Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Value for money

Jul 19th, 2012 9:23 am | By

Prepare to be astonished.

Consumers could be wasting their money on sports drinks, protein shakes and high-end trainers, according to a new joint investigation by BBC Panorama and the British Medical Journal.

The investigation into the performance-enhancing claims of some popular sports products found “a striking lack of evidence” to back them up.

Surely not! Surely the more expensive a shoe is, the faster you can run when you wear it. You would think so, but the BBC says alas, we have been deceived

A team at Oxford University examined 431 claims in 104 sport product adverts and found a “worrying” lack of high-quality research, calling for better studies to help inform consumers.

But not Lucozade, I’m sure. Of course that totally works.

In the case of Lucozade Sport, the UK’s best-selling sports drink, their advert says it is “an isotonic performance fuel to take you faster, stronger, for longer”.

Dr Heneghan and his team asked manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for details of the science behind their claims and were given what he said scientists call a “data dump” – 40 years’ worth of Lucozade sports research which included 176 studies.

Dr Heneghan said the mountain of data included 101 trials that the Oxford team were able to examine before concluding: “In this case, the quality of the evidence is poor, the size of the effect is often minuscule and it certainly doesn’t apply to the population at large who are buying these products.”

But it probably doesn’t actually make people weaker or slower – so that should be good enough. GlaxoSmithKline has to make a living you know. Lighten up.



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

The sacred and the profane

Jul 19th, 2012 8:52 am | By

The Catholic church in the UK is finding itself having to answer to the law. What an indignity! What presumption! Mere secular humans with secular training in secular law daring to meddle with sanctified Standers-in For Jesus. The church is god’s telephone line! Don’t these presumptuous mundane unholy law-botherers realize that? How dare they haul a bunch of priests to court?

A landmark hearing at the Supreme Court in London on Monday will consider who is responsible for compensating victims of child abuse by Catholic priests.

The case is being brought by 170 men who allege that they were sexually and physically abused at a Roman Catholic children’s home.

The High Court at Leeds and the Court of Appeal have already decided that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough is responsible for compensating victims of child abuse at the St William’s children’s home, Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, between 1960 and 1992.

On account of the former principal of that children’s home was found guilty of sexually assaulting 22 boys, some as young as 12. Did the church cry out in compassionate anguish and rush to do everything it could to compensate? No it did not. It did the other thing.

Compensation proceedings on behalf of claimants were started in 2004. Although two Roman Catholic organisations were involved in running the St William’s children’s home, both organisations have attempted to use legal technicalities to escape responsibility, a tactic mirrored in other Catholic child abuse cases.

Despite a series of shocking examples of Catholic priests being convicted over the past decade, the Catholic Church continues to argue that it is not responsible for abuse committed by its priests and officials. In the most recent example the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth attempted to argue that he was not responsible for compensating a victim of abuse by a priest named Father Baldwin, on the basis that he did not employ him but simply allowed him ministry in his Diocese. Unsurprisingly on 12th July 2012 the Court of Appeal decided that the Bishop was indeed responsible.

You see, this is that problem again – the fact that they constantly claim to be morally better than the rest of humanity, because of their churchness – their adherence to “church teachings” – when in fact they’re selfish self-protecting shits. They’re not compassionate, they’re not generous, they’re not other-regarding – they’re not good.

They seem to think nobody can see this. We can see it.


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

Simply strange ones

Jul 18th, 2012 4:42 pm | By

But Giles Fraser looks quite thoughtful compared to Ed West in the Telegraph.

…people are not naturally moral relativists, and female circumcision cannot be viewed in any way as an acceptable cultural practice, violating all Western ethical principles, scarring women for life out of sheer spiteful misogyny.

But it’s inevitable that any movement that has been proved right and principled will then push its ideology too far until it too becomes intolerant and ludicrous, and the campaign against male circumcision is just one example. In theory removing a foreskin could be seen as a violation of a child’s rights, but that’s to take a theoretical liberal argument to an absurd and illiberal position. It equates genuinely horrific and immoral alien cultural practices with simply strange ones, which almost becomes an extreme reverse cultural relativism – all cultures that aren’t mine are equally bad.

Absurd and illiberal? To tell parents they can’t snip off a bit of their baby’s penis just because it’s supposed to be a religious obligation? Come on. I can see saying there are tensions, but to blow off the issue that easily is…well, absurd and illiberal.

Of course most people are not saying that circumcision is anywhere as bad as FGM, but that it does mutilate the child and so violate individual rights…But liberalism should mean distinguishing between abusive, unacceptable cultural forms that violate individual freedom and ones you just don’t agree with (which, to some New Atheists, is going to mean pretty much all religious upbringings).

Yes but in what sense is it clear that snipping off a bit of a baby’s penis for non-medical reasons is not an abusive, unacceptable cultural form that violates individual freedom?

I would disagree with Fraser over only one thing – calling this liberalism. It’s actually statism, an ideology that causes far more child cruelty than all the religions in Europe combined.

Ah right, it’s the fault of New Atheism and statism. That’s that sorted.

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

Giles Fraser versus the liberal mindset

Jul 18th, 2012 4:20 pm | By

Giles Fraser is angry about the German court decision that religious circumcision of infants is a violation of their right to bodily integrity (although he doesn’t say that, but substitutes “against the best interests of the child”). He’s outraged that Merkel had to say  ”I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world in which Jews cannot practise their rites.”

Yet the circumcision of babies cuts against one of the basic assumptions of the liberal mindset. Informed consent lies at the heart of choice and choice lies at the heart of the liberal society. Without informed consent, circumcision is regarded as a form of violence and a violation of the fundamental rights of the child. Which is why I regard the liberal mindset as a diminished form of the moral imagination. There is more to right and wrong than mere choice.

Well there’s a non sequitur. Of course there’s more to right and wrong than mere choice, but when it’s a matter of snipping off a bit of the penis for purely religious reasons then informed choice really is preferable to its absence.

He was circumcised at eight days old. His son wasn’t. He regrets that.

I still find it difficult that my son is not circumcised. The philosopher Emil Fackenheim, himself a survivor of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, famously added to the 613th commandments of the Hebrew scriptures with a new 614th commandment: thou must not grant Hitler posthumous victories. This new mitzvah insisted that to abandon one’s Jewish identity was to do Hitler’s work for him. Jews are commanded to survive as Jews by the martyrs of the Holocaust. My own family history – from Miriam Beckerman and Louis Friedeburg becoming Frasers (a name change to escape antisemitism) to their grandson becoming Rev Fraser (long story) to the uncircumcised Felix Fraser – can be read as a betrayal of that 614th commandment.

And I have always found this extremely difficult to deal with. On some level, I feel like a betrayer.

I can sympathize with that – but what he’s overlooking (rather distastefully, when you look closely) is that that’s about him, and that it doesn’t give him the right to snip off a bit of his infant’s penis. His son could still get circumcised – but it would be his decision, about his body. It seems to me it’s a good deal more of a betrayal to force that decision on someone else.

As I argued in this week’s Church Times, one of the most familiar modern mistakes about faith is that it is something that goes on in your head. This is rubbish. Faith is about being a part of something wider than oneself. We are not born as mini rational agents in waiting, not fully formed as moral beings until we have the ability to think and choose for ourselves. We are born into a network of relationships that provide us with a cultural background against which things come to make sense. “We” comes before “I”. We constitutes our horizon of significance. Which is why many Jews who consider themselves to be atheists would still consider themselves to be Jewish. And circumcision is the way Jewish and Muslim men are marked out as being involved in a reality greater than themselves.

Yes, but, again – that shouldn’t be forced.

I know what the problem with that is. If it’s not “forced” – if it’s not the child’s world from the first moment – then the roots are much shallower. It’s not such an embracing “we.” Lots and lots of parents – probably most – want that embracing “we.”

But then, most people don’t get enough exposure to a “shallower” kind of we, which makes possible an expanding and exciting set of “we”s as the child matures. Informed choice really is a pretty good idea.

H/t Tauriq M

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

Liberating and life-enhancing

Jul 18th, 2012 10:52 am | By

Ghaffar Hussain talks to Alom Shaha in The Commentator. Alom’s book The Young Atheist’s Handbook launches tomorrow, or launched yesterday, or last week (launches get confusing – they migrate).

Alom points out that he’s had different experiences from the horsemen, and he wants to show that atheism isn’t just for horsemen. Why promote atheism?

I believe that lots of people only follow a religion because of parental and cultural pressure and that they would be happier if they could be true to themselves and lead godless lives. Belief in god is not something that comes naturally to all of us; many of us find it impossible to believe in god and it can be liberating and life-enhancing to fully embrace this lack of belief and live our lives without religion.

Open the door.


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

Another woman in the crowd

Jul 17th, 2012 4:53 pm | By

There’s a very informative comment on Pamela Gay’s talk, by “Stella Luna.”

I was unable to attend TAM this year due to my work schedule, but I very much wanted to go because I enjoy it so much – and also to be another woman in the crowd. While I personally have not experienced a grab or offensive comment at TAM, I will absolutely make it clear that as a very experienced mid-level manager at the Fortune 500 company I work for, I am the target of off-color remarks, double entendres, “praise” for my skills that might add praise for my wearing a skirt that day, or even unwelcome hugs in lieue of handshakes from the program director. (I’ve yet to see the Chief Engineer receive a hug from the director…)

When it isn’t about me, it’s about some other woman. It’s public, and it’s always just right below the level of out and out harassment by being a joke, a chuckle, a good-natured little ribbing. You know, because we trust each other and all… But it is NEVER a joke made by us women, and never a joke made about a man or about a person’s religion or skin color or country of origin. It is the last haven for obnoxiousness.

My company spender millions of dollars a year on high-profile internal marketing campaigns about Respect, about Diversity, and about Inclusion – the payoff is meant to be higher retention rates of skilled employees and lower hiring and training expense overall. But I think we need to get much more specific about the “woman problem” because it isn’t sinking in that those little humorous punch lines are a significant source of anger, discomfort and reduced morale to those of us who, as a percentage of our baseline, are the most likely to leave this company.

And by the way, I have pointed out very directly to trusted male colleagues who DON’T behave this way that they are still part of the problem by looking away and being silent when it occurs. It is up to them, just as it is up to me, to at least have a side conversation later with the perpetrator and point out how their behavior conflicts with the company policies as well as basic decency. Peer pressure works; let’s harness it for the common welfare.

A significant source of anger, discomfort, reduced morale, and stereotype threat. All those little digs day after day, year after year, drip drip drip, are why members of despised groups are subject to stereotype threat. They’re not “just” annoying, they do damage. It’s seriously stupid (as well as wicked) to damage people (and their abilities and hence everyone’s overall prosperity and well-being) for the sake of a joke combined with a sense of superiority.


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

The ministry of truth

Jul 17th, 2012 4:15 pm | By

Kausik Datta has an incisive post on Ayesha Nusrat’s op-ed in the New York Times about how liberating it is to submit to a religious obligation to wrap your head and neck in a large bandage.

Clearly, to Ms. Nusrat, the hijab is merely a few yards of cloth. For far too many women in far too many countries (for instance, the Middle East, North Africa, Far East and the Southeast of Asia, not to mention, Europe), the hijab is an obligatory article of indenturement that permits no choice, but is to be worn on pain of punishment and/or death; to them, it is a symbol of systematic oppression.

A symbol and the reality, which is why it’s so infuriating when people try to dress it up as the opposite. A putative religious obligation can’t be liberating.

Has Ms. Nusrat ever considered how/why Islamic fundamentalists (be it Taliban, or Boko Haram, or the regime in Iran) ALWAYS impose the hijab, burqa or niqab on women at the first opportunity? Why does she think that is?

Because Islamic fundamentalists want to liberate women! Wait…

I find it odd that it seems to have never struck Ms. Nusrat that these inviolable mandates to cover up reflect the bleak reality of so many women’s lives. She glibly talks about a ‘misconception that Muslim women lack the strength, passion and power to strive for their own rights’; she frames it wrongly. As women, the Muslim women lack nothing; they are just as strong and passionate about striving for their own rights as women anywhere else. But Islam is something else. Islam, especially fundamentalist Islam, actively denies them the power, and would rather beat the women into submission than relinquish control – and that is not a misconception, judging by the experience of many, many women in the world. If Ms. Nusrat continues to dismiss their experience because of her beliefs, she is being dishonest.

Read the whole thing. It’s admirably indignant.

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


Jul 16th, 2012 4:16 pm | By

Richard Dawkins asked a very interesting question on Twitter a couple of days ago (so I’m sure he wants our input).

Writing my autobiography and struggling to find the right balance. How much personal stuff to put in, how much purely intellectual memoir?

I say more of the latter than the former. 70/30, maybe.

Intellectual is personal to people who care about intellectual matters, so making it mostly intellectual needn’t mean it’s dry or Spockian. Mill’s autobiography is fascinating. So is Gibbon’s. And then, the point of RD is the intellectual stuff, so it makes sense not to skimp on it.

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

Acid in the face

Jul 16th, 2012 3:45 pm | By

Be sure you don’t miss Taslima’s post on acid attacks on women – unless you can’t stand it: warning: it is horrific; the pictures are horrific.

It’s terrible to look at the pictures and realize people must know this is what acid does, and that’s why they do it.

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

In your face

Jul 16th, 2012 3:32 pm | By

You know that T shirt that Harriet Hall wore?

This is the back view

She wore it three days in a row, at least. My source didn’t see her on the fourth, but it seems likely she wore it then too.

I don’t understand this. I don’t understand people.

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

Dividing bridges

Jul 16th, 2012 2:12 pm | By

Kristjan Wager has a good post on the Deep Rifts. He’d rather have the rifts than no rifts at the price of entrenched sexism.

So, to sum it up, there are deep rifts in the movement, and I think it is fine. Not only that, I feel more comfortable being in a smaller community within the movement, which doesn’t include people whose opinions and behavior I find repugnant. I can still appreciate the good work done by those people (like I did with e.g. Hitchens) without wanting to be part of the same community.

Fewer but better Russians. (I kid, I kid.)

Massimo Pigliucci also has a good post, although he does do the “both sides” thing, which given what a big chunk of the other side is like, really isn’t as reasonable as it might sound to a novice.

Oh wait, no he doesn’t, or at least he clarifies in a comment that that’s not what he meant. I’ll leave the above paragraph because there are people who think that is what he meant, so this will perhaps help.

Here’s his clarification:

there may be a misunderstanding here about what my call for moderation concerns. Of course there is no moderate position to be held about sexism (or racism, for that matter): it’s bad, period.
But there is moderation to be called for in how we talk and act about it. The example in question here, discussed by Russell Blackford in the post I linked to above, is AA’s overly reaching “no-hugs” policy, which – it can be argued – doesn’t really address the actual issue and potentially undermines a sense of community by attempting to over-regulate normal human interactions.

Sure. Specifics can be discussed, calmly and reasonably. (I’ve been staying out of those discussions, because honestly I don’t know enough about the subject to have a useful opinion. I was invited to participate in the conference call with American Atheists to discuss their policy, but I wasn’t available at the right time – which is just as well.) Specifics can be discussed, calmly and reasonably – which includes not calling people Talibanesque or Femistasi.

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

A few yards of cloth

Jul 16th, 2012 11:15 am | By

A young woman finds an exciting new path to liberation. She takes to wearing the hijab.

 …before you race to label me the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere, let me tell you as a woman (with a master’s degree in human rights, and a graduate degree in psychology) why I see this as the most liberating experience ever.

We know. You’re taking control, you’re being seen for who you really are instead of as a female human being with hair and a neck.

My experience working as a Faiths Act Fellow for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and dealing with interfaith action for social action brought me more understanding and appreciation of various faiths. I found that engaging in numerous interfaith endeavors strengthened my personal understanding about my own faith.

Do you think she uses the word “faith” enough times in that passage? Maybe a few hundred more would get her point across better?

Tony Blair, you have a lot to answer for.

I am abundantly aware of the rising concerns and controversies over how a few yards of cloth covering a woman’s head is written off as a global threat to women’s education, public security, rights and even religion. I am also conscious of the media’s preferred mode of portraying all hijabi women as downtrodden and dominated by misogynist mullahs or male relatives who enforce them into sweltering pieces of oppressive clothing. But I believe my hijab liberates me.

Despite the reality of the misogynist mullahs and the conservative male relatives – she “believes” the hijab liberates her, and faith can move mountains, so there you go.

For someone who passionately studied and works for human rights and women’s empowerment, I realized that working for these causes while wearing the hijab can only contribute to breaking the misconception that Muslim women lack the strength, passion and power to strive for their own rights.

No, that’s not accurate – that “only” is wrong. Working for women’s rights while wearing the hijab can also for instance send the message that you’re confused, or that your religion trumps your commitment to women’s rights, or other possibilities that you probably don’t like.

In a society that embraces uncovering, how can it be oppressive if I decided to cover up? I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. I refuse to see how a woman’s significance is rated according to her looks and the clothes she wears. I am also absolutely certain that the skewed perception of women’s equality as the right to bare our breasts in public only contributes to our own objectification. I look forward to a whole new day when true equality will be had with women not needing to display themselves to get attention nor needing to defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves.

Uh huh, but the hijab isn’t the opposite of baring your breasts, it’s the opposite of baring your hair and neck.  Different thing. It’s very easy to refrain from baring your breasts without putting on a hijab. There are lots of ways you can attempt to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women without wearing a hijab, and wearing one is in many ways a very bad way to attempt to secure personal liberty.

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


Jul 15th, 2012 3:21 pm | By

A longish time ago we talked about the idea of doing book discussion threads, or was it Shakespeare threads. One of those. Inspired by Pamela Gay’s urgings to make the world better and do something, let’s get to it.

Let’s start at the top, with Hamlet.

We’ll talk until no one has anything left to say.

I’ll start.

Biggest thing: it’s not [just, or primarily] about A Guy Who Can’t Make Up His Mind. That’s become the boring soundbite about it, and it is very damn boring. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about a million things, and that one is more incidental than most of them.

It’s about everything. I think I mentioned when we were talking about Shakespeare before that I once developed a fascination with Hamlet, and spent several months reading/watching/listening to it and related things (the rest of the plays, other playwrights, Elizabethan writers in general, secondary stuff). That’s partly because it’s about everything.

Such as



Time, and the erosion of love over time

Grief and loss, obviously



Family, romance, friendship




Appearances, and deception (or “seeming” as Shakespeare liked to call it). “A man may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”


Lies, deceit, trickery



Your turn.

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

What Pamela Gay said

Jul 15th, 2012 12:54 pm | By

Pamela Gay has posted the text of her instantly-famous TAM talk – and oh man is it a stemwinder.

She starts with the bullied school bus monitor, and the people who changed her life in response. She moves on to the 5th grader forbidden to give his winning speech on same-sex marriage, and the internet outcry that made the principal feel compelled to let the student give his speech after all.

She moves on to people getting together to do good things, like “the Virtual Star Parties that my dear friend Fraser Cain hosts and that I and many others participate in.” She talks about hope and despair, dreamers and trolls.

Doing what he does isn’t easy. It’s a lot easier to do nothing… easier to lose hope that anything can even be done. And there are people out there who would encourage despair.

If, like me, you’re a child of the 80s, you may remember a movie called “Neverending Story”. It came out when I was a dorky little kid. This movie contained a certain giant wolf who totally understands trolls and their effect of creating their own great nothing in the world. (link) When asked why he is helping the great nothing destroy their world, this wolf responds, “It’s like a despair, destroying this world. … people who have no hopes are easy to control.”

Looking around the internets, I see a lot of people sitting around trolling, and a lot people experiencing despair. There are YouTube videos of people complaining, and blog posts of people expressing their hurt, and in many cases there are legitimate reasons for people to be upset. There are people dying because we’ve lost herd immunity (link). There are lesbian teens in texas being killed for falling in love (link). There are so many cases of abuse that it hurts to read the news. There are lots of real reasons to be frustrated about the world we live in and it is easy to complain… and it is easy to lose hope.

It is dreaming that is hard.

That makes me choke up rather.

She urges us to change the world, and gives moving examples of people doing that. (They remind me of one she didn’t mention: Wangari Mathai, one of my great heroes.)

She urges us to do amateur astronomy if we want to, and offers helpful tools, such as her own CosmoQuest.

Then she talks about trolls who try to mess all this kind of thing up.

She talks about Anita Sarkeesian. She quotes from that New Statesman piece by Helen Lewis that I quoted from the other day.

And then she gets to the part where she needed real courage to say it.

This talk is one I struggled to write. To finish this talk I have to step out of my comfort zone and give an honest acknowledgement that trolling isn’t something that just happens in nebulous random places on the internet and it isn’t just people being verbal in their close-mindedness. Sometimes things are more physical and more scary. As an astronomer, at professional conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science. With the creeps I generally hold my own and get them to back off like I would with any asshole in a bar. With the people in power… I commiserate with the other women as we share stories of what has been grabbed by whom. I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

This isn’t to say women shouldn’t go into astronomy. It is just to say that in the after hours events, you sometimes need to keep your butt to the wall and your arms crossed over your chest.

Some of you have to have power to stop discrimination and harassment. It pisses me off to know that as strong as I am, I know I’m not powerful enough to name names and be confident that I’ll still have a career.

Which is exactly what Jen said – before the mountain of shit hit the fan. Exactly.

It’s often hard for women and minorities to rise to positions of power – to break through that glass ceiling. This is in someways a self-efficacy issue, where the constant down pouring of belittling comments and jokes plays a destructive role in self confidence. At my university, I’ve heard tenured faculty laugh that there is a policy not to hire women into tenure track physics positions. They do this in front of the junior faculty.  I’ve heard people joke that the reason I’m in a research center rather than in Physics is because I have boobs. It’s all said with a laugh. So far, its been nothing actionable or against the law. But it hurts, because I know the women who work for me, strong awesome powerful women like the Noisy Astronomer Nicole Gugiliucci and like Georgia Bracey are going to be hearing this, and it is going to effect their self esteem as they look to build their own carreers. I know it hurts my self esteem. And I know there is nothing I can do to change the reality I am in.  I could move to another university – I could change which reality I’m in – but that would leave behind a university devoid of women role models who are capable in physics and computer science, the two fields that my students come from. I stay, and I try to be the example of a woman doing things that matter. I try to say Brains, Body, Both – it is possible even in computational astrophysics.

Thank you.

Here in the skeptics community, we, like every other segment of society, have our share of individuals who, given the right combination of alcohol and proximity will grab tits and ass. I’ve had both body parts randomly and unexpectedly grabbed at in public places by people who attend this conference – not at this conference, but by people at this conference. Just like in astronomy, it’s a combination of the inebriated guys going too far – guys I can handle -  and of men in power being asses.

I know that there has been a lot of internet buzz over the last two years about these issues. This community is filled with strong women. A Kovacs and MsInformation are two ballsy women I draw inspiration from. These are just two of the many SkepChicks, and many of the Skeptical and scientific podcasts have female hosts. When they see something wrong, they ask for ways to protect people from being hurt. And they do like Surly Amy did and raise money to get women here – women who together can support one another so that when we go home we have a network of women to turn to to support us even at a distance. These are women who react to  problems with a sharp word and a needed call to action that is designed to fix the problems

I know this is an uncomfortable topic. An I know that my talk is going to provoke some of you who don’t think I should air dirty laundry. But I see a problem and I can’t change it alone.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Changing our society takes all of us. Doing something is being that guy, and I’ve had two different guys be that guy for me, who jumps between the girl and the boob grabber and intervenes. Doing something is donating to get more women here, and to get more minorities here, and making a point to admit, we’ve got problems – we’re humans – and saying Stopping Harressment Starts with me. (see endnote 2, below)

We can make TAM a place that is focused on inspiring skeptical and scientific activism – that is focused on how each of us can in our own way make the world better. We can put this bullshit behind us, and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.

We can make TAM a place that is focused on inspiring skeptical and scientific activism – that is focused on how each of us can in our own way make the world better. We can put this bullshit behind us, and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.

Read the whole thing – I know you will, because you can see from this how good it is, and you know there are more videos and graphics.

I feel a whole lot less isolated now. Pamela rocks.

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

Bishops marked tardy

Jul 15th, 2012 9:41 am | By

A dog ate the bishops’ homework.

Most of the bishops’ conferences around the world have missed a Vatican deadline on drawing up anti-abuse guidelines, it emerged yesterday.

But Mgr Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top investigator of clerical sex abuse, said that without counting Africa “more than half of the conferences responded” to the May deadline.

Or even better, you just decide not to count any of the late ones, and that way you can say all the conferences responded to the deadline. Dropping all of Africa just to get to more than half seems inefficient.

More than 4,000 cases of sexual abuse have been reported to the doctrinal office over the past decade, the office reported earlier this year. Cardinal William Levada, former prefect of the CDF, said those cases revealed that an exclusively canonical response to the crisis had been inadequate and that a multifaceted and more pro-active approach by all bishops and religious orders was needed.

Ahhh that’s a tactful way of putting it. A less tactful way of putting it would be to say that trying to deal with child rape by hiding it from the police was both criminal and immoral. (I love the idea that actually informing the police of the rape of children by employees is a “multifaceted and more pro-active approach” – it makes it sound like a motivational meeting, or a retreat to a spirit lodge with sauna attached.)

Bishops’ conferences have been encouraged to develop “effective, quick, articulated, complete and decisive plans for the protection of children”, bringing perpetrators to justice and assisting victims, “including in countries where the problem has not manifested itself in as dramatic a way as in others”, the Vatican said in November 2010.

Bishops’ conferences have been encouraged to do what they should have been doing all along and treat crimes as crimes, assault as assault, child rape as child rape. Golly gosh gee wow, how impressive.


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

Another Alex speaks up

Jul 14th, 2012 3:52 pm | By

Alex Gabriel has an excellent, thorough, detailed, courteous reply to Paula Kirby.

He makes an important point at the beginning that has been steadfastly ignored both by Paula and by many of her supporters in this dispute.

I know that, as I think your letter hints, feminist skeptics including at FreethoughtBlogs have disagreed with you before and may have been barbed. But I’d like to point out those comments were always qualified: PZ said FtB was criticised ‘by no less a person than Paula Kirby’; Rebecca Watson referred to ‘the esteemed Paula Kirby’; Ophelia, on the idea FtB was totalitarian, said ‘the sad thing is that it’s Paula Kirby calling us that’. I typically make a point of not speaking for others, but I don’t think anyone on this side of the dispute likes being at odds with you – certainly not how we to like scrap with, say, creationists.

I certainly don’t. I said more than the bit that Alex quoted.

Paula’s a terrific writer. She was very nice to me at QED, despite the defriending last year. We were on a panel together, along with Maryam and (don’t laugh)…DJ Grothe.

Paula’s never given the smallest nod to any of that, and she has also never reciprocated. She called me very nasty names, and there was no prefatory regret or acknowledgement of an ok quality or two; no reservation or mitigation of any kind. Yet I’ve seen people announcing things like “It’s an FTB rule that you never say anything good about Paula Kirby.” That kind of lying and double standard gets me down.

I particularly like the part where Alex addresses Paula’s claim that we (we Oppressed Sisters) see a conspiracy everywhere, and that in fact women are unwilling to speak in public and we hold ourselves back.

As your reference to WiS acknowledges, many skeptical and atheistic women have gained prominence and are regular speakers on the conference scene. This is very different from your struggle to find female speakers: we know as a matter of fact that many skeptical ones exist, and accept invitations to speak when they get them – but conferences still frequently suffer from gender-imbalance. At worryingly many, no women give talks at all.

Why is this, when it’s obviously not that women are unwilling? Because they can’t accept invitations they don’t get. You’ve told us your experiences; here are mine.


The first time we met was at the atheist student group I used to run, when you did a talk for us (an excellent one) on moral problems with Christianity. Yours was the last talk of the term, during which, if memory serves, half a dozen or so other guests had spoken. They were all male.

The same was more or less true of the next term, and at the week of events when you came back and spoke again there were twice as many men as women giving talks. Had I and the dozen or so other organisers conspired, in twilit rooms at witching hour, to keep women out? Of course not. But it was still our fault, and in hindsight – forgive the pun – a serious cock-up.

At events promoting godlessness and skeptical thinking, I believe we should show how diverse our community is. Is there something wrong with male speakers? Clearly not – no more than with, say, physicists giving talks. But if all or two thirds of a conference’s speakers were physicists, that wouldn’t reflect the breadth of the skeptical movement. The people onstage should, I think, be as varied as the people in the room – or as varied, as the case may be, as the people we’d like to have in the room. So why are they so often not?

Because when groups of men like the one I was in are running events, they don’t always think about this. I didn’t.

It doesn’t help that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: that when lots more of the speakers we knew about were men, lots more of the ones we invited and therefore hosted were men. We threw out the names of all the interesting people we wanted to invite in our very first meeting, brainstorming at lightning speed – and of course, we ended up with a shortlist that was as unbalanced as our long list.

I’m not suggesting we bar potential speakers because they’re male, or become draconian. But I am suggesting guys in organising groups put time into specifically researching female atheists, to the point of being able to write an A4-length list of speakers they’d like to host who aren’t white men. (Try it, other readers. I can do it.) Because when we have to think of interesting godless people and our minds run toward those groups by instant default, we propagate the existing imbalances.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s thoughtlessness.

We know this is true. PZ used to report this all the time – that he would tell organizers, “Hey, you need to get some women to speak,” and they would always look befuddled and say, “Uh……we don’t know any.” He would sigh and give them some names. That would be the end of that.

Now, at last, it is changing. It’s been changing for a couple of years. That’s partly because we – we Oppressed Sisters – did some yelling about it. Why, exactly, is this a bad thing?

I don’t think it is. I don’t see how it is. I don’t see why Paula is so furious about it.

Maybe she and Pamela Gay could have a chat. Seriously.

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

Better taste

Jul 14th, 2012 2:59 pm | By

I gather (via Twitter) that Pamela Gay gave a great, standing ovation talk at TAM just now.

Pamela Gay just gave a talk highlighting the sexual harrassment in the skeptic community and called out for change! #TAM2012

Thank you @starstryder for tackling the harassment issue head-on at the #tam2012 podium, elegantly, eloquently, & w/many other great ideas!

@starstryder Thank you x a million. I wondered if anyone would say it. You knocked it out of the park. #TAM2012

Thank you, @starstryder!! That was exactly what #tam2012 needed and you were exactly the woman to do it. Inspiring.

@starstryder knocked it out of the park. Smart, measured and impassioned decimation of the trolls

Over hearing women sharing TAM harassment stories in the restroom. I think @starstryder‘s courage is contagious #tam2012

My friend Mya says she clapped until her hands hurt.


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

De gustibus

Jul 14th, 2012 12:52 pm | By

I was flicking idly through the channels yesterday evening and I hit the Comedy Channel just as Tosh.0 was starting. I’d never seen it, never had a thought about it before the other day, but given the other day, I decided to have a look, see what he’s like overall, when not raging at a woman who interrupted his act. I think I managed less than two minutes. It was shitty sneery let’s hate everyone stuff, and then he asked, “when is it ok to make fun of the handicapped?” and a bit of video played while he shouted “Now! Now!” and everybody laughed, and bang I changed the channel.

That was quick. He makes it way obvious what he’s like, and what he’s like is disgusting. It’s shit. It’s nasty little boy in a bad mood stuff, turned into a whole performance, to an audience. It’s designed to make everything horrible. It’s loathing and contempt elevated to a principle.

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

Talk to Alex

Jul 14th, 2012 11:20 am | By

Michael Nugent reports that Alex Aan has sent a message to his supporters, saying that their our support helps him, that he would feel alone without it. He also says that

Atheist Alliance International is very active on this issue, and will forward messages of support to Alex if you email info [at] atheistalliance [dot] org with “Message for Alex” in the subject line.

So I rushed to do that, and you should too.


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


Jul 13th, 2012 6:28 pm | By

Next (that is, this next, approaching, this year) November 30 to December 2 is Eschaton 2012, in Ottawa, presented by the Centre for Inquiry Ottawa. Look who will be speakers!

and more to come….

Eric! Udo! Crommunist, PZ, Larry Moran, Genie Scott. Good eh? I didn’t know Eric and Udo were going, so I’m excited.

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