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.

People take literature seriously, especially in moral philosophy

Mar 2nd, 2014 6:41 pm | By

There’s an interview with Rebecca Goldstein in the Atlantic. She’s a speaker at Women in Secularism 3.

[pause for inward tap dance; inward so as not to alarm Cooper who is asleep]\

From the intro:

At a time when advances in science and technology have changed our understanding of our mental and physical selves, it is easy for some to dismiss the discipline of philosophy as obsolete. Stephen Hawking, boldly, argues that philosophy is dead.

Yes, and Richard Dawkins, absurdly, demands why philosophy didn’t think of natural selection before Darwin.

How early do you think children can, or should, start learning about philosophy?

I started really early with my daughters. They said the most interesting things that if you’re trained in philosophy you realize are big philosophical statements. The wonderful thing about kids is that the normal way of thinking, the conceptual schemes we get locked up in, haven’t gelled yet with them. When my daughter was a toddler, I’d say “Danielle!” she would very assuredly, almost indignantly, say, “I’m not Danielle! I’m this!” I’d think, What is she trying to express? This is going to sound ridiculous, but she was trying to express what Immanuel Kant calls the transcendental ego.

It doesn’t sound ridiculous.

You’re not a thing in the world the way there are other things in the world, you’re the thing experiencing other things—putting it all together. This is what this toddler was trying to tell me. Or when my other daughter, six at the time, was talking with her hands and knocked over a glass of juice. She said, “Look at what my body did!” I said, “Oh, you didn’t do that?” And she said, “No! My body did that!” I thought, Oh! Cartesian dualism! She meant that she didn’t intend to do that, and she identified herself with her intentional self. It was fascinating to me.

There’s a book there. She should write that book.

What changes in philosophy curriculum have you seen over the last 40 years?

One thing that’s changed tremendously is the presence of women and the change in focus because of that. There’s a lot of interest in literature and philosophy, and using literature as a philosophical examination. It makes me so happy! Because I was seen as a hard-core analytic philosopher, and when I first began to write novels people thought, Oh, and we thought she was serious! But that’s changed entirely. People take literature seriously, especially in moral philosophy, as thought experiments. A lot of the most developed and effective thought experiments come from novels. Also, novels contribute to making moral progress, changing people’s emotions.

Right—a recent study shows how reading literature leads to increased compassion.

Exactly. It changes our view of what’s imaginable. Commercial fiction that didn’t challenge people’s stereotypes about characters didn’t have the same effect of being able to read others better, but literary fiction that challenges our views of stereotypes has a huge effect. A lot of women philosophers have brought this into the conversation. Martha Nussbaum really led the way in this. She claimed that literature was philosophically important in many different ways.

See for instance The Fragility of Goodness; an extraordinary book.

I gotta go, I gotta do an external tap dance. Just a few weeks until Women in Secularism 3!



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

Blog Baedeker

Mar 2nd, 2014 5:31 pm | By

A tour around FTB…

From the newest blog, On the Margin of Error, Kaveh talks about the fetish for uncertainty.

…we are not certain if there is an alien species or not. But if someone says that he knows aliens have their asses on their heads and every time they fart their eyes pop out, then we can be certain that person is wrong, and our certainty is not dogmatic, but only rational.

I have that thought often. There could be a First Cause, or a Whatever, or another cosmos in which this cosmos is just an atom, along with a cosmos in every atom of this cosmos…But none of that has anything to do with all the nonsensical specificity about Mr God and his Inflatable Knees.

Taslima has some thoughts on the burqa.

All India imam council’s Vice President claims burqas are for women’s protection, but fitting burqas or designer’s burqas attract rapists. It means, not really burqas, but the embroidery works on burqas make men’s penises erected and they can not control their desire to rape the persons hiding under embroidered burqas.

Muftis are allowed to issue fatwas. So the fatwa is, women should not wear nice looking burqas, they should wear plain burqas without embroidery designs.

These fatwabaz men are very busy thinking about women. But obviously their brains don’t think, their penises think. All they can think is how to fuck women. They dream of fucking women. They like embroidery design, so they have to fuck.

Maryam has the terrible news that Iran stoning case Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani attempted suicide in Tabriz prison.

After several days she was transferred back to the prison’s clinic and remains in terrible physical and psychological state.

The Islamic regime of Iran must release Sakineh now.

Ask Rouhani: Why don’t you release Sakineh now!

At Nirmukta, Anish Nair has a piece on that annoying article by Jakob de Roover that I blogged about the other day – so now I will cut the tour short so that I can read Anish’s piece.

A very short tour, a very tiny sample, but quite impressive. It occurs to me that this is not a bad little blog network we have here.




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

Many surviving women have been excluded from the redress scheme

Mar 2nd, 2014 12:46 pm | By

The Sinn Féin website reports what its Deputy Leader said at the Glasnevin Flowers for Magdalene event. (Sinn Féin is, as I understand it, quite pro-church itself, so much of this may be political. That doesn’t make it untrue though.)

One year after Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene survivors, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has called on the government to introduce the long awaited Restorative Justice Bill.

Speaking after the annual Flowers for Magdalene event in Glasnevin today, Deputy McDonald said:

“A year ago Taoiseach Enda Kenny made an emotional address to survivors from the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.

“The apology was a historic recognition to the women survivors of the abusive Magdalene Laundry regime.

“Despite the Taoiseach’s apology many surviving women have been excluded from the redress scheme and just a fifth of the eligible women have received their payments.

“Pensions, medical care and the other provisions recommended by the Quirke report and signed off on by government have been delivered on. Confusion still remains for the small number of women living outside the state who wish to access medical services where they currently live.

“These delays are of deep concern given the age of the women with many in declining health. Sadly, we know of at least three of the women have passed on in the year since the apology.

“It is to this government’s great shame that it has failed to prioritise the Restorative Justice legislation and we are today calling on the Justice Minister to publish the bill as a matter of urgency.

“It must also be noted that the government’s provision of compensation and benefits is in no way a substitute for establishing the truth of what happened in the laundries.

“The nuns have still not apologised, nor will they contribute to the compensation fund.

“The lives of the women survivors have been and continue to be characterised by psychological suffering, poverty and stigma. They should not have to suffer further due to additional delays in the restorative justice process.”

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

To honor the memories of those women and girls

Mar 2nd, 2014 12:35 pm | By

And just today, a few hours ago, at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the third annual Flowers for Magdalenes event, to remember the women who died in the Magdalene Laundries.

Speakers included Mary Lou McDonald TD (Sinn Féin), Claire McGettrick (Justice for Magdalenes), Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin) and Martina Keogh (Survivor of the Magdalene laundries).


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

The deceitful tale it told itself of a kindly and compassionate social order

Mar 2nd, 2014 12:30 pm | By

Meet Mari Steed.

Mari Steed was two-years-old when she was adopted from Ireland by a family from Flourtown, PA. Years later, her search for her birth mother turned up the Magdalene Laundries’ terrifying legacy, and Steed is widely credited for her campaign for justice and the Irish Government’s apology to the Magdalene survivors.

Mari is the daughter of a Magdalene survivor. She was taken from her mother and sent for adoption in America at eighteen months old.

She might never have gone looking for the woman who relinquished her had fate not brought her a great empathy for her mother’s experience. In her senior year of high school, Steed became pregnant by her boyfriend. Her parents sent her to St. Vincent’s, a home in Upper Darby for unwed mot­hers. On rare visits home to Flourtown, young Mari was kept indoors, lest her growing bump may attract neighborhood gossip.

Mari was reunited with her birth mother, who is now known as Josephine Bassett, through her campaign with Justice for Madeline Survivors. Josephine was one of the thousands of women who worked for years in the Magdalene laundries system before the last one closed in 1996. Her mother’s life, Steed told The Irish Voice in 2013, is a “kind of testament to the shadow side of Ireland and the deceitful tale it told itself of a kindly and compassionate social order.”

Cognitive dissonance on a national scale, that.

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

Farewell to Mainok

Mar 2nd, 2014 11:53 am | By

Boko Haram struck again yesterday.

The attackers – believed to be from the Boko Haram group – destroyed the entire village of Mainok, about 50km (30 miles) west of the city of Maiduguri.

The incident took place late on Saturday, hours after two bomb blasts killed at least 50 people in Maiduguri.

Boko Haram has been conducting a four-year violent campaign to demand Islamic rule in northern Nigeria.

The morning after the latest attack, bodies were lying in front of the mosque waiting to be buried and buildings in Mainok were still on fire, the BBC’s Will Ross reports from Lagos.

An eyewitness described how the attack unfolded: “They started shooting everywhere, they started burning all the houses in the village.

“I don’t think that there is any house that is standing in the village and they have killed at least 39 people in the village.”

CNN reports as of half an hour ago that dozens of people have been killed in three attacks. The first casualties were in a village bombed by a military plane trying to bomb Boko Haram camps on Friday night.

Dozens of attackers in military uniforms stormed the village of Mainok on Saturday evening, riding four-wheelers and motorcycles, as residents were preparing for evening prayers.

“They came in around 7 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), explosives and AK-47 rifles,” said Mainok resident Yahaya Umar. “They killed 39 people who were buried this morning and destroyed the whole town.”

The attack on Mainok came soon after two explosions in Maiduguri, 50 kilometers away.

“We were just lamenting the twin blasts in Maiduguri at the soccer viewing center when the Boko Haram gunmen arrived and started firing volleys of RPGs and guns,” Abdullahi Gana said. The Mainok resident added that some of the victims were burnt in their homes while others were shot as they tried to flee.

More corpses for Allah.


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

Watch that “all”

Mar 2nd, 2014 10:50 am | By

Oh lordy. Again. I should just add a little sub-blog or something: Dawkinswatch.

This time he’s trying his hand at making authoritative pronouncements about religion versus atheism on Twitter, and…well, I cringed.

Some good people are religious. Some good people are atheists. All who fight stem cell research & evolution teaching are religious.

Some good people are religious. Some good people are atheists. All who bomb abortion clinics & all who mutilate clitorises are religious.

Some atheists are bad. But all stoners, hand-choppers, abortion clinic bombers, evolution deniers, gay-persecutors are religious.

Some atheists do good, some bad. But atheism drives nobody to do bad. Raligion drives some people to do bad because they think it’s good.

Oh gawd. Somebody stop him.

I think I know what he’s trying to say; I think he’s trying to make the point that religion supplies certain kinds of motivation that are absent from atheism. But those blurts are not that point! And they’re wrong.

And it does matter, because he’s taken to be an atheist authority figure by many many many people, atheists and non-atheists alike. As a mouthy atheist myself, I’m getting increasingly restless about being “represented” by crude slogans like the above.

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

Some of the students’ bodies were burned to ashes

Mar 1st, 2014 5:57 pm | By

Boko Haram is still slaughtering people as if they were fleas or bedbugs. On Tuesday they murdered FIFTY NINE CHILDREN at a boarding school in Yobe state.

Gunmen from Islamist group Boko Haram shot or burned to death 59 pupils in a boarding school in north-east Nigeria overnight, a hospital official and security forces said on Tuesday.

“Some of the students’ bodies were burned to ashes,” police commissioner Sanusi Rufai said of the attack on the federal government college of Buni Yadi, a secondary school in Yobe state, near the state’s capital city of Damaturu.

Bala Ajiya, an official at the Specialist Hospital Damaturu, said the death toll had risen to 59. “Fresh bodies have been brought in. More bodies were discovered in the bush after the students who had escaped with bullet wounds died from their injuries,” he said.

Rufai, who had given an earlier estimate of 29 killed, said all those killed were boys. He said the school’s 24 buildings, including staff quarters, were completely burned to the ground.

So their name – Education Forbidden – is very literal.

Militants from Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is sinful” in the northern Hausa language, have frequently attacked schools in the past. A similar attack in June in the nearby village of Mamudo left 22 students dead.

They have killed more than 300 people this month, mostly civilians, including in two attacks last week that killed around 100 each, one in which militants razed a whole village and shot panicked residents as they tried to flee.

Killing as an end in itself. No shining path, no when the state has withered away, no nothing to lose but your chains; just murder murder murder murder.

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

A question answered

Mar 1st, 2014 12:22 pm | By

That question the CBC asked in The Fifth Estate yesterday? “When does a group’s right to religious freedom get trumped by society’s obligation to protect children?” Republican legislators in Idaho have answered it with “not when it’s a matter of life and death.”

Republican legislators in Idaho struck down a proposed law aimed at preventing the deaths of children whose parents eschew medical treatment in favor of prayer.

Boise’s KBOI reported on announcement by state House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Wills (R), who said that House Speaker Scott Bedke (R) said there is no room on the legislative agenda to debate the bill. Bedke declined to comment, however, as to why the measure is being left off of the legislative slate.

Democratic state Rep. John Gannon proposed the measure after the deaths of several children whose parents attend Followers of Christ churches in the state. Officials estimate that some 144 children are buried in a Followers of Christ cemetery overlooking the Snake River.

Republicans like Rep. Christy Perry fought Gannon’s bill on the grounds that forcing Followers of Christ parents to take their sick and injured children to the doctor would infringe upon their religious liberty.

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” Perry said earlier this year. “This is about where they go for eternity.”

Preventing parents from letting their children die of treatable diseases would infringe upon the parents’ religious liberty (not the children’s), so let those children die.


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

Why didn’t a microbiologist perform Swan Lake?

Mar 1st, 2014 12:02 pm | By

Oh the hell with it. I was going to confine my kvetching on this one to Facebook, but the hell with it – it’s too annoying to leave.


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins Feb 28

Superb lecture in Oxford last pm by @sapinker Why didn’t a historian write The Better Angels of Our Nature? Why did it take a scientist?

Michael Shermer @michaelshermer Feb 28

@RichardDawkins @sapinker Same reason it was a scientist-Jared Diamond-who finally explained why civilizations developed as they did.

Oh yeah? Well why didn’t a scientist write Hamlet? Why didn’t a physicist write the “Ode to a Nightingale”? Why didn’t a chemist paint Las Meninas? Why didn’t a biologist compose The Trout Quintet?

Just stop asking stupid smug self-admiring questions, will you? Let the disciplines enrich each other, let people do multidisciplinary work, let different fields learn from each other, let a thousand flowers bloom, and stop with the ridiculous neener-neeners. It’s not a good look.

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

Yet another pool of underage girls for The Boss

Mar 1st, 2014 11:22 am | By

You’re wondering who Shlomo Helbrans is, unless you followed the link. The link was to last night’s episode of The Fifth Estate, which was about yet another of these pretend religions that are really just games of “let’s go back to the far far past and play at being old-fashioned people with old-fashioned customs” combined with an excellent system for giving one man lots of nooky. This one is sort of kind of hyper-Orthodox Jewish, but only sort of kind of, and the more official hyper-Orthodox Jewish authorities frown on it with disdain. But meh – I don’t see how theirs is any better just because it’s not new. But still, the cult in question is the personal creation of Shlomo Helbrans.

Life in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Lev Tahor is supposed to be simple: the rules for dress, diet, schooling, marriage and worship are clearly defined and closely followed. But last November, in the middle of the night, about 200 members of the sect fled their homes in Quebec to start a new community in Chatham, Ontario, amid allegations of child neglect.  Now the sect is fighting to keep more than a dozen children that a Quebec court ordered removed from their families. Recently released search warrants show Quebec provincial police have been investigating allegations of unlawful confinement and physical abuse of children within the sect, as well as marriage of underage girls to much older men.

Does that sound familiar? Hell yes it sounds familiar.

Their ongoing legal battles are raising an old dilemma: when does a group’s right to religious freedom get trumped by society’s obligation to protect children?

Every time.


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

The best wheeze ever

Mar 1st, 2014 11:06 am | By

Micah J Murray tells us what it was like growing up in Bill Gothard’s homeschool cult.

I remember saying, more seriously than joking, “If this is brainwashing, it feels good to be brain clean.”

But as I spiraled closer and closer to to the center, the realization began to sink in. The jokes became real.

“Cult-like”, sure. I’d call it that. Authoritarian, legalistic, overbearing. But not a real cult.

The worst thing about brainwashing is that you can’t see it for what it is. You never think you’re in a cult when you’re in a cult.

Now Gothard is in the news because – surprise surprise – there are allegations of abuse. What a coincidence: it turns out that an organization run by One Big Man may have been funneling fresh young bodies into the happy hands of that One Big Man. Who knew that Big Men liked to exploit their power to get juicy young bodies to play with?

People ask me what I think about it. What can you say? I grew up in a cult led by an alleged sexual predator.

Do I believe the allegations? Absolutely.

During my two years working at the Cult center after highschool, I saw a system of absolute authoritarianism – designed to protect “leaders” and silence “rebellion”. I saw an organization built on the “special insights” and the idiosyncratic whims of an old man with way too much money and power.

They say that he groomed young women, selected the vulnerable and the hurting, told them it was God’s will for them to come work for him. They say that he made them feel special. That say he took advantage of their naivety - naivety instilled through the teachings and culture he created.

I believe these stories, because I saw the edges.

When we were at the Training Center, we joked about Gothard’s “harem”. We all knew there was a certain physical “type” of woman that he liked to be close to him, working for him.

I saw him pick out young women who were obviously vulnerable and hurting – but also very attractive. I heard him promise them they’d be right at the center of the next big thing he was planning. Those plans never came to pass, but I saw the girls come and go.

Amazing, isn’t it? A brand new thing under the sun? Charismatic dude in charge of a cult turns out to be a goat with a stable of fragile young girls – well knock me down with a 2 by 4.

How did we wind up here, the tens of thousands who were fooled, deceived, led astray? The thousands that still are?

I can tell you how I did: I was raised in it. It was the only world I ever knew. It was my normal.

And it was a “normal” that was protected with principles that taught us not to question authority. They taught us that being different from everybody else meant we were morally superior, that we were “special”. They taught us that if the system didn’t work for us, it was because we weren’t trying hard enough.

It’s such a good wheeze. All Mr Big has to do is preach the usual authoritarian principles that go along with fanatical monotheism, and hey presto, he can fuck any girl he wants to with total impunity. Hello Warren Jeffs, hello David Koresh, hello Jim Jones, hello Shlomo Helbrans.

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

Ag gag

Mar 1st, 2014 10:29 am | By

Mother Jones has a long and informative piece on whistle-blowing in the agriculture industry, and a campaign to pass laws criminalizing it.

PETA was urging prosecutors to go beyond plea agreements for farmworkers; they wanted charges against farm owners and their corporate backers, to hold them responsible for crimes committed by undertrained, overburdened employees.

This prospect scared industrial-scale meat producers into organizing a coordinated pushback. Recognizing that, in the era of smartphones and social media, any worker could easily shoot and distribute damning video, meat producers began pressing for legislation that would outlaw this kind of whistleblowing. Publicly, MowMar pledged to institute a zero-tolerance policy against abuse and even to look into installing video monitoring in its barns. And yet last summer, at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, MowMar’s co-owner Lynn Becker recommended that each farm hire a spokesperson to “get your side of the story out” and called the release of PETA’s video “the 9/11 event of animal care in our industry.”

As overheated as likening that incident to a terrorist attack may seem, such thinking has become woven into the massive lobbying effort that agribusiness has launched to enact a series of measures known (in a term coined by the New York Times‘ Mark Bittman) as ag gag. Though different in scope and details, the laws (enacted in 8 states and introduced in 15 more) are viewed by many as undercutting—and even criminalizing—the exercise of First Amendment rights by investigative reporters and activists, whom the industry accuses of “animal and ecological terrorism.”

You know…if there’s any industry you don’t want protected by gag laws, it’s agriculture. You know? Food? Food that you put into your body? Food that you put into your children’s bodies? Food that schools put into children’s bodies? You don’t want that veiled in secrecy. You know enough about the industry to know that. We all do. You don’t want them bulking up the product with floor-sweepings and no one the wiser.

The release of the MowMar Farms video could have been a gut-check for the industry, a moment to reflect on whether the runaway growth had led to conditions unsafe for man or beast, perhaps even an opening for dialogue with animal welfare advocates. Instead, Julie H. Craven, the spokeswoman for Hormel, went on the offensive against PETA, criticizing its practice of methodically building cases over a period of months in order to demonstrate patterns of abuse. “If they are truly concerned about animal welfare,” she said, “they should release information when they obtain it.”

It marked a transition in the industry’s strategy: Where once it had pushed back against journalists and whistleblowers after their videos ignited public outrage, now they were looking for a way to prevent such exposure in the first place. Soon afterward, meat industry lobbyists dusted off a long-dormant piece of model legislation crafted by a conservative think tank that would not only make it harder to release undercover video but would criminalize obtaining, possessing, or distributing it to anyone—including journalists or regulators.

Cindy Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Pork Board, told me she thought such legal protections could be appropriate. “I liken it to somebody walking into your living room and taking video,” she said. “If you’re at a cocktail party and somebody shoots video of you from behind a candle—like they did to Mitt Romney—is that legitimate?”

When you’re one of two candidates for president of the US? Yes. When you produce food for sale? Yes.

BACK IN SEPTEMBER 2003, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released a piece of model legislation it called the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. Like so many bills drafted by the free-market think tank, AETA was handed over, ready made, to legislators with the idea that it could be introduced in statehouses across the country with minimal modification. Under the measure, it would become a felony (if damages exceed $500) to enter “an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means,” and, in a flush of Patriot Act-era overreaching, those convicted of making such recordings would also be placed on a permanent “terrorist registry.”

A felony to go into an animal facility to take pictures. Wow – that’s not very freedom.

…in what some animal rights activists have called an “evolutionary change” in strategy, Missouri and Nebraska lawmakers introduced bills that include provisions for what is termed “quick reporting”—a concept ostensibly intended to protect animals, but that de facto makes it impossible for journalists or activists to build a convincing case of sustained abuse. Under some of these new provisos, activists or whistleblowers would be required to submit written reports of any signs of abuse they witnessed and all supporting evidence to authorities within a matter of hours—or face criminal charges themselves. Whistleblowers would not even be allowed to keep any copies of materials they submitted to authorities. Critics say the measures are a cynical warping of so-called good Samaritan measures that require reporting child abuse or sexual assault. Only in this case, by analogy, a teacher who later came to suspect child abuse could be prosecuted for not reporting the first bump or bruise.

“It’s absurd,” said Amanda Hitt at the Government Accountability Project. She said she couldn’t believe that an industry that has been so regularly recorded breaking the law “would then have the audacity to come to any state legislative body and say, ‘Hey, we’re sick of getting caught doing crimes. Could you do us a favor and criminalize catching us?’”

And yet they do, and not only that, but some state legislative bodies are replying, “Why certainly, we’d be glad to.”


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

Mr Yousaf has urged Mr Hague to offer asylum

Mar 1st, 2014 9:39 am | By

Via Kausik – the Scottish Government wants to offer asylum to Ugandans facing persecution under the country’s vile new anti-gay law. The Herald Scotland reports:

Humza Yousaf, Minister For External Affairs, has written to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague detailing the Scottish Government’s gesture to welcome “any Ugandan” persecuted by the new laws.

A day after President Museveni enacted the law a Ugandan newspaper published a list of what it called the country’s 200 top homosexuals, including some who previously had not identified themselves as gay.

In his letter Mr Yousaf has urged Mr Hague “to offer asylum to any Ugandans who feels threatened or persecuted by the legis­lation”, adding that “Scotland will play her part in providing asylum for those seeking refuge from this draconian legislation”.

He adds that during the Games “no one from any part of the Commonwealth who visits Scotland will be under any doubt about our values as a welcoming, open and tolerant society”.

Lest we get smug about all this welcoming and tolerance, the Herald reminds us of a pertinent background fact.

Some 41 nations in the 54-member Commonwealth have laws banning homosexuality, many of which date to British Empire legislation that was never repealed.

Good old Empire.

Anyway, Mr Yousaf’s move is very good, but can Scotland actually grant asylum? Regular FTB commenter Walton explains:

The Scottish government doesn’t itself have power to grant anyone asylum – immigration control is a matter which is reserved to Westminster. So this principled stand is good, but doesn’t of itself make a difference to the legal position.

In theory, the legal position is that someone who would be persecuted on return because of their sexuality is entitled to asylum under the Refugee Convention. This was confirmed by the decision of the UK’s Supreme Court in HJ (Iran) and HT (Cameroon), in which it was held that gay and bi people who would have to stay in the closet on return to their home country for fear of violence were entitled to asylum (before then, the Home Office used to reject claims on the ground that LGBT people could safely live “discreetly” in their countries of origin). 

However, what the Home Office and many immigration judges actually do, in reality, is to refuse to accept that LGBT asylum-seekers are actually telling the truth about their sexuality or gender identity. Most are disbelieved, and many are asked humiliating questions laced with homophobic stereotypes and wrong assumptions: see the Guardian and the Independent. So the great majority of LGBT asylum claims are rejected, and large numbers of LGBT asylum-seekers are in fact returned to places like Uganda, Cameroon and Iran because the Home Office will not accept that they are really LGBT (often after long periods of detention in hellhole “immigration removal centres” like Yarl’s Wood). Some, like Jackie Nanyonjo, die as a result.

So that stinks. But maybe Scotland’s offer will put enough moral pressure on Cameron’s government to make a difference.

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

Two sisters in Sulaimanya city

Feb 28th, 2014 6:26 pm | By

Someone tagged me in this Facebook post a couple of hours ago. I have no idea what the answer to the final question is.

Sorry for tagging you dear friends; but it is worth.
Yesterday two sisters (aged 16 and 18) were found killed and drowned in water in a district called Said Sadiq in Sulaimanya city. It is just a drop of the sea of crimes….
Can you imagine that you hear your neighbor’s cry when she is killed by her brother/father/husband/uncle/ or any male relative? Can you experience that more than 30000 women of “your country” are killed under the pretext of “honour”? It doesn’t need that you come and visit Kurdistan to experience that; watch it in some of the media and react. Being a “feminist”, how would you react to that femicide? We need an action against the government in Kurdistan. We need a struggle against the culture and religion which dishonour women in this way…… What can we do?

I wish I knew.

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

Behold the field

Feb 28th, 2014 1:19 pm | By

Via I enjoy multiple sarcasms daily on Facebook:

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

Edinburgh University Students Association rejects secularism

Feb 28th, 2014 12:41 pm | By

A press release from the University of Edinburgh Humanist Society:

EUSA Rejects Secularism

• Edinburgh University Students Association last night failed to endorse a motion to ensure equality for students of all beliefs, whether religious or not.

• Students recently passed “EUSA is a Feminist”, but last night “felt uncomfortable” voting in favour of “EUSA is a Secularist”.

Last night (27/02/14) Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) failed to endorse a motion to bring about equality for students of all beliefs, whether religious or not.

Echoing a move by EUSA’s Vice President Services, who put forward a successful motion in November 2013 to say that “EUSA is a Feminist”, the University of Edinburgh Humanist Society (HumSoc) submitted a motion to recognise that “EUSA is a Secularist”.

The student union’s failure to pass this motion comes only weeks after a motion to secure a ban on enforced segregation in EUSA venues – also submitted by HumSoc – was rejected. After this previous session, on February 6th, one member of the HumSoc committee was labelled “openly Islamophobic”.

Speaking after last night’s meeting, HumSoc president, Luke Hecht said, “This motion was an attempt to formalise EUSA’s secular character and to provide a basis for actively promoting secularism to students, and to wider society. Members of the student council suggested that EUSA was already secular, but that formalising it was unnecessary and could make religious students feel uncomfortable.”

“This is unfortunate, as secularism is about guaranteeing equality and protecting the rights of those of minority beliefs, and those of none.”

HumSoc secretary, Ian Scott, who proposed the motion, said, “It’s deeply disappointing that student council chose not support our call for EUSA to explicitly endorse secularism, and to promote itself as a secularist organisation. Ours was modelled on a previous motion, “EUSA is a Feminist”, which passed without issue. This demonstrates that student council did not take issue with the language of motion itself, but that they voted differently specifically because of the issue of secularism. That students feel unable to formally endorse freedom of belief is highly troubling.”

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

Disclose at the outset

Feb 28th, 2014 12:07 pm | By

More on Orac’s post. (Oh here’s an undeclared thing – not a COI, but still a something – a preference, a habit, a way of doing things. I like the way blogging allows you to treat a subject in pieces if you want to. I do want to.)

He talks about false accusations, and the fact that they’re bad, and Ben Radford’s post on the subject.

The further I read, the more disturbed I became. For one thing, until near the end the article was relentlessly one-sided, its purpose clearly being to give the impression that false accusations of sexual assault are common. Oh, sure, towards the end Radford quotes Alan Dershowitz to concede that “most people who are accused of a crime are in fact guilty.” However, the overall message I got from his blog post was that false accusations of rape and sexual misconduct are common, making his concession that most people don’t lie about such things seem half-hearted, particularly in the context of the lack of high quality evidence to support his view in his post. Again, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” and Radford, disappointingly, went for anecdotes instead of data.

You know who else does that? Fiction writers. There are a lot of stories about false accusations of sexual harassment or rape, such a lot that it seems (to me, but then I have that COI…) disproportionate and thus misleading. Just off the top of my head there’s David Mamet’s Oleanna and J M Coetzee’s Disgrace and Francine Prose’s Blue Angel. I haven’t seen any studies of this so I don’t know if the numbers really are disproportionate, but it seems to be a surprisingly (to me, see above) popular trope.

Now, here’s where I reveal that I know something that many of you don’t know (although, I daresay, many of you do). What those of you who aren’t into the skeptical movement probably don’t know is that last summer, the author of this piece, Ben Radford, was publicly accused of sexual harassment by Karen Stollznow. Now, let me make one thing very clear. I make no judgment as to whether Radford is actually guilty of sexual harassment. I don’t know. I don’t have enough information to know, because all I know is what Stollznow wrote about it (an article that was later removed) and some of what flew back and forth on atheist blogs for a few weeks. For purposes of this discussion of COIs, it really doesn’t matter. For purposes of my discussion of disclosing COIs, it’s utterly irrelevant to me whether Radford is guilty or not.

Now, how does Radford’s post read? Different, doesn’t it? Knowing this about him, I find it hard to view his post as anything more than an attempt at self-justification and a means of casting doubt on his accuser—even if such was not his intent. How would I have reacted to his post if he had disclosed his COI up front? I don’t know for sure. Probably not as badly as I did with his not having disclosed it. No, definitely not as badly as I did. However, what irritates me is what people who don’t know the back story will see. They will tend to assume that Radford is reasonably disinterested, trying to apply skepticism and critical thinking to the issue of false accusations. He is, after all, a prominent skeptic, writing on his employer’s blog, and his employer is CFI, which is dedicated to promoting skepticism and critical thinking. What Radford denied such readers is a piece of evidence necessary to help them evaluate his arguments, namely the bias of the writer.

Quite. That’s a thought that struck a lot of people yesterday. Many of them were angry with CFI for hosting Radford’s post. I kept thinking, when I saw the anger, that it wasn’t a matter of CFI as such approving and publishing Radford’s post, as if it had been an article in Skeptical Inquirer or Free Inquiry. CFI bloggers post what they want to post, and there is a disclaimer on the blog saying the opinions are those of the individual blogger, not CFI. Ron mentioned that in his post yesterday. I kept thinking that, but I didn’t type it because…what…because I’m not sure that policy is a good idea, for the reasons that this controversy reveals. The disclaimer is there but it doesn’t really do the job. At one point yesterday I was going to compare the situation to FTB, where we are all completely independent, but then I remembered that a blog network is one thing and a big organization like CFI is quite another. I’m not sure a CFI blog really can post independently of the organization in a meaningful sense, especially not on a subject that gets people hot under the collar because of their Interests and Conflicts of same.

At any rate, as Orac says, it certainly doesn’t help that Radford didn’t disclose his Interest.

Unfortunately, Radford’s post is also badly reasoned and lacking in evidence. I was going to provide some examples and pick it apart a bit in my own inimitable way, other than pointing out its near-total reliance on anecdotes as I’ve already done, but it turns out that I don’t have to. Here’s what I mean. When I first saw Radford’s post and decided to write about it, I was also annoyed at CFI. Why, I thought, did CFI allow Radford to use its blog as a platform to grind his his own personal axes? Believe it or not, given how happy and pleased I was that my very first major article had just seen print in CFI’s flagship publication, Skeptical Inquirer (it’s a primer on Stanislaw Burzynski coupled with an article about how skeptics have become active again opposing him), I even felt a little trepidation as I wrote this. I wondered whether I would ever be invited to give a talk at a national CSI conference again, the way I was in 2012, or whether I’d ever see any of my articles in print again in the pages of Skeptical Inquirer. It was almost enough to make me stay my typing hands and look to another topic I had had in mind for today before I became aware of Radford’s post. Radford is, after all, very influential in CFI. If I were to piss him off, it wouldn’t result in a profane rant directed at me at TAM this year in which a certain large magician took umbrage about something I wrote about him, but it could have negative effects on my aspirations to be more influential. I don’t know if those fears are unreasonable, but I’m less worried now that I’ve seen another post on a CFI blog.

That’s an impressive example of following his own advice, and declaring a hidden COI. It’s also a different Orac from the one who picked a big fight with me in the summer of 2012 in the acrimonious run-up to that year’s TAM. I thought he very much had a COI then, and was being an asshole about it. That was that year, the year before Penn Jillette picked a big fight with him. Things change.

It turns out that Ron Lindsay, president of CFI, has actually written a response in which he noticed the same sorts of problems that I did. His post is reasoned and balanced, and he basically eviscerates Radford’s arguments right from the very title of his post, Evidence-Based Reasoning: Comments on a Blog Post.

Paths intersect.

Think of it this way. No one disputes that in scientific and medical research it’s important to disclose one’s financial COIs. If discussed the way I discussed above, few would argue that it’s not also important to disclose COIs that might imply a strong ideological COI, such as antivaccinationists who publish review articles and research purporting to find a link between vaccines and autism who don’t mention that, oh, by the way, they are on the board of directors of an antivaccine group, although such COIs tend to be treated much less seriously than financial COIs. Fewer people would insist that disclosing COIs like those of Ben Radford, life events that have the potential to massively impact one’s objectivity, is critical, but I would. If you want to claim to be a skeptic and to persuade an audience of skeptics, you need to be completely open about such a potent personal COI. More importantly, if you want to be honest with yourself, it’s even more imperative to do so. The same is true of science. Ruthless self-examination and openness about sources of our potential biases can only help us develop as skeptics. We all have biases, and we all have potential COIs. Acknowledging them and being honest about them, are the first step in overcoming them, because you can’t overcome them if you fail to admit that they exist.



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

Spotting the occult Conflict of Interest

Feb 28th, 2014 11:05 am | By

Orac / David Gorski has a post about Conflicts of Interest and motivated reasoning.

He points out that COIs (it really should be CsOI, but I’ll go with COIs for simplicity) are not just financial, they’re also ideological and personal (and there are doubtless other kinds he didn’t enumerate).

That’s why I’ve become very insistent that we, as skeptics, scientists, and physicians, need to be totally up front about our conflicts of interest, be they financial, ideological, or personal. One reason, of course, is that those who—shall we say?—don’t share our dedication to rationality, science, and critical thinking will be very quick to point them out if we don’t do so first, but that’s not the most important reason. The most important reason is to be better skeptics. We need to honestly admit and recognize anything that might compromise our objectivity or lead us to conclusions that are not the ones best supported by science and the evidence. Once we know our own skeptical weaknesses in the form of COIs, we can work on trying to mitigate them. In many ways, financial COIs are the easiest to deal with, because they’re far more straightforward. When one has a personal experience that informs one’s views on a topic or has a strong ideological commitment to a point of view, it’s often hard to tell where skepticism devolves into motivated reasoning.

True. Good point. I try to do that to some extent, but probably not enough. One reason for the not enough is just that it would get tediously repetitive except for first-time readers…but other reasons are perhaps also in play. Why don’t I just take this opportunity to spell out some of my Interests.

One is feminism. Duh. That’s obvious, and it’s obvious that lots of people think feminism is not so much an Interest as a Guaranteed Warper of Rational Thought.

It could be, under certain conditions. There are things I would not like to see Firmly Established By Science, such as the permanent inherent global inferiority of the female brain…or, for that matter, the [insert any adjective here] brain. But personally, self-interestedly, Conflict of Interestedly, I would not like to see that in the case of the female brain. I would be threatened by that.

So that’s one.

Others are liberalism (in the sense of a rights-orientation), universalism, secularism, atheism.

But Gorski also includes personal. Right. There are some of those. There are people whose participation can turn me right off a discussion, people who have a long and rich history of calling me (and, often, friends of mine) nasty names. There are a lot of them. I can’t have any kind of calm, reasoned discussion with them. It just isn’t possible. That’s a COI.

Fortunately most of them are just pseudonymous people on Twitter and in blog comments. Fortunately most of them are not likely to cross paths with me except on Twitter or in blog comments. But there are a few, and that’s a COI.

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

Guest post: ‘Kill the Witch’ Miracle Crusade in Calabar

Feb 27th, 2014 6:05 pm | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe

The world may not have seen the last in terms of the inane witch-hunting campaign being waged by Pentecostal pastors in Nigeria. New christian witch-hunters – pastors and churches – are emerging with force and ferocity. Another ‘Kill the Witch’ miracle crusade has just been announced to take place next week. It will be held in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State in Southern Nigeria.


According to a poster being circulated in the city, the event :”Ikot Ishie/Ikot Ansa Miracle Crusade I AM THAT I AM” is to be held on March 3-5 with a ‘Tarry Night’ on Friday March 7 at AB Martins Field by Ikot Ishie Market in Calabar.

The theme of the event ‘That Witch Must Die’ is a clear indication of what the program is all about – an event to incite violence and hatred against innocent citizens.

The poster has this telephone number ’08161257384′ as the ‘prayer line’. Prophet Bassey J. Udosen is the main organiser while Pastor Zack Orji, a Nollywood actor, and Pastor Larry Koldswaet, one of the actors in Helen Ukpabio’s notorious movie ‘The End of the Wicked’, will be preaching at the event.

Calabar is the headquarters of Helen Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church. Belief in witchcraft is very strong in the city. Vulnerable persons, particularly children, are often targeted and abused in the name of sorcery. The activities of Pentecostal churches and pastors have been linked to the persecution of child witches in the region. Efforts to bring these dark age-minded evangelists to book have proved ineffective as demonstrated in the recent announcement of this ‘Kill the Witch’ crusade.

Church programs that literally say: ‘That Witch Must Die’ expressly undermine efforts to end child witch hunting in the region. Nigeria will not win the war against witchcraft-related abuse of children if it continues to turn a blind eye on church programs like this that sanction the killing of witches.

This is because these programs reinforce the link between misfortune, sorcery, and these vulnerable innocent members of the population. They recharge the superstitious notion that witchcraft is evil and any alleged witch is dangerous to the society, deserves no mercy, and should be killed.

Witch hunting is a traditional practice which has been appropriated by Pentecostal church entrepreneurs in their quest for evangelical relevance and capital.

The theme ‘That Witch must die’ is inspired by the Biblical injunction in Exodus 22.18 which says ‘Suffer not a witch to live’. So, the christian connection to this modern day witch hunt is evident.

A ‘Kill the Witch’ miracle crusade is not an exercise in freedom of religion as many people may think. It is actually an abuse of the right to freedom of religion. Such a crusade promotes witchcraft accusations, which is illegal in Nigeria. It incites hatred and violence against accused persons, which is a criminal offence. Unfortunately, we have yet to see any church or pastor prosecuted for this offence in Nigeria.

That notwithstanding, we shall not let up on the pressure on the authorities in Calabar, Cross River State and Nigeria to take action and bring these witch hunters to justice. We shall not abandon the campaign to protect children from the vicious and virulent campaign of Nigeria’s Pentecostal pastors who are trapped in a medieval mind warp.

We shall continue to shine the light on the schemes of these charlatans who are masquerading as pastors, using churches as fronts and witchcraft belief as a power base to demonize innocent children and exploit poor ignorance members of the community.

So join efforts with us to stop this ‘Kill the Witch’ Miracle Crusade in Calabar. Contact the organisers through their Facebook or Twitter accounts, or better, through the telephone/prayer line contact on the event poster. Let these evangelical con artists know that the world is watching, and will hold them accountable someday.

Witch hunting by Pentecostal churches in Nigeria must stop.

Leo Igwe

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