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.

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.)

As more women come forward

Nov 21st, 2014 11:53 am | By

Bill Cosby is losing gigs now.

Additional Bill Cosby shows have been canceled as more women come forward alleging he sexually assaulted them many years ago.

Officials at the Treasure Island hotel-casino on the Las Vegas strip said they’ve mutually agreed with the comedian to pull the plug on his Nov. 28 performance.

Jenny Carpenter, the manager at Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois, confirmed that Cosby’s April appearances are canceled.

The moves come after the Diamond Desert casino in Tucson, Arizona, on Thursday scrapped his Feb. 15 gig. No reason was given.

He’s 77. That’s a lot of decades of getting away with it. His tv sitcom ran from from September 20, 1984 to April 30, 1992, eight full seasons. He played Mr Fabulous Solid Humorous But Also Responsible And Wise Father. Think about that. Think about playing that kind of part while being a guy with a pattern of drugging women and then raping them and then getting away with it because they were drugged. Think about combining those two things. He didn’t present himself as just a stand-up comic, but also as a quintessential good guy. A paradigm of the good guy, a pattern for all aspiring good guys.

The allegations from a growing number of women have prompted the cancellation of interviews and much-anticipated projects on NBC and Netflix, and reruns of“The Cosby Show” have been pulled off the air.

I wonder if he’s going to be another martyred hero for the people who think Matt Taylor is a martyr to feminism.



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

If only you’d said it more sweetly

Nov 21st, 2014 10:53 am | By

Huh. Surprised again. Always being surprised. I saw a post by Hemant titled Why is Richard Dawkins Doubling Down on His Previous Statements? I thought it was a post about Dawkins’s previous statements and his new statements in which he says even worse things. I thought it was Hemant finally seeing the problem.

Silly me. Of course not. It turns out to be Hemant saying it’s our fault.

That wasn’t immediately apparent. It wasn’t apparent from this:

In an interview with reporter Kimberly Winston, Dawkins stood by the really frustrating and tone-deaf remarks he’s made over the past year on Twitter (and even before that, in other venues). It was pretty obvious from his remarks that none of the criticism leveraged at him has sunk in. And those of us who still appreciate his books — count me in that mix — are left trying to figure out what the hell to make of all this.

But then we get to his real point:

I also think he’s used to more formal debates where, if you disagree with someone, you respond with a calm rebuttal. Turns out the online world doesn’t work that way. So all he sees are vilifications of his character — the same tactics used by his lifelong opponents — and that just convinces him that he’s been right all along. No wonder he doubled down on his statements. It’s a lot easier to change your mind privately, where you’re not subject to humiliation and being portrayed as the bad guy. When you’re attacked publicly, as is usually the case with him, you become more defensive.

I can tell you that if I were criticized in the way I’ve seen Dawkins criticized — with flippant sarcasm, or over-the-top outrage, or having my own words twisted in a way I never intended — I probably wouldn’t change my mind, either. I’d just get angry at the people who refuse to give me the benefit of the doubt and who seem hell-bent on discrediting me. That’s not to say the critics aren’t justified (or right), but that it just wouldn’t be an effective way to get through to me. There’s an art to telling people they’re wrong in a way that’ll get through to them — I know some teachers who are experts at it — and the Internet is where that skill goes to die.

We kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, too.

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

Created to defend Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment

Nov 20th, 2014 6:26 pm | By

So what’s this Independent Women’s Forum that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was talking to when she called us idiots? Let’s ask Wikipedia.

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is a politically conservative American non-profit organization focused on policy issues of concern to women.[6][7] The IWF was founded by activist Rosalie Silberman to promote a “conservative alternative to feminist tenets” following the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1992.[8]

The group advocates “equity feminism,” a term first used by IWF author Christina Hoff Sommers to distinguish “traditional, classically liberal, humanistic feminism” from “gender feminism”, which she claims opposes gender roles as well as patriarchy.[9] According to Sommers, the gender feminist view is “the prevailing ideology among contemporary feminist philosophers and leaders”[9] and “thrives on the myth that American women are the oppressed ‘second sex.'”[10] Sommers’ equity feminism has been described as anti-feminist by critics.[11]

In the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, the IWF took a vocal stance against Barack Obama on its website and in a series of political ads comparing the President to a dishonest boyfriend.[12]

I left all the links behind; you’ll have to go to the source if you want them.

Founded in 1992 by Rosalie Silberman, Anita K. Blair, and Barbara Olson,[8][13] the IWF grew out of the ad hoc group “Women for Judge Thomas,” created to defend Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment and other improprieties.

Oooookay I think that tells us all we need to know.

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

“We must retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women”

Nov 20th, 2014 2:03 pm | By

They must have a Facebook group or a Google+ group or a mailing list or similar. They must be coordinating their moves. Now it’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali echoing Dawkins echoing Sommers echoing #GamerGate and on and on until they disappear into an infinite regress.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a harsh critic of Islam’s treatment of women, said Wednesday that modern American feminism is focused on “trivial bullshit” and needs to be reclaimed.

Speaking at the Independent Women’s Forum Women of Valor dinner, where she received an award for courage, Hirsi Ali reminded her audience of how far feminism has strayed from its original purpose.

“I want you to remember that once upon a time, feminists fought for the access — basic right — access of girls to education,” she said.

Yes, that’s right, and we’re still doing that. “Access” isn’t just a matter of having a law on the books saying “girls shall be permitted.” Access is a lot of things. It depends on the place and time and background and many things. In some places – many places – “access” is an empty word for children who can’t afford to buy a required uniform, or children whose parents make them take care of their younger siblings, or children who are malnourished and fall asleep in school.

She talked about her parents.

Her mother wanted to take her and her sister out of school because education would lead them to rebel against their family and “bring shame upon us.” Her father responded by saying, “If you take my girls out of school, I am going to curse you and you are going to burn in hell.”

Taken out of context, Hirsi Ali said, one might side with her mother, but in reality, she said it was her father that allowed her to be educated and helped make her what she is today.

Yes. Men can be feminists, and women can be anti-feminists. We already know that.

We’ve won, she says. It’s done.

“Feminists in this country and in the West fought against that and won the battle,” she added.

But now, Hirsi Ali said, feminism has taken that victory and squandered it.

“What we are now doing with the victory, and I agree with you if you condemn that and I condemn whole-heartedly the trivial bullshit it is to go after a man who makes a scientific breakthrough and all that we as women — organized women — do is to fret about his shirt?” Hirsi Ali said, referring to the controversy generated by the shirt featuring cartoons of scantily-clad women worn by the scientist who helped land a robot on a comet. “We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women.”

Hey! There it is – you can see she and Dawkins have been Skyping like mad, feeding each other lines. “We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women.” That’s Dawkins. “Pompous idiots,” he called us.

So, what about her claim. It’s a crock of shit, that’s what about it. Part of access is feeling as if you belong. Part of access to places like school and university and STEM fields is feeling as if you belong there as part of the enterprise – learning or teaching or practicing. Part of access is not being made to feel that you “belong” there only insofar as you are sexually interesting to men.

But, Hirsi Ali said, we should not throw away feminism, because that would be like throwing away the civil rights movement. Instead, feminism needs to fight the real war on women: Radical Islam and other parts of the world where women don’t even have the right to an education or to leave their home without a male guardian.

Don’t. Don’t, don’t, don’t. Don’t do that. It’s right-wing bullshit and you have no business engaging in it. Nobody has any business doing that. By all means urge US feminists to pay more attention to women in Somalia, or in majority-Muslim countries, or wherever, but don’t do it by saying “pay less attention to your own stuff” first. It’s hateful, it’s wrong, it’s a ploy, it’s bullshit.

But I shouldn’t even bother, should I. She’s at the American Enterprise Institute, along with Sommers. What trying to destroy feminism has to do with “enterprise” I’ll never know, unless “enterprise” is just code for “right wing on all subjects.”

Whatever it is, it’s a crock. Whether from Hirsi Ali, or Dawkins, or Sommers, or Shermer, or Blackford, or Rush Limbaugh, it’s all a crock.

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

The public shaming is going a long way

Nov 20th, 2014 12:22 pm | By

Anderson Cooper did an excellent segment last night on the snowballing allegations of rape against Bill Cosby, and why he hasn’t been prosecuted, and why prosecution was difficult, and what that means for everyone else.

One of the women who has accused Bill Cosby of rape is Andrea Constand. Back in 2005, she came forward alleging the comedian drugged and groped her at his house.

Bill Cosby has not been charged in connection with any of the rape allegations made against him. Constand settled a lawsuit against Cosby.

Former Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Prosecutor Bruce Castor made the decision not to charge Bill Cosby in that case.In a discussion that also included CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin, Mr. Castor told Anderson he believed Constand’s account, but did not have the forensics to back it up.

Castor and Hostin both talk about the fact that rape can be very difficult to prosecute, and that that does not mean the prosecution does not believe the woman who reports she was raped. For instance, when the victim is drugged, then her memory is blurry, and that makes it hard to prosecute. Does that sound familiar? Yes it does. Alison Smith told Mark Oppenheimer her memory was blurred.

What this means, of course, is that drugging a woman for purposes of rape is a very good way of ensuring you’ll get away with it. Win-win: she doesn’t struggle, and she can’t prosecute you. Total freebie! Minus the cost of the drug, of course.

Hostin points out that 13, maybe 14 women have come forward and described the same MO, and they have nothing to gain from this. At about 3:30:

I am just so sick and tired of reading on Twitter or getting emails from people saying, ‘they have a lot to gain, they’re gonna get fame and notoriety, I can tell you from working with victims of crime, they don’t want that kind of fame, they don’t want that kind of notoriety, they want their story to be heard, and I think that is why we are seeing so many people come forward. What I am curious about is when Bill Cosby is going to come forward.

Castor around 4:30:

My gut from 25-30 years of doing this business was that she was telling the truth and he was being evasive and lying. So this was a classic example of what drives prosecutors to wake up at night, which is, I thought he was guilty, I didn’t have enough evidence to prove it, and I was worried that he would go out and do it again. So I wanted to make sure that whatever investigation we did would be useful in the civil case. The public shaming here I think is going a long way, and at least in my case the victim did have a civil recourse.

The public shaming is going a long way. Huh. So we’re allowed to do that? We’re allowed to report allegations, and discuss them in public? Really? Isn’t there some guy in Ireland insisting that we’re not allowed to do that? And trying hard to extort apologies from people who do that?

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

More women complaining

Nov 20th, 2014 10:45 am | By

I wonder how Richard Dawkins would see this – as an example of something he cares passionately about, or as an example of something women should just put up with because there are worse things?

From the Yemen Times:

“May God protect you and your family,” it begins. Perhaps not considered harassment to some, but to the women who experience it daily, the intent is obvious. “I want to know you.” “Good Morning.” “What nice eyes. “Nice body.” “Let’s have lunch together.” Yemeni women are used to hearing phrases like these the second they step away from their homes.

Some women have become accustomed to such harassment and see it as an inevitable but minor daily annoyance. For others, it can be emotionally exhausting, leading them to change the kind of clothing they wear, the route they take to school or work, and the transport they take to get there.

Street harassment is not limited to Yemen, but is a world-wide phenomenon. The blame for harassment is often put on women instead of the male perpetrators.

It’s a world-wide phenomenon. Hmm. So is the solution to the Dawkins Dilemma to decide it’s bad when it happens in Yemen, India, Egypt and the like, and harmless when it happens in the US? (It’s not clear to me what Dawkins’s view is of UK women who complain of harassment. Are they bad because not Yemeni, or good because not American? I don’t know. He did specify it’s American women who make him impatient, but maybe that’s because the reporter he was talking to is American and he wanted to be polite.)

Whether the harassers believe their behavior is acceptable or not, they know they can easily get away with it. Men are often excused for bad behavior, with some people reasoning that it’s simply ‘the way men are,’ while women are held responsible.

That’s true in a number of areas. That too is not limited to Yemen.

While teenagers are a major source of harassment directed towards women, middle-aged men are by no means exempt. Even children sometimes harass women in the streets.

Rawan, an 18-year-old high school student, said while she was walking in the street, a child, who she guessed was around the age of 12, approached her and said “Let’s have lunch together today.”

On the other side of the age spectrum, Lamia, a 22-year-old Sana’a University student in the Faculty of Arts, notes there are also a lot of  middle-aged harassers. Lamia said she felt most afraid of this demographic compared to young men because they often say more obscene words and can be more persistent.

As the famous Yemeni proverb says, “what you don’t accept for your sister, don’t accept for others.”

While there are notable organizations in Yemen promoting women’s rights, there is a lack of effort towards discouraging and solving the issue of verbal harassment in the streets. At least that is Abdu, a pharmacist thinks. “I call on civil organizations, the media, policy makers, and the security personnel to join in solidarity with this issue,” she said.

I wonder how many famous Yemeni men there are telling reporters how impatient they get with Yemeni women complaining of street harassment when there are women in Mali who can’t even afford to buy a burqa.

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

How to distribute holy saliva

Nov 20th, 2014 9:15 am | By

An extraordinary court ruling from Karnataka, India.

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday allowed continuation of “Made Snana” ritual in its traditional form at Kukke Subramanyaswami temple at Subramanya till the court decided constitutional validity of the ritual.

The court passed the interim order on a review petition filed by some of the employees of the temple questioning the modification of the ritual by the government.

The court also stayed its 2012 order in which it had given its consent to the modified form of the ritual as proposed by the government then and accepted by those who had questioned the ritual terming it as unconstitutional.

What is Made Snana? Wikipedia has a brief but still helpful explanation:

Made Made Snana is practiced on certain festive days in Subramanya temples of Karnataka and Made Made Snana practice undertaken at Kukke Subramanya Temple is wellknown all over the state.[1] People from lower strata of society in general roll over the plantain leaves after the leaves are used to take food by upper caste people (Brahmins)[3] and this ritual is observed with a belief that skin d[is]eases of devotees get cured by Made Made Snana.[4] The practice is undertaken with a belief that saliva of upper caste people has the power to cure skin diseases[5] and Lord Subramanya is also believed to cure skin diseases. The practice has general approval by Seers of several maths.[2] After the rolling over, the vestiges covered on the bodies of the devotees are washed in nearby Kumaradhara River and after this bath in the river, the ritual is said to be completed.[4] The practice is said to be more than 500 years old.[2]

Reformers oppose it; traditionalists are angry at reformers for opposing it.

There’s an obvious flaw here. If it’s really about the curative powers of Brahmin saliva, clearly the practical thing to do is to collect some saliva from all the Brahmins present, dilute it with something – holy water if you like – to make it go around, and then pour it into a bowl so that people can dab some on their skin diseases. If you actually want to apply someone’s saliva to your body, the best method is not to lie down on the plantain leaves that held the food those people just ate. That’s not a good method at all.

That method isn’t good at distributing saliva, it’s good at degrading people. That’s clearly the actual point of it – the spectacle of “lower” caste people rolling on the ground on other people’s dirty dishes.

Nirmukta republished an article by Narendra Nayak on this practice in January 2012. Nayak saw the practice as a child but it was inter-Brahmin: Brahmins rolling on the leaves used for eating by other Brahmins.

But, what happened at the Kukke Subrahamanya Temple is something totally different. Here the scheduled tribe people performed this act on leaves on which Shivalli Brahmins have partaken food. This again brings to the fore many issues which have to be discussed in detail. This temple is, to put it mildly, not as popular as the one nearby at Dharmasthala. The latter being owned by a Jain has drawn more people particularly from the other side of the Western Ghats and subsequently has higher collections. The owner of this temple has been also running many capitation fee colleges and businesses. In order to compete with it, the management of the Subrahmanya Temple has been trying its best to get publicity. Its speciality is providing solutions for naga dosha which in loose translation means problems due to cobra or serpent trouble!

So it’s a money-making dodge! A money-making dodge that combines medical-woo with pointless degradation. Neato.

So, the word has gone around that the ritual of rolling over the leaves on which Brahmins have eaten can cure a number of skin diseases and also other things like bestowing children on sterile couples. But, if one goes by the history of such practices, it looks more like a rite for the down trodden to perform to demonstrate their loyalty to the upper castes who have partaken food on these leaves. In this temple which is run by Shivalli Brahmins, their community is served separately and the others have to eat outside like all such places. There are instances where people have been forcibly evicted from the places reserved for this community! It has been done not just to the supposedly lower castes but even to Goud Saraswat Brahmins who though call themselves so are held in low esteem by these so called upper castes! So, behind these practices lies a simmering cauldron of caste politics.

The fine art of coming up with new and creative way to treat some people as Higher than others, and some of the others as Lower than dirt. Good job, Kukke Subrahamanya Temple; good job, Karnataka High Court. (If Nayak is right about the origins of this practice, the court got the facts completely wrong.)



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

But it ain’t his movement

Nov 19th, 2014 5:56 pm | By

Damn, there are such good comments on PZ’s post on Dawkins on American women complaining about being groped at work that I have to share a few extracts.

CaitieCat @ 7

How can we make the Deep Rifts wide enough so we don’t have to constantly hear his whining drone note about how muzzled he is, carried in every major media source? He’s like a bagpipe made of living cats at this point – the last thing you want to do is squeeze him or poke him, because then he’ll start playing his only tune, the MRA anthem “Restrainin’ Men”, to the tune of “It’s Rainin’ Men”.

drewvogel @ 16

I don’t understand why feminism has to be this major fault line. Atheists can disagree about other things without causing these “deep rifts”. But Dawkins (and Boghossian, and others) won’t let it go. He wants to be as alienating as possible. He wants to alienate us because he doesn’t want us in his movement. But it ain’t his movement.

themadtapper @ 24

I can’t stand that whole “but in comparison to the Middle-East…” bullshit that he’s constantly pulling. And for him to outright say that women complaining about being molested… excuse me, “inappropriately touched”, is trivial? That’s just beyond the pale even for Dawkins. I can already hear his response, too. “Oh, I didn’t say it was trivial, i said it was trivial in comparison. Surely you agree mutilation and stoning are worse than inappropriate touching right? I can say ‘X is worse than Y’ without saying Y isn’t bad. I’m not saying Y isn’t bad.” If Y is bad, and isn’t trivial, then why the fuck are you bringing X into it and lamenting that people complain about Y?

Giliell @ 34

So Dawkins, is asked to be interviewed… for an article he knows is going to be published. And in the interview he complains that he’s “muzzled”?

Well, it’s because after this he will never be able to give an interview without heavy security again. Because of the nature of this, he will have to go into hiding like Salman Rushdi, flee the country and not be able to return again like Taslima Nasreen. if he is ever caught he will not get away with a few thousand lashes like Raif Badawi, no, he will either be lynched likeHenry Smith (TW for that) or be the victim of a witch hunt(TW, too), because his opponents are just a version of Nazis like the people who killed Sophie Scholl

Maureen Brian @ 35 [posted at the same time as Giliell’s]

On the question of muzzling, does Richard Dawkins have it worse than Taslima Nasreen? No.

Belonging in a country where equal pay has been law since the early 1970s and there’s still a measurable pay gap does he have it worse than British women disrespected in the workplace? No.

Does he have it worse than women in the UK where 20% of REPORTED rapes don’t even make it into the record – No.

Same problem most places. Trying to divide it by country or culture is an attempt to avoid the issue. End of story.

carlie @ 83

Also, Dawkins KNOWS what he did with that coffee comment. He knows what Rebecca Watson has gone through. He knows that when he brings it up he inflames the MRAssholes. And he did it anyway, because scoring his own point in a single interview is worth more to him than what he just did to her threat count for the next month.

drken @ 91

What Richard Dawkins realizes (or is at least taking advantage of) is that sexism is much more acceptable than other forms of bias, such as racism. It’s not that you can’t get “in trouble” for angering feminists (see Summers, Larry) it’s that when feminists are mad at you, everybody has your back. Let’s remember that while Larry Summers did lose his job after implying that women aren’t as good at math as men, he was supported by pretty much everybody in the mainstream media as a victim of “political correctness” at the hands of feminists who “can’t handle reality”. Then he went on to run Goldman-Sachs and become Secretary of the Treasury. So yeah, his life was ruined. In 2 years, when Matt Taylor is still getting death threats over his shirt and major figures in astronomy are refusing to attend any conferences he’s a part of, I’ll consider the plight of the poor oppressed men who run afoul of feminists. Until then, I’ll consider feminism an easy target you can pretend to be brave by standing up to.

nich @ 99

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

How fucking stupid! So now that Malala Yousafzai is safe in the confines of Dicky Dawk’s benevolent Western world I can catcall at her? Accost her in an elevator at 4 fucking AM and invite her to my room for some coffee and a lil’ chit-chat? Pinch her ass by the coffee mess? Tweet out pics of her head photo-shopped onto porn stars? And she just has to shut the fuck up about it now that she has graduated from level one to level two of Dawk’s imaginary fucking scale of oppression?

“I must confess Malala, that I am getting a little impatient with your whining now that you aren’t as oppressed as you used to be…”

That’s only a small sample. A lot of great comments there.

Update to add a few:

Ibis3 @ 163

@We Are Plethora #156

It’s very interesting how Dawkins chose to use a euphemism (“inappropriately touched”) rather than the term we all know he really meant which was “non-consensual groping.”

I believe the term you’re searching for is “sexual assault”. He’s talking about women who, instead of being able to go about their jobs in peace, are targeted and sexually assaulted by their colleagues and bosses. The “at the water cooler” phrase also implies that this is an everyday, mundane, commonplace, to-be-expected occurrence for any woman in the workplace–as ordinary and therefore as trivial as office gossip and small talk about last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

tigtog @ 165

Ibis3 #163, you make an excellent point regarding the trivialising and gaslighting bundled up in Dawkins’ carefully condescending phrase, which reminds me of when DJ Grothe characterised backchannel warnings against the harassing/assaulting tendencies of certain male skeptics as “distasteful locker room banter” and bragging about “sexual exploits”, because yeah that’s exactly what telling another woman which men to be extra-wary of is all about.

For anyone who wasn’t around for Grothe’s above effort in 2012, Justin Thibeault’s post on the quoted from which I’ve pulled the above phrases is a good primer.

yazikus @ 166

I work in an industry where many women remember not that long ago when men would chase them through the offices to grope them and kiss them. Where the female partner in a firm had to sit on a male partner’s lap to be allowed in the Partner’s Lounge. Where you could walk in on the boss giggling while watching porn, and he wouldn’t even turn it off. There is no such thing as harmless ‘inappropriate touching’ at a water cooler. That is sexual assault, and a hostile work environment to boot. There were plenty of things he could have chosen as an example of ‘frivolous’ complaining, and yet he chose this, something that is illegal, wrong & keeping women out of certain industries. Makes me wonder what his motive was in choosing those specific words.

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

To use an external fear to silence criticism and efforts to correct inequities at home

Nov 19th, 2014 5:03 pm | By

Oh look, PZ got to the Dawkins interview before I did. I didn’t see it until now, so it didn’t influence what I wrote. Funny, we said the exact same thing about Dawkins’s claimed “passionate feminism.”

Richard Dawkins is a feminist like Christina Hoff Sommers, who he praises, is a feminist … that is not a feminist at all, scarcely understanding what feminism is, and detesting every feminist cause they encounter. Anti-feminists love Sommers and Dawkins because they create a lovely gray zone in which even misogynists get to claim nominal status as being all for equality, when they aren’t.

Dawkins and Sommers should form a partnership. Peter Boghossian could be their intern.

Also this, which I didn’t say:

Islamism and jihadism are serious problems, no question there. But having great big problems does not diminish the smaller problems into nonexistence — that women in Africa are being burned as witches does not mean there is no pay gap between the sexes; you don’t get to use a ranking of social ills to pretend that the lesser ones are to be ignored.

Guess how much working to end workplace harassment in the West harms the the effort to end female genital mutilation in other parts of the world? Not at all. Empowering women at home gives them the clout and the freedom to act for others. So who the fuck are you to tell American women to grin and bear it when they get fondled at the water cooler, in the name of Islamist oppression? This is a right-wing tactic, to use an external fear to silence criticism and efforts to correct inequities at home, and is a formula for futility — when you trivialize local, incremental changes that people can make, demanding that they instead deal immediately with larger problems directly, you get paralysis. Hey, you, stop working in that women’s shelter and instead get a gun and go fight ISIS!



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

How to rank?

Nov 19th, 2014 4:35 pm | By

So we’ve been remiss around here. We need to get organized. We need to have a good chart of all the things that are worse than other things, so that we can talk only about the worse things and never about the less worse things.

This might turn out to be a fairly tall order, but never mind, I’m sure if we pull our chairs all the way up to the desk, and comb our hair, and wipe the grease from our chins, we will be able to do it.

Let’s see. Labor. Labor issues. Here in the US there are jobs that are badly paid, and jobs that are hazardous, and jobs that are both. Jobs that are both must be worse, so we can’t talk about jobs that are only one but not the other.

But then there are worse jobs in other places. So we have to stop talking about any US labor issues, since there are worse ones elsewhere. Bangladesh is apparently not good at making sure its factories don’t burn down with most of the workers trapped inside, so maybe we should talk only about Bangladesh? Is that the worst? Are there worse ones in Zimbabwe or Mali? I don’t know. I guess it takes some research to find out which places are the very worst so that you know which ones to ignore.

Disease. How do you rank diseases? Ebola is very bad. Cancer is very bad. Crohn’s disease is horrible. Severe respiratory diseases are horrible. Frankly I’m not sure I would know how to rank them. How do people get so confident about knowing how to rank things?

Poverty. There’s a lot of poverty in the US, way more than you would expect from a developed democracy. But there are a few other countries that have a higher proportion of their populations living in poverty. (Not as many as you might think though.) I guess for that one we can just look up the stats and choose whatever country is on the bottom. I think it might be Mali.

Mental illness. Which is worse, depression or anxiety? I don’t know. Both sound very difficult and bad, and I don’t know how to decide which is worse.

No, you know what, this isn’t going to work. I don’t know how to go about it. I can do it if it’s really obvious, like a small scratch is not as bad as an axe wound. But other than that? I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how and more to the point, I don’t feel as if it’s my business. I think it’s a really gruesome kind of officiousness to decide you get to grade and sort and rank other people’s miseries. That’s just not a responsibility I want to take on, because it’s not up to me.

I don’t understand why Richard Dawkins thinks it’s up to him. I really don’t. He explained it to Kimberly Winston as being because he is so passionate about the problems of women in places that are far from the UK and the US, but I don’t find that convincing, because so am I and so are many other people I know, but they don’t think that means problems of women more nearby don’t matter. I guess I’m afraid I think it’s just as simple as Dawkins finding American feminists irritating, for whatever reason, and then rationalizing that as his impassioned concern for women he’ll never have to sit next to on a stage or a bus.

Things are worse in Pakistan than they are in the UK. I wonder if Dawkins systematically ignores everything that happens in the UK.



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

Guest post: Nothing in the report makes sense

Nov 19th, 2014 3:18 pm | By

Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on He was backing out of the driveway.

That has got to be the shittiest piece of journalism ever: nothing in the report makes sense, and apparently the reporter had not the slightest interest in asking questions, and passing the answers on to us.

First, why were the charges reduced, especially to the point that no jail time was involved? In Georgia, like the rest of the United States, lethal force is not justifiable in self-defense unless you have reasonable fear of death or grave bodily harm, and a reasonable belief that deadly force is necessary to prevent same. People pulling into your driveway, or knocking on your door, do not represent reasonable fear, in any jurisdiction in the country, so it’s out of the question that this is a justifiable homicide.

Second, it says, “When Sailors saw the strange car, he came out shooting.” Did the reporter ask what the fuck that was about? When a person sees a strange car, they do not run out firing shots into the air, because they know that the odds are that this is a vacuum cleaner salesperson and not a burglar. I’d expect the reporter at least to comment that the question was asked and not answered, rather than reporting it as matter-of-factly as, “When he saw the strange car, he locked the front door.”

Third, it says, “He fired once into the air. Investigators say the second shot went through the window and struck Diaz in the head.” What the fuck does this mean? Is it saying that he fired a “warning shot” (which is illegal in most of the country, by the way, and in particular discharging a firearm at all is illegal in Gwinnett County within 500′ of a road or structure)? Is it trying to insinuate that the second shot was a “warning shot” as well, as in, “I fired a warning shot into his head”? It “went through the windshield”… by accident? By magic? Why this use of the passive voice? Is this a hint that police decided the fatality was an unfortunate accident because the shot “went through the windshield”?

Fourth, is this strange silence about motive, and why he came out shooting, intentional? The family of the victim, Rodrigo Diaz, spoke “through a translator.” Can we infer that the homeowner knew that a hispanic man was in his driveway, and that’s why he came out shooting? Can we wonder whether that had anything to do with the decision to reduce the charges?

Fifth, “misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter”? A good reporter would comment on this oddity. In Georgia, involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional taking of life while either (a) performing an illegal act that is not a felony, or (b) performing a legal act “in an illegal manner.” It is (b) that is a misdemeanor, punishable by at most one year in prison. This charge means that the prosecutor is saying that Sailors’s actions are legal, but were performed illegally–negligently, basically. And the reporter didn’t find that worth of following up on? Since firing within 500′ of a building or road violates Gwinnett County ordinances, how is this not (a) above? Are they saying that his opening fire was justified, as in self-defense? If so, see the first point above with a side of what the fuck?

And sixth, Diaz said, “I understand that it is a bullet designed to kill, that it explodes the moment it penetrates,” but the reporter made no followup or comment on that. Explosive ammunition of any kind is illegal under Federal law, so if Sailors were using such, he’d be in Federal prison already. It’s most likely that Sailors was using expanding (i.e., hollow-point) bullets, which (a) do not explode, and (b) are not “designed to kill” (more than any other type of bullet). Hollow points are designed to slow the bullet down, so that it doesn’t go right through the person and hit whoever is behind them. That’s why police always carry hollow points. A small point, but pretty glaring that the reporter didn’t bother to address the question.

Apparently reporters’ job is, as Cobert said, to type up what other people say and then publish it uncritically. Too bad; I’d like to know the actual facts of this horrendous situation.

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

Dawkins stands by everything he has said

Nov 19th, 2014 11:33 am | By

Kimberly Winston had a conversation with Richard Dawkins the other day. She notes that he declined to be interviewed about his Down syndrome and comparative rape remarks last summer, but now on a Bay Area tour to promote his memoir he agreed to talk to her.

Bottom line: He stands by everything he has said — including comments that one form of rape or pedophilia is “worse” than another, and that a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate.

Of course he does.

“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will … ”

He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.

“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” he continued. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”

One, no it doesn’t. He’s still cranking out the shitty remarks. Just the other day he called a bunch of his colleagues “pompous idiots” for objecting to a titty shirt worn on a global tv interview about a glorious success in technology and science.

Of course, he could be cranking out even more shitty remarks, and/or even shittier ones. Maybe this climate of intransigent thought police has suppressed him in that sense and to that degree. If so, hooray for the climate of intransigent thought police.

But let’s think about this underlying idea – that it’s suppressive and thought policey to say there are some things that influential people shouldn’t say in public. In a sense, of course, it is. Saying “you shouldn’t” is inevitably suppressive to some extent, because that’s the point of it. Saying “you shouldn’t shoot people you don’t  know just because they turn into your driveway” is suppressive. Laws against murder are suppressive. There are things we’re forbidden to do, and things we’re urged not to do. That’s suppressive, in a sense. But it’s also essential to the ability to live together. Dawkins can’t be unaware of this fact. So the issue is really the kind of thing he’s being urged not to say.

Imagine if he kept tweeting that the Jews should be rounded up and killed. Who would object if other atheists and secularists and scientists and fans of science urged him to stop saying that? He would, no doubt, but who else would? Neo-Nazis, and pretty much no one else.

But he’s not saying women should be rounded up and killed – he’s just saying it’s their fault if they’re raped while drunk.

Yes, there are differences of degree. But that doesn’t make it a slam-dunk that people should not be urging him to stop saying things like that. It’s not a slam dunk that saying a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate is a trivial thing, or is such an important part of the debate that he should be blatting it out on Twitter.

And then there’s the “climate of bullying” thing. Horseshit. This is a guy with 1.2 million followers on Twitter. This is a guy adored by countless misogynist bullies who feel validated by him. This is a guy who is using his fame and influence to do his best to trash feminism (while claiming to be a “true feminist” himself). He is not being bullied.

Recent criticism of Dawkins has come from women, many of them within the atheist movement, which has long drawn more men to its ranks. His online remarks, some women say, contribute to a climate they see as unwelcoming to female atheists.

Yup. We do say that. They do. His online remarks contribute to a climate unwelcoming to female atheists. You bet they do.

Kimberley quotes Amanda Marcotte and Adam Lee on the subject.

Dawkins, however, disagrees. He is, he said, not a misogynist, as some critics have called him, but “a passionate feminist.” 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.

No, Richard. You are not a passionate feminist. You may think you are, but you’re not. Feminists don’t constantly quote Christina Hoff Sommers approvingly. It’s only anti-feminists who do that.

“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.

Boom! So much for the very belated apology for Dear Muslima last summer. He just took it back. Fucking hell. He thinks he’s a “passionate feminist” and he also thinks he gets to decide what “American women” get to “complain of.” He thinks it’s up to him to compare and measure and decide and rebuke. He even thinks it’s only “American women” who object to sexual harassment.

“And so I occasionally wax a little sarcastic, and I when I have done that, I then have subsequently discovered some truly horrific things, which is that some of the women who were the butt of my sarcasm then became the butt of really horrible or serious threats, which is totally disgusting and I know how horrible that is and that, of course, I absolutely abominate and absolutely repudiate and abhor.”

Oh really? He does? Where, when, in what words? That’s literally the first time I’ve ever seen him say that. I wish he had put it that way in the joint statement. I wrote the joint statement and I carefully worded it as minimally as I could, lest I put him off the whole idea. If that’s how he feels I wish he’d said so last July.

On the other hand it’s not only threats that are the problem. It’s a lot more than that.

Todd Stiefel says it’s great that we have anti-feminists like Dawkins in the atheist movement, because that way we get to forgive him. (Doesn’t that sound a little Christian? Or is that just me.)

Todd Stiefel, president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, has worked with Dawkins on numerous projects, most recently teaming up to launch Openly Secular, an anti-discrimination campaign. He says that despite the controversies, Dawkins continues to be a worthy spokesman for atheism.

But Stiefel knows not everyone feels the same — and that is an asset to atheism. Dawkins, he said, is just one voice within atheism — and the more different voices the movement includes, the stronger it will be.

“It is wonderful that we have such a brilliant asset with a keen, logical mind and passion for integrity,” Stiefel said in a phone interview. “But he is not perfect. He has flaws and weakness, just like we all do. I forgive Richard his faults and try to care for him as a human being, just like I would any other person. I think it is OK to admire Richard for his strengths and forgive him his weakness.”

Easy for him, isn’t it. It’s not his rights that Dawkins is constantly pissing on. It’s not his class of human that Dawkins is constantly showing his contempt for. He’s not an American woman complaining of something Dawkins thinks unimportant.

Hemant Mehta helps too, in his friendly way.

“What we’re seeing is a bad combination of a celebrity who speaks his mind about issues he’s not necessarily an expert on and a horde of well-intentioned people ready to vilify him instead of educate him,” Mehta said.

Right. No one has ever tried to talk to him. Thanks, Hemant – that’s very “well-intentioned” of you.

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

He was backing out of the driveway

Nov 19th, 2014 10:34 am | By

Another occasion for feeling ashamed of the United States. Such occasions are all too abundant.

In Georgia in January 2013 a guy called Rodrigo Diaz, age 23, went to pick up a friend to go rollerskating. He was using his car’s GPS and he accidentally turned into the driveway across the street from his friend’s house. The guy who lived in that house, the wrong house, came outside and shot him through the head.

The shooter plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh was in the courtroom as Philip Sailors plead to the misdemeanor charge for the January 2013 shooting in Lilburn.

Channel 2 Action News broke the news Friday about the plea deal which reduced a murder charge to the misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter and spared the homeowner any jail time.

People Kavanaugh spoke with were surprised that Sailors made no statement and offered no apology to the victim’s family during the hearing.

Diaz’s family are ok with the sentence.

After the hearing, Diaz’s father, Rodrigo Diaz Senior. told Kavanaugh that Sailors could have received a stronger punishment, but he believed that would only end up destroying two families.

His eldest son, David, agreed.

“There is no point for him to be in lifetime in prison. What we get from that? Nothing,” said David Diaz.

During the hearing, Diaz addressed the court saying he still had two questions. He asked why Sailors used a bullet which he claims is particularly lethal.

“I understand that it is a bullet designed to kill, that it explodes the moment it penetrates,” Diaz said through a translator.

He also said it was his son’s dream that his little sister come to the United States. He asked the court if any doors could now be opened for that to happen.

Diaz got no response to either question.

Guns. Gun culture. Stand your ground. Shoot first then find out who your victim is. Your driveway is the same as your bedroom. When in doubt, shoot.

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

Is it 1900 yet?

Nov 18th, 2014 5:55 pm | By

Gosh, who turned on the time machine and threw us all back to 2008? Some genius came up with a poll on “the most influential non-believer” with a long long list to choose from, including some dead guys, and guess how many women.


Christopher Hitchens
Richard Dawkins
Sam Harris
Daniel Dennett
Steven Pinker
Victor Stenger
Richard Carrier
Lawrence Krauss
Michael Shermer
Peter Singer
Paul Kurtz
Steven Weinberg
Susan Blackmore
William Provine
Jennifer Hecht
EO Wilson
David Sloan Wilson
Barbara Forrest
Peter Atkins
Philip Pullman
PZ Myers
Ray Kurzweil
Stephen Hawking
Kai Nielsen
Penn Jillette
James Randi
Bill Maher
Ricky Gervais
Matt Dillahunty
Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist)
Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist)
Thunderf00t (YouTube Icon)
Aron Ra (YouTube Icon)
Dan Barker
Bart Ehrman
David Silverman (American Atheists)

33 men, and 3 women.

Staggering, isn’t it. No Susan Jacoby, Katha Pollitt, Taslima Nasreen, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Barbara Ehrenreich, Amanda Knief, Polly Toynbee, Sikivu Hutchinson, Louise Antony, Kate Smurthwaite, Maryam Namazie, Julia Sweeney, Jamila Bey, Vyckie Garrison…

Why do we even bother.

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

Garden bench for sale

Nov 18th, 2014 3:26 pm | By

I went to see David Sedaris on stage last night. (Tonight he’s in Missoula, Montana.)

I laughed more than I expected to. I expected to laugh, but not as much (or as raucously) as I did.

There were a few minutes for questions at the end, and someone asked about his “Fitbit” – which now I understand because he wrote about it in the New Yorker last June. It’s like a pedometer but more so.

A few weeks later, I bought a Fitbit of my own, and discovered what she was talking about. Ten thousand steps, I learned, amounts to a little more than four miles for someone my size—five feet five inches. It sounds like a lot, but you can cover that distance in the course of an average day without even trying, especially if you have stairs in your house, and a steady flow of people who regularly knock, wanting you to accept a package or give them directions or just listen patiently as they talk about birds, which happens from time to time when I’m home, in West Sussex, the area of England that Hugh and I live in.

One April afternoon, the person at my door hoped to sell me a wooden bench. It was bought, he said, for a client whose garden he was designing. “Last week she loved it, but now she’s decided to go with something else.” In the bright sunlight, the fellow’s hair was as orange as a Popsicle. “The company I ordered it from has a no-return policy, so I’m wondering if maybe youd like to buy it.” He gestured toward an unmarked van idling in front of the house, and seemed angry when I told him that I wasn’t interested. “You could at least take a look before making up your mind,” he said.

Well quite. How dare he not want to buy some random thing that this stranger doesn’t want to be stuck with.

I closed the door a couple of inches. “That’s O.K.” Then, because it’s an excuse that works for just about everything, I added, “I’m American.”

“Meaning?” he said.

“We . . . stand up a lot,” I told him.

He and Hugh live in West Sussex and he walks a lot, all the more so now he has the Fitbit. (He feels he has to live up to its expectations.)

Since getting my Fitbit, I’ve seen all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally have come across. Once, it was a toffee-colored cow with two feet sticking out of her. I was rambling that afternoon, with my friend Maja, and as she ran to inform the farmer I marched in place, envious of the extra steps she was getting in. Given all the time I’ve spent in the country, you’d think I might have seen a calf being born, but this was a first for me. The biggest surprise was how unfazed the expectant mother was. For a while, she lay flat on the grass, panting. Then she got up and began grazing, still with those feet sticking out.

“Really?” I said to her. “You can’t go five minutes without eating?”

Around her were other cows, all of whom seemed blind to her condition.

“Do you think she knows there’s a baby at the end of this?” I asked Maja after she’d returned. “A woman is told what’s going to happen in the delivery room, but how does an animal interpret this pain?”

I thought of the first time I had a kidney stone. That was in New York, in 1991, back when I had no money or health insurance. All I knew was that I was hurting, and couldn’t afford to do anything about it. The night was spent moaning. Then I peed blood, followed by what looked like a piece of gravel from an aquarium. That’s when I put it all together.

What might I have thought if, after seven hours of unrelenting agony, a creature the size of a full-grown cougar emerged, inch by inch, from the hole at the end of my penis and started hassling me for food?

Our point exactly.

Maja and I watched for an hour. Then the sun started to set, and we trekked on, disappointed. I left for London the next day, and when I returned several weeks later, and hiked back to the field, I saw mother and child standing side by side, not in the loving way that I had imagined but more like strangers waiting for the post office to open.

If David Sedaris turns up where you are, go see him.




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

Canals on Mars

Nov 18th, 2014 2:47 pm | By

How about those canals on Mars?

I was just wondering how widespread the belief in their existence was. A 2011 article by Richard Milner in Astrobiology Magazine gives some background.

About 120 years ago, however, at least one prominent astronomer was convinced that Mars not only supported life, but was home to an advanced civilization. Martians, the theory went, had built an extensive network of canals to draw water down from supposed icecaps at the Red Planet’s poles to irrigate a world that was drying out.

Imagine really believing there were “Martians” on another planet. It’s not a particularly outlandish belief given the available information…but it seems like quite a dramatic belief.

Martian canals as depicted by Percival Lowell.Martian canals as depicted by Percival Lowell.
Credit: Public domain

These immense illusory earthworks (Marsworks?) had been studied in detail by one of the greatest astronomers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the wealthy and socially prominent Percival Lowell.

In his day, Lowell was far and away the most influential popularizer of planetary science in America. His widely read books included “Mars” (1895), “Mars and Its Canals” (1906), and “Mars As the Abode of Life” (1908).

Lowell was not the first to believe he saw vast canals on Mars. That distinction belongs to the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who in 1877 reported the appearance of certain long, thin lines he called canali, meaning channels in Italian. But he stopped short of attributing them to the work of intelligent Martians.

Channels can just happen. Canals, not so much.

Lowell carried the matter much further. Captivated by these sketchily observed — and ultimately nonexistent — phenomena, Lowell spent many years attempting to elucidate and theorize about them. The lines, he thought, must “run for thousands of miles in an unswerving direction, as far relatively as from London to Bombay, and as far actually as from Boston to San Francisco.”

He thought the Red Planet must once have been covered by lush greenery, but was now desiccated; the “canals” were an admirable attempt by intelligent and cooperative beings to save their home planet. [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]

The Canals of Mars became one of the most intense and wrongheaded obsessions in the history of science, capturing the popular imagination through dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, as well as such classic science fiction as “The Princess of Mars,” a pulp classic by Edgar Rice Burroughs…

With us it’s Roswell and alien abductions.


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