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.

Guest post: Oh, no one complained so far

Jan 27th, 2015 3:51 pm | By

Originally a comment by Ben Finney on Repainting the break room.

If you accept that there weren’t any complaints – and you explicitly do – what is there to excuse?

This is the same defense used by people who act completely surprised when yet another courtroom is found to have exclusive Christian symbolism in it. Oh, no one complained so far, so why would you expect anyone to have done anything about it?!

It’s bullshit for the same reason: The fact that such depictions express the attitude that some people are deserving of unequal treatment by the institution.

No complaint is needed for the institution’s management to know that this depiction expresses that attitude to anyone who comes in. They are responsible for getting rid of it, even if no-one complains.

Are the management supposed to be fucking clairvoyant or something?

They’re supposed to treat everyone equally no matter their religion, sex, ethnicity, etc. That extends to expressing that, and removing expressions that say otherwise.

This is true whether we’re talking about an expression like a Ten Commandments monument which expresses that Abrahamic-religion-followers will be treated specially well, or a huge mural expressing that women are sex objects.

We don’t need anyone to complain about the expression for the management to know this. They should show they’re part of a progressive society and remove these harmful displays before any complaint.

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

Guest post: Now that men are facing the same kinds of hard choices

Jan 27th, 2015 2:44 pm | By

Originally a comment by Jennifer Phillips on That’s why you have a wife.

Although some encouraging changes (or at least awarenesses, which are necessary precursors to changes) seem to be afoot, this is sadly just ‘the way things are’ in STEM fields. I had both of my kids in graduate school, and I was a freakish anomaly for doing so. Part of it was my unusual financial stability–I was lucky enough to have a gainfully employed partner to supplement my meager grad student stipend–but part of it was that it’s just not done. My first pregnancy was seen by at least some members of my department (and I know this because they openly told me so) as a sign that I wasn’t ‘serious about my career’, that I was just taking up space in a lab and clearly wouldn’t be doing anything meaningful with my PhD (assuming I could find time around all that icky maternal bonding to finish it, that is). My second pregnancy pretty much solidified all that. It was an isolating and occasionally humiliating condition.

I got my PhD in 2003, so one might hope that things have changed a bit since then. My current position is as a ‘second tier’, non-tenure track postdoctoral research associate, informally called a ‘super postdoc’ or ‘permadoc’. I’ve been here long enough to see several cycles of graduate students as well as more ‘top tier’ postdocs come and go. It is still quite rare for women scientists in training to have children. Slightly more common (within that slice of rarity) for postdocs vs. grad students. It’s undeniably difficult to stay on the tenure track as a trainee with kids without rock solid domestic support, to say nothing of the difficulty in achieving the heights outlined in this article once a tenure-track position is obtained.

I guess now that men are facing the same kinds of hard choices that generations of professionally minded women have dealt with, there’s a hope that the definition of how to achieve excellence and stature in a STEM field will expand somewhat. There are some rigid logical boundaries in place, however. It does take a certain number of consecutive hours to do things, e.g. Scientific discovery already moves slowly. It slows down even more when you have to leave early to take a kid to soccer practice, etc. Only a privileged few are situated to navigate these limitations and stay on the top tier. The rest of us, when faced with the option, have to choose a different path.

I don’t mean to sound like I regret having a family. I adore my children and I’m pleased with the balance between work and family that I’ve been able to strike. But I think it’s still fair to be candid that such choices are still reality. “Having it all” is a myth for many definitions of “all”. That is the bare truth of it.


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


Jan 27th, 2015 1:00 pm | By

Update: the Beeb updated this into the past tense, confirming that he did not mention Raif to his nice new friend King Salman.

The two leaders also discussed the security situation in Yemen as well as stability in the global oil market.

Mr Obama stressed the importance of human rights, US officials added, but did not raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

The Beeb reports on Obama’s plans for his trip to Riyadh.

US President Barack Obama is heading a large, bipartisan US delegation travelling to Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah.

Large and bipartisan because Saud-family Arabia is such an important “ally,” I suppose.

He is being accompanied by prominent Republican officials, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice.

Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in a region riven by war and rivalries.

Saudi Arabia is also a source of many wars and rivalries.

In an interview with CNN before he left India, Mr Obama suggested he would be unlikely to raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison last May for “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”.

Of course he did, and of course he is, because…key US ally.

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

Free Waleed, Free Raif

Jan 27th, 2015 10:58 am | By

King’s College Cambridge, if I’m not mistaken.

Public Facebook post.

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

The doctor wanted to approve the flogging

Jan 27th, 2015 10:51 am | By

Terrible news via a public Facebook post by Ensaf Haider.

Important-Urgent: We received information that last Friday ‪#‎RaifBadawi‬ was subjected to a third medical examination to see if he was fit for a second session of lashing!

This surprising/unsettling examination came despite the conclusion of a previous medical check that was done two days earlier which recommended the stopping of any future flogging. #RaifBadawi

Strangely, the doctor conducting the examination wanted to sign the paper and approve the flogging, but due to discussions that took place and the previous medical report, he finally agreed to postpone the flogging for a further medical examination!

As a result, the intentions of the Saudi authorities are not clear and there is a possibility that the flogging of #RaifBadawi may take place again this Friday.

Keep up the pressure.

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

To help the nation

Jan 27th, 2015 10:37 am | By

Mike Huckabee wants to set us all straight about where laws come from. They don’t come from Hoboken. They don’t come from Walmart. They don’t come from Microsoft nor yet from Apple. They come from god, gee oh dee god.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said during an appearance Thursday on a Christian television show that he’s thinking about running for President to help the nation know where laws come from: God.

“We cannot survive as a republic if we do not become, once again, a God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God,” he said on the show “Life Today.”

Izzat right?

Then what went so wrong during that time when the laws of the US permitted slavery and forbade interference with slavery? Was god on a 200 year visit to another solar system, or what?

When Huckabee added that he wasn’t demanding a theocracy, host James Robison said, “We have a theocracy right now. It’s a secular theocracy.”

“That’s it!” Huckabee said, describing the current political order as “humanistic, secular, atheistic, even antagonistic toward Christian faith.”

“Secular theocracy” is an obvious oxymoron, but more to the point, I’d like to know how Huckabee thinks he can reconcile his claim about where laws come from with his claim about not demanding a theocracy.

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

That’s why you have a wife

Jan 27th, 2015 10:17 am | By

To the surprise of no one, it turns out that men who have “traditional” marriages, in which their wives take on all the domestic duties, have more time to devote to their jobs and thus rise higher up the ladder than men who share the domestic duties. Is this true also in STEM fields? Why yes, yes it is. The Washington Post explained last September.

For years, people have been puzzling over why there are so few women in science, technology, engineering and math, and why the university professors who teach the subjects are predominantly men. Is it genetics? Preference? Caregiving responsibilities? An unwelcoming environment?

Turns out, according to a new study released Thursday on men in academic science, it may have a lot to do with the boss. The majority of tenured full professors at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, who have the most power to hire and fire and set the workplace expectation of long hours, are men who have either a full-time spouse at home who handles all caregiving and home duties, or a spouse with a part-time or secondary career who takes primary responsibility for the home.

It’s a loop. They had the extra time so they got to the top so they expect their hires to be like them. Repeat.

And it’s not just women who are being squeezed out of academic science, the study concludes. It’s also men who want to be more active at home.

Naturally, because the men at the top have wives who free them up to spend all their time on the job, so they think that pattern is the best pattern.

The field remains dominated by men – more than 80 percent of the full professors in life sciences, more than 90 percent of the full professors in mathematics, statistics and physical sciences and more than 95 percent of full professors in engineering.

The study, Damaske said, showed there was potential for change, in the majority of men who wanted to take on a more active role at home as fathers. But there was also resistance to change from those in power at the institutions.

“We came to realize that it really benefits your career to have someone at home, making sacrifices for your career,” Damaske said. “The majority of men we spoke to see that. But they’re not happy about it.”

Hey I have an idea – all those men in engineering – can’t they just engineer a robot to do all the domestic duties? A childcare Roomba type deal? Paste a playpen on top of the Roombau, add a Siri to read nursery rhymes aloud, and you’re good to go?

“I never in my life made a tax return. I never in my life washed a pair of socks or cleaned a pair of shoes,” said one 67-year-old physics professor in a traditional marriage. When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”

Unless, of course, “you” are a straight woman…but that’s just silly, because “you” never are a woman, straight or otherwise. “You” are always a man.

Men in traditional marriages rising to power faster, becoming boss and setting the tone for workplace expectations is a phenomenon seen in other fields. In a series of studies of more than 700 married men, researchers at Harvard, New York University and the University of Utah found that men in traditional marriages tended to hold positions of power in business and other organizations.

As I said: to the surprise of no one. This is well known. It’s also reinforced by the culture at every turn, even now.

That study found these bosses tended to think that workplaces with more women didn’t operate well, and more frequently denied female employees opportunities for promotion, considering them less qualified than men even when their resumes were identical. The researchers dubbed these men “resistors” to change.

Well you see it’s the design. Men need wives so that they can be more productive, and by a miraculous gift of nature, the very half of humanity that is adapted to be those wives is also maladapted to be anything else. Is that convenient or what? The very thing that makes women so well suited to doing all the childcare and floor-washing is also the thing that makes them so bad at everything else. Frabjous, isn’t it.

H/t Stacy.

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

A fundamentalist Islamist dictatorship

Jan 26th, 2015 4:58 pm | By

Max Fisher provides answers to nine basic questions about Saud-family Arabia.

Like, what is it.

Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist Islamist dictatorship, an ultra-wealthy oil economy, and perhaps the most powerful country in the Middle East. It is a very young country in a very old part of the world. It formed in 1932, when a tribal leader named Abdulaziz al-Saud conquered an area three times the size of Texas and then named it after himself. He and his first generation of sons have ruled Saudi Arabia ever since.

The way that Abdulaziz al-Saud came to conquer and unify this country is crucial for understanding it: by allying with a fiercely conservative group of Islamist fundamentalists known as the Wahhabis.  Saudi Arabia became “the only modern nation-state created by jihad,” as the journalist Steve Coll once put it.

Then it found oil, then it spent much of the oil money pushing its Islamist fundamentalism on the rest of the world, with great success. That oil was bad luck for everybody except the Saud family (not counting Abdullah’s four daughters who are under house arrest).

The siege of Mecca in 1979 was a turning point.

An armed band of apocalyptic Islamist cultists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, from which they denounced the Saudi royal family as hypocritical “drunkards” who had betrayed Islam, which they intended to purify. By the time French commandos ended the siege, hundreds of the cultists’ hostages had been killed.

The Saudis saw the siege as part of a dangerous wave of anti-government extremism — Islamists were also in the process of toppling the monarchy in nearby Iran — and responded by cracking down on dissent of all kind, as well as by aggressively co-opting ultra-conservative Islamism, forcing new restrictions, especially on women, to appease the Wahhabis.

Women are always the first to get it, and they always get the most of it. The way to fight modernism, the way to be pure, the way to show god how hard you’re struggling, is to force new restrictions on women.

The foreign jihadists thing.

This also goes back to the 1979 Siege of Mecca. Since then, the Saudis have attempted to reduce the threat of Islamist extremism at home by redirecting it abroad, turning jihad into a sort of quasi-official foreign policy.

That same year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Saudi government, which hated the Soviets and saw them as a threat, sought to support Afghan rebels. Here was an opportunity: the Muslim world was outraged by the Soviet invasion. The Saudi government implicitly encouraged their country’s Wahhabi clerical establishment, recently rich with oil money and dangerously idle, to fund extremist Afghan rebels, and rebel-training extremist madrassas in neighboring Pakistan. Many young Saudi Wahhabis went off themselves to fight, usually quite poorly.

That makes sense – win-win – the Wahhabis get busy elsewhere, and the Saud family gets credit for zeal.

For the Saudi rulers, this foreign policy of jihad was at first a great success. It strengthened Saudi Arabia’s effort to fund Afghan rebels, it positioned the often-lecherous Saudi monarchs as leaders of the Muslim world against the Soviet atheists, and, crucially, it distracted the Wahhabis from causing trouble at home.

But this strategy was destined to backfire, and disastrously. Those jihadists would inevitably turn their guns on the very Saudi government that had enabled their creation, just as the Ikhwan of the 1920s and the cultists of the 1970s had done. The most famous of those was Osama bin Laden.


Then there was Kuwait, and all those filthy American soldiers in holy Arabia. Uh oh uh oh.

Fearing another 1979-style terror attack of worse, the Saudis once again co-opted and appeased the Wahhabis. They did this in part by shutting down some nascent reforms — some women had begun to drive in defiance of the female driving ban; initially tolerated, they were shut down. They also established the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which ostensibly supported Islamic charities but also funded Wahhabi extremism and jihadism throughout the Muslim world. It worked; the Wahhabi establishment directed their energies toward causing trouble abroad, which the Saudis tolerated.

And the fact that it’s fucked up much of the world for generations to come, and trashed the lives of who knows how many millions of women, is neither here nor there, as long as the Saudis aren’t being kicked out of their palaces.

Saudi Arabia was well aware of the threat posed by bin Laden and the movement he represented. As always, though, the Saudis played a double-game: they disavowed bin Laden but were one of only three countries, along with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, to officially recognize the Taliban, an extremist group that had seized Afghanistan by force and officially sheltered bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

This double-game is part of why so many Americans still wonder if Saudi Arabia could have played some role in the September 11 attacks, though it would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by sponsoring such an attack on its most important ally. Another reason is that the Bush administration, which has longstanding ties to the Saudi royal family, ordered that the 9/11 Commission permanently seal 28 pages in the 9/11 Report that investigated possible Saudi links to the attack.

Could the Bush family and the Saud family please move to a small island somewhere in the Pacific and stay there forever?

If the 9/11 attackers were somehow facilitated or funded by Saudis within or connected to Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, this would be nowhere near the same thing as official Saudi policy. Simple logic makes clear the Saudis would never support an attack on their ally and patron, and conspiracy theories to the contrary make as much sense as accusing Israel or George W. Bush of responsibility. At the same time, it would be within the realm of possibility — and, indeed, would be consistent with the history of self-defeating Saudi policies — if Saudi Arabia’s short-sighted support for jihadism had unintentionally allowed extremists within Islamic Affairs to divert funds to the hijackers. Saudi Arabia’s support for extremism has been blowing up in its face since the 1920s; it was perhaps only a matter of time until it blew up in our face as well.

Why is the US so tight with these fascist theocrats? Mutual hatred of atheist communism.

The Afghan jihad also brought out the belief in both the Saudi and US governments that their countries shared common cultural values, as improbable as that might sound. Under the Reagan-era rise of a politically powerful Christian right, American evangelicals embraced the CIA- and Saudi-backed Afghan rebels as religious freedom fighters opposed to Soviet atheism. Some mujahideen were brought on tours of American evangelical churches to solicit donations. The Reagan White House particularly cultivated a sense among the Saudis that piety was a shared cultural value.

*smashes everything*

At its most basic level, the US-Saudi alliance has been driven by a shared interest in maintaining the status quo in the Middle East. This status quo is some ways about oil, but in the conflict-riven Middle East, security and stability are much more important foundations for the status quo than is oil. This helps explain why Saudi Arabia has been so assertive about projecting its influence across the Middle East, and why it works so closely with the US in every major Middle Eastern issue from the standoff with Iran to Yemen’s political crisis to Syria’s civil war.

Of course, the status quo in the Middle East sucks, but apparently that’s beside the point…

The biggest concern among the Saudi royalty has always been, and will likely always be, stability. The Saudi state is so artificial that the royal family believes it can only hold power through continued dictatorship, propped up by the oil exports that allow it to fund lavish Saudi lifestyles.

Note the Saudi assumption that its continued hold on power is an important goal.

I don’t see it that way myself.

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

My identity can beat up your identity

Jan 26th, 2015 3:38 pm | By

A Swedish tv reporter, Petter Ljunggren, did an investigative report on anti-Semitism in Malmo.

Ljunggren wanted to know what it feels like as a Jew in Malmo, so he put on a kippah and Star of David, and went out to walk the streets.

He was followed by an undercover reporter who filmed everything.

Along the town’s main road, Ljunggren was immediately confronted. One man told him he should leave if he was wearing that ‘Jewish shit’.

Another shouted at him that he’s a Jew-devil. People shouted at ‘dirty Jewish pig’ and “Jewish pigs, we’ll kill you’. In the neighborhoods of Lindängen and Rosengård, he was harassed so much, he considered just leaving.

So that’s horrifying.

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

Carry an umbrella

Jan 26th, 2015 3:15 pm | By

Enough of this exotic foreign far away bullshit, let’s look at some humdrum local bullshit. Let’s look at Cindy Jacobs and Bobby Jindal.

“A living prophet that has a direct line to God” was one of the dubious public figures that joined Bobby Jindal at a prayer rally this weekend.

Televangelist Cindy Jacobs, who claims to possess the ability to raise people back from the dead, joined the Republican governor of Louisiana for an event called “The Response,” which many speculated to be the kickoff to his presidential campaign. It was held Saturday at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, despite protests from students and faculty.

If Cindy Jacobs can raise people from the dead, can she show us? Can she show us one or more people she’s raised? From the dead? Can she raise someone from the dead on live tv while we watch? I ask because I don’t think I believe her claim, and I’d like to know what she’s done to substantiate it.

On Friday’s episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow reviewed the many bizarre claims of the self-proclaimed prophet. In addition to the revival of a dead child in Pakistan, Jacobs claimed that she was able to curtail the number of deaths at a past shooting at the Washington Naval Yard.

She also claimed that the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was responsible for the deaths of thousands of fish and birds, which “fell out of the air” once gays and lesbians were allowed to serve in the military.

Oh well that one’s true. I remember that one. It was a mess.

In the segment, Maddow speculated that the event was an attempt to establish Jindal as the most right-wing of the presidential candidates, yet questioned the wisdom of partnering with bedfellows like Jacobs, as well as the event’s antigay sponsor, the American Family Association.

The competition to be the most ludicrously off-any-maps right-wing presidential candidate is the source of a lot of dead fish.

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

The shark teeth are a nice touch

Jan 26th, 2015 2:57 pm | By

For a spot of whimsy – a house full of built-in ramps and bridges and portholes for cats.


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

Attack on Maiduguri repelled for now

Jan 26th, 2015 12:30 pm | By

Reuters reports that Nigeria’s military finally managed to pull its socks up and stop Boko Haram from devouring yet another spot on the map, which is a good thing since this spot on the map has two million people in it. It’s a Chicago.

Other places weren’t so fortunate.

Nigeria’s military repelled multiple attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants on Borno state capital Maiduguri in the northeast, security sources said on Sunday, but the insurgents captured another Borno town.

The assault on Maiduguri, with a population of around two million, began just after midnight. Sources at two hospitals said at least eight people had died and 27, mostly civilians, had been injured. A second attempt to take the city’s airport in the afternoon was also repelled.

A raid on Monguno, 140 km (80 miles) north, began later in the morning and the town fell under militant control by the late afternoon.

The militants also simultaneously attacked another town, Konduga, which is 40 km (24 miles) from Maiduguri, but the military said it had thwarted the raid.

But don’t worry, the Super Bowl will still take place.



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

Read Massimo instead

Jan 26th, 2015 12:19 pm | By

Sure enough: Massimo knows how to do it. Compare his first paragraph:

Much has been written about the terrorist attack on the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, which took place on 7 January 2015. Some of the commentary has been insightful, some full of pious platitudes about defense of free speech by sources with not exactly a stellar record in that department, and some of it has ranged from the woefully uninformed to the downright awful. It is, therefore, with some recalcitrance that I write these lines, particularly because Im coming to the issue from what I feel is an increasingly rare point of view: that of a moderate liberal atheist.

No puffing out, no pointless baroque ornamentation, no pretending to be saying something more technical than you are, no vanity, no display. God how I hate that other kind – its whole purpose seems to be vanity.

While it is undeniably the case that at this particular historical juncture it is Muslim countries that tend to lag behind much of the rest of the world both politically and in terms of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and womens rights, history easily teaches us that this has nothing to do with Islam per se, and logic demands that we therefore stop looking for solutions by demonizing that particular faith.

What should we, instead, talk about? I suggest a division of (critical) labor of sorts. Roughly speaking, we in the secular West need to back off a bit from dismissive verbal assaults on Islam, and instead engage in a more nuanced indirect push toward facilitating internal discussion and cultural change within the Muslim world. It is a basic principle of psychology that people rarely respond to outside threats and denunciation by changing their minds; on the contrary, they usually retrench in their behavioral patterns. But if their minds are exposed to friendly (intellectual) fire from within, the chances for long lasting change improve significantly. This is a minor version of the same principle according to which one cannot force nations to become democracies by bombing the hell out of them, but one can, and ought, to do a lot of cultural and economic work to make that change happen organically. Arguably the most positive thing the West can do is to consistently help moderate Muslim voices to be heard by giving them a platform at every opportunity.

In the past I probably would have disagreed with much of that. I no longer do, and I have been doing what I can to help moderate liberal Muslim voices to be heard by giving them a platform at every opportunity. I do the same for ex-Muslims and atheists, of course, which Massimo might not agree with, but we cross paths more than we used to.

The second thing that the secular West ought to do is to stop being so darn hypocritical about its own credentials. While European countries, the US, and several places in the non-Western world (e.g., Japan) indeed arguably are the best examples of democratic societies that the world has seen to date, they are still rife with inequality, discrimination, violence, political and religious opportunism, and a number of other maladies that require constant soul searching, not to mention a significant downgrade of the we are the best mantra so mindlessly repeated especially by American media and politicians. Holier than thou attitudes do not help constructive dialogue.

That too. It’s horribly easy for an American to do that, what with our massive prison population, our death penalty, our gun culture, our religion of football – I could go on and on.

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

Othering the other other

Jan 26th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

The academic journal Science, Religion & Culture has a special issue on Islam, Culture and the Charlie Hebdo affair. The first article I’ve opened is Free Speech is Free for Whom? by Hussein Rashid, an adjunct prof at Hofstra. I…don’t like it. It’s written in a form of academese that I’m very allergic to – the kind that wraps its points in such a cloud of pseudo-technical verbiage that…well that two things:

  1. people like me can’t stand to read it
  2. the unwary are fooled into thinking it’s profound

He’s saying less than he appears to be saying, in other words, and in doing so he makes it hard to pin down what he is saying because of the sheer annoyance of reading.

There is an analytic issue in attempting to create a conflict between a religion and a concept. Aside from the obvious lack of parallelism, neither has an agency of its own. A religion is constituted by the actions and interpretations of those who claim adherence to it; free expression must be exercised to be real.

In other words, religions and concepts aren’t people. True.

What makes the narrative so compelling is that it indexes other symbols. If free speech is “good,” then everything associated with it must be good. This includes ideas of democracy, secularism, Enlightenment, Reformation, and modernity. Two of these terms refer to historical moments, the meanings and values of which are not generally agreed upon in specifics. The other three terms are also ill-defined, and mean different things in different cultural contexts, even in the semiosphere represented by the “West.”

In other words, we need to define our terms. Ok.

In a state of competition, if free speech is good, then Islam must be bad. The religion indexes a series of depictions of the “Other,” such as violence, lack of culture/civilization, poor gender roles, superstition/illogic, and primitiveness. This construction, a significant part of Orientalist discourse, goes back centuries. However, the ways in which the “Other” is constructed is not limited to Muslims, but is used to describe minorities of any type, whether they are minorities by religion, race, ethnicity, gender, class, or sexuality.

By questioning the very narrative engendered by the attacks on the workers of CH, we understand the ways in which post-Enlightenment liberal values are, in fact, methods for continued exclusion. That we can offer such a critique does not mean that the aspirations of these values is inherently problematic. Rather, they too have no agency, and it is in the ways in which these values are referenced and applied that is problematic. Specifically at stake is the idea that the Enlightenment is the teleological end for humanity; as a result there is only way to be modern; and the liberal values generated by the Enlightenment are neutral and should be universally accepted.

In other words…oh never mind, you can see where he’s going. That’s enough for me. Massimo Pigliucci also has an article in the issue; that’s bound to be much better.

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

We must overthrow the Mubarak at home

Jan 26th, 2015 11:19 am | By

Amnesty has a new report on violence against women in Egypt. Melissa Jeltsen at the Huffington Post reports on the report.

The damning report, released by Amnesty International, urged the government to present a comprehensive strategy to combat violence against women before the upcoming parliamentary election.

“Recent measures to protect women taken have been largely symbolic,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, said in a press release. “The authorities must prove that these are more than cosmetic changes by making sustained efforts to implement changes and challenge deeply entrenched attitudes prevalent in Egyptian society.”

In June 2014, Egypt criminalized sexual harassment for the first time. Women’s rights advocates have been skeptical of the new law, and have noted that some of its burdensome requirements — such as requiring women who are sexually harassed or assaulted to have two witnesses to the crime — may render it difficult to enforce.

More like impossible. It’s almost as bad as the sharia version of rape: it’s not rape unless four men watched.

Sexual harassment is ubiquitous on Egyptian streets. In a 2013 survey by UN Women, more than 99 percent of women reported being sexually harassed in public. According to Amnesty, public assaults on women, such as the horrific attacks on female protesters by mobs that captured international attention in 2013, have been on the rise.

“Targeting women and girls for violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence during mass protests, also impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of other fundamental rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression and the right to participate, on an equal basis with men, in the political life and events shaping the country’s future,” the report said.

The bullies get to enjoy full rights, and their victims get to enjoy none. That’s the whole point of bullying, and it’s why not bullying is better (because fairer).

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American women’s rights activist, said it was incredibly important that Amnesty connected domestic, street and state violence against women.

“Women in Egypt are entrapped by institutional, systematic violence,” she told The Huffington Post by email. “Unless combatting that violence becomes a priority, unless women can live safe and dignified lives, no revolution has taken place. We must overthrow the Mubarak at home as well as on the street, not just the one who sat in the presidential palace. That double revolution that us women must undertake — against the misogyny of the state and the street, and by extension the home, is Egypt’s key to freedom.”

Overthrow it all.

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

Put down the knife

Jan 26th, 2015 8:44 am | By

An Egyptian doctor has been found guilty of killing a girl by cutting up her genitals, the BBC reports.

Opponents of FGM were dismayed when Raslan Fadl was acquitted in November of charges relating to the death of 13-year-old Suhair al-Bataa.

But after an appeal, a court in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura sentenced him to more than two years in prison.

The campaign group Equality Now called the ruling a “monumental victory”.

Although FGM was banned in Egypt six years ago, it remains widespread.

That’s a different system from the one in the US. Here an acquittal can’t be appealed: that’s double jeopardy and it’s a no-no.

Fadl was sentenced to two years in prison for manslaughter and three months for performing the FGM procedure, according to Equality Now. His clinic was also ordered to close for a year.

Suhair’s father was meanwhile given a three-month suspended sentence.

The practice of FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008 but the country still has one of the highest rates of prevalence in the world.

So, it seems good that there’s a conviction on the books at last – but Orla Guerin’s analysis says maybe not all that much.

Activists say justice has finally been done for Suhair al-Bataa and a precedent has been set. “The new sentence will deter doctors from performing this dangerous practice,” said Manal Fawzi, who campaigns against FGM in southern Egypt.

Maybe so, but it took a dogged campaign by local and international groups to ensure a prosecution was brought. The sentence was broadly welcomed but media interest has waned in the wait for the initial verdict, and the appeal result is not expected to garner too much attention.

Tiny tiny tiny steps.

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

Repainting the break room

Jan 25th, 2015 6:09 pm | By

So there’s this hospital in Clermont-Ferrand with a mural of what looks like a gang-rape…

A fresco depicting four superheroes committing what has been interpreted as a gang rape is currently the subject of a huge scandal in France. The mural—which is painted on the wall of a hospital in Clermont-Ferrand—depicts Wonder Woman having anal sex with Batman while Superman comes in her mouth. Supergirl is there, fisting, and the Flash is getting a handjob. It’s causing its fair share of controversy in a country still dealing with the emotional fallout of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The outrage kicked off on Saturday, when the Facebook page Les médecins ne sont pas des pigeons (“Doctors aren’t dupes”) published a photo of the fresco. The mural was first created 14 years ago (according to a comment on the page), but a recent addition has turned it from a mere rape mural into an overtly political rape mural.

Here’s the story complete with the mural in question, now that you’ve been warned about the content. NSFW if others can see your screen.

These speech bubbles—it’s unclear whether they were added in Photoshop or if someone actually painted them on the wall—read, “Take it deep,” “Take that health reform,” and “You should inform yourself a bit better!” They’re thought to be intended as an attack on the reforms proposed by the French Health Minister Marisol Touraine last November. Those reforms—which proposed to clamp down on doctors charging over the odds for consultations by outsourcing the payment to health insurance companies—were rejected by the French National Medical Council (CNOM) on the grounds that they “didn’t answer the needs of doctors on the ground, and of the patients.”

Fans on the Facebook page have been defending the fresco by referring to the recentCharlie Hebdo case and to the principle of “freedom of expression,” with many suggesting it was hypocritical to say the Prophet Muhammed could be depicted in cartoon form but that you shouldn’t create an image implying the rape of the health minister.

The two are not comparable.

Anyway…is this normal for French doctors? Porn murals in their break room?

The French feminist association Osez le Féminisme (“Dare Feminism”) was quick to react to the Facebook post, publishing an article on its website asking for the fresco to be erased and for measures to be taken against the authors. The post also called the mural “misogynistic” and said that it wrongly used “rape as a means of showing discontent towards a Minister and her law.” It warned that such representations could “eroticize extreme violence” and contribute to building a “degrading image of women.”

Yes, they could, in fact it would be odd if they didn’t.

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

A sweep of the awards

Jan 25th, 2015 5:48 pm | By

In Australia some awards were handed out.

Rosie Batty has been named Australian of the Year for her campaign against family violence in an award ceremony that saw four women take the nation’s top Australia Day honours for the first time in history.

Ms Batty rose above her personal tragedy and the great loss of her 11-year-old-son, Luke, who was murdered by his father on a cricket oval in February last year.

Her story jolted Australia into recognising that family violence could happen to anyone and she has given voice to many thousands of victims of domestic violence who had until then remained unheard.

She now champions efforts to fight domestic violence, making many media and public speaking appearances to shine a spotlight on the issue and call for systemic changes.

Courage and strength to her, and congratulations on the award.

Women were awarded the top honours in all four award categories for the first time in the history of the Australian of the Year awards.

Jackie French from NSW was named Senior Australian of the Year, WA’s Drisana Levitzke-Gray was named Young Australian of the Year and Juliette Wright from Queensland was named Australia’s Local Hero.

Children’s author and conservationist Ms French, whose books include Diary of a Wombat, said “a book can change a child’s life and a book can change the world”.

“Every book a child reads creates new neurons in that child’s brain. If you want intelligent children, give them a book,” she said.

Fist bump!

H/t John Morales

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

Raif’s dream

Jan 25th, 2015 3:22 pm | By

Ensaf Haidar tells us that Raif is all emotional about the Independent’s campaign for him.

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger whose punishment of 1,000 lashes has led to an international outcry, is mentally “very strong” and taking great heart from the campaign to free him, his wife has told The Independent.

In an email exchange, Ensaf Haidar said she remains hopeful that her husband will be released soon, despite being sentenced to 10 years in prison and 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks for criticising the country’s clerics through his liberal blog. He is still recovering from his first round of flogging.

She talked to him five days ago; he said he’s still recovering but basically ok.

She added that she had started to tell him about the international attention his case was attracting – but was surprised at his emotional reaction when he heard that The Independent was campaigning for his release. “I want to thank you for supporting my husband,” she wrote. “For many years, one of Raif’s dreams was to write an article for the The Independent.

“When I told him that The Independent wrote on its front page ‘Free Raif Badawi’, he was crying and he told me about his dream. So many, many thanks.”

Thanks Indy. There are lots of us on your team, Raif.

His cause has been taken up around the world by governments and organisations including Amnesty International. It was reported on Friday that the Saudi authorities had agreed to halt the flogging and reduce Mr Badawi’s sentence but this has yet to be confirmed.

The death of King Abdullah in the early hours of Friday morning has provoked fresh scrutiny of his kingdom’s human rights record and relationship with the West. The UK Government’s decision to lower flags on public buildings in his honour was criticised as excessive and inappropriate by some MPs.

Yep. Bad timing for all the ass-kissing, what with Raif and that prolonged beheading of the foreign woman and the release of the cleric who tortured his 5-year-old daughter to death because he was suspicious of her “virginity.” Really sucky timing.

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

UK-Saudi Arabia co-operation on prison service

Jan 25th, 2015 11:40 am | By

Meanwhile, in London – a baffling plan is afoot.

The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is hoping to profit from selling its expertise to the prison service in Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for public beheadings, floggings, amputations and courts that regularly violate human rights.

A new commercial arm of the justice ministry, staffed by civil servants, has bid for a £5.9m contract in Saudi Arabia. Just Solutions international (JSi) will also soon start setting up a probation service in Macedonia, and is in the running to build a prison in Oman.


How can any branch of the UK government have anything whatever to do with the prison service in Saud-family Arabia of all things? What next? A contract to paint flowers on the handles of the sticks they use to flog people?

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the MoJ working so closely with a regime currently under scrutiny over the botched execution of a woman who died protesting her innocence and the harsh punishment meted out to a liberal blogger.

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty’s UK head of policy and government affairs, said: “Amnesty has serious concerns about Saudi Arabia’s justice system, given its use of the death penalty, the prevalence of torture in detention, and its use of cruel and degrading punishment.

Also? There’s the fact that the “justice system” is clogged with people who committed nothing recognizable as a crime. The UK MoJ shouldn’t be going within a thousand miles of it.

The ministry said that all JSi projects had to be signed off by the Foreign Office and the local embassy after an evaluation that covered human rights, but declined to provide further details on the grounds that the project was “commercially sensitive”.

Oh, well, if it’s commercially sensitive that makes all the difference. If there’s a chance the UK government can make some money off the deal, then human rights can just go take a flying leap, yeah?

The JSi bid was featured in a December report to parliament that also gave details of a memorandum of understanding on judicial cooperation signed by the UK and Saudi Arabian justice ministers in Riyadh in September.

A memorandum of understanding. On judicial cooperation. With the Saud family.

It said the contract would be “to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian prison service”. The legal affairs blogger David Allen Green first drew attention to the the contract on his Jack of Kent website.

Like all the overseas projects run by JSi, it aims to raise funds for the National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons and probation services in England and Wales.

Blood money. Dirty filthy blood money. You bastards.

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