Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


Surprised, surprised

Dec 13th, 2011 11:36 am | By

I’m not the only one who is bemused at Julian’s effortful discovery and announcement of what everyone already knew. Eric is too. So is Jerry Coyne.

Eric points out in his title that he could have told Julian that – “that” being, in Julian’s words,

They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

The obvious, in other words: most church-going Christians believe the tenets of Christianity; they’re not all closeted atheists who go for the music and the pretty windows.

Eric observes

…this is how, in my experience, most Christians understand faith. My own attempts to move away from this into more liberal, indeed, more radical revisions of faith in order to make sense of faith in the modern world, while to some degree successful, and actually more attractive to some people’s  more radical understandings of faith, the place of the Bible in determining faith, and the obvious marginalisation of some “believers” because of their inability to accept orthodox ways of understanding both Bible and creed, was of central importance to the core membership of the parish in which I worked. One of these put it quite succinctly when she said that I would not be there forever, and she was prepared to tolerate my radical take on faith, but she knew what she believed, and was quite confident that the next Rector would be more on her side than on mine.

Ray Moscow commented at WEIT -

Good for him for finally talking to some actual religious people.

We former Christians, who know hundreds or thousands of believers and who have sat through hundreds of sermons and Bible classes could have saved him a lot of time, though.  People are taught this crap, and they believe it.

Newman makes the same useful point -

Having been part of the evangelical community in Alabama for 24 years, “I could have told him that,” too. Four years later, I’m still trying to get used to people’s skepticism when I try to tell them that, yes, people actually DO believe all this stuff- and they honestly do believe it absolutely 100% wholeheartedly. I know, because I did too. Perhaps that concept can only be fully grasped by those like me who were completely “one of them” for a very long time.

The funny thing is, though, Julian was once “one of them” too. Russell Blackford reminds us -

I can’t resist plugging the fact that Julian Baggini tells his own story of how he came to be a non-believer in his essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief.

I’m not sure how surprised he really is by what he’s finding out, since he has a sort of evangelical religious background himself. He started out being raised as a Catholic and got involved in evangelical Methodism as a teenager.

Given that, his surprise is really rather odd. Maybe it was all just a bit of performance art, or staging, or framing – maybe he was playing a character, like Conrad’s Marlowe.

 

 

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



Hey kids – want to get dead?

Dec 12th, 2011 4:49 pm | By

Ohhhhhhhhhh dear god. Meet Stephanie Messenger, author of a children’s book about the wonders of having measles.

As Reasonable Hank points out, measles make you sick.

Measles can be deadly. Recent outbreaks in Australia, the US, and New Zealand are all traced back to unvaccinated individuals. The overwhelming majority of those infected are unvaccinated or undervaccinated individuals. In Europe there have been several deaths this year alone.

Yet there’s an imbecile who wrote a book teaching children that vaccinations are ineffective and to embrace childhood disease. Fuuuuuck.

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



He has all the right enemies

Dec 12th, 2011 4:06 pm | By

The FT (I’ll refrain from belaboring the irony, apart from saying I’m refraining) does a profile of Peter Tatchell.

Tatchell’s campaigns for gay rights, racial equality, civil liberties and democracy have attracted death threats, bullets and bombs from an unsavoury mixture of homophobes, neo-Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists.

“The bricks now bounce off the windows,” Tatchell jokes, “although I can’t walk outside and feel totally relaxed.” Nonetheless, the man who made front pages around the world in 1999 by attempting a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe  remains an indomitable campaigner. He has just returned from addressing the  Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, which is the kind of “tent city” protest that he proposed three decades ago.

He lives in a Council flat in Southwark. The building has a blue plaque.

The blue plaque salutes Peter Tatchell

As it should.

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



Nominate your nominations

Dec 12th, 2011 3:06 pm | By

The Skeptic is giving awards for best skeptical things in several categories. This is its debut in the awards business, so give it a big hand!

Please join in, by voting for:

  • The best podcast
  • The best blog
  • The best event, campaign or outreach event of the year. This could be an organisation or website that has done a particular task over a period of time, or it could be one event which has helped to raise public awareness of a skeptical issue
  • The best science video clip on the web
  • The best sceptical video clip on the web

We’ll sort the five most popular of your podcast, blog and event/campaign/outreach nominations and present them to our panel of judges who will make the final selection. We’ll also find the most popular of your video clip nominations in both video categories and those categories’ winners will be decided by you.

So go ahead, nominate some things.

We’re very happy that QED has agreed to host the awards ceremony at QEDCon in Manchester in March 2012. The Skeptic Team is looking forward to celebrating the efforts from within our community at its largest annual meeting.

Yes and I’ll be there. At QEDCon. In Manchester. In March 2012. It’ll be fun. So hurry up and nominate all the things.

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



Kill the witch!

Dec 12th, 2011 11:33 am | By

Religion as compassion in Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi woman has been executed for practising “witchcraft and sorcery”, the country’s interior ministry says.

A statement published by the state news agency said Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded on Monday in the northern province of Jawf.

She wasn’t stoned to death. That’s the compassion.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpLpy4VSJXE

Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital
offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest
possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to
Islam.

And we can’t have threats to Islam, because if we did, conservative clerics would be out of a job, and no longer in a position to kill people for theocratic reasons.

 

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



Religion is about literal doctrines after all

Dec 12th, 2011 10:07 am | By

So after weeks of heavy breathing, Julian’s Heathen’s Progress arrives at what we already knew – that believers actually do believe the tenets of their religion.

So what is the headline finding? It is that whatever some might say about religion being more about practice than belief, more praxis than dogma, more about the moral insight of mythos than the factual claims of logos, the vast majority of churchgoing Christians appear to believe orthodox doctrine at pretty much face value. They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

Yes…just as the dread “new” atheists have said all along. Believers who don’t really believe are the minority, not the majority.

This is, I think, a firm riposte to those who dismiss atheists, especially the “new” variety, as being fixated on the literal beliefs associated with religion rather than ethos or practice. It suggests that they are not attacking straw men when they criticise religion for promoting superstitious and supernatural beliefs.

Yes…but then that would include Julian himself, for instance in his article in the Norwegian magazine Fritanke (not to be confused with the Swedish publisher Fritanke!) in March 2009:

I also think the new atheism tends to get religion wrong. The focus is always on the out-dated metaphysics of religion, its belief in personal creator gods, miracles, souls and so forth. I have no doubt that the vast majority of the religious do indeed believe in such things. Indeed, I’m on the record as accusing liberal theologians of hiding behind their less literalist interpretations, and pretending that matters of creed don’t really matter at all.

However, there is much more to religion to the metaphysics. To give a non-exhaustive list, religion is also about trying to live sub specie aeternitatis; orienting oneself to the transcendent rather than the immanent; living in a moral community of shared practice or as part of a valuable tradition; cultivating certain attitudes, such as gratitude and humility; and so on. To say, as Sam Harris does, that “religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time” misses all this. The practices of religion may be more important then the narratives, even if people believe those narratives to be true.

I think Julian owes “the new atheists” an apology.

He concludes

It seems to me that these results, if truly indicative of what people actually believe, are highly significant for the present debate about religion. The challenge to the likes of Karen Armstrong – which I’d love to hear her response to – is to accept that when they claim religion isn’t really about literal belief, they are advocating a view about how religion ought to be in its best form which just doesn’t describe the reality on the ground. They are defending an ideal of religion, a possibility that is not the normal actuality. (Although I do have a potential response to this they could offer, which I’ll come back to in a future post.) Therefore when responding to atheist criticisms, the accusation cannot be that they misrepresent religion. The best that can be said is that atheists focus too much on religion as it is most usually found and should pay more attention to the better forms. Whether that is a good enough reply is the subject for another argument.

Again, all this is what the gnus have been saying all along – and getting a lot of crap for saying, from Julian among others. Good that he’s finally correcting himself, but it would be better if he actually admitted that that’s what he’s doing.

 

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



Up a steep hill

Dec 11th, 2011 4:44 pm | By

Steve Jones wrote about denial of science in the Telegraph the other day.

Anyone, of course, is free to believe whatever they wish. But why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all. The same is true for doctors. How can you put a body right with no idea as to why it is liable to go wrong?

I suppose the idea is that you do it by following the instructions, with no need for actual understanding. Lots of people apparently don’t care all that much about real understanding…though that could be just because they haven’t learned to care about it. It can be taught, after all.

The problem is not with any particular belief system but with belief itself.

Belief understood as “faith”; not reasoned belief but belief as obedience; not belief based on understanding but belief in what you’ve been told by authorities.

I sometimes wonder how many of those who pour their inane opinions about creationism into their young pupils’ ears ever consider the damage they are doing; not to my science, but to their religion. Why, when a student begins to learn the simple and convincing facts, rather than the fantasies, about how life emerged, should he believe anything else that his pastor, his rabbi or his imam has told him? Why build a philosophy based on fixed untruths, when we have so many truths, and so many things still to find out?

The growing tide of fact‑denial is a statement of failure, not by students but by their teachers, up to and including those at university level. We do our best, I think, but faced with schools or faith groups that get their   ignorance in first, we seem to be fighting a losing battle.

And the schools and faith groups in question think it’s a virtue to get their ignorance in first, which is why the battle is so hard to win.

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



We drift and dabble

Dec 11th, 2011 11:42 am | By

Oh goody, another more in sorrow than in anger rumination on Atheists Are As Bad As Theists And Vice Versa for a Sunday.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

What does he – Eric Weiner – mean “co-opted”? What does he even mean “what about the rest of us” – what about them? “Angry Atheists” haven’t “co-opted” anything, and the rest of us are just as able to speak up as the people Weiner is trying to portray as marginal.

It’s such a typical and tiresome move, this attempt to convince “the rest of us” – the normal, the mainstream, the typical, the ok – that atheists are illegitimate and somehow stealing or usurping the discourse. It’s also fairly risible to do that on the New York Times op-ed page. If we’ve usurped the discourse, how is it possible for Eric Normal Weiner to get his views published in the NY Times?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

Hello: that includes us, you know. We have no religious affiliation at all, so we are part of your Nones.

Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.

So Nones are all kind of goddy too, so poof! actually there are no Nones at all, everybody is normal, so we can all go back to sleep.

We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt.

The hell we do. Maybe he does, but that doesn’t mean all of us do, and some of us certainly don’t – we not only don’t believe in “God,” we also dislike it. I know I do. “God” is a tyrant, a Big Boss, a domineering male, a hater of women, a bully, an intruder. I don’t in the least hope to believe in “God” one day; on the contrary, I hope not to, because it would be a horrible surrender and self-betrayal.

 

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



Here he is, he’s all yours

Dec 11th, 2011 11:05 am | By

Some parents in Irvine California suspected their son, age 15, of smoking. So they sat him down and explained to him how useful it is to be able to breathe freely, how addictive tobacco is, how bad smoking makes you smell, right?

Not quite. They asked a guy to beat the kid up for them (authorities said).

 An Irvine couple who suspected their 15-year-old son of smoking turned to a man believed to be relied on in their church to violently discipline children, authorities said.

Ah in their church – relied on in their church. Uh…whut? So people who attend this church have a designated guy who beats their children, and this is understood and relied on? Funny kind of church.

The parents asked Paul Kim, 39, to discipline their son after finding a
lighter in his possession, dropping the boy off at Kim’s Chino Hills home with permission for the beating, San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokesperson Cindy Bachmann said Saturday.

Kim hit the child with a metal pole about a dozen times, causing severe
bruising on his legs, according to Bachmann. The pole was about an inch in
diameter, investigators said.

Have investigators found Michael Pearl’s book on the premises? Are they looking for it?

Investigators believe Kim has been used in this way by other families in the
congregation, and asked for victims and witnesses to come forward.

Amen.

 

 

 

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



Please confirm, please note, please stand, please sit

Dec 10th, 2011 3:39 pm | By

One of the beneficial side effects of the Burzynski uproar was finding Popehat (via Rhys Morgan, finding whom was another beneficial side effect). Popehat is funny.

A few days ago he got a “friendly note” from Marc Stephens.

The note contained what I would characterize as a decent effort, given his apparent abilities, to intimidate me. He sent it to my Popehat address and to my real-world big-boy-pants Ken’s-sekrit-identity law firm address.

The note is classic Marc Stephens. (Which is odd, because the Observer reported a week ago, on December 3, that Stephens was no longer working for the Burzynski clinic, but Popehat says Stephens sent him this note on December 6.) Very very bossy, as if he were a cop or The Boss of Everyone.

Please confirm your information below. Please note that the case of Skeptics Society/JREF is under federal investigation for identity theft. I suggest you remove all articles on your website in relation to this email address and/or individuals immediately. Please confirm, at this email address, when you have removed the articles.

Please jump when I say jump. This is why it’s a good thing Popehat is so funny. He says the right things back.

I suggest you remove all articles on your website in relation to this email address and/or individuals immediately. Please confirm, at this email address, when you have removed the articles.

Marc, kindly take this post — the link to which I will email to you — as a formal, legally binding, 100% certified style invitation to snort my taint.

I’m told that “snort my taint” is already a new “bite me.”

If we do not hear from you, your information will be forwarded for further investigation, and a associate will contact you.

There’s “we” again. Honestly, Marc, you’re starting to freak me out. How many of you are there? Is this the same “we” as above, or a different “we”? Also, is the associate part of the “we” or not? Are you talking about, like, a law firm associate? Because if you have a lawyer, Marc, I’d be totes happy to call him right now. Or do you mean an “associate” in the sense of “Wayne, who lets me sleep on his futon when I can’t pick up enough shifts at Arby’s?” Or is it more malevolent, like in mob movies: “my associate, [name with 'the' in the middle], will discuss this with you”? Or . . . wait a minute, Marc. Can . . . can anyone other than you see and hear this associate? Because if this associate is a giant goddam invisible rabbit, Marc, that’s a deal-breaker. I hate rabbits, and a six-foot invisible rabbit would freak me right the fuck out. Are you siccing your invisible rabbit on me, Marc? Because if that’s what you’re saying, I think we have a problem here and there SHOULD be a federal investigation. Threatening people with giant rabbits through the electronic mails is almost certain a violation of several federal statutes, possibly including wire fraud depending on the existence or non-existence of the rabbit. But a sharp legal guy like you already knew that, right Marc? My God. You’re already, like, three steps ahead of me.

Life is good.

 

 

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



Tenets of Islam are not subject to change

Dec 10th, 2011 11:21 am | By

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay went to the Maldives, and there she said some things. She said some things relevant to human rights.

In an address delivered in parliament last Thursday, Pillay said the practice of flogging women found guilty of extra-marital sex “constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

The UN human rights chief called for a public debate “on this issue of major concern.” In a press conference later in the day, Pillay called on the judiciary and the executive to issue a moratorium on flogging.

Well yes. Commissioners for human rights can be expected to say things like that, unless they are merely window-dressing commissioners for human rights. Flogging women for extra-marital sex does strike contemporary supporters of human rights as incompatible with respect for human rights. Flogging itself, flogging as such, is seen by people like that as incompatible with respect for human rights, and extra-marital sex is seen as a private concern as opposed to a state concern.

On article 9(d) of the constitution, which states “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives,” Pillay said the provision was “discriminatory and does not comply with international standards.”

There again – mandatory religion is widely considered incompatible with respect for human rights. So far so unsurprising. But the top people in the Maldives didn’t see it that way.

Statements by visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling for a moratorium on flogging as a punishment for fornication and criticising the Muslim-only clause for citizenship in the Maldivian constitution have been widely condemned by religious NGOs, public officials and political parties.

Shortly after Pillay’s speech in parliament, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told local media that “a tenet of Islam cannot be changed” and flogging was a hudud punishment prescribed in the Quran (24:2) and “revealed down to us from seven heavens.”

Bari noted that article 10 of the constitution established Islam as “the basis of all the laws of the Maldives” and prohibited the enactment of any law “contrary to any tenet of Islam,” adding that the Maldives has acceded to international conventions with reservations on religious matters such as marriage equality.

In his Friday prayer sermon the following day, Bari asserted that “no international institution or foreign nation” had the right to challenge the practice of Islam and adherence to its tenets in the Maldives.

And there you go – as usual. It’s in the Quran; it can’t be changed; it was revealed. Islam is the basis of all the laws; any law contrary to any tenet of Islam is prohibited; the end. Allah said we can flog women if we want to (and that we, meaning men, are the only ones who count), so we’re going to, so shut up and go back to UNistan where you belong. By the way if you were a Maldivian we could flog you, so ha.

Meanwhile, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party issued a statement on Thursday contending that tenets of Islam and the principles of Shariah were not subject to modification or change through public debate or democratic processes.

Adhaalath Party suggested that senior government officials invited a foreign dignitary to make statements that they supported but were “hesitant to say in public.”

The party called on President Mohamed Nasheed to condemn Pillay’s statements “at least to show to the people that there is no irreligious agenda of President Nasheed and senior government officials behind this.”

The Adhaalath statement also criticised Speaker Abdulla Shahid and MPs in attendance on Thursday for neither informing Pillay that she “could not make such statements” nor making any attempt to stop her or object to the remarks.

Funny that the Adhaalath Party doesn’t seem to have read the memo about religion not being literal and being all about compassion.

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



On religious grounds

Dec 9th, 2011 12:30 pm | By

Human Rights Watch on child (meaning girl) marriage in Yemen.

Fourteen-year-old Reem, from Sanaa, was 11 years old when her father married her to her cousin, a man almost 21 years her senior. One day, Reem’s father dressed her in a niqab (the Islamic veil that covers the face, exposing only the eyes), and took her by car to Radda,150 kilometers southeast of Sanaa, to meet her soon-to-be husband. Against Reem’s will, a quick religious marriage ensued. Three days after she was married, her husband raped her. Reem attempted suicide by cutting her wrists with a razor. Her husband took her back to her father in Sanaa, and Reem then ran away to her mother (her parents are divorced). Reem’s mother escorted her to court in an attempt to get a divorce. The judge told her, “We don’t divorce little girls.” Reem replied, “But how come you allow little girls to get married?”

Because Aisha, that’s why.

In 1999 Yemen’s parliament, citing religious grounds, abolished article 15 of Yemen’s Personal Status Law, which set the minimum age for marriage for boys and girls at 15. Yemen currently has no minimum age for marriage.

On religious grounds. The grounds are: Mo married Aisha when she was a child, therefore it is anti-religious to make laws saying no one can marry a child that young. Laws that say that are implicitly saying that Mo did a wrong thing, and that would be anti-religious. Therefore little girls have to have their bodies and lives ruined, so that no one will ever think Mo did a wrong thing.

Amen.

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



BioLogos snares an MIT physicist

Dec 9th, 2011 9:59 am | By

Via Sigmund at WEIT, an MIT physicist offers part 1 of a series on “scientism.” Yes really, an MIT physicist. I know, I know.

He (Ian Hutchinson) gives the gist in the first para.

One of the most visible conflicts in current culture is between  “scientism” and religion. Because religious knowledge differs from scientific knowledge, scientism claims (or at least assumes) that it must therefore be inferior. However, there are many other important beliefs, secular as well as religious, which are justified and rational, but not scientific, and therefore marginalized by scientism. And if that is so, then scientism is a ghastly intellectual mistake.

Notice that he carefully leaves out the “true” in “justified true beliefs” – the standard philosophical definition of knowledge. Notice also, of course, that he simply assumes there is such a thing as “religious knowledge.” I hope he plans to back that up in future installments, because it certainly isn’t self-evident.

He goes in for the kill in the third para.

Scientism is, first of all, a philosophy of knowledge. It is an opinion about the way that knowledge can be obtained and justified. However, scientism rapidly becomes much more. It becomes an all-encompassing world-view; a perspective from which all of the questions of life are examined: a grounding presupposition or set of presuppositions which provides the framework by which the world is to be understood. In other words, it is essentially a religious position.

Oh is it? Is that the definition of “a religious position”? Is an all-encompassing world-view; a perspective from which all of the questions of life are examined: a grounding presupposition or set of presuppositions which provides the framework by which the world is to be understood, always and necessarily religious?

No, certainly not. That’s putting the cart before the horse. “Religious” is the smaller category; “world-view” is the larger one; not the other way around. We all get to have a world-view, and there is no law that says it has to be religious, or that having one just is inherently religious. Religious people don’t get to take over our minds that way.

It is fair to say that a certain kind of world-view – one that refuses to be modified and adapted with new knowledge or experience, one that squashes everything to fit, one that is imposed on the world as opposed to receiving it – is religious, although even then it could be other things too. But in any case that’s clearly not the sense of “religious” that Hutchinson had in mind.

 

 

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



“A war with people of faith”

Dec 8th, 2011 3:25 pm | By

And then there are the Republican contestants battling each other to see who can be Most Evil.

Starting point: the Secretary of State addressed delegates to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday and

delivered what historians will one day look back upon as a monumental speech, in which she declared that the continuing oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.”

Sexual minorities, Clinton said, “are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse.” She addressed the pernicious argument — common in Uganda and many other places — that homosexuality is “a Western invention,” plainly calling it a “human reality.” And she issued a challenge to a world in which more than 70 countries criminalize homosexuality: “It should never be a crime to be gay.” On the same day as Clinton’s speech, President Obama issued a directive instructing federal agencies to “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.”

Well, the Republicans weren’t having that.

But this was too much for some of the Republican presidential contenders, most notably Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Condemning the abuse of gay people overseas, he said, constitutes “a war with people of faith in this country,” a “war on traditional American values,” he specified, that “must stop.”

I think that wins the Most Evil award, at least for today.

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



Stiff resistance

Dec 8th, 2011 2:53 pm | By

This is just terribly sad – Jerry Coyne gave a lecture on evolution at a public school and a lot of the students were simply “offended” in their religious beliefs.

I am dispirited. I’ve just returned from a two-hour lecture and Q&A session at the Woodlawn Charter School, a public school run by the University of Chicago on the South Side of the city.  Some of the high-school biology students are reading Why Evolution is True, and I gave a presentation on the evidence for evolution—with a tiny bit about why religion prevents Americans from accepting evolution, for I was asked to mention that topic—followed by an hour of questions.

Some of the questions were good, and some of the students really interested, but there was also a lot of religious pushback.  One student, I was told, sat through the entire lecture muttering about how she shouldn’t be forced to listen to this stuff since it went against her faith.  Another student’s “question” was to inform me that she was offended that I said that Adam and Eve never existed (I talked about the human bottleneck of 1200 people), and asked me how I knew that.

And the teacher who invited me told me she encountered stiff resistance from many of her kids about evolution—resistance based solely on their religious upbringing.

That’s just sad. It’s such a waste. So much to learn, so much to explore, and all they can do is mutter and be offended, because adults have fed them a lot of made-up crap along with the idea that they’re supposed to get indignant if anyone says anything different. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. That’s a hokey old slogan, but by god it’s the truth.

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



Lads

Dec 8th, 2011 10:42 am | By

I’m handicapped in thinking about this by the fact that I’ve never seen, let alone read, a lads’ mag. I’ve spent the past few minutes trying to figure out what they are, which has led to my finding out what “lad culture” is, which I’m not sure I wanted to know.

In an ironic, self-conscious fashion, “lads took up an anti-intellectual position, scorning sensitivity and caring in favour of drinking, violence, and a pre-feminist attitude to women as both sex objects and creatures from another species”.

Oh I hate that “ironic” thing. Pretentious jerks in the UK are always telling you they’re doing or saying whatever it is “ironically,” which just means don’t go thinking I’m a jerk merely because I’m acting or talking like one.

That get out of jail free card probably is why we get treated to so much misogynist name-calling, though – it’s “ironic” or “self-conscious” or “rebellion against stifling political correctness” or all of those. Having it both ways – all the fun of vomiting hatred and contempt onto women and feeling hip and witty and “ironic” at the same time.

So, a study by a couple of psychologists finds that rapists and lads’ mags use the same language.

Psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey found that when presented with descriptions of women taken from lads’ mags, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most people who took part in the study could not distinguish the source of the quotes.

The research due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology also revealed that most men who took part in the study identified themselves more with the language expressed by the convicted rapists.

Psychologists presented men between the ages of 18 and 46 with a range of statements taken from magazines and from convicted rapists in the study, and gave the men different information about the source of the quotes. Men identified more with the comments made by rapists more   than the quotes made in lads’ mags, but men identified more with quotes said to have been drawn from lads’ mags more than those said to have been comments by convicted rapists.

The writing is very muddled in that last para, but if you watch the video it becomes clear: when the test subjects thought the comments came from lads’ mags, they identified with the comments, whereas they didn’t when they thought the comments came from rapists. They also thought the comments they thought were from lads’ mags were “normal” (while the ones they thought were from rapists they considered extreme). That last one, though it’s not even a little bit surprising, is blood-chilling. Yes of course they fucking do – just as all these teeming shits think it’s “normal” to call women bitches and twats and cunts day in and day out. Misogyny has been normalized. That’s what we’re saying; that’s the problem.

Dr Miranda Horvath and Dr Peter Hegarty argue that the findings are consistent with the possibility that lads’ mags normalise hostile sexism, by making it seem more acceptable when its source is a popular magazine.

Exactly. I knew hostile sexism had been normalized, to put it mildly; I just wasn’t very aware of lads’ mags. Lads’ mags are joined by lads’ tv shows, lads’ websites, lads’ facebook pages, no doubt lads’ apps, and so on.

Dr Horvath, lead researcher from Middlesex University, said: “We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated.”

“These magazines support the legitimisation of sexist attitudes and behaviours and need to be more responsible about their portrayal of women, both in words and images. They give the appearance that sexism is acceptable and normal – when really it should be rejected and challenged. Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads’ mag could have come from a convicted rapist.”

Dr Peter Hegarty, of the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department, added: “There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects. We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people.  But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”

Anna van Heeswijk, Campaigns Manager for OBJECT, a human rights campaign group which campaigns against the objectification of women, said: “This crucial and chilling piece of research lays bare the hateful messages which seep out of lads’ mags and indoctrinate young men’s attitudes towards women and girls. When the content of magazines aimed at teenage boys mirrors the attitudes of convicted rapists, alarm bells must ring.

“If we are serious about wanting an end to discrimination and violence against women and girls, we must tackle the associated attitudes and behaviours. This means tackling the publications which peddle them. The Leveson Inquiry is currently looking into the culture and ethics of the press. These disturbing findings unequivocally demonstrate the need for the portrayal of women to be included in the remit of this inquiry. Now is the time for action.”

Men call us things.

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



Evil

Dec 7th, 2011 5:02 pm | By

More on Mansor Almaribe, sentenced to 500 lashes in Saudi Arabia for “insulting the companions of the prophet.”

THE family of a Victorian man sentenced to 500 lashes in Saudi Arabia has made an emotional plea to bring him home, fearing he will die in jail.

The Shepparton family of Mansor Almaribe, 45, who was also sentenced to a year in jail for blasphemy, will head to Canberra to plead for help.

Isaam Almaribe, 21, said his father suffered from diabetes and had broken bones in his back and knees from a car accident in Australia.

“Dad told us ‘Take me out of here as soon as possible because if I stay here I will die’ – that’s how bad his situation is,” Isaam said.

“He couldn’t survive 50 lashes let alone 500 lashes.”

And he was sentenced to this monstrous punishment for what, again?

“Apparently he was in Medina with a group of fellow Shiites…and he was quoting out of a book which insulted the Prophet Muhammad’s companion. This is how it’s being described. Apparently this is a deeply offensive thing to do in the Medina apparently for people of Sunni Islamic philosophy or religion.”

That’s from MP Sharman Stone, who is trying to get Kevin Rudd to intervene with the Saudis.

Mr Almaribe arrived in Australia in 1999 from Iraq as a refugee and brought his family over in 2006.

Isaam said the war in Iraq did not compare with what the family was going through now.

“We had different problems back then but now his life is on the line,” he said.

“To be lashed is barbaric and it’s really terrifying. Humans shouldn’t be treated that way.”

Wife Waffa Almaribe has not slept since her husband was detained while making the Hajj pilgrimage to Medina last month.

She collapsed in tears when she heard he would be lashed 500 times and serve a year in jail.

“It’s very hard for me and my family and it’s so terrible,” she said.

“My husband is a peaceful man who looked out for everybody. My children and I need him with us. I am very scared he won’t survive.”

The family said Mr Almaribe, a Shiite Muslim, was dragged away by religious police while praying in the Sunni-dominated country.

So that’s how it works - the hajj is a religious obligation if you can afford it, but if you go, you risk being flayed to death if you do the praying the wrong way.

It’s barbaric.

Thanks to Helen for the link.

 

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



Words can’t express

Dec 7th, 2011 3:49 pm | By

Imagine going to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, all the way from Australia, and finding yourself sentenced to a year in jail and…

500 lashes.

To the best of my knowledge, 500 lashes is a death sentence. One hundred risks being a death sentence; five hundred just plain is one.

What did Mansor Almaribe of southern Victoria state do? Torture a lot of children to death? Set fire to a hospital and laugh while patients jumped screaming from high windows? Shoot up a hotel or a night club?

No.

Saudi officials accused him of insulting the companions of the prophet Muhammad, a violation of Saudi Arabia’s blasphemy laws.

And for that they plan to torture him to death.

He said something (maybe) about some people who died 14 centuries ago, and for that they plan to torture him to death.

What foul, reeking, vicious people they must be.

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



What about flashlights? Candles? Yule logs?

Dec 7th, 2011 3:31 pm | By

Get that smirk off your face.

CAIRO: An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”

 

The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.

He said that these fruits and vegetables “resemble the male penis” and hence could arouse women or “make them think of sex.”

He also added carrots and zucchini to the list of forbidden foods for women.

Answering another question about what to do if women in the family like these foods, the sheikh advised the interviewer to take the food and cut it for them in a hidden place so they cannot see it.

 

Really? But then won’t they get ideas about slicing penises?

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



Details details

Dec 6th, 2011 3:34 pm | By

Following up some links from the coverage of the Burzynski matter. From David Colquhoun, an item from the National Council Against Health Fraud newsletter March/April 1997:

The trial of Stanislaw Burzynski for cancer fraud ended in a hung jury (6-6)
on March 4. CBS’s 48 Hours‘ interviews of jurors told the tale as to why
they couldn’t agree.  Clearly, the jurors agreed that Burzynski was guilty as
charged of violating court orders not to distribute his unapproved
“Antineoplastons” in interstate commerce, but the fact that some desperate
cancer patients believed Burzynski’s remedy was keeping them alive (or, at
least, was keeping their hope for recovery alive) made the case too emotional a matter for them to convict him of his crimes. One juror who was interviewed admitted that she had disregarded the judge’s instructions to ignore such issues.

The CBS reporter confronted Burzynski with the calculation that, based upon his fee system and patient load, his annual income would be $20 million.  Burzynski concurred but said that not all of his patients paid their bills.  Burzynski claims that his medicine is quite costly to produce.  Cancer
researcher and NCAHF board member, Saul Green, PhD, pointed to prices in a catalog showing that a bottle of medicine cost Burzynski 80 cents.

The Burzynski trial was stereotypical.  Supporters paraded with placards
extolling the doctor and his cure, while the media reporter focused on a few
individuals who apparently do have cancer but whose survival is no more than one would expect from any group of patients.  The prosecution is shown as dealing with technical points of law, while the doctor and his patients are “real people.”

It is classical deception by illusion.  Viewers have no way of knowing if the
demonstrators are really cancer patients.  A study of a laetrile rally in 1978
found having cancer did not predict participation in an anti-FDA rally; rather being against fluoridation, disliking MDs, liking chiropractors, and shopping in health food stores were the determinants.  Viewers have no way of evaluating the real medical conditions of the patients shown.  Most are not even aware of just how normal a cancer patient can look and feel even in advanced stages of the disease.  And, no one knows the proportion of failures among the large number of patients who Burzynski has treated over the two decades he has promoted his remedy.

Trial by placard waving emotion is a form of mob rule.  More and more it
seems like society is letting emotion overrule the sound judgment of carefully considered law.

And also via DC, Dorothy Bishop on “The weird world of US ethics regulation” -

I had assumed that this trial hadn’t undergone ethical scrutiny, because I could not see how any committee could agree that it was ethical to charge someone enormous sums of money to take part in a research
project in which there was no guarantee of benefit. I suspect that many people would pay up if they felt they’d exhausted all other options. But this doesn’t mean it’s right.
I was surprised, then, to discover that the Burzynski trial had undergone review by an Institutional Review Board (IRB – the US term for an ethics committee). A letter describing the FDA’s review of the relevant IRB is available on the web. It concludes that “the IRB did not adhere to the applicable statutory requirements and FDA regulations governing the protection of human subjects.”  There’s a detailed exposition of the failings of the Burzynski Institute IRB, but no mention of fees charged to patients. So I followed a few more links and came to a US government site that described regulatory guidelines for ethics committees, which had a specific section on Charging for Investigational Products. It seems the practice of passing on research costs to research participants is allowed in the US system.

Well don’t I feel proud of the US system.

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