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.

Good morning blogathon

Jun 10th, 2012 8:00 am | By

Here we go. The miniature blogathon begins.

Brianne did hers yesterday, except hers wasn’t miniature: she did the whole 24 hour thing. I encouraged her by reminding her that the second half was going to be much longer than the first. I’m kind that way.

You were supposed to suggest things for me to post about. Seriously: any suggestions? But then it’s Sunday, when nobody reads this. People read this exclusively during working hours, so that they’ll know for sure they’re not wasting their time.

Not to worry. It’s not as if the world is empty of things to talk about.

Donate to the SSA!

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

A whole Trojan stable

Jun 9th, 2012 5:57 pm | By

Via Tarek Fatah, a Calgary conference has invited Bilal Philips as the top speaker; Philips has repeatedly said homosexuals should be executed. Get the name of the conference – The Power of Unity: Islam in a MultiCultural Canada. Some unity!

And there’s a slew of other craps, too.

Munir El-Kassem, a dentist from London, Ont., wrote a column back in 2001 that condemned the West as hypocritical and defended the Taliban regime for destroying the sixth-century Buddha statues in Bamiyan…

Shaykh Hatem Alhaj recently lost his job at the Mayo Clinic because he wrote papers in support of female circumcision. He later tried to clarify his position by saying he only supports nicking the clitoris, not cutting it right off.

And George Galloway is on the dance card too.

Abraham Ayache, chairman of the Muslim Council of Calgary, said the conference is being organized to celebrate 50 years of Islam in Calgary and is all about unity and celebrating multiculturalism…

But a recent posting on the MCC website under the heading “Ask the Imam” seems to  indicate that some of the organization’s hired imams haven’t read the memo about  cultural tolerance and unity.

In answer to a question by a single mother concerned about her children no  longer being obedient to her, an imam on the site wrote: “You should instil a  hatred for this culture and its ways in the hearts of your children.” He also  wrote: “It is haraam (forbidden) for you to give your children free rein in  forming friendships with the children of the kuffaar.”

That’s not multiculturalism. Calling people “the kuffar” is not multiculturalism. Advocating the execution of gays is not multiculturalism. Happy Canada day.


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

What could possibly go wrong?

Jun 9th, 2012 4:01 pm | By

It seemed like such a good idea – spending three years, three months and three days in a Buddhist retreat seven thousand feet up an Arizona mountain, living in rustic conditions and meditating silently, with a charismatic Princeton-educated monk for a “spiritual leader,” in order to “employ yoga and deep meditation to try to answer some of life’s most profound questions.”

Wait, what?

How would yoga and deep meditation enable anyone to answer some of life’s most profound questions? Unless, I suppose, some of those questions have to do with how boring it would be to spend three years, three months and three days meditating silently, no matter how charismatic one’s Princeton-educated spiritual leader is.

Erik Brinkman, a Buddhist monk who remains one of Mr. Roach’s staunchest admirers, said, “If the definition of a cult is to follow our spiritual leader into the desert, then we are a cult.”

Yes, that’s one pretty good definition of a cult. Following spiritual leaders into the desert has “cult” written all over it. Pro tip: it’s because of the following, and the spiritual leader, and the desert.


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

She won’t shut up or back down

Jun 9th, 2012 11:26 am | By

Athena Andreadis is disgusted but not surprised at the spectacle of Golden Dawn spokesman Elías Kasidhiáris hitting Liána Kanélli in the face on a tv talk show the other day.

For those sequestered in silently running nuclear submarines, Golden Dawn got 7% of the vote in the May elections, gaining seats in the parliament – the first time such a thing has happened since World War II (not counting the junta). Its platform is the standard troglodytic garbage: ethnic purity, “natural” order – which includes the de jure disenfranchisement of women and Others – and bodily violence against those who disagree. Its members regularly assault immigrants, minorities and journalists as well as other “undesirables”, with tolerance (if not cooperation) from the police and portions of the media. Serial killer Anders Breivik listed Golden Dawn in his diary as the likeliest group to “cleanse” Europe.

The violence against those who disagree is not figurative violence, or “merely” threatened violence.

To anyone speaking Hellenic, it becomes obvious when you watch the video that Kasidhiáris was as well-informed as Sarah Palin. The two women, Kanélli in particular, let him know this. His response was standard: first he accused them of bringing “personal matters” (namely, his impending trial) into politics. Then, after a brief exchange of verbal insults, he flung a glass of water at Dhoúrou’s face. The three male politicians present sat through this like statues while the talk host made feeble mewling noises. The only one who did something was Kanélli, who went toward Kasidhiáris brandishing a newspaper.

To show that he doesn’t take guff from uppity broads, even ones old enough to be his mother, Kasidhiáris jumped out of his seat and hit Kanélli three times. On the face. The first was a slap. The other two were left-right closed-fist punches.

Yet again, I’m naïve. I’ve always thought that was taboo, and known to be taboo – at least taboo enough not to be done on television. Silly me.

He then threatened he would “return with reinforcements” and somehow managed to escape from the TV station to “parts unknown” (almost certainly the offices of Golden Dawn) to avoid the automatic arrest warrant for assault which, by a quirk of Hellenic law, expires within 48 hours of its issue. The police, not surprisingly, have been “unable to find him” – even though he issued a lengthy (and presumably traceable) statement from his ultra-secret location, in which he said that Kanélli should be the one to be arrested and face assault charges because she “attacked him first”. The head of his party stuck by him, arguing that the incident had been blown out of proportion and, in any case, the two women are really to blame because, well, they provoked him and what’s a manly man to do except respond (literally) two-fistedly?

The defense of men who beat up women everywhere – she provoked him. Bitchez always provoke.

Sound familiar? The tactics of cowardly bullies do not change across time and cultures. Yet even more mind-boggling is the enormous number of people who opined anonymously online that “the cunt had it coming” and “finally, someone put the fat ugly dyke in her place.” Kanélli infuriates many people because she won’t shut up or back down…

Uh oh.

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

A bad day for cyber-bullies

Jun 9th, 2012 10:50 am | By

“Thank You Hater” went viral yesterday; I saw it everywhere. It was all over my Twitter feed, including via Roger Ebert and Stephen Fry. Isabel Fay tweeted about the phone ringing off the hook and interviews lining up to be done. The Guardian reports on the instant virality.

It also reports a different cyber-bully story.

A woman has won court backing to force Facebook to reveal the identities of cyberbullies who targeted her with a string of abusive messages on the website.

Nicola Brookes was granted a high court order after receiving “vicious and depraved” abuse on Facebook after she posted a comment in support of the former The X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza.

The woman, from Brighton, was falsely branded a paedophile and drug dealer by anonymous Facebook users who set up a fake profile page on the website.

Now Brookes plans to bring a private prosecution against at least four alleged internet trolls, after the high court said Facebook should reveal their identities.




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

“Voice of woman is voice of revolution”

Jun 8th, 2012 4:13 pm | By

Sarah El Deeb is a journalist with the AP in Cairo; she tweeted about the protest against violence against women, and then about the attack on the protest. Before the attack she posted a nice hopeful photo -


That was before a mob of men attacked them.

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

A mob of men attacks women in Tahrir Square

Jun 8th, 2012 3:26 pm | By

Holy shit. Holy fucking hell god damn it piss crap.

A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

What is the matter with them? What the hell is their point – that assaulting women is good? That women’s wish not to be assaulted is evil and deserving of punishment in the form of assault?

From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement.

Misogynist fascists then. Lovers of violence, force, hatred, crazed hyper-and-pseudo-masculinity. The worst kind of people imaginable.

Friday’s march was called to demand an end to sexual assaults. Around 50 women participated, surrounded by a larger group of male supporters who joined to hands to form a protective ring around them. The protesters carried posters saying, “The people want to cut the hand of the sexual harasser,” and chanted, “The Egyptian girl says it loudly, harassment is barbaric.”

After the marchers entered a crowded corner of the square, a group of men waded into the women, heckling them and groping them. The male supporters tried to fend them off, and it turned into a melee involving a mob of hundreds.

The marchers tried to flee while the attackers chased them and male supporters tried to protect them. But the attackers persisted, cornering several women against a metal sidewalk railing, including an Associated Press reporter, shoving their hands down their clothes and trying to grab their bags.

Turning everything into shit. Nice job.

I saw this via Mona Eltahawy on Twitter. Three of her best friends were attacked.


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

Radical cooties

Jun 8th, 2012 11:49 am | By

Lisa Miller in the Washington Post takes a look at the Vatican’s way of using the epithet “radical feminist.”

Members of the Vatican hierarchy are using the word “feminist” and even “radical feminist” the way third-graders use the word “cooties.” In April, the Vatican accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 57,000 nuns nationwide, of allowing “radical feminist” ideas to flow unchecked in their communities. In 2008, after launching an investigation against American nuns (the results of which have not yet been released), Cardinal Franc Rode told a radio interviewer that the nuns are suspected of “certain irregularities,” a “secular mentality” and “perhaps also a certain feminist spirit.”

That second item is especially impressive – “irregularities” – meaning deviation from authoritarian “rules” laid down by an ecclesiastical heirarchy; a “secular mentality” – meaning thinking about human issues in human terms; “a certain feminist spirit” meaning thinking women are as capable of thinking about human issues as men are (and perhaps, when the men in question are Vatican clerics, quite a lot better). Granted, they’re the Vatican hierarchy, so they’re not going to think about things in reasoned, secular, egalitarian, rights-based, liberal terms…but it’s a little surprising that they don’t even disguise their adamant opposition to reason and secularism and equality and rights and liberalism.

Their casual use of these terms convinces me that the cardinals, in their vast experience, have never actually met a radical feminist theologian. Such creatures do exist, although American religious orders are hardly their breeding ground. What the Vatican hierarchy sees as a “radical feminist” is a woman who dares to believe that she’s equal to a man.

They start from a different place, so any feminism at all looks hair-raisingly radical.

Lisa Isherwood is a real-life radical feminist theologian. She is editor of the journal Feminist Theology and a professor at Winchester University in England. She believes that the men at the Vatican are using the term “radical feminist” as a right-wing scare tactic, for it evokes other enemies far more dangerous than nuns. Their thinking, she says, goes like this: “We hear the word radical Islam, and everyone panics, so let’s chuck that at them.”

They’ve been studying the Republican party in the US, haven’t they.

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

A message of thanks from Rothamstead Research

Jun 8th, 2012 9:24 am | By

Dear Friends and Colleagues

The scientists at Rothamsted Research want to record their sincere thanks for the amazing, spontaneous outpouring of support for safeguarding their research on aphid repellent wheat. As you all know, this project represented years of painstaking discovery research and the careers of a number of dedicated scientists. The idea that a self-appointed group would decide to destroy this was unconscionable and the researchers felt that they had to reach out to reasonable people for support. No-one expected such enthusiastic and heartfelt support, but it had a number of very positive effects.

You brought the discussion about the research into the realms of sensible debate. Your support really affected the attitude of commentators, who realised what strong support there is for public sector research even when it involves transgenic plants. It also had an effect on those threatening the work and certainly helped to reduce the size of the demonstration that was intent on destroying the experiment. Finally, it was a great source of encouragement to our scientists, even in the depressing period leading up to the direct action, when everyone was feeling under siege. They would read some of the comments and were re-energised to go ahead and struggle for the right to do good science despite the threats.

As you now know, the day of the action went by peacefully and the demonstrators were well behaved. We still live under the threat of another night-time raid, but we are doing our best to safeguard the experiment. Our ecologists and field entomologists are in the field (in the pouring rain!) most days counting aphids, ladybirds and parasitic wasps that live off the aphids. But they are even more enthused to perform this work because of your support. They feel like they are members of a much larger team. This is a reminder of why we do science. It isn’t to produce scientific papers (although we must…), but it is to improve agriculture and all that depends on it.

So thank you, each individually, for your support, your comments and your suggestions. We have learned a great deal though this process, much of it due to you and your help.

The researchers will keep this list apprised of the progress of our work and invite any and all to contact us directly at Rothamsted.

With best wishes to all,

Maurice Moloney

Director and Chief Executive

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

Stirred up

Jun 8th, 2012 9:10 am | By

It’s good that forms of group-hatred like racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia don’t really matter, because they never make anything bad happen. It’s good that they’re all just words, just being “offended,” and basically just a kind of fluff blowing around on the surface of life.


Buddhist residents in western Burma have killed at least nine Muslims as sectarian tension worsens in the region, police say.

Rakhine is home to Burma’s largest concentration of Muslims, including much-persecuted Rohingya Muslims, and their presence is often deeply resented by the majority Buddhist population.

In a joint statement quoted by Reuters, eight Rohingya rights groups based outside Burma condemned the attack on the Muslims on the bus, whom they termed “Muslim pilgrims”.

Although it appears those on the bus were not Rohingyas, the groups said the attack followed months of anti-Rohingya propaganda stirred up by “extremists and xenophobes”.

Yes but propaganda doesn’t matter. Propaganda never makes anything happen. It’s just words. Grow a thicker skin. Ignore them.  Complaining about it just makes potential victims afraid when they otherwise wouldn’t be. Grow a pair. Get a life. Move on.

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

If you did hear it and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.

Jun 8th, 2012 7:15 am | By

Football fan racism.

Uefa has confirmed there were “isolated incidents of racist chanting” aimed at Netherlands players during an open training session.

But the governing body has not revealed whether it is investigating the incident in Krakow, Poland.

Dutch captain Mark van Bommel said monkey chants were directed at players.

While Van Bommel complained specifically of racist abuse, the Dutch FA had earlier said this was mixed with anti-Euro 2012 chanting believed to have been prompted by the fact the city has not been given any matches in the tournament.

When this was put to Van Bommel on Thursday, he said: “Open your ears. If you did hear it and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.”

Yes sounds familiar. “Oh that’s not racism, that’s just me hating you. Totally different thing. The fact that I use racist words or chants or sounds is neither here nor there.”



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

How will we know if you don’t tell us

Jun 8th, 2012 6:44 am | By

Via Kylie – a brilliant thank you note to The Footsoldiers of Commenting.

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

SSA week Blogathon

Jun 7th, 2012 5:25 pm | By

You know it’s Secular Student Alliance week, right?

Right now, SSA supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss have pledged a $250,000 matching offer. That means that every contribution is matched dollar-dor-dollar up to a quarter of a million dollars.Hitting the Hawkins/Strauss match means we can offer previously unimagined levels of support for our affiliates during the coming fall semester.  But we need help from the non-students to get there.

The goal of SSA Week is to raise $100,000.  Is it ambitious?  Yes.  Can we do it?  Yes.  Surely there are 20,000 people out there who support the cause of empowering secular activists at the college and high school level.  $5 apiece from each of them gets us to our goal.  The little box over there on the right sidebar will tell you how we’re doing.

There’s one here too, over there on the right sidebar.

I’m going to do a piece of that blogathon thing. Not 24 hours like heroic Jen, just a quarter of that; six hours. Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific Time.

Got any subjects you want me to blab about? Donate and make a request. Lots of people are doing this, on FTB (hive mind! anarchic hive mind!) and elsewhere. There’s a big ol’ list and schedule on the SSA week page.

SSA is a good thing. I will give you just two words to explain why: Jessica Ahlquist.

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

An explosion of Pepto Bismol

Jun 7th, 2012 4:31 pm | By

Via Christopher Moyer – women tennis players are given their own special court to play on.

…the revered Stade Roland Garros, which first hosted a national women’s  tennis tournament in 1897, had turned a court bright pink and set up an on-site salon and spa for female sportswriters in honor of “Ladies Day.”

Well good good good good. And female surgeons will get their own special bright pink OR, and female pilots will get their own special bright pink cabins, and female judges will get their own special bright pink robes.

More from Joanne Gerstner, who was there.

The carpet is hot pink. The tennis court is rose pink. The champagne is pale pink. The nail polish is cotton candy pink. Even the hair dryer is flamingo pink.

The French Tennis Federation declared Thursday to be its first “Ladies’ Day” at the French Open, and somebody thought it was a genius idea to go heavy on the pink to drive the theme home. Because all females love pink and live to be Elle from “Legally Blonde.”

I was welcomed into the Village de la Femme, aka a little tent setup on Court 4 by the eye-searing pink carpet. Two guys wearing baby pink polos guarded the door to prevent male interlopers. When I got onto the court, there were little chalets where we ladies could get our nails done, a blowout, a coffee/juice/pink champagne bar and massages.

So this was the definition of Ladies’ Day at a place where Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Serena and Venus Williams, Suzanne Lenglen and other amazing female athletes showed their muscles, sweated and made their mark? Nope, no recognition of women as making up half the athletes at the French Open.

Gee, I guessed CFI missed an opportunity by not draping everything in pink bunting for the Women in Secularism con.

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

New Atheists since 1881

Jun 7th, 2012 3:45 pm | By

Also – I have a new gig. I get to be a columnist for The Freethinker.

Cutting”, “abrasive”, “sarcastic”, “offensive” … These are just some of the words used to describe the Freethinker magazine, which was launched in Britain in 1881 and has continued publishing without a break ever since. But it was the word “blasphemous”, dropped from the lips of a hostile judge, that that got its founder and first editor G.W. Foote into serious trouble. As a result mainly of irreligious cartoons published in the Christmas, 1882, edition, the judge declared the issue “blasphemous” and Foote was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. GW Foote

But the magazine, under caretaker editor Edward E Aveling, kept rolling off the presses, to the chagrin of the Home Office and the police, and to the delight of a growing number of readers who could hardly believe that any magazine in respectable, Victorian England, would dare attack religion in such an aggressive manner.

In issue 1 of the Freethinker (May, 1881) Foote wrote:

The Freethinker is an anti-Christian organ, and must therefore be chiefly aggressive. It will wage relentless war against Superstition in general, and against Christian Superstition in particular. It will do its best to employ the resources of Science, Scholarship, Philosophy and Ethics against the claims of the Bible as a Divine Revelation; and it will not scruple to employ for the same purpose any weapons of ridicule or sarcasm that may be borrowed from the armoury of Common Sense.

Ever since, the Freethinker has remained faithful to Foote’s founding principles, and has never wavered in its opposition to religion.

Good, eh?

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

The Intersection of Non-theism and Feminism

Jun 7th, 2012 3:27 pm | By

The panel I did at Women in Secularism with Rebecca and Jen and Sikivu is now posted.

In case you look at it, just a note – I’m really not as furious and grim as I look, that’s just the way my face goes. In my head I’m actually as mostly-amused as Rebecca looks (and is).

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

Better news

Jun 7th, 2012 3:10 pm | By

There’s a report that the women in Pakistan haven’t been killed after all. That would be a relief! Thank you for not killing some women for singing and dancing at a wedding. You are very kind.

Pakistani campaigners say they have made contact with two out of five women previously feared murdered for singing in a wedding video.

Dr Farzana Bari met the two women after travelling with officials to a remote village in north-west Pakistan.

The team did not meet the other three women, but said local elders had given assurances that they were also alive.

Well good. I’m glad there’s one less horror in the stack of horrors.

After several hours climbing, human rights activists – travelling with local officials – say the two women appeared relaxed, and did not show any signs of physical ill-treatment.

“If these two are alive, I believe the others are as well,” campaigner Farzana Bari told the BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad.

Dr Bari said that the other three women were at a more remote location that could not be reached easily.

Good. I hope they flourish.

She said that she believed there had been no death sentence from a tribal council, but there was a real risk to the women because the wedding video had been widely seen.

“There’s a strong tradition in this area of taking the law into your own hands,” she said. “The authorities should keep on monitoring the women. There is still a risk, we cannot relax.”

Best wishes. Fingers crossed.


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

Stalinist anarchist fascist chaotic organized hive scattering in all directions

Jun 7th, 2012 12:14 pm | By

Ed has a great post replying to a hilariously absurd one by John Loftus wondering what the Freethought blogs “mission statement” is. That question is swiftly answered: there ain’t one.

Ed points out a certain confusion.

On the one hand, if several FTBers agree on a subject and each write about it expressing a similar perspective, that’s bad and it’s obviously all orchestrated behind the scenes; on the other hand, when we disagree we’re drowning each other out and undermining atheism in the process.

Don’t I know it. I’ve just seen a little knot of people on Twitter agreeing with each other that FTB thinks as one and is horribly messily anarchic. If I’ve seen it once I’ve seen it a million times: someone saying “this one FTB blog said something bad; FTB is bad terrible horrible awful.” Apparently what one FTB blogger says, we all say. We’re One Big Giant Robot, with multiple limbs but only one brain. But also anarchic. Bastards!

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

Joe sends Brenda a thank-you card

Jun 7th, 2012 10:44 am | By

Hilarious headline department:

Pope praises Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s “noble vision” of a Christian monarch

You don’t say!

Well he would, wouldn’t he. She’s praised his “noble vision” of a Christian pontiff, too, for the same kind of reason. They’re colleagues. They both work in the unelected unaccountable head of an absurd hierarchy business. They both draw their illegitimate magical pseudo-authority from a non-existent “god.” They both wear expensive outfits when appearing to worshipful crowds. They both tell people what’s what, based on nothing in particular.

In a message released Wednesday by the Vatican, Benedict said the British monarch has over the past 60 years been an “inspiring example of dedication to duty and a commitment to maintaining the principles of freedom, justice and democracy.”

Oh? What has she done in the way of maintaining the principles of freedom, justice and democracy? I don’t say she’s opposed them, particularly, but what does she do that makes any difference to them? Nothing I can see, except that her performance of monarchy is an implicit rebuke to democracy in the broadest sense.

Ah well, it was just a formula, like a Mother’s Day card.

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

Save Sanal Edamaruku

Jun 7th, 2012 10:34 am | By

Another petition for you, via the New Humanist:

We call on the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to withdraw their complaint against Indian Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku

You bet; I certainly call on the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to do that. Seriously? Edamaruku investigated a claim that a little statue of Mary was leaking tears, and he found that it was seepage from sewer water under the statue. That’s not a crime, to put it mildly, and the Catholic archdiocese has no business complaining about it.

Hey Catholic archdiocese of Bombay – I say the guy named Yeshua who was executed by the Romans 20 centuries ago is still dead, because dead people stay dead. Come and get me!

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