Notes and Comment Blog

Humanists in Nigeria are not fighting semantic battles

Sep 4th, 2014 11:19 am | By

Padraig Reidy at Index on Censorship fisks Helen Ukpabio’s lawsuit against the BHA and the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network.

Her specific claim against the BHA is that an article on its website claimed she believed that noisy babies may be possessed by Satan.

The article, which appeared in July 2009, says that Ukpabio wrote in her book, Unveiling The Mysteries Of Witchcraft, that “A child under two years of age that cries at night and deteriorates in health is an agent of Satan”.

In this, the article is mistaken. Ukpabio’s book does not seem to contain this sentence. Rather, under the heading “How To Recognise A Witch”, Ukpabio writes: “Under the age of two, the child screams at night, cries, is always feverish suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well.”

In other words, she didn’t write that a child under two years of age that cries at night and deteriorates in health is an agent of Satan, but rather, that such a child is a witch.

Therefore she is suing for five hundred million pounds.

But is that really even what she’s objecting to? Padraig says it’s not.

Her complaint, in reality, is not about the 2009 article, or the difference between satanic possession and witchcraft. Ukpabio’s underlying complaint is about a campaign to have her banned from the country in April 2014. It is the coverage of her controversial trip to Britain in April that her lawyer claims caused her to suffer reputational injury.

So why, rather than attack the numerous news outlets who reported negatively on her UK visit, during which a London venue cancelled her booking after being alerted to her witchfinding and exorcising activities, is she instead pursuing threatening humanists?

[thinks hard]

Because Leo Igwe is a humanist?

At the World Humanist Congress in Oxford last month, Nigerian delegates such as the brilliant, brave Leo Igwe, spoke passionately about preachers and witchfinders like the Lady Apostle. While in Britain “militant atheist” has become a term of abuse associated with the gauche tweets of Professor Richard Dawkins, in Nigeria, a forthright approach to religion and the abuses carried out in its name is a necessity. Humanists there are not fighting semantic battles; rather, they are engaged in a real struggle to save children and vulnerable people from accusations of witchcraft and possession: accusations that could lead to them being thrown out of their homes, beaten and even killed.

What scant support Nigerian activists receive comes from the international atheist and humanist community. While I would not cast doubt on western humanists’ solidarity with their Nigerian comrades, a costly court case would make anyone think twice before getting involved in faraway struggles again.

Seriously. It’s given me pause. It’s likely to give anyone pause.

To grant Ukpabio’s claim any credence would be to severely inhibit the struggle against dangerous superstitions in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. To even get involved in an legal argument over whether satanic possession is worse than witchcraft would grant a glimmer of legitimacy to the abuse of children in the name of God. That is reason enough for the English High Court to dismiss the Lady Apostle’s ludicrous lawsuit.

In some states in the US it would be liable to anti-SLAPP suit laws. People like Helen Ukpabio, who cause the kinds of terrible suffering and harm that she causes, should not be able to use the courts to silence people who campaign against the harm they do.


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

All aboard for Manchester Peterloo

Sep 3rd, 2014 6:26 pm | By

Here’s a good idea – changing the name of Manchester’s main railway station from Manchester Piccadilly to Peterloo.

Last month was the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. This peaceful rally on 16 August 1819 radically transformed British politics and marked the beginning of the long march to universal suffrage.

To mark the occasion this year, actor Maxine Peake read out the names of the 15 people who lost their lives in the tragedy. But for the 200th anniversary, in 2019, we want that important day to be given the commemoration it deserves.

We want it to be remembered by having the word Peterloo on the lips of the millions of people who ask for train tickets across a counter each year or type out their request on a web page and say where they want to go. We want to see it on thousands and thousands of train timetables, and day after day night hear it boomed out across the station platforms, from Euston to York, Newcastle to Carlisle, Penzance to Inverness. Everywhere. How? By changing the name of Manchester’s main station from Piccadilly to Peterloo.

Go for it, I say!

We need the support of the Manchester city council, and indeed the councils of the towns around Greater Manchester which sent their people to the demonstration.

It will not cost the council a single penny, only a council resolution and a letter to Network Rail. We need the support of the trade unions, such as the RMT. We need the support of all railway users to get onto their MPs and councillors. We need the support of all the political parties acting together, no matter how divided on other issues, to remember the 100,000-plus men, women and children – ordinary working people from Manchester and Salford and all the surrounding towns – who converged in St Peter’s Fields, right near what is now the Central Library, to demand the vote and representation in parliament which was completely denied them.

The authorities turned the cavalry on them. Fiften were killed, over 600 injured. The shock waves took England by storm. It was the explosion that began the journey to universal suffrage, to this day our most important democratic instrument and right. Uproar and demonstrations followed across the whole country and inspired Shelley to write The Masque of Anarchy, the greatest political poem in the language, his denunciation of the aristocratic land-owning elite who had parliament in its pocket. From that moment no amount of suppression could hold back the tide demanding change. Thirteen years later in 1832, parliament was forced to bring in the Great Reform Act, which for the very first time gave parliamentary representation to the growing populations of the new industrial towns and cities such as Manchester which up to then had no parliamentary representation at all, and with it an extension of the right to vote.

Well worth commemorating, wouldn’t you say?

Anyone who wishes to join the campaign can contact John Browne on or Michael Knowles on

H/t Maureen


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

Sommers thinks she is liberal-minded

Sep 3rd, 2014 5:55 pm | By

bspencer at Lawyers, Guns & Money points out one of Christina Hoff Sommers’s latest sneers at feminism.

Anita Sarkeesian Kickstartered a video project continuing her work on women and tropes in video games. Gamers everywhere responded with measured skepticism by threatening her with rape and death. She was even temporarily hounded from her home. But she was a feminist on the internet–she should have known what she was getting into. Christina Hoff Sommers, vile faux-feminist, approves.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers

I always expected other liberal-minded scholars to join me in exposing 3rd wave feminist lunacy. Never happened. But now the gamers r here.
7:21 PM – 30 Aug 2014

Yes, that’s right. Christina Hoff Sommers is backing doxxers and men who think making rape and death threats is a reasonable response to a video project exploring sexist tropes. Oddly, this should surprise no one, as Christina Hoff Sommers is an old school Chill Girl.

Disgusted and surprised by that, I went to take a look at Sommers’s Twitter, and got more disgusted than I was when I set out. She’s basically just another Phyllis Schlafly without the religion. What a pity that Richard Dawkins keeps retweeting her.

Christina H. Sommers ‏@CHSommers
Most gamers seem to support equality feminism. What they reject is today’s male-bashing, propaganda-driven, female chauvinism. #GamerGate

That got 1,423 retweets. The anti-feminists adore her.

Here is my Factual Feminist playlist. I am trying to correct all the sisterly sophistries. Keeps me busy.

ICYMI: Recent interview in which I explain why today’s hashtag feminism is a scourge.

How did feminism become toxic? In early 90s, my side won all the arguments. But other side quietly assumed all the assistant professorships.

There is a good deal of bullshit in (at least some) Women’s Studies programs – anti-science; women’s special “ways of knowing”; addled relativism about FGM; etc – but feminism hasn’t “become toxic.” That claim is itself bullshit.

3rd wave feminism is based on false violence & injustice data.The propaganda is now fueling a panic against men.

After that one a retweet:

You’re a mythbuster in the grand tradition of those who debunk harmful nonsense, speaking truth to power in the public interest.

Yeah – feminism is “the power.” Right.

Back to Sommers:

Feminism should be about equality of opportunity, mutual respect between sexes–not trigger warnings, sex panics, victimology or policing men.

Most guys like images of sexy women. Why attack them? It is wrong to police sexuality of LBGT people–but also wrong to police hetero guys.

That sounds like that Fox News panel we saw the other day – “Let men be men!”

Gay people have been sex shamed and demonized forever. Deeply wrong. But today, heterosexual men are also demonized & lied about. Not OK.

Term “rape culture” is sexist. Implicates average guy in a horrible crime. Call people out who use it. It’s a form of gender profiling.

That one I just don’t begin to understand (having seen it before is no help). How is it sexist? It’s about a particular culture; it doesn’t say that everyone, or everyone in any particular category, is part of that culture. She’s just shamelessly bullshitting there.

Enough for now. She seems to be worse every time I look at her Twitter account. I think Twitter has gone to her head.

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

A clash of values

Sep 3rd, 2014 4:50 pm | By

A guy in Dublin wants state schools to be more accommodating to Islam, according to the Irish Times.

It goes wrong right in the first sentence.

A spokesman for the Muslim community in Ireland has called for radical change in the educational system to accommodate children with Islamic beliefs.

There is no “spokesman for the Muslim community in Ireland.” That’s not a thing. The guy wrote a book; that doesn’t make him a spokesman, and you couldn’t have “a spokesman for the Muslim community in Ireland” if you wanted to, because there’s no procedure for electing one.

But anyway…

Dr Ali Selim, of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin’s Clonskeagh and a lecturer in the Mater Dei Institute and Trinity College, has called for “a revolution of inclusivity” in Irish schools and “an upheaval in Irish educational perspectives”.

This was necessary to accommodate the needs of a society which is now “home to a variety of Christian denominations, as well as people of other faiths and of none”, he says in his book Islam and Education in Ireland, to be published next week.

So the schools should be secular, and thus inclusive to everyone, of every religion and none.

Estimating that of approximately 65,000 Muslims in Ireland today as many as 20,000 would be in the under-18 school-going age, he relates difficulties these young people face when it comes to admission to schools, as well as their problems with PE classes, relationship and sexuality education, music and drama classes, and practice of their faith during school hours.

Do they? Or does Dr Selim just think they ought to?

He then sensibly objects to the Catholic monopoly in many state schools.

This continued despite a prohibition of discrimination on religion grounds by all recent Equal Status Acts, he says and quotes the example of a Catholic boys’ secondary school in Dublin that says in its policy statement: “Non-Catholic enrolment will only be considered in the event of being undersubscribed.”

That’s revolting in a state school, no question.

He suggests there is “a clash of values” also between Islam and “traditional ways of teaching PE”. In some schools, “under the guise of health and safety, Muslim girls are obliged to take off their headscarves for PE classes, which is not acceptable to them”.

Where schools were “persistent”, they should “employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. They should also not be visible to men while at play.”

Dr Selim sounds like someone who should get his mind out of the gutter.

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

Found near a railway track

Sep 3rd, 2014 4:20 pm | By

More village cruelty in India.

The semi-naked body of a teenage girl who was allegedly humiliated by village elders for protesting against her father’s harassment has been found near a railway track in eastern India.

Police suspect the 15-year-old girl in West Bengal was raped and murdered.

Her family said she was made to spit on the ground and lick it up – an act considered a grave form of humiliation.

So the official punishment by humiliation was the making her spit on the ground and then lick it up, and the unofficial punishment (for having spat on the ground and licked it up?) was the suspected rape and murder. Thorough, aren’t they.

The BBC’s Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta says the girl’s body was found near a railway track in the state’s Jalpaiguri district on Tuesday – a day after a village court had summoned her and her farmer father to settle a dispute over a tractor.

Her family members told the police that the elders “threatened the girl with dire consequences” when she protested against the “harassment of her father” by the village court.

Villagers said the girl “disappeared” when the court was in progress, and her body was found the next morning.

Could be a coincidence. Maybe it was a passing tiger that killed her and tore most of her clothes off.

Local villagers said political rivalry between the village elders and the girl’s family could have led to an escalation of the dispute – the elders are reported to be supporters of the ruling Trinamul Congress party, while the girl’s family reportedly supports the state’s main opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Earlier this year, a woman in West Bengal’s Birbhum district was gang-raped, allegedly on orders of village elders who objected to her relationship with a man.

In 2010, village elders in Birbhum ordered at least three tribal women to strip and walk naked in front of large crowds, police said.

The women were being punished for “having close relations” with men from other communities.

Life is shit for women in India.


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

A bacchanalia of gridiron pageantry

Sep 3rd, 2014 3:37 pm | By

American football – maybe it’s actually not the coolest sport there is? Some heretic called Steve Almond is suggesting as much.

Every Sunday (and Monday, and some Saturdays and Thursdays) for the next five months, millions of Americans – and plenty of Brits, thanks to three regular-season games in London – will feast on a bacchanalia of gridiron pageantry.

Best-selling author Steve Almond, however, won’t be watching.

The self-professed long-time American football fan writes in the Los Angeles Times that he feels guilty about watching a sport whose participants risk traumatic brain injury.

More than that, however, he says he objects to “the cynical commercialisation of the sport, its cultish celebration of violence and the more subtle ways in which football warps our societal attitudes about race, gender and sexual orientation.”

Yes to all of that, and it also warps our societal attitudes about education and secondary and tertiary education.

The game is getting safer? Hardly, he says. Tackling and violent collisions are still an integral part of the game. Injuries still abound. And even the most state-of the art gear can’t prevent possibly debilitating concussions.

The players know what they’re getting into and are paid millions? It’s only because the fans create the market. Players perform for our amusement. And the “Football Industrial Complex”, as he calls it, grinds up and spits out the tens of thousands of others who play but don’t get the golden lottery ticket of a career in the NFL.

It’s like Hollywood that way. Lots of people have a fantasy of being a football star or a movie star, and almost none of them succeed.

According to University of Virginia Prof Mark Edmundson, it’s because football represents what the US has become.

“Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation,” he writes in the Los Angeles Times. “Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people.”

Back when the US was more pacifistic – when it had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into world wars – baseball was the national pastime.

“That game is skill-based, nonviolent and leisurely,” he writes.

Football, however, “is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting.”

Whereas in proper football – soccer – you get a penalty for bashing people. There’s still bashing but it’s not central to the game.

I’m with Almond, but I know it’s absolutely futile. I’m just hoping the team local to me loses every game so that people will stop yapping about it.


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

Martin and the women

Sep 3rd, 2014 11:39 am | By

A long Guardian think-piece on Martin Amis and why he gets so much attention and why so much of it is hostile yadda yadda – kind of a dopy navel-gazing three levels of meta piece, frankly, but I skimmed down to see if it ever gets to the thing that most annoys me about Martin Amis, and it does. I wonder if you can guess what that might be…

Also there’s the old question mark over his women. When I interviewed Amis about House of Meetings I asked him about the charge levelled by some reviewers that the female protagonist Zoya was a “male fantasy figure” (the same thing could be said of Nicola in London Fields and Scheherazade in The Pregnant Widow). “All that means is that she’s pretty,” he responded. “Are they suggesting that there are no pretty women? Or that novelists can’t pull? Or perhaps it means that book reviewers can’t pull?” There, again, the combat stance.

No, it’s more that Martin Amis isn’t interested unless they are pretty.Martin Amis is quite remarkably frank about his hostility to women he considers not-pretty. I developed a certain settled loathing of him because of the way he kept attacking Philip Larkin (in his memoir and in articles and interviews) for having had a long-term gf Amis called “an eyesore.”*

Amis of course knows that the question is not about whether women in fiction are allowed to be attractive – that it has to do with their agency, their interiority, the sense that they are acted upon rather than acting in his fiction. But a sort-of-surly, sort-of-amused two fingers is the preferred response. Fuck you, the eisteddfod. The counterargument that he couldn’t perhaps be bothered to make is that Amis is writing, and doing so effectively, about a particular sort of masculinity. Women mostly register through their effects on men.

Does it get him off the hook to say that his subject is not female interiority: that that’s not his game? Up to a point. Even if that’s conceded (and he might not concede it), it limits his reach as a novelist. There’s no real getting around the fact that Amis writes, primarily, about men: and that his approach to masculinity is one in which women are a different tribe – sometimes feared, often longed-for, sometimes despised, frequently admired, but always other.

It limits his reach as a novelist because he presents a world that is grotesquely unreal (and not in a good way). His women are like paper dolls, and the world isn’t like that.

Well, his next book is going to be autobiographical. It will, like one of Bellow”s novels, feature real people: himself, his father and his father”s best friend, Philip Larkin. “Yes, he’s in my novel, and Monica Jones [Larkin's girlfriend]. A terrible woman. An eyesore, a bore, a hag. I spent one evening with them in 1984. God, I thought she was hideous.”

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

Not in attendance

Sep 3rd, 2014 10:27 am | By

So that’s another no-show.

A comment by Carol on He promised to do so:

I know that DJ also didn’t appear at CSICON 2011, even though he was scheduled to present there.

Yes, he was scheduled to present there. He was scheduled to present at the Houdini Seance, along with Randi and Massimo Polidoro and Ray Hyman.

DC in Detroit did a long, detailed post covering the whole conference, and she reports that he did not appear.

12pm-1.30pm: Houdini Seance

CFI has been doing a Houdini seance every Halloween for… well, I don’t know how long, but I’ve heard several of them on Point of Inquiry. Because of circumstances, two of the people scheduled to be involved in the seance, DJ Grothe and James Randi, were not in attendance. Therefore, someone got the great idea to just give Joe Nickell the mic and see what happened. Talk about people who enjoy storytelling!

Ray Hyman also performed a few “tricks” for us, and Massimo Polidoro gave a sort of book report on Houdini specifically.

After all that, Houdini had the audacity to not appear.

Joe Nickell wasn’t originally scheduled for that session, and Grothe was.

And I still know of other, similar items that are not public knowledge yet.

(It’s not very cool, this business of not turning up. It’s bait and switch. People decide to go to things based on who is going to be there. Emergencies obviously can’t be helped, but repeatedly not turning up – that’s not cool.)

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

The credibility of the young victims was questioned

Sep 2nd, 2014 4:55 pm | By

The Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Northwest (of England), Nazir Afzal, is getting some heat for doing his job.

As the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, I led the teams that brought the so-called Rochdale Grooming Gang to justice in 2012 for abusing up to 47 girls.

My work saw me go up against not only the offenders, but those who tried to intimidate me for bringing abusers before the courts. They said I had given racists a stick with which to beat minorities – I said our communities should be carrying their own sticks.

Right-wingers went after him too.

The network of prosecutors I lead has tackled grooming and child sexual abuse in England and Wales for the past two years. We are advising about hundreds of suspects while, at the same time, protecting hundreds of victims. In one operation alone by Greater Manchester Police there are 20 potential victims and 180 suspects.

The problem we identified in Rochdale was that justice was prevented from being delivered because the credibility of the young victims was questioned.

Why? Sexism and classism. The ideal victim should be male, middle-aged, white, and prosperous.

If we don’t believe a young, vulnerable girl, who will? The authorities and communities appeared to have turned a blind eye to the abuse of its children.

The ethnicity of many of the abusers in Rotherham, Rochdale and other places is a matter of fact – they were from Pakistani or South Asian backgrounds.

I do not care where they come from as long as they are stopped and brought to justice. I told Parliament in 2012 that the ethnicity of the perpetrators was an issue, not the issue. It was not the abusers’ race that defined them, but their attitude to women and girls. They targeted girls because of their vulnerability, and failings by those who should have safeguarded them.

There is no excuse for what the abusers did, nor is there any excuse for the authorities to choose not to believe and protect them.

There should be more like Nazir Afzal.

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

Bassam Raies

Sep 2nd, 2014 4:03 pm | By

I saw an angry tweet by Razan Saffour @RazanSpeaks saying a journalist called Bassam Raies was killed by ISIS two weeks ago and there wasn’t a peep about it. So I looked for news and…it’s true, there’s not a peep about it, which means I can’t even tell if it’s true or not. There are a few mentions but they’re all identical and all from either Twitter or random sites that I don’t recognize.

Reporters Without Borders has nothing. The Committee to Protect Journalists has nothing. I think they would have anything if there were anything to have, so…I’m not sure this is a true story. But if it is, I would like to make a peep about it.

Of course that’s Razan Saffour’s point: there’s nothing. So maybe it’s a real story and there’s nothing in English. If so that’s pathetic and shocking.

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

Another beheading

Sep 2nd, 2014 3:46 pm | By

It’s being reported that IS has beheaded the American journalist Steven Sotloff. NBC says it’s not confirmed yet, but there seems little reason to think that IS would say it had when it hadn’t. It’s not as if its members are hesitant about being brutal bastards. The text of the story (as opposed to the video) states it as fact in any case.

The Islamic militant group ISIS cut off the head of an American journalist in a video made public Tuesday — following through on a threat it made when it beheaded another American two weeks ago and vowed to keep killing unless the United States stopped airstrikes.

The journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, was beheaded in a video made public by SITE Intel Group, which monitors jihadist organizations. The video surfaced days after Sotloff’s mother pleaded with the leader of ISIS for mercy.

I hope no more parents or other relatives do that. It’s so obvious that they don’t do mercy, and that pleading only makes it more fun for them.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it condemned the “pure barbarism” in the strongest possible terms.

Sotloff, like Foley, “went to Syria to tell a story,” said Joel Simon, the executive director of CPJ. “They were civilians, not representatives of any government. Their murders are war crimes and those who committed them must be brought to justice swiftly.”

Must, but won’t.

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

“We will rape your mother and make you watch”

Sep 2nd, 2014 12:17 pm | By

The New York Times reports on Rotherham.

It starts with one victim’s account of how the grooming was done – it started with teenage boys flirting and then older men taking over and closing the doors of the trap.

The rapes started gradually, once a week, then every day: by the war memorial in Clifton Park, in an alley near the bus station, in countless taxis and, once, in an apartment where she was locked naked in a room and had to service half a dozen men lined up outside.

She obliged. How could she not? They knew where she lived. “If you don’t come back, we will rape your mother and make you watch,” they would say.

She finally mustered the courage to tell her mother, right before her 14th birthday. The police came and took away bags of stained clothes as evidence.

But a few days later, they called to say the bags had been lost.

“All of them?” she remembers asking. A check was mailed, 140 pounds, or $232, for loss of property, and the family was discouraged from pressing charges. It was the girl’s word against that of the men. The case was closed.

Well it always is the girl’s word against that of the men, isn’t it. Or it’s the boy’s word against the priest. It turns out that’s not actually a reason to throw up your hands and close the case.

The scale and brutality of the abuse in Rotherham have shocked a country already shaken by a series of child abuse scandals involving celebrities, public officials, clerics and teachers at expensive private schools. The Rotherham report suggests that it continues unchecked among the most vulnerable in British society.

Yet people go on defending their pet celebrity. Never mind that there are several accounts that describe a similar approach! Never mind that he’s been on a list of dudes to avoid for years! He’s our creeper, so shut up! Those women are all sluts, they must be.

…the report also outlined how those victims and parents who did ask for help were mostly let down by the police and social services, despite a great deal of detail known to them for more than a decade, including, in some cases, the names of possible offenders and their license plate numbers.

“Nobody can pretend they didn’t know,” Ms. Jay said in an interview.

Unimpeded, the abuse mushroomed. Over time, investigators found, it evolved from personal gratification to a business opportunity for the men.

So here’s a thought: don’t ignore the allegations. Investigate them.

Some officers and local officials told the investigation that they did not act for fear of being accused of racism. But Ms. Jay said that for years there was an undeniable culture of institutional sexism. Her investigation heard that police referred to victims as “tarts” and to the girls’ abuse as a “lifestyle choice.”

In the minutes of a meeting about a girl who had been raped by five men, a police detective refused to put her into the sexual abuse category, saying he knew she had been “100 percent consensual.” She was 12.

“These girls were often treated with utter contempt,” Ms. Jay said.

It makes me angry.


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

He promised to do so

Sep 2nd, 2014 11:15 am | By

Well this is one possible reason – Maria Berglund at Skepchick Sweden.

Last year D.J, who was booked as a speaker at the European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm, simply didn’t show up. The group that organized the congress were quite surprised, since he hadn’t contacted us for a cancellation. They managed, at the last minute, to throw in another speaker to take his place.

When I got in contact with him, he sounded quite surprised and claimed that he absolutely had cancelled recently. I then asked him to let us know who he had communicated with, and he promised to do so. He didn’t, however, and when I kept asking him for it he kept telling me that he would get back to me about this when he was by his computer. He never did.

He also promised the Swedish Skeptics to pay us the money for the hotel room, but never did. Both of these facts I double checked a while ago with the current board.

And I’ve heard other stories of that kind, from people who are, like Maria, in a position to know.

This could of course be just misunderstandings and innocent mistakes, but that seemed less likely when I started to hear a bunch of similar stories from other people and organizations – D.J. not showing up, not keeping promises and not paying people money. The biggest problem was not him being a no-show and not paying for a hotel room, the biggest problem was that the boss of JREF seemed to be lying to us and that this appeared to be a pattern.

Exactly; see above.

Here’s one such similar story, from an Australian blogger at TAM Australia in 2010, that I found quite easily by googling.

The next talk was sensational. It was Dr Pamela Gay‘s (AstronomyCast, Slacker Astronomy & SIU faculty), talk on Citizen Science, during which she presented on the wonderful contributions made by amateurs in the field of astronomy…

I found Dr Gay’s talk as enthusiastic and inspiring as ever, as she is truly a gifted and entertaining presenter. Even though Pamela was a late ring-in due to JREF President DJ Grothe‘s late withdrawal from the conference due to an unforeseen scheduling clash, her presentation was one of the highlights for me, and was loudly applauded by an appreciative audience, which seemed to surprise her somewhat.

See it? The JREF President’s late withdrawal from a talk at his own organization’s conference due to an unforeseen scheduling clash??? A what? How could there be such a “scheduling clash”? What engagement could bump that engagement? It would be like Obama withdrawing from the State of the Union to cut the ribbon on a new supermarket in Tulsa. And even if there were such a scheduling clash, how exactly could it be unforeseen?

So, yeah. One possible reason.


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

Knowingly or unknowingly

Sep 2nd, 2014 10:32 am | By

Sanal Edamaruku posted a photo of a chilling ad from an Indian newspaper on his Facebook page, with a comment.

Freedom of thought and expression are guaranteed as fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Promotion of critical inquiry, scientific temper and spirit of reform are fundamental duties.

Resist all attempts to take India back to medieval times. The picture given is an advertisement by Karnataka state government in a prominent Indian newspaper.

Photo: Is India going the Iran way? Criticism of religion or faith can be taken as an offence now. </p>
<p>Freedom of thought and expression are guaranteed as fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Promotion of critical inquiry, scientific temper and spirit of reform are fundamental duties. </p>
<p>Resist all attempts to take India back to medieval times. The picture given is an advertisement by Karnataka state government in a prominent Indian newspaper.

That’s a hell of a sweeping prohibition – note the “with a view to hurt religious sentiments knowingly or unknowingly.” Emphasis mine. Don’t do it on purpose and don’t do it by accident either! So the only way to be sure not to do it is just to…do nothing.

And if you do do it, on purpose or accidentally, the citizens are encouraged to call the cops on you.

And that’s why Sanal no longer lives in India.

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

Terrified of what Zimmy would do

Sep 2nd, 2014 9:41 am | By

A guest post at Left Foot Forward by “Helen” who tells a story of being groomed at age 16 by her “boyfriend” age 24.

I met Zimmy through Zamir, who I truly believed to be a “friend”, although since friends tend not to take you round to their uncle’s and offer you for sex in exchange for heroin, I can see now that he most definitely was not.

Zimmy was Zamir’s dealer and didn’t hesitate in asking me out, although like “friend”, “out” meant sitting in his Audi smoking a drug I thought was weed but that he later told me was heroin. Being such a good ‘boyfriend’, he also later introduced me to crack.

It was 1996. Looking back I was stupid, but at the time it was an escape from the misery of my family life and I thought everything would be fine. Over the next few weeks Zimmy showered me with gifts, money and drugs, but also started to tell tales of torturing his drug rivals and threatening me and my family:

“If you leave me I’ll burn your house down and only rescue you”; “You know too much about me now so if you leave me I’ll have to kill you”; “If you ever leave I’ll shoot you and leave you on the side of the M40”; “You are going to leave your family, and I’ll give you a nice flat in Reading”.

Hmmyeah, not the best boyfriend ever. She started trying to get away from him.

It all came to a head one night when I was in a café and he came in and demanded I left with him. The café was full of Pakistani men, I was there with a “friend”- I didn’t like going home at night. I was terrified of what Zimmy would do to me, I told him I wouldn’t go, but no-one at all stood up for me and I was asked to leave.

As soon as I got in his car I asked him not to leave our town, but he left and started driving toward Heathrow on the M40. I knew he was going to shoot me – I knew too much about his businesses, so I acted as bubbly and friendly as I could. I thought that if I showed fear, he’d act accordingly and kill me.

He pulled over to the side of the motorway, and made me get out, and made me kneel on the side of the road. I waited, and then he drove off and left, and I never saw him again. I think he just wanted to scare me.

So she’s disgusted by the news that’s come out of Rotherham.

The Left has a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our society.To stand against abuse and against bigotry. But this is not what has happened.

We learn that there may have been a culture of silence within Labour over this issue, and that a House of Commons Committee is going to investigate exactly what they knew and why they didn’t act more aggressively.

Denis McShane says he was forced into making a ‘grovelling climb down’ after he raised these issues out of fear of them affecting ‘community cohesion’. And herein lays the tragic irony. By sweeping the issue under the carpet, the Left actually damaged community cohesion and betrayed the girls who were being victimised. Ann Cryer says she was shunned by parts of Labour for raising the matter of grooming gangs.

Why is it always so easy to sweep the concerns and needs of women and girls aside?



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

Press release from JREF

Sep 1st, 2014 3:45 pm | By

Los Angeles Office Closed

In order to achieve cost-savings and greater efficiency, the Los Angeles office of the JREF has closed effective September 1, 2014. All operations have been moved to Falls Church, Virginia.

DJ Grothe is no longer with the JREF. James Randi has taken over as acting President.

This restructuring is part of an enhanced educational agenda aimed at inspiring an investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers by engaging children and their parents, as well as educators and the general public, in how to think about the many extraordinary claims we hear every day.

Contact the JREF at:
James Randi Educational Foundation
2941 Fairview Park Drive, Suite 105
Falls Church, VA 22042

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

The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing

Sep 1st, 2014 12:48 pm | By

Roxane Gay at Comment is Free on the misogyny underlying this trick of stealing and publishing photos of women.

What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.

The racy images of these nubile bodies are the biggest story on the internet, and every site that refuses to reprint the images has already left itself absolved while leaving a prurient trail of breadcrumbs. The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing. These leaked images are instantly widely available and they always will be. The images will be downloaded and viewed and shared. These women’s lives and their private choices will be dissected. They are women, so they must be judged.

Revealing nonconsensual nudes of the famous female body is not new. In 1983, Vanessa L Williams was the first black woman crowned as Miss America. She had little time to enjoy her achievement, however, because Penthouse published naked pictures of her, and she was forced to relinquish the crown. Williams has gone on to a successful career in film and television, but her biography will always have this footnote. She will always be reminded of the time someone decided to put her in her place because she had the audacity, as a woman, to rise too far.

Nor is this exploitative exposure of women’s naked bodies an issue that only famous women must deal with. Celebrities are just like us after all. This practice is so pervasive that it even has its own name –revenge porn, nude photos and explicit videos unleashed on the internet, most often by disgruntled ex-lovers. There are websites and online forums dedicated to this pernicious genre. Lives have been, if not ruined, irreparably harmed, because we are a culture that thrives on the hatred of women…

I think a few years ago I might have thought that was overstating it a little. Now? I don’t.

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

Mother of three

Sep 1st, 2014 12:40 pm | By

Hadley Freeman in the Guardian on the fun new trend of stealing photos of women to publish on the internet.

I think we know that the biggest fashion trend, really, for women – now and always – is no clothes at all: it’s having stolen naked photos of yourself leaked all over the internet. It’s like the story of the emperor’s new clothes all over again, if the emperor was harassed by sex pests and thieves and humiliated on an international level.

How strange it is to be a woman, in a world where everyone seems to be obsessed with what you do with your vagina: who are you letting into it, what children are you expelling from it, whether you’re trying to stop having children come out of it, who are you offering it up to. The older I get, the more I marvel at this vaginal obsession.

For example, no matter what achievements you notch up, the most important thing about you is your childbearing history. This weekend the very accomplished Rona Fairhead, former FT chief executive and now the government’s choice to be the new chair of the BBC Trust, was described namelessly in a Telegraph headline as “mother of three.”

That would never happen here in the US.

Here she would be called a “mom” of three.

It was decidedly reminiscent of that Sunday Times front page headline in April, “Grandmother, 71, tackles slave traffickers for the Pope”, sparking condescending mental images of a sweet little ol’ granny pummelling evil-doers with her cane. In fact this “grandmother, 71” was Margaret Archer, distinguished sociologist and the most senior woman in the Vatican. Surely, you might think, the headline should have read “Grandmother, 71, tackles slave traffickers, for childless old man, 77.” You might think that, but you would be wrong, because the Pope is a man, and therefore more than the sum of his age and his childbearing history.

It’s relentless, that kind of thing. “Grandmother robbed / killed / given the Nobel Peace Prize” – as if “grandmother” actually told you something, and as if it were deeply weird for a “grandmother” to do anything at all, even be murdered – as if women all seal themselves into boxes the instant their first grandchild pops out.

The only time naked photos of men get leaked onto the internet is when they ham-fistedly leak them themselves, as happens with various priapic male politicians like Anthony Weiner, and the general response is laughter and mockery. With women, that leaking happens when others steal the images from their phones, and the response here is darker, sexual, triumphal. Neither response is good, but the one in regards to women is definitely more threatening.There is no difference between the leaking of stolen naked photos from a female celebrity’s phone and so-called “revenge porn”, when a man leaks photos of an ex-partner. It’s a means of exuding power over someone who thought they were, if not powerful, at least independent. This narrative is now so well known that even Richard Curtis can see how pathetic it is, as proven by the plotline in Notting Hill, when naked photos of Julia Roberts’ character are leaked to the tabloids. And this is Richard Curtis, the man who also wrote some of the most reductive portrayals of women in film of all time in his following film, Love Actually.

Right? God that movie is shit. Remember the bit where Hugh Grant – oh ugh I can’t even type it. [shudder]

There will always be saddo hackers out there and there will, for some reason, always be people out there who marvel that famous women have naked bodies, just like everyone else. But when I am queen of the world, I will make it the law that every time a naked photo of a woman is leaked onto the internet, I will project into the sky an image of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World (look it up, it’s amazing.) Because that’s all you’re looking at people: bodies, with biological functions. Jesus, grow up, world.

I wish.


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


Sep 1st, 2014 12:11 pm | By

The Mirror has an appropriately angry piece about how women can avoid what happened to Jennifer Lawrence. (It’s by someone who goes by “Fleet Street Fox”…)

A total of 101 female celebrities are thought to have been targeted by someone who hacked the Apple photo storage service iCloud and published them in return for money.

In an extra layer of creepy weirdness, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead said the photos taken with her husband years earlier had been deleted – so iCloud had kept a copy, and the hacker had to hunt for it.

There are no leaked photos of naked male celebrities.

It’s more fun to do it to people who won’t enjoy it, FSF says.

So here’s what you should do: don’t be like Jennifer Lawrence. Tell your daughters, FSF says.

Tell them not to be beautiful, because then it’s inevitable that strangers will think of you as nothing but a meatsack.

Tell them not to be intelligent. Maths, sciences, arts, humanities – being clever is useless if you’re still female underneath.

Tell your daughters there is no point in being an Oscar winner. To achieve success in your chosen trade or profession, and to be recognised for it, cannot cure the disability of your sex.

Just ask Rona Fairhead, the new chairman of the BBC Trust. A man nominated for the job would have his qualifications discussed; but the headlines about Rona have concentrated on her gender, because a womb cancels out achievement.

(A woman at the BBC! Imagine!)

Don’t do anything someone else might not like. Anything.

Tell them not to be athletes, or their bodies will be derided by men. Tell them not to be actresses, ballet dancers or models, or their bodies will be derided by men. Tell them not to walk down the street, or their bodies will be derided by men.

Tell them not to work, not to try, and not to hope that they will only ever meet those men who treat them better than that.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful, moral, bright, pleasant or useful you are. If you are female, you will have trouble every day of your life.

Have a nice day.


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

Ukpabio sues BHA and WHRIN

Sep 1st, 2014 8:18 am | By

Helen Ukpabio is suing the British Humanist Association and the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network for £500,000,000.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) are being sued by the wealthy evangelical preacher and ‘witch hunter’ Helen Ukpabio who has dubbed herself a ‘Lady Apostle’. Mrs Ukpabio claims to have expertise in identifying children and adults who are possessed with witchcraft spirits and in how they can be ‘delivered’ from those spirits. Her lawyers have informed the BHA and WHRIN that she is launching a legal case against them due to their criticism of her teachings and methods.

Claiming to be a former witch herself, the Nigerian founder of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries has been accused of exploiting superstitious beliefs around demonic possession, which can and often does result in the endangering of vulnerable children. The BHA has called for Ukpabio and others like her to be banned from coming to the UK on the grounds that they are a threat to child welfare and their practices are not conducive to the public good.

It’s a SLAPP suit.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘Given her baseless identification of features of “possessed children” and her dangerous and irresponsible teachings we feel a strong moral duty to point this out and will not be deflected by libel suits from wealthy “witch-finders”.

‘The fact that she is threatening to launch a legal claim for half a billion pounds over an alleged distinction between being accused of exorcising “Satan” or “Vampires” tells you all you need to know about Mrs Ukpabio. Threats of legal action like this are blatant attempts to silence critics of the harms done by these religious and superstitious beliefs and rituals. Rather than entertaining her vexatious claims in the courts, we believe the UK should be ensuring that Mrs Ukpabio and her ilk are denied entry to our country to protect children from their degrading practices.’

Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN, commented, ‘This court case is the latest in a long line of unsuccessful legal actions that Helen Ukpabio has pursued against me and other human rights activists. Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court. I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria. Of course, the real question here is whether our Government should allow hate preachers such as Helen Ukpabio to enter the UK. Since her teachings have been scrutinised by the UN and various other bodies it would appear that this may not be in the public interest. This case also therefore provides the Home Secretary and the National Working Group to Tackle Child Abuse linked to Faith and Belief with a great opportunity to condemn the practices of such pastors, take concrete action and ensure that justice is served.’

Let’s hope the suit is thrown out quickly, before the BHA and WHRIN have to spend a ton of money defending against it.



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