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 are not talking about isolated acts committed by a few priests

Aug 15th, 2014 10:33 am | By

A Catholic religious order in Quebec has approved settling a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of abuse victims at a school it ran. It’s a large settlement. Very large.

It’s twenty million dollars.

“This is a landmark case,” said Robert Kugler, a Montreal lawyer who represents the victims. “This is the highest amount that has ever been paid by a religious congregation in Quebec to settle a class action dealing with sexual abuse.”

The suit was launched by former student Frank Tremblay against the school, the Redemptorist order, and priest Raymond-Marie Lavoie. Mr. Tremblay recounted that as a 13-year-old student, he sought out Mr. Lavoie after feeling anxious and unable to sleep one night; he ended up being assaulted three to five times a week for four months. (Mr. Lavoie, in a criminal trial, pleaded guilty in 2011 to sexually assaulting 13 boys at the school – the Séminaire Saint-Alphonse, subsequently named Collège Saint-Alphonse – while he was a dorm supervisor.)

Quebec Superior Court held the religious order responsible in a ruling in July. The court decision recounts a harrowing catalogue of abuse carried out by the Redemptorist priests against young boys entrusted to their care, from sexual touching to sodomy.

It was a respected school, with a reputation for high educational standards.

The abuse spread upward in the school hierarchy to include two school directors, who also turned a deaf ear to the students’ laments, according to the judge’s decision. When one complained about the predatory behaviour of two priests, the director retorted that the student should consider himself lucky to get so much attention and affection; he then reminded the boy that his mother had not paid his bill for three months.

Two other students who complained about abuse were threatened with expulsion.

Welllll, you see, it was different then. Morality was different. Priests were different, children were different, school directors were different. Nobody understood that raping children was wrong. Besides, this is the Catholic church we’re talking about, with its special relationship to God and its possession of Absolute Moral Truth.

The judge in the class action, Claude Bouchard, said the Redemptorist order could not have been unaware of the sexual predation by its priests.

“We are not talking about isolated acts committed by a few priests,” he said in addressing the order’s responsibility. He cited “repeated acts” by nine priests against more than 70 students during more than two decades. Six of the priests have since died.

“Whether it was in the dorm, the nearby priest’s bedroom … in his school office, infirmary, school hallway, in the refectory or in a cottage belonging to the school a few kilometres away, is it possible that sexual assaults perpetrated in these different places could have occurred without the Redemptorists being informed one way or the other?” Justice Bouchard asked.

“The court doesn’t believe it,” he concluded.

Well the court is damn lucky this isn’t the 15th century, isn’t it, or it would find itself standing on a bonfire right smart quick.

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

Look, a neck

Aug 15th, 2014 8:22 am | By

Kaveh takes a look at the semiotics of Iran’s media coverage (or lack of coverage) of Maryam Mirzakhani’s winning of the Fields medal.

It’s all about the hijab.

The government paper uses a photo of her from when she was trapped in Iran and had to wear it.

Other papers retouch the photo so that the hijab disappears.

Rouhani used two photos, the one with hijab and another without.

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Signs, signs, signs.

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

Amnesty sends a delegation to Ferguson

Aug 14th, 2014 6:36 pm | By

Amnesty International is sending a human rights delegation to Ferguson.

(FERGUSON, MO) – Today, Amnesty International USA announced that it has sent human rights delegation to Ferguson, MO to observe police and protester activity, gather testimony, seek meetings with officials and offer support to the community. The 12-person delegation also includes organizers who will train local activists on methods of non-violent protest.

“Law enforcement, from the FBI to state and local police, are obligated to respect and uphold the human rights of our communities. The U.S. cannot continue to allow those obligated and duty-bound to protect to become those who their community fears most,” said Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Steven W. Hawkins.

“Our delegation will remain in Missouri until we have a clear picture of what is taking place on the ground, and we are able to work effectively with local activists on how to defend human rights at home.”

On Wednesday, August 13, Mr. Hawkins wrote to the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri to express his deep concern over the shooting of Michael Brown and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets at a demonstration against his death.

In other news, the Missouri Highway Patrol is taking over security from the Ferguson police department.


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

Oh no, not formidable women

Aug 14th, 2014 6:26 pm | By

Andrew Brown has an annoying piece about the Global Humanist Conference that wastes most of its space ruminating about how close the resemblance is between humanism and religion haw haw geddit no god but it’s still like a religion yawn.

The World Humanist Conference in Oxford at the weekend struck me as a completely religious gathering, even though it is predicated on atheism. If it hadn’t been for the words of the sermons, we might have been at any Protestant missionary society.

Part of this was the architecture. The old parts of Oxford University date from the time when there was no clear distinction between religion and society, and most of them now have a faintly sacerdotal air. Part of it was the people: lots of beards, formidable middle-aged women and younger gay men.

Everyone was united and sharing in a sense of relief at being in a safe space where what was important to them was no longer strange or dangerous.

Yes yes yes, Andrew, we get it; very droll.

However he did manage to spare one short paragraph to talk sensibly about Gulalai Ismail. He should have taken much more space to do that and less space to recycle the atheism-is-another-belief trope, but at least there’s the one short paragraph.

It is difficult to know who was the bravest, but my nomination would go toGululai Ismail, a young woman who has set up networks to spread ideas of human rights and peace in some of the most lawless and dangerous parts of Pakistan and who has, in consequence, had her family home shot up and death threats made against her.

Well that’s actually just one sentence. He gives it its own paragraph, but it’s still just one sentence.


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

World Taslima

Aug 14th, 2014 5:42 pm | By

Catching up with Taslima’s adventures via Twitter.

Her talk at the Global Humanist Conference, which was the last talk of the event:

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Via Humanisterna

A standing ovation for that talk:

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Taslima tweeted

World Humanist Congress honored me by standing ovation. I was so moved.

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Taslima again:

After my speech Professor Richard Dawkins embraced me. It was a great honor for me.

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There’s a picture with wonderful Gulalai Ismail:

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And now she’s in Stockholm. Lots more photos on her Twitter.

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

“I just wanted to know if I was going to be gassed again”

Aug 14th, 2014 1:55 pm | By

Missouri state Senator asks the Ferguson cops if they’re going to gas her again. She just wants to know, like.

Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal confronted Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson during a press conference Wednesday, asking why she was tear-gassed during a nonviolent protest.

Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat, said she had been tear-gassed while peacefully protesting the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager shot to death by a police officer on Saturday.

“I just wanted to know if I was going to be gassed again, like I was on Monday night,” Chappelle-Nadal asked. “We couldn’t get out, and we were peacefully sitting. I Just wanted to know if I’m going to be gassed again?”

Jackson said he hoped not. I suppose the implication was that he hoped she wouldn’t…erm…ask for it.

Chappelle-Nadal offered The Huffington Post further details following Jackson’s press conference.

“We were in that neighborhood and we were tear-gassed,” she said. “I could not breathe, I could not speak, I could not focus, I could not think because I thought that I were going to die because we were shot at and tear gas was constantly thrown at us and the police officers.”

She continued: “I’m the senator for the area, and I felt threatened. Everyone felt threatened.”

Chapelle-Nadal said Jackson’s response was “bullshit.”

“He blew me off,” she said. “It was bullshit, and the thing is … I don’t tell people when I’m out with these kids, ‘Hey, I’m your senator.’ But I don’t care about that, I care about these kids.”

Careful – that borders on asking for it.


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

The Ferguson police chief does a reporter a favor

Aug 14th, 2014 1:11 pm | By

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery reports on his own arrest in Ferguson.

Reporters were using a MacDonald’s a few blocks from where Michael Brown was shot as a staging area, because it has WiFi and outlets. Lowery was there charging his phone and responding to people on Twitter yesterday when the cops came in. They told Lowery and another reporter to leave. Lowery started recording video on his phone.

An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, “Stop recording.”

I said, “Officer, do I not have the right to record you?”

He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.

As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.

One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.


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

Here, have a few spare grenade launchers

Aug 14th, 2014 12:45 pm | By

Have you been wondering how it is that Ferguson, Missouri can send such heavily-armed cops into the streets to terrorize the citizens?

It’s thanks to the nauseatingly-named Department of Homeland Security. Alec MacGillis at The New Republic* explains.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the American taxpayer has been providing the funding for an eye-popping influx of money from the Department of Homeland Security to state and local law enforcement agencies.

The funding is all in the name of preventing “terrorism,” but funds are fungible, and so are heavily-armored vehicles and high-powered weaponry. As the Missouri Department of Homeland Security explains on its own website advertising one of the federal DHS grants it distributes to local agencies: “Activities implemented under [the State Homeland Security Program] must support terrorism preparedness by building or enhancing capabilities that relate to the prevention of, protection from, or response to, and recovery from terrorism in order to be considered eligible. However, many capabilities which support terrorism preparedness simultaneously support preparedness for other hazards.” [Emphasis mine.]

Other hazards—like the disturbances that can spring up in the event of a police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown.

Score another victory for Bin Laden. He succeeded in making the US a more fascist state than it was before he made his disaster movie.

And then there’s also all that second-hand war stuff.

As the New York Times has reported, state and local law enforcement agencies are getting armored up from another source as well: the U.S. military. With our troops withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, “the former tools of combatM-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and moreare ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice. During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” USA Today reported Wednesday night that Ferguson is among the countless towns that received some of the nearly $450 million in military surplus distributed in 2013most recently, two unidentified vehicles, a trailer, and a generator last November. 

So, that’s how.

*Yes that surprises me too.

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

Providing those dresses would break God’s law

Aug 14th, 2014 11:36 am | By

You know how the more theocratic of religious types expect to be able to impose their views on everyone else without the converse happening to them? Simon Brown at AU knows how.

W.W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg, Pa, and the Inne of the Abingtons – they tried to class it up with an extra “e” – in North Abington, Pa., each recently refused to offer their services to same-sex couples.

Victoria Miller, who co-owns W.W. Bridal, cited her religious beliefs to justify this discrimination.

“We feel we have to answer to God for what we do, and providing those two girls dresses for a sanctified marriage would break God’s law,” she said.

Ok I just have to stop and interrupt here for a second, because I can never let that kind of thing alone. It’s beyond my capabilities.

How the hell does Victoria Miller know that? How does she even think she knows that? How does she think she has good reliable universalizable intersubjective reasons to think she knows what “God’s law” might be?

She doesn’t know that, because she can’t, because “God” is inaccessible. There is no unbroken chain of transmission leading all the way back to a reliable communication from “God.” All she has is a long tradition, much of which has changed over time. Talk of “God’s law” is basically just an excuse for imposing ugly squalid prejudices on other people. Victoria Miller doesn’t in the least know that “God” has communicated a “law” that forbids her to provide dresses to women who want to live together as a couple.

To proceed – the businesses got some bad online reviews, which may or may not have been related to their refusal to provide services to same-sex couples.

Operating on their default setting, which is anger, several fundamentalist figure heads lashed out at what they claim is “intolerance” of Christian beliefs.

“Obviously, W.W. Bridal Boutique isn’t the only wedding dress shop in town,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who seems to support the idea that intolerance should be tolerated. “These women could have easily taken their business elsewhere – but chose to retaliate instead. That’s because, at its core, this isn’t about accommodation. It’s about forced acceptance. When religious liberty clashes with homosexuality – as it has from bakeries to flower shops — the storylines are all the same: conform or be punished.”

Mat Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, which is affiliated with Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University, offered similar remarks. On his radio show, Staver said the Inne was “attacked with false reviews not based on the quality of the Inne’s service” purely because of Antolick’s religious beliefs. Of course he had no evidence that any reviews were actually inaccurate, and it’s clear some reviews had nothing to do with LGBT issues.

Some would point to these comments as evidence of the Religious Right’s hypocrisy, or proof that they can dish out negativity but can’t take it when it’s directed at them. Both are true. But the really important points here are that the Religious Right believes it has the right to discriminate against people no matter what and that no one should challenge anything they do.

And what do they base that belief on? The belief that it knows what “God’s law” is. That belief has no rational basis whatever. It has nothing but centuries of mindless obedience, which is not at all the same thing as a rational basis for belief.


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

In Edinburgh this evening

Aug 14th, 2014 10:38 am | By

In case you’re in or near Edinburgh and (unlikely) don’t already know, PZ is doing a talk for the Edinburgh skeptics in about an hour and a half.

Thursday 14 August 2014, 7:50 pm – 8:50 pm
At: Banshee Labyrinth, 29-35 Niddry Street

What’s it about? Creationism and the rural US, aka the Bible Belt.

The rural United States is a strange place to live, with a citizenry absolutely convinced of their divine favor and destiny, yet still insisting that the silliest ideas must be respected. I’ll be discussing some of the more memorable encounters with creationists, and how I think we must deal with this problem.

Prediction: it’s not by Teaching the Controversy.


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

And the Fields medal goes to

Aug 14th, 2014 10:25 am | By

An Iranian mathematician working in the US has won the Fields medal. And the kicker? She’s a woman. Professor  Maryam Mirzakhani was recognized for her work on complex geometry.

In becoming the very first female medallist, Prof Mirzakhani – who teaches at Stanford University in California – ends what has been a long wait for the mathematics community.

Prof Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford, pointed out that despite maths being viewed traditionally as “a male preserve”, women have contributed to mathematics for centuries.

She noted that around 40% of maths undergraduates in the UK are women, but that proportion declines rapidly at PhD level and beyond.

“I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future,” Prof Kirwan said.

Including girls and young women in Iran.

Prof Mirzakhani’s seminal research concerns shapes called Riemann surfaces. These are convoluted mathematical objects that can be analysed using complex numbers – i.e. numbers with real and imaginary parts.

In particular, she has studied “moduli spaces” of these shapes, which map all of the possible geometries of a Riemann surface into their own, new space.

Prof [Caroline] Series has also known Prof Mirzakhani and her work for some time.

“I came across her a long time ago when she was a PhD student, and I was sent a preliminary draft of her thesis. And I just read it in amazement – it was beautiful.

“She took something that’s been known for a while, and she took a rather elaborate and hard to understand identity between things, and she just applied it in the most ingenious and wonderful way.”

Prof Series believes the first female Fields winner is a rare talent, who has produced unique and striking work.

“I’m quite genuine about that,” she said. “I almost never think that about bits of mathematics!”

Inspiring, innit.


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

An asset to atheism and a supporter of brave infidels

Aug 13th, 2014 6:01 pm | By

Now here’s the Richard Dawkins I consider a major asset to the atheist movement and to other atheists. It’s the Dawkins who has been giving support to Maryam Namazie for years, and continues to do so.

The sound is terrible, but there are titles. Note what Richard does and says at the end.


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

Women don’t matter

Aug 13th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

One might have thought the abortion situation would improve after the tragic, pointless, cruel death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, but apparently any change at all is going to be tiny, slow, and resisted every step of the way.

The Guardian got its hands on a copy of new guidelines issued to Irish doctors. The guidelines stink.

Pregnant women in Ireland could be blocked from having an abortion even if they are at risk of suicide after conceiving as a result of rape or incest, under new guidelines issued to Irish doctors.

Experts warned that the Guidance Document for Health Professionals, which has yet to be made public but has been obtained by the Guardian, will give power to doctors, obstetricians and psychiatrists to prevent vulnerable women from terminating their pregnancies.

Some clinicians, including one of the Irish Republic’s leading psychiatrists, said the rules would leave women “at the mercy of a local, moral and political lottery”. Veronica O’Keane, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, said a woman could potentially have to see up to seven medical experts before getting a decision on her right to an abortion.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has also been shown the document, has described the guidance on dealing with women contemplating suicide as “an excessive degree of scrutiny by medical professionals”.

It’s the same old thing, that causes the mist of red rage to descend – the way women are treated as public property, subject to meddling by armies of “professionals” and amateurs alike. The woman has no rights, it’s only the process in her abdomen that has rights.

Pro-choice doctors are also concerned that the language in the first few pages of the guidelines is more stridently anti-abortion than last year’s law. In its introduction, the document states that “the purpose of this act is to restate the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland”. Medical professionals are also advised on the first page that the act provides “a clear criminal prohibition on abortion”.

No prison break for women. No way no how, no never.

On page 10, a diagram explaining the procedure for applying for a termination makes clear to Irish doctors that the initial referral for women including those with “suicidal intent” begins with her own GP.

If the GP agrees, he or she will refer the woman to three doctors – including one obstetrician and two psychiatrists – who will decide whether there is a real risk to the woman’s life through suicide. If her request is rejected, she will go through an appeal system involving another two psychiatrists and another obstetrician.

At least four, and maybe seven – all because she doesn’t want to remain pregnant.

[Veronica] O’Keane, a consultant psychiatrist for more than 21 years, said because there was no national body to rule on these cases vulnerable women were left “at the mercy of a local, moral and political lottery. They could come up against anti-choice physicians who in effect become conscientious obstructors to abortion.”

She added: “The repeated examination of a woman’s mental state by at least four doctors, and possibly seven, the repeated questioning specifically about suicidal ideation and intent, will not only be overly invasive, confusing and distressing emotionally, it will also be time-consuming in a period of crisis when a suicidal woman needs access to a termination as soon as possible.”

Yes but they don’t care about the woman, they care only about the process in the woman’s abdomen. Women don’t matter.

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

Taking the empty back roads over the moors

Aug 13th, 2014 4:11 pm | By

Here’s an amusing blog post about PZ’s talk in Hebden Bridge yesterday.

A few days ago I saw that Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota MorrisPharyngula blogger, and sworn enemy of creationist nut-jobbery in all its forms was coming to speak in Hebden.

But he was snowed under and forgot, until he saw a tweet of PZ’s mentioning it was starting in 30 minutes.

Hebden Bridge is about 30 minutes away by car from my house. I found my keys, leapt into the car, forgetting my phone, and hit the road. Taking the empty back roads over the moors I somehow managed to get to the Trades Club with two minutes to spare. But there was nowhere to park at the venue and I had to park about half a mile away and run like Mo Farah (well, like Mo Farah would run if he were giving Eric Pickles a piggy back) back to the venue.

I pelted up the stairs (squeezing past a lady who was saying to her friend “eee we’ve got a professor in ‘ere tonight”), bought one of the few remaining tickets, and joined PZ’s talk – which had, I was assured, “only been going on for a couple of minutes”.

Later I asked a fellow local how on earth we’d managed to get the world famous PZ Myers (hot foot from the dreaming spires of Oxford) to come and speak at Hebden Bridge. “Well he’s on his way up to Edinburgh. I suppose it was on the way” he suggested.

Now don’t get me wrong, Hebden Bridge is a lovely place (it is, after all, in Yorkshire) and I urge you all to visit if you are ever up this way. But it is not normally on the beaten track of internationally renowned academics.

It’s because Maureen is there, of course.

Anyway, PZ’s talk (on American creationists) was, of course, splendid and highly entertaining and much appreciated by the audience – who were clearly clued up on much of what PZ had come to speak about.

Though it quickly became clear – as PZ himself acknowledged – that he was “preaching to the choir” there was plenty of interesting material that I (and I expect many others there) were not particularly aware of. One thing PZ pointed out was what a recent phenomenon creationism (based on a literal interpretation of biblical texts) is. Another thing, which I certainly hadn’t really appreciated, was the origins of this ideology in the teachings of quite small numbers of people who, even by the standards of American god botherers, were a pretty wacky bunch. Disturbingly, the nonsense spread by such crazies (far more extreme even than the sort of arguments scientists were having to rebut in the days of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial) have now become part of mainstream thinking and are now embraced by about half the population of the USA.

Do you ever get the feeling that the harm-doers are better organized than we are?

So a really excellent talk met by a really warm reception – a bit too warm …. especially after I had run all the way from the car park. We may have fewer religious zealots than the Yanks, but they do – it has to be said – have better air conditioning than we do.

I shook hands with PZ and thanked him before leaving and should like to take this opportunity to say how flattered we all were that he took time out to come and share an evening with us here in God’s own County.

Yorkshire. Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening in Yorkshire?

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

Manly men drop former manly man Mark Driscoll

Aug 13th, 2014 3:13 pm | By

Manly man Mark Driscoll has been dropped from a Manly Men conference because…well because they don’t like him any more. His jesus is broken.

Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll was scheduled to be a headliner at the upcoming Act Like Men conferences, a nationwide evangelical convention where men get together to talk about Christianity and manhood. Which makes sense: Everyone knows that manhood is Mark Driscoll’s favorite subject. He can’t stop talking about being a man, and how cool it is, and how difficult it is, and how awesome God thinks it is. It’s fair to say, in fact, that Mark Driscoll has men on the brain, all the time. It’s raining men in Driscoll-town!

And so this has to sting: Warren Throckmorton notes that Driscoll’s involvement has been scrubbed from the Act Like Men website and he is no longer appearing at the conference. Now that Driscoll and Mars Hill have beendumped from the Acts 29 Network, it seems as though Driscoll is becoming a pariah at multi-church evangelical gatherings. This omission has to hit Driscoll right in his most sensitive area: his manhood.

Well not his literal manhood. Let’s not get vulgar here. But the omission has to hit him in his sense of his manhood.

His love of his manhood. His spiritual connection to his manhood. His romantic elevated notion of his manhood. His worship of his manhood. His ability to pray to his manhood.

Yes, that has to sting.


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

He lives there because the taxes are higher

Aug 13th, 2014 3:00 pm | By

From The Talks, an interview with the actor Stellan Skarsgård. People have good sense in Sweden.

Mr. Skarsgård, where do you live?

I live in Sweden because the taxes are higher, nobody is starving, good health care, free schools and universities. It’s a civilized country and I like that.

You prefer paying higher taxes?

Of course. If you make a lot of money like I do you should pay higher taxes. Everybody should have the possibility to go to school, and university, and have good healthcare.

Goodness. How reasonable, and how rare.


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

At Conway Hall on Monday

Aug 13th, 2014 2:29 pm | By

This happened on Monday:

Talks & Lectures

Witchcraft belief: Murder and Misogyny in the 21st Century

Mon 11 Aug 2014, 19:00

London Black Atheists, Central London Humanist Group and the Nigerian human rights activist, Mr Leo Igwe present

Witchcraft belief: Murder and Misogyny in the 21st Century

Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe explores the toxic mix of religion, superstition, misogyny, cruelty, mental instability and sheer greed that are factors in the accusation of mainly women and children of witchcraft and offers solutions on combating this modern day scourge of the world.

London Black Atheists, Central London Humanist Group and the Nigerian human rights activist, Mr Leo Igwe, a renowned campaigner against witchcraft accusations and winner of the National Secular Society’s Special Achievement Award in 2013, are holding an event exploring the harmful effects on individuals and society, of belief in witchcraft.

Witchcraft belief is rampant in many countries of the world leading to violent assaults on, and sometimes the deaths of, women, girls and boys, including the murders of 15 year old Kristy Bamu and 8 year old Victoria Climbie, which were widely reported in the British press.  Can enlightenment combat the malign effects of witchcraft belief in black and minority ethnic communities worldwide?  Following his acclaimed presentation in 2013 to London Black Atheists, “Breaking the Taboo of Atheism in Black Communities”, Leo Igwe reveals a startling analysis of Witchcraft belief and the imperative of enlightenment.  The talk is followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with the audience.

The panel, moderated by Bob Churchill of IHEU, consists of:

Leo Igwe –Human Rights activist

James Ibor – Executive Secretary, Basic Rights Counsel Initiative

Justin Bahunga - AFRUCA

Yemisi Ilesanmi – Feminist blogger

My memory bank wasn’t organized enough to prod me to post about this before it happened, so as to alert people who read this and are within reach of Conway Hall.

[pause to kick self]

Here are Yemi and Leo:

Friends, colleagues, comrades!

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

The NSS says No to witch-hunters

Aug 13th, 2014 10:31 am | By

The National Secular Society has called on the Home Secretary to deny David Oyedepo entry into the UK.

David Oyedepo Jnr is due to address a Winners Chapel International convention in Dartford on 13-16 August. In a letter to the Home Secretary the National Secular Society argued that preventing Mr Oyedepo from entering the country is a necessary step to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief.

In 2011 Mr Oyedepo was captured on video assaulting a young girl at one of his ministration events in Nigeria. After [he accuses] the girl of being a witch, she can be heard saying she is a “witch for Jesus”. Mr Oyedepo then slaps her around the face and denounces her as evil.

Assault dressed up in the regalia of religion: few things are more dangerous.

In 2006 a Government report – Child Abuse Linked to Accusations of “Possession” and “Witchcraft” – highlighted the risk of abuse against children in Britain accused of being witches.

Recent guidance written by the Metropolitan police advises social workers that “children believed to be possessed by evil spirits or believed to be witches are at clear and immediate risk of significant harm”.

Although cases of child abuse linked to a belief in spirit possession or witchcraft are uncommon in the UK, such abuse can lead to extreme physical and emotional abuse and to child deaths. The cases of Victoria Climbie, Kristy Bamu and Ikpomwosa, whose torso was recovered from the Thames, were all child deaths linked to this belief system.

David Oyedepo Ministries International website makes clear that child “disobedience” should be regarded as a sign of “witchcraft”. It states:

“As far as God is concerned, disobedience is as terrible as witchcraft. 1 Samuel 15:23a says: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. May God not catch you as a witch. His Word also says, “Do not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). If you are not bringing up your children in the way they should go, you are cutting short the number of your days. Receive grace from God now, to be obedient to this commandment on child training in Jesus’ name. …”

David Oyedepo Jnr’s father, Bishop Oyedepo, founded Winners’ Chapel in 1981 after claiming to have had an 18 hour vision from God. The Church has since become a global network of churches with congregations in 34 countries and Forbes estimates his worth at $150 million.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “Those being denounced as “possessed”, particularly children, are in great, sometimes mortal, danger. Denying Mr Oyedepo entry would send a powerful signal to pastors and churches that “witch hunting” will not be tolerated in the UK.”

I hope the Home Secretary listens.

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

Managing disagreement

Aug 13th, 2014 9:33 am | By

Robert Reich has a public post on Facebook that says essentially the same thing as the joint statement that Richard Dawkins and I signed. It says we are going to disagree, that’s inevitable, so we have to do it in a reasonable way.

This is the summer of our discontent. Almost everyone I know is angry — with politics, with government, with the media, with their work, with their employer, with people who hold different views. Why? Not since the 1930s have so many Americans been on a downward escalator economically and faced so much financial insecurity. That we’re supposed to be in an economic recovery makes it all the worse. I think this the root of our anger, and it has a lot to do with fear. I sense it in the way the anger is expressed — with bitterness and resentment, cynicism, often in ad hominem attacks and personal insults. Yet if we’re to improve the situation we’ve got to turn the anger in a constructive direction, work hard to change things, disagree respectfully, and use argument instead of invective. Is the widespread discontent causing us to forget how much we depend on common sense and decency?

It’s hard to do. I’m no genius at it, that’s for damn sure. But, precisely because we’re not robots or totally rational entities or able to decouple ourselves from our emotions, we have to make the effort not to pour gasoline on every fire we see.

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

It’s not always code for something else

Aug 13th, 2014 9:04 am | By

James Bloodworth ponders the difficulty of explaining fanaticism and the fact that sophisticated people are often very bad at it.

Back in the 1930s, attempts to explain fascism famously tripped up many leading intellectuals of the time. Hitler’s demands to expand the Third Reich were taken by many otherwise sophisticated people as code for something else. Was it not true, after all, that the Treaty of Versailles had imposed punitive and unreasonable conditions on Germany? As Paul Berman noted in his book, Terror and Liberalism, despite the SS repeatedly reaffirming at its death camps that “here there is no why”, for much of the left there was always a “why”.

Many people seem to miss the fact (or to be unwilling to face it) that the violence and mass murder are ends in themselves. Party time: let’s kill all the kids in that school.

In an edition of the British pacifist newspaper Peace News, the Marquess of Tavistock, who sat on the national council for the Peace Pledge Union, blamed German aggression not on the lunacy of National Socialism, but instead on the “very serious provocation which many Jews have given by their avarice and arrogance when exploiting Germany’s financial difficulties, by their associations with commercialised vice, and by their monopolisation of certain professions”.

Well that’s a funny kind of “peace.”

The real spark of fascistic violence must always and everywhere be poverty and hardship, or so it was assumed; hence the multiple attempts to conflate the repression of the Palestinians with 9/11 – despite the fact that al-Qaeda was and remains ideologically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

In reality the sheer irrationality of violent Islamism should have been obvious when in the years following 9/11 young fanatics started (sometimes successfully) trying to blow up nightclubs. The British-born Islamists who plotted in 2004 to murder clubbers in the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London did not after all cite Palestine or imperialism as their Casus belli, but instead gleefully talked about murdering “those slags, dancing around”.

In other words, it was our liberalism that the would-be bombers despised, rather than our inability to be sufficiently liberal.

Indeed, as with almost all fanatical religious movements, an obsession with the way women behave goes right to the heart of Islamism. Sayyid Qutb, the author of the Mein Kampf of Islamism,Milestones, embraced a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam on the back of a visit to the United States, where he found himself appalled at the freedom afforded to American women.

Not sophistication but plain old dominance. It’s as crude as a bull moose in rut.


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