Notes and Comment Blog

Wherever she chooses

Jun 23rd, 2013 2:54 pm | By

A sign on a bus in Israel:

Photo: When the wrong admin has to travel and then moves house, the result is a few weeks silence, now broken. This snapshot illustrates the state of play in the Israeli bus segregation issue. The sign reads "Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (with the exception of those places marked for people with disabilities), harassment of a passenger on this matter may be considered a criminal act." Other than the (somewhat misleading) use of the male gender for the passenger, a step in the right direction.

Translation: “Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (with the exception of those places marked for people with disabilities), harassment of a passenger on this matter may be considered a criminal act.”

“He” is the wrong pronoun there, but good about the sign.

Photo and translation by Gnu Atheism.

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

The intersection between rationalists and feminists

Jun 23rd, 2013 12:39 pm | By

Jason discusses Ron Lindsay’s apology and, while accepting it, suggests ways to expand it.

“My talk repeated tropes that are used against feminists and feminism in many of the same ways that creationists attack atheism and evolution. Accusations of dogmatic atheism, suggestions that Piltdown Man disproves evolution, and accusations of attempting to control the scientific discourse by not ‘teaching the controversy’, all would have been as ill-received at an atheists’ convention as were my assertions about dogmatic feminism and silencing of men was received by the feminists in attendance. Knowing that the conference we’d put together would specifically attract the intersection between rationalists and feminists, raising the spectre of the more irrational complaints against this crowd was every bit as ill-received as it should have been.”

I think that part about attracting the intersection between rationalists and feminists is absolutely key. I’ve been wanting to tell Ron the same thing ever since the talk. I think now the lines are open again, and I think he’ll listen.

It’s as if he’d forgotten what kind of people are drawn to CFI in the first place. Here’s a hint: it’s not woo-huggers! It’s not people who love bad arguments or woolly legless generalizations. It’s people who want reasoned discussion, not people who break out in hives at the very thought of such things.

There is one fundamental commitment. Notice I didn’t say dogmatic, I said fundamental. (Well there’s probably more than one, but I’m talking about the one that’s a stumbling block for some people – but not, I think, for Ron.) It’s the commitment to equality, or to egalitarianism. That brings with it, however itchy it makes some people, worries about under-representation. It’s always been my understanding that that’s why a conference specifically by and about women was seen as a good idea.

But none of that means that the women who would be interested in participating in such a conference would be dogmatic woo-heads, because the conference would still not be at the Center for Dogmatic Woo. People who like dogmatic woo aren’t drawn to CFI. People who are drawn to CFI aren’t drawn to dogmatic woo.

The conference that actually took place demonstrated that. It was a fantastic conference. I look forward to being able to post the videos that will show that.

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

Correct, diplomatic, and timely

Jun 23rd, 2013 10:07 am | By

Reactions from the other direction also give us reasons to take Ron’s apology as genuine.

Like this for instance:


Center for Inquiry @center4inquiry tweets

CEO Ron Lindsay apologizes. This weekend, Ron also gave a heartfelt apology in person to CFI staff and branch leaders

Russell Blackford @Metamagician tweets

@Center4inquiry This was a terrible thing for Ron to do. He has handed a victory to the people who bully, vilify, and intimidate.

What a horrible thing to say. Even what Ron said to CFI staff and branch leaders is terrible? Russell is so confident that all the staff and all the branch leaders are completely wrong to be upset about anything that he knows it was terrible for Ron to apologize to them? I don’t see how he can possibly know that, and I don’t see how he can possibly be unaware that he doesn’t know that, so I don’t see how he can reasonably make such a sweeping and savage assertion.

He goes on in the same vein.


Russell Blackford @Metamagician tweets

By giving an apology, @RALindsay hands a victory to people who trash and vilify opponents for reasonable disagreement.

There was nothing wrong with @RALindsay’s remarks. They were correct, diplomatic, and timely. He should withdraw his apology.

@RALindsay should not have apologised for anything.

You know…I’m all for internationalism, but internationalism doesn’t mean just brashly meddling in other people’s organizations and internecine quarrels from the far side of the planet. That’s colonialism rather than internationalism. I’ve never been able to understand why Russell feels entitled to meddle so energetically in the affairs of US secularist organizations. I don’t feel entitled to do that when it comes to UK or Indian or Australian organizations. Why does Russell carry on as if CFI were accountable to him?

I don’t know.

Note: avoid name-calling if you respond. Seriously.

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


Jun 23rd, 2013 9:29 am | By

So now I think my post yesterday on Ron’s apology was too grudging. It read as chilly to me then, but see Stephanie’s post for reasons to think it’s not.

Some specifics on the remarks and the circumstances surrounding them.

  • While the remarks don’t contain much in the way of specifics, the apologies there are solid apologies. I’ve heard them referred to as not-pologies. They are not. They apologize for both the behavior and the results of that behavior.
  • CFI is holding a branch leaders meeting at the moment. Several people who are there are telling me (in varying degrees of public settings) that discussions there have been intense. They are also confirming that when Lindsay says he’s starting to understand what the letters told him. He is listening again.
  • Lindsay has apologized to CFI staff. Official communications from CFI refer to this apology as “heartfelt”, and people at the meeting confirm this. Both in terms of professionalism and in terms of him dealing with people I care about, this is huge to me.

Yes. The hell with being grudging. I apologize for being grudging. I take it back.

Amy too is optimistic.

You know what would be great for WiS3 (assuming it happens)? Martha Nussbaum and Christina Hoff Sommers doing a dialogue.



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

Follow up post from Ron Lindsay

Jun 22nd, 2013 3:30 pm | By

With some further remarks on his talk at WiS2.

It’s not a warm document. I wouldn’t call it friendly. But…it might make conversation possible.

I am sorry that I caused offense with my talk.  I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome as a result of my talk.  From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.

I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.

Please accept my apologies.

Ok it’s downright stiff. But it still might make conversation possible. I think that would be better than permanent war.


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

Different lenses

Jun 22nd, 2013 10:08 am | By

I saw the item about the woman who attempted to demonstrate that humans can live on “light” instead of food the other day, but opted to ignore it out of my usual tact and compassion. But Roger sent me a link to the Guardian’s coverage and my tact and compassion faded away when I read her profound thoughts on the subject.

A Seattle woman is attempting to go 100 days without eating to prove that humans can “live on light”.

Naveena Shine says she believes it is possible for human beings to survive without food and is conducting what she describes as an experiment to prove it.

Well it wouldn’t prove that. It would show that one woman could survive a hunger strike of 100 days. That wouldn’t show that humans can survive without food.

The 65-year-old, originally from Birmingham in the UK, has been consuming just water and “one, maybe two cups of tea a day” for the past 41 days, losing 30lbs in the process.

Hm. You would think she’d be able to spot a trend there, and then extrapolate from the trend, and thus figure out that she didn’t seem to be on the road to showing (much less proving) that humans can survive without food.

A doctor pointed out that humans aren’t plants and so they can’t live on “light”; it isn’t physically possible.

Shine contends that “a doctor can’t see living on light because he looks through different lenses” and has said she is not undergoing medical tests as during the experiment. She said she had experienced a “calling” which inspired her to stop eating.

“It came as an idea that became so powerful, I knew I had to do it,” she said. “And this has happened a few times in my life; I suddenly got this strong desire or need to do something that nobody in my world could imagine but it came so strongly to me, it was just like: ‘This is what I need to do.’ It’s intuition.”

Intuition that humans can survive without food? That’s a dopy intuition.

She said she had heard of others who claim to be able to forgo conventional nutrition, including a friend who claimed to have survived without food for three years.

“I know that people say it is [possible] and I don’t disbelieve them, and I don’t believe them, so the only way to find out is to do it,” she said.

No, it isn’t. There are other ways to find out, which are much less trouble and less hard on the body.

While Shine says her inspiration to eschew food does not come from a particular set of beliefs, her website praises Jasmuheen, an Australian woman who describes herself as an “ambassador of peace” and “international lecturer”, and whose teachings that it is possible to subsist on light alone have been linked to the deaths of four people.

Oh! Well how inspiring.

Jasmuheen claims to have lived for years on light alone, but tried and failed to go without food and water for 10 days in an experiment for Australian television program 60 Minutes in 1999. A doctor for the network noted that after 48 hours Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of dehydration, stress and high blood pressure. The network cancelled the experiment after four days when Jasmuheen’s health continued to deteriorate.

Without food and water? That’s idiotic.

Shine has eschewed medical evaluations.

“Doctors can’t really have that much to say with this, because it’s not within the doctors’ paradigm. A doctor can’t see living on light because he looks through different lenses, he looks through different eyes.”

That’s some dangerous woo.


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

It’s official: atheists can conscientiously object

Jun 22nd, 2013 8:54 am | By

Divided Under God on the reversal in the Margaret Doughty case.

On Friday June 14th, we broke the story of Margaret Doughty, a 64-year old atheist from the UK who was told by the USCIS that in order to gain conscientious objector status, she would need to provide evidence of a religious reason for her objection “on official church stationery, attesting to the fact that [she is] a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.”  This was a clear violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, as pointed out in a similar Supreme Court Case, Welsh v. United States.

The story hit the national stage, featured in articles on CNN, Huffington Post, Raw Story,, and many others. Ms. Doughty’s case was brought to the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who wrote a letter to the USCIS on her behalf, as well as the American Humanist Association, who did the same.  Ms. Doughty’s local Congressman, Blake Farenthold, also got involved, helping to get her case escalated to the highest levels of the USCIS for review.

Today, she received an email from the congressional office with the following message from the USCIS included:

“This Service hereby withdraws the request for evidence (RFE) issued on June 7, 2013.  This Service accepts your detailed statement in satisfaction of the information requested by the RFE.  Your application for naturalization has been approved.”

Solidarity forever, eh?

More coverage -

The American Humanist Association

The Huffington Post


The BBC (via YouTube)

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

Welcome Citizen Margaret Doughty

Jun 22nd, 2013 8:31 am | By

From the Secular Coalition for America newsletter:

An atheist woman, who was originally told she must join or church or her U.S. citizenship application would be rejected, yesterday was granted citizenship.

Margaret Doughty, an atheist and permanent resident of the U.S. for over 30 years, was told by immigration authorities earlier this month that she had until today, Friday June 21, to officially join a church, because her conscientious objections to war were only valid if those beliefs came from religion. On Thursday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services retracted their demand that Doughty show proof of religious affiliation and informed her that her application for naturalization had been approved.The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, sent letters on behalf of Doughty.

Ahhh. That’s good. That’s excellent.

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

Doing the right thing

Jun 21st, 2013 6:23 pm | By

Some game developers (is that the right name for them?) got a desirable spot at a gaming expo but then decided not to take it up after all, because of the people behind the expo.

But in the back of our minds all along, we’ve been bothered by the public stances that Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX’s parent organization Penny Arcade, have taken on a number of issues.

First there was the entire “Dickwolves” debacle, during which Mike said that it “felt pretty good” to “support rape culture.”

Then there were the Penny Arcade Kickstarters, one of which offered to let backers pay them $7,500 to work as a Penny Arcade intern for a day.

When critics recently raised objections about the over-the-top depiction of female characters in Dragon’s Crown, Jerry referred to opinions that differed from his own as “censorship.”

And then yesterday a panel was announced for PAX Australia entitled “Why So Serious?” Its description initially included the lines

Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?


This morning we stopped pushing those long-held reservations about Jerry and Mike into the back of our minds. We talked to each other and did a simple show of hands– do any of us feel comfortable presenting Gone Home at PAX?

No hands went up.

We believe that people’s opinions and actions on social issues and business ethics are important. We believe that agreeing to pay the organizers of PAX over $1,000 for booth space, and to present our game on their showfloor for four days, provides explicit support for and tacit approval of their publicly demonstrated positions on these subjects. And we have finally come to the conclusion that we cannot support Jerry, Mike, and their organization by participating in this event.

So they’re not presenting their game at PAX.


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

The feminist voice in atheism has to be amplified

Jun 21st, 2013 4:17 pm | By

Wo. Megan Carpentier at Raw Story interviews Dave Silverman at Net Roots Nation, and he has some very good things to say.

Raw Story: I notice on your lanyard that’s you’re wearing the “Trust Women” button from NARAL, and I know there’s been a lot of controversies within atheism over the last few months about the confluence of atheism and feminism, and sexism within the atheist community. Obviously, there was a very big blow-up after the feminism and secularism conference because of some remarks made by a male atheist that reinforced sexist tropes. How do you think that atheists can address these problems within the community and address the kind of language that’s been used to marginalize women?

Wo. She’s been paying attention.

Silverman: That’s a difficult question, and it’s a big question. The reason I’m wearing this NARAL pin is because I’m a feminist. I’m a proud feminist. And I’ve always been a feminist. Now, American Atheists is not a feminist organization, but I believe pretty firmly that feminism is the inevitable result of atheism, that sexism is rooted in religion. And that’s not a perfect thing, there are other roots of it, the paternalistic societies.

But really when we’re talking about how we’re dealing with this, it’s hard because atheism is all about free speech, atheism is all about open communication, and some atheists are simply not nice people. And just like some Christians are not nice people, and some Jews are not nice people, some atheists are simply not nice people. And there’s a lot of people who are in that middle area, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So what I think has to happen is that the feminist voice in atheism has to be protected — protected may be not the right word, but I’ll use it anyways. The voice of feminist has to be protected, it has to be amplified, it has to be helped by the men in atheism and by the women as well. We have to make a stand that says, “It’s just obvious that men and women are equal and it’s also obvious that rape jokes sent to feminist speakers and sent to feminist bloggers, that’s not what good people do.”

At the crux of that, I’ve said many times that the atheism movement is the good guys. We are the good guys! We strive for equality, not advantage, that’s what makes us the good guys. Good guys don’t act like that. They don’t act like that to our enemies, and they don’t act like that to our allies. I have seen people within the atheist movement treat other atheists more poorly than I would treat the worst of our adversaries, and that shames me. That makes me ashamed of them.

I think the Women in Secularism Conference was a huge success, in my personal opinion. I was there, and I though it was great, and it was also packed full — and packed full larger than the first one (it was the second conference), and I hope there’s going to be a WISC 3, I hope there will be a third one. And I think that even if there isn’t, I think the feminist voice in atheism is going to continue to expand, as it should, I think it’s going to diversify more, and we are seeing that diversification within the feminist movement, within the atheism movement. And what I hope, and what I think will happen, is that the atheist movement on the whole will see the anti-feminists for what they are and drop them. And I think that’s going to happen.

I’ll do what I can to help!

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

Another idol toppled

Jun 21st, 2013 3:10 pm | By

So how about that Paula Deen, huh? First there’s the whole thing with producing recipes for cheeseburgers served between two doughnuts while diabetic, and then there’s the racism. Isn’t American life interesting?

She has faced a volley of criticism this week over her remarks in a deposition for a discrimination lawsuit by a former employee. In the document, she admitted she had used racial slurs, tolerated racist jokes and condoned pornography in the workplace.

Part of her down-home charm, isn’t it? Wasn’t that the idea?

Ms. Deen has managed to offend even her most uncritical fans before, most recently in January 2012 when she announced her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes on the same day she endorsed the diabetes drug Victoza and a lucrative collaboration with Novo Nordisk, the drug’s manufacturer. Because she had built her career on a no-holds-barred approach to sugar and fat (creating recipes like a cheeseburger patty sandwiched between two doughnuts and a Better than Sex cake made with cake mix, pudding mix, and heavy cream), she was roundly criticized for encouraging an unhealthy diet for others, hiding her illness and then trying to profit from it.

Well I’ve always liked Lidia Bastianich better anyway.


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

A society does not rest on its history the way a building rests on its footings

Jun 21st, 2013 2:11 pm | By

Guest post by Eamon Knight and AJ Milne.

Eamon Knight, starting with a silly claim by Rabbi Sacks:

you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact.

I see this fallacious metaphor often enough that it deserves a name. A society is not a building; it does not rest on its history in the same sense a building rests on its footings. A society is more like a living organism, with the capability of continually renewing and even resculpting itself (think of the radical transformation of insect larvae into adults).

(But if we do want to run with the civil engineering metaphor, note that these days, we can even replace the footings of large historic buildings in situ, eg. replacing rotted wooden pilings with modern materials like concrete and polymers. And in fact Western societies have been gradually, over the last few centuries, replacing the rotten wood of _a priori_ moral order with secular ethics based on known human needs.)

AJ Milne, starting with Eamon’s retort:

I see this fallacious metaphor often enough that it deserves a name. A society is not a building; it does not rest on its history in the same sense a building rests on its footings. A society is more like a living organism, with the capability of continually renewing and even resculpting itself (think of the radical transformation of insect larvae into adults).

Now that’s actually a decent metaphor, right there.

And re replacing rotting wood, exactly. And it’s not like it’s a new thing, either.

It isn’t like this is actually such an obscure phenomenon, Dear Mr. Sacks. But let’s review all the same, as apparently you’re in the slow class…

See, the earliest human civilizations of any size were fairly brutal affairs by modern standards. And there’s something of a continuum from those to what the various modern states try to make work now. I figure the earliest monarches are a little better than straight out dictatorships really only in that succession is worked out ahead of time, and the relative continuity of the hierarchy did, over time, allow a somewhat persistent social contract between the rulers and the ruled, which could then evolve to something a little less brutally one-sided. If you were lucky, anyway. As in: if it’s been worked out the king actually has to try people (or at least people with any title) in public and declare the charges, his son is generally expected to follow the same rules if he wants to get along as well as he did with folk who might care and might also be armed and/or tempermental.

That’s one of the things state religions maybe did for civilization: having a proper royal cult turned the tyrant into a king, and the state religions Constantine and Uthman found convenient for their purposes did much the same job. That’s one of the ways religious flakes maybe get to declare their preferred superstition a ‘foundation’…

But it hardly means anyone* wants the pharoahs back. Shocking, I guess, how we’ve allowed that particular bit of masonry to ‘crumble’, too, innit.

And the reality is, against the fable propagandists like Sacks sell, it was never about an absolute code. The code was always being worked out and modified over time by humans; it’s just that over the same time, this process has become somewhat less obscurantist. Time was once you declared yourself god and had a priesthood dutifully inform the people regularly that they’d better bow if they knew what was good for them; time moves on and if you had sufficient political acumen maybe you pick your holy man and holy book, or edit it to fit the needs, à la Constantine, and then thereafter if you get a little selective about which rules the constabulary actually bother to enforce, well, again, let’s be practical; who’s going to check whose shirt is of mixed fibres anyway? (Mind, this presents problems, sure; fundamentalists will fundament, given half a chance, and having that canon around was always a hazard that way, but anyway, we’re working with what we got, here…)

And then take that celebrated Magna Carta; it has a proper ‘in God’s name’ on it, somewhere, but it was a treaty made effectively at the point of a sword (and at best very selectively followed for generations after and only revived as the Rule To Follow somewhat conveniently by a parliamentarian who liked the cut of its jib much, much later). And now lots of modern parliaments argue like mad about what the law’s to be, and if you’re paying attention, what actually winds up written, it’s about a lot of things and power and politics and stability and who may actually protest and who may actually pay and who may actually show up to vote and so on… But some clerk will still have the job of stamping some god’s name on the finished document at the end of the day to make it all official-like, all the same. This is a little more naked than were those earlier emperors who would declare themselves god and then work out just what they could get their barons to tithe as a more practical matter behind closed doors, but the principle’s much the same.

Now you can protest legislation isn’t morality, but again, the latter’s essentially the same phenomenon, and they do reflect one another. And they do evolve similarly, and are similarly subject to revision. And we do, again, work them out, bit by bit, between ourselves, as we bump up against one another, fight and argue and sometimes get along. We’re social beasts with this curious thing about us called culture that can change vastly faster than can our biology, and change it does.

So, seriously: Sacks thinks the Gnus aren’t thinking about this? Huh. Cute…

I might be more impressed with his self-serving, tediously overexposed smear, if I could see he were. Or at least that he were reporting it with the faintest interest in reflecting something remotely like the reality our civilization has lived.

(*/Or wait, in fairness, there’s probably people who do. So let’s keep outvoting them, shall we?)

Part deux

I figure I kinda know the minds of hacks like Sacks by now. Next it’s gonna be, oh, look, religion did this great thing, made kings from tyrants, isn’t that great, hallelujah, yadda yadda…

Let’s not oversell anything. Kings may be a mite better, sure. A little more stability, a few fewer revolutions and violent bloodlettings over succession, that’s nice, sure…

But until it’s been tamed by time and politics and angry mobs and rebel barons, that’s the only thing that’s better about a monarchy. And lots of places the only way you get anything near a modern democracy out of that is when those pesky and frequently very ugly Enlightenment revolutions get rolling, and various dark threats about nooses made of intestines are uttered. Some places it’s less marked and total than those revolutions, but even there it’s a messy business often beginning in the streets; you don’t get to Elizabeth II and her largely ceremonial role from Henry VIII without a few very ugly brawls. And claiming any religion has a whole hell of a lot to do with any of that is again, typically facile and self-serving. Note that, sure, it took off in Christian Europe first, but it’s not like we particularly see the religious authorities universally egging it on, either, nor is it ever real clear it’s the religion that has a lot to do with that so much as the wealth and prosperity spreading more generally through society, the causes of which may have as much to do with geography as human creeds. And at a more meta level, sure, the priesthood sometimes does get closer to the people than the king they’re supposed to support, and the politics gets complicated, and you get your Romeros and your revolution theology, but that’s no more surprising than the fact that sometimes the people working in the secret police start realizing what they’re supporting with their work really isn’t in their long-term interest either.

And none of this, of course, again, makes the underlying code laid down by any particular religion at any particular time sacred, nor the religion itself that important, nor at all indispensable. Publicly run programs and less formal community and social groups fill vast areas of the civic roles the old state religions took (public education, especially, not that the religion is always so happy about letting that go). What’s worth discussing at any time, sure, is how well those are filling needs, and that will always be a complicated story, and secular democracies, as relatively new phenomena, are always working on those, and societies in general always tuning, always fiddling, and probably always will be. But this isn’t a sign of some dreadful underlying malaise or decay; it’s the hallmarks of the living, dynamic, changeable things our societies all are.



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

They want to keep us illiterate

Jun 21st, 2013 12:07 pm | By

More from the God hates women brigade.

Sajila Gujjar, 18, was a first year university student studying computer science in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Family and friends described her as talented, intelligent and determined to make a difference.

She was especially popular among younger children in the Faqirabad neighbourhood of the city where she lived – providing them with free after-school tuition classes.

Last Saturday, Sajila left her home in the morning for university.

“It was the last day of her exams and she was looking forward to her summer holidays,” her mother recalls.

It was the last time her mother saw her.

In the afternoon, Sajila’s father Shahjahan Gujjar, received a phone call. A female suicide bomber had been used to target the students on a university bus and 14 young women were dead including his daughter.

The injured were taken to a nearby hospital, and relatives rushed there, so then the hospital was attacked by men with guns. Nurses were killed.

“This was an attack on women’s education because they want to keep us illiterate,” says Sana Bashir, a teenage biotechnology student who narrowly escaped the bombing.

She’s brave though. Appallingly brave.

Established in 2004, Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University is the only all-female university in the province of Balochistan.

For some tribal and conservative families in smaller towns, it was seen as the only place to send their daughters for higher education.

The bloodshed on the university campus may well change that now.

Sana feels the attack is a setback for women’s education. But she says it is not going to stop her from going back to her studies.

“We cannot let them achieve their targets [of preventing female education]. No matter what happens, I am determined to continue with my education. We cannot give up our goals we have worked so hard for.”

She shouldn’t have to be brave. It shouldn’t take appalling courage to go to university.


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

Getting on famously with one another

Jun 20th, 2013 5:16 pm | By

There’s nothing like a few minutes with another stale, shallow, pseudo-profound, cliché-ridden essay bashing thenewatheists to remind me that harassers aren’t the only assholes out there. This time it’s one by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, via Jesus and Mo. Same old thing – new atheists don’t get it; whither the so much better atheists of yesteryear; religion isn’t scripture it’s meaning; they just don’t get it; foundations of European civilization; materialism and ruthlessness; bankers; fundamentalists; will to power.

Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.

Transparently dishonest. Who has ever said that? Name me one new atheist stupid enough and glib enough to say that without religion we would have “a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.”

What even makes him think that’s what anyone says? The fact that new atheists do claim that religion is very harmful in some ways, and that many claim we would probably be better off without it, or at least with a lot less of it in a much weaker form? Probably that fact, but that claim is very different from Sacks’s fatuous version. We’d be better off without cancer, too, but that doesn’t mean that withouot cancer we would have a serene world of healthy people getting on famously with one another.

Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche?

Stupid question. Very few people measure up to Hobbes or Spinoza or Voltaire or Nietzsche.

Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?

Nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture? That’s not true either. He seems to be unable to be accurate or precise or careful about anything he says; it’s all rhetoric and exaggeration. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard for clerics. Maybe he should think about that for a few minutes.

…religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact.

Oh? Western civilization was pretty crappy for many centuries while the church held limitless power – what makes Sacks think the good things about contemporary Western civilization depend wholly on religious foundations? On the whole, Western civilization has been steadily improving as the power of religion declined. What about that then?

Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.

Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it.

That, too, is just flat-out false. And as for “the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life” – oh come on. Endless religious wars, sanctified wars of conquest, inquisitions, crusades – some “sanctity of life.”

He concludes with

I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

He says that as if religion had done a brilliant job of that “in the long run” – well when and where would that be then?



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

Never Forget

Jun 20th, 2013 2:22 pm | By

Dan Cardamon looks back on The Great War and rallies the troops. He exaggerates the time a little – it’s two years, not three – but it feels like twenty, so hyperbole makes sense.

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

Even schoolgirls

Jun 20th, 2013 9:17 am | By

Jinan Younis, for instance, who started a feminist society at her school.

I am 17 years old and I am a feminist. I believe in genderequality, and am under no illusion about how far we are from achieving it. Identifying as a feminist has become particularly important to me since a school trip I took to Cambridge last year.

A group of men in a car started wolf-whistling and shouting sexual remarks at my friends and me. I asked the men if they thought it was appropriate for them to be abusing a group of 17-year-old girls. The response was furious. The men started swearing at me, called me a bitch and threw a cup coffee over me.

The only two possibilities – hey baby or bitch.

I decided to set up a feminist society at my school, which has previously been named one of “the best schools in the country”, to try to tackle these issues. However, this was more difficult than I imagined as my all-girls school was hesitant to allow the society. After a year-long struggle, the feminist society was finally ratified.

What I hadn’t anticipated on setting up the feminist society was a massive backlash from the boys in my wider peer circle. They took to Twitter and started a campaign of abuse against me. I was called a “feminist bitch”, accused of “feeding [girls] bullshit”, and in a particularly racist comment was told “all this feminism bull won’t stop uncle Sanjit from marrying you when you leave school”.

Our feminist society was derided with retorts such as, “FemSoc, is that for real? #DPMO” [don't piss me off] and every attempt we made to start a serious debate was met with responses such as “feminism and rape are both ridiculously tiring”.

The more girls started to voice their opinions about gender issues, the more vitriolic the boys’ abuse became. One boy declared that “bitches should keep their bitchiness to their bitch-selves #BITCH” and another smugly quipped, “feminism doesn’t mean they don’t like the D, they just haven’t found one to satisfy them yet.” Any attempt we made to stick up for each other was aggressively shot down with “get in your lane before I par [ridicule] you too”, or belittled with remarks like “cute, they got offended”.

It’s seen as hip and funny and freedom-loving.

The situation recently reached a crescendo when our feminist society decided to take part in a national project called Who Needs Feminism. We took photos of girls standing with a whiteboard on which they completed the sentence “I need feminism because…”, often delving into painful personal experiences to articulate why feminism was important to them.

When we posted these pictures online we were subject to a torrent of degrading and explicitly sexual comments.

We were told that our “militant vaginas” were “as dry as the Sahara desert”, girls who complained of sexual objectification in their photos were given ratings out of 10, details of the sex lives of some of the girls were posted beside their photos, and others were sent threatening messages warning them that things would soon “get personal”.

Surely that kind of thing does far more to poison relations between women and men than feminism has ever done. Surely it does more to silence women, too, than a feminist talking about privilege has ever done to silence men.

We, a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old girls, have made ourselves vulnerable by talking about our experiences of sexual and gender oppression only to elicit the wrath of our male peer group. Instead of our school taking action against such intimidating behaviour, it insisted that we remove the pictures. Without the support from our school, girls who had participated in the campaign were isolated, facing a great deal of verbal abuse with the full knowledge that there would be no repercussions for the perpetrators.

That is appalling.



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


Jun 19th, 2013 2:16 pm | By

A funny bit on Hemant’s post about AA and Ed Clint and the lawsuit. One branch of the conversation somehow turned to harassment, when one wag (nymmed ”whatever”) joked that the fashion for conspiracy theories started with my documentation of harassment. Others disagreed and it went on as such things do.

Martin Wagner to Whatever

So people are harassing her on Twitter (which you admit), she complains about it (understandable), and your reply is that she has it coming. Glad we got your number on all this.

Whatever to Martin Wagner

        So people are harassing her on Twitter (which you admit)

No, I admit to no such thing. Ophelia calls it harassment. I call it a lot of shitty little comments designed to get Ophelia worked up. And it evidently works all too well.

Hahahahahaha – isn’t that great? No, it’s not harassment, it’s a lot of shitty little comments designed to get someone worked up. Totally different thing.

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

Good neighbors

Jun 19th, 2013 2:05 pm | By

Update I had about two minutes before I had to dash off and I wanted to flag up these two posts but I didn’t have time to say anything.

I meant to say how proud I am to have Nirmukta among us.

Because of Anita’s wonderful post Why Your Daughter’s Marriage Shouldn’t Be Your Biggest Dream For Her for instance,

Placing emphasis on marriage means raising girls in a manner primarily aimed at moulding them into a societal expectation of what an ideal bride or wife should be like, instead of fostering and encouraging individual characteristics. And in a patriarchal society, these demands are never free of misogyny. The perfect wife looks like Aishwarya Rai, talks like Mother Teresa and is willing to be submissive like Sita. She is unambitious, unassertive, unaware or not demanding of her rights, and has been blessed with extra invisible hands to successfully manage all household work and (increasingly) also a job without the slightest complaints. Girls then are taught from a young age to value their looks more than their talents and skills, to place their career aspirations or financial independence secondary to the need for being married at the ‘right’ time and having kids, and to perpetuate this vicious cycle through their own daughters, all the while carrying a burden of living up to the good girl myth so as to not ‘invite’ rape, lest they become used goods. Because rape is something that is given to us when we “ask for it”, and the unit of measurement of a woman’s worth is virginity. Right?

And because of Sunil on “Brahmins Only” Housing.

A visit to their website confirms that their objective is the preservation and perpetuation of Brahmanism:

To preserve, protect, propagate and strengthen intellectual identity, integrity and self- esteem of the noble culture of Sanathana Dharma, spanning its various sampradayas and traditions represented by Acharyas and Gurus.

When we posted the image on the Indian Atheists page it got the expected amount of anger, but there were also a handful of commenters who thought this ought to be allowed. This post attempts to tease out the moral arguments for and against. (I’m not neutral on the matter and will make my position clear too.)

He goes on to do that.

Nirmukta is great. I’m so pleased to have them as colleagues.

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

What “conscientious” means

Jun 19th, 2013 11:45 am | By

Margaret Doughty has decided to become a US citizen – and has hit an obstacle.

…an USCIS official asked Doughty to confirm that, when asked, she would take up arms in defense of the United States. Doughty, who had just been made to swear an oath to tell the truth (as is customary with citizenship applications), felt honor-bound to answer the question…truthfully. She responded that she would be unfailingly loyal to the United States, but that her conscience doesn’t allow her to inflict violence on another person.

The immigration agent explained that the question, in Doughty’s case, was pretty much academic. The United States does not put sexagenarians on the front lines. Doughty, however, felt helpless to change her answer, and the agent told her that was going to be a problem, claiming that the USCIS recognizes only religiously-motivated objectors (Doughty isn’t religious; she identifies as an agnostic).

This is a long-standing issue with conscientious objection: religious c.o. is accepted while non-religious c.o. is not – as if “conscientious” simply meant “religious,” which it doesn’t.

Doughty is appealing to her Congressman, Blake Farenthold, for help with her case, and has been heartened by a letter written by Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel, who let the USCIS know in no uncertain terms that the law is not on the agency’s side. Wrote Seidel:

Either the officers in Houston are inept, or they are deliberately discriminating against nonreligious applicants for naturalization.

Seidel, however, cannot act as Doughty’s attorney, and the applicant has a call in to a local immigration lawyer who might.

Let’s remind each other to keep an eye on this.


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

Opened fire on students writing their final year exams

Jun 19th, 2013 11:36 am | By

Boko Haram has been busy killing people again.

Residents of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, said suspected members of Boko Haram on Monday killed 22 persons in separate attacks. They said the terrorists were on a revenge mission against youth vigilante groups that have been hunting them.

The gunmen on Monday at about 3 p.m. attacked a secondary school, Ansarudeen Private School, Maiduguri, and opened fire on students writing their final year exams. Nine students were killed, while several others were seriously injured in the attack, residents of the area said.

The incident occurs less than 24 hours after gunmen attacked a school in neighbouring Yobe State, killing seven students and two teachers. Borno and Yobe, alongside Adamawa, are under emergency rule with a massive deployment of soldiers to the states.

In another incident in Borno on Monday, the gunmen attacked a group of fishermen on the banks of the Alau River, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, killing 13 of them.

Does god hate human beings? It looks that way.

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