Notes and Comment Blog

It vanished

Nov 2nd, 2013 11:06 am | By

Chris Clarke wrote a wonderful little bit of ethological observation as a Facebook status.

Today I watched a raven with a Cheeto being carefully stalked by two California gulls looking for a way to snatch the treat away. The raven hid the Cheeto under a leaf as the gulls watched. The gulls seemingly concluded that the Cheeto was gone and wandered off.

As people pointed out in comments, this neatly shows that gulls don’t have object permanence while ravens do have theory of mind.

(I look forward to an avalanche of Cheeto ads in my future…)

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

Beliefs can be more or less reasonable

Nov 2nd, 2013 10:45 am | By

Sigurd Jorsalfar pointed out that Stephen Law has a recent post related to this subject of more and less reasonable beliefs.

Beliefs can be more or less reasonable. There is, if you like, a scale of reasonableness on which beliefs may be located. Unfortunately, that reasonableness is a matter of degree is often overlooked. It’s sometimes assumed that if neither a belief A, nor its denial B, are conclusively “proved”, then the two beliefs must be more or less equally reasonable or unreasonable. As we will see, this assumption is false.

I suspect that happens more with discussions of theism and atheism than with any other kind of discussion, because it’s so damn convenient. We know that most theists don’t like being told that their beliefs aren’t very reasonable, so it’s nice to have reasons for not saying that. There are already reasons based on tact and the like, but they don’t apply to all situations. They don’t apply for instance to situations in which frank, open discussion is expected and taken for granted and freely engaged in. That’s probably why there’s so much obfuscation of the “better or worse reasons” aspect of the god/no god debates.

Of course, it’s contentious where some beliefs lie. Take belief in the existence of God, for example. Some consider belief God is no more reasonable than belief in fairies. Others believe it is fairly reasonable – at least as reasonable as, say, belief in extra-terrestrial intelligence. Those who claim to have had direct experience of God, or who think miracles and so on constitute fairly good evidence that God exists, may place belief fairly high up on the scale (even while acknowledging that their belief is not “proved”).

But they’ll be wrong.

Having set up the scale of reasonableness, let’s now look at a common mistake people make when assessing the reasonableness of a belief.

Here’s a philosophical example. Even if we cannot conclusively prove either that God does exist or that he doesn’t, it doesn’t follow that the belief that God exists is just as reasonable or unreasonable as the belief that he doesn’t. It might still be the case that there are very good grounds for supposing God exists, and little reason to suppose he doesn’t. In which case it is far more reasonable to believe in God than it is to deny his existence. Conversely, there might be powerful evidence God doesn’t exist, and little reason to suppose he does. In which case atheism may be far more reasonable. We should not allow the fact that neither belief can be conclusively proved to obscure the fact that one belief might be far more reasonable than the other.

[We also, by the way, shouldn't refer to "God" as "he" since that implies some knowledge about "God" that is also not reasonable to consider "knowledge."]

[I altered the last sentence in the quoted passage, because there was what I think was a stray "not" in it that (of course) reversed the meaning. I reported the (I think) typo in a comment there.]

Unfortunately, theists sometimes respond to atheist arguments by pointing out the atheist has not conclusively proved there is no God, as if that showed belief in God must be fairly reasonable after all. Actually, even if the atheist can’t conclusively prove there is no God, they might still succeed in showing that belief in God is very unreasonable indeed – perhaps even as unreasonable as belief in fairies.

And by the same token, theists and accommodating atheists sometimes respond to atheist arguments by pointing out the atheist doesn’t know there is no god. As I said in the two sheds post, that’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go all that far. The atheist has plenty of good reasons to think god doesn’t exist, and I don’t know of any good reasons to think god does exist. If there are good reasons to think god exists, please, somebody present them.


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

A comrade needs help

Nov 1st, 2013 5:58 pm | By

Some of you are in Spain, and thus probably know other people in Spain, and others of you not in Spain might still know people in Spain. Maybe you know someone who can offer Michael Dickinson a spare room or a flat empty during vacation or similar.

Here’s what Torcant Torcant told me:

Do you remember Michael Dickinson, the British collage artist that lives in Turkey? I remember you blogging about him in 2009 – I know it’s been a long time.

Back in 2009:

1. He was sued for insulting Turkish PM with a jail sentence prospect 2. The court acquitted him 3. The case went to the high court and the high court overturned the case 4. He was re-tried and found guilty but the jail sentence was suspended with the condition that he shouldn’t commit the same “crime” again
About 10 days ago, he was arrested for some anti-government protest he made in public, stayed in a hellish immigrants prison for 10 days, then he was deported. Moreover was banned to re-enter Turkey for 5 years.
He was offered a choice between Britain or Spain. He chose Spain and he was loaded in a plane to Barcelona. He is now staying in a cheap hostel in Barcelona with a backpack that holds whatever is left of all his belongings, just 200 Euros and no source of income.
He badly needs help. He can be contacted at

I thought if you write about this maybe someone can at least offer him a temporary roof.

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

A big win for the Texas Taliban

Nov 1st, 2013 5:34 pm | By

Becca Aaronson reports that at least nine abortion facilities in Texas – a quarter of the Texas total – have stopped providing abortion services.

I keep telling people this and they (some of them) don’t believe me. Yes abortion isn’t yet 100% illegal again, yet, but it is more and more difficult to get one in more and more of the country.

From Aaronson’s story in the Texas Tribune:

After the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision Thursday to lift an injunction on new abortion regulations in Texas, at least nine abortion facilities — about a quarter of the state’s abortion providers — have discontinued abortion services in light of the new law.

The court’s decision is “having an immediate impact starting today, and what that impact is depends on each woman and where she lives,” said Sarah Wheat, vice president for community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. Planned Parenthood has discontinued abortion services at four Texas locations: Fort Worth, Austin, Waco and Lubbock. Wheat said staff members began calling patients to cancel appointments Thursday evening soon after the appellate ruling came down.

“Depending on that patient and what her circumstances are, we’re either referring her to another health center in that same community or telling her which cities she’ll have to travel to,” Wheat said.

Victory for the “don’t let the bitches weasel out of it” crowd.

The appellate court’s decision overrules U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling that a provision in House Bill 2 that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital imposed an undue burden on women seeking the procedure. Additionally, Yeakel ruled that it would be unconstitutional for the state to require physicians to follow federal standards for drug-induced abortions if a physician determined it would be safer for the woman to use a common evidence-based protocol.

“The law is in effect and facilities are required to comply effective immediately,” Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services, said in an email. “The new requirements will be part of our review criteria when inspecting facilities.”

Abortion opponents and several state leaders are praising the appellate court’s ruling.

Of course they are. More women held hostage to their reproductive machinery.

“While the Supreme Court prohibits state legislatures from banning most abortions, states should have the right to protect women from dangerous abortion procedures,” Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said in a statement. He said the provisions would increase patient safety and lauded the appellate court for allowing them to take effect.

The appellate court’s decision “affirms our right to protect both the unborn and the health of the women of Texas,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. “We will continue doing everything we can to protect a culture of life in our state.”

By which he means, everything we can to prevent women from having control over their own lives.

“It is a sad and dark day for women in Texas,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement. She said Whole Woman’s Health is stopping abortion services at three of its five locations — in Fort Worth, San Antonio and McAllen — because those locations do not have a physician with hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the facility. Whole Woman’s Health facilities in Beaumont and Austin will continue to provide abortion services.

Well that’s ok, it’s not as if there are large distances to travel in Texas.

Oh wait.

The only other abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley, Reproductive Services in Harlingen, is also discontinuing abortion services, because its physician does not have hospital admitting privileges. That means the closest abortion facility to the Rio Grande Valley is now in Corpus Christi, which is more than 100 miles away from McAllen and Harlingen.

A separate Reproductive Services clinic in El Paso has also stopped providing abortion services. While there is an abortion facility in nearby New Mexico, the closest Texas abortion facilities to El Paso are in San Antonio and Dallas, which are more than 500 miles away. With abortion facilities in Midland and San Angelo recently shuttering, and with the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lubbock discontinuing abortion services, there are vast stretches of West Texas and the Panhandle without a nearby abortion provider.


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

Second order knowing

Nov 1st, 2013 5:08 pm | By

Another thing about the two sheds – I’ve mentioned this before, I think, so apologies if you’re bored with it – is that even if we can’t know there is no god, we can know other relevant things, such as, that no one has managed to convince us (“us” being atheists) that god exists.

You could say that you don’t really know that because maybe way down deep somewhere you are a little bit convinced. But I don’t think so: being convinced is entangled with being aware of being convinced – being aware of the conviction is part of the conviction. It seems nonsensical to claim you can be convinced of something without being aware of it.

I know that no one has convinced me that god exists. Maybe that knowing is the “good enough” kind of knowing we use for things like knowing we prefer raspberries to cotton candy, or maybe it’s stronger than that, but at any rate “agnostic” doesn’t seem like the right word for it. I wouldn’t just spread my hands and shrug my shoulders and look blank if someone asked me if I’d been successfully convinced that there is a god. I would say no, definitely not; I find the whole idea conspicuously implausible.

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

Two sheds

Nov 1st, 2013 12:05 pm | By

Cara Santa Maria gave a talk at the CFI Summit which I enjoyed a lot. She talked about having tattoos and piercings and always making sure to have the arm tattoo visible when she does public stuff, because she wants young people (and people in general) to realize that scientists can look like her and like them.

She also talked about becoming an atheist at 14, having been raised Mormon, and how difficult that was. Her parents were divorced; her father (but not her mother) was very strictly Mormon; her father told her it was his duty to force her to continue going to church until she was 18. So a gulf opened up between them that lasted for years. It’s powerful, moving stuff.

But I disagreed with some of what she said about religion and atheism.

One item was that she calls herself an agnostic atheist, because after all she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know if there’s a god or not. I think she argued that nobody knows, that we should all call ourselves agnostic atheists or theists, that we can’t know. I don’t remember exactly, but that was the point of what she was saying – that it’s unknowable in both directions.

Yes but. It’s true as far as it goes but it’s not all there is to say. Knowing isn’t the only issue. If you say more of what there is to say, the picture becomes less evenly split between the two – knowing there’s a god, knowing there’s not a god, versus not knowing there’s a god, not knowing there’s not a god. There’s less symmetry if you ask about mental states short of knowing.

Atheism has better reasons to decline to believe there is a god than theism has to believe there is a god.

The two are not even close to symmetrical in that way. What good reasons are there to believe there is a god? Any?

I mean epistemically good reasons. I can of course think of emotionally or psychologically or socially good reasons, but reasons of that kind can be very much in tension with epistemically good reasons.

Another item was naturalism and supernaturalism. She made the familiar claim – science can investigate nature, it has the tools to do that, but science can’t investigate the supernatural, it doesn’t have the tools to do that.

But then she didn’t go on to ask the obvious, glaring, you-have-to-ask-it question: what does have the tools to investigate the supernatural? What tools would those be? Who has them? Where are they?

Framing the familiar claim in the familiar way implies that in fact there are such tools, it’s just that science doesn’t have them, in the sense that they don’t belong to science. I want to know what those tools are.

Suppose you have a tool shed labeled Naturalism. It holds a lot of things – empiricism, testing, falsification, replication, peer review, statistics, instruments, logic, mathematics. Then you have a tool shed labeled Supernaturalism. What’s in that shed? Name me one thing.


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

At the Palace

Nov 1st, 2013 11:10 am | By

Tickets for QED 2014 are now on sale. If being in Manchester the weekend of the 12-13 April next year is at all feasible for you and you have £99 I strongly recommend going.

The people who run it are terrific and they do a brilliant job, and there are terrific people attending as well. (I met Rhys Morgan there, also his father Dr Paul of that ilk, also Alex Gabriel, also Maureen Brian, also Author of Jesus and Mo, to name only a few.)

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

Guest post by Salty Current: Not written in the stars

Nov 1st, 2013 10:53 am | By

Originally the second part of a comment by Salty Current on Shock-horror: research fails to find Big Danger in GMO crops

[Quoting "The Beautiful Void" @ 14]

Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are. Farms themselves are for-profit companies, and often ones with dismal environmental records. Medicines are made by for-profit companies too; so are clothes, so are cars, so are computers. We live in a world where most of the things we encounter every day were made by for-profit companies. Where I live, in London, my very drinking water is supplied by a for-profit.

If your position is that all for-profit is inherently deplorable, then while I might disagree, I can’t fault your consistency. However, to say that it’s fine for someone to make a profit on the electricity you use but not on the food you eat? That’s a meaningless distinction and a dishonest argument.

This is mistaken in at least two important aspects. First, people can certainly believe with consistency that some products and services are OK to leave in the hands of private for-profit companies while seeing others as public functions. For example, many people think education (at least elementary and secondary) and fire departments are public goods, but don’t object to cars being made by private corporations. There are many aspects of an “industry” that are relevant to whether or to what extent people accept private control – the use of natural “resources,” the importance to well-being and health, the threat of monopolizing political power due to control of a resource or function, the threat of political propaganda, and so on. Surely you can recognize that there’s a relevant difference between health care and, say, pens?

I’m an anarchist, so I reject private, for-profit control and support self-governance in economic life in the same way as – and inextricably linked to – the way I do in political life. I also see the various areas as being so interconnected that the privatization of one affects many others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the greatest problems and dangers as being related to goods that most directly affect health and well-being, environmental destruction, and political power. These include health care, food and agriculture, water and other natural “resources,” the media and communications, and education.

That these vital goods and functions are increasingly in the hands of corporations is not written in the stars. It’s a recent development, a perverse and destructive situation created through laws and often through violent dispossession. It can change, and will have to. I don’t understand what your argument is when you say “Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are,” or whether that’s even supposed to be an argument. You seem to be implying that whatever arrangements exist are natural and inevitable and beyond question, or that there are no alternatives. But that’s not so.

You mentioned medicine, which is the area about which I have the most knowledge. Again, the corporate control of medicine is a very recent development. Here’s some of what the corporate drugmakers do:

• Corrupt the research process in any number of ways • Control the dissemination of scientific research by suppressing or selectively releasing results • Corrupt journal publishing • Corrupt doctors, medical education, and the field of medical ethics, turning health professionals into salespeople and corporate propagandists • Lie about scientific results (including to government agencies), including about harms to human health and effects on children • Encourage the (often off-label) use of drugs on vulnerable populations • Corrupt government agencies to do their bidding • Impose secrecy and fight efforts to make research/data publicly available • Shape IP and other laws (national laws and international treaties) in their favor • Use these laws, and deceit, in the service of biopiracy • Patent living entities and body parts • Attempt to dilute or eliminate protections for research subjects • Use vulnerable populations of humans (and nonhuman animals) harmfully in research and fight legal compensation efforts • Control the work of university researchers and threaten them when they rebel • Corrupt the mission of universities by twisting it to corporate ends • Co-opt publicly-funded research for their own profit • Corrupt media coverage of health and medicine • Invent diseases and disorders that don’t exist and spend billions in campaigns to convince people that they do • Shape the priorities of research to focus not on the greatest needs but on the most profitable areas • Shape the priorities of health care away from public health measures and towards drug use • Fight to criminalize investigative journalism and the exposure of their practices, and seek to silence and criminalize public protest • Spend billions to extend their patents as long as possible (including through “me-too” and “me-again” drugs) and make access difficult for drugs on which they hold a patent

That’s just a small sample. Some books that provide information: Harriet Washington’s Deadly Monopolies, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Bad Pharma, Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic, Irving Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs, Joanna Moncrieff’s The Bitterest Pills, various works by Marcia Angell and Alison Bass, Sonia Shah’s The Body Hunters, Jennifer Washburn’s University, Inc., and many others.

There are also books and films about the corporatization of agriculture (Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved, for example) and water (Blue Gold, for example) and the general film The Corporation. Both Blue Gold and The Corporation can be watched for free on YouTube.

As I said, the corporatization of these areas isn’t an inevitable fact of life. It’s come about recently through the efforts of powerful people and organizations, at a tremendous cost. Part of that cost has been in lost opportunities. There are real alternatives, and the existing system is not only seen as bizarre and unacceptable to many people today but would be unimaginable to the vast majority of humans who’ve lived. Medicine and public health can and should be understood as public goods, subject to democratic control and built around real needs rather than sales, profits, shareholder values, and corporate power.

* I’m not going to talk about eating animals here, and I don’t recall what the report says about it, though it needs to stop not only out of moral consideration for the animals (reason enough) but also because a sustainable food system virtually requires it.

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

Did you tell the stabber “no?”

Oct 31st, 2013 5:34 pm | By

Carrie Poppy has a public post on Facebook that elicited a lot of very funny and apposite comments. I’ll share some of the best.

First the post (which started life as a tweet) (should I do that thing where your tweets go to Facebook?) (no, probably not, because I wouldn’t do it right):

Me: I don’t feel safe in that alley, because people got stabbed there. Them: HAVE YOU COMPARED IT TO EVERY OTHER ALLEY? You’re overreacting.

Then some of the best comments. Without authors, in case they prefer it that way. Except Carrie.

If there’s one thing the skeptical community taught me, it’s that one person’s lack of an experience can be accurately extrapolated out to all others.

Carrie Poppy: Right, just like how, if one person took homeopathy and had a good experience, that means it works. Right? I read that on my dick.

Particularly people of completely different genders, age groups, ethnic backgrounds, histories, level of mainstream attractiveness, prominence, and personal friendships with prominent people. Every experience is universal.

Listen, guys, I have never ONCE been mugged in an alley. I think that really says something about the people who claim they were.

I mean, even if you did get stabbed, I mean, have you tried all the stabbings? Because really, there are mild stabbings that I don’t even understand why people complain about compared to some of the real brutal stuff.

Carrie Poppy: Also, a great point. I am learning a lot.

Did you tell the stabber “no?”

Carrie: I know it’s really unfair of me not to publicly tell the story of my brutal stabbing, by the way. Reliving it does sound fun.

The best part of deciding to tell others about your stabbing is that, even if there were 6 witnesses to it including the owner of the alley, people will still call you a liar and whore and say you deserve far worse.

Was it a “legitimate” stabbing?

Look, there’s legal ramifications to getting yourself stabbed in alleys — or even TALKING about the possibility of being stabbed. Words have consequences. LEGAL consequences. WON’T YOU CONSIDER THE STABBER’S FEELINGS IN ALL OF THIS.

And you could please relive your sabbing over and over again *in detail* for every single person who isn’t convinced of stabbings in alleys. I’d say, five or six hundred times should do the trick. We won’t ask the stabber, of course. He’s been through enough already.

Here’s the thing. I don’t understand why you don’t just tell these stabbers to stop stabbing! You have to stand up for yourself!

Look, are you sure you didn’t ask to be stabbed and then later regret the decision?

And no offense or anything, but… do you really think YOU’RE the type someone would want to stab? I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or anything, but you just don’t strike me as a typical stabbing victim…

Ok that’s all I have patience for, obviously you need to go there and read the whole thread.

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

Only one person refused to sign

Oct 31st, 2013 4:18 pm | By

Never trust people approaching you in the street with a petition! They could be testing you.

A Londoner who suffered female genital mutilation has warned that political correctness is hampering the fight to stamp it out after asking people to sign a fake petition in its favour.

Leyla Hussein, 32, said many were scared to speak out against FGM because they were worried about criticising another culture.

She decided to conduct an experiment to see “how crazy political correctness has become” but was left in tears by the end.

Approaching shoppers with the petition supporting FGM, she told them she wanted to protect her  “culture, traditions and rights”.

In only 30 minutes 19 people signed it with some saying they believed FGM was wrong but because it was part of Ms Hussein’s culture they would add their names. Only one person refused to sign.

Meh. I don’t know if that’s political correctness so much or just not wanting to disappoint this very pleasant young woman (along with lack of information, not having thought about it much, and the like).

But I have every sympathy with her basic point.

Speaking after the experiment in Northampton, Ms Hussein broke down and said she was scared by people’s reactions.

“I kept using the word ‘it’s just mutilation’. They were like ‘yes, you are right’. How can anyone think that’s okay?”

She added: “FGM is not culture, it is violence. Stop using the culture word. This is happening to children. We are human beings, we can’t watch children being cut, I don’t care what culture you belong to.”

Ms Hussein, who is co-founder of the anti-FGM charity Daughters of Eve, is calling on the Home Office to take responsibility for drawing up an action plan to eliminate FGM in this country.

“Culture” and “community”: two words that are used to protect a multitude of horrible practices.

Although the practice has been outlawed in Britain since 1985, it is still carried out. Victims are typically from families who moved to the UK from countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Senegal and Egypt, where it is widespread. Ms Hussein, who was cut when she was seven in Somalia, said: “Four women held me down and cut my clitoris. I felt every single cut. I was screaming so much I just blacked out.”

The documentary, to be broadcast next week, comes after public health minister Jane Ellison warned that vulnerable girls were being failed because people do not want to be seen as “culturally insensitive”.

In an interview with the Evening Standard she said: “Because of that caution, bizarrely we’ve ended up protecting these vulnerable girls the least.” Ms Ellison condemned FGM as child abuse and said she was determined to end decades of failure to protect women.

The Cruel Cut will be shown on Channel 4 on Wednesday,  November 6 at 10.45pm.

6. Do what you can to make the world better.

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

Comparing the tens

Oct 31st, 2013 11:31 am | By

Let’s do a comparative study, or rather, let’s compare a couple of things. The American Humanist Association has a ten commandments, and I made up a ten commandments a few weeks ago, so it might be interesting to see if they have much in common. I naturally assume they have a good deal in common – a lot more in common with each other than either has with the Old Testament version.

The Humanist version:

1) Thou shalt strive to promote the greater good of humanity before all selfish desires.
2) Thou shalt be curious, for asking questions is the only way to find answers.

3) Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.

4) Thou shall treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, identity, orientation, physical ability, or status.

5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

6) Thou shalt not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.

7) If thou dost govern, thou shalt govern with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.

8) Thou shalt act for the betterment of your fellow humans, and be, whenever possible, altruistic in your deeds.

9) Thou shalt be good to the Earth and its bounties, for without it, humankind is lost.

10) Thou shalt impart thy knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation, so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wiser and more humane.

My version:

  1. Don’t be cruel.
  2. Love justice.
  3. Embrace equality.
  4. Practice compassion.
  5. Be generous.
  6. Do what you can to make the world better.
  7. Aim for truth.
  8. Think carefully.
  9. Share what you learn with others.
  10. Amuse.

Their 1 is my 5 and 6.

Their 2 I don’t have, and that’s an oversight – I do think curiosity is hugely important and worth inculcating and preaching.

Their 3 is my 1 and 4.

Their 4 is my 3.

Their 5 is my 7 and 8, although it’s also not. There’s an important difference, which I’ll elaborate below.

Their 6 I don’t exactly have, although you could say it’s implied by some of the others – 2 and 6, basically.

The same goes for their 7.

Their 8 is my 6.

Their 9 is included in my 6.

Their 10 is my 9, almost exactly.

They don’t have my 10. I think that’s an oversight. It may seem frivolous or trivial at first blush but I don’t think it is; that’s why I included it.

Now about their 5. It’s wrong.

5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

No, they aren’t. Not always, and not exclusively. 5 leaves out emotion, and that’s dead wrong. (And surprising, from humanists of all people!) Leaving out emotion doesn’t get you cleaner, more “rational” decisions, it gets you no decisions at all. People with brain damage in the emotions can’t make decisions because they don’t care either way.

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

The pastor meant to cast out demons, but the girl died

Oct 31st, 2013 10:24 am | By

Pentecostal churches in Africa do a lot of harm. The president of Cameroon is attempting to do something about that.

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has ordered the closure of nearly 100 Christian churches in key cities, citing criminal practices organized by Pentecostal pastors that threaten the security of the West African nation.

But Pentecostal pastors said the move is evidence of Biya’s insecurity about the churches’ criticism of the government.

Biya is using the military to permanently shut down all Pentecostal church denominations in the nation’s capital, Yaounde, and the North West Regional capital, Bamenda, which have the largest Christian populations in Cameroon.

To an American, steeped in the culture of freedom of [including from] religion, that seems like a very risky move, and even ethically dubious. But then again it’s Pentecostal churches that stir up witch panics against children and other vulnerable people…

More than 50 churches have now been closed, with the government targeting nearly 100 in eight other regions.

“We will get rid of all the so-called Christian Pentecostal pastors who misuse the name of Jesus Christ to fake miracles and kill citizens in their churches. They have outstretched their liberty,” Mbu Anthony Lang, a government official in Bamenda, told CNN Wednesday.

Nearly 500 Pentecostal churches operate in Cameroon, but fewer than 50 are legal, he added.

On Sunday, a 9-year-old Christian girl collapsed and died during a prayer session in Winners’ Chapel, a Pentecostal church in Bamenda. The girl’s mother, Mih Theresa, told CNN Wednesday that the pastor intended to cast out the numerous demons that were in control of her daughter’s life.

“I want the government to stop these pastors who use mysterious powers to pull Christians and kill then for more powers. All my children have ran away from the Catholic Church in search for miracles, signs and wonders,” she told CNN while holding back tears.

Argh, what to do. “Religious freedom” shields horrors like that, so what is the best thing to do? I frankly don’t know.


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

Shock-horror: research fails to find Big Danger in GMO crops

Oct 30th, 2013 5:58 pm | By

GMO-phobes please note:

Massive Review Reveals Consensus on GMO Safety

“The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”

That’s the conclusion from a team of Italian scientists, who just completed a thorough systematic review of the scientific research conducted on genetically modified (GM) crops in the past decade. Their work is published in the journal Critical Review of Biotechnology.

But but but the genes of GM crops will spread to wild plants, other crops, and microorganisms.

The review affirmed that this can indeed occur.

“The formation of hybrids between GE crops and wild relatives is possible and documented,” Nicolia said.

There is a caveat, however. According to Nicolia, this sort of thing happens naturally all the time with normal crops. Local plant genotypes get replaced. Wild plant populations mutate and become resistant to herbicides. Soil bacteria can niftily uptake genes. But this isn’t necessarily harmful. It’s just evolution.

Well yes but evolution is god’s nature’s way of doing it and GMO is ARTIFICIAL.

Opponents of GM crops are in the news. In Washington, they’re pushing to label all GM products. Nationwide, they’re viewing GMO OMG, a new documentary damning genetic modification. On the Internet, they’re cheering a just-released report announcing that non-GMO food sales will total $178 billion this year, and are predicted to rise substantially by 2017.

Sadly, much of their discourse is devoid of scientific evidence, leaving a vacuum that gets filled with emotionally persuasive anecdotes, accusations of corporate corruption, and often erroneous information. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be room for the evidence contained in this exhaustive review.

You have to start somewhere.

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

Brief one-time return of documenting the harassment

Oct 30th, 2013 4:32 pm | By

Was there a rumor that the slime pit had gotten not so bad? Or did I imagine it? Anyway it’s not not so bad, that I can see. I normally don’t look at it, but it showed up in the stats again (as it does so often) and I was vaguely curious to see if they were raging at me for posting about the CFI Summit because whrblxqfxx. No, they’re raging at me for being so (physically, aesthetically, sexually) disgusting.


Postby katamari Damassi » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:44 pm  •  [Post 18619]

Cunning Punt wrote:Suddenly I want to fuck Service Dog.

Only because society has indoctrinated you that SD is sexy and that Ophie(par exemple) is not. Damn society!


by welch » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:51 pm  •  [Post 18620]

katamari Damassi wrote:

Cunning Punt wrote:Suddenly I want to fuck Service Dog.

Only because society has indoctrinated you that SD is sexy and that Ophie(par exemple) is not. Damn society!

There is no method, neither in reality, nor the most fantastic imaginings of fiction, by which Ophie could become someone I’d be willing to stick it in, or frankly, even wish to think of in that manner. Given the choice between that and death by suffocation in a pit of spiders, I’d willingly commit my soul to countless numbers of the most foul creature to ever be part of Arachnida.
She dreams of a world in which her ugliness is only skin-deep.

Two and a half years later and John Welch (@bynkii on Twitter) is still at it. It’s bizarre. Why is my disgustingness relevant, and what’s it relevant to? It’s not as if I go around acting or talking as if I think I’m gorgeous and sexy. Why make a big point of how physically repellent I am? What’s it for? Just because on the internets you can get away with it? Who knows. I never understand it. I never will.

I once, as a child, shared with my mother my low opinion of an elderly guy’s necktie at a country auction. She hissed at me to be quiet – “he heard you.” I darted a look at his face and (the way I remember it at least) he did look mortified. I can’t begin to describe how horrible I felt – how I wished I could undo it, how I wished I hadn’t made him feel like that. I’ll never understand people who think it’s fun.

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

Oh no not a Facebook group calling for atheism

Oct 30th, 2013 4:00 pm | By

It’s exhilarating to know that Egypt is in such wonderful shape that its national security officials can squander their valuable time arresting people for posting atheism on Facebook.

A 20-year-old Egyptian student is reportedly under investigation for starting a Facebook group calling for atheism.

The unnamed student who studies commerce at the Suez Canal University in Ismailia, was arrested after the university’s administration filed a complaint over his alleged activities, Egypt’s largest news organisation Al-Ahram online writes.

The newspaper adds the accused student is now being investigated by national security officials.

There’s actually a law against that though?

Don’t be silly; of course there is.

While the story has yet to be verified by other sources, article 98 of Egypt’s penal code says anyone found guilty of offending religion in any form can face up to six years in prison.

In December last year, a Cairo court convicted Coptic Christian blogger Alber Saber of blasphemy and contempt of religion, sentencing him to three years in prison.

Offending religion in any form – that could mean literally anything.

I dislike theocracy.

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

He was just musing aloud

Oct 30th, 2013 11:34 am | By

Turkey used to be more secular than it is now. It’s going in the wrong direction. It’s going backward. Of course, theocrats think it’s going in the right direction, and going forward, or else that going backward is a good thing.

Torcant sent me this example from Hürriyet, in which a woman is fired because cleavage.

A television presenter has been dismissed over a low-cut top she wore on a television program, following criticism from ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik.

Çelik criticized the presenter’s costume during a TV program, without giving a name, saying he found the dress “extreme” because of its open cleavage.

“We don’t intervene against anyone, but this is too much. It is unacceptable,” he said.

We don’t intervene against anyone, except when we do. We, the political party in power, decide what is acceptable in the way of women’s shirts. When we turn our thumbs down the woman is kicked out of her job.

Following Çelik’s remarks, it was revealed that the host in question was Gözde Kansu, who was taking part on the show “Veliaht” on the ATV station, and rumors spread that she had been fired.

The show’s producer, Caner Erdem, previously said nothing had been resolved, adding that Kansu might not take part in the program next week “due to her busy schedule.”

However, after discussions between the channel and the producer, Kansu’s dismissal was confirmed on Oct. 8.

The company that produces the show released a statement on Oct. 9, denying that Kansu was fired due to her low-cut dress.

The company said it no longer wanted to work with Kansu after the first  episode because her way of presentation and style was not in line with  the show’s aims, the statement said.

And those aims were…to jump when the party in power said jump.

Gözde Kansu is more direct about the matter.

Gözde Kansu, the television presenter who was fired from a TV show after a government official criticized her low-cut dress, said her firing was political, as nobody at her station was “willing to stand against the political will.”

“Sacrificing me was the easiest thing they could have done and they did. A woman again,” Kansu said in an interview with daily Hürriyet, speaking for the first time in public after reports of her dismissal from private broadcaster ATV surfaced.

She objected to the show producer’s claim that said they had parted ways because “her way of presentation and style was not in line with the show’s aims.”

“Look, if they didn’t like my performance they would tell me, right? They are investing a lot of money in this business. But they didn’t tell me anything. When [Hüseyin] Çelik talked, things changed,” Kansu said, insisting that her presenting had previously been praised and encouraged by the producers. “This is only the excuse. The ratings were not bad. But nobody wanted to act contrary to political will that slammed my décolleté. This is obvious,” she said.

Well, you know. Tits are haram.

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

Life’s little glitches

Oct 30th, 2013 10:58 am | By

You know that thing where you’re in a place with a lot of people you don’t see very often, and you cross paths with someone who says, warmly, “Hi, [your name here]!” and you know who it is but can’t pull the name up quite fast enough to say it before you’ve already said the “Hi” part and it’s too late? And you feel terrible? But then later you figure out a way to seek the person out so that you can say the name right off the bat? And then you feel very relieved?


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

If corporations are persons

Oct 30th, 2013 10:29 am | By

I sat next to Eddie Tabash at the speakers’ dinner Saturday, so I’ve been reminded (aka inspired) to focus more on the church/state issues looming at the Supreme Court, so you can expect me to be sharing more reportage on the subject.

The LA Times has a useful article by its business columnist on the “do corporations have a ‘religious conscience’?” question.

Now that the Supreme Court has endowed corporations with the right to have their voices heard via unrestrained spending on political campaigns (in the Citizens United decision of 2010), there aren’t many frontiers left to test the idea that corporations are “persons.”

But one test is heading our way with the speed of a freight train. This is the claim that corporations can have a religious conscience — more to the point, that they can impose their own religious beliefs on their employees. 

The issue is raised by three corporations’ challenges to Obamacare, specifically its requirement that employer health plans cover a wide range of contraceptives. The companies’ owners maintain that the rule infringes on their enterprises’ free expression of religion. Lower courts have split on whether a federal law forbidding the government to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” applies to corporations. If it does, the road is wide open for employers to allow their religious beliefs to govern how they do business. Two appellate courts have ruled that for-profit corporations don’t have religious rights and a third says they might; what this split means is that the issue is on a certain path to the Supreme Court.

The implications of granting corporations the right to free expression of religion are horrific. The precedent, writes David H. Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, would allow companies to fire workers “for engaging in all manner of activities that may not conform to the religious code of the company’s owners, including using contraceptives or terminating a pregnancy, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, or marrying a person of the same sex.”

Oh hell, don’t stop there. Including working at all if you’re a woman, including not being submissive if you’re a woman, including not being submissive if you’re not of the Chosen race or the halal religion, including not wearing a hijab if you’re a woman, including sending your girl children to school, including failing to whip your children when they are naughty – and on and on. Let’s not sugar the pill, here. Contraceptives and abortion, pregnancy outside marriage and same-sex marriage are the items that seem likelier to go down right away, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Or, to put it another way, the availability heuristic.) Mandatory prayer, mandatory fasting, mandatory going without water as well as food from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, even at a construction company in Arizona where the job site tends to get hot and dry…It would be theocracy in action, and it would be a fucking nightmare.

The broader issue is the distinction between the secular and religious enshrined in the Constitution and our political culture. The corporate charters issued by government bestow numerous privileges that profit business owners, such as limited liability and access to special provisions of bankruptcy law and the tax code. In return, businesses have to comply with anti-discrimination laws and other public mandates. That’s the deal.

These business owners don’t want to give up these privileges. But they do want to shed the obligations of functioning in a secular world. They want to have things both ways — they want to keep their secular rights, without having to comply with their secular obligations.

And they want that so that they can impose their hateful tiny-minded oppressive shit on all of us. They want universal theocracy.

This is another attempt to blur a line that has already become far too blurry. The Obama administration arguably gave too much away when it offered religious groups a way around meeting the contraception mandates of the Affordable Care Act for their secular arms, such as hospitals that serve secular communities and hire staff without regard to religious affiliation. We’re seeing a steady encroachment of religious dogma into medical treatment, as when St. Joseph Health System imposed an abortion ban at Newport Beach’s Hoag Memorial Hospital, a Presbyterian institution it took over this year.

The Obama admin absolutely did give way too much away when it did that, and of course the Catholic bishops demanded (and alas got) way too much. The Catholic bishops are not the bosses of us, but in many ways they’re getting to impose their rules on us. It’s an outrage.

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

A mission to the preachers

Oct 29th, 2013 5:59 pm | By

Janet Heimlich wants to get atheists talking to clerics in order to do a better job of fixing the (enormous and terrible) problem of religious child abuse. She has a post on the subject on her blog.

I’ve been speaking on the subject of religious child maltreatment for some time, and a glance at my speaking schedule shows what groups have been most eager to have me come talk about this topic. While some religious organizations have extended invitations, I have been welcomed by atheist groups more than any other by far. I can think of all kinds of reasons why this would be, but the fact remains, atheists are willing to learn about religious child maltreatment more than any other group. And that’s commendable. I live with these cases of psychological and physical torture and death every day, and it’s not for the faint of heart. So, thank you, atheists, for taking the time and paying the money and whatever else you do to learn about this god-awful and hellish subject.

But, she adds, it’s preaching to the choir. Atheists have to preach to the preachers.

What I mean is, atheists should put aside their theological differences, focus on common goals, and sit down with faith leaders and teach them about religious child maltreatment. Why faith leaders? Because they can have a direct impact on perpetrators, the ones who need to learn about healthy alternatives to raising kids. After all, isn’t this how these problems get started in the first place, with pastors, rabbis, imams and cult leaders telling parents how to treat their children?

I propose we use that powerful force for good, so, atheists, I ask you to have a heart-to-heart with members of the clergy. You, atheists, who rarely need it to be explained that religious child maltreatment is a serious problem; who know we can’t accomplish much with just a lot of hand-wringing; and who want to see change happen to stop child abuse and neglect enabled by ideology and ignorance. I ask you to encourage faith leaders to teach parents about compassionate childrearing and to use healthy disciplinary techniques in ways that would bring a smile to the face of any child development expert.

I completely see her point, but I think it’s difficult. I wouldn’t volunteer to try to do it, because I don’t think I would do it well. I would get too argumentative. I think people who do terrible cruel things because they think there’s a god who wants them to are in need of a lot more than just advice to be kind instead of terrible. I wouldn’t be able to agree with their belief that there’s a god who wants them to do things and disagree only on the particulars of what the god wants them to do. I think the whole idea is horrendously dangerous, so I’d be bad at trying to bargain with it.

But as I said, I see her point. I hope she and others can get through to the preachers.

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

But it’s rampant

Oct 29th, 2013 4:37 pm | By

More on the teenage Kenyan girl who was gangraped and then thrown into a toilet pit, from the BBC.

They threw her unconscious body into a latrine. Her spine was broken, and the girl – referred to simply as Liz to protect her identity – is now in a wheelchair.

Earlier this year, a similarly horrific gang rape in India sparked a worldwide frenzy in social media and brought international condemnation.

Liz’s case was first reported by Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper on 7 October. “This is one of many such cases that happen in rural areas and the slums,” says Njeri Rugene, the journalist who broke the story. “People keep quiet about it – but it’s rampant.”

The men who allegedly attacked Liz – three of whom she says she knows – were
told to cut grass, then set free. The lack of punishment spurred a handful of
journalists and activists to use social media to raise awareness of the case.
The hashtags created did not get widespread traction, with #Justice4Liz getting
just a couple of hundred tweets. But in recent days, an online
set up by activist Nebila Abdulmelik started to gain international

How does that even happen? They broke her back – and still the cops just made them mow the lawn and that was the end of it?

I must not despair. But some of these stories…

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