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.

June 11-15, 2015

Oct 27th, 2014 11:14 am | By

CFI has announced its next big (CFI-CSI mashup) conference next June.

Critical thinking is not an end in itself. It is a means to effect positive change, to transform our world for the better. At “Reason for Change,” the Center for Inquiry’s 2015 international conference, we’ll bring the skeptic and humanist communities together to do just that.

Important point. Critical thinking can feel like an end in itself, at least for awhile, because it’s interesting. But in reality? It’s not, just as atheism is not.

And we’ll do it in a place that many consider to be “home” to the skeptic and humanist movements: Western New York and CFI’s headquarters in Buffalo. Fittingly, 2015 will be the 35th anniversary of Free Inquiry and the 39th anniversary (last party before 40!) of Skeptical Inquirer, the two foundational publications that helped start it all.

This conference will be truly special. It will be both a celebration of our accomplishments and a robust examination of the challenges we still face. It will be an invaluable opportunity to connect and collaborate with thinkers, activists, researchers, and other luminaries from around the world.

I’ll be there, so if you’re there too, let’s schmooze.


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

Four players would hold a victim on the floor

Oct 27th, 2014 10:44 am | By

Many of the people in Sayreville – parents and students alike – don’t get it. There’s a lot of “it was just hazing” “it was no big deal” “why do you hate football?” “you ruined everything and we hate you” in response to the fact that reasonable people frown on sexual assault even when it’s football player seniors doing it to freshmen. The BBC takes a rather horrified look.

Four players would hold a victim on the floor while two were on lookout, one parent told after their son confided in them. One player would signal the start of the process with a howl, then turn off the lights and assault the freshman.

Two victims interviewed by the New York Times, including one who said he was digitally penetrated from behind, said they were wearing football pants at the time and didn’t consider what happened to be that serious.

Stories of older members of the team pinning down freshmen team-mates and assaulting them in a dark locker room as others cheered initially shocked the community. But after superintendent of schools Richard Labbe cancelled the rest of the team’s season, many students and parents defended the programme and criticised what they saw as a punishment that extended to players who were not involved.

“If freshman thought we hated them before, we sure as hell hate them now,” one 16-year-old student wrote on Twitter shortly after the season was cancelled.

This is a school we’re talking about. A school. Not a professional football team but a school. A “football season” should be – at most – a recreational extra, not a core entitlement, let alone THE core entitlement. If it turns out the football team is fucked up, then it’s not a bad idea to suspend operations until things are improved. That’s not punishing anyone.

During a school board meeting, according to Sports Illustrated, dozens of players and parents protested against the decision to cancel the season.

“They were talking about a butt being grabbed,” one player’s mother, Madeline Thillet, said. “That’s about it. No one was hurt. No one died.”

That’s an extremely warped attitude. Bullying and assault should not be treated as acceptable provided no one died. Football shouldn’t be treated as more important than decent behavior.

Gary Phillips of the Journal News, a newspaper in the Lower Hudson River Valley of New York, says he has a problem with how many people have been referring to what happened as hazing at all. He writes that hazing is a part of team culture, but it is too often an excuse to bully or cause suffering.

What happened in Sayreville was not hazing, he says. What happened had nothing to do with initiation or building camaraderie.

“By calling sexual abuse hazing, society grants those perpetrators a free pass and downplays the brutality of their actions,” he writes. “What is actually a very serious crime is passed off as a ‘rite of passage’ ritual that went too far.”

Exactly. We all really really need to stop doing that. We need to stop normalizing abusive behavior by giving it fun playful names.

Michael Kasdan says there’s another word for what happened.

“It’s rape,” he writes for the Good Men Project. “Yes, it occurred as part of a football team hazing program, and it is boys acting against other boys, but – if the allegations are true – it is rape just the same.”

Kasdan says that what happened in Sayreville was abuse, with the sexual aspect being another way to assert dominance.

While the stories are disturbing, they are far from uncommon, says Robert Silverman of the Daily Beast. It’s a part of a larger issue across the country and at all levels of the sport.

He says that there is a direct connection between the stories in Sayreville, bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room, the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case and the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal. In all of these cases, the perpetrators had been told that they weren’t beholden to the regular rules that all other members of society have to follow.

And what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer, AND to the people who think it’s funny to dress up as Ray Rice for Halloween and drag around a blow-up doll dressed to look like Janay Palmer. This stuff is all connected and it’s all sick.

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

Ebola nudges malaria out of the frame

Oct 27th, 2014 10:20 am | By

Ebola is terrible but malaria is also terrible. Both are killers. The BBC reports on worries that Ebola might displace efforts to prevent malaria.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, who heads the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, said after visiting west Africa: “Understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.”

Children’s wards which used to be full of malaria patients were becoming “ghost areas,” she added.

In 2012, malaria killed 7,000 people in the three countries worst hit by Ebola.

4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone in 2012, around 2,000 deaths in Liberia, circa 1,000 in Guinea.

Now the three countries are wrestling with the Ebola virus and Dr Nafo-Traoré said she feared that recent gains in preventing malaria could be threatened by the crisis.

She said: “These countries have previously been really hit by malaria. But five years ago, it was even worse – the deaths were double.

“We all agree that no child should die from malaria, because we have the tools to prevent and treat it.

“But now, understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.”

Health workers are busy with Ebola, so the malaria wards are empty because there are no health workers to staff them. That means no one knows how many people are dying of malaria.

RBM is a partnership of more than 500 organisations. It was formed 16 years ago to co-ordinate global efforts against malaria.

It says Guinea and Sierra Leone met key targets last year for distributing bed nets – a crucial weapon for protecting children from mosquitoes which spread malaria.

Bed nets. Wouldn’t it be nice if those homeopaths who are there meddling with the Ebola outbreak instead simply distributed bed nets? That would actually accomplish something.

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

Because men punching women is hilarious?

Oct 26th, 2014 5:39 pm | By

The title tells you all you need to know.

For The Love Of God, People, Do Not Dress Up As Ray Rice For Halloween

No, really, don’t.

A Reddit user who asked to remain anonymous posted the following image on Sunday night, explaining that his “friend came to the party as Ray Rice.

” It shows a man with the running back’s jersey dragging a blow up doll on the floor.

Not. fucking. funny.

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


Oct 26th, 2014 5:24 pm | By

Via LGBT Muslims

5 female allies in the Muslim world.

One in Somalia:

In 1998, on a rainy morning in Mogadishu, Halimo Jim’ale was visited by her older sister Hadiyo Jim’ale. When her sister came out to her, it changed her world. Jim’ale threw herself into learning more about human sexuality and how her religion dealt with it, especially the issue of female homosexuality.

Naturally, she was met with a lot of negative information. Well, today she leads a local chapter of Queer Somalis, a support group, teaching young queer people who come to her the information she so desperately needed when her own sister had come out to her. Despite living in a country where homosexuality is legal*, and where she could be persecuted as a propagandist for something highly controversial, Jim’ale says her “life is all about taking risks,” adding, “I know with my work someone else will have a better journey than my sister did, perhaps finding themselves sooner.”

*Probably a typo for illegal

One in India:

In 1996, Shabana Azmi shocked the Muslim community when she played the lead role in Deepa Mehta’s Fire, which you could say was the first “real” lesbian film in India, where she portrayed a woman who falls in love with her brother-in-law’s wife. Azmi took the role to support visibility for gay people because she believes “when one speaks about human rights, and one talks about minorities’ rights, that must also extend to the gay community,” as she told Himal magazine. In 2013, when India went back to criminalizing gays, she released a statement in which she said she was “shocked by the judgment. I had actually started believing that gay rights are given in our so-called modern democratic society,” adding that upholding “article 377 is undemocratic, and a violation of human rights.

Three more where those came from.


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

One for The Watchers

Oct 26th, 2014 5:18 pm | By

This idea that I’ve done a 180 on postmodernism? Complete bullshit. I don’t know where you get this stuff, unless it’s just a turd drawn up from the bottomless well of loathing. I’ve moved on to other subjects most of the time now, but I haven’t in the least changed my mind. I don’t suddenly disagree with anything I wrote in Why Truth Matters.

Are you thinking that feminism is somehow postmodernist? Again, complete bullshit. There are postmodernism-flavored brands of feminism, but I’m no more a fan of them than I ever was. I haven’t morphed into a fan of Sandra Harding or “women’s ways of knowing.”

You don’t know what you’re talking about.

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

More on the homeopaths rushing to help

Oct 26th, 2014 5:04 pm | By

Pepijn van Erp has an informative post about the “heroic” homeopaths getting in the way of helping doctors and nurses dealing with the Ebola outbreak.

Now there seem to be at least four who are trying to put their illusionary treatments to work in Western Africa. On the website ‘Spirit, Science & Healing’ homeopath and Huffington Post columnist Larry Malerba wrote a message on 21 october: ‘Update: Team in Liberia Using Homeopathy for Ebola.’

Of course this astonishing news was picked up on Twitter and Facebook, resulting in many reactions of disbelief. The message was removed soon after. But to make things disappear from the Web is quite hard. Further digging into this story learns that we probably should take this endeavour very seriously indeed.


Four homeopathic doctors,  dr. Richard Hiltner (US), dr. Edouard Broussalian (Switzerland), dr. Medha Durge (India) and dr. Ortrud Lindemann (Germany), are part of this team. It might look like a big bluff when you read it at first. Who can imagine that these people might actually get access to ebola patients and will be allowed to ‘treat’ them with sugar pills and drops?

Broussalian was a familiar name to me, he had been conducting some ‘research’ during a cholera epidemic on Haiti. This story is documented in ‘Spectrum of Homeopathy‘ (Nr 2. 2011) a magazine by publisher Narayana Verlag from Germany. His methods are extremely dubious. Broussalian and his team were apparently allowed to help treat the cholera patients. Those patients were treated with regular methods, mainly a drip.  But Broussalian also gave them the homeopatic remedy Phosphorus 200C from a spray flacon. In their strange working minds the homeopaths addressed all success of the recovery of the patients to this remedy instead of to the regular treatment.

So anyone can cure people. Just go to a hospital and stand near some real doctors and nurses really treating people, and when the people get better, just say it was because you were standing there. Magic!

At the end of the article is this ominous sentence:

At the end of our stay, we were no longer providing new patients with an infusion, but immediately gave them the phosphorus spray.

There is nothing in the article on the recovery of these patients, most likely Broussalian had already left. Let’s hope that they got a drip anyway after he left, and in time.

Oh gawd. Surely nobody would be fatuous enough to fail to provide the drip.

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

GamerGate doesn’t represent us

Oct 26th, 2014 3:40 pm | By

Another petition – this one telling advertisers that GamerGate doesn’t represent us and please don’t let it steamroll you.

Gamergate Does Not Represent Us – Support Media Outlets Against Coordinated Silencing Efforts

Petition by
Gamer Geeks for Diversity in Arts Through Feminism

Dear advertisers,

Recently, a group of people associated with “gamergate” have targeted news and media outlets by contacting advertisers en mass. Despite this group’s insistence that their focus is journalistic ethics, the outlets that have been named in their campaign have been named due to publishing articles discussing sexism and harassment within the gaming community.

We, as people who buy and play games, are not offended or afraid of having a discussion within our community concerning sexism and harassment. We are aware that there is a small portion of gaming enthusiasts who have become highly defensive in response to these discussions and have decided to lash out.

This picture is a screenshot from a larger tactics document associated with gamergate, in which a person contacting the advertisers of targeted media outlets is encouraged to be “an annoying little shit”.

We would like you, the advertisers, who have been “pestered” by this group to know, that this group does not represent us.

Gaming, as a pastime and an art form, is a significant cultural phenomena. Many of us are deeply invested in playing, discussing and developing games.

Despite gamergate rhetorically supporting free speech and freedom of expression, their movement has contributed significantly to a hostile and toxic environment.

We stand against these bully-tactics and lend advertisers and media outlets our support. We stand with journalists, reviewers, and editorial writers in hopes that they can continue to express their views and participate in much-needed conversations within our community free of coercion and intimidation.

Russ Dyer, Kraft Foods, Public Relations
Brian Mast, eHealthInsurance, Director of Public Relations
Sande Drew, eHealthInsurance, Sr Media Consultant
Keith Dailey, Kroger, Director of Media Relations
Robert A Varettoni, Verizon, Exec. Director of Media Relations
Raymond McConville, Verizon, Media Relations Manager
Danielle McNally, Motorola, America Public Relations Specialist
Motorola Media Inquiries, Media Relations Dept
Holly Anderson, State Farm, Media Relations Specialist (Illinois-HQ)
Rachael Rislinger, State Farm, Media Relations Specialist (New York)
Edelman – Samsung PR, Public Relations
Danielle Meister, Samsung, US Media Relations and Corp. Communications
Scott Sloat, Sprint, Sr. Vice President – Corp. Communications
Jeff Hallock, Sprint, Chief Marketing Officer
Tristan Rosenfeldt, Electronic Arts, Communications Exec.
Kyle Ryley, Electronic Arts, Marketing & Communications Intern
Nancy Hubbel, Toyota Motor Co., Scion Product Communications Manager
Antoinette Arianna, Toyota Motor Co., Public Relations/Media Contact – New York
Jessica Johnston, Citizen Paine, Media Relations Contact, Old Spice
Kate DiCarlo, Procter & Gamble, Communications Manager

Sign that thang.

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

The homeopaths are on the ground

Oct 26th, 2014 12:40 pm | By

I wish this were a parody, but it isn’t – it comes from the real actual National Center for Homeopathy - which is at least a website indistinguishable from a real website devoted to homeopathy. It wants to tell us about homeopathy and Ebola. Yes really, Ebola. It’s here to help.

The Ebola epidemic raging through West Africa has become a humanitarian crisis of great proportion. Homeopaths worldwide have been mobilizing their efforts toward gaining entrance in those countries affected, in order to provide homeopathic medical intervention to those individuals stricken with Ebola.

The overriding goal is to investigate Ebola firsthand, and thereby determine which remedy or remedies are best for treating this disease.

There is already investigation of that, with good results. Medical results. A drug with active ingredients.

Homeopathy has had a longstanding record in our over 200 year history in the successful treatment of a wide variety of epidemic diseases, including hemorrhagic fevers, some of which are in many ways very similar to Ebola.

Including hemorrhagic fevers? I can’t help noticing there’s no documentation of that claim. I can’t help suspecting it’s not even a little bit true.

In our tradition of working with epidemics, homeopaths attempt to determine a central or core remedy that proves effective for most individuals who have contracted the disease, which is named the “genus epidemicus.” This remedy is derived from culling symptoms from many cases, and finding the very few, or preferably, the single remedy which best matches the natural disease expression of the epidemic under consideration.

As opposed to what everyone else does, which is to find a different remedy for each individual who has contracted the disease?

While there is ample reason to expect that such a remedy can be found for Ebola, to date our homeopathic world community has not yet determined what that remedy or remedies might be. Once such a remedy is found and administered empirically to patients, if it is shown to be effective, we will have in our hands both a treatment for Ebola victims and, very likely, an effective remedy to help prevent or dramatically diminish the spread of the disease to those exposed or at risk of contracting it (homeoprophylaxis). Discovering such a remedy and applying it successfully for Ebola is still unproven, though completely in line with our historical experience with epidemic diseases, both for their treatment and prevention.

Not if the “our” in that last sentence refers to homeopaths it isn’t. Homeopaths haven’t found any remedies for any epidemic diseases. How could they?

The good news is that a small international team of experienced and heroic homeopaths have arrived in West Africa, and are currently on the ground working hard to examine patients, work out the “genus epidemicus,” and initiate clinical trials. This work is being done alongside the current conventional supportive measures and treatments already in place. We applaud and congratulate this team’s dedication and courage in joining the front lines in treating Ebola with homeopathy. The answer to whether homeopathic medicine has an important role in the Ebola epidemic could be forthcoming quite soon.

Oh, brilliant – a bunch of homeopaths getting in the way of the real doctors and nurses and ambulance staff and everyone else. What a terrible thing to do, and to congratulate each other on.

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

It’s actually about ethics

Oct 26th, 2014 11:34 am | By

A couple more of those.

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

More billions for the Waltons

Oct 25th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

Maek you think.

Jobs With Justice

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

Erdoğan canceled the concert

Oct 25th, 2014 5:43 pm | By

Fazil Say has written an open letter to Turkey’s President Erdoğan about his government’s oppression of the arts and artists.

Mr President, Culture Minister and other authorities,

I am writing this letter to you from Peking. I have a concert in China tonight. I have my own pieces in the programme. My three pieces were removed from the programme in Ankara and it was criticized severely, I heard.

It is just not nice.

I have a few words to tell you. I hope you read this and try to understand this man.

Do you know when you can be powerful? When you present east and west, and their combination at its best.

This is why the Istanbul Symphony you cancelled in Ankara has been performed all around the world. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra performed it last week.

Istanbul Symphony is a piece that played with reed flute, zither, frame drum and double drum (Turkish instruments) in the front rank with 80 people in the orchestra. It presents Istanbul with music. It does not have lyrics. More than 50 orchestra have taken this piece to their repertoire worldwide since its introduction in 2010.

It’s music. Music. What’s Erdoğan doing cancelling a piece of music?

Come and change your repressive mindset which rises rage and confusion throughout the world. Do not be destructive. Let people of Ankara listen to it. Let everyone love what they like. Support it.

Fazıl Say has 56 music works. Nothing changes for Fazıl Say just because three of them were banned in Ankara. The world condemns this repressive mindset of yours, that is all. No one feels any better in Turkey because a musician is banned. You do not feel better. Change this. The only loser is the one who ordered this.

Do not be afraid to bestow your hand.

Even, say ‘Let’s bring this work to cities without orchestras.’ Offer your hand. Do not worry, it will be valued.

The world’s most expensive productions are made even in Qatar. Still, it creates a crooked social fabric if different lifestyles are exposed to fear and threat. Neither oppressor, nor oppressed can be happy.

Let Turkey compete with world in music.

Do not shut down operas, theatres, orchestras. Let people see it if they want to. Let people decide what is what.

Increase the budgets for them to do better and compete with world. Let them do whatever they want. We live in 21st century in a free world. Make it positive. Make the world say ‘Good art is performed in Turkey.’

Do not fear art and artists. It is not a military force before you. It is just musicians, actors, dancers… Man… Simple citizens…

We have faced off against each other in years. We could never get along well with this government. It has brought cencorship and cancellation of other concerts. It has always been considered odd. No one was happy.

Put the crew that created a festival in Antalya back to its post. We created festival with our effort, ideas and creativity. It is our right.

Offer more opportunities to this crew. Say ‘Let’s create other festivals in other cities.’ Tell them to improve together. Do not fear this.

It’s music. Erdoğan doesn’t want to come across as another Taliban does he? Or does he.

It does not make a difference neither for me, nor somebody else when you cancel three or four concerts of mine.

It is only astonishing and humiliating.

Is this what you want? Has this country not lost enough with such mistakes for decades?

Turkey has a few world famous musicians. And it is not earned with just luck. They win competitions and prizes, and come to this point with years of hard work and thousands of concerts in hundreds of cities and it is just not so easy to reach that point.

Please, try to understand for once in your life.

Fazıl Say

Will Erdoğan pay attention to this letter?

I doubt it.

H/t Torcant

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

Actually it’s about ethics

Oct 25th, 2014 5:19 pm | By

It’s always a good idea to see what Scalzi has been tweeting and retweeting lately.

Embedded image permalink

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

Guest post: What advertising is really selling

Oct 25th, 2014 4:37 pm | By

Originally a comment by latsot on Floating above the ugly fray of politics.

The world of advertising is a strange one. Ah fuck it, I’m going to pull a made-up law out of my arse. Let’s call it Fortran’s Law: any sufficiently long-lived advertising campaign will forget what it’s actually advertising and why it even exists in the first place.

Here in the UK we have animated meerkats selling insurance.

It started as a pun (compare the market/compare the meerkat) but turned into a sort of soap opera about the lives and loves of these fucking meerkats. At the end, the TV ad says “oh, and you might want to buy some insurance or something.” The campaign has somehow got away from the people selling the actual insurance. For some reason, insurance advertising is particularly insane. The Gocompare campaign is based on the supposed backstory of a fake opera singer. “Backstory” doesn’t really do it justice. The advertising company has made up an entire insurance-based town in Wales for EXACTLY NO REASON. It’s the fake town the fake opera singer came from and we’re supposed to care about… well, not even the fake residents of the fake town based on the fake backstory of the fake opera singer. We’re supposed to care about the fake *tourists* fakely visiting this place. We’re supposed to identify with them, presumably. While we’re delving into stupid, the fake opera singer is actually a real opera singer.

As long as I’m ranting, I’ll take a little more time to get to my point. There’s another insurance ad – I think they’ve taken it off air now – where there’s a runaway car. It is (for unclear reasons) rolling down a hill smashing into other cars and posing a danger to pedestrians. But the guy with LV insurance doesn’t care about that. He has – for some reason – a magic button on his keyring. He presses that button and his car heals itself. He gives the camera a smug smile and goes back into his house, despite the fact that the runaway car is presumably still causing mayhem.

So, finally to my point. Advertising is usually about selling advertising services to companies, not about selling products to people. Generally, advertisers do every single thing they can to avoid mentioning the actual product. They’re selling a perceived lifestyle or inventing a goal that people will probably think they want to achieve, entirely regardless of whether the product will help that to happen or whether they actually wanted to achieve that goal in the first place. Those companies actually selling things are clearly bamboozled by advertisers. They seem to care more about their brand being recognised than anyone knowing what they actually sell. Do advertisers advertise? I doubt they need to.

In this context, it’s easy to see why companies like Intel and Mercedes react badly to issues that matter. They’ve – they as a corporation – have been trained to believe that the only thing that matters is the brand. Not, you know, what they actually do. I think the marketing department of Mercedes (which must have hundreds of people) have forgotten that they’re selling cars. I think Intel has forgotten that its customers are manufacturers…. or they’re trying to keep us terrified that we might have a slightly worse processor or graphics card than someone else.

This is the environment in which huge corporations endorse sexist bullshit advertising and clumsily not-pologise their way out of it. They’ve forgotten what they’re selling and who they’re selling it to.

We shouldn’t stand for this. If there’s anything we should be skeptical of, it’s people telling us what we should want.

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

Not all footballers are homophobic

Oct 25th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

Arsenal did the right thing.

FA Cup winners Arsenal, Paddy Power, Stonewall and the Gay Football Supporters’ Network have again teamed up to help tackle one of the toughest challenges in sport: homophobia in football.

Rainbow coloured boot laces have been dispatched to every single professional player in the UK, including youth and women’s teams, alongside deliveries to all MPs and leading political figures. And we are urging them to show their support by lacing up over the 13th/ 14th September – Rainbow Lace weekend. Fans and grass-root players will also be asked to tweet their support using the official hashtag: #RainbowLaces.


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

14 times more

Oct 25th, 2014 4:05 pm | By

Newsweek did an analysis of GamerGate to determine whether it was really about a perceived lack of ethics among video games journalists, or a campaign of harassment against women who make, write about and enjoy video games, masquerading as a movement of gamers upset about a perceived lack of ethics among games journalists. Newsweek concluded it’s the latter.

The claim that GamerGate is not a campaign to harass women—but rather advocacy for better journalism—has had some pull. This claim was used to harass Intel into pulling ads from popular gaming website Gamasutra after journalist Leigh Alexander wrote an essay there critiquing the gaming world. “‘Game culture’ as we know it is kind of embarrassing—it’s not even culture,” Alexander wrote in August. “It’s just buying things, spackling over memes and in-jokes repeatedly, and getting mad on the Internet.”

She urged game developers to pay less attention to the demands of gamers. Instead, gamers pressured advertisers to pull their dollars from the site.

And it worked: Intel pulled its dollars from Gamasutra.

The same tactic was used to pressure Adobe to cancel its sponsorship of Gawker Media. Mercedes-Benz USA also temporarily pulled ads from Gawker Media after a reporter there made mocking tweets about gamers. The move has cost Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton and company “thousands of dollars already, and potentially…thousands more, if not millions,” according to Max Read, Gawker’s editor-in-chief.

GamerGate is largely playing out on Twitter, and if the movement is about ethics in games journalism, logic says the majority of tweets on the #GamerGate hashtag should be directed at games journalists and their employers and not at game developers.

But are they? Are they? Are they?

Newsweek askedBrandWatch, a social media analytics company, to dig through 25 percent of the more than 2 million tweets about GamerGate since September 1 to discover how often Twitter users tweeted at or about the major players in the debate, and whether those tweets were positive, negative or neutral.

In the following graphic, compare how often GamerGaters tweet at Zoe Quinn, a developer, and Nathan Grayson, a Kotaku games journalist. In August, GamerGaters accused Grayson of giving Quinn’s game Depression Quest favorable reviews because Grayson and Quinn had been in a relationship. The relationship was fact, those ‘favorable reviews’ were fiction. Grayson only wrote about Quinn once, for a story on a failed reality show, and that was before they were in a relationship, according to Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief of Kotaku and Grayson’s boss.

The graphic is pretty striking.

Twitter users have tweeted at Quinn using the #GamerGate hashtag 10,400 times since September 1. Grayson has received 732 tweets with the same hashtag during the same period. If GamerGate is about ethics among journalists, why is the female developer receiving 14 times as many outraged tweets as the male journalist?

Why? Because females are 14 times more annoying.


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

They cheered

Oct 25th, 2014 12:38 pm | By

Ashley Miller had a horrible, upsetting experience yesterday evening. It should have been a great experience:

As a filmmaker, intersectional scholar, and a huge fan and supporter of the original trailer and campaign for “Dear White People,” I was ecstatic to be able to go see the film here in Columbia, SC.  The film itself didn’t disappoint.  Clearly influenced by Wes Anderson in cinematography, but wholly unique in tone, it was a brilliantly funny, biting, and moving film.  The acting, the directing, the cinematography were all superb, even before you take into account the origin story and budget of the film.

But there was a problem, a big big problem.

Spoilers alert.

Just as the trailers were ending and the movie starting, a hundred people started pouring into the theater.  This was the Morehouse College Football Team, here in Columbia to play Benedict College tomorrow.  Morehouse is an all-male historically black college in Atlanta not too far from my own undergraduate institution of Emory.  It is the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As the movie started, I was excited that this many people were in the theater to see the movie.  It was a short-lived excitement.

There are three main plots in “Dear White People,” and one of them focuses on a black gay kid named Lionel, played by “Everybody Hates Chris” star Tyler James Williams, who doesn’t fit in with any group — not with gay kids, not with white kids, and not with black kids, who have historically treated him with homophobia and cruelty.  His story is about the toxic effect of homophobia in the black community.  In addition to the heterosexual romances involving all the other characters, there is also a budding romance between Lionel and another man.  The initial hints at this romance did not win the Morehouse College Football Team’s approval.  They started saying homophobic things every time Lionel was onscreen.  When Lionel had a same-sex kiss, the team went into a frenzy — everyone turned on their phones and said they weren’t looking, they started yelling, “What kind of movie is this?”  Several of them walked out, others started yelling at anyone on their team for looking at the screen when the kiss happened, “Man, you looked at that, I saw you!”  “What is this gay shit?”  “Some of y’all didn’t turn your heads away!”

And then it got worse, much worse.

Lionel has a major heroic moment toward the end of the film in which he breaks up a racist party being held by an entitled white jerk, who is, more or less, the antagonist of the film, and who verbally and sexually harassed Lionel over his sexuality throughout the film.  The racist white guy tackles Lionel and pins him down.  In retaliation, Lionel kisses him (this freaked out the audience again), but the racist white guy responds by punching Lionel repeatedly in the face.

They cheered.  This room full of black men who attend Dr. King’s alma mater.  They cheered for the racist white guy because the black man he was being allowed to beat without repercussion was a faggot.

Go read Ashley’s full account, and the comments, which include some from Morehouse students who were there, and a professor at Morehouse.

You know what I keep saying about football culture? Yeah.


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

Which is why so many of us came to live here

Oct 25th, 2014 12:19 pm | By

Julie Bindel has a long article on Sharia versus Muslim women at Standpoint.

The voices of Muslim women who have suffered terrible consequences as a result of sharia taking root in Britain are often silenced. I spoke with a number of women who have had experience of sharia courts.

Fawzia married her husband when she was 16 years old and was divorced eight years later.

The marriage was an Islamic ceremony, and her divorce was eventually granted by a sharia council four years after she first went to see her local imam. Fawzia’s story, and those of numerous other women, should provide a cautionary tale of how sharia courts are gaining creeping acceptance in the UK.

Afzal, the man chosen by her parents to be Fawzia’s husband, was 30 years old and had been married previously. “I had never met him,” Fawzia told me when we met in Hyde Park, her chador covering her tiny frame. “When he started to hit me I thought it was me causing him to do it.” What Fawzia did not know when she married Afzal was his history of violence towards women. The year before he married Fawzia, Afzal had broken his sister’s wrist in an attempt to keep her from seeing her boyfriend, and then attacked his brother’s mother-in-law when she intervened.

“He started hitting me when I was pregnant with my first baby,” says Fawzia, who agreed to meet me through a women’s counselling service, “and it never stopped.”

By the time Fawzia was 20 she had three children and numerous scars from the regular beatings she endured from Afzal, but had nowhere to escape to. She went alone to see her imam, who suggested she speak to a scholar at one of the many sharia councils in London. “I told [the scholar] that I was desperately unhappy, that my children were being neglected, that I could not cope in this marriage. I admitted he hit me. I was told to be a good wife and to make my husband more happy.”

Fawzia was eventually granted an Islamic divorce, which her husband contested, four years later. She had to pay £400, the standard cost for women applying for divorce. Men who apply for divorce to sharia courts are charged just £200.

Well that’s fair and equitable.

Another vociferous critic of sharia courts is Nazir Afzal, the chief prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in the North-West, who has described the phenomenon of sharia arbitrators who deal with cases of domestic violence as dangerous. Maryam Namazie, of One Law for All, believes that it is now seen as “perfectly acceptable” to defend sharia courts or gender segregation as “people’s right to religion”, even for some feminists, humanists and secularists. “This legitimisation means that institutions like the Law Society think nothing of endorsing sharia law,” says Namazie. “What they don’t realise is that they are institutionalising Islamist values.”

Many British Muslims are critical of the British establishment’s support for sharia. Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, says sharia councils should be penalised when they try to assume a legal status that they do not have. “I think a lot of people — both Muslim and non-Muslim — are not aware of these issues in any great detail, and do not feel equipped to publicly critique them. Raising awareness of these problems would encourage commentators who might otherwise feel too afraid to speak out.”

It seems incredible that after more than four decades of feminism in the West so many on the Left are willing to sacrifice women’s rights, in particular the rights of Muslim-born women, in the name of so-called religious freedom. Kate Smurthwaite, feminist activist and member of the National Secular Society, believes that all organised religion is detrimental to the rights of women. “Speaking out against sharia law in the UK is often viewed as racist, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Smurthwaite. “The first victims of sharia are Muslim women.”

This is where Pomofoco goes so wrong – it ignores women like Maryam and Tehmina and Fawzia.

Just because some Muslim women argue that they should be allowed access to the sharia system does not mean we should let it become a part of British law. Habiba Jaan is the founder of Aurat, a support service for Muslim women in the West Midlands. She told me that only a decade ago she rarely heard of sharia courts, but now “they appear to be on every doorstep”.

“This is not an Islamic country, which is why so many of us came to live here. If sharia were to become part of the legal system it would be a disaster for women,” says Jaan. “Many are not even aware of their rights so they think sharia is the proper law.”

That’s a crucial point. This is not an Islamic country, which is why so many of us came to live here.

John Bowen, author of Blaming Islam, is an anthropologist based at Washington University in St Louis. He specialises in comparative social studies of Islam across the world. Bowen has found that Britain is unique in having a well-developed network of sharia courts, and has interviewed imams, scholars and members of the public who access them. He argues that sharia councils do not have any legal power, and are therefore harmless bodies that simply allow people to settle disputes without accessing mainstream courts. I asked Bowen what he thought about such bodies making decisions on divorce when women cite domestic violence. “The accusation is that sharia councils try to bring couples back together, but this is the case with mainstream law, which is why there is waiting time before a divorce, mediation and couples counselling. A reconciliation and a joint meeting of the husband and wife is always urged.”

But under UK law, women do not have to ask for permission from their violent husband, self-appointed community leader or religious representative in order to be granted a divorce. I asked Bowen if he was concerned about women who are frightened of their imam and are told by a sharia court that they must return to a violent husband. “If somebody is given a sharia ruling they don’t like they can just go to the [secular] court and get another,” he replied. But what about those women who are married in Islamic ceremonies, speak little English, and believe that the word of the imam is law?

Bowen’s reply is not recorded. Maybe he didn’t have one.

Sharia is an important tool with which the Islamist movement restricts women’s freedom. There is a link between sharia and the rise of Islamism, including groups like Islamic State or the Muslim Brotherhood. Many, however, whether naively or deliberately, fail to see it. The legitimisation of sharia has a negative effect on women, children and society as a whole. These effects are noticeable from Iraq to Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as in Britain.

In October 2010, the president of the UK Islamic Sharia Council, Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, stated that rape within marriage is “impossible”. Yet in 1991, after decades of campaigning by feminists, the marital exemption from rape was outlawed by the House of Lords, upholding a decision by the Appeal Court. Are we seeing an erosion of all that has been gained by women fighting against patriarchal attitudes, merely in order to appease religious zealots?

But while the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority has withdrawn its endorsement of the Law Society guidance, it remains on the LS website. The LS has ignored the protests from feminists and other human rights campaigner and instead embarked on a robust promotion of sharia, using supporters such as legal academic Maleiha Malik, solicitor Aina Khan and the Oxford-based Islamist Tariq Ramadan. SBS and OLfA have been joined by Gita Sahgal, director of the Centre for Secular Space, and Chris Moos, secretary of the London School of Economics student union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, in continuing to campaign against the acceptance of sharia. As Maryam Namazie says: “There is no place for sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. The Law Society must immediately withdraw its shameful guidance.”

Damn right.

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

Rayhaneh Jabbari

Oct 25th, 2014 11:33 am | By

Iran went ahead and hanged Rayhaneh Jabbari. The bastards.

Ms Jabbari was arrested in 2007 for the killing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence who she said tried to sexually abuse her.

She was sentenced to death by a Tehran court in 2009 and her execution verdict was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court. Her case drew international outcry and sparked a petition urging her release, which collected over 240,000 signatures.

The court ruling says Ms Jabbari, 26, stabbed Sarbandi in the back in 2007 after purchasing a knife two days earlier.

It says the execution was carried out after Sarbandi’s family refused to pardon Jabbari or accept blood money.

We’re not hugely better about this in the US, I have to say. Shame on us and shame on them.

Raha Bahreini, Amnesty’s researcher on Iran, told The Independent: “Like many others, we are absolutely shocked by this travesty of justice. Reyhaneh’s execution is a tragic moment for many people in Iran and for the members of the international community hoping for different outcome.

“Her case personifies the outrage of many in Iran and across the globe over the use of the death penalty, which is a despicable, cruel and inhumane punishment.

“Reports and online petitions have been crying for her retrial because of the many unanswered questions hanging over her case. But at the end they once again allowed the execution and justified this by saying it lies in the hands of the family of the deceased to make the decision to spare her.”


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

Where there should be clarity, there is obscurantism

Oct 25th, 2014 11:03 am | By

In a discussion on a philosopher’s Facebook wall yesterday I saw a mention of post-colonial approaches to secularism. I was curious about what those might be, and said something about my curiosity on my Facebook wall, and Meredith Tax gave me some sources. One is this piece in the CHE by Jacques Berlinerblau.

He says there’s a lot of unhelpful imprecision about secularism under foot.

Talking imprecisely about secularism is now an American rhetorical tradition. Politicians, policy makers, and journalists routinely deploy the term without really knowing—or caring—what it connotes. This is bad for us and for them, since secularism is germane to so many domestic- and foreign-policy problems. Is it appropriate for an elected official to invoke God in public? Can censorship be justified in deference to the feelings of the faithful? How can nonbelievers be accorded equal rights under the law? Does one country have a moral obligation to assure that there is “religious freedom” in another? What is “religious freedom,” anyway?

As we speak, these concerns are being demagogued into senselessness by our leadership class. This is where we, the Scholars, have a civic contribution to make. We could bring clarity, accuracy, nuance, and, most crucially, balance to the dialogue. That is not because we’re paragons of objectivity (we’re not). Rather, normal scholarly practices and conventions—things like footnotes, mastery of the bibliography, addressing opinions we don’t agree with—usually keep our passions in check.

I like that idea. It’s both amusing and true. Fiddling around with footnotes and bibliographies does tend to chill the passions.

But something is adrift in the burgeoning field of secular studies. Where there should be clarity, there is obscurantism. Where a modicum of professorial disinterest should prevail, political and religious passions run amok. Where there should be engagement across schools of thought, there are academic tribalism and its attendant rituals of clan idolatry. As a result, scholarly thought on secularism is sometimes even more confused than its political counterpart is.

There again, as with post-colonial approaches to secularism, I’m somewhat adrift. I didn’t know there was a burgeoning field of secular studies. What kind of field is it and where is it to be found? What department houses secular studies?

A significant quantity of scholarly knowledge on secularism today emanates from a school of thought that works from postmodern, post-Foucauldian, and postcolonial assumptions (or Pomofoco).

Ah. That’s what I was wondering. It sounded like that kind of thing – the post-colonial approaches to secularism dud – but I wasn’t sure.

Here is Talal Asad, the leading exponent of this approach, in Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity:

Secularism is not simply an intellectual answer to a question about enduring social peace and toleration. It is an enactment by which a political medium (representation of citizenship) redefines and transcends particular and differentiating practices of the self that are articulated through class, gender, and religion.

If that passage flummoxes, it does so proudly and by design.

As postmodernist scholarship always does, which is why I hate it. One why; there are others.

Musing on the consequences of indefinability, and the singularity of Asad’s contribution, Jon Wilson goes the full Foucault: “Secularism is not a ‘subject’ that itself has ‘agentive power’ but an effect of an interaction between heterogeneous power relations.” Wendy Brown, exemplifying the school’s penchant for up-voting its own idiosyncrasies, praises Asad for “long-resist[ing] attempts to define the secular.”

Does this resistance merit praise? Numerous political scientists, sociologists, and theologians, among others, have labored to define secularism. Their contributions are available in peer-reviewed scholarly monographs, articles, and encyclopedias. Practitioners of Pomofoco rarely, if ever, cite that work.

Why? Because they find indefinability so exciting.

In the Pomofoco worldview, a “secularist” is typically a proponent of the “clash of civilizations” hypothesis or a right-wing critic of radical Islam. All other secularists remain anonymous. Talal Asad’s chapter “What Might an Anthropology of Secularism Look Like?” is singularly instructive in this regard. His anthropology employs the unique ethnographic expedient of never letting a single secular voice express itself. Although Asad chides the “secular theory of state toleration” and “secular redemptive politics,” he does not divulge who advocates those positions or what their rationale might be. Can the secular speak?

See what he did there? It’s a play on “Can the subaltern speak?” – one of the foundational “texts” of Pomofoco.

Which brings us to another hallmark of this school: its conspicuous aversion to secularism. And liberalism. And democracy. And the Enlightenment. And American foreign policy. And Israel. And Western civilization. And those who criticize political Islam or Islamic extremism via invidious comparison with any of these. It appears to be Pomofoco’s objective to everywhere draw the following conclusion: As troubling as radical Islamism might be, secular liberal democracies are just as bad—no, worse!

Yeeeah, that too is what I was wondering, what I suspected, what I was afraid of. I have a horror of privileged First World academics who despise secularism and liberalism and democracy and the Enlightenment.

Pomofoco’s ideological investments, coupled with its inexplicable allergy to conducting routine reviews of the scholarly literature, lead it to some dubious conclusions. Take its tendency to situate the rise of secularism in modernity. In placing it there, critics can conveniently round up and enfilade their usual suspects (e.g., the Enlightenment, liberalism, the nation-state). Yet here they’d be wise to follow Foucault and conduct a proper “genealogy.” The germ of the secular idea was most likely born in late antiquity—a possibility explored by scholars such as T.N. Madan and Emmet Kennedy. From there it morphed and mutated throughout Occidental history.

Why is this relevant? Because many of the things that are confounding about secularism can be traced to its premodern heritage. In medieval Latin Christendom, there existed two theoretically symbiotic—but often mutually antagonistic—sources of legitimate power. One was the ecclesiastical authority, which was deemed godly. The other was the secular ruling authority, and it was deemed godly as well. This is why an early-modern figure such as Martin Luther could describe the secular powers as having “a Christian and salutary use.”

It sounds very much like the old Ford joke – you can have any color as long as it’s black.

Over the past quarter-century, Pomofoco has achieved near dominant status in elite religious-studies programs and divinity schools. Along the way, it has forged intellectual alliances with conservative theologians of every stripe, who have wholly different reasons for loathing secularism. Together they prophesy the advent of the “post-secular” Kingdom. And together they form an institutional left-right pincer around scholarly perspectives less antagonistic to secularism. Critics of higher education can bray all they want about “liberal bias.” When it comes to the academic study of religion, those who hold liberal assumptions are besieged.

Actually liberal – secular, rights-based, universalist.

And then he gets to Charles Taylor.

Its salience on campus notwithstanding, Pomofoco is virtually unknown in journalistic or policy circles. This is not the case with Charles Taylor, author of the serenely megalomaniacal A Secular Age (Harvard University Press, 2007). Few academic offerings in recent memory have been accorded a comparable reception. A Secular Age has received dozens of ebullient evaluations. The deluge of praise crested to the windows of The New York Times, where David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and the Sunday Book Review extolled its virtues.

Numerous conferences have interrogated its themes, and four books have already emerged in its wake. The Social Science Research Council has assiduously promoted A Secular Age. In fact, the council has a big old crush on this 874-page treatise. In addition to sponsoring some of the panels and publications, it has created a website (The Immanent Frame) where Taylorians and Pomofocoians talk shop. Elsewhere on the council’s platform, it has teamed up with—am I the only one to find this strange?—the exceedingly religion-and-miracle friendly Templeton Foundation. The latter garlanded A Secular Age with its coveted prize in 2007.

Nope, he’s not the only one. I have found the pervasive reach of the Templeton Foundation exceedingly strange for several years.

Unlike Pomofoco, Taylor does define “secularism”—in three ways. His third definition (i.e., “secularity”) detains him for well over a quarter-million words. The philosopher wishes to chart a shift from “a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.” “Secularity” is our shared predicament, the cross we (do not) bear. It refers to an existential condition in which faith in God is but an option. We all live within this “immanent frame”—a domain where “our experience of and search for fullness occurs; and this is something we all share, believers and unbelievers alike.”

Taylor is fascinated—even obsessed—by atheism, but not fascinated enough to read widely about the subject. A specialist in this area peruses A Secular Age in a state of frustration. This is not because Taylor quietly treats the rise of atheism as if it were original sin. The problem is that most of his claims about this phenomenon are unsourced. On what empirical basis does he conclude that atheists search for “fullness”?

*waves hand* – Here’s one black swan right here. I don’t search for “fullness” – except of course when hungry, but Taylor obviously isn’t talking about anything as crude as a full stomach. I don’t search for any kind of metaphysical “fullness” so his “we all” is falsified.

Why is he unaware that the first visible social movements that dabbled with nonbelief were working-class, not elite? Is it plausible to base one’s conception of atheism almost solely on the writings of Camus and Nietzsche? How can Taylor speak (contemptuously) of “secular humanism” without once consulting the immense oeuvre of its leading light, the late philosopher Paul Kurtz?

Because he lives on a higher plane? Where French and German philosophers count but US ones don’t?

But the field isn’t all Pomofoco.

I have been alluding throughout this essay to a certain disregard for subjectivities in secular studies. For that reason, we should focus on the perceptions of nonscholars. Phil Zuckerman, who in 2011 established the first secular-studies program, at Pitzer College, does precisely this. His fieldwork with subjects worldwide is fascinating and compellingly written. Zuckerman equates the adjective “secular” (but not necessarily the noun “secularism”) with atheism. Yet so do many of his subjects, and that is why the term’s meaning must be investigated. Also scrutinizing subjective perceptions is the Canadian scholar Pascale Fournier. Her meticulous ethnography explores how devout Jewish and Muslim women dexterously navigate religious and secular law, neither of which simplifies their struggles.

Zuckerman’s and Fournier’s works crack open a new frontier in secular studies: understanding what laypeople make of secularism. In truth, we need to do this across sociological time and space. Little is known about those who, in earlier periods, consciously embraced secular ideas and what they believed those ideas entailed. Now and then, us and them—let the secular speak. And let scholars listen to secularists, and to one another.

And let’s all do it without any rapturous hymns to indefinability.

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