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.

Mike Gillis

Jun 14th, 2012 4:46 pm | By

Mike Gillis of Ask an Atheist decided he hadn’t been rude enough yet, when he called my objection to posting my email without permission “such a stupid pedantic distraction from Becky’s actual response.” So he commented again:

Ophelia, knock it off. Now you’re just looking for excuses to dismiss Becky’s arguments.

Actually no. I said what I had to say about her “arguments” in a later post. My objection to her publishing my email without asking is not an excuse at all, it’s a very real objection.

Not worth a post, obviously. I just did it by way of using The Hammer of Shame.

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

Why is she going there?

Jun 14th, 2012 4:18 pm | By

And then there’s a bunch of guys doing a video about how stupid and awful women who talk about harassment are. I haven’t watched it (and oh god do I not want to) but it’s partly transcribed, and what’s there is awful. It’s so awful, and the comments by one of the guys involved with it are so awful, that the combination had me slamming on the brakes and deciding (again) that I can’t do a talk at TAM.

But there are people who tell me they decided to go partly because I’m going to be there, and I would feel like a worm if I didn’t go, so I took the brakes off again. But this stuff is pissing me off like you would not believe.

Gilliel provides a relevant (to me) segment:

-”Ophelia Benson compared TAM to Nazi Germany” 11:12:15 Another blatant lie. I don’t agree with Ophelia’s post, but that’s not what she wrote. It simply isn’t. -”If Ophelia thinks TAM is like Nazi Germany, why is she going there?” Well, it might be because she never actually said that…(1:12:35)

Also, it’s because I was invited and I accepted long before DJ decided to do all this blaming of the women talking about harassment. The comparison I did make (which was not “TAM is like Nazi Germany”) came after DJ blamed the women talking about harassment (which could, for all I knew and still know, have included me).

But anyway – that kind of ERVesque bullying doesn’t make me look forward to going.

DJ should do something about all this. I still don’t understand why he thought it would be a good idea to antagonize a bunch of women (and a bunch of men) some of whom were part of the program at TAM, a few weeks before TAM. I think of the wonderful people who organized QED, and how welcome I felt before I got there and while I was there and after I left. I wonder why DJ does not operate more like them.


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

Bad analogies are bad

Jun 14th, 2012 3:54 pm | By

Here’s some of what Becky Friedman said in her post addressed to me at Ask an Atheist:

My argument is that feminism applied dogmatically, along with employing shame and zero-sum tactics of approach, work at cross purposes to eliminating misogyny and harassment in the atheist/skeptics community(ies). So I’ll give a few examples of how I see your writing as part of that larger observation. I’m not going to go looking for “too-dogmatic” things because that was never my argument.

In my original editorial I state: “Is our womanhood and feminism so holy that we cannot and will not open ourselves to criticism, discussion, and questions? Because the tone I’ve seen is unforgiving.” I could very well have linked the following comment on your Misogyny?  What Misogyny? post as one example of this:

I don’t want to see [commenter] Justicar as a decent human being in one place despite knowing that he’s not one via what he’s said in other places.

This strikes me as dogmatically rejecting all ideas a person has based on experience/contact with them in another arena. If myself and a pastor got into a spat about evolution, but then the pastor said “I don’t even want to see evidence of you doing charity because I know that in another arena you deny the majesty and wonder of the Almighty Creator!” we’d easily identify that as dogmatic.

That’s an idiotic analogy. My mention of Jews in Germany in 1936 was a bad analogy because it was much too strong to compare with women reporting harassment at conferences. Becky Friedman’s analogy is a bad analogy because it’s much too weak to compare with a guy who calls me and other women “cunts” more times than a search function can count.

Becky Friedman was comparing my view of Justicar to a pastor’s view of an atheist who denies the majesty of god. Bad analogy. My view of Justicar is not that he denies the majesty of god or anything comparable to that; it’s that he calls women cunts and whips up contempt for them in every way he can think of.

It’s not “dogmatic” in any relevant sense to refuse to chat with someone who calls women cunts. That’s not the right word, and it’s not the right category. It’s not “dogmatic” to refuse to break bread with someone who calls people by racist epithets, and it’s not “dogmatic” to refuse to argue with someone who calls people by sexist epithets.

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

Not the right Atheist to ask

Jun 14th, 2012 3:28 pm | By

There is way too much shrapnel flying around today, I can’t grab a minute to write a post not nohow. So the shrapnel is going to pile up in a big pile while I grab this minute.

Becky Friedman of Ask an Atheist did a post addressed to me yesterday (but I didn’t see it until today). She started off by saying

I received a personal email from blogger Ophelia Benson around 5 pm on Tuesday:

and then after the colon she pasted in the whole personal email. Without having asked for my permission. Which would not have been forthcoming.

I pointed that out this morning.

About an hour ago Mike Gillis also of Ask an Atheist responded to the issue of posting an email without permission:

This is such a stupid pedantic distraction from Becky’s actual response.

These are not good people.


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


Jun 14th, 2012 11:05 am | By

I’m doing an interview with Dan Fincke this morning for his part of the SSA fundraiser, so that’s why things are slow here at the moment.

Normal broadcasting soon.

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

This is what the Cork councillors need

Jun 13th, 2012 4:37 pm | By

I mentioned it in comments and Gordon asked for a link so I might as well put it in a post. James Croft’s “We Are Humanists.” I like it.

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

Eff up your effigy

Jun 13th, 2012 4:07 pm | By

I’m not going to blame religion for this, because it would be a cheap shot. It’s not religion so much as cranked-up nastiness – with a religious veneer.

The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., has hanged an effigy of President Barack Obama from a gallows on its front lawn, a move DWOC pastor Terry Jones said was in response to Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, as well as his stance on abortion and what Jones called his “appeasing of radical Islam.”

What was that I was saying about threatoids and threat-like remarks? Hanging people in effigy is the same kind of thing. It used to be fairly common, I think, or at least not unknown…but then so did flogging and slavery and child labor. Hanging people in effigy is not an old custom that ought to be revived.

The effigy is suspended from a makeshift gallows with a noose of yellow rope, has a doll in its right hand and a rainbow-colored gay pride flag in its left.

In a telephone interview with The Huffington Post, Jones said the flag was meant to call attention to Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage and that the baby doll is there because the president is “favorable toward abortion.”

But then Obama should have an abortion in his hand, not a baby. Get your ducks in a row. Gay pride flag: something Obama approves of and Pastor Jones hates. Baby: something Obama is taken to want to see aborted before it gets to be a baby and Pastor Jones loves. See? The two don’t match. He did it wrong. It has to be: something Obama approves of and Pastor Jones hates, for both items.

People are so sloppy with these things.

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

Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished

Jun 13th, 2012 11:32 am | By

The Church of England is worried and upset about government proposals to legalise gay marriage, saying these plans might come between it and its dearly beloved the state.

The church — whose supreme governor is Queen Elizabeth II — warned that it could be forced out of its traditional role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state.

Well we can’t have that. We can’t have the established church – whose top person is the monarch – being “forced” out of its traditional role. We can’t ever have anybody or any institution, however archaic and useless, forced out of a traditional role. Everybody knows that traditional roles are the best things ever, and must always be preserved and protected from change and reform.

“The Church of England’s unique place in the current marriage law of England means that the proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on our ability to serve the people of the nation as we have always done,” it added.

It said the plan “fails to take account of the fact that consummation has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.”

Whut? Consummation? What’s that got to do with anything? No wait, I get it – when it’s straight marriage, they can check for consummation by looking for blood on the sheet. With gay marriage that won’t work.

No, wait, that won’t work, because actually you don’t find the vicar who performed the marriage on the doorstep the next morning, ready to inspect the sheet. You used to, yes, but not any more – that’s one of those traditional roles that have faded away over time. Pause to shed a tear over another traditional role destroyed by our frivolous secular ways.

So that’s not it, so what is it? That “consummation” is a word that applies only to straight couples so that even if there’s no way to verify that a marriage has or has not been consummated, the fact that it doesn’t apply to gay couples makes the church superfluous? Is that it?

Surely not. Surely they can’t be that silly.

Can they?


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

Don’t give it to them, give it to us

Jun 13th, 2012 11:04 am | By

A silly Twitter exchange this morning…Surly Amy reported EIGHTEEN Surly Women Grant winners for TAM 2012, and a guy replied

Must be great for all those females. The rest of us are on our own.

I said so she should send you instead? He said no, he just never understood why it’s only applicable to female skeptics. I said it’s because there are fewer of them, and that self-perpetuates. Then I added

Think of it as actually benefiting you, by spreading skepticism among women and thus the population. Benefits all of us.

Why isn’t this more accepted? Why isn’t it just obvious, and embraced?

We’re all in this together, after all. We can all vote. This is in many ways a tragedy; the least we can do is try to spread critical thinking around as opposed to trying to keep it a special little geeky enclave. If this means grants for women or blacks or any other under-represented group, why is that something to kvetch about? Surly Amy isn’t taking money out of Complaining Guy’s pocket to send more women to TAM, she’s just raising the money through her own efforts and handing it out as she chooses. Complaining Guy can still go to TAM! And there will be eighteen more people to talk to there, thanks to Surly Amy. What’s not to like?

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

It’s still a Christian country

Jun 13th, 2012 10:46 am | By

Cork city councillors don’t want no stinkin’ secularism. Cork city councillors say Ireland is a Christian country so there.

A proposal to scrap a prayer at the start of a local authority meeting sparked an unholy row last night.

Cork’s city councillors voted overwhelmingly against the move after a heated debate.

Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry, an atheist, called for the deletion of a rule governing the order of council business which states that the start of the council’s public meetings should include the recitation of an opening prayer, followed by a brief period of silent reflection.

The prayer reads: “Direct, we beseech thee, O Lord, our actions by thy holy inspirations and carry them on by thy gracious assistance; that every word and work of ours may always begin from thee, and by thee be happily ended; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

That’s a very terrible prayer. Look at it. It means that they think whatever they do has been directed by what they take to be a good and all-powerful god. It makes them think they’re infallible.

Or maybe it doesn’t, because it’s just some words, and they don’t really listen or take it in or draw the obvious conclusions. Maybe. But why trust people to ignore their own Holy Formulas? And even if they don’t decide they’re infallible because they’ve said the prayer, they probably do assume they’re better for it, and a little protected from doing Definitely Bad Things.

Cllr Joe O’Callaghan (FG) said: “If it was good enough for Connolly, then it’s good enough for me. With all its faults, I’m a Catholic and I’m proud of that. And it’s still a Christian country and long may that continue.”

See? Like that. With all its faults, he’s proud of being a Catholic. What a thing to be proud of! “With all its faults” indeed – “all its faults” are a damn good reason to leave it.

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

Intestinal fortitude

Jun 12th, 2012 12:18 pm | By

On a pleasanter note, Ron Lindsay has a post suggesting dropping the word “balls” for “courage” and the like. Yes to that. I generally pick fights with people who do that here, and sometimes elsewhere.

More dogmatic feminism, I suppose.

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

A tedious correction

Jun 12th, 2012 11:08 am | By

One small item of housekeeping that will interest pretty much no one among regular readers here – by which I mean, people who read B&W for pleasure or interest or reasons of that kind, as opposed to reading it for ammunition against teh eevil feminazis – but that I want to do anyway because it’s been floating around for awhile and it annoys me. It’s one example of mendacity out of the many perpetrated by the anti-mangina crowd, and I want to correct it for the record. Correct it again for the record.

It appeared in a comment by John Greg on that Ask an Atheist thread.

I have yet to witness an FfTB blog commenter be banned for “encouraging” or proposing that someone be anally raped by a dead porcupine. Neither have I witnessed an FfTB blog commenter be edited, deleted, or banned for making death threats — julian’s made several over the last couple of years beginning on Ophelia’s older B&W blog.

That’s not true. julian said “die in a fire” once that I know of at B&W1. I told him not to do that as soon as I was aware of it, and I drew a line through it in the comment where he said it and added an editorial “don’t do that.” If I had seen it right after he said it I would have deleted it and then told him “don’t do that,” but he said it after I had gone offline for the day and there were a great many comments after it, some of them about it. It would have created confusion if I had deleted it, so I drew a line through it as the next best thing.

It was on Getting and not getting, posted on July 5 last year. In addition to the editorial injection on the comment, I did a separate comment saying don’t do that. It was a blanket rule. There was discussion. Everybody got that it was a blanket rule, and agreed with it, including julian, who apologized. I didn’t ban julian, that’s true, but I did edit his comment, and I emphatically disavowed it and said I don’t want comments of that type. There was some discussion of what these rhetorical “threats” really are (“threatoid” was one suggestion), but whatever they are, I didn’t and don’t want them. I don’t want anything about rape by anal insertion of a dead porcupine here, either, and I’ve never seen any – or if I have seen it, I’ve deleted it. I don’t want suggestions about sideways knives. I don’t want any of that kind of thing, and I mostly don’t get it, and when I do I delete it.

The issue was complicated by the fact that julian also made a parallel threat (or “threatoid”) in a comment on Miranda Hale’s blog the same evening.

“Most people who dared to dissent at Pharyngula, for example, were met with some variety of “STFU YOU SEXIST IGNORANT PRIVILEGED FUCKER!!”.”

About 40 posts after every point they had raised had been answered by everyone present. You can join prometheus in that fire, Ms. Hale. And no, no pretending you’re some paragon of fairminded civility and respect.

Miranda unfortunately included me in her reply.

You seriously think it’s acceptable to come to my blog and tell me that I should die in a fire? (See his comment at B&W for reference:  That’s vicious and has no place in this discussion. You’re banned. Ophelia might be okay with having those kind of threats on her blog, but I’m sure as hell not, whether they’re against me or anyone else.

The next day, I pointed out (in all caps) that I hadn’t been there, and Miranda apologized and withdrew the claim that I was okay with threats of that kind. Good. That particular misunderstanding got straightened out at the time. Good.

But it didn’t stay straightened out. I saw a very distorted version of the whole thing – which reverted to the account in which I smile approvingly on julian telling people to die in a fire – on one of the ERV threads a few months ago, when I still occasionally took a look at the rants about kicking me in the cunt and how off the charts ugly I am and all the rest of it. John Greg’s abbreviated version of that yesterday is based on the distorted account. This is the accurate account. The thread is there for the reading; I haven’t touched it since last July.

Update: I got a note from Miranda because she saw this post via the trackback to her post last summer. She told me to feel free to share her sentiments. She confirms that she was shocked by julian’s comment, which is entirely reasonable. That’s why I don’t want comments like that! They’re meant to shock, and they do. The hell with that. (It’s not a salutary kind of shock, like the “shock” of being told that the bible is just a book written by humans.) She also said she has no clue who “John Greg” is, and that she’s not all that pleased to learn that he’s pointing to what julian said as supposed evidence of my hypocrisy. That might come as a shock to “John Greg” but that’s life for you.

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


Jun 11th, 2012 2:45 pm | By

Taslima has a great post on 19th century reactions to education for women in Bengal. She includes two satirical paintings, one of a woman beating a man with a broom, and the other of a man nursing a woman – at least that’s the caption Taslima has on it, though he’s portrayed just standing there with an implement I don’t recognize.

What a hateful world to live in. One, there’s the idea that men are supposed to beat women instead of the other way around, instead of the idea that nobody should beat anybody. And two there’s the deeply sad idea that a woman should nurse a man but not the other way around. Seriously? So if she’s ill, he’s supposed to just shrug and go off with his friends?

Sad, sad, sad.

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

Salam Azad

Jun 11th, 2012 2:06 pm | By

Maryam did a blogathon today. All you need for an arrest is hurt religious sentiment is a good one (as are all the others). The first example she offers is a Bangladeshi writer.

A Bangladeshi court has issued an arrest warrant for the writer of a 2003 novel that allegedly contains insulting remarks against the Prophet Mohammed, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The court in Dhaka issued the order in response to a petition from a Muslim activist accusing author Salam Azad of hurting religious sentiment in his banned book “Bhanga Math” (“Broken Temple”).

“We told the court that the book contained slanderous remarks against the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The judge accepted the petition and issued a warrant of arrest,” the petitioner’s lawyer Ekhlas Uddin told AFP.

I apologize for pointing out the obvious yet again, but sane legal systems do not have laws against “slander” of people who have been dead for centuries. I can say anything I want to about Socrates; so can you; so can anyone. Sane legal systems also do not have laws against “slander” of religions, even the local religion. Only insane legal systems have those.

The very idea is simply infantile. What next? Somebody slandered a building? A piece of fruit? Pluto? (planet or cartoon dog, I don’t care) The weather?

You saw it predicted here first.



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

Both sides

Jun 11th, 2012 11:42 am | By

A weekly podcast called Ask an Atheist devoted the episode recorded yesterday to what it calls “The Problem of Dogmatic Feminism”.

It got some things wrong.

At the beginning Becky and Sam (the hosts, along with Eileen who said only one thing) said that both sides in the dispute over feminism and atheism/skepticism were “doubling down”; it’s not as symmetrical as that. They said good men are getting shot down and men are being demonized; that’s way too sweeping.

After they said this in general terms for awhile Sam pressed Becky for specifics, so she named Rebecca, me, Stephanie, and Jen. She sort of kind of blamed the Women in Secularism conference. She talked about the more recent dispute with DJ, and said that he had apologized for the “gossip after regretted sexual exploits” remark; that’s entirely wrong, he hasn’t apologized for that. She said that we ”dogmatically” say that male speakers who hit on women are automatically predators; no we don’t. What Stephanie and Jen have argued is that speakers at events are as it were one up; they have a status that resembles that of teachers in relation to students – or, one might add (but they haven’t, that I’ve seen) priests in relation to parishioners. There’s also therapists in relation to patients, ditto doctors. I don’t think it’s dogmatic to argue that it at least can be exploitative to leverage that position to get moar sex. The complication, obviously, is that plenty of people will be perfectly happy to have sexual attention from a speaker, just as plenty of students will be perfectly happy to have sexual attention from a teacher. The role itself is inherently seductive. Becky may have this complication in mind when she calls it “dogmatic” to say that speakers should just refrain from hitting on audience members, but she didn’t spell it out, and given the rest of what she said in that part of the podcast, that’s unfortunate.

It improved a little after that, and Stephanie called in and corrected them on some points. But of course the ERV gang is flooding the comments, so that will make intelligent discussion impossible there. Anne C Hanna gives it a good shot though.


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

Better news, but not in English yet

Jun 11th, 2012 10:16 am | By

Javier Krahe has been acquitted of “hurting religious feelings” in a movie he made nearly 40 years ago.

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


Jun 10th, 2012 4:06 pm | By

Crommunist is doing the blogathan by taking pledges for learning songs and then posting a video of himself performing them. What a brilliant way of doing it!

Go cheer him on or donate all of your money or both.


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

What the bishops say

Jun 10th, 2012 1:58 pm | By

For our final item for this brief but exciting miniature blogathon – David Gibson at Religion News Service looks at the way bishops strain at imaginary gnats while gulping down very large smelly camels.

When the bishops gathered under intense public pressure in Dallas in June 2002, they seemed determined to take dramatic steps, and to a degree they did. Their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People developed a “one-strike” policy to remove priests credibly accused of a single act of abuse, and jump-started efforts to have the Vatican streamline the process for defrocking abusive clerics…

Yet after all was said and done in Dallas, the bishops exempted themselves from any real sanctions. That self-absolution was considered outrageous at the time, and the passing years have not eased the anger.

“The Vatican also needs to do its job. It appears to have no problem investigating nuns and theologians, but investigating mismanagement by a bishop is not a priority,” the Rev. Thomas Reese, a well-known Jesuit commentator, told a symposium last month at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dallas charter.

“Even when a bishop is indicted, no one has the sense to tell him to take a leave of absence until the case is over,” Reese said.

Quis custodiet, eh? Eh? It’s very like the bankers and hedge fund managers getting themselves put in charge of everything so that all the people who had nothing to do with all that gambling with other people’s money get to lose their jobs and houses and savings, while all the people who had everything to do with it continue to pocket millions every year, much of it via taxpayers. It’s very like that. We will fix all the things except the ones that have anything to do with us; those, of course, we will carefully bracket and put aside, because we want to be happy. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

And so my part in the blogathon comes to an end and I get to rush outside for fresh air and rapid motion.

It is 1:58. This is post 13 of 13.

Donate to the SSA!

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

Poetry before they sleep

Jun 10th, 2012 1:26 pm | By

Maureen Brian (whom I met at QED, much to my delight) makes an eloquent point on the government’s education plans. It’s so eloquent that it gets the 1:30 slot.

In an ideal world we would have the active encouragement of all a person’s natural languages throughout life, GCSE and A Level exams available in most of them and an end to the notion that passing an exam 20 years ago beats speaking the language every day to your Granny.

We will not be getting that ideal world under the current government whose aim seems to be to have people reciting infant school poetry before they sleep, unpaid and in fear of losing benefits, under the bridges of the nation.


Donate to the SSA!

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

Out and spoiling for a fight

Jun 10th, 2012 1:00 pm | By

Ron Lindsay points out in the Huffington Post that coming out as an atheist is significantly different from coming out as LGBT.

True. Nobody is saying that being straight is based on a lot of unexamined and untenable beliefs. Nobody is saying or hoping that straightitude will wither away. A good many atheists are saying that religion is based on mistaken beliefs and that it does harm as a result, and should either wither away or become very much less obtrusive and demanding and Special.

I don’t foresee a best-selling book entitled “The Straight Delusion” or “Heterosexuality Poisons Everything.” The LGBT community wants acceptance; they don’t want to persuade others to join their “team,” and even if they had that objective, they would strive for it in vain.

By contrast, the amount of literature that has been produced in the last decade criticizing religious belief is extensive and continues to grow. Moreover, these critiques of religion seem to have had some effect.

So the fact that we don’t have two heads or spikes isn’t enough to make us acceptable, and we might as well get used to it. In fact it’s what we want. (“We” as usual are gnus, or outspoken argumentative atheists.) We want to chip away at social deference to religion, and we can’t combine that with claims to be jes’ plain folks like everybody else.

12:49. I can spend a luxurious 11 minutes eating lunch.

Donate to the SSA!

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