Notes and Comment Blog

Never really a party, but the alter ego of Lutfur Rahman

Apr 23rd, 2015 8:46 am | By

Election fraud in Tower Hamlets.

An east London mayor has been removed from office and a poll declared void after he was found guilty of electoral fraud.

An Election Commissioner concluded Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman breached election rules and must vacate his post immediately.

Four voters alleged he used “corrupt and illegal practices” in last year’s election, which must now be re-run.

Mr Rahman, who denied any wrong-doing, has been banned from standing again.

Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey said it was a big mess, caused by one guy’s ruthless ambition.

Mawrey also described Bangladesh-born Mr Rahman as an “evasive and discursive witness whose evidence was untruthful on occasion” and suggested he had played “race” and “religious” cards.

Mr Rahman ran a “ruthless and dishonest campaign to convince electorate his rival John Biggs was a racist”, Mr Mawrey said.

That sounds familiar. It sounds like George Galloway, among others.

BBC News correspondent Sarah Campbell said the Election Commissioner had upheld a number of the allegations, including:

  • Voting fraud: ballots were double-cast or cast from false addresses
  • False statements made against Mr Rahman’s rival Mr Biggs
  • Bribery: grants approved to organisations which Mr Rahman favoured, most of which were run by Bangladeshi groups
  • Treating: providing free food and drink to encourage people to vote for Mr Rahman
  • Spiritual influence: voters were told that it was their duty as Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman.

That’s interesting. I wonder if that allegation has ever been made about an Anglican candidate, and if so if it has ever succeeded. In the US candidates do that as a matter of routine, of course.

[T]he Election Commissioner said that Tower Hamlets First was “never really a party but the alter ego of Lutfur Rahman”.

Again, reminiscent of Galloway and “Respect.” And some other examples I can think of.

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

To keep players on the field

Apr 22nd, 2015 5:42 pm | By

The National Football League has to give former players a whole lot of money.

A federal judge gave final approval on Wednesday to a settlement in a lawsuit brought by about 5,000 former National Football League players who accused the league of covering up the dangers of concussions.

The settlement, approved by Judge Anita Brody, includes allowing for monetary awards of up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma and could cost the league $1 billion over 65 years.

Which they can well afford, considering how profitable the whole racket is.

The NFL is accused of covering up the dangers of concussions to keep players on the field. The league and the players union estimate that 30 percent of former players will develop brain conditions like Alzheimer’s or a less debilitating form of dementia.

Concussions have become a major issue for America’s most popular sports league, causing some players to cut short their careers, including Chris Borland, a 24-year-old linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, who recently retired over concerns about long-term head injuries.

The game is violent not incidentally but intentionally. The violence is an important part of the game. Fans like it. Advertisers play it up.

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

The national nut

Apr 22nd, 2015 5:17 pm | By

Almond milk. I already knew this from looking at the ingredients and the bit where it says how much protein and so on per serving – almond milk isn’t a useful thing.

People drink almond milk for a variety of reasons, but many have no idea how devoid of nutrients their trendy dairy milk alternative actually is.

Each half-gallon carton contains very few actual almonds. Evidence shows there may be just over a handful.

Well if they don’t know they didn’t look, because if you look, it’s obvious. Almonds aren’t the main ingredient. It’s mostly water and sweeteners.

While the amount of almonds in each brand of the beverage vary, an analysis of UK almond milk brand Alpro showed that nuts make up just 2% of the drink.

Doesn’t surprise me a bit. It’s like Nutella – Nutella is fabulous, but it has very little hazelnut in it. It’s dessert, it’s not a nourishing food. Same with almond milk.

A typical serving of almonds has 160 calories per serving. By comparison, a cup of almond milk contains just about 30 calories. And while a serving of almonds has 14 grams of total fat and 6 grams of protein, a serving of the milk has 2.5 grams of fat and just one gram of protein.

In other words, a single serving of almond milk has almost no protein. Compared with plain old almonds, it fares even worse.

It’s basically syrup. Drink it if you like it, but don’t be thinking it’s food.

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

What’s the national fruit?

Apr 22nd, 2015 4:59 pm | By

More compulsory religion for the US.

North Carolina’s McDowell County is now the third municipality in the state to approve adding the national motto “In God We Trust” to its public buildings.

The McDowell County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the inclusion of “In God We Trust” signs for county buildings last Monday.

So take that, atheists! And secularists, and people who don’t call themselves secularists but still don’t want god shoved on them in government buildings. Take that, all of you! No freedom of religion for you! Religion is mandatory around here and don’t you forget it.

(Also that “national motto” thing is ridiculous. That’s not a thing. We don’t have a national sock or a national dog or a national cookie – we don’t need a national motto, either. We can pick our own mottos. “In god we trust” is particularly obnoxious – I don’t trust that bastard an inch, because it’s just Rick Warren or the pope hiding behind a mask.)

“Upon presentation to our board, the commissioners’ voted to have, at no cost to the county, the motto displayed on the county administration building in two locations: in our boardroom and on the county courthouse,” said Walker.

“We did this to reaffirm what our Founding Fathers affirmed and that is our national motto is ‘In God We Trust.'”

Wow, that’s ignorant. The “founding fathers” did no such thing.

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director with the Washington, D.C. –based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told CP that McDowell’s actions were unconstitutional.

“Placing large signs reading ‘In God We Trust’ on government buildings promotes religion to a substantially greater extent than does the historical practice of merely allowing the phrase to appear on coins in small type,” said Luchenitser.

“The county’s conduct sends its citizens a message that the county’s government favors the religious over the non-religious, and adherents to monotheist faiths over others.”

Yes it does. It’s none of their business. It’s not their job to try to force us or pressure us to take their god seriously.

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

Wink wink smooch

Apr 22nd, 2015 12:01 pm | By

In the Spectator

Bahar Mustafa, the Welfare and Diversity officer for Goldsmiths Students’ Union, must have a strong sense of irony. You’d have to, to run an ‘anti-racism’ event which states that ‘if you’re a man and/or white PLEASE DON’T COME. As the student publication the Tab reports, the event claims to be ‘challenging the white-centric culture of occupations’, ‘diversifying our curriculum’ and building a ‘cross campus campaign that puts liberation at the heart of the movement’.

It’s an anti-racism event but men are told to stay away? I don’t even…


She’s the welfare officer at Goldsmiths. Hmm.

Back in February, Mustafa, who describes herself on Twitter as a ‘queer, anti-racist feminist killjoy’, came to my attention when she helped organise a ‘BME ONLY social’ before a screening of the film Dear White People. For those not acquainted with the lingo, this means for Black and Minority Ethnic only.


Come to all the things!, smiley face kiss kiss kiss, except don’t if you’re in the wrong group. Kiss kiss kiss smiley face.

She also lied about why Kate Smurthwaite’s gig at Goldsmiths was canceled at the last minute, lied in a way that’s damaging to Kate and protective of the goons at Goldsmiths who got her gig canceled.

Kiss kiss kiss smiley face.

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

Huge fan

Apr 22nd, 2015 11:14 am | By

Of course.

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THE AMAZING ATHEIST! ‏@amazingatheist 14 hours ago
Hey @CHSommers I would love to have you on my podcast, The Drunken Peasants.

Christina H. Sommers ‏@CHSommers
@amazingatheist Any time. Huge fan.

If you’ve forgotten who the amazing atheist is and what he’s like, just take a squiz at his feed.

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

By what twisted argument should Islam be less compatible with humour than other religions?

Apr 22nd, 2015 11:00 am | By

The Independent has a nice big (translated) excerpt from Charb’s book.

Stéphane Charbonnier was a cartoonist and writer. He was a supporter of the French Communist Party. And while, under his editorship, Charlie Hebdo aggressively poked fun at Catholicism and Judaism as well as radical Islam, his book – published in France last week – is a passionate rejection of the allegations that, under his editorship, Charlie Hebdo was “racist” or “Islamophobic”.

In the book, Charb, as he was always known, defends his publication of cartoons mocking radical Islam and caricaturing (but never mocking) the Prophet Mohamed. He argues – from a left-wing, anti-racist, militantly secular viewpoint – that the word “Islamophobia” is a trap, set by an unholy alliance of Muslim radicals and the unthinking, liberal Western media. The real issue, he says, is racism and Charlie Hebdo was never racist…

He argues from a left-wing, anti-racist, militantly secular viewpoint.

That’s important.

Really, the word “Islamophobia” is badly chosen if it’s supposed to described the hatred which some lame-brains have for Muslims. And it is not only badly chosen, it is dangerous. From a purely etymological viewpoint, Islamophobia ought to mean “fear of Islam” – yet the inventors, promoters and users of this word deploy it to denounce hatred of Muslims. But isn’t it odd that “Muslimophobia”, or just “racism”, isn’t used instead of “Islamophobia”.

Why has this word taken over? From ignorance, from idleness… but also because those who campaign against Islamophobia don’t do so to defend Muslims as individuals. They do so to defend the religion of the prophet Mohamed.

They do so to silence atheists and secularists and freethinkers who want to talk about the ways religion is an obstacle to human flourishing. They do so to shore up and protect the illegitimate power of religion and religious authority figures. They do so to keep humanity enchained.

So, yes, we are in the middle of an explosion of racist behaviour – yet the word “racism” is used only timidly, and is on the way to being supplanted by “Islamophobia”. And the campaigners for multiculturalism, who try to foist the notion of “Islamophobia” on the judicial and political authorities, have only one aim in mind: to force the victims of racism into identifying themselves as Muslims.

Anything to trap people more firmly in the religion of their ancestors.

However, why do the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, who know that their drawings will be exploited by the media, by the retailers of anti-Islamophobia, by far-right Muslims and nationalists, insist on drawing Mohamed and other “sacred” symbols of Islam? Simply because the Charlie Hebdo drawings do not have the vast majority of Muslims as their target. We believe that Muslims are capable of recognising a tongue-in-cheek. By what twisted argument should Islam be less compatible with humour than other religions?

By the argument from the racism of lower expecatations.

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

Guest post: It’s worth running a simple filter

Apr 22nd, 2015 9:46 am | By

Originally a comment by Morgan on Psychiatry is an important skeptical and social justice issue.

Making demands about alternatives before you’ll bother to learn the truth about it seems callous, in addition to incurious.

Look, here’s the thing: you sound like a crank.

That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but from what you’re saying, it’s more likely that you’re a crank than not. So before giving what you have to say much time or attention, it’s worth running a simple filter of asking what your views are, in case they’re “people need to regulate their orgone energy via crystals” or something else that would clearly indicate you’re not worth the effort. What you’re saying may seem obviously reasonable to you, but to me as an outside observer it’s not obviously different from any wooish alt-med claim about how, for example, AIDS isn’t caused by a virus but by poor nutrition / immorality / sinister Western drugs. It doesn’t help that the way you talk about “biopsychiatry” comes off to me as suspiciously dualist, like the idea that mental phenomena are based in the biological action of the brain and that treating or managing them may require medical interventions is just obviously false for some reason.

Your response does shift the odds away from crank, but it’s still vague enough not to be particularly compelling. Okay, so if I’m understanding you correctly, your contention is that much of psychiatry, in particular the diagnoses in the DSM and the pharmaceutical treatments for them, are so poorly evidenced as to be worthless – what’s labeled “schizophrenia” or “depression” is so poorly defined, ad-hoc, and lacking in scientific grounding that it doesn’t make sense to talk about “a mental illness” called schizophrenia. The obvious problem there, then, is that people do have issues that lead them to be diagnosed, and they do take medicines prescribed for their diagnosis, and at least some of those people do improve when they’re medicated (and notice a definite pattern of worsening if they stop). So maybe all such problems are the result of traumatic or stressful experiences or conditions, and there should be more focus on heading off mental health problems by reducing poverty and improving parenting and so on – sure, that’s not in principle a bad idea. But once someone ends up with an issue, are you saying the fix is to solve all the problems in their life that might have led to it? That’s not really useful to many, probably most, people actually trying to live their lives unable to remedy structural oppression. Are they to seek intervention, but definitely not drugs? So what about when they’ve tried everything they could, and it’s the drugs that seemed to actually made a difference? Is that always just the placebo effect? Or is the solution that

…some problems that have been falsely labeled as disorders in order to sell drugs are really the pains of human living, part of the human condition in an imperfect world, and will pass.

? That’s kind of a convenient out – if the approach you advocate doesn’t work, just wait for the problem to go away by itself. The problems that are leaving you unable to function are just the pains of human living, tough shit, suck it up. You say you don’t want to stigmatize or minimize, but surely you can see where what you’re saying has that effect regardless of your desires?

In the other thread you ask:

If you think I’m being a bad advocate, what do you suggest?

My suggestion: have a clear summary that you can link or paste of what you are saying, and what you’re not. Be aware that “psychiatry is totally wrong and you don’t need your pills” is a claim made by a lot of people for bad reasons, and you’re going to have to work to distinguish yourself from those people – you may feel you’re doing so by recommending books or linking articles, but that doesn’t actually set you apart. Saying “we should be skeptical about this” is not as small and unobjectionable a statement as you seem to think when in effect it’s “we should disregard an entire branch of medicine as pseudoscience and any ways in which people find it’s helped them as accidental”. If you think the problem is pharmaceutical treatment of mental health problems but still think people will need professional, evidence-based, medical assistance to deal with them, then maybe focus your criticism a bit more, since as far as I can see that would still require psychiatry to gather and understand that evidence and provide that assistance.

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

A Titanic every week

Apr 22nd, 2015 9:12 am | By

Via Twitter – Charlie Hebdo satirizes apathy of European leaders to migrants.

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

You have no choice. The community has no choice. The movie maker has no choice.

Apr 21st, 2015 6:14 pm | By

The producer of the movie that got the Sikh “campaigners” in Wolverhampton so riled up today withdrew the movie so the riled up campaigners could have just bided their time. The Indian Express has the ridiculous details.

Harinder Singh Sikka, the producer of controversial movie “Nanak Shah Fakir”, on Tuesday announced to withdraw the movie from cinema halls across the country and globe. Sikka made the announcement after meeting Akal Takht chief Giani Gurbachan Singh in Delhi.

Akal Takht chief was in Delhi on Tuesday after his return from Muscat and was scheduled to go to Bidar for a religious function. Sikka in a statement said the decision was taken while bowing before the supremacy of Akal Takht. He assured that required changes as suggested by Akal Takht chief would be made in the film before its re-release.

“The producer of movie has withdrawn the film and now an expert committee of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee would give its suggestions as to what all changes were needed in the film contents,” said Akal Takht chief, when contacted.

It’s apparently a holy biopic anyway, so maybe it’s only fitting that a holy committee gets to meddle with it…but the principle is bad, even for a holy biopic. People have made movies about Jesus that weren’t at all orthodox, and Christians made plenty of stinks, but they didn’t get revision rights.

“The film has to adhere to Sikh maryada (code of conduct). SGPC expert committee would give its recommendations for required changes in the film to ensure that there is no violation of maryada. Only after that film could be cleared for released,” said SGPP president Avtar Singh Makkar.

Notably, various Sikh organisations have been up in arms against the movie, alleging that it violated the Sikh maryada by portraying Guru and family members in human form. Amid controversy, the movie was released on April 17.

Oh get a grip. Adhere to the Sikh maryada yourself if you want to; stay away from the movie if you want to; but you shouldn’t be allowed to re-make someone else’s movie to conform to the Sikh maryada.

Meanwhile, radical Sikh organisation Dal Khalsa in a statement said “Announcing the withdrawal of the movie and surrendering before the Akal Takht, the producer Harinder Singh Sikka has tried to save face and skin”.

Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh said “wisdom has dawned on the film-maker though a little too late”.

“He will have to repent and pay for hurting the sentiments of the Sikhs and not listening to umpteen calls of reason. This is also a lesson for the sleeping government and the film censor board that cleared the movie ignoring the blasphemous features of the said movie,” he said.

Bullies. Stinking bullies.

“Today producer Sikka has announced the withdrawal of the film after meeting Jathedar (Chief) of the Akal Takht. From the day first, we have been saying, shouting and urging that it is the Jathedar Akal Takht only who can direct the film-maker to withdraw the film. Why Jathedar Gaini Gurbachan Singh took so much time to finally act, only he can explain!” Kanwar Pal said.

Maybe because it was his movie and not everyone else’s!

Dal Khalsa had submitted a memorandum to Jathedar Akal Takht on April 6, urging him to direct the producer to withdraw the film. “The concluding lines of our letter to Jathedar,” Kanwar Pal said, were, “You have no choice. The community has no choice. The movie maker has no choice –Nanak Shah Fakir film has to be withdrawn”.

Bullies bullies bullies bullies bullies bullies bullies.

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

The Sikh campaigners sat down on the floor and began to shout

Apr 21st, 2015 5:28 pm | By

News from Wolverhampton:

Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from Cineworld Wolverhampton after 50 protestors turned up and staged a sit-in over the screening of a controversial film.

Police had to be called and the cinema cleared and closed after the protestors surged through the main entrance and headed for the screen showing Bollywood blockbuster, Nanak Shah Fakir.

Once inside, the Sikh campaigners sat down on the floor and began to shout, refusing to move until cinema bosses met their demands and stopped the screening.

Well that’s that then. We can’t have anything if religious protesters decide they don’t want us to have it. All they have to go is sit down and shout, and that will be the end of whatever it was we were having.

Why the hell didn’t the “cinema bosses” call the police instead of doing what the lawbreaking trespassing extortionists demanded?

Nanak Shah Fakir, which is directed by Sartaj Singh Pannu and narrated by Arif Zakaria, has been mired in controversy since its release last week.

It stems from a depiction of the Guru and other religious figures in human form, which is considered to be a blasphemous violation of religious doctrine by many Sikhs.

Fine; they don’t have to look at it; they don’t get to shut it down for everyone.

It has been banned in many parts of India and attracted mass protests, while some UK cinemas have refused to show it through fear of offending religious sentiments.

Ban all the things. Ban Behzti, ban Wendy Doniger’s books, ban Taslima Nasreen’s books, ban Nanak Shah Fakir. Ban ban Caliban.

Cineworld said it has no plans to show the film in future following the incident. Posters advertising the film have since been removed from the cinema’s walls.

How absolutely cowardly and abject.

One man, who asked not to be named, said he was among dozens of customers asked to leave the multiplex when the commotion ensued.

He said: “It was extremely intimidating. For a group of people to be able to get a film stopped and then banned is just ridiculous.

“It’s an attack on freedom of speech. The atmosphere was quite aggressive in there and it’s not what you expect to face when you go and watch a film.”

Well quite! And it’s pretty damn mind-boggling that the cinema is giving in to the extortionists instead of pressing criminal charges against them.

A theater employee said:

“We apologised and offered those customers affected a full refund. The police were called to the cinema and we are currently working closely with them to investigate.

“We have taken the decision to cancel screenings of Nanak Shah Fakir because we want our customers to enjoy visiting our cinemas and experience a wide range of films without disruption from others.”

The way to do that is to refuse to let the extortionists have their way. It’s absolutely not to do what they demand.

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

A paper entitled “Back to censorship as usual”

Apr 21st, 2015 4:54 pm | By

Jason Walsh is disgusted with Queen’s University Belfast for canceling an academic symposium for bad self-regarding reasons.

Among the participants at this conference was to be yours truly, the Ireland correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, the world’s most measured, careful and, critics (with whom I would disagree) would say, stiff newspaper. Other participants included, well, academics. It was an academic symposium, after all. As I was a putative participant there is an ethical conflict in me reporting on the matter. There is no such impediment, however, on me complaining about it, so buckle-up while I take you for a spin around the insanity that is the modern university.

I had planned to give a paper entitled “Back to censorship as usual”, arguing that after a brief, and frankly unconvincing, outpouring of support for freedom of expression we all got back to calling for more censorship, including self-censorship. In short, I was planning on standing in front of a room of people who are likely to take a dim view of what I do for a living and defend my beleaguered trade as a lodestone of civilised debate. After all, we still didn’t have a full count of the murdered journalists, not to mention shoppers in a kosher supermarket, when social media was already exploding with talk about potential Islamophobic reprisals. Perhaps we could at least mop the blood up before writing, as trendy neo-leftist Jacobin magazine did, that Charlie Hebdo was a “frankly racist publication”.

No, not at all, people were announcing CH was racist while the windows were still rattling.

Let’s tell the truth: there was no security risk, unless the potential for hurt feelings after a bit of shouting is now considered a matter of security, in which case I suppose we should be calling MI6 every time there’s an argument about the washing up.

The only conceivable reason this conference would be cancelled is that someone — someone like me, for instance — might say something that might upset someone else. That is what passes for reputational damage today? Back when I was knee-high to a parking meter we called that debate, and isn’t that what the university is all about?

The real reason for the cancellation was given away with the mention of reputation. What damage to Queen’s reputation could have happened, though? That it would develop a reputation for tackling difficult subjects?

After this decision the Vice Chancellor deserves the reputation he will get.

Maybe he’ll get the one he wants, for being an aware, thoughtful, anti-Islamophobia Vice Chancellor who wants to avoid any possibility at all of discussing something that might be at all irksome to, say, the Mutaween in Saudi Arabia.

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


Apr 21st, 2015 3:34 pm | By

I stopped in at that chain drug store that I mentioned yesterday – Bartells – to see if they still carry OTC homeopathic asthma “treatments.” I could find only one thing (and didn’t feel like asking anyone). There’s only one and it’s not right next to other asthma meds; I couldn’t find any other asthma meds. They have everything with pseudoephedrine behind the counter now (because meth, ya know), and maybe all the asthma meds have pseudoephedrine so that’s why I didn’t see any. If that’s the explanation that’s an improvement on the last time I looked at this.

But still there is one item: safecare AsthmaCare for temporary relief of minor asthma symptoms.

In big letters in the middle:

Shortness of breath


Tightness in chest

So it’s saying this stuff is treatment for that. But it’s not. But it says it is.

There is a small red strip at the bottom (so much less noticeable than the list of things it gives “temporary relief” for) that says “Not a rescue inhaler.”

But you know, some people won’t notice that, some won’t believe it, some won’t be sure that it means, some will think it’s just Big Pharma.

On the side, looking super official and technical, it gives instructions on how to take it and says “approximately 100 adult doses.” That makes it sound like real medicine. It’s a small box with an even smaller bottle in it, so if a thing that tiny has 100 doses it must be really powerful. In some way. has it for the low low price of $23. For a tiny bottle of nothing.


It’s hard to see, but there in the top right corner it says HOMEOPATHIC – right on top of GLUTEN FREE

$23 for 2 fluid ounces of nothing.

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

He is concerned about the security risk for delegates

Apr 21st, 2015 1:01 pm | By

Padraig Reidy reports at Little Atoms that Queens University Belfast has canceled a scheduled symposium on

can you guess what?

On Charlie Hebdo.

The irony is so multiple and reflexive that I think it may be about to suck the entire universe into itself and then disappear.

The symposium: Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo, was due to be hosted in June by QUB’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities. But delegates, including Oxford University philosophy professor Brian Klug, were informed via email on Monday (20 April) that the event would not go ahead.

The email informed speakers: “The Vice Chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast has made the decision just this morning that he does not wish our symposium to go ahead. He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university.”

Professor Klug said this morning he is “baffled” and “dismayed” by the decision.

“I don’t understand either of his concerns. The second – the reputation of the university – strikes me as ironic, as his action does not exactly reflect well on Queens,” he told Little Atoms via email.

Just kidding! The duck’s off!

Index on Censorship Chief Executive Jodie Ginsberg commented: “If all public discussion on important issues is shut down because of security fears then the terrorists have won. Free speech – including the free exchange of ideas – is vital for democracy and universities in particular should be the torch bearers for free expression.”

They already have won a huge amount. They already have shut down many discussions, they already have moved Garry Trudeau to spit on his own vocation, they already have trained well-meaning people to think they must never breathe a word of criticism of Islam or Islamists.

Little Atoms has made repeated attempts to acquire a statement from Queen’s University Belfast on this story, but the institution is yet to comment. We will update as soon as we receive a reply. The university has been informed of publication.

Update 6:55pm 21/04/2015: We understand that Queen’s is refusing to talk to the press.

Update 7:03pm 21/04/2015: A spokesperson for QUB has called Little Atoms to confirm that the symposium will not go ahead, and that the university will make no further comment.


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

Thoughtful disagreement

Apr 21st, 2015 11:44 am | By

A Facebook friend posted a link to my Freethinker column (published yesterday), and got some…lively comments.


Paul McEnery “Of course the idea behind the cartoons was to challenge authority: to challenge religious authority, clerical authority, theocratic authority, the authority of public opinion and taboo.”

Total motherfucking hypocritical shit-mouthed arsemongering.

The idea was to be cunts to Muslims on the grounds of they were subhuman mongrels who should get the fuck out of Denmark.


Paul McEnery Nobody’s using cartoonists for scapegoats. YOU personally are pretending that the Danish cartoons weren’t full on racialist hate speech intended to provoke violence. So is Benson.

Nice deflect by pointlessly objecting to “cunts” as if it matters, btw. We’ve been through that before, and you were completely provincial and wrong then too. And I did it again just to show that you’ll take offence at pointless and provincial things while deliberately overlooking the substantial matter.


Paul McEnery BTW: While we’re here, I was guessing that Benson was a Harris atheist and a misandrist, and surprise surprise, right on both counts. She’s a dangerous ideologue, and a very nasty piece of work who is quite happy to lie her face off — and libel enemies — to get her way.

Who would imagine that an actual satirical cartoonist might be better at reading a situation than an extremist headcase?

Paul McEnery Oh, and Ken. Read it again. Benson’s lying lies start with a quote from Trudeau DIRECTLY speaking about the Danish cartoons, which is what she DIRECTLY addresses.

Make no mistake: Benson is the same kind of human being as those Danish cartoonists, and her aim is PRECISELY to suborn the issue of free speech into hatred of Muslims.

Which is to say: the difference between her and the Kouachi brothers is she hides behind words while harming people and stirring violence.


Paul McEnery She IS a Harris atheist. She IS a misandrist. She IS a liar — the first thing she says in this article is a lie; but she’s libeled a lot more people to get her way. And the opening of this article is quite clear in her attempt to libel Trudeau.

Paul McEnery And while we’re here, her actual issue with Trudeau is that he calls out Western bigots and hate speechers for their part in perpetuating the cycle of violence.

Which would include her.

He seems nice.

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

Guest post: There is no one answer for all patients

Apr 21st, 2015 10:49 am | By

Originally a comment by karmacat on Psychiatry is an important skeptical and social justice issue.

My anger comes from working as a psychiatrist and watching my patients suffer and scared that maybe there is nothing I can do for some patients. SC does have valid criticisms because the brain is so complicated that we have a limited understanding of it.

Mental illnesses do exist but we still don’t really understand the pathophysiology of the brain. We can see how patients with schizophrenia have different brains from “normal.” but one patient with schizophrenia can be different from another patient with schizophrenia even though they have the same diagnosis.

The problem with the DSM is that it is just a description of symptoms but doesn’t describe the physiology of the brain. But, right now, it is the best way of standardizing the diagnoses of mental illnesses.

Another issue is that patients and doctors can expect too much from medications. Most antidepressants are prescribed by primary care physicians and they don’t have a lot of time to figure out what is really causing depression. The problem is most people don’t have access to therapists or even psychiatrists, so they only get treated for one aspect of the illness. they don’t get treatment for the psychological and social aspects of their illness.
Another question that is important is to ask how much depression, anxiety, hallucinations or mania interfere with a person’s life. If a patient is managing his or her moods, then the risks of medicines outweigh the benefits. If medicine is taking away all emotions then it is time to switch medicines and/or focus on therapy more.

I could go on and on, of course. the point is that there are people who are suffering a lot and we need to find ways that are effective and with minimization of risks and side effects. We have a long way to go. If you look at the history of psychiatry there are a lot of screw-ups but there are some breakthroughs, especially for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Through the years, there have been more legal safeguards for patients and in research. As SC has pointed out, there are still a lot of problems.

Psychiatry can be frustrating because there , the treatments are limited, the brain is complicated but the suffering continues. All I can do for my patients is to keep reading articles and keep trying. I hope I haven’t rambled too much.

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

Aron and Lilandra in Dublin

Apr 21st, 2015 10:23 am | By

Aron Ra is giving a talk in Dublin an hour from now.

Via Twitter

Embedded image permalink

Should be interesting.

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

Thursday it was flannel, Friday they wore orange

Apr 21st, 2015 9:12 am | By

Manly men fight back.

McGuffey High School in Claysville, Pennsylvania made headlines over the weekend when a group of students organized an “Anti-Gay Day’ in direct retaliation to the LGBT youth-supportive National Day of Silence (NDOS) on Friday.

So it’s necessary to “retaliate” against the LGBT youth-supportive National Day of Silence? So a group of high school students want to go on record as saying LGBT youth should be bullied and harassed at school?

About the Day of Silence:

GLSENs Day of Silence is a national day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.


Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. From the first-ever Day of Silence at the University of Virginia in 1996, to the organizing efforts in over 8,000 middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the country in 2008, its textured history reflects its diversity in both numbers and reach.

Back to McGuffey High School:

A student named Ashley, wrote to G Philly saying that organizers of the anti-gay movement asked students to wear flannel shirts and write “anti-gay” on their hands if they opposed the LGBT community. “Stickers and flyers are also being placed around the school and on queer kids’ lockers that read ‘ANTI-GAY,’ she wrote. “This movement is a retaliation of the Day Of Silence that was set in place to remember people whose lives have ended due to LQBTIA bullying. The ‘Anti-Gay’ club, to begin with, is an obvious sign of bullying and discrimination. These kids need help. We are all people and we all deserve to be treated as such. ”

I wonder if the school also has a Racist Club, a Misogynist Club, a Nazi Club, a KKK Club, a Rapists Club, a Bullies Club.

WPXI suggests that Anti-Gay Day organizers expect to continue its protest through the week, with organizers choosing a different shirt color each day. Thursday it was flannel, Friday they wore orange and they “allegedly have another five days’ worth of anti-gay attire planned for [this] week.”

There’s just nothing so inspirational as organized bullying, is there.

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

The fox would be delighted to guard the hen house

Apr 20th, 2015 4:08 pm | By

John Tozzi at Bloomberg is also on the homeopathy story.

On a recent afternoon in midtown Manhattan, I popped into a chain drug store and picked up some $12 sleep tablets whose label promises both “courage and peace of mind” and “focus when ungrounded.” I also got a $17 tube of cream offering “rapid, soothing relief of pain” from conditions as varied as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bug bites. Both products sat on shelves alongside familiar drugs such as Tylenol and Claritin, which regulators have carefully scrutinized for safety and effectiveness. The half- dozen products I bought—labelled as “homeopathic”—aren’t vetted for either.

Tablets that give you courage and peace of mind – that’s funny. I suppose it wouldn’t have sounded spiritual enough to say “calms you the fuck down” – not that it does that either.

About 3.3 million Americans spent $2.9 billion on homeopathic treatments in 2007, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), though private industry research suggests a smaller market. The industry has “mushroomed” since the early 1980s, when homeopathic sales were just $1.5 million a year, says Bill Nychis, who worked at the FDA for 39 years in compliance and enforcement. At the time, the agency was midway through a decades-long process reviewing older over-the-counter drugs for safety and efficacy. The FDA had the authority to regulate homeopathic remedies, but because sales were so small, the agency opted to outsource much of that job to the industry itself. “Risk is always depending upon the number of products on the market and the sales volume of the products,” says Nychis, who now advises importers at

In 1988, the FDA issued a policy guide “where we basically allow these drugs to come to the market without premarket approval,” says Cynthia Schnedar, director of compliance for the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Federal regulators allow the sale of any substance listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia, a document published since the 1800s and maintained by a nonprofit industry association. The remedies need to meet certain FDA manufacturing guidelines and can be marketed over the counter only for “self-limiting” conditions, meaning illnesses like colds that go away on their own.

Oh? Is that right? Then why are homeopathic asthma “treatments” sitting on the shelf at the chain drugstore less than a mile from where I am at this moment? Sitting on the shelf with the real asthma medications?

Critics of homeopathy say FDA action is overdue. Stephen Barrett, a retired North Carolina psychiatrist who operates the fraud-busting site Quackwatch, petitioned the agency in 1994 to require that homeopathic remedies meet the same standards for safety and effectiveness as other drugs. The agency has cracked down on claims that homeopathic products can treat cancer or substitute for flu vaccines, but Barrett says it hasn’t done enough to warn consumers about common over-the-counter remedies. “You can’t separate safety from effectiveness,” he says. “If it’s not effective, it’s not safe.”

And there are homeopathic asthma “treatments” out there. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s not just for headaches and other things that can be hard to treat and aren’t fatal. Asthma.

Manufacturers of homeopathic products argue that the consumer should be the judge. “Millions of Americans use homeopathic medicines and want access to them,” says John P. Borneman, chief executive of Hyland’s Homeopathic and president of the industry association that publishes the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia. “These medicines are very effective, people like using them, [and] it’s part of consumer choice in the United States.”

No. Medicine is a technical subject. People can’t evaluate medicines on their own, and manufacturers can’t (and shouldn’t and mustn’t) be trusted to give all the necessary information on the package. Manufacturers of homeopathic products are doing it to make money, and they’re not going to say on the label “THIS IS FAKE MEDICINE.” It has to be an outside body that does that, one with no financial stake in the outcome – a disinterested party.

In the U.S., homeopathic remedies have become more common at national pharmacy chains, says Yale historian Naomi Rogers, who has studied the history of medicine and homeopathy. “Homeopathic drugs didn’t disappear, but they moved from prescription drugs to all over-the-counter drugs,” she says. “They start to be seen as—or even packaged as—the equivalent of special vitamins, special kinds of extra things you can take to stay healthy, or to get healthy, or to treat something that you have that you don’t want to go to a doctor for.”

Or just as one of the several asthma treatments on the shelf, and one that is cheaper than the others.

At this week’s hearing, the FDA will consider whether its current approach is “appropriate to protect and promote public health in light of the tremendous growth of the homeopathic market.” Barrett says the answer is no, and he suggested a way 20 years ago to deal with it: “Hold homeopathic drugs to the same standards as other drugs.” Which would probably make them harder to find at your local pharmacy.

I sure as hell hope so. It horrified me to find homeopathic asthma “treatments” right there on the shelf.

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

It’s a tough question

Apr 20th, 2015 3:16 pm | By

NPR covers the homeopathy issue in its usual insouciant way. It starts with a human interest story about a practitioner named Anthony Aurigemma in Bethesda (handy for NPR).

Aurigemma went to medical school and practiced as a regular doctor before switching to homeopathy more than 30 years ago. He says he got disillusioned by mainstream medicine because of the side effects caused by many drugs. “I don’t reject conventional medicine. I use it when I have to,” Aurigemma says.

Throughout his career, homeopathy has been regulated differently from mainstream medicine.

In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration decided not to require homeopathic remedies to go through the same drug-approval process as standard medical treatments. Now the FDA isrevisiting that decision. It will hold two days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective.



It will hold two days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective.

It will hold two days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective.

Let’s see…should they?

Naaaaaaaaaaaah. So they’re dangerous and useless – so what?! What’s the harm?

Remember that time I read something about homeopathic asthma “medication” and went ballistic? Remember I went to the local chain drugstore to see if they carried it and sure enough they did, with the actual asthma medication? That’s the harm. It’s cheaper than the real stuff. A naïve shopper could buy the homeopathic stuff not realizing it’s not real medication. Asthma can kill you, quickly.

That’s what’s the harm.

So yes, FDA, since homeopathic remedies claim to be medically effective, yes of course they should have to be proven safe and effective.

Homeopathic medicine has long been controversial. It’s based on an idea known as “like cures like,” which means if you give somebody a dose of a substance — such as a plant or a mineral — that can cause the symptoms of their illness, it can, in theory, cure that illness if the substance has been diluted so much that it’s essentially no longer in the dose.

“We believe that there is a memory left in the solution. You might call it a memory. You might call it energy,” Aurigemma says. “Each substance in nature has a certain set of characteristics. And when a patient comes who matches the physical, mental and emotional symptoms that a remedy produces — that medicine may heal the person’s problem.”

And then he spun around three times and disappeared, leaving behind only a frog in a football jersey.

“Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience,” saysSteven Novella, a neurologist at Yale and executive editor of the website Science-Based Medicine. “These are principles that are not based upon science.”

Novella thinks consumers are wasting their money on homeopathic remedies. The cost of such treatments vary, with some over-the-counter products costing less than $10.

Some of the costs, such as visits to doctors and the therapies they prescribe, may be covered by insurance. But Novella says with so many people using homeopathic remedies, the costs add up.

Plus, it’s money for nothing. $9 for a pretend pizza may be not much money, but on the other hand a pretend pizza is worth zero.

Plus there’s the whole killing you thing.

There’s also some concern that homeopathic remedies could be dangerous if they’re contaminated or not completely diluted, or even if they simply don’t work.

I don’t know what that “even” is doing there. Yes of course medicine that doesn’t work could be dangerous!

Somebody who’s having an acute asthma attack, for example, who takes a homeopathic asthma remedy, “may very well die of their acute asthma attack because they were relying on a completely inert and ineffective treatment,” Novella says.

Precisely. Yet there it is sitting on the shelf at the big chain drugstore, mixed in with the real medicine! Not marked “DOES NOT WORK”.

For years, critics like Novella have been asking the FDA to regulate homeopathy more aggressively. The FDA’s decision to revisit the issue now was motivated by several factors, including the growing popularity of homeopathic remedies and the length of time that has passed since the agency last considered the issue.

What’s the thinking here? That it’s part of our sacred freedom to let people sell water labeled medicine?

The FDA’s decision to examine the issue is making homeopathic practitioners like Aurigemma and their patients nervous. “It would be a terrible loss to this country if they were to do something drastic,” he says.

Yeah, quack medicine is what makes this world a better place.

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