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.

American Atheists has a favor to ask

Apr 19th, 2013 3:52 pm | By

From Dave Muscato of American Atheists:

As part of a joint effort amongst national groups, and in partnership with Boston Atheists and the Humanist Community at Harvard, we want to educate public officials about the diversity of their communities in times of tragedy and atheists’ desire and need to be included.

Atheists are hurting from this news as much as anyone else, and part of the grieving process for atheists affected includes things such as representation at the official memorial service and in the community response. When memorial services include exclusively religious language, and especially when public officials use terms such as “godless” as a slur to describe these attacks, atheists who are affected are excluded and shut out from the community.

We are asking you to assist us by writing a short paragraph that includes the following three things:

1) Who you are and whom you represent or speak on behalf of (e.g. Matt Dillahunty is President of Atheist Community of Austin)

2) Why you’re hurt by the exclusion from the memorial and/or use of “godless” as a pejorative

3) What’s you would like to see happen as a solution

Greg Epstein from the Humanist Community at Harvard is meeting with public officials to discuss this issue and would like to pass on responses from our community’s leaders. We also encourage you to solicit responses from members of your communities (if you run a blog, your readers; if you have a TV show, your viewers, etc) that he can include as well.

Please send your responses to me by early next week so we can make sure he gets them in time.

IMPORTANT: Please send your responses to and encourage your fans/listeners to do the same. Please DO NOT send your responses to Thank you.


So, get those responses written and send them to Let’s do this.

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

Fact-checkers report for duty!

Apr 19th, 2013 10:44 am | By

Jerome Taylor of the Independent seems to be remarkably under-informed on the subject he reports on.

They are often described as “The Unholy Trinity” – a trio of ferociously bright and pugilistic academics who use science to decimate what they believe to be the world’s greatest folly: religion.

But now Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are on the receiving end of stinging criticism from fellow liberal non-believers who say their particular brand of atheism has swung from being a scientifically rigorous attack on all religions to a populist and crude hatred of Islam.

No they’re not. They’re never described as “the Unholy Trinity” – he made that up.

And Hitchens wasn’t an academic.

And Taylor seems not to be aware that Hitchens is no longer among us.

He cites Dawkins’s undeniably bad habit of tweeting about large subjects. But…

“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today,” the Cambridge evolutionary biologist wrote on 1 March.

Ya…There are only two. Would it have been that much trouble to find out that it is in fact the other one? Not Cambridge but the other one?

The rest of it is just the usual “new atheists” wharble garble, but I thought the mistakes were rather striking.

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

To assert one’s self is to become a subject

Apr 19th, 2013 9:55 am | By

The Ex-Muslims Forum on Twitter alerted me to an article by Tariq Ramadan. Here’s how it begins -

Culture constitutes an essential element of human life. As people have risen up across the Middle East and North Africa, the diversity of their cultures is not only the means but also the ultimate goal of their liberation and their freedom. Though imperialism was primarily political and economic, it was also cultural; it imposed ways of life, habits, perceptions and values that rarely respected the societies under its domination, that seized control of minds — a true colonisation of human intelligence.

Globalisation extends to culture, often leading, in the societies of the Global South, to self-dispossession. Genuine liberation, the march toward dignity and democracy, requires a “cultural uprising” in all dimensions of its popular, artistic, intellectual and religious expressions. The importance of culture and the arts in undertaking the task of re-appropriation is critical: the tools of thought and tradition must be used to lend shape and substance to the sense of belonging that alone can guarantee the well-being of individuals. If there is no culture without religion, and no religion without culture and if, finally, culture is not religion, the issue must be explored; the complex questions of values, meaning, spirituality, tradition and the arts — the factors that give form to history, memory, nations and identities; that transmit well-being and freedom, or fail to — must be faced squarely.

Notice something odd?

It doesn’t say anything. It solemnly points out the obvious, without saying one thing an average teenager doesn’t already know.

And the whole piece is like that. It goes on for eleven more paragraphs, emptily stating obvious truths for no apparent purpose. Here’s a bit at random -

To assert culture, memory and identity is to assert that they are meaningful, to affirm that they are capable of addressing the challenges of the day. To assert one’s self is to become a subject, to take full responsibility for one’s heart, body and mind, as well as for one’s fellows, one’s society, and for nature itself. The imperative of coherence is incontrovertible; the very condition of genuine well-being and freedom.

Uh huh. Who could disagree? Who could care? Culture is meaningful; you don’t say! To assert one’s self is to become a subject; okay, now what?

It gives academics a bad name, that kind of thing – just blathering for the sake of it. Or to put it another way, the imperative of coherence is incontrovertible.



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

The banality of backpack bombs

Apr 19th, 2013 9:09 am | By

The weirdnesses of modern life, you know? Texting. Cupcakes. Wheely bags. Granite counter tops.

One such weirdness is the recurrence of photographs of young men on their way to kill and maim a lot of random people.

There are some of Timothy McVeigh, I think – renting the truck was it? Getting gas? Or maybe there aren’t.

But there certainly are of some of the 9/11 young men. There are of the July 2005 London bombers. And now there are of the Tsarnaev brothers.

Walking along the street, dapper and casual, with their pressure cookers packed full of shrapnel in the backpacks they carry.

So we can see them. We can see how people look in the process of killing some random people and maiming a lot more. They don’t look like anything. They look normal. They fit right in. They’re as banal as the rest of us.

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

Secular Groups Join Worldwide Protests Against Bangladeshi Blasphemy Laws

Apr 18th, 2013 5:23 pm | By


On April 25, an international coalition of atheist and humanist organizations led by the Center for Inquiry, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and American Atheists will protest the arrest and persecution of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh with demonstrations scheduled in London, New York, Washington, Ottawa and Calgary.

Bangladesh has recently been at the centre of a human rights crisis as authorities have detained several prominent bloggers for “hurting religious sentiments” and have arrested two more young people for making “derogatory remarks” about Islam on Facebook. Tens of thousands of protestors, led by the Islamist group Islami Andolan Bangladesh, have rallied in Dhaka, the country’s capital, to demand more arrests.

Centre for Inquiry is leading protests in Canada and has made appeals to the newly founded Office of Religious Freedom to urge the government to issue a public statement condemning the arrests and reaffirming its commitment to freedom of expression.

Protest events are confirmed for the following Canadian cities on April 25, 2013:

Ottawa: High Commission for Bangladesh

Constitution Square Centre

340 Albert St, K1R 7Y6 @ 4:30 pm ET

Calgary: Consulate of Bangladesh

633 6th Avenue South West T2P 2Y6 @ 4:30 pm MT


For media inquiries:

Michael Payton, National Director, CFI Canada, Email:

Phone: (647) 244-5483 (647) 244-5483

Up-to-date information on protest events can be found at

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

In a modern-day version of Victorian True Womanhood

Apr 18th, 2013 5:06 pm | By

Yes, I’m recognizing the landscape. I share Kaminer’s dislike of difference feminism. But then – if people are thinking we are difference/protectionist feminists in Kaminer’s sense, they’re batty.

More from Kaminer’s article:

The Comforts of Gilliganism

Central to the dominant strain of feminism today is the belief, articulated by the psychologist Carol Gilligan, that women share a different voice and different moral sensibilities. Gilligan’s work—notably In a Different Voice (1982)—has been effectively attacked by other feminist scholars, but criticisms of it have not been widely disseminated, and it has passed with ease into the vernacular. In a modern-day version of Victorian True Womanhood, feminists and also some anti-feminists pay tribute to women’s superior nurturing and relational skills and their general “ethic of caring.” Sometimes feminists add parenthetically that differences between men and women may well be attributable to culture, not nature. But the qualification is moot. Believers in gender difference tend not to focus on changing the cultural environment to free men and women from stereotypes, as equal-rights feminists did twenty years ago; instead they celebrate the feminine virtues.

See? In Kaminer’s version it’s the “protectionists” who have given up on changing the cultural environment to free men and women from stereotypes, and the equal-rights feminists who want to do that. That’s the precise opposite of the usual understanding of this binary, which is that equality feminists are the good sane normal ones who think the whole idea of “stereotypes” is wild-eyed Stasi nonsense, and “radfems” are the ones who want to steal all your stereotypes and cut off your penis.

Confronted with the challenge of rationalizing and accommodating profound differences among women, in both character and ideology, feminism has never been a tranquil movement, or a cheerfully anarchic one. It has always been plagued by bitter civil wars over conflicting ideas about sexuality and gender which lead to conflicting visions of law and social policy. If men and women are naturally and consistently different in terms of character, temperament, and moral sensibility, then the law should treat them differently, as it has through most of our history, with labor legislation that protects women, for example, or with laws preferring women in custody disputes: special protection for women, not equal rights, becomes a feminist goal. (Many feminists basically agree with Marilyn Quayle’s assertion that women don’t want to be liberated from their essential natures.) But if men and women do not conform to masculine and feminine character models, if sex is not a reliable predictor of behavior, then justice requires a sex-neutral approach to law which accommodates different people’s different characters and experiences (the approach championed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg twenty years ago).

See? All the other way which. We’re the equality feminists, as opposed to the difference feminists who revel in the stereotypes.

Outside academia, debates about sex and justice are sometimes equally confused and confusing, given the political and ideological challenges of affirmative-action programs and the conflicting demands on women with both career aspirations and commitments to family life. Feminists often have to weigh the short-term benefits of protecting wage-earning mothers (by mommy-tracking, for example) against the long-term costs of a dual labor market. Sometimes ideological clarity is lost in complicated strategy debates. Sometimes ideological conflicts are put aside when feminists share a transcendent social goal, such as suffrage or reproductive choice. And sometimes one ideological strain of feminism dominates another. In the 1970s equal-rights feminism was ascendent. The 1980s saw a revival of protectionism.

Equal-rights feminism couldn’t last. It was profoundly disruptive for women as well as men. By questioning long-cherished notions about sex, it posed unsettling questions about selfhood. It challenged men and women to shape their own identities without resort to stereotypes.

But it’s a creative disruption. With all I said in the previous post about the lure of being well-adjusted – there’s also such a thing as boredom, and living in accordance with stereotypes is so farking boring. Do people really enjoy being that boring?

A quite different issue -

To the extent that there’s a debate between Paglia and the feminist movement, it’s not a particularly thoughtful one, partly because it’s occurring at second hand, in the media. There are thoughtful feminist debates being conducted in academia, but they’re not widely heard. Paglia is highly critical of feminist academics who don’t publish in the mainstream; but people have a right to choose their venues, and besides, access to the mainstream press is not easily won. Still, their relative isolation is a problem for feminist scholars who want to influence public policy. To reach a general audience they have to depend on journalists to draw upon and sometimes appropriate their work.

Well that was 1993. They don’t any more. There are ways to link academics and the public now.

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

An unsettling challenge that well-adjusted people instinctively avoid

Apr 18th, 2013 4:17 pm | By

Reading the long article on feminism by Wendy Kaminer from 1993, pointed out by hjhornbeck.

Today, three decades of feminism and one Year of the Woman later, a majority of American women agree that feminism has altered their lives for the better. In general, polls conducted over the past three years indicate strong majority support for feminist ideals. But the same polls suggest that a majority of women hesitate to associate themselves with the movement. As Karlyn Keene, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has observed, more than three quarters of American women support efforts to “strengthen and change women’s status in society,” yet only a minority, a third at most, identify themselves as feminists.

And that’s still true, maybe more true. Feminism is a boogey-word. Why is that?

Many feminists take comfort in these polls, inferring substantial public support for economic and political equality, and dismissing women’s wariness of the feminist label as a mere image problem (attributed to unfair media portrayals of feminists as a strident minority of frustrated women). But the polls may also adumbrate unarticulated ambivalence about feminist ideals, particularly with respect to private life. If widespread support for some measure of equality reflects the way women see, or wish to see, society, their unwillingness to identify with feminism reflects the way they see themselves, or wish to be seen by others.

To the extent that it challenges discrimination and the political exclusion of women, feminism is relatively easy for many women to embrace. It appeals to fundamental notions of fairness; it suggests that social structures must change but that individuals, particularly women, may remain the same. For many women, feminism is simply a matter of mommy-tracking, making sure that institutions accommodate women’s familial roles, which are presumed to be essentially immutable. But to the extent that feminism questions those roles and the underlying assumptions about sexuality, it requires profound individual change as well, posing an unsettling challenge that well-adjusted people instinctively avoid. Why question norms of sex and character to which you’ve more or less successfully adapted?

I think that observation about “well-adjusted people” is brilliant. I think it’s true. It takes a certain…something, a willingness to alienate oneself, a willingness to be a little bit peculiar or off-kilter or pugnacious, to be at odds with things. That doesn’t appeal to everyone. One of our biggest tasks in life is just figuring things out so that we get along, we don’t make big stupid embarrassing mistakes all the time, we’re not always wrong and clumsy. Maybe we’re all four years old at heart, helpless, lost in a sea of people, having no clue about when you’re supposed to drink your orange juice and when you’re supposed to sit down and color. We like sussing it all out and doing a good job. We like succeeding at appearing normal.

Being political and posing unsettling challenges to the most fundamental way of doing things – that’s no way to succeed at appearing normal. I think that’s one reason most people don’t want to.

And the norms of sex and character are there already, they were there before we were, and we grew up among them. They’re like water to a fish. They’re our medium, and we’re not aware of the medium as a medium. Women are like this, men are like that; it’s what we’ve always known. It’s a lot of trouble to try to re-think that, let alone to argue that it’s not optimal. Well-adjusted people don’t want to do that kind of thing, because they’re well-adjusted, and what fun would it be to throw all that away?

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

The good kind and the bad kind

Apr 18th, 2013 11:34 am | By

One of the inescapable tropes about feminism is that there are two kinds of feminism, the good kind and the bad kind. You know how that goes. There’s the good sensible who-could-possibly-disagree kind that’s about equal pay and maybe more daycare, and there’s the bad crazy who-could-possibly-agree kind that’s about how people actually think and talk about women. This binary gets different names depending on who’s talking. One popular pair of labels is equality feminism v gender feminism. A new one I hadn’t seen before is equal rights feminism v protectionist feminism.

Protectionist. Hmm. That’s interesting. It’s interesting because it’s so insulting – as if not wanting to be treated like shit is somehow precious and spoiled and princessy.

Anyway, I’m crowd-sourcing it. Anybody familiar with that one? Anybody know the source?

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

What Facebook tolerates

Apr 18th, 2013 10:06 am | By

It’s funny how there’s Sheryl Sandberg, and there’s also Facebook. Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and she’s a critic of sexist stereotypes, yet…Facebook is notoriously bad at doing anything about overt, vicious misogyny-mongering on Facebook. Soraya Chemaly wonders why that is.

For example, this morning, a Duracell battery ad is visible on a group page called “I kill bitches like you;” Sexy Arab Girls, “join our page for more porn videos,” was sponsored by the Wilberforce Dinner “Honoring Cardinal Timothy Dolan,” and the now-removed page, “Domestic Violence: Don’t Make Me Tell You Twice,” populated by photos of women beaten, bruised and bleeding, was the platform for Vistaprint.

“We occasionally see people post distasteful or crude content. While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies,” a Facebook spokesperson explained, when I asked what Facebook’s response to similar pages is.

“However, there is no place on Facebook for content that is hateful, threatening, or incites violence, and we will not tolerate material deemed to be genuinely or directly harmful.”

Ah but you do. You do tolerate it. You tolerate it all the time – while not tolerating content that is critical of religion and theocracy.

To the founders of Rapebook, a page started last fall to “tackle misogyny on Facebook by sharing and reporting pages”, content trivializing sexualized and domestic abuse is intrinsically hateful and harmful. Immediately, the page became the target of massive trolling and administrators were threatened with violent rape and death and bombarded with graphic images and porn. Posts, such as one urging people to give a donation to an anti-violence campaign at Amnesty International, generated more than 100 comments, including “fuck that. hit that hoe (sic),” and “Domestic violence is a 2 way street you hypocritical cunt.” This suggests hostility. Which might provoke anxiety. And create an environment that does not feel safe to the average woman.

The response to that is “professional victims,” “drama,” “special snowflake,” “sisterhood of the oppressed,” “they do it to drive up the blog hits” and similar.

Despite the fact that Facebook representatives may have done their best to work closely with Rapebook, the administrators closed the page after months of receiving up to 500 messages a day, including photographs of actual rapes and child pornography. Hendren’s photo was used to create rape memes. She has left Facebook. It’s important to note that people who supported Rapebook’s efforts were unwilling to publicly show their support in Facebook, for fear of similar targeting.

How is this not a loss of free speech for these users (overwhelmingly women), resulting from bullying, harassment and misogyny? The people left feeling comfortable at Facebook are rape apologists and those who create content glorifying the debasement of women.

The response to that is that it’s only the evil sisterhood of the oppressed women who leave because of misogynist harassment, and that’s fine because everybody hates them so ha.

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

Excited to welcome you

Apr 18th, 2013 9:19 am | By

Heartwarming update to the Katelyn Campbell story. Her principal threatened to call up Wellesley, where she is accepted as a student next year, to tell them what a backstabbing slut she is. After posting about it I went to find her on Twitter, and found this -


KatelynCampbell, #Wellesley is excited to welcome you this fall. 

Ahhh. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Nicely done, Wellesley.

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

Official slut shaming

Apr 18th, 2013 9:11 am | By

Another brave high school student stands up to religio-conservative coercion.

A West Virginia high school student is filing an injunction against her principal, who she claims is threatening to punish her for speaking out against a factually inaccurate abstinence assembly at her school. Katelyn Campbell, who is the student body vice president at George Washington High School, alleges her principal threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to report that she has “bad character.”

George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker, Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.

Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.

That sounds as deceptive and illegitimate as the Good News Club.

The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they can’t speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.

Because Jesus loves him.

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


Apr 17th, 2013 5:22 pm | By

Terry Glavin doesn’t approve of forced ingestion of bromides from Mr Rogers in the wake of horrible events like the Boston bombings.

The Iranians have a word for it. It’s “hambestagi.” It roughly translates as “solidarity.” It is a condition of humankind that is always present and quite ordinarily blossoms in crisis. It was everywhere in evidence Monday in Boston and well beyond.

Solidarity is a good thing. I’m very big on solidarity. The more solidarity the better, especially international solidarity.

In place of actual acts of journalism related to Monday’s barbarism, was it  really necessary for the Globe and Mail, Time Magazine, Slate and the Washington  Post to gang up on everybody with pieties out of the cardigan-wearing  Presbyterian host of a 1960s-era television babysitting service titled Mister  Rogers’ Neighbourhood?

Seriously. The Globe headline: “How to talk to kids (and especially adults)  about the Boston Marathon bombings: Try Mr. Rogers.” Time: “In the Wake of the  Boston Marathon Attacks, Mr. Rogers Quote Spreads Hope Across the Internet.” Slate: “The History of Mister Rogers’ Powerful Message.” The Washington Post: “Mr. Rogers gives hope while social media becomes virtual house of prayer for  Boston.”

No, it wasn’t necessary, but it was probably inevitable. They weren’t going to cite Arendt or Zimbardo, were they.

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

The flower girls are given lunch and a Brazilian

Apr 17th, 2013 4:58 pm | By

How to get around those pesky religious rules that say women are sluts unless they’re nailed and sealed into a marriage? How can men have fun if women are all nailed and sealed into a marriage? There is a way. The men can marry them, but just for a few minutes. Win-win!

I knew this was popular in Iran, but it’s apparently big in India. too.

Men from around the Islamic world have been traveling to Hyderabad, India, to purchase marriage contracts lasting four weeks. These “one-month marriages” provide men with young Indian wives, generally from poor families, who must consummate the short-term arrangements. Essentially, men—often already married—come to India with the intent of having religiously sanctioned sex with women other than their wives. Since Islam forbids prostitution, a short-term “marriage” is arranged instead, often with girls from impoverished families.

And that of course bears no resemblance to prostitution whatever, and is in no way exploitative and brutal toward the women in these “marriages.”

The phenomenon is now being exposed because of the bravery of 17-year-old Nausheen Tobassum who cooperated with police after escaping a “marriage” with a 44-year-old man from Khartoum, Sudan. The man, who was married with two children, allegedly paid Nausheen’s aunt $1,800 to marry and live with the girl during his stay in India. The marriage was reportedly presided over by a “qazi,” or Muslim judge who renders decisions according to Sharia, at Nausheen’s parents’ house. After the “ceremony,” Nausheen says her parents forced her to consummate the marriage with the man, who had also been guaranteed a “Talaknama,” which allows for a swift divorce after the marriage interlude, upon the groom’s departure from India.

What a lovely way for parents to treat their daughter – sell her cunt for a month, as if it were like renting a room in their house. The fact that her body and mind are still attached is a small inconvenience, easily ignored by parents who are determined enough.

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


Apr 17th, 2013 4:21 pm | By

Besides, Amy did this post two years ago, based around this photograph -

Um. Over to Amy:

This isn’t the first time Mr Dunning has put up an image of an attractive woman while simultaneously insulting the majority of all other women present. He did it when he opted to show a woman he said was, “easier on the eyes” instead of showing the actual photo of the first woman to fly in space, astronaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. He later apologized. One could assume it was a poorly designed joke and forgive his insensitivity to the plight of women in the sciences and in skepticism, once. We all make mistakes. But here he has done it again. And this time it is arguably more demeaning and insulting.

Not because it’s ooooooh naked body. No, that’s not it.

Now back to the distinction I wanted to make. Images send messages. An image of a beautiful naked body can send a message of the joy of life or of shape and form and light and shadow or of love and tenderness or loneliness or heartbreak or many other informative and moving messages. What you add to the image can have a strong effect on it’s meaning as well. The placement of the nude in the surroundings can, for example have a strong influence on the tone and the meaning of the piece of art or in this case the photograph. Is the nude in harsh light? Is the nude in a soft or warm environment? Is it black and white or color? Is it a safe environment or is there an element of danger? Photographers and other visual artists utilize all of these ideas and more to send a message to the viewer. It is all about context. And Dunning’s image is reinforcing a hierarchy with men at the top and women as nothing more than submissive servants whether it was his direct intention or not. A man in formal wear standing in a stately and dismissive pose high above a completely naked woman on her knees serving him, sends a message that women are lower, stripped of intellectual value, completely objectified and in this particular image reduced to mere servants or tray tables.

Yes it does.

Imagine a skeptic hero posing with an Aunt Jemima type model offering him a plate of pancakes. Funny how that’s unthinkable but this isn’t.

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

Someone else turns out to be not perfect

Apr 17th, 2013 4:02 pm | By

So this happened – Brian Dunning pled guilty to wire fraud. I wasn’t aware of Brian Dunning before – my knowledge of the Skeptics’ Who’s Who is shamingly incomplete or even in fact inadequate. The “skeptic community” is much upset at the revelation that Dunning is imperfect, as PZ notes.

Everyone seems to be regarding this as a great tragedy and the loss of a hero, and I agree that there is an element of that — it certainly is a personal tragedy for Dunning. But maybe we should also recognize it as a gain, the exposure of a criminal and the cessation of illegal activity. People aren’t one-dimensional heroes or villains, and Dunning, like everyone, is a bit of both.

One of the “great tragedy and loss of a hero” posts -

If I could do anything I would. Many of you recognize that we link extensively to Skeptoid on this site and have taken great joy in its success around the world. I’d never tell people to pray or send good thoughts but I can’t help wishing I could do something. Best wishes, Brian, Lisa and family. Nothing can erase the positive things you do in the world. At least not with me.

Nothing? That’s not very skeptic. Loyalty to friends is a great thing, but it can be in tension with other great things, like honesty and transparency, which tend to be of value to skeptics.


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

In honor of the Bangladesh atheist bloggers

Apr 17th, 2013 3:34 pm | By

Mo draws the line. The barmaid had better start packing.


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

Linking arms with Amanda Brown and Roger Gorley

Apr 17th, 2013 10:19 am | By

Lilandra has a post in solidarity with Amanda Brown and her father Roger Gorley.

She writes here about her father’s run in with hospital authorities and his partner’s family for simply wanting to hold his gay partner’s hand. The family had no authority to ask him to leave as he has power of attorney. Gorley should have the same rights as heterosexual domestic partner to care for an ailing spouse. The reality of the situation is that that only works when people respect those rights. He was eventually handcuffed and dragged out of the hospital by the police.

You may have already heard of Amanda Brown from her work on We Are Atheism. A project that encourages nonbelievers to come out. She also helps organize Reason Fest every year in Lawrence Kansas.  Reason Fest is going on this weekend if you can make it. I’d like to say a brief thank you to Camp Quest for providing children’s activities. It helps my family make this trip more doable. Kudos to the people that sponsor Camp Quest.

Help to pass Lilandra’s post around if you have time and inclination.

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

Savita Halappanavar would probably be alive now if she had had that termination

Apr 17th, 2013 9:21 am | By

That’s what Dr Peter Boylan, the former master of Ireland’s National Maternity Hospital, told the inquest today.

Dr Peter Boylan said that if Ms Halappanavar had been given a termination on the Monday or Tuesday, one or two days after she was admitted last October 21st, she would “on the balance of probabilities”, still be alive.

“It is highly likely she would not have died” if she had been given a termination earlier, he added.

However, terminating her pregnancy was not a practical proposition for the doctors treating her at this time because of the legal situation in Ireland, he said.

Before reading more, I wonder – is it possible that that’s why there was so much apparent neglect and incompetence? That that’s why doctors failed to treat her deteriorating condition as an emergency for so many hours? Is a woman with a stalled miscarriage just an obvious scary liability in Irish hospitals, and do such women as a result get even more neglected because doctors can’t stand to confront the reality?

But really that’s beside the point, because if they’d done the termination earlier there probably wouldn’t have been any emergency to neglect. They created their own damn emergency and then neglected it, thanks to Irish law. Fuck you, Irish women, says Ireland.

Dr Boylan said there were a number of deficiencies in the care provided to Ms Halappanavar, including the failure to note and review her initial – abonormal – white cell count and a conflict of evidence between a midwife and doctor who treated her early on the Wednesday morning.

He said University Hospital Galway’s guidelines on sepsis were “not particularly helpful”. The particular antibiotics administered to Ms Halappanavar early on the Wednesday could also be regarded as deficient but were in line with international recommendations, he said.

The real problem was the inability of doctors to terminate her pregnancy at an earlier stage, Dr Boylan said. By the time her condition worsened and this became possible, it was too late to save her life.

Ok next question. A stalled miscarriage is not a terribly rare event. I don’t know the statistics but I gather from what Jen Gunter says that it’s something an obstetrician expects to see on occasion. It happens. It’s not like a two-headed calf.

Dr Boylan said obstetricians were working in a legal “vacuum” as to when a mother’s risk of dying was high enough for them to be legally allowed to terminate a pregnancy. Under cross examination he told Eugene Gleeson, SC for Ms Halappanavar’s husband Praveen, that the legal position was that there had to be a “real and substantial” risk to the life of the mother, but that there were no guidelines on what constituted the real and substantial risk.

And how fucking insulting is that? The position in law that if the risk is not “substantial” enough then the woman must be forced to take it.

Mr Gleeson referred to the Medical Council guidelines which state: “In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”

Mr Gleeson asked Dr Boylan whether the risk posed by severe sepsis satisfied this standard. Dr Boylan said the standard had not been reached, according to Ms Halappanavar’s medical notes, until 6.30 am on Wednesday 24 th.

That is just disgusting. Just utterly disgusting. “Sorry, hon, you have to get a lot sicker than this before we can end your pregnancy.”

Asked whether it was reasonable to wait until there had been a 51 per cent risk of death, as had been suggested by counsel for Dr Katherine Astbury at the inquest last week, Dr Boylan said medicine was “not like that”.

He said in his opinion a risk of 20 per cent to 40 per cent risk of death was sufficiently “real and substantial” for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy. “I wouldn’t agree with 51 per cent”.

He said doctors from abroad working here could not understand the restrictive law on abortion here. “But we have to work within the law,” he said. “Had intervention occurred on 22nd or 23rd , Savita would be with us?,” asked Mr Gleeson. “Yes,” said Dr Boylan.

Doctors from abroad have it right. The law is an outrage.


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

Be patient

Apr 16th, 2013 5:16 pm | By

A finding that will astonish no one.

Working women who engage in feminist activism report more experiences of gender harassment on the job, regardless of whether or not they identify themselves as feminists, a new University of Michigan study indicates.

“A woman who personally adopts the feminist label may not ‘out’ herself as such to others,” said Kathryn Holland, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in women’s studies and psychology. “Women openly engaging in activism for women’s rights may pose a more obvious threat to the existing gender hierarchy—a hierarchy that grants more power to men than women.”

I could give a shorter version of that. Women who engage in feminist activism experience more gender harassment. Everybody hates a feminist.

“Sexual harassment can be devastating to women, both personally and professionally. However, we found evidence that engagement in feminist activism may help protect against or remediate some negative occupational outcomes,” Holland said.

The intersection of feminism and harassment presents working women with a catch-22, she says.

“On one hand, behavioral displays of feminism could prompt sexist and sexualized hostilities from co-workers,” Holland said. “On the other hand, not engaging with feminism could increase the chance that women will suffer professionally if harassed, not to mention the fact that avoiding feminist activism diverts energy from a cause committed to advancing women inemployment.”

It will work itself out, in a few hundred years.

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

Synechdoche is all very well but

Apr 16th, 2013 4:51 pm | By

Good lord.

A Republican New Hampshire lawmaker referred to women as “vaginas” in an email to colleagues on the official legislative electronic mailing list earlier this month, drawing outrage from women’s rights groups.

No. Nobody did that. Right?

State Rep. Peter Hansen (R) made the comment, first reported by New Hampshire political blogger Susan the Bruce, in an April 1 email debate with colleagues about a “stand your ground” gun bill. Hansen’s colleague, Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R) had delivered a lengthy floor speech about the benefits of retreating instead of using deadly force, to which Hansen replied in an email:

What could possibly be missing from those factual tales of successful retreat in VT, Germany, and the bowels of Amsterdam? Why children and vagina’s of course. While the tales relate the actions of a solitary male the outcome cannot relate to similar situations where children and women and mothers are the potential victims.

Well that’s remarkable.

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