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.

Rooted in the cultural attitudes

Jul 11th, 2014 6:15 pm | By

Hiba Krisht, aka Marwa Berro of Between a Veil and a Dark Place and The Ex-hijabi photo fashion journal* made a very interesting point in an online discussion which I’m not going to link to because it’s an essay that she should publish, but she gave me permission to quote from it. (Anything in brackets is my connecting material.)

She was addressing what one might call the Dear Muslima fallacy:

[being] able to see or willing to condemn oppressive Islamic practices only insofar as they are blatant, obvious, and monstrous, insofar as they make the news with the enormity of their crime, and the scope of his condemnation does not transcend the scope of the actions. To him it’s not about the pervasive, the poison of a culture steeped in casual misogyny and homophobia. It’s not about the every-day tensions and struggles and silencing and denigration within Muslim lives.

It’s not, in other words, about the kind of thing we were talking about when we were so rudely and roughly interrupted by Dear Muslima itself. It’s not about the ordinary commonplace humdrum disregard for women and instrumental attitude toward them that allows some men to think it’s fine to request them for sex whenever the thought strikes. It’s about the less dramatic but infinitely more pervasive everyday ways of thinking and acting, that Dear Muslima types dismiss as “victim” feminism.

…the fact of the matter is that the raging violence, the enormous crimes , the lack of education and advancement that Dawkins loves to talk about are rooted in the cultural attitudes, are rooted in the rampant, rote, routine dehumanization built into Muslim cultures, stems FROM those things, is a *symptom* of them. How can we talk about FGM or honor violence without talking about sex-stigma, slut-shaming, and girls being viewed as flawed, whorish, shameful, objects of discord? When those are the root motivations for FGM and crimes of honor, their causes?

We can’t, just as we can’t for instance talk about the Steubenville rape or Jada without talking about rape culture and double standards and misogyny. That’s not “victim” feminism; it’s trying to tackle the whole subject as opposed to only the most conspicuous eruptions of it.

*She’s no longer veiling her name, in fact she’s going very public with it this very weekend, and even more so any day now.

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

He’s largely libertarian, except he likes stoning

Jul 11th, 2014 5:00 pm | By

A Republican candidate for state representative in Oklahoma is a piquant combination of libertarian and biblical fan of stoning people to death.

The GOP candidate responded to a post on Pope Francis saying “who am I to judge?” on homosexuality by posting numerous Old Testament quotations prescribing capital punishment for LGBT people.

Another commenter asked, “So just to be clear, you think we should execute homosexuals (presumably by stoning)?”

“I think we would be totally in the right to do it,” Esk said. “That goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.”

Esk, who boasted of his “computer skills” and “good physical shape” to other Ron Paul supporters, said he became active in politics because he was tired of “collectivists stealing our freedoms constantly!!!”

“I believe that rights come from God – not from government – and that it should be limited, its taxes and spending should be low, its regulations few, and its protection of our liberties constant,” said Eck, who also calls for jury trials in divorce cases.

Well it’s the combination that so many are fond of, isn’t it – the combination of “taxation is theft!!1″ and “gay is worthy of death!!1″. Total “liberty” for me and total punitive subjugation for everyone I don’t like. Money and sadism – what’s not to like?


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

Annals of evil

Jul 11th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

The BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley reports on brutal physical abuse meted out to slaves in India.

Warning of horrors.

He starts with Dialu Nial getting his right hand chopped off.

Now free, and his injury healing, he is back home deep in the countryside of Orissa. There is no electricity or sanitation. Many of the villagers are illiterate.

“I didn’t go to school. When I was a child I tended cattle and harvested rice,” Nial says, sitting on the earth outside the cluster of huts which are his family’s home.

It is from communities like this that people are liable to be drawn into a system known as bonded labour.

Typically a broker finds someone a job and charges a fee that they will repay by working – but their wages are so low that it takes years, or even a whole lifetime. Meanwhile, violence keeps them in line.

Now he and his brother make a tiny amount of money by unraveling old plastic bags to make cord. He can’t do it very well, because of not having a right hand, so his brother is far more productive.

It was in early December that Nilamber, a friend from a nearby village told Nial about a job in brick kiln for which he would supposedly get 10,000 rupees ($165; £98) up front. It was all being organised by one of Nilamber’s neighbours, Bimal, who was trying out working as a broker.

Nial, Nilamber, Bimal, and 10 others travelled by bus to meet the main contractor.

“I knew he was a rich man. He had a motorcycle and wore a tie,” says Nial.

The contractor showed them the money, but took it straight back. They would not in fact get it up front, he said, but some time later. Nial nonetheless believed he would still be paid and agreed to work – although illegal, it meant he had technically taken the bond.

The men were taken the next day to the railway station at Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgargh state. Then, instead of being sent on a short journey to a brick kiln as they had been promised, they discovered the train was heading 500 miles (800km) south to Hyderabad, a thriving city and a pillar of India’s economic success. But some in the group had already heard stories about forced labour there, and got ready to rebel.

When the train stopped at a station, all except Nial and Nilamber escaped. Instead of continuing to Hyderabad the contractor took them back to Raipur, spending some of the journey on his mobile phone, arranging their reception.

“His henchmen were waiting for us,” recalls Nial. “They held us and put their hands over our mouths to stop us shouting.”

Notice that he hadn’t even been given any money yet, not so much as a penny. How did he possibly owe them anything? How didn’t he have every right to say “I never agreed to go to Hyderabad, I’m out”? Well he did of course; these “brokers” are just criminals.

Activists argue that the Indian government’s failure to protect people from forced labour, kidnapping, and other crimes amounts to a serious abuse of citizens’ rights.

“There are deep-rooted problems of business-related human rights abuse in India,” says Peter Frankental, Economic Relations Programme Director of Amnesty International UK. “Much of that involves the way business is conducted, an unwillingness to enforce laws against companies, and fabricated charges and false imprisonment against activists who try to bring these issues to light.”

Nial’s future is grim.

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


Jul 11th, 2014 3:07 pm | By

A heat wave is getting going here, and I need refreshment. Courtesy of Biologia com o Prof. Jubilut:


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

Guest post: Webpages, mission statements and group photos of smirking assholes

Jul 11th, 2014 1:15 pm | By

Originally a comment by Andrew B on Accessing celebrities is expensive work.

I think I’ve made this point before, but this seems like a form of sock-puppetry. “Hey, look at all of our affiliated groups! There’s the World Secular Team (which we also run), the Global Enterprise of Religious Freedom (which we also run) and the Alliance for Atheist Voices (which we also run).” Meanwhile it’s just the same dozen assholes changing hats.

You know how meaningful, effective groups form? FIRST you start with committed people that REGULARLY do quality shit, THEN you form your fucking group. Isn’t this how freethoughblogs started? You all had your own blogs, regular pumping out ideas and commentary, and THEN you got together to form the community. These new Global Secular groups seem like a bunch of guys who don’t play any instruments forming a band because it’s a great way to get laid.

Also, there’s a reason that these groups stress the value of celebrity: that’s what they value, and that’s how they understand movements. Celebrities are really skilled at SELF-PROMOTION, and not necessarily meaningful contribution, and that’s all these groups are. Webpages, mission statements and group photos of smirking assholes.


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

The high price of oil

Jul 11th, 2014 12:40 pm | By

A few days ago Saudi Arabia sentenced lawyer and human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair to 15 years in prison. Amnesty International has details.

The Specialized Criminal Court in Jeddah convicted Waleed Abu al-Khair of a string of “offences” including “inciting international organizations against the government” and “breaking allegiance to the ruler” among others. He will also be subject to a 15-year travel ban after his release.

He is the latest in a long list of human rights activists who have been harassed, intimidated and imprisoned by Saudi Arabia’s authorities in recent months.

Waleed Abu al-Khair has represented many victims of human rights violations. His former client Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in May for setting up an online forum for public debate.

So allegiance to the ruler is mandatory by law in Saudi Arabia? How cozy.

Waleed Abu al-Khair’s wife, Samar Badawi, told Amnesty International she was saddened when she first heard the news, but is very proud of her husband: “It is an unjust and oppressive court ruling and Waleed’s position of refusing to recognize the legitimacy of this court and to appeal the decision are honourable,” she said.

“These are 15 years of shame on the Ministry of Interior Courts. I am honoured to be the wife of this free and noble defender. History will expose these masquerades against human rights defenders.”

Waleed Abu al-Khair has been detained since 15 April 2013. He has been moved between different prisons and is currently detained in Briman prison in the coastal city of Jeddah.

With every car that starts…

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

Accessing celebrities is expensive work

Jul 11th, 2014 11:23 am | By

Oh good, another shiny new secular project. We just can’t have enough of those, all the more so if they’re all run by the same people who say the same things.

The mission of Openly Secular is to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people – including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and nonreligious people – to be open about their beliefs.

Ok, that’s fine. It’s good to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance. I think their including should include theists, since some theists are also secularists according to one definition of secular, but perhaps they’re using a different definition. So, ok so far.

[Updating to add: Actually that was too hasty. I gave them that part mostly for rhetorical reasons, because I was going to disagree sharply with the next part. Well stuff rhetorical reasons. Not fine, not ok so far. Why? Because as Joe points out - this is what they've been doing all along, at least according to what they've been telling us.]

Openly Secular is the joint project of four of the best-known and respected secular organizations:

Richard Dawkins Foundation
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Student Alliance
Stiefel Freethought Foundation

Now less ok. Those aren’t my favorite secular organizations, to put it mildly. They’re too Dawkins-centered, too deferential to a handful of male pseudo-celebrities, too clueless, too right-wing.

We additionally seek to bring in Allies and Corporate Partners from outside of the movement: groups that support equality and fight discrimination such as LGBT groups, interfaith and civil liberties organizations, and other potential allied groups.

Note the conspicuous non-mention of feminist groups and anti-racism groups.

We will tell narratives of joy to demonstrate our values of Acceptance, Reason, and Love; express what we believe, show how love can flow despite differences, and that people are glad they became open. Ultimately, we strive to save relationships that might be lost to misunderstanding.

How You Can Help

All these exciting developments are why we need support of people like you. Doing these things costs money, especially to do them well and professionally. Working with a top-tier national PR firm and accessing celebrities is expensive work.

Interesting juxtaposition, isn’t it, from elevated slush complete with Capital Letters on Important Words, to “give us money.”

But more to the point (my point at least) – why do they need to “access celebrities” in the first place? Why even work with “a top-tier national PR firm”?

It’s just more of the same nonsense that made such a joke of the “Global Secular Council.”

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

Remembering Srebrenica

Jul 11th, 2014 10:26 am | By

Riada Asimovic Akyol points out one of the many genocides we get to commemorate.

In July 1995 in Srebrenica, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide, by killing 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. What is more shameful is that Srebrenica was a protected UN safe area, but the Dutch peacekeepers who had the responsibility to protect around 30,000 refugees in the area failed to prevent the mass slaughter.

This wasn’t a battle; it was rounding people up and murdering them; murdering them for genocidal reasons.

The two main masterminds of the genocide are currently on trial at The Hague Court: The former president of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, war general of the Army of Republika Srpska, also known as the butcher of the Balkans among those who don’t glorify him as war hero.

While trials continue and survivors of the genocide wait for just verdicts, ghastly statements re-emerge. On July 9, published news about the latest horrifying racist remarks by Colonel Luka Dragicevic during his testimony in Mladic’s trial. Dragicevic was an assistant commander in the VRS Sarajevo-Romanija Corps from November 1994 to the end of the war.

He said that “Serbians are genetically stronger, better, more beautiful and smarter” than Bosnian Muslims – whom he called poturice, a derogatory term for Balkan Muslims who converted to Islam after the Ottoman conquest.

This is why language matters, why ideas matter, why ideology matters, why media portrayals matter. This is why that whole huge difficult-to-track detailed category of human behavior is so crucially important, and why it’s such a mistake to treat it as “mere” anything. Ideas and words are what motivate actions and justify them afterwards.

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

Resting velocipede face

Jul 10th, 2014 6:34 pm | By

The things people worried about in the 19th century…

One such was the risk that women who rode bicycles would get – wait for it – bicycle face.

Instead, some late 19th century doctors warned that — especially for women — using the newfangled contraption could lead to a threatening medical condition: bicycle face.

Because…what? They were facing forward and paying attention, so they wouldn’t look all languorous and dreamy and fragile, as the fashion was?

“Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted ‘bicycle face,’” noted the Literary Digest in 1895. It went on to describe the condition: “usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness.” Elsewhere, others said the condition was “characterized by a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes.”

Yeah that’s wrong. Just for one thing, it’s only an effort to maintain balance on a bicycle when you haven’t learned to ride one yet. Once you catch on it becomes completely automatic and effortless, and you wonder why it was so difficult before then.

Anyway. It’s always interesting to see people trying to make women feel anxious about what they look like. Such a healthy pastime – unlike that dreadful bicycle thing.

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

Todd Akin regrets

Jul 10th, 2014 6:00 pm | By

Former Congressional Rep Todd Akin, Very Republican-Missouri, famous solely for being the guy who said “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” has regrets.

He has regrets about saying that ridiculous and insulting thing?

Oh no. No no no. He has regrets about apologizing for saying that ridiculous and insulting thing.

Sean Sullivan at the Washington Post tells us about the regrets.

Akin explains himself in a soon-to-be-released book, “Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Freedom.” 

Let’s pause for a second to admire that string of clichés. Bosses, media elite, faith, freedom; enemy enemy, good good. Imagine what the book must be like.

Politico obtained a copy early and reported on a passage in which Akin suggests that he shouldn’t have apologized in a TV ad.

“By asking the public at large for forgiveness,” Akin writes,  “I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said.”

Akin ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012. He stoked widespread controversy that derailed his campaign when he remarked in a local interview: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare.” He added that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” He later apologized in a television commercial, saying, “I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize.”

But now, well, he’s realized that he didn’t use the wrong words in the wrong way and that his duty to protect faith and freedom from the party bosses and the media elite requires him to say he was right the first time.

Ok. He really meant to say that raped women don’t get pregnant because the female body has a way to prevent that from happening. Sly, scary, powerful women, eh? Be afraid.

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

Few things are as grave as the rape of land

Jul 10th, 2014 5:02 pm | By

Back in 2008, in Cairo, another discussion of rape.

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

Pictures of themselves splayed out on the ground

Jul 10th, 2014 1:31 pm | By

Amanda Marcotte on the Jada outrage.

Man, does this demonstrate what a double-edged sword social media can be when it comes to issues of assault and bullying. On one hand, social media can be used to pile on someone who is already the victim of abuse. The Houston Press reports that after Jada gave her interview to KHOU, another round of ugliness started when idiots started tweeting pictures of themselves splayed out on the ground, mimicking the pose Jada was in when someone snapped the photo of her passed out.

View image on Twitter

I’ve seen some more on that hashtag. Callous, brutal – simply horrible.

It’s a shame that anyone would feel like they might as well come forward because they have lost so much control of their own situation. But, by putting her face out there, Jada is taking some power back. It’s much harder to marginalize or even demonize an alleged sexual assault victim who makes you acknowledge her humanity. As Emily Bazelon argued in defense of Daisy Coleman, another alleged rape victim who bravely showed her face on TV, while it is a “huge personal risk,” it “can only help erase the stigma of being sexually assaulted.”

As Emily noted about Coleman and another young woman who was speaking out at the time, Jada is also “teaching a lesson in resilience” by “being clear eyed about what they say happened” but “not letting it own them.” She is refusing to be reduced to a few blurred-out photos. She is looking directly at the camera, and that’s the pose I’ll remember.

High school boys? Don’t be evil.

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

So raping girls for lolz is a thing now is it?

Jul 10th, 2014 12:58 pm | By

There’s another Steubenville type case in Texas, to provide us with yet more despair about human beings.

In an incident that shares several elements with the infamous Steubenville rape case that made national headlines last year, a 16-year-old girl from Texas says that photos of her unconscious body went viral online after she was drugged and raped at a party with her fellow high schoolers. But the victim isn’t backing down. She’s speaking out about what happened to her, telling her story to local press and asking to be identified as Jada.

After other teens started mocking her online — sharing images of themselves splayed out on the floor in the same pose as Jada’s unconscious body under the hashtag #jadapose — the victim decided to speak out.

I’m so sick of human cruelty.

According to Jada, she was invited to a party at a fellow high schooler’s house. The boy who was hosting the party gave her a drink that she believes was spiked with a drug that made her lose consciousness. She passed out and doesn’t remember what happened next. But then she started seeing evidence of her sexual assault circulated online, and some of her peers started texting her to ask her if she was okay.

Then, #jadapose started turning her rape into a joke. When the Houston Press reached out to one of the individuals who shared a popular #jadapose photo, he said that he didn’t personally know Jada and was simply “bored at 1 a.m. and decided to wake up my (Twitter timeline).”

Jada decided to share her name and her story with the press because she has nothing to hide anymore. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body,” she said, “but that’s not what I am and who I am.” Nonetheless, the social media firestorm has taken a toll on her. She says she now wants to be homeschooled.

Gee, I wonder why.

The Houston police is currently investigating Jada’s allegations, and no arrests have yet been made. The alleged perpetrator has denied that a sexual assault occurred, referring to Jada as a “hoe” who “snitched.”

She’s a “hoe,” and he’s…?

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

The god seats

Jul 10th, 2014 12:42 pm | By

Why, why, why.

Obama goes to Texas to chat with Rick Perry about immigration.

Obama delivered remarks after he met in Dallas with local elected officials, faith leaders and nonprofit leaders to discuss how to handle the flood of illegal immigrants, many of them unaccompanied minors from, crossing the southern border.

Why? Why did he meet with “faith leaders”? What have they got to do with anything? Why not limit it to nonprofit leaders, some of whom could well be religious? Why give “faith leaders” a seat at the table? Why can’t the government just stop doing this?

Asking for a friend.

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

The mundane and beyond

Jul 10th, 2014 11:57 am | By

My boss (so to speak – the editor of Free Inquiry) Tom Flynn takes on the notion of “transcendence” in his editorial in the current issue.

In a 2013 Guardian blog post bewailing atheism’s poverty as a supporting matrix for secular ceremonies, British writer Suzanne Moore wrote: “We may find the fuzziness of new age thinking with its emphasis on ‘nature’ and ‘spirit’ impure, but to dismiss the human need to express transcendence and connection with others as stupid is itself stupid.”

If you’ve been looking for an elevator speech about the differences between religious and secular humanism, this is a great place to start. Religious humanists may well yearn to “express transcendence and connection with others.” How do secular humanists differ? While we cherish “connection with others” as warmly as anyone else, insofar as we are secular, we reject “transcendence” out of hand. For secular humanists, there’s simply no such thing as transcendence or the transcendent.

A core aspect of the secular view is the insight, rooted in science, that reality is mundane. Reality is the domain of matter, energy, their interactions, and (so far as we can tell) nothing else. On the secular view, then, words such as spirit and transcendence simply have no referents. To the degree that reverence is understood transitively—as denoting awe, veneration, or respect toward something beyond—it has no referents either. The domain of everyday experience can’t be transcended. There is nothing above it, nothing beyond or over it, nothing to revere . . . only reality. That’s not to say that secular humanists can’t have sweeping aesthetic or emotional experiences—but we understand them naturalistically.

How about “elevated”? Elevated emotions, language, experiences, that sort of thing.

That’s not a woo-ish or pseudo-goddy word is it? Poetry often uses elevated language, and so does some prose. (And then there’s the bathetic sort of prose that tries for elevated and just gets windy.)

Also I don’t think it’s exactly true that there is nothing beyond or above or over the domain of everyday experience – because sure there is: there’s the cosmos, for one thing, and all the particulars of the cosmos, for another thing (or rather billions of billions of things). They’re literally beyond the domain of everyday experience, and they’re beyond it in other senses too. They’re naturalistically beyond it, as far as I know, but still beyond it. Way the hell beyond it. Thinking about that can make you feel small and pointless and mournful, or small and pointless and exhilarated, or it can make you feel lost in infinity. What it doesn’t much do, I think, is remind you of fried eggs and getting batteries at Target and doing the laundry.

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

Combat the demons by taking their pants off!

Jul 9th, 2014 6:16 pm | By

Another from the annals of video game weirdness.

The plot of Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed, a new Japanese adventure game making its way to the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita this year, is pretty straightforward: As a young man, you’re tasked with identifying and eliminating bloodthirsty demons that have invaded Tokyo. The concept seems harmless, if a bit tired, until you realize that the “demons” in question seem to primarily take the form of young girls, and your best method of combating them is to strip off their clothing and expose them to the sun.

So, instead of battling grotesque enemies like you can in so many games involving demons, you’re stripping what appears to be a teenage girl down to her panties. There’s even a new and exciting game mechanic being introduced in this sequel (yes, a sequel) that lets multiple players strip an enemy together. Yikes.

The word is underpants. But anyway, yes, yikes.

Also, what if you’re not a young man? Is the game just for (straight, cis) young men?

And just in case you were about to defend the game as a totally-not-inappropriate demon fighting adventure, the PlayStation 4 version of Akiba’s Trip even lets people watching the game control the panties of the random female characters that inhabit the world. When streaming the game using the PS4’s Twitch and UStream broadcasting features, viewers can type “panty” in chat to cause a random young girl on screen to drop her underwear. “Panty jump” causes ladies underthings to rain down from the sky, and “panty around” surrounds the player in—you guessed it—a ring of panties.

At a time when gaming is struggling to grow up and become a more inclusive hobby, a sexual assault simulator—sorry, “game”—like this is a great example of just how much work there is left to be done.


Now – take your pants off.

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


Jul 9th, 2014 6:01 pm | By

Have a red panda.

Have I ever told you about the evening the male red panda somehow went for walkies and ended up lounging in the smaller (and fortunately empty) outdoor gorilla enclosure? Yes I probably did.

Have a red panda.

Embedded image permalink


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

The Obama administration’s initial, parsimonious exemption

Jul 9th, 2014 5:03 pm | By

This is a depressing story, which I didn’t know about – the role of liberal columnists in stoking the fires of rage about the “religious exemption” from the ACA birth control mandate. Patricia Miller at Religion Dispatches tells that story.

On the left, E.J. Dionne calls for a “broad public consultation with religious groups” on the issue to avoid another firestorm:

After first providing a far-too-narrow exemption from the contraception mandate for explicitly religious nonprofits, President Obama came up with an accommodation that provides birth control coverage through alternative means….

It’s unfortunate that the Obama administration’s initial, parsimonious exemption for religious groups helped ignite the firestorm that led to Hobby Lobby. It might consider this lesson as it moves, rightly, to issue an executive order to ban discrimination against LGBT people by government contractors. I’ve long believed that anti-gay behavior is both illiberal and, if I may, un-Christian.

Far too narrow…parsimonious…So religions should have broad rights to ignore laws that everyone else has to obey, eh?

While on the right, Ross Douthat, who has backed broad religious exemptions, opines that “the contraceptive mandate itself would have never become a major political flashpoint if the administration had included a more expansive religious exemption from the get-go.”

The takeaway is remarkably similar for two men from opposition ends of the political spectrum: that the controversy over the contraceptive mandate could have been avoided if nonprofit religious organizations were exempted from the get-go. But this misses the fundamental problem with the so-called compromise. The problem wasn’t that the exemption that the administration crafted wasn’t broad enough. The problem was that the administration was trying to respond with a policy solution to what was essentially a political statement by the Catholic bishops.

And you know what? The Catholic bishops aren’t supposed to be running the US government. They really aren’t.

The firestorm over the policy resulted because liberal columnists like Dionne and the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters came into the conversation about religious exemptions—a conversation that women’s health and religious liberty advocates had been having for over a decade—in mid-stream. They were apparently unaware of the reproductive health policy issues at stake, the previous precedents that had been set, or the bishops’ long-term efforts to use conscience exemptions to beat back efforts to expand access to contraception. It was their off-the-cuff, emotional responses to the mandate, which they perceived as an attack (Winters accused the administration of “punch[ing] us Catholics in the nose” while Dionne wrote that “Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus”) that made the original exemption politically untenable, not the formulation of the mandate itself.

That; that’s what I didn’t know. I’ve always thought E J Dionne was a platitudinous jerk, but I didn’t know he was as thick as that.

The fact that the bishops refused to even sign on to the so-called compromise shows that for them the whole point of the exercise was to make a political statement about the moral unacceptability of non-procreative sex (especially for unmarried women), to save face about the fact that most Catholics use contraception, and to gin up “religious liberty” concerns that would backstop their campaign against same-sex marriage.

The lesson of the contraceptive mandate debacle isn’t that Obama should attempt to craft a resolution that will please both sides. It’s that it’s probably not possible to craft an exemption that will please those intent on making a last-ditch political statement that they won’t accept same-sex marriage without giving them carte blanche to ride roughshod over the rights of others.

The bishops have won a huge battle, and hardly anybody realizes it; even most people who are horrified by the Hobby Lobby ruling don’t realize it.

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

Surely goodness and mercy

Jul 9th, 2014 4:26 pm | By

The pastor of a California church and a couple of other guys pleaded guilty on Monday to charges of beating and threatening the life of a 13-year-old boy.

Some unpleasant details ahead.

Lonny Lee Remmers, 56, Nicholas James Craig, 24, and Darryll Duane Jeter Jr., 30, tortured the boy in the church-run group home where he lived, according to a witness report in affidavits for search warrants.

The March 2012 incidents included Craig and Jeter driving the victim to the desert and forcing him to dig his own grave. They then made him get in and threw dirt on him. They were responding to Remmers’ instruction to “scare” the boy, according to the affidavits.

While the boy was showering, one of the men rubbed salt into the cuts on his back, according to Steven Larkey, who lived in the group home and provided the witness report in the affidavit. He told investigators he could hear the boy screaming and saw blood all over the shower the next day.

The victim was later tied to a chair with zip ties and placed in the shower. Mace was sprayed on his face, causing it to bleed, and he was not allowed to rinse off for about 30 minutes, according to the victim’s account in the affidavit.

At a Bible study later that evening at Remmers’ home, Remmers asked the boy to sit in the middle of the group and then squeezed his nipple with pliers.

It’s always good to see the way religion makes people kind and compassionate.

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

Balance, baaaaaalance

Jul 9th, 2014 3:48 pm | By

I’ve spent one half of today arguing with people who think I’m too ideologically pure and the other half arguing with people who think I’m not ideologically pure enough.

I can’t decide if that’s hilarious or annoying.



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