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.

Better mongering

Feb 21st, 2015 12:36 pm | By

As Harald said – not everything is shitty in Europe now. Reuters reports:

More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest’s organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Indeed. Warmongers can cause terrible destruction, even working alone, but that doesn’t make them the majority. Let’s monger a bunch of peace & love.

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


Feb 21st, 2015 12:28 pm | By

A friend comments –

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

The time-tested institution

Feb 21st, 2015 11:32 am | By

Oklahoma is not widely seen as one of the most salubrious of the united states in terms of its climate or geography or political culture or friendliness to the arts or promotion of science. It’s seen more as the state that combines the worst aspects of Texas and Arkansas, along with its fame as the spot Andrew Jackson chose as the destination for all the Native Americans he kicked out of fertile farmland in the southern states.

So I guess they decided to put a big ribbon on all that, by voting to ban advanced history classes in Oklahoma public high schools.

Unaware that their state has become a satire on the folly of man, an Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History classes because these classes “only teach what is bad about America” and fail to teach “American exceptionalism.”

Which variety of American exceptionalism? That long period when America was an exceptional slave state?

It would appear that irony has also been banned in the state, as Education Week has ranked Oklahoma 48th out of fifty states for overall education.

Hey, why settle for 48th place when you can aim for dead last?

They want Oklahoman exceptionalism, I guess.

Now there’s another bright idea.

The Oklahoma government, which has essentially become Sally Kern spinning a wheel and selecting random things to ban, is moving forward on legislation that bans government employees from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

When asked about the anti-gay bills, Rep. Kern, who once claimed that gay people were a bigger threat to the U.S. than terrorism, had this to say: “We work for the people of Oklahoma, not the federal courts. We need to stand for those who believe in the time-tested institution of marriage, which is one man and one woman, and who believe in a foundation for what is right and wrong. We have men and women in black robes taking away our rights.”

Well she’s right, she and her colleagues don’t work for the federal courts, but oddly enough that doesn’t mean they’re not bound by federal court rulings. It’s a slightly different thing. I don’t work for gravity, but I still have to pay attention to the law of it.

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

How do we explain this tirade of abuse?

Feb 21st, 2015 10:31 am | By

Brendan O’Neill explains about identity politics at the Spectator. In other news, birds fly north for the summer and water is wet.

His occasion for the surprise-free explanation is the Twitter-mobbing of Peter Tatchell and Mary Beard for signing an open letter about free speech and no-platforming.

How do we explain this tirade of abuse against someone I would describe as the grandfather of gay rights if I wasn’t [weren’t] worried that the use of such a gender-specific title might earn me a tsunami of online abuse? Why are people so incredibly thin-skinned? I think it’s down to the politics of identity. I think the more we’ve made the personal political, the more we define our social and political outlook with reference to what’s in our underpants or what colour our skin is, the more we experience every criticism of our beliefs as an attack on our very personhood, our souls, our right to exist. The problem here is the terrifying wrapping together of the biological and the political, the packaging up of the accident of your gender or race or sexuality with your political persona, to the extent that debate itself comes to be seen as a form of hatred, a ‘phobia’.

Fascinating, and yet – I can’t help noticing he’s not subject to any of the particular forms of hatred he is so magisterially looking down on.

I can’t help thinking that might hinder him from being able to grasp what it’s like to be chronically belittled and/or overlooked because you have the bad taste not to belong to the preferred “identity.” I can’t help thinking that should motivate him to be a little more cautious with the contempt.

But more substantively, what I think is really wrong with what he says there is that he’s overlooking all the other reasons there are for people who act like assholes on Twitter. I would say the chief reason is not “identity politics” at all but just the fact that lots of people are assholes. Second only to that as an explanation, I think, is that lots of people are stupid. Put those two demographics together (of course they overlap a good deal) and there’s your Twitter mobbing explained with very little need to rumble about identity politics or underpants.

As it happens, I think the feminists complaining about No Platform, and possibly even Tatchell himself, unwittingly helped to nurture this censorious tyranny of identity politics with their old slogan ‘the personal is political’. But no matter. For what Tatchell also had, back in the day, was a commitment to the politics of liberation, which encouraged gays to come out and live and engage. Now, we have the politics of identity, which invites people to stay in, to look inward, to obsess over the body and the self, to surround themselves with a moral forcefield to protect their worldview — which has nothing to do with the world — from any questioning. We need a new politics of liberation, one which liberates the personal from the political and reminds people that, no, political debate is not an act of violence against your poor, weeping little self — it’s just political debate.

But what do you liberate people from if “identity” is off the table? What are you talking about if there is nothing to liberate yourself and others from? Liberation from what?

Nope, I think he’s full of shit. I get that what he calls identity politics can get very annoying and grating in the hands (and on the keyboards) of stupid people, but that’s true of anything, isn’t it. You can’t even pick out a favorite movie without a bunch of other people who don’t have your fine, discriminating, subtle intellect joining in and ruining it. There are always stupid people around; often we’re the stupid people ourselves. We’re all stupid about some things. Twitter is a vast engine for magnifying the voices of people at their stupidest – and I think that’s a much better explanation for what O’Neill is complaining about than “identity politics.”

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

The nightmare continues

Feb 20th, 2015 5:53 pm | By

Another horrendous piece of news – from Tom Porter at the International Business Times (which so far seems to be the only English news outlet reporting it) –

Isis supporters call for Charlie Hebdo survivor Zineb el-Rhazoui to be murdered by terrorist lone wolves

So that’s appalling.

Isis supporters have called for lone wolf terrorists to target Franco Moroccan cartoonist Zineb el-Rhazoui, who survived the attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last month.

Thousands of supporters of the jihadist group have tweeted under the hashtag translated as #MustKillZinebElRhazouiInRetaliationForTheProphet, reports Vocativ, posting her personal details, pictures of her husband and sister, and a map showing places she had visited taken from her Facebook account, as well as pictures of Isis beheadings.

Money has also been offered in reward for information on her or her husband’s homes or places of work, reports

What can we do. Murderers can defeat us, because they’re happy to murder.

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

Talk about free speech but don’t mention Raif Badawi

Feb 20th, 2015 5:31 pm | By

See update at the end.

Chris Stedman wrote a public Facebook post a couple of days ago about a little misunderstanding between him and the people at The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates. They invited him to write an opinion piece.

I decided to use this opportunity to look at what I think are the most constructive aspects of a UAE-sponsored UN resolution that calls for interfaith dialogue, free expression, and the open debate of ideas.

I would still rather see more secular dialogue (which of course religious people can perfectly well engage in) than interfaith dialogue (which excludes non-religious people). But if the UAE is a fan of free expression and the open debate of ideas that has to be a good thing. Maybe they can exert some pressure on their neighbors to let Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair out of prison.

Oh wait.

My piece originally opened with the stories of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, two Saudi prisoners of conscience. (I wrote more about their situations here: As you will see if you click the link below, their names do not appear in the published piece. I was informed of this decision shortly before the publication deadline; I asked about putting their names back into the piece, but that did not happen.

Well that would have been the moment to say “no piece then.”

While I remain grateful that I had the opportunity to write about the importance of dialogue and free speech, I also believe that Raif and Waleed’s stories and struggles are important—so I plan to donate what I will be paid for this piece to their families, and I hope people will continue to speak out about what they are going through.

Hmm. I have to disagree with Chris here. I don’t think he should be grateful, since in fact the pretense of giving him the opportunity to write about the importance of dialogue and free speech is pretty laughable given the reality. I think he should be indignant rather than grateful, since the people at The Nation did not in fact give him the freedom to discuss a grotesquely savage and cruel punishment for free speech next door to the UAE, but instead cut it out of his article without his consent. I think he should have pointed out the cynicism of the discrepancy to them, and refused to help them with their charade.

Muhammed Syed of EXMNA left a sharp comment about what can be expected of the UAE given their legal code…

The irony of a piece talking about dialogue which is censored to remove mention of a person jailed for creating a website which promoted dialogue is not lost on me, and I hope others as well.

For the future keep these facts in mind as well,

“The government prohibits proselytizing and the distribution of non-Islamic religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation. The law prohibits proselytizing for any religion other than Islam. The government sometimes threatens to revoke the residence permits of persons suspected of proselytizing for a religion other than Islam.

The law prohibits blasphemy, swearing, profanities, insults, and all types of vulgar language and behavior. Offenders are subject to fines, imprisonment, and deportation. The law provides penalties for using the Internet to preach against Islam, proselytize Muslims, “abuse” a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insult any religion, and incite someone to commit sin or contravene “family values.”

Conversion from Islam to another religion is not recognized, and no data is available detailing the number of conversions. The legal punishment for conversion from Islam is death, although there have been no known prosecutions or legal punishments for apostasy in court.”…/2012religiousfreedom/index.htm…

Also, check out

I think this is one time when interfaith dialogue was not the way to go.

Update: I tweeted at Chris about this and he told me it happened very fast, while he was traveling. I make terrible decisions under those conditions, so I’ll put all the blame on the people who got him into this. It’s very damn sleazy of them.

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

In protest against official callousness and indifference

Feb 20th, 2015 4:00 pm | By

A terrible event in Afghanistan.

Be warned.

From Afghan Zariza:

In a first-of-its-kind incident in Kabul, which has shaken the collective conscience of the nation, a 23-year-old man set himself ablaze to protest against the harassment of women in this country.

Afghanistan is not a good place to be a woman, or a man who loves a woman.

Feroz, a student of law at Rahnaward University in northern Mazar e Sharif, loved Zohra, a student at Ariana University in Kabul.

They had been seeing each other for many years and had decided to settle down after graduation from university. Everything was going well until the hell broke loose.

Zohra, 19, was abducted by a group of local gangsters in Kabul recently and taken to an undisclosed location. She was allegedly gang-raped for 15 days before allowed to go.

Feroz tried to get government and security officials to do something, and got nowhere.

Disillusioned and devastated, Feroz decided to end his life. He left a note for his family that he is setting himself on fire in protest against official callousness and indifference.

A few days ago, he walked to presidential palace in the highly-fortified zone of Kabul and set himself ablaze. Despite the efforts to save him, Feroz succumbed to death.

His father, Abdul Saboor, says he sacrificed his life to send a strong message across that women in this country continue to suffer harassment and persecution.

“His death is a wake-up call to all those who believe everything is hunky dory in this country, and who chose not to speak against women’s harassment,” says the victim’s father.

H/t Lauryn Oates

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

A week in blasphemy

Feb 20th, 2015 11:27 am | By

The IHEU provides a great roundup of blasphemy and anti-blasphemy news, The week in blasphemy.

One item I haven’t yet flagged up here –

In Egypt, a student Sherif Gaber, was sentenced on Monday to a year in prison for making “atheist” Facebook posts in 2013 on the charge of “contempt of religion”.

“Sherif Gaber, 22, was studying at Suez Canal University in 2013, when teaching staff and fellow students reported him via a petition to the institution’s President. They said he had made posts supporting atheism on Facebook, and suspected him of being behind a page called ‘The Atheists’.

Subsequently, the university’s then-president Mohamed A. Mohamedein personally filed a legal complaint against the student to the local prosecution on the grounds of contempt of religion.”

Gaber is out on bail pending an appeal against the sentence.

An asylum case, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, some news we reported last week with cautious optimism as “good” news, has begun to crumble. It concerns the state government decision to review and, hopefully, work toward true justice for numerous people languishing in jail having been convicted of “blasphemy” in Punjab state. This week it emerged that the list of cases to be reviewed excludes any Christians and other minorities!

Oh great! They’re only the ones who are most vulnerable to charges of blasphemy, so it totally makes sense to exclude them – saves the trouble and expense of doing anything.

They quote an anonymous government source who says they’re afraid of the Islamists and that’s why the chief victims are excluded.

Revealingly, the anonymous government source put the exclusion of Christian and other “blasphemy” convicts from the lists in terms of a practical necessity, putting the threat of violence before the principles of justice, and in a sense proving his own point about the authorities being terrorised by “blasphemy” law proponents:

“”We know that most of the cases registered under blasphemy laws are fabricated,” the official said, “but unfortunately our police and justice system is weak and cannot withstand Islamists’ pressure.” He acknowledged that several Christians “have fallen victim to the extremist mindset and were killed during or after their trials.”

Sounds like a failed state.

Also in Pakistan, the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami made new calls for an international death penalty for blasphemy at an all-party conference, which apparently agreed to its terms:

“They demanded of the government to hold an Islamic summit in Islamabad against the publication of blasphemous sketches by the West and decide a common line of action by the Muslim Ummah to discourage this trend.

They said Islamabad should have convened an OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] moot after the repeated publication of sketches and raised the issue at the UN to calm down the feelings of one-and-a-half billion Muslims in the world. However, they said the government had not fulfilled its responsibility under the fear of the US and Europe.

If only Jamaat-e-Islami could take a time-travel ship back to the 8th century. They’d be so much happier, and so would we.

In Bangladesh, a publisher has received death threats for publishing a book by an Iranian author which reportedly calls for putting freethought ahead of blind faith and may also criticise specifically Shiite traditions:

“Hardline religious groups, mainly Hefazat-e-Islam, have called on authorities to prosecute publishing house Rodela Prokashoni over the translation of “23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad.” Rodela Prokashoni’s website appeared to be hacked on February 14, 2015, and their office in Banglabazar was attacked on Sunday, according to a report in the Bangla Tribune. No one was injured.

Following the uproar, the publishing house pulled the book from the shelves at the Ekushey Book Fair and from their website, and publisher Riaz Khan reportedly apologized, saying he wasn’t aware that the book was considered offensive.”

Thy hand, Great Anarch…

Reporters Without Borders, which responded rightly and decisively to the Charlie Hebdo killings, proved themselves excellent allies in our vision of a world without “blasphemy” laws. The organisation released its annual report which headlined a marked decline in press freedoms across the globe, and on “blasphemy” and related laws stressed that:

“Stretching sacrilege prohibitions in order to protect a political system is an extremely effective way of censuring criticism of the government in countries where religion shapes the law.”

Censuring it and shutting it down completely.

Last item –

And in the same week as the Copenhagen shooting, the satirical cartoon strip Jesus and Mo has been published in Denmark, in Danish translation, for the first time.

So there.

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

The international outrage and pressure was so overwhelming

Feb 20th, 2015 10:50 am | By

Another Friday with no lashes for Raif Badawi – and no freedom either, and no relief from the horrible suspense, no relief from the horror of 950 lashes still hanging over him.

The Toronto Star talked to Elham Manea.

“He’s been imprisoned for (about) 1,000 days for doing nothing but expressing an opinion. It’s very unjust,” Manea told the Star.

“I think the international outrage and pressure was so overwhelming that in the end, it wasn’t possible to continue with (the lashes),” Manea said.

She added that Badawi’s supporters are waiting to see if the transfer of his case to a Saudi criminal court two weeks ago will help secure his release. “If not, the campaign will continue.”

The Star also spoke to Ensaf.

“Every Friday, it’s difficult for me and my children,” Ensaf Haidar told the Star. “Every Friday, my children wait and ask questions. It’s very difficult for them.”

In January, Haidar urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene in her husband’s case.

Amnesty International has declared Badawi a prisoner of conscience, and protests have taken place around the world in solidarity with the blogger.

An online petition calling for his release has garnered over 1.1 million signatures to date.

Hi, King Salman. We’re not going anywhere.

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

Follow, peasants

Feb 20th, 2015 9:57 am | By

Oh god.


click to embiggen

A think tank of thought leaders.

It actually says that. They actually call themselves that.

A think tank of thought leaders.

Thought leaders.

They accept the title “thought leaders.”

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

Good ideas, wrong forum

Feb 19th, 2015 5:02 pm | By

A blogger called David Paxton wrote a very long post as an open letter to Laurie Penny on the subject of a tweet of hers saying she wasn’t Charlie Hebdo because Charlie Hebdo is racist. (I’m not sure I think an open letter is supposed to be hugely long. I think if it’s hugely long it’s not an open letter but some other genre…like for instance a blog post.)

I agree with him overall but the post makes me feel…uneasy. It’s too elephant gun. It’s a long essay and it’s in response to a single tweet – that’s overkill, and in the current climate it’s not really all that cool for a man to use overkill on a woman, especially when she’s one who has been a target of a lot of harassment. But it’s not really all that cool in any case – plus it’s absurd. It’s one tweet. The response should be more proportional.

But on the substance I agree with him. Penny bought into the “CH is racist” canard, and that’s annoying, especially when a bunch of them including the editor had just been murdered.

The tweet:

Murder is vile and unconscionable. Freedom of the press must be protected. But racist trolling is not heroism. Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.

She was wrong.


Paxton goes on –

This single tweet is all this is about. You didn’t say much else about the attack as far as I could find. And I looked.

I was appalled by many responses to the attacks and wrote a piece highlighting my problems with them. Your tweet is featured in it under the section ‘Reflexive Smearing’. Reading it back I was still struck by what you had written and think it valid to revisit. I believe there is a disparity between what you profess to believe in, how you usually conduct yourself and the content of your statement. Something doesn’t add up and I would be much obliged if at the very least you could help clarify it and end my confusion.

My objections to your message are as follows:

Oh gawd. He’s already written about the tweet, and now, six weeks later, he’s writing about it again, at great length, because he thinks it “valid to revisit” and that “there is a disparity between” blah blah blah…it’s way too much; it’s overkill squared. And also why does he write that way? Without contractions? As if his blog were an academic journal? That kind of pointless formality gets up my nose.

I want to like his piece, I do think that kind of bullshit needs abundant criticism, but I’m sick to death of overkill and bullying.

Then there’s the conclusion:

Now this time has passed and you are able to reflect upon what you wrote, have you altered your opinion any?

I would like you to do one of the following:

1: Justify your opinion. For although you have the right to make it, such a strong opinion, especially about those unable to reply, requires justification.


2: Repudiate your previous statement. Do so publicly and set straight those whom you influence and may have taken your ignorant and precipitant declaration as somehow based on thought and knowledge. Of course, with this should also come an apology and an explanation. What serious person could provide less?

I don’t think I need to spell out the problem here.

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

They’re the Asshole Emperors

Feb 19th, 2015 4:35 pm | By

An amusing piece by Luke McKinney on the familiar-I-mean-stale things every anti-feminist says whenever feminism [quick make a sign of the cross] is mentioned.

You could list them in your sleep. “Prove there even is sexism.” Disputing every single word for hours on end because they have all the time in the world and they want to waste yours.

# 6 is Saint or GTFO.

This imperfection attack is digging through someone’s Internet history to see if they’ve ever said anything less than perfect. Because the only allowed options are immaculate saint or total asshole, and the antifeminists have the asshole side locked down. They’re the Asshole Emperors, defending their rule by defecating over everything and everyone who’s made the mistake of facing them.

They’ll extract something sort of stupid said several years ago, usually by ripping it more dangerously out of context than the core of an atomic warhead, and wave it around as if it was exactly that powerful.

That’s so familiar. I’ve got people – people I don’t know from a hole in the ground, people with no connection to me other than their demented obsessive hatred – examining every word I’ve ever uttered on line through a microscope and then writing million word indictments of me based on translating something into Albanian and then using the Google translation of that back into English.

It’s such an odd way to manage hatred. It’s as if they don’t even know that avoidance is a possibility. My awfulness has caused them to waste their lives in talking about my awfulness. How sad is that?

H/t Carrie Chapman

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

The same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company

Feb 19th, 2015 11:23 am | By

Bah. Oliver Sacks. Running out of road. Multiple metastases in the liver; terminal. He’s taking his inspiration from Hume.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

What a fabulous sentence.

Hume continued, “I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

Ha! Same here.

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I don’t much want to do without him, I must say. One of the best.

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

All around the world, King Salman

Feb 19th, 2015 10:13 am | By

Update: and in Ottawa:

And in Copenhagen today next to the Saudi embassy:

More from Pakistan:

Aw. Note the Amnesty colors.

Grrrl power!

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

Today from Pakistan!

Feb 19th, 2015 10:02 am | By

Wow – Ensaf Haidar posted something amazing an hour ago.

Today from Pakistan! ‪#‎FreeRaif‬

Pakistan! That takes guts. That picture makes me tear up.

Beautiful beautiful people.

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

Beware the dreaded Extremist Groups

Feb 19th, 2015 9:16 am | By

Here’s a bit of weirdness. Tara McKelvey at the BBC reports on something labeled an “extremism summit” at the White House yesterday…without ever explaining what it was actually about. Well it was about “violent extremism”…but what is meant by that? She never says. You can tell what it’s about if you already know some things, but it’s utterly bizarre that the BBC is so exceedingly coy about it. I’m tempted to convene a summit on Extremist Evasiveness.

A summit at the White House to counter violent extremism has been criticised for being poorly organised and hasty. Will it be able to achieve anything, whether substantial or superficial?

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, spoke in halting English at the White House summit on Wednesday – though her message was forthright.

“When we are together, we are most strong,” she told police officers, FBI agents, European mayors and others gathered in a windowless auditorium for a conference on countering violent extremism, a three-day event held this week in Washington.

Oooh, violent extremism, what’s that, a naïve reader might wonder. Well a naïve reader will never find out by reading the article, no matter how closely or repeatedly. It’s just more of the same.

Extremists killed 17 people in attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January.

Ms Hidalgo joined a unity march on the streets of Paris a few days later. She walked with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – and more than a million others.

There’s the tipoff. Oh that “violent extremism.” But then since it is in fact a particular kind of “violent extremism” with particular hates and particular goals and a particular ideology, what the HELL is the point of concealing all that? What is the point of giving it a generic and fundamentally empty label when an informative one exists? Imagine a White House summit on Nazism convened in 1938 (if only they had…) that was reported as being about “violent extremism” without mentioning Nazism. What would have been the use of that?

Obama wasn’t at the Paris march against “violent extremism” and the administration is worried about the criticisms of his failure to appear.

US officials seemed sensitive about the criticism. On the day of the march, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about their plans to host a summit.

The forum, according to White House officials, was designed to help “prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalising, recruiting or inspiring individuals”.

Radicalizing into what? Recruiting to what? Inspiring to what? These violent extremists and their supporters don’t just go up to people and urge them to join the movement for “violent extremism” do they? Of course they fucking don’t.

Even those who are passionate about the goals of the summit – combating violent extremism – wonder about the optics – a term the Washington political class use to describe how an event is perceived.

One participant, a former State Department official, says there isn’t enough time to coordinate ministers for public appearances – one of the main goals for this kind of event.

Officials from France, Belgium, the UK, and other countries are attending. Mr Obama is expected to address them at the State Department on Thursday.

Whether hastily pulled together or carefully orchestrated, the summit to counter violent extremism is timely.

Timely! But mysterious. What oh what could all this violent extremism be in aid of? What’s its platform? What does it want? What vision of a better world is its goal? Won’t someone please tell us?

Speaking at the White House summit, a Belgian mayor, Hans Bonte, describes people from his city, Vilvoorde, who have joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.

“They are seen in awful video movies,” he says.

He believes dozens more people are now preparing to leave Belgium to join the extremist groups.

“We are facing a global problem,” Mr Bonte says. “But we have to act locally.”

Regardless of the politics – and the optics – of the summit, he and the others are facing the difficult task of trying to stop acts of violence. However flawed, the summit is better than nothing.

But is the reporting?

Not this reporting, that’s for sure. This reporting might as well be nothing. Godalmighty McKelvey even spells it out about the “extremist groups in Iraq and Syria” and the “awful videos” and people leaving Belgium to join “the extremist groups” but still doesn’t say the word. The word is never said throughout the article. Not once.

Islamist. The “violent extremist” groups are Islamist groups. “Violent extremist” is code for Islamist. But why does the BBC think it’s required to talk in code?

This is just plan bad reporting, reporting so bad that it borders on mendacious. The BBC ought to be better than this. It’s one of the chief sources of global news, and millions of people around the globe – most of them Muslims – are terrorized and victimized by Islamist groups. The BBC should be reporting honestly on the subject.

[Note: I’m pretty sure this is a BBC matter, not an individual reporter matter. I don’t think McKelvey decided for herself to report the story this way; I think it’s a house rule.]

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

Guest post: The difference between waspish criticism and mean shittery

Feb 18th, 2015 6:01 pm | By

Originally a comment by thephilosophicalprimate on The demarcation problem.

I think the difference between “waspish” criticism and just being “mean shits” is easier to articulate than you suggest, Ophelia. What you’re talking about is rooted in this commonly recognized tension: Thoughtful people believe and say, for good reasons, that hostility and contempt aimed at PEOPLE is bad. However, some IDEAS are clearly deserving of hostility and contempt, and nothing but. The difficulty arises because it’s difficult, perhaps even impossible, to keep the hostility and contempt for the bad ideas entirely separate from the people, because it’s the people who embrace the contemptible ideas.

But which comes first, and why, does matter. Criticizing people for having bad ideas is perfectly reasonable and respects their fundamental humanity; in effect, such criticism asks others to be better people by chiding them for ideas which are bad but *which they can change*. Recognizing someone’s humanity means, ultimately, recognizing their autonomy and consequently their responsibility: You have this belief, advocate this position, and take these actions — and I argue that they are horrible beliefs and positions and actions, and that such beliefs and behaviors make you a bad person. My criticism respects your humanity by holding you accountable for your choices, and is consistent with encouraging you to make better choices and thereby become a better person.

Criticizing people for who they are — attacking their character and identity rather than their beliefs and actions, especially when the attack is on a part of their identity that is not chosen or subject to change (gender identity, able-bodiedness, race, etc.) — does not show the same respect for humanity. Generally speaking, such criticism places ideas in a secondary role: Instead of saying that you are bad because and only to the extent that you have bad ideas and engage in bad behavior, such criticism declares that only a person who is fundamentally bad would embrace such a bad idea or behave in such a way. Such criticism bears no element of encouraging or recognizing the possibility of change in it, and shows no respect for the humanity of the one criticized.

Thus, what separates a sharp and witty critic like Jon Stewart from some asshole who thinks he’s witty but is actually just a mean shit — Rush Limbaugh is a paradigm case — is the recognition of a fellow human’s humanity even when one thinks that fellow human is being a complete shit and has horrible beliefs that motivate horrible behavior. For example, Stewart will criticize Faux News broadcasters by eviscerating their bad ideas and actions — their hypocrisy, self-contradiction, blatant denial of reality, systematic deceit of the public, lack of journalistic integrity, and so on. But his criticism consistently puts the priority on the ideas: you are bad people because you have and promote bad ideas, and by implication you would be better people if you had and promoted better ideas. For the perfect counter example, Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of Sandra Fluke for testifying about the mandate for insurance to fund birth control under the Affordable Care Act was to label her a slut and generally belittle her with every misogynist insult he could spit into his microphone: He offered no real criticism of the ideas Fluke advocated, and he dismissed the idea of birth control subsidies as so obviously wrong-headed that they are something only a bad person would ever argue for in the first place — a filthy slut like Fluke.

Now, those are extreme opposite ends of a spectrum for illustrative purposes, but I think the underlying distinction is basically right: We can and should criticize people for bad ideas and bad behavior, and that can and should be uncompromising and even cutting when necessary, but such criticism is ultimately respectful of the humanity of others because it implies that they can become better people through embracing better ideas and behaviors. But attacking people for their identity rather than their ideas — especially for elements of their identity that they cannot change or choose — or suggesting in any way that their ideas spring from or should be judged according to their identity rather than the other way around, is fundamentally dehumanizing because it denies the very possibility of choice and improvement.

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

No future

Feb 18th, 2015 5:38 pm | By

The New York Times has a feature by Stephanie Sinclair on child marriage in Guatemala.

In Guatemala, the legal age of marriage is 14 with parental consent, but in Petén, in the northern part of the country, the law seems to be more of a suggestion. Underage brides are everywhere. They parade endlessly through Petén’s hospital in San Benito, seeking medical care. Most have traveled from the villages along the mud-soaked roads that flow out in all directions.

…the physically immature and psychologically unready young mothers were prone to complications during childbirth, which often took place at home. For girls in Petén villages, the journey to competent care could take hours and the consequences dire. According to the International Health Alliance, Petén has the highest rate of maternal mortality in Guatemala at 172 deaths for every 100,000 births. The infant mortality is also high at 40 deaths for every 1,000 births.

There are photos, and a short film. It’s sad, depressing, hopeless. Therefore you should look at the pictures, and read the article, and watch the film.



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

Controversial but wholly natural

Feb 18th, 2015 4:35 pm | By

She knows what’s best for the health of her family, and it’s magical thinking. Reductress:

I’m a mom, a wife, a doula, an urban chicken farmer, a life coach, an extended breast-feeder, a weaver, a kombucha brewer, a yogini, and a Therapeutic Healing Touch practitioner. But most importantly, I’m a mom. And as a mom, I know what’s best for the health of my family: magical thinking.

I have a question. What are her shoes made of? I feel that this is decisive.

She’s not stupid. She’s had tertiary education. She understand how science works.

Science is great. It’s done a lot of good for the world, to be sure. It’s just not right for me or my family.

We have opted for a more controversial but totally natural method called “Please No Bad.”

I like it. I think I’ll adopt it.

She understand how vaccines work, too.

I understand that vaccines bolster vulnerable immune systems by stimulating your body’s natural defenses against disease without actually giving you the disease. I understand that vaccines are safe and effective, and that herd immunity is the best way we have to ensure that young or immunocompromised children don’t get sick and die from terrible infectious diseases that, until relatively recently, were commonplace. I get it. And if you want to live and die by the wholly effective, risk-free, and affordable breakthroughs that Western medicine has produced, that’s fine. That’s your right.

But don’t expect me to come along on that joyride of lies.

What’s her plan? Toxins. It’s all about toxins.

I believe that toxins are in everything, and even though I can’t exactly articulate what these toxins are or where they come from or where they live in my body or what they’re doing that’s apparently threatening my life, I know they’re there. And as a mother, you can be damned sure I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that these imaginary toxins don’t get into the pure white light embodiment of the physical plane occupied by my nine beautiful children. My husband and I practiced magical thinking as a form of birth control, and we have had sex way more than nine times. How’s that for proof?

Read on.

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

American women who have been babied for too long

Feb 18th, 2015 3:48 pm | By

I don’t see the logic.

Raw Story shares a plan to fix the rape problem by MRA Roosh Vörek.

Anything to do with not raping, you ask brightly? No, not at all; don’t be silly.

Here’s the thing. He saw women get drunk and then have sex with someone, and then when sober, go all angsty and get the guy thrown in jail or out of school. It’s that easy; who knew? But he says he saw it, so it must be true.

“By attempting to teach men not to rape, what we have actually done is teach women not to care about being raped, not to protect themselves from easily preventable acts, and not to take responsibility for their actions.”

“I thought about this problem and am sure I have the solution: make rape legal if done on private property,” he continued. “I propose that we make the violent taking of a woman not punishable by law when done off public grounds.”

Vörek predicted that after rape was legalized, a woman would learn to “protect her body in the same manner that she protects her purse and smartphone.”

That’s the logic I don’t get. So if murder were legalized, would we all learn to protect our bodies the way we protect our phones, so that murder stopped? Except wait, phones still get stolen, and so do purses. Also stealing them hasn’t been legalized, yet they still get stolen. Why would legalizing rape cause it to stop happening?

Especially since it’s already mostly legalized in practice, given the tiny percentage of rapes that ever get successfully prosecuted. So, no, I can’t begin to see how that could possibly work.

“Such a change will provide a mature jolt to American women who have been babied for too long, who are protected and coddled as if they have no agency or intellect of their own,” he asserted. “Let’s make rape legal. Less women will be raped because they won’t voluntarily drug themselves with booze and follow a strange man into a bedroom, and less men will be unfairly jailed for what was anything but a maniacal alley rape.”

Also? When are we going to see babies on the menu at five star restaurants? When will we finally realize it’s time to start setting fire to people when the local polo club wins a game?

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