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.

Up the down staircase

Jan 1st, 2012 12:26 pm | By

There’s always another step to go up the staircase of disgust -

The latest step is the Haredi leadership putting yellow stars on children at a protest against “exclusion” (by which is meant, not being permitted to exclude women).

Over a thousand ultra-Orthodox men assembled Saturday night in Jerusalem’s Kikar Hashabbat (Sabbath Square), in protest of what they termed the exclusion of Haredim, a response to the recent outrage over the exclusion of women in Beit Shemesh and elsewhere.

You see what they did there? Men who define inclusion as men’s right to exclude and bully women are protesting their “exclusion” by using Holocaust imagery, as if being genocided were identical to being prevented from excluding and bullying women.

Some of the protesters were wearing yellow badges; others were dressed in prisoner uniforms symbolizing the prosecution of Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II. The protesters were trying to express by way of analogy that they are being persecuted for their Jewish way of life by Israel’s secular majority.

That’s a biiiiiiiiiiig step up that staircase.


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

Here’s what you learn

Jan 1st, 2012 11:17 am | By

Funny how sexism never goes out of style, isn’t it. I used to think it was out of style at least among people who occasionally use their heads for something other than putting food into, but I’ve been disabused of that starry-eyed notion lately. Certainly people who don’t go in for multi-purpose heads seem to think sexism is both funny and truthful. Like the tabloid press in the UK, Laurie Penny says.

We are used to seeing this sort of story about women in the tabloids, the familiar narrative of vapid idealisation, followed by shame and sexual humiliation. What we are not used to is seeing a real woman in a smart suit telling us how these stories affected her life. Now a collection of liberal feminist groups has come forward to say what everyone knew already: that any investigation into media ethics would be incomplete without an acknowledgement that the British tabloid press is oozing with the very worst sort of malicious, heavy-breathing misogyny.

Sexism is so consistent a feature of the culture of media in Britain that it has become easy to overlook, like the whine of an alarm that has sounded for so long you’ve learned to ignore it. Until a few years ago, it was the modern “problem with no name”. However much it hurt to have to see slut-shaming, rape-apologism, victim-blaming and sexual objectification in the press every day over our cornflakes, women just had to ignore it, because challenging media misogyny in any way was next to impossible. It was just “the way things were”.

How familiar that is. (Atheists hear a lot of that, too – most people are religious, and that’s just how it is.) It may be next to impossible (or it may not), but that’s not actually a reason to submit to it.

But back to the tabloids.

Here’s what you learn, if you’re a woman and you grow up with British tabloid newspapers in the house: if you get raped or murdered, it’s your fault; if you are old, overweight or just having a bad hair day, you are disgusting. You must work to appear as sexually attractive and submissive as possible, at which point you will be called a slag, a disgrace and a “loose-knickered lady lout”, in the words of Quentin Letts. Women who have careers are miserable and pathetic. You were born to be a wife and mother, and succeeding at these things is the only thing that will fulfil you. Having a baby is the most valuable thing you can possibly do, unless you’re poor, or unmarried, in which case you’re society’s scum. If you complain about discrimination or sexual violence, you’re a shrill, jealous harpy.


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

The Catholic church costs Italy 6 billion euros a year

Dec 31st, 2011 4:31 pm | By

But worth every penny, right? Given all the church does for child welfare, and women’s rights, and the health and well-being of people with Aids and their spouses and children, and education, and…

Well they keep the brocade industry going, at least. Do admit.

But the IHEU refuses to admit.

The findings by Italy’s Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR), a member organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, were published the day after Italy’s new government announced a budget filled with new taxes and drastic spending cuts.

But the spending cuts are in this world, while the Catholic church takes care of the other world, so that it will be all clean and shiny when we get to it. No worries. Happy new year.


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

Sakineh is not safe

Dec 31st, 2011 4:18 pm | By

Maryam says: Here’s information on what you can and must do about the possible imminent execution of Sakineh Mohamadi Ashtiani.

The International Committee Against Stoning asks the noble people of the world, as well as the press, governments and human-rights organisations, to exert pressure in any way they can in pursuit of Sakineh and Houtan’s release by the Islamic Republic.

International Committee Against Stoning

28 December 2011



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

Choose ONE

Dec 31st, 2011 12:22 pm | By

It’s confusing. There’s this college in Dundee, called the Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education. Its

aim is the promotion of intelligent debate and understanding of Islam and the role of Muslims in the contemporary world. We are a place of knowledge and reflection on the issues facing a diverse and multicultural world in the twenty-first century.

Ok. But then you look at its Multiculturalism Course.

The programme aims to explore in depth the concept of multiculturalism, with specific reference to the development of the concept in academic studies (particularly the past 15 years). The main understanding of the term  ‘multiculturalism’ for this programme is as a means to describe contemporary contexts of cultural and religious diversity, and the processes by which such diversity are experienced (by individuals, societies and countries) and managed (by nation states).

You begin to wonder. You keep reading.

Optional Course 1

Choose one course, subject to availability, from:

  • The Theoretical Framework of Bayt al-Maqdis
  • Islam & Muslims in History & Society
  • Educational Studies: An Introduction

Islam & Muslims in Multicultural Britain

This course examines the historical and demographic developments of the Muslim presence in the UK. It places them in the context of the emergence of a politics of multiculturalism in the past 50 years, along with the processes of settlement and integration of diverse ethnic, religious and cultural minority communities, and their relations with wider society. A major theme of the course is the diversity of British Muslim identities, and communities and the social, cultural and political contexts in which they have developed.

Optional Course 2

Choose one course, subject to availability, from:

  • Globalisation & Political Islam
  • Islam & Muslims & International Relations
  • Islamic Education: Theory & Practice
  • History of Bayt al-Maqdis 2: From the Late Crusades to the Contemporary Era
  • Women in Islam

And now you feel thoroughly confused. The course as a whole is about multiculturalism, but the choices on offer are about exactly one “culture.” Why is that?

And is “Islam” the best “culture” (or religion) to focus on if you’re trying to understand multiculturalism? I ask because Islam itself is firmly opposed to multiculturalism and pluralism; Islam makes it a crime deserving the death sentence to leave Islam for a different “culture” or religion.

So it’s confusing.


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

Looks more like malpractice

Dec 31st, 2011 10:16 am | By

This is worrying.

Authorities say two out-of-state doctors who traveled to Maryland to perform late-term abortions have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder, an unusual use of a law that allows for murder charges in the death of a viable fetus.

A grand jury indicted the two doctors after a 16-month investigation, police said.

The investigation began in August 2010 after what authorities say was a botched procedure at Brigham’s clinic in Elkton, located near the border of Maryland and Delaware. An 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant had her uterus ruptured and her bowel injured, and rather than call 911, Brigham and Riley drove her to a nearby hospital, where both were uncooperative and Brigham refused to give his name, according to documents filed in a previous investigation by medical regulators.

A search of the clinic after the botched abortion revealed a freezer containing 35 late-term fetuses, including one believed to have been aborted at 36 weeks, the documents show.

Brigham, 55, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. Riley, 46, faces one count each of first- and second-degree murder and one conspiracy count.

Mind you, it’s also mystifying. Why was there a freezer full of fetuses? But even with all the mystification, when abortion-providing doctors are charged with first degree murder it’s time to get worried.

The state law allows for murder or manslaughter charges to be brought against a person who intends to kill or seriously injure a fetus or who wantonly disregards the safety of a fetus. It does not apply to doctors administering lawful medical care and does not impinge on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

I don’t see how those two sentences, as they stand, can both be true…No wait, yes I do – “allows for” must mean in cases where a woman is not terminating a pregnancy; assault as opposed to abortion. Is that right?

An item to watch.


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

The grossly misnamed Australian Vaccination Network

Dec 30th, 2011 5:15 pm | By

I just want to say

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

Going home

Dec 30th, 2011 4:43 pm | By

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports more revelations of threats to Pakistani journalists.

Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times and host of a popular Urdu-language political program on Geo TV, and Jugnu Mohsin, also a Friday Times editor, said they had lived under threat for years but the level of danger had become so menacing in early 2011 that they were forced to leave Pakistan. A few months later, the two went public with the threats. Then, on Thursday, Sethi told us that he and Mohsin had decided to return to Lahore on Friday.

Pakistan is, according to the CPJ, the worst country in the world for journalists.

A level of danger pervades the industry, and for the last two years, CPJ has ranked Pakistan as the world’s deadliest country for journalists. The courageous steps of some men and women in recent days to confront that menace head-on is admirable, but their courage alone won’t be enough to reverse the trend. The reality is that governance is weak in Pakistan, and it will require a concerted effort over a long time before Pakistani journalists–and normal citizens, for that matter–can live without fear of retribution.

This necessarily means that Pakistanis are starved of good information. They need it more than most people.

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

In which I talk some more

Dec 30th, 2011 4:17 pm | By

I did a podcast for the Buffalo Beast. I have the remains of a cold so there are one or two quick barks which are me coughing, but other than that I think it’s all right. It was fun.

I should figure out where the Discovery Institute is some day…

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

Acid in the name of god

Dec 30th, 2011 11:15 am | By

I think people who leave Islam should leave it for atheism, not for Christianity, but I also think people who do leave Islam for Christianity should not have acid thrown in their faces. Umar Mulinde, who used to be an Islamic teacher and is now a bishop of the Gospel Life Church International, had acid thrown in his face on December 24th. It destroyed one of his eyes.


From his hospital bed in Kampala, he told Compass that he was on his way back to the site for a party with the entire congregation and hundreds of new converts to Christianity when a man who claimed to be a Christian approached him. “I heard him say in a loud voice, ‘Pastor, pastor,’ and as I made a turn and looked at him, he poured the liquid onto my face as others poured more liquid on my back and then fled away shouting, ‘Allahu akbar,’” Mulinde said, still visibly traumatized two days after the assault.

As far as I can tell, Gospel Life Church International isn’t one of the Homophobia First sects that have been infesting Uganda, but I’m not sure about that. In any case, down with pouring acid on people.

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

More desk chair tourism

Dec 29th, 2011 3:23 pm | By

I did a post on Google Earth tourism last March.

Something I’ve just discovered in the last few days is that the chateaux of the Loire Valley have been very thoroughly visited by the Google van – blue lines all over everything, so you can see the gardens, the approaches, outbuildings, and the chateau from far and close and from all angles. You could spend hours just looking at one chateau. Look up Chenonceau or Chambord, if you’re interested.

Versailles has also been thoroughly Google-photographed.

I should check out the Taj Mahal one of these days…

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


Dec 29th, 2011 3:10 pm | By

You know about Rock Beyond Belief, right? The fun day of music and rabble-rousing for foxhole atheists?

Current Lineup

Dan Barker
Ed Brayton
Richard Dawkins
Margaret Downey
Jen McCreight
Dale McGowan
Hemant Mehta
Nate Phelps
Al Stefanelli
Todd Stiefel
Mikey Weinstein
Baba Brinkman
Jeffrey Lewis
Words Such As Burn
Roy ZimmermanWhen:
Saturday, March 31st, 2012 Time: Noon – 8:00PM
The main post parade field on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Cost: Free to everyone. This includes service members, spouses and family, and civilians from the surrounding areas that may wish to attend.

It should be hella fun, plus a good idea and much needed. Attend and/or spread the word.

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

Her provocative behavior

Dec 29th, 2011 12:27 pm | By

So repeatedly calling a woman a slut is actually a form of harassment?

An indictment was filed Thursday against Jerusalem resident Shlomo Fuchs, 44, an ultra-Orthodox man who hurled sexist slurs at a female soldier on a public bus in the capital.

The court also stated that sexual harassment does not only apply when the harasser demands something of sexual nature from the harassed, but also when the harassed is humiliated based on remarks relating to his or her sex. The judge ruled such was the case in this incident, since “there is no dispute that Fuchs spoke bluntly and shouted harsh and humiliating words at the soldier aboard the bus, calling her a ‘slut’ three times.”

And that’s harassment? Really? It’s not just a little harmless fun? It’s not a joke? It’s not a touch of boorishness? It’s actual harassment? Who knew?

Fuchs’ attorney claimed this was not a criminal offense. “We live in a free country. We’re allowed to curse, it’s part of the freedom of expression,” he explained.

If the court does decide this is a sexual harassment case, said the attorney, then any man who calls a woman a “bitch” or other curse words would be considered a sexual offender.

Or a cunt or a fucking cunt or a smelly snatch or a fucking fat slag or an ugly fucking cunt bitch or – you get the idea.

It looks like a stupid claim, on the face of it (though it’s probably the only claim Fuchs’s attorney could make). Being allowed to curse is not the same thing as being allowed to shout curses at a particular person on a public bus because she won’t obey an unlawful bullying coercive order to move to the back of said bus. Passengers on buses aren’t allowed to do whatever they like to other passengers. Being allowed to curse is not the same thing as being allowed to harass people.

The Jerusalem police on Wednesday arrested Fuchs for calling Doron Matalon, the female soldier, a “slut” after she refused to sit at the back of an Egged bus travelling from the Neve Yaakov neighborhood to the Central Command base in Jerusalem.

Another female passenger who was approaching the front of the bus in order to pay the driver was told by Fuchs that “a woman shouldn’t pass through the front of the bus to pay.” He then demanded she return to the back of the bus.

Matalon said, “I wanted to make room for her, but a man sitting nearby said to her: ‘Why are you at the front of the bus? You’re a woman.’ He looked at me and asked: ‘You too, why are you here?’” Matalon responded: “Women are not restricted to the back of the bus.”

“I told him that just as he doesn’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see his, and that’s when he called me a ‘slut, shiksa.’”

Matalon added that Fuchs yelled: “Slut, slut, slut. You have no respect. You’re standing among yeshiva students and it’s shameful.”

Fuchs was arrested by the police, and during his interrogation he admitted to calling Matalon a “slut”, explaining that the slur was a proper response to “her provocative behavior.”

Sure. That’s what they all say.



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

Comedy Hour

Dec 29th, 2011 10:37 am | By

Priests. Greek Orthodox priests, Armenian priests. Cleaning up the “Church of the Nativity” in Bethlehem. For the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Scrub scrub, dust dust, polish polish, sweep sweep. Bash bash. Bash bash bash bash bash bash.


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

Tiny dog

Dec 28th, 2011 4:53 pm | By

Another one. Just for fun.

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


Dec 28th, 2011 4:46 pm | By

Jason Thibeault says why it’s useful that Rebecca Watson draws the pus of frothing misogyny out into the open where we can see it and then pour bleach on everything in sight.

Maybe not so good for her, but for all of us. These magical superpowers of hers are probably a curse for her own sanity, but they are a boon for our society, for our respective communities. It’s excellent that she can draw so much attention to the problem, and can draw out the people who are, in essence, part of it, where they can make examples of themselves. The “touch of boorishness” that she can draw out of complete strangers just by mentioning this nonsense is exactly the type of attitude we need to cleanse from our systems, to keep from becoming an entrenched part of our culture. We have to draw this venom out of our skeptical communities’ bodies somehow.

If we don’t know about it, we can’t deal with it. I’m not very optimistic that we can deal with it even if we do know about it, but I’m sure we can’t if it’s kept away from the fresh air and sunlight.

More from Jen, John, Ed, PZ.


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

We have to base our behaviour according to scripture

Dec 28th, 2011 11:14 am | By

It appears that David Cameron is jealous of theocracy. He wants him some of that extra goddy power!

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the UK is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so” in a speech in Oxford on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible….

And he staunchly defended the role of religion in politics and said the Bible in particular was crucial to British values.

Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet, is chuffed.

“But what Christianity is really about is putting the least first. It requires us to feed the hungry, visit prisoners, have time for the lonely, fight for the oppressed, and love our enemies.”

No it isn’t. If Christianity were about putting the least first then it wouldn’t have put women last all this time, nor would the pope and the Vatican be telling the world’s Catholics not to use condoms despite the existence of the Aids virus, nor would Catholic bishops try to force Catholic hospitals to refuse to save women’s lives via abortion.

In a world riven with inequality, the belief that we are all equal before God requires that we speak up against those inequalities.

Bullshit, Catherine Pepinster. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. Your church is one of the last big defenders of inequality.

More sinister than Pepinster, though, is MCB member and imam from Leicester, Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra:

As Muslims we also believe in the Bible. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. Not only that, but in the teachings of all the biblical prophets, including Moses in the Torah. So this is something that we feel is absolutely in tune with the Muslim thinking. We have to base our behaviour according to scripture, God’s revealed message.

For a long time Muslims have been trying to express this idea, that for us as Muslims Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. To divorce politics from religion is not something we are able to do, we cannot leave our religion at home or in the mosques, it comes with us wherever we go. So it’s refreshing to hear the prime minister say Christians should do the same.

As Maryam said – be afraid.

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

Just for fun

Dec 27th, 2011 5:00 pm | By

Cooper on the beach.

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

Post-born children don’t matter so much

Dec 27th, 2011 4:30 pm | By

There’s a thing called Personhood USA.

The Primary Mission of Personhood USA is to serve Jesus by being an Advocate for those who can not speak for themselves, the pre-born child. We serve by starting / coordinating efforts to establish legal “personhood” for pre-born children through peaceful activism, legislative efforts and ballot-access petition initiatives.

By “pre-born child” of course it means the embryo; by “pre-born” it means “inside the body of a woman whose wishes are entirely beside the point.” By “personhood” it means “usurping the rights of the woman who is gestating the embryo.”


It is pleased that Ron Paul signed the “Personhood Pledge” but it is also suspicious.

Upon receiving the signed pledge with the addendum, Personhood USA requested clarification from the Paul campaign for inconsistencies between the accompanying statement and the pledge language.

The pledge requires that the candidates “stand…with the Republican Party platform in affirming that [they] “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.”

Regarding the latter, Rep. Paul stated that “The Fourteenth Amendment was never intended to cancel out the Tenth Amendment. This means that I can’t agree that the Fourteenth Amendment has a role to play here, or otherwise we would end up with a ‘Federal Department of Abortion.’”

Uh oh. Could be problems ahead. But don’t worry; I’m sure between them they’ll be able to figure out a way to remove women’s rights over their own bodies.

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

Aesthetic interlude

Dec 27th, 2011 3:21 pm | By

Just to knock your socks off -

Photography in the style of traditional Chinese painting of the Song and Yuan dynasties by Don Hong-Oai.


There are lots more; go look. They’re sensational.

Via Julia Galef at Facebook.

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