Notes and Comment Blog

A homeopathic preparation called “influenzinum”

May 8th, 2013 4:35 pm | By

Canada…you’re supposed to be more sensible than the US. You know this. What are you doing?

Health Canada licenses homeopathic vaccines

Come on. Really?

Most Canadians were born too recently to see the night-and-day difference in public health brought about by immunizations—individuals who witnessed the horrors of the polio epidemics of the 1950s first hand are now well into old age, and many have passed away. Good health can be taken for granted when the public does not properly understand the link between that same good health and the measures that made it possible, and unfortunately, history and science cannot always conquer misinformation, mistrust, and fear.

Enter “alternatives.”

It is disheartening enough that mis­information about vaccines is spread by voices ranging from outspoken celebrities like Jennifer MacCarthy[5] to various alternative medicine trades,[6] but it is cause for urgent concern when public institutions entrusted with the health of Canadians enable misinformation about endemic communicable diseases to go forward with the imprimatur of science.

Health Canada is responsible for ensuring that remedies sold to the public are both safe and effective. In recent years, however, Health Canada has allowed various natural health products to enter the market without requiring rigorous proof of effectiveness. Indeed, there are many remedies and homeopathic preparations currently licensed for sale that do not contain any of the allegedly active ingredient. A number of these are hom­eo­pathic “nosodes.” These are ultradilute (typically diluted far be­yond the point where anything is left except solvent) preparations of infectious agents or infected tissue, and are administered as an “oral vaccine.”[7]

Although real vaccines use low doses of part of an infectious agent to prevent disease, homeopathic preparations typically are diluted beyond the point where a single molecule remains.

I don’t know if the US allows that or not. Even if it doesn’t, we can’t brag, because it does allow “religious exemptions” in the majority of states, which basically just means it allows exemptions on request. That’s pretty much the same thing as an “oral vaccine” with nothing in it but solvent.

Remarkably, at the same time as Health Canada focuses on influenza education, flu shots, and other proven prevention measures, that same body has licensed 10 products with a homeopathic preparation called “influenzinum.”[8] According to providers, in­fluenzinum is for “preventing the flu and its related symptoms.”[9]

Homeopathic vaccines are available for other infectious diseases as well. Health Canada licenses homeopathic preparations purported to prevent polio,[10] measles,[11] and pertussis.[12]

Oh dear god. Canada, shame on you.

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

Sylvia Browne on angels

May 8th, 2013 3:41 pm | By

Sylvia Browne is getting a lot of flack now, not surprisingly. I can’t manage to feel very sorry for her.

I searched ur-B&W for her name and found quite a lot. That Jon Ronson article I pointed out yesterday is there, in 2007 when it was first published. Below that there’s an article by James Randi, but the link is a dud. There’s one from Stop Sylvia Browne, but that link too is a dud. The very first one is from December 2004 (jeezis) and is about Sylvia Browne’s angelology.

Here it is again.



Ever read any books about angels? No? No, I hadn’t either, but I’ve read bits of one now, and I must say, if you’re looking for a good laugh, books about angels (if this one is anything to go by, at least) are pretty damn funny. Books about Wicca are quite mirth-inducing, too.

With the angel book, I keep opening it at random, and the first thing I read is so absurd I find myself cackling before I’ve read ten words. I’m beginning to think that every single line of the book is packed full of unintentional humour. Shall I give you a taste? These are just random, mind – I haven’t actually searched out the most risible stuff.

The first one actually isn’t entirely funny, but the basic failure to connect the dots that underlies it, is.

At the time of 9/11, there were many stories of people seeing angels, which of course shows that God sent his legions of blessed angels to escort those dearest of souls to the Other Side and to bring the rest of us a message of hope.

Oh dear kind sweet thoughtful God, sending his blessed angels. Um – why didn’t he just send his blessed angels to stop the God-lovers in the airplanes? Or stop them himself? Because he has a Purpose, which is Inscrutable to us mere mortals. Okay, but in that case, we don’t know anything about it, do we, so why make factual statements of that kind? Because it’s fun, obviously. But the idea behind it – well really. So – little Kevin likes to torture small animals to death, and then when he’s done it he sends blessed angels to escort the souls of his victims to the Other Side. Do we think well of little Kevin? Dear Violet likes to set fire to people’s houses in the middle of the night and watch while the residents are immolated, then in the morning she sends her blessed angels to smooth their way to the Other Side (where, who knows, what greets them may be serried ranks of Kevins and Violets, all grinning fiendishly). In other words, how people can unite the idea of a kind helpful deity sending angels with one who just got through allowing a slow-motion mass murder to happen in the first place, is simply…beyond my humble understanding.

The very next bit:

The Archangels can heal, and they can carry messages, and they can do one more thing as well. They can take us out of our bodies and take us away on an astral trip. To go on an astral trip…we can call on the Archangels to help us, because these messengers can be the ones who come forward and whisk us right up.

Oh! I didn’t know that. Dang, silly me, I just wasted all that money on a plane ticket. I didn’t know one could just call on an Archangel instead. Okay, I see – so if one wants to take a plane one visits Expedia or some such, and if one wants to take an astral trip, one calls an Archangel. Got it. Next time I’ll know.

Another bit, under the heading Angels: Fact and Fiction:

Before we go any further, let’s clear up a few myths about angels. Since we’ve spent so much time talking about what angels are, it’s equally important to go over what they are not.

First of all, contrary to belief, there are no dark angels.

Oh. You know, you’ll hardly believe me, but there’s no footnote for that statement. In fact there are no footnotes in the whole book. Nor is there an index, nor a bibliography. So one’s strong curiosity to know exactly how Sylvia Browne (for it is she) knows this, is doomed to remain unsatisfied. No doubt she has stacks of scholarly references, or perhaps notes of her extensive experimentation and research, but her citation method is a little primitive. Which is to say she left it out entirely. Odd that an angel didn’t remind her. Well, I say ‘entirely’ – but to be fair there is a kind of blanket citation at the beginning, in the ‘Author’s Note.’ She has a guide named Raheim, ‘from India’ (well of course – where would he be from, Trenton N.J.?), and another named Iena, an Aztec-Inca woman (another no-show for the Trentonians), and the two of them have ‘conveyed countless hours of information’ to her. So consider that one big mega-meta-footnote for all factual statements. Astral trips, no dark angels[1]

[1] Iena, Raheim

Kind of pedantic, isn’t it.


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

A tragedy for anti feminist public relations

May 8th, 2013 11:59 am | By

Hey guess what – it turns out that the Castro brothers (the Cleveland ones, not the Havana ones) are bad PR for misogyny. You don’t say!

Daniel, meanwhile, is angry that Ariel Castro’s alleged crimes have done real damage to … men. That is, if the whole thing isn’t a big false-flag fake:

The truth is, this was the worst that could happen for anti feminist public relations at the moment. If this guy – Mr Castro – only knew how much damage he has done to men by doing this.

The case is such a gift basket for feminism, that I almost suspect it is fabricated.

That’s right! Feminists fabricated the whole thing. Which was totally easy to do – just persuade three women and their families and friends and the news media and the FBI and the Cleveland police…wait…

H/t Jackie Paper

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

The shortest ends of the short ends

May 8th, 2013 11:34 am | By

Greta has an eloquent post about being “divisive” and what it’s possible to find common ground with and what it isn’t.

I do not want to be in unity with atheists who say that I’m an ugly dyke and therefore nobody should take me seriously. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who post their opponents’ home addresses on the Internet; who hack into their opponents’ private email lists and make content from those emails public. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who alert the Westboro Baptist Church to atheist events, and ask if they plan to attend. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who bombard other people with a constant barrage of hate and threats of rape, violence, and death. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who call me a cunt, who call other women cunts, again and again and again and again and again. And I do not want to be in unity with atheists who consistently rationalize this behavior, who trivialize it, who make excuses for it.

That is how I feel about the matter too, likewise, also.

There is literally no way that the atheist movement can be inclusive of everybody. We can’t be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of atheists who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse. We can’t be inclusive of atheists of color… and also be inclusive of atheists who think people of color stay in religion because they’re just not good at critical thinking, or who tell people of color, “You’re pretty smart for a…” We can’t be inclusive of trans atheists… and also be inclusive of atheists who think trans people are mentally ill or freaks of nature. We can’t be inclusive of atheists who are mentally ill… and also be inclusive of atheists who think mental illness is just a failure of willpower. Etc.

And when people, however well-meaning, make generic calls for unity — when they tell all of us to stop fighting and just get along — they’re basically telling those of us on the short ends of those sticks to shut up.

Which many of them probably don’t realize precisely because they’ve never been on the short ends of those sticks – or at least not on the very shortest ends of the short ends. There’s nothing quite like being a target of a hate campaign to sharpen one’s awareness of what it’s like to be a target of a hate campaign. In that sense I kind of see why so many people get it wrong, and think it’s far better to say “let’s all just get along” than it is to say “knock off the hate campaign.” I kind of see it, but that doesn’t make me like it.

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

Ropes and chains

May 8th, 2013 10:36 am | By

Ok, here we go

Ropes and chains have been found inside the Cleveland home where police say
three women spent close to a decade in captivity, city officials said Wednesday.

Because that’s what you do when you’re three guys – you capture three women and chain them up so you can fuck them whenever you want to without having to do anything like win their affection, be kind and thoughtful, take a shower now and then.

Ariel Castro’s wife might have been a clue, if anyone had been able to combine things.

According to court documents, Ariel Castro’s former wife accused him of repeatedly abusing her, including breaking her nose twice, breaking two ribs, dislocating her shoulder twice and knocking out a tooth.

Grimilda Figueroa also accused Castro of causing a blood clot on her brain, according to the 2005 documents.

A judge granted a protection order, but lifted it three months later after repeated court delays and hearings Castro did not attend, according to the documents.

Excuse me? Castro stonewalled the court so the court lifted the restraining order on him? That’s how that works?

Meanwhile let me expand the cheery advantages of chaining women up. You can fuck them whenever you want to without having to do anything like win their affection, be kind and thoughtful, take a shower now and then, or refrain from beating the shit out of them.

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

When Jon Ronson encountered Sylvia Browne

May 7th, 2013 6:10 pm | By

First he tells a story of one of her exercises in lost child finding.

A six-year-old, Opal Jo Jennings, had a month earlier been snatched from her grandparents’ front yard in Texas while playing with her cousin. A man pulled up, grabbed her, threw her into his truck, hit her when she screamed and drove off. Her distraught grandmother went on Montel’s show and said, “This is too much for my family and me to handle. We want her back. I need to know where Opal is. I can’t stand this. I need your help, Sylvia. Where is Opal? Where is she?”

Sylvia said, “She’s not dead. But what bothers me – now I’ve never heard of this before – but she was taken and put into some kind of a slavery thing and taken into Japan. The place is Kukouro.”

“Kukouro?” Montel Williams asked, after a moment’s stunned silence.

“So she was taken and put on some kind of a boat or a plane and taken into white slavery,” Sylvia said.

Opal’s grandmother looked drained and confused. Opal’s body was eventually found buried in Fort Worth, Texas. She had, the pathologist concluded, been murdered the night she went missing. A local man – Richard Lee Franks – was convicted.


She doesn’t give interviews any more, apparently not wanting to answer journalists’ questions about such things.

So Jon Ronson decided to go on a cruise where she was a guest lecturer. He went to her first lecture.

The next woman walks to the microphone.

“I have a strained relationship with my daughter,” she begins. “And I want to know …”

“Your daughter is strange,” interrupts Sylvia.

Sylvia doesn’t pause. Other psychics will often reach around for some inner voice, but Sylvia answers the question instantly, in a low, smoky growl, sometimes before the person has even finished asking it.

“Your daughter is stubborn,” she says. “She’s selfish, narcissistic. Leave her alone.” The woman reluctantly nods. Tears roll down her cheeks.

“Don’t get too involved with her,” Sylvia says. “She’ll hurt you. Leave her alone. I don’t like her.”

“Thank you, Sylvia,” the woman says.

I want to yell out, “Don’t listen to her! Sylvia doesn’t know anything about your situation! She’s just saying the first thing that comes into her head!” But I don’t.

There are some situations where skepticism really is the one thing necessary.

Famous sceptics such as James Randi say Sylvia is not a silly, deluded person who believes herself to be psychic. They say she’s a callous fraud. She’s just a good cold reader.

Why isn’t that kind of thing prosecuted?


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

Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly

May 7th, 2013 4:31 pm | By

This is painful to read:

Amanda Berry is dead, psychic tells her mother on Montel Williams’ show (republished)

The picture is painful to look at, too – Berry’s mother Louwana Miller sitting on her daughter’s bed, which is bedecked with yellow ribbons. Well she did come back, but too late for Louwana Miller.

For 19 months, Louwana Miller refused to give up hope that her missing daughter might still be alive.

Not anymore.

Desperate for any clue as to Amanda Berry’s whereabouts, and tired of unanswered questions from authorities, Miller turned to a psychic on Montel Williams’ nationally syndicated television show.

The psychic said what the FBI, police and Miller hadn’t.

“She’s not alive, honey,” Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

Sylvia Browne says a lot of things, based on nothing whatever.

With those blunt words, Browne persuaded Miller to accept a grim probability that has become more likely with each passing day.

Miller went back to the West Side home where she had been keeping Amanda’s things in careful order and cleaned up. She gave away her daughter’s computer and took down her pictures. “I’m not even buying my baby a Christmas present this year,” she said.

Miller said she returned devastated from the show, taped this month in New York.

“I lost it,” she said.

Miller is dead, but Browne is not. I hope she’s having a good hard think right now.

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

Tiny Delaware

May 7th, 2013 3:26 pm | By

Tiny little barely-detectable Delaware has just become the 11th state to approve same sex marriage.

The rhetoric today was heated, as religious leaders invited to speak by the bill’s opponents condemned homosexuality for multiple hours. Conservative witnesses and senators alike repeatedly sought explanations for why people should not be free to discriminate against same-sex couples, even though such discrimination is already illegal under Delaware law.

Why should we not be free to discriminate against same-sex couples? Why, why, WHY?

It’s a tide.

Rhode Island became the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage just last week, Minnesota may be primed to become the 12th state perhaps as soon as later this week, and Illinois is also within “striking distance” of passing legislation.

If Minnesota and Illinois can, surely Kansas and North Dakota will not be far behind.

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

Prayers have finally

May 7th, 2013 3:17 pm | By

First of all, please stop saying things like that.

“Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over,” said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI in Cleveland. “These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.”

Dude. Prayers were not answered, finally or otherwise. Berry finally, after ten miserable years (during which her mother died, believing her to be dead), got a chance to escape and get the others rescued. That’s what happened. Prayers had nothing to do with it – and if they did, by the way, fuck the piece of shit who answered them. What took so long? Was the prayer-answerer too busy sending earthquakes and hurricanes and droughts?

But they had nothing to do with it, so shut up about them.

And then…

Two neighbors said Tuesday that they were alarmed enough by what they saw at the house to call police on two occasions.

Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard several years ago and called police. “But they didn’t take it seriously,” she said.

Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of Castro’s house, which had plastic bags on the windows, in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. “They walked to side of the house and then left,” he said.

Why weren’t the prayers powerful enough at least to make the cops do a more thorough job on one of those occasions? That’s not asking much. Most of the heavy lifting is already done – the cops are there, on the scene. Why didn’t the prayers cause the cops to take it seriously? To get a warrant and break the door down?

I’m not rushing to blame the cops. They probably get a lot of calls based on vague or could-be-mistaken” things, and they can’t get a warrant and break the door down every time – we’d be yelling about police brutality if they did. But why couldn’t the prayers have put a heavy thumb on the scales when it would have been useful?

Causality. It’s so easy to get it wrong.

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


May 7th, 2013 11:46 am | By

A long time ago, when the world was young, John Fowles wrote a fascinating novel called The Collector. It was about a socially inept young man who collected butterflies and then inherited some money and hit on the bright idea of collecting a young woman, which he did. He bought an isolated house and fitted up a bunker in the basement, then collected the woman he’d been stalking and locked her up in it. After a year or so she developed pneumonia and died in the bunker (after begging him to get a doctor) and the novel ends with his stalking a new candidate.

Much of the novel is the diary of Miranda Grey, the collected woman, and she’s a wonderfully rich, complicated, interesting person.

It occurs to me now that I always thought of it as bordering on fantasy. Nobody would actually do that. It was a kind of thought experiment (though I wasn’t familiar with the concept of thought experiments when I read it).

Well think again.

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

A new way to stir up trouble

May 7th, 2013 9:22 am | By

Well not exactly new, because this was last January, but it’s new to me. I’m quite amazed by it.


Karla Porter tweets

@wbcshirl Have u heard of Women in Secularism 2 and if so, will u grace it with your presence? #wiscfi

Shirley Phelps-Roper tweets

@karla_porter Where do they show themselves? Is there a schedule?

Karla Porter tweets

@wbcshirl schedule not up yet May 17-19 wash DC

That’s Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church. She’s the spokesperson of the Westboro Baptist Church.

That is, indeed, a novel way to stir up trouble.

Update May 7


Justin Vacula tweets

If Ophelia Benson really wants WBC at Women in Secularism 2, I can call Steve Drain and maybe have that arranged…but I have no plans to.

Wtf? If I want them there? What the hell does he even think he’s saying? I didn’t tweet at Shirley Phelps-Roper to ask if she was going to WiS, and then give her dates and location.

Not to mention the whole quasi-threat thing. I have no [current] plans to, but I can. You want WBC at your event? I can maybe have that arranged. Nice little place you got here, shame to see it messed up.

Dig dig dig.

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

Welcome to our tent

May 6th, 2013 5:56 pm | By

Jim Underdown puts in a good word for this funny new-fangled plan of having a conference that puts secularism and women together, and for the general idea of reaching out to particular groups by, you know, reaching out to them.

I look forward to being at the Women in Secularism conference next week. The line-up is chock-full of smart, interesting speakers, many of the attendees are friends and colleagues, and D.C. is a great place to spend a weekend.

Not everyone feels that way. Some of the people who are not going are not just passing on the conference, they’re also criticizing that it’s happening at all. It’s not needed; it’s a waste of resources; it dilutes our mission, they say.

That’s a polite version of what they say. The versions I see feature a lot of phrases like “professional victims” and “sisterhood of the oppressed” along with claims that we all (all we crazy feminazis) say all men are rapists, call nearly all women “sister punishers,” and steal all the money.

Underdown points out that religion has been shitty to women and there is every reason to encourage women to fight back.

ANY large group who feels like they have a particular beef with religion (or pseudoscience, or other wacky beliefs) has a legitimate interest in addressing that problem as a group.

At CFI-L.A., we’ve hosted Black Skeptics, Spanish-speaking atheists, gay and lesbian humanists, and others who’ve had specific troubles in our society based on who they fundamentally are. And I say, welcome to our tent.

And why not? Eh? Never heard of outreach? There are a lot of ways to do outreach. I say let’s have more outreach, not less.

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

A motionless movement?

May 6th, 2013 9:21 am | By

Is skepticism a “movement” or is it not?

When I read PZ’s post saying goodbye to skepticism yesterday I first thought no, it isn’t, but then thought of all those conferences and events and thought well ok maybe it is. But – I’ve now reverted to “no, it isn’t,” not in the sense that a “movement” is usually understood.

Massimo Pigliucci and Michael DeDora exchanged some tweets about it just now, in the wake of Massimo’s post on PZ’s post and the larger subject. They compared the Civil Rights Movement and the specificity of its goals.

Michael De Dora‏ @mdedora

@mpigliucci Civil Rights Movement had specific and widely agreed upon social and political goals. Can same be said for skeptics?

Massimo Pigliucci‏ @mpigliucci

@mdedora How is that different from the Civil Rights movement? A community, local groups, national leaders…

True, and that’s why yesterday I thought “well, maybe.” But the Civil Rights movement is a good choice to illustrate why skepticism isn’t really “a movement” as we usually understand it – no sit ins, no marches, no voter registration drives, no firehoses, no mass arrests.

Skepticism just isn’t a good fit with that kind of thing. Atheism is much more so, I think – witness the Reason Rally. (But, you cry, the Reason Rally could be seen as a skeptical event more than an atheist one – it wasn’t the Atheist Rally after all! Well it kind of was, though.)

Then again I’m being nitpicky, or I’m ignoring Wittgenstein and family resemblances and all that. Do cricket and chess belong in the same category? If they do, then surely skepticism can be a movement too.

I guess, but it feels a bit off. I think maybe it’s too much like “brave hero” – it’s too much like wrapping oneself in the flag of real, hazardous struggles when in fact all one is doing is typing. I said the other day – correcting one of the many falsehoods about me out there – that I never call myself an “activist.” Well that’s why. Hey, writing is a fine thing to do – but it’s not the same kind of thing as activism. Skepticism isn’t a very movementy movement.

Whatcha think?

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

Whee, look at all the blood

May 6th, 2013 7:51 am | By

Oh, ew. Sometimes people are so gross that I’d prefer to be a tortoise. Like the people who made Obama-resembling targets to sell at gun conventions. You can see the images at Talking Points Memo – I don’t want them garbaging up this place.

It’s disgusting, that kind of shit, but it’s also dangerous. Whipping up people’s murderous rages is dangerous, because guess what, sometimes people act on their murderous rages.

At its convention in Houston, over the weekend, the National Rifle Association asked a vendor to take down a mannequin target that looked like President Barack Obama, Buzzfeed reported on Sunday. 

The vendor, Zombie Industries, produces “life-sized tactical mannequin” targets that “bleed” when shot. Photographs of the company’s booth at the convention taken by Buzzfeed show that the company had several sample mannequins displayed for sale, including a clown, a “terrorist,” and a Nazi.

“Someone from the NRA came by and asked us to remove it” a Zombie Industries booth worker told BuzzFeed, referring to the company’s “Bleeding Rocky Zombie” target. “They thought it looked too much like President Obama.”

Buzzfeed asked the worker if the resemblance was intentional.

“Let’s just say I gave my Republican father one for Christmas,” the worker replied.

Oh hahahaha, that’s so funny.

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

Measures to stop “alien culture”

May 5th, 2013 5:30 pm | By

So now I’m reading up on Hefazat-e-Islam. The Guardian had a useful piece on April 16.

It starts with tensions, clashes, religious conservatives versus more moderate, progressive voices.

The most recent development is the emergence of a radical conservative Muslim party, Hefazat-e-Islam, as the standard bearer of the religious right. Earlier this month, at a huge rally in Dhaka attended by more than 100,000 according to police, the party issued 13 demands. They included the introduction of measures to stop “alien culture” making inroads in Bangladesh, the reinstatement of the line “absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah” in the nation’s constitution, which is largely secular, and a ban on new statues in public places.

They want it in the constitution that there should be absolute trust and faith in an imaginary being whom no one on earth has ever met. That’s inane. It’s the last thing anyone should demand absolute faith and trust in. “It’s not here, you can’t talk to it or hear it or touch it, no one can, and you must have absolute faith and trust in it, because we order you to.”

But I digress.

But it was Hefazat-e-Islam’s demand that men and women not mix in public – seen by many as a bid to stop women working outside the home – that most worried Akhter, one of tens of millions of female labourers in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry.

“If we are not allowed to work, how will we survive?” asked Akhter, who supports her elderly parents on her monthly wage of 6,500 takas (£55). “Many of our coworkers were abandoned by their husbands. Some families only have daughters, whose parents are old. What will a single mother do? We will not have any means for a living.”

Well, you starve. So do your children, and so do your parents. Sorreee.

They explain that it’s all a misunderstanding though.

“The idea that Hefazat-e-Islam is taking the country back to the medieval age through its demands is propaganda,” said Moinuddin Ruhi, joint secretary of the party. “We are not opposing women’s development … Hefazat demands women refrain from free mixing in society to avoid sexual harassment and incidents such as rape. This does not … mean we want them to refrain from going to work or study. They should go to work and study following the principles of Islam.”

Ohhhh – oh well that’s completely different. You don’t oppose women’s development, you just demand that they refrain from free mixing in society. No problem then! As long as women stay home they can “develop” as much as they want to.

More hell on earth for more people. Fabulous.

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

Dhaka: 500 thousand shout “atheists must be hanged”

May 5th, 2013 4:35 pm | By

Well this is scary. Not to say terrifying. As many as half a million Islamists protested in Dhaka to demand the death penalty for everybody who irritated them, according to the BBC.

Clashes between police and Islamist protesters in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka have left at least three people dead and 60 injured.

Up to half a million Hefazat-e Islam supporters gathered in the city, where rioters set fire to shops and vehicles.

The activists are calling for those who insult Islam to face the death penalty.

God damn. That’s the whole population of Seattle! Imagine a whole big city’s worth of people out in the streets to demand death for people who refuse to suck up to a particular religion. Why are human beings so good at stupid and vicious?

On Sunday, throngs of protesters blocked main roads, isolating Dhaka from other parts of the country.

Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest!”) and “One point! One demand! Atheists must be hanged”, the activists marched down at least six main roads as they headed for Motijheel, AFP news agency reported.

Ya I call that scary.

Hefazat-e Islam wants greater segregation of men and women, as well as the imposition of stricter Islamic education.

The group’s opposition to a national development policy for women has angered women’s groups.

Hefajat-e-Islam draws its strength from the country’s madrassahs, or religious schools.

They’re not schools. All they do is rote memorization of the Koran in Arabic; that’s not teaching and the buildings where it happens aren’t schools.

On Friday, Sheikh Hasina said the government had already met many of the group’s demands.

“Many of these have already been implemented while some are in the process,” she was quoted as telling the Daily Star.

She said the government had already arrested four bloggers for making “derogatory comments” against the Prophet Muhammad and they would be punished if found guilty.

Hell and damnation.


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

Another bad idea

May 5th, 2013 10:56 am | By

The bad idea is contained in

legislation drafted by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith’s bill would require NSF to promise that any research it funds “advance[s]” national health, prosperity, and security, “is ground breaking,” and is not being supported by another federal agency. In a statement released 30 April, Smith said the bill “improves” on NSF’s current process of peer review “by adding a layer of accountability” intended to “ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research.”

Well yes, but there are some layers of accountability that are the wrong kind to add. You could pass a law saying all surgeries are required to get approval from a panel of random people collected at the nearest comic book store, and that would be adding a layer of accountability, but of the wrong kind.

Presidential science adviser John Holdren says it’s the wrong kind.

Holdren said that Smith’s bill, called the “High Quality Research Act,” would wrongly inject lawmakers into a decision-making process that he described as ”the gold standard” for the rest of the world. NSF now judges grant proposals on their “intellectual merit” and on the “broader impacts” of the research on society, and Holdren said that having politicians revise those criteria is fraught with danger.

“I have no objection to looking at the peer-review process to make sure that it is everything it can be,” Holdren said in response to a question after his speech. “But I think … adding Congress as reviewers is a mistake. The basis of peer review is to employ experts in the relevant fields. Most members of Congress are not experts in the relevant fields. They are certainly experts in making decisions under uncertainty on complicated issues. But that does not qualify them to review research proposals in science.”

Different jobs, you see. Different kinds of work; different kinds of expertise.

Also, the knives are out for the social sciences.

Holdren also commented on the interest that Smith and other congressional Republicans have shown in NSF’s social science programs. Last week, Smith sent a letter to NSF asking the agency to explain how five recent grants in the social and behavioral sciences “adhere to NSF’s ‘intellectual merit’ guideline.” Most scientists see that inquiry as part of a broader attack by congressional Republicans on the social sciences. In March, Congress approved an amendment to the 2013 spending bill that would prevent NSF from funding any political science research unless the director certified that it addresses economic development or national security.

Holdren defended the value of social science research and criticized attempts to exclude it from NSF’s portfolio. “Political science research helps us understand the actions of people around the world … and our own democracy,” he said. “Economics research has clarified not only the economic basis for innovation but also its determinants. Social science research has helped us make hurricane warnings more effective, improved methods of instruction in the classroom and the workplace, and manage common resources more efficiently without centralized regulation.”

And yet politicians have to be told that. You’d think they could figure it out for themselves, but those of the congressional Republican type apparently can’t.

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

Equality is an all-or-nothing concept

May 4th, 2013 5:28 pm | By

Dave Silverman has a piece explaining about the World Trade Center “cross” at the Washington Post on faith blog. You probably already know it was just one of many steel crossbeams in the rubble, arbitrarily chosen as a Sign From God. (Gee thanks. Kind of as if I torched a school after locking all the doors and then left a little note on pink flowery paper afterwards saying “cheer up!”)

The decorated crossbeam was seized by Father Brian Jordan, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest, and a religious relic was invented. During the next 10 years, the 17-foot cross was moved, repaired, mounted and copied. Religious services were held in front of it at St. Paul’s Chapel. Worshippers further modified it, carving “JESUS” on the top and etching prayers on the side. The cross was labeled unique, a sign from the Christian god, not merely a crossbeam plucked from the rubble of a terrorist attack.

You can’t get much more religious than that, one would think.

The cross was installed in the World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial in a religious ceremony in 2011 led by Father Jordan. He then consecrated the public land on which the memorial is built, and the cross was lowered in. That same year, American Atheists sued for the removal of the cross as a religious symbol or for the WTC board to approve an atheist memorial alongside to remember the nonbelievers who died on 9/11.

On March 29, 2013, Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the cross is a secular “artifact,” not an unconstitutional religious symbol.

Secular. Religious services were held in front of it at a chapel. “JESUS” is carved on top. Prayers are etched on the side. Yet it’s secular. Insult us, why don’t you?!

(By the way March 29 was a Friday, and the first full day of the AA 2013 convention. Dave made an unscheduled appearance between talks to announce the decision. He was pissed. I know this because he said so [and because you could tell].)

Shortly after installing the cross, the WTC board okayed the inclusion of a small Star of David in the memorial as well. This object is not an artifact from the WTC site at all, but was approved for inclusion because some Jews protested being represented by a Christian symbol.

If the board members are going to install a Christian memorial, they should not say it’s not Christian. Rather, they should admit it’s religious, just as clearly as the Star of David is. In compliance with federal law, they should include equal representation for the atheists who died in the religious attacks on 9/11.

American Atheists has offered, on multiple occasions, to pay for an atheist memorial, to allow the WTC board to approve a design, and even to simply dedicate an existing exhibit to the nonreligious victims but the board turned American Atheists down on every request. Our group has been called un-American and insensitive for making the requests. Apparently, American Atheists is somehow unpatriotic for demanding equal treatment in a memorial dedicated to those we lost in a religiously-inspired terrorist attack.

That seems grossly unfair to me.

Equality is an all-or-nothing concept. We all have equal rights, and America’s atheists are not being treated equally at the WTC Memorial. If the WTC board members insist on bringing in religious symbols, they must include symbols for everyone who wishes to be included. They can keep the cross,  but atheists will not be ignored just because some people at the WTC Memorial are prejudiced against nonbelievers. Atheists will have an equal place, or it all must go. That’s fair, that’s legal, that’s religious neutrality—that’s the American way.

I’ve seen a lot of people objecting to the cross suit, but I think many of them must not know about this part. AA didn’t say get it out, AA said we would like a memorial too, which we will pay for – and got turned down. That’s not right.

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

If you’re going to lay the blame for that somewhere

May 4th, 2013 10:58 am | By

Miri has a great post on street harassment. One interesting bit:

Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are genuinely good guys who just don’t understand why their comments might be unwelcome. Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are creepy predators. Most are somewhere in between, and guess what? I don’t know you, I don’t know your life, and I have no idea if you’re going to leave it at “Hey, you look good in that dress!” or follow it up with “But you’d look better without it! Har har! C’mon, where’re you going? I know you heard me! Fucking cunt, nobody wants your fat ass anyway, bitch.”

When you compliment a random woman who doesn’t know you, no matter how nice you are about it, there’s a good chance she’s going to freak out internally because for all she knows, you could be that latter type. And I get that it’s really unfair that women would just assume that about you. I get that it sucks that sometimes, expressing totally reasonable opinions like “hey you’re hot” will make women terrified of you or furious at you. That’s not fair.

But if you’re going to lay the blame for that somewhere, for fuck’s sake, don’t blame the woman. Blame all the guys who have called her a bitch and a cunt for ignoring their advances. Blame all the guys who may have harassed, abused, or assaulted her in the past. Blame all the people who may never do such a thing themselves, but who were quick to blame her and tell her to just get over it.

Ya. That applies to more than just street harassment – it applies to quite a few things. It applies to me, for instance. (Doesn’t everything??! No. Not everything does. Contrary to myth, I don’t think that everything does. But this does.) If I don’t smile sweetly when you jeer at me on Twitter, blame all the people who have called me a bitch and a cunt for whatever the hell it was I don’t even remember. If I’m irritable about online harassment and stalking, blame all the people who have been online harassing and stalking me for anything from a few days to almost two years.

But it also applies to other things, including the thing Miri is talking about. It’s all connected. Trigger-happy hostility to women is the underlying issue.


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

Feminazis stole my ice cream!

May 4th, 2013 10:43 am | By

Scott Benson’s (no relation) But I’m a Nice Guy

A quick editorial cartoon about the intersection of self-pity, entitlement, rape, territoriality, misogyny and fear of women. You see it all over the place online in the form of Men’s Rights Activists (of whom there are a few reasonable non-misogynists), Men Going Their Own Way, Pick Up Artists, and dudes touting the “Red Pill”, because The Matrix is a good movie. Look any of these up if you have the stomach for it. These are extreme examples, but watered-down forms of these ideas are everywhere.

In lurking their blogs and youtube channels for a while, I’ve noticed that beyond the standard patriarchal chauvinism there is this deep fear of women – what they will do to me, how they will reject me, how they will use me, how they are changing society in a way that does not favor me, how they are making men into something I don’t like, how they are making themselves into something I don’t like, that they won’t give me what I want, and that they won’t give me what I think is rightfully mine. This goes beyond fear of feminism- this is fear of women at its purest. And that, to quote a puppet, leads to anger and hate. It’s sad.

I am a feminist. I think there’s enough ice cream to go around, but it does mean those of us with 3 scoops might have to give one or two up. Also, The Matrix is a fun movie but probably not anything you should be basing a philosophy on.

So that’s why Glendon Mellow tagged both of us yesterday! Bensons. Go Bensons.

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