Notes and Comment Blog

In a village in Afghanistan

May 1st, 2013 9:33 am | By

In a village in Afghanistan what? Not a potluck. Not a Chatauqua lecture. Not a quilting bee. Not heartwarming stories of crotchety but lovable neighbors and mischievous but lovable children and the dogs who love them all. No, the other thing – staring eyes, a woman who dishonored the universe by running away with a man (while the man simply had a good time), a father who asked the local “religious leaders” for advice, a fatwa, a mob, a murder of a woman by her own father in front of that mob.

The woman, who has two children, was shot dead on Monday 22 April by her father in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the village of Kookchaheel, in the Aabkamari district of Badghis province in north-western Afghanistan.

The woman, named Halima and believed to be between 18 and 20 years old, was accused of running away with a male cousin while her husband was in Iran. Her cousin returned Halima to her relatives 10 days after running away with her. His whereabouts are unknown.

“Violence against women continues to be endemic in Afghanistan and those responsible very rarely face justice,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty International.

The killing came after three of the village’s religious leaders, allegedly linked to the Taliban, issued a fatwa (religious edict) that Halima should be killed publicly, after her father sought their advice about his daughter’s elopement.

Good neighbors.

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

Mo has been getting pointers

May 1st, 2013 8:53 am | By

He must be following Mehdi Hasan on Twitter.



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

Record-straightening time

Apr 30th, 2013 1:49 pm | By

Update: A helpful informant got curious and did a little digging on Vacula’s timeline and came up with…quite a lot of Vacual prodding me to go on his podcast, just since March 3 – less than two months. To wit:

Mar 3, 6:35 PM Vacula: “Ophelia, you should be guest on future show”

Mar 3, 6:38 PM Porter: “we would love to have your humor @OpheliaBenson and TY for all the promotion.”

Mar 4, 2:18 PM Benson: “And no, I’m not calling in to your stupid podcast.”

Mar 4, 2:20 PM Vacula: “You wouldn’t want to have a candid productive conversation outside of Twitter? :(

Mar 23, 7:27 PM Vacula: “45 chatters – too bad Ophelia Benson won’t call in, but she was a great promoter of our show!(Zvan, too, irrc)”

Mar 31, 6:20 PM Vacula: “Apparently, it’s OK to have a “Fuck the Pope” sign at #aacon13 – What if the sign said “Fuck Ophelia Benson?”"

Apr 5, 4:35 PM Vacula: “Happy to have discussion w picking up the phone – @opheliabenson too – Ophelia has my cell#”

Apr 5, 4:37 PM Vacula: “I’d be happy to talk – Ophelia refuses, though, invited her on podcast in July of 2012″

Apr 5, 4:39 PM Vacula: “When i was appointed to SCA position all of the haters had my cell# from press release (1/2)”

Apr 5, 4:40 PM Vacula: “Not one of the #ftbullies bothered to ask me questions, pick up the phone (2/2)”

Apr 5, 4:45 PM Vacula: “Hopefully people will want to have civil discussion @ #WIScfi -Really excited for convention”

Apr 27, 2:47 PM Vacula: “@opheliabenson – Your blog post mentioning @karla_porter gave me a good giggle. Tune in to #BraveHero Radio tonight and consider calling!”

Apr 27, 2:56 PM Porter: “Seriously, please call in @opheliabenson.”

Apr 27, 5:14 PM Vacula: “@opheliabenson We’d love to have her on the show. Too bad she’s unwilling to have discussion – but she is welcome regardless”

Apr 28, 12:59 PM Vacula: “Too bad Ophelia won’t come on #BraveHero but we appreciate early promo. Maybe she will chat at #wiscfi ?”

I saw some of those, and ones before March 3, and that is why that “Maybe she will chat at #wiscfi?” made me think he really did have a plan to get up in my face at WiS2 and try to force me to “chat” with him. I do not want that, so I attempted to pre-empt him by telling him not to.

Who, exactly, is “witch-hunting” here? Which of us, exactly, is harassing the other? Which of us is it who refuses to leave the other alone?

Vacula commenting on his own post:

It’s been quiet for the last two weeks or so, I think, but now PZ and Ophelia are fanning the flames once again. Along with their commenters, a threat narrative and an attempt to ban me from Women in Secularism 2/kick me out of the conference is being mounted. I’m not going to stand by and ignore what’s going on.

That’s staggeringly dishonest. This, again, is what started the “flames.”


Justin Vacula tweets

@opheliabenson – Your blog post mentioning @karla_porter gave me a good giggle. Tune in to #BraveHero Radio tonight and consider calling!

Karla Porter tweets

@justinvacula Seriously, please call in @opheliabenson.

Justin Vacula tweets

@karla_porter@opheliabenson We’d love to have her on the show. Too bad she’s unwilling to have discussion – but she is welcome regardless

And then -


Justin Vacula tweets

@caias@OpheliaBenson@karla_porter Too bad Ophelia won’t come on #BraveHero but we appreciate early promo. Maybe she will chat at #wiscfi ?

I saw all of that only because some guy I don’t know included me in a reply to that tweet.

I am not the one who “fanned the flames” again.

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

We’ve learned critical thinking too well?

Apr 30th, 2013 11:37 am | By

Oh really?

Critical thinking has so thoroughly colonized our idea of education that we tend to think it’s the only kind of thinking. Tests try to measure it, and ritzy private schools all claim to teach it. Critical thinking–analysis, not mere acceptance–is a skill we can all learn. And we’ve learned it too well.

Really? Really? Who, where?

That’s an article at The American Conservative, by Eve Tushnet. (She must have had a difficult childhood.)

We’ve learned only critical thinking skills, and not the equally challenging skills of prudent acceptance: We don’t even realize that we need to learn when to say yes, and to what.

Is that right? I see people all around who do lots of accepting, prudent or otherwise.

What we don’t teach, and don’t even consider as something worth teaching, is the art of acceptance. The art of accepting somebody else’s thoughts, words, insights, and dwelling in them until they become your own as well. We don’t teach how to tell when you’re sure enough, when you really should take the leap of faith, when you should say, “Yes, my understanding is totally inadequate, but I believe.”

Who’s “we”? People are taught that in church and Sunday school, and outside them too, all the time. “Faith” is a hooray word in the US.

Nobody can live by critical thinking alone. And so we wait, and we keep our options endlessly open, hoping that some lightning-strike revelation will take the decision out of our hands. “When I met your mother I just knew…” “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven….” We hope that we will be transported over doubt to a place of secure faith. It turns out that this does happen sometimes–just enough to tantalize the many people who long for the moment of undeniable, irrefutable knowledge and never receive it.

Oh, please. Yes of course it happens sometimes, and often disaster results. People who think they “just know” things can be very dangerous; people who realize they don’t are less likely to be dangerous in that way.

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

A blessing to the babies

Apr 30th, 2013 10:13 am | By

An Iowa anti-abortion fanatic muses aloud on YouTube that it would be quite a good thing if someone killed the people who recently reopened a Kansas abortion clinic.

[Dave] Leach posted the comments this month on YouTube. His posting includes a recorded phone conversation he had with another man, whom Leach identifies as abortion opponent Scott Roeder. Roeder is serving a life prison sentence for the 2009 shooting death of the Wichita clinic’s then-owner, Dr. George Tiller.

Leach has previously suggested that other men were justified in killing other abortion providers. He notes in the video that Tiller’s old clinic was recently reopened by a new abortion agency.

“If someone would shoot the new abortionists, like Scott shot George Tiller, … hardly anyone will appreciate it but the babies,” he says. “It will be a blessing to the babies. Everyone else will panic. Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining reverence for human life.”

I don’t think he gives one shit about reverence for human life. I think he just wants to see some people killed, and abortion is his pretext and fig leaf.

I think that’s often the case with murderous “activists” and “extremists.” I think the love of violence comes first, and then the “cause” is found and used to justify it.

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

Ireland to Marie Fleming: you HAVE to stay alive and suffer

Apr 29th, 2013 11:05 am | By

She’s allowed to commit suicide, because suicide was decriminalized in Ireland in 1993. But she has MS, so she can’t commit suicide, and what the state won’t allow is help from someone else.

That’s exactly the situation Eric MacDonald’s wife Elizabeth was in. It’s a bad situation. Knowing you’re going to become ever more disabled, and that the more disabled you are the more suicide becomes physically impossible – it’s terrifying. It could happen to any of us, and it’s terrifying.

Ms Fleming, a former lecturer from County Wicklow, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986.

She is cared for by her partner, Tom Curran, and has two adult children.

The four-day appeal hearing was told that she is in the final stages of MS, can only move her head, cannot swallow and lives in constant pain.

Her legal team argued that the ban on assisted suicide is discriminatory towards severely disabled people.

Lawyers for Ms Fleming told the court that she should be given the same right to die by suicide as an able-bodied person.

But the court ruled no.

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

Annals of horror

Apr 29th, 2013 10:50 am | By

Update: Notice (as I didn’t until prodded) that the date on the item is August 24, 2011. Still worth knowing about.

One for the Jaw Dropped in Horror files. A Pennsylvania judge sent children to prison in exchange for money.

Accused of perpetrating a “profound evil,” former Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for illegally accepting money from a juvenile-prison developer while he spent years incarcerating thousands of young people.

Prosecutors said Ciavarella sent juveniles to jail as part of a “kids for cash” scheme involving Robert Mericle, builder of the PA and Western PA Child Care juvenile detention centers.

What does that sound like? The Catholic church in Ireland, and judges who helped it get capitation money for children sentenced to imprisonment in industrial “schools.” Yes really. They did it partly for the money – money which they did not fully spend on the children.

Among the young people exploited by Ciavarella were 15-year-old Hillary Transue, who was sentenced to three months at a juvenile detention center for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page; and 13-year-old Shane Bly, who was sent to a boot camp for two weekends after being accused of trespassing in a vacant building.

Jaw dropping.

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

Being a target

Apr 28th, 2013 5:11 pm | By

I was out all afternoon and now I can’t get caught up.

This morning, on the page o’ nonstop bullshit, I added this:

April 28 part deux because I missed it before -


Justin Vacula tweets

@caias@OpheliaBenson@karla_porter Too bad Ophelia won’t come on #BraveHero but we appreciate early promo. Maybe she will chat at #wiscfi ?

Ok this is specifically for Vacula: do not approach me at WiS2. Stay away from me.

As you know, ignoring such instructions is grounds for removal. If you don’t stay away from me I will make an official complaint.


I also sent Vacula a direct message on Facebook -

Justin Vacula - 

I saw the tweet in which you said maybe I will chat [with you] at WiS2. I want to be very clear about this. Do not approach me at WiS2. Stay away from me. As you know, refusal is grounds for being expelled. If you do approach me I will make an official complaint, immediately.


He didn’t reply. Instead he tweeted about it, and did a blog post about it, quoting the message (without permission, of course). The blog post is packed to the rafters with utter (and typical) bullshit.

In the meantime PZ had done a post, quite soon after mine, saying the same thing -

I’m going to be at Women in Secularism in a few weeks, which I expect to be great. However, certain nuisances are talking about approaching the people they’ve been harassing online for years, and trying to harass them in real life, getting them to be grist for their podcast mill. Ophelia has made a clear declaration:

Ok this is specifically for Vacula: do not approach me at WiS2. Stay away from me.

That goes for me, too. If you’ve been nattering away on twitter & podcasts & blogs about how evil I am, how useless feminism is, and how much you hate freethoughtblogs in general, we have no grounds for any conversation, so stay the hell away from me. I won’t bother you, you won’t bother me.

I won’t be exchanging a single word with Vacula, or any of his fellow travelers.

Vacula’s post also complained about PZ’s.

Ok, why? Why complain? We both want him to leave us alone. That’s all. Why complain about that? Why try to force people to “engage with” you? (The very thing he advised people not to do if they don’t want to be harassed – don’t “engage with” your “critics.”) It’s not as if we’re friends, or former friends; it’s not as if he likes us; it’s not as if he has any reason to expect us to like him. He certainly has no reason to expect me to like him, since he’s done nothing to/about/in the direction of me except lie and harass and sneer; why the fuck would I like him or want to talk to him?

As so often, the childishness is astonishing. “I didn’t touch you! That was my shoe! You touched me first! I can touch you if I want to!”

He had the astonishing brass to tell me on Facebook that all I had to do was say “no thanks.” What?! I’ve said “no thanks” to Vacula repeatedly over the past almost-a-year; it did not work! Just telling Justin Vacula, “no thanks, I don’t want you harassing me,” does not cause him to stop harassing me.


Harass harass harass, all the livelong day.

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

Mehdi Hasan challenges the bigots, fanatics and reactionaries of the Islamic world

Apr 28th, 2013 11:03 am | By

Fair’s fair. I looked around for more by Mehdi Hasan, and found a piece he did for Huffington Post UK last August, telling off the “blasphemy” laws in Pakistan. It’s much more liberal than what he’s been saying on Twitter for the past three days.

I, for one, am fed up with politicians, mullahs and mobs using my religion to further their own vicious and sectarian agendas. So here’s my own very simple message to the bigots, fanatics and reactionaries of the Islamic world: whatever intellectual or theological disagreements we may have with them, the fact is that Christians (and, for that matter, Jews) are our brethren; the Quran respectfully refers to them as the “People of the Book“.  Nor should we extend our tolerance, compassion and solidarity only to members of Abrahamic faiths while demonising and discriminating against everyone else. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists – all of them are also our brethren. Don’t believe me? Listen to the verdict of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib, the great Muslim caliph and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad: “Remember that people are of two kinds; they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.”

The imprisonment of this Christian child isn’t only about Pakistan or Pakistanis. Those of us who claim to be members of a global Muslim ummah cannot be silent when such flagrant human-rights abuses are committed in the name of Islam and in the world’s second-biggest Muslim-majority nation. Denial is not an option, nor is turning a blind eye. We have to speak out against hate, intolerance and the bullying of non-Muslim minorities – otherwise we risk becoming complicit in such crimes. “Not in my name” has to be more than just an anti-war slogan.

That’s good. But then why is he so furious with Maryam and the Council of Ex-Muslims and the CEMB forum? And, for that matter, me? I don’t know. But I’m glad to see that article.

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

Cracks? What cracks?

Apr 28th, 2013 10:40 am | By

One of the owners of the factory building that collapsed in Dhaka has been arrested; he’d been in hiding ever since the building fell down.

There has been widespread anger at the disaster and six people, including three factory owners and two engineers, have now been arrested. The building housed several garment factories.

By Sunday evening the confirmed death toll had reached 377, but hundreds more are still missing.

Well that would explain the anger. That’s a lot of people.

Police said officials had ordered an evacuation of the building on Tuesday after cracks appeared, but that the factories ignored them and were operating the next day.

That would explain the anger even better.

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

Stuff and Nonsense on the track record of the anti-vax movement

Apr 28th, 2013 9:40 am | By

Have a useful post listing times the anti-vaccination movement has been wrong.

Anti-vaccinationists have made a wide range of claims about the dangers of vaccines. In spite of the fact that they have generally had neither data nor a plausible mechanism for the claimed effect, several of their claims have been investigated by researchers.

As it turns out, the anti-vaccinationists are remarkably consistent. Time and time again, they are shown to be wrong. I’m not sure how many times a group needs to be wrong before people stop seeing them as credible. Perhaps people need to be reminded of how many times this group has been wrong?

So there are some reminders.

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

It won’t be Dartmouth

Apr 27th, 2013 5:32 pm | By

Oh, how familiar. Via Stephanie – at Dartmouth,

some students at Dartmouth College interrupted an evening of entertainment for prospective students with a brief protest against racism, homophobia, sexism, and rape culture on campus. This protest was met by additional racism, homophobia, sexism, and rape culture in comments posted online. The college cancelled classes for a day to address the problem.

And how are they addressing the problem? By blaming both parties – the people making anonymous threats and racist sexist comments, and the people protesting that kind of thing.

Sy Mukherjee, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2012, explains.

In a campus-wide email sent out on Friday, Dartmouth College’s Board of Trustees Chair Steve Mandel appeared to equate the actions of sexual assault protesters with the subsequent death and rape threats made against them by several other Dartmouth students on anonymous online forums and message boards.

Familiar. So, very, familiar.

Although the email was likely distributed to quell tensions, its blanket language lumping the actions of student protesters with those making threats of physical harm against them as equivalent “declines in civility” are more likely to inflame them. The missive also glosses over the relevant detail that many of the protesters weren’t just speaking out against “what they say” are incidents of sexual assault, racism, and homophobia on campus — they are actually victims of those very crimes and social ills. The website Real Talk Dartmouth has chronicled the events that inspired the initial protest, as well as the hateful comments that some Dartmouth students have made in its aftermath.

And – oh how sad for Dartmouth’s administration – at least some of those prospective students are thinking Dartmouth doesn’t sound like such a nice place after all.

The message boards, and the generally hateful comments posted on the student newspaper’s website, have highlighted sentiments that previously bubbled below the surface. One prospective student at the school found this particularly illustrative, as he or she highlighted in the newspaper’s comments section:

I was a prospective student who witnessed the protest. Though a little stunned at first, I found the demonstration to be interesting but in no way influential at the time to my impression of Dartmouth. If anything, it added a realistic layer to a seemingly perfect campus. However, reading these comments has had a far greater impact on my impression of Dartmouth. The reaction to the protests has given me reason to reconsider my enrollment. The comments here depict the very perspectives that the protesters sought to reveal (but that most of us prospective students assumed was being exaggerated). You folks are mean and intolerant. I’m really glad I saw these comments before deciding where to spend my next four years. It won’t be Dartmouth.

Imagine going off to university, all eager for the treat, and finding it full of the same kind of shits who made your high school hell.

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

You have normal, and then you have normalette

Apr 27th, 2013 11:31 am | By

So according to Wikipedia, you have American Novelists and then you have American Women Novelists, and no the first does not include the second – the two are intended to be separate, though the separation hasn’t been completed yet.

Gee, what a brilliant idea. You have normal, and then you have normalette. There are the Smurfs, and then there’s one Smurfette.

The intention appears to be to create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men. The category lists 3,837 authors, and the first few hundred of them are mainly men. The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of “American Novelists” is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible.

Too bad there isn’t a subcategory for “American Men Novelists.”

Well you see being a man is what’s normal, so there’s no need to say it, while being a woman is weird and abnormal, so you have to say it. The condition of being female is marked, while being male is unmarked.

People who go to Wikipedia to get ideas for whom to hire, or honor, or read, and look at that list of “American Novelists” for inspiration, might not even notice that the first page of it includes far more men than women. They might simply use that list without thinking twice about it. It’s probably small, easily fixable things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world.

Professional victim! Drama queen! Diva! Sisterhood of the Oppressed!

I looked up a few female novelists. You can see the categories they’re in at the bottom of their pages. It appears that many female novelists, like Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt and some 300 others, have been relegated to the ranks of “American Women Novelists” only, and no longer appear in the category “American Novelists.” If you look back in the “history” of these women’s pages, you can see that they used to appear in the category “American Novelists,” but that they were recently bumped down. Male novelists on Wikipedia, however — no matter how small or obscure they are — all get to be in the category “American Novelists.” It seems as though no one noticed.

I did more investigating and found other familiar names that had been switched from the “American Novelists” to the “American Women Novelists” category: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ayn Rand, Ann Beattie, Djuna Barnes, Emily Barton, Jennifer Belle, Aimee Bender, Amy Bloom, Judy Blume, Alice Adams, Louisa May Alcott, V. C. Andrews, Mary Higgins Clark…

…and Smurfette.

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

There are no beds here

Apr 27th, 2013 10:52 am | By

A BBC story on the trial of four would-be mujahideen helps to back up what I always think about these projects: a lot of it is about adventure and spectacle and attention-seeking and thrills, more than it’s really about theocracy or sharia. The theocracy is a kind of excuse or shortcut-reason.

These four dudes went off to Pakistan for what they thought would be glam exciting dangerous training, and turned out to be a nightmare camping trip from hell. They lasted two days.

Conditions were, according to Ishaaq Hussain’s account, primitive. They slept on bare ground in sleeping bags, with a hole in the ground for a loo.

What little food they could get was a far cry from Mum’s home cooking or the tasty takeaways of Sparkhill and Sparkbrook.

Mosquitoes posed a more immediate threat than American drones, and if the insects weren’t going to get the Brits, the unbearable heat would.

As soon as the sun set, the men were in darkness. Ishaaq Hussain, 19, had left home two days earlier – where his mother made the beds. Now, with no bed at all, he was disillusioned.

Let’s face it – beds are nice. So is home cooking, so are tasty takeaways. They may all be the product of the demonic secular demons, but they’re nice. So are toilets, that flush.

So they left. Now they’ll be spending some time in prison, which won’t be as nice as Mum’s home cooking, but also won’t be as nasty as the mountain hideout in Pakistan.


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

“You lot”

Apr 27th, 2013 10:38 am | By

Mehdi Hasan is back on Twitter. (He was busy interviewing BHL in the meantime.) He’s fighting dirtier than ever.


“Poor diddums” – my god he’s vulgar. I told him he has a squalid mind and mouth.

That Mohamed guy is cool; I followed him.



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

Catholic schools have “general principles about ethos and values”

Apr 27th, 2013 10:12 am | By

Oh, brilliant – another encroachment by the Catholic church on a secular bit of society.

High-performing Catholic schools are to be given considerable influence over the running and performance of struggling secular schools under plans being drawn up by the Church and government.

Catholic schools are currently bound by strict rules that mean they cannot form federations with their non-faith counterparts. But with the growth of the academies programme and the diminishing influence of local authorities, the Church wants to make a “greater contribution” to the running of different types of schools.

Well of course it does. That way it gets to impose its horrible reactionary anti-woman anti-human dogma on people who are formally outside its “magisterium.” It gets more power and control and influence. Of course the church wants to make a “greater contribution”!

Paul Barber, the new director of the Catholic Education Service, said that Church schools had an important contribution to make. “The point is that Catholic schools are part of a partnership with the state. They feel strongly that they are part of the wider family along with other schools; they share that collective responsibility.

“Many of our schools feel very strongly that they want to make a contribution to that wider scene.”

Yes of course they do. They’re imperialist. They want to spread and take over and dominate. They’re having huge success in taking over all medical care in the US, and they will no doubt have huge success in taking over all primary and secondary schooling in the UK.

“We are trying to explore the various ways in which Catholic schools can, if they wish to, assist other schools, including those which aren’t Catholic. We are looking at other mechanisms, other forms of trust arrangements,” he said.

The plan follows a similar ambition outlined more than a year ago by the Church of England, which also wanted to offer partnerships and advice to non-Church schools.

Of course it did, for the same reasons. Der. They don’t want to fade away, they want more power, more influence, more money, more jobs for the boys.

Mr Barber added that Catholic schools had “general principles about ethos and values” that could be brought to a wider community.


Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said that faith schools should not have a say in how secular schools were run. “Whenever you have a merger or amalgamation of a faith and non-faith school, everything always leans towards faith,” he said. “What if Catholic schools start to insist on a Catholic head or they want to sack people who don’t want to teach RE?”

A report by the British Humanist Association last year highlighted that, in the past five years, a number of schools had been redesignated as faith schools, but that no schools had lost their religious character.

Another front opens.

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

Mandatory hope in mandatory Jesus

Apr 26th, 2013 5:47 pm | By

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is filing suit against a Mississippi high school that forced all students to attend a lecture on “finding hope in Jesus.”

(Washington, DC, April 25, 2013) —The American Humanist Association’s legal center filed a lawsuit at 2:30 p.m. ET yesterday against Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Mississippi, challenging the school’s recent mandatory student assemblies that presented a Christian message as a violation of the separation of church and state.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center learned from Northwest Rankin High School students that a mandatory assembly was held during school hours on April 9 where a representative of the Pinelake Baptist Church spoke of finding “hope” in “Jesus Christ.”

According to students present, those who attempted to leave were prevented from doing so. At the end of the presentation, the speakers led the students in a Christian prayer.

Attorneys for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the school condemning the assembly as unconstitutional but did not receive a reply.

While in a statement the school contends the assembly was “student-led and organized,” William Burgess, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said, “It is clear that these assemblies are put on by the school itself.  They were staged in a school room, during the school day and the school sent an email to teachers telling them that students were required to attend.”

“As the Supreme Court has made clear, when a school sponsors an event, the religious speech of speakers, including students or other private parties, is attributable to the school and therefore subject to the Establishment Clause,” Burgess continued.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the American Humanist Association in federal court in Jackson, Mississippi.  The complaint filed in the case can be read here.

One to watch.

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

Dressed in a grey top

Apr 26th, 2013 5:16 pm | By

Maureen mentioned that England actually prosecutes internet harassment, and linked to a current example.

A self-confessed British internet “troll” has admitted threatening to kill 200 people at a US school by posting menacing comments on a memorial Facebook page.

Thousands of pupils stayed away from the school in Warren county, Tennessee, after Reece Elliott, 24, of Fossway, South Shields, South Tyneside, left terrifying messages under an assumed name.

Oh yes? Whiners. Divas*. Professional Victims. Sisterhood of the Oppressed. Don’t they know trolling is just trolling and all you have to do about trolling is Not Feed It?

Elliott appeared at court dressed in a grey top and admitted one count of making a threat to kill and eight of sending grossly offensive messages. He has been held in custody since his arrest in February.

Using a false name, he wrote on a tribute page to Caitlin Talley, a 17-year-old girl at the Tennessee school who had died in a car accident in October: “My father has three guns. I’m planning on killing him first and putting him in a dumpster. Then I’m taking the motor and I’m going in fast. I’m gonna kill hopefully at least 200 before I kill myself. So you want to tell the deputy, I’m on my way.”

Oh so what. It’s just kids having a little fun. Lighten up. It’s the Internet. If you don’t want people threatening you on Facebook, then don’t post things on Facebook.

Gary Buckley, prosecuting, said: “The residents of Warren County and all the people who have access to the Facebook page were clearly concerned. I am told that the local authority immediately put all the local schools in the area on what was called lockdown.

“Because of the hysteria caused, around 3,000 children were kept off school on that specific day. Inquiries made by the FBI and Homeland Security managed to trace the user name to an address in this area.

“The American authorities contacted police and various inquiries were made in order to identify who made these postings. It would appear that Reece Elliott was well aware that he was wanted. He handed himself into South Shields police station.

“He [Elliott]  said he was a part-time troll [the term for those who make unpleasant remarks online]. He said he decided to post offensive comments to see what kind of reaction he could provoke.”

Well of course he did, the poor little mite. Kids just like to have fun.

“He confirmed he did post the postings on Facebook and therefore did make these threats but he didn’t expect the threats to be taken seriously and didn’t expect them to cause the reaction they did.”

Because it’s the Internet. It’s magic. Stuff you say there has a completely different meaning from stuff you say in meatspace. Magic.

*Thank Karla Porter for that one.

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

Making a difference

Apr 26th, 2013 10:27 am | By

The BBC has graphics illustrating the rise in measles outbreaks in England and Wales. It’s scary.

Measles is back and causing outbreaks in England and Wales.

It is a nasty and potentially fatal disease. It is also one of the most infectious viruses around.

Before vaccination there were hundreds of thousands of cases in epidemic years, but the disease was effectively eradicated in the UK after the MMR vaccine was introduced.

However, in 2012 there were more than 2,000 cases of measles in England and Wales – the highest figures for two decades.

Gee, how did that happen?

The current spread of measles is in stark contrast to a decade ago, when there were only a handful of cases. Measles was once effectively eradicated, with the only cases being those imported from abroad.

However, vaccination rates plummeted after, now discredited, claims of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism by Andrew Wakefield. It started in 1998, but the debate intensified and MMR uptake reached its lowest levels in 2003-04.

As the number of unprotected children increased, so did the number of cases.

One guy. I wonder if he’s proud of himself.

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

“Sisters” to the back

Apr 26th, 2013 9:25 am | By

Australian universities are doing it too – allowing Islamist groups to tell women to sit at the back of the room.

THE University of Melbourne has declined to condemn gender segregation at public events held by Islamic organisations at its Parkville campus…

On April 13, a lecture entitled “Islamic rulings on Jihad in Syria & why great scholars’ silence” (sic) was held in the university’s Copland Theatre by Islamic education organisation Hikmah Way.

At the entrance to the lecture, attended by The Australian, signs directed “sisters” to the back of the theatre, and “brothers” to the front. Asked whether seating was segregated, a male attendee said: “It usually is here, yeah.”…

Gender segregation was also encouraged at an information session for prospective Australian Islamic Peace Conference volunteers held by the Islamic Research and Educational Academy at the university’s Public Lecture Theatre on March 10.

Dr Jennifer Oriel does not waffle.

Monotheism and sending women to the back of the room are not the stuff of which enlightenment is made. It is a sad day indeed when Australia’s university leaders allow the democractic values of liberty and equality to fall victim to archaic religious mores.

Drip drip drip…


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