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.

Abandoned by all medical staff

Mar 11th, 2014 2:30 pm | By

Why is it a problem when medical personnel are allowed to refuse to perform abortions because of their “sincere religious beliefs”? Well one reason – though only one – is cases like one that happened in Rome in October 2010.

Valentina Magnanti was forced to abort her dead foetus in a toilet in Rome’s Sandro Pertini hospital, abandoned by all medical staff and with only her husband to assist her. This is what can happen when medical staff are allowed to follow their “consciences” and refuse to participate in abortions.

She has a rare genetically transmitted disease, but she couldn’t get tested early in her pregnancy because of a horrible law passed by the Berlusconi government in 2004. She had to wait until the fifth month, only to find out that the fetus did indeed have the disease.

Her gynaecologist refused to help her. She finally found a gynaecologist at the Sandro Pertini hospital who would sign the necessary paperwork. After being admitted to the hospital, she was given drugs to induce the abortion and was told that she would feel no pain.

“Instead… It was hell. After fifteen hours of excruciating pain, between spasms of vomiting and moments when I passed out, with my husband always at my side, not knowing what to do, going to the doctors and nurses asking them to help me, to no avail, I gave birth in the hospital toilet. With only Fabrizio by my side.” No one came to help her. “Perhaps because during the period between being admitted to hospital and giving birth, the shifts had changed, and all the doctors on duty then were objectors.” While she was in agony, a group of anti-abortion activists came in, “carrying copies of the gospel and making threatening comments.”

That’s one reason.

Valentina was caught between two laws: one which denied her the right to assisted conception, leaving her with no option but an abortion, and another which allowed medical personnel the right to refuse to go to the aid of a suffering patient having an abortion. 70% of Italian medical personnel are “objectors”, and in the Lazio region – capital, Rome – that rises to 90%, making it very unlikely that Valentina’s experience is an isolated case.

Are 90% of Lazio’s doctors and nurses really fervent Catholics? Or for some is claiming the right to “freedom of conscience” simply the path of least resistance to a successful career? Exactly what kind of conscience allows doctors and nurses to leave a woman in agony on a bathroom floor as she loses the baby she has longed for for years?

Did you catch that? 90% of medical personnel in Rome refuse to participate in abortions.

If men got pregnant…

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

Trying to provoke

Mar 11th, 2014 10:22 am | By

Sometimes I can hardly believe what I’m reading. Student Rights reports:

Last week both Yusuf Chambers of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) and Uthman Lateef appeared at the University of Nottingham as part of ‘Discover Islam Week’.

Given that both these speakers have a record of expressing homophobic sentiment, student journalists both approached LGBT Network members and questioned the two men on their beliefs.

Calls for intolerant speakers to be allowed to speak in order for their bigotry to be exposed are common from students, so you would think that this would have been acceptable behaviour.

Instead a statement has been released by the LGBT Network and the Islamic Society at the university which targets those journalists for trying “to provoke an antagonistic atmosphere” on campus.


What is this, India? Is the University of Nottingham operating under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code?

Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.— Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Religions have tenets, beliefs, claims. Chambers and Lateef weren’t there to do a fashion show or a dance recital; they were there to share their ideas. People get to challenge those ideas. They get to do that without being accused of “trying to provoke an antagonistic atmosphere.”

In addition to this, the Islamic Society President states that “such attacks were problematic and contributed to a sense of marginalisation and discomfort towards many Muslim students on campus”.

That challenging someone with a history of homophobia over their bigoted views can be described as an ‘attack’ and as marginalising Muslim students is incredible, and demonstrates a deep intolerance of legitimate criticism.

Legitimate criticism is legitimate.

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

Fourteen percent

Mar 11th, 2014 9:21 am | By

It’s not just new laws and restrictions, it’s not just protesters outside clinics, it’s not just Catholic hospitals gobbling up secular hospitals – it’s also training, and how difficult it is to get it. The Daily Beast reports on the scarcity of medical training in abortion.

…abortion training is still largely isolated in freestanding clinics and the relatively few OB-GYN residency programs that provide comprehensive training. Although the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education—the governing body which sets nationwide rules for medical residencies—put abortion training on the curriculum for all OB-GYN programs in 1996, Congress took the unprecedented step of nullifying that decision soon afterward. To this day, any program that does not abide by the ACGME guidelines won’t lose its federal funding, and only 40 percent of OB-GYN programs in the country offer comprehensive abortion training.

“It’s this cuckoo level of micromanaging,” Carole Joffe, a sociologist and author of two books on the history of abortion rights, said of Congress’s decision. “In theory, it’s not illegal for them to do that, it’s just unprecedented.”

Congress micromanaging medical education to make sure abortion training is not required – wonderful, isn’t it? Nothing is too much when it’s a question of making sure women don’t have rights.

“We had one OB-GYN resident come work with us, and her hospital was affiliated with a Catholic hospital and she was getting no training in abortion whatsoever,” Debra Stulberg, a family practitioner and researcher at the University of Chicago, told The Daily Beast. “Often, having the elective time and being able to find an experience where you can get training is not the same.”

Even when motivated medical students and residents can find abortion training, they’re not always able to make use of those skills later on. Some private practices and hospitals have been known to make physicians sign contracts saying they won’t provide abortions—even at an outside clinic—while on staff.

“The real problem facing abortion provision—besides the stuff you know about Texas and admitting privileges—is at a much quieter level,” Joffe told the Beast.“It’s becoming hard for those who are trained to find places at which they can practice. From a hospital administration point of view, do you want picketers? Do you want hassles? No.”

They don’t need to overturn Roe v Wade. They can just make it too scary to provide abortions, and the result is the same.

Stulberg has observed the same thing. In 2011, she published a paper in which she found that, while 97 percent of OB-GYNs encountered patients seeking abortions, only 14 percent provided them.

“The tactic on the religious right to stigmatize abortion has translated beyond just making it hard for women to seek abortion,” she said. “Hospitals, medical schools, others who you would think might be neutral or even take a pro-reproductive-health stance, often are just afraid—afraid of protests, afraid of attention. They would rather just fly beneath the radar.”

Only 14% of OB-GYNs provide abortion.


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

Puppy break

Mar 10th, 2014 5:29 pm | By

No reason, just because.

H/t Roland

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

Still a problem

Mar 10th, 2014 4:59 pm | By

Chris Stedman did a piece on this question of homophobia in atheism at Religion News Service after that Twitter exchange I quoted.

Discussions around sexism among atheists have been gaining momentum for years, but it’s clear that sexism is still a problem in certain segments of movement atheism. I’ve seen manifestations of it, and I am far from alone. And regarding anti-LGBTQ attitudes: I’ve heard from atheists who say that I’m too “effeminate,” that my being gay makes atheists seem “like freaks,” or that my “obvious homosexuality” makes me an ineffectual voice for atheists.

To paraphrase Clay Shirky for the thousandth time: if the voice of authority is always male, people will think the voice of authority is supposed to be male – and not just male but MALE; hyper-male, exaggerated-male, stereotypical-male. Poofters and bitches need not apply.

Much of organized atheism has a frat house or locker room or comedy club atmosphere. That doesn’t help.

The bottom line is this: Atheism is not an inoculation against prejudice. Being an atheist does not prevent you from being influenced by the homophobia and misogyny that permeate our culture. It may seem like an obvious point but it’s important to remember, lest we operate under the false idea that atheists are somehow immune.

No, it’s not, and in fact it can be an encouragement to certain kinds of prejudice. It’s sad but it’s true.

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

Bored@Baker rape guide

Mar 10th, 2014 4:39 pm | By

Inside Higher Ed reports on cyberbullying at university.

There are confession pages and websites, on Facebook and elsewhere. Universities have no way to block access to them.

Most posts are innocent confessions about crushes and pranks — or just hoaxes — but occasionally, students use the sites to launch anonymous attacks and start rumors. That’s what happened recently at Hopkins, where a confessions page on Facebook turned into “a hub for cyberbullying and controversial posts about race and sexual orientation,” according to the independent student newspaper The Johns Hopkins News-Letter.

“It’s unfortunate that from time to time, at colleges across the country, these things pop up,” O’Shea wrote. “It’s unfortunate that a very few people are willing to hide behind the mask of anonymity to say things to which they would never attach their names and reputations.”

One correction: it’s not “a very few.” It’s a lot. A lot of people are willing to do that, including some respectable people, like doctors and government bureaucrats and the like.

More privately hosted sites have appeared in CollegeACB’s wake, including Bored@, which deems itself as an “anonymous social network for educational institutions.” At Dartmouth College, the site is known as Bored@Baker, a reference to the Baker-Berry Library. Membership is restricted to users with an email address ending in “” or “” — in other words, current and former students.

Dartmouth recently launched an investigation in response to a freshman who said she was sexually assaulted after having been named in a “rape guide” posted to the website. The case did not turn up a report of sexual assault in connection with the post, but the university was able to identify the author, who is now undergoing Dartmouth’s disciplinary process, Anderson said.

Just what every university needs, a rape guide.

In many cases, students enjoy First Amendment protection and can’t be held liable for their posts, but Tracy Mitrano, the former director of IT Policy at Cornell University, said some speech may be seen as an assault under criminal law.

“Colleges and universities would do well to borrow these legal concepts and formulate through campus discussion and debate reasonable definitions and standards to incorporate into campus codes of conduct,” Mitrano, who also blogs for Inside Higher Ed, said in an email, adding that “an individual member of the community may enjoy free speech but may also within the community find their speech implicates other provisions under the campus code.”

The “rape guide” was in other words a clear violation of Dartmouth’s campus code — not to mention Bored@Baker’s terms of service – which spurred the university into action.

“While we certainly have a healthy respect for the First Amendment, we also want to make it clear that as a community, we have standards and and expect that … we will treat one another with respect,” Anderson said.

Is a “rape guide” protected under the First Amendment anyway?

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

Herding cats, birds, lions, sharks, and rabbits

Mar 10th, 2014 1:04 pm | By

The back and forth over American Atheists and the Conservative Political Action Conference continues today. There are people calling it a “witch hunt”…which is odd, because from what I’ve seen it’s mostly feminists who are annoyed by what they think looks like an effort to use abortion rights as a bargaining chip to attract conservatives to AA. (I don’t think that’s what it was, myself, but I get why it looked like that.) Not for the first time I note how ironic it is to use “witch hunt” as a term of abuse for feminist disagreement with something. It’s not normally women who do the witch hunting, and it’s not mostly men who are the victims of witch hunts. Maybe another phrase would be better.

Be that as it may, earlier today Chris Stedman disputed Dave Silverman on a couple of points, and Dave said he would amend his argument. (So, you see? Not a witch hunt. A productive discussion and disagreement. No witches put to the fire.)

Chris Stedman @ChrisDStedman

@MrAtheistPants And you implied on Twitter that there aren’t anti-gay atheists? I’ve actually encountered/heard from many anti-gay atheists.

David Silverman @MrAtheistPants

@ChrisDStedman That’s disturbing. I’ve only heard such from ppl who claim to be atheists (I get that a lot) but I don’t believe them.

Have you actually met, personally, atheists who are anti LGBT equality? I have not.

Chris Stedman @ChrisDStedman

@MrAtheistPants I have, and I’ve also heard from a number of atheists who say my “obvious homosexuality” makes me a bad rep for atheists…

…because it makes us seem like “freaks” or seem “weak,” etc. These folks definitely exist.

David Silverman @MrAtheistPants

@ChrisDStedman Well, that sucks. Sorry you experienced that. Will research and tweak my argument.

So, good outcome; listening and adjusting.

I was struck by what Chris said, because it sounds so familiar in a way. So I added my two cents.

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson

@ChrisDStedman @MrAtheistPants That’s gross. (Such ppl prob think the same abt women – weak & freakish, leave them out.)

There is a HUGE segment of movemt atheism that’s self-consciously macho. It’s driving a lot of us out.

It is. And you can’t have everything. You can talk about a big tent all you want, but in practice, it breaks down. You can have a big tent for some, limited purposes. You can recruit people to join you on a single issue. But for a movement, over the long term? It will break down. People will leave a movement that is too full of members who are belligerently hostile. A movement full of racists will lose people who dislike racism, and a movement full of people who dislike racism will lose racists. That’s how it is. People go where they want to go. Except when it’s life and death in the short term, you’ll have a very hard time persuading people to work with others who despise them. It’s all very well to make jokes about witch hunts and the People’s Front of Judea; you still can’t force people to work with those they consider hostile.

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

Going for the numbers

Mar 9th, 2014 5:42 pm | By

Many people have been annoyed-to-furious with American Atheists and Dave Silverman over the past few days over their courtship of members of the batshit-rightwing community. AA was going to have a table at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but then CPAC changed its mind and gave AA its money back. Dave went to the conference anyway, and talked to lots of people there.

Raw Story reported on some of those conversations on Friday.

[Silverman] seems an unlikely proselytizer for this suit-and-bow-tie crowd, tearing into his subject with the wired energy of an old-school punk rock fan. But he claims it’s working.

“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”

Hold on, I said, I think the Right to Life guys who have a booth here, and have had every year since CPAC started, would disagree that they’re not real conservatives.

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

That’s one of the items that people are riled about (apart from the basic issue of going there at all). It’s a bit tangled. At first Dave is saying that conservatism needn’t be social conservatism, because that’s actually big government and theocracy, and conservatism ought to be opposed to that – so conservatism should have no problem with gay rights, right to die, abortion rights. Then the reporter, Roy Edroso, says but there are anti-abortion people here, and they would say they are conservatives. Then Dave says there is a secular argument against abortion, so opposing abortion isn’t necessarily theocratic. So that could be a genuine conservative position, because it’s not theocratic, while school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage are issues to do with church and state.

Well, there are a lot of conservatives who are conservatives because they want the lowest possible taxes on themselves and no unions or minimum wage or national health; such conservatives may be socially liberal, or indifferent. But guess what: that doesn’t mean they’re interested in pulling away from the social conservatives. You know why? Because votes, that’s why. They can’t win by themselves, so they put up with a lot of bullshit that they don’t personally like, in order to win, in order to have lower taxes.

So Dave coming along and dangling atheism in front of them is not very likely to make them go anywhere. And meanwhile it’s pissing off his supporters in the other direction, so it might not be such a hot idea.

Then he expands on his own political views.

But why is this his battle? Why not let conservatives be conservatives and just vote for the candidates he likes? “Because I want a choice,” said Silverman. “I don’t get a choice at the voting booth, ever.” He describes himself as a “fiscally conservative” voter who “owns several guns. I’m a strong supporter of the military. I think fiscal responsibility is very important. I see that as pretty conservative. And I have my serious suspicions about Obama. I don’t like that he’s spying on us. I don’t like we’ve got drones killing people…” In the final analysis, “the Democrats are too liberal for me,” he says.

See I can’t make sense of that part at all. Those suspicions of Obama aren’t right-wing suspicions, they’re left-wing suspicions. The right wing is all for spying on us (does the name George Bush ring a bell?) and it thinks drones are the best fun ever. The Democrats aren’t too liberal for Dave, at least not on the issues he listed there; they’re too conservative for him.

Secular Census points out that the numbers don’t support this move anyway – they really don’t support it. There are so few Republicans on Team Atheism it’s a joke.

There are several survey questions; let me show you just one:

For which presidential candidate did you vote in 2012? [Question visible only to those who've indicated they voted.]

  • 82.5% Barack Obama
  • 06.2% Jill Stein
  • 03.1% Gary Johnson
  • 00.9% Mitt Romney

[remainder were other / can't remember / etc.]

See what I mean? Does it seem worth pissing off that 88% for the hope of attracting some of the .9%? That’s POINT nine percent. Does it?

I would say no.

Historically, secular identity organizations have gone to some trouble to accommodate their conservative minorities, taking care not to alienate Republican and/or libertarian members with positions too far to the left on issues (like reproductive rights) that might be seen as “non-core.” One of our motivations for creating the American Secular Census was, in fact, to try to quantify the prevalence of conservatism among Secular Americans, since we have suspected for some time that it is less than believed by organizations’ leaders, boards, and staff. So far, our statistics have borne out this theory. So why are groups continuing to accommodate — and now actively courting — conservatives into the secular movement, especially at a time when organizations’ support for, and relevance to, women is being debated?

Maybe secular leaders aren’t aware of these political statistics …? Except that they are. These very figures were posted by us on a listserv of leader-subscribers of these two and many other organizations in July of 2013, following a claim by one leader that 30% of secular voters are Republican. We asked for a citation on that figure, were never given a primary source for it, and then posted these figures as clarification for our request. There was no followup to our post.

That one leader was Edwina Rogers of SCA.

So, yeah. Many of us have been getting increasingly alienated from the atheist and secularist movements because they seem to have shitty politics on a lot of issues. The Secular Census post shows us that they’re not even making a good cynical move.

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

Lighter than air

Mar 9th, 2014 1:25 pm | By

A post about “sex positive feminism” at the New Statesman.

Time was when the very word “feminist” was transgressive. These day people rarely object to it. There’s a bitter irony to the fact that “but I’m a feminist” has become one of those phrases by which male dominance can be positively reinforced. “But I’m a feminist and I don’t mind objectification / unpaid work / sexual harassment / being called a cunt!” The implication is that we’ve come full circle. Feminism has worked through all of its issues and realised that the grown-ups were right all along. All that stuff we used to call oppression? We’re totes cool with it now.

It’s certainly not true that “these days people rarely object to” the word “feminism.” Hah! If only. And usually the people who make a big show of not minding sexual harassment or being called a cunt are not people who self-identify as feminists. But other than that, yes; there’s a real point there; not a new point, but a real one. There’s a surprisingly large amount of hipster sexism out there, of people who think it’s just so last century to pay any attention to things like sexist epithets or sexual harassment, who think the only right response to such concerns is “lighten up” or “shut the fuck up, cunt.”

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

The only book worth reading

Mar 9th, 2014 12:58 pm | By

Deeyah talks about her life, at Women News Network for International Women’s Day.

Her grandfather was a pillar of the Norwegian Muslim community, and very religious, a one-book guy. Her father went the opposite way.

For my grandfather, the only book worth reading was the Qur’an, but my father loved all kinds of books and music: cabinets bulged with vinyl LPs, bookshelves were crammed with works as diverse as histories of colonialism and the ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley, mythology, theatre and innumerable collections of Urdu poetry. From cramped student accommodation to a semi-detached house, this precious resource of human knowledge traveled with the family, growing ever larger. And this was not the only resource my father collected: our house was a gathering place for intellectuals and dissidents, often sharing their criticisms of General Zia a-Haq and his Islamization project for Pakistan in the 1980s.

Her mother was a teacher.

My mother was often busy making sandwiches for the immigrant children she taught, who otherwise might have gone hungry. She was an ocean of love, not just for us, but for everyone who needed it: she helped in women’s shelters, often with women who had been rejected by their own families. As a teacher, and as an interpreter, she helped people deal with their problems, unsparingly generous with her time and attention.

It was through her I first learned of women who were forced into marriages, who were beaten, and who kept their silence in the name of family ‘honour.’

Her father overheard her singing to herself one day and promptly got rid of all her toys and pushed her to excel at music as well as her studies. It sounds quite ferocious, but to her also worth it.

But to other people? That’s a different story.

In one respect, I felt that I was bridging divides; presenting a positive image of immigrants in Norway; and breaking down the stark divisions of us and them through music, shaking off the cruel slurs of my childhood. But to maintain this fiction I had to hide a different and unexpected source of hostility: that which came from my parents’ community.

This became more intense the more successful I became: a hardcore of fundamentalists identified women singing and working as agents against the doctrine of the four walls. First fundamentalists targeted my father, demanding that he prevent me from singing and performing publicly. When this failed, they moved on to my grandfather, a man with a reputation for piety, who they felt would be more sympathetic to their aims. But when it became clear that no male authority could stop me from singing, their aggression came squarely at me.

On one occasion, I was threatened with a knife, and on another, a failed abduction attempt. My discomfort around performance was doubled by the sense of threat and surveillance, most pointedly at an anti-violence concert in Oslo. It was my home-town and many of my friends were in the audience, so I was determined to put on a good show. A few songs into the set I could see fights breaking out at the back of the crowd. I moved towards the front of the stage, and some corrosive chemical was sprayed in my face and eyes. Blinded, I desperately tried to signal to my bandmates that I couldn’t see, turning my back to the audience, but they didn’t pick up on my signals. My eyes refused to open: tears ran down my neck. The pain was unbearable. I kept singing.

She left Norway at age 17 to escape that kind of thing. She made music. She got involved with things.

Emerging from a tunnel of anger and self-doubt, I found inside an activist as well as an artist. Linking with women’s rights activists recalled the passion and commitment of the Pakistani feminists gathered at my father’s house, so many years ago. The experiences of the attempts to suppress my music led me to take an active role in support of the Freemuse organization, who stand against the censorship of music, not just of those silenced by fundamentalists, but also those subjected to state persecution for their politics. Our first co-production was Listen To The Banned, a compilation CD of musicians who had persisted with their art through imprisonment, censorship and injury.

She made her award-winning documentary about the murder of Banaz Mahmod.

Through all of these stories and experiences, the connecting thread has been about personal liberty, whether to sing, to love, to study or to work according to the calls of one’s own heart, to realize our potential in the world, to raise our voices without fear. This is my vocation and my art, whatever form it may take, music, activism or filmmaking, and whatever follows.

My voice will be raised for human rights for as long as I have breath.

Thank you Deeyah.


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

Culturally pressured

Mar 8th, 2014 4:18 pm | By

Kiran Opal has marked International Women’s Day by putting together accounts by 17 ex-Muslim women on her blog.

For those of us who have left Islam as a faith and as an identity, the pressure to stay silent is intense. For many ExMuslims, the price for speaking out about their skepticism, atheism, or agnosticism, is often very high. There is no one monolithic Muslim identity; there is nothing essentially, inherently “Muslim” about someone born into a Muslim family. Yet, for too many people, Islam has become a racialized identity. Many Muslims and non-Muslims see the Muslim identity as a race, not just a doctrine. Although ExMuslims, whether ‘out’ or ‘closeted’, do not identify as Muslim, others often insist on imposing this identity on us.

From the page on Muslim privilege:

What are the privileges you do NOT have as an Exmuslim woman that you did have as a Muslim woman? (e.g. speaking openly about your beliefs, etc.)

Taslima: I no longer have the luxury of openly speaking about my beliefs and opinion of Islam without offending my family and friends. My family makes sense, because they are Muslim, but as an ex-Muslim woman, I am more or less culturally pressured into silence by a lot of American “progressive” friends who will openly tell me to “stop being so Ayaan Hirsi Ali”.

From the page on ex-Muslim privilege:

What are the privileges you DO have as an Exmuslim woman that you did not have as a Muslim woman?


I’m freer than I would have ever been had things not gone the way they did ten years ago. I get to experience life to the fullest – the good and bad. I know what it’s like to fall in love, to be in a relationship, and to fall out of love or have my heart broken. I know what it’s like to try to make ends meet while working paycheck-to-paycheck. My friends hop, skip, and jump from longitude to longitude. I get to travel freely, explore freely, and think as much as my mind wants without the threat of hell or shame from a fake community.

The day I left Islam was the day humanity and science released me from the hell of religious solitary confinement.

I get to hug a dog and fall in love with him because he’s a beautiful soul – without horrifying screams from Muslims about washing my hands seven times to get rid of the pup’s kisses.

Read the whole thing.



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

Many chairs

Mar 8th, 2014 3:17 pm | By

So at CPAC they had a panel on GOP outreach to minorities.

John Hudak of the Brookings Institution is livetweeting CPAC and he tweeted a picture of the audience at that panel.

View image on Twitter

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

Born of necessity

Mar 8th, 2014 1:45 pm | By

Leymah Gbowee says in Al Jazeera “Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day by remembering women around the world working towards peace.”

I am an optimist; there is beauty despite the ugliness. The bravery and strength of our mothers, daughters and sisters give me hope. Even when they are the ones that have been raped, abused and battered, they take part in the process of rehabilitation and resolution – from a neighbourhood conflict to an outright war. I am in awe of the ability of women to keep communities and families together even in the midst of wars and crises.

I have just returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where I travelled with the Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation. War and violence have ravaged the nation, especially the women. We listened to stories that would keep you up at night. For too many of the women, each story started with “I was raped; I was in pain; I was upset and distraught…” But in the middle of their narrative, the beautiful is revealed: “…and then the women came; my sister came; my mother came; a women’s association heard and came…. They took me to a doctor; helped me with clothes; talked to me and then I regained strength… and now I am able to at least think about living again.”

The beautiful line is how women, despite the ugliness of violence, have an unshakeable sense of sisterhood and solidarity. Regardless of what the world calls DRC, I call it the “Capital of Sisterhood and Solidarity”. Their enduring hope compels every one of us to fight for peace.

Maybe with peace there will be less solidarity, because less need for solidarity. It would be worth it.

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

Guest post: You can’t teach if you are not a learner

Mar 8th, 2014 1:39 pm | By

Originally a comment by Gordon Willis on Teach the children well.

I am a private teacher, teaching one-to-one. I teach both adults and children. Some of the children, invariably girls, come from Hong Kong or mainland China. They come aged 13 or 14 or 15, like English children to a boarding school, except that they come alone, because their parents can’t afford the fare for both themselves and their daughters. And they find digs and join a new school of completely foreign people, and they stay, and they learn, and they do not (apparently) suffer trauma and angst and complexes and lack-of-religion, even though their English is terrible (one young lady of 17 studying A-level music with me a couple of years ago told me that she preferred it here, though she hadn’t seen very much of her parents since she was 13, and her English is still pretty bad). Though they are very much alone they just get on with it. Culture, probably. They believe in what they are to do, and they do it. It’s amazing and admirable.

There are problems sometimes, of course. Part of being a teacher is to recognise problems and deal with them. The secret is to shut up and let the student just be. There is no reason to suppose that one has answers, but there is great benefit in simply listening and offering something immediately practical, something that can be grasped and used. Poe clearly feels that he ought to intervene and offer a life strategy to each student, as though each student were not an individual and discrete person but an object which must be changed and directed for life. He feels responsible, by which I mean that he feels that he ought to direct, not merely teach, as though he aspired to offer a life-plan for every young person. Teaching is about learning, and you can’t teach if you are not a learner.

A teacher is not someone who knows everything (and so can “teach”) but someone who understands learning, and the vital importance of learning, and who knows that learning never ends, and that whoever stops learning is not an “accomplished” adult but a carcass fit only for worms or the crematorium. A good teacher can transform a child’s life, but it might not happen, and if it does one might never know. A good teacher is just a teacher.

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

“Women Empowerment: An Alternative in Focus”

Mar 8th, 2014 12:10 pm | By

How to celebrate International Women’s Day at Aligarh Muslim University.

Women students in flowing burqas talk about how purdah is the “purest form of existence for a woman”. They explain how capitalism — with its notions of financial independence or a career for women — is anti-women.

Models are on display to help explain how purdah is to be observed.

And then, apparently in a concession to more “modern” views, the women also speak about dowry, foeticide, sexual violence and women’s health.

All this is part of a three-day exhibition that started on Friday at one of Aligarh Muslim University’s women’s hostels, Abdullah Hall, to — ironically — mark International Women’s Day.

What did they say about dowry and sexual violence? That they’re the “purest form of existence for a woman”?

Anam Rais Ansari, one of the organisers, and a student of law, said they were providing “Islamic solutions” to women’s problems.

The group has organised a talk titled ‘Women Empowerment: An Alternative in Focus’, at Kennedy Hall on the campus on March 8.

Fliers on campus, and a huge poster at the university gate, show senior lawyer and feminist Vrinda Grover as one of the speakers.

However, when contacted, Grover said she had pulled out of the function after she came to know about the group and its activities.

“I am no longer part of (the AMU) function. The views of the organisers are extremely regressive. They are trying to tell women how to dress and how to live,” Grover said.

But Abdul Rauf, a representative of the group, who is a research scholar at the biochemistry department, said: “We have invited Grover. She will come.”

I love the title. “Women Empowerment: An Alternative in Focus” – yes that’s an alternative all right.

‘Students of AMU’ was formed in 2010, and has significant influence on the campus now. It enjoys the support of some teachers and students and, apparently, of AMU authorities as well. The group is known for its regressive views on women and women’s rights.

A recent post on its Facebook page reads: “Sisters, even though our brothers are responsible for their own gaze, we are responsible for what we give them to gaze at!!” One of the posts profiles four Western women who recently converted to Islam.

One of the over 30 lectures the group has organised in the past was titled ‘Hijab: The beauty of Islam’. The group is alleged to have recently scuttled an initiative to get men and women students of the campus together on a single platform to protest against the alleged molestation of a Kashmiri student by a teacher.

A student of the law faculty said: “‘Students of AMU’ is subverting the secular discourse at the university, and is promoting conservatism on campus. They prefer to call themselves an Islamist body.”

It all sounds very familiar. You get the same thing at UK universities, with the addition of clueless students who think they’re supporting something progressive and leftwing by supporting Islamists.

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

Pieces of chewed gum

Mar 8th, 2014 11:11 am | By

Women who are Mormons are noticing that Mormonism isn’t very friendly to women.

Last year, when Kristy Money was planning a baby-naming ceremony in her Mormon congregation, she asked if she could hold her newborn during the ceremony, sitting or standing inside the circle of men who would bless her daughter.

“All I want is to hold my baby,” Dr. Money, a 29-year-old psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif., said she told her bishop. She said he refused, explaining that only men who hold the priesthood could participate.

So Kristy Money should get out of that congregation and that religion so that her daughter will not be raised in a religion that treats her as an inferior. I don’t suppose she will though.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose priests and governing authorities form an entirely male gallery of leaders, is facing a geyser of questions from women who want more participation and visibility in virtually every aspect of Mormon life. While many Mormon women say they are satisfied with the way things are, others want to hold the priesthood along with men, essentially erasing the faith’s long-held idea that God wants men and women to perform different roles.

Not just different. Don’t sugar-coat it, New York Times. It’s the religion’s long-held idea that God wants men to have all the authority and women to be subordinate to them. “Different roles” is way too euphemistic. Don’t do that.

In response to an article in The New York Times on Sunday, in which church leaders said they were interested in expanding opportunities for female members, Mormon women poured out requests: to be Sunday school presidents, to plan worship, to be allowed to teach seminary while they have children under 18, and to let their daughters serve as ushers.

“My husband’s group of young men recently trained to climb Mount Rainier together,” Jennifer McDonald, a 36-year-old clinical psychologist in DuPont, Wash., who supports women’s ordination, wrote in an email. The corresponding activities for young women were “quilting, making friendship bracelets, and hair styling,” she said.

See that? That’s “different” but it’s also better versus worse, higher versus lower. Crafts are fun, but not when they’re the only option.

Many asked that church authorities stop trying to inculcate chastity by comparing women who have had sex outside of marriage to “pieces of chewed gum, boards with holes nailed into them, muffins that someone else had already tasted,” said Elisa Koler, 29, a teacher and former missionary who stopped attending church because of concerns about how women are treated.

Elisa Koler had the right idea. More women should do that, and so should more men. Get out.

More than 1,300 Mormon women have signed a manifesto outlining specific changes. The document, titled “All Are Alike Unto God,” asks the men who run the church to consider women’s ordination, which officials in Salt Lake City say is out of the question. Only opening the priesthood to women can address the gender imbalance in the church, contends Kate Kelly, a human rights attorney in Washington who founded the Ordain Women movement. “Not only do Mormons believe the priesthood is the power of God, and can perform and officiate in miracles, but it’s also completely intertwined with the governance structure of the church,” she said. “There is no amount of incremental change, and no amount of additional concessions that the church can make to extend an olive branch to women without changing that fundamental inequality.”

Exactly. It’s not just a job, it’s the power structure of the whole organization. When women are officially excluded, women are officially an inferior class. That’s a bad arrangement.

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

Things that are not postmodernist

Mar 7th, 2014 6:08 pm | By

Not everything is postmodernist. Not even everything you dislike is postmodernist. Some things are not postmodernist.

Artistic license is not postmodernist. It has been around for a long time, longer than postmodernism.

Why am I telling you this? Because of some literal-minded bozos who have been complaining that a Hollywood movie about Noah and his big boat CHANGED SOME OF THE THINGS IN THE STORY.

At the request of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), Paramount added a disclaimer which reads, in part, that “[t]he film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

The movie isn’t the story in Genesis told in pictures. That fact is not postmodernist.

Brian Godawa, a screenwriter whose Christian films have repeatedly failed to be profitable at the box office, wrote that Noah‘s script “is deeply anti-Biblical in its moral vision.”

“Noah is a kind of rural shaman and vegan hippie-like gatherer of herbs. Noah explains that his family tries to study and heal the world whenever possible, like a kind of environmentalist scientist,” Godawa writes.

The environmental message, however, is not Godawa’s central complaint — he is mostly considered concerned with the “postmodernist fancy” that Aronofsky brings to the script. He initially acknowledges that anything not explicitly written in Genesis 6 is fair-game for creative license. “Saying ‘That didn’t happen on the ark,’” he writes, “is sheer ignorance because nobody knows what happened on the ark, because it wasn’t written down!”

However, “postmodernists fancy playing God and changing the meaning of texts to suit their agenda because they believe language creates reality. Therefore, it’s okay to ‘make the Bible say what we want it to say.’ This is manipulative narcissistic nonsense[.]”

No, Brian Godawa, that is not postmodernism. It’s just retelling the story. You know who else did that? Shakespeare. He used other people’s stories, and he changed them any old way he felt like. Shakespeare was not a postmodernist. Changing stories is not a new thing and it’s not blasphemy and it’s not postmodernist.

I’m sure you won’t make that mistake again.

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

Teach the children well

Mar 7th, 2014 5:29 pm | By

The Atlantic has a very long wordy windbaggy article arguing that universities should teach students religion; not about religion, but religion. Why? Because they’re adrift, and only religion can fix their adriftitude.

Long long long introductory passage that tells us far more than we want to know. He used to teach. He got to know some students.

What I discovered was that many of the students I talked to were disappointed, confused, and lost. They were bright kids. Many of them had looked forward to going to the university all their lives. College was, in their imaginations, a sort of promised land, a place where you find your calling and get the skills necessary to pursue it. What they found, however, was not a promised land at all. To them, the college curriculum was a bewildering jumble of classes that led to nothing in particular. 

And so on and on and on in that style, loose and relaxed and endlessly explaining the obvious.

I also learned that because they were adrift in so many ways, they suffered. It was not difficult to get them talking about their distress, probably because no one at the university had ever thought to inquire. There were those who drank too much and got into trouble. There were those who were full-blown alcoholics or drug addicts.

And on and on and on through every type he can think of. Bad writing! We get it; a couple of examples will do; we get the idea. Cut to the chase.

He himself had a crisis once. What to do? Psychiatrists were not much help; they couldn’t get at the core problem. What to do? Religion.

What to do? I had never been religious. Far from it, I was a confirmed atheist. But, in desperation, I began to attend what might generically be called a “spiritual program.” Some call it a “religion” and others call it a “practice.” It doesn’t matter. The important point is that the people in this spiritual program embraced me, identified with me, and told me to do a specific set of things. There was talk of God, but they explained that talking was secondary to doing. I didn’t have to believe in God, they said, all I had to do was practice the teachings of the “religion.” If I did that, they said, I would be relieved of much of my suffering.

And it worked. Why? Because it gave him a way of life.

Without a way of life, I would say, one’s thoughts and actions tend to move at random, like water poured on a surface, spreading out and seeking the lowest places. With a way of life, I would continue, one’s thoughts and actions move in a single direction, like water poured in a channel, moving in a single direction toward a final end.

And that’s why he thinks it’s a remedy for everyone. Kind of pathetic, isn’t it.

There are a few hundred more paragraphs about why it’s ok to teach this to students.

American higher education has, however, one glaring deficiency: it does not teach its undergraduates how to live. It teaches them when the French Revolution was, what the carbon cycle is, and how to solve for X. It does not teach them what to do when they feel confused, alone, and scared. When they break down after a break-up. When they are so depressed they cannot get out of bed. When they drink themselves into unconsciousness every night. When find themselves living on someone’s couch. When they decide to go off their meds. When they flunk a class or even flunk out of school. When they get fired. When a sibling dies. When they don’t make the team.

Believe it or not, there’s more like that. More examples; more “when they”s. That guy cannot write for shit. He should have skipped the religion and maybe even skipped graduate school and just learned how to write.

I do not think he gives good advice about what to teach students.

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

Negative action

Mar 7th, 2014 2:52 pm | By

We know affirmative action is a bad thing, right? At least we keep being told so. “People must be selected on merit, not having the right genitalia.”

What about negative action? Is that a bad thing?

Like that applied to Jenny Collier for example?


Haslemere Thursday 15th May – cancelled

7 March 2014 17:32

Hi Jenny

I’m really sorry but the venue has decided they don’t want too many women on the bill and unfortunately we need to take you out of this one. We hope that this doesn’t cause any inconvenience.

Oh no, of course it doesn’t. How could it possibly cause any inconvenience to be “taken out” of a gig you were scheduled to do, on the grounds that the venue doesn’t want “too many” of you pesky women?

No, it’s totally understandable. Don’t forget: women aren’t funny.

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

Near you on Friday nights

Mar 7th, 2014 2:28 pm | By

Another shrewd bit of ad-targeting on Facebook. Yes, I will certainly find this persuasive:


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