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.

Amid this orgy of self-congratulation

Nov 24th, 2014 4:48 pm | By

Helen Lewis is pessimistic about the culture wars.

If today’s tech giants can be said to have an ideology, it is the promotion of unfettered free speech. Social media companies trumpet how pro-democracy protesters use their networks to oppose repressive governments. Celebrities are warned of the “Streisand effect” of trying to suppress unflattering information about them, and creating more publicity in the process. Twitter’s former general counsel once described the company as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party”.

But amid this orgy of self-congratulation, there is one rarely mentioned fact: one person’s free speech can come at the cost of another’s. This is the kernel at the heart of so many harassment cases: the stalker will insist, with an air of honest bafflement, that they are simply exercising their right to free speech. Unfortunately, they are doing it by shouting through the letterbox of their victim, who is now too afraid to leave their house.

Free speech, free shouting, free access to everyone’s letterbox, free access to everyone. Freedom freedom freedom.

There is no neutral position here. In trolling cases, for example, by protecting the abuser, you are discouraging the abused from entering public debates. The effect of this is profoundly conservative, because the cost of speaking out becomes higher for women (who receive a disproportionate amount of the most serious abuse, according to research by the Pew Institute and others) and other visible minorities.

No no no it’s the other way around. Minorities and women are holding everyone in the prison of Political Correctness and it’s all these shouting ranting spitting screeching Superior Young White Men who are subject to more abuse.

This aspect of the free speech debate is often ignored. Consider the backlash to Twitter linking up with a voluntary organisation, Women, Action and The Media, which will investigate and track sexist abuse on the social network. Wam’s power is extremely limited: it in effect has a hotline to Twitter, to escalate complaints that it has verified; it will also compile statistics on how well the service is handling them. The power to suspend and ban users still rests with Twitter.

This wasn’t enough to stop the influential US blogger Andrew Sullivan choking on his morning latte. “Is it simply that Wam believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech?” he thundered. “I suspect the culture wars online just got a little more frayed. Because Twitter has empowered leftist feminists to have a censorship field day.”

It has not, of course. Twitter has empowered feminists to monitor whether its own harassment policies are enforced – and to see whether the “uninhibited online speech” of one group is preventing the uninhibited online speech of another.

But Sullivan is used to a setup in which people like him get to do all the talking (yes, even though he’s gay) and people like us get shouted down, so an attempt to shake that out a little until it’s  more even looks to him like leftist feminists having a censorship field day. So on we go, each day a little more hostile than the last.

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

Too young to survive as an orphan

Nov 24th, 2014 4:07 pm | By

Here is Enkikwe’s rescue.


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

Saving Enkikwe

Nov 24th, 2014 3:56 pm | By

I came home and found a mysterious stiff envelope in the mail.

It’s a surprise from Jen Phillips.



It’s from Terra Dreams, who donates half the proceeds from her art to Elephants Without Borders and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

What a beautiful thing.

Jen and the other people who have bought the art have fostered three orphan elephant calves. One is Enkikwei.

A young approximately 20 year old female elephant mother was sighted on the 22nd of September and appeared healthy while happily playing with her two calves near Enkikwei an area in the Mara North Conservancy. The older of her two calves was approximately seven years old and male while the younger baby was estimated to be approximately 10 – 11 months old male. Tragically on the 23rd of September the same mother was discovered dead but with no visible injuries. This came as a terrible shock to both the Mara North Conservancy Management and the DSWT funded mobile veterinary team based in the Masai Mara who responded to the case. Signs of acute Gastroenteritis were evident and to this day it remains a mystery as to what could have possibly killed her so rapidly unless she had eaten something poisonous. She was found dead a few meters away from the Musiara entrance gate of the Masai Mara near the Masai village called Enkikwei where she was sighted the previous day.

The baby calf at this stage was being protected by his elder brother, still in the orbit of where his mother lay lifeless on the Mara plains. Very tragically despite his brother’s best efforts, being so young and milk dependent, he could not survive without being rescued and hand raised so the team on the ground new this decision had to be made and in good time before he became vulnerable to predators.

So they did.

Sweet Enkikwe

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

Another sad zoo story

Nov 24th, 2014 12:11 pm | By

Aw, damn.

The gorilla born at the Como Zoo to first-time mother Alice on Wednesday has died, the zoo announced Monday.

The “preliminary hypothesis” is there was difficulty with the newborn’s feeding that led to the death Sunday, the zoo said in a statement.

The statement added that zoo leadership was making the announcement “with a very heavy heart.” This was first gorilla birth in the 55 years that Como has housed the large primates. Another gorilla birth at the zoo is anticipated for December or January.

Crap. That’s so sad. Gorilla births are a big deal.

Since the birth, the baby and Alice were under zookeeper watch and care around the clock, the zoo statement noted. The baby had appeared to be doing well through Saturday evening, strong in grip and voice, and Alice had been taking well to motherhood.

But then, the statement read, staff started having difficulty keeping tabs on the baby’s feeding regimen because Alice would cradle the newborn to her chest with her back toward the zookeepers.

The statement then went onto describe the baby’s final hours:

“On Sunday morning it was apparent that the baby was weak and his health failing. While the [staff’s] intervention process was happening, the baby was set down by Alice, and the zookeepers were able to retrieve him without the need to immobilize Alice.

“Resuscitation efforts on the infant were quickly performed but were unsuccessful.”


Been there, done that – except for the death part. One of the two adult female orangs had her second infant when I was working at the zoo, and it took a long time for her to figure out the nursing thing – something like two days I think. (She’d failed totally with her first, abandoning him, but this infant she held and cuddled.) It was nerve-racking – obviously the goal wasn’t to let the infant starve, but neither was it to raise yet another orang in the nursery. There were all kinds of things tried, and we watched them round the clock – I did the swing shift. Then on the second (I think) full day the infant randomly squirmed her way onto the nipple and started nursing. Result! But here it sounds as if the infant was nursing at first, so that’s frustrating.

Out of 437 gorilla births at Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions since 1980, 26 percent of males and 20 percent of females did not make it to their first birthday.

In wild-living western gorilla populations, mortality rates in the first year have been reported up to 42 percent and in mountain gorillas, first-time mothers have 50 percent higher infant mortality rates than second-time mothers.

Woodland Park had good success with its gorilla births.

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

Locke, Montesquieu and Moses

Nov 24th, 2014 11:25 am | By

The Texas State Board of Education voted on a new set of social studies materials on Friday. NPR reports:

That includes some 89 textbooks, workbooks and other classroom materials. The vote matters because, with about 5 million students, the state has a big impact on the national textbook market.

Well it also matters because 5 million students are a lot of students, and they need good textbooks too.

We know how the Texas Board of Ed is. It’s been colonized by Christian Nationalists, who want to teach Christian Nationalist things to captive students.

Consider one high school government textbook. It lists four thinkers who influenced the Founding Fathers.

“Three of those on the list make a lot of sense: John Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone. Those are all either British philosophers or Enlightenment thinkers,” says Jennifer Graber, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin.

She says that these three thinkers are all quoted in America’s founding documents. But, for Graber, the fourth person on the list raised a red flag: Moses.

Moses for fuck’s sake. Because of the 10 commandments, no doubt – and how incredibly stupid is that. It’s a jejune little list of the obvious at best and a theocratic list of commands to grovel to god at worst. Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie – yeah the people who wrote the US constitution didn’t need Moses to tell them that; it’s an obvious part of any workable social contract. Worship god, take the day off to worship god, don’t throw god’s name around – those are items that are not in the US constitution, and shouldn’t be.

Moses is, however, mentioned explicitly in Texas learning standards, which is why the publisher included him in its textbook (and this is not the publisher’s only textbook to include him).

The standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and were created in 2010. They state that high school students in U.S. government are expected to “identify the individuals, whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu.”

The majority Republican, 15-member Texas Board of Educationdefended the standards during meetings this week.

“Moses was not a Founding Father. However, I believe he did influence our Founding Fathers,” says Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio.

Piffle. Achilles and Hector, Lear and Hamlet probably influenced Jefferson and Adams and the gang a great deal more than Moses did.

“The standards suggest that slavery was only the third most important contributing factor to the Civil War, which we all know is ridiculous,” says Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning watchdog group. It contracted scholars at various universities to review the books.

The review found that at first, some publishers followed Texas’ lead, downplaying slavery’s role in the Civil War and emphasizing states’ rights. But, after a long public review process and many complaints, they made changes.

“Publishers have improved their books and made clear that slavery was the driving force behind the separation between the North and the South and the Civil War, so we’re pleased about that,” Miller says.

Typical frightened NPR, to pretend it’s “left-leaning” to prefer truth to bullshit. I think the Texas Freedom Network is secular rather than left-leaning, but I suppose in Texas secularism is automatically left-wing. Plus of course that whole pesky idea that slavery was a bad thing and we shouldn’t pretend it was never really an issue.


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

After killing their daughter…

Nov 24th, 2014 10:04 am | By

From India, another item for the annals of “honor” killing.

In a suspected case of honour killing, a 21-year-old Delhi University student was strangled by her parents, who later allegedly set her body on fire, just three days after her marriage to her friend against their wishes. The accused were arrested on Tuesday and sent to judicial custody by a Delhi court.

Strangling. It’s so intimate. It’s hard to get your head around the thought of strangling one’s own child.

Bhavna Yadav was allegedly killed on the intervening night of November 15-16 by her father Jagmohan Yadav and mother Savitri Yadav at her house in south-west Delhi’s Dwarka North. After killing their daughter, the parents took her body to their village in Alwar, Rajasthan, where they set it on fire, police said.

According to DCP south west district, Suman Goyal, Bhavna’s husband informed the police. Bhavna had married 24-year-old Abhishekh Seth on November 12 against the wishes of her family members. Police said they began probing the case after Abhishek, an assistant programmer in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, made a written complaint on November 16 at Dwarka North police station. In his complaint, Abhishek had expressed suspicion of a foul play as Bhavna did not contact him after their marriage.

Police contacted victim’s parents at their village in Alwar and took them in custody when they failed to give information about their daughter. “While questioning they broke down and admitted that they had strangled their daughter at their Delhi home,” said the officer. The parents told the police that they called her back to their home when she informed them on November 12 about her marriage.

They called her back to their home and when she complied they strangled her.

The victim was a Sanskrit honours student of Venkateswara College.

India Today doesn’t say why the parents didn’t approve of their daughter’s choice. I wonder if he was the “wrong” caste.

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

Brendan O’Neill attacked by Stepford students horror

Nov 23rd, 2014 12:45 pm | By

There was supposed to be a debate on abortion last Tuesday at Christ Church, Oxford. Brendan O’Neill and Timothy Stanley were the scheduled debaters.

That fact by itself fills me with a great cloud of weary irritation. If you want to stage a debate on abortion, why the fuck ask two men to do it? What is the point? Why is it of more interest or significance to hear what two men have to say on the subject than it is to hear what two women have to say? Why just always ignore and jump over women as if they weren’t there, even when talking about things that affect women directly in a way they don’t affect men? Why do that? It’s not as if Brendan O’Neill is such a brilliant thinker or so original or reflective that no one else will do. On the contrary, he’s shallow and highly predictable.

People protested, the debate was canceled, O’Neill is now preening himself on being a martyr for free speech. (What I said – predictable.)

Have you met the Stepford students? They’re everywhere. On campuses across the land. Sitting stony-eyed in lecture halls or surreptitiously policing beer-fuelled banter in the uni bar.

Oh look, a dog whistle. “Banter” is code for sexist shit-talking and harassment.

I was attacked by a swarm of Stepford students this week. On Tuesday, I was supposed to take part in a debate about abortion at Christ Church, Oxford. I was invited by the Oxford Students for Life to put the pro-choice argument against the journalist Timothy Stanley, who is pro-life. But apparently it is forbidden for men to talk about abortion. A mob of furious feministic Oxford students, all robotically uttering the same stuff about feeling offended, set up a Facebook page littered with expletives and demands for the debate to be called off. They said it was outrageous that two human beings ‘who do not have uteruses’ should get to hold forth on abortion — identity politics at its most basely biological…

Oh shut up. That objection shouldn’t be brushed off as “identity politics.” It is objectionable for men to talk over the heads of women about whether women should have particular rights or not. I think once the debate was scheduled it shouldn’t have been canceled, but I also think it shouldn’t have been scheduled in that form in the first place.

Last month he encountered other “Stepford students” who thought he was wrong about lad culture and rape.

One — a bloke — said that the compulsory sexual consent classes recently introduced for freshers at Cambridge, to teach what is and what isn’t rape, were a great idea because they might weed out ‘pre-rapists’: men who haven’t raped anyone but might. The others nodded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pre-rapists! Had any of them read Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novella about a wicked world that hunts down and punishes pre-criminals, I asked? None had.

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and I can hardly believe what I’m reading. Seriously? If his objection had any merit there should be no driving education, no health education, no disease prevention education, no safety training, no anticipatory instruction of any kind. Yes, students should be taught that consent is required for sex even if they haven’t raped anyone yet, because not everyone understands that consent is required. That’s not some dystopian horror. But then, again, O’Neill isn’t a young female student, so he doesn’t have to worry about young male students who like to drink beer and engage in “banter” and don’t grasp the point that sex without consent is rape. It’s no threat to him, so he’s free to have a cavalier attitude about it, and sneer at people for whom it is a threat.

Heaven help any student who doesn’t bow before the Stepford mentality. The students’ union at Edinburgh recently passed a motion to ‘End lad banter’ on campus. Laddish students are being forced to recant their bantering ways. Last month, the rugby club at the London School of Economics was disbanded for a year after its members handed out leaflets advising rugby lads to avoid ‘mingers’ (ugly girls) and ‘homosexual debauchery’.

Horrors. What a terrible world it will be without leaflets advising lads to avoid ‘mingers’ (ugly girls) and ‘homosexual debauchery’. (“Minger” is a pretty harsh word for “ugly girl,” by the way, given that “minge”=female genitalia. Google says the source is unknown, but it seems impossible that the two can be strictly separated.)

I’m deeply tired of people like O’Neill, people who are relentlessly callous and indifferent about threats to the free participation of people who are not like them.


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

Women are unable to safely report

Nov 23rd, 2014 10:32 am | By

The New York Times has a think piece on the clash between Cosby’s Wholesome Image and the proliferating allegations that he had a decades-long habit of drugging and raping women. It starts off with a very peculiar headline…

For Some Fans, Accusations of Rape Crumble Bill Cosby’s Wholesome Image

Department of pointing out the obvious.

“He implanted so many positive images, moments, subliminal pictures of what African-Americans can be,” Mr. Osborne said. The portrayal struck him as false — the families he knew in Brooklyn did not live in well-appointed townhouses in the Heights; the Cosby children’s range of skin tones made it a strain to see them as siblings. Still, he recognized the accomplishment.

“There was a time when white people used to claim, ‘I watch “Cosby” ’ as their bona fides,” he said. “While we can look at it very cynically, there’s some good in that.”

The closeness and personal pride may be what allowed people to look away when rape accusations against Mr. Cosby surfaced decades ago. And still, with at least 15 women coming forward with similar stories — of being given a drink or a pill by Mr. Cosby, then waking up feeling they had been sexually assaulted — many fans continue to point out that he has never been charged. The women, they say, must be after money.

He has never been charged so it can’t possibly be true because all rapes lead to arrest, every single one, no exceptions. Meanwhile, no one is allowed to mention it. That’s how our legal system works. That legal system applies in Ireland as well as the US.

As Mr. Cosby, now 77, took the stage in Melbourne, Fla., on Friday night as part of what was to be a comeback tour, at least two in the audience shouted out, “We love you, Bill Cosby!” To this, Mr. Cosby, wearing a “Hello Friend” sweatshirt, responded with a clenched fist above his head, and many in the crowd copied him.

Oh did he! Really! Meaning what? Power to the rapists? Power to guys getting away with serial rape for decade after decade? Power to the very very rich and famous tv star guys getting away with serial rape for decade after decade? Or is it just Here’s what women who accuse rich and famous tv star guys of rape should get – a fist.

Dr. Beverly Gray, like the fictional Dr. Huxtable an obstetrician and gynecologist, recalled watching the show every week with her family.

Reflecting on Mr. Cosby now, she thinks of the survivors of sexual abuse she sees in her work in Durham, N.C.

“I feel like women are unable to safely report male perpetrators in our culture,” Dr. Gray, 38, said. About the show, she said: “I remember a very happy, close family. It’s the contrast between that and what you hear on the news that’s so upsetting.”

Exactly. Women are unable to safely report male perpetrators in our culture. We know this from experience.

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

Cosby would then take his pick

Nov 23rd, 2014 10:16 am | By

Another corroborator of the allegations about Bill Cosby – this time not a woman but a former wing man.

A former NBC employee and Bill Cosby confidante has claimed to the New York Daily News that he acted as a cover-up for the comedian as he slept with women and paid them off.

Well…he’s just doing it for the fame and attention!

Frank Scotti, 90, who worked for the studio where “The Cosby Show” was filmed from 1984 to 1992, told the Daily News that he took out money orders in his name to pay women who he suspects Cosby had slept with. Scotti also alleges that he would stand guard at Cosby’s dressing room while he met with young models.

Well…I’m sure Cosby was just giving them good fatherly advice on how to pull their pants up.

Cosby would reportedly claim he was “interviewing” the young models for parts in his show.

He allegedly had a deal with a Manhattan modeling agency that would stop by the set with several girls at once. Cosby would then take his pick, Scotti said.

“The owner [of the agency] just walked right out,” Scotti told the Daily News. “She knew exactly what was going to go on. Then he’d tell me, ‘Stand outside the door and don’t let anyone in.’ Now you put that together and figure [out] why.”

Career advice. Grooming tips. Experiments in the effects of certain drugs when mixed with alcohol or tea or Sprite.

Scotti provided signed memorabilia and photographs of himself and Cosby to the Daily News. He also showed receipts for money orders with the names of women on them — at least one of whom recently stepped forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault.

Cosby’s accusers have said that the comedian lured them in with promises of career help and mentorship, then gave them pills to make them immobile so he could assault them. The allegations span decades — some dating back to 1969 and one as recent as 2004.

Ok ok ok fine, but never mind all that, because he’s Cliff Huxtable. That’s all that counts.

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

A bus to Nairobi

Nov 23rd, 2014 8:57 am | By

What’s new in Kenya: al-Shabaab murdered 28 people on a bus at dawn on Saturday.

The bus travelling to the capital Nairobi with 60 passengers was hijacked about 50 kilometres from the town of Mandera near Kenya’s border with Somalia, said two police officers who insisted on anonymity because they were ordered not to speak to the press.

The attackers first tried to wave the bus down but it didn’t stop so the gunmen sprayed it with bullets, said the police. When that didn’t work they shot a rocket propelled grenade at it, the officers said.

The gunmen took control of the vehicle and forced it off the road where they ordered all the passengers out of the vehicle and separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest.

God’s people over here, garbage people over there. That’s the way we want people thinking.

George Ochwodho, a non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera, survived the attack. He was travelling home for the Christmas vacation since school had closed.

Ochwodho told AP that the passengers who did not look Somali were separated from the others. The non-Somali passengers were then asked to recite the Shahada, an Islamic creed declaring oneness with God. Those who couldn’t recite the creed were ordered to lie down. Ochwodho was among those who had to lie on the ground.

And they were all shot dead except Ochwodho.

17 out of the 28 dead were teachers according to the police commander in Mandera county.

That will be a nice extra for al-Shabaab: they managed to get rid of 17 infidel teachers.


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

Who is most popular?

Nov 22nd, 2014 6:22 pm | By

Elsewhere in tvworld, the Duggars are getting some pushback.

A petition on urging TLC to cancel the family’s reality show, “19 Kids and Counting,” is gaining momentum.

“End LGBTQ fear mongering by the Duggars,” a letter posted on petition page reads. “The Duggars have been using their fame to promote discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering against gays and transgendered people. You need to take a stand on the side of justice and cancel their show.”

The petition currently has over 78,000 signatures.

Not terribly impressive when you note that they have 400,000 likes on their Facebook page, but it’s a start.

Last week, the couple posted a Facebook photo of them kissing and encouraged other married couples to share their own. The caption read, “God designed marriage to be a loving, dynamic relationship between a husband and wife for a lifetime. God loves marriage and it is supposed to be full of love, joy, fun and romance,” it said. “We challenge all married couples to take a happily married picture and post it here.”

John Becker, of LGBT blog “The Bilerico Project,” posted a photo of him kissing his husband. He says his photo was later taken down and that he was banned from the Duggars’ page, according to E! News.

Well it’s like this. God doesn’t want human lips to make contact with other lips except when one of the humans is a man and the other human is a woman and the two of them are married to each other. Any other lip-to-lip contact is haram and sin and bad. Don’t even talk about tongues.

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

An adoring audience

Nov 22nd, 2014 6:00 pm | By

How sweet, CBS reports that Bill Cosby did a show last night and everybody forgot all about those pesky rape allegations and just had a damn good time laughing at his jokes. How warm and cuddly.

“I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos,” the comedian told Florida Today. “People should fact check. People shouldn’t have to go through that and shouldn’t answer to innuendos.”

After giving the backstage interview, Cosby regained the revered status he long enjoyed, for 90 minutes at least.

The show in Melbourne, Florida, might have seemed destined for disaster for the comedian. What he got, though, was an adoring audience that laughed so hard they slapped their knees, shouted love at the stage and rose to their feet as he came and went.

“I think people went in there with him as Bill Cosby from the TV show,” said Travis Weberling, 40, of Melbourne, “not the guy they heard about on the news.”

As they should, as they should. He’s that guy from the tv show, and who cares about all those annoying women who say he raped them. The important thing is that he’s that guy from the tv show!

What remained to be seen was whether the evening marked a turning point for a beloved television father, or simply a momentary reprieve. It did nothing to immediately change the fact that Cosby’s projects have been nixed and stalled, performances have been canceled across the country and women continue to come forward accusing him of serious crimes.

Yes but he’s a beloved television father, which is as much as to say he’s all of our daddy, which means he’s kind of like god, which means he gets to rape women, because if god does it it must be good. (That Euthyphro guy said so.)

Cosby’s lawyer, Martin Singer, said the accusations had “escalated far past the point of absurdity,” dismissing them as “fantastical,” ”unsubstantiated” and “uncorroborated.”

“When will it end?” he asked. “It is long past time for this media vilification of Mr. Cosby to stop.”

And, throughout the audience, his fans agreed.

They talked of watching him on TV as a child, and of his albums becoming familiar friends when the moved to unfamiliar, faraway towns. They brushed off the accusations, howling at everything he uttered.

That’s right. That’s right. Brush them off. They don’t matter. All that matters is adoring the guy who played a good guy on tv. All that matters is maintaining the illusion that he’s a good guy like the one he played on tv. The many independent accusations of rape don’t matter at all.

His 90-minute set wandered from a childhood fear of God to the loss of freedom in marriage to the rocket-speed Spanish of a piñata-store worker.

He sat for much at the start of the show, then grew increasingly physical, impersonating jujitsu and gymnastics poses, laying on the floor in stocking feet and thrusting a fist upward in a gesture of battling the everyday oppression of living with a wife. And when it was over, he said “good night,” walking off as the audience again stood.

Cool. Battling women all the way.


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

Guest post: The problems of American Women are fast becoming the problem of Global Women

Nov 22nd, 2014 11:22 am | By

Originally a comment by Hj Hornbeck on Yes, there should be rivalry in victimhood.

[Trigger Warning: Domestic and Sexual Assault. Also, BIG comment with many a footnote.]

Here’s an angle I haven’t seen mentioned yet: there’s more than some hidden racism in Dawkin’s focus on Islam, which he exploits to distract from real global problems. The quoted portion in the OP is my starting point:

The greatest threats to women, in his view, are Islamism and jihadism — and his concern over that sometimes leads him to speak off-the-cuff.

“I concentrate my attention on that menace and I confess I occasionally get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler or invited for coffee or something which I think is, by comparison, relatively trivial,” he said.[1]

That’s demonstrably false. Consider, for instance, a 2006 WHO study on domestic violence.[2] It surveyed fifteen sites worldwide, and found that the highest lifetime rate of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner was 71% in the Ethiopian countryside and 69% in the Peruvian… both of which are Catholic-majority states. Third place is rural Muslim Bangladesh (62%), fourth is rural half Christian, half Muslim Tanzania (56%), fifth was urban Muslim Bangladesh (53%), and so on.

The percentage of women who think being beaten is an acceptable punishment for not completing their housework? About 65% in rural Ethiopia, 45% in rural Peru, 30% in rural Tanzania, 25% in urban Tanzania, and so on. Interestingly, urban Bangladesh women are in the middle of the pack when it comes to saying they should not be beaten (rural Bangladesh… not so much).

How about sexual violence against women that aren’t intimate partners? A staggering 55% of assaulted women in Samoa were attacked by non-partners… and Samoa is majority Christian. In Brazil (majority Christian) that’s 40%, in urban Tanzania it’s 34%, urban Peru it’s 31%, and so on.

The prevalence of injury among ever-abused women ranged from 19% in Ethiopia to 55% in provincial Peru. Injuries were associated with severe physical violence. In Brazil, provincial Peru, Samoa, Serbia [Christian] and Montenegro [Christian], and Thailand [Buddhist] over 20% of ever-injured women reported that they had been injured more than five times.

Although the majority of injuries were classed as minor (bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, and bites), in some settings, more serious injuries (broken bones, injuries to ears and eyes) were relatively common. At least 20% of ever-injured women in Namibia [Christian], provincial Peru, Samoa, urban Thailand, and the United Republic of Tanzania reported injuries to the eyes and ears. In Bangladesh, Ethiopia, provincial Peru, and Samoa, over a quarter of ever-injured women reported that they had lost consciousness as a result of partner violence.

It’s obvious that intimate partner violence is a global issue, affecting a huge percentage of women worldwide. However, it isn’t obvious this is tied to religion; Christianity seems to dominate the stats, but that could be because it’s still the dominant global religion, or the researchers couldn’t get into certain Muslim states.

Worse still for Dawkins, Islam is not a monolith. According to a Pew Forum study,[3] while 99% of Afghan Muslims support Sharia law, 8% of Azerbaijanis do. The biggest predictor of support is secularism, not religion; Turkey is 99.8% Muslim, but only 12% of their Muslims support sharia law.

Things get weirder when you look at specific beliefs: 50% of Bangladeshis that support Sharia say that family planning is morally acceptable, while among those that oppose Sharia law… only 28% think it’s acceptable. On the flip side, 28% of pro-Sharia Kazakhs think it’s acceptable, yet 52% of anti-Sharia Kazakhs think it’s fine.

The veil? In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 40% of Muslims agree that women have the right to choose, while in South-East Europe that sits at 88%. How about the ever-popular topic of suicide bombings? 96% of Bosnian Muslims do not think it is justified, or think it’s only fine in rare circumstances, while in Pakistan, the spot with the greatest support, that number sits at 49%. Yes, more Muslims in Pakistan think that suicide bombing is poorly justified than that it sometimes or often is. At least 85% of Muslims endorse non-Muslims practicing their religion freely, with some areas hitting 97%. In South Asia, 76% would be OK with executing apostates; in Central Asia, only 16% are.

And yet, Dawkins is opposed to Islam, full stop. No shades of gray.[4] Every Muslim is an olive-skinned Middle Eastern person that wants every woman stuffed in a burqa. Never-mind the existence of Black Muslims in Nigeria or Caucasian Muslims in the Caucasus, they’re all the same to him. While he loves to toss out the phrase “Islam is not a race,” he certainly treats them as one[5,6] and is happy to exploit xenophobia to distract from more important issues.

You might argue Dawkins wasn’t talking about domestic violence, though, but mild sexual assault and sexism. But that supposes those issues are specific to North America and Europe, and absent everywhere else. Again, that’s just not true; as Hans Rosling loves to point out, there really isn’t much difference between developed and developing countries nowadays, with urban areas of some “developing” countries on par with developed nations.[7]

Just looking at cell phone and internet usage, 45% of Lebanese own a smart phone, 39% of Chileans, and 33% of South Africans; in contrast, 23% of Russians and 21% of Mexicans do.[8] By 2018, it’s forecast that 67% of cell phone users in all of Africa will have a data plan.[9] The fastest internet in the world is in South Korea, the fifth is in Latvia, and the Czech Republic comfortably edges out the United States to take seventh place.[10]

This means that the problems of American Women are fast becoming the problem of Global Women. And as the world becomes more connected, the campaigns and experience of the former can be easily modified and exploited by the latter to improve their lot. The same isn’t true for combating Islam, however; as I pointed out above, that religion is quite heterogeneous and thus you’d have a tough time spreading one area’s fix to another place.

This leaves Dawkins as little more than a wailing, short-sighted bigot.


[1] “Richard Dawkins Stands by Remarks on Sexism, Pedophilia, Down Syndrome.” Religion News Service. Accessed November 22, 2014.

[2] García-Moreno, Claudia., London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine., Program for Appropriate Technology in Health., World Health Organization., and Women and Health. Department of Gender. WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women: Initial Results on Prevalence, Health Outcomes and Women’s Responses. [Geneva, Switzerland]: World Health Organization, 2005.

[3] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. Accessed November 22, 2014.

[4] Well OK, I was a bit shocked when I cracked open my copy of The God Delusion and rediscovered that he endorsed teaching the Qur’an as a source of literary heratige. That bit’s on pages 386 to 387 on my copy, or just look for the last two paragraphs in Chapter 9.

[5] Malik, Nesrine. “Message to Richard Dawkins: ‘Islam Is Not a Race’ Is a Cop out.” The Guardian, September 20, 2013, sec. Comment is free.

[6] Chituc, Vlad. “Islam Isn’t a Race, and so What?” NonProphet Status. Accessed November 22, 2014.

[7] The River of Myths by Hans Rosling | #BillsLetter, 2013.

[8] “Emerging Nations Embrace Internet, Mobile Technology.” Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Accessed November 22, 2014.

[9] “Africa Telecoms Outlook 2014: Maximizing Digital Service Opportunities » Informa Telecoms & Media.” Accessed November 22, 2014.

[10] “South Korea’s Internet Is About to Be 50 Times Faster Than Yours.” Motherboard. Accessed November 22, 2014.

[BONUS] Hans Rosling: Religions and Babies, 2012.

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

Guest post: The motto draped above the Dudebro Defense League crest

Nov 22nd, 2014 10:57 am | By

Originally a comment by Tom Foss on If only you’d said it more sweetly.

Wait. I thought atheist dudebros were super-rational and only care about things by order of magnitude of objective mattering, while SJWs and feminazis are all hyper-reactionary people who want their subjective feelings of offense enforced by totalitarian law. But now Dawkins is so offended by mild snark that he doubles down even on things he’s admitted being wrong about, while SJWs are irrationally failing to consider feelings when they think a preeminent science popularizer with a reputation for being a blunt firebrand could see past harsh language to the actual arguments and evidence?

Oh right, I forgot the motto draped above the Dudebro Defense League crest: “The only thing better than a standard is a double-standard.”

@Anthony K:

Besides, “Ur doin it rong” has always been Hemant’s shtick, hasn’t it? Wasn’t he on that side in the accommodationist wars?

I think Hemant played center field on that one. IIRC, he later did a “not so friendly anymore” post where he announced a change in tactics, or somesuch, that was pretty firebrand-friendly. If anything, Hemant’s always been the “the answer’s in the middle somewhere” guy, and late to the game on everything else, but his continued harboring/promotion of libertarian/conservative bigot/asshole Terry Firma doesn’t do much to endear him these days, nor do his blundering forays into the Deep Rifts.

As to the Accommodationist Wars, it’s continuously interesting to me to see that the battle lines are largely the same now as they were then, except the one side that used to be all “we need to be nice and hide the atheists so we can attract and accommodate religious skeptics” is now “fuck SJWs and minorities, if you can’t take the slurs, stay out of the bigot kitchen!” The only major shifts have been Abbie Smith and Jerry Coyne, and arguably Phil Plait, and I only really remember Jerry being involved toward the end of the conflict. In a way that is, perhaps, largely unsurprising, it seems that the Accommodationists were less concerned about making religious believers more comfortable and more about opposing whatever PZ and Ophelia said.

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

Next stop Europa?

Nov 22nd, 2014 10:48 am | By

Wo – how about a probe of Europa next? It has an ocean covered by a thick layer of ice. Phil Plait has the story:

He starts with a remastered image just released by JPL:


Click on it for even bigger detail.

So that would be a hell of an interesting thing to explore, right?

Europa is 3120 km (1930 miles) in diameter, a hair smaller than our own Moon. Unlike our Moon, which is rock through and through, Europa has a rocky core covered with water. And by water, I mean liquid water, an undersurface ocean covered with a kilometers-thick shell of ice. The water may be in a layer 100 km thick, and salty, making it a true ocean. In fact, it may have more liquid water than Earth does!

The cracks you see are where ice floes fit together; the brighter areas are nearly pure water ice, but the red/orange regions are cracks, possibly where briny water has been squeezed to the surface, and materials in it chemically affected by the intense radiation environment surrounding Jupiter (caused by its very strong magnetic field interacting with material blasted out by volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io).

Ok then go there! More exciting landing probes on things.

JPL made a video about it.

That video is very well-done, and as I watched it I couldn’t help but think it felt like a trailer or promotional video for a new mission in the works. I know a lot of planetary astronomers have wanted to send a dedicated mission to the moon to investigate it far more thoroughly…

… and then I found that, due to the mid-term elections, Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex) is now head of the House’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee. He’s long been an advocate for a Europa mission.

Really? Not for shutting NASA down because Starve the Beast? Good on him.

I’ve had my issues with Culberson about NASA, but, depending on how it’s done — extra funding for NASA so that no current or other future missions will get bled of funding, for starters — then an orbiter, lander, and sub-lander to Europa could very well be something I could get behind.

This is something I think NASA should be doing: Pushing the frontier, doing what only a national space agency can do. This would be a huge undertaking, and one that would fire up the public imagination like nothing before it since Apollo. I’d very much like to see that happen.

Sounds very cool to me. And think of all the kids in classrooms being told that if they work hard on their math they have a shot at working on the project.

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

Now the Royal Astronomical Society

Nov 22nd, 2014 9:53 am | By

The Royal Astronomical Society has also issued a statement on shirtstorm / shirtgate. (That’s what they call it, just as the AAS did.)

It’s not nearly as well worded as the AAS statement, but it’s still good to have. I doubt that Dawkins will be calling the RAS “pompous idiots” the way he called feminists he considers wrong “pompous idiots,” so the statement is good to have. It might conceivably cause Dawkins to reflect on the fact that some people he respects actually agree with the feminists he considers wrong (and pompous idiots).

Last week saw the successful landing of the Philae space probe on the surface of Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is a huge achievement for the European Space Agency and for the many scientists and engineers who worked on this project.

At the press conference announcing the landing, the lead scientist chose to wear a shirt with inappropriate depictions of women and used an expression in his description of the comet, that were offensive to some of those who watched what was otherwise an unqualified triumph for space science and astronomy. The Royal Astronomical Society welcomes his subsequent unreserved and sincere apology.

That’s one of the places it’s not as well worded. “Offensive” is the wrong word for the purpose. It’s the wrong word for the purpose, and it’s also a favorite whipping-word of people like Ricky Gervais and the armies of misogynist harassers. The core point wasn’t so much that the shirt and remark were “offensive” as it was that they were the kind of absent-minded belittling or relegation or dismissal of women that, repeated many times every day, combine to discourage women from entering a discipline. Dawkins waves that analysis away as pompous idiocy, but he’s wrong to do that. Big names in science should not wave that analysis away. Hence it’s good that the RAS issued this statement, even though it’s not perfectly worded.

Much of the discussion that followed the press conference took place on social media, for example on Twitter as #shirtstorm and #shirtgate. Unfortunately many of those who commented have been the subject of physical threats. The Society unequivocally condemns the perpetrators of this abuse, which overwhelmingly targeted women.

Again, not perfect. Physical threats are not the only form of abuse worth condemning.

In all areas of our work, the Society takes issues of discrimination and diversity very seriously. We have recently increased our activity in this area, with the appointment of a staff member to cover these concerns and a designated member of Council who holds the role of Diversity Champion. The RAS also signed the Science Council Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion at its launch on Monday 6th October (see

We therefore recognise that behaviour choices, from clothing to language, can discourage women from pursuing careers in science in general. These are equally important considerations in both the workplace and at public events such as press conferences.

Better. Much better. Let’s highlight that: behaviour choices, from clothing to language, can discourage women from pursuing careers in science in general.

The Society notes that the Rosetta team has a number of prominent women scientists and engineers who are excellent role models. They provide a positive message that gender is not a barrier to achievement in astronomy and space science at the highest level. Particularly in its future events, we strongly encourage ESA to make use of these women in its efforts to encourage people of all backgrounds to engage with the extraordinary science it delivers.

Good idea. Apply it to people of color as well. If there’s ever a time to make a point of assigning women and POC to a job it’s when you need someone to go on tv to talk about holy shit we just landed a probe on a comet.



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

Yes, there should be rivalry in victimhood

Nov 21st, 2014 6:03 pm | By

Andreas Rekdal at NonProphet Status considers Dawkins’s revelation the other day that he is a passionate feminist.

Dawkins has been criticized by many, including fellow atheists, for trivializing Western women’s experiences of sexual harassment. According to Dawkins, his apparent insensitivity is really borne out of his deep commitment to feminism. And as a feminist, he believes we need to focus more on the threat of Islam to women everywhere:

I concentrate my attention on that menace and I confess I occasionally get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler or invited for coffee or something which I think is, by comparison, relatively trivial.

This statement casts doubt on the sincerity of Dawkins’ apology for his “Dear Muslima” letter earlier this year. Back then, Dawkins wrote of comparing abuses:

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.

In a way, that’s one good thing about the interview: Dawkins finally admits that he was indeed saying that we should shut up about unwanted sexual demands or contact because there are worse things happening to women living in Islamist countries. I don’t think he’s admitted that before, except by implication in the (now nullifed) apology. That’s what we always said he was saying, so in a way it’s good that he admits it. On the other hand it’s hard to reconcile with the tweets about “if you think saying ‘violent rape is worse than date rape’ equals saying date rape is not bad, go away and learn how to think.” There’s a tension between the two. On the one hand, yes, saying “women who aren’t allowed to drive have it worse than women sexually assaulted at work” was indeed intended to say that women being sexually assaulted at work is trivial. Is trivial. On the other hand, no, to say “one kind of rape is worse than another kind” is not to say that the second kind is trivial.

So which is it? Well, clearly, the first. He stood by it. He told Kimberly Winston he stood by it. He’s made up his mind. So he’s saying there should be rivalry in victimhood, and that he is a good judge of who wins the contest.

It’s a good thing that he’s spelled it out for us. It’s a bad thing that that’s what he’s spelled out. It would be better if he did not believe and say and insist on such a horrible stance. It would be better if he could grasp that it’s not good for men to declare rules for which bad things done to women are worse than other bad things done to women. The things are not done to him, so he shouldn’t pronounce on them.


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

One million people sign up

Nov 21st, 2014 3:31 pm | By

Julia Burke at Skepchick considers the Silencing of Richard Dawkins.

From his twitter account alone, Dawkins has drawn fire over comments widely believed to be sexist, racist, Islamophobic, ableist, rape apologia, and downright douchey. This account had 1,060,435 followers as I wrote this. One million people sign up for his daily musings––and that’s after what he’s said so far.

So, not very silenced. Not very muzzled. He gets hostile responses, but with more than a million followers on Twitter it’s probably pretty easy to think of those as the ravings of a warped minority.

Dawkins has his own site and foundation, giving him a pedestal for longer-form discussion whenever he wants and the finances to back up a campaign promoting that discussion. He also has the support of the mainstream humanist movement despite statements that alienate much of its population: Dawkins has been a featured speaker at two humanist cons in the last year and will be featured at a CFI conference in 2015. When I called the organizers of these cons to ask whether Dawkins’s inflammatory comments had influenced their decisions to use him as a featured speaker, the World Humanist Con and American Humanist Association both declined to comment on anything concerning Dawkins himself. Ron Lindsay of CFI, to his credit, did grace me with a thoughtful reply:

“We humanists, as a whole, define the direction of humanism… For this reason, I don’t hang on every utterance that Richard Dawkins makes or pay close attention to every tweet that he transmits. Dawkins is undoubtedly someone who is entitled to much respect and honor for all the contributions he’s made to advancing atheism and humanism. Without doubt, he is the person most responsible for bringing awareness of atheism to popular culture. He may also be the best advocate for evolutionary biology, again in terms of bringing this awareness to the non-scientific community. These are important achievements. But despite his formidable intellect, he, like anyone else, may make mistakes and misjudgments from time to time. This does not detract materially from the value of his overall contributions.”

Hmm. I can’t help thinking that last sentence is more likely to be true if you’re not the kind of person Dawkins belittles while he’s making mistakes and misjudgments. In other words I don’t agree that his making misjudgments – like calling feminists who objected to Matt Taylor’s shirt “pompous idiots” – does not detract materially from the value of his overall contributions. I think it does detract materially from the value of his overall contributions, at least the first one Ron mentioned – bringing awareness of atheism to popular culture. I’m not as pleased about that as I once was, for the very reason that that awareness is now far more likely to be of obnoxious mind-blind anti-feminist assholes. I don’t want atheism to be seen that way, and I  think Dawkins has done a lot to ensure that it is seen that way by many.

There’s more to Julia’s article, but I gotta go.

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

“Pompous idiots” is it?

Nov 21st, 2014 2:15 pm | By

Well all right then. Perfect. The American Astronomical Society issued a statement Wednesday (but dated it yesterday Thursday) on the matter of The Shirt.

I hope Richard Dawkins reads it attentively.

I hope Ayaan Hirsi Ali reads it.

I hope Christina Hoff Sommers reads it.

I hope Steven Pinker reads it. [link goes to Michael Shermer quoting Pinker at a talk]

I hope Russell Blackford reads it.

I hope all the sneerers and minimizers and harassers and attackers read it.

I don’t think anybody considers the American Astronomical Society an organization of “pompous idiots” (Dawkins) or “idiot women” (Hirsi Ali).

The following statement was issued on 19 November 2014 by the Executive Committee of the American Astronomical Society on behalf of the AAS Council:

The past few days have seen extensive international discussion of an incident (known online as #shirtstorm or #shirtgate) in which a participant in a European Space Agency media conference wore a shirt with sexualized images of gun-toting women and made an unfortunate remark comparing the featured spacecraft to a woman. Viewers responded critically to these inappropriate statements, especially jarring in such a highly visible setting (one in which very few women appeared), and the scientist apologized sincerely. But in the meantime, unacceptable abuse has been directed toward the critics, from criticism of “over-active feminism” to personal insults and more dire threats.

We wish to express our support for members of the community who rightly brought this issue to the fore, and we condemn the unreasonable attacks they experienced as a result, which caused deep distress in our community. We do appreciate the scientist’s sincere and unqualified apology.

They’re talking to you, Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christina Hoff Sommers, Russell Blackford. They condemn your unreasonable attacks on people who objected to the shirt and the unfortunate remark.

The AAS has a clear anti-harassment policy, which prohibits “verbal comments or physical actions of a sexual nature” and “a display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.” Had the offending images appeared and comments been made under the auspices of the AAS, they would be in clear violation of our policy.

We also note the important sentiments that preface the policy:

As a professional society, the AAS must provide an environment that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that environment, the AAS is committed to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, veteran status, or any other reason not related to scientific merit. All functions of the Society must be conducted in a professional atmosphere in which all participants are treated with courtesy and respect…

That’s not too much to ask. That’s not unreasonable or irrational. It’s not “witch hunting.” It’s just a reasonable personnel policy, intended to make it possible for people to work together productively and amicably, people of many different kinds, without invidious treatment as different or there for consumption by the top group.

The AAS Council reaffirms the importance of the Society’s anti-harassment policy to our mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Only when all astronomers feel welcome and supported in the profession can our discipline realize its full potential for excellence.

Apparently Dawkins and Hirsi Ali and Sommers and Blackford oppose that policy.

Why do they?

H/t PZ

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

Minimum allegation threshold

Nov 21st, 2014 12:22 pm | By

Where the Cosby discussion was just two months ago, in mid-September: the New Yorker did a long profile of him, and gave the allegations of rape this amount of attention at the end of the piece:

In the past decade, the tales of infidelity have been joined by much more serious allegations. At least four women, using their own names and telling similar stories, have accused Cosby of sexual assault. The accounts, made public in outlets that include the “Today” show and People, depict Cosby luring each woman to a private place, drugging her, and assaulting her. Cosby settled a lawsuit filed by one of the women, but he has never spoken of the allegations in public. (Earlier this year, his publicist dismissed one of the stories as “discredited.”) Whitaker doesn’t mention them, either—a remarkable omission. Unlike Cosby’s extramarital affairs, these alleged assaults can’t easily be integrated into a consideration of his work: no doubt many of his fans will find it easier to put the claims out of mind or, especially if more information emerges, to put Cosby out of mind instead.

Not very much attention, then.

It’s odd how “meh” this kind of thing seems to be. I wonder what the minimum number of women accusing Mr X of sexual assault is before anyone pays more than perfunctory attention. (I’m included in this question. I didn’t pay attention until the numbers started growing.)

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