemade multi-rotor hovering off the ground, buzzing furiously and firing a semiautomatic handgun four times at an unseen target.

It does, too. A gun. Firing. In a park.

It was posted on YouTube on July 10 and has been watched nearly 2 million times.

It was filmed by 18-year-old Austin Haughwout from Clinton, Connecticut.

Mr Haughwout is studying for a degree in mechanical engineering. Neither he nor police could be reached for immediate comment.

“The FAA will investigate the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in a Connecticut park to determine if any Federal Aviation Regulations were violated,” the group said in a statement.

“The FAA will also work with its law enforcement partners to determine if there were any violations of criminal statutes.”

Hey, if there’s no law against firing guns in parks, then there damn well should be.

But Mr Haughwout’s father denied his son had built a drone, which he said are pre-programmed, and said this device was manually controlled.

“People have been playing with RC [remote-controlled] toys for many decades,” he said.

“The proper name for this is an RC quadcopter.

“The media keeps using the inappropriate word because it helps you to generate fear.”

Because people shouldn’t have fear of some teenager firing a gun in a park? Is he serious?

The father said he doesn’t understand why people are making such a big deal of it. Sure, it’s just a gun, in a park. What’s to be afraid of?

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

The whole earth

Jul 21st, 2015 5:36 pm | By

From NASA:

On February 11, 2015, DSCOVR was finally lofted into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. After journey of about 1.6 million kilometers (1 million miles) to the L1 Lagrange Point, the satellite and its Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth. At L1—four times farther than the orbit of the Moon—the gravitational pull of the Sun and Earth cancel out, providing a stable orbit and a continuous view of Earth. The image above was made by combining information from EPIC’s red, green, and blue bands.(Bands are narrow regions of the electromagnetic spectrum to which a remote sensing instrument responds. When EPIC collects data, it takes a series of 10 images at different bands—from ultraviolet to near infrared.)

This first public image shows the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules, giving the disk a characteristic bluish tint. The EPIC team is developing data processing techniques that will emphasize land features and remove this atmospheric effect. Once the instrument begins regular data acquisition, new images will be available every day, 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired by EPIC. These images will be posted to a dedicated web page by autumn 2015. Data from EPIC will be used to measure ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, as well as cloud height, vegetation properties, and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth. NASA will use this data for a number of Earth science applications, including dust and volcanic ash maps of the entire planet.

It has not been possible to captures images of the entire sunlit side of Earth at once since Apollo 17 astronauts captured the iconic Blue Marble photograph in 1972. While NASA has released other blue marble images over the years, these have mostly been mosaics stitched together with image processing software—not a single view of Earth taken at one moment in time.

“This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system.”

The home planet:

An EPIC New View of Earth

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

Dahlia day

Jul 21st, 2015 4:06 pm | By


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

More from Saudi Arabia

Jul 21st, 2015 12:12 pm | By

Elham Manea shares some news on the Raif Badawi front.

Important statement of the family of Raif Badawi

We have watched with great interest the response of the British Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Tobias Ellwood, in today’s Parliamentarian questioning regarding the case of Raif Badawi. Mr Ellwood said that he was informed that the case of Raif Badawi was sent back to the Saudi Supreme Court for consideration.

Although we cannot confirm this news due to the secrecy that shrouds the Supreme Court’s procedures, we do hope that the information is accurate. We recall with hope that the last statement issued by the Saudi Foreign Ministry on 12 June did deny that the Supreme Court has confirmed the sentence against Raif Badawi.

We would like to take this opportunity to call on his Majesty King Salman, his Crown Prince and the Deputy Crown Prince to pardon and release Raif Badawi and all the prisoners of conscious and reunite them with their families.

The Family of Raif Badawi

I didn’t know that about the statement issued by the Saudi Foreign Ministry on 12 June. That was when I was at the CFI conference, so I missed it.

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

The erasure of Mecca

Jul 21st, 2015 12:02 pm | By

This is something I didn’t know – the Saudis have demolished most of Mecca in order to put up shiny new modern boxes. Ziauddin Sardar wrote it up for the New York Times last year.

WHEN Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.”

Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

Startling, isn’t it. And wrong way around – they hang onto the outdated cruel laws and exclusions, while ditching the beautiful objects and built environment. Next time do the opposite of that!

The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones. Within a few years, Mecca was transformed into a “modern” city with large multilane roads, spaghetti junctions, gaudy hotels and shopping malls.

Oof it makes me flinch to think of it.

The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders.

I would think Islamic history would be important to Islam and to Muslims, but Sardar explains.

The only other building of religious significance in the city is the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. During most of the Saudi era it was used first as a cattle market, then turned into a library, which is not open to the people. But even this is too much for the radical Saudi clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin. It is only a matter of time before it is razed and turned, probably, into a parking lot.

Ah, so it’s the Puritan thing. Never mind anything material, just focus on the non-existent the Beyond. Ignore the stuff, embrace the abstract. Forget about this world, care only for the dream world.

Mecca is a microcosm of the Muslim world. What happens to and in the city has a profound effect on Muslims everywhere. The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount. It is hardly surprising then that literalism, and the murderous interpretations of Islam associated with it, have become so dominant in Muslim lands.

What a depressing and saddening state of affairs.

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

Zelig among the skeptics

Jul 21st, 2015 11:24 am | By

Mark Oppenheimer has a long piece at the Tablet about someone I don’t think I’d heard of before, Al Seckel.

In the early 1980s, freethought was especially hot in L.A. The city has always appealed to land’s-end, far-horizon dreamers: sci-fi aficionados, futurists, quick-buck schemers (L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology in L.A., was all three). But others take the same tendency toward the extreme and flip it around, into a radically skeptical, debunking mindset. Many magicians—James Randi, Penn and Teller, the sleight-of-hand master Jamy Ian Swiss—are committed atheists and scientific skeptics. And as the home of the postwar defense and aerospace industries, Southern California also attracted legions of scientists who were alarmed by the region’s growing influence in the evangelical movement. Illusionists and scientists, while unalike in many respects, shared a keen interest in how the mind works, and in how this understanding can be used for good and for ill.

While famous scientists like Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman were happy to lend their names to skeptical groups, to appear on the letterheads, they weren’t stuffing the envelopes. The organizing fell to worker bees like Seckel, who founded at least two skeptical groups and belonged to a third and possibly a fourth. He arranged meetings, managed mailing lists, contributed money of his own, did what had to be done. He also had a hand in one of the great publicity coups of freethought, the “Darwin fish” bumper sticker ubiquitous in the 1980s. John Edwards, the engineer and future competitive dancer who came to Seckel’s parties, had come up with an idea for a riff on the Jesus fish symbol: a fish with legs, to connote evolution, with the word “Darwin” inside. According to Edwards, Seckel helped him refine the final design.

But he implied credentials he didn’t actually have, and he owed a lot of people a lot of money. It’s a complicated story, and interesting.

Jim Lippard has more.

Mark Oppenheimer’s long-awaited exposé on Al Seckel, “The Illusionist,” has now been published and I urge all skeptics to read it. Seckel, the former head of the Southern California Skeptics and a CSICOP Scientific and Technical Consultant who was listed as a “physicist” in every issue of the Skeptical Inquirer from vol. 11, no. 2 (Winter 1987-88) to vol. 15, no. 2 (Winter 1991) despite having no degree in physics, has long been known among skeptical insiders as a person who was misrepresenting himself and taking advantage of others. Most have remained silent over fear of litigation, which Seckel has engaged in successfully in the past.

As an example of Seckel’s legal threats, Jim shares an email Seckel sent him a year ago. A long email.

So why should anyone care?  Who is Al Seckel, and what was he worried that I might be saying about him? This is mostly answered by the Oppenheimer article, but there is quite a bit more that could be said, and more than what I will say here to complement “The Illusionist.”

Al Seckel was the founder and executive director of the Southern California Skeptics, a Los Angeles area skeptics group that met at Caltech.  This was one of the earliest local skeptical groups, with a large membership and prominent scientists on its advisory board.  Seckel has published numerous works including editing two collections of Bertrand Russell’s writings for Prometheus Books (both reviewed negatively in the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies, see here and here).  He has given a TED talk on optical illusions and authored a book with the interesting title, Masters of Deception, which has a forward by Douglas R. Hofstadter.  Seckel was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and developed an association with a couple of cognitive psychology labs at Caltech–in 1998 the New York Times referred to him as a “research associate at the Shimojo Psychophysics Laboratory.” His author bios have described him as author of the monthly Neuroquest column at Discover magazine (“About the Author” onMasters of Deception; Seckel has never written that column), as “a physicist and molecular biologist” (first page of Seckel’s contribution, “A New Age of Obfuscation and Manipulation” in Robert Basil, editor, Not Necessarily the New Age, 1988, Prometheus Books, pp. 386-395; Seckel is neither a physicist nor a molecular biologist), and, in his TED talk bio, as having left Caltech to continue his work “in spatial imagery with psychology researchers as Harvard” (see Oppenheimer’s exchanges with Kosslyn, who has never met or spoken with him and Ganis, who says he has exchanged email with him but not worked with him).

There’s more, a lot more. Readthewholething.

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

Are you now or have you ever been

Jul 21st, 2015 9:23 am | By

I almost never close posts to comments here, but I closed one just now because it was an explosion of inquisitorial dogmatic stupid. I deleted the last few comments, so don’t bother looking for them.

Don’t ever, ever ask me questions of the form: “Do you think X is Y, yes or no?”

And don’t ever follow up such a question (or any question) with “be aware that ‘yes, but’ or any other kind of ‘sort of’ or ‘maybe’” will be treated as a no and you will be excommunicated accordingly.

Just fuck right off with that kind of thing, because it’s ordering me not to think and analyze but just say yes or no, and that’s not what I want to be doing. I don’t do yes or no questions, and I don’t want people here prancing around like cops demanding that I do.

Yes or no questions are of no interest. Pretending that the way to deal with complicated and/or contentious subjects is to reduce them to yes or no is the enemy of thought.

I refuse to make that kind of forced choice. I refuse to be told to limit my answer to yes or no.

Then again I probably don’t even need to say this, because y’all don’t try to ask questions in that form or bully me into answering them in that form. It’s only people drunk on what they take to be the most radical of all radical politics who do that, and they mostly don’t read this blog, because it’s not their kind of thing.

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

Those concerns are overblown

Jul 20th, 2015 3:13 pm | By

The theocrats are fighting back.

Legislation granting protections for tax-exempt organizations and individuals objecting to same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds is gathering momentum in the House. The bills, drafted by Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, already have 130 co-sponsors. On Thursday, the Republican Study Committee, the largest, most organized group of conservatives in the House, demanded a vote.

“All religious Americans deserve assurance that they can carry out their conscience without a federal government crackdown,” said Representative Bill Flores, Republican of Texas and the committee’s chairman.

Do they? What if their conscience tells them they have to kill same-sex couples? Or set fire to their houses, or kidnap their children? What if their conscience tells them white Christians should have dominion over everyone else, and they start shooting up government offices? What if their conscience tells them to persecute immigrants, or independent women, or atheists, or Jews, or trans people?

A competing Republican group has drafted a bill that goes in the opposite direction – it would would narrow the scope of protection offered to groups declining services to same-sex couples seeking to marry.

Last week, after Republican governors in South Carolina and Alabama pressed for the removal of the Confederate battle flag at their capitols, Southern Republicans in the House moved to preserve the right to lay those flags on Confederate graves at federal cemeteries, prompting an uproar led by African-American House members.

Oh for god’s sake – can they leave no provocation undeployed? Do they have to go to the wall for racism?

Republican leaders made it clear they saw a need for a legislative response to the court’s action. Without legal protection, Republicans fear religious broadcasters could lose their federal licenses if they do not grant same-sex marriage benefits to employees. Faith-based charities like World Vision, which rely on government grants, could face pressure — or even the loss of their tax-exempt status — if they do not drop requirements that employees sign a statement of faith, including respect for “traditional” marriage. Catholic schools risk losing federal teacher-assistance grants and assistance with school meals, Republicans say.

Mr. Labrador, in an interview Friday, said he was willing to work with Mr. Dent — and even the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group — to get the language right, although he said measures expanding legal protections for homosexuals were outside the scope of the bill.

“We’re trying to draft the narrowest bill possible. We’re just trying to protect people’s freedom of religion,” he said.

Gay rights advocates say those concerns are overblown. In the last 30 years, only a handful of organizations have ever lost their tax-exempt status, and those have been mainly over fraud charges. Religious organizations that do not hire women have never been threatened.

Of course not. Nobody gives a fuck if women are shut out. Women are just women. Discrimination against then just doesn’t matter, it’s trivial, it’s fluff, it’s nothing.

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

Proud to be top

Jul 20th, 2015 11:35 am | By

At a different Pride parade, a month ago…

Just days after Pride Toronto’s dispute resolution process banned the group from forthcoming celebrations, the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) — a group denounced by critics for being anti-feminist and misogynist — were peacefully walking the streets of Richmond Hill for Pride York Fest.

Oh good grief. That’s Justin Trottier’s group.

MRAs marching in a Pride parade.

And so the nine-person CAFE contingent, including a handful of women, marched, sandwiched between contingents from the federal and provincial Liberal parties as well as a local newspaper.

Few who lined Yonge St. between Crosby Ave. and Vern Dynes Way batted an eye when CAFE members doled out buttons and leaflets advertising their group, aimed at improving the status, health and well-being of boys and men.

Were there also groups aimed at improving the status, health and well-being of white people, rich people, straight people? I worry about them. How do the advantaged get even more advantaged?

“It’s not that men’s issues are more important than other people’s issues, it’s that they are relevant,” said Justin Trottier, CAFE’s executive director.

He told the Star the group was “so excited” to participate in the parade because the group’s “principles and values are the principles and values of the LGBT community, certainly of the Pride Parade.”

He dismissed accusations of having an anti-feminist agenda as being “knee jerk decisions about our motives . . . generally made in ignorance of the facts.” He urged critics to become familiar with CAFE’s work for men and boys before jumping to conclusions.

Ever the bullshitter.

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