Notes and Comment Blog

In Houston

Jan 22nd, 2015 1:58 pm | By

Another protest, this time in Houston yesterday.

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

The other 15 women

Jan 22nd, 2015 1:37 pm | By

However, one piece of better news – though I can’t really call it good news, given the eight years wasted…

A pardon granted by El Salvador’s Parliamentary Assembly to a young woman imprisoned after suffering a miscarriage is a triumph of justice and gives hope to the other 15 women languishing in jail on similar charges, said Amnesty International.

In 2007 “Guadalupe” received a 30 year jail sentence after authorities wrongly suspected she had terminated her pregnancy. She was only 18 years old.

Now she’s 25 or 26. She lost eight years because she had a miscarriage.

El Salvador has one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world, criminalizing abortion on all grounds, even when a woman or girls’ life or health is in danger and in cases of rape. Women and girls suspected of having illegal abortions are also often cruelly and deliberately charged with homicide, as in Guadalupe’s case.

The other 15 women jailed after suffering pregnancy-related complications are also seeking pardons. Their cases will come before the Parliamentary Assembly in the coming months.

My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign to stop the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction by governments and others. Over 2014-2015 the campaign is working for change in people’s lives in a number of countries, including El Salvador. This campaign aims to remind world leaders of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil sexual and reproductive rights.

15 more women.

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

What Amnesty actually said

Jan 22nd, 2015 1:31 pm | By

Hm. We have a discrepancy in what people are saying about Raif. As I posted a few hours ago, Amnesty says the doctors have said he shouldn’t be flogged again, but they also said

Raif Badawi is still at risk, there is no way of knowing whether the Saudi Arabian authorities will disregard the medical advice and allow the flogging to go ahead.

But the BBC is reporting that as Amnesty saying “Saudi Arabia has postponed the flogging” – which is inaccurate. Did the Beeb just misread it?

They go on –

Amnesty said the decision was made after doctors advised against this week’s 50 lashes on health grounds.

But Amnesty didn’t say that. They said the opposite, and I’m not seeing any update on their site.


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

Known for his analytic approach to the complex plight of humanity

Jan 22nd, 2015 1:05 pm | By

Michael Shermer is on the book tour for his new book explaining morality.

Morality? Shermer?

Yes. Bemusing, isn’t it.

Known for his analytic approach to the complex plight of humanity, New York Times bestselling author Michael Shermer (Skeptic Magazine) brings his characteristic insight to the nuanced relationship between science and morality in his latest book, The Moral Arc. From paying ransom to Somali pirates and the dilemmas of being a Nazi, to an analysis of the Bible’s basic principles, Shermer unpacks the philosophies behind some of today’s greatest moral questions. He’ll explain how beginning with The Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, scientific ways of thinking have made society more moral and in turn, created a freer, more just world.

Not by themselves they haven’t.

The subtitle of his book is

How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

They don’t; that’s how. Not on their own. They can help; they can help a lot; they can correct a lot of mistakes. But they don’t just lead humanity toward justice, like a beacon in the night. Science and reason on their own can’t, for instance, convince someone that it’s immoral to get someone drunk and then steer her into your hotel room and then have sex with her. You need more than science and reason for that.

Shermer on morality. Funny old world, isn’t it.


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

That offend the Prophet of mercy

Jan 22nd, 2015 11:59 am | By

Now have some revolting kakk from the International Union for Islamic Scholars.

(That’s not “scholars” as normally understood, of course. It means not people who have read and understood many books, but people who have read and memorized one book.)

IUMS calls for the Islamic nation to continue in the legal peaceful demonstrating to defend the great messenger, and calls for the West to protect Muslim communities from attacks.

Defend him from what? He’s dead. It’s too late to defend him because he has no life to defend any more.

IUMS had received with deep sorr[ow], the insistence of some of the re-deployment of graphics or movies that offend the Prophet of mercy, the Great Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him

But they don’t offend him, because they can’t offend him, because he’s not alive to be offended. People who are no longer alive can no more be offended than they can be surprised or delighted or giddy or afraid. You have to be alive to have feelings and thoughts. This is basic. Living people can be hurt; dead people can’t. Dead people can sustain damage to their posthumous reputations, but that’s all.

ignoring the feelings of a great nation that came into the world with values and ethics and knowledge and civilization that lit up the whole world, and spread goodness between the people , and is still trying to recover, under the conspiracy of the conspirators on it, to continue to provide universal mission based on freedom, compassion, justice, and the reconstruction of the earth

No. That universal mission is not based on freedom. Not even a little bit; not in any sense. Submission is not freedom, it’s the opposite of freedom.

It’s not great on compassion or justice either, at least not going by its current record in countries where Islam is entangled with government.

and about the continued abuse of the systematic Holy Prophet, IUMS affirms the following:

  • The Union confirms that the Islamic religion forbids not only the contempt of the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him, but denied contempt of all religions and the prophets and holy sites.

No. The Islamic religion can “forbid” what it likes, but it doesn’t get to impose its rules on people who have never signed up to obey them.

•The Union calls on Islamic countries to submit a global law draft criminalizing defamation of religions and the prophets and the holy sites of all, through a global conference to discuss clauses in complete freedom.

Such a law, of course, would be, again, the very opposite of freedom. It’s not freedom that these “scholars” want. It’s global authority they want, and they can’t have it.

• The Union calls on Western countries to provide full protection to the Muslims living in their country, whether they are citizens or residents or visitors, especially after a series of systematic attacks, they have suffered from after the events of the French newspaper “Charlie Hebdo” and till now.

Certainly. All people should be protected.

And guess who is the president of this fine outfit.

Mr. Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
IUMS President
Nope nope nope.

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

#Free Raif in Berlin

Jan 22nd, 2015 10:55 am | By

Via Twitter

FgN @felooz_tweets · 4 hours ago
Protesting with @SAIDYOUSIF in Berlin to demand freedom & end to the flogging of Raif Badawi. #FreeRaif .@amnesty_de

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Another -

Cem Özdemir @cem_oezdemir · 7 hours ago
Jetzt vor Botschaft von #SaudiArabien in Berlin. Stoppt die Folter! Freiheit für #RaifBadawi! – Danke, @amnesty!

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Conflict News @rConflictNews · 5 hours ago
Protest now infront of #saudi embassy in #Berlin demanding to stop the flogging of .@raif_badawi via @SAIDYOUSIF

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One more -

FgN @felooz_tweets · 5 hours ago
With @SAIDYOUSIF protesting infront of Saudi Embassy in Berlin demandin freedom for Raif Badawi #FreeRaif @amnesty_de

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

She will greet him at the Montreal airport

Jan 22nd, 2015 10:42 am | By

The Guardian talks to Ensaf Haider.

A few days before his birthday, the liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in front of a mosque in Jeddah, his hometown. Thousands of miles away, in her modest basement flat in Québec, his wife decided to avenge his cruel treatment with a birthday party. She put a piece of cake aside to be frozen for him, just in case.

“I feel destroyed. But I don’t want to sit in a corner and cry,” says Ensaf Haidar softly, sitting on her eldest daughter’s bed. “That would be letting Raif and my children down.”

I so badly want him to get to eat that piece of cake…before it gets freezer burn.

Haidar is composed but visibly exhausted from the events of the last few weeks. The first flogging of her husband took place, after Friday prayers, on 9 January, and sparked an international outcry. But she hides her sadness as much as possible from their three children. As she talks, Tirad, 10, plays hockey with two blond-haired boys in the hallway. His team are the Montreal Canadians, local heroes in Québec.

Badawi’s wife and children have fled a land of sand and blistering heat for Sherbrooke, a snowy, moose-spotting town of about 150 000 residents some 150km (93 miles) east of Montreal. The family was granted refugee status in Canada upon their arrival in October 2013, and this is where she calls home now.

I hope Raif can get some comfort from the fact that his children are free from the Saudi torturers. Well obviously he does get some, because how could he not; I hope he gets enough to help him.

They married in 2002 and honeymooned in Syria. Among her many pictures in her living room, there is one of them smoking shisha in Damascus, looking carefree and innocent, her hair uncovered. “With him, I could be myself. He would treat me with as much respect in public and in private, contrary to other Saudi husbands. And he would even vacuum at home,” she says, proudly.

After he founded the Free Saudi Liberals in 2008, Badawi started being intimidated by the regime. He had envisaged the blog as a forum for social and political debate, but the authorities viewed it with suspicion.

What’s there to debate, from their point of view? There’s haram and there’s halal. Simple; nothing to debate.

the young idealist, who also owned a language and IT school, quickly became a pariah and was banned from leaving the kingdom in 2009. Haidar’s father took legal steps to enforce a divorce but she refused and has not spoken to her family since.

Increasingly worried for the children, the young couple organised for her to leave in the winter of 2012 with Najwa, 11, Tirad and Myriam, 7. “He promised to join us two months later, and I thought to myself: but that’s an eternity!”

She could not have known then that, more than two years later, she would still be waiting. Haidar, who has obtained her permanent residency in Canada, has not been able to hear her husband’s voice since he was moved to a new jail three weeks ago.

Though he tried to reassure her, she could tell his spirits were low. “Being separated from the children is the most difficult thing for him, she says. “He wonders what age they will be when he sees them again – 20 years old? 30 years old? The thought is unbearable.”

So, that answers my question. No. He misses them too much for that to be possible.

Given that Badawi, who turned 31 on 13 January, is diabetic and does not have a strong build, she is deeply worried about his receiving another 50 lashes on Friday.

At the same time, though, she is not giving up hope. The US, EU, Britain and others have urged Riyadh not to pursue Badawi’s flogging – even if there is still no sign that Saudi Arabia’s key western allies will back up their rhetoric with punitive action.

I wonder if the Saudi authorities ever consider how their actions make people loathe the religion that motivates them to torture Raif.

Eighteen Nobel laureates have written an open letter calling on Saudi academics to condemn the flogging. On Thursday, Amnesty International will hold vigils outside the Saudi embassies in London and Ottawa, while protests are planned for countries including Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Ottawa, you see? Told you so.

Haidar takes succour from the knowledge that, in the past, the Kingdom has eventually bowed to international pressure over its treatment of detainees. The British-Canadian William Sampson was released in 2003 after being tortured for two years and seven months in a Riyadh jail.

She firmly believes that Badawi will one day live with her in Sherbrooke, and she behaves as such, filling in her income tax forms as a married woman rather than a single parent even though the latter would bring in more benefits.

If her wish comes true, she will greet him at the Montreal airport by doing something that is strictly forbidden in the streets of Jeddah. “I will give him the biggest kiss on the mouth!” she says, smiling like a school girl in love.

Show them!

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

At the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah

Jan 22nd, 2015 10:20 am | By

The doctors have again said Raif should not be whipped tomorrow, Amnesty reports.

The planned flogging of Raif Badawi is likely to be suspended this Friday after a medical committee assessed that he should not undergo a second round of lashes on health grounds. The committee, comprised of around eight doctors, carried out a series of tests on Raif Badawi at the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah yesterday and recommended that the flogging should not be carried out.

Nothing surprising about the assessment – deep cuts caused by repeated blows of a stick would of course not heal completely in two weeks.

“Instead of continuing to torment Raif Badawi by dragging out his ordeal with repeated assessments the authorities should publicly announce an end to his flogging and release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Raif Badawi is still at risk, there is no way of knowing whether the Saudi Arabian authorities will disregard the medical advice and allow the flogging to go ahead.”

The authorities should release him immediately and unconditionally and let him leave the country and join his wife and children in Québec.

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

Attention people in or near Ottawa

Jan 22nd, 2015 10:12 am | By

CFI Canada is holding weekly protests at the Saudi embassy in Ottawa in conjunction with Amnesty International  Canada.

CFI Canada calls its volunteers and supporters to join or lend support to weekly 30-minute demonstrations at the Saudi embassy in Ottawa (201 Sussex Drive).  Amnesty International  Canada  is leading this initiative on Thursday January 15, 2015  at 4:00 pm.  Raif Badawi is expected to receive lashes every Friday for a total of twenty weeks.    For further information, contact the CFIC office at

That’s from last week but theobromine tells us there is one today:

Note to anyone in or near Ottawa, Canada: Atheist and Humanist groups (CFI-Canada and Humanist Canada) are joining the weekly protests sponsored by Amnesty international – next one is this Thursday at 4pm in front of the Saudi Embassy (dress warmly – the high tomorrow will be -10C).

This Thursday is now today. You have a few hours to pile on the sweaters.


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

Culture clash

Jan 21st, 2015 6:20 pm | By

Watch Shazia Mirza speak up for the value of humor and Nabila Ramdani speak up for…other things.


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

5 stages of “community leader”

Jan 21st, 2015 5:42 pm | By

Another item from Maajid on Twitter:

Maajid Nawaz @MaajidNawaz · 13 hours ago
Adam Lowisz on my Facebook page applied Kübler-Ross ‘5 stages of grief’ onto outdated Muslim “community leader” types

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

Systematically cited less than their male peers

Jan 21st, 2015 4:32 pm | By

More from that Washington Post article about the overlooking of female scholars of the Middle East when events are being organized. I ran out of time before.)

The problem isn’t going to fix itself, even though women are the majority at some graduate schools of international affairs now.

The paucity of women’s voices in public discussion comes not just from thoughtless conveners, but also from long-standing problems in the professional “pipeline” that carries individuals to the top levels of the field. Inequities in hiring and promotion often reflect, and help perpetuate, the unconscious bias of a male-dominated field.

Women are systematically cited less than their male peers, for example. Even when women are active scholars, as they are in international relations and Middle East politics, such lack of professional recognition means they lose visibility. Less visibility means they are less likely to be considered by transition teams vetting government appointees, recruiters for executive jobs, media bookers or organizers trying to put together public programs. But these structural issues should not lead to paralysis. Instead, they underscore that individual and collective efforts to advance women’s inclusion in events and the media must be understood as part of a larger agenda of promoting women’s professional development.

I can hear the denunciations from Sommers and her fans now. There are no structural issues, they claim, only preferences, only biology, only women’s yearning to stay home to cuddle the baby. It’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

First, we can commit to consistently drawing attention to the issue – all of us, whatever our level or role in the policy and academic community. Male scholars who are troubled by the ongoing imbalance in our field can take one concrete step that would have faster and more notable impact than any other: They can join colleagues, like the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf, in a pledge not to appear on programs that do not include any women, at least not without a clear, satisfying and publicly articulated explanation from the organizers.

And “it’s more of a guy thing” doesn’t qualify as a clear, satisfying and publicly articulated explanation from the organizers.

The more men who make a public pledge to avoid all-male panels, and communicate it in their responses to event invitations, the more organizers will know that diversity at their podiums is asine qua non to get ALL the speakers they desire. As development expert Scott Gilmore noted last year in announcing his own pledge, “if you are invited to join a panel with no women, you must conclude it is being organized by fools. I do not perform for fools.”

Nice one.

Why is it necessary to ask men to take this pledge? Why can’t we all just pledge to do better at inviting women to join our events? Because it’s extremely difficult to surmount the unconscious biases of a field in which men still dominate. Women cannot themselves overcome their colleagues’ longstanding, unnervingly persistent failure to consider them – the gender imbalance within which we all work and the invisibility it creates are mutually reinforcing.

It’s heads we win, tails you lose, you see. Women can’t overcome their colleagues’ longstanding, unnervingly persistent failure to consider them, because they’re not there to do the overcoming. Failure to consider breeds yet more failure to consider.

Already, events and institutions that fail to demonstrate gender inclusivity are earning public censure through Web sites like Increasingly, those who demonstrate disregard for the goal of events that reflect the real diversity of our field’s leading voices will be seen as embarrassing outliers. The more well-established gender balance becomes as a norm, the more all-male panels will demand an explanation, and an apology.

Well…unless that’s not what happens. Unless what happens instead is that men who are urged to do better pitch giant temper-tantrums and call their critics witch-hunters and inquisitors and McCarthyites – as Michael Shermer called me. The authors make it sound as if it’s a smooth and friendly process, as long as it gets started in the first place. That hasn’t been my experience. My experience has been the opposite – it’s been that men bellow with rage, and then attack. It’s been that powerful men do their best to silence women who talk back to them, by using their power to bluster and threaten them and call them names.

But hey, maybe that’s something special about the skepto-atheist movement. Maybe foreign policy attracts people who do better at acting like adults; that seems quite likely, given the relevance of diplomacy to foreign policy.

Another way we can all help to increase women’s participation in policy discussions and public panels is to highlight women experts, easing the path for busy organizers building media programs or events. Foreign Policy Interrupted, the brainchild of the journalists Lauren Bohn and Elmira Bayrasli, puts out a weekly newsletter of foreign policy writing by women (sign up here or follow them on Twitter @fpinterrupted). Women in International Security, founded by a group of women pioneers in national security in 1987, boasts a network of some 7,000 members and a robust Washington chapter including luminaries like Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. After Foreign Policy’s 2012 Twitterati list was trashed for ignoring women, Twitter users crowdsourced a list of women Twitterati on a wide array of foreign policy topics (100 “FPwomerati;” a larger list is available on request). Tamara Cofman Wittes is building a searchable database of female foreign policy experts that will be publicly available, so that “I couldn’t think of any women to invite” becomes a practical impossibility.

Keep on working away.

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

150 events, not a single woman speaker

Jan 21st, 2015 12:06 pm | By

Last year, six leading Washington think tanks presented more than 150 events on the Middle East that included not a single woman speaker. Fewer than one-quarter of all the speakers at the 232 events at those think tanks recorded in our newly compiled data-set were women. How is it possible that in 2014, not a single woman could be found to speak at 65 percent of these influential and high-profile D.C. events?

They all figure it’s more of a guy thing?

Pretty much.

Such questions are increasingly common in other fields, including the natural sciences. In our experience, organizers of all-male events reply to challenges with one of two answers: “I didn’t even notice there weren’t any women!” or “I couldn’t think of any women to invite.”

And I not only couldn’t think of any, I couldn’t think of any way to find any. I tried and tried and tried but somehow the idea of using a search engine just never crossed my mind.

Really? Well-known women experts in Middle East politics are on the faculties at Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Northwestern, American, Georgetown and many more universities. Nine of the 15 members of the steering committee of the Project on Middle East Political Science (directed by Marc Lynch) are women. A dozen women have served as president of the Middle East Studies Association. Women are likewise a palpable presence in Middle East policy: Well over a dozen women have served as U.S. ambassadors in the Middle East, and Anne Patterson currently serves as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat dedicated to the region.

Well yes but how are people supposed to find that out? Besides a search engine, that is, which we’ve already established is something it’s too hard to think of.

As for the think tanks, women run the Middle East Institute, the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution (Tamara Cofman Wittes), the Middle East Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Center for the Middle East and Africa at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Center for Middle East Public Policy at RAND, and play key roles at the Middle East programs of the Center for a New American Security and the Atlantic Council. Women journalists covering the region are powerhouses in print, on air and on Twitter; there are, frankly, too many of them doing cutting-edge work in the region to even start to list them.

And yet, all those organizers of those more than 150 events couldn’t manage to think of a single woman to invite – apparently couldn’t even manage to form the thought that they ought to invite women.

This is why Christina Hoff Sommers and all her acolytes are so fucking wrong. The status quo in the sciences and at policy events does not reflect women’s choices, end of story – it also reflects stupid intractable clueless forgetting and not bothering and who caresing like the above.

The vast gap between the large number of senior women in our field and their notable absence from our public discourse means it’s time for active steps to fix the latter problem. Eliminating woman-free public events has become increasingly a priority in other fields, such as the hard sciences.

And philosophy. And atheism, skepticism, secularism, humanism.

The post is by Tamara Cofman Wittes and Marc Lynch.


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

Maajid raises the issue with Nick Clegg – #FreeRaif

Jan 21st, 2015 11:51 am | By

Now this is good – Maajid Nawaz on Twitter

Maajid Nawaz ‏@MaajidNawaz 2h
I personally raised flogging @raif_badawi & @WaleedAbulkhair with UK Dep.Prime Minister @nick_clegg today #FreeRaif

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Here’s hoping.

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

Nobel laureates speak up for Raif Badawi

Jan 21st, 2015 11:39 am | By

Good – another ratchet in the protests to Saudi Arabia about its brutal torture and rights-abrogation of Raif Badawi.

The international outcry over  restrictions on freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia escalated last night as an array of Nobel prizewinners published an open letter calling on the country’s academics to condemn the public flogging of the blogger Raif Badawi.

In their letter, passed to The Independent, the 18 Nobel Laureates urge their Saudi peers to be “heard arguing for the freedom to dissent” by standing up for Mr Badawi, whose case they say has “sent a shock around the world”.

They also hint that if the country’s academics are unable to stand up for free speech they risk being internationally marginalised – a veiled threat that will be of serious concern to the Saudi authorities, who have been keen to market the country as a burgeoning research hub.

What? Do the Saudi authorities think the rest of the world is going to take the KSA seriously as a burgeoning research hub when people there are savagely punished for saying completely ordinary (and true) things?

The letter – signed by a collection of Nobel Laureates including the novelist J M Coetzee – is addressed to Professor Jean-Lou Chameau, president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). A multibillion-dollar graduate research institution, it opened to great fanfare in 2009. It warns: “The fabric of international co-operation may be torn apart by dismay at the severe restrictions on freedom of thought and expression still being applied to Saudi Arabian society.”

I certainly hope so. Saudi Arabia should be a pariah state.

“We are confident that influential voices in KAUST will be heard arguing for the freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable,” the letter continues.

“The time is ripe for new thinking after millions in Paris, supported by the government of Saudi Arabia, demonstrated on behalf of minority views.”

Damn straight. Except I wouldn’t call it minority views; I would call it human views as opposed to goddy views. On the one hand you have people saying “obey ‘god’ or we’ll murder you or torture you to death”; on the other hand you have people saying “god sucks and also doesn’t exist, turn your attention to human needs instead of goddy ones.”

The targeting of KAUST is significant because one of its key aims was to enable Saudi Arabia to compete internationally in science and technology. The Independent understands that many prominent Western scientists are already uncomfortable collaborating with the university due to the country’s disastrous record on human rights – and may begin refusing to co-operate altogether if the letter is ignored.


One of the letter’s signatories is the British biologist Sir John Sulston, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. He told The Independent that Mr Badawi’s case carried important implications for the “importance of free speech and of academic freedom in particular” – not just in Saudi Arabia but across the world.

“We think it’s right to point out that the environment of a good university has to be one of openness, of discourse,” he said. “This guy, as far as one can understand, has been an entirely peaceful blogger proposing things which are at odds with current Saudi Arabian methods – but nevertheless absolutely consonant with academic freedoms. So we think it’s right to support him in this way.”

He said that while Western governments might condemn Saudi Arabia’s punishment of Mr Badawi in public, any action they might take was often constrained by “commercial interests” which made it even more important for academics to take action. “We all have to work all the time for freedom of speech,” he added.

Especially right now. We’re in a very bad patch.

In Britain, Amnesty has accused the Government of “wearing the Saudi muzzle” over the issue.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We remain seriously concerned by Raif Badawi’s case. The UK condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in all circumstances. We have raised Mr Badawi’s case at a senior level with the Saudi authorities.

“The UK is a strong supporter of freedom of expression around the world. We believe that people must be allowed freely to speak out against violations of human rights wherever they occur.”

Pinch harder.

The signatories

Martin Chalfie, Nobel  Laureate Chemistry (US)

J M Coetzee, Nobel  Laureate Literature  (Australia/South Africa)

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji,  Nobel Laureate Physics (France)

Richard Ernst, Nobel  Laureate Chemistry  (Switzerland)

Gerhard Ertl, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Germany)

Sheldon Lee Glashow, Nobel  Laureate Physics (US)

Dudley Herschbach, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (US)

Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (US)

Brian Josephson, Nobel Laureate Physics (UK)

Martin Karplus, Nobel  Laureate Chemistry (US)

Harold Kroto, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (UK/US)

Yuan Lee, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Taiwan/US)

Rudolph Marcus, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Canada/US)

John Polanyi, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Canada)

Richard Roberts, Nobel  Laureate Physiology or  Medicine (US)

John Sulston, Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine (UK)

Jack Szostak, Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine (US)

Eric Wieschaus, Nobel  Laureate Physiology or  Medicine (US)

I’ve met one of them – Harry Kroto, at (appropriately) a CFI conference on secularism.

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

51 percent of students

Jan 21st, 2015 10:59 am | By

Shocking but not really surprising – more than half of students in public schools in the US come from families in poverty.

This week, the Southern Education Foundation reported that 51 percent of students in grades K through 12 received a free or reduced-price school lunch in 2013, meaning that their families lived on less than 185 percent of the poverty line. According to the Washington Post, it is “the first time in at least 50 years” that more than half of the country’s public school kids have qualified as low income. In 1989, the figure was under 32 percent. In 2006, it hit 42 percent, and by 2011, it had ratcheted up to 48 percent.

Why is it not surprising? Because poverty is official policy. We keep wages down as a matter of policy, we don’t have a national health service as a matter of policy, we don’t fund universal day care as a matter of policy, and on and on.

It’s how we roll.


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

Limited warranty

Jan 21st, 2015 10:35 am | By

James Croft asked an interesting question in a public Facebook post.

Interesting question which came up at this Clergy Care Summit: what is a Humanist version of “Know that God Loves you?”

There’s a string of comments offering substitutes but they’re not fully convincing. My answer is that there isn’t one. (Ian Cromwell’s is good though – “We’re all in this together”. That has the advantage of being true, along with the disadvantage of being not nearly as comforting as the original.)

There can’t be a humanist or Humanist version of “Know that God Loves you” because people are free to project onto this imagined god the most perfect satisfying consoling love possible. They’re free to reconcile mutual impossibilities – God loves everyone infinitely, but/and God’s love for me is total and undivided and not distracted by God’s love for my siblings or my best friend or those people I hate or anyone. God doesn’t love God’s own self more than God loves me.

Humanism doesn’t work that way, so it can’t possibly offer anything equivalent to that.

It seems silly to pretend otherwise. We just can’t do the consolation thing the way religion does, because we’re constrained by reality.



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

This brand spanking new software

Jan 21st, 2015 9:02 am | By

Originally a comment by Crimson Clupeidae on Quick to sneer.

Not to worry, we here at Islamo-Judeo-Xian software, Inc, LLC, GAWD, are working on an automated version of photoshop (we’re calling it Photochop, to avoid copyright issues).

This brand spanking new software will automagically edit all images in digital form (the retroactive paper version is pending tests of the new high powered laser satellite….) to not only edit out women, pigs, prophets, dogs, etc, that may offend any religious sensibilities*, but it will autodetect blogs, words, and even recipes written by women, pigs, prophets, dogs, etc. and make them appear to be written by manly burly manly men!

Our next release will offer an optional Hindu add-on package, but there is currently strong lobbying by a conflicting group of religious nutters….I mean, believers….who worship Saint Ronald of McDonald, and we are having some issues getting the software to comply with both.

*Sensibilities in this case, being those who make the loudest and most believable threats of violence, although offering more $$$ would potentially win out…..

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

Guest post: To the people at Liberty Counsel

Jan 20th, 2015 5:10 pm | By

Originally a comment by themadtapper on Honoring the Legacy, a press release by a right-wing group for Martin Luther King day claiming to be honoring King by promoting homophobia.

As I read over that press release, which reads like a fundie Mad Lib, I debated over what part to actually comment on.

I could comment on the inanity of comparing to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. those who seek to do the very thing that King fought against: denying goods, service, and basic dignity to a marginalized people whose only desire is to have the same opportunities of life, liberty, and happiness that white conservative Christians enjoy.

I could take the low-hanging fruit and comment on yet another attempt to use the words of Thomas Jefferson to champion a religious cause.

I could comment on the lies about losing businesses (they choose to close up shop to avoid serving those “sexually sinful” people) or being made to choose regarding their personal idea of marriage (they’re not actually asked to make any choice about marriage at all; they’re asked politely, and reasonably, to provide their advertised goods and/or services whether they like the customers or not).

I was tempted to rewrite the press release and replace the same-sex references with interracial ones, which would serve only to beat a long dead horse that, sadly, must be dragged from its grave time and time again because people still don’t get it.

I decided instead to issue a press release of my own to the people at Liberty Counsel, and everyone they support and who supports them:

I pity you. So full of anger, so full of fear, so full of hate. And for what? Because two people you don’t approve of want to get married?

You there. You, holding the “Adam and EVE, not Adam and STEVE” sign. Look to your left. Look at your wife. Yesterday a gay couple got married. Did stop loving her? Did she stop loving you? Did your marriage get any less special, less magical?

You there. You, holding the “One Nation Under GOD” sign. Look to your right. Look at your husband. Tomorrow, another gay couple will get married. Will you stop loving him? Will your marriage fall to pieces? Will your marriage mean any less to you tomorrow than it does today?

I pity you. How much time did you spend today, worrying about what gay people you may never even meet want to do with their lives? How much energy did you spend trying to meddle in their lives? How long could you have held your own loved ones in your arms if you’d not been so busy trying to keep others from doing so?

There is only one person demeaning your marriage. Only one person taking anything away from you.

It’s you.

It’s only you. Every time you choose to stand in the aisle with your arms folded instead of sitting on the pew putting your hands together. Every time you choose to put acrylics on posterboard instead of shoe polish on windshields. Every time you throw stones instead of rice. Every time you shout insults instead of congratulations. Every time you frown at someone else’s marriage instead of smiling at your own. That’s what demeans your marriage. Not them. You.

That’s why I pity you.

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

A groom, and a bouquet, and a set table—but no bride

Jan 20th, 2015 4:33 pm | By

The New Yorker has a piece by Ruth Margalit on the gradual disappearance of women in Israel – not disappearance as in being murdered and buried in an obscure place, but disappearance as in not being allowed to appear.

In 2008, a thirty-year-old religious woman named Rachel Azaria headed a slate of candidates for city council. Her team had arranged to mount an ad campaign on the back of buses in the city that would feature her picture. In order to finalize the details of the campaign, Azaria called Cnaan Media, the company in charge of Jerusalem bus advertisements. “We’ve already had a schedule, we picked out the bus lines, everything,” Azaria told me on the phone this week. She was about to close the deal when the company’s salesperson casually told her: “I just want to make sure you know that we don’t show women on buses in the city.”

“I was stunned,” Azaria recounted. She hung up the phone, walked out to the street, and looked around her at passing buses. One featured an ad for a wedding venue. “It showed a groom, and a bouquet, and a set table—but no bride,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that this was happening. It was a gradual process in which women literally disappeared from Jerusalem.”

Azaria petitioned the High Court of Justice to force Cnaan Media to run the ads and, before the local elections, the judge ruled in her favor. Her face was plastered on the back of five buses, and she ended up winning a seat on the council, but the old restrictions soon resurfaced. Azaria also discovered that women were no longer appearing on Jerusalem billboards. During the months before the 2009 general elections, images of Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the Kadima party, were blacked out on posters across Jerusalem. In 2012, a credit-card company replaced the face of Gila Almagor, a renowned theatre actress, with that of a man in its Jerusalem ads. Honigman, a fashion brand, “adjusted” its campaign featuring the model Sendi Bar to show, in Jerusalem, only her torso. That year, posters for the Jerusalem Marathon portrayed only male runners—until public outcry caused the city to add images of women.

We have a similar thing in the US, except that it’s not (as far as I know) orchestrated or planned. We wouldn’t notice a woman being replaced by a man in a movie, for instance, because we’re so used to movies starring five men, with a woman or two in supporting parts. That’s normal. It’s normal on most tv shows. It’s normal on talk shows. It’s normal normal normal, so if some religious zealots got enough power to start deleting women systematically as opposed to just absent-mindedly not casting them and not inviting them – no one would notice.

Azaria, who is now the city’s deputy mayor and holds the women’s issues portfolio, says that the fact that showing images of women has become a public issue means that she has made some progress. She partly credits this growing awareness to the broader social-protest movement in Israel, started in 2011, which championed values of equal rights and personal freedom. But much of her support, she says, comes from Haredi women, who are tired of not being seen. Haredi women traditionally do not take part in politics, but now a group of Haredi women, The Mothers’ List, is seeking representation in the Jerusalem council. In fact, Azaria often has to argue with the city’s secular population, she says. “In the so-called name of multiculturalism, they tell me, ‘What do you care? That’s how the Haredim want to live.’ But I tell them that as a religious woman it affects me, that it’s a mixed city. There’s no separation here.”

Do they call her a racist?

A new book by Elana Maryles Sztokman called “The War on Women in Israel” also takes to task the secular population—which includes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat—for not putting an end to the exclusion and suppression of women. “What is perhaps most surprising about the rising oppression of women in Israel is the ease with which non-ultra-Orthodox people and groups capitulate to ultra-Orthodox demands to erase women from the public,” Sztokman writes.

Ugh – it doesn’t surprise me. It’s all too familiar from other disputes between religious zealots and everyone else – most people are abashed about challenging the grip of religion.

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