Notes and Comment Blog

Depicting Mohammed

Feb 6th, 2015 5:36 pm | By

Muhammed Syed explains about it.


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

Oslo, Jordan, Sesame Street

Feb 6th, 2015 5:17 pm | By

Via the Humanistisk Ungdom page (Norway’s Humanist Youth) – a sizable collection of people on a cold snowy day protest in front of the Saudi embassy in Oslo.

A Google translatation with some adaptations –

For the fifth time we stand together with Amnesty International outside the Saudi embassy and demonstrate for Raif Badawi .

He is sentenced to prison and 1,000 lashes – for a blog post.

This time, we were suddenly chased 10 meters away from the embassy, behind a hedge, entirely without justification or explanation of who gave the order.

We didn’t give up though, and continued to shout: #Free Raif Badawi! #Stop the flogging!

Go there to see a 9 second video of them doing it, with a pan from them to the embassy.

In Jordan -

Via Sons of Sesame Street

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

Guest post: To make sure the girls in category 2 don’t end up in category 3

Feb 6th, 2015 3:41 pm | By

Originally a comment by Anne Fenwick on FGM in the US.

It is frustrating that neither society nor the statistics seem good at separating 1) women who arrive as immigrants having undergone FGM in their previous countries; 2) their daughters who may be considered at risk; 3) those daughters who actually undergo FGM in a western country or ‘on vacation’. I’m glad this article seemed to get the problem – though I do wonder about their choice of age range, I think we would use a different one in the UK.

What seems to be important is that the arrival of a large number of women in category 1 is going to necessitate a response. In the first place, they’re going to have specific health care needs which the country isn’t used to meeting. I do wonder how that’s going to work out in the US (not that the UK has distinguished itself recently, or anything). It frustrates me when people complain about the necessity of dealing with this as though it was a terrible imposition. That strikes me as practically victim-blaming.

Then there’s the information campaign to make sure the girls in category 2 don’t end up in category 3. That’s very important, because the next stage should be a last resort, after every effort has been expended here. And lastly, the criminal justice stage for people who do put girls into category 3. I just wish people would stop mentally jumping through the first two stages as though they didn’t exist.

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

But never in the face

Feb 6th, 2015 1:03 pm | By

Pope sweety says it’s ok for adults to hit children, provided it’s done with dignity.

Pope Francis has backed parents who smack their children, providing the child’s “dignity” is maintained.

He made the remarks during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family.

How does an adult hit a child while maintaining the child’s dignity? Is it that the adult doesn’t abort the child in the process?

The Pope said: “One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them.’

“How beautiful,” he added. “He knows the sense of dignity. He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”

Oh that is beautiful. It’s simply gorgeous. He hits them on their gleaming little buttocks, so as not to humiliate them.

Pope sweety is still a pope.


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

FGM in the US

Feb 6th, 2015 12:18 pm | By

Nina Strochlic at the Daily Beast reports that FGM numbers in the US have skyrocketed despite strong federal and state laws against it.

In 1997, the CDC estimated that 168,000 girls and women were at risk or had undergone FGM—at the time of the last national census in 1990. A few years later, in 2000, the African Women’s Center upped the number at 227,000.

But according to estimates released on Friday, there currently are around 507,000 girls living in the U.S. who are either at risk of being cut or who have already been cut. That’s more than triple the figure from the very first nationwide count.

These are estimates, not counts.

This fresh data comes from a new report issued Friday by the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. It was culled from the U.S. Census’ 2013 American Community Survey. The PRB then crunched the numbers from immigration communities and compared them with the prevalence of FGM in the countries where those people hail from. Working under the assumption that first- or second-generation Americans either have experienced FGM or will at the same rate as their homeland counterparts, the PRB narrowed the focus to teens from 15 to 19, presumably most at risk, and women up to 49, a percentage of whom already have undergone the procedure. New York City and Washington, D.C. have the highest concentration, with more than 50,000 girls at risk in each city. Minneapolis, with its large Somali population, is third.

So basically what the PRB is reporting is an increase in immigration from countries where FGM is prevalent, with a reasonable guess that many girls in those families will have had or are likely to have FGM. Maybe the guess is a little too pessimistic – maybe more immigrants than they think are dropping that particular home custom.

(Speaking of immigration…I was in a bargain grocery store a few days ago, in a suburb of Seattle with a high immigrant population. A girl of about 10, with I assume her father, asked me about a bottle of yellow liquid in her hand – “What’s this?” They looked perhaps Somali. I looked at it and said “It’s for cleaning” at the same time she added, “Is it for cooking?” Alarmed by her question, I gestured at the shelves and said “This whole area is for cleaning stuff, definitely don’t eat it.” She nodded and I bumbled off, then a minute later it dawned on me – yellow liquid – they’re looking for cooking oil. So I tried to find them again to show them where the food items were, but I couldn’t. It haunted me a bit. I’d be pretty at sea trying to find cooking oil in a store where all the labels were in Arabic or Bengali. Then again the daughter is there and there were lots of people around to ask.) (I hope she gets her reward, and is allowed to keep her junk intact.)

If this data seems ambiguous—“may have undergone” or “at risk of undergoing”—that’s because it is. Getting solid numbers on how frequently FGM is actually practiced in the U.S. has been virtually impossible. There is little information on what actually goes on in these insular immigrant communities, and with felony charges facing anyone who admits to orchestrating the cutting, it seems unlikely that many people would answer surveys truthfully.

Which of course is one reason some people oppose criminalization. It’s complicated.

The people most in the know—local teachers and healthcare providers—must be involved to paint an accurate picture of FGM in the United States. They’re also the ones with the best footing to stanch the practice.

Post fliers in those bargain grocery stores – and the nearby check-cashing places and quick loan shark places and the like.

Estimating according to country isn’t very accurate, because rates can vary hugely within countries.

This is why activists are pushing government agencies to create a bottom-up approach to information gathering, so that the federal level can better evaluate on-the-ground needs.

Sharing these numbers with residents of these immigrant communities also could be a first step to quashing the practice. The communities may not even be aware that the practice in many of their home countries actually is on the decline, says Feldman-Jacobs. From Benin to Iraq, from Liberia to the Central African Republic, the rate of FGM has dropped by as much as half among young girls in the past 20 years.

It’s actually a hopeful story, overall.

Part of the impetus behind the federal effort is a 25-year-old activist named Jaha Dukureh, who, along with advocacy group Equality Now, filed a petition last May asking the government to carry out a new study. Her story, as it was told to me at the time, and an examination of the underground FGM crisis in America, can be found here.

Good job, Daily Beast.

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

We’ve got leverage

Feb 6th, 2015 11:11 am | By

The New Statesman said something interesting in a piece on January 15th on why protesting the flogging of Raif matters.

Under recent Saudi law, anything from “calling for atheist thought” to “inciting protests” or organizing petitions is now punishable as an act of terrorism.

Despite the crackdown at home, however, Saudi Arabia is angling to present itself as a supporter of free expression abroad.

Oh is it. Is it really.

Not that we didn’t know that – what else were they doing turning up in Paris on January 11th? What else were they doing joining that protest march?

But still. Having it spelled out is clarifying. If the Staggers is right about that, then that’s how we have leverage. If those evil bastards really are angling to present themselves as not 100% evil bastards – then they’ll have to act like not 100% evil bastards, won’t they. Then our yelling and shouting is going to trouble them, isn’t it.


Expect more yelling and shouting, Saudi dictators.

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

Another Friday

Feb 6th, 2015 10:25 am | By

For the fourth week, the Saudis have refrained from hitting Raif Badawi with a stick 50 times.

Saudi Arabia has again delayed a planned flogging of a blogger, according to a report from Amnesty International.

The Twitter account of the organization’s press office said Raif Badawi was spared a flogging today for reasons not yet known.

Not being able to get away with it without a lot of yelling and shouting, would be one big reason. The embassies would prefer a quiet life.

Via the Austrian Greens

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

Feminism is a core humanist value

Feb 5th, 2015 6:08 pm | By

Greg Epstein later did another series of tweets in order to make clear his attitude to feminism and its more acrimonious opponents.

I’ll start with this one.

Greg Epstein @gregmepstein · 4 hours ago
This Sunday, the organization I direct– the @HarvardHumanist @HumanistHub will present an award to feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian.

Ms. Sarkeesian and other online feminist leaders have been the target of an extraordinary amount of harassment by anti-feminists, MRA’s etc.

I want to address those individuals, and anyone else with questions about why we chose this awardee.

Feminism is a core Humanist value. This isn’t something I decided-it’s the consensus view over ~100 years of a “good without God” movement

Mkay? Can we stop wrangling about that? Feminism is a core humanist value. A sexist humanism is an oxymoron. If it’s sexist it’s not humanist, just as it’s not humanist if it’s racist or homophobic or xenophobic.

K? Done?

I’m proud to be a feminist and a humanist. I’m proud to direct an org that promotes both, building community of/atheists, agnostics, & allies

When I say “allies”, I mean we have a lot of good religious people who participate, knowing that what we do is not theistic, but enjoying it

So, if you’re an “ally”, please know I’m speaking *today* especially to members of my own community– fellow atheists/humanists/etc.

I recently saw : A ’14 survey of the Men’s Rights subreddit found 94% of them identified as “atheist” or “religiously indifferent”

Here’s article describing these “MRA’s” & how they’ve behaved twds Ms. Sarkeesian & her peers. Not well.

It’s a huge problem. Atheists have just as much LEGAL right as anyone to not be feminists-but I’m not safe in my community if women aren’t.

If you have disagreements w/our awardee’s ideas-by all means. No artist/thinker/critic was ever right every time. Not me, not her, not you.

If you behave obnoxiously: harassing/shouting/threatening- you remove yourself from the community of reason. If we block you-you earned it.

. only now admits it sucks dealing w/misogynist abuse. Atheists have had to protect their own community.

I’m just getting into the dialogue here but many in our community have led. & Blocked. @amandamarcotte @pzmyers & so many more…Thank you.

.@mirandachale 1 man I banned’s profile: “fully licensed misogynist.” In just 2 days I’ve seen awful behavior feminist women deal w/daily.

.@UniversityWatc1 block bigots≠turning on men. It’s pro-men to be feminist. Read Iron John. Join a men’s group-I did. Good luck. Blocked

.@BackToTheBlade Our awardee tirelessly promotes humanist & feminist values in an $50B+/year industry. Don’t respect it? Ok. But– blocked.

So that’s most of how that went.

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

His child is pure

Feb 5th, 2015 5:28 pm | By

Here’s a “doctor” who should be struck off.

“I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure,” Dr. Jack Wolfson said in the interview. “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”

Wolfson was responding to a public appeal for all parents to vaccinate their children from Arizona pediatrician Dr. Tim Sacks…

That’s the one we read about yesterday.

Wolfson dismissed his fellow doctor’s appeal to anti-vaxxers.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s very likely that her leukemia is from vaccinations in the first place,” Wolfson said.

The CNN interviewer asked Wolfson repeatedly if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got other children, like Sacks’ daughter, fatally sick.

“I could live with myself easily. It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. And I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child,” he said.

That’s a disgusting human being right there.

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

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000

Feb 5th, 2015 5:16 pm | By

Mary Wisniewski at Reuters tells us there’s a measles outbreak in Chicago.

Five babies at a suburban Chicago daycare center have been diagnosed with measles, adding to a growing outbreak of the disease across the United States, Illinois health officials said on Thursday.

Officials are investigating the cluster of measles cases at KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine, said a statement from the Illinois and Cook County health departments. All the children are under 1 year old and would not have been subject to routine measles vaccination, which begins at 12 months.

Infants. With measles. Thanks, anti-vaxxers.

Public health officials have reported that more than 100 people across the United States have been infected with measles, many of them traced to an outbreak that began at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, in December.

“These cases underscore the need for everyone who is eligible for the vaccine to ensure that they have been vaccinated,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “There are certain individuals who, because of their age or clinical condition, cannot be vaccinated.”

A local news station here in Seattle reported last night that there’s a Waldorf school where 38 point something percent of the students are not vaccinated.

On the advice of health officials, the KinderCare center is excluding until Feb. 24 unvaccinated children and staff who may have been exposed to the virus, according to a statement from Knowledge Universe, KinderCare’s parent company. The center was given a “deep clean” on Wednesday night, the statement said.

Let’s go back to the good old days when there were no vaccines and diseases kept the population in check.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 after decades of intensive childhood vaccine efforts.


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

The world is watching you, Saudi Arabia

Feb 5th, 2015 4:35 pm | By

It’s Thursday again. In a few hours it will be Friday morning in Saudi-family Arabia.

From Italy, via Ensaf Haidar:


From Tunisia via Ensaf:

Via Ensaf’s wall – Copenhagen today:

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

Baby, darling

Feb 5th, 2015 1:38 pm | By

Check out Greg Epstein on Twitter.

A couple of days ago, the crowd of anti-feminist atheists on Twitter zoomed in on him because…Anita Sarkeesian is Harvard Humanist of the Year. She will accept the award at an event next Sunday.

Well you know that can’t be allowed. So the shouting began.

Chas Stewart ‏@BirdTerrifier Feb 3
.@gregmepstein baby, darling… Why are you watering down humanism? Surely there were more deserving HotY recipients. How’s she a humanist?

Greg Epstein ‏@gregmepstein
.@BirdTerrifier Your tone is inappropriate & gives me just a tiny hint of the massive disrespect Anita addresses bravely, strongly. Blocked.

Chas Stewart ‏@BirdTerrifier Feb 3
@gregmepstein dude, inappropriate. Can’t nudge someone with a “baby, darling”? Why haven’t you all justified the pick? Whence humanism?

Notung ‏@SIN_Notung Feb 3
@BirdTerrifier if people disagree with the award, that just proves how RIGHT the award is! ;)

Chas Stewart ‏@BirdTerrifier Feb 3
@SIN_Notung I might’ve run afoul of the civility pledge but baby darling said to a man is different than to a woman.

Astrokid NJ ‏@AstrokidNJ Feb 4
@gregmepstein Dear @BirdTerrifier she’s a humanist just like past great feminists. Didn’t you get the memo from AHA?

That’s just one thread. There were a bunch. Greg Epstein now has some idea what the harassment is like.


Greg Epstein ‏@gregmepstein
.@BlueBallSkeptic what we’re thinking awarding Anita? Feminism=central to humanism; she=brave/important; & you=blocked if only f/your handle

Jacques Cuze ‏@JacquesCuze Feb 3
@_sinisterBen the real problem is that @twitter is a shit UI with too few controls. @Aneris23 @Shermertron

sinister ‏@_sinisterBen Feb 3
@JacquesCuze @twitter @Aneris23 @Shermertron and a lot of children shouting obscenities then crying for their moms when responded to.

Shermertron ‏@Shermertron Feb 3
@_sinisterBen @JacquesCuze @gregmepstein @Aneris23 @BirdTerrifier Hey, it’s not as though he is a prominent Humanist (TM) with power…

Etc etc etc

It’s revealing, isn’t it.

Greg Epstein @gregmepstein · Feb 3
Heard there’re a lot of sexist atheists online but am privileged not to have to think of y’all much. Guess we’ll see how misguided you are.

This is now a pinned tweet:

Greg Epstein @gregmepstein · Feb 3
Am blocking atheist men behaving badly/like sexists. Don’t mean you’re evil-just what your behavior deserves. I wish you strength to change

With a long long string of retorts – a sample –

DC in Detroit ‏@DC_in_Detroit 18 hours ago
@gregmepstein @D4M10N I wonder how many of those bad-behaving atheist men were actually women.

Black Trident TV ‏@BlackTridentTV 14 hours ago
@uberfeminist @gregmepstein @UniversityWatc1 Sarkeesian is feminist. Doesn’t feminism literally stand in direct opposition to humanism?

A Man in Green #982 ‏@BackToTheBlade 14 hours ago
@UniversityWatc1 @gregmepstein Anita is a humanist for calling hundreds of thousands of people Sexist Misogynists? Harvard Trash. #GamerGate

Andrew BLeh ‏@AndrewBLeh 14 hours ago
@BackToTheBlade @UniversityWatc1 @gregmepstein anita has done more to scare women away from gaming than anyone

University Watch ‏@UniversityWatc1 13 hours ago
@BackToTheBlade @gregmepstein Yep, @femfreq is about CENSORSHIP & DEMONISATION. She doesn’t even play games.

Miranda Celeste Hale ‏@mirandachale 13 hours ago
.@gregmepstein This is ridiculously condescending. The men in question aren’t misogynists. They just disagree with you. See the difference?

Mindgamer ‏@denouc 13 hours ago
@mirandachale Fundamentalists call those who disagree with them “sinners”. Feminists call them “misogynist”. Cult mentality. @gregmepstein

Jake Follain ‏@JFollain 12 hours ago
@mirandachale @gregmepstein He’s apparently convinced that sexism against men doesn’t exist, because of Anita’s made up definition of sexism

dBetty ‏@ddbetty 9 minutes ago
@gregmepstein @gregladen After 9 years old, it takes gut level emotional experience to change. Power wedgie may help them focus.

All of which goes to show, there is no sexism and no misogyny and we made the whole thing up!

Or something.

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

No-platform the pope

Feb 5th, 2015 12:29 pm | By

Hot news – the pope will address Congress.

Pope Francis will become the first leader of the Catholic church to address the United States Congress.

Francis will stop off in the Capitol on Sept. 24 during his week-long tour of the U.S., and speak to a joint session of Congress. House Speaker John Boehner announced the news in a Thursday morning tweet.

Why. Why will he do that. Why will the pope address Congress.

Why? Why was he invited?

Congress is the government. It’s a secular government. The pope is the head of a religious institution, and a very wicked reactionary woman-hating child-raping lawbreaking religious institution at that. Why invite him to talk to a major branch of government? Why break the long precedent of not inviting popes to address Congress?

This pisses me off. I don’t want our government sucking up to the Catholic church. It does that way too much as it is.

Down with the pope.

Update to add (on Harald’s excellent advice):


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

Harassment is not the same as trolling

Feb 5th, 2015 11:27 am | By

The BBC reports on the Verge’s publication of Costolo’s admission that Twitter sucks at preventing harassment. That’s good, because it puts Costolo and Twitter that much more on the spot. Yes, Twitter, you suck at preventing harassment. Yes, Mr Costolo, Twitter sucks at preventing harassment.

Twitter’s chief executive Dick Costolo has admitted that the company “sucks” when it comes to dealing with abuse and trolling on the service.

In a memo to staff, leaked to tech news website the Verge, he said that bullying behaviour on the network was driving users away.

He promised tougher action to deal with abusers.

A series of high-profile users have quit Twitter in recent months, citing online abuse.

And you know what else? Low-profile users have also quit Twitter because of abuse. So have medium-profile users and people at all points in between. It almost seems as if the only people who don’t quit Twitter are the ones who are there to abuse people.

Unfortunately the BBC article then goes on to answer the question “What can be done to stop trolling?” and two of its four answers reveal that it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

  • Users could ignore the post – the troll’s goal is to get a reaction and some say by responding you are “feeding the troll”
  • Some have suggested a new system that allows those who are being trolled to choose not to be shown accounts that are less than 30 days old, as a lot of trolling is done from a new account

Getting a reaction is not the troll’s only goal – and there’s more to all this than mere trolling. Many of the abusers on Twitter are intent on damaging and silencing the people they target – destroying their reputations, getting people to believe lies about them, degrading and shaming them. It’s systematic and sustained, and merely concealing it from the target does nothing whatsoever about that.

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

Dogma v rights

Feb 5th, 2015 10:46 am | By

Jamila has an autobiographical or miniature memoir-type post which is a must-read.

My mother was a Baptist who converted to Catholicism about the time it came to enroll me in school and to get a parish discount.  I do believe her devotion, but the timing leads me to think that her god’s got wonderful timing.  Except for a 6-8th grade reprieve, ALL of my education up until my final semester in college was at the hands of Catholic schoolteachers. And true to form, they taught me how to question and dissect everything.

I actually did consider myself to be an adherent Catholic… though it never did make sense to me.  I put forth a good face.

The face started to crack in high school when my questioning Catholic doctrine and dogma and my growing understanding of my rights as a citizen were in eternal conflict.

She stuck a pro-choice slogan on her backpack, to the helpless rage of the vice-principal.

I spent more time in detention than in nearly every other activity except for forensics.  I loved parliamentary debate just as much as I loved being in front of a room.

What an ideal combination, am I right?

Read on!

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

Light dawns

Feb 5th, 2015 9:28 am | By

Twitter CEO to employees: “We suck at dealing with abuse.”

Why yes, yes you do. What was your first clue?

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is taking personal responsibility for his platform’s chronic problems with harassment and abuse, telling employees that he is embarrassed for the company’s failures and would soon be taking stronger action to eliminate trolls. He said problems with trolls are driving away the company’s users. “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” Costolo wrote in an internal memo obtained by The Verge. “It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

And you know what else? You don’t lose core trolls. Core users leave, and trolls stay. There’s a downside to that.

Costolo’s comments came in response to a question on an internal forum about a recent story by Lindy West, a frequent target of harassment on Twitter. Among other things, West’s tormentors created a Twitter account for her then recently-deceased father and made cruel comments about her on the service; West recently shared her story on This American Life and the Guardian.

Ahhhhhh, that was your first clue. I was wondering. Thanks for the clarification.

You could have paid attention a lot sooner, and avoided this embarrassment, but…

An employee on the internal forum pointed out that Twitter is “within its rights to let its platform be used as a vehicle for sexist and racist harassment” but could choose not to. It could choose to be better.

On Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 8:35 PM, Dick Costolo wrote:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd. There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It’s nobody else’s fault but mine, and it’s embarrassing.

We’re going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.

Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.


Ok, well, now we get to hold him to it.

Twitter had made a couple of worthless passes at attempting to pretend to prepare to almost do something about it, but…

But every day, Twitter users still face threats of physical violence, sexual abuse, and stalking — all forms of harassment that disproportionately affect women online, according to data from The Pew Center.

Just last week, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesiandocumented the harassment she received on Twitter from January 20th to the 26th. You’ll have to scroll for awhile before you hit the end of tweets containing gendered insults, victim blaming, incitement to suicide, sexual violence, rape and death threats.

And lies. Don’t forget lies. There are always lies – masses of them.

We’ll see.

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

Humanist of the year

Feb 4th, 2015 5:32 pm | By

Oh, gawd. It just never stops.

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Jeffrey Epstein, a financier who served jail time for procuring an underage girl for prostitution, currently finds himself the focus of lawsuits saying that he arranged for various prominent people to have sex with underage girls. An article by Reuters notes that Epstein has also donated to many colleges and backed the work of various professors. Some researchers and charity officials said that they would not accept any more money from Epstein. But others defended him. “His interest is in interesting people and interesting ideas,” Lawrence Krauss, an Arizona State University physicist, told Reuters. Krauss directs a program on the origins of life — a program that Epstein has supported. Krauss said he would feel cowardly if he turned away from Epstein, given that he doesn’t know anything about the accusations.

Laurence Krauss, eh – the Humanist of the Year. No really: with a capital H and a capital Y. Arizona State University says so.

Arizona State University professor Lawrence Krauss has been named the 2015 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanists Association.

The Humanist of the Year award was established in 1953 to recognize a person of national or international reputation who, through the application of humanist values, has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition.

Sooooo that would be defending an admitted pimp for underage girls? That’s a humanist value?

The AHA is bursting with pride in Krauss.

Rebecca has the story, which she’s been following for years.

You may recall that back in 2008, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein got a sweetheart deal in which he served just 13 months in prison for raping girls as young as 13. Evidence has since emerged to suggest that he created a vast underage sex ring in which he may have also forced girls to have sex with his wealthy friends. Amongst the accused are Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew(allegations they deny, obviously).

You may also remember that in 2011, physicist and atheist superstar Lawrence Krauss claimed that his scientific training led him to conclude that Epstein was innocent because Krauss only ever saw Epstein around girls who appeared to be 19 or so.

Remember, this was two years after Epstein had officially accepted the charge that he had paid several underage girls money for sex.

Yes but Krauss only ever saw Epstein around girls who appeared to be 19 or so.

That’s science.

It’s great that in the past four years, during which Epstein’s victims have exposed more details of his crimes, Krauss has adjusted his statement from confidently stating that Epstein was 100% innocent of the charges against him to saying he doesn’t know anything about the accusations.

Sure, you could still criticize him for not reading the court documents, or the many articles that have been written about his buddy, but at least he’s being slightly less disgusting than he was before. Slightly?

Enough to make him a worthy Humanist of the Year?

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

Maggie really wanted to see snow

Feb 4th, 2015 4:42 pm | By

At Mother Jones, a doctor writes an open letter to the parent of the unvaccinated child who exposed the doctor’s family to measles.

I assume you love your child just like I love mine. I assume that you are trying to make good choices regarding their care. Please realize that your child does not live in a bubble. When your child gets sick, other children are exposed. My children. Why would you knowingly expose anyone to your sick, unvaccinated child after recently visiting Disneyland? That was a boneheaded move.

Many anti-vaxxers think measles is no big deal – just an ordinary “childhood disease” that causes a little rash and then gets better.

My son, Eli, is 10 months old. He is too young to received the MMR vaccine and thus has no protection. Whether by refusal or because they are too young, exposed unvaccinated children have a 90 percent chance of getting measles.

Fourth, there are children like my Maggie. These are children who can’t be vaccinated. Children who have cancer. Children who are immunocompromised. Children who are truly allergic to a vaccine or part of a vaccine (i.e., anaphylaxis to egg). These children remain at risk. They cannot be protected, except by vaccinating people around them.

Maggie was diagnosed last August with ALL—acute lymphoblastic leukemia (blood cancer). She has had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, lumbar punctures, and surgery to implant her port. She has been admitted six times since diagnosis and spent over three weeks at Phoenix Children’s Hospital (including Halloween and New Years). She had been immunized fully, but we are unable to immunize her further until after treatments end.  Her treatment will prayerfully end shortly after her 5th birthday, in January 2017.

Here is how the measles outbreak has further complicated our situation.

It was a Wednesday. Maggie had just been discharged from Phoenix Children’s Hospital after finishing her latest round of chemotherapy. That afternoon she went to the PCH East Valley Specialty Clinic for a lab draw. Everything went fine, and we were feeling good…until Sunday evening when we got the call. On Wednesday afternoon, Anna, Maggie, and Eli had been exposed to measles by another patient. Our two kids lacked the immunity to defend against measles. The only protection available was multiple shots of rubeola immune globulin (measles antibodies). There were three shots for Maggie and two shots for Eli. They screamed, but they now have some temporary protection against measles. We pray it is enough.

Go to Mother Jones to see the photo of Eli getting his shots. Bring a kleenex.

Eli and Maggie were exposed to measles on January 21. Despite the treatment noted, they could start showing signs of measles any time from now through February 11 (21 days post exposure). After a new blood test, both my wife and I were found to be immune to measles, but the children will remain in isolation until February 11.

Unvaccinating parent, thanks for screwing up our three-week “vacation” from chemotherapy. Instead of a break, we get to watch for measles symptoms and pray for no fevers (or back to the hospital we go). Thanks for making us cancel our trip to the snow this year. Maggie really wanted to see snow, but we will not risk exposing anyone else. On that note, thanks for exposing 195 children to an illness considered ‘eliminated’ from the US. Your poor choices don’t just effect your child. They affect my family and many more like us.

Please forgive my sarcasm. I am upset and just a little bit scared.

Don’t be that parent.

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

Guest post: Last Words on That Departure…

Feb 4th, 2015 3:59 pm | By

Guest post by Bruce Everett

It’s been a couple of weeks since the posting of a clarification of my reasons for leaving the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). This, in response to public speculation by HSSA member Mark Senior, was a labour that could have been more easily avoided if only the HSSA had kept its members properly informed of policies passed by committee.

Apparently it needs pointing out that I’m not obliged to use private channels with the HSSA when making corrective statements, when HSSA members publicly speculate on my reasons for leaving. As you’d expect, people will complain of improper treatment all the same…

“My current opinion of Bruce has diminished greatly. He acts more like a rightwing witch-hunter than a progressive thinker and spends an inordinate amount of his time looking for fault in others in the progressive movements.

When we were at the Global Atheist Conference and we met PZ Meyers [sic] he came away saying leadingly “DID YOU SEE HIS EYES?”…”WHAT?”, I responded. He said, “HE WAS LOOKING AT ALL THE TEENAGE GIRLS!”. I didn’t see that at all. Maybe I wasn’t hunting for it like Bruce was. He came away suggesting PZ was an old pervert, I came away thinking it was nice to have met him. Name any public figure in the atheist or Progressive side of politics and he will have a similar attack vector.

This tendency removes him from almost any social environment as people start to fear the inevitable moment when he will turn on them (something I have heard from quite a few members).

If you look at this post you’ll see that it is without basis. “weird body language”, “secrets” that were announced at public meetings and discussed and ACCEPTED after he ceased attending. Accusations of racism to allusions to cultural practices & ideas (a formal logical fallacy), “rape apologetics” for a case where both woman involved have overtly said no rape occurred (we also don’t pre-convict people), liking one self-effacing page out of 1000’s that I have hit like on (keep hunting Bruce, I’m sure you’ll find something else to assist in the assassination) and “whiffs” of problems.

This tall poppy syndrome, combined with his willingness to not voice any of this TO OUR FACES (while taking lifts to meetings, etc) and giving every appearance of being a friend is not a good look.

I will go through his public backstab in detail on the site… which will no doubt be longer than his actual post… a waste of my time in dealing with one big load of innuendo.”
(Justin Millikan, HSSA President, 2015)

Let me home in on one point, before I address a few of the others.

As raised in my initial post, former Australian Humanist of The Year (AHoY) Leslie Cannold presumes the innocence of Julian Assange while not dismissing the allegations against him. Last year’s AHoY, Geoffrey Robertson, while obviously presuming the innocence of Julian Assange, states that the accusations are serious and need to be “faced down”.

The HSSA President dismisses the accusations on the basis of claims that have been considered by pretty much everyone even vaguely familiar with the case. Perhaps he’d like to enlighten everyone concerned as to why the point he raises obligates that the accusations against Assange be dismissed. Perhaps the President can explain why failing to dismiss the allegations against Assange constitutes “pre-convicting”.

Perhaps the HSSA President could offer Geoffrey Robertson a free consultation.

And perhaps, until both the President and Secretary have reached alignment with Leslie Cannold’s views on this matter – a matter that could have had her leaving the Wikileaks party earlier than she did – they could reconsider their habit of histrionically dropping her name on account of an AHoY award she won in 2011, before the current HSSA even existed.


I started this post as I started the last – pointing out that the President and Secretary had kept members in the dark about the passing of the anti-harassment policy earlier in 2014. In his response to my initial post, The President has claimed that I was wrong, and that the policy had been announced at a public meeting that I had not attended.

The falsity of this assertion was quickly pointed out by HSSA member Scott Sharrad, who attended all of last year’s meetings. The anti-harassment policy was not announced publicly. I’ve told the truth on this matter; the President has not.

Perhaps HSSA members would like to take this opportunity to demand of committee, an explanation as to why the rules of the HSSA have also been kept from the membership. It’s not for no reason that members of other Humanist bodies are often given copies of the organisation’s constitution. I know I got mine when I defected to an interstate Humanist organisation.


Apparently my penchant for a certain “attack vector” removes me from almost any social environment because of the fear “quite a few” people have of my turning on them – so members tell Justin. Apparently, I also give “every appearance of being a friend” – so says Justin.

This kind of overt self-contradiction is what you’ll find when people make things up as they go along.

The first of these two contradictory claims is absurd just on its own merits given that I was not “removed” from the HSSA. I resigned of my own cognisance.

I don’t apologise for being friendly in the first instance, and I certainly don’t apologise for ending friendships after encountering certain kinds of interaction. Sometimes the contempt familiarity brings is well earned.

As for my not voicing any of the complaints I made to people’s faces; this is flatly untrue.  No, I didn’t raise each and every point to the President or Secretary’s face, nor did I put any of it to the floor at meetings.

However, when in person, I raised the issue of a racist joke about a Thai restaurant with the President, the response I got was a dismissive “HA HA! THAT’S NOT RACIST!” When I raised this issue again in my formal resignation from committee, I got evasion and excuses.

There’s only a limited extent to which I’m willing to be direct or formal with certain people, when such approaches fail to ablate even the tiniest fraction of the tin-foil lining bonded to their skulls.

If the President genuinely believes that I have never been direct with him about any of this, in person, then either he’s entirely gormless, incredibly forgetful, or both. Of course, there’s also the possibility that he doesn’t genuinely believe this.


My objection to the President’s classism has been taken by certain members as nit-picking, and signifying nothing. Yet the President’s own response demonstrates this dismissive attitude isn’t a feasible position. First of all, he volunteers the opinion that the page is just “self-effacing”.


(Northern Suburbs Survival Tips just being “Self-Effacing”, 2014.)

This particular meme, featured on the Northern Suburbs Survival Tips page, refers to the $7 Medicare Co-payment that the Abbott Government had planned in 2014. This policy would have hit pensioners and the unemployed, and particularly those with chronic illnesses, quite hard. According to the HSSA President though, this is just a self-effacing joke. (You can follow the link to see more examples of just how “self-effacing” the page really is).

Inviting poor folk to ‘like’ this page is one thing, but volunteering the opinion that the page is innocuous is an entirely different prospect.

Far more tellingly though, is the President’s complaint of being the victim of “tall poppy syndrome”. Aside from the vain absurdity of the President positioning himself as a “tall poppy”, this rhetorical trope is used regularly – as it is here – to vilify, and to dismiss the objections and concerns of poor people out of hand. It’s a concept that’s intrinsically classist.

Rather than rebutting my original objection, the President has gormlessly affirmed its truth.


“Assassination”, “witch-hunter”, “PZ Meyers [sic]” – veterans in dealing with the kind of rubbish the HSSA President is peddling will recognise the red flags immediately.

Let me lay a few facts on you about my time at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention (GAC).

I didn’t meet PZ Myers with the HSSA President. I didn’t meet PZ Myers at the GAC at all. I’ve never met him. I didn’t meet anyone at the GAC with the HSSA President or Secretary.

Between my covering the GAC for Butterflies and Wheels, my desire to meet people I met on Facebook, and my utter not-giving-a-shit-about-celebrity, the only direct celebrity interactions I had involved someone I’d rather forget, a mutual nod with Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins possibly staring in the direction of my table. I don’t count being in the same hall as PZ as meeting him, and at any rate, I’ve never seen him around teenagers, nor do I recall teenagers being at the GAC in the first place.

The HSSA President’s account of my time at the GAC is about as credible as any of his other tall tales.


The President says he’s going to respond at length; good; good for me; good for HSSA members who genuinely want to know what they’re dealing with; good for CAHS; not so good for the President, nor the Secretary, nor for the cultish types who’ve lined up to brown nose in the wake of all of this.

Continuing my dispute with this ultracrepidarian bumbler would be unproductive. I’ve had more than enough of this issue, and of the HSSA, and I trust in the President’s capacity to continue inadvertently verifying my account, while undermining his own.

~ Bruce

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

Better taste than the cancelers of Goldsmiths

Feb 4th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Here’s the Saturday night entertainment for QED 2015

Posted by QED at 12:00pm on February 2nd 2015

Each year we are delighted to bring an eclectic and varied evening of entertainment for every single one of our QED attendees, and QED 2015 is no exception – with an evening line-up featuring the talents of Kate Smurthwaite, Jay Foreman and Mitch Benn.

Take that, Goldsmiths feminist and comedy societies.

Also University of Manchester Student Union. Go, and sin no more.


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