Notes and Comment Blog

Also sentenced to 1,000 lashes

May 8th, 2014 9:28 am | By

Major English language media are now reporting the horrendous news about the new and even more barbaric sentence imposed on Raif Badawi.

The BBC reports.

A Saudi court has imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi for 10 years for “insulting Islam” and setting up a liberal web forum, local media report.

He was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000; £133,000).

I would put the 1000 lashes first.

Mr Badawi, the co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested in 2012.

A Saudi newspaper close to the government reported that he had lost his appeal against an earlier, more lenient sentence of seven years and three months in jail and 600 lashes.

Makes the blood run cold, doesn’t it, when a sentence of seven years and three months in jail and 600 lashes for atheist opinion and a liberal web forum is called “more lenient”?

Amnesty International describes him as a “prisoner of conscience” and has called for his release.

“Raif Badawi is the latest victim to fall prey to the ruthless campaign to silence peaceful activists in Saudi Arabia,” it said in a statement.

Last October a Saudi journalist was freed after spending a year and a half in prison for writing insulting tweets about the Prophet Muhammad.

Hamza Kashgari fled Saudi Arabia for Malaysia in 2012 but was extradited just days later. He was released last year after making a public apology.

Way to make everyone love Islam, Saudi Arabia – keep telling the world that refusal to love Islam gets you fined and imprisoned and whipped ONE THOUSAND TIMES. Yes that should work well.

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

Girls hogging the microphone again

May 7th, 2014 5:52 pm | By

Well thank fuck somebody is asking the real question about the kidnapped and enslaved schoolgirls in Nigeria. Noah Rothman at Medialite is asking it.

This focus on Boko Haram from both the media and the government is an unqualified good. The press arguably increased the pressure on global governments to do something about this backwards group of terrorists. But Boko Haram is not a new phenomenon. It was not long ago that some – including this author – were asking why this group’s atrocities were not generating any attention in the press.

On February 25, between 40 and 59 children were killed by the fundamentalist militant group. Early that morning, Boko Haram terrorists attacked a boarding school and shot many of children, aged 11 to 18, while they slept. Some of the students were gunned down as they attempted to flee. Others had their throats slit. In some buildings, Boko Haram militants locked the doors and set the building alight. The occupants were burned alive.

All of the victims were boys. Reports indicated that the young girls the militants encountered were spared. According to the BBC, the militants told the girls to flee, get married, and shun the western education to which they were privy.

Beyond wire reports and a handful of segments on globally-focused outlets like NPR, this atrocity went unremarked upon in the popular news media.

February 25 was not Boko Haram’s first atrocity. By March, more than 1,000 people had been killed in the country’s northeast since the first of the year. Prior to Boko Haram’s shift in tactics, from wholesale slaughter of young men to the kidnapping of young women, the group traveled from village to village where they killed children and razed buildings with near impunity.

The massacre in February prompted me to ask what the press found lacking in story surrounding Boko Haram’s atrocities that they would not cover it extensively. Was it a geographical bias? Was reporting from Western Africa more difficult than Beslan, Russia? There, hundreds of school children were massacred in 2004, and that event comprehensively covered in the Western press. Maybe there was simply an ethnic bias at play, and American audiences were prejudged to care less about atrocities in Africa than in Europe.

But the events of the last month have demonstrated that none of these explanations were accurate. Apparently, the press simply needed the right reason to cover this terrorist group and their brutal tactics. But an even more disturbing question needs to be asked now: why did the press spring to action when young women were kidnapped, but were virtually unmoved when it was young boys who were being slaughtered and burned alive?

Yes, that’s the important question here.




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

Bring them back

May 7th, 2014 5:44 pm | By

Malala Fund’s photo.

Photo: Michelle Obama: #BringBackOurGirls.


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

No human rights for Pakistan then

May 7th, 2014 5:34 pm | By

A Pakistani human rights lawyer was shot to death in his office, AFP and Dawn report.

Human Rights Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was gunned down by unidentified attackers in Multan, DawnNews reported late on Wednesday night.

Initial reports suggest that Khan was targeted by two gunmen inside his office at Kachehri Chowk.

Because of the human rights I suppose? That’s blasphemy, is it? Yes, of course it is. Lawyers should be defending the prophet’s rights, not human rights.

Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was a coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The senior lawyer was defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy and had complained that he had been receiving threats on his life.

The HRCP had voiced serious concern over the threats extended to Khan.

The Supreme Court advocate had submitted an application with the District Bar Association president Sher Zaman Qureshi last month, saying he was threatened by two lawyers and two other persons who asked him not to appear in the case he was representing.

Rehman was representing Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University.

Hafeez was known for his liberal views at the university and the case of blasphemy was registered after pressure from right-wing student groups, said a student, who wished not to be named.

What kind of pressure? The kind of “pressure” that was applied to Rashid Rehman Khan?

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

Wear the P

May 7th, 2014 4:56 pm | By

Luke O’Neil at Medialite warns that there are risks in mocking the self-satisfied obliviousness of haplessly privileged college kids, who could become embittered Republicans as a result.

But screw it, let’s do it anyway. It’s unlikely we’re going to find a better candidate for a ideological stoning than Tal Fortgang, of the New Rochelle Fortgangs, who courageously struck out against the oppressive climate of basic cultural awareness and bare minimum human decency that has despoiled college campuses everywhere by penning a whinging invective against the concept of “checking your privilege” in The Princeton Tory. The piece was republished by Time, and a profile of the Rosa Parks of Ivy League white guys was published by The New York Times yesterday, something that always happens to people without privilege.

No, it always happens to people who work hard, like Tal Fortgang.

Fortgang, as many Ivy League students often do in their first few months on campus, found himself being challenged by a concept from outside of his hermetic culture bubble, when classmates began telling him to “check your privilege.” Also like most entitled white guys, upon finding himself on the opposite end of the entire world’s fawning approval, he started crying about it.

“The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laserlike at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung.”

Fox News and other conservative outlets, perhaps reeling from the vacuum created by the Cliven Bundy-shaped hole in their hero narrative, picked up the story as well.

Instead of stopping to consider why so many people around him had begun suggesting he may want to question where some of his opinions come from, Fortgang tap-danced through a series of aggrieved conservative cliches, practically reaching Reverse Racism Bingo before the end of his second paragraph.

And that will be why Time saw fit to publish it. “So many clichés collected in one place by one so young – this is for us.”

Looking through the rest of Fortgang’s [Twitter] timeline you’ll find many other caustic clichéd opinions you’d expect from a young, clueless, aggressively aggrieved conservative. Actually, feminists are the ones with the discriminatory problem, seems to be a common theme.

The cognitive dissonance is just too good to pass up. Sure, my father became a successful businessman, he says, but what does that have to do with me? His father before him didn’t have it so great.

I’m pretty sure almost every person of privilege could say the same. I come from a relatively comfortable background, but if you go back a few generations my ancestors were shitting in holes in the ground, so therefore everything I think and say is good.

What follows in the rest of the piece is a detour into the greatest hits of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mythologizing. Maybe if people moaning about privilege simply worked harder and stopped worrying about what other people have, then they’d be in a position of privilege, like me!

Well that’s what America means. If you work hard and ignore all possible sources of structural inequality, then you can wear your P for Privilege with pride!




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

Call things by their right names

May 7th, 2014 11:51 am | By

The Guardian tells us there are FGM “parties” in the UK. No punch, no cheese straws, no gossip, just carving up of little girls’ genitals.

The cutting of girls at female genital mutilation “parties” is still going on in Britain and not just taking place abroad, healthcare experts have told MPs.

The Commons home affairs select committee has heard that “cutters” – often older women – are flown into Britain for the events, at which as many as a dozen girls may be operated on.

“Operated on”? Don’t be silly, Graun – the cutters are not surgeons, and what they do is not an operation. They carve up little girls’ genitals.

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

The privilege is the absence of barriers that exist for other people

May 7th, 2014 10:49 am | By

You may not have noticed this (I kid), but talking about privilege doesn’t always work out. If it did, we wouldn’t be hearing so much about that guy Tal Fortgang, who is so remote from having any privilege that major media are paying close attention to his lack of privilege. Mychal Denzel Smith explains in The Nation why it all goes wrong.

When people with privilege hear that they have privilege, what they hear is not, “Our society is structured so that your life is more valued than others.” They hear, “Everything, no matter what, will be handed to you. You have done nothing to achieve what you have.” That’s not strictly true, and hardly anyone who points out another’s privilege is making that accusation. There are privileged people who work very hard. The privilege they experience is the absence of barriers that exist for other people.

But they don’t grasp that, because they’re not aware of the barriers that exist for other people, because they’re not other people. That’s the “privilege” they have. It’s so fatally easy to translate lack of awareness of X to what you think is awareness that not-X. I know this; I catch myself doing it all the time. It’s one of the fast thinking mistakes we make. It needn’t be an accusation, it’s just reality.

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

Benign acknowledgment

May 7th, 2014 9:57 am | By

One thing Kennedy said in the Greece ruling -

That the First Congress provided for the appointment of chaplains only days after approving language for the First Amendment demonstrates that the Framers considered legislative prayer a benign acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.

Well if so, the Framers were wrong. One, it’s not automatically “benign”; two, it’s a lot more than a mere acknowledgment; three, religion’s role in society is not necessarily something that should be encouraged, let alone imposed.

I for one don’t consider it at all benign for a major branch of government to give its imprimatur to the fanciful idea that there’s a Big But Absent Person in charge of us all and paying attention to our “prayers.” It’s a silly childish belief on a par with belief in fairies or ghosts, and it’s only this kind of supposedly “benign” public deference to it that allows to many people to think otherwise. It’s far from being just an acknowledgment; it is an endorsement.

Religion’s role in society is a mixed bag at best. There’s no obvious reason for Congress to “acknowledge” that role at all, and in any case hiring a chaplain to deliver a daily prayer is not acknowledgement but participation.

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

Boko Haram has a busy day

May 7th, 2014 9:33 am | By

CNN reports:

Details emerged Wednesday of an apparent Boko Haram attack on a Nigerian village in which at least 150 people died, the latest in a series of attacks and abductions of schoolgirls attributed to the group.

Militants dressed in military uniforms, backed by armored personnel carriers and shouting “God is great” attacked Gamboru Ngala Monday afternoon, firing rocket-propelled grenades and tossing improvised bombs into a crowded outdoor marketplace, witnesses told CNN Wednesday.

They then set fire to buildings where people had tried to take shelter from the violence, the witnesses said.

The fighters also attacked the police station during the 12-hour assault, initially facing stiff resistance. They eventually used explosives to blow the roof off the building, witnesses said. Fourteen police officers were found dead inside, they said.

The final death toll could be closer to 300, Nigerian Sen. Ahmed Zanna told CNN.

“Militants”? “Fighters”?

Militants in the cause of what? Fighters for what? Don’t say sharia or a caliphate or the ummah or Islam, because any of those would give an impression of some kind of idealism, however warped. I don’t believe it. I think they’re just murdering and enslaving people for the sake of murdering and enslaving people. I think they’re drunk on their ability to blow everything up, and enjoying their power to slaughter people and make all the survivors miserable.


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

One thousand lashes

May 7th, 2014 9:21 am | By

It’s been reported – indirectly so far, which is to say, no English language news sources – that today Saudi Arabia changed Raif Badawi’s sentence to an even harsher one.

Amnesty International reports:

Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia’s authorities to quash the outrageous sentencing today of Raif Badawi in connection with an online forum for public debate he set up and accusations that he insulted Islam.

Raif Badawi, co-founder of the “Saudi Arabian Liberals” website, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (about US$266,631) by Jeddah’s Criminal Court.


Not to mention ten years – 120 months, 3,560+ days – in prison.

Corporal punishment, such as flogging, violates international law, which prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Raif Badawi was first jailed in 2012 for violating Saudi Arabia’s IT law and insulting religious authorities through his online writings and hosting those of others on the “Saudi Arabian Liberals” website. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes.

Last December, an appeals court overturned his conviction and sent the case to Jeddah’s Criminal Court to be reviewed. He had initially been charged with “apostasy”, which is considered a serious crime in Saudi Arabia and carries the death penalty.

It’s a god damn outrage.


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

Dashboard transcendence

May 7th, 2014 8:57 am | By

Dave Richards gave me blanket permission to post his photos so here’s another one of Merlyn that I’ve always loved – this one from when he was a brand new arrival.

Magic Merlyn is magic

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

Human beings who have names

May 6th, 2014 6:11 pm | By

Martin Wagner posted this on Facebook. The names of 177 of the schoolgirls kidnapped and enslaved by Boko Haram.

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

A policy that could lead to the exclusion of non-Christian groups

May 6th, 2014 11:15 am | By

The Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday is inspiring new efforts, just as everyone knew it would. The Board of Supervisors of Roanoke County, Virginia, for instance:

Roanoke County’s Board of Supervisors may be headed toward another discussion of prayer following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Monday. The board dealt with the matter in 2012, eventually passing a nonsectarian prayer policy that Supervisor Al Bedrosian is ready to strike from the books.

“The freedom of religion doesn’t mean that every religion has to be heard,” said Bedrosian, who added that he is concerned about groups such as Wiccans and Satanists. “If we allow everything … where do you draw the line?”

The supervisor campaigned on the idea of eliminating the policy, and the ruling has breathed new life into his idea for a policy that could lead to the exclusion of non-Christian groups from the invocation.

Yay. Formal, official Christian supremacy in government at last. The city on a hill is in sight.

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

Getting rid of it was long overdue

May 6th, 2014 10:39 am | By

The Borowitz Report* on the Supreme Court ruling in Greece v Galloway.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — In what legal experts are calling a landmark decision, on Monday the United States Supreme Court struck down what many believe to be the main reason the country was started.

By a five-to-four vote, the Court eliminated what grade-school children have traditionally been taught was one of the key rationales for founding the United States in the first place.

“The separation of church and state has been a cornerstone of American democracy for over two hundred years,” said Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority. “Getting rid of it was long overdue.”

Hahasob. Yeah.


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

“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties”

May 6th, 2014 10:20 am | By

The BBC has more on the enslavement in Nigeria.

In the video, Abubakar Shekau said the girls should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married.

“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,” he said.

Yes that sums it right up, doesn’t it – girls are inferior beings, therefore they should not be in school, they should be enslaved in “marriage” because that’s all that inferior beings are good for.

Meanwhile, a woman who helped organise protests over the abduction was detained and later released.

Naomi Mutah was taken to a police station after a meeting called by First Lady Patience Jonathan.

Mrs Jonathan reportedly felt slighted that the girls’ mothers had sent Ms Mutah to the meeting instead of going themselves.

Mrs Jonathan is seen as a politically powerful figure in Nigeria but has no constitutional power to order arrests.

Ms Mutah, a representative of the Chibok community, organised a protest last week outside parliament in Abuja.

Wow, that’s some heavy-duty self-absorption – for Patience Jonathan to be more worried about her own importance than the issue that Naomi Mutah was there to discuss with her.

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

They said they would

May 6th, 2014 9:15 am | By

As promised, fucking Boko Haram has grabbed more girls.

Of course it has. It’s easy. Soft targets. Villages of ordinary people; it’s dead easy to burst in with guns and grab a bunch of the girls. Anybody could do that at any time. But decent people don’t do that. We’re all soft targets; we don’t all prey on each other just because we can.

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls aged 12 to 15 from a village near one of their strongholds in northeast Nigeria overnight, police and residents said today.

“They were many, and all of them carried guns. They came in two vehicles painted in army colour. They started shooting in our village,” said Lazarus Musa, a resident of Warabe, where the attack happened.

So what could the people of Warabe do? Nothing. So the men with guns were able to grab the girls.

Homo homini lupus.



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

Magic cat

May 6th, 2014 8:33 am | By

This beautiful cat’s human takes the most beautiful pictures of him – and this one that he posted yesterday (the human, not the cat) I couldn’t stop gazing at. So I got permission to share the pleasure of it with you all.

The cat is Merlyn. The genius with the camera is Dave Richards.

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

It’s not tomorrow

May 6th, 2014 8:22 am | By

Climate change is already here and already messing things up.

Climate change has moved from distant threat to present-day danger and no American will be left unscathed, according to a landmark report due to be unveiled on Tuesday.

The National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report compiled by 300 leading scientists and experts, is meant to be the definitive account of the effects of climate change on the US. It will be formally released at a White House event and is expected to drive the remaining two years of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.

Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University and vice-chair of the NCA advisory committee, said the US report would be unequivocal that the effects of climate change were occurring in real-time and were evident in every region of the country.

“One major take-home message is that just about every place in the country has observed that the climate has changed,” he told the Guardian. “It is here and happening, and we are not cherrypicking or fearmongering.”

But Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the entire Republican party will say they are, just the same.

Some changes are already having a measurable effect on food production and public health, the report will say.

John Balbus, senior adviser at the National Institute of Environmenal Health Science and a lead author of the NCA report, said rising temperatures increased the risk of heat stroke and heat-related deaths.

Eugene Takle, convening lead author of the agriculture chapter of the NCA report, and director of the Climate Science programme at Iowa State University, said heatwaves and changes in rainfall had resulted in a levelling off in wheat and corn production and would eventually cause declines.

And elsewhere in the world…the real terror is the melting of Himalayan glaciers and thus the loss of irrigation from the great rivers those glaciers feed and thus famine in much of Asia.

The assessments are the American equivalent of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. This year’s report for the first time looks at what America has done to fight climate change or protect people from its consequences in the future.

Under an act of Congress the reports were supposed to be produced every four years, but no report was produced during George W Bush’s presidency.


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

“By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace.”

May 5th, 2014 5:29 pm | By

New news: Boko Haram now says it’s planning to sell the schoolgirls “in the marketplace.”

Abubakar Shekau for the first time also claimed responsibility for the April 15 mass abduction, warning that his group plans to attack more schools and abduct more girls.

“I abducted your girls,” said the leader of Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful.”

He described the girls as “slaves” and said, “By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace.” The hourlong video starts with fighters lifting automatic rifles and shooting in the air as they chant “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great.”

ABC News says it’s not clear when the video was made.

In the video, Shekau also said the students “will remain slaves with us.” That appears a reference to the ancient jihadi custom of enslaving women captured in a holy war, who then can be used for sex.

Holy shmoly. It’s an ancient Homeric custom, too, so what? It’s not “holy,” it’s just “we win so we get to take what we want.” It’s might makes right, it’s force majeure, it’s what bullies do.

“They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them,” he said, speaking in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.

And don’t forget: education is forbidden. Murder is not forbidden, kidnapping schoolgirls and selling them into slavery is not forbidden, it’s education that’s forbidden. Bullies forever.

The video was reviewed by The Associated Press, and both the face and the voice of the leader of Boko Haram were recognizable.

Shekau brushed off warnings that the abductions could be an international crime, saying in English, as if to reach his accusers in the international community: “What do you know about human rights? You’re just claiming human rights (abuses), but you don’t know what it is.”

Hmm. Shoe on the other foot, old bean.

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

The Holy See intends to focus

May 5th, 2014 4:36 pm | By

Hey remember the Catholic church? That pretends to be the source of truth and morality and true morality and moral truth? That Catholic church?

It’s been busy at the UN lately. Helping out? Offering assistance to victims of war and earthquakes? Knitting balaclavas for the homeless?

No. Trying to convince the committee against torture that it – the church – doesn’t have to enforce the UN convention against torture because it – the church, or rather the Vatican – has borders, and the convention is outside it.

That’s moral truth and true morality for you.

The Vatican has been given another hostile interrogation by a United Nations committee over its record on clerical sex abuse.

One member after another of the committee against torture brushed aside the Holy See’s argument that its obligation to enforce the UN convention against torture stopped at the boundaries of the world’s smallest country, the Vatican City state.

Pause to give close attention to that item. The “Holy See” is claiming that its obligation to enforce the UN convention against torture stops at the boundaries of the Vatican City state. It is acting like any CEO or Ponzi schemer or Mafia boss while pretending to be close to “God” and the source of all virtue.

The Holy See, which long predates the city state, is a sovereign entity without territory. It is as the Holy See that the Catholic leadership maintains diplomatic relations and signs treaties such as the convention against torture.

And gets to throw its weight around and fuck everything up in the name of its hateful god.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, told the committee: “The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on Vatican City state.”

The American expert on the committee, Felice Gaer, made plain her disagreement. She said the Holy See had to “show us that, as a party to the convention, you have a system in place to prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment when it is acquiesced to by anyone under the effective control of the officials of the Holy See and the institutions that operate in the Vatican City state”.

Talk about eating cake and having it – they want to have all the perks of being a state while also pretending not to be a state whenever being a state means they would have to do something they don’t want to do, like stop their people torturing children.

Gaer, the director of an American-Jewish human rights organisation, the Jacob Blaustein Institute, said the church’s doctrine on abortion was an area of legitimate concern for the committee. She called for the Vatican to comment on allegations that its blanket stigmatisation of abortion had led to nine-year-old girls being required to give birth.

In February, the Vatican reacted with outrage when another UN panel argued that children around the world were suffering from Catholic teachings, including those on abortion and birth control. The Vatican said comments by the committee on the rights of the child constituted an attack on religious freedom.

Ahhh fuck you, Vatican; you’re the bitter enemies of any kind of real freedom there is. You want freedom to do whatever you want to do while coercing everyone else. Priests on top! That’s not freedom, not even religious freedom.

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